Title: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Fired (Part 1/2)
Rating: T, for the moment.
Word Count: It will be more than 5k. It just… isn't yet.
Summary: Unable to work up the gumption to quit in Paris, Andy decides she'd better let Miranda fire her instead. What follows is an unplanned journey along the surprisingly fine line between self-inflicted unemployment and… something else entirely.
Beta: Yeah three years later and I still need to make myself ask for one.
Disclaimer: Own? Me? Nahhh…
A/N: This idea has probably been done before, but I'm so out of the fic loop these days that I honestly have no idea. I meant to have the entire thing up today, but literally five hours after I confirmed for the fic-a-thon, I got hired, and my new job ate away all the time I planned to spend writing. I almost backed out, but decided to offer a part one now and a hopefully better part two later, rather than skimp and try to cram in the ending at six am or give up completely. Half of this was written in the past two hours, so my apologies for whatever my sleep-addled mind has done with it. That little life-rant aside, enjoy!
If I can't bring myself to quit… I'll just have to get myself fired.
Somewhere in the back of Andy's mind, she knew how ridiculous it was, but it was the closest she had come to a logical solution all night. She was exhausted, it was probably two in the morning, and if she didn't get at least three hours of sleep she was going to be sleepwalking all day, get hit by a car, and really be the new Emily. Andy needed a way out that took less conviction than walking away, and at two in the morning, getting fired was starting to sound just peachy.
After all, the day had been nothing less than a disaster. From waking up with that royal asshat trying to backstab her boss and call her "baby" in the same breath, to Miranda's turn on the backstabbing platform as she handed off Nigel's big break to a woman she hated, the day had gone from bad to worse. Between Christian Thompson and Jacqueline Follet, Andy was losing sight of the positive spin she'd managed to start putting on this whole fashion business, and hearing Miranda's casual, egotistical praise offered up as a disturbingly tempting consolation prize should have been the last straw. Still, even though Andy had paced around that damn fountain some fifty times, the grey stone walls on the buildings around the square seemed to press in closer and closer, demanding her attention and calling to mind that grey robe Miranda had worn the night before, and Andy couldn't bring herself to add one more bit of pain and stress to the load Miranda already bore.
So she met the editor on the way out, trying to act as though nothing had changed, and when Miranda asked where she had been, Andy was surprised how much it hurt to lie to her. When her explanation of "Important call; I took care of it," was met with merely a trusting nod, the knife had dug in just that bit deeper. She couldn't do this to Miranda. She couldn't abandon her on the busiest week of her year. Quitting was out of the questions.
By the time she got back to her hotel room, however, Andy knew she couldn't stay, either. She liked her idealism, dammit! It was nice to be a bit naïve, to greet everyone with a smile and honestly believe the ones they offered in return were just as genuine as her own. Andy wasn't ready to give that up, and she sure as hell wasn't ready to be the one faking every bit of human interaction just to further some agenda she couldn't even see an end to, so Andy knew she had to get out, and she knew she couldn't wait another year and a half to do it.
Inspiration struck somewhere in the middle of towel-drying her hair.
Honestly, the happiest she had ever seen Miranda – not including around the twins – was when she was, well, giving someone the sack. Not just anyone, of course, but when Miranda had the chance to fire someone incompetent, she was in her element. It was the perfect outlet for her brilliant turns of cruel phrase; a time when being entirely insulting and completely productive went hand in hand. If Andy wanted out, the best way to manage that without hurting Miranda in the process was if Miranda wanted her out just as much.
It was time to get herself fired.
She waited until after Fashion Week, of course. She didn't want to do anything to jeopardize either Miranda's career or Runway itself; just her own standing. First day back on the job, it felt somehow fitting to start with the coffee. The coffee run had been the 6:15 call that first jolted her out of bed and into this whole world, so it would only be right to have a caffeinated kick out the door.
"I'll have three drip coffees; leave room for milk—" No reason any of the other employees she supplied needed to have their caffeine fix meddled with. "—and one espresso frappuccino. Iced."
The barista looked at her like she had lost her mind. "I have Miranda's order lined up for the heat now. We expected her back this morning." After one too many employees had lost their jobs to Miranda's iron-clad grip on this city and their own inability to achieve center-of-the-sun temperatures from even industrial kitchen appliances, every new hire was warned about the Dragon Lady first, safety and health standards second.
Andy grinned and shook her head. "Nope. Iced frappe today."
The barista insisted that one of the newbies make it, just to keep her own neck off the chopping block.
Luckily for her, Andy had the same intentions. The only neck allowed on the chopping block was hers.
"I'm sorry, Miranda," she said as she followed her boss into the office five minutes later. "I must have left your order on the counter. I can give you mine, though?"
It was strangely exhilarating; blatantly defying some of the very first instructions she'd been given. Miranda didn't seem particularly harried yet, since leaving Emily behind seemed to have actually kept things running rather smoothly in Miranda's absence. With nothing to distract her, Andy expected swift and brutal retribution for her caffeinated audacity, but instead received only a confused glance and a brisk nod. "Very well."
Trying not to look as incredulous as she felt, Andy cautiously set down the clear, frosted cup in place of the usual steaming brew, watching in astonishment as Miranda took a sip and continued on with her usual list of the day's instructions.
Honestly, if she hadn't been getting so good at predicting Miranda's expectations, Andy would have had to admit she didn't hear one word of the morning task list. Still, even distracted by the fact that Miranda was drinking something cold without steam coming out of her ears, she managed to make it back to her desk in one bewildered piece.
With Emily confined to a slow hobble by her injuries, the Brit was at her most efficient in a chair, leaving Andy dashing about the city in even more of a rush than usual for the remainder of the day. She only made it back to the Elias-Clarke building after dark in a brief in-and-out to grab the book. It was a struggle not to fall asleep in the cab.
Even before she had fully opened the townhouse door, she heard Miranda's voice beckoning her down the hall and around the corner. "Andrea?"
Nervously, Andy hung the dry cleaning and clutched the book close to her chest, unsure whether this would be the reprimand she had expected earlier and somehow not quite looking forward to it as much as she had been that morning. The thrill of disobedience had worn off, but a quick check of her resolve still showed her determination to get out of this job.
"There you are," Miranda murmured when Andy rounded the corner. She completely ignored the proffered book. "Why were you out and about all day? I must have called you fifteen times."
Yes, Andy mused, she probably had. Each time with a new task to pile on top of all the others Andy was already running about taking care of. "I'm sorry, Miranda," she said cautiously, unsure exactly what she was apologizing for. "I thought I took care of everything you needed?" It wasn't as though one of Miranda's instructions had been stop doing everything I told you to do and come back to the office.
Miranda sniffed. "Yes, well, I admit I expected you to delegate, Andrea."
Andy's eyebrows went up. "To who, Emily?" It was only after the question had escaped that she realized she had unintentionally broken another cardinal rule; never ask anything. She'd have to keep that one in mind for a more random and opportune moment.
Miranda looked genuinely confused. "Of course to Emily. Is there some other assistant I don't know about? I expect you in office tomorrow. No excuses." She finally held out a hand for the book. "That's all."
Reluctantly, Andy obeyed, scurrying out of the room and out of the townhouse, resisting the nearly overwhelming urge to remind Miranda about the maneuverability of New York and crutches, as well as the strange role-reversal she seemed to be performing on the assistant jobs. Emily was the one who was supposed to delegate. Andy had never been given an order she wasn't expected to carry out herself. In the past, she took orders from Miranda directly or from Emily as the go-between. Something besides her own half-hearted attempt at getting fired was going on here, but Andy's feet hurt too much to really care.
Kicking her heels across the room as soon as she unlocked her own door, Andy fell onto the couch with a groan, knowing she'd regret how many hundreds of dollars she had just flung off of her feet come morning, but completely beyond caring at the moment.
A flicker of guilt flashed through her as she realized these were honestly the only moments she missed Nate. She was exhausted, ready to kill for a foot rub and a midnight grilled cheese… but not missing the overly clingy intimacy or the expected repayment of sex in the slightest. She missed creature comforts more than she missed her ex, and Andy wasn't sure what that said about her, but she was pretty sure it had something to do with why Lily and Doug hadn't called once while she was gone.
It was a very bad idea to fall asleep on a couch in couture.
It was a very, very good idea to have let her purse fall beside her so her phone alarm was still able to do its job, even if the clock in her bedroom couldn't. Barely the second day back and Andy could already tell this was going to be a week from hell.
Another excellent reason to get fired before I have to live through the whole thing, she mused as she tried to pretend she wasn't late hailing the taxi. When a text from Emily came through letting her know she had already taken care of coffee, Andy literally kissed her phone. Then she remembered she wasn't supposed to be emotionally invested in this job anymore and had to resist the urge to slap the phone instead. She managed, barely, and mostly because she wasn't appreciating the already judgmental stare of the cab driver in the rear view mirror.
Miranda called her in right away, and she looked almost as harried as Andy felt. Whatever short reprieve yesterday had been clearly wasn't destined to last. Hearing the exasperation in each of Miranda's words, Andy perked up, wondering if the only reason she hadn't been punished yesterday was because of a rare good mood. Maybe today, with the boss back in Ice Queen persona, she would have better luck.
"Oh, and one more thing…"
The editor was eyeing the coffee Emily had left on the corner of her desk with a speculative gaze. "I don't want that. Get me whatever I had yesterday. Only this time, no ice. That's all."
Andy had the entire elevator's ride down to decide whether or not to take that literally and order a lukewarm coffee, but instead she went ahead and ordered the new blend at Miranda's preferred temperature. One espresso cappuccino, two degrees away from evaporation.
She had the entire elevator's ride back up to try and make sense of it.
In the end, she gave up. Who knew what was going through Miranda's mind that led to the inexplicable coffee order and the equally inexplicable lack of anger at the initial mix-up. When Miranda ordered her usual again at midday, Andy figured it had just been a brief blip, a ten second midlife caffeine crisis, and everything would soon be back to normal.
Well, aside from poor Emily. Watching the bulky cast clunk back and forth to and from the elevator some ten times that day had Andy ready to chain herself to the desk to keep from volunteering for all the out-of-office tasks. Miranda's instructions were slightly more elaborate than usual, meaning every other rapid-fire bullet point was punctuated by an extra, "Send Emily."
It was beyond painful to watch, but Andy felt slightly less guilty when Emily seemed to think Andy's sudden short leash was actually punishment for something. The Brit's sarcasm was in fine form as she needled for some clue as to why Miranda was keeping her within ten feet of her office at all times, but since Andy didn't have any more ideas than the redhead herself, the questions were just annoying enough to add a touch of schadenfreude to the internal cringing she did every time those crutches started their next jolting journey.
The sheer amount of time it took Emily to carry out Miranda's assignments presented Andy with an interesting opportunity. Instead of keeping her usual attempts at conversation to a level only Emily could hear – and pointedly ignore, of course – Andy decided to aim the occasional casual observance and accompanying question through Miranda's doors instead.
"I heard it's supposed to be gorgeous Friday," she started her first nervous attempt, trying to sound casual and entirely uninvested all the while wincing internally at her choice of the weather as a conversation topic. She was trying to get fired, for Christ's sake, not audition for Bored Housewives of New York." Any chance your schedule will let you appreciate the sun?" There, that was slightly better. Any unprofessional reference to Miranda's work schedule was taboo, filling the controversial enough to get her fired requirement much better than a mundane observation about the weather. Even if it was still a pretty mundane observation about the weather.
As the silence stretched across the space between Miranda's open doors and Andy's desk, Andy could practically hear Emily's hissed instructions echoing around them. "You never ask Miranda anything." When the silence just kept stretching, Miranda finally broke it. "Are you talking to me?"
Andy had to remind herself that the chill in those words was supposed to make her smile, not curl up into a protective ball on the floor. Maybe she should ask Emily to write her a good motivational chant about getting fired. "Mmhmm," she managed to squeak out.
The silence quickly reclaimed its deadly grip. Andy started typing gibberish just for the sound the keyboard made.
Finally, Miranda responded. "I might work something out. It's been a while since I took Patricia to the park. The girls always walk her, but it isn't quite the same. We'll see how the run-through goes that morning."
Andy was extraordinarily grateful for the wall between them. It concealed her open mouth. Am I losing my mind? Miranda just answered a question. About her work schedule. And her personal life. To me. Her usual assistant-autopilot kicked in with a quick reply. "Diane actually called earlier to see if you wanted to move the run-through up to Thursday afternoon. It might not be a bad excuse to miss your meeting with Irv."
Andy honestly didn't know if any of the others had picked up on Miranda's uncanny ability to double-book her board meetings and her one-on-ones with Irv Ravitz, but back when Andy was trying to be the ultimate assistant in the history of all assistants, she had made it her personal quest to always offer Miranda an easy out. This, however, was the first time she had blatantly acknowledged the ploy for what it was, and she was curious how Miranda would react.
"Yes, see to it," she replied, as though the idea had been hers all along. Rather typical Miranda style, all things considered.
By the time those logistics had been taken care of, Emily was back, and Andy's first attempt at eviction-by-conversation had failed. She'd try again tomorrow…
… And the next day, and the next. What started as an attempt to piss off her boss had rapidly devolved into something Andy could never have imagined: conversation. No matter how far out of left field she pulled her initial questions, Miranda was amazingly willing to answer. More than answer; engage. Anything from, "Are fashion designers' favorite colors really obvious in their work?" to "What do you think of wing walking?" elicited a thorough and thought-provoking answer.
"Not at first. It usually takes a few years for boredom and bad habits to set in. If they make it through ten collections, however, I often find myself having to ban a particular color or tone from a few shoots to ensure variety. Besides, favorite colors are so incredibly dull. No one thinks to pick the finer shades, so their work begins to resemble a kindergartener's art pallet."
"I took the girls to a flying circus once. They both wanted to sign up for the wing walking lessons after that, and I had to appease them with boogie boards instead. Wing walking is a perfectly legitimate form of entertainment. It is not, however, a career path for my daughters."
After a few days, Andy had given up on using her questions as a means to her end goal and had instead begun to look forward to the interaction. When she wasn't on the receiving end of it, Miranda's sharp wit and keen, caustic judgments were both fascinating and amusing, and the rare opportunity to be given a glimpse into Miranda's personal life was not something she took lightly. It even began to feel like more of an exchange. When Andy realized her questions weren't going to get her fired, she learned how very special a conversation with Miranda could be. Just asking about the editor's day or weekend could prompt a few words on anything from the next fall collection she knew would be failing to how the latest New York election was going to affect her daughters' education. The long-neglected journalist in Andy wanted desperately to write down some of the things they talked about, and she realized it was going to be very, very hard not ever having the chance to do a real interview with the woman. These casual moments shared from one desk to the other made Andy's week pass quickly, and if it weren't for Emily's more frequent returns to the office, it might have been a pattern she could have fallen back into.
Instead, Emily's cast shrank to a more manageable size, and the tasks began splitting themselves once again more evenly between the two assistants simply by virtue of there being far too many of them, so her strange moments with Miranda petered out as quickly as they had begun, and Andy remembered she was trying to distance herself from her boss, not resurrect the respect Miranda had lost when she abandoned Nigel.
She called the flowers phase three.
For some reason, she felt like this one needed to be a stealth mission. The fact that none of her prior blatant disregards for Miranda's personal pet peeves had so much as ruffled the editor's feathers was making her a bit paranoid, so she decided to proceed with caution and finesse.
She left one bouquet per day on the corner of Miranda's desk. Of course, there were often flowers in Miranda's office, but they were always white, always unobtrusive, and always impersonal, refreshed by the Elias-Clarke cleaning staff, for god's sake. Even pastels were a rarity. By contrast, Andy's bouquets were a riot of color every time. She made sure Miranda knew they were from her, of course, bringing the first one in while Miranda was on the phone with her best guileless smile in place and a whispered, "Just to brighten things up!"
In the right corner, tucked in behind a delicate peach iris, was a single golden freesia.
The next day, the bouquet was in shades of lavender and cream, meaning the two hidden freesias were white, followed by three in a dark pink, four in a brilliant blood orange, and five of a stained sunset rose. By the time the weekend had passed and the bouquet was more than half freesias in assorted shades, Andy actually broke a vase in exasperation. Miranda had done nothing, nothing about any of this! Freesias, questions, cold coffee… Andy was running out of ways to poke the dragon that wouldn't actually hurt Miranda or ruin Runway. Short of summoning another hurricane, Andy had plucked every tripwire she knew to absolutely no effect. It was ridiculous! She knew she was overreacting, but she couldn't help feeling like everything she'd been warned about since day one was actually nothing but a massive conspiracy to make it impossible for her to get fired. It wasn't like Miranda had suddenly become tame and manageable; if anything, she was more of a nightmare to work with than ever. She was often dragged into inconveniently timed meetings with Stephan's lawyer and always emerged with teeth bared, ready to draw blood. The book was never satisfactory, the run-throughs always ended in someone's tears, and Emily's motivational mantra had never rung quite so often through the halls.
And yet… Andy was immune. It was driving her crazy! The one time she actually wanted the wrath of Priestly to rain down upon her and it seemed like she had accidentally forgotten how to close her umbrella.
Just when she was beginning to think she was going to need to woman up and turn in her six weeks' notice, opportunity smiled on her one more time.
"Roy is indisposed today so I'll need you to take the car and pick up the girls from Dalton. Make sure you are back in time for me to leave work. That's all."
Well, that one was new. Though Andy had occasionally seen the dynamic duo peeking their mischievous heads down the stairwell on her book-deposit days, they hadn't really interacted since she'd given them the Harry Potter manuscripts. This could be interesting.
"You're the Harry Potter assistant!" Cassidy remarked a few moments after getting into the car. Andy only knew it was Cassidy because of their monogramed bookbags, and she could only cross her fingers and hope they were too possessive to have swapped.
"That I am," Andy replied. "But my name's Andy."
"Ooh, you're the one that gets under mom's skin all the time," Caroline mused pointedly. "If we promise not to get mom mad at you again, will you take us to get a kitten?"
Andy almost rear-ended a school bus.
"A what?" she spluttered.
"A kitten!" Cassidy echoed excitedly. "Jeanette's cats had babies the other day and they were so cute. I wanted ten. Please, Andy? We'll take really good care of it!"
Part of Andy was desperately tempted to add this particular adventure to her growing list of failed attempts at annoying their mother, but another part of her was more practical.
"You do remember that you have a Saint Bernard."
For a moment, both faces fell, then Caroline perked up. "Patricia's too old to go upstairs anymore. We can just pick up a few baby gates, too! Make sure the kitten stays there."
It wasn't a half bad solution.
"Well…" Andy hedged, not wanting to appear too eager at the thought of how certain this was to be a fireable offense. Buying a new Priestly pet had to trump freesias and iced frappuccinos any day.
The twins were too smart for hedging. "Really?"
"You'll take us?"
"I know the breeder mom goes to for—"
"—Hang on, not so fast," Andy cut them off. "If we're going to do this, I have two conditions. One, no breeders. We're going to the pound. There are thousands of homeless kittens who need love and protection. Two, we're going to talk to one of the people there about how to take care of it, and you two are going to take pristine notes, which I will be inspecting myself. If you forget anything, you can forget the kitten as well."
They were only too eager to agree.
Two hours later, Andy had been talked into twin ginger kittens for the twin ginger twins – yeah, she's a sucker for cute matching things – and they were halfway through lugging supplies up the stairs. By Andy's third armful of food and toys and beds, she realized they'd gone predictably overkill. These were going to be some spoiled cats. Both girls had been alternating between baby-voiced cooing over the little fluffballs they'd acquired and rapid-fire chattering to Andy when Caroline brought up the boss again. "You know, we thought about asking Emily to do this, but we didn't want to get her fired."
"Yeah," Cassidy laughed. "It's too much fun making her think we're going to get her fired. If we actually did it, we'd have no one to blackmail anymore."
"Glad to hear I'm disposable," Andy groused good-naturedly.
Both girls looked surprised and Cassidy shook her head. "Uh-uh. Mom would never fire you. That's why we picked you instead. You're totally safe."
Andy was going to ask for elaboration, but one of the kittens decided to get more curious about the stairs than the litter box and Andy had to make a mad dash for the baby gates in the trunk instead, so the oddly ominous reassurance that her unwanted job was somehow tenured in Miranda's eyes had to be forgotten in favor of keeping the kittens from being introduced to Patricia.
Andy stood in front of Miranda's desk in the exact same posture and mindset she would have stood before a firing squad.
"There are kittens in my house, and I am told you are to blame."
She had been called in early. Disgustingly so. It was four in the morning and Andy couldn't believe the building was even open, but she could pick out the light in Miranda's window even from the street. If the next words out of Miranda's mouth weren't "You're fired, that's all," Andy would know she had actually been in a coma since Paris and all of this had been a very strange dream.
Miranda sighed. "I never expected I would need to remind you of this twice, but honestly, Andrea… take anything my girls ask for with a grain of salt." Miranda turned her back to Andy and stared out over the pre-dawn city, muttering something that sounded like I'm not even a cat person. Following that half-audible denial, however, were the words, "But I haven't seen them this excited about something since the divorce started." She sounded far more resigned than angry.
Definitely a coma, Andy mused as Miranda faced her once again.
"I know what you're up to, Andrea."
"Y-you do?" Andy stammered, unsure whether or not to be relieved.
"Of course. Did you honestly think I wouldn't figure it out? Why else would you be offering me your coffee, leaving me flowers, asking about my day, about my girls. Being… understanding about my job. And now this; making my girls care about you, too." Miranda was pacing, not meeting Andy's confused stare. "And it worked. You've made yourself so perfectly available in all of this; taking my mind off the divorce, reminding me that I don't need to… nitpick the little things. And maybe you're right. Maybe I've been looking in the wrong place all along for another parent for the twins." Suddenly, she was meeting Andy's eyes, and the look there was far too intense for Andy's blindsided mind to make sense of. "Maybe you really are the… logical choice to take Stephen's place."
Andy just couldn't stop staring, utterly paralyzed by Miranda's words. "Wait, what?"
Miranda gave Andy the warmest smile the younger woman had ever seen on those dangerous lips but it smacked right into the wall of Andy's disbelief and fell flat. "It worked, Andrea. I… I like this. Talking to you, having you in my life. Seeing how easily you've won over my children, I'm ready to see you outside of work. And after the divorce… who knows?"
"B-but… you hate freesias." It was a ridiculous thing to focus on, but in light of the situation, Andy was rather proud to have managed saying anything at all.
Miranda looked confused. "What on earth gave you that idea? Donatella is allergic to freesias, Andrea. I find them perfectly pleasant."
"Oh," Andy said. One small piece of the puzzle clicked into place for her, but from the narrowing of Miranda's eyes, something had occurred to the editor as well.
"You thought I hated freesias? Then why—"
Finally, Andy's mind finished tripping over the idea of "taking Stephen's place" and fully caught up with Miranda's words. Miranda thought she had been… flirting with her? Courting her like some bumbling eighteenth century hipster with coffee and flowers and half an hour of conversation each day? That… that was ridiculous, preposterous, strangely… a good idea, now that she thought about it. Not that she wanted to… well, she never considered… that wasn't what she had been going for at all!
"—I was trying to get fired, not married!"