Three weeks after she had come home, Andy finally started talking about what had happened. In a small room devoid of any personality, sitting with Miranda and a psychologist who apparently specialized in treating post-traumatic stress patients, she recounted the drive through the villages, sandwiched between Eric and Kevin in the backseat while their guide tried to locate local people willing to talk to the American journalists. She described he four militia men who had overpowered them, ordered everyone out of the car, beaten the driver to death with the butts of their Kalishnakov rifles, and then forced Andy, Eric, and Kevin to lay face down in the backseat, unable to see anything, certain they were going to be killed.
Through it all, she held Miranda's hand.
"We drove for about three hours, and then they made us put on blindfolds," Andrea said, hurrying through the story, not wanting to stop and linger at any point lest it become too emotional. "When they took them off, we were in this muddy cave thing. It was small, like a bathroom." She looked at Miranda, and tried to inject levity. "Well, not one of your bathrooms."
Miranda stared at the wall on the other side of the room, wondering how Andrea, or anyone, could ever be okay again after something like this.
"We were just glad everyone was alive," Andy said, rubbing her thumb over Miranda's hand. "They took us to see this guy called Mullah Taleb. He was their leader or something." Her face darkened. "He's the one who shot Kevin, right in front of us."
The past three weeks had given them plenty of opportunity to become educated on Mullah Taleb – a local Taliban official, he was working in league with one of the more hard-line faction in the Pakistani tribal areas, where Osama bin Laden was thought to be hiding.
"We tried talking to them, telling them we had kids..." Andy swallowed hard, remembering her own pleas. It was there, trapped in the cave, that she realized she already thought of Miranda's children as her own. "It didn't matter. It didn't make a difference. We were American journalists, worth a fortune to them. And they knew they had to kill one of us to get attention over here. They called it sending a blood message."
Miranda closed her eyes and lowered her head at that, knowing that Andrea could just as easily have become the group's 'blood message.'
They had been coming to see the psychologist twice a week, and this was the first time that Andy had revealed more than the doctor and Miranda knew from the news. After what was called a "structured stress debriefing," the doctor had given his blessing to Andy's desire to go see Kevin Garrison's mother in Minnesota, believing that the opportunity to talk to Andy might do as much for the woman as it would for her.
And so they went, Andy and Miranda, while Jonathan looked after the twins. Kevin's mother had cried with Andy and laughed with her, as grateful for the new glimpses into her son's last days as she was for the knowledge that the young woman who had survived the ordeal had thought it worth coming to see her.
In most other respects, Andy's return to normal life was progressing steady, albeit slowly. She'd stayed at home for the first two weeks, and then bravely run the paparazzi gauntlet on her way to the subway – still her preferred means of transportation. The girls were granted a reprieve from piano practice and their own therapy so that they could get home from school early and spend as much time with Andy as the three of them could stand. At night, Andy was usually the first to go to bed – the lingering effects of her ordeal and the pain medication she was still taking left her feeling exhausted most of the time.
"I'm proud of you," Miranda noted in the St. Paul hotel room. They'd left Mrs. Garrison's home just an hour earlier, and were readying themselves for bed before flying back to New York in the morning. "I don't know how you're doing this."
Andy shrugged. "I'm just surviving, Miranda. I'm not a hero or anything."
Miranda reached out, touched Andrea's shoulder, and leaned in to give her a chaste kiss. "You're mine," she said, somberly.
Andy shook her head. "Sure," she said, stepping into Miranda's arms and wrapping her own around the other woman. "I go right next door to an active war zone, get myself kidnapped, get one of my colleagues killed, get shot in the leg…"
"…and still manage to come home to me, to go back to work, to be there for the children," Miranda continued for her. She rubbed gently at Andrea's back. "Whatever you did? It was the right thing. I know it was, because you're here. You survived."
Andrea was quiet for a moment, and then nodded, wiping at her own tears. "Yeah," she said, finally allowing a smile to cross her beautiful features. "I did, didn't I?"
They had fallen into bed wrapped in one another's arms that night, and made love for the first time since Andrea's return. It had started slow, soon turning into a frenzy, and ended as sweetly and slowly as it had started.
Andrea's cheek rested atop Miranda's breast, her hair fanning across the older woman's chest. One hand pressed against Miranda's shoulder, and their bodies melded together under the sheets.
"What's next?" Andrea murmured, lifting her head and beginning a series of soft, languid kisses.
"Next?" Miranda asked, arching an eyebrow curiously. "You're ready for another go?" It wasn't a terrible proposition by any means. She moved her own hand, nudging Andrea's hip suggestively.
"No!" Andrea exclaimed, rolling her eyes. "Well, I mean yes. I am. That was… it was amazing being with you again." She nuzzled her nose against Miranda's cheek. "I meant what's next for us? The world kinda knows about us. The kids seem fine, thank God. My parents have decided you're actually kind of decent, which is a huge relief. Is everything gonna be okay? With the magazine?"
Miranda nodded. "It'll be okay because I'm not going to allow it not to be okay," she said decisively. "I already knew I wasn't going to live without you, Andrea. You didn't have to go get kidnapped by terrorists to convince me of that."
Andrea groaned, swatting Miranda gently as a bright smile crossed her face. "Will it help if I promise never to do it again?"
Miranda was thoughtful. "It might," she said. "Are you willing to stay put, cover City Hall instead of international conflict?"
Andrea shrugged. "Not really," she admitted.
Miranda sighed, having known that would probably be the case. "From now on, you're packing heat. And you're learning karate. And traveling with Marines – don't look at me like that. I'm very serious."
Andrea was giggling. "God, I love you," she murmured, closing her enormous brown eyes and placing a line of feather light kisses along Miranda's jaw line. "Will you marry me?"
Andrea froze. "What?"
Miranda arched an eyebrow. Andrea was being playful, but she wasn't. She'd blown off the idea the last time it had come up, and she wasn't about to do that again – wasn't about to squander the opportunity to let Andrea know just how serious she was about this relationship, about keeping their family together. "I said I will," she confirmed.
Andrea blinked. "I haven't… I didn't… I don't have a ring."
Miranda's stomach was going kind of floaty inside her, but she managed to keep a straight face. "No ring, no deal."
Andrea frowned, knowing Miranda was kidding, but not sure about how much. "Miranda…" she whined.
"Relax," Miranda said, and touched her fingers to Andrea's cheek. "We can shop for rings, observe the formalities soon enough." Her eyes shone, crinkling with affection. "I'm not letting you go. Whether or not we do this… getting married thing, or a reasonable facsimile thereof… that's entirely up to you. But I'm… I'm with you. I'm not," she repeated, "letting you go."
Andrea bit her lip, and decided not to protest anymore. Getting married seemed to her the perfect way to begin their next chapter together – especially now that her parents would probably show up to the wedding, the girls wouldn't be embarrassed, and Miranda had decided to accept the chips falling where they may elsewhere. She nodded, sealing their unexpected deal. "I'm with you," she affirmed, leaning in to kiss her love, glad to be home at last.