Give My Regards to Runway

By: JKSophieJane

The Giftee: Silentrevyrie

The Prompt: "Miranda. I don't care if it's Miranda/(any character, OC included), but the fic has got to be about Miranda. Some sort of POV fic would be great, even if it's just an ordinary day at Runway, seeing it through Miranda's eyes would be fun, especially with her undoubtedly witty mental commentary. I'm the biggest theater dork on the face of this planet, so if you'd like to take a play or musical you're familiar with and toss Miranda and Andy into it, be my guest."

Rating: A very soft PG-13. I know, I'm amazed, too. But the story just refused to be smutted.

Pair: Miranda/Andy

Spoilers: I'm assuming all DWP spoilers are fair game. Beyond that, watch out if you haven't seen all of West Side Story. If that's you, immediately see West Side Story.

Word Count: ~ 10,000

Acknowledgement: This story would not exist if not for the encouragement, brainstorming, and beta skills of one Ms. lj user="StephElisaNeal". Thank you so much. In the final paragraphs, I borrowed from a favorite Teddy Geiger song, so thanks to Mr. Geiger for writing it.

Andy has been sitting on the edge of her seat with her legs squeezed tightly for almost half an hour. She has to pee, badly, but there's no way she's going to get up with less than ten minutes remaining in the first act. The line will be horrific at intermission, but this one-night-only performance has been sold out ever since it was announced – and there's absolutely no way Andy's going to miss a note. She eyes the exit, thinking that if she can sprint past the lady with the bulky fur coat as soon as the lights come up and if she can take the stairs three at a time – long legs will help – she might just have a shot at beating the masses to their common destination.

Even with her bladder threatening to burst, Andy's paying close attention to the show. She must. She's never reviewed a show before, after all, and on top of that has zero background in theater. She was treated to a few Andrew Lloyd Webber shows when the national touring companies hit Cincinnati during her childhood, but upon moving to New York and befriending bona fide theater snobs, had learned the shows she'd rather enjoyed were apparently pretty lame. She's only watching tonight's benefit performance at the Barrymore – it's Idina Menzel in My Fair Lady, which is something even a theater neophyte like Andy can get excited about – because The Mirror's regular critic developed strep throat.

As soon as the theater goes dark and the applause begins, Andy is out of her seat like a shot, hurtling herself into the aisle and then rushing down the stairs. There are only a few people in the lobby – those who were willing to miss the last number for an assured spot at the front of the lines for merchandise, the bathroom, and drinks. Andy makes a beeline for the women's room, throwing back the double doors and bounding into the richly-appointed waiting room. She takes her place – fifth, not bad – in line, and plants her back against the wall, sighing with relief as the goal comes so nearly into reach.

Andy is still mid-sigh when she hears a frighteningly familiar voice from two places ahead of her in line.

"No, no, no!"

Andy's eyes spring open, and she is staring at the frantic expression of one Emily Charlton. Emily's makeup is still dramatic, but her hair is a bit more subdued than Andy remembers, and she looks lovely in the plum-hued Marchesa gown she is wearing. Andy looks down at her own simple black shift. So maybe it's only Anne Taylor and not Valentino, but Andy knows it's fine for tonight, so there's really no call for Emily's hyperventilation.

"Em!" Andy says, and can't stop herself from smiling as if they are the best of friends, although even Andy knows that while gifting her Parisian wardrobe to Emily might have done some good mending the fence, the circumstances under which Andy left Runway likely rendered a true friendship with Emily impossible.

Even now, Emily is shaking her head. "No, you have to leave. You can't be here."

Andy screws up her face. "Why?"

"Because Miranda's here, you idiot," Emily hisses. "With the twins. They're buying t-shirts right now. I'm…" She rolls her eyes in frustration and waves the woman standing between them ahead. "I'm holding their place in line."

"Hey," a woman pipes up from several places behind. "You can't hold-"

One deadly glare from Emily is enough to shut the woman up. Emily has clearly studied at the foot of the master.

Andy rolls her eyes at Emily. "Well, I'm not gonna leave just because Miranda's here. That's… that's ridiculous, is what that is." Her brow lines with frustration, and her voice takes on a pleading tone, and she knows she sounds about three years old when she whines, "I have to pee."

Emily glares at her, but the death rays emanating from her eyes are less effective on Andy, who has seen this look at least a dozen times, often for far lesser infractions than having to go to the bathroom at an inopportune moment.

Struck down, Emily tries another tack. "Fine," she huffs. "I'm sure it'll be every inch as pleasant for you as it will be for me if Miranda sees the two of us in here having a little chat. I don't imagine it'll be the most awkward moment of either of our lives, will it?"

Andy swallows hard, seeing the dawning light but still not fully ready to cave. "What are the chances she'll come in, anyway? I'm practically next in-"

Emily's cell phone buzzes. She glances down, and then looks meaningfully back up to Andy. She motions to the door with her hand.

Andy's pulse quickens as it hits her – Emily is right. Seeing Miranda here, now, when neither of them has had any time to prepare for it – it's not worth it. Temporarily forgetting why she had the audacity to enter the ladies' room in the first place, Andy gulps. "Okay," she hears herself saying meekly. "I'll go."

"Well," Emily says agreeably. "Right, then. Back to the balcony with you."

Andy rolls her eyes. "Geez, Em. I'm here on assign-"

Emily's hand moves to her hip, which juts out. She wouldn't have time to care, even if she were inclined to do so.

Andy nods. "Getting lost. Got it." She smiles meekly at Emily, who doesn't smile back, but instead nods with some mixture of appreciation and relief.

As Andy moves through the lobby and can't help but scan the crowd for her former boss, she becomes vaguely aware of two things. She still has to pee, and the bathroom line is now forty-deep. Andy rolls her eyes and makes her way back upstairs. She sits down, and tries not to think about Miranda Priestly.

Andy's little experiment is a total failure. For the show's final hour and twenty minutes, she is completely unable to concentrate on anything except Miranda, the life she left behind, and the way she impulsively threw everything away.

Sure, at the time it felt good - righteous, even. After Miranda's lecture about the importance of knowing how to look past the needs and desires of others, how to choose for oneself, what better way was there for Andy to strike at her, to get even for Miranda's betrayal of Nigel, than to look past Miranda's needs and desires and walk away, then and there?

Yeah, well. It felt good at the time.

Andy rolls her eyes at what she is now wise enough to recognize as her own petulance and immaturity, and swallows past a lump in her throat when she can't think herself away from the fact that she not only left Miranda high and dry during the busiest week of her year, but she also abandoned her during a time of deep personal anguish. And now she's screwing up this job, daydreaming about her old boss when she really needs to be paying attention to the performance. It's quite good, really, but Andy's irrevocably distracted.

Even if Miranda's non-reaction to her had been quite pointed on the one occasion they crossed paths after Paris, Andy has never been able to keep the older woman far from her thoughts. At first, Andy assumed that her constant preoccupation with Miranda was borne of guilt alone. But it's lasted so long, and they've dealt with it. Andy sent a note thanking Miranda for the recommendation, Miranda ignored the note, and it's a chapter closed. Or it should be.

But still. Still.

There hasn't been a day since she threw her phone into that fountain that Andy hasn't second-guessed herself, hasn't wondered how differently things might have been if she had stayed at Miranda's side, performed capably and steered Miranda through a season of professional demands and personal disappointment. Would she still be Miranda's assistant, or might she have already been promoted to the Articles Department?

Sometimes, when Miranda enters Andy's thoughts, it has nothing to do with work at all. Andy tries to imagine what would have happened if she hadn't simply allowed Miranda to ignore her outside The Mirror that afternoon. What if she had crossed the street in that five-second window while Miranda's eyes were locked on hers? She knew they had been, even behind the tinted frames. Might she have slipped into the car? It's insane, but… Andy's daydreams are rarely bound by realistic fences, and she has long since stopped trying to rationalize her preoccupation with Miranda. She doesn't talk to anyone about it, of course – she simply accepts it as something that she carries with her for no apparent purpose and to no specific end. Thinking about Miranda, wondering where she is and what she is doing – these actions come as naturally to Andy as breathing or eating, and seem just as vital to her existence.

And now, Andy's heart pounds in her heaving chest as she sits heavy with the knowledge that the woman who loosed her bearings and permanently rocked her world is sitting somewhere in this sea of people. It eats at Andy, makes her stomach clench and her knees shake.

When five minutes are left before curtain, Andy forgets about her resolution not to miss a moment. There is something else that it is far more vital she doesn't miss.

Andy gets to her feet and makes her way to the lobby. She walks into the night air, and pulls her coat a little tighter as she scans the row of limousines and cabs. There's the Mercedes. As Andy expected, Roy is already standing in position and wearing his cap, so that Miranda and her daughters will be able to slip right in without waiting. Andy is careful not to meet his gaze, lest she be recognized. She huddles behind a counter where a vendor is peddling programs and waits patiently. She will avoid being seen, but will not sacrifice this chance for another vision of Miranda.

When Miranda finally appears seven minutes later, she does not disappoint. Her lithe body is wrapped in an pale pink metallic brocade dress, and a heavy mink coat keeps her warm but falls just high enough on her leg to show off perfectly-toned legs that seem even longer in the four-inch platinum heels. Miranda's hair falls in a perfect cascade over her smooth forehead, and she is smiling at something one of her daughters has said. The girls are all dolled up, their red curls twisted into flattering up-dos, and Miranda has placed a gloved hand on each pair of small shoulders. Andy, who realizes that she has not been seen, feels her mouth go dry. She cowers behind the table, her eyes following Miranda until Roy closes the door. It is not until after the Mercedes speeds from the curb that Andy finally draws a breath.

When Andy arrives at the office the next afternoon, a bright orange Post-It is affixed to her computer, the cryptic phrase "see me" written in Greg's signature chicken scratch.

Grabbing a handy notebook and pen, Andy turns around and walks toward her new boss' office – she still thinks of Greg as the "new boss," despite having been here for nearly six months – nodding and smiling at the fellow staff writers who are also stuck in the newsroom on Sunday afternoon.

"Nice job, Andy," teases Melissa Stewart, who is working on an expose of a local puppy mill. "I don't think I've ever gotten such a fiery response to one of my articles before."

"Definitely not from such a famous reader," chimes in Jeremy Adler, who is bent over his desk, working on a political cartoon. "I was a little disappointed that Paterson didn't chime in on that last cartoon I did – guess he's not a reader."

"What are you guys talking a-" Andy doesn't have a chance to finish. Greg's office door opens, and then he is putting his arm on her shoulder, and smiling at her. "Three years, Andy. That's how long Natalie's been writing theater reviews for The Mirror."

Andy feels herself going pink and her palms getting a little sweaty. "Uh huh," she stammers, not sure she's going to like wherever this is going.

"And for three years Natalie's been doing a good job," Greg says, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "But I can't say she's ever elicited quite the same passion in our readership, and certainly not this quickly." He smiles at Andy fondly. "Definitely not from this kind of reader, either."

Andy blinks. She's tired of waiting – as far as she's concerned, it's well past time for the big reveal.

"Already got quite a letter from someone who read your review of My Fair Lady in this morning's issue," Greg finally says. "Come with me."

Andy follows her boss to his office, and instinctively lowers her head. She doesn't understand why they're leaving – it looks like everyone else in the newsroom has already seen whatever damn letter Greg's talking about, so he may as well just tell her about it in front of them, right? This production is totally uncalled-for, Andy thinks, working herself into one hell of a snit.

Ever-obedient, though, Andy follows Greg into his office and he hands her a thick vellum envelope filled with an immediately-recognizable sheet of cream-colored parchment. An elegant "MP," in raised gold leaf, sits atop the page. The signature is comprised of several precise, arched strokes obviously left by an expensive fountain pen. Andy's eyes travel from the letter to Greg's face, and then back to the letter. She swallows hard, sits in the uncomfortable office chair opposite his desk, and reads.

By the time Andy finishes Miranda's jeremiad about her woefully incomplete assessment of the performance – in which Miranda apparently took "particular offense that The Mirror's critic-by-proxy somehow managed to fill her entire two-column assessment of the performance with gushing compliments without offering a single line of commentary regarding its many resonant themes. What an opportunity Ms. Sachs has missed to contribute, for instance, her impression of whether proper mentoring can indeed result in the formation of a silk purse from a sow's ear, or whether darling Ms. Doolittle acted nobly or impudently in turning her back on Professor Higgins. After all, it was only through his tutelage that the heroine of the play Ms. Sachs so enjoyed is welcomed with open arms into a world theretofore inaccessible to her."

Andy breaths deeply, and looks up at Greg, who is studying her intently. The letter taps gently against her knee as her hand trembles, and through the shock of it all, Andy traces her thumb along Miranda's signature, stopping only when she realizes she's smudging the lines. It may be a missile aimed to strike her dead, but it was launched by Miranda, and for reasons Andy knows she doesn't understand, it is still sacred.

"You're not going to print this?" she asks him, hoping that her careful formulation of the question can somehow control his answer.

Greg sighs. "Of course I am. It's not every day someone of Miranda Priestly's status comes out as a Mirror reader. Besides, it's a well-written letter, which I guess shouldn't surprise anyone, considering. Kinda harsh, though."

"Kinda," Andy mumbles, hoping like hell she's not about to cry in front of her boss.

Greg takes a seat behind his desk. He smiles at Andy like he's just delivered a flower instead of a knockout punch. "We'll run it tomorrow. Should give you time to formulate a response, if you like."

Andy's eyes widen. "Um," she stammers. "Uh, no," she says, resolutely. She's not stupid enough to get into a public war of words with Miranda Priestly. "She's entitled to her opinion, and you're right," she says, realizing that she's blubbering a little. She stands up. "It's good for the paper to have her name in our Letters to the Editor section. So," she laughs nervously. "So, when you think about it, it's kind of a good thing for you that she hates me."

Greg's expression is curious. "Hates you? No, she thought highly enough of you to recommend you for your position here." His expression is thoughtful. "I may not know much about fashion, Andy, but I know enough to rely on any recommendation Miranda Priestly took the time to personally issue – cryptic as it may have been."

Andy nods, and starts to leave the office.

"Andy?" Greg's voice is more interested than irritated.

"Mmm?" she turns.

"I need that," he says, and points to the letter.

Andy looks down at the page, and makes a falsely apologetic face as she hands it to him, noting the smudged signature. She feels dirty, as if she has just drawn a mustache on the Mona Lisa. Still, she smiles when she turns her thumb over and sees the ink on it – and then she almost immediately feels pathetic. It's hardly the same thing as touching Miranda, and why does she want to do that in the first place?

Andy sits at her desk, ignoring the curious glances from coworkers looking for some sign of her reaction to the letter Greg circulated around the newsroom shortly after it came in. Before checking her new messages, she opens a new e-mail and begins her draft.

She's formulating a response all right, but it's not going to run in tomorrow's paper.

After an hour of revisions and narrowly-avoided panic attacks, Andy is satisfied enough to hit "send." She exhales long and low, hoping that the message bound for Miranda Priestly's inbox is sufficiently sincere and clever enough to warrant a response. In it, she thanks Miranda for "an extraordinarily thoughtful response" to her maiden theatrical review, admits that Miranda has unsurprisingly managed to lay her finger on Andy's lack of schooling in theater, and cheekily suggests "that you may know of someone willing to help me remedy this gaping chasm in my education."

When twenty minutes have passed, Andy is convinced that sending that email was the single stupidest thing she has ever done in her entire life. It's even worse than tossing her phone into that fountain in Paris, isn't it, because at least then she hadn't said something that Miranda might think was a flirt. Oh God. Was it? And what the hell had Andy hoped to see in reply? She goes online and runs every keyword search she can think of before accepting the unpleasant reality that there probably is no way to unsend that horrible email.

Her mind is nowhere near her story about the exploitation of undocumented workers in the city's booming counterfeit luxury goods trade. Instead of setting up appointments with her sources, Andy refreshes her inbox every five minutes. She's done that before when she's been waiting for an important email. This time, though, she's praying that nothing will appear. It's Sunday, and even Miranda tends to slow down on Sundays.

And then it does. Right there, in boldface at the top of Andy's list of new messages, is Miranda's name. Andy freezes, almost chokes on her own tongue, and presses a shaking finger to her right mouse button, eyes wide open in terror as she waits for the message to appear.

It is short and to the point, and it causes Andy's stomach to leap into her throat:


Class begins next Sunday - Roy will collect you at noon. Inform me if there have been any changes to your address.


Andy finally blinks, and it is only after it is too late to take them back that she realizes the words, "Oh, shit!" have been uttered aloud.

She doesn't even notice the turning heads.

Seven days later, Andy is waiting in her apartment wearing the fourth outfit she has tried on that morning. She has settled on tight jeans and a pearl-white blouse. Her hair is down, and an aquamarine charm hangs from the silver chain around her neck. Matching earrings dangle from her ears, and she has chosen one of the only pairs of designer shoes – Christian Louboutin Mary-Janes – that she kept once heels were no longer a necessity.

Andy doesn't know where she's going, exactly, but chances are it's a Sunday matinee, and the dress code is slightly relaxed. She also doesn't know if Miranda will be in the car, which Miranda did on purpose, and Andy's gone from nervous to furious to nervous again about that. She certainly hasn't asked Miranda any questions about what the day holds – to have done so would have almost certainly resulted in the cancellation of the entire afternoon.

At 11:58 a.m., Andy takes a final look in the mirror. She looks great, but she grunts in frustration at her reflection anyway. She's mad that she cares about this as much as she does, frustrated that Miranda can still get to her like this, embarrassed that she has thought of little else but this afternoon for seven days. The worst part is that Andy knows that all of this effort, all of this anxiety, is likely for naught. Miranda probably isn't in even in the car. She's probably set Andy up with the world's most boring theater date, and they're probably going to see some avant garde experimental crapfest that Miranda would never sit through in a million years, just to inflict as much pain on Andrea as possible without actually dirtying her own hands.

Andy heads down the stairs, and is not surprised to see that Roy has timed his arrival perfectly. He is just pulling up to the curb when Andy appears, and has hopped out of the car and opened the backseat as she reaches the edge of the sidewalk. He nods at her politely, and she returns the gesture, dipping her head and looking into the backseat.

Oh no. Miranda can't be serious. Andy feels her stomach turn over and her throat knot closed.

Miranda, it turns out, is not in the car. In her stead, she has sent Caroline and Cassidy, who are both looking at Andrea with matching expressions of expectation.

"Well?" the twin sitting closest to the driver-side window asks. "Are you getting in?"

Andy blinks, and pauses for what feels like a full minute before she closes her gaping mouth and slips into the car.

The twin sitting nearest Andy, in the middle, turns to her next. "Mom said we have to teach you about theater because you don't know anything."

Andy closes her eyes, and rolls them. This is Miranda's big, mysterious idea? Send her twelve-year-old daughters to make Andy feel like a total idiot? Andy feels a good seethe building up, and reminds herself not to take it out on the kids. "It's not that I don't know anything," she protests, hearing a little desperation in her own voice. She sighs, and looks at the girls as Roy pulls away from the curb. "Okay," she breaths out, realizing there's no backing out now. "So, um…?" she asks, hoping she doesn't have to finish the sentence.

She doesn't, Window Twin is perceptive enough. She makes a bored face and says, "I'm Cassidy." She points at her sister. "That's Caroline."

Andy smiles, grateful they've made at least something easy on her. Cassidy's hair is down, and she's wearing jeans and a bejeweled pink t-shirt under a brown bomber jacket. Her nails are painted in a sparkly pink polish that matches her shirt. Caroline, whose hair is tied in a neat ponytail, wears a loose-knit green sweater and black knit pants. Andy immediately recalls the only other time she has seen them - that awful night. Then, they had worn identical dresses. She felt a surge of gratitude that they had either outgrown this custom or that it simply wasn't their preference in daily life.

For the first time, it hits Andy that Miranda has entrusted Caroline and Cassidy to her care for an entire afternoon. Unless, of course, Roy's going to the show, too – but that wouldn't make a great deal of sense, would it?

Buoyed by her realization, Andy tries to look a little enthusiastic about the day ahead – Miranda's daughters certainly don't. "What are we seeing?" she asks, hoping for the best. Miranda probably won't have selected anything completely lame for her daughters' viewing pleasure.

"There's a revival of West Side Story," Caroline says.

"Do you know what a revival is?" Cassidy asks. Andy notes that the twins have inherited their mother's eyes – aquamarine crystals capable of looking right past Andy's own eyes and into her soul. It's most unnerving.

Andy rolls her eyes. "Come on, I'm not that bad," she assures them.

The twins exchange skeptical glances. Caroline speaks. "It's about gangs in the 1950s."

"I know that one!" Andy says happily. She is pretty sure she saw the movie a few times growing up, and probably remembers a few of the songs. This is going to be a piece of cake.

Cassidy lifts an eyebrow. "Mom wants you to talk to us about the themes afterward."

"She… she does?" Andy asks, stunned.

"Well. We're supposed to write reports for school," Caroline admits. "We're taking theater class. Anyway, Mom said you'd help us write them."

"She… she did?" Andy feels her heart speeding up. Did she just get suckered into doing more homework for the kids? This is so unfair.

Cassidy nods enthusiastically. "Yeah. Apparently you're like, a good writer or something."

"But you don't know anything about theater," Caroline adds, lest Andy get a big head.

Andy makes a face, tempted to "help" Caroline and Cassidy write the worst theater essays in the history of the world.

"I was just saying," Cassidy huffs. "Anyway, we're supposed to teach you about theater. You're supposed to write our paper."

"I'm not writing your paper," Andy says, determinedly. She fixes Cassidy with what she hopes is a resolute glare, but the nonchalant expression the redheaded child wears reveals that Andy has failed miserable in her attempt to lay down the law.

Cassidy shrugs. "You're supposed to help, then. Whatever." She looks out the window, having apparently lost interest in Andy.

Caroline clears her throat. "So when we watch, we're supposed to find a theme – two themes. We can't write about the same thing. That would be cheating."

Andy's mouth goes a little slack. Is this really how the twins have come to view the world? Having Mom's employees – or, in this case, ex-employees – do your homework isn't really cheating as long as separate work product is prepared for each sister?

Andy breathes deeply, and decides that she'll talk to the twins about the show – but that's it. She's not writing anything. Hell, she's not proofreading anything – maybe. The jury was still out on that one.

Caroline realizes that Andy isn't going to speak, and begins. "So, let's talk about the earliest known forms of theater. In Greece, they had these things called barfatoriums."

"Vomitoriums," Cassidy corrects, suddenly regaining interest. "And you're telling it wrong."

Caroline sticks her tongue out, and Cassidy starts talking about Virgil and Homer and Sophocles. Andy feels incredibly grateful that they've almost made it to the theater, and today's lesson will be a short one.

Andy is surprised by how much she loves the show. Seeing the classic love story brought to life on the stage is so much bigger, better, more real than it ever seemed when she watched the movie at home.

"It's based on Romeo and Juliet," Cassidy says in the car, after Andy asks her to identify a theme. "So it's about forbidden love and how if you're in a forbidden love affair, you have to die."

Andy quirks an eyebrow. "Um, okay…" she says. "I'm not sure you have to die if…"

"You do," Cassidy says, nodding her head quickly. "Romeo and Juliet both die. Tony dies." She pauses. "Wonder why Maria doesn't die."

Andy seizes the opportunity. "Well, because she ends the cycle of violence," she tries. "The play's about forbidden love, sure. But isn't it also about violence and how that comes from fear and prejudice?"

Caroline stares at her with interest, waiting for Andy to tell her how her angle's going to be different from Cassidy's. "Go on," she says, as if she is indulging Andy, who wonders how on earth Miranda is managing to raise two miniature versions of herself.

"Well, if it wasn't for prejudice and fear of people who are different from ourselves, maybe Tony and Maria… or Romeo and Juliet, for that matter… could've lived happily ever after," Andy says, feeling a little silly when her voice gets all high and bubbly at the end.

"Or maybe it's about how love is stronger than fear and prejudice," intones Cassidy, who's clearly clutching to her original idea. "It's worth dying for."

Caroline rolls her eyes at her sister. "Whatever. I'm not dying for a stupid boy before I even grow up."

Andy smirks. "Everyone have their topic?" she asks, pleased that this has been so easy.

The twins nod, and everyone gets along just fine until Roy drops Andy off at her apartment.

"You're supposed to write…help us write these," Caroline whines.

"No way, Jose," Andy says sweetly, sliding out when Roy opens her door. "You're on your own from now on." She notes their crestfallen expressions, and offers them a smile. "Please thank Mir- your mother for the tickets," she says. "I really enjoyed it."

Cassidy shrugs. "See ya next Sunday," she says, and then Caroline reaches across the seat and pulls the door closed.

Standing alone on the sidewalk, watching the retreating Mercedes, Andy freezes. It dawns on her that she, Caroline, and Cassidy have a standing date and that Miranda Priestly works in mysterious ways.

The next weekend it's Ragtime, followed by a discussion of immigration and race relations that Andy thought she handled with remarkable delicacy and aplomb. Into the Woods is playing off-Broadway, but the twins decide that Andy hasn't lived until she's seen Sondheim performed live. The ensuing discussion involves Sondheim's gift for double, triple, sometimes quadruple and quintuple entendres. They play word games, and there is laughter all around.

A revival of Once Upon a Mattress prompts what Andy feels is a remarkably well-handled discussion of not judging people based on their appearances – Andy doesn't ask whether the twins are relating her input to Miranda, but sincerely hopes that this one makes it home with them. For the first time, Andy sings in the car with the kids, and they're both impressed that she can actually carry a tune.

Next, they check out Annie Get Your Gun, and Andy is pleased when the twins pick up on their own themes, without any prompting from her. Caroline opts for the battle of the sexes, and Cassidy takes up the misrepresentation and exploitation of Native Americans in stories about the Old West. Andy's proud of that one, and gives herself a little credit for having gotten them thinking past the admittedly wonderful music

The girls like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and Andy wonders for the first time whether Miranda's raising them in any certain religion. They don't mention it, and Andy does not dare ask. She is not at all surprised when they adore Guys and Dolls, and each select themes dealing with the era of bootlegging and floating crap games.

Andy's young charges, meanwhile, are doing a good job of teaching Andy plenty about theater. She's fairly certain they're simply giving her a condensed version of all that they're learning in class, and it's not really like she'll use any of it anywhere except maybe while watching Jeopardy! with friends.

Still, Andy is beginning to look forward to these Sunday afternoons with Caroline and Cassidy. She's even stopped thinking of them as a unit – the twins, the girls, Miranda's kids. They're individuals, with their own distinct personalities, and Andy's fairly certain that even if they decided to be mean to her and start dressing alike again, she'd be able to tell the difference.

Occasionally, Andy talks about her own life. Cassidy is by far the more inquisitive of the two, and she's always the first to start. After Phantom of the Opera, the discussion turns to matters of the heart.

"Do you have a boyfriend?" Cassidy asks as soon as they're back in the car.

"Nope," Andy says, and pops another bite of caramel corn into her mouth. She's no longer nervous that her young theater dates are going to bust her for eating junk food – probably because Andy always buys them snacks, too.

"But you're pretty," Cassidy points out, as if this, by itself, should guarantee the presence of a guy in Andy's life.

Andy shrugs, feeling smug about passing Cassidy Hughes's prettiness litmus test. "I also work a lot," she points out, almost defensively.

Caroline looks at her with an almost pitying expression. "I have a boyfriend," she declares.

"You do not," Cassidy groans. "Just because he called you to get the answers on the biology homework doesn't make him your boyfriend."

Caroline sticks out her tongue. "Well, just because you have Nick Jonas on your locker door doesn't make him your boyfriend."

Cassidy rolls her eyes. "Didn't say it did. You're the one who's deluded."

Andy grins at them, stepping in before it gets worse. "Hey, there's more to life than boys," she says sagely. Roy rounds the corner at Orchard, and Andy is a little sad as she adds, "Anyway… I think my stop's coming up. What's on the planner next week?"

Caroline looks at Cassidy carefully, and then turns back to Andy. "Um, about next week."

"Oh, are we not doing this next week?" Andy asks. She's a little disappointed, but of course it makes sense that her fellow passengers might occasionally have an elsewhere to be.

Cassidy nods. "We're doing it. But Mom's coming next week."

Andy's eyes widen. "S-she is?" she asks, not sure why she's so surprised. Of course it makes sense that Miranda wants to see exactly what goes on during these weekly trips to the theater, even if they were her idea in the first place.

Caroline nods, and offers a small explanation. "She wants to know what's so great about you."

Andy lifts an eyebrow. "Huh?" she asks, inelegantly.

Caroline shrugs. "I guess we talk about Sundays a lot. She wants to know what's so great about you."

Andy can't decide whether to be amused or offended, so she just smiles sweetly. "Well, thanks for…um, for talking me up, I guess," she says. She supposes she shouldn't be surprised that they've been discussing her with their mother, that Miranda may have asked her children to share some details about how they've been spending their Sunday afternoons. She is, though, a bit perturbed that, despite everything, Miranda claims to have no idea what's "so great" about Andy. She swallows hard. "What are we gonna see next week?"

"Wicked," Cassidy says, the excitement evident on her face.

Andy flinches before she exits the car, already afraid of the discussion that'll follow that one.

The following seven days are among the most nerve-wracking of Andy's life – worse, perhaps, than the week she'd spent wondering whether Miranda would show up on that first Sunday nearly two months earlier. Worse than showing up for her interview at The Mirror without knowing what Miranda might have told them about her.

Determined to impress Miranda, Andy reads the book, buys the CD and learns all the songs. She looks at every online review she can find, willing to be spoiled if it means she can't possibly miss a theme or idea.

It's not until Andy's looking into her mirror with an especially critical eye that she begins to wonder if it was a bad idea to spend her entire tax refund on a new outfit just for the occasion. She's had to scale back on the wardrobe now that she can no longer tap into the reserves in Runway'scloset – and it's just as well, really, she doesn't have much call to wear couture in her new position - but she still remembers how to pull off the right look when needed. Today, she chooses casual wedges, ass-hugging jeans, and a lilac cashmere sweater accented with a cerulean scarf, a gesture she knows Miranda will understand but doubts Miranda will mention.

Andy gives herself as pep talk before walking down her apartment stairs this time. Miranda won't actually sprout horns and breathe fire – well, probably not. The twins already like her, and she can always just talk to them if the tension becomes too much, right?

Andy briefly wonders how Miranda feels about this. Is she nervous? Andy dismisses that possibility almost as quickly as it occurs to her. First, Miranda Priestly is the most unflappable person she has ever met. She doesn't get nervous, especially not over something as pedestrian as seeing Andy. Second, Miranda's the one who's arranged this little outing; who's set up the entire Sunday-going-to-shows scheme. Miranda has had the upper hand from the beginning, and today is simply one part of her unknowable machination.

Andy steels herself, setting her shoulders square and concentrating on her posture as she flings her building's heavy door open and steps down the staircase. Once again, the timing is perfect – Roy is just now stopping the car. This time it's a stretch, so there's room for the four of them. Mercifully, Caroline is sitting next to Miranda on the side furthest from the driver, so Andy takes the empty seat next to Cassidy.

Miranda is perched on her seat regally, looking every inch the monarch Andy supposes she imagines herself to be. The makeup is perfect; the hair swept back just-so; the navy slacks and pearl white blouse screaming that Miranda hasn't tried too hard, but is photo-ready just in case.

"Hi," Andy says, buckling her seatbelt and wishing away the bowling ball in her stomach. She smiles, hoping her nerves aren't showing.

Miranda lifts an eyebrow, and Andy notes with relief that her expression appears to be closer to amusement than disdain. "Andrea," she drawls politely, though she does not extend her hand.

You can look, Andy reminds herself. But you can't touch.

After quick hellos are exchanged with the twins, who – is it just Andy's imagination? – look almost as apprehensive as Andy feels, Andy fidgets nervously. Silence descends, and lasts for a good three minutes before Andy can no longer resist the temptation to gush. "Thank you for all of the shows," she says, trying to break the thickening ice.

Miranda nods, and turns her head to look out the window. Andy focuses on the kids, listening to the daily lecture. Cassidy is leading a discussion on theater-in-the-round, and while Andy's actually heard a lot of it before, she feigns especial interest for Miranda's benefit. Miranda, however, is still looking out the window, and it is not until the car reaches the theater that she finally turns her head. As she scoots past Andy on her way out of the car, she fixes her with a serious expression. In a voice so low it barely registers, she mutters, "Nice scarf."

Those are the only words Miranda speaks to Andy before intermission. The show has been phenomenal, and little tears prick Andy's eyes at the exciting conclusion to the first act. When the lights come up, she looks over to the girls, who are seated between Andy and Miranda, who occupies the aisle seat.

The children, who are accustomed to tanking up before Act One, look at Andy imploringly.

"Um, snack time?" she asks.

Twin red heads nod voraciously.

Miranda fidgets. "Snack time?"

Andy grins, feeling inexplicably emboldened. "Yep. They like me 'cause I bribe them with candy."

Miranda rolls her eyes. "I can't tell you how surprised I am."

Andy is grateful for even this little banter. "Can we get you anything from the lobby?" she asks, deciding to push her luck. She's always done that where Miranda has been concerned, and it's worked out all right so far. "Gummy bears?" she asks, feeling her own stupid grin as it widens. "Milk duds? Mountain Dew?" The idea of Miranda enjoying such fare is almost enough to make her laugh out loud, but she manages to bite back the urge.

Miranda's eyes narrow. Is that contempt, or is it playfulness? Andy can't tell, but she decides it's probably time to shut up now. She relaxes her smile and regards Miranda seriously, figuring if you're going to roll the dice and try teasing Miranda Priestly, you probably shouldn't look too smug while you're doing it.

"Coffee," Miranda decides, as though she's doing Andy a tremendous favor by identifying a need that must be met.

Andy nods. "Okay, coffee," she says, feeling strangely grateful to have been given this assignment. It beats being ignored, after all.

Ten minutes later, Andy and the twins make it back to the seats and shuffle into position. The girls have loaded up on CDs and t-shirts (Andy didn't say anything about the need for two programs and two CDs, but did make the helpful suggestion that they could get different shirts and share them.)

Cassidy passes her mother the coffee. Miranda takes one sip before heaving a martyred sigh and setting the cup aside.

Andy, who has been surreptitiously spying Miranda all day, notices immediately. "Something wrong?" she asks.

Miranda looks at the cup. "It's…cold," she says, her voice pitiful.

Andy looks at the offending paper cup. It's true, there's no steam, but it hasn't been three minutes since they bought it, and the pot looked fresh enough. "I'll fix it," she announces, bounding out of her seat.

"Andy!" Cassidy says. "They're gonna start!"

"I can make it," Andy says, feeling oddly gratified for this new chance to impress.

When Andy arrives at the coffee bar, she sizes up the young man behind the counter. "What's your brewing temperature?" she demands.

"Um," stammers the man behind the counter. He lifts a nob on the side. "Uh, this one's set on 93?"

"Make it 100," Andy says quickly, wondering if she has time to wait for the first cup to brew.

"Can't," he says. "The instructions say between 92 and 96…"

Andy frowns, and fishes a $20 out of her wallet. "Just the first cup. Then change it back."

"You're not gonna, like, burn someone with this are you?" he asks, not looking terribly concerned as he takes the money and adjusting the knob as he adds more grounds.

Andy rolls her eyes, grateful for his cooperation. That might have been her spare change allowance for the next few days, but the feeling she knows she'll get from having done something right for Miranda will be worth it.

Minutes later, armed with an accomplished look and a scalding hot cup of coffee, Andy makes it back to their row. The lights are going down and she waits a beat as Miranda takes a slow sip. Miranda looks at Andy and nods. With a gratified heart, Andy slips back to her seat, and breathes easy for the rest of the show. It is, she decides, the best show that she has ever seen.

On the way out of the theater, Miranda has the bright idea that they should go to the seafood restaurant that's just opened next door for dinner rather than immediately drive home. "How in the world," she asks, "can you possibly have a meaningful discussion about anything in less than half an hour?"

Andy blinks. "Um," she says.

Miranda rolls her eyes, communicating that she is, once again, staggered by Andy's eloquence. Andy feels like the stupidest girl in New York. It is not the first time Miranda has made her feel this way; and Andy dares to hope it won't be the last time.

The place is full, which isn't a surprise, considering a sold-out show just let out half a block away. Still, they are seated immediately. Andy notes that although Miranda typically prefers to command the center of a room – finding the perfect see-and-be-seen table was an integral part of the task of booking reservations for Miranda – but when she's dining with her children, she seems to enjoy the privacy of the rear corner.

"So, Andrea," Miranda entreats as a handsome server fills their glasses with sparkling water. "Enlighten us."

Andy swallows back the lump in her throat. Both of the girls are looking at her with wide blue eyes, and Miranda's smile is borne of pure evil. "Well," she says, hearing her voice crack a little. "The story definitely asks us to take a look at the origins of good and bad. Are we born good or bad, or does life kind of…" Andy's voice trails off. She can tell, from Miranda's expressionless glare, that she is unimpressed. She tries again. "Also, it's about the perception of wickedness. How someone can be saddled with a reputation that isn't necessarily fair."

Cassidy and Caroline exchange worried glances. They can tell Andy is struggling, and God bless them, it appears they want to help. "It's like you said the other week," Caroline jumps in. "About not judging people based on how they look?"

"And this is kind of the same," Cassidy elaborates, looking helpful. "Only it's more like… don't judge someone until you know the real story."

"The wicked witch wasn't really wicked," Caroline concludes. "But she gets this bad rep because people didn't understand her motivations."

Andy nods eagerly, and looks to Miranda, who is observing the scene with more than a passing interest. Andy wonders if the children have ever cared enough about one of Miranda's underlings to actually try to keep them out of trouble rather than get them into it.

"So let's talk about her motivations," Andy prompts, encouraging the girls to show their mother how good they're both becoming at identifying themes and symbols. They talk about the war between a desire to fit in and a desire to do what's right. Cassidy mentions how brave Elphaba was for bucking an oppressive system, and Caroline gives Galinda credit for her redemption. They both delight in all the plot twists and reveals – finding out how the scarecrow became the scarecrow, and all that.

Andy speaks only when the conversation lulls, which isn't often. Miranda says next to nothing. The girls are the real stars of the show, and Andy can't help but feel pride in that.

By the time the food arrives, Andy has almost – almost – forgotten how nervous she's supposed to be to be sitting here in a fancy restaurant, enjoying a meal with Miranda Priestly and her children after they've all just been to the theater together. It almost feels normal, almost feels like Andy belongs at this table, in this scene with these people. After dinner, a dessert is split four ways – three if Andy's honest, as Miranda's half-bite hardly counts.

When Andy is dropped off at home after dinner, the girls actually get out of the car to hug her. Miranda stays inside the limo, but watches the warm scene unfold with a strange, though almost soft, expression on her face. Andy catches her eye and manages to send a small, nervous smile her way. Miranda's responsive nod is slight, but it's there. Andy sees it, and she sees it again a hundred times before she finally falls asleep that night.

Andy's Sunday matinees with the twins continue. Miranda does not join them again. Andy is disappointed, but not shocked. She still enjoys the weekly surprise of finding out what show she and the girls are going to see, and takes a little pleasure in the knowledge that she must have impressed Miranda at least a little that night – after all, Miranda has chosen to allow Andy's relationship with the girls, unlikely as it is, to continue.

And then, seven Sundays after Wicked, Andy descends the stairs in front of her apartment to find that there is no limo waiting outside to collect her. She checks her watch, and finds that she is perfectly on time. She waits ten minutes, and dials Roy's number.

"Hello?" he answers, his tone pleasant and unhurried. He does not sound like a man who is stuck in traffic or running ten minutes late.

"Roy, hi," Andy says, confused. "It's Andy. Uh, Andrea Sachs."

"Hi Andy," he chirps.

"Hi. Um." Andy bites her lip. "So, no… no play today?"

Roy is quiet for a moment. Andy hears paper rustling. "No, Andy. You almost gave me a heart attack, though. I checked, and I haven't messed the date up. Miranda told me not to get you today. She's picking you up herself."

Andy freezes. "She's what?"

Before Roy can respond, though, his words are borne out. Miranda's behind the wheel of her Porsche roadster, and she's pulling up to the curb in front of Andy's apartment. The top is down and Miranda's perfect coif is protected only by an ornate scarf – Andy immediately recognizes the design as Hermes – tied at the nape of her neck. She wears large wraparound shades. The twins are not in the car.

Once the car has stopped, Miranda turns to Andy, who is rooted to the sidewalk not ten feet away, looking at her expectantly. "Well?" she finally says, once she realizes Andy has frozen. "Get in."

Andy swallows hard and obeys.

Once Andy is in the car, Miranda pulls away from the curb. They drive in silence for what must be at least twenty minutes. Miranda offers no explanations; and Andy knows better than to ask for any.

Miranda finally breaks the silence as she pulls off the freeway. "Caroline and Cassidy are at their grandmother's this afternoon," she says.

"Oh," Andy says agreeably, as if that fact explains why no one told her she wasn't going to see a show, why Miranda showed up herself, and why she's kidnapped Andy and driven her to… is this Central Park? It's certainly uninhabited. Oh God. She's going to kill Andy. That's why she's wearing gloves. Oh, wait. The gloves are coming off. Maybe she's just going to beat Andy up, instead.

"But I saw no cause," Miranda continues, taking a spot near an unmarked trail head. Andy groans inwardly – apparently, even the parking fairies believe in indulging Miranda Priestly's every whim. Andy's certainly never found a spot near the park this quickly. "To leave you at home on a Sunday with nothing to do."

Andy briefly considers telling Miranda that there's actually quite a bit more to her life than Caroline and Cassidy, and that if she'd been given a little warning, she might have filled her Sunday any one of a dozen different ways. She doesn't, of course. Instead, she waits for Miranda to open the car door and follows her lead.

"We're… we're going for a walk?" Andy asks incredulously. Miranda has never struck her as the hiking type, and while the white-haired woman isn't wearing her usual five-inch stilettos, she's not going to get very far in those pumps.

"Don't be ridiculous," Miranda says. "There's a picnic basket in the backseat. Bring it with you – there's a table just inside here. It's by the lake – I thought it was a nice… nice spot."

Andy's eyes widen. Did Miranda just sound…nervous? It's ridiculous, Andy knows, but she kind of did. Wow. How about that?

Andy reaches into the backseat and finds the willow picnic basket Miranda's talking about, and smirks as she sees a white tablecloth folded next to the basket. Carrying them both, she follows Miranda and walks quietly beside her as they enter the park.

"I had no idea there were still secluded spots in Central Park," Andy muses, and instantly wishes she could reach outside herself, grab the words, and swallow them back down. Secluded? Was that really the best she could do? Why didn't she just come right out and accuse Miranda of trying to seduce her?

Miranda looks at Andy carefully, and Andy can almost see an elegant eyebrow arching behind the large, dark shades. "If one knows where to find them," she says, in a voice that's far too casual for the circumstances.

They reach the table Miranda has promised in about two minutes, and the view of the reservoir is perfectly lovely. They are shaded by a large Japanese crabapple tree, and setting up the lunch is the work of a few minutes. Miranda's chef has prepared a beautiful salad – poached salmon over chopped vegetables, and Miranda has brought along sparkling water and a bottle of Riesling. Andy has never tried it, but she recognizes the vineyard as being one of the pricier names carried by Nate's old restaurant.

"Thank you, Miranda," Andy says, a little dumbfounded as she lifts a fork and takes her first bite. "This is…"

Miranda removes her sunglasses and looks at Andy meaningfully. "It's what, Andrea?"

"Nice." Andy feels stupid. She tries again. "Unexpected."

Miranda lifts her wineglass and waits. Andy clues in, and wraps her fingers around the stem of her own glass. She extends the glass and clinks it against Miranda's carefully, smiling because she doesn't know what else to do.

"I wanted to speak with you privately," Miranda says after a few minutes of silent, awkward picnicking. "About the girls." She takes another sip of wine. "And… other things."

Still slightly baffled by their little outing, Andy nods. "Okay," she says, trying to keep her voice and hands from trembling.

"They have taken to you," Miranda says quietly, looking at her plate. "I've been surprised at how much they've done so, and how quickly." She looks up to Andy now, and her crystalline eyes seem to reach into the depths of Andy's being. "I didn't come along to find fault, though I'm sure that's what you thought."

Andy is quiet. She has given up trying to stop her hands from shaking and has instead rested them on her knees under the table.

"They don't get excited about their school subjects," Miranda continues. She either hasn't noticed Andy's increasing discomfort, or is choosing to ignore it. "They don't look forward to writing their own reports." She sips from her water. "Or, at least, they didn't. Now that they've been spending time with you, they're talking about it all week – seeing the play with Andy, talking about life and all its highs and lows with Andy, learning important lessons from Andy…"Miranda's gaze is unwavering. "I came along to see for myself. To watch you with them."

Andy nods slowly. "And?" she asks, her voice cracking a little.

"You were so natural with them," Miranda says quietly. This time she is the one who looks away, casting her eyes toward the lake. "I've been trying for twelve years and it's still not…" Her voice trails off before she can finish making the unpleasant admission. "Well."

Andy blinks. "They adore you, Miranda," she says before giving herself time to think about whether it's a good idea to say anything at all. Sometimes a person – even Miranda, probably – just needs to talk, to be listened to. No response required. Andy understands this concept, even if she's always been a little sloppy in its execution.

Miranda turns her head, shifting her gaze back to Andy. "And I adore them. That doesn't mean it's easy." A pensive expression lines her regal features. "It was easy that day. With you. You… made it lighter, somehow, for me and for the girls. We laughed a little more, smiled a little more."

Andy's head starts to swim. Miranda showed up at her house and whisked her away to a picnic in the park so she could compliment Andy in private? Pour out her heart about how much easier it was to be around her own children with Andy in the picture?

Instead, she quietly says, "I liked having you there."

Miranda regards her seriously. "I know," she says. "I've known for some time, Andrea."

Andy's throat draws tight. "You… you have?" Andy asks.

"I wasn't sure," Miranda admits, frowning. "Not until that day. You… you made some things clear, whether you realized it or not." Miranda taps her finger on her chin. "I'm rather observant, in case you'd forgotten."

Miranda's voice is almost dancing over the words. Andy can already feel the slap of whatever insult is surely brewing in Miranda's mind. She wants to run and hide; she wants the ground to open up beneath her and swallow her whole.

Andy closes her eyes. She knows that if she doesn't – if she keeps looking right at Miranda like this – it's a matter of time before her secret is out. Before Miranda knows that Andy's – what? Falling for her? That Andy's been falling for her since the day they met? The thought seems ridiculous even to Andy, and she knows it's true. Several seconds pass before Andy hears Miranda's voice again. It is soft. It is careful. It is close.

"Andrea. I don't… I don't mind."

Andy opens her eyes. Miranda has moved from her bench to Andy's, and is sitting just a couple of feet away. Her skin is as smooth as her voice and her eyes are as blue as the sky and oh God, Andy knows there's no way she's going to pretend that this isn't affecting her the way that it is. There's no way that she's going to be able to hide the fact that this is what she wants, what she needs – what she will always want and need – that she is positively drunk on Miranda right now.

And then it happens. Miranda reaches out and covers Andy's hands with her own. Her skin is soft and smooth and cool. Andy opens her eyes to watch Miranda's thumb trace a pattern on the back of her hand. She slowly, cautiously lifts her eyes back up just as Miranda's lower to their joined hands.

"Miranda," she says quietly, the name feeling and sounding almost like a prayer on her lips.

Miranda looks up, and their eyes meet. Neither of them speaks. Andy's head swims with nerves and emotion, and she has no idea what she's more terrified of – saying too much or saying nothing. Either way, she will do the wrong thing and this moment, this impossible moment, will be gone. Miranda looks back at her with an expression that is almost stricken – as if she, too, is paralyzed by possibility.

And then Miranda is leaning in, and murmuring, "Oh, for God's sake, Andrea... aren't you ever going to –?"

So Andy does. Mustering every ounce of confidence she has, Andy cannonballs into the water. Miranda's lips are soft and tender against hers, and Andy feels almost rough as she moves her mouth gently against Miranda's. There is no urgency in the kiss, Andy realizes – it is lazy, sweet. There is time and space enough for Andy to listen to the small noises coming from the back of Miranda's throat as she moves for a better angle, for her to inhale the sweet spice of Miranda's favorite perfume.

Miranda does not move away, does not tell Andy to stop. Her hands slowly pull away from Andy's and she draws Andy into a loose, comfortable embrace. Andy opens her mouth against Miranda's, and a tiny sigh escapes her before Miranda's tongue presses gently inside. Andy feels her stomach leap into her throat, and briefly wonders if she'll survive this kiss and live to find out what's waiting on the other side.

When they part several seconds later, Miranda's eyes are open and they are gazing into Andy's with a mixture of desire and astonishment.

Andy exhales long and low, and finally speaks. "Wow." Okay, so it's not one of the most eloquent things she's ever said to Miranda, but it's certainly one of the most accurate.

Miranda's lips worry just a touch, and then lift into a slight smile. "I didn't know if…"

"Now you do," Andy interrupts her. And then she leans in again, and Miranda is all she can feel, smell, or taste.

When they leave the park almost an hour later, they have not spoken of the future beyond next Sunday, when Miranda will be joining Andy and the girls for a theater date. They have not given voice to any concerns either might have about age differences, power imbalances, wealth disparities, or what might happen should they actually pursue a relationship. But they are holding hands, and they are smiling, and really…could there have ever been a more wonderful surprise than that?