A/N: This has been edited from the original version; updated 7/27/2015
Loud; it would have been ear-splitting if her ears had actually been involved but incredibly, they were not.
Everywhere she had turned this morning it was a riotous cacophony of sound and it wasn't just the rhythmic clacking of the subway car on the rails, the child three people down repetitively requesting another Cheerio from the baggie in her nanny's hand nor was it the homeless guy in the wheelchair rolling up the aisle asking for money.
This was much, much worse, bordering on terrifying; an overlapping tapestry of silent words.
"Why is it so warm…" "Look at that piece…" "…in here? I hate this;" "…of ass;" "God I hate children!..." "…the walls are closing in." "…mmmm, sweet. I want to bend him over and" "Oh no, I forgot to pay the cable!..."" …Whiny shits all of them!" "…Dammit, they're gonna shut me off for sure this time."
It had started earlier that morning when the young reporter had locked her security door and ventured onto the street. Every person she came within several yards of became a radio broadcast station and she couldn't change the channel. It was like being stuck listening to a cable headline news show, only the tape was a mash-up, a constant jumbled stream of information, droning on, and on, little modulation of sound, words and sometimes pictures. At first she was confused; unable to understand what she was experiencing, receiving information without discernible stimuli.
Instead of retreating back to the safety of her apartment Andy Sachs had forged onwards towards her subway station, too rattled to even notice that she had passed by her usual coffee stop; fear that she was going insane mounting with every step. With each individual she passed her own thoughts had grown increasingly frantic; What the fuck is wrong with me? Surely I'm not actually hearing people's thoughts! She looked around, slightly paranoid. Could anyone hear her? Once she reached the platform the panic had ebbed a bit as no one seemed to spare her more than their usual attention; one worry eliminated.
That just left the insane part.
Ever practical and curious, Andy had decided to see whether or not she could tell if it was her imagining all of these internal conversations or if she had truly awakened this morning as a human listening device. There was a young man and a transit cop in a discussion that was becoming increasingly heated so she walked within "earshot" to see what would happen.
"Listen! I paid!" "Asshole! You think I'm going to admit it?"
"Look, I saw you slip in from the emergency gate, give me the key." "Does this jerk-off think I'm stupid?"
"I don't have to give you nothin'. Do you have a warrant to search me?" "Just a few more seconds, I can feel the train coming in, that should distract this tool long enough for me to…"
A picture of the stairs and fresh air came into Andy's mind and it hadn't taken much for her booted foot to 'accidentally' slide out farther from her body as the teenager turned and started running, only to fall flat on his face. The cop eyed her curiously but gratefulness won out; putting the cuffs on him and reading him his rights.
Andy had wandered away and travelled to a less populated section of the platform finally gaining a measure of quiet. She rubbed her temple with a shaky hand, adrenalin from stopping the teen and with the discovery that she wasn't imagining things. Small comfort as it wasn't any less crazy. What the hell? How did this happen? She wracked her brain, backtracking through the last twenty-four hours; what was different?
Work at The New York Mirror had been the usual assortment of fact-checking with a sprinkling of meetings and one interview yesterday; then she met up with Lily and Doug for a late dinner and drinks. They ate in the bar area of their favorite restaurant, people crowded all around them, and she'd had a good time. It only got uncomfortable once, when they insisted on teasing her about her 'crush' on her former boss. Honestly, it had been over a year, when were they going to let it go? She remembered protesting that she had to attend to the woman the way she had or would have been fired. She also recalled musing that sometimes she almost felt as though she could read the other woman's mind and that's the only way she was able to do it.
Andy sat up straighter in her seat. Is that it? She could visualize her next words to the pair, "But guys, can you imagine? If I did know her thoughts, how interesting would that have been?" She had laughed then and shivered, "Especially with those looks she used to give me." Andy was jolted back to her current environs by another commuter whose overly-large purse banged her elbow as she hurried by too closely. As she rubbed at the spot it occurred to her that is was not unlike the rude bump that effectively curtailed her Miranda-musing the evening before when someone had run into her rather hard, slopping her drink onto the table. When she had looked over her shoulder no one was there but she had experienced a momentary feeling of slight dizziness that had then gone unnoticed as it was so fleeting. Weird. Was that all related to her current "condition"?
Back now in the depths of the city, her train had now arrived and she tried to find a car with the fewest of people. At least here, on the subway, there were only five or six people around her, instead of the dozens on the street, and she could feel that the early hour of the morning and the constant lull of the moving train quieted the thoughts of at least two of them.
"Why is it so warm…" "Look at that piece…" "…in here? I hate this;" "…of ass;" "God I hate children!..." "…the walls are closing in." "…mmmm, sweet. I want to bend him over and" "Oh no, I forgot to pay the cable!..."" …Whiny shits all of them!" "…Dammit, they're gonna shut me off for sure this time." She shook her head and, for what felt like the millionth time that morning, wished for the confusing jumble to stop.
The train jostled along the tracks and Andy continued to be bombarded but she recognized that something was nibbling at her consciousness, something about the interaction with the cop and the teen.
What was it?
After several moments of distracted pondering, because really, all those internal conversations were competing greatly with her own, she realized that when she had focused on the interaction between the two – all of the others had dropped away. With rising hopes she began to think that maybe she could somehow control this so she used the remainder of her time on the train focusing on each of the people around her; trying to see if she could somehow mute the others out.
"Mmmmm, oh man this is soooo good. Blending some Komodo Dragon beans in with the Sumatra was a really good idea…"
Andy worked on matching the thoughts with the person and settled on a woman sipping at a stainless travel cup, her eyes closed and a slight smile on her lips.
Andy's features sported a smile of their own as she realized that she was able to successfully listen in only on that one person. Of course as soon as she lost focus and was back on her own thoughts the jumble returned, if not a bit muted. Andy figured, with relief, that if this onset of mind-reading didn't go away she'd probably improve with practice.
Focusing back on the woman who liked to experiment with her coffee beans every morning reminded Andy that she had yet to get her own morning pickup so she decided to disembark a stop early and hit a very well-known but untraveled for the last year Starbucks, having only been back to the store a couple of times since leaving Miranda.
No, check that, Runway… she'd left her job as second assistant to Miranda Priestly, Editor in Chief of Runway Magazine not Miranda. Andy rolled internal eyes at herself; she could lie all she wanted but leaving ones job shouldn't hurt like it still did nor should it drive her to avoid a coffee shop. Andy had no choice but to recognize the lie because of the ache that was growing the closer she came to this particular stop. It was all too much of a reminder of what had truly been given up that day in Paris.
As the reluctant clairvoyant ascended to street level the combined press of bodies, street noise and thoughts created such a deafening roar that it was all Andy could do to remain upright as she headed for what she hoped was the respite of the shop. But when she opened the door, another roiling wall of gibberish rolled over her. It was due to her desperate need of caffeine and the desire to keep one normal thing in her morning routine that she did not turn tail and run but instead took her place in line.
As she waited Andy focused intensely on what she'd managed to learn so far about her "condition" and decided that if focusing on only one set of thoughts could bring some form of quiet then maybe if she manufactured something else to focus on it would work as well. So she sought out a sequence of words, like a mantra, that would quiet the constant stream surrounding her, finally settling on a completely silly ditty she remembered from an old M*A*S*H* episode. Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy. She couldn't remember why the character Hawkeye was going on about it but…
"It's not even 8:30 and the woman is already harassing me! Why the hell do I put up with it? She's a monster! Certifiable. Oh God I forgot the scarves…"
Seriously? I can't even have a run-on conversation with myself about absolutely nothing without interruption? But then Andy looked at the culprit, a young woman loaded down with a multitude of bags three ahead of her in line and it all clicked and the former assistant to the supreme fashion hell angel nearly squeaked. Indeed something must have escaped her lips because the man in front of her turned and looked; she tried to smile and shrugged. Of course she would run into Miranda's assistant; given the way this day started out she wasn't surprised by anything anymore.
Andy watched as the young blond got her order and struggled out the door. "Don't trip, you can do this. Drop off the coffee and then run back out for the scarves; she'll never know…"
Andy rolled her eyes. The girl must be new; hadn't learned yet that the editor knew everything. Andy made her way up to the counter and smiled at the young female barista who gave her a quick once over.
"Wow; she's beautiful!"
Andy's eyes nearly bugged out and she cleared her throat, quickly giving her order; trying desperately to listen in on someone else. It wasn't working.
"For you, anything." The girl continued her perusal and trailed her eyes down the rather pronounced "V" of Andy's blouse. "Oooh, I would love to take that whipped cream and…"
Andy suddenly blurted, "I'm going to wait over here," and nearly tripped over a display heading to an unoccupied corner. La la la La Laaaaa…This is crazy! But she had to restrain a tiny smile; it was kind of cool knowing someone thought she was attractive enough to notice.
Finally her Macchiato was ready and she returned to her internal mantra, loudly, as she grabbed it and nearly ran for the exit. Once back on the street she kept it up, words now all mashed together, Mareseedoatsanddoeseedoatsand...
Emphasis on the way the final syllable of each word rolled into the other; really that was the proper way to deliver the nonsense anyway, wasn't it?
She barreled down the sidewalk, head down. Mareseedoatsanddoeseedoatsand...
Straight into another human being.
"Oh god, I'm so sorry!"
An icy quiet, "Stupid," carefully enunciated "insolent" and lashing "careless…" trailed off into an astonished "oh."
Andy looked up the same time as the person she bowled over; Miranda. Mortification was a word never truly understood by Andy until that moment.
"Miranda! I'm sooo sorry."
"Hmph; you should be." Her tone was ice and blue gray eyes shaded to steel as she stared hard at the younger woman. "You should be sorry for so much; you left me. You left me."
Andy realized she still had the other woman's arms in her hands and stepped back to a pace without relinquishing her hold. Her hands seemed to burn where they touched the skin below the three-quarter length sleeves. Images cascaded like a waterfall through her mind; the back of her while walking away at the fountain; a bottle of Lagavulin, something which she's never been able to afford, and a half empty glass; a photo kept in a drawer of the two of them at one of the Paris parties. But none of the snapshots were her own; no they belonged to the woman standing like a statue in front of her who was suddenly regaining her composure.
"Take your hands off of me." The words fell like stones but were countered by "Beautiful hands." "Beautiful Andrea."
Andy let go as if burned and stared. Realization dawning like a bucket of ice water over her head. "Miranda, I…"
"No. You will not speak. You have not earned the right to speak to me."
But Andy had heard enough to look beyond the vitriol; and there, buried in her eyes, was a deep sadness. She did the only thing she could in that moment; step back and allow the editor the respect due.
"You're right Miranda; I have not. Would you please allow me the opportunity to find a way to do so?"
The older woman had been preparing to turn away and make her way into the building but stopped; taking in the reporter's demeanor. "You should leave her here just like she left you. But…something is different, more mature, still compelling. You foolish old woman, don't look in her eyes; she'll just drag you in and then leave you again!"
Andy winced at the older woman's internal diatribe; outrageous, you are not a fool! "Please! I'd like to find a way to explain. I know it won't change the absolute unprofessionalism and immaturity of what I did but there's more than what you see. It's not what you think at all."
Miranda's eyes narrowed, Just what does she hope to gain from this? "And how would you even presume to know what I think?"
Andy swallowed once and went for it. "You're not a foolish old woman. You're beautiful."
The editor gasped. How? Coincidence, insolence, mockery? "This ends now; some of us must work."
She snapped past the reporter and headed for the Elias-Clarke entrance.
Andy raised her voice to be heard over the growing distance between them. "Miranda! This isn't finished! It's not a coincidence and I'm not mocking you!"
The silver head bobbed once and then the entire body pivoted around; face betraying her shock. She stalked back over to the younger woman and grabbed her by the elbow. "That is quite enough! I don't know how you're doing what you are doing but stop it!"
Andy reacted to the sudden pain from the other woman's grip and her crushing fury with tears in her eyes. "I can't!"
"You can't what?"
"Stop it! I'm hearing everything!"
Miranda's pointed fury mixed with incredulity. "Is she insane?!" She was about to lash out again when she paused and took in the scene around her, realizing that the conversation had gone on too long and they were beginning to attract attention. Roy was still at the curb as he was to wait to ferry her to her massage therapist, and she stalked to the door, dragging the other woman with her.
Andy immediately obeyed, opening the door and sliding across the seat, meeting Roy's confused look with a shrug and a "Hey."
"Townhouse. Put the partition up. That's all." Then she dialed her phone. "I won't be in until 10:30; cancel my massage, rearrange my schedule." She tapped the glass of her iPhone to end the call and stared hard at her former assistant.
"Are you doing it right now?" She was livid. Her thoughts were hers alone; how dare anyone else violate her in such a way?
"Oh god, Miranda! I am so sorry; it started this morning. I hear everything from everyone, it's overwhelming! I don't want to, I don't want to hear people's thoughts; I don't want to violate their privacy! Especially yours. You have to believe me."
The editor's usual equanimity snapped like a brittle twig and her voice rose to a decibel approaching a shout. "I have to do nothing!" She struggled to regain her composure; losing it on her former employee would not do. In a deathly calm voice she queried. "Why should I believe you; you who couldn't even be trusted to do your job properly." Who couldn't be trusted when I opened up to you, reached out to you and you spit in my face.
"No! That's not how it was. I…"
But her words were halted as the fashion queen, in full imperial mode, held up a warning hand as the car slowed to a stop. "We will continue this inside." Without waiting for Roy to open the door she gathered her bag and stepped with all elegance and fire out of the car. Andy followed at a more subdued pace; the waves of anger and hurt pouring off of Miranda battered her psyche making the trek from the car to townhouse feel like the walk of a prisoner to the gallows. She snapped out of it long enough to remember that she had a job she was late for and groaned. When she passed through the door and into entrance hall, she looked at her former employer and center of her world. "I need to text my boss to let him know I was held up."
Miranda nodded and waved her hand in a 'whatever' sort of dismissal and headed into the kitchen. Coffee was still in the thermal carafe and she poured herself a cup without offering any to the other woman. She leaned against the counter and glared all the while trying to control the thoughts careening through her mind. It wouldn't do to reveal more than already seen.
"First. I'm going to walk over here and stand."
Miranda's ice-blue laser-like glare followed her progress. "I'm not sure who's more certifiable here, this insolent child or me for starting to actually believe…"
Andy snorted but didn't making any further acknowledgement of the insult. "I don't know how, but it seems that proximity matters here. I think it's about ten feet or so." She leaned against the kitchen table while Miranda shifted towards the other side of the prep island and slipped onto a stool.
"This is ridicu…"
"Yes, it is ridiculous." Miranda glared again and prepared to move farther but Andy stopped her. "No; 'ridiculous' got cut off when you reached the stool. Your thoughts are currently safely in your own mind."
It finally truly hit her that Andrea really could hear her thoughts. She closed her eyes and shook her head. Oh my, this is not good.
"As I said, it started this morning. Or, I don't know, maybe it actually started last night."
The editor interrupted acerbically. "Which is it? To be believable you really should try to keep your facts consistent."
Andy raised her head and stared and before she could censor herself she spouted. "Oh my god you are impossible! I've had a really fucked up morning Miranda and you are not helping!"
Miranda smirked. "And you have finally grown a spine!"
Andy narrowed her eyes and bit her lip. Miranda hoped that Andy was not lying about being out of range because she experienced a decidedly visceral reaction along with a flash of a picture of sucking that lip into her own mouth. She shifted slightly on the stool and sipped at her now tepid coffee.
"Look, I'll just tell you what the last eighteen or so hours have been like and maybe something will make sense; okay?"
The girl sounded very dejected and Miranda put herself in her shoes for a moment. It would be extremely disconcerting; hmm, but, the tactician in her rallied, useful. She imagined several scenarios where knowing another's thoughts would be very interesting indeed; starting with the woman now seated at her kitchen table fiddling with the lid of a Venti Starbucks cup and ending with a certain board chair who she was certain was up to no good once again. But I digress.
"Fine. But do take your time; you know how I love to be kept waiting." Miranda scowled; that line always worked with her former assistant, now it barely drew acknowledgement.
Andy shook her head and started her tale about dinner with her friends. "We were talking about stuff…"
Miranda huffed; had this girl learned nothing? "Really Andrea? Stuff? Please, do try to be specific." She noted the other woman squirmed at the request. Hmm. "After all, you might leave something of import out. What exactly were you discussing with your friends?"
Andy sat back for a minute and contemplated. What she had seen of the other woman today indicated that her feelings for her former boss possibly weren't one sided. Miranda had thought her beautiful and was personally hurt by her leaving. Still, that wasn't necessarily meaning the editor wanted her or anything; those feelings could have other sources than desire and a longing for something more. But, Andy's inadvertent dipping meant there was an unfair imbalance between them and she decided that damn it all to hell, she was going to just be honest. "We were talking about my time at Runway and…" Andy stumbled here, trying to find the courage. She looked up through her eyelashes and regarded the other woman, ready to duck or run if necessary.
"And my feelings for you."
"Your feelings…" Miranda stared blankly, surely not. "What? Of frustration? Murderous intention? Dis-a-ppoint-ment?" The last was said with heavy sarcasm and it pulled a gasp out of the brunette whose eyes were now saucer round.
Andy stood up and took two steps forward before remembering herself and settling distractedly back into her seat.
"I was never disappointed in you Miranda; I was disappointed in me."
"Why did you leave?" Issued from Miranda's mouth like a whip as she stood up and leaned forward, hands flat on the cooking island, propping her up.
"Because I couldn't handle it." Before Miranda could press her on what exactly "it" was, the former assistant pressed on. "I couldn't handle that I had fallen in love with my married, female boss and all she saw me as was a replaceable cog in her professional wheel. I realized in the car just how pathetic I really was and was overwhelmed." She swallowed the remnants of her now cold coffee and grimaced.
"I saw you calling and the urge to answer was so strong that the only way to resist was to toss it into the water. And then it was just a matter of running; as far and as fast as possible. I partially used your actions with Nigel to justify my own actions and thus filled with self-righteous indignation, had every right to leave." This last was said with not a little sarcasm. "I've learned a lot since that day; I was a fool and lying to myself."
Andy noted as she ended her monologue that the older woman had sat back onto the stool with a nearly blank look upon her face. She thought she could detect a slight tremble in her hand as she absently fiddled with the ring on her right ring finger.
Quietly an emotionally exhausted Andy added, "I need to say one more thing."
Miranda's eyes cut towards her quickly as if to say "Haven't you said enough?"
"During our interaction today I picked up certain thoughts from you that could indicate that you are…uh…" she searched for a way to put it, because she really didn't know what any of it meant, "not entirely indifferent towards me. I think that's why I told you all of this now, I don't expect anything. But I thought it would only be fair."
Miranda's swallowed visibly at the confession as it seemed that all of her saliva had gathered as a hard lump in her throat. She propped her elbows on the counter and ran her fingers through her hair, massaging her temples; what started out as a normal day had somehow transformed itself into an episode of The Twilight Zone. She had no idea where to even start.
"I…" The usually so self-possessed woman was at a total loss, completely astounded at her former assistant's confession and her heart had leapt at the possibility. But still, this mind reading, it was impossible. Wasn't it? The facts though were nearly irrefutable, Andrea had known her thoughts. But was that the most important thing right now? She decided that perhaps there was something more pressing to discern.
"Andrea." Her voice maintained the quiet balance of the other woman's confession yet carried in the silence of the room. "How do you feel now?"
Andrea shrugged. "I…" the brunette closed her eyes and shook her head slightly, "I think of you every day; I feel that something important was left unsaid, undone. I miss you, not the job, you. I still love you."
Miranda gathered her courage, having known in her own heart the importance of this woman and the emptiness she had experienced since she had left, and stood from her stool, walking the distance to the table until she was within an arm length of the woman who occupied her dreams.
"I've tried to forget you Andrea." She whispered as she reached out and stroked a soft cheek.
Andy felt her heart skip a beat as she covered the hand with one of her own; she closed her eyes and smiled then turned and placed a kiss into the center of the editor's palm. A moment later she was standing, pulled up from her chair into a strong embrace. They stood together for some moments, relishing the feel of one another, lips and noses tucked behind ears and nuzzling graceful necks. Andy pushed against the impossibly soft skin where neck and ear met with her nose and inhaled the delicate fragrance of the woman who she now fully admitted had never stopped being the center of her world and nearly purred when she felt an answering shiver.
Another cascade of images trickled into her awareness and Andy pulled back, eyes wide, breathing growing more labored as she saw herself through Miranda's eyes, blouse unbuttoned, a smooth white breast in close-up as a questing mouth sealed itself around a nipple. "Dare I take her right here? Or do I make her wait, punishment for her leaving. But I did push, didn't I? I knew she was close and I gave her the excuse." The reporter's eyes softened and she brushed back the lock of silver that had drooped over an eye.
Miranda continued, not even bothering with speech, as she adapted fully to the situation. "I just never realized how much it would hurt to have you gone."
Dark eyes filled with moisture and Andy's voice cracked slightly. "And I never realized how badly it would hurt to walk away."
The two women continued to stare, and then, all thought drifted away, leaving only sensation. Neither would ever really be able to remember who it was that leaned in first but when their lips met it was an answer to so many of the questions that neither had known to ask. A harmonious push-pull of emotion that intensified as the kiss continued locked them into an understanding that their lives, from this point forward, would never be the same.
When finally they parted Andy realized that it was quiet. Her eyes rounded in astonishment and Miranda asked her, with only a question in her eyes, what she was thinking.
"I can't hear you anymore."
The slightly disheveled editor studied the other woman, hearing both the relief and disappointment. Smiling a genuine smile she brushed her lips against Andy's slightly pouted softness and murmured sensually. "Hmm. Perhaps then I need to work a little harder."