and then, afterward
by Politic X

Fandom: The Devil Wears Prada

Pairing: Andrea / Miranda
Disclaimer: The Devil Wears Prada is not owned by me; I'm not making money.
Summary: Paris - the cell phone tossed - and immediately after.
Beta: sheknowsnofear, my editor and mentor, she constantly pushes me to improve. For all that she has bestowed, I am truly thankful.

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All this ends
but until then:
burning of fire, & then afterward.
The stars are close; we try to hold.
Such distance between the fallen!
-Nate Pritts

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It was done, then, wasn't it? The phone gaily tossed into the fountain like the proverbial coin for good luck. And it seemed like fortune had smiled on me already by way of the profound relief that came from leaving Runway. The soaring sense of freedom. No more Miranda. No more being called the 'smart, fat girl'; no more mimicking my 'so-called work ethic'; no more insinuations or accusations of incompetency, stupidity, laziness, slowness. No more picking up Patricia from the vet, picking up the car from the shop, picking up clients from the airport. No more delivering the dry cleaning, delivering the book, delivering scalding hot coffee from Starbucks. No more doing homework, housework, grunt work. No more errands.

But better than that: no longer would I be subjected to the scathing once-overs, the rolling eyes, the sneers, the disapproving frowns, the sighs of disappointment. The daily dose of negativity that Miranda served up wouldn't be missed at all. Not one bit.

I walked in the soft light of a cloudy evening, smiling. Smiling at the locals, at the tourists, at this brand new day, full of promise, this day that had begun anew when I turned my back on the job a million girls would die for.

It was giddy, this feeling, like being untethered. Like being a kite, loose in a strong wind.

I needed a drink. I made my way through Place de la Concorde, down the street, knowing Miranda had pushed through the reporters okay, that the onsite handlers would have ensured that she arrived safely inside the hotel. Knowing there would be no freesias in sight, knowing that Nigel's team had Miranda's schedule and could take care of everything. Knowing that there should be nothing left to take care of: I had done my job very well. Miranda should want for nothing during the remainder of her stay in Paris. And if she did want for something, well there were all those girls lined up waiting to assist her.

Right now, Miranda should be attending the next item on her long list, not missing me at all. Only… she had, hadn't she? She had called me before I could even get out of sight, really. Miranda had called me, and I had tossed the phone into the fountain, smiling. That smile had felt like a glorious break of sun across my stormy sky, at the time. Now I kept it in place forcibly, and picked up my pace, and pushed through the throngs, ignoring my aching feet, the damp chill, the tension strung tight in my shoulders. I put my hand to the back of my neck and tried to massage the stress away.

A drink, then, to toast my new life. But problems, already. I stopped for a moment, checked my gold clutch, confiscated from Runway's closet. I opened the tiny wallet, a Miranda cast-off, and glanced at Runway's AmEx. Looked at my own debit card. Looked at the few American dollars and Euro coins. Looked very long and hard at my dad's Visa card, given to me for emergency purposes when he was in town a few months ago.

As the cloudy sky became darker, I found myself turning back to the Hôtel de Crillon, doubting I'd run into Miranda, who was to spend the evening with Lagerfeld and a few of his closest friends at a soiree at his famously cluttered, sumptuous apartment. Miranda, who seldom drank, could nurse a scotch for an hour, could sip wine so delicately that everyone assumed she was a connoisseur. Miranda's drinks with Lagerfeld would be a courtesy. Though she might prefer to retire early, though she might prefer coffee or tea or water, she would go to his home and take whatever he offered, having admired him for many years, despite his decidedly indifferent view of her. This extended hand of his, this after-dinner party held primarily for her, was an important moment. She would not be at the hotel this evening.

Right now, however, she was; at this moment, Miranda would be changing from her dinner dress to something more suitable. Three outfits were assembled and awaiting her in the second bedroom of her suite - repurposed as a dressing room - all intentionally casual, and none of them Chanel or Fendi or any of Lagerfeld's other trademarks. One was a Narciso Rodriguez red sheath, simple and classy, except for the naughty, collar-to-hem zipper in back. Another was a Willow white stretch jersey with contrasting off-white panels, and the kicker - a narrow black panel down the spine which accommodated a long zipper. Not a collar-to-hem zipper like the Rodriguez, so the dress wouldn't just fall off her when it was unzipped, but the designer's attention to it was arresting. The third outfit was a navy Antonio Berardi sheath, less playful than the Willow, less dramatic than the Rodriguez, but with one attribute in common: a zipper which was fashioned thoughtfully into the design - this one streaking down the side of the dress. Zippers were Miranda's latest trend and I'm sure I wasn't the only person who found them both sexy and discordant on her: as if Miranda could be undone simply by pulling.

Right now she was changing, but if I made my way back leisurely, I shouldn't run into her. I walked in the direction of the hotel, taking side streets and exploring for a while, wanting to make certain her driver wasn't parked at the hotel's entrance when I made my way up the steps, through the lobby and into the luxurious bar.

Within two hours, my feet were aching even more, but I was so far gone – unable, even, to fill my wine glass without spilling - that I hardly noticed. Initially, I had been attended to by a garçon who glowered at me for not wishing to order dinner, but then the barman brought me a small plate of bread and sautéed scallops, and smiled when I became almost teary in appreciation. I hadn't eaten much at all during the dinner before Miranda gave her speech, and once she began talking, I lost my appetite entirely - nervous as I was for Nigel, and then, afterward, upset as I was at Miranda.

So I ate slowly and drank slowly in the hotel's bar. I emulated Miranda's practice of sipping wine, as I intended to add whatever I consumed to Runway's tab. Not that anyone would notice if I racked up a large bill. Nigel had ordered food sent up to his room twice already - breakfast one morning and dinner one night - and this evening's tab, for me, was intended to be no more than a couple of drinks. No one would notice, but ordering a fancy dinner, drinks, and dessert, and then charging it to Runway, would be too much like spitting in Miranda's face.

And that wasn't what I intended. I wasn't trying to be vicious or even rude. I just had to get away. I was disappointed in Miranda, tired to death of being driven to exhaustion by the woman's inane demands, and more than a little fed up with scenes such as the one that had unfolded today: I had practically killed myself to get across town, to get to Miranda in time, to warn her that Irv was trying to depose her. The most influential woman in fashion was being overthrown, and I busted my ass to try and protect her. Miranda had ignored my efforts - so typical of her - to focus on the comparatively absurd frivolity of flowers in the Musée Galliera, where she was to give her speech. "Do I smell freesias?" she had asked, interrupting my exposé to thrust her wrap at me. "If I see freesias anywhere, I will be very disappointed."

Well, of course she would. It didn't take much to disappoint Miranda. Forget busting my ass to save hers. In the end, Miranda hadn't needed my protection, invincible as she was. She only needed me to take care of the trivial matters, the ones that really didn't count at all. I didn't understand why she didn't just say to me, "Thank you for warning me, but I know already." That's all she had to say. But she didn't. And then I walked away, unthinkable in Miranda's world - no one slighted her without retribution.

I ate my small, but free, meal and sipped my wine as I thought of this. Miranda could ruin me, which was laughable. Ruin an assistant? There was nothing to ruin. But she could wreck my future, that was certain. Destroy my dreams of becoming a reporter before they were set in motion. Not that she would. I was insignificant in the editor's life. Any action on her behalf would require effort, and Miranda couldn't expend the effort even to thank me for warning her, could she? I was insignificant, and I had acted childishly today, by walking out on her when this was such an important week. Walking out when Miranda's own boss was trying to oust her. Walking out when Miranda's husband had just done the same.

I had been drinking my wine slowly, up to this point, until I began thinking of what I'd done. And my future. How this was my last night. How, in the morning, I'd check out very early to avoid Miranda. How, in the morning, I'd use my father's credit card to get a flight home. How I would probably never see Miranda again. How the last image that I had of her was the cool gaze as she strode into the crowd of reporters. And the image before that - her smile. Smiling at me. What was that she had said in the car? I sipped from my glass, then set it down. Everyone wants to be us.

Funny how she had said that. I hadn't really noticed at the time, but now… Funny how Miranda had said 'us'. Not: Everyone wants to be me. Because so many did. So many would give their right arm to be Miranda Priestly, to live her life, to have her power, her wealth. Everyone wants to be us. As if she included me in her circle. As if I was a person whose life others coveted. Oh, yeah - the million girls dying for the job. They could have it.

From this day forward, no running errands. No listening to the constant complaints. No being worked like a dog. No: 'Do I smell freesias?' No:'Did you fall down and smack your little head on the pavement?' No: 'You ended up disappointing me more than any of the other silly girls.'

No Miranda.

No one stretching me beyond my limits. No one demanding the impossible. No one anticipating the miracles I would pull out of my ass every single day. No one asking me to be Great, with a capital G. No one pushing me to the bounds of my abilities and then assuming I'd come out on the other side, stronger, smarter, better. No one expecting me to be Andrea. Just Andy from now on.

I finished what was in my glass and poured another from the bottle the barman had left. No more sipping, at that point. I drank in earnest.

I swiped the keycard several times before I remembered to turn the handle to open the door to my hotel room. And once inside, I slammed it shut behind me and began discarding everything – gold clutch dropped inside the door, Louboutins kicked off further inside. Hose shoved down and off. The Chanel shrug was cast off simply by undoing one button, but the dress was a problem. It had a tiny zipper in the back. I worked at it until I realized other things were more important, like peeing, and taking Tylenol or something - for my head, which was really beginning to hammer with persistence, and for my feet, which felt swollen and blistered, and for my neck and shoulders, which were tight with tension.

But after attending my more urgent needs and brushing my teeth, I still couldn't manage the zipper. Of course, I was stumbling, a little. I tried lifting the dress over my head, while I was there in the bathroom, but though the skirt was full, the bodice was snug. I got myself into a jam, bumping my knee against the wall, hard, and then running into the door, skirt over my head, before I finally gave up. I went into my bedroom and tumbled onto the bed, not bothering to pull the covers over me, and fell into an almost instant, deep slumber.