Disclaimer:
Andy and Miranda are not mine, they still belong to their rightful owners, I only borrow them for the fun of it; I have no commercial intentions whatsoever.

A.N.:
Special thanks and hugs to you, Kerri, for taking your time to beta – I greatly appreciate and believe you've done a wonderful job :-)

Originally written as a way to tell a friend about China this story blends personal experience with a healthy dose of fantasy. Please enter an exotic world... and enjoy!

-.-.-.-

Ni Hao - 你好

by Tendara

.

Casting a last regretful glance at the enticing view before her, Andy hailed a cab and quickly got in.

"The Kempinski Lufthansa Center please," she instructed the driver, a middle aged man, who nodded in understanding, smiling broadly. He skillfully took off the curb and merged into the crazy traffic, honking like his life depended on it. Andy relaxed into the seat.

She had hailed one of these small, yellow cabs that she had seen cruising the city by the hundreds during the last several days and that had intrigued her. Now that she sat in one, it intrigued her a lot less, but well, the interior was small but clean, all seats covered in plastic and looking brand new. Its owner clearly spent much time taking care of his vehicle. She shifted uncomfortably, in order to get her long legs crammed into the narrow space between front and back row she had to sit sideways.

Anyway, that was a small price to pay for the wonderful morning she had had.

For the last seven days Andy Sachs found herself on a business trip in China's capital, Beijing, with her boss, Miranda Priestly, editor-in-chief of America's most famous fashion magazine Runway, as part of a delegation Miranda had taken to the first China Fashion Week. A little smile played on her lips. Her boss was well known for her erratic temper but what most people failed to see was the person behind that temper. Miranda, the woman, had come to China to support the fairly new fashion industry and help start-ups just by gracing events with her presence. A lot more media had been attracted to China Fashion Week because of Miranda and Andy believed it had been a success. The young woman's smile grew wider as another thought crossed her mind. She had never seen Miranda more relaxed during a fashion week, the editor had issued almost no orders at all, had just seemed to watch events unfold and witness but not direct them. This was a new, unexpected side of the usually head-strong woman, one Andy greatly appreciated. Andy knew what she was talking about, being the editor's personal assistant for three years now.

Ever curious, Andy had eagerly watched as much of Beijing as she could during work. Shows, viewings and gatherings had been most exotic, the traditional Chinese music alone imprinting its own particular style on events. However, Andy wanted to see more. She almost desperately wanted to see the real Beijing, the one that existed outside of fashion and socialites. On their numerous trips throughout the city she had caught fleeting glimpses of everyday life and several famous locations that intrigued her. Tian An'Men Square, the Forbidden City and a few beautifully curved roof tops that towered behind high walls, keeping most parts of the temples hidden from view. Those were the places she wanted to see.

Andy loved the feeling China evoked. Everything called out to her, made her itch to explore and discover more and more of this totally alien world, where she could not even read most signs and where things as simple as directional orientation were a real challenge to her skills.

Therefore she hadn't hesitated when the opportunity arose this morning and had immediately asked for Miranda's permission to get away for a few hours and do some sightseeing. She probably had to thank Miranda's new-found easy-going attitude, for much to Andy's astonishment, Miranda had not even hesitated before allowing Andy to go out on her own. The editor only insisted that Andy be back early to check on last minute details for their return flight to New York later this afternoon.

Initially Andy set her mind on visiting the most famous place of all China of course, the Forbidden City. She could literally picture the wonderful feeling the spectacular atmosphere in the closed off space right in the middle of the bustling city would provide. Being surrounded by those beautiful carved and intricately painted palace buildings would be... Andy didn't know how to express the overwhelming feeling she had, she was at a loss for words.

During her wait at the reception for the hotel driver to take her safely to her destination, she had talked to the hotel concierge about her plans. Unfortunately he told her, she would have to wait in line for about an hour in order to get her entrance ticket and that then, the visit would take at least two hours because she needed to cross all of the Forbidden City, since the only exit was situated on the opposite side of the entrance. Together with the ride to and from the City, she didn't have enough time for that trip.

Reluctantly she had changed her plans and decided to visit the Temple of Heaven instead. Well, part of it, because upon arriving she soon discovered, she had been misinformed in her belief that the temple would be smaller than the Forbidden City. As it turned out however, she could enter the complex through the northern gate and leave there again, allowing her to just view part of the immense grounds. Not wanting to waste a minute of her precious little time, she had been quick to walk her way to the main building, the spectacular round structure of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, the one everyone recognized from postcards and TV.

The temple complex' architecture cleverly led visitors down a long pathway, allowing the famous holy building to slowly rise and impress approaching mortals before they finally stood in front of the majestically towering structure. Mesmerized, Andy stood in awe, taking in the wonderful brilliancy of colors, the dominant red, gold and cerulean blue, richly decorating this place of worship to the Heavens. Just standing there, she felt like she really was in China. This was unsurpassed, uniquely Chinese craftsmanship. Beautiful, so very beautiful it left Andy breathless. Visitors were allowed into the temple and she was eager to discover the interior. Stepping through the doors, the huge dome rose above her, so high, she instantly felt small and insignificant. Once her vision adapted to the dim light, she could see the actual altar, a huge very old looking shrine in the hall's center. On either side several smaller shrines completed the ensemble. Andy took her time to examine every detail. She would be hard-pressed to describe the shrines, they didn't look like anything she had ever seen and therefore highly fascinated her in their uniqueness. Enchanted Andy let her eyes roam the hall. The cupola and walls were richly painted in bright colors, bottom to top, drawing her gaze high up into the Heavens, taking her breath with it.

Sighing, Andy wished she could stay longer in this fascinating country and explore the richness of Chinese architecture and life. She dearly regretted that she had to return to the hotel and continue her way to the airport to catch their flight out. Her little trip had been wonderful but all too brief for her liking.

Now sitting in the cab on her way back to the hotel, she contentedly took in the passing scenery. The bustling colorful lives she had witnessed from their limousine all week still caught her attention and she gazed in wonder. New York was a lively city for sure, but what she witnessed in Beijing was something else altogether. More people crowded in less space, more cars, motorcycles, pedestrians, the omnipresent cyclists and occasional carts stuffed the streets, creating a singular traffic pattern, that an isolated police officer in an elevated booth in the middle of cross-roads commanded imperiously. To an untrained eye traffic definitely looked like chaos and she was scared to even consider crossing the street. Someone had told her that the best way to safely do so, was to not openly watch the oncoming traffic, but to rather face in the opposite direction and just go ahead. Any driver who knew he had been noticed, would just continue on his way, expecting the other party to step aside. No one would ever be able to cross a street in Beijing 'western-style'. Andy shuddered at the thought, but nevertheless dearly wished she had the opportunity to see some of the real Beijing.

Glancing at her watch Andy looked at her driver. She wasn't familiar with the city, but on her way to the temple the hotel driver had taken first the highway and later some smaller, still quite impressive roads. This driver however, had taken to really small streets, crowded with cyclists and motorcycles rather than cars. Confused Andy inquired, "Shouldn't we be close to the hotel by now?"

"Yes, yes," the man answered, nodding and smiling broadly. "Yes, yes," he repeated for emphasize.

Not quite reassured, Andy still sat back into the seat and watched some more of Beijing passing by her window. She observed a young woman and her child, a little boy, getting food from a street vendor. Next to them she saw an old man offering vegetables on his cart. A few market stalls displayed their goods right on the street and a little further down, two women sold baskets. Shoppers stood and discussed prices, their bicycles laden beyond what Andy imagined possible. She was fascinated and kept her eyes glued to the world passing.

Surreptitiously glancing at her watch again, she grew a little nervous. She had twenty minutes left before the Runway delegation would leave for the airport, ready for almost immediate departure. Miranda hated to wait and assistants always arranged immediate take-off.

This drive shouldn't take this long, Andy was sure.

"How long before we arrive at the hotel?" she wanted to know.

Nodding and smiling, her driver turned towards her, answering "Yes, yes."

Narrowing her eyes in growing confusion, Andy insisted. "How long before we arrive at the hotel?"

"Yes, yes."

In agony Andy tried again. "Hotel? How long?" Maybe phrasing her question easier would get her another answer.

"Yes, yes," he told her, together with a smile and nod.

Dreading her next question Andy still went along. "Do you speak English?"

"Yes, yes."

Andy groaned and fell back into the seat. Her day had started off really well, so how come she had to hop into the cab of probably the only driver in all Beijing who spoke no English? Who would drive her through the entire city before getting her to her hotel, if ever? Great. Really neat, Sachs.

o-o-o

Screw dignity, manners and grace. Andy didn't care any longer. She was busted, dead, oh so very dead.

Balancing hazardously on her four-inch high-heels Andy ran into the check-in area of Beijing International Airport. She was late, too late. Frantically looking at the destination board, she prayed that by some undeserved miracle a delay had caused the Runway delegation to still be there. Wait for her. Take her with them, home to New York.

Eyes widening in horror, Andy could only stare then close her eyes. Maybe it would read differently when she opened them and looked again. New York – departed

Fuck, fuck, fuck... Andy panicked, dropped her bag and ran her hands wildly through her hair. What was she supposed to do? Where would she stay? How would she get out of here?

Suddenly the airport noises threatened to drown her. Music blared, announcements resounded both in English and Chinese, mostly Chinese, people hurried by, yelling, children crying – it was all too much for Andy.

She pressed her hands over her ears to shut the noise out. She needed to breathe. In, out, in, out.

Oh god, not only was she left behind in a foreign country where she could neither read anything, nor talk to most people, but she was jobless as well. Miranda had most definitely fired her this time. The thought made her stomach clench. Not to be with Miranda anymore, not to see her every day, not to spend almost all her waking hours with the enigmatic woman... unimaginable. This could not be happening.

Tears started to fall on Andy's cheeks. She felt lost, utterly alone in this big wide world, with nothing and no one to anchor her.

A hand on her shoulder and a soft voice made her jump. "You are going to be okay, I will see to that."

"Mi..Miranda?" bewildered Andy could only whisper. This was the voice that a few moments ago, she had thought she'd never hear again, a thought causing so much agony and pain. And here stood Miranda, glorious Miranda, right beside her befuddled assistant.

The editor smiled. SMILED! Andy's legs threatened to give out, she had to find a seat.
This was so not happening.

Correctly interpreting the younger woman's reaction, Miranda didn't hesitate and took her by the arm to guide her to the next cafe, where she firmly sat her down in the nearest chair.

"Sit, don't move," she instructed and left to briefly talk to the closest employee.

Too stunned, Andy couldn't think, her mind completely blank. She could only stare at the editor. Later she would try and gather her wits, realizing how much Miranda acted out of character, for her, Andy Sachs, a lowly assistant.

Sitting next to Andrea, Miranda watched the younger woman for a few moments before addressing her. "Well, that's quite a stunt you pulled this time, Andrea."

"I..I'm..s..sorry."

"I bet you are. You have very effectively managed to get us stranded in China and god only knows when we'll be able to leave." Miranda theatrically expelled a long sigh. "Forcing my hand like this Andrea, really, what were you thinking?"

Not understanding a word the editor said, Andy shook her head before nodding. Confusing, this was so very confusing. Miranda didn't seem to be mad at her, had not killed her yet, had not even scolded her in her usual harsh manner. Wide brown eyes looked up into blue amused ones.

"Andrea, drink this." Apparently they had been served and Miranda held a shot-glass out to Andy. It was filled up to the rim with a brown liquid.

"What...?" Andy began, but Miranda interrupted her mid-sentence. "Drink, you'll feel better." Chuckling, the older woman watched Andrea carefully raise the shot-glass to her lips and taste the liquid with the tip of her tongue. "Shoot it," she encouraged and rolled her eyes, she would rather be damned than sit there and endure the enticing sight of that tongue dipping into liquor any longer.

Finally downing her drink, Andy felt the hot burning alcohol travel down and settle in her stomach.

"Thanks," she uttered as Miranda continued to watch her silently.

Gathering her spirits somewhat Andy decided to hell with rules and asked, "What are you doing here?"

"Watching you."

"No, really, I mean, why aren't you with everyone else on the plane back to New York?"

Pursing her lips Miranda considered her answer. "Since you so graciously provided the opportunity, I have decided a vacation is in order. I couldn't really let you enjoy one all by yourself, now, could I?" Miranda shrugged. "You are stuck with me I'm afraid."

This time Andy wrote her confusion off as the alcohol she had indulged. Miranda could not be saying what Andy just thought she'd said. No way.

"Um, Miranda, are you saying, that you plan for us to stay here in China, like, on a... vacation?" The whole concept of a vacation was completely alien to Miranda, never in three years had she been away for more than a few days in the Hamptons. For her to take one just because she had been worried about her assistant was unthinkable.

"Please, bore someone else with your questions." That was the editor-in-chief Andy knew and she relaxed. Then her mind translated the Miranda-speech and she shot up. "Really? We are staying?"

Miranda shook her head, very amused at the situation and relented. "Yes, we are. That is, if we can get another visa. The Chinese are a little peculiar regarding strangers in their country, they don't want us to run about and simply enjoy ourselves. Come on, let's go see to the paperwork."

During her wait for Andrea Miranda had already spoken to officials and knew, that there would be no problem for them to get a tourist visa delivered at the airport. Sometimes it served to be a celebrity. She had also secured a suite at the Kempinski again for them to share. Everything was fine, she felt confident she would enjoy herself and her impromptu stay in this exotic country.

o-o-o

"This is wonderful Miranda," sparkling brown eyes fixed on the editor, who laughed in response. "Indeed."

Miranda was conflicted, unable to decide what fascinated her most, the delightful way Andrea enjoyed herself or the magnificent old temple they were currently visiting.

Once the younger woman had accepted the idea that Miranda would neither murder nor fire her, but instead intended to spend a few private days with her unfortunate assistant, there had been no holding back. Andy freely shared her amazement at all things new she enjoyed, which were numerous. Her whole attitude bespoke a natural take on the world that was definitely contagious for the editor.
What initially looked like the worst time of Andy's life turned out to be the best time so far. Andy felt like she could embrace the world. Her companion was easy-going, charming, considerate and utterly enjoyable as was Beijing.

Lifting her gaze to once again take in the breathtaking architecture of Chinese temples, Andy was completely in awe. It was hard to describe the lively, colorful, richly decorated buildings that were so much brighter and more impressive in real life than on pictures. Pictures just failed to capture the majesty that emanated from the ancient temples, two dimensions not being nearly enough to do them justice. It had been the same yesterday, when they had been to the Forbidden City. Andy didn't even dare to begin describing that visit in her diary.

This temple, the Yong He Gong or Lama Temple, was no different. If anything, it was even more impressive, mixing Tibetan elements with Han Chinese.

They had entered the temple area through the most splendid gate Andy had ever seen. Four deep red columns supported elegantly curved highly decorated panels, topped off by the typical golden roofs. Upon looking closely, Andy giggled. On each roof section sat a small dragon, keeping watch. She pointed them out to Miranda, who stood mesmerized.

"I wish I could get you some, they would be just great to guard your office," grinning broadly, Andy could just picture the scene and everybody's reaction. She laughed in unguarded delight.

"Yes, I can imagine that. Go ahead, Andrea, feel free to inform the world of my character," the editor answered playfully, a smile tugging at her lips.

Advancing slowly through more gates ever deeper into the inner parts of the temple complex, both women felt the holy atmosphere catching on them. Despite numerous other tourists, the place was eerily quiet, people instinctively respecting its holiness. Not daring to speak out loud, Andy whispered her occasional comments, stepping closer to Miranda or only silently pointed things out for her.

The interior of the monastery's main hall, The Hall of Harmony and Peace, was as spectacular as any they had seen. Richly decorated in red and gold, three golden Buddhas sat to the back wall, each venerated, with flowers and incense sticks on a shrine before them.

"Wow," Andy breathed. "That's just..." again she was at a loss for words. She turned to face Miranda, who looked reverently at the three statues.

"They are the three Buddhas of the Ages, Past, Present and Future," she explained for Andy. "You can recognize them at their hand posture, each is different, but they are the same in every representation throughout the world." Miranda carefully approached the Buddha to the right, which she knew would be Maitreya, Buddha of the Future. The concept of venerating the Ages in three different gods had always fascinated her, feeling right, doing justice to each part of life.

Much to her pleasure Andrea stepped close to her and completely enraptured Miranda reached out and took the other woman's hand in hers. "Beautiful, so beautiful," she murmured quietly and squeezed the hand in hers. They stood like that for long moments, contemplating and reveling.

Back outside again, they peacefully completed their visit strolling through several other buildings and stopping to admire the intricate animal sculptures, seated to majestically guard entrances.

After their visit Miranda insisted they go and have an early dinner in a typical Chinese restaurant, not one of the fancy places they had been to so far, but a place where locals would eat. Miranda wanted to get to know the real China and eating what everyone ate, was always a good way to learn about a country.

Upon entering Andy couldn't help but feel disappointed. She had imagined all Chinese restaurants to be as richly decorated as she had seen them in the US and at the fancy places they had been to before. Therefore seeing the bare walls, concrete floor and plain tables, Andy felt disenchanted. "That's how the real Chinese have it?" incredulous she turned to face Miranda who looked equally stunned but nodded.

"Our room service recommended the place, so I believe we should give it a try. There are people eating, so it's definitely a restaurant."

A smiling woman approached them, gesticulating for them to follow her to a small table for two, in the back of the room, close to an aquarium with several living marine creatures. Motioning for them to take a seat their hostess said something in Chinese. Andy sighed, please not again she prayed. Let them have someone speak English... At least this time she was not by herself and she felt confident Miranda would know how to handle this situation.

The Chinese woman placed a menu on the table and kept talking and looking intently at the two seated women.

"Tea," Miranda said, "Cha."

Smiling happily the woman took off in a hurry.

"Looks like you said something right," Andy chuckled.

"Seems I did, but let's wait to see what she brings. For all I know I ordered tea, but I may have gotten the tonality wrong, ordering something ridiculous like her grand-mother," Miranda grinned and Andy laughed delighted. Miranda had the most wonderful sense of humor.

"Oh no," Andy stared at her menu in dismay. "I hope you read Chinese as well as you speak it." Hopeful eyes were riveted on her companion.

"Unfortunately, no, I don't have a clue. I believe we should try for an English menu," Miranda ventured. "I am completely lost with this."

It quickly turned out that the Chinese menu was all there was and that no one in the restaurant did speak any English to help them out. But Miranda was all set to try the food and gesticulated their waitress to bring two dishes using her hands to count off one, two on her thumb and index finger and re-enforcing her order by slowly stating, "Two." The waitress nodded and disappeared quickly into the kitchen not caring that neither guest had chosen anything specific.

"Well I guess we are in for a surprise menu," Miranda looked smug, obviously delighted.

Waiting for their meal to arrive they talked about what they had seen of Beijing so far, sipping what indeed turned out to be a nice cup of green tea, when the first dish was placed before them. They both eyed it curiously trying to figure out what their waitress had chosen for them. It looked like a course of seasoned vegetables which smelled heavenly and made them realize just how hungry they were.

Before they could decide who would take the dish or if they wanted to share, their waitress returned, bringing more dishes. Andy looked confused. Miranda had clearly ordered two but she counted as much as eight different dishes... There were vegetables, meat, and sea-food all looking enticing, but no rice to go with.

"Um, Miranda?" hesitating Andy inquired. "Do you think all this is for us?"

"Obviously not, why would we want eight dishes for just the two of us?" She signaled their waitress and tried to make the woman understand their problem. While Miranda gesticulated wildly, making it hard for Andy to not laugh out loud, the waitress just kept talking and smiling, motioning for them to eat and enjoy the meal. She seemed to understand that Miranda wanted one, two dishes and even repeated the gesture but was not willing to take anything off the table. Exasperated Miranda was about to give in.

"Just eat what you want Andrea. At least we can try a bit of everything and get to know a little more about Chinese cuisine. Bon appetit."

About to dig in, sudden laughter stopped Andy mid motion and made her look up at their surroundings. At the opposite side of the restaurant a group of students had arrived and they looked over to Andy and Miranda, all laughing.

"What's so funny," Andy mumbled feeling a little like being laughed at, something she did not appreciate at all.

Noticing her stare, one of the young people got up and approached their table.

"Sorry, but we just couldn't help ourselves. You should have seen your faces and heard what the lady said," he grinned broadly. "It's been just too funny and it happens all the time."

Frowning Miranda looked up at their unexpected companion. "Would you perhaps care to enlighten us? We might be able to fully appreciate the nature of your apology knowing what you are talking about."

Still grinning, the young man sat down uninvited. "Sure. Well, from what we observed you told the lady to bring you – one, two –" he counted on his fingers like Miranda had, "dishes. What you don't know is that in Chinese signaling, this means eight."

Andy almost choked on her bite. "Eight?" she croaked. "Really? Miranda you ordered eight dishes?" grinning happily Andy went on, looking straight at Miranda. "You are the greatest you know, you really spoil me..."

"How was I to know," Miranda grumbled, playfully pretending to be annoyed. "At least no one can accuse me of letting those in my company die of starvation." She turned to face the young man. "Thank you for telling us. We appreciate your help. Would you care for some of these dishes?" A smile now tugged at her lips as she stopped all pretense. This was China, the true and real China, where everything was different, nothing to be taken for granted. Miranda secretly enjoyed herself very much, much more than she had in a long time.

o-o-o

Stepping back into the dark living room of their suite, Andy didn't immediately notice Miranda standing at the large bay window overlooking the city. When she did, she went to stand beside the older woman, both silently contemplating Beijing at night for long moments.

"Do you know why I didn't leave with everyone else?" Without turning to face her companion, Miranda quietly spoke into the darkness.

"Um, yes, you've told me, even if I don't think I understand it all," Andy ventured.

"No you don't." Miranda continued to stare into the night. "I didn't leave because I couldn't stand the idea you had left me a second time. I was fully prepared to chase after you."

Stunned, Andy didn't reply for a few moments and silence settled between the two women. Andy turned to face Miranda in the dark, watching the shadows play on her features. Then, Andy spoke softly. "Why?" She had a lot more questions, but with Miranda it was best to keep it short and to the point.

Twitching nervously Miranda decided to go on. "Because I can't lose you, I remember how it felt the first time in Paris and this time it felt much worse. I couldn't stand it."

"Miranda, look at me." Andy waited till Miranda complied. "What do you mean when you say you can't stand losing me?"

"Just that. I can't lose you, I need you by my side Andrea. There is no other way."

"Yes, there is." Swallowing hard, Andy asked her next question. "Why do you need me by your side?" She needed to know before she could lay her own thoughts bare. It wouldn't do for her to press matters and be wrong about Miranda's intentions.

Miranda's answer came in a whisper, so quiet Andy had to strain her ears. "Because I care."

"You care? For me?" Andy's heart hammered in her chest at the thought. "How much?" She needed to know.

Closing her eyes and inhaling deeply, Miranda told the truth. "Very much. Much more than would be considered appropriate." Opening her eyes again, she searched for Andy's gaze and locked blue eyes with brown ones in the darkness.

Andy slowly reached for Miranda's hand, remembering the editor had done so earlier herself. When she found her fingers, she softly held them before speaking in a breathless whisper. "Enough to let me kiss you?"

Had she not been watching closely she might have missed the nod in the darkness but not the tightening on her hand. "Yes."

They stood for a moment longer, silently contemplating each other, before moving in and enjoying the soft feeling of a woman's lips on their own for the first time.

o-o-o

Today would be their last day in China and Andy unhappily groaned at the thought she would have to leave her magic bubble. Ever since that night two days ago when Miranda had confessed her feelings for her now ex-assistant, they had spend a wonderful time getting to know each other and falling in love. Days as well as nights had been full of new experiences, leaving them energized and excited. Andy desperately wanted things to stay just like they were, dreading their return to New York and the inevitable return to everyday life. Not to mention, she dreaded Miranda's reaction. Would the older woman want to continue their relationship or had Andy just been some nice vacation entertainment?

Rolling over, Andy contemplated the object of her desire still sleeping peacefully next to her. Perfect, Miranda looked so very perfect.

Unfortunately they had no lazy time this morning and Andy needed to wake Miranda. They had booked a tour to the Great Wall, the high-light and must-have for everyone visiting China. Their driver would be waiting for them in an hour, there was no time to waste.

.

Again, the sight was simply breathtaking. As they slowly approached their destination, Miranda could make out details. Running on the crest of at first gentle hills, the Great Wall gradually climbed steeper slopes, rising majestically into the sky. Like a giant snake it coiled through the landscape.

"Wow," her partner was equally in awe and Miranda leaned in to whisper into her ear. "It's not the most spectacular sight I have come across in China but it comes close."

Andy groaned, "Miranda, you are evil. But I have to agree, it comes close."

Once they had paid their entrance fee, Andy tugged on Miranda's hand to get her to move. She was impatient to finally walk on such a famous building as the Great Wall. A lot of Chinese tourists had the same idea and the restored section of the Wall at Badaling was much too crowded for Andy's liking. Therefore she intended to walk all the way to a much quieter part that she had spotted in the distance.

Breathing hard after climbing the first five hundred yards Andy relented. "Wow, this is demanding. We haven't been walking for long and I'm already exhausted."

Unceremoniously flopping down on the bare steps, Miranda nodded, equally out of breath. "I didn't know there were so many steps," she uttered, "And they are steep, difficult to walk."

Andy grinned. They had had a little discussion concerning appropriate footwear this morning, Andy insisting that heels were not appropriate. "Glad you accepted running shoes though. I wouldn't want to worry for you walking these steps in fashionable high-heels..." she teased her girlfriend.

Because of Miranda's breath still coming short, she only got a trade-mark eye-roll for her effort. Reaching out for the white-haired woman, Andy urged her on. "Come on, I would like us to get a look from the hill top over there and admire the view."

Sighing Miranda got to her feet. Glancing up the steep ascent, she wondered why things had not looked remotely as exhausting from afar. This particular Wall-section even seemed much gentler than those a few miles down. She didn't dare imagine how soldiers had succeeded to man this fortification, carrying all their heavy weaponry. The editor couldn't help but admire the long dead men. It was only now, that she was standing and walking on the Great Wall herself, that she grasped the true significance of its construction. She had always known that building this Wall was a great accomplishment, especially if one considered the early constructions, often build in earth not stone, but only now did she realize, that not just building the Wall but actually manning and maintaining it was as much an accomplishment if not the greater one. Miranda was impressed.

After a long climb interrupted by a few pauses to catch their breathing, they finally stood on the highest point overlooking a good part of the Great Wall.

A little to Miranda's disappointment, the view was not as rewarding as she would have hoped for their effort. Their feet and legs hurt, climbing hundreds of steep steps was an exercise they didn't indulge in often. But they had succeeded and were proud to stand at the top. Wanting to share the experience Miranda stepped behind the younger woman and wrapped her arms around her lover.

Moving into the comfortable body Andy whispered, "Do you like what you see?"

"Mmm, I certainly do." Holding on tighter Miranda made it clear that she was also talking about her lover as she stood admiring the view that basically consisted of scarcely tree-covered mountains stretching out to the horizon with the Great Wall running always on top of the highest and steepest slopes.

"Come on sit with me for a moment, I want to stay a little bit and really realize that this is one of the greatest accomplishments of mankind and that I am here, together with you." Miranda kissed the soft skin on Andy's neck before letting go of her to sit on the bare stone steps.

Andy sat down next to her. "Thank you," she quietly told her. "For staying, and being with me."

Miranda chuckled. "We should thank that cab driver of yours. I highly doubt that without you being late and my subsequent fright, I would have had the courage to tell you about my feelings."

Contemplating Miranda's words and assessing their truthfulness, Andy nodded. "I believe we should thank China. It's such an exciting country and I am glad we could spend such a wonderful time here."

"Yes, and I would very much like for us to return sometime soon and this time bring the girls, if that would be alright with you."

"Of course!" Andy beamed. Miranda's words indicated there was a future for them, that Andy was actually more than just a vacation toy and that they would be in a relationship back in New York as well.

"Thank you Maitreya," she murmured and contentedly snuggled into the warm body beside her, basking in the joint feeling of the Great Wall of China and her girlfriend.

~ 末尾 ~

~ The End ~