Banged Up

The demanding trill of a phone sounded through the room, pulling Andy Sachs from a dreamless sleep. She struggled to get out of her bed fighting to break loose from the tangle of sheets. Hopping across the floor with one foot still ensnared, she found her cell phone under the pile of clothes at the foot of her bed. Flipping the phone open without checking the incoming number she croaked out a greeting, "Hel-lo?"

"Six? Is that you?"

"Nigel, hey. What's up?" Andy asked, her voice sounding a little more normal with use.

"So, Snow White finally returns from the dead. Where have you been? We've been trying to reach you all day. Mama bear is worried."

"What are you talking about?"

"We have been trying you every hour on the hour per Miranda's orders. If you didn't answer this time, I'd be schlepping across town to Brooklyn on a reconnaissance run."

"Is there a problem? I swear Miranda told me to take off until Thursday."

"She did. But she's worried and wants to be sure you're all right, not that she'd admit it. She's using the cover story of a finance meeting with Irv tomorrow and you have the information she needs on your lap top. She also said something about a review for tomorrow morning."

"Wait, what do you mean you've been trying all day? What time is it?"

"It's 4:30. We've been trying you since 9:30 when Miranda arrived. Poor Marie is hiding in the closet. She's afraid Miranda will fire her if she reports back you still aren't answering the phone. So, how are you?"

"Apparently tired. I had no idea I was sleeping so long. I never heard the phone."

"Have you eaten anything?"

"Not really. I've been up a few times and had juice."

"Don't make me bring that bit of info back to her highness. She'll force me to drive out there and cook for you."

"Don't be silly. She wouldn't do any such thing. Tell her I'm fine. I'll be in on Thursday as planned."

"I'll tell her, but I'm not convinced you're well enough to come in. You sound horrible. I recommend you take the whole week."

"But I really do have the reports she needs for the meeting."

"Oh, like Marie can't get copies? Please, Six. You may be important to the big wheel, but you aren't irreplaceable."

"Oh, well, thanks a lot."

"You know what I mean. You will one day move on and Runway will continue to be the best. We can survive your absence for a few days."

"But…"

"Seriously. If you so much as have a sniffle Thursday morning, stay home. Miranda will have a cow if you come in spreading germs. Take the sick days. Get well."

"Fine. I'll see how I feel the next day or two. Be sure to let Miranda know I'm alive."

"That's where I'm heading now. Keep us posted."

"Ok. I'll catch you later."

"Bye."

As soon as she hung up, Andy was rummaging through her bag to find the notes from the restaurant. She didn't believe Miranda would actually use anything she wrote, but she wasn't about to pass up the chance to be read.

"Did you reach Andréa?" Nigel had barely taken two steps into the inner sanctum of Miranda's office when she impaled him with her ice blue eyes.

"Yes, actually, I did. She is alive and getting better."

"Where has she been all day?"

"She apparently has been sleeping."

"Sleeping? How can someone sleep all day long?"

"Well, she is sick." Nigel stated, leaving the explanation open.

"I am well aware of the fact she is ill. Will she be in tomorrow? I need those reports for the finance meeting. I can't put Irv off any longer. I have already made him wait two weeks."

"Marie will obtain copies and drop them off with the book tonight. Everything is arranged."

"Did you get the final copy from this weekend?"

"Yes. The shots you chose will work perfectly." Nigel understood the abrupt change in subject was Miranda realizing she had somehow gone too far, exposing too much of herself. He didn't know exactly what was going on, but he knew Andy had a starring role in Miranda's personal drama.

Andy ended up taking the entire week off and was still a bit under the weather the following Monday. The week away from Miranda gave Andy plenty of time to examine the insanity of her reactions during their fateful weekend stranded in Rhode Island. Doug was right. Once back on familiar territory, everything would return to normal. She would be able to maintain a professional relationship with her amazingly gorgeous boss. She did not have to succumb to her overwhelming desires. She was made of stronger stuff. And she would eventually get over this unexpected deviation from her usual inclinations.

These arguments shored her up during her sick leave. However, on her return to the Runway offices, they flew right out the window the moment Miranda stormed through her outer office issuing orders and absently tossing her bag on the second assistant's desk.

Andy sprang up from her chair and chased Miranda into her office, scribbling the commands in her note book as she battled the feeling of light headedness that Miranda's perfume caused. Andy was momentarily lost in the cloud of floral and spice that swirled about her head, missing the trademark dismissal. Miranda paused in her tirade and drew in a deep, focusing breath before allowing her eyes to meet Andy's.

"Is there a problem, Andréa?" She questioned.

"No. No problem." Andy assured her.

"You are not suffering from some lingering effect of your illness?"

"N-no."

"Well, then perhaps you can get back to the job at hand, unless you have decided to hand in your resignation."

"Oh, right. Um, Patrick phoned this morning. He will be unavailable until October. He did say he could give you some recommendations, but he prefers to discuss that with you, directly."

'Fine. Get him on the phone."

"Right." Andy pulled herself away and trotted to her desk. She made the connection with Patrick before sinking into her chair, holding her head in her hands in utter defeat.

"Hey, Six. You ok? Did you come back too soon?"

"No. Just getting used to it all." Andy half lied. "One week away and I forgot what it's like to work for her. I'll be fine."

"Wonderful. Any chance you can clear her schedule Friday afternoon to fit in the finalized run through?"

"I'll get on it."

The work day lumbered on with Andy performing a myriad of tiny miracles, adjusting Miranda's schedule no less than seven times, and managing to still produce piping hot coffee within minutes of the voiced order. The print deadline was rapidly approaching so all employees were staying later than normal. By 9:20 Andy realized she and Miranda were the last of the loyalists. The halls were empty and Nigel had just stopped in on his way out. Andy was keeping herself busy with the ever demanding e-mail list when the peacefulness of the waning evening was disrupted by Miranda's voice.

"Andréa."

The name was pronounced in a way that sounded foreign, exotic, and impatient. Andy pushed herself away from her desk and hustled into Miranda's office, pen and pad in hand, ready to fulfill whatever demand Miranda might throw at her. As she crossed the threshold to the "dragon's lair", she noticed Miranda was standing at her window, gazing out at the activity on the street below.

"Close the door.", Miranda softly commanded without taking her attention from the view.

Andy complied, pushing the door to with a soft click, even while she wondered at the request since they were the only ones left to haunt the halls.

"Sit", the deadly voice ordered.

Andy sat abruptly. Hoping she was not in seriously deep shit for something, she dared to ask, "Is there something I forgot to do Miranda?"

"Forgot? I don't believe so, Andréa." Miranda turned from the window and her eyes zeroed in on Andy's. "Is there something you need to tell me?"

Andy was put on high alert by the seductive tone in Miranda's voice. The woman sounded like she was actually excited that there might be a reason to castigate her first assistant.

"Um…no. I don't think there's anything… What can I do for you?" Andy tried to direct them back to safer waters.

"You have completed more than a two year tenure with us, have you not?'

"Yes?" Andy was not sure where this conversation was going, but she decided she needed to play it safe and agree.

"And, after two years it is customary for the first assistant to be promoted or relocated."

"Well, yeah, but…"

"No, no, that wasn't a question. I understand the reason those of you who can survive stay on. I believe it is time for you to decide just where it is you would like to go, professionally."

Before Andy could respond, Miranda continued, "I have my own ideas, but I would like you to have some input. Therefore, you will be in my office, two weeks from today, with the top three positions you covet. I recommend you consider your possibilities with the utmost objectivity. Do not come to me with a list of positions that are "cool" or "exciting". Think this through with care. It is a decision that will ultimately direct your entire future." Miranda paused, staring at Andy over her glasses for a few moments. Nodding her head with the belief Andy understood, she dismissed the younger woman, "That's all."

"Oh, um… Did you want me to stay for the book?"

"I am here. I will remain until it is finished. You may leave."

"Are you sure? I can stay if you need me to…"

The glare was all the answer she needed. Andy quickly deserted the office, gathered her things, and left the stress of the day behind.

With Andy gone, Miranda sank back heavily into her chair, allowing herself a few minutes to ponder the situation.

'You are a silly woman to allow yourself to yearn for that girl. She will go far, without your meddling. Set her free and be done with it. Think of your girls. They are what matter. This… whatever it is, will fade quickly once she is away from you. A silly infatuation. Titillating at best. It is nothing that would ever become reality. We will both be better off out of each other's lives.'

The thoughts were depressing, but the idea of acting on her growing feelings and making a complete fool of herself was even more so. She would stick to her decision and evict Andréa from her life. A sound from the outer office disrupted Miranda from her musings. She stood as the messenger from the art department delivered the book to her directly. The young woman placed the copy on the very edge of the desk, frightened to get too close, then turned and practically ran from the room. Miranda nearly laughed at the foolishness as she gathered her things to leave for home.

Andy spent her designated sentence trying to decipher Miranda's cryptic order. How was she supposed to know what Miranda believed to be "cool" or "exciting" choices in the world of publishing. Assuming Miranda meant pick something respectable, how was Andy supposed to figure out what Miranda thought was respectable. Reasoning the fact Miranda was in fashion, she figured she could select other fashion based magazines. But then she argued with herself that Miranda would probably get pissed if she chose a competitor.

With her mind spinning in this frustrating circle, Andy decided to confer with friends to work out this puzzle. The Saturday evening before her deadline found her traveling to the upper west side to pick up Thai takeout and beer on her way to Doug's for a pow wow with Doug and Lily. Juggling a twelve pack and two large grocery bags of food, Andy climbed the three flights to Doug's walk up and kicked the door, demanding entry. She almost dropped the offerings when Lily yanked the door open.

"Hey, careful" Lily exclaimed as she helped with the packages. "You almost committed alcohol abuse."

"Oh, no", Andy laughed. "I would have sacrificed the food way before dropping the beer."

Moving into the apartment, the friends spread their feast over the coffee table, preferring the relaxed comfort of the living room over the dining chairs. After catching up and scarfing down their dinner, Doug brought the conversation around to Andy's problem.

"So, Andy, care to tell us why you called an emergency meeting of the 'hole in the wall gang'?"

"Well… It's sort of a 'Miranda problem'".

"Ha!, I knew it." Lily teasingly accused. "You never come to us with anything else."

"It's not that kind of problem. The problem is, she wants me to choose where I want to work. My tenure is up and she's ready to send me off."

"That's awesome, Andy." Doug enthused. "You were practically indispensable to her. She's gotta get you an amazing position."

"That's also part of the problem." Andy hedged. "I have to select my top three choices and present them to her this Monday."

"Whoa, she's giving you carte blanch?" Lily asked, astounded by such an offer.

"I don't know. I was directed to return to her with my top choices and they are not to be for anything 'cool' or 'exciting'. What the hell does that mean?"

"Oh. That is a problem" Lily offered the understatement of the year. Her third beer was obviously kicking in.

Doug wasn't as far gone as Lily, so his input was a bit more clear headed. "Is this some weird test? If you pick the wrong place, she's gonna send you to Reader's Digest?"

"Worse. I think I'll go to TV Guide."

"Crap. So what do you think her parameters are?"

"I have no idea. That's why I'm here. I've been going round and round all week. I mean, the New Yorker would be really exciting. But, is that under her definition of exciting? Does she want me to choose Newsweek? Or do I go with Ladie's Home Journal? I really don't know what to select."

"Sweetie, this is a hard one. Why couldn't you come to us with your love sickness issues? That is something we're good at."

"Lily, if you aren't going to help out here, then take a nap."

"You don't have to get mean. I'm no where near the nap meter. I'm still good to go. Three beers on a full stomach just gets me starting to relax. Now, focus. We can come up with something. Let's start with where you actually want to work.."

The three friends discussed the pros and cons of a long list of choices, whittling it down to a respectable six. By the time Andy returned home she had made her last cut and was finally able to sleep with the belief she had made the correct final decisions. They were respectable choices, and Miranda shouldn't get upset. Or so she hoped.

Monday turned into barely restrained chaos. Miranda had retuned the book with more changes than there were pages. For end of month, this was unheard of, unprecedented, and unbelievable. She basically was ordering an entirely new cover to cover layout with all new photo spreads. It was beyond the realm of sanity or reality. There was no way she would be able to get the financial approval for such an undertaking. Nigel was the chosen champion to face the dragon down behind closed doors after her lunch break, when she would hopefully be too full to chew his head off.

"Miranda, do I even have to say anything?"

"Of course not. I am well aware that it is ridiculous."

"May I ask why?"

"You may. But I choose not to discuss it. Put the word out that we are temporarily in a holding pattern. Continue with the blocking for next month. We will have our editorial meeting at four as planned. Have the beauty department ramp up their display for the run through on Wednesday. And please send Andréa in when you leave." The hard stare over the reading glasses never faltered as Miranda dismissed her long time right hand man, "That's all".

Nigel closed the door again as he exited the office. Under the concerned stares of both assistants, he paused to consider the triggers to Miranda's temporary madness. Shaking his head in defeat, he turned towards Andy as he walked past. "She wants to see you", he stated blandly.

"What? Why?" Andy gaped, confused at the request.

"No idea. She just asked for you. I wouldn't keep her waiting", he sagely advised.

Andy grabbed her gear and hurried into Miranda's office. Like their previous, late night meeting Miranda ordered her to close the door. Following orders, she chanced a glance over her shoulder and was surprised to see Miranda with head in hands as if she was suffering a head ache. Miranda dragged her fingers through her hair and literally shook herself in preparation for their conversation. Andy returned to stand in front of the desk and jumped at the command to "sit".

Andy's eyes widened at the aberration of Miranda's actions. She knew Miranda's schedule was open until four o'clock. Miranda already had her two o'clock coffee on her desk and the photos for the Hugo Boss spread were tucked into a folder on the corner of her desk. Andy could not divine a reason for this impromptu closed door meeting. Miranda couldn't possibly be ready to deal with Andy's advancement now, with everything so up in the air. Surely this was something to wait until the end of the day…or not.

"Have you made your selection?" Miranda's voice was flinty and cold, unforgiving and angry.

"Um… yes, Yes I have." Andy offered cheerily, hoping an answer in the affirmative would make Miranda happy.

"Well?" Not happy.

"I, uh, well I tried to follow your advice and I came up with three that I think are quite responsible and challenging…"

"What are your final three?" It was there again. A controlled hostility that Andy could not fathom. Why was Miranda getting so upset about this discussion when she was the one who brought it up?

"Ok. Here." Andy passed a folded slip of paper across the desk, praying she made the right decision. Miranda accepted it and glared for a moment at Andy as she fingered the paper open. Breaking the stare down, she glanced quickly to see what Andy had scribbled on the page. Pursing her lips, her response sounded slightly exasperated, "You are not yet mature enough for the first two and, as for the third… no."

'What?" Andy blurted out before she could stop herself. And then she sat in shock, not only from her own actions, but also from the fact Miranda was offering her a clarifying explanation.

"I said, you are not yet mature enough for either the New Yorker or Harper's. It would do you well to cut your teeth on a publication with a broader base. I fully expect to see your name within those pages for posterity, but I feel it must occur at a later point in your professional time line."

"And the third choice?"

"Yes, well, you have already paid your dues and fulfilled your time requirement with us. I do not believe Runway is where you truly want to be."

"That's not true." Andy argued, "I have learned more here in two years as your measly assistant than in my four years of journalism school. I don't see how staying here can be anything but a continued accelerated learning experience."

"Blatant flattery will get you nowhere. There is no need for you to be condescending."

"I'm not. I am being totally honest here. Miranda, I can't think of anyone I would rather learn from. It is widely known you are the best."

"No." Miranda answered with the exactness of her reputation. "We will find something else for you. I'm thinking something along the lines of Vanity Fair."

"Oh, well… that would be…"

"Yes. I think it would be a good fit. I have already spoken with Graydon Carter. He has informed me they have an opening under their copy editor, Peter Devine. It will be a promotion for you and a very good entry position. You will climb the ladder very quickly, I expect."

"Miranda, I…"

"Yes, of course. We will consider this the start of your two week notice. I expect you to have Marie trained up and a replacement for her in place before you leave." Taking a moment to allow her eyes to linger, Miranda fully appreciated Andy's beauty as she glowed with anticipation. With a sad smile Miranda ended their meeting, her voice as cold as when they started, "That's all."

"Oh, ok" Andy responded, somewhat surprised at Miranda's brusqueness, amazed that someone who had just bestowed a wonderful gift could do so with such cold disregard. Andy returned to her own desk and immediately placed a call to the HR department.

The evening found Andy at a small hole in the wall burger joint with Doug. Their prevalence for these small restaurants and bars was the impetus for calling themselves the "hole in the wall gang".

"So what is Lily up to?" Andy wondered aloud.

"She had to work. They're putting together a new opening for this weekend. She'll be unapproachable until Sunday. But hey, I'm here for you."

"I know Doug. And I really appreciate it."

"So, what's the outcome?"

"She's sending me to Vanity Fair ."

"Oh, no way. That is so cool. Do you know who you'll be working with?"

"Only a smattering of the greatest writers in our time. It's a revolving door to greatness. And I'm going to witness it all, first hand. I can not believe it."

"So, why so glum, chum?"

"You can tell?"

"Andy. It's me. Of course I can tell. I've always been able to read you like a comic book. So, spill."

"You don't really want to know."

"Ahhh, I see. The heart pines and the heart breaks. The soul cries and the body shakes. You don't want to leave."

"I can't help it. It feels like a marriage is breaking up. I'm getting divorced. It hurts. Two people mutually deciding to split up is one thing. But when one wants to save the relationship…"

"Andy, honey. This isn't a 'relationship'. You're leaving your boss. You have to move on. In more ways than one."

"But if I leave, she'll forget me."

"Andy, has she ever done so much for one of her assistants?"

"What do you mean?"

"Think back to your weekend of dreams. She bought you clothes, for god's sake. Has she ever…?"

"Well, no. Not that I'm aware of. But I'm sure this never came up before."

"Didn't Nigel say it was completely off base for Miranda to drive… with an assistant… to a photo shoot? I don't think she's going to forget you, Andy. I think you may be in her mind like an indelible tatoo."

"You say the sweetest things to me, Dougie."

"That's what friends are for. And besides, after you leave, whose to say you wont run into her at some snazzy function? Your circles are going to intersect, Andy. It's kismet."

The two week transition was officially being counted down with large red diagonal lines through Andy's home calendar. Initially, her days were filled with juggling spontaneous, often unrealistic orders from on high with HR forms, new résumés, and scheduling her own appointment with Mr. Devine. Miranda may have dropped her name like an anvil on Graydon Carter, but it was up to Andy to cement the position with a solid interview.

Andy had lost herself in a Wednesday afternoon project and was taken by surprise when Miranda stopped in front of her desk at 6:30 and ordered her to follow with the crook of a finger. Passing into Miranda's office, Andy was once again put on high alert when Miranda carelessly tossed the word "door" over her shoulder. Andy paused to get her breathing under control while she shut the door, trying to wipe the vision of Miranda's swaying hips out of her mind.

Miranda sat at her desk waiting for Andy, her posture ramrod straight, leaning slightly forward, her eyes locked on Andy, and her face an unreadable mask. She appeared eager to either delve into a discussion or rip Andy a new one.

Andy took a chair across from her enigmatic boss, perched on the edge of the seat for a quick escape should the need arise. She waited nervously for Miranda to compose her thoughts. The staring contest lasted for 30 seconds before a deep blush climbed Andy's chest and crept over her cheeks. Miranda blinked slowly, as if waking from a dream. A quick shake of her head cleared her mind and she began.

"You have contacted Peter?"

"Yes. I have an appointment scheduled tomorrow at 2:30. You have your run through at two and then you're scheduled to be out until 5:00 at Vivienne Westwood's"

"Have you prepared for your interview?"

"Um… yes." Andy replied, her mind beginning to spin from Miranda's unprecedented interest. "I've put together my portfolio and updated my résumé."

"And have you decided on a figure?" "I'm sorry, a what?"

Miranda rolled her eyes. "A figure. A number you require as salary."

"Oh… uh, no. I haven't thought much about that."

Miranda surreptitiously slid a paper across the desk top, her hand lingering over it until Andy reached for it and their fingers brushed. Andy snatched the note and sat back in her chair to peek at it. At first glance she could not contain the exclamation, "Wow!"

"That is your bottom line. Do not accept anything less." Miranda spoke firmly, leaving no room for argument. "Start as high as you like, but do not drop below this."

"Miranda…"

"No. I know what you are capable of. A penny less would be an insult to you, and me. And I do not take insults lightly."

"No, of course not. I will… stand firm."

"Good. That's all."

It was over. Miranda said what she needed to and the matter was closed. Andy rose on shaky legs and turned to go only to be halted by Miranda's addendum, "And Andréa, I will need you near by through next week. Arrange for the other girl to run all the errands."

"Yes, Miranda. By the way, her name is Marie." Andy offered playfully.

Miranda's eyes scanned up Andy's body, stopping at her twinkling eyes. Fighting against an irrepressible smile she decided to allow the impudent act.

"I suppose you expect me to call her by her given name once you leave."

"Well, it would be less confusing for her, and the new assistant."

"Where's the fun in that?"

Andy grinned at the response. She never, ever would have thought Miranda Priestley would be playful. Before she could say something that would get her into trouble, Miranda ended their interaction.

"Good night, Andréa."

"Good night, Miranda. And, thank you."

"Hmm."

Andy left to finish her work and get a few last minute errands checked off her to-do list. She made a run by the closet to pick up a pair of Jimmy Choo leopard print pumps, a stop in the beauty department to drop off a delivery, and then she went in search of Nigel to gather the latest choices from the LaChapelle photo shoot. Nigel was not in his office so she left a note and headed back to her desk.

Andy had often heard the saying "Karma's a bitch", but she could not, for the life of her, figure out what she could possibly have ever done to deserve what happened next. It may have been a case of "wrong place, wrong time", or "perfect timing", or maybe the worst timing ever. Whatever it was, all Andy knew for sure was that the floors had most definitely been recently waxed.

Andy was traveling down the hallway at a rapid clip , considering she was wearing seven inch platform Loubitons. As she approached an intersection, Nigel caught sight of her and called out to stop her. Andy stopped, turned, and, thanks to the beautifully waxed floor, her feet were suddenly and rapidly slipping out form under her. Her arms flailed out in a useless attempt to keep her balance, and that was when the perfect (or worst ever) timing came into effect. Miranda turned the corner just as Andy's feet lifted off the floor and her left arm swung out to compensate. Miranda's attempt to break Andy's fall with her nose proved unsuccessful for both of them. The sickening squelch of flesh striking flesh sounded at the exact moment Andy felt something solid smack the back of her hand. It was immediately forgotten as she felt the pain of her ass landing on the hard tile floor. Lying on the floor with her eyes closed, Andy was thankful she was wearing slacks instead of a skirt. However, her pain and embarrassment were instantly forgotten when she opened her eyes to find Miranda Priestly looming over her fighting back tears, her hands to her face and red liquid oozing out between her fingers.

"Six! Are you all right?" Andy was momentarily distracted from the impossible vision of an injured Miranda.

"Yeah, I'm ok. Miranda?, Miranda what happened?"

Andy was struggling to her feet, a hot panic racing up her spine. She could hear Nigel's feet hitting the floor as he hustled down the corridor, but her real focus was on Miranda. The woman's eyes were closed tightly against obvious pain and Andy quickly realized the red liquid she had seen was blood mixing with tears.

"Miranda?" Andy tried again.

"I think it's broken." Miranda stated in an unbelievably calm and matter-of-fact voice.

"What?" Andy's eyes almost bugged out of her skull at the announcement.

"My nose. I think it's broken."

"Oh shit."

"Miranda?" Nigel had arrived in time to hear Andy's expletive.

"Shit. Nigel." Andy turned her horrified expression to him. "I broke her nose."

"Oh, my. Well, we best get you to the emergency room, Miranda."

Andy grabbed her cell phone off the floor and called Roy to bring the car around. As she dialed she ordered Nigel to get Miranda's things. Before he could squeeze past them she grabbed his handkerchief from his breast pocket and tucked it into Miranda's hands to help stem the flow of blood. With a grimace, Nigel continued on his way. Andy gently, but securely latched onto Miranda's elbow and began to guide her towards the restrooms while directing Roy over the phone, "Hi Roy. We need you out front, like, ten minutes ago." Her voice was calm despite the tremble in her hands and the sweat at her brow. Disconnecting, she put all her concerted efforts into leading Miranda to the lavatory since the woman was still, for all intents and purposes, blind from the pain.

Andy successfully pulled Miranda to the sinks and, placing a hand flat between her shoulder blades, she pushed with a steady pressure to get the woman to bend over the porcelain. She tugged Nigel's hankie away and began tenderly rinsing the blood from Miranda's pale face. As the water turned red, Andy's own tears began.

"I… am… so… sorry, Miranda." Andy sobbed while she dabbed. "I… I… I…."

"…have nothing to be sorry for, Andréa. Unless this was a premeditated act. Though, I hardly believe that you would be capable of pulling off a feat of such diabolical perfection. To get the timing so exact would be miraculous in itself." Not happy to leave it at just stopping Andy's tears she had to add, "If you wanted to punch me in the nose you should have been more direct. This way wins you no bragging rights."

Andy's face was a precious mix of confusion and concern. Staring into Miranda's reflection she mentally caught up to the droll word play and coughed out a guffaw when she saw the gleeful glint in Miranda's eyes. Collecting herself, she continued ministering to Miranda's injury. After patting Miranda's face dry, she grabbed a handful of tissues and handed them over for Miranda to block the last vestiges of the bloodletting.

They were escorted to the elevator by Nigel and Marie. Andy collected jackets and bags from the pair en route, doing a fair job of juggling and maintaining her balance. Within the security of the elevator box, Andy dropped her things to the floor and held Miranda's jacket at the ready. Dropping the collar around the woman's neck, Andy voiced her thoughts, "I probably should grab some ice."

Miranda looked at her over a handful of red tinged tissues and arched an eyebrow in confusion. Andy saw the question and filled in the blank.

"To help keep swelling down. That's the worst part of a break. If they need to reset, they'll have to wait for some of the swelling to reduce. It's better if they can do it right away."

Miranda nodded mutely and Andy bolted from the elevator when it stopped at the third floor. It took her only 2 minutes to race to the cafeteria and return with a towel packed with ice cubes. Miranda had waited at the elevator pondering how Andy could accomplish half the things she did on a daily basis.

Before stepping out into the lobby, Andy had switched the tissues again to hide the signs of injury from the "sharks". Miranda kept her head down and stayed close to Andy's shoulder to avoid most of the curious gawkers. They made it to the car without incident or interruption and Roy efficiently whisked them to the closest emergency room at Lenox Hill Hospital. Andy held her tongue against the belief Miranda would prefer to drive all the way up to Presbyterian since they were listed as the best in the city by U.S. News. Time was more essential at this point. If there was serious damage done that would require surgical repair, then they could transfer.

At the emergency room, Andy found a mostly clean seat in the waiting room to deposit Miranda before she went to the admissions desk to get help. Thankfully, the emergency room was, for the time being, quiet. There was a scruffy man sleeping off a drunk in the corner and a "maintenance engineer" clean mopping the floor. Andy expeditiously filled out all the admission papers and wavers and barely made it back to Miranda before a registered nurse was calling them in. At there approach the nurse explained Andy would have to wait in the lobby. Miranda dropped her hand from her face and pulled herself to her full, four inch heel assisted height to bestow a withering glare on the man. Andy was escorted into the curtained room along with Miranda.

After obtaining vitals and a brief history, the nurse excused himself to retrieve the intern on staff. Miranda utilized the time to start in on a list of new impossibilities for Andy to handle.

"I suppose I will have to work from home until healed enough. You will need to reschedule Vivienne. The run through can be brought to the house. Arrange for Nigel to remain in the office to cover for us. He knows what they'll be sending so he can confer over the phone. Reschedule what you can and cancel what you must. I expect I will be out for the rest of this week and possibly next. Have the girl deliver the book and the new girl will have to start answering phones and running the errands. I trust you have her trained?"

"Umm, mostly. She has the basics. I was spending more time with Marie to fine tune…"

"Yes, yes. I am sure she is 'tuned'. You will need to obtain your own lap top. My home computer has died, or 'crashed', and I will not be tied up with you using my lap top."

"Oh, of course."

They were interrupted by an attractive blonde woman in garish green scrubs. Doctor Hanson performed a cursory exam and ordered radiographs for confirmation of her 'it's not so bad' diagnosis. Andy could feel Miranda tensing and knew a situation was about to bloom.

"And what, pray tell, would be 'so bad'?" Miranda questioned in the voice she always used when allowing someone the opportunity to dig themselves a very deep grave.

"Well, if the cartilage was completely shattered, we would have some serious concerns. But I think you have, at most, a hair line fracture. So, that is not so bad." The doctor had returned the volley with a non wavering glare that said 'I have seen way too much shit working here so don't try to mess with me'.

Andy hid a smirk as Miranda actually capitulated to the doctors argument. She stepped out in search of coffee when the x-ray technician tried to squeeze into the cubicle with the equipment. When she returned, after running down the block to the Starbucks, Miranda was sitting alone on the edge of the bed, with her coat on and her bag in her lap, looking for all the world like a lost, but wealthy orphan. She had a small bandage across her nose for support and some serious raccoon mask bruising emerging around her eyes.

Looking up at Andy's entrance she closed her eyes to ward off the sudden pain and nausea from dizziness. Andy was next to her in an instant, placing the coffees on the surgical tray and reaching for Miranda's arm to steady her.

"Are you all right?"

"Yes. Just a bit dizzy. They gave me something for pain. I don't know if it is better or worse."

"Do you want me to get somebody?"

"No. I want to leave. I have signed the discharge papers, so if you don't mind…"

"Oh, right." Andy stepped back and assisted Miranda off the bed. She grabbed their coffees and then turned to move alongside Miranda. As she had done while in Rhode Island, Miranda slipped her hand into the crook of Andy's elbow, wordlessly accepting support and guidance as they walked towards the exit. And as in Rhode Island, Andy sucked in a deep breath to help keep her bearing and led the way out to the city.

The car slowed smoothly to a stop in front of the townhouse. Andy just about jumped from the car to get around to Miranda's door and help her. Before stepping from the warmth of the vehicle, Miranda directed Roy to "wait for Andy to return and drive her safely home".

"Yes, ma'am."

Andy, still concerned about the earlier bout of dizziness, escorted Miranda all the way to her front door. With the key in the lock, Miranda suddenly felt exhausted. She shouldered the door open while Andy stood like a sentinel on her stoop. Turning to bid Andy a good night, she had to smile at the look of concern on the younger woman's face. She uncharacteristically reached out and laid a hand on Andy's arm. "Good night, Andréa. I do not want you fretting all night. I am fine and I do not blame you. Had I not witnessed your stupendous wipe out however, I might reconsider. Now go home and get some rest. I will expect you here at 7:30, sharp. And bring coffee."

"Yes, Miranda." Andy responded with a smile fighting to break across her face.

"And Andréa," Miranda called, stopping her from stepping away.

"Yes Miranda?" Andy turned back to face her.

"Next time you want to punch me, give me a head's up. We'll make it a fair fight." Miranda grinned. Andy stood, stupefied by the beauty of Miranda's genuine smile. "Go on now", Miranda prodded. "See you tomorrow." And the door closed with a soft snick.

Andy slid into the back of the car, the warmth of the heated seats offering relief against the chill and the pain in her backside from her fall. Andy took only a moment to replay the memory of Miranda's smile before a cleansing breath readied her for the phone calls and the headaches.

Miranda wandered into her home unable to escape the irony of the day's physical interactions with the woman she most desired to get physical with. Engrossed in her musing, she was startled to find her daughters in the kitchen when they announced their presence with overflowing distress.

"Mom! What happened?"

"Were you in a car accident?"

"Oh, no, darlings. I had an accident, but it was not with a car."

"Are you ok?"

"Yes Cassidy, I'm fine. At least I will be."

"Wow, you really look banged up. Doesn't it hurt?"

"Well it most definitely does not tickle. It looks, and will look, much worse than it is."

"Is it broken?"

"Yes, it is broken."

"So you probably don't want me to touch it?"

"No Caroline, I don't. But you may give me a hug if you'd like."

Miranda sighed as small arms encircled her waist, the strength and warmth of her daughter working better than any pain pill the doctors could give her. Cassidy crept in, nudging her sister over a bit for some space. Miranda's heart broke anew for the love of her children. Dropping a kiss to the crowns of their heads, she pulled back and asked seriously,

"What are we to have for dinner tonight, hmmm?"

"Lasagna!" "Cheese burgers!"

"Oh my. An impasse, I presume. May I suggest… pizza?"

"Yay" in stereo.

Anxious to see how Miranda was doing, Andy arrived on her doorstep at seven am, a tray of coffees in hand and a computer messenger bag slung over her shoulder. She was nearly run over by a pair of red heads bolting from the house on their way to school. "Have a good day." she called after the girls in response to the "Hey, Andy" and "Good morning, Andy", greetings shouted out to her in passing.

Andy let herself in through the door that was left ajar. Pausing in the foyer to decide her immediate action, she chose the kitchen and headed in. She saw a couple of cereal dishes in the sink and an empty coffee cup on the counter. Deducing from the evidence that Miranda had not joined the girls in eating breakfast, Andy made a unilateral decision that could easily get her tossed out on her ear.

Miranda entered the kitchen and pulled up short in surprise. "What are you doing?" she actually asked. A good sign for Andy.

"Good morning, Miranda. How are you feeling today?" Andy asked over her shoulder from her spot in front of the stove.

"I'm fine. Andréa, what are you doing?"

"I thought you might like some breakfast. This is easier and less time consuming than having me run out."

"You are cooking? For me?"

"Well, yeah. I already grabbed something."

"I… you don't…"

"Miranda, it's done. If you would like to eat, then have a seat. Otherwise, I can toss it out and we can start working."

Miranda couldn't decide if she was thrown more by Andy's actions or her commanding voice. Either way, she was indeed hungry, since she had not eaten the night before. She sat at the table where Andy had already set a place with juice and fresh coffee, and waited silently while Andy plated the eggs and grabbed a fresh fruit cup from the refrigerator before presenting the meal to her boss.

"I hope you don't mind, I scrambled them with some cheese."

Miranda took a forkful before replying, "I don't mind, at all. Thank you."

"You're welcome." Andy grinned. She quickly discarded the dirty pan and, grabbing her bag on the way across the room, announced, "I'll just go set up in the study?"

"Yes, that's fine."

Miranda ate, enjoying the sharp flavor of the cheese. Sipping her coffee she mused, 'Trust that girl to make some silly, casual change in my routine that, I'm sure, will change me forever. This boldness must be from the 'short timer's' attitude. A nice change, I must say. Though, I admit, I have been noticing little things almost… realigning since Paris. Maybe I'm just paying more attention. It is good she's leaving. This will get me nowhere." Ending her mental wanderings, Miranda placed her dishes in the sink with her daughters' and headed towards the study.

Andy had managed to organize a flawless schedule for Miranda from a host of difficulties. A morning full of conference calls and e-mails kept Miranda busy, but not enough to miss the wondering glances from her assistant across the room. After hours of furtive glances, Miranda finally broke down, "What is it?"

"What? Oh, uh, nothing."

"Andréa, you have been sneaking peeks at me all morning. Is there some astute observation you've made that you feel you must comment on? Or are you merely afraid to request a hall pass for the lavatory?"

"I was just checking to see if you might need some ibuprofen or something… anything."

"I had not realized you have mastered the ability to read minds."

"What? I haven't…"

"Then perhaps it would make more sense to ask than to stare."

"I wasn't staring."

"Don't pout like a five year old."

"I'm not pouting."

"Yes."

"What?"

"Yes, I would like some ibuprofen, if you have some."

"Oh, sorry… yes, I have a bottle here in my bag. Would you like a glass of water?"

"I would like a glass of wine, but water will suffice."

Andy jogged out of the room, returning in moments with a tall glass of chilled, filtered water. Depositing the glass and bottle of pain medication on Miranda's desk, she took one step back and waited.

"Is there something else?" Miranda muttered as she struggled with the childproof cap.

"Is it awfully painful?"

"Not if I don't touch it. I accidentally brushed it in the shower this morning and almost dropped to my knees."

"I'm so sorry, Miranda."

"And I told you, you are not to blame. It was an accident."

"It looks horrible. I feel so bad."

"Well get over it. I'll heal." Making an abrupt change of conversation, Miranda asked, "Did you bring something to change into for your interview?"

"No. I was planning to go in this."

"We can do better."

'We?', Andy thought. She asked, "What do you suggest?"

As if divination was her special talent, Miranda said, "This should work nicely", just as the doorbell rang. Andy paused a moment to try her hardest to read Miranda's mind. Getting nothing but a sly smirk, Andy collected the delivery from the messenger at the door. Hauling the boxes into the study, Andy muttered, "so much to learn…"

"Some things can not be taught, Andréa.", Miranda chuckled.

Andy opened the largest box to find a print silk satin jersey dress by Emilio Pucci. She glanced over her shoulder with her eyebrow arched.

"Yes, one would normally think 'severe, business attire' for an interview. But as we know from your proven past," Miranda could not help the obvious dig at Andy's old 'style', "sometimes being adventurous, and maybe a bit playful, can often have a positive outcome."

Turning back to the packages, Andy uncovered a pair of Miu Miu pumps, a Bottega Veneta bag, and a few pieces of costume jewelry. With shoes hanging from one hand and the bag from the other, Andy turned back to face Miranda.

"Are you helping me because you just can't wait to get rid of me?"

"Don't be absurd. Of course not." Miranda would never confess her true reasons, but she could offer an olive branch. "I made a choice I believe will launch you quickly into your desired profession. I would rather not have it turn into a disastrous failure if I can help it."

"Oh, so this is all for your reputation's benefit."

"I wouldn't put it like that, exactly."

"How would you put it, exactly?"

"I simply want you to succeed. Is that a crime?"

"No. Not a crime. Just not your usual M.O."

"Well, I do love to keep people guessing."

"Mmm."

"Go order me some lunch, then get changed." Miranda pulled herself back into her shell of terseness to protect her exposed heart. Andy blinked, shifting back into pure assistant mode, and went to fulfill the dragon lady's wishes.

Andy emerged from her interview physically unable to wipe the face splitting grin from her face. Not only did she get the job, but they had agreed to a salary five thousand over what Miranda had recommended. They agreed to a start date two weeks out, which gave Andy a week off to get herself organized for her new position. Miranda's divination timing was spot on again as Andy slid into the car loaned to her for her trip across town. The cell phone chimed and Andy answered, "Yes, Miranda."

"Coffee"

"On the way."

Climbing the stairs to the townhouse, Andy was again accosted by a pair of pre-teen hellions. Shouts of "Hey, Andy" and "What's up, Andy" assaulted her as she was bumped and shoved out of the way by the girls wrestling for the door. They left the front door wide open for her after they slammed into the house and raced up the stairs. Miranda appeared from the den with a scowl on her face.

"I do hope that was not you entering my home in that manner."

"No. It wasn't me. The girls are home."

"Ah. Yes, well, come along. You have a story to tell." Miranda teased.

Entering the den, Andy toed the door closed behind her. Risking her life, she opted for an attempt at playful banter.

"You know, looking like you do right now really increases the holy terror factor by at least a third."

"Where would you like them to find your body?"

"You can't kill me. I'm expected at Vanity Fair in two weeks. They know I was coming back here. You'd never get away with it."

"Who says I'd want to get away with it? Maybe this is my retirement plan. Life imprisonment for a crime of passion. Three hots and a cot. What more could a woman want?"

"I don't know… freedom, maybe?"

"Mmm, maybe. So, what happened?" Miranda sat back with her new cup of coffee, happy to sip slowly while observing her heart's desire. Andy was so animated with barely contained excitement. Miranda took solace in the fact she was directly responsible for the girls happiness. She listened intently as Andy shared every thought, comment, and gesture, painting the entire experience with her words. Analytically, Miranda new she made the right selection for her chosen one. Emotionally, she felt she was rending her hair due to the frustration at the loss. She would bask in this moment with the girl and live vicariously over the next week through the woman's enthusiasm. It would have to be enough.

The story was over and Miranda was caught distracted and dreamy. She covered it with complaints of the run through, as if that had been her distraction. A new list of orders for Andy and they were back in the swing of things. Andy returned to her spot on the couch, pulling up contact information on the computer and launching into a chain of phone calls to reorganize Miranda's week. At one point, between phone calls, Andy heard "congratulations" drift from across the room. Instantly , the grin was back. "Thank you" she shot back. And then plowed back into work.

The following week passed much faster than Andy had hoped. Work was hectic enough that she did not experience much "down time" to bond with Miranda. She found herself wishing that they could get lost in some small town again. She longed for a chance to get closer to Miranda, to be able to confess her feelings. Instead, there was a greater wedge placed between them when Miranda returned to the office on Thursday and Andy was forced to share her again. A heavier hand with her foundation effectively covered the remains of Miranda's bruises. No one need be wiser. It was better for Miranda to be back in the office, but worse for Andy who only had two more days in her presence.

Friday pushed Andy out of the office for most of the day. Marie was covering the desk and the new girl, Janice was in and out of the office running errands, and sometimes re-running them. Miranda chose to use Andy for errands that were too important for "new girl" to screw up. By the end of the day Andy was wrung out from the miles logged on her feet, and depressed by the end of everything. She was gathering her things when Miranda called her into the office.

"Yes, Miranda?", her hopefulness bringing a glow to her face.

"I am aware you are meeting friends for drinks this evening. I do not wish to ruin your social gathering, but I want you to deliver the book tonight."

"Oh, um, sure. I can do that. We were only getting together for one or two. It's not like it was going to be an all night bash."

"Yes, well, whatever. I expect to see you by 10:30."

"Oh. Ok. I'll be there. Was there anything else you needed before I go?"

"No. That's all."

Miranda waved her out. A final swan song to mark their end.

Andy closed the door softly. She hesitated at the threshold, inhaling the scents that would forever be tied to Miranda. She stepped across the floor to place the book on the appropriate table. She waited again for a count of ten, hoping and expecting to hear her name called from somewhere within, but no sound came forth. Hanging her head in defeat she made to leave when she caught a movement out of the corner of her eye. Turning quickly, she almost relived her infamous wipe out. Straightening from her near fall she gave full attention to the noted movement. "Miranda."

The woman in question stepped out of the shadows of the darkened kitchen, two empty glasses and a bottle of wine in hand. Nodding towards the study she offered, "Care to join me? Unless, of course, you are too far gone already."

"I'm not 'gone'", Andy laughed. "I would love to join you."

They settled onto the couch, a respectable distance apart. Miranda handed Andy a glass of chardonnay, then offered her own for a toast.

"To the rest of your life."

"Thank you."

"Are you ready for the next chapter?"

"I am" Andy stated with near enthusiasm.

"But…?"

"But I'm not really looking forward to leaving. It's like I want to take Runway with me."

"Well, I don't think you can hide us in your purse."

"Not even just one or two of you?"

"You would have to be very discriminating in your decision who you want to kidnap. There are very few I can do without."

"What if I took you?"

"Well…"

"Yeah."

"You will go far, Andréa. And you can take that to the bank."

"That may be the nicest thing you ever said to me."

"I believe that is a very sad statement, indeed."

"Miranda? May I ask you something?"

"Of course. I might not answer, but you may ask."

Andy placed her glass on the table. So many questions were running through her head. 'Miranda, can I kiss you? Miranda, will you take me upstairs? Miranda, will you marry me?' What finally came past her lips was, "Miranda, do you think we'll ever see each other again?"

"I don't doubt it. You are in New York, stepping on the second rung of you professional ladder, a profession in which I am viewed as a god.", Miranda laughed. "Of course you'll see me."

"But, will you see me?"

'On every street, in every Starbucks, with every dream.' "Yes, Andréa. I will see you."

Their glasses were empty. The evening was coming to an end. But, Miranda said she would see her. Andy would take that promise and hold it as her guiding light.

"Well, I don't want to keep you…" Miranda suggested.

"Yeah. I should get going. Thank you for the wine."

"Yes." Miranda escorted Andy to the door. Before Andy could yank it open and run away from the threatening tears, Miranda placed a hand on her arm again, her fingers curling around Andy's wrist. Andy froze, her nerve endings firing alarms through her entire body. Miranda drew closer, eyes searching Andy's. Andy held her breath, her heart pounding to the point of distraction. At the last second Miranda shifted to the side and placed a kiss on Andy's cheek. She lingered, just beyond the point of proper social norms, exhaling warm breath across Andy's cheek. Pulling back to a respectable distance, Miranda smiled, not quite able to cover the sadness in her eyes. She reached up to wipe at the lipstick mark she left behind, patted Andy's cheek, then reached past her to yank the door open.

"Good night, Andréa. I'd like you to know, there have been many assistants I remember fondly, but there will only ever be one you. Go and prove me right."

"Good bye, Miranda. Thank you, for everything."

Andy pulled the collar of her jacket up and stepped out into the night. She carried a heavy heart, but she had a final order from Miranda, and she'd be damned if she would let the woman down.