chainofclovers: (dvl)
[personal profile] chainofclovers
Title: Clean Rooms and Dirty Light
Fandom: The Devil Wears Prada (film)
Pairing: Miranda/Andy
Rating: M
Disclaimer: I have no rights whatsoever to The Devil Wears Prada.
Summary: Oh, you know. They're mad at each other; they love each other. They're smart women but kind of dumb when it comes to this.
Author's Note: Many, many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] sporkmetender, beta extraordinaire. She was a fantastic help to me. The chronology I used in the storytelling (alternating between present events and history) was inspired by several stories by [livejournal.com profile] somniesperus.



“I have to try so hard not to fall in love.
I have to concentrate when we kiss.”

The Hold Steady, “Hornets! Hornets!”

---

Miranda’s salutations were never effusive, but she and Andy usually spared a moment or two for bland pleasantries before they started taking off their clothes. Today, however, it was obvious something was a little off from the moment she walked into Andy’s apartment. She barely said hello, and kept her eyes focused on the furthermost wall as she set her bag down on the table by the door. Still, even as Andy realized something was wrong, she couldn’t stop herself from smiling as she shut the door behind Miranda. “I’ve been looking forward to this all day,” she said.

Miranda glanced at her, having barely moved beyond the threshold of the apartment. “I should have called and canceled,” she said quietly. She bent down and pulled a bottle of red wine from her bag.

“Did something come up?” Andy asked as she took the wine. Cabernet sauvignon. The wine was a surprise, but more shocking was Miranda’s statement: when it came to this, she hardly ever let herself get double-booked—and if she had, she wouldn’t have delivered the message in person.

“Not exactly.” A blush crept over her face, faint enough one might have easily missed it, if it weren’t for the late afternoon light slicing insistently from between the slats of the window blinds. Andy tried to read the eyes that didn’t want to settle on any one thing, and remembered in a flash how the same expression felt on her own face, years before, upon arriving at her boyfriend Nate’s dorm room. They’d only recently started having sex, and he was obviously eager for it.

“You have your period,” Andy said, certain.

Miranda’s eyes settled in Andy’s direction. She sighed a martyr’s sigh. “Yes. Early. I’m sorry.”

“Well, don’t apologize.” It was refreshing to hear Miranda apologize for something, but in this case her regrets were entirely unnecessary. “I mean, you’re here. You still want to…hang out, right? You’ve got time before your dinner meeting with, um, that hair guy?”

There was no smirk at Andy’s use of the phrase “hair guy.” No glower. Nothing but Miranda practically mumbling the words, “I postponed the dinner until next week.” To a trained ear like Andy’s, she sounded almost sheepish. She didn’t add “before I knew I was going to start my period,” but the words were there in her voice. The dinner was the reason they’d decided to meet in the afternoon in the first place. Ordinarily, they spent every other Friday night together at Andy’s apartment, starting late in the evening, along with the occasional weeknight when their schedules permitted it. Miranda wouldn’t come over if her daughters were at home, and the nights the girls were with their father or at a sleepover and neither of them had a work commitment were few. Andy cracked up (partly from nerves) the first time Miranda called her to schedule sex, but sobered quickly when Miranda didn’t join in. This was serious business. Serious enough that Miranda had informed Andy of the dinner meeting over a week in advance, so Andy would have time to request to leave work a couple hours early on the Friday in question. Miranda would have the girls the following Friday, and neither of them wanted a month to go by without seeing each other.

“Oh.” This was odd. On a normal Friday they would be lying down already, or at least kissing. “Okay. Um, well, take your coat off and stay a while. I’ll make some coffee, or—”

“Fine. But I don’t want to talk about—”

Paris. Runway. The month of October. Her divorce. Her family, or Andy’s family for that matter. Long-suffering Nigel’s career. For all they had done to make their bodies available to each other, so many subjects were off-limits.

“I know.”

“I can—you know—for you—” Ordinarily Miranda excelled at specifics, even intimate ones.

“I’d feel weird about that, I think.” Andy grinned at stiff, sunlit Miranda, who had taken off her wrap but hadn’t sat down yet. “Let’s just relax.” She paused on her way to the kitchen, vaguely contemplating the wisdom of saying what she knew was going to come out of her mouth next. “We’ll be good today, all right?”

Good. The word was intentional, and from the way recognition pierced her face, Miranda knew exactly why Andy chose it.

---

After Andy’s third work-week at the Mirror drew to a close, she stood in a daze near the door of the rattling subway car that carried her closer to home.

She had been dismayed, not to mention a little embarrassed, when she realized the first few weeks at any new job had the potential to be as scary as her start at
Runway. From March to October, she’d associated fear almost entirely with Miranda Priestly, and was perhaps unduly shocked to experience a healthy dose of apprehension every time she entered the Mirror building. She liked most of her new co-workers quite a bit, and thus far hadn’t committed any errors more serious than a couple minor screw-ups while adjusting to the computer system. Still, she was utterly terrified that she was going to destroy her chances at success in journalism. Miranda’s disapproval might not have been the ultimate consequence for failure to perform well as a reporter, but the actual consequences—her editor losing faith in her writing, her fellow writers refusing to take her seriously, further distance from her own creative satisfaction—were, if anything, more horrifying than a certain sharply dressed and coiffed and mannered woman’s displeasure.

In theory, it was kind of refreshing to have new things to be frightened about, but in reality, she was exhausted. She had a lot to do over the weekend, and wasn’t entirely dismayed about returning to a relatively empty apartment. Focus was essential, and she was grateful she had space to herself even if she was still angry over the circumstances that had afforded her such solitude. Andy could admit to herself—and to Lily, who was being a lot more understanding about the whole thing than she’d expected—that she was relieved by Nate’s departure to Boston, and, in some ways, by her own departure from
Runway. That didn’t mean she wasn’t guilty over her sudden abandonment of Miranda in Paris and, in spite of herself, the way she and Nate had grown apart.

When Nate realized that leaving
Runway wasn’t the same thing as getting over it, he’d been incredibly annoyed. He seemed to think that once Andy was free from the demands Miranda placed on her time and energy, everything would go back to the way it had been. When she’d called from JFK to inform him that she was back in New York early and had left her position, she quickly discovered that he’d been staying with Doug. Her suggestion that he remain with their friend for a few more days should have tipped him off to the fact that their relationship was effectively over, but it didn’t, and in a moment of weakness Andy decided he could stay at their apartment as he finalized the details of his move to Boston. That arrangement had lasted from the weekend before Andy started at the Mirror until Tuesday. Three days, and he was gone. They’d agreed that he would email her in a few months to let her know how he was doing, and that they would decide from there how much communication they could handle.

Very recently she’d smiled brightly—if shyly—at Miranda in the street, and had mustered up another glowing smile while sitting across from Nate in a carefully chosen restaurant—one neither of them had tried before. Those smiles had been as real as they come, but they’d taken a lot out of her, and she’d decided she was done smiling at people for awhile.

As the subway car slowed to a stop, Andy wondered for the umpteenth time why she didn’t feel more relieved that the inevitable break-up had finally happened. She could blame the ominous feeling in her stomach on the new job, but she knew that these nerves were from a different place entirely. There was something else coming, and with a sudden urge to hurry Andy exited the train the moment the doors opened, walked across the platform, and waited for a car going in the opposite direction. Within ten minutes, she was standing in front of the Elias-Clarke building, both hoping for and dreading the possibility of seeing Miranda, exhilarated by the fact that she had no idea what either of them were going to say.


---

Andy considered herself relatively proficient with her Mr. Coffee, but as she stared him down, tablespoon in hand, she regretted her casual offer to make coffee for Miranda. They had never, ever sat down for a social cup of coffee together—and Andy had certainly never offered Miranda coffee she’d made herself. In her old life, anything other than the perfect, piping hot Starbucks would have gotten her murdered. And in her new life, the only things she and Miranda were doing “socially” were kissing, touching, fucking, and sleeping. There wasn’t a whole lot of space for sitting around with hot beverages, chatting about—what? What were they going to talk about?

She decided she would tackle the most immediate problem first: the ratio of ground coffee beans to water. It was relatively obvious that the coffee should be strong, but the line between hearty and swampy was delicate indeed. As she opened up the coffee filter, she wondered briefly if the coffeemaker was clean enough, and quickly decided that it would take too long to do a thorough cleaning of all the parts. She was ashamed to see that her fingers shook a little as she scooped coffee into the filter, but thinking of her fingers made her think, completely unexpectedly, of the one of the last times Miranda had come over, maybe a month ago. She’d begged for four of Andy’s fingers inside her instead of the usual two or three, and the sheets had gotten so wet that they’d had to sleep very close together on Andy’s side of the bed. Maybe a pot of coffee wasn’t such a big deal after all. Then the realization that she thought of her bed as having an “Andy’s side” and a “Miranda’s side” even though she slept alone thirteen out of fourteen nights was almost enough to make her lose count of how much coffee she’d measured out.

After what seemed like an eternity, Andy made her way back to the living room, two mugs of coffee in hand. She’d chosen her favorite mug for Miranda, a shiny robin’s egg blue one Lily had made in a college ceramics class and given to her for Christmas a few years back.

Andy perched on a chair facing the sofa and practically held her breath as she watched Miranda take her first sip.

“What?” Miranda asked after she swallowed.

“Coffee complex,” Andy explained weakly. “You gave it to me.” She took a taste. It was fine. It was coffee. Better than what you could get at a diner at 4 a.m., but significantly less divine than what they brewed at her favorite coffee shop down the street.

Miranda didn’t exactly bend over backward assuring Andy that this was the best cup of coffee she’d ever had, but she did keep drinking. “You know what all that was about, don’t you?”

“A whole lot more than how you like your coffee, that’s for damn sure.”

“Yep.” The syllable was flippant in a way that mocked the slanginess of the word, mocked Andy for taking the coffee so seriously all those months, and today. It zipped through the air, and then there was silence.

The silence was monstrous. It overtook the chair and the couch and the whole room, until it was impossible to picture a person talking in any of the five boroughs. Miranda and Andy were tiny in its awful midst as they sat and sipped their coffee, thinking of what they could but did not say.

---

Apparently Andy had retained some of her creepy anticipatory timing where Miranda was concerned. She wasn’t outside Elias-Clarke long enough for her hovering to become awkward before Miranda came storming out of the building. She moved quickly, but Andy could see even from a distance that she was tired. Her features bore the sort of rigidity that might have been accompanied by a sigh and a glance in Andy’s direction if they were riding in the car together, the briefest acknowledgement of the whirlwind within which Andy was expected to keep a constant, dependable pace.

The nice thing about not having friends at work was that you never got caught up in a tedious discussion in the lobby. You never had anyone holding you up on your way the car. The day was over when it was over. Miranda was dismayed that this day was going to be longer than expected—Andy could see this in the way her expression turned quickly from shock to rage as soon as she saw Andy’s necessarily fast approach. They met halfway between the door to the building and the door to the car, stock still against the pedestrian traffic flowing past them on the sidewalk.

“What could you possibly want?” Miranda asked. Andy was amazed: she’d heard Miranda express anger and sadness and, occasionally, a begrudging satisfaction, but always in an observational form. She remarked on her world and the people who populated it were expected to deduce from these observations how she was feeling and how she would like them to respond. For all that one was never supposed to ask Miranda anything, Miranda asked relatively few non-rhetorical questions herself.

“Never mind,” Miranda said to Andy’s stunned silence. “Get in the car.”

Andy didn’t even think about whether or not she was going to obey, and just like that was pulled back into Miranda’s life. The car ride to the townhouse was completely devoid of conversation. Miranda didn’t so much as open her mouth until they were seated on two facing chairs in the front room. It was seven p.m. and they were both hungry and thirsty, but Miranda didn’t provide any refreshments. Those were for guests.

“I wanted to apologize,” Andy said. “For my timing in leaving. It—”

“I don’t want to hear it.”

Andy hadn’t come all this way to be told to shut up. “But—”

“Your leaving in Paris was unprofessional and irresponsible. You already know I was floored by your decision. And yet, I suppose you felt your action was without alternative. You might recall that I, too, have chosen to take the only available course of action from time to time? The only thing more repugnant to me than your particular brand of self-righteous disloyalty is your contriteness.” Every word was calm and measured, like she’d been practicing for this moment.

“That’s why I wanted to apologize for my
timing. I could have given you my two weeks notice, or at least finished out Fashion Week. You’re right that I didn’t feel like I had any other options, but I did. I just…ignored them.”

“I don’t want to talk about this. Did you think stalking me outside my office was the polite thing to do? You’re here out of a sense of obligation? I got your thank-you note, by the way. For the recommendation. What a lovely token. Trust me, I can manage perfectly well without your good manners.”

Andy snapped. “God, Miranda! You get to do what you want all the time. That day in Paris was the only time I can remember that I was acting solely in my own interest.” She stuttered a little, but knew that any speech she might have prepared in advance would have flown out the window in this moment. “C-c-can you imagine if the only time you did that in your life turned out to be so incredibly stupid? What that would feel like?” She didn’t add that coming to see Miranda today felt like her second experience with total self-servitude, and that it didn’t seem to be going much better this time around. It was kind of embarrassing to think that she showed the most gumption in running to and from Miranda.

“Oh, you’ve had many opportunities to act of your own accord. You’ve just chosen not to. You listen—listened—to me, or you listen to your boyfriend, or—”

“I don’t have a boyfriend.” Suddenly, it felt very important that Miranda knew this.

“Well. You had one until very recently, didn’t you.” There was a question mark missing from her inflection.

“And you had a husband very recently, too. Wow, what a great guy.” Andy couldn’t believe she’d said something so sarcastic and cruel. It felt wonderful.

Miranda smiled. “It’s not so difficult to be a bitch, is it? Maybe not the most inspired word in our vernacular, but I think it fits this moment rather well.”

Startled, Andy stood up, and Miranda joined her so they were eye to eye. No one had ever called Andy a bitch before, and she’d stopped thinking of Miranda as one after about three weeks on the job. She wasn’t about to apologize, though, if there was even a reason to do so. Not when Miranda was smiling like that. Besides, if Miranda couldn’t stomach actual remorse, she hated to think of how she’d respond to something less sincere.

“You can do whatever you want,” Andy said.

She meant it as an accusation, even a dismissal, but Miranda misinterpreted. Her laugh was mirthless. “You don’t want to know what I want.”

Months ago, when Andy had first realized Miranda was attracted to her, she’d turned the knowledge over and over again in her brain until she could admit that she was always disappointed when Miranda was busy or distracted and Andy couldn’t sense her eyes anywhere. Now she discovered that staring that lust in the face was a lot different than feeling it follow her out of Miranda’s office. She swallowed hard. “How do you know that?”

“Maybe I don’t.” Miranda raised her eyebrows.

“Maybe you don’t.” She stepped slightly closer, until there were only a couple of feet between them.

“You should have canceled my evening when you had the chance.”

Andy gasped. “You wouldn’t let me, you—”

“Of course I didn’t let you. That doesn’t mean the opportunity wasn’t there. Haven’t you been listening?” Miranda looked away from Andy. “It wouldn’t have been right, anyhow. Abysmal timing.”

Andy prayed they were discussing the same thing. She couldn’t bear the humiliation of finding out later that she’d been talking about sex while Miranda was pining away for the chance to dish out more career advice or something. Then Miranda resumed eye contact, and there was nothing instructive or professional or—God forbid—maternal about her demeanor. Rushing into the room was that terrible, looming presence Andy had sensed on the subway. It was much stronger now—of course making almost coded plans to sleep with Miranda Priestly fell into that category of feeling. The elegant furniture, the restrained hues of the wallpaper, the very structure of the walls—all of it turned into something drawn by Escher.

“You want me,” Andy breathed. She couldn’t help but speak the realization out loud, couldn’t keep a tremor of excitement from her voice.

“I want to be listened to when I say I don’t want to talk about something. I’d be happy to avoid your trouble spots as well. If you have them.”

“Please answer me.”

“You are very attractive. I can’t quite hate you enough to—to—stop this from happening.”

The compliment, buried as it was in malice, felt like being slapped. The slight stammer didn’t do much to soothe her, either. “So are you,” she said. “Attractive. And I don’t hate you, not that it matters.” It was an admittedly lame response, but considering she was practically having an out-of-body experience, she cut herself a little slack.

Though she stood very still, Miranda kind of looked like she wanted to get started right away.

“Um,” Andy started, and blushed deeply. “Before we, ah, I mean, I think we’re on the same page here, but…”

“What is it?” Miranda’s breathing had sped up: the increase wasn’t dramatic, but it was noticeable given the distance between them.

“I really ought to get tested,” she said in a rush. “I don’t generally sleep around, but it might be a good idea.” She was hoping to avoid mentioning Christian Thompson’s name in this conversation. Still, even though their personal past was none of Miranda’s business, if Christian had passed along anything more unsavory than suave underhandedness, Miranda certainly deserved to know about it.

“Ah,” Miranda nodded. “All right.” She took an unconscious step away, as if an extra foot between them would mask the fact that she’d been about a second from proposing immediate sex on her living room floor.

“Do you think…you should get tested too?” Andy had the strange thought that if Miranda was younger—maybe someone who, like Andy, had been a politically active feminist college student at the beginning of the 21st century—she would have offered immediately, and that if she hadn’t offered Andy might have had reservations about the whole thing. She understood, however, that Miranda was in a different place.

Miranda smirked. “I live like a nun.”

A perfect—or even moderately appropriate—response to this statement didn’t immediately present itself, but Miranda continued. “Stephen, on the other hand...” She sighed. “I’ll get tested.”

“Okay,” Andy said. She felt a bit light-headed as she searched for something else to say. “Are your daughters around?” She hoped not, considering the living room floor had been a distinct possibility.

“No,” Miranda said tersely. “The girls have the week off from school for Thanksgiving. They’re spending the holiday with their father this year. They left this afternoon, after classes.”

Andy had almost forgotten about Thanksgiving.
The Mirror certainly wasn’t going to stop for the holiday.

“Well,” Andy said, fishing around in her purse for one of her cards. “I have a new cell phone number,” She squeezed her eyes shut in embarrassment. “Obviously.”

“I will call it,” Miranda said, taking the card. “So we can do something irresponsible just as soon as we see if our responsibility has paid off.” She rolled her eyes. “2005. God.”

As she made her way to the subway for the second time that evening, Andy tried to convince herself that perhaps this was simply the way adults operated. They handed out business cards, investigated their sexual health, and threw their concerns about history, the future, age, gender, and power to the wind. Yeah right. This was truly weird, at least for her, and she knew it. And wanted it anyway.

On Thanksgiving Day, Andy lacked the energy to cook a big meal and invited Doug and Lily over for cold-cut turkey sandwiches instead. If Nate had been there, he would have insisted on cooking a turkey himself, and would have delegated responsibility for the side dishes to his friends and meddled in their cooking anyway. But he wasn’t there, no one mentioned him, and the sandwiches tasted pretty good. Besides, Andy was occupied with far more than missing Nate. She was sad because she was making her parents sad by not returning to Cincinnati for the holiday. She was in limbo with Planned Parenthood and with Miranda. And on Wednesday, a woman in her department had said pointedly, “You know, when I started here they kept me in Obits for a few months.” Andy was mostly annoyed with herself because the comment made her feel guilty about the small success she’d already achieved.

She thought of Miranda a thousand times that Thursday. There was a good chance she was alone, and Andy wondered if she was eating traditional food prepared by her or her housekeeper, or if she was pretending the holiday didn’t exist. She wondered if she talked to her daughters that evening, and if the phone call made her sad. That night, as she crawled into bed, she thought with an unnerving degree of wistfulness about how it might be nice—interesting, at least—to crawl into bed with Miranda. She wondered if she was going to want to meet up at the townhouse or at Andy’s apartment. It would be strange to see Miranda here, her head on the unoccupied pillow next to Andy’s, the one Andy kept on the bed like some sort of place-keeper.

She sternly reminded herself that Miranda was going to call her, hopefully with proof of her own “nun-hood” and with an enduring desire to let Andy help her get even farther away from saintliness. That they’d already mapped out the order of things. That fantasy was no good to her now, and probably no match for the reality that hovered in the distance.


---

When they were through with their coffee, Andy took the empty mugs to the kitchen and re-emerged a couple minutes later with two glasses of the cabernet in hand. It didn’t seem quite right to immediately follow up one beverage with another, but she was at a loss for what else to do. “Care for a depressant to follow the stimulant—” she started to joke, and stopped when she saw that Miranda sat with her handbag propped up next to her on the couch. She had pulled a large plastic bag out of the handbag, and from it was extracting several varieties of fabric, all rolled around tissue paper. She unrolled each piece, so the fabric was spread across her lap in swaths of deep purples and burgundies.

“I had these ordered last week,” Miranda said, offering no explanation for why she’d brought the fabric with her, nor any commentary as to whether or not the quality of the material pleased her.

It was strange to see Miranda holding something so unformed. Andy had seen her handle finished garments hundreds of times. She was always careful with them: even when her face and words were disdainful, her hands held the material so as to avoid wrinkles, and she stroked the clothing almost involuntarily before hanging it up or handing it back to a designer or staff member. The only things she wasn’t careful with were her coats, when she threw them onto Andy’s desk, but that was a style choice all its own, and the coats were always hung up immediately following their daily flight.

Even undressing, hardly able to wait for what was going to happen next, Miranda was gentle with her clothes and with Andy’s. On the first night they had sex she’d had the presence of mind to fold both pairs of slacks and lay them on the seat of a chair, with their blouses laid neatly over the back of the same piece of furniture. She’d been less circumspect about their underwear, leading to an awkward naked search later on, but even in pulling that article of clothing away from Andy’s body it had been clear that she delighted simultaneously in the flesh and the fabric. Miranda’s respect for the very fibers that made up clothing taught Andy to go slow, whether she was undressing Miranda or herself or getting dressed for work—even dressing in something quite inexpensive, something attractive but cheap—on mornings she was completely alone.

This fabric seemed messy, almost overwhelming, in comparison to the completed pieces Miranda cared about so dearly. There were at least four pieces of cloth piled in her lap, cradled in her arms. “Look at these,” Miranda said. “What do you like about them?”

Andy set the wine down on the coffee table and sat down on the other side of Miranda’s bag, which was large but didn’t seem large enough to hold the amount of cloth that practically enveloped Miranda by this point.

“May I touch them?”

Miranda nodded. Andy let her hand rest against Miranda’s thigh as she reached over the bag and toward the fabric, giving each piece of cloth a turn between her fingers. “I really love this one,” she said finally, caressing a silk so deeply eggplant it was almost black in the fading light.

“Why?” Miranda asked, before Andy had a chance to continue. She hadn’t seemed to notice the touch to her thigh.

“It’s, um—it’s rich but light,” Andy explained. She felt Miranda’s eyes on her. “I mean, the color isn’t light at all, but it would feel light to wear, I think. It’s one of my favorite colors, too. Not showy, but elegant,” she paused. “Do you think it’s elegant, even in a big rectangle like that?”

Miranda tilted her head. “Maybe.” To refer to something so purple, the word came out surprisingly grey.

“Are you having something made?” Andy asked.

“No. But I have plans for at least some of this material.”

“Do you sew, Miranda?” Andy realized as she said the words that she shouldn’t have been surprised.

“Not often, anymore—but yes, I do.” She looked away from Andy, and seemed to take note of the glasses on the table for the first time. “You opened the wine,” she said as she began rolling the fabric back up.

“Yeah,” Andy laughed. “I never know if it’s more polite to open it right away, so the person who brought it can have some, or to make some show of stowing it away for a special occasion. It could go both ways, I guess, depending on the circumstances.”

“It’s not important,” Miranda said. Andy noticed she didn’t say “It doesn’t matter,” because it did matter, to lots of people, and maybe to Miranda in certain situations. She was right, though. It wasn’t important. And Miranda certainly wasn’t inclined to give Andy any clues as to the proper way to graciously receive wine. Besides, talking about etiquette was the worst etiquette of all, and Andy figured she deserved Miranda’s reticence.

Once Miranda returned the fabric to her bag, she reached for both wine glasses and handed one to Andy. As they clinked their glasses together and drank, they looked each other squarely in the eye, which was essential etiquette in some places.

They sipped in a shared quiet for awhile. Andy looked down at the wine. Blood red. She felt a clinch of tenderness in her stomach for Miranda.

“Can I kiss you?” Andy asked, startling herself with her timing but not with the fact that she had asked. They hardly ever did anything to each other without asking. Even now that the sex was a given, it was consistently punctuated by murmured questions and non-verbal clarifications. When it came to this, neither of them suffered from an inflated sense of entitlement.

“I don’t know.”

Andy’s stomach sank. There was something to be said for asking, but up until now the answer to very nearly everything had been “yes.”

Miranda squirmed a little, and moved her bag to the floor.

“Is that a yes or a no?” Andy asked, cringing when she heard how abrupt the question sounded coming from her mouth. It was a question Miranda might have asked, if she wanted to kiss and Andy was the uncertain one, except in her voice it would have been sexy, like a challenge, and Andy knew what the answer would always be.

Miranda managed to look hateful and desirous all at once. “A yes,” she sighed, though she didn’t move an inch closer or set her glass down or do anything at all. Andy had to scoot toward her all on her own, setting her glass on the table and doing the same with Miranda’s. She placed one hand on the back of the couch behind Miranda’s shoulders and brushed Miranda’s cheek with the other, gently turning her head until it faced her own.

They kissed for a long time, warm wine kisses, and were both breathing hard when Miranda pulled away.

“You are so pretty,” Andy said, breathless and sincere. “I should tell you that more often.”

Then Miranda’s face was pink, her skin oddly warm against the cool of her eyes.

“Are you frustrated?” Miranda asked. She’d gotten her breathing under control rather quickly. “Do you wish we were fucking?” Her tone was cool, so detached from the vulgarism that the word seemed almost refined. She tapped a finger against Andy’s knee. “As I said, I could still fuck you tonight. I don’t mind; I enjoy doing it.”

Andy told herself not to smile, and insisted to herself that this wasn’t the single most wonderful compliment she’d received in her life. “No,” she said. “I don’t want to.” She really, really wanted to, but she was more inclined to find out where else the night could go. “I just want to do this. Drink wine. Kiss. Or drink wine and have dinner.”

“Let’s fix dinner, then,” Miranda stood up, grabbed her wine, and headed quickly toward the kitchen. “What are we making?”

Andy was surprised. She’d been about to suggest they order in, but was glad she didn’t. Cooking would be more interesting. She already felt, all the time, that she was a passenger on a runaway caboose, drifting faster and faster in the wrong direction. The least she could do was take interest—and pleasure—in everything leading up to the stupid, unavoidable crash.

---

At the beginning of their first night together, Andy worried for a hysterical instant that Miranda was going to micromanage everything from the taking off of clothes to their eventual orgasms. Sitting on the edge of her bed in the dark, feeling Miranda sit down next to her, she imagined her taking and taking and taking. Maybe everything was going to be hopelessly, uncomfortably lopsided. Then Miranda slowly reached out her hand, brushing the uppermost button on Andy’s shirt with her fingertip. “May I?” she asked, sounding like an oddly proper child paused before a candy bowl.

Andy nodded, unable to smile or speak or move, as Miranda worked the buttons with gentle fingers. When the shirt was open all the way, she placed a thumb on each of Andy’s shoulders, between the shirt and the skin, and pushed the shirt off Andy’s body. There was a sharp intake of air into both of their throats, and Miranda leaned forward and kissed Andy’s collarbone. They proceeded in the same tone, removing each other’s garments, kissing the skin underneath, until they were both naked and lying side by side on top of the covers. Andy had expected an angry frenzy, but what she was getting instead was so soft and slow that she couldn’t completely register—not in the moment, at least—the presence of something a little frantic in Miranda’s eyes. Whatever it was, it didn’t surface completely.

Miranda asked lots of quiet questions, wondering about tempo, pacing, how many fingers, does this feel good, how about now? Neither Andy’s answers nor her own questions were quite as articulate, but somehow, they worked. The moment stayed soft but grew faster and faster, until they came one after the other, each moaning a little. Later, Andy couldn’t recall who was first, nor did it matter.

When they were done they sat up in bed, propped against pillows that had gotten pushed back toward the wall. The bedroom didn’t seem as dim as it had when Andy led Miranda there only a minute or so after her arrival, but Andy reached over and turned on the bedside lamp anyway.

“Are you okay?” she asked, nervous even though she’d broken the rule plenty of times already. Somehow, asking Miranda if she could touch her breasts, if she could go inside her, hadn’t felt nearly as transgressive as checking in with her afterwards as to her emotional wellbeing. She snuck a glance at Miranda. Her face was a little shiny, and she seemed to be focusing on breathing in and out, but not too deeply. Moderation following excess.

She nodded, and said curtly, “Yes. Are you?”

“Yes. I’m fine.”

There was a pause before Miranda spoke again. “This will work, I think.”

“What—what will?”

Miranda made a gesture suggestive of the expanse of the bed. “We obviously have something to get out of our systems. This is the solution.”

Andy really, really wished Miranda wasn’t so fond of these communal pronouns.
Our systems. Everyone wants to be us. But instead of addressing the issue, she heard herself say, “Okay. Got it.”

There didn’t seem to be much more to discuss after that. After all, they weren’t there to process what had happened in Paris, or what indefinable energy had hummed between them at
Runway. And they certainly weren’t there to hammer out some notion of the future. All they were going to have was a setting (Andy’s bed), a timeframe (every couple of weeks, with necessary breaks when Miranda had to go to Europe, though she wouldn’t be back there until the January fashion week in Paris), and a set of tools (their own hands and mouths, and, if they got brave as time went on, who knew what else). All of these were the means to ends (satisfaction, power, control, release) that would probably remain private. Even in sharing their bodies, they would be alone in the reasons why.

Until it was out of their systems. It made some sense, even though Andy was already starting to worry about who was going to tire of the other first. Before tonight, as her mind wandered to their arrangement in nervous anticipation, she’d hoped for pride’s sake that it would be her. Now, sitting here stunned and slack with pleasure, she wasn’t so sure. Maybe spontaneous combustion would be better—an exhaustion of desire so mutual something supernatural would have to cause it.

In that moment, the only exhaustion in the room was for lack of sleep. It was late, and even if they’d been alone, neither of them would have planned to sleep in on Saturday morning. Miranda was a naturally early riser, and Andy had gotten so used to seeing the crack of dawn five or six days out of the week that she’d lost the ability to truly enjoy soaking in bed past seven or eight.

“Are you tired?” Andy asked.

“Yes, a bit,” Miranda made a sudden move toward the edge of the bed. “Let me just, uh, collect my things—”

“Oh, no, you can stay. If you want to. I have an extra toothbrush.” Like dental hygiene was the elephant in the room here. Like the only thing stopping Miranda from proposing marriage, buying Andy a puppy, and starting every sentence that came out of her mouth with “We” was toothbrush availability.

“All right, fine,” Miranda said slowly. “I’ll leave in the morning. Early.”

Apparently, after months of tension, animosity, ass-ogling, and a single night of sex, the logical next step toward ridding their psyches of these pesky hang-ups was to find their underwear and put it back on, along with a couple of camisoles from Andy’s lingerie drawer. They took turns getting ready for bed in the bathroom, emerging with faces scrubbed bare. When they got into bed, there was no touching or closeness. Still, it was surprisingly peaceful to feel the sensation of bare limbs against cotton sheets, the heaviness of Andy’s blankets and comforter, the way the bed—already warmed up from the sex—held heat so much better when two people were in it.

The morning was rushed but quiet—no snuggling in bed, obviously, and no coffee or breakfast or talking beyond the necessities. Miranda spent a while in the bathroom, showering, putting on make-up and the outfit she’d brought with her (apparently she’d thought an overnight stay might be in the cards), while Andy putzed around the apartment, trying to appear occupied. As Miranda headed to the front door, she turned around and looked Andy in the eye. “Only us, correct? No one else.”

Andy rightly assumed that she was talking about sex. It was a given that no one else would be privy to the details of their agreement. “Absolutely,” she said quickly. “I wouldn’t even want to—” Too much information. “Only us.”

“Transparency is essential in this sort of situation.” Trust, too. Maybe they would have that.

“I agree completely. So—you’ll call me? About, um, Friday after next?”

“Yes. Goodbye.”

Miranda left quickly, but all day, typing an article from home, Andy swore she could feel her fingers ghosting across her shoulders, breasts, wrists, spine.


---

Food was less tense than the coffee, easier to navigate than the wine. There wasn’t a lot of space to move around Andy’s kitchen, but once she dug up a package of chicken tenderloins and some vegetables from her fridge, neither of them needed to move around much. They stood next to each other, Miranda over the range, Andy over a cutting board that took up all the counter space. Soon the kitchen was filled with the hissing sound of chicken sautéing in olive oil, punctuated by the chopping of the knife.

“How’d you learn to cook?” Andy asked. She figured the question was okay. At least the answer wasn’t going to be I learned to cook because you abandoned me in Paris. Or I learned to cook because my husband is divorcing me. Or the moment I hurt Nigel, I knew I was going to be spending a lot more time in the kitchen.

“My mother. A very long time ago,” Miranda said. “What about you?”

“My ex-boyfriend, but he was such a great cook that I’ve really only utilized what he taught me now that he’s gone. I like cooking, though. I’m slowly getting better at it. More adventurous, though you wouldn’t know it from what we’re making tonight.”

Miranda picked up the spatula and began to turn over the tenderloins, exhibiting an extreme amount of concentration for someone so obviously competent in the kitchen. Andy thought the conversation was over, but after a minute or so Miranda said, “You could say something similar about me. I never showed a bit of interest in cooking while she was alive, but I absorbed far more than I let on. As you know, I don’t cook much now, but I wish I could thank her. Tell me when you want to get those vegetables going.”

She rummaged in the cabinet for spices, adding pepper and rosemary to the meat with sharp flicks of her wrist. The disclosure prompted no visible change in her, but the kitchen seemed sad. In a way, the solution to the puzzle of Miranda as cook had something to do with abandonment after all.

At least a minute went by before Andy said anything else. “I think most teachers get used to some degree of ungratefulness, as tragic as that seems.” The rest of their conversation, through the cooking and the eating and the finishing of the wine, was paced the same way. Everything so slow that even direct responses to previous statements seemed disjointed, isolated. Like performance art, or two ships signaling in a storm. An outsider might have found it awkward, but there were no outsiders present.

“Stay and watch a movie or something,” Andy said, when she saw that their plates were almost empty. She was discovering that Miranda responded well when she put a little bossiness in her voice, and more than anything she didn’t want Miranda to leave. She realized that was also what the coffee had been about, and the wine: keeping Miranda occupied and without an excuse to cut the night short. She couldn’t just leave mid-movie, or without finishing her drink. Eventually they would get tired, and Miranda would see that even in the absence of sex there was a bed conveniently located just down the narrow hall.

To Next Part

Date: 2009-05-18 01:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] black-inkfinity.livejournal.com
Hm, I thought Miranda would already be beyond menopause.

Anyway... hmm... I really like it so far... *reads on*

Date: 2009-05-18 09:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chainofclovers.livejournal.com
Thanks for reading!

It's actually pretty likely that Miranda would still be getting periods. Some women enter menopause in their forties, but (according to Wikipedia, at least), the average age of menopause for Western women is 51, with the possibility of it occurring as late as 60.

Basing Miranda's experience off of various women I know who've gone through it, a lot of times periods start being a little less predictable before they stop entirely.

That was probably waaaay more of a response than you bargained for! Sorry!

Date: 2009-05-19 05:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] black-inkfinity.livejournal.com
Yes, I know, I just thought she would be around 55 or something (a little bit younger than in the book). As I read about her age (younger than I expected) in your story (Part II), I realized it was indeed likely that Miranda would still be getting periods. Well, nevermind. XD

Date: 2009-05-18 04:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cheyenne-maria.livejournal.com
wow.. that was very great!

Date: 2009-05-18 09:33 pm (UTC)

Date: 2009-05-18 10:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mercurychkita.livejournal.com
Moving on to the next part, but before I forget--this line?

Like the only thing stopping Miranda from proposing marriage, buying Andy a puppy, and starting every sentence that came out of her mouth with “We” was toothbrush availability.

...Perfection.

Date: 2009-05-18 11:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chainofclovers.livejournal.com
Oh, thank you! I had a good time with that line.

Date: 2009-05-19 02:13 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jaws-of-fenrir.livejournal.com
This, exact same line. In a story full of great lines this one made me choke on my beer and laugh out loud.

Date: 2009-05-19 03:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chainofclovers.livejournal.com
Thanks! So pleased you enjoyed that part!

Date: 2009-05-20 06:13 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pin-drop.livejournal.com
I have to come back and re-read this tomorrow, along with the rest of it, but as for this part, I just have to say:

I love that Andy thinks of her bed as having a side that belongs to Miranda. This is nice, it tells us a lot about what's changing in Andy's head without her own knowledge or permission.

I like how gentle Miranda is with the fabric, and how tactile a thing it is for her (hot!). I like how Andy has to learn to take things slowly: undressing, touching, et cetera.

It's interesting to see how secretive they are with each other, how they hold back in discussing what's happening. Even in sharing their bodies, they would be alone in the reasons why. We're seeing things mostly from Andy's perspective here, and it makes me wonder what Miranda is feeling. I can't wait to find out.

Date: 2009-05-23 02:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chainofclovers.livejournal.com
Whoa--totally forgot I hadn't responded to this.

Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. I'm not sure if I really come through with Miranda's perspective in the second part, but I hope you feel that a sufficient amount of her feelings get communicated!

Date: 2010-04-13 03:53 pm (UTC)
ext_425300: (Default)
From: [identity profile] mayireadtoday.livejournal.com
I noticed that I've never left a comment.

I really, really like and appreciate you have them talk about getting tested and then do it. I think you're the only DWP fic writer who's ever mentioned it.

Date: 2010-04-13 11:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chainofclovers.livejournal.com
Thank you for reading, and thanks especially for commenting on that. Getting tested at the start of a sexual relationship is so important, even for people who have recently ended (mostly) monogamous relationships, and I wanted this story to felt real in that respect.

Telanu's Hickory Dickory Dock also mentions STI testing. The whole story is quite humorous, Miranda's insistence that her partners get tested for disease included. Still, I was glad the mention was there, and I wish more authors would do so.

Date: 2010-04-17 04:30 am (UTC)
ext_425300: (Default)
From: [identity profile] mayireadtoday.livejournal.com
I've read Telanu's Hickory Dickory Dock several times and I've never seen anything about STI (We call them STD -- Sexually Transmitted Disease -- here in LA) testing. Where is it?

Date: 2010-04-17 05:18 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chainofclovers.livejournal.com
It's in the 4th paragraph: She discarded the test in the wastebasket before washing her hands. Good heavens, that had been a close call. She'd quite enjoyed her time with what's-his-name, of course, especially once he'd been able to present her with a clean bill of health verifying that he was disease-free (why did they always make such a fuss about that?), but there were limits. Discovering the broken condom at the end of their final encounter had been the last straw. Besides, he'd begun to get clingy. After only one month, he expected her to remember his name. Absurd. As if she didn't have enough to think about.

Date: 2010-04-17 06:33 pm (UTC)
ext_425300: (Default)
From: [identity profile] mayireadtoday.livejournal.com
Thanks. The downside of being a speed reader is that you sometimes miss stuff.

Date: 2010-04-13 03:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wiser-dachshund.livejournal.com
I'm not sure I can do this writing justice by commenting on it. My brain is too addled. Your style is so refined, so REAL- Andy and Miranda are so effortlessly portrayed, their flaws and their strengths so beautifully rendered.

I was on edge through the entire story, hoping they would find some kind of resolution, and I actually 'gleed' out loud when Miranda handed over that gorgeous eggplant skirt.

Also- when Miranda starts to cry in bed- LOVELY. You describe her vulnerability so well.

Overall, this is one of the most professionally written pieces of fan fiction I have EVER read. I really mean that. I wish I had the right words to convey how well you did on this, but as I don't, I'll end the senseless rambling.

I've already passed the link to this on to several people who also haven't yet had the pleasure of reading it.

Spread the gold.

Date: 2010-04-13 11:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chainofclovers.livejournal.com
Thank you! This is such a kind comment, and I'm thrilled people are still finding and reading this story. (Perhaps the recent search on the DWP comm contributed.) I'm really, really happy you liked this, and thanks for passing it along!

Date: 2010-04-14 01:34 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wiser-dachshund.livejournal.com
YES! I recent search on DWP was responsible for my discovery of this story. I owe so many gem-finds to those who remember a story they liked and want to find it again. I've been a part of the community only since november, so I'm always grateful when someone brings something up from my pre-membership. I've been making my way through the archives, but I still seem to miss so many great stories.

Clearly, I'm just going to have to find the tags for all of yours.

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