Title: Warm Me Up
Rating: PG-13 (language)
Pairing: Miranda-centric; Ryan/Kendall, Bianca/Reese, background Maggie/Lena, assorted
Disclaimer: None of the recognizable characters are mine, they're property of ABC.
Notes: A one-shot prequel to the Miranda fic I'm currently writing. Um. Not a happy fic. Sorry, but Bianca's current way of acting in regards to her first child just... made me write this. And, seriously, Ryan and Kendall would be way more awesome parents for Miranda than Bianca and if someone kidnapped her, they'd totally destroy that person instead of falling all over themselves to be BFF.

Teaser: This is how she adapts to survive.

-

At five, she's too young to grasp her own confusion.

She has a new baby sister, and Reese is trying too hard.

By the time she's done unwrapping the mountain of gifts that Reese has bestowed upon her, she's left stranded in the middle of the piles of discarded wrapping paper that takes up the entire corner where she's sitting in the shadow of the tree, silently watching her mother shift the baby in the pink hat from one arm to another. Somewhere else, her aunt is alone with only a muted beeping in her own corner of the world.

(At five, she doesn't know about the present done up in baby polar bear wrapping paper that arrived from Paris, the one that her mother threw away when it first came; and she won't know, which is the whole point.)

Two months later, her aunt kisses her cheeks and her forehead, murmurs her love to the girl even as she easily ignores the two woman standing on either side of her, pulling away to offer her a smile that isn't for anyone else.

-

At seven, she's begun to process that Reese is trying too hard.

She plops down beside Miranda and hands her gift after gift, helps her unwrap dolls and stuffed animals and coloring books, shows off the building blocks and puzzles that Reese wants to put together with her. Gabby toddles around the way she always does and Reese lets her until she climbs into Miranda's lap, at which she scoops the baby girl up, pressing quick kisses against dark hair and smiling brilliantly at Miranda as she passes over another toy with her too-bright grin.

Her mother's desperately trying to handle business and wants them to save a few for when she gets home later.

(Actually, her mother's with the secretary but Reese doesn't know that; which is, of course, the point.)

-

At nine, she finds Reese gone a month before Christmas.

There are no last words, no last presents, just a drastic shift that she can't brace herself to handle.

She'll piece it together as she gets older- that mom got sloppy and stupidly brought her friend home one night, that Reese walked in on them and then turned and walked out, that she left right then and that mom didn't chase after. That year, she'll always remember that her mother was the one who tried too hard, that the only reprieve came when her mother gave up and called the nanny to come watch them so she can handle a few things for work.

If her mother regrets anything, wishes anything were different, Miranda can't tell.

Reese waits until after the holidays to start her custody battle, her father at her side.

After it's over, after long months of mudslinging, they share Gabby without ever exchanging words.

(I was timeshared, Gabby will laugh later, better at finding humor in the situation than Miranda will ever be.)

-

At ten, she learns that Gabby will spend the holidays with Reese and she'll go somewhere else.

Aunt Kendall and Uncle Ryan, married and saner than anybody else and wanting to take her in for a while.

(She'll never find out what her mother did that winter and she'll never care to ask.)

There are no tears of pain at the separation when her aunt and her uncle come to Paris to get her, take her home where she find herself all but adopted for a month and a half. Her aunt and uncle talk to each other, bicker about little things and then make up, murmuring words to each other as Miranda watches in fascination; Spike treats her like a little sister even though she's older, and Ian follows her around all day telling her about his toy car collection.

Emma takes her ice-skating, teaches her how to go more than a few feet before falling.

JR Chandler squeezes her tightly when he sees her and she decides to go see him every time she comes back.

Grandma Erica chatters about work; Grandpa Jack sits with her and lets her talk.

Aunt Greenlee and Uncle David spoil her for the day they have her, snap pictures and bug her about her life.

(She can't mind, can't make herself mind.)

When she leaves them after New Years, there are tears at the separation.

-

At thirteen, she starts to wonder how much a resemblance she has to her father.

Her hair's lighter than her mother's and she's got a stronger build than her mother, a firmer bone structure, and she wonders if her mother ever looks at her and sees him, if that's why everything is like this.

There has to be a reason, she decides, and can't stop thinking about it.

By the time she goes back to Pine Valley for Christmas, there's a raw place inside where there used to be just a hollow and she's thinner than she used to be, twisting her fingers through hair that's just a few shades lighter than it should be.

(She has a box of hair dye in her bags but she's too much of a coward to read the instructions.)

But her aunt hugs her close and her uncle chats with her as he enlists her help building up the fire and the worst of it fades, the pressure easing until she's breathing again, steady as she lets them anchor her down the way nobody else can.

It lasts after she leaves them until her birthday and then it somehow gets worse.

-

At fourteen, she finally dyes her hair a deeper shade of brown.

It makes the resemblance not so hard when she looks in the mirror every morning.

When it wears off, she does it again.

She's dark-haired as her mother that Christmas and it helps for a while.

-

At sixteen, she learns that Maggie has a wife and kids.

She's digging through a box for lights and hears the name pop up from the other room where her aunt and uncle are talking together. Heart beating hard inside her chest, she freezes, listens, works hard to absorb each word.

Her mother never talks about Maggie.

Maggie Stone is an unmentionable in the Montgomery household.

Her own memories of Maggie are fuzzy but firmly embedded inside her, and she's always kept herself from asking because she wasn't sure she could handle some of the answers that she would get. David tells her when she corners him the next day, tells her that she gave up on trying to talk to her and finally met someone a while later, that they have two boys they adopted, youngest one a little older than her.

The older one just got into medical school and this is why it was coming up now.

It's odd, that it only hits her then.

David is Maggie's family, her own family.

"You can give her a call," he starts, apparently seeing the emotion on her face.

But she turns and strides away, unwilling to take such a risk.

Not after all this time.

-

At nineteen, she only talks to her mother when she has to.

The system is mutual.

She and Gabby love each other but they don't talkā€¦ not really.

There's a little too much of an age difference and Gabby spends every minute she can with Reese's family, and Reese's new wife treats her like her own daughter.

(She'll never admit to the jealousy.)

Miranda counts down the weeks until the first of December and only then starts breathing.

She packs up her bags and flees to her aunt and uncle, walks out of the plane and straight into her aunt's hold, clutches her tight and stands like that, trying to fill the empty place with her aunt's sharp warmth that has never hesitated.

Goes home to her protective cousins and her uncle who tries to talk to her but won't unless she wants him to.

As usual, she gets the boxes her mother sends her a few days before Christmas.

Flips open the card, scans it to see if it's changed.

Happy holidays,
Lots of love,
Mom.

Swallowing, she tosses it into the fire place and watches it burn into nothing.

Goes back to her cousins' game of Monopoly and kicks their asses.

-

At twenty, she simply buys her mother a card.

On the front, the Virgin Mary watches her miracle with love in her eyes and Miranda hates herself for her lack of subtlety, red-inked pen hovering over the blank inside as the words curl through her insides, twist painfully.

Dear Mom,
Just wanted to say I'm okay with you never giving a damn about me, I'm over it.
Well, that's a lie but you're supposed to be positive for the holidays so there you go.
I hope you suffered when she married someone else because David told me about how she used to try to call.
Lots of love,
Your rape baby.

But she doesn't write that.

Instead, she jots down three lines, seals the envelope and sends it off.

Goes back to her aunt and her uncle and their Christmas and tells herself to stop waiting for her mother.

Happy holidays,
Lots of love,
Miranda.

-

12/18/08