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A Warm Gesture

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Picking up in speed, the blades tore through the ice with no mercy, leaving a frosty spray in their wake. Stick in hand, the chipette zigzagged up the rink, eyes focused solely on the black puck gliding alongside her. As she exhaled, her breath looked like a white puff of smoke. It was cold, but beneath her armour, the adrenalin was pumping fast. Out there on the ice, she transformed. She was fast, daring, and mighty. Some even say she is like a wild animal - her opponents fear her. With a tremendous yell, and with all the strength she could muster, the chipette drew her stick back and then whacked it against the puck. It was sent flying towards the net, beyond the crouching goaltender. Score.

One half of the audience erupted into loud cheers and applause as the team rejoiced at their victory. One chipmunk, instead of leaping into the air like everybody else, couldn't help but sit there in the stands, staring at the chipette. She lifted her helmet off, and beneath it there was a huge grin, stretching from ear to ear. At this, the chipmunk smiled.

He couldn't deny it. Watching Eleanor play ice hockey was both exciting and terrifying.

"So I told the team that this was an important game, and I guess once we realised that, we played even harder."

"Oh I'm so happy for you Eleanor! You're going to be playing in the final!" The purple-clad chipette said, embracing her sister.

"Yeah well," the eldest chipmunk began. "If you were playing against me, you'd have had another thing coming!"

"Alvin, you don't even play ice hockey." Simon interrupted, rolling his eyes.

Eleanor giggled and glanced around the room, then rested her gaze on her counterpart. Warmth radiated from her eyes, just as the grin on her face didn't melt away.

"You played great today, Ellie. Just like you always do." The green-clad chipmunk was sincere, and as he displayed a toothy grin, Eleanor wrapped her arms around him and thanked him.

"Now I have to think of effective strategies for our next game," she said, withdrawing from the brief hug. "We have to be ready, and so there's going to be a lot of intense training over the next week."

Whilst part of Theodore marvelled at how the grin never left Eleanor's face, part of him deflated. He watched as a heap of fans approached the blonde chipette to compliment her skills. She waved his brothers and her sisters goodbye, and joined the rest of her team in a celebratory photograph. He furrowed his brow, concern pooling in the pit of his stomach.

Theodore was lounging on the sofa, watching the cooking channel when suddenly Alvin came bounding down the stairs, a smug look on his face.

"You said I don't play hockey, so I'm going to prove you wrong. Today at the arcade I beat two different opponents at the game. Oh yeah, those cowards were afraid to step up to the table, because they knew they were going to be defeated by a champ!"

"Table? Alvin, that's air hockey." Simon sighed, flicking the page in his book.

"What's the difference?"

"Air hockey is when you-" The bespectacled chipmunk stopped mid-sentence, and shook his head. "Never mind."

Almost a week later, and Alvin was still debating over whether or not he was competent in hockey. Theodore chuckled to himself, but the thought of the match in a couple of days stopped him. He couldn't remember the last time he saw his best friend; she was always busy with hockey practice. Sure, she needed to practice in order to succeed, but it seemed that lately that was all she was doing. What about friends and family? He glanced at the calendar on the wall. It was December, and Christmas was nearing. Soon the town would be decked out with fairy lights in red and green. The forecast predicts that snow should be falling in a matter of days, and the stores will be heaving with people doing their last-minute Christmas shopping. But right now, it's like Eleanor doesn't even live in the same world as he does.

Despite this, she did say that playing ice hockey got her into the spirit of winter. Shouting with wild aggression at opponents and wielding a large stick powerful enough to knock somebody out got her into the spirit of things. That's bound to spend a lot of her energy.

Suddenly, an idea sprung to the chipmunk's mind. His eyes widened as he turned towards the kitchen door. Perhaps it was ambitious, but it was worth a shot.

It was the night before the big match, and the Chipmunks and Chipettes were leaving school. The sun had already vanished from the misty skies, as expected of winter. Streetlamps were flickering on as groups of children headed down the street or boarded a bus. Theodore was carrying a suspiciously heavy bag all day, but luckily nobody asked about it. His shoulders were killing him and his legs were ready to give way under the pressure, but he resisted. His mission wasn't complete yet.

Inhaling deeply, he jogged forward a couple of paces to catch up with Eleanor, who was in the middle of talking to Brittany when Theodore tapped her on the shoulder. Humming, she turned around, inquisitive look on her face.

"Hi Eleanor! Are you free right now?"

"Well, I was going to practice with the team later but why do you ask?"

The green-clad chipmunk's shoulders drooped slightly upon hearing this, but continued anyway.

"I-I was going to ask if you wanted to hang out with me today, b-but if you're busy, then-"

"I don't mind missing practice for one night," Eleanor interrupted, a reassuring edge to her voice. The chipmunk took one look at her smile and brightened instantly.

"Then follow me!" He beamed, leading the way. To the chipette's surprise, he was heading in the direction of the school.

"Wait, Theodore, aren't we going the wrong way?"

"You'll see," he replied, making his way round to the back of the building. Shivering slightly, Eleanor bundled her jacket closer to her body, the frosty air nipping at her cheeks. A week's worth of intensive training was beginning to take its toll, and this cold weather wasn't helping.

The youngest chipmunk had arrived at the foot of a ladder, an expectant look upon his face. He gestured for Eleanor to climb up to the top. Apprehensively, she obeyed, gripping its steel frame with gloved hands. What she didn't expect was the sight waiting for her.

It was dark, but she could distinguish a blanket from the shadows, and a gas lamp next to it - clearly borrowed from an adult. It gave off a small glow, just enough for an intimate picnic on the roof. Mouth agape, she took steps forward, and instinctively turned towards her counterpart.

"How did you find this place?" She whispered, in awe at the fact she could almost see the entire town beneath her. Everybody below looked tiny, as she towered above them. The town was illuminated with lit windows and it looked beautiful from up here. Thankfully she wasn't that afraid of heights. Was Theodore?

"I've been up here a couple of times, hiding from Nathan..." He blushed, shrugging his backpack off. He carried it to the blanket and set it down. Sitting down, he pat the space next to him.

"But why here? W-what's the meaning of all this?" Eleanor joined him, but was in clear surprise at the lengths he had gone to for this.

"I noticed how hard you've been working with your team, and I wondered if you setting aside enough time for yourself. I want you to do well, Ellie, but I don't want you to exhaust yourself." He took a couple of food containers out of his backpack. "So I made us a little picnic, so you can get your energy levels back up, and we can catch up."

The chipette's heart skipped a beat upon hearing this. He did all of this just for her. Her gaze softened as she watched the chipmunk unwrap the containers and bring out a flask.

"You want some hot cocoa?" He held up the green flask, eyes somehow twinkling up here on the school's roof. "I made it myself."

"I'd love some!" She took the cup and sipped from it, the warmth of the drink spreading through her body, heating her up and washing away the doubts of tomorrow. It tasted good. Just typical of Theodore to make something this good, to do something this good. He's too good for this world. After a moment, she spoke again. "I still don't understand though. Why the roof?"

"Oh," Theodore hesitated for a minute, trying to suppress his embarrassment. "Because this is what I feel like when I'm with you."

"Like what?"

"Like I'm on top of the world," he said, voice considerably lower than before. He averted his gaze to the food, but Eleanor couldn't take her eyes off him. Clearing his throat, he gestured to the food. "I made some food for you too. It's all healthy, so it won't affect your performance. I hope you like it."

The chipette took an apple from the pile of snacks and took a bite.

"It's delicious. Thank you."

Theodore smiled upon hearing this, and ate a couple of grapes. Despite the chill in the air, he was warmed by Eleanor's smile. She looked content - not elated, not buzzing from a sudden victory. Just content. Like this was enough for her; it was a different kind of happiness from her matches.

"How do you think it'll go tomorrow?"

"Hm? Oh, I'm hoping it goes well for us. We've worked so hard, but even if we don't win, it's still an achievement." This was something he loved about her - her unending love for life. It didn't take much to make her happy, and she rarely upset. A compassionate person. He felt lucky to have her in his life, that she was his best friend.

"I know you'll do great." The chipette fought hard to hide the blush spreading on her cheeks, but decided to give up. It was dark anyway. She brought her knees to her chest. This was met with concern from the chipmunk. "Are you cold? I have spare blankets."

"I-I'm okay," she began, but felt a blanket being placed into her arms anyway. Resting it on her lap, she sighed. "Not long until Christmas, huh?"

"Yep! I'm so excited! What are you getting everybody this year?"

"Well, I haven't really had a chance to think about it, but I'm sure I'll come up with something."

"What about yourself? What do you want this year?"

"Me? O-oh, well..." She suddenly blinked, taken aback by a sudden wet, cold feeling on her face. She held her hands up, feeling more wet droplets land on her palms. "Wha-?"

"Look, Ellie!" Theodore pointed excitedly up to the sky. "It's snowing!"

The chipette glanced up, and saw white flakes twirling down from the sky. It wasn't heavy, but it was enough to paint the picture of winter. As it landed, it melted straight away, but perhaps in time, a thin blanket of snow would cover the ground. There was something magical about watching the first snowfall, and she got to share this moment with Theodore. Her smile faltered a little.

"Oh," she breathed, eyes cast down.

"What's wrong?" The chipmunk asked, edging closer.

"I just realised," she began with a sad smile. "We're going to struggle to get down the ladder now, and we didn't get to finish our picnic."

Theodore laughed softly, and took the blanket from Eleanor's lap and wrapped it around her shoulders.

"We still can," he smiled, picking up another grape and tossing it into his mouth. Smiling back, chocolate brown eyes gleaming with a familiar kind of fondness, she took the edge of the blanket and draped it across her counterpart's back so that they were sharing it. Theodore took it upon himself to ask if everything was alright again. Eleanor shuffled closer to him and without hesitation pressed a kiss against his nose, as soft as a butterfly's.

"It's perfect," she whispered.

The tension in the arena was building fast; nobody could take their eyes off of the players skating frantically around the rink as the final minutes of the game ticked on. Soon a winner would be crowned. Theodore had his gaze fixed on one particular player.

Eleanor could hear her teammates calling out to her, and with a swift motion, she took control of the puck. Her heartbeat increased, and the sound of her pulse overruled the cries and cheers from the crowd. One skate ahead of the other, she sprinted down the rink, teeth clenched. Opponents tried to surround her like relentless vultures, but her speed went unrivalled. Here it came - the make or break moment. Throwing all her energy into it, she sent the puck hurtling past the goaltender, and into the top corner of the net.

Time slowed down for the chipette. She glanced up, and saw hands raised, and open mouths. But she couldn't hear a thing. Her pulse was still pumping fast through her veins. Turning around, she saw her teammates heading for her to embrace her in a big group hug. They'd done it. They won!

She broke off from the hug and took off her helmet. The chipette scanned the crowd for a moment, with tears of happiness in her eyes, then finally let her gaze rest on a familiar pair of sea-green eyes watching her lovingly. He was smiling brightly, and his expression told her more than any amount of words ever could. Eleanor smiled back.

She would never forget the kind thing he did for her last night. And who knows, perhaps it was his encouragement that gave her an extra boost today. All she could think about now, was a perfect way to thank him.