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On These Winter Days

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She waited with bated breath, pressing herself closer to the tree. The crunch of footsteps in the snow told her the proximity of her target. Her heartbeat picked up as he got closer and closer. She stuck her head out from behind the tree, took her aim… And attacked.

There was a loud smack as the compacted snow met with the back of Rumplestiltskin’s gold coat. He froze in his place, stiffening up. He whirled around to see who had ambushed him and Belle ducked back behind her barrier, unable to suppress a giggle. When she had woken up that morning to a world of fresh whiteness, the plot had instantly come to her mind. She knew when he left in the morning that he’d be back around four. He always was. It was the perfect time for her to make her move.

Cackling laughter reached her ears. Most people would have been unnerved by the peculiar sound, but it only made her smile.

‘Did you really think you could attack me?’ his voice got louder as the soft crunch of snow under his feet signified his inevitable approach. ‘Without a chance of retaliation…’

Not far off, a flicker of movement caught her eye. As she watched, a clump of snow piled up, seemingly on its own accord. For a moment she was scared, but that was all she had time for, as a snowball hit her in the face before she had a chance to dodge. She let out a squeak, spluttering as she tried to wipe the snow from her face with the sleeve of her cloak.

‘…Dearie.’

The word was spoken right next to Belle’s ear, and she nearly fell over in surprise. She jumped away from the noise’s source, vision coming back as she cleared the rest of the snow from her red cheeks.

‘Oi! No magic, that’s not fair!’ she laughed, gaze finding the familiar wrinkled grin that she’d come to know so well.

‘Ah! Ah! Ah!’ he tutted, ‘All’s fair in love and war. And this, my dear, is a war you’ve begun. Wouldn’t you agree?’

‘I beg to differ-‘Belle began, cut off from whatever argument she was about to make by the impacting of a snowball with her back. With a noise somewhere between a laugh and a protest, she retreated, ducking down to make a rather shoddy ball of snow and letting it fly.

Rumple danced out of the way with a laugh, finding his own base behind a nearby hedge. Belle took a seat on the ground behind the cover of her tree and began preparing her ammunition with expert speed, not caring about sitting on her cloak or getting her blue dress wet. She took the first shot, hitting her opponent in the chest when he was peeking over his wall, waiting for her.

After that there was a rain of compacted snow, a chaos in which neither was even sure if they’d actually hit the other or not. It was all for fun, though in some ways it really was a war. Rumplestiltskin didn’t lose unless it was somehow beneficial to him. He was really in control of the action, like he was everything else.

But Belle didn’t even notice when he stopped using magic.

 

She was starting to feel like the battle was ending. They’d been everywhere possible on the grounds surrounding their sizely mansion. And she was starting to wear down. Her breath came in quick clouds, her normally pale cheeks flush with the cold. She hadn’t even noticed she’d been shivering, but it made sense considering her dress was soaked through and her cloak had been abandoned on the front stair the last time she was over there.

She had crouched behind a shed and armed herself. She held one snowball in her hand as she looked around the corner, watching and waiting. The rest of her carefully constructed horde was behind her, neatly piled within arm’s reach for quick access.

The estate was silent. The wildlife was hidden away for the winter and the air was still. The atmosphere created an almost unjust sense of suspense. She couldn’t see her master anywhere. In fact, she hadn’t seen him for more than ten minutes.

A likely unnecessary sense of worry overcame her. What if he was lost or hurt somewhere? It was ridiculous, of course. He knew the grounds better than she and he could undoubtedly take care of himself. But she still couldn’t help her concern… Unwittingly lowering her guard, she edged around the corner a little further.

‘Boo!’

Belle jumped and twisted around to face the source of the voice. Rumple was leaning against the wall of the shed, smirking at her. The first thing she noticed was that he was unarmed. So what…?

She got her answer when he cackled and slammed a fist against the wood wall of the building. By the time she realised what he was doing, it was too late. All the snow that had piled upon the shed over winter went toppling over the edge, burying her in a pile of snow. After a second, her head reappeared from the pile as she shook the powdery substance off her shoulders, laughing.

‘Alright, alright!” Belle squeaked. ‘I concede!’

‘I thought you would,’ the sorcerer answered, pleased with himself. He reached a hand out and she took it, letting him pull her out of the deep pile that had gathered up to her knees in the miniature avalanche. She stumbled, falling into his chest and erupting into a fit of giggles.

Smiling down at her, he wrapped an arm around her, lending what little body heat he could to the shivering girl. She snuggled securely into his side without protest, grin stuck on her face.

‘Thank you,’ she said quietly.

‘Whatever for?’ the other man feigned innocence, guiding her towards the massive house’s back door and the warmth inside. Belle didn’t answer, knowing she didn’t need to, and if she pressed the issue, he was likely to retreat, close himself off. She didn’t want to make him uncomfortable, especially not when he was currently so relaxed. She’d learned how to act around him- when to let him be and when to give him an extra push… Right now was one of the few wonderful moments when he was actually willing to drop his façade around her. She wouldn’t change that for the world.

So instead, she suggested, ‘Let’s go in. I’ll make some cocoa. We can change and warm up by the fire.’

‘That sounds nice,’ Rumple agreed.

So they did.

And Belle’s cloak remained completely forgotten on the stair until morning.