Never in my wildest imaginings did I think I'd laugh at him, but I can't help myself—he looks positively ridiculous. I've gotten a little too accustomed to viewing him as all wild hair and sharp claws and fangs, I think. I've so long considered these physical traits of his as accessories to the ferocity of his personality, but now, juxtaposed against his current situation, he just looks absurd. Whoever thought I'd see the day when the big, bad Beast would be sitting perfectly still in the snow, perplexedly trying to avoid scaring the birds sitting all over him?

I can't help it. I laugh out loud.

He glances up, hardly moving, searching me out. His eyes widen when he realizes I'm laughing at him, and then his face scrunches into a preposterous pout that makes me laugh even harder and causes all the birds to take flight.

The snowball leaves my hand before I even realize I've made it, and my papa has trained me well—I hit him right in the face and snicker behind my hands at his expression as the packed flakes explode apart, leaving him looking as though he's stuck his head in a snowbank. It's not until it's too late that I realize I've just thrown snow at the Beast—I can't believe I could have forgotten myself so easily. For an instant I'm afraid, and wait with bated breath to see if I've excited that horrid temper of his.

It only takes a split second more to convince me otherwise. Heaven help me, but Beast has a sense of fun. He gives me the most devious grin I've ever seen (how different it is from Gaston's pompous grimace!) and uses those vast paws of his to gather together the biggest snowball I've ever seen—oh, I'm in trouble, all right—the competition has begun now!

All of a sudden I don't fear him anymore, not with that boyish smirk, and the only way to keep myself from being drowned in snow is to make it back fire on him—hah, success! My aim is still true and his snow mountain lands on his head once I've used my smaller missile to dismantle it before he ever gets a chance to throw it, and I giggle and take cover behind a tree as he gets up and chases after me in retaliation. I manage to get him again, but have to leave the shelter of the tree to do so, and he gathers up another handful to finish me once and for all—without thinking, I do the only thing that will keep him from dousing me—I throw myself at him before he can even take aim—

…Time stops and everything goes silent save the sound of our mingled breaths. He's been thrown onto his back in the snow and I'm somehow lying on top of him, my face only inches from his, and I don't know how long we laid there with our gazes locked, trying to regulate our breathing again—though whether we're out of breath due to our snowball fight or our sudden proximity, I can't tell. His fur is silky beneath my fingers and the rough wool of his cloak scratches at my bare fingers and he's warm, and some voice in the back of my head is telling me to stay there, not to bother moving, I'm so content—

– and then he apologizes gruffly, picks me up off of his chest and sets me down on my feet in one fluid movement that leaves me marveling at his sheer strength, and is on his feet and headed back inside the castle before I can even process what's just happened. For a few moments I just stand there, staring off in the direction he's disappeared, and then shake my head to clear it and head inside to change out of my damp dress, still completely flustered.