"You shouldn't be here."

Sometimes it becomes hard to express your gratitude, so you resort to repulsion. For this there is one simple reason; it's easier. It's always easier to let the world know how discontent you are at this day's unruly weather rather than to greet a stranger with a smile. It's always easier to kick pebbles as you walk down a silent street, watching the sunlight laugh at your loneliness in mocking derision, rather than to utter a three-word combination.

Refusing to solidify the other woman's presence within her perception, Red averts her eyes and instead traps the chain in place under her boot. She pulls the other end, testing it's strength. Of course, in this form, the procedure is arbitrary, holding zero informative value.

"Would you rather I weren't?"

Red bites her lip. She holds the chain in trembling hands until she lets go. It clatters against the rock. Red turns around, taking in the visage of her visitor; her matted wavy hair, her gaze, the lit lantern in her hand, one of her favorite books in the other. "Not ever," she laughs nervously, then pauses.

Belle reaches for the chain.

"Emma said she would—"

"I know." For the first time, Belle smiles, and to Red's surprise, it does actually help a little. It must be the accent, she thinks, the way Belle's 'ow' sounds almost but not quite like 'ew'. Some months ago she might have made fun of this.

Red sits down on the cold ground and offers her wrists to Belle in a gesture of surrender. As Belle fastens the ties around Red's ribs, frowning apologetically throughout the process, she thinks about how in a few hours, this side of Red will be no more. It will be snuffed out and diminished in a matter of seconds. How rotten these curses are! Rotten and filthy and evil, giving little but asking everything in return, best cast out of this world altogether.

When Red's hood falls to her shoulders with a tilt of her head and she finds herself unable to pull it back up, she realizes she is indeed immobile. She lets out a sigh of relief, more than ready to be tucked into sleep. "Belle?"

"Yes?"

"It tickles," Red mumbles, her cheeks the color she was named after.

Dead silence envelopes the two as Belle kneels in front of her and tucks a lock of dark brunette hair behind her ear to stop it from tickling the other woman's face. They smile, and Belle knows it's okay for just a while to snuggle against the crimson cloth and laythe book in her lap. Red is already drifting off to sleep when Belle starts to read.

"Once upon a time…"