"Yours is only taller because Lucien is! None of us could reach that high!" 
"Get off it! You could've just grabbed a stool or stepped on each other's shoulders!"
"Shoulders?! What do you think this is, a children's movie?"
It's a sight to behold, seeing Daniel and Emma - two grown people - bicker like they've only just turned ten. Building snowmen turned into an unintended competition of men against women, after we all built one together with Phoebe. She was very excited to see us go at it, especially after we adorned her the title of judge - but then Nancy called if she wanted to help bake cookies. Our judge then told us the biggest snowmen would win.
"Does it ever end?" Eschieve asks Beth in a hushed voice. 
"Sometimes. Mum often comes to put a stop to it if they keep going for too long, but where's the fun in that?" She grins that same mischievous grin I've seen so often on Emma, puzzling both me and Eschieve. "Well, we're fighting about snow, right? There's only one way to settle such a fight." 
The first snowball hits Daniel square on the ear. The second one, quickly following, finds its target on Emma's thigh. 
"Duck for cover!" Beth yells before the two can fully apprehend what's happening. She drags us behind the bins, just in time for two snowballs hitting them instead of us. "You're lucky Charlie has already gone home. He's savage when it comes to snowball fights." 
"Stop hiding, you cowards!" Daniel yells, a snowball zooming over the top of the bins. "Let's make this a proper war!" 
"Alright, one minute prep and then go at it!" Beth calls back. 
"We're down a man!" We hear Emma. "Give us thirty extra!"
"How often have you done this?" I hiss, but Beth shushes me to continue discussing demands. We settle on twenty seconds extra for them and the benefit of us not knowing where or how they've made their base.
"Now, Lucien, I know you're all lovey-dovey with my sister -" 
"Interesting way of putting it."
"- but if you're not committed to blasting her to absolute smithereens, you are useless to us. Capiche?"

Twenty minutes later we all head back inside for tea, properly soaked with frozen fingers and toes. It ended up a stand-off between Daniel and Eschieve, neither of them willing to back down. It got settled when both Emma and I performed mutiny, each hitting one of the last two standing with a well-aimed snowball to the chest. Which also means we're right back to bickering. 
"You cheated! Of course you didn't win!" Beth argues, trying to get her fingers unfrozen under the running tap. 
"You are just jealous you didn't think of it." I grin. My arm is over Emma’s shoulders in a very high school jock kind of way; she's holding the hand hanging over it, a bright smile on her lips. "Had you taken out Daniel quicker, there would've been no need to betray you."
"Don't you dare put the blame on me!" She gasps. "You know what, I should've guessed. The French cannot be trusted! But you, Emma? I am your sister!" 
"That's quite enough, you lot!" Nancy comes in between. "Tea's getting cold, get on with it!" She ushers us all into the living room, where besides the steaming mugs of tea is also a fresh batch of gingerbread cookies. Our feud is quickly forgotten, all of us are eager to warm up. A glance at the clock tells me that our time at the Middleton-house is nearing its end, if we want to have everything ready for the arrival of Gabriel and Matthew. Kenna and Tom have been invited, but I'm a bit fuzzy on if they'd come or not. We'll have enough food either way, knowing Emma and myself.
      "Now, promise me you'll be safe on the roads, yeah?" Nancy has her daughter's face squished between her hands. "Give me a call when you've made it home in one piece." 
"Mum, we're going to be fine." Emma chuckles, pulling her mother's hands away. "Lucien has French driving etiquette, nothing like Charlie or Dan. We'll be safe as ever." 
"Call me anyway! Just to calm your old mam's nerves."
We promise, and say our goodbyes to the rest of the family. Eschieve tells us she'll be coming over in a couple day's time, since classes don't start until the second week of January and Daniel asks me if he can come over sometime to play the retro-game Selene gifted me, to which I tell him of course he can. It reminds once again that this, too, is now my family, no matter how uncomfortable and unfamiliar the dynamic might be to me. 
"You alright, love?" Emma asks when we're finally on the road. I see her hand twitch in a reflex to take mine, as we usually do when we're driving, but with this amount of snow on the road I need both my hands on the wheel.
"What, you're no longer paying for my thoughts?" I tease. "I'm fine. Just a little overwhelmed, is all. I've made quite the swing when it comes to Christmas - last year not included."
She smiles, touching my thigh as a substitute of holding my hands - but also knowing better than to leave it there. "I do suppose going from no Christmas to a Middleton-Christmas with all its weird traditions can be a little much." 
"About those traditions… I'd like to revisit one." 
"Which of the many?" 
"I'm not just thankful for finding you again, Em. This year has been… a wild ride, to say the least. Losing you, finding Eschieve, dealing with you being engaged to someone else - regardless if he was a wanker or not." I add, seeing her face change. A laugh escapes me. "The amount of times I've been over this in my head and I still don’t have the words to convey it the way I want to. Saying that I'm thankful for you just doesn't cover it. You have… changed my life in more ways than you may realise. Ways I don't even realise. You continue changing it every single day. And to think that it all could have ended differently, had I decided not to talk to Callum in that club, or if I'd never made you talk that day in my office. That's… bizarre to comprehend. I'm grateful that I did do those things. I'm grateful that I let Matthew shake some sense into me, and that I didn't walk out when Selene tricked both of us into dinner. I'm thankful for every little thing that has brought me to be right here, with the love of my life."

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