“Come on, Byron. You need to go outside and get some fresh air! You can't sit inside all day and read books.”
Byron raised his eyebrows at Bill and chuckled: “Careful, Bill. You're beginning to sound just like my mother, and I'm not sure that that's a good thing.”
Bill just grinned, bright and boyish and irresistible: “Well, maybe your mother was right.”
Byron heaved a long-suffering sigh and looked towards the window. Outside, on the fire escape, snow was piling up in little drifts against the wall and windows. It had been snowing for a few days now, but it seemed that it was finally letting up today, the sky bright blue and cloudless.
“It's cold outside.” Byron stated, matter-of-factly.
“Of course it's cold! It's winter!” Bill let himself fall down on the couch next to Byron, and poked his boyfriend in the ribs playfully: “Also, this is nothing. You should've seen the winters we got back home in Kansas. Snowdrifts so high, a horse could've stood in them and you never even would've seen the tips of its ears.”
“You're trying to pull my leg again with one of your farm stories, are you?” Byron shot Bill a skeptical look. Not that Bill would ever lie, oh no. Not Bill Brady. But he would, on occasion, embellish. To make the story more interesting. And to see the look on Byron's face, because he knew that Byron really didn't have the first clue if they were true or not. After all, the only animal Byron had known, growing up, had been his mother's poodle.
“Nope. It's the honest to god truth.”
“Hm. Still,” Byron said, his voice teasing, “moths don't like the cold. We tend to spend the winter somewhere where it's warm. Like, oh, inside.”
“Oh, come on. For me? Please?”
Byron didn't even have to look at Bill to know that the other man was giving him the patented Bill Brady puppy dog eyes, which were able to melt whole glaciers. Byron's heart didn't stand a chance.
“All right,” he said, leaning over to kiss Bill on the lips. “But only if you promise to warm me up afterward.”
“I think I can do that,” Bill replied, and for the hundredth time, Byron wondered how someone could look so innocent and yet so naughty at the same time.
They were walking in comfortable silence, the only sounds that of snow crunching underneath their boots, and the laughter of children playing in the snow. Central Park looked like a scene from a Christmas postcard: the walkways, the lawns, the trees, everything was coated in powdery white, the light of the sun reflecting in the myriad little crystals, making them glitter so brightly that you almost had to close your eyes against the light. Bill and Byron weren't the only ones taking a stroll on this Sunday afternoon. There were couples, old and young, people walking their dogs, and families, the mothers and fathers watching dotingly as their kids built snowmen or careened down the gently sloping hills on their sleds.
Byron's gloved hands were stuffed into the pockets of his overcoat, its collar turned up against the cold wind that was still creeping down his neck. He hadn't been able to find a scarf in the chaotic mess that was his wardrobe, and now he was seriously considering asking Bill if they could turn back and head for one of the horribly bourgeois and expensive shops near Central Park to buy one. Bill, on the other hand, didn't seem to mind the cold all that much. He was wearing a scarf, but that and the pair of boots were pretty much the only concessions Bill was making to the weather. Sure, the Kansas City football jacked was looking a bit bulkier than usual, what with the warm pullover that was hidden underneath it, but the man wasn't even wearing gloves, for crying out loud.
Bill had apparently noticed that Byron was looking at him, and shot his boyfriend a grin so bright it rivaled the light reflecting off the icicles that were hanging from the bare branches of the trees: “Isn't this nice?”
“It is,” Byron had to agree. “Still, it's cold, too.”
“Well,” Bill said, his eyes lighting up with an impish gleam, “maybe you just need a bit more exercise to warm you up.”
“What do you-” But Byron's question was cut short by Bill bending down in one quick, fluid movement, scooping up a handful of snow, which he then started to form into a little white ball.
“Oh no you don't!” Byron wagged his finger at Bill, grinning, and walked backwards to get some distance between himself and the other man.
“Oh yes I do!” With that, Bill threw the snowball straight at Byron's chest, who managed to pivot out of the way, at least so far that the snowball didn't hit him squarely in the chest, but instead exploded on his shoulder.
Byron yelped as snow powdered over the side of his face and into his hair. Bill was already bending down again to collect more snow, which could only mean one thing – the war was on. Picking up some snow of his own, Byron darted off the path and into the deeper snow that lay beside it, keeping his eyes on Bill, circling around him. As soon as his snowball was ready, he launched it at Bill's back, hitting him squarely between the shoulders and leaving a white mark of victory on Bill's jacket. But his triumph was short-lived. Bill's second snowball hit him on the thigh, and Byron grinned fiercely as he started his next attack.
Running around each other and down the path, both men continued to pelt each other with snowballs until Byron finally held up his hands, panting slightly: “Peace, Bill!”
Bill looked at him, his face gone slightly red from the cold and exhaustion, his hands holding his last snowball. With a grin, he threw it backwards over his shoulder: “All right. Peace.” Shaking his head to get some snow out of his hair, Bill walked up to Byron, grinning, his eyes sparkling: “You warm now? At least you've gotten some color to your cheeks.”
“Yes, and snow all over my coat,” Byron replied, chuckling, trying to dust the snow off his dark woolen coat with his hands.
“Here, let me help you,” Bill said, and started to gently slap Byron's back to get the remains of their snowball fight off.
Byron had to suppress another yelp when Bill ended with a short, and somewhat more forceful, slap on Byron's ass. Shooting Bill a glance, he had to laugh at Bill's completely unconvincing innocent expression: “You know you don't need an excuse for doing that, right?”
Bill just smiled and shrugged, putting his hands, which had gone almost as red as lobsters from the cold, back into his pockets. For a moment, Byron felt the almost irresistible urge to take those frozen hands in his, warm them up a bit, but that would have drawn a lot of unwanted attention. Those kinds of things would have to wait until they were back at his place.
Looking out over the frozen landscape, Byron sighed, but then, his attention was caught by something else. “Look, they've opened one of the ice skating rinks!” He pointed a gloved finger at the rink, where a number of people were gliding over the ice, some just circling lazily, their hands behind their backs, others trying to do pirouettes or to skate backwards, some more, some less successful. Byron smiled wistfully: “Makes me wish I had brought along some skates.”
“I didn't know you could ice-skate.”
“Oh, yes, I do,” Byron grinned. “My parent's house has a fairly large pond, which would always freeze over in winter. I'd always be on it as soon as the ice would carry me, so my mother gave in and bought me a pair of skates when I was seven. I haven't done it in a while, but I'm pretty sure I still could. What about you?”
Bill shook his head: “Nah. Never had time for it. One of my sisters can, but the rest of us always just did a running leap and skidded until we fell on our asses.” He laughed at the memory, shaking his head. The younger ones were probably at it right now, what with the cold they were having back home.
“Are you going to go home for Christmas this year?” Byron asked in a low voice, and there was just a hint of sorrow in the look he gave Bill, out of the corner of his eyes.
“I think so,” Bill said. Then, he stopped, turning towards Byron: “You could always come along, you know? I don't think anyone would mind. I mean, I've told them about you when I write home. Okay, so I haven't told them everything,” Bill winced, scratching the back of his head, “since I don't know how they'd take that, but I've told them you're my best buddy, so...”
“It's all right,” Byron said with a soft smile. He knew that Bill could no more tell his family about the real nature of their relationship as he could tell his parents, or anyone, for that matter. But that was just something they had to live with. “And thank you for offering, but I don't think I would really fit in with your folks. Not that I think I wouldn't like them, from what you've told me they're all wonderful people,” he added hastily, then gave a pained smile “but still.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Bill said, his grin mimicking Byron's.
“But that doesn't mean you don't have to buy me a present,” Byron quipped in an attempt to lighten the mood again. And it had apparently worked, since Bill was smiling once more.
“You know what I haven't done for ages?” Byron raised a questioning eyebrow, and Bill went on: “Build a snowman.”
“Then what's keeping us from doing it?” Byron said, glad that the short gloom that had settled over them had already blown away like snowflakes on the wind. Glancing pointedly at Bill's hands, which were still stuffed into the pockets of his jacket, Byron added: “Except of course your fingers falling off from the cold.”
“Oh, don't you worry about that. I'm tough. After all, I'm a masked hero!” With that, Bill headed in the direction of a nice, untouched patch of snow a little bit off the paths.
“Bill Brady, fighting crime and frostbite,” Byron chuckled, and headed off after him.
And apparently, for Bill, building a snowman meant serious business. In the end, the snowman was about as tall as Byron, built from three huge globes of snow which were stacked more or less straight on top of each other. Bill was filling in the space between the base and the middle with snow to make the whole snowman a bit more stable, while Byron had walked over to a small group of trees to look for branches for the arms, and maybe some stones for eyes and a mouth.
Returning with his bounty, Byron found Bill smoothing down the snowman's body, looking for all the world like a sculptor putting the finishing touches on his masterpiece. It was one of those things that always made him feel all warm and fuzzy inside, being around Bill – the unselfconscious earnestness with which Bill went about a lot of his life. From saving lives to making love or building a snowman, whatever Bill did, he did it with the utmost care, always doing the best he could. And it wasn't out of narcissism or self-importance, no, Bill did it because it was just who he was. Someone who cared.
Byron would have liked nothing more than to drop the sticks and stones he had gathered and just hug Bill, but instead, he placed them on the ground and smiled up at Bill: “Here you are, Michelangelo. Now we can give our creation a face.”
“And arms,” Bill said, smiling back and crouching down to pick up one of the sticks, which had a small crutch at the end. Straightening up, he then pushed the branch into the snowman's torso.
Byron, having picked up another stick, did the same on the other side, grinning: “Now he can wave to the other snowmen.”
Bill laughed, looking at Byron with eyes that shone with warmth and laughter.
“Maybe once it's dark, one of them will come over,” Bill said with a small chuckle, shooting Byron a conspiratorial glance.
“Well, then he's going to need this,” Byron snickered, picking up a short, straight stick and pushing it into the front of the snowman's base.
Bill blinked a few times, then burst out laughing, holding his arms in front of his belly and almost doubling over. Byron just stood there, snickering and grinning like a naughty schoolboy, which didn't help Bill calm down in the least.
Finally, gasping for air, Bill straightened up again, wiping his eyes: “I think you better take that out again. There's children in the park, after all.”
Byron pulled the stick out, giving the snowman an apologetic shrug: “Sorry, friend. I guess you and the others will have to stick to talking.”
“We're going to have to give him a mouth, then.” With that, Bill started to gently push some stones into the snowman's head, until he was sporting a smile so wide it rivaled Bill's own.
After Byron had put in the snowman's eyes, they both stood back a bit, admiring their work. The sun was already dipping low over the horizon, the brightness of the afternoon giving way to the gentle dim of evening.
“So,” Bill said, looking over at Byron with a sly smile, “you still think it was a bad idea to go for a walk in the snow?”
“Well...” Byron weighed his head as if thinking very hard about the question, but then shook it with a smile: “No. Although my feet are probably frozen solid by now. I think I last felt them half an hour ago?” Taking a step closer to Bill, he looked up at the other man: “So you'll still have to warm me up one we're back home.”
For a moment, Bill just grinned down at Byron. “Guess we should go now,” he then said with a glance in the direction of the horizon. “It's getting dark. Also, my hands kind of feel like your feet.”
Turning around, the men slowly made their way back to the path, their boots leaving clear marks in the snow. “You should wrap your hands around a mug of hot chocolate, then,” Byron said, looking back over his shoulder at the snowman, and the tracks they had left all over the previously undisturbed blanket of snow. “You know,” he mused, “there is one thing I always used to do when the first snow came down, and that we haven't done yet.”
“What's tha-” Before he could finish his question, Bill found himself lying on his back in the snow, toppled over by a quick but surprisingly forceful push from Byron, who was letting himself fall on his back next to Bill, the snow dusting up in a small explosion all around him.
“Snow angels,” Byron simply said, grinning happily, and started to wave his arms up and down through the snow on his side.
Bill shook his head and threw a handful of snow at Byron, his snort somewhere between indignant and amused. But then, he lay down on his back, eyes looking up at the sky which was already turning inky at the eastern horizon, and copied Byron's movements, sweeping away the snow around him in long arcs.
Beside him, Byron was getting up again, shaking himself off before pulling a face and shuddering: “Ew. There's snow running down my neck.”
“Don't look at me,” Bill replied, stretching out his hand so that Byron could pull him up. “It was your idea.” Standing up, he dusted off his pants and then looked at the two outlines in the snow, grinning: “But now we got our snow angels. Or,” he said, reaching over to brush some snow off Byron's hair, “maybe they're snow moths?”
“Could be,” Byron said, scraping a handful of snow out of his collar and dumping it on the ground. Then, he laughed: “You know, when I remembered the snow angels, I think I forgot about this part. The part where you get ice water running down your back.”
Bill shook his head again, chuckling: “Then let's get home, before you turn into an icicle.”
Byron nodded: “Good plan. But, the up side of it is, now you have all the more reason to get me warmed up again.”
“I never need a special reason for that,” Bill said, smiling warmly. “You being there's enough of one.”