It was whisper quiet, the ceaseless London cacaphony silenced just for once. The silence of the night was calming, not oppressive. It brought back memories of a different time, a different place, where snow was common and not a rarity. Where peace and tranquility followed the first snow falls of the season.
The snow had started just before midday, at first slushy droplets which melted as soon as they hit the ground. As the dour grey skies darkened into an early evening, the cold brought with it a flurry of proper fat flakes which started to settle. After a few hours, the snow was covering the streets, bringing traffic to a halt and forcing those brave enough to still be outside indoors.
Occasional sirens still split the air, but they were muted and distant, the heavy snow clouds muffling all usual sounds in a thick blanket. The silence was mirrored indoors as Dan had given up typing and was editing instead, reading and re-reading over paragraphs. Occasional clicks disturbed the peace accompanied with muttered half sentences which were most likely self derogatory. Luckily though the chapter was virtually finished so the outbursts were few and far between.
Phil was browsing through another earlier chapter that Dan had deigned to send him. It was as close to perfection as long nights agonising over every word could get. He’d read it before but Dan had insisted on another read through to make sure. The writing was inspired, brutal and searingly honest. It tore at Phil’s heart even with a second read through. He looked up at the couch across from him.
Dan was slouched, as always, in his usual editing position. There apparently needed to be different positions for browsing, editing and even answering emails. Phil couldn’t quite see the difference. The light from the laptop highlighted the familiar features of his face, and Phil’s heart clenched again as he noted the exhaustion around his eyes and the tightness of his mouth.
Phil wondered about asking Dan to take a rest but he’d been burnt before by suggesting this. Dan had specific ideas about when breaks should be taken, usually when chapters were finished, although that meant hours could pass without an interruption to his concentration. Phil could see the toll the long hours were taking in the pallor of Dan’s face.
As Dan muttered a whispered curse to himself again, Phil looked away, trying to regain the peace he’d been feeling several minutes before. He focussed on the window. The glow from the laptops combined with some faint light from the street lights below illuminated the softly falling snow. The individual flakes were hard to see, however the moving and changing patterns shimmered and wavered, and Phil felt himself relax again.
The falling snow was calming. He’d always loved it and it reminded him of the long winters spent growing up watching the snow from inside on cold evenings just like this. His mind drifted to walks in the snow, snowball fights and sledding down small hills on anything flat they could find to use as sleds. He remembered the first time he’d taken Dan outside to see the snow. The snowiest day ever and one of the happiest ever too. He smiled to himself, involuntarily, as the images came flooding back. Snow angels. Words written in the snow. Dan’s cold mouth under his after he’d pulled Phil on top of him.
A muffled thud and string of muttered half-formed words broke the reverie. Phil turned his head to see that Dan had thrown his laptop beside him on the couch and had his hands pressed firmly over his eyes as he leant his head back against the couch. His long form stretched nearly across to where Phil was curled up in his couch. Despite his hands covering his face Dan looked exhausted, his shoulders tense and mouth screwed up into a tense line.
The long hours of writing, followed by the attempts to edit to perfection were taking its toll. Dan was never happy with the attempts, no matter how good Phil thought his work was. Perfection was never achieved and it was leaving Dan more and more despondent as the weeks went on. Phil had tried to help but his attempts were often rebuffed. The phrase “You just don’t understand” was usually thrown at him in frustration. He felt the distance between them widening as the previously shared experiences and projects were dropped in favour of their diverging careers.
“Dan,” he tried but the response came immediately.
“Don’t. Just don’t.”
The words were flat, cold even, but Phil could hear the desperation behind them. He looked at Dan for a few seconds longer but it seemed like that was the only response he was going to get. Dan had sunk further into his own head and it was going to take something bigger than just platitudes to get him out of the depths of despair.
He turned to look out of the window again. The shifting patterns had slowed to a faint waver. The snowfall had nearly ceased. The nearby trees cast shadows but were not moving at all as the wind of the earlier evening had died down. It looked quiet on the balcony, but different to the oppressive silence indoors. Serene was a word that came to mind.
Phil suddenly felt an intense longing to be out there in the still of the night, a longing for a different time where deadlines and pressure were non-existent. Where Dan wasn’t so stressed but more like his old self, laughing and fun, the smile permanently on his face whenever they were together.
He turned himself fully to look again at Dan, who’d now thrown an arm over his face. He looked as if he was sleeping but Phil knew better - his mind would be a swirl of self defeating thoughts right now, the harsh self recrimination slashing his mood even further. Phil was determined to break the oft repeated cycle, and he knew with sudden clarity exactly how he might do it.
Untangling his legs, he rose stiffly and then left the room, gathering what he needed. Walking back into the room ten minutes later, he saw that Dan hadn’t moved, a bad sign, but one he was about to fix. He threw the coat he was holding onto Dan’s chest and the heavy black boots at his feet, the thud of them hitting the floor sounding loud in the silence.
“Phil, what the f....”
“Dan. Get up. We’re going outside.”
Phil watched carefully as Dan lifted his arm up to glare at him.
“Are you mad? It’s below freezing out there. Everything’s shut down because of the snow. Where exactly were you planning on going?”
“Outside on the balcony. We’re going to see the snow.”
“We saw the snow earlier.”
“Well we’re going to see it again.”
Dan was incredulous now, glaring up at Phil with arms crossed. “Phil...”
“Dan .... please.”
There was a pause as they stared at each other. Something of Phil’s calm determination and refusal to to take no for an answer must have shown as Dan’s face softened slightly, the irritability fading into resignation. He sighed wearily and rubbed his face briefly. Looking back up at Phil, his face was impassive now, but Phil was fairly positive he’d won. He knew for certain when Dan reached a hand out. With a wry smile, he took the outstretched hand and hauled Dan to his feet.
Phil’s jacket and boots were on much quicker than Dan’s, and he waited impatiently by the balcony door as Dan slowly laced up his boots. As he straightened up finally, Phil clicked the latch and slid the door open. The chill seeped through immediately but the cold air was a cool relief and Phil took a deep lungful as he stepped out cautiously. Heavy footsteps sounded behind him but he didn’t turn around, preferring to make his way over to the centre of the tiny snow drifts. He stopped in a particularly dense pile up to mid calf level, shoved his hands in his pockets, closed his eyes and lifted his face to the skies, breathing deeply and enjoying the frigid stillness.
The crunch of snow stopped as Dan grew closer. Not close enough to touch but near enough that he could hear the small breaths he took. Neither spoke for a few minutes.
The memories of still, snowy nights like this returned, but those nights had Dan wrapped up in his arms, chattering endlessly about everything and nothing as they watched for meteors in the more northern skies. He remembered being so cold that he could hardly move his fingers as they’d stood together for what seemed like hours. Time that seemed to stand still in the depths of the brilliant endless moonlit skies. He could feel his face falling and eyes scrunching as he wished for a time machine to take them back there. Away from the stress.
“Phil. What’s up?”
Dan must have been watching closely as the question came immediately, cautiously, as if Dan was afraid to ask the question but felt compelled.
“I miss the snow.”
Phil kept his eyes closed. It was easier not to look into those eyes that knew him too well. Dan might be too absorbed in his writing at times, but when dragged out of his head he was way too good at picking up on Phil’s subtle issues and confronting them, no matter how much Phil tried to avoid talking about his own problems.
“Is that all? We have snow now.”
Silence. Phil though of how to explain but came up short, unsure of what to say to make his scattered thoughts not sound too critical.
“It’s not the same.”
Phil settled for that abrupt sentence. He’d been trying to distract Dan by bringing him out here, not potentially sink into petty arguments about lack of time spent together. He opened his eyes to look out unseeingly out into the tree branches, preferring to concentrate on feeling the occasional snow flake settle on his cheeks. They felt like deathly cold fairy kisses, but maybe that was his imagination drifting into morbid overdrive.
“Phil. Talk to me.”
“Like you talk to me you mean?”
A breath taken in and more silence. Phil knew Dan would be struggling to keep the cutting words in response in check.
“What’s really up with you Phil? You haven’t dragged me out into the snow at night for years.”
Phil could feel Dan’s eyes boring into him, studying him, trying to figure out what was in Phil’s head. He relented. Maybe it was better in the long run just to speak up. Get it over with. Then maybe they could find some semblance of peace this evening.
“I miss the snow up north. I miss us being there in the snow. I miss when we had time to spend together like that.” He screwed up his hands inside his pockets into tight fists. “I miss you.”
“But you have me here? All the time? In case you haven’t noticed Phil we haven’t been anywhere outside the house for weeks.”
“You might be here physically Dan, but you’re so focussed on your book that nothing gets through to you. You’re stressed, not sleeping, you never take a decent break. You criticise yourself over the smallest mistakes and snap at me when I try and help. I know the book is important to you, it’s important to me too, but you’re wearing yourself out.”
“And wearing you out too?” Dan asked, acidly.
Phil wheeled around to face him. Dan was glowering at him, his posture matching Phil’s. Hands shoved tight in his pockets, shoulders tense.
“Dan. You know that’s not true.” Phil struggled to keep his voice calm. “I support you 100 percent. You know I do. I’m worried about you. You won’t let me help you.”
“I don’t need you to worry, Phil. I’m fine. I just need to get these last few chapters edited and then I can take break. Can’t you understand that?”
Some of Phil’s current misery must have shown on his face, as guilt flicked through Dan’s eyes. He took a hand out of his pocket and rubbed his eyes again, before pinching the bridge of his nose. Taking a deep breath he opened his eyes and took a couple of steps forward, pulling Phil roughly into his arms.
“I’m sorry babe.”
As Phil remained stiff and silent in his arms, Dan continued hesitantly.
“I’m taking things out on you again. I guess.”
“Yes you are.”
“I’m so sorry.”
Dan’s arms tightened around him and after a moment Phil gave in, pulling his hands out from his pockets and sliding his arms around Dan’s neck. He put his chin on Dan’s shoulder and relaxed into his warmth.
“I want to talk about this more Dan. You can’t keep going like this. I can’t keep going like this. I need you too.”
Dan buried his face into Phil’s neck. There was silence for a few minutes. Phil waited. He’d pushed Dan enough and now he had to make the next move.
“Do you want to go back inside and talk about it?”
It seemed a genuine suggestion, one rarely offered these days. Phil thought for a moment.
“No. I mean I do want to talk about it. But not now. I just want to enjoy the snow. With you. Do you think you can take a break for tonight?”
He could hear the wheels ticking over in Dan’s head, calculating words, chapters, minutes, hours. He started to stiffen and pull away again, but Dan grabbed him before he could go too far.
“Ok, you’re right. I probably do need a break.”
“Ok. Definitely then”.
Phil breathed a ragged sigh of relief and turned away, only to lean back into Dan’s arms, arms that tightened around his waist, holding him close. He closed his hands over Dan’s revelling in the fact that they were still warm despite the frigid temperature.
“Let’s look for meteors.”
“Phil there’s snow clouds to 100 metres, I really doubt we’ll be able to see meteors any time soon.” Dan now sounded amused, fond even.
“Ok let’s watch the snow fall.”
Dan signalled his agreement to that proposal by hugging him closer still, his breath warm over Phil’s neck.
The snow fall continued softly, the flakes drifting slowly to the ground and settling. Occasionally small eddies of flakes swirled lazily in spirals. Phil felt himself relax. It wasn’t anything compared to up north, but it was enough.
After what seemed like ages Dan eventually shifted, pulling away slightly and rubbing his hands roughly over Phil’s hips.
“Ok I’m starting to get cold. My feet are frozen.”
Phil pulled himself out of the trance he’d settled in, and turned reluctantly. He hadn’t wanted this peaceful interlude to end. He gave a small nod of acquiescence, as Dan started to head inside. Suddenly, though, he had an idea. A not particularly well thought idea; more of an impulse.
He stooped down and scooped up a handful of wet snow. It immediately froze into his skin, the icy London snow not pleasant to hold. It didn’t get held for long as he took aim and threw it with near perfect aim to the back of Dan’s head. There was a shriek as Dan clutched the back of his head and turned with murderous intent lurking in his eyes.
“What the fuck, Phil...”
Dan ducked as another snowball came flying past.
“Lester, you’re dead.”
The snowball fight was quick and dirty. Firstly there wasn’t enough snow on the balcony for a prolonged campaign and secondly the snow was too wet. Phil was also anxious about the neighbours listening. After losing badly with several snowballs to the face he made a last ditch attempt to win by charging at Dan, picking up some snow as he went. It turned out to be mistake as he slipped on an icy patch and careened into Dan. They both crashed to ground in a tangle of limbs, Dan underneath and Phil landing on top.
“Fuck, Dan, I’m so sorry. Are you hurt?”
Phil looked anxiously beneath him, but there was no response. Dan’s eyes were closed and he seemed slightly winded, struggling to catch his breath. After a few long seconds he managed to take several deep breaths and opened his eyes, staring up at Phil with a slightly dazed expression. He didn’t say anything initially and Phil braced himself for an onslaught of criticism. He needn’t have worried though as Dan suddenly started to laugh. A perfect, beautiful sound entirely rare these days, and Phil’s heart soared with gladness. He’d missed Dan’s laughter so much. He tried to watch the mirth lighting up Dan’s face but the laughter was contagious and neither could speak for several minutes after that.
Eventually though, Phil realised he was still on top of Dan. Concerned he may be too heavy he shifted, aiming to get up, but he was suddenly pulled back with a firm grip to the back of his neck. He felt cold lips on his, and was pulled into a breathless long kiss. Phil sank back down, moving his hand to Dan’s face and caressing the line of his cheek bone, as he relaxed into the warmth of Dan’s arms again.
Minutes later he felt Dan shiver underneath him, and pulled back slightly, pressing one last kiss to the side of Dan’s mouth.
“Do you want to go in? You must be freezing.”
“In a minute, maybe.” Dan chewed on his now reddened lips, running his hands nervously up and down Phil’s shoulders. “Phil, thank you. I needed that.”
“What, you needed to be crushed into the snow?”
“No, you spork. The snowball fight, watching the snowflakes, just being out here with you. I hadn’t realised how tense I was. This brings back nice memories of being up north in the snow with you. Ages ago, when we first met.”
Phil felt another pang to his heart. Finally they seemed to be edging back into the same wavelength. He gave a small smile, looking down into the depths of Dan’s eyes. For once Dan didn’t turn away and Phil felt the spark of connection, tentative at first, grow steadily stronger.
“If I remember rightly you should be lying in a snow angel.”
“No way am I recreating that. There’s not enough snow.”
“Hmmm, we’ve already done the kissing bit. So there’s just one more thing.”
“I can’t write it. It’s too dark. But I can say it.”
“What?” Dan whispered, softly this time.
“I love you.”
An intake of breath and he was pulled back into a rough kiss again. Brief this time, as Dan buried his head into the side of Phil’s neck instead. Phil copied him, and did his best to put his weight through his elbows, while he waited for Dan to speak.
“I seriously don’t know why you do sometimes, but I’m so glad you do.”
“Shhhh. I love you too. And I’m still sorry.”
There was silence for a minute as Phil gathered his thoughts. He felt the snow flakes softly falling on the back of his neck and on his exposed cheek. They still felt like fairy kisses but this time the warmth of his flushed cheeks made them melt into tiny cooling droplets. It was now comforting somehow.
“Want to come inside and show me how much you love me?”
He felt a huff as Dan snorted.
“Are you trying to proposition me?”
“Is it working?” Phil asked hopefully?
“Maybe. As long as there’s a hot shower involved.”
“I can arrange that.”
As he shifted unsteadily to his feet, pulling Dan up after him, he knew they would have some work to do to maintain this tenuous re-connection but tonight they had new memories to make. He gripped Dan’s hand tighter and didn’t let go as they walked back towards the warmth spilling out of the apartment, together.