Winter in London was horrid under the best of circumstances, and it only got worse when the snow decided it wanted to stick around for a while. Snow was often fleeting in England; it stayed long enough to make a slushy mess and soak through your shoes before the mild climates melted it down into little pools of water that laid stagnant along the sidewalks. This snow, however, was persistently clinging to the walkways with a determination that both astounded and annoyed William.

His daily trip to and from the university was discouraging enough without the soggy feel of soaked-through socks chilling and pruning his toes all day. The air was freezing and riotous, and William wished he'd had the foresight to wear a scarf that morning, if only to protect his now-numbed face from the frosty winds. His cheeks were chilled red and his nose dribbled continuously as he meandered into his flat with a noisy rustle of books and papers.

"If I have to stand this weather for another day, I'll go mental," he loudly proclaimed to the kitchen walls—the flat was unusually still compared to the normal, boisterous state to which he came home. His flatmate was prone to drowning out the world with his music (though, William thought music was a little too generous a word for the noise that pounded through the rooms on a daily basis,) or at the very least, padding around the kitchen in a whirl of clattering pans and bubbling sauces. The immense quiet that had settled over the place unnerved William, and he found himself tentatively calling out to his flatmate, "Jack?"

Silence greeted him in response and he moodily piled his textbooks on the table with a loud thump. He found the telly muted on some mindless daytime program as he wandered into the living room in search of fresh (and dry) socks. William had a tendency to lose anything small or trivial and it never helped matters that Jack seemed to be incapable of doing the laundry without letting the dryer eat at least a dozen socks each time. Finding a matching pair was a bit like searching for the holy grail—pointless but nonetheless tempting.

As William upturned sofa cushions and week-old take-away boxes, the ladder to the attic descended with a bang and Jack came ambling down the steps with a box cradled to his chest and a light film of dust coating his short, brown hair. William eyed the parcel suspiciously and flopped on the sofa with an indignant huff. "Do I even want to know what you've been doing up there?" he asked.

Jack gave him a toothy smile that offset his dimples and made his green eyes sparkle in the dim afternoon light. "Probably not," he answered easily. "You would just give me the usual lecture about personal boundaries that specifically prohibit tormenting you for hours with piles of baby pictures."

"You wouldn't dare," William said unconvincingly, because, actually, Jack would. Jack was a bit like a hyperactive five-year-old on his best days and ammunition for his behavior usually ended in tears or fistfights; William wanted neither that particular evening.

"Oh, you know I would," Jack said. "But, surprisingly, I'm behaving myself today."

"My god!" William fake gasped. "Let me mark this monumental event on the calender! Who knows how many decades will pass before such a historic moment happens again!"

"Don't be a prat," Jack said as he power-flopped onto the chair perpendicular to the sofa. Cloudy, grayed light seeped through the blinds and fell across Jack's face in slats as he fingered the box thoughtfully.

"What's that rubbish?" William asked offhandedly as he flipped through the telly. The ancient heater whirred to life a moment later, choking out warmed air onto William's icy feet, and he slumped gratefully into the cushions as he settled on a daytime drama that didn't completely irritate him.

"It's not rubbish," Jack said and hurled a pillow at William's head. William dodged easily and it fell to the floor in a heap of red and brown, clashing terribly with the puke-green, shag carpet. "It's my sketch packet from freshman year."

"So, worse than rubbish."

Jack rolled his eyes. "What has your knickers in a twist?"

William glared at the window, watched the flakes through the plastic slits of the blinds, and said, "This bloody snow! It's been falling nonstop all day." He looked morosely at his mushy shoes and socks, lying in a useless pile against the carpeting. "It's wet and gross and cold and... wet. it completely soaked through my sneakers. I hate wet socks."

"Yes, because wet socks are the worst of your problems," Jack said dryly...

"Shut up, prat," William grumbled. Then, he flicked off the telly and threw the remote haphazardly on the cushion to his left. "Right, so let's see it, then."

"See what?"

William rolled his eyes. "The sketch packet, genius," he said.

Jack barked out a surprised laugh. "Um, or not," he scoffed. "If you think I'm letting your uncultured ass anywhere near my work, you are very mistaken."

"I am not uncultured!" William protested.

"Really?" Jack's eyes practically twinkled with unreserved mirth. "All right, then, name at least ten semi-famous artists."

"Van Gogh," William answered with a scrunch of his nose. "Leonardo da Vinci—"

"I said semi-famous, idiot," Jack sighed, put-upon. "Everyone knows Gogh and da Vinci."

"Not everyone," was William's skeptical reply.

"Everyone," Jack assured him. "I reiterate: uncultured."

William made a dismissive sound in the back of his throat and held out his hand expectantly. "Let me see!"

"No!" Jack said, cradling the packet to his chest. "You'll just be a huge dick about it."

"Why would I be a dick about it?" William asked. "I'm not that against art."

"Just," Jack began, stubbornly. "No."

"Why are you being such a douche?" William asked. "I let you see my work."

Jack rolled his eyes. "That's because I have some sense of constructive criticism," he pointed out. "You, on the other hand, are tactless."

"Your words, they sting," William said flatly. "If your not going to let me make fun of your art, what the hell am I supposed to do? I'm bored."

"We should go play in the snow," Jack said, voice taking on a hint of boyish enthusiasm.

"Don't be stupid," William replied moodily. "There is no bloody way I am going outside again. Especially by choice."

"And you don't be a baby," Jack answered unsympathetically. "I want to build a snow fort."

"Are you five?" William wanted to know. "I am not going to freeze my arse off so you can build a ...snow fort. We should watch a film instead."

"The fort will be really warm once it's built," Jack pressed. "You can go in there as soon as it's done."

"It's not what I'll do after that is concerning me," William said. "It's the whole process that comes before the completion."

"I'll make you a deal," Jack said finally. "Help me with my fort and I'll show you my freshman packet."

William gave him an assessing gaze. "Why do I have the feeling I won't get much from this deal?" he asked.

Jack grinned and jumped from his chair. "Stop whinging," he said, and ran for his room at the end of the hall. "Make sure you dress warmly!"

"Wait, I don't have any dry socks!" William yelled after him. "Jack!"

"I am not finding this enjoyable," William felt the need to point out a half hour later, while he is calf-deep in snow in the small yard of their apartment building, with his nose running and the tips of his ears turning an unattractive shade of red. He was bundled in every sweater and blazer he could manage to tug on without ripping any seams, three pairs of gloves, and two scarves; all the layers of clothing were making motor function a bit hard to achieve, and he was still freezing his arse off in spite of it. "At all."

Jack laughed and used the snow shovel to fling a clump of snow in William's direction. "Oh, don't get your knickers in a twist, princess," he said amiably. "This will take an hour, tops."

William huffed as the lump of snow impacted with his chest and he petulantly brushed away the debris. "How are we supposed to make this thing anyway?"

Jack shot him an incredulous look. "Didn't you do this kind of stuff when you were a kid?" he asked. When William just shrugged, he said, "First, we need to shovel all the snow into a huge pile," he stretched his arms to the sides as far as he could to emphasize this. "Then, we shape it into our fort."

"Sounds tedious," was William's bored reply.

"If you can quit being a prat long enough to help, go grab a shovel," Jack said, indicating the shed on the other side of the yard with the end of his shovel handle.

William resisted the urge to stick out his tongue at the back of Jack's head. Barely. He stomped over to the shed—a slightly aged building the landlord built a few years back and left open to the more well-behaved tenants (and Jack had managed to woo their way into the guy's good graces with frequent cuisines and baked goods left on his doorstep, the little suck-up)-and pulled a snow shovel from its hanger on the wall. When he turned around, Jack was already busy pushing all the surrounding snow into a large heap. "How big do we need to make this thing?"

Jack continued shoveling enthusiastically when William wandered back over. "Big enough for both of us to fit in it, obviously," he said. The "duh" was self-evident.

"That's going to take forever!" William protested. He started piling snow on the other side of their "fort." "There's probably not enough snow in the yard anyway."

Jack scoffed at him and didn't dignify William's complaints with a response. He threw himself into his task at hand and it wasn't long before their snow pile was chest-level and William was panting with heat-deprived exertion. The cold was starting to bite at their faces and Jack was pretty sure that in another ten minutes, his hands would be numb. "Okay, now we have to shape it," he told William, tossing his shovel aside for the moment. "I'll take the right side, you take the left."

William let his shovel join Jack's and he started following Jack's example and pack the snow on the outside of the pile. He was right with his assumption that it would be tedious work; they had to sculpt the snow, patting it all over until it didn't crumble at the lightest if touches. It was an artist's work and William could see how it appealed to Jack.

When the pile was deemed stable enough, they began to hollow it out. Jack was decidedly more productive with his side than William, who was fighting a sneeze that was making a valiant attempt to throw him off-balance; Jack couldn't help but laugh at him. "Be sure to reinforce it while you hollow it out," he reminded for possibly the fifth time in as many minutes, but the instructions didn't seem to be sticking with William, regardless of the repetition on Jack's part.

"Whatever," William said thickly, snuffling his nose irritatedly. "This is bollocks. I'm going to die of hypothermia out here." He dug viciously at the snow in the shape of what was supposed to be a doorway. By the time he was finished, his end of the igloo looked incredibly lopsided in comparison to Jack's perfectly symmetrical half. "Please tell me we're done."

"Almost," said Jack complacently. "We just need to sit inside and see what it's like."

"No," William said. "There is no way I'm sitting on the cold ground. My arse is already going numb as it is."

Jack sank to his hands and knees and maneuvered his way into the fort with a dismissive, "Come on." William stared at the clump of snow in distaste up until Jack's boots disappeared completely from view. "Are you sure this is safe?" William asked.

"A little snow won't kill you, William," Jack called from inside the fort. "Now get in here; it's warm." That turned out to be all the prompting William needed and he crawled in beside Jack a few seconds later.

He was surprised to find Jack wasn't lying; it was much warmer inside the fort than it had been outside. Whether it was the shelter from the wind that was still whipping around viciously, or some crazy principle of insulation and heat of which Jack failed to inform him, he didn't care. He had lost all feeling in his fingers and toes about ten minutes back and he blew on them in a desperate attempt to pump life back into them. "I guess this isn't completely terrible," William said eventually.

Jack laughed. "I told you so."

...And then the fort collapsed on their heads.

"Never again!" William vowed. He stripped sodding layer after sodding layer on the living room floor while maintaining a glare that could have made a lesser man drop dead. Jack just chuckled and threw a wet sock in his face. The bastard. "I mean it! That was the worst idea ever!"

"Oh, come off it," Jack cajoled "You had fun and you know it."

"Oh, yes," William replied sarcastically. "Ten pounds of bloody freezing snow falling on my head is my idea of a good time. I'm fucking cold now." He shook his head vehemently and watched with some satisfaction as a few droplets of thawed snow flew from his shaggy blond hair and hit Jack square on the forehead. "Turn up the heat."

"The heat is on the highest setting," Jack told him not for the first time as he pulled his shirt over his head. "It's as warm as it can go."

William made a pained sound and snatched a blanket from the back of the sofa. "Well it's not warm enough," he said miserably. He wrapped the blanket around his chilled body and all but threw himself on the couch. "I hate you."

"You fucking love me," Jack replied easily. He circled around to the front of the couch and picked up his sketch packet from the coffee table. He held it out to William with a, "I believe this was my end of the bargain."

William shot him a dark look and snatched the package from Jack's hands. It was heavier than he expected, and when he opened the top, he could see the beginnings of a stack of white paper peeking through. Cautiously, he pulled the papers from the box and he spluttered indignantly at what he saw on the top page. "This is me!" he said accusingly. He sifted through all the papers haphazardly. "These are all me."

"Yup," Jack said cheerfully. "Noon Sociology lab, every Thursday and Friday. It always freaked you out when people stared at you. You should have seen the way you squirmed; it was brilliant."

"I knew I felt eyes on me," William exclaimed, disturbed by the memory. Then, "I hate you."

"I reiterate," Jack replied dryly. "You fucking love me."