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tuesday, when the snow clears

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It's snowing and Jane's pressed up against the window, hands cupped as shield against the light, peering out at the whirling flurries dancing up and down the paths and around the hedges and through the trees and down Mrs Shepherd's gutters and past the bishop's creaky old gate (not that he is a bishop, not any more, poor fellow retired with the gout and his hip and all sorts, she really must take him some soup) and on down the slope to the street proper where the sodium lights ooze wistful orange into the fray, struck and bleary with frost.

Somewhere in the house, Barney is yell-singing "in the bleak midwinter," vowels all drawn out, and Will is chuckling and singing along the way people who have been properly trained sing, on key and projected even when it's just for the fun of it, not the stocky choir-boy drapes of it, the over-sized university choir robes of it, boy and man all at once, and Jane thinks to tell them to wait because Bran has a lovely voice, sure and he does, but she doesn't because she knows they'll just start up again later, like they always do, bless them.

It's snowing again and footsteps that tracked the afternoon back and forth across the garden to turn a blanket into angels and fortresses and men slowly refill until all that Jane can see of their day's labours are misshapen guardians, lurching out of the shadows to ward winter off -- winter, she insists, but not festivals, not dear Will's birthday nor Christmas to follow, not bright new year's, fresh and clean and hangovers be damned when you can have champagne kisses at midnight -- and still she frets, because it's coming down ever thicker now, just a little too early for safe-keeping.

Tomorrow there will be Simon, straight from the surgery and still smelling of carbolic, scrubbed up in his hand me downs, hair gone floppy in the cold, taller than her dad now, than all of them, and Simon's bland little wife whom Jane confesses (guiltily and only to herself) to find inoffensive at best and at worst, a washed out watercolour of a woman who is no doubt lovely and certainly a dab hand at the charity and always helps out at Jane's school with the fairs and fêtes but still, somehow, lacks the rest's essential, inexplicable, spark of connection.

It's still snowing, relentless, viciously snowing, and Mister Buckley gives up and leaves his battered mud-splattered Mini parked across the far corner and arduously clambers his slip-sliding way up the icy slope to home, eyes falling right past Jane there in the window like she's invisible, a ghost, no more tangible than a memory or a story or a dream, right past her and then she's squinting away the after-images of his front hall, blazing around the edges of his snow harried doors that, in her blinking moment, seem almost to be free-standing in her garden in devilishly tempting invite.

There's movement in the glass, a reflection at her shoulder, and she jerks around into Will's wry smile, sneaked through the steam from the oversized mug of chocolate pressed into her hands, and, while she's raising it to sip, his glance slides past her to the window and the dark beyond, gone suddenly old as the world, young as time, and Jane, chilled despite the drink, looks quickly away, eyes instead on the painting of them on the wall, turned Arthurian under Barney's hand, herself as Guinevere, Will a bearded Merlin, friends and family printed via colour lithograph into legends.

It's snowing, in the picture and out, everything gone lines and swirls in Barney's Mucha-phase and Jane, looking back to the window, mostly at her own reflection now the mug prevents her pressing herself to the glass, thinks that Guinevere too must have watched like this, draped in white velvet and lace and peering in trepidation from the marble battlements after Arthur, whom she had truly loved for all she had loved others, Jane's sure of that, Guinevere and herself aligned like layered painted glass, both watching in hope, in dread, of trumpets raised in victory or howling in mourning.

She jumps as the lights click off, Barney joining them at the window, nestled between Jane and Will, still humming carols, annoyance and comfort all in one, and Jane feels her own tension ease like the tide, sees Will relax out of the corner of her eye, and she knows this is no story, no cycle, that this is not Camlann come around again, bloody in the dark, but just the simple, mortal now, in which all fears may be dismissed by a flash of lights, a tree on a sledge, and Bran, come at last, home to them all.

It's snowing and they tumble together out into it to meet him in hastily thrown on coats and bubbling laughter, half running, half skating their way to the sledge, Jane throwing herself into Bran's arms while Barney whoops at the tree and Will looks on over all of them, a little solemn and serious but a smile dancing in his eyes all the same, and between them, somehow, in a skidding, breath-steaming, snow flying, chill racing blur of a moment, they're back together in the light, shaking off the cold and the dark with hugs and kisses, baubles and lights.

The tree is glorious, green and good. Jane laughs, directing her boys from the couch. Barney climbs all over Will to get the angel in place. Bran brings them mulled wine, spiced to perfection. His hair is snow white but sunlight warm beneath her fingers. There is no more important story than this. No Guinevere and Arthur, Nimue and Merlin; no great cycle of kings and betrayal; no high, wild, ruthless magic; just simple moments with people who love and are loved in return. So let it snow, she thinks carelessly. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.