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a rose amongst thorns

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Gilbert Blythe is not a fellow given to his temper. He never has been; his father used to say their milk cow could trod on Gilbert’s foot and would only get a mild swat on the rump in response.

Be that as it may, he finds himself with shaking hands and red creeping in the edges of his vision as he grapples with the intense desire to punch one Moody Spurgeon right on the mouth.

Beneath the residual fear and lingering worry, he knows that is an extremely unfair reaction; it is hardly Moody’s fault he has the grace of a newborn foal. But for heaven’s sake, does the boy ever pay attention to his surroundings?

Their class is on yet another wildlife excursion through the Avonlea woods. At this particular point they are in a clearing, having been instructed by Miss Stacy to find specimens of certain leaves and flora. Moody, having thought he spotted an unusual species on the other side of a clump of bushes, moved a branch of bramble out of his way.

Unbeknownst to him, Anne had been close behind, and so when he released the thorny limb it lashed backwards – right into Anne’s face.

Her pained yelp is still ringing in Gilbert’s ears; he is thanking every angel in heaven that Anne instinctively threw her hand up to protect her eyes. Several broad, long thorns embedded themselves in her palm and fingers, but the damage done to her face was much less severe. Three sizable scratches on her cheekbone, and one thorn at the corner of her bottom lip.

Miss Stacy ushers everyone a little ways down the path, to give Gilbert room to work. His job here is two-fold: get the bleeding to stop, and determine if stitches are necessary.

First, though, he must get his patient to sit still.

He sits back on his heels and glares. “Anne, if you don’t quit squirming, so help me – “

“I’m fine,” Anne protests, even as she holds her hand away from her dress to avoid getting blood everywhere. She is perched on a fallen log, with Gilbert kneeling before her. It puts them almost at eye level, but for now all that means is that he can see the three deep scratches on her cheek all the clearer.

“You most certainly are not fine, you’re lucky it didn’t hit you in the eye,” Gilbert snaps. “And the sooner you stop fighting me, the sooner I’ll be done.”

She huffs, but extends her hand so that he can cradle it in his own. Diana returns, having been sent with a clean handkerchief to the nearby brook. Miss Stacy is not far behind her.

“Anything you need, Gilbert?”

He frowns down at the briars in Anne’s hand. His own fingers are just big enough that he would probably cause her more pain getting them out that way.

“I need something to get these out of her hand,” he says, half to himself. “Something small and precise enough that the thorns won’t be pushed further in before I get a grip on them.”

Miss Stacy rummages in her bag. “Will these do? They are part of the wildlife kit I brought along; originally I believe their purpose is for examining insects or plants.”

Brightening, Gilbert takes the forceps. “Perfect. Thank you.”

He moves to sit beside Anne on the log, and holds her hand on his knee. He gives her an apologetic glance.

“This is going to hurt, Anne. I’m sorry. I’ll be quick.”

Anne, having evidently resigned herself to her fate, merely nods graciously and fixes her eyes on the trees.

The first thorn pulls free with little fuss. He feels his mouth tighten at the corners when he notices that the thorn has a slight curve to it, along with tiny, fine jagged edges. Anne doesn’t even flinch.

There are five total, not counting the one on her lip, and by the time he gets the fifth one out Anne’s arm is as tense as iron. Gilbert wraps her hand in the damp handkerchief, swiping his thumb across her knuckles under the guise of tying the makeshift bandage securely. He can feel Anne looking at him, no doubt confused by the gesture.

Hand seen to, he resumes his kneeling position before her and raises one eyebrow.

Anne sighs again, and leans forward so he can reach her face.

Gilbert resolutely does not let himself be distracted by her freckles, or the wisps of fire-bright hair that have come free of her braids. He frowns at her marred cheek; Diana has gone to and returned from the stream with more clean handkerchiefs salvaged from the other girls. One is used to wipe the dried blood away. He is careful to keep his fingers off her skin, only touching her with the damp cloth.

The scratches themselves are not as deep as he first thought, and have in fact stopped bleeding already. Satisfied, Gilbert turns to his last item of business at playing doctor.

It’s not that he doesn’t want to get that big mean thorn out of her lip. He’s certain it hurts something dreadful. But there will be no way to remove it without being closer to Anne than he has been in months – in fact, not since she stood with him on a cold spring morning and let him cry the unfairness and sense of failure over Mary’s illness into the shoulder of her blue coat.

He pushes those thoughts away. Memories of how solid and real she felt in his arms, how she had smelled of flowers and fresh baked bread – of both adventure and home, all at once – how soft her cheek had felt pressed to his own….

Those memories didn’t surface until much later, after the funeral and the darkest clouds of sorrow had passed. But by then Anne had gone defensive over needing an escort to Charlottetown and then Gilbert sought to soothe his wounded pride with boring chit chat in tea rooms, and then they had that stupid dance practice and then Anne would hardly look at him at the fair and then Anne sent Billy Andrews running with his tail between his legs with her stupendous, inspired article (Gilbert still has a copy), and then Winnie informed Gilbert over their next tea as soon as he’d told her the story that he had no business courting her when he was going to talk about Anne like that.

And then, and then, and then. That’s all that ever seems to happen, even in the months since that afternoon Winnie left him alone in the tea shop.

Gilbert swallows, hard; he can feel the rest of the class staring at them and knows Anne will probably be humiliated by what he’s about to do. But it can’t be helped.

“Just be still, Anne,” he says softly. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

Her storm-cloud eyes snap to his, surprised. “I know that, Gil.”

He puts the nickname down under topics to be discussed at a later time, and takes courage from the trust he can see in her expression. Carefully, he brings one hand up to cup her face.

One of his fingers is on the underside of her jaw; if Gilbert were any braver, he would believe it when he thinks he feels her pulse quicken. But he isn’t, and so he chalks it up to nerves and pain, and kicks himself to get a move on. Anne would probably like that thorn out of her lip sometime today.

The forceps make quick work of it, though it’s a more sensitive area than her hands and she can’t help a wince as it pulls free. He grimaces in sympathy and hands her another dampened handkerchief to staunch the bleeding.

“Easy,” he says, still softly. “Let me see.”

She obliges, and he lets one thumb carefully brush just beneath the wound. He feels her breath hitch, just a bit, over his bare hand. His eyes meet hers by law of nature, but before he can get lost in them, Miss Stacy appears at his shoulder.

“Well done, Gilbert.” She smiles kindly down at Anne. “Anne, I’m so sorry this happened. The day is nearly over, so let’s head back to the schoolhouse and I’ll dismiss everyone early.”

Wordlessly, Anne nods and pushes to her feet. Gilbert follows, feeling more than little light-headed. Anne slips away quickly, murmuring her own thanks and tucking her good hand into Diana’s arm as they trek back towards civilization.

“I’m really sorry, Anne.” Moody, good hearted lad that he is, is quick to offer Anne his assistance over the uneven ground. And Anne, in her typical kind manner, smiles and reassures him that it was an accident and no harm is done, all while taking his hand to cross over muddy puddles.

Once again Gilbert has to squash an unfair bolt of irritation. It was an accident, after all, and Moody clearly feels bad that Anne was hurt. But Gilbert has a fairly good idea of what would happen if he were to offer Anne his help; he suspects Anne is only humoring Moody so the boy doesn’t feel guilty.

It is a sad day indeed, when Gilbert is envious of Moody Spurgeon.

He sighs, and follows his classmates and Miss Stacy out of the woods as he tries not to think about how much further away Anne feels, now that he’s had her so close and within his reach.

Chapter Text

Anne is setting the breakfast table the very next morning when there’s a knock on the kitchen door.

Before Marilla even turns from the stove, Anne knows who it is. The kitchen door is the “informal” entrance into the house, used by close friends who frequent Green Gables. Mrs. Lynde never knocks, except a quick curtesy rap of her knuckles as she crosses the threshold – more an announcement of her arrival than anything.

Sebastian always offers a cheery hullo (less cheery as of late, but getting better) to Miss Anne or Miss Marilla, and comments on the smells that he claims are set to torture a man.

But those three, steady knocks…

Her heart, stupid as it is, quickens.

“Why, Gilbert.” Marilla lets him in with a warm smile. “What brings you by so early? Are Sebastian and Delphine all right?”

“They’re fine, Miss Cuthburt.” Gilbert hasn’t come around the corner just yet, but Anne can see him easily enough in her mind – cap in his hands, curls tousled, shoulders broad and sturdy underneath his farming clothes. It’s a Saturday, which means he can’t be visiting under the guise of early morning study sessions with Miss Stacy. “I just wanted to check on Anne after yesterday. Her cuts didn’t appear too severe but I want to keep a close eye out for infection.”

Anne briefly contemplates jumping out the window. Matthew is sitting at the table, reading the morning paper, but not even he picks up on her panic.

“Matthew,” she hisses, trying to ignore Marilla’s exclamations of how kind Gilbert is to pay a visit and the sound of footsteps coming closer from the kitchen. “Matthew, tell them I – “

“Anne,” Marilla calls. “Gilbert is here to see you. Says he wants to check those cuts you got yesterday on your walk.”

Her face feels like dried mud, cracking and crumbling as she forces a smile to curve her mouth upwards in a polite expression.

“Oh, well that’s very thoughtful of you,” she says brightly. “But as you can see, I am perfectly fine.”

“Let me be the judge of that,” Gilbert says with a smile. He sets his cap down on the table and holds out one hand.

Marilla and Matthew – both of whom were more concerned than necessary when she arrived home yesterday with bloodied handkerchiefs pressed to her lip and hand – are watching expectantly. Anne swallows her huff of irritation and places her hand once more in the warm, calloused cradle of Gilbert’s.

“You haven’t bandaged it yet?” he murmurs, fingers tracing the wounds lightly.

Anne swallows, so hard that it hurts. His head is bent over her hand, and she suddenly realizes that with all the growing he’s done in the past year or so the top of his head is an uncommon sight for her. In fact, the last time she saw those dark curls from this vantage point was when he bowed after their dance practice at school.

She nearly flinches away from memories of that golden afternoon, when Gilbert’s eyes never left hers, when she was only vaguely aware of anyone else being in the room, when he pulled her closer than the dance required but it still wasn’t close enough.

She clears her throat. “Um. No, not yet. I washed it this morning, and thought I’d let it get some fresh air.”

He hums quietly in approval, now bowed so closely over her hand that she can feel his warm breath on her palm. It takes every scrap of will power she has not to snatch her hand away.

Or worse – lift her hand the few remaining inches and find out what those dimples feel like when he smiles.

The knowledge that her touch would hardly be reason for him to smile in the first place helps bring her back to earth a little; she is suddenly uncomfortably aware of Marilla and Matthew standing in the doorway.

“Well, doctor?” she prompts, trying not to sound as agitated as she feels.

He gives her smirk as he stands upright. “The hand looks good. I’ll bring you some honey, it’ll help keep infection away while it heals. For now I think you’re doing well, with washing it and letting it air out in the mornings. But the thorns went rather deep, so be careful not to do any strenuous housework or heavy lifting.”

She nearly groans; why did he have to say that in front of Marilla!

“But today is wash day,” she protests. “And I don’t want to sit around and watch Marilla do all of that by herself.”

“Nonsense,” comes the immediate response from the doorway. “Matthew and Jerry will help me with the heaviest parts, and I’m sure there’s plenty of studying you can occupy yourself with in the meantime.”

Anne deflates a little. How she hates being a burden, especially to them.

“Or…” Gilbert says hesitantly. “Bash and I could use some help with Dellie today. We’ve got some work to do out in the orchard and nobody to watch her.”

“That’s settled, then.” Marilla nods. “Plenty of light work for you to do there, Anne. Don’t fret about things here. Now, both of you sit down and we’ll eat breakfast before you go.”

Anne can hardly argue; she has never tried to avoid looking after Delphine before and doesn’t want to start now.

But…the whole day? Spent in Gilbert’s kitchen, watching him come and go, flushed and sweaty from farm work, seeing him smile and play with Delphine?

She’d rather dye her hair green again.

Anne pastes another smile on her face and sits down, and pretends it doesn’t sting when Gilbert sits beside her while taking obvious care not to touch her by accident. There was a time when elbow brushes and taps on the wrist and knees knocking under the table were commonplace for them. And now it feels like he might as well be back on that steamer, halfway round the world and oblivious to her very existence until she needs medical attention.

She clenches her napkin in her lap until the urge to cry has passed.

/

The early summer sunshine is warm on her shoulders, as they walk back to the Blythe-LaCroix homestead after breakfast. Gilbert is carrying a basket of baked goods from Marilla in one hand, while Anne has been permitted to carry a bundle of mending she finished for Delphine last week.

They walk in companionable silence; he seems deep in thought, no doubt thinking of the next time he’ll see Winnifred. Anne can’t even find it in her to be jealous of the other girl. Who could blame Gilbert, after all, for choosing such a beautiful, well-bred lady? She would be a wonderful doctor’s wife, Anne thought bitterly.

Perhaps the most painful thing about this whole mess, she reflects, is that before her ill-timed epiphany in Diana’s bedroom she was quite content with a future outside of marriage. Being the bride of adventure wasn’t something she originally dreamed of in early childhood, but she’d come to cherish the thought of all the years ahead of her spent in pursuit of a career and friendships.

The moment her heart decided to complicate matters, however, that dream seemed composed of the dullest, drabbest greys and browns when compared with a future with…him.

It almost makes her angry. Spinsterhood was good enough to keep her happy before; why isn’t it now?

Because while you might find a way to be content, it’s not really what you want, a voice that reminds her of Mary whispers.

“How ready do you feel for the Queens entrance exams?”

Anne is startled, Gilbert’s voice breaking the silence between them.

“Oh. I….I suppose I feel rather well prepared in terms of literature, and grammar. But I don’t think I will ever feel ready to sit for the geometry portion. I just know it will be an absolute nightmare.”

He smiles gently at her; she turns forward again to face the far less blinding sunshine.

“I’m confident you’ll pass with flying colors. In fact, you’ll probably beat the whole Island.”

Her face heats. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I’m being serious, Anne. I can see it now – Diana will want to put the list on the notice board at school, Marilla will likely say something about remaining humble while being fit to burst with pride over how far you’ve come, and Matthew will cheer so loudly we’ll hear him from the my front porch.”

Anne snorts, glad for a distraction from how warm his voice sounds when talking about her potential accomplishments. “Matthew?”

“If he’s half as proud of you as he was of that radish…” Gilbert starts, and they both laugh.

“To be fair, that was the most enormous radish I have ever seen,” Anne chuckles.

“True.” Gilbert hefts the basket. The house is now in sight; Sebastian is working in the garden while Delphine lies in her basket, content and warm in the sunshine.

“You are far more likely to beat the whole Island than I,” Anne says.

“Don’t be silly,” Gilbert scoffs. “I have no fears that I’ll fail, but you’re the smartest person in our whole class, Anne.”

“Well, I have every intention of beating you fair and square,” she reminds him, only teasing a little and trying to sound unbothered. “So mind you keep up your studies this summer, even with all your…distractions.”

Gilbert squints a little. “Bash is pretty good about keeping himself and Dellie out of the way when I’m trying to study, actually.”

“I don’t mean distractions here, Gilbert.” Anne rolls her eyes.

His frown goes a little deeper, and he stops, leaving to her walk on a few steps before she stops too, looking back at him.

“Then…what distractions do you mean?”

She huffs. “In…in Charlottetown.”

“Oh!” Gilbert shrugs. “My visits with Dr. Ward actually help, since he’s got a habit of quizzing me as we work cases together. I doubt he’ll let me fall behind on anything.”

Anne wonders if boys are deliberately obtuse, or if they simply can’t help it.

“No, Gilbert. I’m talking about Winnifred.”

He stops walking again, this time out of what seems to be shock. “What?”

Anne refuses to stop again, only saying over her shoulder, “I imagine it’s far more tempting to spend time with someone as lovely and interesting as she is than to pore over school books.”

Gilbert makes a choked sounding noise. “Anne, wait – “

“Ah, Miss Anne! What brings you by this fine morning?” Sebastian greets her with a smile.

“Good morning, Bash.” Anne heads over to Delphine’s basket. “I am under doctor’s orders not to do anything too strenuous until my hand heals a little more, and so I am here to help with Miss Dellie today.”

Sebastian sends a flat look in Gilbert’s direction. “You wanted her workin’ less, so you brought her here to work for us instead? Whatsa matter wit’ you, Blythe?”

“It was either this or sit uselessly around Green Gables all day,” Anne explains. “Has Delphine eaten yet?”

“Yes, but she could probably do wit’ changin’,” Sebastian says, still looking a little confused by the turn of events.

Without further ado, Anne plucks Delphine out of her basket and heads inside, cooing as she goes and pretending she can’t feel Gilbert’s eyes on her the whole way.

Her morning is spent in pleasant games and light housework. Gilbert and Bash have done an admirable job of keeping the place clean, but once Delphine is down for her morning nap Anne can’t help but notice that the floors could use a good scrubbing.

She needs lots of hot water for that, and so she heads outside for more firewood. The wood pile is low; while Anne rarely has to chop wood at Green Gables since Matthew and Jerry do their best to keep the pile stocked, she is no stranger to the chore.

One firm tug on the axe handle and it’s free of the chopping block. She balances a log carefully in the center, and barely makes a dent on the first swing. She frowns and is trying to get the axe free again when –

“Anne?” Sebastian has come round the corner of the house and is staring at her, aghast. “What are you doin’?”

Anne blinks. “…chopping firewood?”

Sebastian gestures helplessly. “It’s a warm day, thought we had plenty?”

“Oh, I’m not cold. I need hot water to do some cleaning.”

His eyes narrow, picking up on the false casual tone she’s adopted. “And what kinda cleanin’ might that be?”

Anne fidgets, just a little. “The floor,” she mumbles at last.

Sebastian sighs; Anne takes one look at his face and points her finger in warning.

“Don’t,” she says. “Sebastian LaCroix, don’t you dare – “

“Blythe!”

Gilbert appears a few moments later, finding Sebastian looking exasperated but amused, and Anne looking like a little girl with her hand caught in the cookie jar. He smirks at her. She scowls and looks away.

“Anne was needin’ more firewood chopped,” Sebastian explains. “So she come out here to do it herself, ‘stead of askin’ us.”

“You were both busy,” she protests.

Gilbert sighs. “Anne, I know for a fact that you don’t even chop wood at home. And even if you did, it’s definitely strenuous labor which is what you’re supposed to be avoiding.”

“Wait till you hear what she needed it for,” Sebastian says cheerfully.

Bash,” Anne snaps.

“Anne?” Gilbert’s eyes are narrowed now, just like Sebastian’s were.

She huffs.

“Miss Anne thought our kitchen floor left somethin’ to be desired,” Sebastian is smiling, absolutely giddy over what she knows is coming.

“In what world is scrubbing floors not strenuous labor?” Gilbert demands. He comes and takes the axe from her, but even through her irritation she can tell he does so gently.

“Looks like you’re needed up here, Blythe. I’ll take care of the orchard today.” Sebastian claps him on the shoulder and disappears around the house, still chuckling to himself.

Anne wishes she could throw one of the smaller pieces of kindling at him; instead she huffs again and starts piling what little wood there is already chopped to carry inside.

“Anne.” The wood is taken right back out of her arms, and she has to resist the urge to stomp her foot like a child.

“Anne.” Gilbert puts his hands on her shoulders. “Anne, I’m not trying to boss you around, honest. But you need to take it easy today, or your hand will start bleeding again.”

It’s unfair to be angry with him. And she has been working very, very hard at only being angry with him when it’s fair. So she takes a deep breath and looks up into his eyes.

“I know, Gilbert. I just…hate feeling like a burden.”

She might be imagining it, but it feels like he strokes her shoulder with his thumb; it reminds her eerily of his quiet, similar gesture yesterday in the woods while he wrapped her hand – a gentle swipe across her knuckles, comfort given without anyone noticing it being either desired or offered.

“Anne, I can count the number of people Bash would trust to watch Delphine on one hand. Him not having worry about her all day because he knows she’s in good hands makes you very much not a burden.” Gilbert smiles. “I really did just ask you here to watch her. I never dreamed you’d get it into your head to scrub floors.”

“Yes, well.” Anne looks down at her shoes. “Can you blame me? You both are deplorable housekeepers.”

“Men are rather…unhygienic when compared to women.” Gilbert agrees. He finally releases her and turns back to the woodpile, smirking at her again before taking the first swing with the axe. “But if it’s that bad I’ll scrub them myself while you supervise.”

The thought of Gilbert Blythe knelt on the floor wearing an apron and a head kerchief sends a laugh bubbling out of her throat before she can even consider stopping it. He adopts an offended posture.

“What? Surely with you there to guide me I could do a passable job.”

“It’s not that, it’s – “ she has the giggles now. “I wear a bandana in my hair, to keep it out of my face whenever I scrub floors. I’m just picturing you the same way.”

“Hm.” He takes another swing; Anne deliberately ignores his shoulders and arms and the way he wipes the sweat off his brow. “Well, I think I’d look pretty cute with a kerchief tied around my head.”

Anne giggles again, harder, and immediately winces. “Ouch!”

The cut on her lip is only a little more painful than her hand, but now the scab has been stretched too far by all the laughing. Gilbert mutters something under his breath and hurries over to her.

“I didn’t even think to check your lip this morning,” he says, half to himself. “Has it been hurting very much?”

Anne shrugs, bracing herself this time for his nearness. He cups her face in his hands again, one thumb carefully brushing under the sore place and his brow furrowed in concentration.

“It doesn’t look infected.” He nods, looking a little more satisfied. “Did you wash it this morning as well?”

“Yes,” Anne says, quietly since his thumb is still perched just there at the corner of her mouth. The other four fingers on that hand are resting gently against her throat.

“Good.” Gilbert lowers his hands back down to his sides, but doesn’t move away. The look on his face reminds her painfully of that night on Miss Stacy’s porch, of how his eyes went from awed to intense in the blink of an eye and how she’s still not sure if he leaned in or not before she ran.

“So do I need to find you a kerchief?”

He snorts. “No thank you. I already know what Bash would say.”

“Oh?”

“You look cute Blythe, but not near as cute as Miss Anne,” Gilbert says in a ridiculous fake accent.

Anne laughs again before the hidden compliment registers, and then she’s left staring up at him in shock. Gilbert doesn’t seem to care that he’s just ripped the ground out from under feet; in fact, what he does next is almost unforgivably out of the norm.

He smiles, softly, and his voice matches it. “He’d be right, too.”

Anne almost looks down at her feet, just to make sure they’re still on the ground. It feels like she might be floating – until she comes crashing back down.

“Gilbert, that’s an incredibly inappropriate thing to say.”

He looks surprised but embarrassed.

“Especially when you are courting another woman. How do you suppose Winnifred would feel if she heard you say such a thing?”

Gilbert’s entire body reels backwards, away from her.

“What?”

“It’s not like you to be so thoughtless, Gilbert. I mean, really you’re usually much more sensitive – “

“Anne – “

“And one would think with the limited time you two have to spend together anyway, that – “

Whatever scathing remark she has on the tip of her tongue never comes to fruition; from inside the house comes an almighty wail. Anne left the nursery window open when she came outside, and Delphine clearly does not like to be left alone for long.

“That’s the baby,” she says unnecessarily, already turning back towards the house. “I’d better see to her. Thank you for taking care of the woodpile.”

The creak of the kitchen door drowns him out when he calls her name again.

/

 

Chapter Text

By the time Gilbert reluctantly heads back to the orchard, the woodpile is a small mountain beside his house; it could likely see both his own farm and Green Gables through the next winter. Part of his admittedly excessive labor is simply prolonging his time in proximity of the house where Anne is.

(The other part is confusion, plain and simple.)

Despite his dallying, she never reappears. The best he gets is a glimpse of her through a window, singing and smiling down at Delphine in her arms. It makes something catch in his chest, both sharp and sweet, and he grips the axe handle a little more tightly, swings a little harder and sends woodchips flying.

When he does reappear in the orchard, Bash’s smirk is nearly intolerable.

“What, your Anne not likin’ you messin’ things up in her kitchen?”

“She’s not my Anne,” Gilbert mutters, picking up his pruning shears.

“Right.” Bash snorts. “So she not the one you had feelin’s for that you were so closed-mouth about?”

Gilbert doesn’t even respond, instead focusing on getting the ladder to balance correctly against the next apple tree. After a moment, he feels a hand on his shoulder.

“Blythe, her hand will heal. You said yourself it was nothin’ serious.”

“It’s not that.” Gilbert does not want to talk about this, but knows if he doesn’t, he won’t be able to sleep tonight.

“Then…what’s eatin ya?”

He fights it for a moment longer before giving in.

“Anne thinks I’m still with Winnifred!”

Bash blinks. “Eh…are you sure?”

“Every time I’ve gotten closer, it’s like Anne wants the same thing but then she pulls back and scolds me for being disrespectful to Winnie.” Gilbert paces, running a hand through his hair. “Which would be fair if I was still with Winnie, but I’m not and I don’t understand why she thinks that I am.”

He’s breathing heavily by the end of his rant.

“Well, have you told her you ain’t with Winnie no more?”

“I – “ Gilbert starts, and feels his eyes widen as his stomach drops.

Bash, in a very uncharacteristic move, pinches the bridge of his nose between two fingers. “Blythe, you tellin’ me that the girl you been gone for since the day I met ya on that steamer – she might be feelin’ the same ‘bout you but you ain’t said nothin’?”

“I’ve said plenty,” Gilbert protests, feeling more than a little stupid. “That’s when she gets upset.”

“Cos she thinks you two-timin’ Miss Rose! You crazy, thinkin’ Anne would stand for that?”

“But I didn’t know she thought that!”

“An’ how was she supposed to know, eh, if you not tellin’ her things?”

Gilbert frowns, trying to think and pinpoint when, exactly, he assumed Anne knew about his and Winnie’s parting.

“I suppose…I just thought she would hear about it.”

It’s a lame excuse, even to his ears, and it clearly doesn’t impress Bash either.

“Oh come on,” Gilbert protests defensively. “The Avonlea grape-vine has never failed to spread details of my life within a few days before, why would I have had reason to doubt it?”

Bash’s expression doesn’t change; after a moment Gilbert’s shoulders slump.

“All right. I know it was stupid to think that.”

“That’s not the word I would use,” Bash mutters under his breath before giving Gilbert a look. “Whatcha goin’ to do about it?”

Gilbert stares at him for a second, and finally spins on his heel.

“Blythe! You leavin’ me to do all this work myself?”

He doesn’t turn back around. He marches all the way back to his house, almost unable to believe that all those moments – dancing at school, Miss Stacy’s front porch, this morning by the woodpile when her eyes softened and her cheeks pinked – they could have all been so much more if he hadn’t been such an unforgivable idiot.

Such is his agitation that he doesn’t give a moment’s thought to Delphine and whether or not she is sleeping; he stomps up the porch steps and opens the front door so suddenly that Anne yelps a little, clutching Delphine protectively to her.

“Gilbert, what on earth – “

“Winnifred,” he almost shouts.

Anne squints at him, looking a little concerned. “What about her?”

Gilbert takes a deep breath and wills himself to speak in complete sentences. “I am not courting Winnifred.”

Ringing silence.

“Anymore,” he adds. Shut up, his mind begs.

 Anne stares at him, mouth opening and closing several times before anything comes out. “Wha – since when? Are you all right, or are you heartbroken? Did she leave you for another man, a richer one? I bet she did – is she senile? I –“

“Anne,” he interrupts carefully. “I’m fine, I promise. It happened several months ago. Even if I had been heartbroken, which I wasn’t, I’d surely be over it by now.”

Too riled up to hold Delphine, apparently, Anne puts the baby into her basket and comes around the table to stand in front of Gilbert, not close enough to touch but close enough for him to see the way the light makes her eyes dapple from blue to green to grey and back again.

“But I don’t understand,” she says. “She was…you two were so perfect together, everyone said it was such a handsome match – “

Trust the local gossip, he thinks bitterly, to inform Anne of the suitability of him with Winnifred but not the one detail of his personal life that Gilbert wouldn’t mind getting shared.

“Winnifred is a lovely person,” he says, losing his courage for a moment and looking down at his hands. “And she will make some lucky fellow very happy one day. But that fellow isn’t me, and I don’t want it to be, either.”

“But…” Anne wrings her hands. “But why? Surely you can see how clever she is, how beneficial the connections her family has would be for your future, how beautiful she is – “

“Of course I saw all that,” Gilbert interrupts again. “But that doesn’t mean that I want any of that.”

Looking more confused than ever, Anne puts her fists on her hips. “What do you mean you don’t want any of that? You don’t want someone beautiful or clever, or someone who will help you fulfill your dreams?”

“No, I – “ Gilbert rubs his face. Why is such simple communication so difficult? “I do want all of those things. But I want them with someone else, not with Winnie.”

“Well, then with whom?”

He finds his courage at last.

“Isn’t that obvious?” He steps carefully into her space, looking down into her eyes and praying he isn’t imagining things when he hears her breath catch in her throat. “It’s you, Anne.”

“Me?” Her voice shakes; her eyes drift and linger at his mouth.

Heaven help him.

“You,” he says softly. “You’re the smartest person on the Island – I’ve never not meant it when I tell you that. And you’re so kind, and sweet with Dellie, and just sitting across from you at school makes me want to study harder, and – “

“You’re exaggerating,” Anne says quickly, but her pink cheeks betray her and Gilbert’s heart sings, just a little. “And anyway, you’ve left off one very important characteristic of Winnifred’s with which I can’t possibly compete. Why on earth you’d even consider a skinny, homely orphan like me over a golden beauty such as her is beyond my comprehension.”

By the time she finishes, her voice has that defensive edge that Gilbert knows she’s on the verge of abandoning the entire conversation.

The mere thought makes him desperate for her to believe him, and that desperation makes his temper snap a little in the form of his rolling eyes and edged voice. “You know, Anne, for such a smart person you can be really dense sometimes.”

Her mouth drops open in outrage. “I beg your – “

“You really have no idea how beautiful you are, do you?”

Anne gapes at him, stunned, but soon she regains part of her senses, and scoffs. “Beautiful? Gilbert, I – “

“Have been distracting me horribly in school from day one,” he finishes loudly. Normally she hates being interrupted but if he has to listen to her list all of her supposed faults he might actually throw something. “Are you really surprised? I haven’t exactly been subtle; why do you think Ruby finally started leaving me alone?”

She bristles. “Do you mean to say you told Ruby – “

“Of course not,” Gilbert all but snaps. He runs one hand through his hair, frustrated that they’ve diverged into talking about Ruby Gillis. “Look, Anne. I’m not interested in courting Ruby, or Winnifred, or anybody else. I’m interested in courting you.”

“Because I’m clever and make you want to do your homework and am – in your delusional opinion, apparently – beautiful?”

With a exasperated growl, he takes Anne’s face in his hands and kisses her.

For what feels like several moments, she doesn’t respond. He is on the verge of pulling back and apologizing, but then her mouth softens underneath his and her entire body shifts just that tiny bit closer. He feels her hands come up to rest on his shoulders, almost shy in their touch but so warm and real that it brings a deep-chested groan out of him.

But wait…her words from before…she can’t think that. And so somehow, he finds the strength to retreat enough to look in her eyes.

“Anne, I don’t want to court you because I think you’re clever or beautiful or anything else. I want to court you because I’ve been in love with you ever since you cracked that slate on my head.”

Her eyes are wide in shock. “You…you love me?”

Gilbert wishes he could think of something romantical or poetic to say. It’s certainly what she deserves, after all – but then, she deserves the simple truth too. Perhaps that will be enough. He takes a deep breath. “Yes.”

The light that dawns in her eyes warms him right to his bones. She makes a sound that is somewhere between a laugh and a sob.

“You love me.” It’s no longer a question, and he is powerless to do anything but smile when he sees the untainted joy in her face.

“I do,” he says softly.

“I love you.” Anne says, so simple and pure and beautiful that it makes his throat tight.

“Really?” he can’t help but ask, though he knows good and well that if anybody should be giving reassurances it’s him.

Eyes shining, she nods and smooths one hand up his cheek and into his hair. Gilbert lets the happiness sink into him, as though he is lying in the sun on a beautiful summer afternoon.

That is when Anne leans up and kisses him.

Gilbert feels all those dreamed-of tomorrows come into a little sharper focus, the fog of uncertainty and fear banished by her warmth and softness under his hands and lips. Her arms wrap around his neck, and she lifts onto her toes. It makes her sway into him a little more; he gladly welcomes her with arms wrapped tightly round her middle and a kiss pressed a little more firmly against her lips.

She gives a quiet sigh when he deepens the kiss. Gilbert thinks the minister wasted his breath on Sunday, preaching about heaven. Heaven is clearly here, in the security of Anne’s arms and the sweetness of her mouth.

Briefly, he wonders if she would be discomforted by his tongue; no sooner has he had the thought than he feels hers against his lips. Fighting the urge to smile, he happily lets her in for a fleeting moment of blissfully wet heat – until she winces and pulls away.

Instantly he smooths one repentant thumb at the corner of her mouth. Thankfully it’s not bleeding, but he feels (only a little) guilty for not thinking of it before.

“Careful,” he murmurs in a hoarse voice. “Are you all right?”

Anne gives a laugh that almost sounds delirious. “I have never been more all right in my entire existence, Gilbert Blythe.” She gently scratches his scalp. “My Gilbert. My love.”

Distantly, he wonders if it’s possible to get drunk off of a woman. It certainly feels like it is.

“My Anne.” Leaving her mouth for the safer, unharmed territory of smooth and creamy neck, Gilbert smiles so hard it hurts. “My darling. My beautiful, mesmerizing love.”

Anne shudders in his arms, and just when Gilbert is about to lose his head and shove her back against the kitchen table, Delphine gurgles in her bassinet.

Thankful and resentful for the distraction, Gilbert releases Anne so she can hurry to tend to the baby. Deep in the back of his mind, he imagines a similar scenario – greeting her in their own kitchen, with no rules of propriety to restrain them…only the demands of cherub cheeks and dimpled hands from their own bassinet in the corner…little fat thighs covered in freckles and big blue eyes peering out from beneath hair that shines like fire….

“ – must be wondering where you’ve gotten off to.” Anne peers at him. “Gilbert?”

He blinks. “Uh…sorry. What were you saying?”

She smirks. “Were you not paying attention?”

“No, I was busy…” he nearly says daydreaming, but that makes the future seem like just a fantasy. So instead he grins and says, “Planning. I was busy planning.”

“Hm.” Anne nuzzles Delphine’s curls, eyeing him with what he is sure is a flirtatious gleam. “I was just saying that Bash is likely wondering what’s become of you. And if you want supper ready in a timely manner, you need to go so I won’t be distracted.”

He feels entirely too smug about that, and thinks he might get something else cracked over his head if he shows it. So he simply nods, and turns to leave. In the doorway he spins on his heel.

“Anne, please take it light with your hand. I know it’s frustrating but…just…please?”

Anne huffs fondly. “Gil, I really don’t think – “

Before he realizes it he’s back in front of her, holding her injured hand carefully in both of his.

“Anne.” Does she still not see how precious she is to him? “Anne, I’m not asking because I think you are incapable or weak. It just really upsets me to see you hurt.”

Her cheeks are a shade of pink that he finds utterly captivating; she swallows a couple of times.

“Yes, all right. I’ll be careful.”

“Thank you,” he says, and means it. Setting limits for herself based on someone else’s desires rather than her own is no small thing for Anne; realizing the amount of trust she clearly has for him makes him want to kiss her until his knees shake.

“What on earth are you going to do when Delphine falls and scrapes her knee?” Anne asks drily.

Gilbert grins wickedly and leans in just a bit. “Why, kiss it better, of course.”

He stoops, presses a feather-soft kiss to that bruised corner of her mouth – she gasps and it hits his skin like the ocean breeze and he very nearly tumbles right back into her – but he straightens and crosses the room with long, determined strides, closing the door behind him with one last look at those blue eyes that have captivated him for the past four years.

Bash is waiting for him, looking irritable.

“’Bout time,” he grouses, until he sees Gilbert’s face. “Watcha smilin’ like a moke about?”

He considers playing coy, but the truth is he is far too happy to pretend he is anything else.

“Anne loves me.”

Bash relaxes, looking extremely satisfied. “She told ya?”

“Yes.”

“An’ you?”

Gilbert smiles. “I love her.”

“Well anybody wit’ two eyes an’ anyt’ing ‘tween his ears coulda told ya that.” Bash snorts. “What I want to know is did ya tell her?”

“Yes.” Gilbert reaches for the wheelbarrow, already lost in his visions of sunlit kitchens and red hair sliding through his fingers. “But do you know, I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of telling her.”

/