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A Bright and Shining Future

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Gilbert tried to tell himself he was just nervous.

He was indeed nervous, but that wasn’t all of it. Every time he fiddled with the ring in his pocket, he thought about what to say, but none of the words he summoned seemed to suit Winnie. All he could see was the Sorbonne, and the fluttering hope in his chest was crushed under misery and guilt.

Anne had said he should do this, hadn’t she?

You don’t want to be a country doctor. The Sorbonne is your dream. Winifred is beautiful, and her parents are supportive. I don’t understand… what’s holding you back.”

That was just repeating back what he’d told her. But surely she’d said there was nothing between them, right?

I don't know what to say! I... And what am I supposed to—and... and everyone—everyone is now—and now you just—and I'm... pirate, and we NEVER EVEN—and if Paris is—and you're never gonna find—THAT MUCH, I know, so how... can... I—I... whe—whe...”

...Well, Bash had been excited enough for him, hadn’t he?

I knew it; I knew it! It was always Anne!”

Why was he thinking about that? There was no point!

You’re sure you’re sure? Don’t go feelin’ you have to do something because people expect it.”

I’m sure.”

Don’t go movin’ half-way ‘round the world on a ‘maybe’.”

I’m sure!”

Are you sure?”

Bash!”

Bash, the traitor, hadn’t questioned it when he’d thought it was Anne, so why did he so suddenly change when it was Winnie? They’d certainly gotten on well enough, and Winifred’s parents had also accepted Bash as Gilbert’s chosen family without question. And Gilbert had pretty clearly been courting Winnie—Bash himself had said so!

That girl you mentioned… be sure you marry for love. Only for love.”

Mary… Gilbert swallowed hard.

Attraction… yes, it’s important. But love… is what truly matters.”

Bash had clearly been talking about things beyond the surface. Of course he’d have more feelings about Anne in general—he’d known her for longer. Bash had known Mary for a scant few days when he’d proposed, though, so surely it was possible to find it in a few months.

Or a few years. With an impossible, stubborn, caring, courageous redhead—no! He’d promised himself he wasn’t going to think about that; he’d forbidden himself! It wasn’t fair to Winnie. If he was going to give up on Anne, then he had to commit to that fully.

and if Paris is—and you're never gonna find—THAT MUCH, I know, so how... can... I—I... whe—whe...”

He’d just laid out how he was going to achieve his dream, and then incredibly inexpertly laid the choice in the hands of an inebriated and shocked Anne. It seemed the very definition of foolishness—what had he been hoping for?

What had he been hoping for?

And what had she been hoping for, for that matter?

He hadn’t actually asked the question—he’d been too afraid. She hadn’t given him an answer; he’d taken it. And she’d let him because she was drunk and confused and—and willing to give up something she might very much want if it meant he got what he wanted.

You know she’d stand up for any one of you, even in spite of what you’re saying about her. She’d do what’s right. That’s the kind of person she is.”

It wasn’t too much of a leap to think she’d sacrifice her feelings for his dreams. She’d always kept him in mind, in her own way. Bringing his books when his father’s illness had worsened. Her clumsy but ultimately well-meaning attempt to console him upon his father’s passing. Her complete acceptance of responsibility and refusal to so much as let him apologize for having taken a tone with her. Writing to him about the gold, and then worrying that he might still be pinning his hopes on that in spite of the whole class staring at her unfortunately shorn hair. Her resolve to be “less obnoxious” towards him in light of his ambition to become a doctor. That much-needed pep talk she’d given him to keep him on the path to becoming a doctor when Mary was dying.

That night on Miss Stacy’s porch, when she’d seemed to assume—rather correctly, he admitted to himself—that he was going to kiss her, and had mentioned Winnie to remind him that he was courting a girl and ought not to take liberties with another.

Even the simplest of gestures belied her nature. She’d lent him her pen.

He hadn’t given it back.

It was perhaps not the most prudent time to be worrying about how she’d completed the entrance exams. (This was Anne; surely she had another writing implement!)

It certainly wasn’t, he realized, the time to be proposing to a woman whose company he very much enjoyed, and whose family’s status and wealth promised much, but who, ultimately, he didn’t love.

It was the time to finally take the chance and actually say the words to the young woman who had been brave and selfless enough to give him up.

The young woman who probably loved him.

The young woman he certainly loved.

They’d find a way to work out the Sorbonne. Knowing Anne, she’d have half a dozen plans before they’d even reached Queens. She wouldn’t rest. She’d throw idea after idea after him. She’d give up, and sacrifice time and again if she had to, and he loved her for it.

And so, an hour later in the Rose family’s parlor, as hard as it was to cause pain to someone he didn’t want to hurt, he found himself speaking from the heart, and this time, the words flowed.

“Winifred Rose, I am very sorry to say this, as I started the day fully intending to propose to you. I have, however, upon further reflection, realized my reasons for doing so would be shallow and callous, and ultimately unfair to you. I apologize for wasting your time, and beg your forgiveness. I hope that in time we can be friends, but I understand if that future is too distant right now to contemplate. And now, I must beg your leave, as I have urgent matters I must attend to back in Avonlea, and need to catch the train.”

Chapter Text

“Anne! What a pleasant surprise; what are you doing—”

Anne cut Bash off, getting the words out before she could think whether or not they were a good idea. “I need to talk with Gilbert most urgently. Is he here?”

The look on Bash’s face said it all.

“Anne, come in.”

Anne walked into the Blythe-Lacroix house and mutely sat at the kitchen table, as Bash took the seat across from her. Bash’s mother looked at the heartbroken girl and, thinking the better of her earlier plan, handed Delphine to Anne, and excused herself.

“So, if I’m understanding the look on your face right now, Gilbert got it wrong.”

“Wrong?” Anne repeated.

Bash sighed. “He said he asked you if you thought there was a chance for you two. And he thinks you said no.”

Anne’s face flashed rapidly from heartbroken to shocked to outraged. “He—I was—he never—and he’d just laid out how his future was paid for—and I was drunk… All he did was raise an eyebrow, and he told you he actually asked me any kind of question?! she thundered.

Bash tried to contain a smile as he took a startled and now fussing Delphine. “Ohhhhhh boy. Okay. Settle down. From the beginning, if you don’t mind. You were drunk?”

Anne sighed. “It was after the exam. We were celebrating at the ruins. One of the boys brought something to drink, and we all had it, because why shouldn’t we indulge this once? Though I certainly regretted it a bit this morning,” she added darkly. “And then Gilbert showed up, and asked to talk with me, and he said how Winnie’s father had just offered him everything. The right connections. The money to attend the Sorbonne and achieve his dreams. And Winifred—who in their right mind would refuse Winifred? And so...” she took a deep breath “I asked him what was holding him back, and his words— his exact words , Bash—were ‘There’s just one thing’, and then he did that thing where he furrows his eyebrows and expects you to know what he’s saying because he’s too much of a coward to—” she stopped as Bash held up a hand, laughing in earnest.

“I’m sorry, Anne, truly I am. I just… I think perhaps you know that expression better, as that boy never knows what to say when it comes to you. But yes, I can picture the face, and as unfortunate as the circumstances are, well...” He calmed down. “Apologies. What was your reply?”

“Not coherent, that’s for sure. I… still hadn’t fully realized just how it is that I feel about him. But I know I said something about how it was a great opportunity, and how I could never stand in the way—that I could never compete with what he was offered.” Tears had started to roll down her cheeks. “It wasn’t that I don’t love him; it’s that I love him enough that I have to give him up and live with the broken heart if it means he can achieve his dreams.”

“Oh, Anne.” Bash reached across the table and took one of her hands. “As smart as the two of you are, you have both somehow managed to always get the other nearly completely wrong.” He sobered. “And now, you might well pay the price for it.”

Anne’s tears continued. “He’s gone to Charlottetown to propose.” It wasn’t a question. Bash nodded, and Anne put her head in her arms on the table. “If I had just gotten here sooner, at least I might have...”

Bash sighed. “I wish I could have kept him back for you, Anne.” He thought for a moment. “I can tell him when he gets back. It’s not like the Roses will ship them off to Paris immediately; he’ll have to come back and get things in order here. And engagements can be broken.”

Anne shook her head violently, her braids whipping around. “I can’t do that to him, Bash. I can’t put him through the scandal! And Winifred—she doesn’t deserve this.”

“She’ll bounce back.” When Anne shot Bash a sharp look, he explained, “I don’t think she’s in love with him any more than he is with her. I got the sense at the fair that Gilbert was a genuinely enjoyable diversion, and someone to keep her father off her back. Maybe I’m wrong, but it just didn’t seem like she was angling for marriage, at least, not this soon.”

“Bash, I can’t ask you to do that for me!” Anne cried.

“You’re not asking. I’m going to do it either way. What I want to know is whether you’ll take him back when he comes to his senses.”

Anne dabbed at her eyes. “I never had him.”

“You always had him. Trust me.” Bash smiled encouragingly when Anne looked back up at him. “Now, off with you. Try not to worry. Everything will work out.”

Anne’s smile wavered a little, but she managed to hold it. “Thank you, Bash.”

Bash grinned. “Anytime. Though, if you’ll take some friendly advice—and I will give the same to Gilbert, believe me—next time, make sure you say exactly what you mean. Life’s too short for these misunderstandings.”

Anne nodded and left, and Bash sat down to wait.

Chapter Text

As it turned out, he didn’t have to wait very long. The sun was starting to set as Gilbert arrived home, looking thoughtful and a little morose.

“So… am I addressing the future Sorbonne-educated Doctor Blythe?”

The look Gilbert shot him could have killed. “No.” He sighed.

“She rejected you?!” Bash hadn’t quite been prepared for this possibility, sure as he’d been that Winnie didn’t yet intend to marry the lad.

“No. I… broke it off. Told her I was going to, but… I couldn’t in good conscience.” Gilbert shed his suit jacket and waistcoat. “I didn’t stay to get her reaction, either. I can only imagine the scathing letter I’m going to get. I might not be allowed back to Dr. Ward’s office for the foreseeable future.” That wasn’t strictly true—Winifred had looked mildly disappointed, but not shattered, as Gilbert would have expected if she’d really wanted to marry him. Perhaps she had just been dissembling, but he didn’t think so.

Bash crossed his arms. “And to what do we owe this reversal?”

Gilbert had gone into his room and come out with the vest he normally wore to school. “Anne.”

“I thought you said she’d refused you?”

“I… may have been hasty about coming to that conclusion. I intend to find out. And to return this.” He pulled Anne’s pen from his pocket.

Bash raised an eyebrow. “Ever the romantic.”

“I don’t think proposing to her, especially having intended to propose to someone else today, would be received well.”

“Alleluia, he’s learned,” Bash teased.

Gilbert stopped. “Anne was here, wasn’t she?” He stooped to pick up a familiar ribbon.

“Sounds like you already know the answer to that.”

“Don’t avoid the subject; what did you tell her? What did she tell you?”

Bash grinned. “For the former, that I was going to talk you into breaking it off if you’d gone through with proposing to Winifred. Happily, it seems I don’t need to do that. As for the latter—” Bash jerked his head in the general direction of Green Gables. “—you should address the young lady concerned, fully and honestly this time so as to avoid misunderstandings. And return her pen in the process.”

Gilbert nodded and fled.

Chapter Text

Anne was lying on her bed. Marilla had noticed, but seemed to think it was due to celebrating into the early hours of the morning. Given the full day before, she was willing to let Anne be.

An hour before dinner, there were voices downstairs.

“Gilbert Blythe! What an unexpected surprise!”

“Hello, Miss Cuthbert.” Gilbert sounded just a little breathless. “Might I speak with Anne?”

“She’s resting upstairs after your big celebration last night. Can I have her call on you tomorrow?”

“I-it’s urgent. I… borrowed her pen and never gave it back before the exam, and I feel the need to apologize in person.”

Marilla’s voice had a smile in it. “Yes, that is quite the transgression. Very well, go on up, but if she’s sleeping, I’ll have to have you come back tomorrow.”

Anne’s heart pounded several times for every footfall of Gilbert’s on the stairs. She wasn’t sure she was ready to face this.

“Anne...” Gilbert hovered in the doorway.

Anne sat up. “Gilbert...”

He took that as an invitation and drew into the room, and presented the pen. “I’m sorry, I should have given this back, but I didn’t. I hope you not having it for the exam didn’t cause too much trouble.”

“...Oh.” Anne took it and placed it on her desk.

Gilbert shook his head. “That’s not really why I’m here; I just...” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I really, really messed up last night.”

“I should have asked what you meant—” Anne interjected, but Gilbert continued.

“You weren’t in the best state and I asked you to make a choice for me—”

“I was so shocked that I just didn’t know what to say—”

“—I took the coward’s way out and I can’t apologize enough—”

“—and then I just babbled instead of saying anything useful—”

“—I was blinded by Mister Rose’s offer and heard what I wanted to hear in regard to that, but not to your feelings or even really my own feelings—”

“—and I knew I had to tell you to take the offer and follow your dreams even though it would break my heart—”

“—because, Anne...”

“—because, Gilbert...”

I love you.” They both said it at the same time.

Anne blinked while Gilbert stared. At some point, one of them had taken the other’s hands. It wasn’t particularly important who or when, but they were standing toe-to-toe.

“You…?” Gilbert asked. Remembering Bash’s earlier admonishment, he took a breath, then finished the sentiment. “You… love me?”

Anne nodded, smiling shyly. “I do.”

“So then, why tell me to go?” Gilbert asked softly.

“Because nothing I can offer you would even begin to compare.” Anne bit her lip and looked down, her eyes stinging.

Gilbert let out a shaky laugh. “I can’t say giving up the easy way was pleasant, but Anne, on this rare occasion, you’re wrong.” Anne looked up, and Gilbert continued, “You offer so much. You once said I’d get where I’m going if I let my passions lead me. Well, my passions lead me to medical research, it’s true, but they also lead me to a certain redhead who challenges and surprises and supports me.” Gilbert raised one of Anne’s hands and pressed the palm to his chest. “You were willing to give me up to make my dreams come true, and I know I can’t give that up. I’m sure we can come up with a plan B. If nothing else, Miss Stacy can write that doctor in Toronto. Seeing the world after having lived in Avonlea has taught me that, among other things, the highest prestige does not always a full education make.”

Anne felt a bit faint. She realized she hadn’t really breathed during Gilbert’s speech, and she sat back down on the bed. Gilbert dropped to one knee before her, still holding onto her hands. “After today, I don’t think I’m quite ready for marriage yet. Even if I were, if I know you like I think I do, I might get another slate broken over my head if I try to propose today.”

Anne laughed and nodded.

“But I’d like to court you, Anne. Truly and officially. With the intent that someday, in the future, when we’re both ready—when you’re educating the minds of the newest generation to be as fine as your own, and when I’m discovering new medicine that gives people hope—I’ll ask you to marry me, and you’ll agree.”

Anne gazed into Gilbert’s eyes, and Ruby’s utterance from so long ago ( “his eyes were so full of romance” ) sprang unbidden into her mind. “That...” she murmured, “would be most agreeable. And it would make me very, very happy.”

Gilbert stood, pulling Anne to her feet with him and into a near-crushing embrace, which Anne returned with equal enthusiasm. When they pulled back, Gilbert was gazing down at Anne, and she was looking back up at him, and they were drawing closer and closer…

Marilla cleared her throat from the doorframe, startling them apart, though Gilbert had grabbed Anne’s hands again. “I see we’ll be needing to have a talk over dinner. After that, Gilbert, you will fetch Bash and Delphine and Hazel, and we will have tea and plum puffs, and...” she sighed with a smile. “We’ll have a little toast over the two of you finally figuring your feelings out.”

Anne let out a startled laugh and pulled away to fling her arms around Marilla, who patted Anne’s back and nestled her cheek into Anne’s hair lovingly. Gilbert laughed bashfully and smiled fondly watching Anne and Marilla. Marilla shot him a fond glance before releasing Anne, who turned to look at him, beaming. She held out her hand, and Gilbert looked to Marilla, who rolled her eyes but nodded her assent, before taking Anne’s hand and following her down the stairs.

The future had never seemed quite so bright.