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i picture it, soft, and i ache

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Winter mornings often feel calm and serene to Anne - like a painting of a still picture or a memory captured just before you close your eyes - but this morning feels even more quiet than usual.

Perhaps it’s because Matthew and Marilla are busying themselves upstairs and outside rather than sitting down to have breakfast with her like they normally would. Instead, Anne hears Marilla’s boots clunk softly on the floor upstairs, the sound muffled and faraway, and it shatters Anne’s winter illusion as she eats breakfast downstairs alone.

Marilla and Matthew had decided to take the day to travel to Charlottetown and talk with someone in town about what type of cattle they would be taking on in the spring. This winter was rougher than any of them had expected, and in the early weeks of December, their two cows had fallen ill to a point where neither could be saved. It had caused quite the stress in the Cuthbert house, the three of them still always nervous about the state of their money since they’d almost lost the farm all those months ago.

Marilla kept up a confident smile though, and assured Anne that her and Matthew venturing to Charlottetown was good. 

“There’s nothing to worry about, Anne,” Marilla was telling her now as she comes downstairs, a tin of snacks in one hand for the train and her bag in the other, “And by spring, we’ll have two new cows for you to meet.” She glances up at Anne and smiles fondly, crow’s feet wrinkling at the corner of her eyes.

“Will you let me name them?” Anne asks suddenly, and before Marilla can even answer, Anne’s mind is running a mile a minute with all the names she can think of. “Oh, what about Rochester from Jane Eyre –”

“We have to get the cows first.” Marilla points out. “And then, well – maybe –”

It’s then that Matthew comes in from outside, opening the door and bringing a gust of cold air in with him. It shivers Anne right down to her bones, but something about the crisp feeling of it has her breathing easier. She loves Avonlea at all times of the year, each season bringing something unique to the little town, but there is something about winter – the holidays, the coziness, the smell of the Christmas tree in the living room, the warm flicker of candlelight that burns in the long winter nights – that Anne cherishes.

“Ready?” Matthew asks, looking toward Marilla. He spares a glances at his pocket watch. “The train leaves at ten, yes?”

“Yes, yes,” Marilla says as she shuffles around here and there, making sure she has everything she needs to leave. She rambles a list of things for Anne to do and not to do while they’re gone, a list Anne isn’t really listening to as she eats her morning eggs until Marilla starts in a firm voice, “Now, I’ve instructed Gilbert to come over and check on you –”

“Gilbert!” Anne remarks, dropping her fork onto her plate. “Marilla, I don’t need anyone checking up on me. I’m almost sixteen!"

Marilla shoots her a look as she tugs her fur-lined gloves on. “Almost sixteen and you still forget to make your bed most mornings.”

Anne frowns. “You know, just as well as I, that making your bed has absolutely no impact on character –”

“It certainly has an impact on responsibility.” Marilla remarks pointedly, and just as Anne is about to speak out again, Marilla says, “It’s already been decided, Anne. You’re a young girl, all alone out here by yourself. We must make sure you stay safe.”

“Yes, and Gilbert is going to be the one to keep me safe.” Anne rolls her eyes and then turns to Matthew to lament in a wispy, desperate sort of voice, “Oh Matthew, won’t you convince Marilla that I can take care of myself?”

“Ah,” Matthew mutters, his eyes shifting between the two women, “Well.” He clears his throat and shuffles around a bit, wiping invisible dust off the kitchen table.

When it’s apparent he has nothing else to say, Anne exclaims, “Matthew!”

“Anne, stop this at once.” Marilla sniffs. “I don’t even see what the big deal is. Would you rather I send Rachel instead?” Anne scrunches her face up immediately, and it brings a drop of amusement to Marrila’s smile. “Gilbert is to come by around seven. Why don’t you invite him in for dinner? You remember how to make that stew I taught you last week, don’t you?”

Anne pales as she watches Marilla and Matthew double and triple check their bags. Truthfully, Anne had been excited to spend the night alone, curled up by candlelight with the new book Matthew bought for her last time he was in Charlottetown, but now she is not only to expect company – Gilbert Blythe, of all people, who makes Anne nervous in ways that leave her wobbly – she has to make dinner for him too?

Anne wants to complain to Marilla, Dinner? I thought we all know I wouldn’t make a good wife, and yet the thought prickles her skin uncomfortably as soon as she thinks it, like somehow she’s trying to be a wife for Gilbert.

“Anne – why are you all red?” Marilla asks suddenly, her eyebrows scrunched together in concern. She goes to take one of her gloves off, presumably to touch Anne’s forehead and feel her temperature, but Anne shoots a hand out to stop her.

“It’s nothing, Marilla.” Anne says weakly. “I will just miss the two of you, that’s all.”

This melts both of their faces, Matthew muttering something pleasantly and Marilla leaning down to touch her lips to Anne’s forehead in a kiss. “We’ll be back soon enough.” Matthew assures her, a warm grin on his face, “And by then, I expect a long, long list of cow names, yes?”

Anne huffs a laugh. “Certainly.”

She waves the two of them off from the porch as they head to town in the wagon, and sighs, watching her breath show up as a puff of white in front of her, thinking of ways she might pass the time on such a fine day.

 

 

 

It gets dark early, the winter sun setting at a measly five in the evening, making Anne just a bit sad that the sunshine won’t stay for longer. Five is when the cold starts to creep into the house, when Anne has to put down the book she’s reading and start to cook, when she has to start the fireplace and cover herself in an extra layer of wool, when she starts to feel just a little bit lonely. Something about this winter night reminds her of all the cold hours she spent alone in the orphanage or back in the Hammond’s house; when everyone else was asleep fast asleep during the night, Anne had always laid awake shivering, unable to close her eyes even though she was truly exhausted.

So perhaps she is a bit grateful when, just a little after seven, there’s a distinct knock at the front of the house; the sound causes some part of the knot in her chest to loosen with comfort. When she swings the door open, she’s met with the image of a boy she knows very well, and that’s when the knot tightens again, this time with that unnameable nervousness which plagues her whenever Gilbert is around.

Anne clears her throat. “Gilbert.”

Gilbert smiles. “Anne.” He greets her, a little laugh in his voice, and bows his head like some sort of winter prince come to save her.

He looks absolutely delightful standing there in his thick layers of wool and plaid. His nose and cheeks are tinged red from the biting cold and wind he must have walked through to get here, his stature is broad like it’s been ever since he came back from working on the ship, and there’s a grin on his face only for her. Anne gets lost in thought for a moment as she looks at the few tiny snowflakes that sit on top of the curls peeking out of his hat, and she thinks about how she could reach out and sweep them away. Her hand almost goes up to touch him, but she stops it before it betrays her.

“I’ve been instructed to invite you in for dinner.” She tells him, looking at him like she’s daring for him to defy her.

“Oh?” Gilbert says, one eyebrow raised. “Is that so?”

“Yes,” Anne sniffs, and she moves to the side to pull the door open further. “Now come in. If I leave you out there to catch a cold, Marilla would surely have my head.”

“Well, we can’t have that,” Gilbert says as he steps into the house, taking off his hat. She wishes that she could wipe that smug little smile off his face, like he just knows his presence is throwing a wrench in her life and he loves it. 

Anne hovers around him nervously as he starts to take his outer layer of winter clothes off to hang up by the door. She wipes her hands uselessly on her apron and says absentmindedly, “I hope it wasn’t too cold on your walk over here.”

Gilbert glances at her as he’s unwinding his scarf. “I didn’t mind.” Then he smiles, a little twist tucked between the apples of his cheeks, and he pulls something out from the inside pocket of his coat. “I actually stumbled across these and thought you might like them.”

In his hand is a small picking of flowers, little white bells that Anne immediately recognize as lilies of the valley. There’s only a few of them, but they still look quite healthy for having been through the start of such a bumpy winter, and they droop dreamily against their stems.

Anne goes positively red at the sight of them in Gilbert’s open palm. “Gilbert!” She admonishes immediately, “How could you pluck them?”

Gilbert’s face falls. “What?” He asks, dumbfounded, his eyebrows furrowing adorably. 

“You’ve plucked them from their home and their friends, only so they can die in a vase on my kitchen table!”

“Anne, you pluck flowers all the time –”

“Yes, well –” and then she takes the little batch from his hand, “Look at these – you’ve absolutely ripped them from the soil! At least when I pick flowers, I do it with a gentle hand.” She walks toward the kitchen quickly, leaving him behind to take off his coat.

“I thought you might enjoy them,” he notions, “but I guess I was mistaken.” She sees, out of the corner of her eye, the teasing smile that can’t help but twist his lips. She swears she's going to throttle him by the end of this night.

“Yes, you were,” she calls back to him confidently, and then looks down at the flowers in her hand. They are beautiful, so small and gentle. That’s something Anne had always liked about the lilies of the valley in particular – they looked so fragile on the outside, but the change they could withstand was impeccable, and the durability they held under their surface made them not only charming, but hardy and strong. She smiles down at them, and then busies herself to find something of a vase to put them into. “Could you put another log on the fire for me, please?” She asks, looking over her shoulder at Gilbert.

Gilbert, now only in his speckled sweater and trousers, nods quickly. “Yeah, of course,” he says, and as he leans down near the fireplace, he asks, “What are we having for dinner, Miss Shirley-Cuthbert? And thank you for inviting me in, by the way.” There it is again, that smugness in his voice that she so detests. It’s exactly how he sounds when he’s winning against her in a spelling bee during class or that time he caught her singing to herself when she thought she was alone in the woods. 

“I would say thank you for coming to check on me, but I don’t really find it necessary for a boy to make sure I’m okay. I would have made it through the night just fine.” She knows she’s being a bit stuck-up, but she needs Gilbert to know that, well, she doesn’t need him. 

Gilbert glances toward her, the fire alighting the side of his face with a warm glow that has him looking soft all over. “Yes, I know,” he admits, “but I didn’t want to be rude when Marilla asked me.”

Anne hums, secretly pleased that Gilbert finds her capable. “Anyways,” she says, looking down at the stew in front of her and giving it a stir, “I’ve made split pea and ham soup.” Anne stares down at the pot and frowns, her nervousness taking over again. “Marilla taught me the recipe recently, but I’m afraid it might not be that good.”

Gilbert laughs. “I’m sure it will be fine, Anne.” He stands up away from the fire and comes to her side. His eyes glance around the kitchen until they land on the middle of the dining table, where she’d placed the small vase of flowers he’d brought her, and then he looks back toward her with bright eyes. “Is there anything I can do?”

“Um,” Anne idles, darting her gaze away from him, “Just – if you could get set the table that would be good. The plates are in there.” She says as she points to a nearby cupboard.

Gilbert dips his head ever so slightly and moves around the kitchen. “Aye aye, captain.”

 

 

 

The moment they sit down, Anne realizes she’s not exactly sure what they’re going to talk about for however long it takes for them to eat dinner, and she panics. Anne, who is never at a loss for words, ever, ever, suddenly feels her voice shrivel up inside of her throat and drop down to her stomach, making an echo in the emptiness there.

She watches quietly, still as a bird, as Gilbert sits across the table from her, the flowers he’d brought her blurred by her version in between them, and she thinks she’d like to run away from all of this and be in a far-off land instead where she never has to deal with pretty boys coming into her house and ruining her night.

Pretty boys? No, wait – scratch that. Absolutely ugly boys with curly hair and dimpled, red apple cheeks. Absolutely atrocious boys.

Then Gilbert looks up at her with a kind gaze – truly atrocious – says, “Thank you so much for the food, Anne,” takes a spoonful of soup, spots the dog-eared hardcover Anne had been reading all day on the counter behind them, and then asks her what it’s about with a voice that signals that he really might like to know.

Anne takes a breath in and reminds herself that it’s just Gilbert, and then in seconds she’s launching into a spiel about the whole plot of the novel, barely taking a pause to breathe or eat in between, and Gilbert listens intently the whole time, asking questions here and there, like, Wait, so there was a ghost haunting her room? and Anne replies something like, No, Gilbert, that was just the children playing tricks on her, but yes, there was a ghost haunting the house. 

“Wow, Anne, you sure read some… eclectic books.” He says, and she thinks he’s making fun of her. She remembers how he’d spelled that word in class months ago, only one “c” where she would have put two and gotten it wrong.

Anne turns back to her soup, or at least what little is left. “Well, what type of books do you read?” She asks, turning her nose up at him.

He’s silent for a moment. “School… books?” Gilbert says unsure.

Anne frowns. “You don’t read on your own?”

Gilbert rests his chin on his palm. “I mean, I used to when I was a kid. And I used to read books to my Dad too, but that was Walt Whitman and stuff, you know?” He shrugs, almost like he’s embarrassed. “It’s no great novel like you’re reading, with twists and turns and ghosts and things.” He laughs.

“Walt Whitman is good,” Anne assures him easily, a smile on her face. She nods, “Your Dad had a good taste in poetry.” Gilbert nods back and says nothing else, so Anne fills in the silence. “If you ever want to borrow a book from my shelf, you know where I am. And my collection is always willing to be lent out to a friend.”

Anne doesn’t miss the way he smiles at the word “friend” and she can’t help but smile too. “Duly noted.”

They share a look for a moment, and it’s all too similar to the moments in silence they’ve had before: Christmas last year near the tree, outside the church of Mary and Bash’s wedding, in Charlottetown, just before Gilbert was about to leave to travel the world, except somehow this one feels even more private, more intimate, more… domestic. It starts a fire in Anne’s heart that takes it by storm, that wakes up every inch of her skin and rolls her stomach over and over until it has her feeling a little bit sick.

“Anyway,” Gilbert says softly.

“Anyway.” Anne replies back, her voice scratchy.

Gilbert looks away from her and scratches his head. “I should get back home – Mary and Bash are waiting for me, I’m sure.” He stands up and reaches across the table to take Anne’s bowl. “Let me help with the dishes –”

“No, no,” Anne demands, taking her bowl back from him and snatching his up as well, “I’ll do them! Don’t worry. You’re right, you probably should get home soon, you know, because of the cold.” All of a sudden she can’t look him in the eyes.

“Right, right.” Gilbert agrees, and shuffles over to get his coat. He’s probably already stayed longer than he intended too, even though he really hadn’t stayed that long at all. She’s probably inconvenienced his whole evening, keeping him here at her kitchen table.

Anne drops the dishes by the sink without much grace, and walks over to say her goodbyes. “Well – thank you for… for coming over I suppose.” Then she snaps her gaze up at him defiantly. “Although, I did not need it, I guess I appreciated your company.” A smile magically appears on Gilbert’s face. “I guess.”

“Don’t worry,” he tells her, “I won’t tell anybody that you actually like me.” Then the boy has the audacity to wink at her. In her own home!

She crosses her arms over her chest. “And what gave you that impression?”

Gilbert shrugs. “Just a hunch,” he says, smug, smug, smug little smile still on his face. He adjusts his hat onto his hair and winds his scarf back around his neck. “You’ll come by if you need anything, right?” He asks.

"Yes, I will.” Anne grumbles, but a realization hits her all of a sudden that she’s a bit sad for him to be going and leaving her all alone in the house. She swallows it down.

“Have a good night, Anne.” Gilbert says as he puts his hand on the doorknob.

“You too.” Anne says quietly.

Then he pushes the door open.

And it doesn’t open.

Anne furrows her eyebrows together. Gilbert goes, “What?” 

He tries the door again. It barely moves an inch, but the small open gap lets a little tumble of white in.

Anne rushes to the window and presses her face against it, the glass cold on her nose and fingertips. “Oh no,” she says, “Gilbert, look at the snow.

Anne really hadn’t thought they’d talked that long – dinner had maybe taken an hour, if that – and in that time neither of them had really paid attention to outside, where the already sizable snowfall Gilbert had walked through to get here had turned into large, fat snowflakes, all piling up around Green Gables until it was inches thick.

“Do you have a shovel?” Gilbert asks, pushing uselessly at the door with his shoulder. “Maybe I can dig my way out –”

“Gilbert!” Anne exclaims. “You can’t walk home in weather like this.” She looks up at the dark night sky, out the window where snow was still falling easily, showing no inclination of stopping. It was almost as if the sky had heard her thoughts just then, because at that moment the wind outside picks up, wildly whipping the fat snowflakes around and up against the sides of the house. The wind spits a flurry of snow through the open gap in the door and they land on the floor inside, where they start to melt. “Close the door!” Anne commands, shuffling over to Gilbert to put her hand on top of his and tug the front door closed.

The sudden chill that whisks through the houses causes Anne to wrap her arms around herself. She follows Gilbert to the window, where they both look out at the winter night pensively, their body heat fogging up the glass in no time.

“Maybe – maybe it will wind down in a few hours, and you can try to walk home.” Anne says, but there’s a feeling in her heart that is telling her that the snow will not stop, not tonight at least.

Gilbert worries his bottom lip between his teeth, his eyes flicking back and forth around the landscape like something outside will come forth and magically give him a solution. He sighs eventually, and starts to unwind his scarf again.

He glances at her. “I suppose you wouldn’t mind company for just a little while longer?”

 

 

 

Gilbert does help her with the dishes, in the end. She scrubs them with soap and he dries them in tandem.

He asks her about simple things while they work: when Matthew and Marilla will be back, how the farm is doing, what she thinks about Miss Stacy now that she’s been their teacher for a little while. She asks him back similar questions: how Mary and Bash are now that they’re married, what he and Bash are doing to the farm, how his extra studying has been going. 

During their conversation, it occurs to her that they’ve rarely ever had time to talk like this. So much of what she knows about Gilbert’s life has been fed to her by the gossip mills of Rachel Lynde or the fervor of Ruby’s obsession, and they make him feel like such a far away character from a book she might read; paper thin. She always forgets that this is the Gilbert she missed while he was away, the one who stands next to her smiling at the things she says for no reason other than the fact that she's said them. 

It feels like a physical motion in her body, the way adoration starts to claw her throat when he laughs at her jokes and stories, and she has to make an effort to swallow it back down before it gets too out of hand.

It’s barely been an hour by the time they get done cleaning up the kitchen from the mess Anne had made of dinner. She sends Gilbert to tend to the fire in an effort to give him something to do, and as she’s placing the last of the clean dishes in the cupboard, she spares a look out the window.

Snow, even higher than before, white and packed against the sides of the house. Anne can’t help but feel a little ribbon of relief at the sight of it, knowing that Gilbert won’t have to go home just yet.

Anne has the two of them carry bundles of candles to the foyer, huddling near the alcove where the Christmas tree Matthew has yet to cut will be placed. Christmas is next week and Anne can’t wait to wake up in the morning and smell the pine needles throughout the house, feeling the holiday descend on her in all senses. The snow storm might have been more apt then, perfectly timed and cozy, but she supposes this is a good introduction to the holidays, too.

The two of them decide to practice their spelling because of course they do. Gilbert finds a thick dictionary on one of the shelves and drops it down in front of him on the floor. He cracks open the spine of it and lands his finger on a random page. “Spell lineage. ” He says, looking up at her from under his eyelashes, and she does so perfectly with a self-satisfied grin on her face.

She snatches the volume away from him and does the same. “Spell accentuate.

He does so, perfectly, of course.

They do this for half an hour, the two of them completely entertained and fueled by their competitive edge. Anne asks him to spell “amphitheater” and when he gets it wrong, she can’t help the bright laughter that peels out of her throat. He retaliates and makes her spell “ostentatious” which she forgets has an “I” and just about strangles him for grinning so wide at her mistake. 

It tires them both out easily, their faces red from competition, but Gilbert’s the one who ends it, knowing Anne would never back out first. “Why don’t we do something else?” He decides, closing the dictionary with a thunk

“Do you admit you lost, then?” Anne asks, holding her chin up high. He’d just spelled “surreptitious” wrong, his second mistake in a row, and Anne had been easily blowing her way through the words Gilbert had been picking for her in the last couple rounds.

He thinks for a moment, like he might argue the point, but then he relents, “Sure, Anne. You won.”

“When Jerry and Diana start teaching me French, then I will be able to best you in two languages.” She tells him.

His eyebrows pique in interest. “Jerry and Diana are teaching you French?”

“Yes – well, I haven’t officially asked either of them yet, but I’m sure Diana will say yes, and Jerry will do it if I annoy him enough.” This makes Gilbert snort. “Jerry was teaching me phrases the other day – do you know that the French call their loved ones mon petit chou? And it means little cream puff ?” Anne sighs dreamily and lays down against the hardwood. “I want to be someone’s little cream puff…”

Gilbert laughs and Anne glances toward him. He’s got this look on his face, his eyes soft and his mouth curling easily, that makes her feel like she’s stuck her fingertips in a flame. Then he says, “I’m sure Charlie Sloane would love for you to be his mon petit chou,” and it almost completely ruins the mood if it were not for the way that Anne likes how Gilbert sounds when he’s trying to speak French, the way it doesn’t quite hug his tongue naturally. Gilbert Blythe deserves to be a bumbling fool sometimes. Anne just wishes she didn't find it so endearing.

She glances away from him. “Charlie really must stop looking at me with those goggly eyes of his during class.” Anne closes her eyes and imagines it, the way she’ll turn around to tell something to Ruby and find Charlie staring. “I feel them boring into the back of my head all day.”

Gilbert’s voice sounds a bit odd when he pipes up with, “I could always give him a – uh – kick during class if you need me to. He should be paying attention to the board, anyway.”

Anne opens her eyes to see Gilbert staring down at his hands, like they hold a most interesting story. “Oh, he’s harmless,” she says as she rolls her eyes, but then she sighs. “However, the girls are trying to convince Miss Stacy to hold a dance and if Charlie happens to get word of it, I’m sure he’ll try and ask me, which wouldn’t even be a problem, really, if I knew how to dance at all – I mean, I’ve danced at Aunt Josephine’s summer soiree, but at school it would be a completely different deal - and honestly giving him one dance wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but I just know I’m going to stumble all over myself and then Billy Andrews is going to tease my about having duck feet for the rest of time and –”

“I can teach you how to dance.”

“I – what?” Anne blinks.

Gilbert’s looking down at her intently. “I can teach you how to dance, if you’d like.”

Anne flushes all the way down to her toes. “I mean – I can dance, just not very… well.”

All of a sudden, he’s getting up to his feet and extending a hand down to her. “Come on. Let’s dance.” He grins at her for the hundredth time this night, but she doesn’t think it’ll ever stop making her breath catch in her throat.

She’s saying, “We don’t have any music,” but putting her hand is his anyway, letting herself be pulled up by Gilbert’s strong – when did he get this strong? – arms. 

“We’ll make some up,” he says happily and then uses a finger to tap on her temple gently. “I’ve been told you have quite the imagination, Anne Shirley. I’m sure you can imagine a wonderful song. Maybe something with piano.” 

Then he pulls her closer and puts one of her hands on his shoulder. “Piano sounds nice,” she says, a bit dazed, watching as he places one of his hands on her hip. It feels very warm against her skin, even in this cold room. “What about some harp? There was a lady playing harp at Aunt Jo’s house for the party, and it was very beautiful.”

“Sure,” Gilbert says easily, intertwining their fingers together, “Harp sounds lovely.”

Then the two of them start moving, Gilbert taking the lead and stepping backward, to the side, and around again. Anne stumbles a little, her steps off beat and her precision not quite there, but Gilbert helps her, slows them down and says, No, like this, gently in her ear, and then makes a satisfied noise when she gets it.

There’s quite a bit of space in between them at first and their movements are awkward and stilted, but soon enough they drag closer and closer to each other as Gilbert spins them around faster and faster, Anne’s giggling bouncing off of the high walls of the room, her braids whipping around behind her.

Gilbert twirls her out, away from him and then back in again, and it’s only when she’s back in his arms does she realize how near his face is to hers. If she were to look up, their noses would only be inches apart. Instead she stares resolutely at his chest, her cheeks warming.

Gilbert slows them down until they’re not stepping around anymore, really only swaying together. His hands are still homely on her skin, and there’s a desire deep in her chest to move closer and closer until she can wrap around his middle and melt into him. But she doesn’t. She just looks straight ahead, focusing on the fabric of his sweater, the black and white wool that weave together.

“Anne,” Gilbert whispers, and there’s something in his voice that has her worried, for a moment, that he’s about to say something she won’t know how to handle, but he just asks, “What music are you thinking of now?”

“Violin,” she replies back quietly, the first answer off the tip of her tongue, when in reality she wasn’t thinking of much besides Gilbert himself and the unrelenting urge she suddenly has to hug him or hold him and never let him go. “You?”

He’s silent for a second. “Something with flute,” he says decidedly, and she can’t help but laugh a little at his pensive tone.

It causes her to glance up at him, and what she finds is Gilbert already looking down at her, like perhaps he hadn’t taken his eyes off of her the entire time. Her heart eats it up; she would never tell anyone, not even really herself, but she loves these moments with Gilbert the best, the moments that exist between them and only them, when Gilbert feels like hers

It’s such a selfish thought, she knows, especially considering that Anne knows what it’s like to be owned by someone, and those years had been the most miserable of her life. But there’s a difference, she thinks, between the way she’d felt at the Hammond’s all those years ago and the desperate desire that sparks in her heart when Gilbert says something to her in a way that she knows he’d never say to anyone else.

Her heart is beating too loud and too fast, and Gilbert is looking down at her with a glint in his eyes, and the room is so cold but the air around them is so warm, and Anne spares a moment to glance at his lips, and she thinks –

“We should check outside to see how the weather is,” she says suddenly, stepping away from him and dropping her hands from him, “And see if you’ll be able to make it home or not.”

Gilbert’s face turns puzzled. “Oh,” he says, sounding rather defeated, “I – sure.”

Anne shuffles toward the window, not looking behind her to see if he follows, and when she gets up to the frosted glass, she just stares out absentmindedly. She tries to focus on willing her heart to beat slower, and she barely registers that Gilbert has moved to say something beside her.

“What?” She asks, blinking up at him.

He nods toward the window. “The storm,” he says, and Anne looks at the snow, “It’s rather horrible, isn’t it?”

The snow outside has grown almost as tall as the bottom of the window sill and the sky above is all black and inky. It looks humongous, like a large cavity in the world, but there’s something about the enormity of it that spins Anne’s mind with wonder.

“I don’t know, I think it’s quite beautiful,” she remarks, thinking about how she would love it to be morning already so she could go out and play in it until her fingers and toes grow frigid from the cold.

“Quite beautiful if you want to freeze to death.” Gilbert teases.

“Gilbert Blythe, this world is a treasure and you should be so lucky to be in it,” she tells him, still watching the snowflakes fall, “Even on a night like this.”

“I am,” he says warmly, “I’m just happy to be in here rather than out there.” The two of them watch out of the window for a moment, and then Gilbert clears his throat nervously. “I think it’s safe to say that leaving will be out of the question for me. Would it be a bother if…”

“Oh!” Anne exclaims, suddenly realizing the full weight of what the snow means, “Yes – I mean – no, no, it’s not a bother. I’ll just need to find clean sheets and then I’ll put you up in Matthew’s room –”

“I can help if you let me know where they are –”

“No, no, it’s fine,” Anne says hurriedly, already halfway into the other room, “Put out the candles, won’t you?” She calls back to him.

Gilbert ducks his head in acknowledgment and says, “Aye aye, captain.”

 

 

 

It takes Anne an unusual amount of time to fall asleep that night.

There’s a nervousness flitting around in her belly that she can only attribute to the knowledge that Gilbert is merely a cautionary number of feet down the hall. She keeps thinking how ruffled Marilla and Matthew will be when they come home tomorrow and find that Anne has let a boy stay over. It’s Gilbert, of course, so that makes it a bit different, and it’s not like she was going to kick him out and let him frost over in the cold, but Anne can’t shake this pervasive feeling that she’s done something wrong by letting him stay, by letting him help her with the dishes and spin her around and smile at her all night.

Most of all, she can’t stop thinking about the memory of Gilbert with a candle in his hand, standing in the doorway of Matthew’s room at the far end of the hall, looking at her like he wants to say something bigger than his lips allow, but just settling for a quiet, Good night, and then slipping inside the bedroom, leaving Anne to meticulously ponder in her bed for the rest of her waking hours.

It’s as though she can feel his presence, even though he is two rooms away and probably sleeping by now, unlike her. She stays up and worries that Mary and Bash are panicking about how Gilbert hasn’t come home yet, she worries that Marilla and Matthew will have a hard time on the return journey tomorrow because of the snow or maybe that the cattle they went to buy weren’t what they were expecting, she worries that Gilbert is mad at her for how she stepped away from their dance so abruptly without even thanking him, and she worries that Gilbert will soon reach his threshold with Anne, just like everyone eventually does, and will no longer put up with her annoyances. 

Yet, part of her worries the opposite: that the way Gilbert looks over at her sometimes means just what she thinks it does. There’s something very powerful, but very, very scary about the idea of that; that he would string himself up for her if she asked him too. That maybe he already has. If Diana were here, she would admonish Anne for such thoughts – love is all girls want! – but being put onto a collision course headed straight for it is different. 

Perhaps the scariest part of it all: she thinks she would let him love her if he asked. Nobody’s ever loved her like that before.

“Anne Shirley,” she huffs to herself in the silence of her room, sounding a bit like Marilla to her own ears, “You must stop being dramatic. There is absolutely nothing of note to worry about.” Gilbert will stay Gilbert and she will stay Anne, and the two of them will orbit around each other until one of them leaves and that will be that.

And yet, even as she falls asleep, she worries still.

 

 

 

The cold halls of the asylum ring familiar to her, but in an eerie way, one that trickles fear down her back. There’s a half-baked feeling in her chest of confusion – she thought she would never have to come back here – but there is an even greater weight of stale inevitability that overpowers her. The blue and black hallways are an of course in her life, a hell she can’t quite escape from. 

It must be night time, but the girls are all up and dressed in their day clothes, the headmistress nowhere to be found. A group of girls rushes at Anne as she walks in the hallway between rooms, and their giggles are shrill, matching the movement of their skirt fabrics as they run to grab her. Anne starts away from them, fear alight in her chest, but she can’t seem to run fast enough, and the girls cling onto her with their little hands, girlish and soft, with nails that dig into her skin like metal. They drag her back easily, and even as she cries and fights for them to let her go, they just laugh and laugh, lugging her along until her boots start to make a long, thin scratch across the hardwood floor, the grooves of her descent.

The girls push her into a corner and they pinch and twist at her skin. They laugh and then laugh some more. They rip up her clothes, they cut off her braids, they slice little cuts in the cheeks of her face for every freckle on her skin. Anne tries to sob and ask them to stop but her voice never comes out as anything beyond watery, weak pleas that are no more than noises.

She can’t make out any of the girls’ faces – they are all indistinct and mushy in the moonlight – but she tries to reach out to them and grab onto them like they’d grabbed onto her. They are seemingly so far out of reach and too close in her face at the same time, laughing like witches or cruel mothers, and there is so much pain in Anne’s chest that she starts to cry, but none of them stop. They laugh even more, even louder, and she thinks she’ll never survive this, she thinks she’ll be stuck here forever with little orphan girls cutting slits in her skin until she is an amalgamation of ugliness, she thinks –

“Anne!” 

At first, Anne cannot understand anything beyond the tangle of emotions in her chest and the way she keeps heaving for breath, in and out, in and out. She recognizes that the blue of nighttime has been replaced by a careful warm glow coming from the corner of her eyes, and she suddenly looks around – her bed, her hands, the window where the Snow Queen resides – and realizes she’s at home.

“Oh,” she says, but she can’t help the way it comes out as a sob, “Oh, I –”

“Anne,” someone says more gently and there’s shuffling out of the corner of her eye.

Anne turns to see Gilbert, stepping in from the hallway with a candlestick in his hand that he quickly puts down on her bedside table to come to her side. He hovers around her awkwardly, like he’s not quite sure what is acceptable to do in this situation, and then he asks, “Are you okay?”

His voice is filled with such concern that it eases some tension in Anne’s chest, but she can’t shake the weight of the dream fully. “I just had –” she tries to say, sniffing in between, “I just had a nightmare.” Then she sobs again, thinking of the way the pain had felt, how awful it had been to know she was back in the asylum and never getting out again. She tries to swallow the sadness down, but it’s still ripe in her throat. “Oh, this is dreadful,” she can’t help but cry, unable to stop the tears from slipping down her cheeks.

Gilbert shifts closer to her, until suddenly he is sitting on the edge of the bed next to her and wrapping her arms around her shoulders. He starts to say, “Is this –” but before he has time to finish, Anne is already burrowing her face into his chest and wrapping her arms around his torso, just like she had so wanted to do hours ago when they were dancing.

He is just as warm as she imagined he might be, but she still can’t stop crying, and she feels awful as she hiccups and sobs, watching her tears soak into his shirt. But Gilbert doesn’t complain or move away from her, he just tightens his hold on her and leans his cheek against the top of her head.

She’s a little embarrassed that a boy is seeing her like this – a right, bumbling mess in the middle of the night, still in her nightgown and nothing else – and she knows that if anyone were to hear about this that it would be such a scandal in town she would never live it down.

She knows she should untangle herself from him, tell him that she’s fine, she really is, and send him back off to Matthew’s room, but she can’t manage to find the will or the words. So she just presses her face into his chest and takes a shuddering breath in.

The cold from outside seeps into the house, but Anne barely feels it. She calms down soon enough, her crying turning into only the occasional hiccup. She knows she should lay back and away from Gilbert, but part of her is too embarrassed for him to see her face. 

“I’m sorry I woke you,” she says miserably, her voice muffled by the fabric of his shirt. “I promise I’m not usually like this.” She hasn’t had a nightmare like this in months. She used to have them all the time when she first came to Green Gables and it makes her feel childish to be crying now, after all the years that she’s been safely in Avonlea. But the dream had felt so real, like she’d never left the asylum and those girls still lived to torture her.

Gilbert’s voice is sleepy when he tells her, “It’s alright.”

“No, it’s not alright!” Anne insists, squeezing her eyes shut, still too embarrassed to look up at him, “I woke you up in the middle of the night with my loud crying after I’ve already kept you prisoner in my house –”

This startles a laugh out of Gilbert. “Anne, you have not kept me prisoner in your house,” he says, and shakes her shoulders a bit so she’ll look at him, “And you weren’t even crying that loud, really.” She shifts away from him, wiping the last bit of dampness away from her eyes with her sleeve. “I just – my dad would sometimes make noise at night when he was in pain, so I just – I got used to getting up to check on him. I’m sensitive to all noises, that's all. Even the quiet ones.”

Anne sniffs, the snot in her nose making it stuffy. She can’t even imagine how she must look: her face red and blotchy from crying, her hair all a mess and out of it’s braids. A true wreck of a girl. “Oh,” she manages to breathe out after she finds her voice. She imagines a young Gilbert rushing to the side of his father’s bed in the middle of the night, concern and worry all over his face.

Gilbert’s hands still hover around her, like he wants to comfort her more but isn’t sure that he’s allowed. “Do you want to talk about what your dream –”

No.” Anne says immediately.

Gilbert nods quickly. “Okay." The two of them sit there, barely inches apart on the mattress. Anne refuses to look at him. Gilbert shifts. “Do you want me to go –”

“No!” Anne says, her eyes shooting up to his face. “I mean – just – maybe you could stay for a little longer? If that’s okay.”

Gilbert nods. “Of course.”

Silence.

Gilbert clears his throat. “Um – can I…” and he gestures to the other side of the bed.

“Oh!” Anne squeaks and shuffles over, leaving room for Gilbert on the mattress. He shifts easily onto the bed and sits right up against the headboard. Anne bundles up some of the blanket to cover herself, but she offers a bit up to Gilbert to make sure he won’t freeze. He accepts it with a cautious smile, and then all of a sudden his socked feet are next to hers under the covers.

It’s a fairly small bed and so their shoulders touch as they sit in the silence of the night, listening to the creaking of old wood panels and what’s left of the storm outside. 

Now that Anne is not so lost in her misery, she peaks at Gilbert out of the corner of her eye and feels a funny little thrill in her stomach at the sight of him. His hair is messier than she’s ever seen it, his bedhead apparent even in the dim candlelight, his curls all pushed around and in front of his face, and his expression itself that one of sleep still. Anne sees the exhaustion in the corners of his eyes and the ridge of his brow, but it’s not a bone deep type of tired, more of a dreamy fatigue.

She thinks, suddenly, how no one else has ever seen him this way. Not Josie Pye, not Ruby Gillis, not anyone except her. It feels like a gift.

“Thank you,” she tells him softly, “For coming to see if I was alright.” She flashes a tentative smile at him for only a second, like it will make up for the disruption she’s caused him in the night.

He smiles back easily and shrugs his shoulders. “It’s no problem. I was worried you might have a dragon that needed to be slain.”

It’s such a stupid little joke, but it makes joy fuzz around her heart. “I can slay my own dragons, thank you very much,” she tells him.

He looks at her warmly. “I know.” The candle on the side table next to him flickers, casting a myriad of different shadows on his face, hollowing out his cheekbones and making him look less like a boy and more like a grown adult. “What are you and the Cuthberts doing for Christmas?” He offers up, possibly as a distraction from her sorrows in hopes she won’t dwell on her dream.

“Just having dinner.” Anne answers, simple and quiet. She looks toward him. “I’m sure you, Mary, and Bash are welcome to come over like last year, if you’d like.”

“We ought to have you all over to our farm this year as thanks,” he says, and Anne doesn’t miss the emphasis he puts on “our.”

“I’m sure Marilla and Matthew would like that,” she says mindlessly, and then remarks, “Christmas means that it’ll be a year since you’ve been home.” She picks idly at a loose thread on the cuff of her sleeve.

“Yeah, a year next week,” Gilbert agrees.

“Do you miss it?” Anne blurts out, and then in a wistful voice, “The ship? The adventure of it all?” It’s like the words are pulled from her, like she can’t help but ask.

Anne never really liked to think too hard about the fact that Gilbert had been gone because she found it hurt her in all the wrong ways. She’d missed his presence at school, the competition he brought, and she’d felt the empty space his absence had left behind in Avonlea; mostly though, the thoughts of his travels rung a burning jealousy through her. Anne Shirley-Cuthbert, who had always experienced more life than the other girls would ever know, who had always been praised for her adventurous spirit and rapturous knowledge, was suddenly just another girl in the eyes of Gilbert after coming back from such a journey.

All the girls he must have met, all the people he must have seen, all the places and ports he must have gone too. Anne wants to know all about it, every little detail Gilbert remembers, but she also wishes no one would ever speak on it again, maybe in hopes that she can peacefully forget. A whole part of Gilbert’s life that has been cut out neatly and placed away from her, and yet he shows the scars of it visibly: he came back changed and better, all tan from the sun and with his determination hardened, and Anne – Anne stayed in Avonlea and stayed the same.

She loves Green Gables, but some days she wishes she could be a boy, too, so she could pack up her life and go to sea for months and months, only to come home when her heart desires and find it waiting for her like no time has passed at all.

Gilbert tilts his head in thought and some of his curls fall with him. “I miss… feeling like I was a part of something bigger,” he tells her, his eyes shining with a glint of adventure Anne can only dream of, “But I missed Avonlea, too, while I was away.”

“You have no idea how lucky you are, Gilbert,” Anne tells him, her voice full of palpable wonder.

Gilbert’s face falls. “I don’t know…” He trails off like there’s more to the story, but says nothing else.

“How could you say that?” Anne asks of him, almost defensive, her own problems now easily forgotten in favor of Gilbert’s, “How could you sit here and not understand that you have experienced more in sixteen years than most people will experience in their whole life! You have seen the world and lived in it, tasted it, breathed it in –”

Gilbert cuts in, “Anne, what do you think I did all day? Yes, we had time off at the places we docked, and yes, I met Bash and he showed me around Trinidad and it was wonderful,” he just looks at her and does a small shake of his head, “But I spent most of my time in the bottom of a ship, shoveling coal into a fire until I was so exhausted I could collapse right there on the spot. And all of that was at the expense of my father dying and leaving behind a family legacy I… I wasn’t sure I really wanted to carry.”

Anne flushes. “That’s not what I meant –”

“No, I know that but –”

“It’s just there are so many people –”

“Anne, I know –”

They both cut themselves off abruptly, realizing they’re getting nowhere talking over each other. Anne slumps further down onto the bed and under the covers and stares forward, toward the window where the night sky’s stars shine back down at her. Gilbert shifts downward too, to match her posture, but as he does, his socked feet accidentally brush her calf and she can’t help but jerk back like she’s been hurt. Gilbert’s eyes go wide and Anne looks away from him.

“I didn’t mean to sound inconsiderate,” she says quickly, “And I’m – I’m glad you are home.” She’s too lost in thought to see the way he smiles toward her at that. “I just wish…”

“You wish it had been you, I know,” he supplies, and Anne looks up at him, shocked. Anyone else would tell her it was a stupid wish, but Gilbert just looks sympathetic. “Maybe you can travel one day and see all the parts of the world you’ve read and dreamed about.”

He cozies himself even further under the blanket, seeking its warmth, and Anne realizes that they’re both laying down now, his head on one side of the pillow and hers on the other. She turns to face him, pressing her cheek to the pillow case, and he moves to mirror her. 

Her eyes wander around his face, examining it from inch to inch. She’d never realized his eyelashes were so long – longer than hers. She wants to count them.

“Maybe I’ll teach in other countries someday,” Anne suggests sleepily, idly dreaming about the way she would like to graze the tip of her finger along his lash line.

“That sounds right up your alley.” Gilbert teases with a hint of a grin, but she can see the way he blinks, long and slow, like sleep might be getting to them both. “I would miss you, though.” He says, and for a moment, Anne is sure she’s heard him wrong.

She watches his face, but he shows no signs of making a joke or any sort of follow-up. “Well,” Anne says a bit uselessly, “I guess you’ll just have to write to me, then.”

Gilbert smiles small. “I guess so.”

She closes her eyes, suddenly a bit too exhausted to carry conversation. She feels very warm under the covers with Gilbert’s body heat just radiating far enough to reach her as well. A couple minutes later, when she opens them again in a frantic gesture to not be captured by sleep just yet, she sees that Gilbert’s own eyes are closed. He blinks them open just a moment later, like maybe he had sensed her watching him, and the two of them stare at each other comfortably in this half asleep state.

“Anne?” Gilbert whispers into the silence between them. “What was your dream about? The nightmare.”

Anne lets out a slow, shuddering breath, the ghost of the terror she felt climbing back up her spine momentarily, and she closes her eyes again. “I was back at the asylum,” she tells him, “and the girls – there were girls there who used to tease me – and in the dream they were hurting me again, more cruel than they ever had. But it was like… all I could feel was this great sense of loneliness, like I’d never get out of there. Like how I used to feel before I came here.”

She doesn’t open her eyes or feel the urge to say anything else, even though it’s an admission that would usually have her feeling weak, because sleep takes it all from her. 

She just feels a weight on her hand for a moment – Gilbert’s hand – and then the pressure of it being squeezed like a comfort.

Anne falls asleep easily after that.

 

 

 

The sunlight in the morning is absolutely blinding from of the reflection off of the snow. It shines through Anne’s window easily, lighting up the cold air in the room and bouncing around the walls.

The bright morning wakes Anne up first.

She blinks blearily, scrunching her face up as she extends her legs and arms, stretching through the sleep – and then her foot hits something under the covers. Anne’s eyes shoot open and she turns quickly to see Gilbert still asleep in the bed next to her, just a little bit closer than he’d been originally, and she remembers suddenly the events of last night.

Even though there’s no one around to see, her face goes absolutely scarlet. Somehow, in the sunlight, her memories of the night feel scandalous when they had felt so warm and easy before.

Anne shifts toward the edge of her side of the bed and lays on her side, watching Gilbert’s sleeping face with a worried expression on her own. It seems she’d stolen most of the pillow from him in the middle of the night, and so he’s barely clutching onto the end of his side, but he looks comfortable nonetheless. The sunlight paints him beautifully, showing the way his hair turns a little honey-like if caught at the right angle, all golden brown and wavy. His cheeks and forehead are soft with sleep and his mouth is parted just so, enough to let breath in and out.

His eyelashes fan out evenly over his cheeks, and Anne has the sudden memory of her lasting desire to count them. She almost reaches her hand out to graze them now, the impulse so strong, but having him wake up would be the worst possible thing in the world, and she’d like to maintain at least some of the dignity she has left after Gilbert watched her sob over a childish dream last night, thank you very much.

Anne does still try to count them with her eyes, though, but she forgets the number easily as her gaze wanders around his face and finds she cannot stop thinking about how absolutely lovely he looks.

She stands up out of bed in a flurry at the awareness of her thoughts and searches her room for her thick winter coat. She tugs it on and around herself, concealing the nightgown underneath, and she takes careful steps toward the door and downstairs, pointedly not looking at the sleeping boy as she does so.

 

 

 

She figures Gilbert’s going to stumble downstairs at some point while she’s making breakfast, that the sweet smell of food is going to rouse him like it always does to Matthew when she and Marilla make breakfast on the weekends, but he doesn’t.

She’s in the kitchen for about an hour, cooking and setting the table, and the entire time the house stays silent. There’s not even a creak from upstairs.

Anne looks at the kitchen table she’s set up – the flowers Gilbert brought her last night still in the middle as the centerpiece, although they have already started to show signs of wilting – and then decides that she should go wake him up.

She sighs as she moves through the kitchen and to the stairs, only stopping at the window to look outside once she realizes that she’d forgotten to check on the snow. 

The storm has definitely come and gone, as it probably stopped sometime overnight, and while the snowfall it left is still quite large, Anne can see some signs of melting. It won’t take too long for it to reach a height that will be easy to walk through, and then Gilbert will be able to go home.

Anne frowns and a stubborn little feeling takes root in her stomach.

She knows that Gilbert needs to go home – not only will Mary and Bash be worried sick over him, but Marilla and Matthew are surely due back today, even with the delay from the storm, and she knows it will be easier to justify this entire situation if Gilbert’s presence is not around – but suddenly she realizes she doesn’t want him to leave. Moreover, she doesn’t want the snow to melt. She’d even take back the nighttime and the debilitating frost that creeps all around the house when the sun’s not out. She wants to be back in the bubble the two of them had been kept in last night, the thought of tomorrow forever far away.

But it’s already tomorrow and Anne is watching with her own two eyes the way the snow glistens and unravels in the daytime. 

She tears her eyes away from the glass and continues her trek upstairs, her socked feet hitting against the hardwood stairs, and she tries not to dwell on any of her thoughts. She does a right awful job at this until she’s pushed the door of her bedroom open gently and her eyes fall on Gilbert’s sleeping figure, one that’s not moved an inch, and suddenly the sadness vanishes from her mind.

She walks toward him cautiously, like any sound might wake him, and then she places a hand on his shoulder.

“Gilbert.” She says quietly, shaking him. He mumbles something unintelligible and curls further around the pillow, and Anne tries not to laugh. “Gilbert.” She says again, this time a little louder.

Gilbert turns toward her, blinking and squinting up at her in the daylight. “Anne?” He asks, like he’s entirely confused as to why she’s standing over him or possibly if she’s even real at all. Anne just politely smiles down at him and crosses her arms over her chest nervously. In the next moment, Gilbert’s sitting up with so much haste he almost falls off of the bed. “Anne, I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize –”

“Gilbert,” she says and lets out a soft, nervous laugh, trying to sound reassuring even though her heart is surely beating faster than it ever has, “There’s breakfast downstairs.”

Gilbert’s brows furrow. “I – what?”

Anne rolls her eyes. “I said there’s breakfast downstairs,” she tells him again, turning away from him to leave out the door. “Your hair looks like a hairball a cat would spit up.” She doesn’t see but hears the way he huffs, a little amused, mostly embarrassed. It puts a self-gratifying smile on her face.

He follows her soon after, descending down the stairs right behind her, and when they get to the ground floor and enter the kitchen, Anne can’t help but feel smug when he goes, “Oh!” at the food she’s set up at the table.

It’s just eggs and toasted bread with butter, but it smells rather delicious, she thinks. She’d burned quite a few pieces of toast and eaten them instead of putting them out for Gilbert to eat, but oh well; he’ll never know.

“Anne, this is… this is way too much,” Gilbert says from beside her.

Anne frowns. “What?”

“I mean – you’ve been way too kind to me. I’m the one who ended up crashing here for the night and sleeping in your…” he trails off and they make eye contact only for a moment before scrambling to look away from each other. “I should be making you breakfast.” He finishes.

“Gilbert, it’s fine –”

“Have you ever had pancakes?”

Anne looks back at him. She’d eaten pancakes sometimes at the asylum for breakfast, but they were dull and mushy and nothing more than a flat disc of bread, essentially. “Yes?” She answers, unsure where this is going.

“Did you like them?” Gilbert asks, but he doesn’t give Anne the time to answer before he declares, “I’m going to make you pancakes, and they’ll be really good.”

“I – right now?” Anne asks with a bewildered laugh, but Gilbert’s already opening a few of the cupboards and pulling down flour and sugar and salt.

“Of course right now.” He says confidently, 

“Our eggs will go cold,” she points out distractedly, like she doesn’t really mind.

This makes Gilbert pause in thought. “Hm,” he hums, and then looks toward her, “Well – we’ll eat them now and then pancakes can be like our dessert.”

Anne can't help but giggle. “A breakfast dessert.”

Gilbert nods more thoughtfully than the situation should allow. “Exactly. A breakfast dessert.”

So they eat the eggs Anne made and share a piece of toast – the entire time Gilbert compliments her, saying the eggs are cooked just right, and Anne tells him to shut up soon after because his compliments make her squirm in embarrassment – and then Gilbert teaches Anne how to make pancakes.

Gilbert’s a bit goofy in the morning, more silly and childish than she’s ever seen him before. She thinks it’s funny watching him work as they’re mixing the batter together, and then out of nowhere he paints a fingerprint of flour onto the tip of her nose and she yelps.

She scrunches her face up immediately, and when she sneezes it causes bits of white to twirl around in the air. Gilbert laughs so hard at her that she sticks her hands in the flour they’ve measured out and promptly shoves it in his face, too, until he has a myriad of powder white fingertips and hand prints all over his cheeks and chin.

Anne laughs so hard she doubles over, and that’s when Gilbert tries to tickle her as some sort of revenge. “Gilbert Blythe, you’re a menace!” She tells him as she runs away from him in the kitchen, dodging his attacks.

“You stuck flour into my eye! ” He exclaims, trying to grab her by the waist and pull her back toward him.

You’re the one who started it!” She calls back to him, laughing and yelping and running away from him. 

They declare a truce (How do you spell that again, Miss Shirley? followed by, Oh stuff it, would you, and, T-R-U-C- and then she flicks him in the ear before he can finish.) and go back to their work as chefs, the mess they made completely forgotten. Anne whisks in the vanilla extract as he pours it, and then finally they can measure them out into the pan.

It’s an amazing thing, watching the bubbles come up from the batter as they cook. For a moment, Anne tilts her face so close to the flame that Gilbert panics and pushes her away frantically in a way that makes Anne sputter with laughter. 

“Gilbert, I’m not going to burn my eyebrows off.” She tells him.

“Are you sure about that?” He asks with one brow raised, and she punches him in the arm.

Gilbert flips over the large, fat pancake they have in the pan with a spatula, and the other side is blackened probably more than it should be. “It’s burnt!” Anne cries, but Gilbert doesn’t seem to mind.

“The first pancake is always a little burnt,” he tells her mindlessly, concentrating on the pan, “That’s how you know it’ll be a good batch.”

“Well, you can eat the burnt ones, then,” she grumbles and he can’t help but laugh.

The pancakes do get better as they go on, and Anne eventually learns how to flip them with the spatula, something she takes a lot of joy in. “My dad used to be able to flip them with just the pan,” Gilbert tells Anne as he watches her turn a few over to their other sides, “But I haven’t quite graduated to that yet.”

He stands behind her as she finishes off cooking the rest of the batch, and the proximity of his body makes her stomach flutter. Every once in a while, he leans over her shoulder to tell her to flip one or move it around, and she likes the way it feels to have his chest just barely brush up against her back, his words close to her ear. She smiles privately to herself each time, and then loudly insists to him that she knows what she’s doing, badgering him enough until he lets her do it herself.

 

 

 

The pancakes are the sweetest things Anne’s ever tasted, much sweeter than the ones they had back at the asylum. 

“These are amazing!” She exclaims upon her first bite, looking over at Gilbert with bewildered eyes. “I wish I had the words to match my taste buds. These are – unrivaled, Gilbert.”

He’d managed to dig a bottle of maple syrup out the back of one of Marilla’s baking cupboards, and Anne does not think she’s known such happiness as the taste of maple syrup on a warm pancake in winter.

But perhaps the grin Gilbert that gives her from across the table, powdered sugar dust on his lip from the pancake he bit into, is a good contender.

 

 

 

Anne tries not to feel as stupidly sad as she does while he laces his boots up and put his hat and coat on. She’ll see him soon at school, if classes aren’t cancelled from the snow, and hopefully she’ll see him at Christmas dinner, wherever they’re having it. But she thinks she could live in the memory of this day and night forever if she had to and she wouldn’t complain. She doesn't want to give it up. She doesn't want him to walk out and off into the winter horizon.

“Well,” Gilbert says, shifting his hat around so it fits on the top of his head. He’s standing on the porch, looking at her tentatively.

“Well,” Anne replies, leaning against the doorway, the fresh air hitting her skin. “Be sure to tell Mary and Bash that it wasn’t my intention to kidnap you for the night, and I’m ever so sorry if they spent their hours worried.”

He smiles all toothily. “But what a good story that would make – a rogue princess, holding the knight in shining armor hostage.” Gilbert holds his chin and shoulders up high, as if this simple posture is what makes him a knight.

Anne gapes at him from the door. “You would never be a knight, Gilbert Blythe – don’t fancy yourself. A court jester, maybe –”

Gilbert guffaws. “Would a court jester save you from burning your eyebrows off?”

Anne rolls her eyes and protests, “Once again, I was not going to burn my eyebrows off –”

“Would a court jester come to your aid in the middle of winter to check if you were doing okay on a lonely night –”

Marilla asked that of you, not me –”

“Hm,” Gilbert hums smugly, “It’s starting to sound like I’m the knight in shining armor.”

Anne huffs as though in annoyance, but it comes out fond. She wraps her arms tighter around herself and wonders if they can continue on like this forever, childishly teasing each other with scrappy arguments that are just further excuses for Gilbert to not have to leave just yet.

Gilbert clears his throat and it causes Anne to startle to attention. He takes a small step closer to her until she can see his face in sharp detail, and she can watch the way he stares at her softly when he says, “Thank you, Anne. Really. I’m sorry that this entire thing was intended to be a favor to help you, when all it ended up being was you extending yourself for me.”

Anne meets his gaze and says quietly, “It wasn’t a bother.”

It leaves her mouth far warmer than she’d intended, and the intimacy laced through it is so apparent that her cheeks tinge with red immediately after she’s said it. She doesn’t back down from his stare, though, or look away with embarrassment; she holds her ground.

Gilbert’s face transforms with a certain look she doesn’t quite understand, like he’s fascinated with the reality of her and like he can’t quite understand how she exists as a girl in front of him.

“Well,” he clears his throat again, a nervous habit of his, “I’m glad.” He says shyly.

Anne thinks that will be it, that he’ll walk away with his hands in his pockets into the snow and things will return to the way it was before, the two of them speaking in passing, competing in school, both living lives of their own, only woven together for moments at a time.

But then his hands come out from his pockets and he places them on her cheeks, and she has barely enough time to flinch at his cold skin before he’s leaning down and pressing his lips to her own.

The kiss lasts for barely more than a second, and it is not particularly steamy like she’s heard kisses be described in books, but it is all the same overwhelming and world shattering. Anne feels like someone has flipped her upside down in the span of a second and she’s stuck in vertigo until Gilbert takes his lips off of hers and moves away just an inch. Then everything comes crashing back down.

Anne immediately goes, “Gilbert!” a blush furious on her face.

Gilbert turns pale as quick as a ghost. “I’m sorry. I –” 

“You can’t just kiss girls without asking them first! Especially in a place where anyone could see!”

Gilbert blinks and looks around; Green Gables is in the middle of nowhere, with farmland stretching as far as the eye can see, and the only viewers they might have would be the chickens in the coop, but they stay huddled inside for winter. 

He looks back down at Anne, still a mild bit of terror in his eyes, and before he can move his hands away from her face, she covers them with her own and looks up at him. “Ask me.”

“What?” Gilbert says, bewildered.

She narrows her eyes at him impatiently. “Ask me.”

It takes Gilbert a moment, but eventually he looks at her steadily. “Anne Shirley-Cuthbert, can I kiss you?”

“It should be ‘may I.’ May I kiss you –”

Gilbert closes his eyes with a defeated sigh. “Anne –”

Yes , you may,” Anne says simply before he can continue with anything else, and she leans up on her tiptoes to meet his lips with hers.

She can feel him smile against her mouth, and it is the nicest motion she has had the pleasure of experiencing.

Perhaps Marilla hadn’t been so wrong about inviting Gilbert over to check on her. Perhaps she’d had the right idea all along. 

 

 

 

Anne hears the way the door from downstairs closes with a thunk and, through her daydream haze, listens to the noises of Matthew and Marilla coming inside and setting their things down.

It’s only a second later when Marilla shouts up to the room, “Anne! Why is there such a mess in the kitchen!” does Anne remember she hadn’t bothered to clean up after her and Gilbert made pancakes, too preoccupied with the thoughts of Gilbert’s hands on her face and the way he had felt so warm so close to her with his lips on hers.

Anne !” Marilla shouts once again, calling for an answer, and Anne sighs dreamily as she slides off of her bed, knowing she must go downstairs and answer for her crimes.

She glances out the window before she leaves and sees not only the melting snow on the earth, but also her Snow Queen, branches bare but a lovely deep brown, trying to peak her head into the room to see what all the fuss is about.

“Oh Snow Queen,” Anne muses, forgetting that downstairs there is flour and sugar all over the counters and stick maple syrup hardened on wood, “What a wonderful Christmas this might turn out to be.”

She turns and heads out the door, down the stairs, sighing as she walks, thinking mostly of the love solidified in her heart and when she might be able to see Gilbert again next.