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It was the sort of cold that bit down into your very craw. The sort that made your eyes water and you wish they didn't for you fear the water will freeze. The sort that made your ears ache. The sort that made you wish you were at home drinking tea by the fire. The sort that makes you hurry home to escape it as soon as possible. Instead, Anne was stomping home the long way through deep unbroken snow after delivering Gilbert's lesson.

The first time Mr Phillips ordered her to do it she was angry; he'd called Gilbert his best student. The chore was ridiculous, but of course she did it anyway. Marilla had an unwarranted respect for teachers regardless of their merits and Anne was never allowed to disparage him out loud. So, she took the lousy lesson from him with ill grace and schlepped through the snow to the Blythe house. She felt guilty then when it took Mr Blythe so long to make it to the door. It was obvious the man was unwell, but he was so kind to her, even complimenting her awful hair of all things.

Gilbert arrived eventually, but perhaps in concern for his father or who knows what, after a bit of small talk he took the lesson and let her be on her way. Anne had to admit later that the warmth from the house was enticing on that cold day but there was no hint from either man that she might enter.

Green Gables was warm upon arrival. She could rely upon Matthew and Marilla in that regard. Though curiously Marilla's face twisted queerly when Anne delivered Mr Blythe's regards.

Marilla's wrought face swam before her eyes when she went to bed that night. Could they have been close, back in the day? Anne did the math in her head, but without knowing Mr Blythe's age it was impossible to tell.

The next day was the same, but she took Gilbert's lessons with more grace. The weather was just as awful, but she had more patience about the whole affair and hoped she could meet Mr Blythe again. However, Gilbert came to door, and she handed over the books without much conversation.

Eventually Gilbert told her just to leave the books by the front door if he didn't answer straightaway.

Over dinner one night she asked Marilla about the Blythes. "Did you once know Mr Blythe, Marilla?" she asked when Marilla's fork was halfway to her mouth.

The normally complacent Matthew shot Marilla a sudden telling glance and Anne waited until Marilla set down her forkful. Marilla sighed before saying, "it was all a long time ago." Anne waited, desperate to know more but somehow realising that something momentous was occurring.

Nothing further was said over dinner, nor as Marilla and Anne silently washed the dishes, but later around the fire Marilla answered Anne's query. "I suppose it's time I told you some of my story, Anne. I've been thinking on it since you've becoming better acquainted with the Gilbert." Hardly acquainted thought Anne remembering how she had dropped the books on his doorstep that afternoon. "Once upon a time I went to school with John Blythe. Folks said we were beaux."

"Marilla!" Anne's eyes fairly gleamed in the firelight. "Were you a woman scorned?"

"I was not," Marilla replied indignantly. "I had no choice; I was needed here."

"Forever?"

"Well, that's just how it turned out. John had big ideas, he dreamed of big cities and wide horizons. I wish…" but she lapsed into silence much to Anne's disappointment. Still, it filled in a void. She had always wondered why a woman as handsome as Marilla had never married. Making her excuses Anne went to her bedroom, she had a great deal to think about.

Once her footsteps had faded away Matthew reached out his hand to Marilla who clutched it back and they sat there both lost in the mist of time ruminating on what might have beens. Eventually Matthew released his grip and Marilla took her hand back smiling ruefully at her brother, thank you she mouthed.

Matthew nodded, he had seen for himself how John's departure had upset his sister all those years ago and had always felt somewhat guilty for it. "Sorry," he said.

"For what?" Marilla asked sharply.

"You coulda gone if it weren't for me."

"Gone?"

"With him."

"Fiddlesticks! Oh, I can't say I wasn't tempted for a hot minute, but I made my choice and I stand by it. Wasn't anything you did. It was Mother and the whole," she waved her hand around, "situation." A log shifted in the fireplace sending up a cloud of sparks and they watched worried that it might roll out, but it settled quickly enough. Matthew settled back in his chair, "still."

"Still nothing, of course life didn't exactly turn out as I'd hoped Matthew. But we've had a comfortable time together, you and I, if not exactly exciting."

Matthew cocked an eyebrow upwards and smirked.

"Well, yes," Marilla smiled in return.

Marilla made out she was happy with her decision to spare Matthew's feelings, but there was no denying it when she was alone in her room. John's letters still lay in their box hidden at the back of her closet. It had been years, but Marilla still knew exactly where they were, and she scrabbled around to locate the box and pulled it out for a read knowing full well what her reaction would be. Please my love, won't you reconsider, I beseech you. The once familiar hand brought tears to her eyes, and she sobbed over that last letter questioning her choices and lamenting past lives and lost opportunities.

In bed her mind cast back to a kiss they'd shared under the apple grove, their love blossoming. But like flowers their love was fleeting, transitory and he had left her in the end without a backward glance. Marilla fell asleep with the memory of his lips on hers and woke up wonderingly in the night having dreamt he was in her bed.

oOo

One afternoon Anne finally gained admission. She had knocked and was surprised when Mr Blythe opened the door. "I feel awful, you've been so good to support Gilbert and we've let you deliver them day on day. Come in and share a cup of tea with me, Anne. Do you go by Cuthbert or?"

"Shirley Cuthbert," Anne replied, gladly walking down the warm hallway. The house was neat and tidy but without the usual nick knacks she saw in her friends' houses. It was apparent there were two men living there, it lacked a woman's touch. Still, she helped Mr Blythe to sit in his chair by the fire and at his insistence sat down opposite. "Oh, she jumped up, "let me get you some tea."

"I'm afraid I'm not much of a host," John said.

"It's no bother," replied Anne.

John directed her around the kitchen, informing her where Mrs Kincannon kept the cookies and the whereabouts of the teapot and cups. When it was all done Anne sat back down and they paused as they waited for the tea to draw. "Gilbert's said nice things about you," John said into the silence.

Anne smiled somewhat guiltily; she had not always been so complimentary about Gilbert. "Tell me about Marilla, how is she? Still as feisty as ever, I hope?"

"She's keeping well, thank you Mr Blythe."

"And Matthew? I haven't seen them for years. I was delighted to hear they'd taken you in. Gilbert told me all about it of course, but I'd love to hear what you have to say on the matter, Anne. Do you like living at Green Gables?"

John watched the interplay of emotions on Anne's face as she described how she came to be living with the Cuthberts. "Of course, I was tragically overwhelmed when I arrived at Green Gables and found out they didn't want me because I wasn't a boy, you can't imagine Mr Blythe. I was in the depths of despair. Marilla had prepared ever such a delicious dinner. I hadn't seen much meat in my life up until that point, and I was so upset when I couldn't choke down a single mouthful. I was almost as mournful about that as I was to learn I would be sent back the next day."

"I understand. But in the end, they let you stay?"

"Marilla nearly did give me away," Anne explained. "But she said she couldn't leave me with Mrs Blewett and I must say I was terribly relieved. I'd spent many years tending to small children, and I just didn't think my soul could take another family like that. Not when I'd seen Green Gables and knew there was alternative." John sipped his tea listening between the lines to her tragic tale. The Marilla he knew might have been an overly practical woman, but she was never mean spirited.

"Well, I'm pleased. I can imagine you've brought a bit of colour into their lives." Anne touched her braid. "In more ways than one," John said, smiling.

"Dad!" Gilbert burst into the kitchen. "You should been in bed. He gets tired," Gilbert explained.

"Now, now son, Miss Shirley Cuthbert and I have just been getting acquainted, it's nice to get out of the bedroom for a spell. I get terribly bored in there." Still, he let his son take his arm and Anne watched as they made their way out of the kitchen.

"Sorry about that," Gilbert said as he reappeared. "He's been wanting to meet you for a while, but I worry."

"It's no bother," Anne replied. "I should go anyways Marilla will be vexed."

"Say Anne," Gilbert started to her departing back.

"What?"

"I was a bit stuck on that last lesson. Could you, um could you explain it to me. Mr Philip's instructions were a bit confusing."

"Oh. Sure." Anne turned back into the warmth and pulled her own books out of their strap. Together they sat at the table, their backs warmed by the fire while Anne explained the lesson to Gilbert and together, they worked on it making suggestions to each other as they went. The light was fading by the time they'd finished, and Anne looked up to see the last of the afternoon's sun dipping below the tree line. "I had better go. Marilla will be upset if I don't get home before dark."

"Will you be all right? Do you want me to escort you?"

"No, I'll be fine."

"Thank you for the lesson. That was helpful. I get a bit lonely doing them all by myself."

Anne found herself saying that she was happy to help anytime. She berated herself on the way home, reminding herself, you are not a Gilbert Blythe fan.

Marilla was peering out the kitchen window impatiently and though she was loath to admit it she had been worried. "Finally," she said with some relief. Fear making her waspish, she said "you're late," when Anne entered the back door.

"Sorry," replied Anne as she took off her outer things and hung them by the door. "I was helping Gilbert with his lessons."

"Did, ah, did you meet Mr Blythe?" Marilla tried to keep her voice calm, but she was curious.

"We had tea." Anne turned around to warm her front by the fire, her hands held out to thaw.

"And, um, how is he?"

"He seems quite frail. Gilbert cares for him very tenderly."

Marilla sat down heedless of her dinner preparations, "is he? Poor man."

"Tell me more Marilla, you were close?"

Marilla nodded her face directed towards the fire not trusting herself to look Annewards. Until almost dispassionately she said, "we were in love. I thought I would marry him."

"Oh Marilla," Anne pulled her chair closer, but her mother got to her feet unable to share her burden.

"It was all a long time ago. I was just a girl."

"But still it hurts," Anne said with maddening acuity.

"I … must get on with dinner. Wash up first then you can give me a hand."

Anne realised the moment was lost and did as Marilla asked.

oOo

"She seems nice, son," John said over his dinner tray that night.

"Anne?"

"Awful good of her to help you with your lessons."

"Mm."

"Clever, is she?"

"She keeps me on my toes."

"Good, I was a bit worried bringing you back here that you'd suffer in a one room school. You need someone to push you son. You have high aspirations, don't you?"

Gilbert gazed across at his father, pallid grey against his pillows. He had a terrible feeling John would not see him graduate. Gilbert nodded, "I don't know what I want to study, but I want to go to Queens at least."

"Yes, I can see a life on the land is not for you."

"Don't take it the wrong way Dad."

"I don't. Don't do anything just for me, son. You must live your own life. I can't see where you'll wind up, but I do think you'll do marvellous things. You've got a nimble mind Gilbert. You'll go far." He paused having run out of breath and panted for a bit to get it back. Gilbert set down his dinner and helped John by rubbing his back. John whispered, "enough talking. Read."

Gilbert picked up a well-thumbed tome and started reciting his father's favourite. Glancing up now and again to see his John's chest calming as his breaths came slower and deeper. Barely had he started the second poem than he heard a quiet snore and he smiled knowing John was asleep. Gilbert tip-toed out with the dinner tray and set it by the sink for Mrs Kincannon in the morning.

Chapter Text

John lay feeling helpless and useless as usual the next morning as Gilbert left to tend to the stock. This damn disease left him breathless and weak, and he hated being stranded in bed. His life of travel had led him to many great adventures, but they all seemed a long time past now.

Anne reminded him of lost loves. There had been nothing he could say to entice Marilla to join him, despite his many imploring letters she'd been adamant. With many bitter tears he left Avonlea and then to save his heart he'd had to put any memory of her behind him.

His greatest adventure been Gilbert's mother. Liza had been living in some small one-horse town out on the prairies when they'd met. He was just passing through on the way to the Rockies. Her deep brown eyes and curly hair had attracted him from the get-go. They courted and quickly married; unlike some she was not averse to leaving her sleepy little town in the middle of nowhere. They'd settled down for a time in an Alberta town with just enough population to create a sense of community. There they conceived a baby and they watched in amazement as her belly grew until it was as if she had a watermelon inside, except one that lurched from side to side at times making her walk like a drunken sailor on high seas.

The baby was born easily enough, his shock of curly brown hair like his mother's springing up once it had dried, but then she started to haemorrhage and nothing they could do would staunch the bleeding. She lay in his arms as the life ebbed out of her leaving him the baby to care for on his own. They'd discussed names as young parents will. Gilbert was her idea after a favourite uncle and after they pried Liza from John's grieving arms it was the name he gave his son in her honour.

John brought baby Gilbert back to Avonlea. His parents had passed on, so the old family house was empty now. It was odd staying in just one place for so long, but he figured it was better for the baby. He saw Marilla in the distance, in town or at church but John's guilt stilled his tongue and Marilla never seemed inclined to chat.

Years later he heard the Cuthberts had sent for a boy and received of all things, a girl. Avonlea was shocked. The quiet Cuthberts were not inclined to foolish choices, surely the girl would be sent back, and the expected boy would replace her. After all, what good would a girl be? Watching from afar, John disagreed with his neighbours, a daughter was precisely what Marilla needed.

oOo

"Still reading Whitman I see," said Marilla by way of greeting.

John looked up unsure if his imagination was playing tricks or not. "Mar?"

Marilla's heart lurched; it had been a long time since she'd been called Mar. "Heard you were under the weather," she said with false positivity.

"I'm dying." His tone was so matter of fact that to disagree seemed disingenuous, they had always striven for truth these two, sometimes to the point of rudeness. Marilla merely smiled fondly from the vantage point of her chair.

"Met Anne," John commented. "She's lovely, well done."

"I can't take all the credit she came to us that way."

"Well, you kept her, that's got to count for something."

Marilla smiled, "we do love her so. She's brought joy into our lives. Can't imagine life without her."

John made as if to reply but was overcome with a coughing fit. Marilla waited patiently for it to pass. She handed him a glass afterwards and wiped his chin when he was done.

"Thank you," he smiled up at her.

"I'm no nurse."

"But you do what's needed." He paused regaining his breath.

Can I get you anything? Marilla rose.

John shook his head, "no. Stay." He took a little while to regain his breath and a while longer to recover. Marilla watched in concern and noticed eventually that he had dozed off giving her time to study him. Although there were glimpses of the boy she once knew, it was obvious John was declining. His once strong body had shrunk, his pallor had the grey look of the dying and his lips that telltale blueish tinge.

oOo

Anne heard a noise in the night and went to investigate. Much to her surprise Marilla was sobbing. Anne wordlessly enveloped and hugged her tightly until she settled down. Marilla was standoffish the next morning. Matthew explained why. "Marilla never likes to show her vulnerability, she's vexed at herself rather you."

"I'm sorry if I upset you Marilla," Anne said that night.

"What? Oh no Anne, you mustn't apologise. It's I who should be doing that. Thank you for being there, I needed…" she stopped abruptly unwilling to admit more.

"There's no shame in needing support, Marilla. Sometimes you just have to let people love you."

Marilla nodded, "you're quite right. It's just never been my way. I…"

"You like to be seen as the strong one," Matthew had crept in unannounced. "You hate to appear defenceless. But Marilla," he added. "That doesn't mean you can't accept a bit of help or love now and again. I don't know if you've noticed, dearest sister of mine, but you are human."

Later that night Anne went up to bed after the dishes were done but she sat at the top of the stairs to eavesdrop curious to hear what advice Matthew might have for Marilla. "She was upset," Matthew spoke so quietly Anne had to strain her ears to hear his low tone. "She thought you were vexed. All she did was try to help you, Marilla and you rebuffed her. I just don't think that's fair. She's a sweet little thing you know and very emotional. She came to me practically in tears, Marilla. She didn't understand. I told her it was you not her, but I think a word from you would help."

Shocked by his words Marilla got to her feet. When Anne heard Marilla's tread coming towards the stairs she scurried away to her room and leapt into the bed, covering her dress tightly with her blankets. She heard a faint knock at her door and answered, "come in". Marilla sat at the end of her bed and smiled at her for a moment. "Warm enough?" Anne nodded. "The thing of it is, Anne. I've never been much good at expressing emotions. I don't know why but speaking my heart has never come easy to me. I don't know if I've ever told you how much you mean to me. You're like my own kin now and I can't imagine how I ever managed without you." She paused and Anne had the feeling this was the closest Marilla would ever come to saying she loved her, but Marilla surprised her saying, "I love you Anne and I hope one day you'll forgive me."

"Forgive you?"

"For not being the mother you need."

"Marilla! Why you and Matthew, you're everything to me. I might leave one day but I'll always be your Anne. I'll always be Anne of Green Gables."

Marilla's eyes brimmed with unshed tears. "I know I can be strict. I was rude after you offered me support in the night. It was unfair of me to take my embarrassment out on you. You did nothing wrong, how can displaying your love be wrong. It's me. I think I'm misshapen, I just can't give or receive love like that, it makes me so uncomfortable. I suppose it's just as well I never married John Blythe. I could hardly have made him a happy man. I'm just too brittle."

Heedless of her clothing, Anne scrambled out of the blankets to embrace Marilla. "Please don't speak so, it's not remotely true. You would have been a wonderful wife and you're all the mother I need." Swaying back propelled by the force of Anne's hug Marilla nearly fell off the bed and they laughed about it together until Marilla noticed Anne was not wearing her nightie. Still, it was hardly the moment for chastisement, so she merely raised her eyebrows. Noticing, Anne said, "uh oh." Perturbed by her outward display of emotion Marilla got to her feet, pausing by the door she turned and smiled. "Did you say your prayers?"

"I'll do them in a minute"

"You might want to include Mr Blythe. I think he can do with all the help we can muster. I might bake him some plum puffs to take over this weekend."

"He'd love that."

"Well, we'll see. Good night, Anne."

"I heard a thump, everything all right?" Matthew asked when Marilla reappeared.

"Anne's hugs are rather exuberant."

"Indeed," agreed Matthew. "Indeed."

"Thank you."

"For what?"

"For reminding me there's more to being a mother than providing moral guidance. I must remember to show her some affection as well."

"She's a sensitive little thing, she thrives on love."

"Mm," Marilla nodded. "Yes, you're right. Anyway, I'm off to bed. Sleep well."

oOo

Anne fairly bounced into the Blythe house the next afternoon. Marilla had been baking all morning and the resulting plum puffs were still warm under their covering, the cream oozing out somewhat. Marilla had warned Anne to wait but she was too excited. How thrilled Mr Blythe would be to sample some of Marilla's baking once again. She pictured his lips stretching out over the puff and perhaps a trace of jam escaping the corner of his mouth. She barely had knocked before she raced down the hall and into Mr Blythe's bedroom eagerly announcing her cargo.

Skidding to a halt just inside his door Anne noticed a change in the atmosphere. Gilbert was hovering over his father who looked particularly pale against his sheets, but Anne's words were out of her mouth before she had time to react, "Marilla baked you some puffs Mr Blythe, I expect it's been years since you've…" and that point she stopped noticing his grey pallor. "Oh." Anne felt a combination of embarrassment and sorrow and she backed out of the room quietly. Placing her basket in the kitchen she tip-toed out and ran home into Marilla's waiting arms. Once she had regained her breath, Anne said sadly, "I just realised he's not going to get well, is he? Stupidly, somehow I thought I could make him better."

Marilla stroked Anne's back replying, "you're a sweet child, Anne. I'm sure you've brought some light into his last days. But no, he's gravely ill and he's not going to recover." She got to her feet to pour a pot of tea, setting it to steep before she sat back down. "God has a plan for us all. He did not plan for John and me to spend much time together, nor for John to live into his old age. We just must believe that His plan is infinite and all knowing." Anne placed her arms around Marilla and together they wept for their neighbour, a good friend to them both in their time.

Anne avoided the Blythes for the next few days, placing Gilbert's lessons carefully on the doorstep after school and picking them up a day or two later for marking. Her school mates clamoured for news, but Anne merely smiled sadly and shook her head. Gilbert had to tend to his father, and she would respect their privacy. She bumped into Mrs Kincannon one afternoon who enquired after her, "Mr Blythe is missing you, Anne. Why don't you come on in?"

Breathless, hardly daring to make a peep Anne followed Mrs Kincannon down the hallway and into the now familiar room. Mr Blythe had rallied and was sitting up in his chair. "Anne!" he greeted her warmly. "I thought we'd lost you." Anne crossed to him and kissed him on his cheek. John laughed, "I suppose thinking on it, you thought the same thing." Anne smiled shyly, unaccustomed to people who joked about their impending death. Seeing her embarrassment, John adjusted his tone, "don't mind my gallows humour. Now tell me what you've been up to. I missed our chats."

Anne's bright perspective on life livened up John's bleak days. It was as if she saw the closed Avonlea landscape he had once escaped with rose coloured glasses. Instead of a small-minded community she saw infinite possibilities. He listened to her wax lyrical about her classmates and their petty intrigues, who was interested in whom and their relative merits or otherwise. The only person missing from her discourse was Gilbert, though even by his absence, John understood how much his son meant to the girl. He hoped Marilla would pay another call for them to compare notes, for naturally he could not discuss the matter with Gilbert himself.

Eventually Anne ran out of news, and they sat together in companionable silence until she noticed John's eyelids closing. "I'll leave you to rest now, Mr Blythe. I'm so pleased you're feeling better."

Though he was drifting off, John drowsily replied, "thank you for coming, Anne. Come again soon, won't you."

oOo

"How was Mr Blythe?" Marilla asked when Anne returned later than usual that afternoon.

"He seems much improved; he was sitting up. We had a nice long chat until he fell asleep."

"I'm sure he enjoyed that, Anne. You bring life to his world."

"Will you see him again?"

"I think I might, we have a lot to catch up on."

Marilla took a plate of cookies around the next afternoon. She met Mrs Kincannon at the door. They greeted each other and Mrs Kincannon said, "if you're here for a couple of hours. I might pop out to the store. They could do with a few groceries, but I don't like to leave him alone."

Marilla made her way down the hallway to John's room and knocked gently at the door. He was half asleep but rallied when he saw her. "Good afternoon," Marilla said gently. "Anne suggested I visit. Hope you don't mind."

"Come in please," he wheezed.

"Anne said you had a bit of a scare." John nodded. "But you made it through, I'm pleased." John smiled and patted his bed.

"You want me to sit beside you?"

"Lie."

Marilla paused. She had not lain beside a man since, well since they had courted. She looked down at him, pity in her eyes. "Worried about impropriety?" he wheezed under his smile. "I promise you'll be perfectly safe."

Marilla smiled back, because of course she would. The bed was softer than her own and she felt her back settle into the mattress knowing she'd be paying for it later. Initially she lay ramrod straight next to him, but as she relaxed, she took more note of her surroundings. There was a crack in the ceiling for one thing and then there was the man next to her. His body odour had altered since last they'd met. Back then he'd smelt of the wide-open air, of apple blossom and cinnamon; now the scent of sickness surrounded him. "John," she breathed. "Oh, John." Tears came unbidden to her eyes, and she berated herself, for if anyone should be weeping it should be the man beside her, whose life was about to be cut so tragically short.

"Hush, my love." She found herself laying on his chest listening to the lub dub of his heart, still beating under his ribs. "I'm sorry. I wish. I just wish I…"

"Shh, shh," it's fine. I'm just pleased we got to meet again, Mar. To die without you by my side would feel wrong. I have you and I have Anne and Gilbert."

"You make them sound like a couple."

"Aren't they? Don't you see that they'll wind up together?"

"Unlike the two of us."

John smiles and nods, "selfish of me to leave you."

"No, you were destined for bigger things. I couldn't keep you here. Avonlea was too constrained. You would have been miserable."

"Still."

"Still nothing." What was it with her menfolk apologising to her all of a sudden? "I've lived a good, honest life. What more can one ask?"

"And now you have Anne."

"And now I have Anne, and I am content. You know there are worse things than never marrying."

"Still."

"Shh, go to sleep now."

"Stay?"

"Always." She watched his eyelids droop as his body relaxed by her side.

oOo

"Read!" John commands the next time. Anne picks up the tome and starts to recite, but Gilbert poked his head in and asked her to tone it down. "He's not as strong as he used to be. He likes to drift off to the words, but I know you your reading is too expressive, if anything. Don't take it the wrong way, Anne," he added when he saw her bridle with indignation. "I love the way you read, you're so invested, but just not today, alright?"

Upon reading the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse Anne sat back in her chair stunned. She had never considered her contribution to the world could be as valid as the next persons. Anne was transformed, bewildered, shocked by the power of Whitman's words. She loved poetry, Tennyson for instance but this was of different stripe. Initially she scoffed, why it didn't even rhyme. But there was something about his phrasing that really spoke to her soul. Having read and reread Leaves of Grass she sat back in stunned amazement wishing there were someone she could discuss it with. Mr Phillips was no good. Diana, much as Anne loved her, wouldn't understand. Marilla didn't have a poet's heart. Even Gilbert wasn't quite right. But Mr Blythe… If only he wasn't gravely ill.

John noticed a change in her when next they met. "Been reading much?" he asked, though he had an inkling.

"Oh, Mr Blythe. I borrowed your copy of Whitman I hope you don't mind, and I was transfixed. Do you know O Me, O Life?" John nodded; non-verbal communication easier for him these days. "You may know Mr Blythe that I have always adored poetry. I practically inhaled Tennyson. All those tales of courageous daring do's and romance. I could read them over and over." She added shyly, "once I pretended to be the Lily Maid, but romance is wasted in Avonlea." John smiled inwardly, not in mockery but in fondness. Here was a girl who lived and breathed poetry. "But Whitman, he's he's…" she ran out of words.

"What I like about him," John said slowly thinking of how to express himself and hoping he did not run out of puff altogether. "Is that he speaks to the common man. There are no princes or people of high standing, it's just one common man's view on the world. He speaks to all of us."

Anne nodded in furious agreement, "absolutely."

"He's not popular of course," John interrupted.

"Because he's unconventional?"

"Mm, hm. No one had read anything like it. But his words have a certain power, wouldn't you say? Anne, I can't tell you how gratified I am that you like him. I feel as though I've passed the baton on." Anne felt simply dreadful, as though Mr Blythe were saying he was ready to die.

Chapter Text

John stirred and found himself alone. Part of him mourned but then he thought, no that's right. I'm leaving but life goes on. They must go out and live it after all. He settled back on his pillows simultaneously frustrated and content. Frustrated to have so little energy, so much he still wanted to see, to achieve. Content that if his time had to end that he had reared a good man, one who he was happy to let loose into the world.

In his mind he could see a troop of little redheads marching down some unknown valley, but they would only exist in his imagination, he'd never get to meet them. Still, he mused, good to know they'll happen along eventually. That his son and Anne might never consummate their relationship as he and Marilla had not never occurred to him. Those two were destined to wind up together. It'll be fiery, he smiled. She knows her own mind, she's clever and quick witted. She'll be a good match for him and he for her. The knowledge brought him satisfaction. His musings were interrupted by the sound of Mrs Kincannon's tread and smiled at her approach. "Tea?" she asked, and he nodded.

oOo

"We never went to the beach Matthew, and I; never seemed much point. But Anne's been begging for an opportunity after harvest." Marilla commented one afternoon when the easterly wind rattled the Blythe windows.

"You should take her when it's warmer. Nothing like the beach for a girl like your Anne."

"Mm."

"Remember the seagulls?"

"Anne once told me she wanted to be one."

"She has a point, they're wonderfully carefree."

Marilla smiled, "that's precisely what she said."

"We went once."

"I remember." Marilla cast her mind back to that nearly forgotten day.

"You brought a picnic."

"And you drove."

It was all coming back to her; calling seagulls swooping effortlessly through the sky, cicadas thrumming, bracing ozone, powdery red sand that went everywhere, ever-changing blues of the water turquoise to azure, and John by her side as he was now. The future she anticipated on that long ago afternoon never strayed from her dreams. Here they lay years later in this gloomy room, two old people separated by more than a blanket.

John reached out with his arm and Marilla fit into his curve feeling rather than hearing the beat of his heart, but what was apparent and could not be ignored was the breathy wheeze of his chest. Tears slipped unbidden down her cheek onto his nightshirt. One sob was all it took. He caressed her back feeling the unrelenting whalebone under her dress. "Shh, shh,"

Marilla sobbed into his side, "it's not just..."

"I know, I understand." And he did. He'd left her and moved on, but she had not, stranded by familial responsibilities. He had expected she'd find someone else; it had been a shock to find out that she had not. Instead she'd lived a life without him, with most likely regrets.

"I wish..."

"Shh, my love." Marilla felt if not at peace with her life at least content next to him.

John's eyelids slipped shut and Marilla dozed off beside him. Dappled sunlight streamed through the gnarled branches of an old apple tree and in its shade Marilla noticed that John's mouth was stained scarlet. She watched with rapt attention as he reached down and plucked a raspberry from the bowl. Bypassing his own red lips he rubbed the delicate berry against her mouth, pulling her bottom lip down against it. Marilla resisted for just a moment then obediently opened her mouth just wide enough. John followed the sweet berry with his lips. Marilla woke up slowly with the lingering tang flickering at the edge of her memory. Just a dream she said to herself, ah but what a wonderful one her mind replied.

"I loved you," she whispered to his sleeping form. "I love you still." There was no response save his shallow breaths. Better this way, Marilla thought. Better we leave it like this. Still, pleased to have seen him again. To have spoken. What would it have been like, to have gone with him, to have explored a world beyond Avonlea. She honestly could not imagine it. Having lived her entire life in one spot she could not imagine the thought of meeting new people, making new friends, seeing unfamiliar sights. The mere thought exhausted her.

oOo

The rain drummed against the windows as Anne and Gilbert poured over their geography textbooks. Never had faraway places seemed so attractive to Gilbert and he found himself drifting off thinking of exotic places across the ocean. Anne was more attentive to their task, "now, what's the principal export of France?" she asked him, scanning the text quickly.

"Spices," replied Gilbert dreamily.

"What?"

Gilbert shook himself and came to. "What?"

"I'm confused since when did France export spices?"

Gilbert looked at her quizzically, "what are you on about?"

Anne took a deep breath, "this is our geography homework, remember. I asked you about French exports."

Gilbert shifted uneasily in his seat fearful that he'd made a fool of himself, "um, what I did I say?'

"You don't recall?" Gilbert shook his head. "You said spices." Anne fixed him with a steely glare, "where were you?"

Gilbert cast his eyes down embarrassed that he'd been caught out, "I was daydreaming that I was sailing in a ship off the coast of north Africa," Gilbert replied. "I was shading my eyes against the glare off the water. I could practically smell the spices from across the sea."

Anne was mystified, "have you, um, have you ever been to Africa?"

"Never."

"But you can picture it, can smell it?"

"Mm hm, I do it all the time. Don't you long to leave this small town behind? To travel over the sea to far off places, to see new things, smell new perfumes, to meet new people? I create whole cities in my mind when I'm half asleep in bed."

"Really?" Anne was intrigued. It was the sort of thing she did, but she never imagined anyone else did it too.

"You'll think I'm a fool. It's stupid I know." Gilbert got up to place a fresh log on the glowing embers, for the room was growing chilly.

"No, no. I mean I do that sort of thing too," Anne said, her eyes following his every movement. "I used to dream a handsome knight was coming to rescue me. But I mean it seems ridiculous now, who wants to wait to be rescued. I want to save myself now. I want to be the hero, not the victim."

Gilbert grinned at her, "I can see that," he said nodding.

"Maybe," Anne said thinking it through, "it's because I was already, you know by Matthew and Marilla. I don't need saving anymore. So I had to find a new daydream to lose myself in."

"Would you like to travel?"

"Hm, yes. One day, I guess."

"These geography books are all so dry. Who cares what France's major exports are? I want to munch flaky croissants as I stroll down the Champs Elysée, to watch flying fishes play in the tropical seas, to see icebergs off the coast of Iceland or tigers in Africa."

"You ninny," Anne said, laughing. "There are no tigers in Africa."

"Well, you get my point," replied Gilbert, grinning; that mistake had been purposeful.

oOo

If questioned afterwards Marilla would not have been able to explain why, but John appeared agitated. He had practically ceased speaking now but it was apparent he had a message to impart. Marilla leant over and bent her head down to listen. "Favr," he rasped.

"Of course."

John panted for a spell before he mustered the strength to say, "Gggg."

"Gilbert?"

John nodded furiously. "Keee eee."

"Shh shh shh, don't fret so. I'll keep an eye on him. He may be a man in the eyes of the world but he's still a lad for all that, still needs guidance. Rest easy, we'll look out for him, Matthew and I, and Anne too of course."

It had obviously been weighing on the stricken man for Marilla watched the weight lift as he perceptibly relaxed.

"Sleep now. You've fought so valiantly, but it's time to rest, my love," she said dropping a light kiss upon his cheek noting its softness under her lips. John smiled up at her mouthing the words, yes mother with that old familiar twinkle in his eyes. Marilla left the room leaning against the hallway wall when she felt tears prickling. Why had she left this reunion so late?

Predictably Matthew was in the barn. He looked up at her approach and seeing her eyes shining bright in the gloom set down his tools and went to comfort her. "I've been such a fool Matthew," she wailed against his chest. If it were possible Matthew was significantly worse at emotion than Marilla, but he held her close as sobs wracked her slim body, recalling that time decades past when Marilla said pretty much the same thing. Only this time there was no recourse nor any hope of it.

oOo

Anne burst in one afternoon with her usual gusto. The latest batch of puffs still cooling in her basket, but there was a hush over the Blythe house. John was comatose breathing shallowly. "Oh," Anne exclaimed making as if to back out rather than disturb Gilbert's privacy. Gilbert's eyes never left his father, but he whispered, "stay."

"You sure?"

"I don't," he sniffed, "I don't want to be alone."

Anne pulled up a chair. Together they listened to each one of John's deep breaths. They were slow, just one every ten seconds or so. Each time they paused wondering if that had been the last and then inwardly, they'd sigh as another one came and another and another. Gilbert reached out his hand to Anne and she took it lightly, holding it as if it were an injured fledging fallen out of its nest, but with just enough pressure so that he knew she was there. Anne had never seen a person die before. She knew Gilbert was not alone. His father was still there, and Mrs Kincannon lurked somewhere ready to take charge when the time came; but if Gilbert needed her, then this is where she would be.

A faint knock sounded, and she distantly heard murmurs by the door. Solid reassuring footsteps approached, and she felt a hand on her shoulder. "Marilla wondered. We're here if you need us," Matthew quietly murmured in her ear. Anne nodded her understanding but was otherwise silent, unwilling to break Gilbert's vigil.

Into the silence, as if she were not there, Gilbert began to speak to his father while he still could. "I don't know how I'll manage without you, Dad. Just the one Prodigal Son left now." Anne increased her pressure on his hand, just enough to remind him that he was not alone, and he squeezed back to say he knew. "You've taught me to be a good man, Dad. I appreciate that." He spoke on, telling his father of his worries, asking how he would cope. "What's it like to be an orphan?"

With a start Anne realised that he had turned his attention to her. "It's not easy, I can't lie to you. You grow up fast. But it's different for you. I was just a baby; I never knew my parents." She paused; this was not about her. "You have friends, you have Marilla and Matthew. You have," she drew a breath, "me."

"Yes, and that's a relief, but I won't have anyone just for me," he spoke flatly still staring at his father.

Quietly, under Mr Blythe's slow breaths, Anne recited into the room:

"O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won."
*

When she paused John was no more. Then Marilla was there, holding Gilbert tightly in her arms while he sobbed on her shoulder.

oOo

John's friends and neighbours gathered at his graveside one cold and blustery morning. Marilla and Matthew stood with Anne near to Gilbert as if to protect him from the weather.

The minister dolefully intoned the funeral rites, but Gilbert barely heard. Instead, he was panicking as the awful truth descended upon him. Until now he'd mostly been kept busy with the arrangements. Marilla had helped of course, but the final decisions had been down to him. That had kept the thought of being all alone at bay for a few days. But now his father's coffin was being lowered into the grave and all that had to be done was attend the wake. And then? And then Gilbert would be all alone. Anne said she'd stay by his side and Matthew had reached out and Marilla too, naturally. They were good neighbours, but they were not his kin. He was sixteen now, old enough to be considered a man. Once when he was a child he'd been separated from his father and that tight feeling of panic in his breast that he'd felt briefly assailed him now. Except then he'd found his father soon enough and now he knew he would not. That there was no father to find, except down the bottom of a hole tucked away in their small family graveyard.

The congregation had made their way back to the warmth of the house for morning tea but as Gilbert approached, he knew he could not join them. Their intoned expressions of sympathy were more than he could bear. Instead, he stumbled back to the graveyard to be with if not his father, then as close as he could be. He felt numb and not merely from the cold, numb in body as well as mind.

oOo

"Dad wanted you to have this," Gilbert handed a small package to Anne when she dropped in the next day. "Thought you'd appreciate it."

Anne unwrapped the parcel and reverently turned the book in her hands. It was the Whitman of course. "I can't, you should keep it. It was his favourite."

"No, he bequeathed it to you. Check the front."

Fumbling in her gratitude and sorrow, Anne opened the front cover and read the words inscribed on the frontispiece.

The powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

Anne had never felt so seen as she was then, and that it was by a man who had passed made it even sadder. "Oh, Gilbert." She took a big breath. "I just want you to know that I loved him too."

"Said he was sorry to have only known you for a short while."

"I confess," she said dropping her eyes, "that I was resentful for having to drop your lesson around that first day. But once I met Mr Blythe, I was happy to help, for it meant I got acquainted with him. I did it for selfish reasons, at least at first."

"That's all right. We got off on the wrong foot didn't we. That was my fault. I might have been a bit of an idiot, but I just wanted to get your attention."

Anne looked up at him, her eyes sparking, "well you did that all right."

"I remember telling Dad all about it. I was so remorseful, especially after you got into trouble."

"You were?"

"Yeah, and Dad wasn't particularly sympathetic either. "Told me I'd been a fool." Anne smirked. Gilbert rubbed the back of his head, "yeah, not my finest hour."

Chapter Text

It was only when he was home alone after the last of the funeral guests had departed that Gilbert truly came to understand the depth of his loss. Until then he'd been busy with people dropping food by and offering their commiserations but now, he was alone. Completely alone with only the clock to keep him company. He stared blankly into the middle distance without really taking in the sight before him. The coolness of the room brought him to his senses sometime later and he came to with a start realising that he had at least to get some wood for the fire least he freeze. Once that had been completed his tummy rumbled and he turned to the pantry still thankfully groaning with food. Unable to contemplate cooking he bolted down a few mouthfuls of casserole straight from the dish. He wandered into his father's room and without thinking it through lay down on the bed wrapping himself in the blanket, his father's lingering aroma still there. It may have been a far cry from having John with him, but it was the best he could do.

A knock on the door the next morning surprised him. Anne stood on the doorstep holding her books lightly in one arm. "I don't know if you're ready for school yet," she said. "Or do you want me to bring your lessons home still?"

"Um, ah, I guess," Gilbert replied somewhat shocked that she would think of him still. "No need, I'll come to school tomorrow instead."

"Oh," said Anne, surprised. "Well that sounds excellent. I've missed you. I need the competition."

"No one up to my academic prowess?" Gilbert said, teasing.

Anne smiled, embarrassed to be caught out in her boastfulness, "well it's not that…"

"Nah, never mind." Gilbert got it. They never liked to say it out loud, but the truth was the pair of them were the most intelligent in class, including to some extent their teacher.

~ ~ ~

"As you'll recall, the square of the hypotenuse…" Mr Philip's voice faded into the background while Gilbert's mind wandered off to his father's bedside. "It's a big world out there, son," his father had said. "Don't forget to go see it. So pleased I got the chance before I settled down. Though I don't recommend the army."

The familiar sound of chalk squeaking on slate brought him round and he furtively looked across to see Anne staring at him and then pointedly at her slate. "Right, um yeah," he muttered to himself picking up his own chalk to commence whatever it was they were doing. Geometry he guessed based on the last words he'd heard Mr Phillips utter. Yes, there was the problem up the on the board. Thankfully Gilbert knew his way around Pythagoras, so it wasn't too much of an effort to finish the problem around the same time as Moody beside him.

Walking home deep in thought he barely noticed the boys chiacking around him. Moody punched his shoulder, "great to have you back, Gilbert. School's not the same without you around. We boys have to keep the girls in their place." Gilbert rolled his eyes, the annoying tones of the boys discussing the relative merits of their female counterparts disappearing into the distance when he turned for home. Thankfully Mrs Kincannon had been by so the house was warm and smelt of the dinner she had prepared and the loaf she had baked. She may not be caring for his father any longer, but she had not forgotten him. He sank to a chair and felt he had never been so alone in his life.

~ ~ ~

While they chopped the vegetables for that night's stew Marilla enquired after Gilbert, "how is he faring, Anne? He must be awful sad."

"What do I do to help him Marilla? He's hurting so, I know but he just shuts down when I try to speak to him."

"Just be there for him. What do you remember about Mr Blythe?"

"He was so kind to me, Marilla. Such a gentleman," she paused looking up at Marilla with gleaming eyes. "Do you regret the way things turned out?"

"Fiddlesticks child, I made peace with my decision years ago. You know," she said thoughtfully. "We could invite him for dinner. Yes," she added resolutely, "that's precisely what we should do. Fetch him for me, will you Anne. Tell him to come for dinner."

Anne grinned, "you make it sound like an order."

"I told John I'd look out for him. Might as well start now."

"You did?"

"Practically our last conversation."

"Oh."

"Don't you go leaping to conclusions, Anne. No impropriety occurred."

Anne was shocked, if Marilla mentioned impropriety, then obviously something was weighing on her conscience.

The sound of the door opening roused Gilbert, and he looked up at Anne in shock. "I did knock," she said apologetically but when you didn't answer, she gestured towards the door. "Anyway, Marilla wants you to come for dinner. Says its unchristian to leave you here on your own." Gilbert was about to argue, but the fight left him when he looked at Anne, there was just something about the way the light through the window caught her red hair. Honestly, the thought of eating with the Cuthberts appealed. "Grab your coat," Anne warned, "else face Marilla's wrath." Gilbert smiled remembering how parental nagging used to annoy him.

Anne led the way through the Green Gables back door and told him she'd be right back. "Come in Gilbert, come sit by the fire and get warm, given the cold blast you've brought in, I figure you need it," Marilla said.

"I'm not much company right now Miss Cuthbert," Gilbert said by way of apology.

"Of course not, however the handy thing about Anne is that she is perfectly content to talk and doesn't need much input from her audience. That's to say", Marilla said with a wry smile, "you won't be required to say much."

Dinner was delicious as Gilbert expected and as Marilla had consoled him his input was not required. Anne was happy to prattle on about school, their friends, and all manner of things. As relieved as he was Gilbert did wonder how Marilla and Matthew put up with it. Theirs had been a quiet house once upon a time.

Gilbert got up to help with the dishes only to firmly be put back in his place, as 'company' and afterwards they sat companionably in the parlour. Anne was quieter now as if she realised that perhaps she had gone too far earlier. Gilbert hadn't minded though, he felt as though he had nothing to say anymore and maybe never would.

When the grandfather clock timed the hour Marilla gathered her knitting together but when Gilbert got to his feet to find his coat she said, "I can't stand the thought of sending you out into the night. Stay won't you."

It was only later tucked up in the bed, a hot brick at his toes, that Gilbert realised Marilla had kept the bedding fresh for errant neighbours for nigh on fifty years. He wondered who else had slept in the bed in all that time.

~ ~ ~

While it had been a lovely evening, his dinner reminded Gilbert of what he had lost. The thought of returning to his empty house no longer appealed, not merely because his father had died there but because he was utterly alone. Can't rely on the Cuthberts every night, he thought. Got to plan. With his father's last words echoing in his mind, he slipped off to sleep to dream of far-off cities.

Walking home from school with Anne a week or so later he broached the subject. "Thinking of leaving."

"Leaving?"

"There's nothing holding me here. Dad wanted me to go out and seek my fortune. Reckon it's time I did just that."

"Gilbert!"

"Yeah. Well sorry about that. But I'm just sorting out some things, packing, going to the bank that sort of thing. I figure I'll be gone in a few days."

Anne stared at him, for once speechless.

They parted then each to make their way to their respective homes, though Gilbert didn't regard his house as a home at that time. It was just a place he slept for now.

Packing was interesting, what did one need for an escape? Eventually he had a neat little knapsack and he draped sheets over the furniture against the day he planned to return. His last night his thoughts turn to Anne. He had to admit she was the only person he thought he'd miss. His conversation with Marilla echoed in his mind, his father had wanted her to go with him; would he have more luck with the daughter?

A ping on her window stirred Anne and the next woke her up, but it was not until the third that she made her way to the sill to peer out. "Gilbert?" she whispered through the eased open glass. "What on earth?"

"Anne, I just came to say goodbye."

"Goodbye? Oh Gilbert." Her heart lurched.

"Sorry, I must. I have to leave. I have to see the world."

"You're going to leave me?" Anne sounded more plaintive than Gilbert expected.

"Well," he answered. "You could come too."

"I can't Gil. I can't just up and leave. Matthew and Marilla need me. You can't expect me to desert them." Her words sounded resolute, but her mind was less so.

"You are allowed to live Anne. Come join the adventure. You're always dreaming of far-off places, start living there.

"I.." she stopped, feeling her resolve wane.

"You're the bravest girl I know Anne."

"I…" hesitantly she shook her head.

"Anne…," he pleaded.

She sighed. "It's just not that easy."

"It is that easy."

"I can't just walk out on them.

"I'm not saying that, leave them a note. Let them know you'll be safe with me.

"They need me."

"Anne, that's just what Marilla said. She told me she wanted to run away with Dad but had to stay to care for the family and look how that turned out. Don't you think she regrets that? I don't want you to live that life. You can be so much more."

"But school." Gilbert scoffed. Anne said ruefully, "I know, but he is teaching me something. I can't throw all that away."

"You'll learn so much, more than we can learn in that small classroom. You'll learn about people, about the world. There's so much more to life than what's here in Avonlea or some one-room school.

"Oh, I don't know."

"Anne."

"Stop nagging me, Gil. Let me think."

Gilbert thrust his hands in his pockets and turned to leave, pausing in case she changed her mind, but she did not look his way. Instead, he stumped down the snowy path wondering what he could do to change her mind.

He turned back for one last try calling up to her, "Dad always said there was a big world out there. Beyond this sleepy one-horse town. I want to see it, see the world, seek my fortune. Be a bit lonely on my own though, I'd love to share it all with you, Anne. You have such gumption. Be brave, join me."

Anne was in a quandary. His invitation did sound alluring. Much as she adored Avonlea, Matthew and Marilla and everyone who had helped her to grow, the outside world beckoned. Up until that moment she had silenced its insistent call, telling herself that it would wait, but then she'd never had anyone to explore it with. Here was Gilbert, for whom she was just realising she cared, proffering a steady arm and a chance.

She looked deeply into his eyes. He was silent, his arm still reaching out for her, saying all that had to be said. She glanced back towards the house's interior considering all that she would miss. "I…"

Chapter Text

Never had the ride away from Avonlea seemed so thrilling. The road curved ahead and when the clouds parted the landscape lit up with a silvery glow. Not only was Anne riding into her future, but she was doing it next to Gilbert. She had come to realise over the past weeks and months how important he was to her. The thought that he might leave her behind was too tragical to imagine. Yes, she considered, this was the best way. To face the world together. After all she was a traveller at heart and after all she had survived on her own for so long, as wonderful as Green Gables had been, she believed she was ready to meet the world again. She squeezed Gilbert's arm and he grinned at her, "happy?"

Anne felt so happy to hear him say that as though this was precisely the right place for her now. Never had the drive away from Avonlea seemed so wonderful, fresh snow muting the horse's hoof-fall. Anne snuggled closer to Gilbert. "Cold?"

"Mm hm," she replied.

Gilbert reached around behind him and pulled out an old blanket. "Here," he said. "Wrap this around yourself." Anne did one better, covering them both, smiling up at him afterwards. "Mm, that's nice."

Lulled by the blanket's warmth and the steady movement of the buggy Anne nodded off against Gilbert's shoulder.

Day break was still a few hours off when Anne stirred. Rubbing her eyes, she looked up suddenly exclaiming in pain at the crick in her neck. "You alright?" Gilbert said smiling across at her.

Anne blinked a few times. "We're still a few miles from Charlottetown I reckon," Gilbert explained.

"Have you driven all this time?" Anne gasped. "You must be exhausted."

"Wanted to get a good distance away. I'm just keen to get on with our adventure, aren't you?"

"Of course, but you do need to rest."

"I'm fine." As if to belie his claim Gilbert was unable to smother a huge yawn.

"You sleep while I drive."

"Yes, Mother," Gilbert grinned sheepishly as he handed her the reins. Thankful really to be able to close his eyes. As he slumped beside her, Anne felt incredibly alone with only the horse for company. "Funny," she told it. "I longed for adventure, but wouldn't you know, I'm a tiny bit apprehensive." She shivered next to Gilbert, but not on account of the cold wind. Deciding to pull herself together she imagined where they might end up. Now where would I like to see first. Timbuktu has always sounded so exotic and wasn't Gilbert dreaming of African spices the other day. Her wintry surroundings faded as a sunny spice market came into her mind. So immersive were her daydreams that she failed to notice an oncoming cart or the runaway horse pulling it.

"Get out of the way!" the driver screamed, the whites of his eyes glinting in his dark face, as the lamp light swung wildly but Anne came to too late, ineffectually pulling at the reins to swerve. Lulled by her lack of attention their horse had almost fallen asleep itself and it took a fraction too long to notice the situation which meant that it had no time to react.

Everything went into slow motion then. From the oncoming buggy and its screaming driver to her nudging Gilbert to wake up now and the blanket flying off behind them. With a squeal of brakes as their two carts collided Anne found herself jolted out of the seat and falling, falling, falling onto the road below. However, she did not feel much beyond a sudden shock at landing because she immediately passed out.

~~~~~

That morning at Green Gables started like any other. Matthew rose first to tend to the stock. A while later Marilla stirred luxuriating in the warmth of her bed before consigning herself to the chill of her bedroom, the shock of the cold air on her skin never welcome. Once she had washed and dressed, she made her way downstairs calling out to Anne to get up as she had done every morning since Anne's arrival. The lack of response completely normal, though she did raise her eyebrows at it. Time passed. Marilla set out the breakfast things increasingly annoyed at Anne's lack of appearance. Usually, it was a chore they completed together, and it was a pleasant way to start the day. "Anne!" Marilla bellowed up the stairs. When there was no answer, she gathered her skirts and made her way up the stairs annoyed at having to do so. Her words died on her lips when she saw the empty bedroom. The bed had obviously been slept in for the blankets were crumpled but Anne herself was nowhere to be seen. Marilla stood in the doorway and blinked several times to make sure she wasn't dreaming then swiftly she turned ran downstairs and out the door calling Matthew's name in her panic.

Perhaps Anne had gone to school early? Marilla sent Matthew over to check fretting until he returned. She was probably there, had crept out in the early morning to do something. Marilla was that curious mix of angry and worried. Stress baking was her usual coping method, and she was just popping the cookies into the oven when Matthew appeared. Marilla heard the distinctive creak of the gate opening in the background and peered out the door to see if she could tell what was up before he arrived at the back door. He was shaking his head as he drew near. "No sign of her there, nor Gilbert neither."

"Gilbert?" Now Marilla was truly mystified. "They've been close, but I wouldn't think they were planning a getaway. What do you think, Matthew?" But her brother was already leading the horse down to the barn to ready it for the next part of his journey.

"What? Oh no you don't," Marilla ran down the path behind him remembering how terrible it had been last time she'd let him go after Anne after the brooch mishap. "This time, I'm coming too."

Pondering as they drove Marilla came to understand just what Anne meant to her. If asked she would previously have admitted to liking Anne, even that she was fond of the girl, but as they went, she came to recognise that Anne was dearer to her than anyone ever had been or perhaps ever would be. The thought that something may have happened to the child filled her with dread and she sat beside Matthew with a lump in the pit of her stomach.

As usual, her fear turned to waspishness. "I ought to tan her hide. It's like the plot of one of those Penny Dreadfuls she likes to read."

"Now, now, remember we want her to be happy to return."

"You're right of course, I'm just so angry, of all the foolhardy ..."

"Don't tell me you weren't tempted to run off with a Blythe boy once upon a time, Marilla."

"But I didn't, that's the difference."

"Close run thing though, I believe."

"Humph."

Matthew clicked his tongue at the horses and raised his eyebrow at his sister. "Anyway, check your temper. Sounds like she needs love not chastisement."

With a combination of frustration, worry, and anger Marilla responded, "well, what do you suggest?"

"We tell her we love her," Matthew said simply.

~~~~~

"Anne!"

She was motionless on the snowy ground, eyes shut, hair splayed out on the snow. Gilbert looked around wildly. The other horse had bolted off into the night so there was no help from that quarter and even if he'd thought about it, those folks had their own troubles.

Gilbert knelt by Anne's side calling her name urgently but there was no response. Gathering her lax body into his arms he took a few steps in one direction, before doubling back despite having no idea which way help lay. They stumbled in the dark, Gilbert feeling more desperate with each step. Eventually, half crazed with worry and cold, barely able to see his hand in front of his face, exhausted with lack of sleep, and the growing weight of the girl in his arms he bumped, and half fell over a step. In the distance a dog barked, and his pulse raced anew.

Closer by a deep voice called out, "who's there?" Gilbert slipped to one knee in abject relief but was too exhausted to speak, only just managing to keep Anne from sliding out of his arms. "What's all this then?" Gilbert looked up to see bright eyes in a dark face and was almost too afraid to reply; where on Prince Edward Island had he fetched up?

Insensible himself Gilbert murmured as gentle arms took the burden that was Anne from him. He clutched at her hardly remembering what the weight represented but knowing deep in his heart that it was important.

Gilbert came to before Anne. His only concern had been exhaustion and cold whereas Anne's injuries were more severe. He opened his eyes to find himself in a small room. The furnishings were far from lush, but there was a homeliness to it that felt friendly. As he took stock of his surroundings, he noticed a couple looking at him with concern writ upon their faces. They put their arms out as if to say he has nothing to worry about but when they spoke, he could barely make out the meaning, so thick was their accent. Seeing his confusion, the woman slowed down her speech, "you alright boy, we got you safe here. Is there anyone we can send word to on your behalf?"

Gilbert jumped to his feet, stumbling when they appear to have stayed asleep. He fell back down on the sofa hearing the springs whine in protest. "I, I that is to say."

"You friend is still out cold," the woman explained. "We put her in the bed, there's only the one." Gilbert shot a quick glance at the man which the woman couldn't help but notice, "nah nah, don't you be worrying, honey. He slept out here with you. I stayed with her, kept her safe and sound."

"Can I?"

"You wanna see her, I spect."

Stomping and wriggling his feet since he last tried to stand, Gilbert found the blood had returned so he followed the woman to the bedroom. "You got a name, honey?"

"G,gilbert," he stammered half crazed with worry.

"Nice to meet ya, Gilbert. I'm Maggie and that there," she gestured with her thumb over her shoulder, "is Brutus." Gilbert paused; the name did not inspire peace. "don't you be worrying, honey. His name don't match his nature. He's as gentle as a lamb, ain't you Brutus? What about your woman? What's she called?"

"Anne," with an e he added in his mind.

"She's very pretty. I don't see her hair colouring all that often. Well, she's out cold still. We can't afford no doctor even if one would come, but if you're willing, I can get a neighbour to come have a look at her."

Gilbert nodded. "I need to get word to her family too."

"Mm, hmm. Well, if you want to write a note, we can get it sent."

Anne lay alabaster white against old grey bedsheets. Gilbert took her hand and squeezed gently, his heart squeezing when there was no response. It was all his fault and he fell to her side guiltily. He started at Maggie's touch on his shoulder, but he took the scrap of paper she offered. He thought about how to express the situation so that Marilla and Matthew would not worry over much but in the end merely scrawled. Anne is safe but hurt. Please come to. There he paused because he had no idea where he was. He poked his head around the corner to find Maggie gone but Brutus sitting on the sofa idly scratching himself. "Excuse me," Gilbert said meekly for the man was intimidating and he did not like to interrupt. "But where are we?"

"The Bog, boy."

Gilbert had never heard of it, "I beg your pardon, the where?"

Brutus laughed sardonically, "The Bog, ain't you never heard of it? It's the only place us black folks allowed to live."

Gilbert retreated to the bedroom to add the words, the bog to his note and signed his name.

Maggie returned shortly after with her neighbour, a short, older woman whose name Gilbert did not catch, in tow. The nurse examined Anne and pronounced that she was breathing steadily which was a good thing and that she would wake up in her own good time.

Chapter Text

Green Gables kept the family safe from storm and tumult having been built stout and strong. No matter the strength of the winds or the depth of the snow drifts they were snug and warm inside. The same could not be said of the porch, however. Matthew had tried to fix the problem over the years but without significant and expensive modifications the problem proved impossible to solve. As a result, the area was always draughty and never entirely waterproof. That had never been much of a problem until the day Gilbert's note was delivered.

The note was taken to Avonlea by a passing neighbour. He knocked on the door but there was no answer. Annoyed he put the note by the door and made his way on to the rest his day's errands. A gust of wind caught the unsecured paper and whisked it down the porch in one breath and off it altogether with the next. A quick shower of rain did the rest, so that later when the Cuthberts eventually made it home it was as if the note had never been sent at all.

~ ~ ~

Before she opened her eyes Anne knew that something was wrong. The bed felt strange, and the sheets were more threadbare than usual, and the pillow smelt wrong? Tentatively because her head hurt, she opened her eyes a small crack and let out a breath like a moan. It was a shame that the first sight she saw when she did finally open her eyes fully was Brutus leaning over her. Anne cried out in abject fear, "argh!" and she scrambled away up the bed.

"Sh, sh," Brutus put his hands up to placate her, but in her terror, Anne thought he was attacking her, and she screamed louder than ever then burst into tears. The noise brought Gilbert running and he rushed to her bedside saying, "it's all right, Anne. You're safe. These fine people are looking after us." Anne poured herself into Gilbert's comforting embrace and shuddered hardly daring to look past him. Maggie pulled Brutus back whispering, "we oughta leave them to it." Brutus nodded, wishing he could do more.

"Where are we?" Anne asked later when she had settled down. At the end of the bed Gilbert explained their predicament. "I didn't know what to do, Anne. You were out cold, and it was dark. I had no idea where we were. I stumbled around for a while and followed the sound of a dog barking in the distance, fetched up here and these kind folks have been helping us ever since."

"But, but," Anne could barely get her words out for once. Gilbert looked at her quizzically. "Their skin, Gilbert. I've never…"

"Yes, they're coloured Anne, but they've been incredibly kind. This is their only bed you know," Gilbert explained, patting the blankets. "We've all been sleeping in the main room while you've been out."

"How long?"

"A few days. Can't say the sofa is very comfortable, neither. But they haven't complained once."

"Oh."

"I sent word to Green Gables hope you don't mind, but I was awful worried."

Anne's heart skipped a beat. "You did?"

"Uh huh, but I haven't heard a word back. Kinda expected Matthew and Marilla would have come by now, but there's been nothing."

"Oh," Anne's heart sank. Perhaps she had outstayed her welcome after all. She thought she had been leaving a place of love but maybe she'd read more into it than existed in reality. "Maybe they were happy to see the back of me?"

Gilbert looked at her with concern in his eyes. "I wouldn't have thought so, but maybe you're right." It didn't make any sense to him, but the situation could not be denied. He'd sent word thinking that the idea of a hurt Anne would bring them running but when the rescue party never arrived, he had been forced to change his mind.

Anne was speechless which worried him more than anything. Eventually she said, "I'm tired, do you mind if I go back to sleep?" Gilbert smiled at her fondly and left her to it.

But sleep did not come, instead Anne felt lonelier than she had done for years. And to think I believed they loved me? she thought but all this time maybe they only tolerated me. Somehow the thought of Marilla wasn't quite so bad, but Matthew? She sobbed despite herself feeling her heart break.

Aching all over Anne spent a few more days in bed but eventually understanding the sacrifice their hosts were making she decided she had to move out. She and Gilbert discussed their situation. Anne had sprained her wrist and was in no fit state to move far, but obviously returning to Avonlea was out of the question. "I don't know what to do?" Anne said to Gilbert. Overhearing their conversation Maggie said, "you're welcome to stay here until you recover, Anne. I enjoy the company."

Truth be told it wasn't all that easy for Maggie and Brutus. Money was tight so these extra mouths to feed were putting a strain on their finances and the house was small, but they figured it would only be for a short time. The young couple were friendlier than any white folks they'd previously met and for the time being it was bearable. In church the minister told them to care for the sick and Maggie intended to do just that.

Gilbert helped Brutus around the house and went out to work with him to help as best he could. Anne had sprained her wrist so was not much use to anyone, but she helped Maggie by telling her stories to while away the time and provided much needed company and distraction.

It helped Anne too, because she needed to keep her mind off the Cuthberts. On the sofa before she fell asleep each night memories came to her of Green Gables. She may have run away and hoped that she would not vex them overmuch but the thought that they did not care at all was hurtful in the extreme. Even as she knew it was her fault, the knowledge stung.

~ ~ ~

Naturally the truth was nothing like Anne's worst imaginings. As far as Matthew and Marilla were concerned Anne and Gilbert had disappeared into the ether. They had travelled up to Carmody and beyond on countless occasions in hopes they would hear word, but the couple were nowhere to be found. The situation was doing nothing for the older couple's wellbeing. Food and indeed life held no lustre. One night after their desultory supper but before bed Marilla commented as much to Matthew, "strange isn't it. Before Anne we had no idea what we were missing out on. It may have taken me a few days to come round, but I can't abide the thought that we might never see her again."

"Makes me sick to think o' it," Matthew replied thickly around his pipe.

"Do you think we have a chance?"

"To find her?" Marilla nodded. "Well, I dunno. We've looked pretty much everywhere. If she were on the island still, we'd have heard word by now."

Marilla nodded, she thought as much too. "Well, I'm for bed. Don't stay up too long." Matthew grunted as she made her way up the stairs. Bed was not the respite she craved; sleep eluded her as instead she lay under the covers fretting.

"Got to pick up a few things in Charlottetown," Matthew announced one morning. "Care to join me? Marilla looked around the kitchen feeling the walls slowly caving in. It had been a while since she'd left home. They'd been out so frequently when they'd lost Anne. Their inability to find the girl left Marilla unwilling to leave just in case she ever returned. As she had not though, it seemed foolish to sit and wait day after day. "I think I will," Marilla replied resolutely.

Rachel loved Charlottetown, Marilla knew, but she found it rather a daunting place. The citizenry all seemed so much more refined and worldly. Back in Avonlea, Marilla knew her place and most of her neighbours. They may not have been good friends, but she was a woman of some standing; here she was no one. Strange, she mused, I'd have thought that would provide me with a comforting degree of anonymity but instead I feel like a country bumpkin. Lost in her thoughts Marilla did not notice the girl walking into her path.

For her part the girl was also lost in her daydreams. Unlike Marilla she was imagining a little town far away. Walking in opposite directions the two women found themselves attempting to occupy the same space at precisely the same time. "I do beg your pard," Marilla said absentmindedly as she bumped into the shorter person, but she stopped still when she finally noticed the red-haired girl pressed against her chest.

That's when she swooned.

"Marilla!"

Though Anne believed the Cuthberts had rejected her, she could not callously leave the woman on the ground. Instead, she knelt by Marilla's side and called her name while tapping her on the cheek. A shopkeeper joined them and slipped some smelling salts under Marilla's nose. Marilla blinked a few times before staring into Anne's distinctive grey eyes. "Anne?" she said wonderingly. "Is it really you?" They helped Marilla up to sitting, but the shopkeeper advised her to stay where she was for a while longer til she got her bearings.

Still feeling a little light headed Marilla was perfectly happy to stay on the ground though she could not keep her eyes off Anne. "We've looked everywhere," she said. "Everywhere."

"You have?" Anne replied. "But I thought…"

"What?"

"Well, when you didn't reply to Gilbert's note."

"Note? What note?"

"Gilbert sent word that I was hurt…"

"You were injured?" Marilla's voice rose with fear.

"Shh, I'm quite recovered now."

"Where have you been all this time? We looked everywhere. Everywhere," she reiterated.

"Obviously not quite everywhere," Anne replied. "We've been staying with friends in The Bog."

Marilla visibly blanched, "the, the?" To her mind the place was full of uncouth, foul-mouthed individuals. Hardly the place she'd expect a girl of good standing to wind up.

"Yes," replied Anne stoutly, "The Bog. They took us in when I was hurt."

"But Anne," Marilla's voice went down a tone, "only people of colour live there. It's not respectable."

"Well, you can meet them if you like," said Anne stubbornly. "They're a lovely couple. They've cared for us so sweetly. I'm sure you'll like them if give them a chance."

To change the subject Marilla asked, "you said you were injured?"

"What? Oh yes, we had an accident in the carriage. I fell out and sprained my wrist," Anne rubbed it gingerly. "It's mended now, but it still aches a bit. I was knocked unconscious too," she added. "That's why Gilbert had to go for help. I was out cold."

"Oh Anne, if only we'd known."

"Who did you come with?" Anne asked looking around. "Did Rachel accompany you?"

"Matthew," replied Marilla. "He had some errands to run. Oh dear."

"What?"

"I was supposed to meet him at the café yonder. He'll be wondering why I'm late."

Matthew was sitting uncomfortably in the nominated café nursing the cup of tea he'd stammered his order for. If Marilla felt out of place in the big city, he was doubly so. Coming here today had been his idea because the part he needed was not to be found in Carmody, but he regretted their trip as soon as they arrived. Charlottetown was altogether too noisy and crowded for his liking. His misgivings were soon put aside when he looked up at Marilla's approach for supporting his sister was his girl, Anne.

Though it broke his heart Matthew had all but given up searching for Anne. They had looked and enquired in all the obvious and less obvious places but were beginning to lose hope. One day she had been there, and they had all been happy, or so he thought and the next she had up and disappeared without even a farewell note. Her disappearance hurt him for he'd thought they had a special bond. But he knew from second hand experience how powerful the pull of love could be. Marilla had felt that pull and regretted her denial of it all her life. In a secret corner of his heart, he was pleased Anne had not behaved the same way, but it still hurt.

But now here she was, walking towards him at Marilla's side. He stood at their approach, mouth agape, words failing him. Anne helped Marilla to her chair and sat herself before turning to Matthew.

It was awkward no two ways about it. Both parties felt wronged, and both were right to do so, though in truth the problem had not been of anyone's making. Still, it would take a while before hearts were mended and this crowded Carmody café was not the place to manage it. They did their best to fill each other in on their situation though.

For her part Anne noticed how much older her parents appeared. Though never young Anne had stopped noticing the difference between Marilla and her friends' mothers. However, it appeared that over the past weeks Marilla had aged significantly. She was certainly thinner, that much was for sure, her face seemed quite gaunt. Anne interrupted Marilla's speech to enquire if she was quite well. "She's not been eating," Matthew replied when Marilla looked down at her teacup rather than admit how much Anne's disappearance had affected her. "I've been eating fine," Marilla murmured.

"Hm," Matthew grunted, "don't think I haven't watched you shove your food around the plate, that's not the same as eating ya know."

Marilla frowned, "you haven't been much better."

"No," Anne added, "you don't look very well either Matthew." It was evident that Matthew had not shaved properly for some time for his chin was very whiskery.

"Will you, will you come home with us Anne?" Marilla asked tentatively. She desperately hoped that Anne would join them but did not want to jump to conclusions and thereby risk losing her again.

"Green Gables," said Anne dreamily. "If you'll have me?"

Matthew reached over to squeeze her hand. "We will."

"I had better pick up my things from home," commented Anne. "Don't want them worrying about me needlessly."

"And where is Gilbert?" Marilla asked realising she had forgotten the boy in her amazement.

"He'll be working. He's been assisting Brutus. It's hard but he says he wants to help as best he can," Anne explained. "Come, it's not far."

They struggled to find a carriage. Drivers shook their heads or worse spat when they so much as mentioned their destination. Anne explained that that was a common response. Eventually they found a helpful driver who agreed to take them. That he was coloured did not faze Anne, but Marilla was quite taken aback. "You'll have to get used to it," Anne told her. Marilla pursed her lips and nodded.

It's tiny, was Marilla's first thought when the carriage fetched up outside Maggie and Brutus' cabin. Following Anne into the living room did not change her mind. If anything, it looked smaller on the inside. Though Marilla could not help but notice how, despite the age of the furnishings the place was obviously very well kept. "Maggie," Anne said by way of introduction, "these are my parents, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert."

"Pleased to meet you at last," Maggie responded. "I've been tellin' Anne here she oughta to get in touch with you folks again."

"You have?" Marilla sat on the sofa feeling it sag uncomfortably beneath her.

"Seemed a fool's notion to try to leave a good position 's far as I was concerned. Anne seemed a mite confused, but it was evident you cared for her. What I been telling you, honey. These are good folks." Anne smiled ruefully acknowledging that it had all been a dreadful misunderstanding. "Is Gilbert home yet?" she asked.

"The men'll be getting back directly I 'spect. Supper's on the stove. Will you stay to dinner, Miss Cuthbert, Mr Cuthbert?"

Realising that the spicy, but not particularly pleasant aroma that had been pervading her nostrils was in fact dinner, Marilla shook her head. "No, we won't take up any more of your time, Miss er Maggie. We just came by for Anne to fetch her things and we'll take her home."

"What about Gilbert?" Anne asked.

"What about me?" Gilbert called in as he stamped his muddy boots outside.

"Gilbert," Anne called out to him. "You wouldn't believe it, I found Matthew and Marilla. They never got your note."

Sweeping his hair out of his eyes, Gilbert entered the cabin in some shock. "Oh."

"Gilbert," replied Marilla coolly. "How nice to see you." She could not help but notice as Brutus entered behind him, and her eyes travelled up the height of the man as he towered above, the room seeming that bit smaller now that he occupied it.

"Ah, um, ah yes, nice to see you too, Miss Cuthbert," Gilbert felt rather uneasy about the situation having been the original instigator of their misguided adventure.

"We're going home, Gilbert. Isn't that wonderful." Gilbert sniffed and crossed his arms defensively. Anne paused, "isn't it?"

"Hmm."

"Don't you want to return?"

"You can if you want, but I'm still interested in seeing the world."

Anne's mouth was a perfect O.

"Yeah, sorry about that. But you know I had plans and they were interrupted when you got hurt and I got you to a place of safety and kept my eye on you, but if you're going home then I'm leaving."

"Gilbert!"

"Excuse us," Gilbert said as he led Anne outside. "Look," he said. "It's been lovely here and I've enjoyed getting acquainted with Maggie and Brutus, but I don't want to stay here and I'm not ready to go back home. The world is still beckoning, Anne. I want to explore Marrakech, Timbuktu, Paris, and London. You sound like you want to go home and that's fine, but there's nothing for me there, don't you understand?"

Tears welled in Anne's eyes for she did. The pull of adventure was there, but it was nothing like as strong as her need to go home. She had not realised in her hurt how much she adored Matthew and Marilla; how much she needed their love to make her happy. She nodded and leant into Gilbert's arms. "I know. You have to go, and I'll stay. Promise you'll write?"

"Of course. The postbags will be stuffed with my letters. You'll get sick of them."

"I'll travel vicariously," Anne smiled into his chest.

Gilbert laughed, "that's right. I'll try to see the world through your eyes, I'll notice every little thing."

"See that you do. I'll miss you something awful, Gil."

Gilbert's heart leapt; Anne had never called him that to his face before, "I'll miss you too."

"Come back one day won't you."

He kissed the top of her head and said, "I will."

Anne embraced Brutus and then Maggie tightly, thanking them for all they had done for her. They waved farewell making promises to keep in touch.

~ ~ ~

"Were you very angry, Marilla?" Anne asked that night curled up in her own little bed.

"I was frightened half to death."

Anne nestled into her side. "I know," she replied in a small voice.

"And look, I think I might have been unfair on you these last few months. It, well, it hasn't been easy."

"You lost Mr Blythe."

"Yes, I was surprised how it affected me, but I shouldn't have taken it out on you."

"You were fine, really Marilla. It wasn't that."

"Well perhaps if I'd been warmer, you might not have fled."

"I wasn't running away; I was running to."

"And how was to?"

"Awful," Anne snuggled into Marilla's side breathing in her perfume, the smell of home, of comfort, and love. "I suppose I'm forbidden from ever leaving again?"

"Why would you think that?" Anne made a small noncommittal noise. Marilla hugged her tight, "if anything I know you're unlikely to ever leave us again, at least not for a few years yet. And, for that I give thanks. We did not cope well without you here. Funny isn't it," she stroked Anne's hair fondly, tucking a stray lock behind her ear. "All those years we lived without you, and we fall apart when you are away. Now you lie back down, Anne and I'll leave you be."

"Can you stay for a while longer, til I sleep?"

Marilla's heart broke a little hearing Anne ask, "of course. Just don't ask me to sing you a lullaby."

Anne smiled sleepily, "I won't go that far."

Marilla smiled back down at her, "close your eyes now." Dutifully Anne closed her eyes comforted by her presence while Marilla watched and listened to her girl's breathing, thanking the good Lord above that they had her home safe and sound.

"Everything a'right up there?" Matthew asked when Marilla sat back down in her chair by the fire.

"She just needed a bit of mothering."

Matthew leant over to light his taper and spent a bit of time fussing with his pipe before replying, "she chose well."

The next morning Anne sheepishly made her way downstairs. Still a little embarrassed and certainly sorry about having worried her parents so. Marilla had been kind the previous night, but Anne feared that may just have been in relief. In the cold light of day, there was a chance Marilla would be less forgiving. "Better get it over with," Anne muttered to herself, resolutely. But she was pleasantly surprised for Marilla was baking.

The Green Gables' pantry was never stocked with fewer than five types of cookies and cake, but Marilla rarely made her famous plum puffs for they were work intensive. To smell the tangy aroma of the plum jam bubbling on the stove warmed Anne in body and mind, understanding that baking was Marilla's love language and if she was making the estimable puffs all was forgiven.

Sitting in the warm fug of the kitchen while Marilla bustled around brought Anne the deepest sense of love and joy she had ever experienced. Anne caught Marilla's hand as she brushed by and held it tight for the briefest of moments, her heart swelling when Marilla reciprocated. When the puffs were cooling on the bench Marilla sat down. Anne took the role of mother and poured tea into her favourite rosebud adorned teacup. The two women sipped their tea in companionable silence, relishing each other's company. Later Anne whipped the cream knowing that Marilla found the task somewhat onerous. When the puffs were finally finished Anne held out the plate for Marilla who smiled and bashfully took one, it was rare for her to go first. As mother and baker, she was used to taking a back seat.

"I made these for John once," she admitted shyly after she'd wiped the last smear from the corner of her mouth. He had taken her out for a picnic one spring afternoon. She had been expecting him and had begged her mother for the use of the kitchen in advance. Plum puffs were her grandmother's idea found in the back of a recipe box but never considered by her own mother. "Far too fiddly," she'd said but Marilla remembered them, the way they made the kitchen smell and pure joy of shoving the mess into your mouth, for they were impossible to eat daintily. Marilla may have presented herself to the world as a demure young girl but there was a spark of fire within that would never be tamed. That afternoon had been anything but demure starting with the puffs. She had proffered the plate and he'd taken one and tried to nibble on the edge but gave up when the pastry crumbled into his mouth in a creamy mess. Hers had done likewise, and she giggled when he leant forward to clean her up, giving up when the handkerchief proved unworthy to the task and laying back on the grass when he finished the job with his tongue." They weren't quite as well made as this batch, but he was polite enough," she said coyly, the memory of that afternoon dancing undaintily on her tastebuds.

Anne looked at her, wonder shining in her eyes. "Look Anne," Marilla said with a sigh. "Don't think I don't understand the allure of leaving for parts unknown. Once upon a time I was hard pressed not to do likewise. Matthew reminded me of it the other day when we were trying to find you. But darling girl, I was older than you are now, you're so young. How were you planning on surviving?"

Anne studied her teacup intently before replying, "don't know."

Marilla regarded her for a long moment, "no. I suppose not. You've always been impulsive, Anne. But this time it could have got you into real trouble."

"I had Gilbert."

"Yes, and he did a good job bringing you back to safety. But disaster fell before you'd got very far. Girls are more vulnerable than boys, Anne."

"I'm strong, Marilla. I could have pretended to be a boy, got a job on a steamer somewhere."

"I doubt you'd have lasted long, truly Anne. How would you have used the privy for starters?" Anne looked at her blankly for in truth she had not considered that at all. "Men en masse are an uncouth bunch, not all as chivalrous as our Matthew or even Gilbert. I worry about your virtue, Anne.

Anne was about to make a retort but bit her lip. Marilla was right, she had been lucky, but it was a perilous world out there for a girl as young as she. As wonderful as Maggie and Brutus had been, she decided that for now, there was no place like home.