I began this almost eight months ago by dedicating it to Julie, PelirrojaBiu and FKAJ, and all three have helped me along the way. So if you want to send some love, don't review me send a thank you to them, because I couldn't have done this without them -especially you, J. You are the midwife to this story.

Yes, the girl I wrote this for is still reading it, pulling it apart, questioning it, hating it, loving it, and still talking to me!

With love and gratitude to L.M.M. ~everything is hers, only this idea is mine.

...

When the sleigh pulls into Bright River station all Gilbert can see are a pair of grey eyes peeping out from a pile of blankets. His suitcase bounces atop bundled legs, as he leaps in and takes the spot next to Anne.

"Hello in there!" he says, as though he saw her three days ago instead of three months ago.

Rowena is seated opposite and tosses a blanket over his head. "And your mother, does she get a greeting?"

"Seems I missed out, too," John grumbles. He sits out in front. Usually Gilbert would take a seat by him and fight him for the reins. John shoots his wife a knowing look, as the sleigh starts moving again.

Their son emerges from under the blanket, an irreverent look on his face. "Evening Father, evening Mother. I say, it's jolly cold."

"Jolly cold?" his parents say together.

Gilbert shrugs, or rather the furs round his neck go up past his ears. "That's how they speak in Kingsport. But don't worry, this Islander is holding his own."

It hardly needs saying. Everyone knows he lead the Freshers to victory at Rush Week, and won a coveted place in the best fraternity; that he is captain of the football team and president of the Freshmen year. He's had other victories since then, topping the calculus exam, his unbeaten run in the debating team. But the one he savours most has nothing to do with college.

"I've got a job!"

"A job?" Rowena splutters. "Why on earth did you get yourself a job? I saved that money so you'd focus on your studies, not be tied to some job. John say something!"

"What's the job?" says John.

"At a paper. The Daily News."

Up till this point, Anne had been silent. Now the wedding is over, she finally feels the weight of it and is tired, fragile, and relieved her nods are considered conversation. But that was before Gilbert mentioned The Daily News. For the rest of the journey they discuss it excitedly, and still haven't exhausted the topic when John falls asleep in his turquoise rocker. It's not until Rowena tugs him out of the room and into bed, that Gilbert finally asks Anne what he's been longing to ask her all evening.

He sits on the braided rug with his back against the leg of the daybed, the daybed Anne is half reclining on, and looks up at her with an earnest expression.

"So, have you thought about it?"

"I have, Gilbert, and the answer's the same."

"But why, I've got a job now?"

"You're not paying my college tuition."

"I never meant all of it, just the first year. You must have saved enough from teaching to pay for board, in time you might find work in Kingsport, too. Please Anne."

He puts his hand on hers. It's the first time they have touched without coats and gloves in the way, and it feels... Anne can't vouch for the way it feels to Gilbert (though his darkening eyes might hint at it) but Anne's heart begins to beat so fast she can hear a rushing sound – butterflies, blood? – pulsing in her ears.

"You'd adore it there," Gilbert insists. "Everywhere I go, all I can think is Anne would love this. And you would, you were made for college life –"

"I was made for lots of things."

"This can't be your final answer, not now Marilla's married and they have the money to restore Green Gables. There's no reason for you to stay here, you've done your duty, it's your turn –"

"You're right, it is my turn. But I'm not going to Redmond."

"You're not going back to teaching surely?"

"No," Anne pauses, and then in her light clear voice she says, "Gilbert, I'm going to Charlottetown."

"You mean the job at the Echo?" Anne nods. "When?"

"When am I going, or when did I decide?"

"Both, neither, I dunno," Gilbert mumbles.

He releases Anne's hand and slumps back against the bed. When Anne touches his shoulder, she feels him flinch.

"Please be happy for me, Gilbert, I have a chance to pay for college doing something that truly excites me."

"I just assumed with Marilla settled, you'd say yes," he says, dully. 'I don't know why I'm surprised... you've never once done what I expected."

Anne takes this moment to look at him. She didn't before because it was dark and they were covered in hats and blankets, and because Mrs Blythe was facing them both. His face is turned toward the stove and tiny flames from the grate cast golden light over his skin. In reality he is much paler than he usually is, the life of a scholar is an indoor pursuit. But tonight in his home, he looks his lovely bronzed self.

He's twenty now and looks it. There is still a layer of boyishness in his features: a jaw not quite square, feet that seem too big for his body. But there are other things about him, new things, that belong to the realm of manhood. His whiskers are darker and more numerous, though that may be because he's spent the best part of a day travelling and had no chance to shave. His hair is certainly different, parted on the side and slicked down with some sort of hair oil she's never smelled before. Even his toque couldn't muss it up, but then it's so much shorter there's not much hair to muss. Then there's the stiff high collar, which he unbuttons and tosses aside. His tie comes off next, but this he keeps, wrapping it tight around his fingers, the tips of them darkening like tiny plums.

"I know that tie," Anne says, gently. She sent it to him for his birthday as a half sort of joke. The fine pattern on the silk looks like bilberries.

"Mmm," says Gilbert, studying his fingers.

They stay this way until Rowena comes back with quilts and pillows for Gilbert. They have a guest in the spare room, a young girl who could no longer disguise her pregnancy, and was thrown out of home. Anne is to sleep in Gilbert's room, and Gilbert on the daybed in the covered porch. As soon as he sees his mother, he remembers she told him to bank the fire and busies himself with the task.

"Well, goodnight," Anne says, hopefully.

"Goodnight," he says, without turning round.

"He's tired," his mother whispers as they walk down the hall.

There is a fire Gilbert's room, too, and the quilts have been turned down. Anne has a sudden remembrance of Everleigh, and smiles.

"You're tired, too," Rowena continues, touching Anne's cheek. "A good night's sleep, that's what we all need."

As usual Rowena Blythe is right. Anne finds Gilbert in the kitchen the next day, heaping porridge down his throat. His eyebrows shoot up when he sees her, and he quickly swallows.

"Morning Anne! Listen, I'm sorry about last night. I won't lie, I am – I was disappointed, but I was also plain done in." He grasps Anne's hand eagerly. "Still friends?"

Anne can hardly contain her grin. "Of course friends, Gilbert, I –"

"Good," he cuts in. "So, you up for some snowshoeing?"

Soon after they are heading toward the frozen stream. The air is crisp but not so cold that it stings. Anne had been wearing her green wool beret, but after half an hour she pulls it off and stuffs it into the pocket of her cloak. She's wearing her hair in two simple braids and her cheeks have the blush of a ripening apple.

While Anne thought Gilbert much older, Gilbert is struck by how young she looks. He keeps wanting to offer her his arm because he walks so much faster than she does. This is because he wears trousers and not two woollen skirts, the bottom third of which are heavy with snow. When he turns back to offer his hand again, Anne laughs at him.

'You've been in the city too long. You can't hold hands and snowshoe. Or is it," here she stops and cocks her head, "you're so used to offering your arm to young ladies, it's become a habit?"

"They're bluestockings, most of them," Gilbert says, dryly. "Offering your arm without being asked gets you an umbrella to the head."

"They do not –" Anne gasps.

"Well, not quite. I've made a few chums."

There are many others who would appreciate his acquaintance, but Gilbert doesn't mention them. He doesn't care for their attention, he cares for the girl beside him. It occurs to him that he hasn't asked Anne more about her move to Charlottetown. He remedies this immediately, as well as the length of his stride, and they walk together, him asking questions, her answering them, until they reach troll rock.

"Of course, Diana wants me to live with her, but Everleigh is miles away. So Mr Keats found me a little room in a boarding house run by a captain's widow. Oh Gilbert, it has a view of the sea! It costs a little more than I hoped, but then everything costs more in the city. I admit it will be a squeeze on a cadet's wage until I'm qualified. They say it takes six months, but I aim to make it in three –"

"Meaning you'll do it in one," Gilbert adds.

Anne gives him a cheeky smile. "I start at the Echo on the 29th –"

"Of December?"

"Yes. It surprised me too. But the way Mr Oliver worded his letter, I got the impression if I didn't agree he wouldn't make the offer again."

"Oh, I think he would," says Gilbert, "he knows a good thing when he sees it. I just never thought you'd leave Green Gables so soon after the wedding. The way you write of your new family – you sound so happy, Anne."

"I am happy. But Martin and Marilla have each other now, and Dora will be there."

"Yes, I know. Mother's taken her under her wing as a sort of apprentice. I hear Rachel's nephew is thinking of buying the Rossi place."

"I didn't know that! Well! Two new bachelors for the neighbourhood!"

"Hmm," says Gilbert, crossing his arms, "I've heard all about Davy Rossi and his dashing red coat – from Ruby," he adds, grimacing.

"Don't worry, Gilbert," Anne jokes, "perhaps once you've graduated you can make ship's surgeon."

"I might at that," he says, teasingly. In the next instant he is serious again. "But I won't. If you don't come to Redmond Anne, if you're still in Charlottetown when I graduate, then I'm going to apply to the teaching hospital and do my medical training there."

"We'll see," Anne says. She pulls her beret over her head and digs her hands in her pockets. "Four years is a long time, Gilbert."

She turns from him and begins the trek back to the Blythes. Gilbert watches the way the snow flakes off her skirts and swirls in the air behind her. He thinks of a comet and says to himself, "She's already letting me go."

The snow comes hard the next day. Anne spends most of it with Mrs Blythe in the stone cottage, while Gilbert gets a start on his Modern History paper. In the dim light of the late afternoon they make snow candies again. Not people this time, but stars, snowflakes, hearts, trees, arrowheads, and flowers. Rowena spends this time in the spare room with the girl. No one in Avonlea knows her, she has come to Rowena from White Sands, and hides away from view. Every now and then her sobs can be heard, then the deep, soothing voice of Rowena. Anne and Gilbert are washing up the supper dishes when she finally emerges.

"I realise it's late –"

"Ma, it's six thirty," says Gilbert. His attempts to address her more formally lasted all of a day.

"Then you won't mind making yourself scarce for a while. Snow's finally let up and I'm trying to convince Margaret to have a bath. It would be easier to do it in the covered porch. Would it be asking too much if you took yourselves for a wander, just for an hour or two? You could pop next door to the Gillis', I'm sure Ruby would be glad of your company."

Neither say a word to the other, but it's clear from the way they wrap themselves up, and especially from the tools they pack, that they have no intention of going to the Gillis'. At the last minute, Gilbert grabs Anne's arm and ushers her into his room. He drops his knapsack and digs through his bureau, pulling out a pair of brown checked trousers.

"For you," he says.

"Gilbert, they're hideous."

"They were a present from Mary-Maria, a cousin of mine," he says, darkly. "I grew out of them long ago."

"Why didn't you pass them on to someone else?"

"No one would have 'em. But they're good quality and exceptionally warm, and it's dark out so no one would see stylish Miss Shirley looking so –"

"Ugly I can imagine away. Scandal I cannot. If anyone spies me wearing trousers."

"Says the girl who can get in anywhere."

It's the first time he's sounded lighthearted all day, and it's a challenge she has never been able to resist. She unbuttons her skirts and they fall to the floor in a heap of blue and grey kerseymere. Gilbert goes his lovely blushing colour as he sees the familiar sight of Anne in her drawers, and hastens out of the room. With her long cloak and knee-high boots, her trousers are undetectable. They only get as far as the orchard before Anne remarks at how comfortable they are, how easy it is to move in them.

"I've always wanted a pair of jodhpurs, but Marilla would never allow me to ride on horseback. I think I will now," she muses. "I'll ask Vincent if he'll teach me on one of Miss Barry's gentler mounts."

Gilbert looks at her sidelong as they walk through the snow; her face light and dark with the swing of the lantern, the shape of her words left in soft clouds of breath. He stops abruptly and lifts his lamp.

"This looks as good a place as any." He flings his knapsack onto the ground and pulls at the long wooden handles poking out of it. "One for you," he says, handing Anne a small shovel, "one for me."

The yank off their cloaks and hats and spend the best part of an hour piling up the snow, then another on their hands and knees digging a hollow into it. When they are done shifting the last load, Anne falls back and stares up at an inky sky.

"I can't believe you managed to do this during that terrible storm."

Gilbert leans on the handle of his shovel and surveys the snow-cave proudly. "That was a hovel. This is a palace. Nice work, Shirley," he says, offering her a hand up. "I'll make a woodsman of you yet."

Anne crawls inside, dragging her satchel behind her. It's warmer than she remembers; the walls curving round her like arms, to welcome her home. She takes out a flask of cocoa, some fingers of shortbread, and the kindling. Gilbert had carried the tools and a mackintosh square, and, folded beneath his sweater, his great-grandmother's blanket. After searching for wood, he lays down the square, then smooths the blanket on top. Anne runs her bare hand over satin-fine weaving, as Gilbert makes a fire near the entrance of the cave.

"Green and gold, the colours of spring," she says, dreamily. "It's so beautiful, Gilbert. However did she do it?"

"Slowly, I'd say, with porcupine quills."

He tries to sound unaffected but her admiration touches him. It seems natural that she would want to know more. He takes Anne's hand and passes it over the shapes that make up the design. "This is God," he says of the triangle, then brings her hand to a circle. "And this is earth. And this," he leads her to a five pointed star, "is heaven..."

They're not looking at the star, but at each other. In the firelight his eyes have gone gold, and hers are purest green. She starts to breathe deeply, pressing her lips together, and he clutches her hand more tightly to hide the fact he's beginning to shake.

"I want to kiss you so badly –"

"I do too – but we agreed – we wouldn't –"

"No Anne. You said you wouldn't. I kissed you goodbye in September and you said we shouldn't do this anymore, not when we can't promise ourselves to each other –"

"We can't – be reasonable –"

"Oh, now you want to be reasonable!'

"I have always been reasonable, it's you who's being romantic!"

Gilbert can't bear to touch her and yanks his hand away, but Anne is undaunted.

"Yes, you!" she insists."Think about it, Gilbert, you have seven years of study ahead of you. You've already made such an impression at Redmond, imagine the worlds that are about to open up, the people you'll meet –"

"That's what this is really about," Gilbert snaps. "You think I only have to whistle and some other girl will come and take your place – just like everyone else." He pounds his fist against the moon on the blanket. "Do you have any idea what it does to a fellow, being told I could have anyone, when the one girl I want doesn't want me back!"

Anne's chin rises from her scarf. "I'm sorry I hurt your pride."

"My pride? Anne, everything hurts. Being away from you hurts, being near you hurts. It's only because you said what you did, that I thought I might survive seeing you again. Then I find out you're staying at my house, in my bed – and all I want to do is get in there with you. And the only reason I don't is because Anne Shirley never says a thing she doesn't mean. Then you look at me like with eyes I swear I could drown in, and I think, if she kisses me there is no way I'm holding back..."

He has run out of words and sits there glaring at her. Anne glares right back, her mouth gaping slightly, her bottom lip glistening and pink. The line that connects them feels physical, as though it needed a knife to cut it. Then Anne remembers. She reaches for her satchel and into a pocket stitched onto the front, and brings out a small parcel, her eyes never leaving his.

"I got you something," she says, hesitantly. Gilbert's eyes flick over a small rectangular item wrapped in what looks like a handkerchief. "I'm going home tomorrow. Marilla and Martin want me and the twins with them for Christmas morning, so I made up my mind to give this to you tonight."

Gilbert stares at the offering in her hands. A look of recognition passes over his face, and his mouth breaks into a reluctant smile. "I think I can guess what you got me," he says, and reaches for his coat, "because I got one for you, too."

Anne tosses him his present and watches him unwrap it. Beneath starched cambric is a gleaming pocketknife. He picks it up and weighs it in his hand. The antler handle is polished so highly it glows like amber. The blade springs from its hilt with a satisfying motion. He can see his face in the shining steel and knows then how much this must have cost her.

"It's to replace the one you lost," Anne says. "It was Matthew's."

Gilbert's not sure if this is better or worse. The Blythe in him opts for better, and he tosses Anne her gift.

"I remembered the kitchen knives you brought the first time I took you to the stream," he says, as she opens hers. "I've been meaning to get you one ever since, but nothing I've seen compared to the one I lost. I've had it since I was a boy, it's good and light and beautifully balanced, just right for a small hand like yours. The moment I found it again, I knew you had to have it. I meant to give it to you the day I left, but I was so mad at you..." Anne keeps her head bent, studying it intently. "You like it, don't you? Now I'm wondering if I should have got you jodhpurs."

Anne nods, and a tear falls on her blue sweater. "I won't need my prince to come riding in anymore. I have my own sword, soon I'll ride my own horse. But you see, Gilbert... the thing is..." she says, finally able to meet his eyes, "I won't have you."

"I know," he says, miserably. "This is hard for me, too. I don't know to love you and not be with you, Anne. I thought if you came to Redmond – and now you're going to Charlottetown, and I want to be happy for you, I want to let you go the way you let me go, but I can't –"

"But I haven't let you go!" Anne protests. She looks down at the knife. It has blurred to a silvery icicle in her hands and feels just as cold. "I've said goodbye to Matthew, and Diana... even Marilla in a way." Her brow furrows as though she had come to a geometry problem she had no idea how to solve. "It should be easy to say goodbye to you –"

"Easy, huh?"

"I didn't mean it like that. I was so sure I knew the depths of my heart – how to keep myself safe – and I realise I'm not. I'm falling, Gilbert, and I know I should stop, but I don't know how..."

"It's a bit of a mess, isn't it?" Gilbert mutters, because what else can he possibly say?

Anne nods, absently, and runs her hands over her little silver knife. Etched into the handle she can just make out, F.P. Wright, 1873. Despite herself, she begins to imagine what great deed Gilbert did to win it from his chum, when she feels his hand at her chin.

"Shall we make an even bigger mess?"

Anne drops the knife and frowns. "What do you mean?"

"You don't want to be parted from me, and I don't to be parted from you."

"You're not going to propose are you?"

"Marriage isn't the only bond," he says, unperturbed. "We can make one right now, just for us, one that will bind us together for always."

He picks up his old knife from her lap and hands it to her.

"You mean a blood oath?"

"Uh huh."

"Have you done one before?"

"Have you?" Gilbert asks.

"Not with blood. Diana and I swore an oath that we would love each other forever, only I didn't cut her skin, I cut her hair."

"Sounds like something the two of you would do."

"I still have it, too, the lock of her hair in a box in my room," she says, fondly.

"Well, this is almost as simple. You just take the tip of your knife and draw it across your thumb. It's good and sharp, so it should cut clean." He is wiping the blade of his new knife over his trousers as he says this, and notices three drops on blood on the moon where his fist had fallen.

"Now what do I do?" Anne says, calmly, holding up her hand.

"I didn't mean for you to do it right this second!" Gilbert cries. He grabs her cut thumb and slips it between his lips, then quickly slices his own.

"Do I take your thumb in my mouth now?" Anne asks.

There is a loud sucking noise as her thumb reappears. "Well, ah – that's not really the way it's done, but what the heck, why not?"

Gilbert holds out his hand and Anne places his thumb on her tongue, and closes her lips around it. She is solemn at first, but it doesn't last long. Soon she is giggling and so is he, because it looks so ridiculous.

"I miss your mouth," she says.

"I miss you sharp little teeth," says Gilbert, drawing his wet thumb over her bottom lip.

"Do you think we're vampires now?"

"Only if we kill each other. Now are you ready? Press your thumb against mine."

Anne does so, then frowns uncertainly and whispers, "Should we say something?"

"I say we do what Quakers do, and speak only if the spirit moves us."

Things get serious then. They had been sitting, but quickly feel the pull to be on their knees, so that not only their thumbs, but their heads, chests and thighs meet in a strange and magic symmetry.

A smile from her brings one from him, and he is glad because for a moment he thought he might cry. All sorts of jumbled memories run through his mind like a great rushing wind. The evening she opened the door in a dress that was too big for her, the night she recited Euclid in the storm. The time she got stuck on the roof of the cottage, the stinking hot day they went searching for nails. Her carnelian ring, her yellow pencil, her singular ability for climbing trees. The way she made his mother love her the way Marilla loved her, and kissed him with all of her body, just as she loved him with all of her heart. How he stopped seeing himself as one and started seeing himself as two... When we finish teaching... When we go to Redmond... When we have a house of our own...

He's not sure how long they've been kneeling, but their blood has congealed. His football injury starts to ache; Anne's brown check trousers itch horribly.

"I'm sorry but I have to do this," she murmurs.

Gilbert blinks hard as he watches Anne unbutton her waistband. She reaches into her trouser leg to scratch her knee, and her eyes widen with wonder.

"I can feel you inside me, Gilbert. Can you feel me?"

"Yeah –" his voice cracks as he says this. "Yeah, I do..."

The moment overwhelms them and they fall upon the universe on his blanket. Later, he would swear it wasn't snow beneath them, but endless, open sky. All he can do is hold Anne's very real, very freckled face in his hands, and gaze at her for as long as the fire holds out.

When it dies the darkness is complete. Nothing exists but what they can feel.

And he says, "Do you want to go home?"

And she says, "We are home, Blythe."

...

* bluestocking is a Victorian term for educated women who follow intellectual rather than domestic pursuits.

* kerseymere is a fine wool patterned fabric

* mackintosh is rubberised fabric

* if you know my stories you will probably have noticed a lot of cross-pollination in this chapter -the arguments from GD, the sky dream from RD, the 'home' line from Love Letters, the thumb sucking from UTK, and many others- I hope you don't feel cheated, it just felt right to me to bring these elements into their story.

...

When I started out with the Oliver poem I thought I would be writing about taking someone into the woods (or garden) as expression of love. But the more I wrote the more I realised the woods can be any secret we keep to ourselves (our dreams, our ambitions, our hearts, our bodies) and about what happens when we dare to let people in.

I'm so grateful to everyone for reading and reviewing, especially those who never missed a chapter. And a tip o' the hat to AlinyaAlethia whose characters Mara and Shirley share a beautiful binding ceremony in her story, Pieces of Lives.

Thanks for reading, kwak

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