Well, this isn't half-terrifying. But Elizasky wanted my stab at gentle touch and M writing. I think this is about as close as I'll get to either. It comes with a generous helping of Thomas Hardy, John Donne, and Marvell. Do play spot-the-allusion; if I start citing them all, we'll be here into next year. Know none of their words are mine.

Neither are the characters, who remain, as ever, property of L.M. Montgomery. I only borrow them.

There remains only to say that this particular scene slots neatly between 'Mallo in an Apple Tree' and 'Candles for Witness' over in Love, Laughter and Tenderness. Consider it a good part of what is committed from that letter to Di.

Nan was writing, which all told, should hardly have come as a surprise. She was always writing in Jerry's memory of her. Essays, treatises, fly-away ideas; clever things with her forehead furrowed in thought; playful things that left her fingers ink-spattered and a joke folded at the corner of her mouth. Stories and snippets and things that even on his best days, Jerry couldn't half have equalled. Letters by the volume, written close and double-sided full of her degree and Swallowgate and come home like a prayer, always, I'll wait – come back to me.

Sure enough, here she was, awash in candlelight like some Renaissance painting, her hair plaited, her gloves long ago discarded. No, that still wasn't right. Not awash, more…irradiated. As if she had swallowed the candlelight and acquired a mandorla of her own, Anne Cordelia Meredith, Jerry thought with a thrill, Patron Saint of Writers everywhere. Of ambitious students and disconsolate ones, of anyone who had ever been buoyed by the power of story. That was nearer the mark.

She was still writing, pen glancing off the paper at incalculable speed. Still had no idea he was there in the doorway. No matter. They had time enough and world enough now for her to write as much as she wanted, be it letters or stories or…Jerry risked entry into the room, shucked his shoes, padded on the balls of his feet to peek over her shoulder.

By the time you read this…Not a story then. One of her voluminous letters. Strange to think he was no longer on the receiving end of those, that she was here now, and him also, time enough and world enough…

As if to prove it, Jerry leaned over and kissed her knuckles for good measure, laughing to find they tasted of ink. Of course they did. He should have expected nothing less of Nan. But he had her now, her attention, and her fingers enfolded in his. Could feel her heart fluttering like one of Carl's kaleidoscopes of butterflies where her wrist abutted his.

'What's the joke?' said Nan, so Jerry told her.

'They do not,' said Nan, laughing, relaxing. So of course Jerry pressed her fingers to her lips in testament of this assertion, making her laugh afresh at the veracity of it.

'Told you so,' said Jerry.

'Charcoal,' said Nan, as she brought his fingers back to her mouth, 'so that makes us even.'

It was impossible not to laugh, there in the candlelight with the ink on her fingers and residual traces of charcoal on his. It was good to laugh; Jerry couldn't place the last time they had shared this. The woodland idyll of the afternoon had been too earnest for that; there had been too much to say, pour out and let fall among the new-sprung daffodils and drifting snow of the Haunted Wood. Impossible to talk properly on the train, afterwards, and before that…There had been no laughter that last visit to Kingsport, when the bells and their clangour had driven him into the woods there, when he and Nan had leaned on Old St John's lytch-gate, what his mother would have called a kissing-gate and dared to talk of the future. Before even that…had they laughed together over Christmas so lately flown? He thought not. It had been warm, and bustling and chaotic, and he'd been full to bursting with love and pride in her, but had they laughed? Jerry thought not, thought possibly they had not really known each other properly again until this afternoon, the melting snow in her hair, his mother's ring on her finger, his question to her – placetne magistra? – still hanging heavy in the air.

Somewhere along the way he'd let her hand go, and she was writing again, re-immersed in the letter of the hour.

'Here meet we two, in this still space,' murmured Jerry against her hair. She tasted of ink and smelled of apple blossom. Of all the improbable combinations…

'Not how that goes,' said Nan, drowsily, abstractedly, evidently still miles away.

'Hm?' said Jerry. He was still inhaling the apple blossom scent of her and had little thought for anything else. It conjured summers long ago, her hair crowned in sweetbriar, her cheek pillowed on his shoulder, a dance they had stolen out among the rocks, before the waves brought war rolling in with the tide. The smell of the salt and spume lapping at those silver slippers of hers, a gift from Leslie Ford.

'The Hardy,' said Nan, resurfacing.

'Thus meet we five, in this still place,
At this point in time, this point in space
-My guests besmirch my new penned line…

Apt, as it turns out,' said Nan, abruptly breaking off and reaching for blotting paper. Jerry beat her too it, pressing an open-mouthed kiss to her palm, not remotely taken aback to find ink there, too. No revelation, surely, that it had escaped the confines of her ring finger. There was chalk too, in spades, ingrained in her skin still from that day's lesson, and always apple blossom at her wrists. He'd know her anywhere for the smell of it, sweet and sharp and full of springtime promise. He kissed her there, pulse against his lips, and again at the junction of thumb and index finger. He said between kisses, 'Loveliest of trees – '

'Now that,' said Nan, half-turning and anticipating his thought, 'is the cherry. It wears white for Eastertide, and unless I've forgotten something, it has no place in our private mythology.' Then, quizzically, 'Am I forgetting?'

'No,' said Jerry, and kissed the exposed column of her upturned throat, cherry-blossom colour in the candlelight. Nan was still awash in it, still all reds and whites, the deep nut-brown of her hair bronzed with it.

He had got her full attention again, no small thing in the face of the half-finished letter, a fact Jerry was deeply sensible to. Gently he drew the pen from her fingers and Nan into his arms.

He could feel her trembling again like a storm-rattled aspen. Or – how did the poem have it? Some tame gazelle, some gentle dove…

'Something to love, oh something to love,' said Nan, taking over the verse. Jerry hadn't realised he'd said it aloud.

'Mm,' said Jerry, noncomitally, lips hovering over her pulse. It still came fast, and Nan was still shivering, so he left off kisses and metaphysics, in favour of reaching for her, for her hands where they had slid cool under his shirt. A reminder that this was, after all, only them, always them, and still there was time enough, and world enough.

'You have,' Jerry said, 'the coldest hands of anyone I know.'

'Have I?' said Nan, and acquiesced as he pressed them to her cheeks, gasping when he proved right.

'Supposed to mean a warm heart,' Nan said, her voice little more than a stutter in the stillness. Jerry wrapped them in his, and breathed over them.

He encompassed her roundabout, and pressed another kiss to the base of her neck.

'May I?' he said again, and ran a thumb over a pearl of a button.

'Easier if you do it,' said Nan.

After five minutes devoted to the same button, Jerry took generous leave to doubt this assessment. When he did finally work it free of its clasp, its pearled kindred rolled equally free of his thumb. Just as well, he supposed, time was on their side. It left Jerry wondering who he was to hold personally responsible for the invention of impossible pearled buttons, with their sheen and gloss, whose contortion of fashion was responsible for this overcomplication of Nan's schoolday best. He must have said that aloud, too, because that won an honest-to-goodness ripple of laughter from Nan like a peal of bells in wedding cadence.

'Shall I take it,' she said, half-turning her head, eyes sparkling, 'there really was no one else, all those years away?'

'Of course there wasn't,' said Jerry, and tried to say it lightly. But it wasn't far enough away, the war, his war, the shadow of it still too long and heavy between them to occasion much levity. 'Who else could there be, angel? You as yet/ but knock, breathe, shine and seek to mend…' He shrugged, helpless with so much more than the buttons. He stood, hands light on her shoulders, half-expecting her to take over where he had left off. Somehow he didn't expect the rest of that half-turn, her fingers cool against his cheek, Nan's thumb mapping the curve of his jaw. All the while, quoting from memory, because of course Nan knew the rest,

That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new…

'Was it like that, then?'

Impossible to say, confronted with Nan before him in the candlelight, dress half unbuttoned, her hands chill against his skin, fingers worn rough and inky with writing. She had begun in her turn to work at his buttons, her luck no better than his had been, her fingers all tremors and nerve-ends.

'Dearly I love you,' she said, her breath warm against the shell of his ear. 'But I think I liked the other better. It was less…brutal, somehow.'

'It was a brutal sort of world,' said Jerry. 'And I – well, you'll remember. All the labour to admit you.' He couldn't leave it at that though, so he wove his fingers through hers, took over the buttons.

'You're attention's elsewhere,' he said. 'Let me.'

Nan hummed , her mouth warm against his exposed neck. She sucked gently at a pulse point so that his breath caught and of necessity, he left speaking, thinking, to her.

'What you said before,' she said at length, thoughtful, 'I wouldn't say to no end. On the contrary. You're leagues different from that day in St. John's Wood. I thought the world was ending then. You'll remember that.'

Her breath was warm against his skin, and even so it sent coruscations of gooseflesh across Jerry's shoulders and down his arms. He made a noise back in his throat, the best he could do confronted at close quarters with Nan's head on his shoulder, her hands encircling him, and the apple blossom of her near enough to touch. She said as her hands told the vertibrae of his spine, 'We're none of us – how does it go? – that now you are not as you were?'

Jerry, not knowing, idly traced the expanse of her partially-exposed back, felt her skin cooling in the everywhere of an Ingleside garret, registered the blossoming of her own share of goosebubbles and murmured assent. He half-wondered too, as he plotted their progression with a thumb, who it was she was quoting – not antiquity, anyway, nothing from their schooldays. But it had been too long, and he wanted her too keenly to dwell on details.

'We all made our bargains with God,' Nan was saying now. 'We're all doing our bit of faltering forward. We can't even divide things into before and after because that implies a degree of separation that just isn't…'

He stopped her with a kiss. She tasted impossibly, improbably, of the cinnamon of Susan's Chelsea buns, chalk powder, and of course the sharp tang of ink. Only Nan, Jerry thought, indistinctly, his tongue chasing hers, could grow so absorbed in her work as to actually eat her words. They came apart eye-bright and laughing, the sound of it little more than a gasp from her as she fought for breath. Jerry held her close, inhaled the apple blossom and ammonia of her again, and said to the crown of her head, 'Thou Angel bringst with thee/A heaven like Mahomet's Paradise…'

But then Nan returned the kiss, and he got no further. Her eyes had fluttered shut before, but now they were close and wide, and so brimful with feeling that Jerry wondered how they had ever been at odds, how he had ever worried she might waver in love or loyalty to him. Might not, in fact, follow him to the ends of the earth – impossible ask that that had seemed.

'Always,' said Nan, the word more breath than whisper, and leaving Jerry to suppose he must have looked some of the sentiment. She pillowed her cheek against his chest and he thought she must surely feel his heartbeat, the quickness of it the twin of hers, not quite, after all, a sole unquiet thing.

He reached for something steadying and ended in battle with the lacing of her corset – and here Jerry thought the dratted things went out of fashion years ago, or at the very least that the Ingleside girls had eschewed them. Trust Nan to cleave to tradition, Jem's diatribes on the abuses of the things to the human body notwithstanding. He stumbled over a knot in the laces and Nan laughed.

'Perhaps I ought to,' she said, her hands arcing backward, leaving a coldness against his chest in their absence. He could only watch, mesmerically, as her fingers worked, unseeing, in a series of acrobatic manoeuvres that defied parsing.

She looked up at him, brown eyes luminous, and said, 'Come back to me. You're miles away.'

Impossible to challenge this. Easier, in the end, to stop thinking, to fall back on habit; to kiss a tender spot behind her ear and hear her gasp, her mouth and stifle a sigh ; to press her close and negotiate the little garret room in a step that was trying to be a waltz but wasn't because that required a degree of focus that was beyond either of them. Instead, Jerry stumbled backwards, and Nan with him. They laughed when her knees shored up against the bed; his breath catching as she fell and tugged him with her.

For a moment they lay there, comingled, and then Jerry pushed himself upwards, the better to take in the sight of her. Nan looked, unaccountably, nervous, when really there was no need to, because it was only them, always them. She was radiant in the candlelight spilling across her breasts, her arms, the wells of her eyes. All of her, if it came to that, dappled and illumined like one of her beloved, old-world books. There was no good way to say this, Jerry found, unmoored at the sight of her; words were Nan's province.

'May I?' he managed, and brought a hand to the fine end of her plait. Nan hummed something incoherent that was too warm for a negative, and that was invitation enough to unweave the cord of her hair. It fell an iridescent rope across the expanse of his hands, his arms.

Reluctantly, Jerry let it go, his hands skimming their way from nape to shoulder, to arms. It wasn't just Nan's hands that were freezing by then; Jerry hovered over her, then encircled her, resolved to chart every part of her, worship every article in some as yet unrecorded heresy. He found first the slim bones of her ankle, ran a finger along the ball of her foot and across the calloused points of her toes. Dancer's feet, he thought, distractedly, acutely aware that they had not got that way from a half-dozen clandestine dances at the shore, or behind the hall, or wherever they had flitted too of an evening. Envious suddenly of the handful of people whose luxury it had been to watch her by lamplight, skirt in hand, garlands in her hair, here turning a gay figure of eight, there ducking under arched arms; setting and linking and skip-changing all on the points of her feet; her chin tilted in concentration; eyes alternately on the set, on her partner, finding him on the side-lines. No matter, Jerry thought, hands inching along the swell of her calf. He'd make up the difference now. He kissed the pocket of her knee, then the expanse of her abdomen, felt it jump under his lips.

'What are you doing?' Nan asked, the words short and sharp between imperfect breaths.

'All flat maps,' said Jerry, voice muffled against her skin, and felt the breath leave her completely in a burst of laughter. It was infectious. He caught it from her, doubling up against the crease of upper- and forearm. Recovered, at length, enough to trace her brachial vein, blue and fine, under his fingers. To ask as he did so, ' Is the pacific sea my home? Or are the eastern riches?'

There was more, but then Nan kissed him, and the heat of it was startling, an unlooked for tongue of flame that snaked its way from his belly into his blood, engulfing still-jangling nerves and hammering heart. Her hands settling on the back of his neck, nails pressing almost painfully, but not unpleasantly against the base of his skull.

'Here,' she said, kissing his forehead, his nose, his cheeks. 'Here is home,' with a kiss for his ear, his clavicle, his mouth again, her lips chasing his.

'Let maps to other worlds have shown,' she said afterwards, her hands tight around his waist, 'but you are home, and here is home – an everywhere this garret, and the quilt, and wherever we're going next.'

'I don't think,' said Jerry, breathless, 'that's how it goes. And you an English scholar.'

'It's what I mean, though,' said Nan, her back arching beneath him, a compass point headed norward.

'In that case,' Jerry said, 'I'd learn you over again. I knew you once, angel - May I?'

An indistinct murmur from Nan, a look like a sun, an inclination of the head, was enough. Dancer's feet, and a writer's fingers, Jerry thought, feeling the pads of hers as they explored his chest, his neck, the breadth of a shoulder, broader now, by way of the war. If it came to that, there were lines at Nan's eyes, at the corners and across her forehead that Jerry would not have known, could not have placed as hers but for the shifting sands of time.

He took stock of all these things, mouth and hands, and skin never still, slipping now above and here below. But this was new territory, unchartered, and it drove his heart into his mouth. He'd have been nervous, or at any rate, more nervous, but he could sill feel Nan's nerves buzzing beneath him, equal parts anxiety and anticipation, and somehow that emboldened him enough to tread gently, catapult them further and softly into unchartered waters. If it came to that, Jerry supposed it was new to them both, and there was her heartbeat again, the mirror to his, rapid and butterfly-fast under his fingers as they glided over her abdomen, and along, encircled her. He spared a kiss for the valley of her breasts, cupped a hand to the back of her neck. Touched the beating core of her, raw and beating at his fingertips, and watched in wonderment as she was overwhelmed by a wave of incommunicable feeling. There were no words for this, the sensation of it, the fluid ebb of Nan at his fingertips, or the look of her, eyes gleaming and body taut, the sound of his name on her mouth. Enough, after all, that notwithstanding the war and the arguments, even the tears, they could still orbit each other as suns. That when it came to the point, he was the centre of her world as she was his. Jerry felt the iron truth of this as he watched the earth fall out from under her, and wondered that he could do anything half so momentous. Where can we find two hemispheres, came unbidden to him, but went unsaid, because Nan's eyes were like globes as she came back to earth with a shudder. Reached for him, cleaved to him, at once delicate as an iris-petal and all raw, flint edges.

'Please,' said Nan, and drew him close.

'You're sure?' said Jerry, because she was still wide-eyed and breathless, and it wasn't so long ago that he had learned with painful acuity that anyone might say anything and mean it under such circumstances. But this was different. The quilt – pattern still indeterminate – was soft beneath them, and Nan's eyes were only starry, not – well, not that. She was warm beneath him with the lamplight and blood that had brought colour to her, stemmed the worst of the cold.

'Certain,' said Nan, the sincerity of it somehow made tangible between them.

All around them was the quiet hum of the house; Jims' childish and sleepy snuffling a floor below, the splutter and dying gasp of Susan's oven as it guttered out for the night, the faint thrum of the boiler, the water in the pipes, somewhere the muted ticking of a clock unwinding. From overhead was the gentle bluster of the March wind against the window, the stars peeping through a gap in the garret curtains. A tap of a slender, deciduous branch against the window. None of it mattered.

It was easier than he had imagined, effortless even, to immerse himself in her; the taste of her kiss, of her skin, the feel of her fingers so different now than in yesteryear; of her around and within and beneath him in impossibly intricate weaving of selves. It seemed they had been drifting this way unstoppably over the years. Jerry had only to yield to the tidal lure of it, her love like a current, or perhaps only a guiding star, its coruscation magnetically bright.

Some tame gazelle, some gentle dove…

Worlds fell away, taking measures of time with them, because this was home, and she was home, their long love's day hard-won. Years, Jerry thought, falling forward, falling into her, and he had supposed it would come and go unrealised, the war and the end of the world and an insufficiency of time intervening, leaving only her volumes of letters and a vow. The promise of a promise, really, slippery and unsubstantiated between them. Yet here he was enisled in her, in apple blossom and the tart taste of ink, her name a prayer he sent forth over, and over into the candlelit night.

Hours, Jerry knew, and the sun would be upon them, painting the room in orangey hues and rosy tints, and he would learn Nan by that light too; memorize the map of her veins, plot the course of the tracery at her eyes. Birds would keen, and their everywhere would wax warm in the unremitting light of a March morning, and he supposed they'd brave it, hands clasped. But for now there wasn't even the sun to pry, nor the moon. In the dark hour before sunrise, even the stars would wink out of existence, and they had time enough and world enough in an everywhere of a garret unto themselves to begin again and do it the best way they could.