The twenty-fourth of December dawned with a light snow, and Gilbert looked out from his bedroom window with a wry smile. It had held off all week, despite the heavy clouds that seemed to promise a blanket of white for Christmas, and of course it would be today. As the light increased gradually in his room he began to dress, knowing the chores would be waiting for him outside. Gilbert cheerfully swung out of the house ten minutes later with the milking buckets, sniffing at the cold in the air as he crossed to the snug barn.
As he went about the chores, Gilbert's mind was occupied on the day ahead of him. To think, that of all of the plans he had made, this was the one he would be following through with. His mind flicked briefly back to the beginning of September, seeing from the podium the red headed girl at the back of the crowd. He smiled proudly. Nearly four months together, four months of wooing his girl the way he had always dreamed of doing. Four months to rebuild who they were, four months to be entirely sure of each other's heart.
He'd thought about waiting until convocation, just as he had thought about proposing the night she told him she loved him. As he forked hay for the animals, he puzzled at the mystery of timing. It just wasn't right then. He couldn't say why, but he felt it. His lips twisted in amusement. Was it Anne's influence showing in him now, or did his practical side actually have an instinctive counterpart?
Loving her was never a decision that he had made- it had sprung from some unknown part of his thirteen-year-old heart, almost before he was old enough to understand what was happening. He'd watched her back then from afar, never knowing if she could forgive him, if she would ever see him as anything other than an enemy. A small part of him was still incredulous- he could never have foreseen how such a wretched beginning could end so happily.
When the chores were done, he stood for a moment at the doors of the barn, watching the light snow fall on the trees in front of him. He grinned. He hadn't planned it, but the snow could actually work in his favour.
Eight hours later, Anne stood waiting for Gilbert downstairs in the warm kitchen of Green Gables. Dora was sitting with Marilla working on some mending, while the older woman concentrated on her knitting in front of the fire.
"Are you sure you're dressed warmly enough?" Marilla asked.
"Oh, I think so. We're going for a walk in the woods, and then to Diana's for dinner tonight."
Marilla sighed. "And we don't have you for Christmas lunch tomorrow, either."
Anne came to put her arms around the older woman. "But you have me for the morning, and you have us both for dinner tomorrow night," she said, with a smile.
Marilla looked at the girl fondly. "I'm not unhappy, you know that. We just miss you."
Anne's head rested on her shoulder for a few moments, before Marilla's usual reserved self took over.
"There now, child. There's no sense getting worked up about change."
"Davy's quite happy that Gilbert's coming." Dora volunteered surprisingly. "He thinks it's tough being the only boy."
Anne laughed and looked out of the kitchen window just as she heard the sound of a buggy. She watched a grinning Gilbert leapt down and jog up the path to the kitchen door, coming inside to greet the women of the house.
"I thought we were walking, Gil!" she said in surprise.
"That was the plan; however, I thought we might get cold later on." he said cheerfully, bending to kiss her cheek. "Marilla, Dora, how are you?"
Dora smiled and nodded her head shyly, still not accustomed to the return of the big handsome fellow she remembered visiting Green Gables as a child, and even less accustomed to Anne's affectionate welcoming of him now. Still, she was so very happy- something Dora was glad to see.
There had been a moment last summer when she had witnessed a different Anne. One afternoon, a week before she would return to college, Dora had been asked to call her for tea. She had tiptoed out to the rear of the house, hoping to not wake Mrs Lynde, who was snoring in the parlour after a headache that morning. She found Anne sitting on the back steps, and Dora froze, seeing Anne's head in her hands, and hearing the little, muffled sobs.
She didn't know if she should get Marilla, or if Anne would want company right now, but her little heart broke seeing tall, serene Anne in tears. Eventually she opened the door noiselessly and came to sit beside her, putting her ten-year-old arm around her silently. It was a few minutes before she spoke.
"Are you alright, Anne?" she whispered.
Anne smiled as best as she could. "Oh, sweetheart. I'm fine." Dora's little face looked at her wistfully, and Anne's eyes flooded again. "It's just that- sometimes things don't always go the way you expect them to. And it hurts a little." she said softly.
Dora placed her head against Anne's shoulder, and Anne put her arms around the girl. They sat there for long minutes until an exasperated Marilla came to search for the pair of them. Dora looked up before Anne did, and she met Marilla's eyes in apology. Marilla seemed to understand, she hadn't scolded them both; she only told them that it was time to get washed up for tea.
Now Anne had a glow on her face all the time, and Dora in her own quiet way rejoiced over it. Besides, Minnie May had been putting on airs about her married older sister for such a long time. She couldn't wait to tell her who was courting Anne!
Meanwhile, Anne was settled happily beside Gilbert as they drove through lines of bare trees, grey skies highlighting dark green firs on the nearby hills.
"It's such a beautiful Christmas Eve, Gil." Anne said with a little smile. "I should ask where are you taking me, though."
"Somewhere we can be alone." he said, raising his eyebrows.
Anne chuckled, and tucked her hand under his arm. "You are a lad of one idea." she teased.
A few minutes later, Anne looked at Gilbert with enormous eyes, when he pulled up the horse and buggy in an old shed, once used to house the schoolmaster's carriage.
He took her hand and helped her down from the buggy, and began to lead her towards the little schoolhouse, where a small stream of smoke was coming from the little chimney pipe. Anne had not spoken in all this time, and as he pulled the key from his pocket she opened her mouth to protest. He kissed her swiftly.
"I promise we are here with permission this time." he said, with a grin. "Jane's replacement is a young man from Carmody, and I appealed to his sense of romance."
He led her through the door, and Anne began to laugh, seeing the warm fire, a comfortable rug and a picnic basket on the floor in front of the hearth.
"I think I have been conspired against." Anne commented, undoing the buttons of her winter coat.
"You have." He watched her walk through the familiar room and was pleased when she sat down in front of the stove, beckoning him to her with a little smile. "What made you think of this place?"
Gilbert sat down with a grin after removing his heavy coat as well. "Well, I tried to think about where you could go in winter where you could guarantee no interruptions, as well as keeping a roof over our heads so we didn't freeze to death. Here seemed the best solution, and young Mr Anderson was most understanding."
Anne watched him, her eyes tender. The room was comfortingly warm and light, and she couldn't help but contrast it with the way it had been the last time they were there. Little words kept coming back to her as she looked around, little shards of hurt and bitterness that had filled the old classroom.
You let go, you moved on- You replaced me with him- I didn't think you cared- How little you valued me.
She gave a little shiver, and he wrapped her in his arms again.
"I know. I hear it too." he whispered. "But we're not there anymore, we know that."
Anne looked up at him wonderingly. "How did you know?"
He sighed, holding her close. "Because when I came here earlier to light the fire it happened to me as well. All I could hear were the words we spoke, and I remembered you crying." His brown curls brushed hers as he rested his forehead against her head. Anne's wistful eyes came up to meet his, and she pulled him closer to kiss him, coming to her knees to put her arms around him. For a few minutes they forgot their surroundings in each other's touch, wanting to reassure, to be reassured that they were safe again. Eventually Gilbert pulled away from her, his breathing uneven.
"Alright sweetheart, this is probably a good place to stop."
She laughed lightly. "You think so?"
He chuckled. "Not all of me agrees, however we do have a little business to discuss."
She sat back down with a little smile, and he sat beside her, her hand in his again. He brought her hand up to kiss it, and smiled.
"I wanted us to be somewhere where no one else could interrupt us. We are so terribly popular, that it seems we aren't able- or as far as Mrs Lynde is concerned, we aren't allowed- to be by ourselves. And as much fun as that is, it makes it quite hard to ask you what I want to ask you." Gilbert said dryly.
Anne's eyes were big, and she couldn't help a shivery smile.
"So that's why we are where no one except us would think to look for us. And thanks to the snow, no one will even notice the smoke from the chimney." Anne chuckled at the mischievous look on his face. He was silent for a moment then, his face becoming more serious. "Now, I think we've spent enough time- especially in this room- talking about our past. I want to talk about our future."
His eyes were warm as they looked into hers, and he took her other hand.
"You are the girl I fell in love with right here, ten years ago. You inspired me, you pushed me to succeed, and you became the most wonderful friend I have ever had in my life." He gave her the twisted smile that reminded her of the boy he had been. "I've been dreaming about a future for us for years- and for a long time I thought it couldn't happen." Anne felt the slight shake in his hands, and as he paused she gripped his hands tightly, a reminder that she was with him. He looked up at her, and her heart melted seeing the tears standing in his bright hazel eyes.
"I'm dreaming of you. Every part of my future has you in it- you're the one I'm working for, the one I'm hoping for. I'm dreaming of a home that is ours- a little house where you and I learn what it is to be together for always." His cheeks flushed, and he pulled her hand up to kiss it again, loving the little sigh she gave as he did so. "I'm dreaming of a life where we share everything- every hurt, every joy we experience as one. Where you and I will know each other perfectly- where nothing can ever come between us." Gilbert pulled his hands from hers, and placed gentle hands on her face, wiping away the single tear that fell down from sparkling grey eyes. His face was close to hers, and he closed his eyes as he rested his forehead against hers. He spoke softly. "Anne, you know me, and I know you. I won't keep the deepest parts of my heart from you- or the deepest dreams. You're in there. I'm dreaming of you and I marrying- of the two of us making love- of our baby growing inside you. Of us becoming a father and mother, surrounded by children, and a home so full of love that you wonder how we even fit the furniture inside."
Anne looked up at him with a tremulous smile.
"You dream of that?" she asked softly.
His answering smile was huge. "You know I do." Anne's arms crept around his neck, and Gilbert's arms tightened around her. "And every one of those children has perfectly red hair." he whispered, with a bright grin. She laughed, and wove her fingers through his brown curls.
"Oh, no you don't, Gilbert Blythe. My dream children have your hazel eyes and your lovely brown hair."
Gilbert's eyes were tender as he stroked her waist, his breath quickening. "Anne, I kept trying to find a way to ask you this that's as lovely and romantic as you deserve, but I can't do it. All I can tell you, is what is in the core of my heart." His eyes were on hers then, a burning look that went straight through her, making her quiver.
"I love you, Anne. Please say you will be my wife."
Anne pulled herself to him, her eyes soft with desire, and her voice scarcely higher than a whisper. "Yes, Gil. I will." She pressed her lips to his fervently. His breath came quickly as he held her to him, words falling that seemed to spill from his heart.
"Oh, my girl- my darling Anne." he said huskily, between breathless kisses. "Anne, you're my love, my home."
Anne's heart was pounding, and she broke into a sweet laugh. "As you are mine. Gilbert, is this real? Did we wake this morning?" she asked him softly, and then laughed again as he pulled her down on to the little blanket. Her arms were around him tightly, and grey eyes looked into hazel ones contentedly.
Gilbert kissed her once more, and then lay back on the ground with a big sigh that made both of them chuckle. She put her head on his shoulder, trying to catch her breath again.
"We did it." Gilbert said, in a tone of satisfaction, and laughed. "We did it- we're engaged!" he yelled into the empty room.
Anne tipped her head back to look at him, with a little laugh. "You do know what you are getting into, don't you? Mrs Lynde will try to be an extra mother-in-law to you." she said dryly.
Gilbert grinned, looking guilty. "You have yet to meet Dad's cousin, Aunt Mary Maria. She's less than fun as well."
Anne stroked his cheek. "As long as I have you, I will face anything."
Gilbert raised himself on one elbow to look into her beautiful face. His voice was sober. "Even a three-and-a-half-year engagement, if I win that scholarship? Could you wait for me if it was longer?"
Anne reached up to hold his face, now hovering just above hers. Her voice was tender. "I will wait any length of time for you, Gilbert Blythe. I will work by your side, I will study with you, I will be there when things go wrong. I promise you, for every tomorrow that comes, I will be with you."
He smiled at her tenderly, lowering his head to kiss her again. "And I you." He sighed and lay back beside her, her hand tightly clasped in his. They both stared up at the cracked ceiling, slowly coming to terms with the fulfilment of their dreams.
"Gilbert? May I tell you something?" Anne said after a while, thoughtful.
He turned his head to smile at her. "Of course."
"It is about the past." she admitted. "Since you left Kingsport, I've been thinking about all those years ago- all of those times I wouldn't let you speak; when I wouldn't let us become closer. All the times I pushed you away."
"Sweetheart, we don't need to go there, especially now-" Gilbert protested. "That's done with."
Anne shook her head, and gave him a stubborn look that he recognised well. "And what if I could tell you why?" she asked.
He sighed, and came up on one elbow to watch her patiently. "Alright then, why?"
"You know I understand things better in stories." she said, her voice soft. "I've been puzzling for a while on the fact that you were so many steps ahead of me. And I know that there were reasons for that. I had to be on my own, to survive on my own. I didn't know how to rely on anyone- I didn't really know how to trust. When we became friends, you went deeper, quicker than anyone else ever had." she said, watching the firelight play on his thoughtful face. "And as my friend, that answered something in me, something that craved for the kind of kindred I found in you. It healed something in me- or rather, it began to."
Gilbert watched her in silence, wanting to understand her innermost thoughts.
"There are all kinds of transformation stories that speak about this." she said dreamily. "The helper, the friend has to transform himself, has to change in order for the spell to be broken over the princess. And you were doing your part- you were trying to transform. But I wouldn't let you." Her eyes found his, and his hand brushed a red curl from her face lovingly. "You as my friend broke down so many boundaries, but there were some I couldn't let you near- and it was the lover I was most terrified of. I feared that would break down the last of my walls, that every brokenness inside would be exposed." Her smile was sad, and she sighed. "I didn't know that the one thing I needed to truly heal was the thing I was most afraid of. To let you into all of my damage, all of the cracked places in me. And only the lover could fix that."
His look was tender; however, Anne wasn't finished. "But there came a point, long after most of the walls were broken down right here in this room, when I saw you. I saw you transform into the lover. I was blindsided by it- and I didn't know how to respond. I didn't know that you loved me, and I didn't realise that I loved you yet."
Anne smiled at the puzzled look on his face, and her own suddenly burned with the heat of her blush. "It was a few months ago. We were hiding from a very affectionate Phil and Jo in the little dining room, and you stood behind me." Her voice faltered now, wondering if she could manage to speak out what had happened to her. "Your hand came around my waist, and it rested- it rested on me."
Gilbert's eyes were huge, and she saw that he remembered the moment. Taking a deep breath, she reached out to take his hand and gently placed it on her belly, both of them feeling the quiver in each other's hand. She held it there while looking trustingly into his eyes, her voice quiet. "When you did that, I saw us. I somehow saw your hand resting on me, and on our child. I saw you change from the Gilbert I had always known into this stranger, who somehow carried a piece of my heart away with him that night." She sighed then, a movement that thrilled him as he felt her body move under his hand.
"And when Diana wrote those words to me, she made me see that I had to allow you to be that for me- that I had to allow myself to become that for you. She was right- although I had always loved you, I had to choose to let myself fall in love with Gilbert Blythe."
Unable to hold back anymore, Gilbert bent over her, his hand sliding to her side. He kissed her with a tender passion that spoke more to her than any words could, of the dreams and hopes taking shape before them both. When he finally pulled away and one of her gentle hands stroked the curve of his jaw, Gilbert smiled.
"I once asked for one more day with you." he said softly. "I was crazy. It would never have been enough. Anne, you've made every hope I ever had come true- you brought me back to life again."
Anne sat up then, turning to take his hand, with a big smile. "Who will get to hear the news first?" she teased, and Gilbert laughed.
"Well, since we are due at the Wright's for dinner in approximately one hour, I suggest we make the most of the opportunity and tell them first."
"And what will we do until then?" Anne said, her face looking innocent.
Gilbert's eyes narrowed. "I'm sure we'll think of something."
While the gentle snow fell outside the old schoolhouse, Gilbert pulled a laughing Anne close to him in a way that would have made most of the schoolmasters and mistresses of Avonlea frown in dismay. All except one- for Muriel Stacey, who had waylaid a certain young man after the Commencement exercises on the last day of Queen's. She had looked fondly at one of her prize pupils, noting the way his hazel eyes had wistfully followed a tall, red headed girl.
"May I give you one last piece of advice, Gilbert?" she asked.
He gave her a grin that lacked some enthusiasm, and she put a firm hand on his arm to get his attention.
"Life has a way of surprising us all, Mr Blythe. I'll tell you what I once told someone special. Tomorrow is a brand new day. There's always another day."
I hope that I have managed to land the first part of this AU satisfyingly, it has been something that has challenged me constantly.
I am at this point quite speechless. Thirty chapters in three months! No one is more shocked than I am, and especially at the responses people have given. I'm glad you have enjoyed this, and I'm even gladder that this AU isn't over yet. I'm terribly excited about writing the sequel, I've named it When Tomorrow Comes- coming to an internet near you soon. It will begin where this one leaves off, and I hope to have you join me on that one as well.
Thank you all so much for reading, and for the comments that have helped me to shape this story. Many of your ideas and requests have been woven in, and I have rejoiced at your words and made my husband sit through reading them all as well. (he's a very patient sort.)
Lastly, especial thanks to three people on here- For Julie, whose honest and insightful comments always made me think and focus better; for Hecalledmecarrots who absolutely rocks the multiple stories and has been a joy to bounce ideas off in our email conversations, and lastly for Katherine-with-a-K- who gave me the push I needed to write it, for encouraging the very greenest of the Annegirls, and for telling me the truth when I very much needed to hear it. This story would not be what it is without your instincts, and I am so incredibly grateful.