The stars are still out, but barely, as Gilbert Blythe half walks, half stumbles through his front door. If he isn't quiet, he'll be sure to wake Susan, and her tutting will begin the second she sees the exhaustion scrawled over his face, the hollows under his hazel eyes sunken and purple as bruises. It has been a long, hard night after two very busy and sleepless days, and he's almost asleep on his feet.
It was a breech, like his first birth all those years ago in Trinidad, but twins this time. Boys. Too early, but fighters for all of that, and they may make it yet. He prays they will, and after a few hours of sleep he plans to go back and check on them, make sure they're settled in all right in the hospital in Lowbridge. It was touch and go for awhile, but he thinks the mother will make it too. After all she is a Reese, and to a one the Reeses are as stubborn as mules fighting over the best briar patch, as Susan is wont to say. He's glad of it today. He hasn't lost as many patients in his career as a lesser doctor might have, but each one has hurt all the same.
He knows when he rests he'll be jubilant over the outcome of the birth, but for now he is just tired, so very very tired. His bones feel like they're made of glass and his vision blurs for a second as he pulls off his coat and unwinds his scarf, as he strips down to his long woolen underwear, dropping his cold outer clothes in a heap beside the door. His arms and back ache (it's always a shock to new doctors how physical the act of healing can be, how strong a person must be to pull broken bones into place, to turn recalcitrant newborns until they can be pushed into a world they're not so sure they'd like to join.) It's freezing out, too, even just the walk from the barn to the house has turned his face numb. He can smell snow in the air, though none has fallen yet. He hopes it holds off for a bit. Much of the time he feels a good decade younger than he is. But tonight Gilbert feels old and sore, his energy drained to nothing, and the most faithful constant of his life holds as true now as ever...he wants his wife.
He's tired, and he wants Anne.
He pads up the stairs in his thick woolen winter socks, one hand trailing along the bannister. It feels so far when he's this tired, when he feels like he could drop where he stands and sleep for a week. But still he takes the extra few minutes to look in on the children, as he always promises he will.
The first room is the boys'. Gilbert peeks in, listening to the three breathing, slow and deep and almost synchronized. At nearly nine, Jem is so long suddenly, limbs flung out like a starfish. And Walter, his handsome little face serious even at rest. The littlest of all their boys, Shirley Sebastian, is curled up in a ball and burrowed under his quilt so that only a tuft of brown hair and one tan, pudgy little hand are visible. "Goodnight, boys", he whispers, leaving the door open a crack.
Down the hall a few more steps and to the right, he pushes another door open silently and peers in at his daughters. The twins share a big spool bed, tucked in under pink and green quilts pieced by "Auntie Marilla" when they were babies. Though one has red curls and one dark, they fall over their little foreheads in the same pattern, and from the doorway Gilbert can see identical expressions of delighted curiosity on their small, sleeping faces. They often tell him they dream the same thing, and from the looks of it they're on some grand adventure. Little roly poly Rilla shifts in her cot as her father looks in at her, and Gilbert holds his breath until she's motionless again. She's only been sleeping in with "the big girls" for a few months now, and occasionally still wakes at night, fussing for mama. But she's quiet now, her little head still and one chubby thumb finding her mouth. Their smallest of all, their last baby.
When Shirley was born and Anne nearly died, he'd said no more, that he'd not risk it. Not risk her. But she'd told him no, that there was one more guest not arrived to the party yet, and she'd been right. She so often is.
"Goodnight, baby," Gilbert says in the barest whisper. "Goodnight, my girls." And then at last, on down the hall to the end bedroom, where Anne sleeps in the warm dark, waiting for him.
He pulls back the layers of bedclothes and crawls beneath them, snuggling up behind his wife and pulling her close. He puts his cold nose in his favorite spot, right where her long white neck meets her shoulder, and he is instantly at peace.
She breathes in deeply, drowsily. "Gil?" she murmurs. "What time is it?" Her voice is thick with sleep. "Late," he whispers into her shoulder. "Shhh, go back to sleep."
As he spoons up behind her, he marvels for more than the thousandth time at how slight she is. Not only after all the children, but because she is the largest, brightest thing he knows in so many other ways.
Anne feels his scruff on her skin, the chill from his body beginning to seep through her nightgown and wake her a bit more. "You're all cold," she tells him, then sees the lightening day through a crack in the bedroom curtains. "And just getting home? Oh, love, you must be exhausted." Instead of retreating from his cold body she burrows further back into him, wanting to warm him up.
"Yes," he yawns. "But I'm home now, and you're so warm." He clutches her more tightly to him as something flits across his memory. "Anne?" he asks.
"Mmm?" she says back, so quiet and sleepy he barely hears it.
"Do you remember that night I came to Green Gables? When I was, what, sixteen or seventeen I suppose. I'd had a nightmare, remember?"
He can hear the smile in her voice when she replies. "I do. I thought later that you must have thought me an awful wanton, to go out and meet you that way, in the dark in just my nightclothes.Whatever would Marilla have thought if she'd known?!"
"Well," he tells her, a chuckle rumbling in his chest, "honestly I was hoping you WOULD feel wanton but I settled for just holding your hand all night."
"Why Gilbert BLYTHE, you cad!" she gasps in mock outrage, and her laugh is as carefree as it was back then, when she was just a girl.
He hugs her against him, feeling her ribs under his forearms and burying his face in her hair. "It may surprise you, given the illicit things that I was already starting to think about you then, but what I really wanted was, well... I wanted THIS." He says it in the way of one making a confession, and it's true that even after two decades he's never spoken of that night.
"I was so lonely and cold and I just wanted to be...with you." Anne lies still, listening to him murmur into her hair. "I wanted to take you home with me and keep you warm and safe with me in my bed. I thought maybe with you beside me, I could sleep and not dream at all. I knew I couldn't, though, because we were so young and I knew people would say things about you. Bad things. But I just wanted to be close to you."
"Oh, Gil," she breathes out. "You looked...you looked so sad, standing there. I remember I held your hand. I thought about that for weeks, how I'd actually held your hand. I thought it was the living end of romantical!"
"That's not all you did, Miss Shirley-Cuthbert," he growls into her neck. "You kissed me, you know. Bold as brass, and Marilla awake inside, and me just a poor innocent lad having his first kiss foisted upon him..." he's laughing too hard to continue now.
"Gilbert!" she huffs, then rolls smoothly in his arms to face him. They're nose to nose now, and Gilbert has forgotten about being tired and cold. "I did, didn't I? I kissed you right out there in the garden."
"Mmhmm," he says, one long doctor's finger tapping a spot just above his jawbone. "Right here you did." Her eyes are all the way open now, laughing into his.
"Well my my, maybe you married a wanton woman after all," she teases, then kisses him with a loud smack on the long ago site of that first time, then lands another square on his lips. Even after many years and many kisses, it feels the same. She feels the same. Warm and right and home, yet somehow new and exciting for all of that. He rubs his nose up and down hers for a second, smiling.
"No," he murmurs, "you were the very essence of propriety. The wanton behavior came later, if I recall."
Their first proper kiss had been a shock to them both, really, and afterward they could never quite decide who leaned first, just that they had been talking and suddenly their lips had met. They'd been shy and eager and it had been wonderful, learning each other's mouths, learning how to make each other tremble and gasp. He can remember the first time their kisses strayed from lips on lips. He remembers her mouth along his jaw, his neck, making him groan and fist his hands at his sides because he was afraid to frighten her, afraid that if he let himself, he'd touch in her in some way she wouldn't like, or that he'd hold her too tightly because dear God he wanted to, wanted to touch her everywhere.
Looking back, he's not sure how they waited til the wedding night, but wait they did. It had all been so good, even though they were nervous. They'd stopped being nervous over the following nights, but it had never stopped being good. His intimate life with Anne has been one of the greatest delights of his adulthood. He knew it would be wonderful but even yet he's still surprised at how wonderful it is, how much they can make each other feel.
He feels a stir of arousal but there's no time for that now, they're both so tired. He's yawning as he rolls onto his back and she rests her head on his chest. Tomorrow, he thinks. In the afternoon, as Shirley and Rilla nap and dream their baby dreams, and the older children bundle up to play outside in the crisp leaf piles before the snow comes, and Susan bakes the pies to go with the Sunday lunch.
Yes, in that magic afternoon hour he'll make like he has some important correspondence to get to, but really he'll pull her in here, into their room, as he has so many times before. "Gilbert, why...Gilbert, it's the middle of the-" she'll protest, like she does every time....at first. And he'll entwine his fingers with hers and kiss the words she was going to say right out of her mouth.
Many years ago, when they were in the first shy weeks of their courtship, his need for her had overwhelmed his sense of propriety during a party at the Barry home. He'd caught her hand and pulled her into a nook just outside the parlor, and he'd kissed her and kissed her til she was panting and every part of him felt hard, and ached for every part of her. They'd had to stop, then, but tomorrow they won't. Tomorrow he'll kiss her like that again, in this room, and just like then he'll marvel at the way she quivers when he strokes his tongue slowly over hers. After a minute she won't utter any more words of protest. She'll be the one to untie her apron and toss it aside, and he'll tease her, ask her what kind of behavior is this for a respectable mother and wife, hmm, as her fingers impatiently begin working the buttons on his shirt.
He's almost asleep now, but smiling as he thinks of it. If he began inching up her night dress now, she'd not stop him. But no, this ever-present desire to wordlessly tell Anne how very much he loves her will keep.
Tomorrow, he thinks, with the sounds of the children playing outside and the smell of pie in the oven. Tomorrow.
For now, it is enough to do what he wanted all those years ago. It is enough to pull Anne more tightly into his arms as she burrows her nose into the thick wool of his undershirt. She's already dozed off again, lulled by his heart pumping steadily beneath her ear, by his hand running up and down her arm. He bends his neck a bit til his face is nestled in all that beautiful, bright hair that he loves so much (she swears she finds gray strands but he's yet to see them). It carries the scent of mint and rosemary and Anne, and it smells so good and she feels so warm and he's so tired. He has time to spare one last thought for the boy he was so long ago, walking home alone and thinking of her, thinking of being with her exactly like this.
It feels better than he had ever hoped it could.
And with that one certainty trailing after him into dreamless, peaceful rest, Gilbert Blythe falls asleep.