Author's Note: I'm back! Sorry, sorry it took so long! I took a much needed break to focus on uni, etc, but I'm glad to be back! Here is the ending, finally, and I am going to keep working on my other stories here within the next few weeks. I hope to really get a lot of work done on my other continuing Little Women stories, so check back soon on the others! Thanks to all of you who are reading!
"All the immense images in me...all rise within me to mean you..." - Rilke
"Jo?" Amy hovered in the doorway to her sister's room. "Are you alright?"
"Of course. I'm fine." Jo stood on her toes to retrieve the old quilt from the top shelf of the wardrobe, sending the material flying down on her in a heap. Amy helped untangle the blanket.
"I saw you run upstairs," Amy started slowly. "Did Laurie say something he ought not to have said?"
Jo lifted her brows. "A little." She rolled the quilt into a large heap before tucking it under her arm. "It's nothing. Shall we go?" She walked out of the room and down the stairs before Amy could ask any more questions.
Meg, John, and their brood, along with Marmie, Mr. March, Laurie, and Fred were all waiting downstairs. Their expectant faces turned towards the two sisters as they entered the room.
"Ready?" John held up two picnic baskets.
"Have a nice time, be sure to mind the hour and the sun," Marmee told them. Mr. March grinned happily with his arm around his wife.
"I wish you two were joining us," Amy said for the third time.
"Picnics and outdoor frolicking are for the young," Mr. March said. "When you and Fred reach our age, you'll understand." He winked at Marmee, who blushed just as prettily at the age of forty-five as she did when she was twenty.
"Care to take the arm of an old friend, Jo?" Laurie grinned down at her, jutting his elbow out. She was keenly aware of the sets of eyes secured on them as she acquiesced, walking with Laurie outside. She took her arm back the moment they reached the end of the walkway. "Will you ride with me," he asked.
"Oh. Well," Jo paused, looking about for another means of transportation. Fred was helping Amy into their smart little chaise, John was assisting Meg with settling Demi and Daisy into their old carriage.
Laurie followed her line of thought, leaning close to her ear. "Looks like you're stuck with me, old girl." He grinned, the old boy shining through, before jerking his head towards the seat. "May I help you up, Ms March?"
"I'm perfectly capable of getting into that thing myself," she huffed, grabbing a fistful of skirt as she heaved her foot into the hanging step. Pulling herself up and onto the seat, she looked over the edge, blinking at the height of their mount. Laurie hopped onto the other side of the carriage, and picked up the reigns before clicking the horse to go after the first two carriages that were rolling down the lane ahead.
"What in Heaven possessed you to buy a frivolous contraption such as this?" Jo glanced up at the tasseled canopy, frowning at the silk.
Laurie's self satisfied grin widened. "Oh, this old thing?" He snorted at her sour face. "This is a Phaeton, a must for the upper set, of course."
"Don't you think your finances are better spent in other pursuits?"
Laurie stared at her a moment before turning his gaze back to the road. "I know you don't give a dickens about what type of carriage I drive. We've never been ones for pomp, Jo. Why don't you say what you're really thinking?"
"You overstep your bounds."
He tilted his head, watching her curiously. "Then why do you put up with me?"
She slanted her brows. "I don't know."
With a soft chuckle he said, "Finally, an honest answer."
The parties before them stopped their carriages at the lakeside, Laurie rounded his to the rear. He lulled the horse to a stop before turning his gaze to Jo.
"You've hardly said a word to me the entire way over. Are you going to be like this all day?"
She took a deep breath. "If you promise to behave, then I shall be a bundle of sunshine." And with that, she hopped down from the tall buggy before trotting over to the others.
John Brooke flung a few blankets into the air, Meg smoothed them as they hit the grass. Demi and Daisy made quick work of ruffling them up again as they rolled around like wild monkeys. Fred and Amy put themselves to use, spreading their confections in a very pretty row along one of the quilts. Jo snorted, rather unladylike, at the way Amy fashioned flowers she had brought with her around each container of food. Jo's laughter died when Laurie plopped himself onto the quilt quite close to her.
"It's almost like being at Camp Laurence again, isn't it?"
Jo glanced at the man beside her, looking like her Teddy for the first time since they were reunited. "Why can't you be like this all the time? Like the old Teddy, not this new darker version of you. I much prefer you as you are now, this moment."
"Do you, Jo?"
She turned from his hopeful face. "What do you want from me," she asked quietly, focusing her gaze on a scurrying ant amongst the green blades.
"Let's go for a walk." He stood, reaching one hand down. Pausing for only a second, she allowed him to take her hand and pull her up. No one noticed them slip away and into the thick of trees which flanked the clearing.
Jo lingered near a cranberry bush, fingering the small crimson berries. Her breath hitched when Laurie's fingers curled round her arm, turning her to face him.
"I don't know why I came back. Or, rather, I do, at least I have a notion," he started, pursing his lips. "I had to see you. I had to know what you were like since I last left you. I had to know you were suffering...as I was."
"No, let me finish." He screwed his face in concentration, tightening his hold on her arm. "You're right. I have let myself grow weary, and vexing. I've been cross with you and teasing, and been a cad, and I don't want to keep up like this."
"Then let's stop," Jo asserted, pulling out of his grasp. "We can go back to the way we once were, good chums. Forget these past few days," she cleared her throat, "and before."
Laurie's surliness returned. "Is that what you want? Really and truly?"
Jo opened her mouth before closing it again and sighing. "Yes. Of course."
A new glint filled the boy's dark eyes. "You don't. I saw it just now."
"Don't be feather-brained."
"You can deny it all you want, but there it was. I was beginning to lose my nerve, old fellow," he used the old affectation warmly. "I was nearly willing to throw in my hat, but then there it was."
"What," Jo croaked as he stepped nearer.
"The crack. The crack, Josephine March, in your armour. Oh, you've hidden it well, but I caught glimpse of it." He stalked towards her, stopping just in front of her now stiffened form. "Give in, Jo," he whispered, wrapping his arms around her waist. "Do be a good girl now, hm?" He pressed his lips to her forehead. Then he pressed them to her nose, before moving to kiss each cheek softly. "You do care, don't you?" His lips vibrated against her mouth as he said the words before taking her into a kiss. She grew wooden, his lips still massaged at hers until she finally parted them for him, returning the kiss. Twisting the sides of his jacket with her fists, she clutched so hard her knuckles paled. He pulled away, still keeping his hold on her.
"I have to know," he murmured, "if this is you making yourself love me?"
Her breathing was heavy as she attempted to calm her anxiety, his question only compounded her confusion. She shook her head, "What do you mean?"
Laurie shot a sardonic little half smile to her. "Once upon a time, not too far from this very spot, I urged you to make yourself love me." He palmed her cheek, gazing at her in earnest. "With Beth gone, I know you must grow lonely." She was about to speak, but he hastened to say, "If the answer is yes, if you are relenting to my badgering because of your lonesomeness, I understand. I just want to know where I am; with you." He explored her afflicted face with his eyes. "Because, honestly Jo, I would take you any way I can have you."
Jo stepped out of his arms, but did not take further leave of him. "I won't deny my feelings for you, Teddy. But, I don't know how much I can give; just at the moment. This is all so new."
"We'll take it slow then," he rushed, "I don't require any promises or vows. All I want is a maybe. A maybe, Jo." He cracked a grin after his prodding, a curl falling over his temple. "Will you give me a maybe?"
She could not help the smile which made it's way over her thin face. "I'll give you more than that, Teddy. I'll give you a yes and a later, if you promise to be patient."
"Excellent," he blurted, grabbing her round the waist again, this time swinging her about. Her peals of laughter matched his, but their mirth was quickly lost when he spun her a little too hard, causing her foot to hit the trunk of a nearby tree.
"Christopher Columbus," she shouted, reaching over to the injured appendage.
"Holy smoke, I'm sorry, old fellow!" Laurie bent over her, peering at the damage. "Are you alright?"
Turning her cross face upwards at him, her frown flipped back up, she couldn't help but chuckle at his concern. "Well, are you going to stand there gawking at me all day, or are you going to assist your fallen comrade?"
"Yes, sir!" Laurie reached a hand out to pull her up. She wobbled beside him back to the picnic site. They sat on the quilt, joining the others in their gay conversations. Every few minutes, Laurie and Jo would take turns exchanging smiles and warm glances with one another.
On the drive home, Laurie requested they make a stop. Grandfather Laurence was exceedingly excited to hear the news of the budding courtship between his grandson and Jo. Back at the Marches' house, not a word needed to be said, they all knew their boy had finally won Jo's heart.
Wow! I wasn't actually planning on this being the last chapter, but it just sort of wrote itself and it seemed time. I hope you guys liked it! I would love if you reviewed and let me know what you thought of this last chapter, and the story as a whole! Thanks to everyone for reading, and a special thanks to all of you who reviewed! = ) Reviews really make my day a bit brighter and just make me want to keep on writing more!