A/N: I don't own Little Women or its characters.
I've had this written for a fair while so I hope you like it.
Jo sighed heavily, draped across the arm of the sofa. The sun was just right, hitting the wooden floor of the attic through the dappling of the trees outside the single loft window. She loved this time of the day.
Sighing again Jo twisted her head to look back at the young man who held her feet in his oversized hands. He was watching the door to the garret with a concentration she hadn't seen since he ran about as a college fellow who hadn't studied enough.
"Teddy?" she asked, the huskiness of her voice creeping in from its disuse and the slackening of her jaw against the chair.
"Hmm?" Laurie suddenly perked up, turning to look at her with a smile she often wished he'd turn to someone like Beth. "What is thy bidding dear Queen?"
Jo rolled her eyes, completely rotating to lie on her back as she looked up at him with a glare he was well used to. "You know only Amy takes titles of royalty. Besides it isn't like I'm forcing you by my side on such a fine day!" Jo crossed her arms, finding his insinuation that she controlled any of his thinly veiled quixotic actions. It wasn't as if she'd begged him to come over and soothe and amuse her all day.
"Well how about something less imperial. Diana? Oh no. With that look you're most certainly a Medusa." Laurie teased, rubbing her ankle as he spoke. His thumb pressed gentle circles and Jo found it difficult to hold her frown when his hands gave such relief.
"Har har." was all Jo settled with before turning away to look at the garret door. What had caught her boy's attention for so long when he was clearly in the mood for something mischievous she didn't want to give him? Jo stared at the dull moss agate door finding absolutely nothing different from every other time she looked at it. It was still the same wooden door with the lustreless brass handle that Laurie had always managed to get his sleeve caught in. Right down to the tiny webs forming between the crevices joining the panel to the stiles, the green garret door remained solemnly unchanged.
It had to be what would come through it.
"So who might we be expecting?" Jo asked looking at the tall man with her eyebrows arched in a way that left no room for him to lie. Laurie's hands stilled for a moment, his long fingers absentmindedly splaying across her feet feeling surprisingly intimate to the prone girl who watched him with a red face. It was fine if he didn't know what he was doing surely?
"Well…" Laurie cleared his throat looking uncertain at the door before he patted her feet, snapping Jo out of the delicious feel of goosepimples running up her legs as he continued. "Well, it appears I may have made a promise and I'm waiting for the opportunity to present itself so I can fulfil it. Actually, more like for the person to collect that promise really, Jo."
When he turned his head back to her Jo found his expression apologetic. She watched him a little longer before looking back to the door, wondering why that expression set a lump of coal in her stomach. He looked so sorry and she hadn't any idea why.
"You should always keep your promises Teddy," she said a little uselessly.
The room fell silent again and Jo looked behind her at the window, finding the balance of light and spring greens had been upset with the inevitable movement of the sun. The moment had passed and it made the knot in her belly tighten a little further.
Jo looked at Laurie again, seeing his brow drawn as he saw to her ankle once more. Determinedly he rubbed the muscle, sure not to push it across the bone as Jo had cried out when he had earlier, instead using long steady strokes that lessened the tension in her leg and foot. Jo's head brushed the back of the chair as she lolled in her slumped position across the sofa. Silently she wondered if she might have let him even on the same seat a month or so ago. His intentions were so much harder to decipher of late and his eyes had taken a resigned tone she fretted about late at night when Beth groaned in her sleep.
Laurie felt her watch him and he looked up to smile at her, finding the gesture fall short when his thoughts turned to the door to their right. Jo watched as his eyes travelled across her form, relaxed as she was half on the sofa and half on his lap. She watched the way his dark gaze lingered on particular areas that made a different, older knot appear lower in her stomach. She was never sure she liked that look. When his eyes reached hers Jo felt her face a few degrees warmer than before and she wondered if she was blushing from the feeling from his hands or the way his eyes had touched her.
But she was blushing.
Stilled by his expression Jo stared back, appreciating the small smile that graced his handsome face. She had never any qualms admitting that her friend was good-looking - to say he wasn't would be an outright lie. Certainly though she thought it wise to keep it to herself when he thought it appropriate to wheedle the praise out of her. Yet in moments where his black eyes seemed to look at her in a way no other person she had known would, Jo couldn't help but wish to tell him. She wanted to hold his face and tell him everything she could think of and that desire disturbed her more than his hands ever would. The intensity in which she desired to clasp that face close and have him look at her - without that reaching gaze and without the teasing smirk he sometimes held, but with that look of searching and ultimate understanding – it unsettled her to the core.
A soft knock on that much looked upon door sounded and their gaze broke. Jo quickly cleared her throat and Laurie smartly moved his hands to fall away from her feet before the door opened. Beth slipped around the door, her head tilted shyly away from what Jo supposed must have looked intimate to anyone who didn't know she and Laurie were just good friends. Jo repeated the second half of the thought firmly in her head as her heart calmed and she felt her throat recover.
"Hullo Bethy!" she called from the couch, relieved to find her voice.
Beth smiled at Jo, missing the girl's sly look before her gaze flickered to Laurie. She walked up the short stairs over to them to stand by her older sister, brushing her hand on Jo's shoulder. "I'm sorry, but Amy's here Laurie and she said you'd meet her." Beth watched as her sister looked up in shock at the news.
"Amy's back!" Jo sat up in her surprise, swinging her legs off the sofa only to grasp Beth's arm in pain. "Ow!"
"Careful!" Laurie shuffled closer to Jo's side, his hands instantly reaching for her leg before she pushed him away.
"It's fine. I just can't believe our Amy's back! She's finally back and I'd forgotten she was coming at all." Jo looked pale and the other two studied her before glancing at each other. Laurie's face was etched with concern for Jo but it quickly turned to shame when he saw Beth's face filled with warning. He knew why she looked at him so, despite Jo's shocked expression and he couldn't hold her gaze for long. "It's been three years hasn't it! My how the time has gone. But won't she come up to see me first? I'm her sister after all and you've already had her Beth – just how long have you had her down there without us knowing?" Jo grinned, adjusting to the news.
Beth watched him a little longer before smiling at her sister sadly. "I'm afraid she asked for Laurie, Jo."
Confusion ran across Jo's face once more as she swung her legs back up on the sofa, her ankle throbbing once more. She looked at her neighbour who sat by her feet, arms on his knees with a touch of guilt about his brows. It dawned on Jo as she watched Laurie with an expression that worried Beth that she should have told them separately, that Laurie had known all along and that was why he'd been watching the door all afternoon.
"You'd better go then." Jo told him quietly.
Laurie took a long look at her with an unreadable expression before he got up, patting Beth on the arm on his way out of the garret. The two sisters watched as he closed the door behind him. Silently Beth moved to take the now empty spot at the end of the old, torn sofa.
"Jo, I'm sorry."
"Sorry for what?"
"There's nothing to be sorry about Beth, really."
Beth saw how her sister's arms had crossed and the direction of her gaze and it tore at her worrying heart. If she hadn't wanted Laurie to be the first to see Amy or if it was that Amy hadn't wanted to see her Beth wasn't sure but she knew it was doing her sister no good just waiting.
"Are you well enough to go downstairs?"
Jo turned to Beth, uncrossing her arms. It has taken her willpower to make it up to the garret that morning but she had made it. And curiosity more than anything was killing her now not knowing why Amy had asked Laurie and why her friend had expected it. Jo had an inkling of why but she had to know for herself and her little sister's subtle encouragement was enough to haul her up onto her feet, albeit shakily and make her steady way out of the garret.
"I'll be fine Beth. Thank you," she looked back significantly at her sister who watched on uncertainly from the sofa. Beth prayed she had suggested the right thing – if only her sister would see how Amy had changed and how Laurie had waited Beth might still save her dear Jo's heart, even if she didn't know it.
Jo gripped the banister tightly, desperately trying to descend the stairs without the usual creaking and hullabaloo she would make. Her skirts were inconveniently long as she hobbled down the steps and if she wasn't careful she would trip up before she even had a chance of spotting her sister undetected.
Halfway down the stairs she began to hear their voices, hushed though they were in the sitting room. Amy's sounded more mature than she remembered, but then she hadn't seen her youngest sister in three years, and many things were bound to have changed her. Laurie's was quiet and low and the suspicion that had settled in Jo's belly expanded a little at Amy's quiet replies. Soon Jo had made it to the bottom of the staircase, her ankle throbbing lightly under the length of her dull grey dress.
Quietly Jo shuffled to the doorway, careful to stand off to the side as she gripped the frame, looking into the room that contained the two. They sat on the sofa under the window that faced into the front garden. The late afternoon sun spilled across them, lighting the features of her now-older sister and the tall head of her neighbour. Their heads were bent together and Amy's lace-gloved hand rested on Laurie's darker larger one.
Jo's eyes widened. Amy's figure had lengthened and shaped into the flower maiden her sisters had always told her she'd be. The swell of her hip curved gracefully into her waist held fast by a European corset - and her breasts! Jo looked down at her own chest feeling rather unimpressed by her own growing. Amy seemed to outstrip her physically once more and it made Jo feel self-conscious of how she'd been dressing about Laurie since Amy left.
Jo's hand tightened around the wood when Laurie's fingers brushed her sister's knee as they spoke. She stared at her hand in disbelief. What was she doing? It was just Laurie and Amy and they hadn't seen each other in so long, the very same as her. Then why did it hurt? Jo swallowed, her other hand moving to her stomach where her insides were jumping in knots. What was she doing?
Jo moved back from the door disgusted with herself.
"You made a promise," Jo caught Amy's voice plead and she stopped from her careful retreat to overhear. "You promised Teddy and I've come to collect."
Jo took hold of the door frame again, looking in to see her sister's face take a desperate edge under a pretty blush Jo thought she must have learnt in France. Laurie's shoulders sagged and she watched as he placed a careful hand on Amy's shoulder, brushing the pretty lace shawl Jo had never seen before.
"I know," his voice sounded choked to Jo's ears.
There was another heavy pause and Jo watched unblinking as her dearest friend leaned forward and kissed her youngest sister. She watched as Amy's eyes fluttered shut, her face tilting under the same sensation Jo had often felt coiled in the pit of her stomach when Laurie cornered her in the kitchen. It was shocking and the knots in her belly leapt, pulling tight and Jo stepped blindly backwards unable to watch as her world, a world she hadn't known existed began to collapse around her.
As she stumbled backwards the sound alerted the couple in the adjoining room. Laurie pulled back hastily and looked vaguely over his shoulder when Amy leaned to the side and frowned.
"Jo!" she called, concern crossing her face.
Laurie leapt at her name on Amy's lips – lips that had just been occupied in a most horrifying activity and Jo immediately threw out her hands. "No, I'm fine – I'm sorry! I was-" here Jo had to swallow pass the impossibly large lump in her throat that threatened to suffocate her. Still moving backwards she winced as her tender heel hit the wall.
"Jo," Laurie had moved into the foyer, guilt and apology across his face as he reached for her. Amy was only a step behind and she simply looked on in concern for Jo whose pain was stapled over her brow. She really shouldn't have walked backwards like that. "Please, it isn't what you think."
"Oh?" Jo started angrily before switching emotions entirely. "No, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have interrupted, only I wanted to see Amy and – well I'm sorry, I really shouldn't have – just pretend I'm not here – go about your bus- well – Beth!" She called up the stairs, thanking her stars when the small black head of her sister appeared over the railing.
"Jo," Laurie caught her hand and Jo immediately shook him off, communicating her desperation to Beth who was making her way down the staircase.
"No, don't worry."
"But you don't understand."
"Please," Jo turned back to the tall boy, looking into his black eyes pleadingly. She blinked and turned to her youngest sister, planting a vacant smile on her face as she did. "Welcome home Amy!"