A/N: lol where did a year go? Sorry about the wait everyone. I think I must have abandoned this thinking it was awful but it turns out it's not so bad after all.
Jo did not take his arm as he'd hoped when he suggested they take a walk. Instead her hands were folded behind her back and he was forced to watch the path ahead in an attempt to keep his mind on the task ahead. How was he to tell Jo he was madly in love with her without frightening her into running as far from him as possible? He knew he'd saved them both by holding his tongue but wasn't her reaction to this whole ordeal a sign that she was ready - that she understood at long last what was between them?
"We can't walk very far, I'm afraid." Jo was watching the grass beneath their feet as they turned about the garden. It was even more unsettling to do this, here, in her front yard. It felt as though the world might be watching for all he knew.
Jo's eyes would flick to the windows every few moments and he knew she was distracted. Probably wondering about Amy, he supposed. It wasn't like he meant to hurt the girl but they had gone too far in letters and hers being the last before she set sail… well – he had a starting point. "Jo, you need to know I never intended to… injure Amy."
The young woman looked up, tearing a daisy she picked from the bush in her hand.
"This isn't easy, you know."
"Well, of course I realise that."
"Then stop looking at me as though I've murdered Beth's cat!" Laurie closed his eyes and tried to keep calm. Whenever they spoke about strong feelings he was prone to argue with her. It was one of the most trying aspects of their relationship but he'd learnt to rein his temper in, lest Jo's burst forth and condemn them both.
"I'm sorry, but you did just hurt Amy's feelings terribly, I'm sure." Jo threw the remains of the flower on the ground as they rested against the fence, looking up at Orchard House. "She didn't come to dinner; what did you say?"
Laurie tried to read Jo's face, determine what it was she wanted to hear. She returned his look frankly, hands on the paling of the fence behind them. It was the truth she wanted, and it was what she deserved.
"Actually, not very much." He looked at his hands. If he'd only used them to write honest things instead of pleasantries and sentiments he thought young ladies wanted to read. He knew Jo would be ashamed of the way he'd expressed himself to her sister, and knew also how easily Amy would take all of it. She was always better at society than the woman beside him.
"She realised, that I – I still care a great deal for you."
Jo's gaze dropped back to the space between them. He couldn't tell if she was pleased or annoyed. The emotions she'd run through at lunch had torn him up and made him feel like he hardly knew her at all. He supposed in this context, at least, he didn't. Laurie had covered up his feelings, his true confession for over a year. Jo hadn't wanted to hear any of it from him after his graduation and he'd only just stumbled his way out of telling her how much he loved her. Now was his chance and she was willing to hear it, he didn't know what to think.
"I love you," he said, not knowing any better way of putting it. Laurie took her hands from the fence and held them between them. "I know it's not something you want to hear, but I've loved you, so much for so long. Jo, I've loved you from the moment I first clamped eyes on you."
Jo turned her head, biting her lip. He knew how much she hated sentimentality but she'd given her permission and it was all he could do to stop himself from gushing out every precious thought he'd had about her for so many years.
"I love you, and I tried to replace these feelings that I know you don't want by trying to love Amy." Jo looked at their hands, her eyes flicking up towards his. "But a man can't love a letter, Jo. A man can't love anyone or anything with you around. And you would have me as a friend," he said, a little accusingly. "I took what I could get."
His knuckles were white as he gripped her hands.
"Can you – will you give me more?"
"It isn't fair," she answered at last. Jo looked up, meeting his gaze directly. "How can I with Amy hurt so badly? She's my sister, Laurie – what will she think if we should marry. And Beth!" She shook her head, looking back to the house, her hands still in his.
"Beth?" he frowned. "I guessed you would object on Amy's behalf in place of your own but what has Beth to do with it?"
"Why couldn't you love her?"
He stepped back at that. "What?"
"Why couldn't you turn your feelings to Beth as you did Amy? I know you would suit each other better than you or I ever would; you are both so musical, and she would be cared for properly. She'd soothe you when you were upset or mad and I know you make her laugh more than anyone." Laurie stared at Jo in disbelief, dropping his hands from her as she impressed upon him all her reasons for him to love her sister.
"I don't understand. Jo, it's not your family I'm in love with – it's you! I can't just trade your place in my heart – I told you – with Amy, such a serious experiment, it was wrong. I was wrong, don't you see, we both realised it. I love you," he took her hands up again, pressing them into his chest.
Jo said nothing but shut her eyes, looking very much like she wanted to cry.
"You haven't said no, or that you don't love me too." Jo blinked at that, trying to reclaim her hands. "A year ago you would have said 'no', I know it, knew it that day in the grove."
"And now?" Laurie asked, his question hanging in the air.
Jo swallowed and slowly pulled her hands from his.
"I –" her chest heaved. "I –" Jo tried desperately to breathe as he looked down at her, eyes so filled with renewed hope. Her eyes dropped to her ankle. She barely touched the grass, keeping her weight on her good side as the blades caressed the sole of her foot, green, natural, clean. She thought of the way Laurie had held her injured ankle all morning, never complaining that the beautiful day outside, now around them, was going to waste as he sat with her and told her stories about football and the horses in Boston. His hands, so warm and large, encompassing her foot, touching her skin so gently, moulding the aching muscle. And now he was waiting for her answer. Waiting for her to break his heart because he'd broken her sister's.
He looked instantly crushed and she reached for him, pawing at his shirt sleeve though he took another step back from her. Away from her. "I wish I could!" she looked up at him, imploring him to understand as her ankle throbbed painfully. "You don't know how much, Teddy."
He put his arm out for her when she winced, wobbling forward to him. He looked so upset and still he cared for her.
"Please, you have to understand, my sister-"
"Jo," he said, looking dark. "I'm not asking your sister. I'm asking you."
Jo looked torn, tears filling her eyes. "I know, it's just –"
"Just – I didn't know until Amy came back. I didn't know until I saw you kiss her in the sitting room… Laurie I… I do, love you I mean."
He froze in place, processing her hesitant admission. Suddenly he was all action, stepping closer, standing over her with his hands around her waist.
"You love me?" Jo nodded carefully, and he wondered from her expression if she regretted her words.
"Then what is the problem?"
"It's complicated," she said, trying to push him away again. "You've hurt Amy – what is it going to be like for her to see us, to know we're together because you two aren't." Jo shook her head, realising she wasn't making much sense to Laurie.
"That doesn't matter. We'll figure it out," Laurie tried to pull her back. "If you really love me, I know this will work. Jo, you don't know how much I've wanted to hear that from you for so long."
He was watching her so seriously Jo hadn't the heart to push him away again. His hands slipped from her arms to her waist and she allowed herself to be held there in the garden. Her ankle didn't ache as she felt his heartbeat pressed against her cheek, his breath slow and steady, holding the moment. He really loved her, better than anyone else, she knew. It had taken Amy's promise to show her and in the shadow of the tree in his neighbouring yard she knew she loved him too. She was scared; such strong emotions always frightened her but with his arms about her she knew they could do this. They would find a way.
"I do love you, Teddy. I really do."
Then he kissed her. It was gentle, so gentle she wasn't entirely sure it was happening. He tasted like the salt and pepper from the soup, like the sweet yeast of Marmee's bread and hope. So much hope lay pressed between their lips. She turned her head to the side, ever so slightly and their kiss turned too. Heat rose under her hands as they lay across his chest. His hand rose up her back as she wrapped hers around his neck, the feel of his teeth behind his lip changing something inside her. She felt it down to her toes, the sensation of hunger and longing, waiting and surrendering finally crashing together as they kissed and kissed.
Finally they separated and Jo was surprised by the intensity of her feelings as he panted above her, fingers pressed into the back of her dress. His forehead rested against hers as she looked back to the house and tried to remember how to breathe, how to distance herself from this drowning feeling.
"Well," she said smartly and he smirked at her, all black-eyes and hands as she tried to regain some composure.
"We really should go back in," Jo suggested, thinking of Beth's pallor against the sofa and Amy in her bedroom. She coloured slightly thinking of her sister spying them in the yard and tried to put at least an arms length between her and Laurie. He would have none of it though and instead wrapped an arm around her shoulders, kissing her temple as he helped her back to the house, unable to wipe the smile off his face.
"We'll do this together."
Nothing did go smoothly for Jo and Laurie. She re-sprained her ankle climbing the stairs to Amy's room and he tripped her up the steps, trying to keep his hands from wandering past her waist as he lifted her the rest of the way. Marmee frowned at them from the bottom of the stairs and Laurie tried desperately to think of something that would convince Amy he wasn't a complete and utter cad as Jo knocked on the bedroom door.
Beth ushered her mother into the kitchen under the pretence of more soup (frail-looking as she was Marmee never could say no) and left the three to their relative privacy in the hall up-stairs.
Amy answered the door with red eyes and a red nose. Jo felt her stomach sink and guilt claw away at her as her sister let them in. She couldn't help but think this was the worst of starts. "Amy, we've come to ask you something."
"And I've come to apologise," Laurie added, unable to take his hand from Jo's back though the youngest March stared at it. Jo saw this and took to pacing, looking ridiculous with her limp as she tried not to use her ankle. Amy said nothing but sat on the bed, watching them both.
"I'll go first," Laurie said, shoving his hands into his trouser pockets. "Amy, I can't begin to be sorry enough for what I said in those letters. It was so wrong of me, but at the time, if you will have my excuse, you were the only person who would hear what I had to say. I've used you terribly and I understand if you can't forgive me."
Amy closed her eyes and Jo sat as she watched her sister struggle with what to say to Laurie. As always his apology was impeccable and both found it hard not to instantly forgive him when he took such a pathetic, honest tone.
"I never meant any harm, but what I said was wrong. I shouldn't have even written those things but once I started it was hard to stop."
"It isn't entirely your fault," Amy conceded. "I played my part too. If I hadn't been so desperate to find a reason not to marry Fred, not to marry a man simply for his money I don't think I would have replied as I did. I know you love Jo, I knew it then too." She wrapped her hands around the wooden banister at the end of the bed she sat on and looked over to Jo. Europe had matured her so much Jo barely recognised the woman sitting there so composed. She lacked any of the childish tantrums Jo remembered from their childhood and in her place was a young lady, one who recognised her selfish faults and was trying so hard to be better for them.
"That's also what we've come here for," Laurie started.
"Amy," Jo gingerly lifted herself off the chair she'd sat on. "We need to ask something of you." Jo wringed her hands nervously, trying to find the words. "I know this hasn't been the most ideal of returns and perhaps we should wait until tomorrow – so much has already happened today I don't think I can… I don't think I can ask you just now."
"What Jo wants to ask is for your blessing," Laurie crossed the room, holding Jo to him as he took Amy's hand. Jo pressed her forehead into his shoulder and he knew she was angry he had said it anyway but she looked back to her sister, hesitantly hopeful.
"Please, Amy you don't have to answer just now. We're asking too much. I'm sorry." Jo pushed out of Laurie's half-embrace and sat beside her sister. "I'm so sorry."
"Jo, don't. There's no need – you already have it." Amy took Jo's hands, holding them tight. "I know I haven't exactly acted like it but there is nothing between Laurie and myself. Only foolish words on paper that both of us wish we could take back. I was acting on a mistake making that promise and coming for it today. I shouldn't have but it happened. What's done is done and although we might like to change it I can at least give you my love. You deserve this happiness Jo. Stop looking so guilty!" Amy laughed, and though the three of them recognised the sadness behind it they said nothing and smiled.
"Are you sure?"
"I am. Please, Jo. Go be happy – Laurie is not the first and he won't be the last man I write to. I know his heart has always belonged to you." Amy watched as Jo looked over to Laurie and smiled such a smile she had never seen her sister wear before. It was a secret smile, filled with promises and gentleness only lovers know between themselves. She looked to the bedspread when Laurie helped her sister up, his hands lingering on Jo's waist.
"Thank you, Amy. I really am so sorry." He touched her shoulder before Jo hobbled around him, heading for the door. Amy smiled sadly up at him and concentrated not on the strength of his jaw or on the shape of his brow but on the look of love in his eyes as he watched Jo move around the bed. She'd done the right thing and if it left her feeling empty inside at least she knew he would be happy. He'd finally caught Jo and who was she to deny his one dream?
She watched them close the door and listened as they murmured to each other in the hall, bickering no doubt, she thought fondly and allowed herself one small sigh to fill the silence of the bedroom.
Jo smacked away his hands as he offered to help her down the stairs to tell her parents. She was stubbornly refusing any of his pleas to assist her as she took one step at a time, gripping the banister tight.
"I did it before, I can do it again!" she declared, trying not to smile as he hovered behind her. She couldn't believe the difference between the two trips, one in complete confusion, the next in complete happiness. She made it down the stairs easy enough but stopped before they moved off to the kitchen, placing a hand on his stomach. Laurie looked down at her, suddenly serious as one hand gripped the railing on the stairs behind them.
"What is it?" he asked, concern colouring his features.
"It's just, you were right. It wasn't such a huge complication. We did it." Jo smiled at her feet, unused to feeling so surprised, or so lucky.
"Together," he said, taking her hand. Jo rolled her eyes at his sentimentality but couldn't stop her smile from growing.
"Well, it's not over yet."
"So it isn't! Brought your shield and scabbard, soldier?" he grinned, kissing her quickly on the temple before she could stop him. "Here there be dragons." Laurie threw over his shoulder as he led them into the kitchen.
Marmee sat at the table by Beth who was trying very hard to look interested in a plate of sliced bread.
"Sorry to interrupt my ladies," Laurie began, unable to keep the smile from his face as Jo moved to stand beside him, her hand gripping his tight.
"Marmee, Beth, we have something to tell you."
"Should I have asked your father first?" Laurie blurted out to Jo, the idea suddenly striking him. Jo paused. After a very reasonable impression of a fish out of water Jo finally answered.
"I hadn't thought of that."
Beth stood, the scrape of her chair taking their attention. "Then you are?" she asked, her cheeks full of the colour they had been missing for so long.
Jo smiled widely as she stepped forward to wrap Beth in a hug. "We are, dear girl." The girl laughed and kissed her cheek, her hands shaking as she embraced her sister. "Oh I'm so glad Jo. I'm so happy for you both," she grinned over Jo's shoulder at Laurie.
"I wouldn't have ever known if it weren't for you Bethy." Jo admitted quietly to her sister as Laurie explained to her mother that Jo had agreed to marry him. Beth's cheeks flushed again at that and she looked slyly between her sister and Laurie.
"I wouldn't be so sure."
"Oh Jo, is this true?" Marmee interrupted, one hand on her pinafore, the other on the table. Jo smiled and nodded, her arms going about her mother as she was pulled into another hug. "Then I'm very happy, very happy for you both." She pulled back to cup Jo's face in her hands, reading her daughter's face with a lifetime of practice. "Oh my Jo, I am so happy you've found your way."
Laurie who was surprised by a hug from Beth laughed and Jo was startled out of the intensity of emotion she was struggling to swallow under her mother's loving gaze. She smiled at her mother and held her again.
"Come now, you'd best tell your father."
"Come on," Jo said, holding her hand out for Laurie when the two March woman pulled apart. "You'll have to get on bended knee for this one."
Mr. March, as was usual for this time of day, was reading in his study, a thick book in one hand, a glass of lemonade in the other. Jo stopped in the doorway, watching her father for a moment. He sat in a great old chair under the window where the afternoon sun filtered through. One leg was crossed comfortably over the other, his hand lazily cradling the lemonade glass on top of a side table. It was like looking into a memory, seeing his glasses perched on his nose, the comfort of his posture, the well-worn red fabric of his chair and coat.
Jo knocked on the wood of the doorframe and Laurie politely cleared his throat behind her.
"Ah! Hello, you two." Mr. March looked up from his book, smiling at the pair of them in the doorway. "What do you do over there? Come in, come in." He marked his place in the book and left his afternoon things to their place on the end table to his right, directing his attention to the two as Jo limped in and Laurie held her elbow.
"Father, we have some news."
There was a long pause as the gentleman looked between the two, puzzling out silently whether it was serious or something else and remained completely undecided by their furtive glances and half-hidden smiles."
"Or rather, I feel I have something to ask you, sir, if I may."
"Anything you like, Laurie. You know that."
Laurie stepped closer and considered for a moment the honesty in Jo's earlier comment about kneeling and instantly thought better of it, knowing the man preferred to think of them as equals. The younger man felt they were far from it, for who had been able to serve their country when the time had come to call for it? Laurie frowned, thinking of how Jo idolised the man before him, how jealous he'd been when she used to spend so many of their afternoons talking of his greatness.
It was different now. He'd been injured and the weight of it had taken its toll on March's spirit. He was home now and Jo barely said two words about him. Laurie missed the awe in her voice, the pride, the longing to do something adventurous, glorious, useful. Then there was Beth and he knew Jo could never leave the girl's side now. March was still her paragon, the man Jo would always look up to, look to for guidance.
He felt like he should take note.
"Sir, I've asked Jo to have me and she says she will. Would it – I mean, is it alright with you if we do? Marry, I mean." Laurie cringed at the complete scattering of his words and he ran a hand through the back of his hair, scratching at his neck.
"Jo, do you love this man?" Mr. March pulled off his glasses, unable to hide his amusement though he did not smile directly.
Jo took an unsteady step forward, resting her hand against Laurie's back, putting her left hand in his. "Yes, I do Father," she said. "I mightn't have shown it before, but I really do love him."
"Well Laurie, it seems to me like you already have the answer you need. Jo knows her heart best and who are we to stop her?" Laurie smiled and squeezed Jo's hand before she moved to kiss her father on the cheek, her hands lingering on his face.
"Thank you, sir," Laurie said, watching them both.
"Well, it's no trouble on my part but I can't help wondering if you know what you've gotten yourselves into. She won't be all smiles and her mother's cooking, my wild girl."
Laurie laughed as Jo frowned at her father.
"Oh, I know. Believe me."
"Hey," Jo protested, hands swiftly on her hips. "You're not exactly a cup of paradise yourself."
"See what I mean?" March grinned at Laurie and the young man rolled his eyes fondly.
"Better than you know."
"That's enough you two." Jo took Laurie's hand again and kissed her father quickly. "Enjoy your book."
"You should put that foot up," he said, picking up the novel.
"I will," she called over her shoulder as Laurie snickered at her side and they left the room.
"I'll tell Grandfather myself. He won't believe me so you'll have to tell him too, once that ankle has healed." They stood at the bottom of the stairs again, Jo resting against the banister. Laurie had his hat in his hands and they danced around the goodbye. "You really should put it up. No more garden strolls or coming and going up and down the stairs as you please."
"Oh, thank you," Jo said sarcastically, her hands behind her back, holding the wooden balustrades. "I'll keep that in mind next time I hear your calamitous footsteps invading our parlour shall I?"
"Please do. I might even get a chance to catch you in your nightclothes if you're in bed," Laurie grinned cheekily. Jo just laughed and lifted a hand to his tie, fiddling with it absently, knowing what was to come.
"We don't have to, if you like," he said. Jo looked up at that, a small smile playing across her lips.
"We don't? It wasn't so bad, you know." She admitted, one eyebrow arched as her fingers slid down his tie to the buttons of his waistcoat.
"Oh. Well, in that case I'm going to motion we make it mandatory." Laurie leaned in, his breath across her lips as he leaned against the railing behind Jo. Her eyes fluttered shut and he pressed his mouth to her, soft and warm. Jo felt that swimming sensation again and couldn't stop them both when her mouth opened and he kissed her soundly.
"Motion seconded." She said when they parted for breath and he stepped back down the final step, heading for the front door.
"To bed!" Laurie said, smiling, one last long look before he closed the door and she could hear him whistling down the front path as she climbed the stairs, one at a time.
"To bed," she echoed, feeling as though nothing could ever amount to the extent of emotion covered that day.
A/N: well, that went further than I expected! I pulled an all-nighter and everything. There will be a sequel if you like. I've a title and a plan already :) it's nice to write something that's about smiles and easiness for once!