Finding A Way

LHOP inspired fan fiction by Cheryl C. Malandrinos

Disclaimer: I do not own the Little House on the Prairie television series, book series, or any of the characters.

Laura's body stiffened the moment Almanzo's naked chest pressed against her back. His fingers slid along the length of the arm she kept hidden under her nightgown, but the material couldn't prevent the heat of Almanzo's body from penetrating it, a warmth that seemed too hot and stifling for her.

Tendrils of auburn hair pulled away from her neck and the feeling of his breath on her skin sent shivers down her spine. Laura wanted nothing more than to jump off the bed and put significant distance between her and her husband. I'm not ready. I may never be ready.

His lips so hot and full of need touched the soft flesh where her neck met the ruffles of her collar. "Manly, please don't." Her hand covered his to stop any further exploration.

Almanzo's arm dropped to his side. His lips pursed, disappointment swam in the blue depths of his eyes. She knew he was angry. This always made him angry. Why can't he understand?

"I'm just not ready." She reached up to caress his cheek, but he tossed the sheets aside, grabbed his pants off the bed post and stomped across the room after pulling his suspenders over his shoulders.

Almanzo spun around in the doorway. "I'm beginnin' to think you're never gonna be ready." His fingers raked through his hair. "How long should we wait? A year, two maybe?"

Laura sat at the edge of the bed, her bare feet dangling a couple of inches from the floor. She shrunk back as he accosted her with his words. She could feel the tears threatening to spill over onto her cheeks, but she wouldn't allow it. How dare he treat me this way. Didn't he remember how long it took him to make his way back to me after his illness?

Yet when she searched for her voice her response came out barely above a whisper. "I don't know. I just need more time."

"Time… time," he slammed his fist against the door jamb. "How much time Laura? Until we're too old to have anymore children? So long that you'll never have to worry about losing another one?"

Anger rose from her stomach up to her face, tinting her cheeks red and dotting sweat upon her brow. Was the knowledge that he understood worse than his not caring how she felt? Laura pushed off the bed and marched toward Almanzo. "That's not fair! You know how much losing that baby hurt me…hurt us. How can you not even consider what might happen if we're together like that? Are you ready to accept it if we have to bury another one of our children?"

Shaking his head, Almanzo lifted his face to the sky as if searching for Almighty strength. "Didn't you tell Doc Baker that we were thinkin' of havin' another baby? I thought we were both all right with it."

"I would have said just about anything as long as it made Doc Baker stay in Walnut Grove. I couldn't stand to think I would be the reason he left." Laura wrung her hands, tightening them around each other with so much tension it almost hurt.

"So you lied to me?" Anger mixed with hurt lingered on his face. Almanzo's chest rose and fell quickly as he tried to withhold the nasty words threatening to tumble from his mouth. Here he had thought they were in agreement, but Beth hadn't meant those words. She would never be okay with having another baby. Never!

She rushed against his chest, hoping he wouldn't reject her. Clasping both arms around his waist, Laura held on as if her very life depended upon it.

The sudden change in her surprised him. Not sure if he should embrace her or push her aside, Almanzo waited silently. But his mind wouldn't stop racing, couldn't stop thinking of just how deep her fear ran, and angry at himself that he couldn't feel more compassion for the woman he loved. Hadn't they both lost a son? Hadn't it been one of the worst moments of their lives? Worse than the thought he would never walk again? Why couldn't he be more patient and understanding?

Laura's tears soaked his skin. "No, no, no, I would never lie to you," her words muffled as she spoke into his chest. She sniffled and turned puffy, red eyes in his direction. "I just didn't know how hard it would be to—"

"To love me again."

His words ripped at her heart. How could he believe for even a second that she didn't want to be with him? She loved him more than life itself. The night of his stroke, when she thought he would be taken from her forever, the pain had been too awful to bear. Almost worse than that had been how her paralyzed husband had begged for her help and she realized there was nothing she could do.

A war of emotions raged inside Almanzo. He wanted to pick up Beth and carry her back to their bed and love her in the worst way. They hadn't been together since the baby died six months ago. Her continued resistance to every attempt at affection hurt and angered him. He didn't want to make her feel guilty over it, but the repeated rejections tore into his heart. Didn't she realize how much he needed her? Why wasn't her love for him stronger than her fears? After all they had been through together, why didn't she believe they could get through this too?

It was more than his physical need for her. They had lost a child together. They mourned him, but then Rose had come down with small pox and the time to mourn their son came to an abrupt halt as they worked alongside Doc Baker, hoping and praying that God wouldn't take another child from them. When Doc Baker told them Rose would survive, the relief was overshadowed by the task of preventing Doc Baker from leaving Walnut Grove. Laura had blamed the doctor for the death of their son, and it wasn't until she had watched Doc Baker nurse her daughter back to health that she was ready to forgive him. Having come on the heels of all the trouble with her brother Albert and his battle against his addiction to morphine, the young couple had barely enough time to breathe before this new crisis had struck.

Life in Walnut Grove had burbled along like Plum Creek in the summertime, but nothing was the same for Almanzo and Laura. It was like they lived two lives—the one before the death of their son and the one after. Caring for Rose and their niece Jenny and watching them grow had been a blessing, but there was always this empty place in their hearts that their infant son claimed. Would they ever truly move on?

Laura pulled Almanzo closer and he allowed his arms to wrap around her. Her cries now dying down to whimpers, he kissed the top of her head and exhaled deeply. Please God, show me the way.

Comforted by Almanzo's embrace, a small sense of peace fell over her. With all her heart she wanted to be the wife he needed, yet her fear remained an unwelcomed guest in their marriage. She wasn't used to this. She had always approached the trials in her life with firm resolve. It had taken a lot to bring her down after Manly's stroke, but his love and commitment to her and Rose easily swept away those horrible feelings and she found herself loving him more than ever. Nothing could compare to the day she watched him walk for the first time since his illness. Standing in front of the new home Almanzo was building for his family, he told her to stay where she was and he lifted his once crippled body out of the wheelchair. Laura wasn't sure her legs would hold her up. Her head swam with surprise, joy, pride…and love. She couldn't imagine how he had kept this hidden from her, but as he walked toward her, talking to her about the new crops he would plant and sharing his commitment to keep his family in Walnut Grove, all Laura could think of was how anxious she was to start over with Manly again.

It was time to start over again now too, but as she glanced up into Almanzo's face, a face that looked as if he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders, she couldn't think of how the healing would begin. How does one move on after the death of a child—a child you took for granted would grow into adulthood. It didn't seem natural to bury your own child, yet, she knew her mother had done it, as had her sister Mary, twice. They seemed to move on and be happy again. Why couldn't she?

"Beth?" Almanzo's voice pulled Laura from her thoughts. "I love you. I can't stand this thing between us. Tell me how to fix it."

Laura's throat tightened and her heart swelled with love. "Oh Manly, I wish I knew how to fix it. I just…I know I can't lose another baby. Even the thought of becoming pregnant again makes me sick to my stomach. I—"

Almanzo grabbed Laura by the shoulders and shook her. "Laura, we can't go on this way. I need you." The desperation in his voice wrapped its fingers around her heart. "Do you understand what I'm sayin'? I need you. I can't go through this alone. If I learned nothin' else from bein' sick before, it's that I never want to be so lonesome again." He swallowed away the lump in his throat. "I pushed you away when I shoulda been bringin' you closer. I won't let that happen again. I won't lose you Beth."

Laura could see the tears he wouldn't let fall swimming in his eyes. The emotions had strangled his voice and the last few words struggled to come forth. Could she do it? Could she do it for him?

Her arms slid from his waist and reached up so her hands could cup his face. Drawing him closer, Laura could feel the tingling of fear in her throat. Her lower lip trembled as it came closer to his. "I love you Manly." She wanted to say more, to reassure him, but her voice was gone. She pressed her lips to his and hoped he would accept her.

The moment their lips touched, he felt it. Her love, her desire, her need. That need to be together, mourn together, heal together. He felt her tears falling upon his face…or was he crying. He didn't know.

Almanzo lifted Laura up and carried her to the bed. Her hands slid down his bare back and caused goose bumps to form on his flesh. As their kiss deepened, his hurt and anger melted. Somewhere deep inside, he knew they would make this work, even if it ended right now with Laura only allowing him to hold her all night.

He pulled back and a surprised Laura held him in place, not allowing him to widen the distance between them. "What's wrong?" she asked.

"Nothin'."

His crooked smile peeked out at her and things suddenly felt right. And it seemed to her as if maybe they had a chance to go back to what they had before…if only she could do it.

Almanzo's fingers traveled through her hair. "Are you sure you want this?" The lump again formed in his throat and his next words came out as a whisper. "We can stop if you want."

Blinking back the tears, a smile curled the corner of Laura's lips. "No, I don't want to stop. I love you Manly, more than anything."

"I love you too, Beth."

Laura tilted her head anticipating his next kiss. The crooked smile returned to his face. He lowered his lips to hers as he reached over with one arm and turned down the lamp.