A/N: This is AU from when Laurie and Amy return from Europe. They're engaged but not married, that is. It's been quite long since I've last read the book, so if you spot any incongruities, do correct me. Thanks! :)
Disclaimer: Little Women and its characters belong to L.M.A.. If I actually owned them, do you really think I'd let that miserable, snivelling Amy marry Laurie? Or let Jo marry that ancient Professor? Humph.
Too Much of a Gentleman
Sisters and Brothers
Hands fisted, Laurie stood transfixed in something akin to horror as the words of the ongoing conversation drifted to him from behind the half-opened door.
"…If you'd just give your word, I will be eternally grateful and I promise to make you happy for the rest of my life, no matter what it takes."
As if in a masochistic trance, he inched closer to the door until the room's occupants were in sight—even though he was already pretty sure of their identities. From his position, he spied the German Professor's back tilted at an angle to the door; and a certain March sister an arm's length away.
"Miss Josephine, please. I'd understand if you do not wish to marry an old man like me, but I beg you: please give me an answer quickly, for this waiting and ignorance wrecks havoc on my soul," Bhaer shuffled forward minutely, taking a hand in both of his.
Jo raised her dark eyes from their position on the ground and for a heart-stopping moment Laurie suddenly found them locked onto his own, before she shifted her gaze onto the Professor's face. Then she spoke—
And he felt her words like a silver dagger plunged into his heart, even as he continued watching them in some self-inflicted torture; the German Professor holding his Jo the way he used to, the way he longed to.
As the man stepped away from the embrace and opened his mouth to speak, Laurie finally found himself unable to witness any more of the unfolding scene and silently staggered to the stairway, crumpling into a heap at the lowermost step. His rational side urged him to leave before they emerged, but it was as if he could not salvage strength enough to stand, much less make his way back home, for his Jo was lost to him forever.
They exited the room moments later, and it seemed that neither noticed his slumped figure by the stairs as Jo led the Professor to the front door. As the door shut, whatever strength that had deserted him earlier suddenly rushed back into his limbs as he flung himself into the path of a startled Jo, whose shock soon melted into a mask of coldness.
"You were eavesdropping on us," She accused, swallowing, as she sidestepped him to advance into the parlour.
Swiftly, Laurie caught her by her upper-arms and turned her towards him. She didn't bother evading his grasp upon a single failed attempt of a shrug, but merely cast her eyes beyond his shoulders.
"No," was his monosyllabic answer.
This time, her eyes filled with unbridled ire as they shot to his, her sharp chin angled in the familiar defiant way uniquely Jo.
"Stop lying Laurie. I saw you behind the door."
"I was just coming over to check on you and merely arrived at what was apparently the wrong time."
"Stop making excuses. You were clearly eavesdropping. Besides, what are you doing here? Aren't you supposed to be at Meg's with Amy and Marmee?"
She spat her words bitterly, angrily, twisting—successfully, this time—out of his grasp and widening the distance between them.
He made the connection almost instantaneously, fuelled by his own irrational, lovesick-tainted disposition—her bitterness, her coldness, her hasty acceptance of Bhaer's proposal of marriage: "You love me,"—uttered in a revered whisper.
She flinched at his words. "Christopher Columbus, Laurie. Of course I love you—you're practically my brother—don't you know that by now? In fact, you'll be my brother by law once you marry Amy."
"No," He stepped closer, effectively cornering her. "You're jealous of Amy, aren't you? And you've realised that you've loved me all along now that we're engaged." His words tumbled out breathlessly, hopefully.
"What do you mean 'jealous'?" She let out a nervous laugh—it sounded so even to her own ears. "I've got my own wedding to plan; why would I be jealous of my sister?"
At the mention of her impending marriage, his face darkened.
"You're jealous because I proposed to Amy even though you rejected me, and that she accepted." He stepped closer, still, until barely two hand-spans' worth of space remained between their bodies. "You're jealous because I'm going to marry her, not you. You," hands braced on the wall behind her, he leant closer as his voice dropped to a whisper, "Are jealous because you think I love her."
Heart beating wildly, Jo placed shaking hands on his shoulders in an attempt at pushing the young man away. "I'd appreciate some personal space, if you please," she muttered in a half-hearted semblance of indignant offense.
Ignoring her, he proceeded softly. "But I don't, Jo," A hand moved to cup her cheek, tilting her face towards his. "Can't you see how much I love you?"
Old Jo came back within seconds as he felt a sharp stinging pain where she slapped his cheek, effectively dislodging his hold on her.
"How dare you say that, when I'm engaged to Professor Bhaer; when you're engaged to my sister Amy?" Where it was bitter before, her voice dripped acidic venom as she whispered her words in an enraged hiss. As she lifted a hand to push him out of her way, however, she found her wrist once again held captive by his fingers.
"If I hadn't proposed to her, would you have married me?" At his words, Jo wordlessly turned her face away to hide her crumbling mask of indifference, unwilling to reveal the effect his agonised voice had on her emotions.
"Please let me go, Laurie." She tugged at her wrist, determined to make a civil exit.
"If I wasn't engaged to Amy, you wouldn't have accepted that Professor of yours, would you?"
"You wouldn't have, would you?"
"You can't marry him, Jo. You don't love him. I know you, Jo; you think you do, but you don't."
Frustrated at his frequent interruption, Jo reluctantly put her hand over his lips in a bid to silence his string of words and was surprised to find that he made no attempt to break away.
"And just who do you think you are to say who I love and who I don't? And who I marry? Grow up, Laurie; you're not the only one who's allowed to marry, and I'm not falling for whatever absurd ploy you've concocted to keep me from it!"
At this juncture, his hand firmly pulled hers away from his mouth and to the side of his face.
"You think this is a ploy to keep you from marrying,"—it was a statement, voiced in incredulity.
"Yes." She responded succinctly; chin once again jutting out defensively. "I know you're too much of a gentleman to actually mean what you said about loving me when you're engaged to Amy. And I'm sorry about judging you without thinking and for that slap."
"No," he brought her other hand to his other cheek, and pressing her hands against the sides of his face, he continued in a low, desperate plea "Slap me a hundred, a thousand, a million times, Jo. You can slap me until my cheeks bleed, but I meant what I said before—I love you, Jo March."
Suddenly weary, Jo sagged in resignation. "Stop joking around, Teddy. This isn't a time for your pranks—not now that we're all grown up and both affianced."
"This isn't a joke—do you know how long I've been trying to wish it away?" He laughed bitterly, brokenly. "You want to know why I proposed to Amy? Remember that day you rejected me? You said you wouldn't ever want to marry. I told you that you would, and that I wouldn't stand by and watch some other man marry you—and I won't. I'd almost believed you at first; that's why I decided to marry Amy—I'd decided to settle for some part of you if you wouldn't have me, and continue to love you however you'd allow for anyone to. You promised me you wouldn't marry—that's why I let you go; and now you tell me you're going to marry some old German Professor who you've known for barely a year?"
"What exactly is wrong with me, Jo? I promise you I'll change for you; I'll be however you want me to be—just; love me, Jo. Say you do. Say you'll marry me." Laurie ended breathlessly, clasping her hands to his heart, eyes alit with frustration and passionate fervour in a déjà vu of that afternoon a few years back.
Jo's breath caught at the raw emotion in his eyes, and quickly withdrew her hands, casting her gaze upon the floor lest he saw the conflicting emotions within her own. "I'm promised to him, Teddy. I'm sorry you feel that way," she managed to get out in a normal sounding voice, before turning completely away to hide the tears that had finally escaped. I do love you, dear, she wanted to tell him. But she couldn't do this to Amy and Fritz. And she couldn't love him the way he wanted her to; even though she did—but he didn't need to know that.
A few moments of silence passed before she heard her boy stir.
"I'm sorry to have caused you such inconvenience, Miss March. Please accept my apologies for intruding," Came a painfully polite voice that sounded so unlike her Laurie that she spun around immediately without any regard to the twin tracks of tears upon her face, to find herself face to face with Laurie's forbidding figure striding swiftly out of the door; back ramrod straight and head held arrogantly high.
And though her heart cried out to him, she merely permitted herself a pathetic, trembling whisper.
"I'm sorry, my boy."
A/N: So I've been reflecting (and have received feedback) that Jo's a little OOC here, but I've always wanted to see a little more angst between Jo and Laurie, so yeah. I promise to try my best to make Jo more in-character!