Notes: Set in an alternate universe where Jo is married to Laurie, and Amy to Fred Vaughn. Written for fun.
Jo had lived in the same house as Amy for more than half her life, and despite their occasional truffles, they'd only come close to killing each other on a few rare occasions. Indeed, by the time Amy was preparing for that first voyage to Europe, she and Jo had reached the point where they enjoyed each other's company at least as often as they were at each other's throats. For the first week of Amy's visit, Jo did pretty well at remembering all the things that she liked about her sister, and ignoring the things that she didn't.
The problem with being an adult and having her sister as a houseguest was that Jo didn't really have the option of blowing up at her when her temper demanded it, and felt that she must fill up Amy's solitary hours with her company. She would be an ocean away again soon enough, and Jo felt a near frantic need to store her up, lest several thoroughly Amyless years follow her departure.
The part of Jo which needed time alone each day to do as she pleased, and which had been hard for even Laurie to understand during the first weeks of their marriage, was being sorely neglected.
Fred had bought them all theatre tickets for the evening, and having ducked into her room, Jo was wondering if she might feign ill, when Amy knocked on the door.
"I thought you were quite tired, dear, from the way you ran up to your room before." Jo said, with a smile which started off as forced, and then turned real when she saw the irrepressible grin which Amy wore. "But what's gotten into you? You only look this way when you're up to some mischief, and fancy it just the kind that the rest of us will like."
"Well, I hope you like it. I thought it would be just the thing, and I spent days looking for one that would suit you."
With that, Amy handed Jo a package wrapped in brown paper, urging her to open it quickly.
"I'd thought to mail it last summer," Amy explained with a laugh, "But I was hoping I'd see you in person sooner rather than later, and here I am."
Three pairs of silk gloves fluttered out of the package as Jo peeled away the first layer of wrapping, falling to the ground as if they were nothing more substantial than confetti.
"You're making fun of my tendency towards losing them, I know, but you've certainly found an expensive way to do it."
Anyone else might have been offended by Jo's derisive tone, but Amy, knowing her, just smiled.
"Just finish opening it, and don't start mocking my lack of sense until you've seen what I've chosen."
The dress that Jo found inside was a steely blue, and was indeed eminently sensible compared to many of the outfits she'd seen on women of means. The neckline was high enough, and what ruffles there were tasteful and kept to a minimum. It came complete with a pair of matching shoes, each with a cunning heel such as Jo usually avoided, stockings made of real silk, a hoop, and a boned corset.
"I hardly know what to do with all this," Jo said, more lightly than she intended, for she thought she sounded as though she merely meant to be polite, when in fact she'd just spoken god's honest truth. She ran a hand over the fabric of the dress, which was perfectly smooth and flawless.
It was not that Jo had no experience whatsoever with hoops, corsets, and heeled shoes. She had, in fact, tried each long enough to establish that she hated them. Though she'd long resigned herself to pinning away each errant strand of hair, wearing enough petty-coats to make her feel as if she was carrying double her own weight, and even to keeping track of her gloves for entire evenings at a stretch, Jo remained the very opposite of fashionable. She did the very minimum needed to be permitted out in polite society, and used the extra time not spent fussing over appearances on more important (or at very least, more exciting) matters.
Nonetheless, she managed a smile for Amy's sake.
"You'll wear it tonight?" Amy asked. Jo nodded, thinking she would do it just once to please her sister, never guessing what misery it would cause her.
The problems with the corset were Jo's own fault. At first she had thought to lace the thing as loosely as possible, but that had only made her feel as if she was shirking some sort of duty. Therefore, resolving to plunge into the world of fashionable torture devices head first or not at all, she'd laced herself up with all her might, and tied the silk ribbon on top tightly, for fear that she might find a way to burst out otherwise.
As for the shoes, Amy was completely to blame for Jo's discomfort there. They were decidedly too tight around the toes, and certainly much higher than they needed to be, given Jo's already tall frame. Looking in the mirror, Jo thought that she looked like some sort of tastefully adorned stick insect, and grimaced, hardly remembering that Amy was in the room with her.
"It's not that bad, is it Jo?" Her sister asked.
"Isn't anything I can't take," she replied manfully. "I suppose I'll manage to soldier through a night at least."
"Marriage hasn't changed you in the least," Amy said, attempting to smile, though Jo could see that her words had hurt her.
"It should have," Jo said. "But I never much was cut out to be the Lady of Laurence Manor, and since Laurie doesn't much treat me as such, we get on pretty well. It will be fun to play at it for a night, though, and nobody could have chosen me a better costume. The color really is… splendid, that's just the word for it."
Amy sighed, but Jo found she had at least done herself good, for the idea that she was merely playing a part for the night was wonderfully comforting, and had a spice of fun to it.
"You'll do my hair for me, won't you?" Jo asked, thinking that the best way to make amends. "Saves me making a pin cushion of my fingers, and you're much better at it anyway."
Amy nodded her assent, and though sitting was less than comfortable in her tight corset, Jo did not fidget at all through the entire ordeal.
Laurie raised his eyebrows at Jo, as she came down the stairs, Amy following behind. Jo did not say anything, but mirrored his expression, then cast a glance in Amy's direction. That was all that was the only explanation that was needed between them, for though their conversations were epic, they'd also mastered the art of silent communication better than most.
"Shall we be off then, dearest?" Jo asked lightly, taking his hand as she reached the final step. She did not sound a thing like herself, and was rather proud of it. "As you can see, Amy's made a true lady of me for the night. Aren't you proud to have me on your arm? I'd suggest we dance the waltz once the show's over, but I declare, I'm afraid of how my ankles might suffer if we try it."
Out of the corner of her eyes, Jo saw Amy touch her hand to her forehead, as if really quite upset, and said, much more softly, "You do like it, don't you Laurie?"
"I think both of you are splendid," Laurie said, for her had caught Amy's face as well.
"When I come to England to visit you, I shall let you choose all of my dresses," Jo added to Amy. "I haven't a hint of European sensibility. Laurie does, but it hasn't rubbed off on me."
"I'm fashionable enough when it comes to men," Laurie said, with a preen that Jo knew was to make her laugh, "But since I can't very well put you into a pair of elegant trousers and shirt tails, I'll leave your case in your sister's hands."
"It's a pretty sad case, but if anyone's up to it…"
"Don't worry, Jo. I won't hold you to your promise when you come to visit me, as long as you agree to do so soon." Amy nodded gracefully there, and it was enough to remind Jo that this sister of hers had grown up. It was quite a wonder how the petulant child of yesteryears had fled completely from sight.
Just then Fred walked into the room, grinning at Amy as if he too had been in on the joke.
"You look lovely, Jo. The dress suits you perfectly."
Jo, for her part, decided it was time to act as an adult as well, and so she smiled and thanked him, and endeavored for the rest of the night to look pleased and comfortable.
Fainting spells were the malady of choice for fashionable ladies. Not being fashionable, Jo had fainted but once in her life, and that had not been at all graceful. As Jo sat through the play unable to concentrate on the lines for her lack of breath, she hoped, prayed, and crossed every finger that she would not have her second experience of the sort.
The worst was that Laurie seemed to like it. It was not unusual for him to take her hand during a performance, but this time he seemed to spend more time looking at her than he did the actors. Then there was that distracting way that his hand moved up and down her arm… it was all that Jo could do not to shout at him right there in the theatre.
To her relief she managed to stand pretty steadily once the show was over, and march out of the theatre, Laurie's arm looped around her even thinner than normal waist. She smiled as Fred and Amy discussed the show on the ride home, and even made one comment herself about the "capital" actors. Laurie did not speak much, but his eyes never left her.
Climbing the stairs to their bedroom once they made it home was an act of sheer determination, but as determination had never been something Jo was lacking in, she made it. She kicked off the shoes at once, and started at once pulling off the layers of clothing covering the corset, which she was sure was getting tighter by the second.
She tugged once or twice at the corset's knot, but it would not come undone, no matter what she did.
"Confounded thing," she said, flopping down on the bed, and regretting it, as the boning dug into what she imagined must be her kidneys. "Don't know why I tied it so tight. Serves me right that I should be defeated by my own hand."
She felt Laurie come up behind her, kneeling on the bed. His lips touched the place on her back right above where the knot was tied.
At that, Jo gritted her teeth, and pounded her fists once against the edge of the bed, not caring what a sill picture that made.
"And the worst of it is that you are enjoying it."
"Oh indeed?" Said Laurie, for Jo's snappishness never got a particularly good reaction from him. His hand had been on the strings of the corset, but he let it fall away now.
"Yes. You've not spent so much time staring at me since before we were married."
"I have to admit, the corset has wrought some interesting changes in your appearance. I'm not sure I've ever seen you look so pale for so long. And aren't you supposed to where a chemise beneath it, so you don't get welts on your back from the boning?"
"It's not as if you'd do any better, if you were required to put it on for the night."
"I daresay I wouldn't tie it tight enough to strangle myself. If all you want to do is fight with me, I'll go downstairs to my piano, and let you take your rage out on these strings instead."
"They'd deserve it if I did," Jo said, with a sigh of capitulation.
At once Laurie's hands set to untying the difficult knot, a task which took more time than Jo would have liked. Jo took in several deep breaths as the ties finally released her, shutting her eyes while Laurie fully loosened and then finally removed the corset, tossing it aside with little ceremony.
"I think you look much better like this," Laurie said, before running his lips down her now bare back. Jo twisted around so that she was facing him.
"The height of fashion?" She asked, thinking how comfortable it was to sit here in only a few of her underskirts, her entire upper body free of it's previous constraints.
"I'm not sure stripes really are the thing this season," Laurie said, running his hand down her side, where the indents from the corset were still marked clearly on her skin.
Jo smacked his hand away playfully. "Well, I can think of some improvements for your wardrobe as well," she said.
"What kind of improvements?"
"Take a guess," She said, as she slowly began to unbutton his trousers.