A little story that was buzzing around inside my head and that I just had to get down. It started life as a one shot story (AU from the proposal onwards), but I think I might expand it into something more. I hope you enjoy reading it and let me know what you think, and whether it is worth continuing or not. Also, if it wasn't obvious: I love Jo and Laurie's relationship.

Too Late

Jo lay in bed, the tortured drama of two characters spinning through her thoughts, distracting her waking mind and keeping her from sleep. It was late, well past midnight in fact, and the bright moonlight falling across her pillow added only a further distraction. She had written many a fanciful scene under such a moon, tales of unrequited romance, daring adventure and heartfelt confessions. However, unlike on so many occasions previously the characters keeping her awake tonight were not the flighty imaginings of her creative soul, but very solid, very real and painful in a way she could never have imagined possible.

Every time she tried to close her eyes it was as though Teddy's face had been painted on the back of her lids. His anguished words echoed in her ears as she replayed her own, trying to think if she could have refused him more gently somehow. It was a useless exercise seeing as how the damage had already been done, and irreparably too. She should have long since been asleep, but there were too many thoughts tumbling about inside her head for that. Besides sleep was cruel, and it refused to come when called.

Why could he not understand that what they had was precious? Altering it in such an irrevocable way with constraints such as love and marriage: that was not for them. That was not the way they were. Jo and Teddy: they would be best friends until the trumpets sounded and the world turned. Why did things have to change so? Nothing had been wrong with the way things there, unless Laurie's peculiar behaviour around her recently was counted, which, especially given the way today had proceeded, she tried not to.

Biting back a frustrated sigh Jo tossed and turned in her bed, struggling to find a comfortable position. Finally she dragged the covers up around her long, thin frame and buried her face into the pillow, trying to force herself to sleep and her mind to empty although not necessarily in that order. She had very nearly succeeded in one of these when, from some open window in the house, a mischievous breeze carried the distant sound of a piano being crashed at mercilessly. The mournful melody cascading up and down the notes scorched at her heart in a way that little else could. What pain she had caused her boy, her Teddy! Oh if only he hadn't spoken, if only she had been able to love him the way he wanted her to, if only things had been able to go on as before, but things were as they were and there was nothing to be done about it now.

There was an emotion in Laurie's music that she had never heard before in all the countless times she had heard him play over the years. It was something dark and angry that spoke of a sorrow and regret which the boy he had been would have been incapable of expressing. The knowledge that she had put such a thing into his music, into him, brought fresh tears. Eventually, unable to bear the sound of the piano any longer Jo threw her blankets over her head and cried for the first time over the whole sorry mess.

When morning came she felt drained and exhausted. Sleep had not turned out to be the refuge she had hoped and in her dreams she had encountered Teddy's face at every turn, her mind reliving his proposal to mock her. She woke, fractious and out of sorts. Judging by the way the shadows fell around her room she guessed it must be almost noon. Marmee, using that motherly intuition that seemed to come so naturally to her, had obviously sensed that something was troubling her Jo and not wanted to disturb her. Still there was no use in putting off the day and so she rose, getting dressed quickly before creeping down the stairs.

The house seemed more empty than usual as she flitted from room to room trying to find her mother, perhaps it was Meg's absence, perhaps it was the knowledge that Laurie and she might never again romp about it's halls as they used to, perhaps it was a little of both. Eventually she found her mother and Beth sitting by the hearth and to those who knew her best Jo's troubled mind was immediately apparent for all that she tried to hide it. So Jo poured out her woes, holding nothing back. She began with her realisation that Laurie had been acting differently of late, sobbed into Marmee's skirts as she told them of what had passed between them in the grove, of how he had fled from her, of her confession to Mr Laurence and how she so desperately wanted to put things right between them again. All the while Marmee stroked her hair in silence and Beth held her hand tightly between her own pale ones. If either were disappointed they did not say, for they knew Jo and they knew she would only be happy in a marriage if she gave herself freely, truly and whole.

As to the matter of fixing things, Marmee counselled a cautious approach. She should leave Laurie for a few days before she attempted to speak with him. However honest and well-intentioned her words had been Laurie's pride had been wounded as well as his heart, she should give him some time to simmer before trying to mend the bridges that had been broken between them.

And so Jo waited. Initially she had intended to wait for a least a week before she tried to set things right, but in the end her patience only lasted for three days before she found herself marching across to the Laurence house with a demand to see Laurie on her lips. She had spent three days struggling to think of what she would say to him once he gave her the chance, but had had no luck in straightening out her tangle of thoughts. The only thing she knew for certain was that she could not wait another day without at least trying something.

When she reached the door however she was informed that both the Laurence's were out at present and unlikely to return before nightfall. They had gone to town to prepare for their forthcoming trip to Europe. They would be departing for London the following day. Jo heard each sentence with a queer detachment, the words falling like rocks into the already troubled well of her thoughts. Laurie was leaving her, almost straight away! She knew she could not let him leave with things the way they were because in her heart she knew that if he left now, her Teddy would never come back to her again. Something had fractured in the grove when she had refused him, but if she let him leave it would be altogether smashed into pieces and she could not bear it!

For the rest of the day Jo was restless, she retired to the garret and attempted to write, to let some of the roiling emotions inside of her spill out into her characters, to share some of the pain she was feeling with them. It was no use, the words would not come and her friends, usually so reliable and comforting, refused to bend to her will. Instead she fell to pacing the room, her eyes constantly flickering to the Laurence house, trying to determine if Laurie had come home yet. In the end, exhausted and her nerves frayed beyond all endurance she fell asleep amidst crumpled sheets of paper, face turned towards the window. When she woke again it was dark and there were no lights on in the house, or her own for that matter, so she had an awkward time of it in making her way slowly and with as little clumsiness as possible down to bed.

The next morning as soon as she had determined it was a decent hour, or rather that Laurie was likely to be awake, Jo scrambled across to their neighbour's house. If her hand hesitated in knocking upon the door it was only for a moment before she firmed her resolve and rapped three times. Whilst waiting for a response she hopped impatiently from one foot to the other, hands knotting in her skirts and worrying her lip between her teeth. After what seemed like an age the door opened and the servant she had spoken to only the day before was smiling pitifully at her.

"Have you come to call on Master Laurence again, Miss?" Something in the man's tone of voice stopped Jo's heart.

"Yes." The word was uttered tremulously.

"I'm afraid you've missed him, Miss." The words thudded into the silence that Jo uncharacteristically couldn't seem to find the words to fill.

"What -" she stammered eventually, "what do you mean?"

"Mr Laurence and he have already gone. They took the eight o'clock train to Boston. They're already on their way to London."

"But they can't have gone!" She cried, heedless of the propriety of her words or tone. "Not yet, I haven't spoken to Teddy and I – I so badly needed to." Her words fell to a whisper as she finished the sentence.

If the manservant was taken aback by her outburst he had the courtesy not to show it. "They left a forwarding address in London, Miss. I can give you that if it would help?"

So it was that Jo stumbled back to Orchard House, trying vainly to hold her bitter tears in check until she could reach somewhere more private, a slip of paper clutched in her hand. She had left it too late. She had left everything far too late. Too late to notice the change in Laurie's behaviour, too late to try and put a stop to his nonsense before they had reached this juncture and now, worst of all, too late to put things right again. Oh, why did she always make such a wretched mess of things?

Tumbling in through the door she ignored Marmee's enquiring call and dashed straight to her room. Shutting the door firmly she leant against it, ready for the tears to fall, but there seemed to have been a barrier formed against them. Her treacherous eyes remained dry no matter how much she wanted the pain of her loss to spill over, even if it would only lessen the feelings building up inside her a little. She may not love him the way he had wanted or enough to marry him, but she had loved her Teddy all the same and the thought of life without his comforting presence was excruciating.

With a noise that might have been a scream if it had been louder than a whisper she tore across the room, upended a wooden box that had lain by her bed, ignoring the contents as they went bouncing and spinning across her room and threw the piece of paper inside. After it went a bundle of letters Laurie had sent her from college, a pen he had given her last Christmas and a little book of poems she had borrowed from him. Anything and everything that reminded her of her friend. Jo went methodically around the room making sure that there was no sign of him left. Unfortunately she couldn't put her memories or her blasted thoughts into the box, but even as it was she had to tie it closed with a piece of string, for the lid would not remain in place otherwise. With that done she went up to the garret and hid the box in as dark and dusty a corner as she could find.

As she turned away from it she straightened her shoulders, smoothed her skirts and determined to put a brave face on the matter. If Laurie ever gave it to her she would jump at the chance to put things right between them again, but if not, as was much more likely given that he could be as stubborn as she when provoked, she would have to get on with life as best she could. She would try to learn from dear sweet Beth the lesson of smiling when others needed her to, of being sensible and steadfast, rather than wild and impetuous as she had been. She would try to be a better person. So with an expression much more cheerful than the soul grieving inside of her, Jo softly closed the garret door hoping as she did so that she would be able to shut away the part of her heart that would always and forever belong to her boy as easily.