Disclaimer: Still not LMA, although there is a quote – helpfully italicised for your convenience – which I borrowed from LW in the chapter 'Beth's Secret'.
An Inability to be Serious
"Jo, dear, are you sure you're quite alright?" Mrs March peered questioningly at her second child as the latter sat staring pensively out of the window. "You're not feeling unwell are you? You were soaked through last night; perhaps you've caught a chill?"
Startled from deep thoughts by the sound of her mother's voice, Jo looked round quickly, those same thoughts causing a blush to spread across her cheeks. "I'm sorry Marmee, what did you say?"
Her mother frowned, rising from her seat to feel the temperature of her daughter's forehead. "You don't feel fevered, but you're very flushed and you've been distant all morning. Are you sure you aren't catching something?"
"Oh, no Marmee. I'm perfectly fine thank you. Splendid in fact. I was just lost in thought, that's all." Very lost, she thought, although she didn't say so.
Jo had lain awake all night considering the implications of her rather eventful trip home. Much as she kept trying to convince herself that it had meant nothing, at least on her part, she knew that wouldn't even come close to being true. Something had changed in her feelings for Laurie over the course of that rain-soaked kiss. There was a passion there that hadn't been before. For those brief moments all her awkwardness with him had vanished, all her carefully planned arguments about their just being friends had melted away. Was it love? Was that what love felt like? Because she would have to be completely sure if she was to allow anything to continue, she didn't think her boy would be able to survive another knock-back. Their friendship certainly wouldn't at any rate.
Laurie loved her too much for her to sweep it all under the carpet again or even to delay for long, she had seen that. But what did she feel? She had written about love often enough; why then was it so hard to recognise in herself? She had run through everything a hundred times and then a hundred times again just for good measure. She had admitted she needed him and admitted she loved him as a friend; she felt better around him – when they weren't fighting – happier, lighter, more at ease than with anyone else. Was that love? The real true kind?
She could ask Marmee, her mother had always been able to help before, but then her mother thought they were wrong for each other. She had said as much after Laurie had proposed the first time. What if she was right, what if their tempers would get the better of them, overpower any affection that may or may not be there? Jo had always thought that marriage to anyone, Laurie included, would be a disaster. She would have had to give up on her dreams of being a writer if she was to become a wife, but then would anyone ever understand her ambitions as well as Laurie? He had spent years listening to every single scribbling she had ever produced, knew how dear to her heart being published was and he had said he would never try and stop her from pursuing that. Could it work? Their tempers might clash often, but when was there anyone else as wild and irrepressible as Jo around, if not her Teddy? When did anyone ever make her laugh so much?
And then there had been the kiss. Jo had rarely ever felt so alive and she didn't think it had all been related to her initial anger or the romance of the storm. The whole thing was just so dratted frustrating! She wanted to make the right decision and she knew she needed to do it quickly or either way she would lose him forever, and she couldn't stand for that to happen again.
In times when she was lost, scared and felt so alone, as she did now, she would often try to consider what Beth would have done in the situation. Beth had always been her moral compass when she had been alive and she knew she was watching over her now; what would she have to say about things? Her sister had lived for the happiness of others, but Jo knew that what she had said to Teddy was true, the two of them would only be happy together if Jo accepted with all of her heart. If only she knew what it was her heart was trying to tell her. She thought of Beth's wish that Laurie should one day be a brother to her and of what she had said of Jo on that last trip they took to the seaside.
"You are like the gull, Jo, strong and wild, fond of the storm and the wind, flying far out to sea, and happy all alone."
She was still fond of the storm and the wind that at least had not changed, although she wasn't as wild as she had once been, and she would still dearly love to fly off and see the wonderful places of the world. But would she be happy to do it alone forever now? Whenever she closed her eyes and thought of herself tramping about Europe or the more exotic corners of the world, there was now a shadowy figure with her. And if sometimes that shadowy figure bore the face of Theodore Laurence, well then, did that mean it was love? Oh, Bethy! She thought plaintively, if only you could tell me what was right!
She was just about to open her mouth to voice something of her inner turmoil to her mother, although she hadn't quite decided how much yet, when she saw one of the doors to the Laurence house open and a tall, brooding figure steal out. Her heart gave a queer little skip as he spared one glance towards her own home before making his way to the bottom of the garden in quick, purposeful strides. Jo leant forward in her seat, keeping sight of him until he vanished behind the trees; her breathing seemed to have quickened unnaturally and her hands were clutching the arms of the chair as though her life depended on it.
"Jo," her mother's voice cut across her thoughts, "Are you sure you're alright, dearest? You've gone very pale now. I think you should perhaps go and lie down, you don't want to make yourself unwell."
"No… No, what I think I need is some fresh air." As though she hadn't gotten enough of that the previous evening wandering around in the storm. "I won't be long, Marmee, I just need to step out for a spell."
If her mother thought anything of this she didn't say so.
Quickly and quietly Jo slipped out onto the porch, her face flushing again as she remembered standing there the previous night, and with whom. Taking a deep breath to steady nerves that suddenly seemed to be jangling alarmingly she turned around the side of the house and made her way towards the fence separating the two yards. For a moment her hand rested briefly on the postbox and she smiled ruefully as she considered her intentions, however fleeting they had been, to take the old thing down. How foolish that had been! She opened the lid gently, feeling the rough grain of the wood beneath her fingertips and imagining all the letters that had lain there, all the little correspondences between herself and Teddy, the gifts, the pranks, the secret things that only two friends as close as they could share in and understand. She remembered the little skip her heart had just given at the sight of him, the joy she had felt when she knew he had returned from Europe.
With a sudden determination that if she was to do something it might as well be now, Jo shut the box with a snap and in an entirely unladylike fashion clambered over the fence. She hoped her mother wasn't watching from the window, because as understanding as Marmee always was she would be utterly appalled to see her daughter behaving so.
Crossing the long garden in brisk, businesslike strides Jo soon located the object of her attention. Teddy was standing at the very bottom of the garden, half hidden by bushes and staring out into the tangled woods beyond. His shoulders were tense, his arms folded and he seemed lost in thought. For a moment all the mother-hen in her wanted to do was go up and embrace him, to shield him from all his worries and woes, although she knew that since she was the cause of most of them this would do little to remedy matters. Instead Jo increased her pace.
She could tell from the change in his posture that he had heard her coming, as though she had ever been any good at being quiet or subtle in the first place, but he didn't turn. Broad shoulders rose and fell as he inhaled slowly, his hands dropped to his sides and balled themselves into fists before unclenching gradually and repeating the process. Suddenly unsure of what she should do, or why she had even come outside in the first place, Jo made the decision to trust her instincts. Impulse had gotten her this far, and besides, why alter the habit of a lifetime?
Her mind's eye watched as though it was some other woman who crossed the space between them in three quick steps. She felt the fabric of his jacket beneath her palm as her hand rested on his shoulder, she could feel a trembling too, but she wasn't sure if that was from him or her – perhaps it was them both. She wasn't sure what she was doing, so she just did what felt right. Her heart was hammering again, although as she slid her arm down his back she could feel that his was twice as fast; as he turned his head to the side to watch her with one wary eye she could hear each of his breaths fluttering in and out. In the same way they had on the road last night her arms slid slowly around his waist and her head came to rest against his shoulder and for all that she was tall, Laurie was taller. They seemed to fit together perfectly.
For a moment they stood there, breathing quietly as one, neither saying a word, allowing their hearts to slow just a little, and suddenly Jo had the answer to her questions. To that one, most important, question. She had had it all along she suspected, but had been too much of a ninny, too much of a coward to recognise it. She loved Laurie enough. She loved her Teddy with all of her being and more besides. The knowledge didn't hit her like a thunder-bolt as she had thought it might, or had imagined in her stories. It was more as though someone had opened a window to let the knowledge blow in on the breeze. It had always been there, waiting patiently, it had just needed someone to open the latch.
Slowly her lips lifted into a lazy smile and whether or not he felt it she couldn't be sure, but Laurie stirred, bringing his hand up to gently clasp hers and turning so that they were facing each other. His face was flushed, hopeful as she hadn't seen it since that day in the grove before she had crushed his dreams so cruelly. The eyes that looked down on her now managed to convey so many emotions and with a depth that would have scared her had they not been reflected in her own.
"Jo?" He croaked eventually. "Does this…? I was going to give you more time… What does this…? Does this mean what I think…?" He couldn't finish, but the fingers that held her own gripped more tightly as he drew them to his chest.
"Teddy," she whispered his name and she thought she saw something flicker in his eyes, the ghost of a smile brushing his lips as she put all the love she possessed into that one word. Reaching up she ran a trembling thumb across his cheek before dropping her hand back down to join his, their fingers tangling together. "Teddy, you asked me a question once and I asked you never to repeat it. Would it be possible… could you please ignore me when I say utterly nonsensical things like that?"
The habits of a lifetime pulled Laurie's face into a smirk and he couldn't help but tease. "Darling Jo, I'll never listen to a word you say again if this means you are going to accept me!"
Freeing her hand she swatted him lightly on the arm. "Teddy! Honestly, what a pair we make, we're unable to get through one proposal without quarrelling, the least we can try to do is make a serious job of it the second time around."
"Jo, you know fine well that we, neither of us, could be serious for long even if we tried." In spite of his words however, he endeavoured to do so, his voice becoming husky as he asked her a question. "Is that what this is then, a proposal?"
He was so close that she abruptly found herself wanting nothing more than to reach up and kiss the suddenly solemn lines of his mouth, but caution held her back. He hadn't asked her yet. She had a swift, fleeting moment of doubt. What if he wouldn't? What if he had changed his mind, or didn't think they were ready for such a step yet? But looking up into his smiling eyes she felt all those silly notions melt away again and with a motion so small that Laurie might have missed it had she not been occupying his full and entire attention, as she always had, Jo nodded.
For a moment she thought he wouldn't be able to speak, his throat seemed to be trying vainly to work, but no sound emerged. His large, black eyes seemed to shine with a light all of their own, communicating more love than words could ever express anyway, until finally he found his voice. "Well then, Josephine March, will you please, finally," he grinned, "do me the honour of becoming my wife?"
Her heart began to beat faster as she, who had always determined to remain unmarried and scorned the institution for trammelling her ambitions, felt she was about to burst with happiness. Working her fingers free of his she reached up and twined her arms around his neck, resting her forehead against his and allowing their breath to mingle in the little space between them. "Yes," she whispered, "although only if you promise that you'll never call me Josephine ever again!"
From so close she only had a limited view of his face, but she could see enough to know that a wide grin spread across his cheeks. "Oh, honestly! The sacrifices I make for you! What would you prefer then? My lady? My Queen? Your Highness? O great and beneficent authoress?"
She leaned forward until her lips were tickling his ear and could feel his heart beating rapidly against her own. "Right now, I'd really just rather you kiss me."
And for once in his life, Laurie was more than willing to do exactly as he was told.
A/N: So I think we'll leave them there, but fear not brave readers I've got the LW fic-writing bug so I'm sure there will be more Jo/Laurie fics soon. In the meantime though thank you so, so much to everyone who has read and reviewed this story, you've all been amazing!