A/N: So this started life as a one shot (funny how I always seem to say this) which will probably grow arms and legs, or several adjoining chapters at any rate. Hope you enjoy and please leave a review should time and inclination allow!
Disclaimer: All characters etc are the creation of LMA and whilst I may nudge them in different directions (so far as a certain Josephine March can be nudged anywhere she does not strongly wish to go,) I do not own them.
Jo stood, staring out of the window at the snow as it drifted lazily down from the sky to gently kiss the window pane then swirl away on a light gust of wind. She watched it with a queer kind of detachment, as though it was someone else's eyes that saw the pale flakes, someone else's body that stood hugging itself tightly to keep from falling apart. Nothing felt right and nothing ever would be right again, for Amy was dead.
Amy was dead and it was all her fault.
If only she had allowed Amy to come to the theatre with them, if only she hadn't flown into such a hateful rage when her sister burnt the stupid manuscript, if only she hadn't ignored Amy when she had followed them onto the ice, if she had been faster when she had fallen in, but wishing was pointless. She might just as easily have wished away the pneumonia that set in after the littlest March's frozen encounter, it was all hopeless now. For week Jo had barely left her sister's bedside, trying to manage the fever that raged through her fragile body, listening to her breathing slowly becoming more laboured and arduous and then finally stopping altogether.
The family had clung together, supporting Marmee in her grief, trying to carry on. It was only in the quiet moments, when she thought no one could hear that Jo retreated to her garret, turned the key in the lock and sobbed hot, bitter tears. Accidents happened, her mother said, they might be unfortunate and tragic, but they were still accidents and there was nothing to be done about it. Well accidents seemed to have a habit of happening when Jo was around and they were usually caused by her infernal temper. A temper that had killed her little sister.
"What about this Jo?"
She turned at the sound of Meg's voice. The three girls were in the room Amy had shared with Beth, shifting listlessly through her things. Now that the funeral was over Marmee intended to give most of Amy's belongings to those who needed them more, but some things she wished to keep as mementos and she had told the others they could choose whatever they wanted to remember Amy by. Blinking to bring herself back into the world Jo focused on the object in Meg's hand; it was a book of Amy's. With movements that felt stiff and jerky Jo smoothed the hateful black skirt she was wearing and crossed the room. As she took it from her, Meg's eyes were red and her hands trembled, but she still managed to place one on her sister's arm and tried to give it a comforting squeeze. Jo winced, everyone was being so nice; she didn't think she could bear it for much longer.
As Meg turned back to the drawer she was sorting through Jo thumbed distractedly through the book. She knew why Meg had picked it, she had thought a book most likely of all Amy's possessions to interest her wordy sister and it had been a nice thought, but it wasn't right. If Jo was going to have something to remember Amy by she wanted something that embodied her sister, and a book just wasn't it. She began to drift round the room again, running her hand idly across surfaces, her lifeless eyes oblivious to the worried look Beth was giving her.
As the quietest of all the Marches Beth had gotten very good at observing her siblings over the years and none more so than Jo, whom she doted upon. The change in her sister since Amy had died was alarming her. She didn't think any of the others had seen it yet, or at least not enough to worry them. Of course they knew she was grieving, they all were, but whilst Jo was trying to carry on for everyone else's sake it was as though a part of her had died along with Amy. She was gaunt and drawn, her movements were wooden, her voice quiet and subdued. Shadows continually plagued her face as she moved about the house trying to be the strong and sturdy Jo everyone expected, but it was all pretence. Beth knew she shut herself away to cry at times, she could see the hastily brushed away tear stains on her face afterwards, but neither of them spoke about it. There were two things that worried her most of all however, she couldn't remember the last time she had seen her sister pick up a pen, certainly not since Amy's accident, and most importantly it was now nearly three weeks since she had properly seen Laurie.
The boy had barely left the house during Amy's short illness, but he had only entered the sick room once, allowing the family to nurse her and then finally to say their goodbyes in private. Instead he had haunted their sitting room or spent hours sitting at the foot of the stairs trying to help in any way that was needed, but Beth also suspected it had been more for Jo than for any of the rest of them. When the little angel's final breaths had fluttered out Jo had thanked him, but asked him to leave. Through her own tears Beth had seen the crushed expression on his face as her older sister embraced him briefly then pushed him swiftly from the house. It was almost as though the touch caused her physical pain. Laurie had returned several times since, but on each occasion Jo had either been too busy with some inconsequential task, or would immediately rush off to help Marmee in the kitchen leaving an apologetic Meg or Beth to apologise to their neighbour.
For now she kept her worries to herself; Beth suspected that Jo blamed herself for Amy's death, for having gone skating with Laurie in the first place, and that she was now trying to punish herself for it. The one time she had attempted broaching the subject however it had been deflected and Jo had scurried off to help Marmee make a pie, an almost unheard of activity in itself. If things continued though she knew she would need help in coaxing her sister back to life.
Jo continued her aimless wander across the room, finding herself quite by accident standing by Amy's bed, the blanket neatly tucked around, the pillow where so often a golden head had lain was plump, undisturbed except for the tiny porcelain doll resting atop it. Eyes suddenly full of tears glanced quickly away, seeking distraction elsewhere. On the cabinet by the bed were paints, arranged neatly alongside her brushes and a coil of ribbons; next to these was a single wooden clothes peg.
Jo's breath caught as she traced the grain of the wood with one long, inky finger imagining all the times she had laughed at Amy when the little chit had twirled about the room in her nightdress and hair ribbons desperate for her nose to have more pleasing form. Picking it up Jo rolled it between her fingers for a moment before slipping it into her pocket. Then without a word to either Meg or Beth she quietly left the room.
She wasn't sure where she was going as she wandered blindly through the empty house and it wasn't until she found herself staring at coats and scarves hanging neatly from pegs that she realised she was in the hallway. Pulling one of them on she located her snow boots and briskly laced them up before snatching a scarf and going outside. The first blast of icy air as she opened the door seemed to revive something in her and she began to run across the snow-covered garden. By the time she had reached the far side she was sobbing, frozen tears streaking across her cheeks, stinging and biting as they went.
As she reached the trees Jo's foot caught awkwardly on a stick protruding from the white blanket beneath her feet. Snatching it up in a flash of temper she smashed it against the tree, continuing to pummel the blameless bark and venting all the grief, anger and frustration that had been bottled up inside her for weeks. Chips of wood sprayed in all directions, but Jo barely noticed, not stopping even when one flew so close to her eye that a sliver of hot blood trickled down her cheek, mixing with the salt tears as it went. It wasn't until the stick in her hand snapped clean in two and she was left clutching the shattered ends that she finally sank sobbing to her knees, heedless of the way her skirt instantly began to draw moisture into itself.
Everything was her fault, the fight that had led to Amy's death, the accident, everything. She should have known better, been better, she was older and she had been given plenty of warnings before now, plenty of moments when her temper had conquered reason and led her to disaster. She should have known that one day she would be made to pay dearly for her mistakes, but why did Amy have to pay too?
She would try harder to do better in future, Jo resolved. She would be quiet and patient and dutiful and all the things a good daughter was supposed to be. She would give up her wild ways, her madcap eccentricities, even her boyishness. She would behave when and how Aunt March told her to and she would learn to cook properly, and clean and sew and do everything that was expected of a well brought up young lady. None of it would bring her little sister back again, but it would be penitence and by curbing her rashness she could ensure that nothing like this would ever happen again.
With slow, deliberate motions Jo rose from her knees, wiped away the melting snow that clung to them and brought her gloved fingers to her bleeding cheek. It had all but stopped now. Funny, how she still couldn't feel it in the cold.
Turning on her heel she began to walk back towards the house, her tread slower and her burden much heavier than it had been only minutes ago.