A/N: Firstly, allow me to extend profuse and grovelling apologies for taking so long to get the second chapter of this done, I've been suffering from writer's block and it's been driving me mad! Secondly I hope to be more prompt with the rest of the story, but I won't promise – you can't make me!
Disclaimer: If this was LMA's it would be bound and pretty in a book, on a shelf, in a store or library somewhere, as it is I am not she and the best I can manage is the internet. Please accept my apologies for this and for the borrowing of her illustrious characters.
Holding her tongue
"Oh, look!" Beth March exclaimed in what was an unusually loud voice for such a normally quiet soul. "Here comes Laurie!" She glanced over at her sister who was busy attempting to complete some embroidery; it was fraying about the edges and judging by the scarlet spots covering her fingers she had stabbed herself as many times as the cotton, but on the whole it was a good attempt for Jo. She was definitely improving. As Beth spoke however she winced as the needle came to rest in flesh rather than fabric once more.
"Is he?" Jo's eyes remained upon her work as she concentrated on biting back a curse, watching as a drop of blood welled up on the tip of her finger. There was little emotion in her voice at the question, but Beth could see the flush creep into her cheeks as her gaze remained downcast.
Beth opened her mouth to answer, but the brisk knock on the door beat her to it. With the smallest of sighs Jo placed her embroidery carefully on the little table next to her and rose to receive their guest.
Standing on the other side of the March's front door, Theodore Laurence waited patiently for it to be opened. When it finally was, there was little of the exuberance he would have found in the girl opposite him a few months earlier. Instead Jo creaked the door open wide enough that he could see her face and little else other than a thin, black slice of the dress she was wearing.
"Hello Laurie." The expression in her voice was as limited as that on her face; her emotions, as they had been since Amy's death, were carefully controlled and he could gain little idea of what she was thinking or feeling from her face.
"Hello Jo," he shuffled uncomfortably out on the cold porch. When it became apparent she wasn't going to invite him in or indeed even invite further conversation he forged ahead himself. "I brought over this book. I thought you might like to borrow it." He passed the book across and watched with something approaching nervousness as she perused the title.
"Thank you. That was very kind." The banality of this comment between two friends who had up until recently shared nearly everything irked him beyond words. What perplexed him even more however was his inability to drag Jo back from whatever dark place she had become lost inside. He would carry her kicking and screaming if he had to, he just needed to find a way to reach her. When she had finally allowed him back into the house the other week, rather than just nodding stiffly in greeting whenever they passed each other, he had thought he was beginning to make progress. Unfortunately she still seemed to be freezing him out, both literally and metaphorically he mused stamping his feet as his breath formed icy clouds in front of his face.
There was a long pause as the two of them tried to size each other up.
"May I come in?" Laurie was forced to ask eventually.
"Oh, of course," Jo took several steps back, swinging the door open as she went and inviting her friend inside. More awkward than he had ever felt in the March household, he walked with quick steps towards the sitting room.
"Laurie!" Beth looked up in delight and he felt himself smile. At least one of the sisters seemed genuinely pleased to see him and within minutes the two of them were chattering gaily about music, or at least Laurie was chattering whilst Beth listened with rapt attention. Jo looked on from the side, her placid face masking emotions in tumult. If only he had known how genuinely pleased she was to see him, but she was endeavouring to be seemly and it would be decidedly un-so to make such a fuss. Not that it would ordinarily have stopped her. Despite her resolution to be more ladylike she wouldn't have let it interfere with her friendship on its own, but it was as though someone had built a wall around her emotions since Amy died and she didn't know how to break it down again. She felt trapped inside her own head with all her thoughts and feelings, all her frustration that the only Jo March anyone ever saw any more was the polite, quiet, demure lady she had become. For others that wouldn't have mattered, it may even have been an improvement, but with Laurie it made her stiff, awkward and inarticulate.
Her two companions had progressed to tinkering on the piano by the time Jo even got around to saying anything else.
"That's a beautiful tune Laurie. Is it a new one you've learnt?"
The gentle melody stopped and the boy turned to face her. "No, I wrote it myself." There was a pause as though he had thought better of saying something but then continued anyway. "Of course you'd know that if you dropped by to visit any more." There was little blame in those dark eyes, but Jo found she couldn't meet them all the same. If she had she might have seen the pleading in them, he was trying so hard to reach out to her and with the old Jo a direct approach would have been best. Now he wasn't so sure, he felt as though he hardly knew her any more. For her part, Jo's gaze skated sideways to her sister's face as Beth anxiously looked from one to the other, before making a move to rise.
"I should perhaps… Marmee wanted me to… Please excuse me." Without further ceremony she slipped out leaving Jo with limited options, she could either watch the fire crackle in the grate or she could do what she knew she should and meet Laurie's eyes. Meet the challenge implicit in his statement.
She didn't know how long she would have looked at the flickering flames for if something of the old Jo hadn't battled it's way up within her. She just couldn't sit there and have him judge her, judge her absence in the way she knew he was doing. What was more infuriating still was that when she did eventually drag her eyes back up to his there was a knowing smirk playing about his mouth as though he had been sure she would do this all along.
"Well you needn't look so pleased with yourself about it," she informed him tartly, deliberately misreading his expression. "It might be beautiful, but it's not exactly Beethoven or Mozart is it?"
"So long as you like it Jo, I'm delighted with it," came the reply. She resisted the urge to cross her arms and sigh at his flippancy. Why could he never just be sensible? Unfortunately Marmee's well rehearsed warning of 'be careful what you wish for' proved to be abundantly true. Within moments all trace of mirth had vanished from Laurie's face. "The point still stands though; I haven't seen you in an age, you never come round to visit and – gosh, I can't even remember the last time I saw you have any sort of fun!"
"I do have fun!" Jo was stung by the accusation. "Don't be so dramatic Laurie!"
"Well someone dearly needs to be, for you certainly aren't any more. Whatever happened to all the plays we used to put on?" She could tell that he was getting angry now, his voice rose sharply as he threw the question at her.
"They were silly and childish," she informed him hoping to inject some sincerity into her voice as she said it, to impress upon him that things just couldn't be as they once were. Why couldn't he see that? "We all need to grow up at some time, Theodore."
His face darkened ominously at her use of his Christian name. Standing abruptly he strode towards the window and stared out, hands thrust deep into his pockets and chin jutting out rebelliously. For a long minute she watched his back, regretting her lapse of temper. It was part of the reason she had stayed away from Laurie as much as possible; she had always been able to let her guard down with him, be herself, so he was the last person she should be around when trying to remould herself.
When he finally spoke again his words were clipped and terse. "Maybe we do Josephine, but what you're doing isn't growing up, it's hiding. You're pretending to be someone you're not and for the life of me I can't see why. It isn't going to bring Amy back you know!" The moment the words flew out of his mouth Laurie seemed to regret them, his shoulders hunched slightly against a blow he expected to fall.
As for Jo, she was more than ready to give it. At the mention of Amy's name she saw red, jumping to her feet, tongue prepared to deliver a stinging blow. How dare he bring her sister into it! And to accuse her of hiding, why, that wasn't what she had been doing at all! Her mouth was open to issue such a denial and a string of hurtful words were poised to spring forth in what would undoubtedly be an impressive tirade, but at the very last second she checked herself. Some of the training she had imposed upon herself over the past few months must have taken root somewhere. With one foot set forth to fly at the Laurence boy she rocked back on her heel and bit her tongue to silence it. As she inhaled deeply to still her whirling thoughts he turned to look at her and she narrowed her eyes dangerously.
"I think it might be best if you went home now, Laurie." She spoke with all the dignity and poise she could muster. Without waiting for his response she pivoted and walked towards the hallway. For a moment she stood there, her hand resting on the front door, unsure if he was going to follow and not caring if she was being rude. An icy, white anger had settled in her veins and she knew her options were either to remove him from her company as quickly as possible or shout at him until she was hoarse, and she wasn't sure she would be able to stop even then.
After a moment he stepped after her and without a word walked sombrely towards the door. Halfway out he paused and looked back at her. "I am sorry Jo," his voice was softer now. "I didn't come round to cause trouble, truly. Just..." he hesitated for a moment. "Just don't stay furious with me forever, please?"
They stood there, her eyes fixed belligerently on the curve of his shoulder, jaw set mulishly, before finally she relented and gave a brief nod.
Knowing it was the best he could hope for Laurie turned and walked out of the house.