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wicked little thing

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Amy has been ill for as long as Laurie’s known her.  

Well, no- in the far recesses of his memory, she was once a spritely, wicked thing, with a penchant for pickled limes, and thieving slippery satin ribbons and fabrics through the fingers of her classmates.  She drew garish caricatures and daintily doodled flowers, and charmed any shop owner or peddler into giving her a buttermint, or a cube of ice in the summer. In a far corner of his mind, he saw her twelve year old head of golden, sage-smelling hair whipping in the cool Boston wind, and he corrects himself.  Amy has been ill for most of the time he’s known her.  Although, those sweet scenes are what they are- just memories.  

At the lovely age of fifteen? Sixteen? Sixteen , Laurie nods, and proceeds with his thinking.  At the lovely age of sixteen, Amy hasn’t barely left her bedroom, much less her home, in nearly three years.  Her mother, “Marmee”, as the old girl says to call her, will not release to him the particular name or type of illness that poor, young Amy is stricken with, only that it’s not contagious, and that it’s very weakening, so “please, Laurie, maybe another time,” Marmee sighs.  And then Jo sweeps him away by his bicep, through the wooden doors of their modest cottage, and down into the small marketplace to buy parchment.  

“Jo?” Laurie questions one sunny day, where when he lays just flat enough on the picnic blanket he can see Amy’s blonde head through her window.  

“Hm?” She mumbles, barely glancing up from her book, and Laurie takes a moment to admire the pale curve of her jaw, light freckles covering the tops of her cheekbones.  

“Jo- Josephine , listen!” Her head snaps up, and she glowers at him.  

“First, Laurence,” That’s new , he thinks. “Do not call me Josephine, and what?  What is so urgent?” She flicks the corner of her page impatiently, but a smile pulls at the side of her thin lips.  

“Well,” Jo’s eyes are on him now, attentive, and suddenly he feels embarrassed, like he’s asking a question in class that everyone else already knows the answer to. “I was just curious, and, feel free to call me stupid, but-” 

“Oh, goodness , Teddy, just get on with it!” Jo rolls her eyes.  

Okay , okay! I was just wondering, from what illness is Amy suffering? Is it the scarlet fever, like Beth had?  Or the measles?” He scratches at his hairline as he speaks, and Jo shrugs. 

“Marmee says it doesn’t have a particular name, and sometimes it’s like she’s perfectly fine, even.  It comes in bursts, really,” Jo rolls her eyes when he raises his eyebrows. “Really, Teddy, you’ve just been around for the worst of it.  It’s like it chooses when to start up, and she has to be whisked away to her room. It must be scarlet, though, for when it flares, there’s always a whole lot of coughing.  It’s unbearable to listen to, and Amy’s always completely exhausted afterwards. Ted- Teddy, are you listening?” She nudges his shoulder with the back of her wrist. 

Yes , yes, Jo, forgive me.  But you mean to tell me your mother is the only one to see her in the throes of these… attacks?” He ponders aloud, his hazel eyes tracing the windowpane, where Amy’s figure is visible, in front of a shabby easel, and what looks to be a rigged-up painting spread.  

“Oh, yes.  Or, well, sometimes Beth, in the case where Marmee is not home, but yes, it’s all very secretive.  The jealousy I feel sometimes, of the two, it eats me.  But Beth doesn’t gloat, she’s too good. And I’ve heard Marmee and Father speaking of it, late at night, before he left for the war,  but nothing legible.” Jo sighs, and if Laurie notices her sweep her little finger under her left eye, he doesn’t say anything.  

“Well,” he stands, dusting off his trousers, for he’s come to a decision, “My grandfather has requested me home for dinner tonight,” Jo scoffs at this.  “Yes, he has. But I would love to visit when she’s alright. Please, retrieve me when she feels well enough, will you Jo?” He raises a hopeful brow at her.  

“Sure, Teddy.  Will I see you again before that?” She teases, formally.  

“Why, that just depends, Ms. March, on if you’ll receive me before then.” He replies, and with a cheeky wink, turns and walks the road back to his house.  He smiles to himself at the thin girl’s riotous laughter sounding behind him.  

It’s less than three days time after their discussion when Laurie hears a wild knocking at his door, and he grins.  

“I’ll get it, Laurie, no need to rush,” His grandfather says, rolling his eyes as Laurie dogears the page of the book in his hand.  He hears the heavy door creak open and Jo’s stuttered, “Oh, good afternoon, Mr. Laurence, um, is Laurie around?” He closes his novel, and rises from his armchair, meandering across to the door.  He looks around his grandfather’s shoulder, and Jo has a surprising, yet welcome, peony pink blush on her cheeks. Probably from the cool, early fall temperatures, but Laurie savors the tint anyways. 

“Looking for me?” His grandfather chuckles, brushing away from the door, and Laurie leans against the frame. 

“Yes, actually, I was.  I’m here to see if you’d like to come over for a visit.  Little Amy is feeling well today, and Marmee’s making lunch.” She finishes her statement with a look behind Laurie, and he follows her line of sight, to his grandfather, who nods.  

“Go along, son, but be back before dinner.” He smiles again, and Jo thanks him, and they begin the brisk walk towards the March cottage.  

“So, Amy paints?” Laurie asks.  

“Oh, yes, beautiful portraits, and funny little illustrations for us on her sicker days.  She slips them under the door when Marmee isn’t looking. And sometimes, she does these sketches, for my stories, you know.  I’ll have to show you sometime, they’re magnificent.” Laurie smiles, for he’s never heard Jo talk so lovingly about Amy, and he longs to know the girl as well as he knows Meg and Beth, to gain a sister, in the sense.  

“Well, I’m delighted to see her again, it’s been, what, months, since I’ve had a full conversation with her?” He chuckles sadly as they reach the door, and Jo smiles when she beckons him in, like an angel to the clouds.  

The March house holds something Laurie can’t describe.  A feeling, maybe, or an atmosphere that secludes it from the real world, a certain warmth that no hearth could replicate.  Today, the sun glimmers in through the open windows, dust speckling the air in the living room. 

“Come on, everyone’s in the kitchen.” Jo leads him by the wrist, despite his knowing of the twists and turns of their quaint little space like the back of his hand.  

Different variations of “Oh, Laurie!” and, “Hey, old boy!” sound from the room when Jo pulls him through the doorway.  He misses the cautionary glance that Marmee casts towards her youngest daughter, who just smiles warmly at the dark-haired fellow. 

“Ladies, how is everyone? Amy, you’re looking quite lovely this afternoon.” He grins, and takes in the blush on her apple-round cheeks.  She really does look quite lovely, he thinks to himself, with her cream-colored nightdress, and her plaited golden locks. Laurie wonders, if this is what she looks like ill, what a sight she’d be healthy!  

“Oh, well thank you, Laurie.” She ducks her head, and her full lips curve around a grin.  

“Marmee, is lunch ready yet? No hurry, but my poor stomach is about to devour itself!” Jo connects the back of her hand with her forehead dramatically.  “Besides, Teddy here,” Amy coughs slightly, and Marmee’s eyes, as well as Laurie’s snap across to her, “Teddy here hasn’t eaten yet today either!” She complains petulantly, and grabs Laurie’s palm with hers.  He smiles down at their clasped hands, a manly hold, but a hold nonetheless.  

“Amy, are you alright, dear?” Meg presses her nimble, pale hand to Amy’s forehead, and Laurie looks over at the blonde.  She looks nauseous, the color drained from her face, suddenly sallow, and she nods, pulling herself up by the corner of the dining table.  

“Yes, yes, don’t worry, I’m just going to lay down, for a bit- carry on without me, I’ll be back soon.”  She manages a weak smile, and clutches a small hand over the fabric at her ribs. She walks through the kitchen, and Laurie hears Marmee’s muffled voice, and a rustling of fabric, the sounds of a soft hug, he supposes.  A murmured, “I’m sorry, love.” in Marmee’s warm tone, an unexpected solemnity. He is suddenly guilty, for some reason, although there’s no telling of what. Marmee appears through the kitchen doorway, as bright as a sunflower once again, and addresses the table.  

“Lunch will be ready shortly, Josephine, and it would do you well not to be so impatient with the one who handles your food,” She teases, and bends down near Beth.  

“Beth, my darling, please help your sister up the stairs and into bed, if you would.  Thank you, dear.” Marmee caresses Beth’s ginger curls as the girl stands and vanishes to do as she’s told.  

“Right, then, how are you, Laurie, dear? How is your grandfather?” Meg questions, and adds, almost as an afterthought, “And that good tutor of yours? What’s his name? Jack?” Jo rolls her eyes, shoulders shaking ever so slightly with stifled laughter.

“Oh, how subtle you are, Meg.” She jabs quietly, but Meg glares at her.   Laurie grins good-naturedly, but is distracted from his answer when he hears a heaving cough upstairs, mutedly. He supposes it’s Amy, but the quiet sob afterward is what draws his mind from the conversation.  

“Pardon, Meg, what did you ask?” He blinks, and Jo elbows him, like an old boy, snickering.

“She was inquiring after your handsome tutor.” Jo leers, and he smiles again. 

“Oh, yes, John! He is quite well, I will send him your regards.  Before I forget, fair Meg, he is wondering if you’d like to accompany him to a walk in the garden, for it seems you’ve left a glove at the house, again.”  He raises his eyebrows slightly in invitation. 

“Well, that’s quite alright, um, tell him that I accept.” Meg forces out, coolly, with a practiced nonchalance to her response.  And Laurie laughs, but he imagines the scene upstairs, of a sobbing Amy, a young girl in the arms of her sister, sick and weary, and he holds back a frown, because if he hears her coughing upstairs, can she hear them laughing down here?  

 

It’s a year later, on Jo’s nineteenth birthday, and they’re spread out on the cool grass, under the blanket of stars.  

“Do you ever think about love, Jo?” Laurie questions, his eyes trained on the constellations above him.  His heart pounds, a childish hope rising slowly in his stomach, and waits, stock-still.  

“Teddy, do you even know me?  It’s Jo March, not Meg, you know.” She chuckles so bluntly, and Laurie exhales, and scoots ever-closer.  

“No, Jo, listen- have you ever thought, just maybe -” Jo is sitting up, turning to face him, and he sees the recognition start to bloom in her eyes. 

“Teddy, I- what are you saying?” She says quietly, shoulders tense as if confronted with a wild animal.  He slides his fingers over the grass, over hers, ever so lightly, and looks up. 

“No, no- Laurie, no - this- you don’t feel this.” 

Jo, yes I do , and we’ve- we-” Jo’s eyes meet his, and they’re pleading and desperate.  

“We haven’t.  We aren’t- this isn’t- we are friends, Laurie! We are best friends, can’t that be enough? I do not love you like this, I cannot love you like you want me to, Laurie, I’m sorry.” 

Laurie stands, that night, in the same place, in the grass, near the road, because he knows if he leaves the atmosphere of the March’s for his cold, formal bedroom, it will be real, and this heartache will settle in deeper than it has.  He stands in the dark until his hands grow white and thin from the cold, until a golden movement catches his eye from the window upstairs, and a round, soft face appears in the glass. Amy looks down at him, with a questioning tilt of her head, and despite his heartache, he can’t help but smile at her raised eyebrow. She smiles back, the warm blush dusting her cheekbones again, and presses her small palm to the frosted glass.  And in this moment, he leaves his love, and his life, for this minute of familiarity and safety with the youngest March daughter.  

 

When Jo leaves, she takes Laurie’s heart with her to New York, and each day he spends at home is one more wasted, or at least that’s what he tells himself.  He imagines scenarios of himself working up the courage to journey to New York, make something of himself, and most importantly, make Jo fall in love with him, but he sees these little things for what they are- daydreams.  Because how could Laurie muster the bravery to travel to New York, when he can barely walk across the way to the March household to visit? He stews in his novels, and his poetry, a stormy jumble of words, until there’s a soft knock on the door.  He listens closely to his grandfather opening it, but he just hears a muffled, girlish voice, and a short chuckle from his grandfather, and then suddenly, a bloom of beautiful music that swells from soft to large, vibrating the floor under his feet, and he nearly jumps out of his seat to investigate the sound.  He gapes when, over the railing, he sees shy Beth March, sprawling her delicate fingers over the keys, like she was born to play, her ginger hair swept over one shoulder boldly, and he supposes this is the most emotion he’s seen from the gentle girl.  

He lies awake that evening afterwards, the notes still thundering in his chest, and resolves, that- tomorrow , yes, tomorrow, he will venture to the March household once more, for he loves those old girls, no matter if Jo is present or not.  

 

It’s noon when he finally sets out the door, a hesitant yet excited smile on his face, and it almost doesn’t affect him when he receives no answer to his knocking the first time round.  He knocks a second time, and steps back, the smile weakening on his face, suddenly filled with self-doubt, and ponders over if Jo twisted his proposal into one of her stories, but quickly shakes his head.  Jo loves him, and he loves her, even just in a manner of siblings, and he knows she would never do anything so wicked. He is pulled from his thoughts by a welcome sight, a March! Amy March, furthermore, standing in front of him with a surprised expression, full lips forming a pink ‘O’.  

She recovers, and greets him warmly.  “Laurie, come in, forgive me! Although I’m sad to say, Jo’s not around, you know.” She takes his jacket, coughing slightly, and he helps her hang it up.

“Oh, well actually, I hope you won’t mind, but I wasn’t here to see Jo, if that’s alright.” Laurie replies, turning to face the blonde once more, taking in her long sleeved, cream colored nightdress.  A cornflower blue ribbon is laced through the bodice, and around the collar, no doubt the work of talented Meg, with such beautiful hands to sew and weave. The small woman blushes, and crosses her arms around her waist.  

“I apologize for my appearance, see, my family’s gone down to the marketplace and I wasn’t expecting company.”  Amy shifts her socked feet on the floor, and rubs at her elbow, avoiding Laurie’s gaze.  

“No need to apologize, although if it’s an inopportune time, I can always return-” Laurie starts, but Amy shakes her head.  

“Nonsense, that’s not what I meant in my explanation, you’ve come just in time, fatefully!” She waves her hand, as if brushing off their apologies, and leads him towards the stairs.  She keeps her face turned slightly away, and Laurie expects it the embarrassment of wearing nightclothes in the presence of guests.  

“Nevertheless, I think you look quite lovely, especially in blue.  It’s my favorite color, in fact.” She looks to him, shocked, and scrubs a palm over her face.  

“I know,” She says smartly, “You told me, when you were 15, remember, on the day at the beach?” And he does remember, vaguely, of the short conversation he had about color palettes with the young girl, who so eloquently told him of the many shades of blue, including the very different, yet equally beautiful azure tones of Beth and Meg’s eyes, and her very favorite, cornflower blue, the very same as the ribbon laced in her nightdress.  

“Your memory is magnificent, Amy, I do remember that day! What a fun time we all had! Maybe we should take another trip sometime soon.” Laurie remembers himself and Jo, spinning and catching each other in the fine beach wind, the coarse, warm sand and the waves lapping at their shoes, and he finds himself smiling fondly at the memory, rather than cursing himself for time lost.  

“That’s a lovely, idea, Laurie!  Come, come, I have something to show to you, and promise me, honest, that you’ll judge with a steady eye.  Marmee and my sisters, they all tell me my work is beautiful, and by this I do not mean to gloat, but I fear their kind feedback is based on the merit that I’m dying, rather than my work's potential.” She glances back to him, stopping outside her bedroom door, and he steps back, quite bluntly.  

“Why, Amy, you can’t possibly believe you will die! Look at how spritely you are now, how lovely!”  Laurie catches a resigned flash in her green eyes, and she looks down sadly.  

“If only that were the case most of the time, Laurie.” She runs a finger under her eye, and clears her throat. 

“Anyways, please, come judge this gift, it’s for my mother, for Christmas.” She leads him further into her bedroom, and he is surprised at her lack of scandal in the event of a boy in her bedroom, but shrugs it off, for Amy has always been a fluke in nature.  She gently lifts a fabric drape from her easel, revealing a jarring image, only for the state it’s in. It’s half finished, and the stark contrast between a plain white canvas and what looks like a photograph- no, like real life completely- shocks Laurie. Enough to gasp, apparently, because Amy turns sharply towards him, her eyes wide in anticipation.  She stays silent, and waits quietly for the feedback.  

The half-finished portrait is like staring through a pane of glass at the beloved family, for Amy has captured the just wrinkle near Marmee’s left eye, the exact copper of Beth’s hair, Jo’s righteous half-smile, and Meg’s delicate, white shoulders.  

To Laurie’s disappointment, the only unfinished face is Amy’s own, and he looks towards her questioningly.  

“Where’s your likeness, Amy?” Laurie turns toward her, and she looks at the ceiling.  

“I just haven’t gotten around to painting it quite yet.” She wipes her nose on her sleeve, and he smiles at the childish gesture.  

Laurie shrugs, and sprawls over the end of Amy’s bed.  He stretches up on one elbow, and pulls a sultry expression.  

“Why, Miss March, would you make me your muse?” He asks in a nasally, snobby voice, that almost reminds Amy of Aunt March.  Laurie sees a flicker of her wicked personality through the gleam of her emerald eyes.  

“It depends, Mr. Laurence.” She teases, and slips her apron on, walking towards him slowly, turning around and gesturing to the buttons.  

“It depends on what, Miss March?” He busies his hands with the blue-gray buttons on her smock, fumbling over the bow he ties like his shoes- bunny ear, bunny ear, over, under, pull.  

“It depends,” Amy smooths the fabric over her waist, walking back behind her easel.  “On how long you can sit still.” She grins, and Laurie admires the dimple on her right cheek.  

“That won’t be a problem, as I’m able to sit still for hours, reading.  Do you have a book?” Amy shakes her head. “I don’t read much, unless it’s Jo reading to me.  She just does the voices so well. I have my sketchings, if you’d like to flip through them while you pose?” She offers, and delicately slides a pink, fabric-bound stack of pages off of a shelf near Laurie’s head.  He notices a stormy blue album next to it, but ignores it to take the stack from Amy. 

“I’d love to, now, how should I sit?” He flops down dramatically, and Amy rolls her eyes.  

“No, just- here,” She adjusts his stance, into a much more comfortable one, he admits, and his arms prickle with chills when her small hands ghost over his stomach. 

That’s new. He thinks, and lets Amy move his arms to her pleasure.  

“There, now, stay like that- just for a moment, while I sketch your outline, then you can move a little.” 

“Whatever you say, Raphaella.” He grins at her snicker, and unwraps her sketches carefully, content to just be, for a while.  

“So,” Laurie starts casually, flipping over a modest sketch of a cupboard mouse, “Any word from Jo recently?” Amy startles slightly, and gives a breathy laugh.  

“None too recently.  But just last week she told us of her job as a governess for two small children, in her building.  But she doesn’t have plans of coming home to visit for a while, which is a shame.” 

“Ah, well, that’s probably my fault.” Laurie smiles self-deprecatingly, and raises a shoulder.  

“How could you possibly think that, Laurie?” She looks at him quizzically over her easel, dabbing her brush in a pool of milky white.  

“Jo didn’t tell you?” He asks, and glances down at the thick silver band on his pointer finger.  

“Jo didn’t tell me what?” Amy steps fully out from behind the canvas, wiping her palm on her smock.  

“About the proposal?” He looks fully at her now, and sees the color drain out of her face, and she drops her brush.  

“Amy, wha-” In a flash of gray-blue, Amy is doubling over, a fit of coughs wracking her body, and he rushes towards her, only to his surprise- instead of blood, or mucus, Amy is coughing up flower petals.  Laurie is pulled from his reverie when the coughing increases, and he gently lifts the girls’ small frame into his arms, cradling her blonde head close to his chest. It’s only when the poor girl is tucked into bed that the petals cease, and she tips her neck weakly to look at Laurie, who rubs her back calmingly.  

“Stay with me, Laurie, until my family gets back?” She sighs, and Laurie nods in awe, for he’s never heard the young March girl sound so meek.  

“Of course, Amy.  Of course.” 

 

Of course, Laurie scours every book in his ever-expanding library for an illness where, “one regurgitates blossoms”, but to no avail.  He visits Amy in between searches, bringing his fantasy books with him, for her to illustrate as he reads along to her, (making sure to do every voice correctly) and in turn finds himself writing his own stories, or poetry, or even little songs, just to hear Amy’s giggle at his tone-deaf voice.   He discovers that Amy, truly, is a wicked little thing, and they snicker and gossip about Amy’s old classmates, or Laurie’s former flings, (although Amy goes green at these, so he calls them “friends” more often than not) or if Meg and John are going to get married anytime soon. Laurie gains a new perspective on Amy that he wishes he could have gleaned earlier, her affinity for small pranks, like jamming the drawers or the kitchen cabinets, and her intense, overcoming love for her family, which, once discovered, glows through her pores like sunlight.  

He picks a flower for her one day, outside along the dirt road on his way to the March household, and daydreams about tucking it gently behind the ear of the small blonde.  

Wait, what? 

Laurie shakes his head, and stares down at the petals, not quite the same pale blue of the ones he witnessed pouring from Amy’s mouth, but more of a sapphire, deep purple tone.  He drifts back into the daydream- Amy’s sure bashful giggle as he draws back, the way her nightdress would swish around her ankles as she turned away, and Laurie looks up, suddenly, towards the blonde’s window, because he knows, he knows , now, that he is in love with Amy March.  

Laurie tries to tell the young girl in simple ways, purchasing a new set of brushes for her at the marketplace, to which she squeals and throws her arms around his neck in glee, and immediately orders him to, sit down, Laurie, this brush will capture your nose just right!  And despite his love growing stronger each day, each short or long visit he makes to the March household, each time Marmee smiles knowingly at him and says, “She’s upstairs, Laurie.”, he can’t seem to muster the courage to get on with it! As Jo would tell him.  

When Laurie’s not tripping over his words, and trying to tamp down his insecurities enough to confess his feelings, Amy- slowly but surely, gets better.  It starts with her figure, which-always, has been fuller than her sisters’ have, a shorter, stockier build, with delicate small hands and feet- it shrank slightly, due to her ailments, but as the sun warms away the winter, Amy, ever so much like a blooming flower, grows.  She fills out her cream colored nightdresses, and Laurie’s breath catches at the way the light fabric pulls around her waist.  

“Amy,” He ponders, on one of her best days yet, “would you like to go outside?” The small blonde lifts her head from where it rests on the dark haired boy’s ankle, and he lifts his, from where it’s resing one of the many decorative pillows that Amy is so fond of.  

“Well,” She replies lazily, “It is quite sunny, I suppose it wouldn’t hurt.” And when they meander out of her room and down the stairs (without needing any help, Laurie makes sure to mention, to which Amy preens, slightly.), and through the doors, ignoring Marmee’s double take, Laurie allows himself to shamelessly admire the way the sunlight matches Amy perfectly well, shining off of her soft pink face, and weaving around her golden plaits.  

“I hope you don’t take offense to my saying this, but you look absolutely breathtaking, Amy.” He squints in the light, and braces himself for a scolding, but instead receives a delighted laugh.  

“Oh, Laurie, how ever could I be offended by such flattering and compliment?” She beams at him through the rays, and takes his offered hand before settling down beside him on the soft blue quilt from her bedroom.  There, they lay side by side, pointing out shapes in the clouds, dozing and laughing, until the sun begins to set behind the tall grass.  

“Laurie! Amy! Wake up!” They startle awake, to see Beth mere inches from their faces. 

“Beth, my goodness, what is it? What’s the matter?” Amy presses a palm to her chest, and clears her throat, and Laurie places a concerned hand behind her back. 

“Nothing’s the matter! Nothing at all- in fact, quite the opposite!  John’s proposed, he and Meg are to be married!” Her arms fly around the two, in a flurry of ginger hair and gentle tones.  

Amy claps her hands in joy, while Laurie watches in amazement at the two girls celebrating, and he basks in the realization that- he never had to marry Jo to be a part of the March family.  

The next month flies past in a flurry of excitement and preparation for the wedding, and Laurie is on his way to the March household, already seeing Amy’s face in the window, smiling wildly at him, when he hears a distant calling.  

“Teddy! Theodore Laurence! Teddy, is that you?” He whips around, only to catch the flightful Josephine March in his thin arms, and he laughs in part delight and part, admittedly, confusion.  

“Jo March, if you aren’t a vision!” He grins and lets her go, stepping back from the embrace.  Jo has grown, not physically, but she has an air of confidence, of sophistication, that was once hidden by her fear of mediocrity.  But such thing has vanished, and Laurie can no longer call her “that old girl, Jo,” rather, “a fine young woman, Jo,”.  

“How are you, how’s New York?” He questions after he adjusts, and she lights up.

“There’s so much life, Teddy, how can I describe it, it’s-” A commotion sounds from inside, and the two turn towards the house to see Beth once more rushing towards them.

“We have to fetch a doctor, Jo, come with me, it’s urgent, it’s-” 

“Amy.” Laurie finishes, and dashes towards the house, his heart beating so hard under his clothing, that he’s afraid one could see it through his vest.  

Amy’s bedroom carries a sickly smell of flowers, roses and peonies, and the heavy, coppery scent of what could only be one thing- blood.  

And that’s what it is, covering the filmy petals, and Laurie’s heart twists in his chest to see Amy’s face, screwed up in pain, and her small, gentle, painter’s hands gripping the fabric of her nightdress so tight that her fingernails dig into her palms.  

“Laurie,” she chokes, and Marmee watches on in silent melancholy, as Laurie takes the small girl into his arms and holds fierce.  

“Amy, my darling, do not worry yourself with speaking, just stay with me, alright? Like I’ll stay with you.” He tastes his own salty, hot tears, and Amy shakes her head.

“Please, Laurie… Just let me-” She is cut off by another wrack of coughing.  Laurie smooths a hand over her back, and speaks quietly into her ear. 

“Amy, my love, stay strong, for me, for I do not know what I would do without my greatest love, my Amy, please pull through this.” He doesn’t know whether he’s speaking to God or to the blonde, but she looks at him with such longing and love that he finally understands.  Laurie sweeps a finger over Amy’s bottom lip, a red tint coming away on his thumb. Her mouth is metallic when he presses it to his own, and it’s only when he pulls away that he notices that Amy’s coughing has stopped.  

“Laurie, I-” Amy starts.

“Was it me?” Laurie questions, cradling Amy’s round face with his soft palm.  

“What, my darling?” Amy questions breathlessly.

“The illness, was it my fault, was it me?” He asks, foolishly, no doubt.  Amy raises her slender finders to cup his jaw, and run her thumbs under his cheekbones.

“It’s always been you, Laurie.” She sits up further, and kisses him more forcefully, and he returns it equally.  

“I’m sorry, Amy, for taking so long.” Laurie presses a gentle kiss to her cheek in apology, and Amy smiles gratefully.  

“My love, do not apologize- I’ve loved every minute I’ve spent with you.” She smiles sweetly into his hair, and if they share a silent tear, neither of them will acknowledge it.  

 

Laurie learns later on that the disease is one of Asian descent- or so Marmee tells him, of unrequited love and heartbreak.  He finds an illustration of it in one of his fantasy novels, and although he will never be able to look at flowers the same way again, he supposes that maybe a change in how he views things is for the better, for now, as he's able to wrap his arms around her waist and smile into her hair, and he knows, Amy’s healthy, petal-free smile will always be worth the pain, will never stop making butterflies bloom in his stomach, and will always be able to color his world in a single stroke.