Author: Laurethiel1138 Title: Renaissance Fandom: North & South (Elizabeth Gaskell) Note: Response to the November Write By Theme “Sequel” Challenge, with the "Big Surprise" theme included as a bonus. Sequel to: [Gaskell's North & South] Resolution (October "Write By Theme" Challenge, John/Margaret). Also, as I haven’t read the book yet, this is strictly based on the BBC miniseries. Timeline: After the end (so spoilers beware). Pairing: John/Margaret Disclaimer: Not mine, not even Armitage’s Thornton. ________________________________________________________ Mrs Margaret Thornton, née Hale, was looking out of the window on the cotton mill courtyard. Fancy how she’d taken up the habit of John’s mother, when she had once very much resented her sometimes admittedly overbearing presence... Oh, but the announcement of her impending marriage to John had come as somewhat of a shock, to be sure. To both her and Margaret’s London connections. Mrs Thornton had, not without reason, been quite disbelieving of what she perceived as a rather abrupt about-face from the one who had once so peremptorily rejected her son’s well-meaning proposal. It had taken some rather firm arguments, and an unequivocal statement of affection on Margaret’s part, to finally convince her of their utmost seriousness in the matter. But at the end of the interview she had smiled, however reluctantly, because however it came about, she couldn’t deny that her son looked the happiest she’d seen him in years. And Fanny would come to respect Margaret, in time. Her London family had been a bit harder to turn around. Though dear Henry had accepted his fate with as much equanimity as he could muster, and quite gallantly considering his circumstances and the attachment he had formed towards her. Edith had all but torn her handkerchief in despair, when she’d seen her careful plans for Margaret sundered, powerless to stop her cousin from doing what she willed. Aunt Shaw had been fiercely opposed to the match, as their situations were rather obviously unequal, and she’d feared her niece had succumbed to the dubious charms of a fortune hunter. All in all, Margaret reflected, only the Higginses had proved true friends in the end, embracing the news of their betrothal and giving them their heartiest congratulations. They’d been happy that the mill would be reopened, of course, but they wouldn’t have held back their felicitations if circumstances had been otherwise. Still, all the invitations to the wedding had been accepted, and it had been a day to remember. Margaret’s only regret was the absence of her late parents, and of her exiled brother and his own blushing bride. And she’d had a private thought for Mr Bell, without whom this wonderful day would not have been possible. She found solace, however, when she reminded herself that they all would have wanted her to be happy on the day of her marriage, and so she smiled, content to bask in the steadfast affection of the man standing by her side. The reopening of the mill thereafter had not come without its own difficulties. John had had to renew his business acquaintances, who were naturally reluctant at first to treat with him after his rather publicised failure. The bankers had had to be reassured as to the solvability of his situation, and Margaret had had to step in herself to sign the necessary documents. If John had simply been happy to get back to work, she’d been mortified enough in his stead, when she’d seen how little respect he was afforded, him who had once been Milton’s child prodigy, rising through the ranks like a shooting star. She blushed when she remembered his comments in the carriage thereafter, to the effect that he felt privileged to see her indomitable spirit rise on his behalf for once. She’d been struck quite speechless, as ever unable to respond gracefully to a compliment, and she’d been rather glad of his forward nature when he’d lowered his head to capture her lips in a kiss. Who was she to complain, if he chose to accept a physical demonstration of affection in lieu of a carefully worded response? The world of the mill was still very foreign to her, so she didn’t venture to propose too many alterations to an already successful scheme, except where a feasible solution would present itself to alleviate the sufferings of the hands. In this, Mary Higgins became a staunch ally, reporting to the Mistress those plights the workers were unable to voice directly. Little by little, the work conditions became better, and in turn the unemployed (or those suddenly laid off by others) would come to ask to work at Marlborough Mills. But if she was still very much of a novice in business matters, she had a fair hand and a willing heart, and was unaccustomed to idleness besides, so she had suggested to John that she could help him with the bookkeeping. He had been taken aback at first, used to manage it all alone as he was, but then one of his too rare smiles had spread timidly over his face, and he’d gladly accepted her proposition. She had much still to learn, of course, and she still could not cipher half as fast as he did, but slowly she was getting there. And she cherished those moments when, puzzled over some recalcitrant operation, she would feel him leaning over her, using a dry quill to indicate the proper steps to solve it, and taking advantage of their close positions to surreptitiously brush a caress here, or a kiss there. The fact that John was a very attentive husband didn’t quite surprise Margaret so much, as she had seen with the mill how invested he could become in a task. What had surprised her, though, was how very amorous he was behind closed doors, when his characteristic reserve dropped and she saw the true man hidden behind the starched collar and the sombre three-piece suit. Between her clerical upbringing, Edith’s blushes and Aunt Shaw’s veiled double-entendres, she hadn’t had much education in the matters of the bedroom – and God forbid she asked Mrs Thornton anything about such a subject! – so John had had to slowly vanquish her shyness to show her the full extent of the pleasures to be found therein. Now she could admit, though not yet without a blush, that she awaited as eagerly as him the moments when the tumult of the day would wane and they would find themselves alone, letting go of the worries of the day as they sought an ever deeper understanding of the wonders of their connecting bodies. It seemed that there would never be enough time to explore all the possibilities, and a rueful smile crossed Margaret’s features as she contemplated the prospect. But today, she wasn’t waiting for him at the window to urge him into their bedroom, although it might indeed be the case when all was said and done. She laid a protective hand over her stomach, still full of awe at the news the doctor had given her this morning, even as she knew this kind of news was bound to happen rather sooner than later. She suspected that the smile John would give her when he heard a child was on its way would eclipse even the one she had received on her wedding day. Soon, she told her still flat belly, soon your daddy will know. And we’ll make him the happiest man in the world.