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15 December 2011 @ 03:10 am
The Christmas Gift (a North & South holiday one-shot)- John/Margaret PG13  
SUMMARY: John reminisces his first Christmas with Margaret as a married couple and how his life changed when the clock struck twelve.

AUTHOR: Lexie aka
lillianschild

FANDOM: North & South

PAIRING: John/ Margaret

RATING: PG-13

Disclaimer: all the characters featured in the fic are Elizabeth Gaskell's. I've just borrowed them to play for a short while.

Author Note: This fic is a reworking of an old story of mine which I wrote as a response to a Christmas Challenge for a non-RA fandom a few years ago.

I'm in the process of brainstorming for an RH multi-chaptered fic but until it comes to fruition I thought it might be a good idea to start with something easier that I could finish in time for the Holiday Season.

This is a somewhat fluffy piece, so you've been warned.



THE CHRISTMAS GIFT


We had just celebrated our first wedding anniversary and Christmas was fast approaching. Margaret was buzzing with energy when I arrived from the mill, and I couldn´t help but smile like the lovesick husband I am when I saw her talk her way around my stuffy mother to work together on some project of hers. It was really funny to see the perpetually dignified Hannah Thornton come out of her way to indulge her daughter-in-law's every whim; what a change my wife's year as Mrs John Thornton had operated on my mother! Seeing the way they'd warmed up to each other after their rocky start filled my heart with joy.

¨Hello, beautiful,¨ I said with a laugh in my voice, leaning forward to press a warm kiss on Margaret's mouth as soon as my mother left the room on some errand. ¨What´s all this hustle and bustle about?¨ I asked, cocking an eyebrow and walking to the dining table, which was now completely covered with boxes of every size and shape. I started to remove a lid to have a peek inside when she said the words that hadn´t been heard in the Thornton household for twelve years.

¨I´ve asked your mother to help me carry down the boxes with the Christmas decorations. They've been collecting dust in the attic,¨ she murmured with a hint of hesitation, looking at me with her expressive eyes. ¨I´ve been thinking... It´s our first Christmas as a married couple and... er... I know that you´re not used to this but... I was wondering if you'd... ¨ she stammered adoringly. And I was suddenly overwhelmed by the feeling of knowing myself cherished and loved by this woman.

I locked my eyes with hers and wondered what I had done to deserve her and why, after all we´d been through, she had chosen me over the Henry Lennoxes of this world.

¨Would you like me to help you pick a Christmas tree? ¨ I volunteered and saw her let out the breath she had been holding.

¨Would you? ¨ she asked with a shaky and hopeful smile.

¨You know I´d do anything to see you smile at me that way, Margaret,¨ I murmured, incapable of resisting the urge to tuck a strand of loose hair behind her ear.

She leant on my hand and, pressing a kiss on my palm, raised her eyes to meet mine and framed the question which I believed had been nagging at her all morning, ¨Would you help me decorate the tree, Mr Thornton? ¨

When my father was still alive and my mind knew no worries beyond the desire to make my parents proud with my hard studying, he´d drive Fanny and me to the local market and we´d pick a fir tree to set up at the bottom of the staircase, following the tradition that Prince Albert had instituted at Windsor not so long ago. Mother had never celebrated the holiday season before getting married. Her parents – of whom she rarely spoke- hadn´t been the religious kind, and I suppose she put up with all the December fuss just to humour Father and Fanny, who found in Christmas the perfect excuse to get him to cater for her every whim at the shops even at such a tender age.

My last real Christmas was the one before my father decided to leave this world by his own hand. It was the year before my books were put away and my adolescence came to an abrupt end. The following Christmas my father would be dead, the boxes with the decorations would be vanished, no tinsel would deck the hallways and no Christmas tree would grace either the small room Mother, Fanny and I shared during our lean years or the austere dining room of the house which had been Hannah Thornton's realm until my wedding.

¨It´s time to make new memories,¨ I said, brushing Margaret's cheek with my knuckles.

¨Thank you, John,¨ came her muffled voice as she snaked her arms around my waist and pressed her face against my white cotton shirt.

I wanted to say something to her; tell her that she had nothing to thank me for, that I was the one for ever grateful to her for accepting me in her life, but words failed me. Emotions were too raw, and I just hugged her back and buried my nose in her chamomile-scented hair in an attempt to communicate with my body what I couldn´t put in words.

Going through the process of choosing the perfect tree for our first Christmas together as a married couple was bittersweet. I saw her enthusiasm as she tried to make me participate in the decisions but, underlying it all, I could sense the melancholy that the holiday season inevitably brought about for her.

¨Margaret,¨ I said with a hint of concern in my voice. ¨is everything all right? ¨

¨Sorry, John, it´s just that... ¨ she mumbled and I couldn't help but feel the prick of tears in my own eyes when I remembered my late tutor, Richard Hale- the father she missed so much and the friend I'd never get to call father-in-law or see hold the fruit of our love in his arms. ¨Are you sure you don't mind... ?¨ she started to ask and I cut her off with a kiss before she could see the moisture in my eyes.

¨It´s not what you think,¨ she whispered as we ended the kiss reluctantly, mindful of the fact somebody might witness our being amorous in public despite the shelter provided by the trees.

By the time it started to snow lightly over Milton we were back at the house with a fragrant middle-sized fir tree. We hauled it to the living room where the fire was crackling softly in the fireplace and the aroma of burning wood and fresh pine coalesced into a perfume which I promised myself would never again be absent from our home.

As I set the tree in the stand, which Mother had conjured up before being called away by a hysterical Fanny on some household emergency, Margaret rummaged through the boxes looking for the tinsel.

¨Well, the tree´s in place. What shall I do now? ¨ I asked, turning around and surprising a tender look in her eyes which made my heart flutter.

¨You could start with the decorations now,¨ she responded warmly, handing me the box. ¨I´ll go for the stepping stool, ¨she added, walking to the door.

¨I´ll fetch it, Margaret. Why don´t you stay and untangle this? ¨ I suggested, giving her back the box.

¨You remember this, don´t you? ¨she asked wryly.

¨What are you hinting at? ¨I responded, cocking an eyebrow.

¨I can´t believe it! John Thornton feels threatened by a bunch of tinsel, ¨she laughed.

¨ You untangle it, I´ll put it up. ¨ I said from the doorway.

¨Yes, Master,¨ she beamed, and I left the room with a boyish grin on my face, wondering if I´d survive the proceedings.

Climbing up the step stool I began the painstaking process of attaching the tinsel chain by chain, making sure it was evenly distributed. It´s a task which takes time and thought, and that´s something I´m very good at.

Once all the silver chains were up, Margaret took over and made me climb down. She stepped up on the stool and I began to pass her the wax ornaments for her to hang.

¨There's some lace and ribbon here as well. Some of it must be as old as I am,¨ I said, passing her the lead star.

¨Then, it's pretty old,¨ she quipped, climbing up to the top wrung, and I steadied her by reaching out and holding her by her hips.

The decoration of the tree was gradually becoming a very sensual experience, and I couldn´t help but smile what I believe must have been a very smug smile when she stepped down a wrung causing my hands to slip up her hips and touch her bottom.

¨Mr Thornton!¨ she exclaimed, with a feign hint of censure in her voice.

¨You´ve got a very tantalising derrière, Mrs Thornton,¨ I smiled, putting one arm around her back and the other under her knees to sweep her off the stool.

¨Are you trying to seduce me, Mr Thornton?¨ she blushed.

¨You´ve called me old. I´m just trying to make a point here. How am I doing so far?¨ I murmured, feeling my desire for her grow.

She put her arm around my shoulders as I stood in the middle of the study, holding her in my arms, and then she leant her head forward, pulling mine to meet her lips. She tugged at my lower lip deliciously, and I opened my mouth to let her in. Her passionate nature never ceases to amaze me. No man had ever seen her or touched her like I did on our wedding night, but if there´s something Margaret isn´t is shy- at least, in the privacy of our room- and I pride myself on the fact that no other man will ever experience it first hand.

The kiss we shared turned really passionate all of a sudden, but then she backed her head away, closed her eyes and took a deep breath before fluttering her eyelids open and letting me see her dimples.

¨If we keep this up, John, we won´t finish decorating the tree in time for Christmas, ¨she said, giving me a quick peck on the mouth. ¨Besides, we haven´t put up the mistletoe yet. ¨

¨In case you don´t remember, it was you who made the first move, ¨ I said letting her feet drop to the ground and keeping my arms around her waist.

¨You started it, John,¨ she poked me on the chest.

¨I did not,¨ I proclaimed, feigning outrage.

¨You swept me off the stool,¨ she said with a cute scowl.

¨Your sinful body´s the one to blame.¨ I whispered in her ear, nuzzling her neck.

¨John,¨ she moaned, ¨let me go and I promise I´ll make it up to you. ¨

¨Be careful with your promises, Margaret,¨ I said provocatively.

¨If you´re a good boy, Mr Thornton, Santa may answer your letter this year, ¨ she responded warmly, and I could see a suspicious glazing in her eyes.

I must have looked at her oddly because she suddenly composed and pushed me gently to resume her chore.

¨Let me finish with the candles, John. It´ll just take a couple of minutes. ¨

The couple of minutes turned into five and then into ten, and I was getting rather impatient. I followed her graceful movements as she carefully secured each one in place to minimise the risk of an accidental fire and, when she was done, she stood back a few steps and asked me to turn down the lights of the living room to see the tree illuminated.

¨How do you like the overall effect, John?¨ she queried as I stood in the middle of the room, too overwhelmed by the way the sparkling fire and the candlelight reflected on her long chestnut hair and her delicate features. ¨John?¨she asked turning a delightful red.

¨I´ve never seen anything as beautiful in my life,¨ I said throatily, and she surprised me by sprinting toward me and jumping into my arms.

I caught her and she wrapped her arms and legs around me. She smiled deliciously, and her curves pressed against my already aroused body almost undid me. I rested my forehead on hers and closed my eyes, trying to slow down the pacing of my heart while she traced my features with loving hands.

¨Margaret,¨ I moaned as she brushed her lips against mine, ¨there´s still no mistletoe. ¨

¨Who needs mistletoe? ¨she answered, tightening her hold on me. ¨So, John,¨ she whispered in my ear, sending shivers up my pine, ¨are you going to show me how much you like what you see? ¨

¨You´re a little minx,¨ I murmured, cupping her face and meeting her mouth in a searing kiss.

The wait had had an effect on both of us, and our walk to the master bedroom was stalled on several occasions amidst kisses, laughter and the impatient fumbling to shed the barricades of clothing in the way of our caressing.

Before Margaret I had never considered myself the cuddling type and, to outward appearances, I´m still the scowling and brooding Master. I´d always wanted to have someone I could open to, someone I could trust with my heart, and when she entered my life soon after she arrived in Milton my dream started to haunt me. Pride and misunderstanding kept us apart after her initial rejection of me, but fate intervened to give us a second chance and I grabbed it with both hands. She found her way in, and I found myself trusting her with that part of me which had been the most trampled and hurt. Human contact before her was limited to a few inconsequential dalliances, which left me most of the times satisfied on a basic level but which never quenched that thirst that resided in the bottom of my heart.

I looked at her in the aftermath of our passionate lovemaking as she faced away but snuggled very close to me. I wrapped one arm around her and brought our bodies flush, pressing leisurely kisses on her shoulders and the crook of her neck. The gentle caresses soon lulled her to sleep and, as customary, I remained awake for a while, listening to her even breathing and studying her relaxed features. That night she glowed with a particular kind of light and my eyes roamed over each curve, hill and indentation as something stirred inside me, something beautiful but scary at the same time.

The days flew by and soon it was Christmas Eve. Margaret, Mother and I had been invited to Milton's traditional Christmas party hosted by Slickson, one of Marlborough Mill's main competitors in the trade. Mother, however, had decided to spend the holiday season with Fanny and Watson in London and leave us to make our own plans.

¨You know, Margaret, we can still make our excuses and stay home. Slickson would understand,¨ I said, wrapping my arms around her waist from behind as she put on the mother pearl earrings I had given her for her birthday.

¨I told you, John, it´s no big deal. I know this is part of your world- one that is mine too as your wife- and I´m OK with it,¨ she answered, leaning back.

¨Are you sure? ¨ I insisted, looking at her reflection in the mirror.

¨Yes, I´m sure. Besides...¨ she added with a sensual voice, pulling me forward by the cravat, ¨we´ll still have the rest of the night. ¨

¨You´re tempting me to stay at home, Mrs Thornton,¨ I smiled, meeting her lips in a sweet kiss.

The food and the music were first-rate as usual, but I couldn´t wait to be back home to celebrate Christmas with my wife. It still surprises me how a southern delicate girl like Margaret has adapted to my northern rougher world and how much bearable she´s made that part of my life which I find so taxing despite all appearances- socialising. I'd much rather be in our living room, sharing a glass of sherry while reading the work of some ancient philosopher with Margaret snuggled next to me on the sofa, than spend a tedious soirée in the company of certain prejudiced masters and their vapid wives.

It was close to midnight when she stole a glance at me across the ballroom, and I decided I had had enough shop talk to last me until Twelfth Night at least.

¨Excuse me,¨ I smirked, cutting off the inane conversation that had been dragging on for far too long, ¨duty calls. ¨

¨Oh, sure! One can´t keep one´s lady waiting,¨ answered Henderson who had stuck with me like a leech.

¨You didn´t seem to be having fun,¨ murmured Margaret when I reached her.

¨Your timing was perfect, Margaret. Two more minutes and I would have had trouble living up to the Thornton reputation, ¨ I whispered next to her ear as she slipped her arm through mine.

¨We couldn´t allow that to happen, could we? ¨she smiled conspiratorially.

¨Would you do me the honour of a dance? ¨I asked as the band started to play a slow number and the preparations for the twelve-o'clock toast were well under way.

¨I´ve been waiting for this all night, ¨she blushed, and I took her onto the dance floor to be joined by the other couples.

Having her soft curves so close to me as we swayed with the music brought back those intense feelings of the night she had spent in my arms after setting up the tree. Anticipation was killing me. Something she had said that night several weeks before and something- call it an epiphany- I had experienced when I watched her lying naked and sated in my arms made my heart quicken and my chest clench now that midnight was fast approaching. I knew she had had something on her mind all day long, and a sixth sense told me she would say the words when the clock struck twelve. I tried to keep my composure and gradually led her to a lateral archway.

¨John,¨ she murmured looking at me in the eye when the grandfather clock chimed twelve and the fireworks started to crack.

I couldn´t let her say it. Not yet. Not amidst all those people. Not something so private, something that would change our lives and my world for ever. I wasn´t ready to hear it coming from her lips yet. I was scared, scared witless of anything going wrong, of losing her for real this time.

¨John,¨ she repeated, beaming as she caressed my cheek with a hand, ¨I´ve got something to... ¨

I cut her off in mid-sentence before the words were out of her mouth. I crushed her lips with a kiss so desperate and needy that I heard some guests gasp close to us. ´There goes convention and the trademark Thornton cool aloofness,´ I thought.

¨John!¨ panted Margaret as my mouth left her lips after making sure she´d been thoroughly kissed.
¨Where did that come from? ¨ she sighed.

¨Mistletoe,¨ I smirked looking up above our heads.

¨Had I known this before, I would have insisted on hanging that mistletoe back at the house. John, I... ¨

¨I love you, Margaret,¨ I whispered throatily into her ear, pressing a kiss on her temple and letting my left hand graze the side of her abdomen where our child was miraculously growing.

I felt her tremble in my arms when my fingers splayed protectively on her womb, and she raised her green eyes to meet mine.

¨Merry Christmas, John, ¨she said, resting her head on my chest and wrapping her arms tightly around me.

¨Merry Christmas, Margaret, ¨ I responded with a catch in my voice as I kissed the top of her head.

A year has gone by since that Christmas and not a day passes by when I don´t look at our little baby Bessy with awe in my eyes. She´s got ten perfect toes and ten perfect fingers that clutch at my shirt whenever I hold her and get lost in those eyes which remind me so much of her mother´s. I still can't believe how lucky I am, how fortunate we are.

¨Hello, Daddy,¨ says Margaret, wrapping her arms around me from behind.

¨Isn´t she beautiful?¨ I smile, caressing the baby´s cheek with a finger.

¨You´re besotted, John, ¨she responds next to my ear.

¨You aren´t jealous, are you? ¨ I ask, remembering all I´ve read about new mothers and how they can feel displaced by their babies.

¨Of course not, John, ¨she smiled, letting me see her dimples before pressing a lingering kiss on my lips. ¨Hey!¨ she laughs, breaking the kiss and looking down at Bessy who´s pulling at Margaret´s long hair. ¨He´s also mine, you know?¨

¨Margaret,¨ I croak, ¨thank you. ¨

¨There´s nothing to thank me for, darling,¨ she murmurs with glassy eyes. ¨I love you, John. ¨

¨I´ll just say it again all the same. Thank you for the best Christmas present ever. ¨

THE END

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!
 
 
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Ophelie H.: group hugshiverslala on December 15th, 2011 11:06 am (UTC)
awwww! one of my favorite period drama and you write a fic about it! it was perfect! happy holidays!
lillianschild: Thorntonlillianschild on December 15th, 2011 04:58 pm (UTC)
Thanks for your good wishes.

Glad you enjoyed it.
CorporateBabe: harrycorporatebabe on December 15th, 2011 04:08 pm (UTC)
LOVED IT! thank you!
lillianschild: station kisslillianschild on December 15th, 2011 05:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you for reading and reviewing.

Hopefully, there'll be more John & Margaret from me in the future.
rjforap: RArjforap on December 18th, 2011 04:13 am (UTC)
Another wonderful story. Just in time for the holidays too. Thanks for sharing. :)
lillianschild: ns walkinglillianschild on December 18th, 2011 05:13 am (UTC)
You're welcome. Thanks for stopping by.