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12 January 2012 @ 01:33 pm
Wallflower (John/Margaret one-shot romance) G  
SUMMARY: Two paths chance to cross one evening and things will somehow never be the same again.

AUTHOR: Lexie aka
lillianschild

FANDOM: North & South

PAIRING: John/Margaret

RATING: G

DISCLAIMER: All the characters featured in this fic with the exception of Mrs Smithson are Elizabeth Gaskell's. I've just borrowed them to play for a short while.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story is a reworking of an old fic I wrote as a response to a challenge for a non-RA fandom a few years ago.

By the way, while the age gap between John and Margaret in the novel seems to be larger, I decided to take Richard and Daniela's as a reference.


“Wallflower”


Her dad used to call her his flower; vibrant as a sunflower, prickly as a thistle, fragile as a poppy, beaming to the world and secretly waiting to be picked by someone she could stand on equal footing with, someone who could see in her more than just a possession to be put on a shelf, an obedient partner to be mould at will.

She’s just turned one-and-twenty and another spring has gone by. Another year standing on the sidelines, begrudging the opposite sex the freedom her gender has been denied. She wishes she could erase pity with outrage if only to feel alive.

He enters the crowded ballroom escorting his mother, resigned to spending yet another boring soirée accosted by débutantes and their ambitious mamas eager to marry their daughters off and secure a coveted seat of privilege at his mother's famous annual dinner party. He hates feeling like a thoroughbred being auctioned at Tattersalls and looks at the parade in front of him with a cynical and bored eye.

John and Hannah's arrival is accompanied by the ubiquitous hushed whispers provoked by the obsequious reverence for money and power- privileges he enjoys and resents in equal measure since they put a veil in front of everyone’s eyes. He wishes someone could actually see him and not the wrappings that identify him as a Master and a magistrate in the public eye. He fears that day might never arrive, that his body’s destined to be in the spotlight while his soul, his real self, stands on the sidelines forever ignored or misunderstood. He wishes he could break society’s constraints and be who he’s allowed to be in the privacy of his mother’s parlour when the world’s not around to judge him.

From her far-off corner of the room Margaret observes the small commotion near the entrance to the hall. She recognises the sober and proud lady as the very same who paid her mum her last respects one winter morning almost two years ago, and she knows by the excited prattling and giggling around her that it isn’t Fanny Thornton who’s escorting the lady this evening. Margaret has scarcely crossed paths with Hannah’s only son, but she’s heard a lot about him and knows the brooding young man who’s considered the greatest catch in Milton, and the most elusive one, prefers the solitude of his office at the mill or of his sitting room at home to the social scene his younger sister clearly favours.

The band begins to play a waltz and Margaret’s attention is once again drawn to the dance floor as some new couples are formed and others come together for a repeat performance. Her cousin Edith smiles at her ready to twirl in the arms of her husband, who’s made it possible for Margaret to attend the ball by graciously extending an invitation. Miss Hale loves her eldest cousin for trying to see her happy, but giving up a fascinating read and a cup of hot cocoa to come today only to see Henry Lennox shoot her reproachful glances, while pretending to romance the daughter of a prominent banker, makes Margaret wish she could have some magical power to vanish into thin air.

One of Hannah’s oldest friends, an attractive and motherly red-haired lady she hasn't seen in years and who’s introduced to John as Mrs Smithson, joins mother and son and engages in a warm chat which quickly puts a little colour back on ailing Hannah’s cheeks. This is Mrs Thornton’s first outing in months after a mild heart attack and seeing her smiling and relaxed manages to subdue the negative mood John was in when crossing the threshold; he can actually feel the tense muscles start to uncoil. The evening would be worth it if he could at least help her forget for a few hours the strains of the visit to London to get fresh funds to help Marlborough Mills brave the storm. He tries to cover up his relief when, seeing his attention otherwise engaged, the young women hovering around move towards the floor and start to dance.

Margaret's eyes roam the room discreetly looking for a story to share with her dear friend Bessy Higgins when she returns to Milton after her holiday in London. Margaret loves observing people, looking beyond their masks, seeing who they’re inside. Hannah enters her field of vision, and Margaret has her first look at Mr Thornton. The mill owner's usually stoic mother smiles and laughs mirthfully at something Mr Smithson’s widow says, and the young woman gets momentarily mesmerised when Hannah’s first-born lets his mask slip for a brief moment. She wonders if her cheeks are blushing as she returns her gaze to the dance floor.

A few minutes into the chat John excuses himself and approaches the punch to have two glasses poured for the ladies. He hangs out there a little longer than expected to escape the stifling heat and the asphyxiating assortment of imported perfumes. He makes idle conversation with a fellow mill owner he hasn’t seen in a while and, as he turns around with the drinks in his hands, he spots a patch of deep emerald fabric at a distance and overhears a couple of dandies’ scornful remarks punctuated by some ear-grating giggling. A wallflower.

The waltz comes to an end and she applauds the band, pretending she likes to be standing on the fringes, living through others, always ready to lend an understanding ear and find the right comforting words. Lives go on around her and for once she wishes she could be at the centre, the sun around which the others revolve instead of a reliable satellite. She wonders what it’d feel like to be that someone if only for just a moment. And she smiles bravely at her cousin and her husband, anxiously awaiting the next piece to start so that she can slip away to the balcony, alone with her thoughts, away from the room which is determined to clip her wings and has already hung a label around her neck because of her sex.

The first chords of a new waltz sound and Hannah’s blue-grey eyes watch her son’s profile over the rim of her punch glass. She knows how much he’s sacrificing to be with her tonight, how much he loathes labels, how much he yearns to be loved and accepted for who he really is. Hannah shivers at the fleeting thought of leaving him alone, fears what it could do to his sensitive soul, hopes that when the time arrives for her to die he’ll have someone who can see and treasure the real man behind the mask. She follows his gaze across the floor and feels a bittersweet flutter in her chest when she reads his intention, wonders how the room will react, crushes her mother's jealousy and smiles.

The milling crowd on the dance floor parts and the surprised murmurs rise when the slighted parties realise Mr Thornton won’t break his dancing fast for any of the young débutantes. Leaving both disappointed mamas and insipid schoolgirls behind, he walks purposefully towards the balcony, clearly preferring the flavour of an aromatic cheroot to the romance of an Austrian folk song. Suddenly the voices in the background are silenced when the real purpose of his stride is revealed the minute he veers slightly to the right and, with a graceful bow, stretches out a hand and invites the young woman who’s sat out every dance.

Her eyes are the deepest green he’s ever come across in his twenty-eight years and they look at him as if they could see right into his soul. He can read disbelief in their depths as if she couldn’t believe she’s been singled out and then acceptance when she realises it isn’t pity that has drawn him to her but something deeper, an instinctual identification with what lies underneath- the desire to leave the sidelines and be actually seen. And she lets him take her hand and guide her into the dance and as they waltz and reverse round the hall lost in the moment, all eyes watching them, they’re no longer satellites at last.

THE END

 
 
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CorporateBabe: harrycorporatebabe on January 12th, 2012 09:05 pm (UTC)
Very nice - thank you!
lillianschild: smart thorntonlillianschild on January 12th, 2012 11:45 pm (UTC)
You're welcome. corporatebabe. Glad you enjoyed it.
rjforaprjforap on January 13th, 2012 03:30 am (UTC)
Wow! Thanks and more please :)
lillianschild: station kisslillianschild on January 13th, 2012 03:37 am (UTC)
This one is complete but, hopefully, there will be more N & S-inspired fics of mine in the future. :)