AN : This story takes place in my modern AU of North and South. It starts two weeks after John Thornton and Margaret Hale spend the night together on New Year's Eve. This story's premise is similar to "Back to You" with one crucial difference—Margaret doesn't tell anyone she's pregnant (which I feel fits her character) and rather than face her growing feelings for John and her pregnancy, she runs away.
I was never truly happy with "Back to You." So, I want to try this variation for fun. If you like it, and want to see more, let me know. I'll try to keep things simple and explain if anyone gets lost. I'm not sure I'll ever get tired of J & M, but let me know if you do. I'm not certain where I want this to go, but the idea kept nagging at me, so here we are.
After All We've Done : Prologue
Monday : January 15, 2007
Margaret Hale stared at the washroom stall door, blinking back a wash of tears. She tried to steady her trembling hands, but her body refused to obey her. One foolish decision and the entire world seemed to be spinning out of her grasp. She clutched the thin plastic stick in her hand, small sobs breaking out from her throat. She flushed the toilet and stood, adjusting her skirt, slipping the test into her cardigan pocket. The shrill ring of her mobile made her jump.
Her hands were still shaking as she pulled it out and answered.
"Happy Birthday, Margaret," her cousin chirped, the sound too loud, too cheerful. "Are you having a glorious day, darling?"
"Edith," Margaret took a deep breath, her stomach churning. "I—"
"What is it?"
Margaret turned and retched into the toilet, choking on her tears. Once she started, she couldn't seem to stop. She didn't know why she'd kissed John Thornton at the Latimer's New Year's Eve party, she didn't know why she let him take her home, and she didn't know why she'd let him stay all night. And that terrified her more than the aftermath of that night.
"Oh God, what am I going to do?"
"Margaret, are you alright? What the bloody hell is the matter?" Edith hadn't stopped talking. "Answer me this minute."
"I—" Margaret shuddered, swallowing back another sob. "I want to come home. To England."
"Oh darling, it's alright, of course you do."
"No, Edith. I can't stay here," she flushed the toilet again, and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "I—I have to leave."
"What's happened, Margaret?"
"I need to get away and I—" She was babbling, the words pouring out of her as her fear rolled over her. "I don't have the money, Eds—"
"Never mind the money," Edith insisted. Margaret could imagine her squaring her pretty shoulders and tossing back her blonde curls. "Are you hurt, darling?"
"No." Margaret sucked in a slow breath through her nose. "But I—I've made a horrible—mistake."
"What did you do?"
"Please don't ask," She interrupted her cousin. "I'm sorry, Eds. I promise I'll explain later, but I've got to run. Thanks for calling."
"Are you sure you're alright?"
"No," Margaret said, tears choking her voice. "I'm not. Sorry, Eds, but I really do have to go."
"I'll ring later, Margaret Ann, and you will answer."
"I will. Later."
Margaret disconnected the call and switched her mobile completely off. She shoved it into her book bag and swallowed. She couldn't change what she and John had done, no matter how much she wanted to.
There was no going back.
John Thornton pushed his red ball cap back on his head and rubbed his aching eyes. Everything seemed to be going to hell in a hand-basket, no matter how hard he tried to hold it together. Every single truck driver and factory worker in Milton had gone on strike, throwing his shipping business into a shit storm. John ground out a few choice words for the strikers and turned back to his work.
John scratched his chin and sighed. He hadn't been home for almost three days, grabbing what little sleep he could when he couldn't keep his eyes open. He'd barely had time to shower and he couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten. There was too much to do and not enough time to do it. He stood, stretching his long limbs, groaning as his back and knee joints cracked.
He glanced at his desk calendar and frowned. The fifteenth was circled in bold red marker. He squinted at his chicken scratch handwriting underneath it, but his mind refused to cooperate. John traced the circled with his finger, the movement jostling his brain into full gear.
Today was Monday the fifteenth.
He tossed his hat on his desk and ran both hands through his hair. The morning he'd snuck out of Margaret's bedroom, John knew nothing would ever be the same—not that he'd change a damn thing. That night his whole world had turned upside down and John wanted to keep it that way.
But he hadn't seen or spoken to Margaret in two weeks and today was her birthday.
Williams pushed open the office door and grunted a good morning at John and started the coffee pot. The old machine was working almost as hard as they were.
"You look like shit, Master."
"Get out," John pointed at the door as he pulled out his cell phone and punched in Margaret's number. He swore when the call went straight to voicemail. Williams slurped his coffee and John glared at him."I said 'get out'."
"I heard you. Do want the bad news first or the worse news?"
John sighed and tossed his phone onto his desk. What he wanted was ten minutes to himself to figure out what the hell he was going to do about Margaret Hale. But like everything else in his life, it would have to wait.
Wednesday : January 24, 2007
Richard Hale rummaged through his pockets, unable to keep his hands still. Margaret stood next to him, silent and unmoving, as if carved from white marble. She stared at the flickering screen of arrivals and departures hung on the Milton Airport wall. Richard's eyes shifted over the digital readout. Her flight would leave in three hours.
"Maggie, my dear," he began, his hands shifting in his trouser pockets yet again. "Is there anything I can do to change your mind?"
"No." The answer was thin and brittle.
Richard Hale nodded as if he understood, but the truth was he was entirely flummoxed when his daughter came home from school on her birthday and had told him she wished to leave Milton.
"As soon as possible. I've already spoken to Aunt Shaw."
"Leave Milton, Maggie? But why?"
Margaret's explanation had been equally puzzling. She needed to get away. She didn't know for how long. She hadn't wavered in her decision once, but he could tell all was not as it seemed.
Richard took his daughter's hand and squeezed, "I'll miss you, Maggie."
Margaret nodded, still staring at the board. She was pale and exhausted, unable to eat more than toast and tea. It worried him.
"Are you—are you well?"
"I will be," she turned and faced him, her eyes full of unshed tears. "I'm so sorry, Dad. I—"
"Hush," Richard pulled her into his arms and hugged her gently, pressing a kiss into her hair. "I hope you know you can trust me, Margaret."
"I love you, Dad." She stood straighter and wiped her eyes. "I'll ring when I've landed, yeah?"
He nodded. "Will you come back?"
"I—"she sucked in a breath and turned towards the security check point. "I should go." Margaret took several quick steps before she paused and looked back. "Would you tell Bessie Higgins not to worry? Tell her I'll ring when I'm settled."
"And tell John—" Her voice trembled for a moment before she straightened her shoulders, schooling her features as best she could. "Tell him I'm sorry."
Richard frowned, "John?"
"Please, Dad. Promise me you'll tell him?"
His brow furrowed as he watched his daughter walk away, her shoulders shaking, one hand clutching her small suitcase, the other wiping at her cheeks. If things had been different, he might have called after her and demanded to know what was the matter. But he wasn't one to pry and never had been. All he could do was pray and hope everything would be alright.
Sunday : January 28, 2007
The news of Margaret Hale's sudden departure trickled slowly through the circles of Milton gossips. They'd had plenty to say about her and John Thornton after word got around about the Latimer's New Year's Eve party. Now her abrupt absence served as a bitter bookend to a tasty few weeks of speculation about the young owner of Marlborough Shipping Depot and the ex-minister's teenage daughter.
Mrs. George Latimer was delighted the moment she heard and told Hannah Thornton so herself at church.
"Miss Hale has left Milton?" Hannah's eyebrows raised the tiniest fraction, which was more of a response than Mrs. Latimer usually got. "When was this?"
"Why Hannah, I thought for sure you would know. Didn't John tell you?"
"I'm not sure my son knows or cares," Hannah replied. "He's got far more important things to worry about." She turned and scanned the crowd, locating her daughter Fanny, who was locked in conversation with Anne Latimer. If John didn't know about Miss Hale, he would soon enough. Hannah's sharp ears caught the mild tenor of Richard Hale and she slipped down the aisle of the church.
"Mr. Hale," she said, nodding cooly to the man he had been speaking to. "A word."
John looked up at the sound of his cell phone ringing. Few people had his number and they never called unless it was important. These days 'important' news only meant bad news. John sighed, shoving his hat back on his head. He was already buried neck deep, and a little more shit wouldn't kill him. He flicked the phone open.
"What is it, Mother?"
"What really happened between you and that Hale girl?"
"I don't have time for this—"
"I need to know, John," Hannah interrupted. "It's important."
"The hell it is," he growled. "Leave it alone, Mother."
John blinked, his mother's words sinking in. "Gone?" He hadn't meant to whisper. He cleared his throat. "Gone where?"
"To England, and if Richard Hale is to be believed, I don't think she's coming back."
John stood, barely registering the clatter of his chair tipping over. He snatched his keys from his desk and barreled through the office door, almost running Williams over. He was in his truck and driving to the Hale's house before he realized he'd hung up on his mother. The house and driveway were empty when John pulled up, but he knocked on the door anyway.
There was no answer, but he hadn't expected one.
John marched back to his truck and grabbed his cell phone, dialing the number he'd memorized the day she'd given it him over a year ago. It went straight to voicemail, just like it had every single time he'd called since her birthday. John kicked the side of his truck and threw his hat on the ground. When his phone rang a half second later, he almost dropped it.
"John, have you heard about Margaret Hale?" Fanny demanded, without preamble. "I was just talking to Anne Latimer and she told me that Margaret left town on Wednesday and—"
"Don't call me unless it's important," John interrupted, slumping back against his truck. He hung up before his sister could respond. He scowled and yanked open his truck door. For the first time since his father had died, John didn't know what he should do.
So he did the one thing he knew best.
He drove back to Marlborough Shipping Depot and got the hell back to work.