Chapter 41

"So how long are you planning on hiding the fact that you have your memories back?"

John coughed. Surely it wasn't so obvious was it? He glanced around wildly, looking for any sign that Margaret had heard.

"Relax, Master." Nicholas said, chuckling quietly. "I made sure she would be otherwise occupied before I broached the topic." John finally caught sight of her some fifty or so feet away speaking passionately with a small group of women.

Good God she was breathtaking.

"So." Nicholas continued. "How long are you planning on hiding this? Because by my own reckoning it's been nigh on three weeks at least." John smirked.

"No, a little longer than that." He replied, in a tone of pride that very nearly sounded haughty. "How in the world did you figure it out Higgins?" Nicholas now wore a smirk of his own and scoffed.

"Oh don't pretend like you've forgotten about my cleverness." Both men openly laughed. "In all honesty, I suspected a while ago. The only time you've ever called me by my Christian name is when you lost your memory. You changed back to Higgins overnight it seemed."

"Well it did seem to come back overnight. The bulk of them in any case." John replied, impressed once more with his impressive powers of observation. He really needed to stop underestimating his ability to weed out secrets.

"So you remember everything then?" Nicholas asked.

"For the most part yes. I have it all charted out and seem to be missing several days before the fire. Mr. Hale's death I have no recollection of. There are a few other things that I haven't quite been able to piece together in time, but I'm certain I'll get there eventually." Nicholas nodded solemnly.

"So why have you not told Margaret. Or your mother for that matter, they would be ecstatic." John noticed a hint of indignation in the eyes of his friend, and could not help but gain a little more respect for him.

"Think about it Nicholas." He said quietly, but firmly. "Margaret..." he sighed rather despondently. "Margaret is terrified that the sudden return of my memories would mean the return of, well, everything else..." he finished rather lamely. "Not only that, but I inflicted such pain on her. She has seen nothing but grief and loneliness and despair in Milton, and marriage to me did not lessen that." Nicholas looked as though he strongly wished to interject but John was able to quell him with a look. "I was never able to court her properly, and I was too self-absorbed in my own misery to actually show her what she means to me. More than that I needed to make myself someone worthy of her love if I still have it. What use am I to her, what can I offer her, if I am still broken and crumbling myself? Why would she stay?"

"You cannot believe that Margaret would abandon you, after everything that you have been through?" Nicholas asked, incredulity laced with sarcasm written plainly in his voice. John leaned against the wall to the Mill, his gaze resting on his wife.

"I honestly don't know. It does not matter, because I owe it to her to have the choice that I took from her so long ago. I owe it to her to try and be the man she has somehow always seen in me." Nicholas nodded, seemingly in agreement.

"So when will you tell her?" he asked. John smiled, mischief gleaming in his eyes with only a touch of nerves in his voice. He was getting better at managing the fear.

"If all goes well, I will tell her tonight."

A small touch on his lower left back alerted him to her presence only seconds before she linked her arm through his and took her place at his side. His mind seemed to grind to a halt as the creeping fear made a valiant attempt to creep through his chest.

Breathe he reminded himself. Each breath made the feeling shrink, and as he met Margaret's gaze, she smiled a truly radiant smile at him. Idly he wondered if he would ever stop being arrested by how purely lovely she was. The gentle sound of someones throat clearing cleared the fog in his mind and his turned his attention back to the gentleman he was speaking with.

"My apologies," John said, smiling even though there was a slight tinge of embarrassment he was certain was displayed on his face.

"Not to worry, Mr. Thornton." he replied, looking inquiringly at his wife. "Would you introduce us?" John started, his slight embarrassment growing.

"Certainly." He said, feeling curiously breathless. Margaret looked inquisitively at him and applied gentle pressure before removing herself from his arm.

"My name is Margaret Thornton." She said, extending her hand to the gentleman, who looked almost amused. "I am Mr. Thornton's wife."

John stood frozen. Even his heart seemed to stop. It didn't matter that they had already passed their first anniversary, that he had known this woman for over two years now. For some reason it didn't matter that he knew she had loved him before and hoped he was still capable of winning her love once again. Nothing on the entire earth could have prepared him for that statement. He realized he had never heard her introduce herself as his wife. He realized he had not once heard her say her married name out loud. But what stood out the most to him was the undeniable pride in her countenance as she called herself his wife. She was proud to be Margaret Thornton.

"Richard Clemmons." The gentleman replied, shaking her hand in return. "An absolute pleasure to be acquainted with both of you, I have heard so many wonderful things." John shared a quizzical glance with Margaret.

"I am afraid I don't follow." John said politely. He knew next to nothing about this man, save that he had come up from London.

"You don't know?" Mr. Clemmons asked, looking incredulous. John looked to Margaret once more and saw the same bewilderment he felt reflected on her face.

"It would seem not." she replied for them both.

"Why, you're practically famous!" Mr. Clemmons exclaimed. John felt horrified at the prospect, and quite against his will, his heart began to beat a somewhat erratic pace. He took another deep breath for good measure.

"Forgive my excitement," Mr. Clemmons continued. "you are all anyone can speak of in London. News of the fire was small, but everything that came afterwards..." He trailed off, looking at them both with something akin to wonder. "Did the Police actually accuse you of everything Mrs. Thornton, or is that merely the gossip of drawing rooms?"

"I—um—yes." Margaret replied, looking truly flabbergasted by the turn of conversation.

"Forgive me, but how is this common knowledge all the way in London?" John asked. There was a part of him that felt as though he should be irritated with the impertinence of this man, the impertinence of these London drawing rooms for their gossip, but for some reason he was not. It was an unusual feeling too, as gossip had done so much irreparable damage to his relationship with Margaret.

"I suppose you wouldn't know about it." Clemmons replied, looking sheepish. "Well, the Police made a public statement about the fire and according to my sister, publicly accused you Mrs. Thornton, of the whole of it. But when it came out as false they had to make another public statement to attest your innocence. From what I understand several newspapers grew overly curious and many of them have been lodging here in Milton, piecing together the whole tale and keeping us Londoners informed of all the happenings. It's why I'm here, actually. I could not pass an opportunity to see the Mill for myself. In the papers, it seemed a rather wild and fanciful tale, if not completely inspiring. I am beyond pleased to see that it was not all falsehood." John stood stunned, his mouth opening and closing uselessly as he floundered for a reply.

"I hardly know what to think, let alone what to say Mr. Clemmons." Margaret said, looking dazed.

"Oh, say nothing Mrs. Thornton. Meeting you both has been more than sufficient. I might ask two favors of you though, if it's not too impertinent." John, still foundering for words, inclined his head. "Firstly I would like to meet with you both sometime soon in the future to discuss business, if you'd be interested." John suddenly felt deliriously giddy. The Mill hadn't even started production officially and there was already an investor? It was a thing unheard of. It also seemed to be just the thing to cure him of his wordless attitude.

"Of course, we would be delighted." he replied, looking to Margaret for confirmation. She smiled softly at him.

"The second I would ask of you, Mrs. Thornton."

"Me?" Margaret replied, somehow managing to look a becoming blend of nervous and proud.

"Yes." Mr. Clemmons replied, looking somewhat nervous himself. "Well I—that is to say my sister, is very inspired by you. She is very intelligent and rather opinionated, and consequently has no friends and very little confidence in herself. You are very close in age, and—well—she seems to be inspired by your courage to brave the world of men to rebuild the Mill without your husband, and I was very much hoping you would not be opposed to being introduced." John beamed at the man, and he could almost feel pride radiating from him when she gracefully accepted despite the furious blush creeping up her face. Mr. Clemmons shook their hands more enthusiastically than might be considered proper, before taking his leave of them. As soon as he was out of sight, Margaret covered her flaming cheeks with her hands. John laughed openly at her, before pulling her out of eyesight of the crowd.

"Don't laugh at me, John Thornton." She exclaimed indignantly.

"You, my dear, have nothing to be embarrassed about." he said firmly as he pried her hands away from her face.

Margaret came to the very sudden conclusion that they were mostly alone among the crowd of people who had come to celebrate their success. It was so hard not to realize that, with the intimidating presence of her husband standing scandalously close her in a somewhat confined area. Oh he had such a way of making her feel as though her skin was separating itself from her body. After claiming her hands from their place of hiding her mortification, he did not relinquish them. There was that look again! The one that made her feel like he could see into her soul, as though he could read the emotions coursing through her at this unexpected breach of personal space.

It made her slightly uncomfortable as some of those emotions were not in any way decorous in the slightest.

Margaret did not think John even realized what his proximity did to her. It was intoxicating, and she craved more than anything to have the ability to dive in headfirst. She took a steadying breath and chanced a glance at John's searing look.

"That was a mortifying experience, thank you very much." she told him, trying, and spectacularly failing to reduce the high pitched breathy quality of her voice. John took another step forward, effectively closing what limited distance remained in between them. Completely against her will, her breath hitched. Nicholas Higgins' words floated to the forefront of her mind. "Damn the consequences...". This was doing nothing at all to help her flaming face. Surely he was doing this on purpose. He had to know how he affected her, had to know that she would respond in such a way, else why would he be moving closer still? Her heart was racing and she could not think, drowning in his closeness, in the euphoria of having her husband there with her in the first place after months of loneliness…he was leaning now, his face drawing ever closer to her own. Oh, she could not think!

"I find you rather remarkable myself," he spoke lowly, and it was though she could feel his voice reverberating inside her chest, making the buzzing noise in her head that much more noticeable. Margaret looked up to meet his gaze at the exact moment they both heard someone calling for him from beyond their mostly private nook. Though his face showed mischievous delight, there was something more serious in it's intensity burning in his eyes that she could not identify. The blue seemed to be less of a cheerful sunny sky as they usually were. Darker and more consuming. He cocked his head ever so slightly to the side, a small smile playing about his mouth.

"Shall we?" he asked, his voice impossibly changing to something more...iniquitous. She nodded, not trusting herself to speak, but allowing him to lead her back outside. As Margaret breathed in deeply and willed her traitorous body to calm itself there was certainly one undeniable fact. It was most definitely intentional.

It was time. The crowds, the future and previous workers had all gone, Higgins had gone, even his mother had gone though Margaret did not know about that yet. Luckily he had been planning for this for so long it was hardly any effort to explain everything to his mother. He was exceedingly surprised to see the brightening of her eyes when he spoke to her, but she smiled and insisted she was well. The complete difference in his mother's relationship with his wife was something he had still not grown accustomed to, and did not exactly understand the full details of yet. He was hoping to remedy that problem shortly. As he escorted his wife towards their home he was struck by three thoughts:

He would never tire of having the liberty to hold her close to him as he was currently doing.

He still could not believe his luck that he was able to call her his wife.

No amount of breathing was helping to calm the flaming ball of nerves that seemed to explode in his chest the moment he realized it was time to take her back home.

He could do this. This would be the turning point to everything they had been through. No more misunderstanding, no more God-awful arrogance on his part, no more doubts, and no more half truths. One way or another it would be over shortly. His hands started to shake and he took another deep breath. Margaret noticed but did not comment, although she did move almost imperceptibly away from him. God, he loved this woman. He did not even need to tell her, did not show signs that would be noticeable to anyone else, but she noticed. He hoped this worked, he desperately hoped he was right. If John had spent more than enough time dwelling on the negative. He refused to let himself drop into his pit of self-loathing. Margaret didn't deserve that.

As they stepped over the threshold and into the house he spied Carter who gave him an almost nonexistent nod before disappearing. Now the servants were gone as well, and it would be only John and his wife.

"It's very quiet tonight." Margaret remarked as he helped her out of her coat. He let out a puff of air that was supposed to be a chuckle, but did not seem to make it all the way there.

"Yes, it is." He replied, his voice oddly thick. Margaret looked at him curiously.

"Are you alright John?" she asked, her tone genuine in it's concern. He smiled nervously at her before humming softly. She looked suspiciously at him, as though she knew he was hiding something, but he did not give her time to think. He snatched her hand and walked briskly towards the sitting room.

Carter. That man had truly outdone himself this time. A warm fire crackled cheerfully in the grate, and the remaining lamps had been turned down low. The room had been cleared of most normal furniture leaving only the small sofa, and a small table with two chairs, dinner already laid out on top. Several vases of flowers were tastefully interspersed throughout the room in varying shades of red and white. There were small candles placed among the shelves and side-tables giving the room an almost magical quality to it. Margaret gasped softly.

"John." she whispered. "What is this?" He brought her fully into the room and shut the door behind them. He opened his mouth to speak, failed, and cleared his throat to try again.

"It's our anniversary dinner. Very long overdue."

She whirled around to face him, shock displayed openly for him to see. Ah, so she had not anticipated this after all. In one swift move she had launched at him; her arms went around his neck and he barely managed to catch her. One hand wrapped completely around her waist while the other found itself cradling her head that was resting against his collarbone. Three months ago he would not have even been able to think of holding her in his arms thus. Between the physical pain it would have brought him, and the more tumultuous state of their understanding one could never have happened. But now he would revel in it. He remembered when he woke, before he could even see her face, he had recognized the smell of her hair. As he breathed deeply he was reminded of how many times he had wished to have this very moment with her, and how he thought it would never be. That she would crave affection from him of all people. It was a remarkable thing indeed.

He placed her gently back down on the floor and noticed her eyes were particularly wet.

"This was supposed to be a happy surprise." John murmured as he wiped a few stray tears away.

"It is!" She exclaimed, smiling brightly at him. "I am very happy with it. I had honestly not spared a second thought on our anniversary when it happened, and later I assumed we would have to wait until our second." she looked slightly sheepish at the admission.

"Well if it makes any difference, I did not spare any thoughts for it either." Margaret openly laughed at that. "Come, let's sit down and enjoy our anniversary dinner while it's still warm."

A/N: Hello! So it's a little shorter than normal, but I honestly feel it's better than being one long chapter. Let me know what you think! Next chap will be out soon, and I believe it might actually be the final one *gasp*

Thank you lovelies!