"But the future must be met, however stern and iron it be. "
― Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South

I know it is likely unwise to begin a new story while ongoing others, but I am all for instant gratification when it comes to my favorite books. Speaking of, I adore North & South and have read the book and watched the series many times. However, for the sake of this story I will be continuing my paltry rendition of the aftermath of the immortal train scene from the show, and basing my characters more off that. (UM, RICHARD ARMITAGE ANYONE?) That's all for now. I was searching for N&S fanfics and found some great ones – but why aren't there more? Here's mine – enjoy!

All rights of the original story and series belong to their respective writer and screenwriters. No infringement is intended and this story is for enjoyment and personal use only.

She is coming home with me. She. Margaret. His Margaret as he has had known her in his mind and dreams for so many months now. Home. She'd allowed his kisses and even returned them. And now? What was to be done next?

Margaret stepped into the compartment, her confidence waned and she feared what she'd see when he closed the door and faced each other. Surely he would think her far too presumptuous. He had kissed her, though. But she had lovingly and sweetly returned it. What was to be done? How is this to be borne? Were they engaged?

"Miss. Hale – I." Mr. Thornton stammered out the words yet he knew not what to say. He stowed her small carpetbag and took the seat across from her.

He was a man run down by the pressures and events of late. It showed in the darkness of his countenance, the deep shallows beneath his eyes had not gone unnoticed by Margaret. How one man could bear all that he had, rise above his circumstance and give work to so many in need while maintaining the integrity of himself and those around him left Margaret in awe. She loved him for it. Love. He'd spoken of love to her before and she'd demanded that he cease. Did he love her still? It was her turn to bear the burden of sheer terror and let him know how she cared for him. She'd done it in action, offering herself to him. But, she thought, she would have done the same under any circumstance. She'd have given him her fortune and more even had he been married to another. Marriage. Yes, marriage to this man. This loving, caring, strong and wonderful man. That is what she wanted. Margaret took a deep breath and stood, changing her position from across John Thornton, to next to him – despite the layers of her traveling garments she could feel a very slight radiant heat as their thighs touched ever so slightly.

Once more she took his hands in her own and pressed them softly to her lips.

"Mr. Thornton, you look as though you have not slept in days." It was all Margaret found she had the courage to say and feared it was not enough.

"Indeed, I have found very little rest of late. This afternoon, in Helstone, did prove to be very refreshing, however. It is a very beautiful place."

"I have always said it was the paradise of my youth – and yet my own recent visit did little to settle me. It seems I cannot have both Helstone in the South and Milton in the North as I wish them to remain in my heart."

Mr. Thorton smiled, if somewhat bitterly. "If you wish to return there – "

"You mistake my meaning entirely, sir. I found that when I first came to Milton, I longed for the sun and fields of my home in the South. But we had a new home, and though indeed it did take some time – Milton has been, for some time now, my home. These months in London have been nigh on unbearable. I love my aunt Shaw and cousin dearly, but London is not Milton. I believe Helstone was so painful to see because my parents were not there. They are gone now," she paused. "They are gone and are at peace now. It taught me, though, that home is not so much a manor or house in town. Home is with the people you love and wish to surround yourself with." Margaret looked at Mr. Thornton and smiled. "I am very happy to be going home with you, Mr. Thornton."

"Miss. Hale you cannot know what those words mean to me." He struggled with his next phrase, hoping the words would not offend. "I know it has been some time since that day with the riots. At our meeting then when I offered myself to you – "

"Please! Never speak of that day. I cannot think of it without wishing it gone."

Mr. Thornton's hurt was evident and Margaret sought his eyes once more. Surprising herself, and him, she displayed more confidence than she felt in her words and action. Margaret took hold of his face, softly, and caressed his stubble-laden jaw with her thumb. She kissed him very softly on his lips and felt his body breathe a sigh of relief.

"Mr. Thornton, please. I only spoke with such haste because although the wording of your proposal may have been unwelcome by me at the time, I do not ask you to cease in your remembrance of that day because your words offend me. I do not wish to dwell on that day because I have never been more ashamed of my actions in my life than those fleeting moments between us. You spoke of love to me then and I did not reciprocate. Had I agreed to your proposal it would have been out of duty and been done in haste and resentment. I am glad of it in retrospect, I suppose. And although I am sure I would've grown to love you as I do at this moment. I find I prefer the feelings I hold for you now, feelings that hold no shame or obligation. I find myself overwhelmed with love for you, of the purest kind." Her eyes were filled with hope, expectation, and to her mortification – tears. Margaret Hale prided herself on never displaying too much emotion or attachment, lest she be hurt in the process. She supposed she was not unlike Mrs. Thornton in that way. Yet here she was – looking into the eyes of the man she loved so heartily hoping he said similar words that would ease her mind and heart.

Her answer was in a kiss, so deep and passionate she lost her breath in surprise and had a small fit of coughs. She looked into the eyes of her beloved and giggled. What was she becoming?

"Miss. Hale – I. I have never stopped. I never stopped loving you, how could I have, lovely as you are? I have loved you since I met you. Though now it has surely grown, both in measure and esteem. My love now holds what you deserve, not a wife to be had and kept but love for the woman I wish to be my partner in life, to love and to build a home with – wherever it is you wish."

"Mr. Thornton, if that is your wish, and it is my dearest wish also – then I think you'd better ask me something. I will not have deserted my chaperone, left my Aunt's house and travelled the "Wilds of the North" as she calls it unless it is done in a proper and gentlemanly manner." Her manner was light but she was indeed serious.

"There was a time, Miss. Hale when the very notion of me being a gentleman was so offensive to you – and yet now you insist I become one and make you a respectable woman. My, what are we to do?" His words were solemn but there was just a hint of a smile on his lips. Margaret was beside herself. Was Mr. Thornton teasing her? Indeed he was, but she was not about to let him think that she still thought that.

She replied soberly, "Mr. Thornton, a gentleman would never kiss a lady in the open air of a train station and then take her to his home without doing the respectable thing."

"Are you forcing my hand?" he questioned.

"Think of it as expediting the end result?" she smiled openly at him and the sight of it made him catch his breath. If he was to do the job of asking her, he'd do it now in the confines of their little train compartment – where she had no hope of escape lest she be caught travelling with a man of no relation to her, unescorted.

He was a tall man and though the compartment small, he knelt in front of Margaret, as she remained seated. He took her hands in his and brushed his lips to her knuckles.

"Miss. Hale, I am a man, not a gentleman of leisure from the South or anywhere else, but simply – a man. When I first asked for your hand I was a man that had much to give you, I was a man that could support you. Now, I am humbled by those experiences both from your rebukes in my addresses as well as my own personal failings in the running of my business. Today, I have nothing to give you, except my solemn and holy vow to love you forever. I will work tirelessly to deserve you and even harder to make sure you never had a worry or care than I cannot solve. I am a man so much in love I have lost all train of sensible thought and can only offer you myself – in hope that it will someday be enough and not disappoint you. I wonder, Miss. Hale, if you will give me the greatest honor I could hope for, and consent to marry me?"

John Thorton was terrified. She could see it in his eyes. She knew her answer to his question but now "Yes," did not seem like enough. Here knelt a man that had given his life to the livelihood of so many others and never had a thought for himself until now. So many others – workers, his mother, his sister all depended on him and he'd never let them down. Until now and not even by his own doing.

"Mr. Thornton, I am honored by your proposal. I will, indeed, consent and take boundless pleasure in doing so but I believe since you made such an offer that I may take care in settling what I would like from our marriage, as well." She smiled warmly at him and his utter confusion was evident.

"You say you would like the right to work to solve my worries and pains. I believe our first meeting has perhaps indicated to you that I am not a wife that will sit idly by and knit and pay house calls. I will gladly run your home, but I demand the same right that you stake claim in trying to solve my worries in working to ease yours. Too long have you taken on the sole burden of so many others. You must make me a solemn vow, a wedding vow if you will, that you will, I'm sorry to put it bluntly but you must stop thinking yourself so unworthy of love. You take on too much and I want to be useful, and will consider myself to be if you are happy. Can you promise me this? Can you promise me that you will share yourself with me? For I desire nothing else but to have you as my husband. I require nothing but that – no amount of riches or, Heaven forbid, destitution will sway me from this. So long as you are mine and I am yours – only then shall I be truly happy."

Her words moved him and he was at a loss, simply nodding.

"Then I believe you'd better ask me again."

"Margaret Hale – will you marry me?"

"Yes, Mr. Thornton – John. I will."

This is not a one shot and will be continued soon.