A/N When I dreamt this scenario up a couple of weeks ago, it was going to be worked into one of my poor neglected ongoing stories (probably BOJ), but in typical me fashion, as it plotted out it kind of took on a life all its own and became too long. Add the suggestion from a friend that it be a stand-alone piece, and… it kept going. NO. I do NOT intend for this to go beyond this one-shot. Nope. No way. Uh uh. I need to give BOJ some much deserved attention, and there are surely upcoming Serge challenges coming soon. (So please don't offer me suggestions of how to add to it… Seriously. Don't.)
That said- enjoy. I think we've all considered this at least a time or two, and it actually surprises me that no one else has written it. Then again, I am the one who seems to head in the crazy direction, so….
Nathan couldn't contain his look of disgust as he approached the couple on the bridge. They were so wrapped up in their…he wasn't even sure it could be considered kissing… to notice his approach. He had to clear his throat four times, progressively louder each time, before they acknowledged his appearance.
Elizabeth at least had the decency to blush, though she didn't loosen her hold on Lucas. Bouchard, meanwhile, sneered at him,
"Jealous, Constable?" he smirked as he pulled Elizabeth even closer, a feat that wouldn't be possible if either of them had even a shred of decency. "Come to see what you'll never have?"
"Not at all," Nathan scowled. "Having her storm into my office and tell me that I'm nothing more than a shadow and that she will never see me as anything other than Jack Thornton's ghost cured me of any romantic feelings. You two deserve each other." It was his turn to smirk when Lucas scowled, clearly upset to realize he'd won by forfeit. Elizabeth looked stunned and hurt by his words, but for the first time, he felt no sympathy for her.
"I'm here because there have been a number of complaints. It seems no one in town appreciates seeing the two of you mauling each other in public, and I'm the unlucky fellow who gets to come break it up."
Lucas's smirk returned. "And just what are you going to do about it? Since when is it a crime to kiss someone?"
Nathan stepped closer, his smile just as wide but far more unnerving. "I'm here to arrest you both." He glanced at Elizabeth, inwardly thrilled to see her eyes widen in shock.
"On what charges?" Lucas huffed, clearly not as upset about the prospect as Elizabeth was.
"Public indecency for starters," Nathan countered, pulling handcuffs from his belt.
"This is outrageous!" Lucas sputtered as his arms were secured behind his back.
"Take it up with the judge," Nathan replied, cuffing Elizabeth's hands with only a little bit less force. "But it will have to wait until tomorrow because he's gone to bed already. Something about hoping this day was just a nightmare, and that when he wakes up tomorrow, he hopes things are back to normal."
"Nathan," Elizabeth pleaded quietly. "Surely there is a better way for us to work things out. Is this really necessary?"
Nathan paused, studying her carefully. Gone was the proper, composed lady he had met when he arrived in Hope Valley. In her place stood a woman who could pass for a saloon girl, and not the kind who served food and drinks. Running his eyes over her gaudy dress and overdone makeup before meeting her gaze again, he nodded. "If this is the kind of attire you think is proper to wear around children- one of them my child- and that this is appropriate behavior for a lady, let alone a mother and a teacher, then yes, Elizabeth. This is definitely necessary."
He was grateful that Henry had loaned him his car, so he didn't have to walk back into town guiding the two of them. It was bad enough listening to them squabble in the back seat for the short drive to the jail.
Once he had them each locked in a cell, Nathan turned to leave. "I'm going to make sure Allie and Jack are settled at the Weisses' so that the Coulters are free. I wouldn't want to offend Mrs. Thornton's delicate sensibilities and be accused of mistreating her, so Rosemary has agreed to chaperone. And since it wouldn't be proper to have her here all night, Lee gets to come, too."
"You can't be serious!" Lucas shouted, glaring through the bars.
"You can't keep me from my son!" Elizabeth exclaimed.
Nathan glared right back. "I am entirely serious. I am holding you both until Judge Avery can hear your case tomorrow." His scowl did not lessen as he turned to Elizabeth. "As for Jack, have you just now remembered that you have a son?" She huffed indignantly, but he continued, unphased. "Where was your concern an hour ago when he was crying for his mother? All those times you left him behind to gallivant around town? It didn't seem to bother you leaving him with Laura or your friends before; why is tonight any different?" He stared at her accusingly before adding, "Nearly every woman in this town has volunteered to watch him. Your son will be better cared for tonight without you."
Nathan checked the locks on both the cells' doors before leaving. Heaving a deep sigh, he hurried towards the row houses. Their friends and neighbors were all wonderful about watching Allie overnight when he had to stay with a prisoner, but Nathan always regretted the nights he had to spend away from his daughter. She said she didn't mind, but the girl had already lost so many people in her life; he hated the idea of making her feel like he'd left her, too.
Rosemary and Lee were chagrined to hear that things had gone as badly as expected, and reassured Nathan they would stand by him whatever the fallout. As he'd told Elizabeth, he stopped to make sure Jack was settled with Opal and her parents while the Coulters prepared to be out all night. Though the boy was a little quieter than usual, he was playing contentedly with Allie and Opal when Mr. Weiss let him in.
"Laura told us Mrs. Thornton wouldn't be home tonight," Ellen Weiss said quietly. "I understand she and Mr. Bouchard have gotten themselves into a bit of trouble?" When Nathan nodded, she smiled gratefully, placing a hand on his arm. "Thank you," she said emphatically. "I know it couldn't have been easy for you, but maybe this is what she needs to finally bring her to her senses."
Their conversation was interrupted by a child's shout and small feet scrambling across the floor. "Montee Natan!" Young Jack exclaimed as he threw himself at his hero's legs. Nathan couldn't help but smile as he reached down to pick him up.
"You're going to be good for Mr. and Mrs. Weiss tonight, aren't you?" he asked, making silly faces at the boy before he could answer.
"Yeessss," Jack promised, giggling. Just as Nathan was going to put him down, the boy's face fell. "Is my Mama okay?" His little lip began to tremble a bit.
Nathan hugged him, hoping to offer the child some reassurance. "Your Mama is fine. She just got into a little bit of trouble and has to stay in town tonight. But I know that Allie and Opal here are excited you get to spend the night with them. I bet they'll play lots of games and read you stories…"
The girls had moved to stand on either side of Nathan and were nodding enthusiastically at his suggestions. "Maybe we can even talk my mom into letting us have cookies before bed," Opal added, her eyes full of mischief as she glanced at her mother.
"We'll see," Ellen Weiss chuckled. "I think it's already past someone's bedtime as it is."
There was a knock at the door, so Nathan moved further into the living room with Jack and the girls. They all heard Laura's voice as she explained, "I made up a basket of some of Jack's favorite things. I thought it might make things a little easier."
Jack pounced on the basket, exclaiming over its contents as Mrs. Weiss thanked her. Then he and the girls all stood at the window waving to Laura as she got into Henry's car. When Nathan had returned the vehicle, the older man had offered to drive Jack's nanny home, given the late hour. He had even asked Fiona to ride along with them, not wanting the younger woman to feel uncomfortable. Nathan was once again appreciative of the kindness and consideration that the people of Hope Valley offered one another.
Most of them, anyway.
Nathan sighed as Mrs. Weiss rejoined them. "I should get going. I want to grab some coffee before the café closes for the night. I have a feeling I'm going to need it." He gave Jack another hug before handing the sleepy boy off to Mrs. Weiss.
"Good night, Mountie Nathan," Opal said as she gave him a quick hug. When she moved aside, Allie took her place, holding him longer and tighter.
"Night, Dad," she said quietly. Pulling away to meet his eyes, she added, "I love you. No matter what she says or how she acts, I know you're doing what's best for all of us. Thank you." She leaned in again, hugging him tightly before finally stepping away.
Nathan offered a last wave to Jack and the Weisses and then stepped outside to meet the Coulters. The three were quiet as they walked back into town, all of them worried about the coming hours.
They arrived at the jail to find Elizabeth and Lucas shouting at each other from their cells. Rosemary rolled her eyes as she sank into a chair and pulled out a book. Lee shook his head, closing his eyes as he leaned back against the wall, hoping to get some sleep. Nathan sighed, settling behind his desk to work on some paperwork. Even with Minnie's coffee, it was going to be a long night.
"Did Jack get to bed alright?" Elizabeth finally asked, nearly an hour after Nathan had returned.
Nathan glanced at her and shrugged. "He was fine. Opal and Allie promised to watch over him. He knows you're staying in town tonight, but we didn't tell him why or where."
"Of course, the only thing you're worried about is that boy," Lucas grumbled. "Never mind what this is going to do to my business reputation and sales at the saloon tonight."
Elizabeth glared at him. "Of course, I'm worried about my child!" she defended bitterly. "He's being forced to stay with people he barely knows; he's probably scared."
Rosemary, who had thus far managed to hold her tongue, finally lost her temper. "Actually, I imagine he's sleeping easier tonight than he has in a while. He knows he's safe and Laura brought over his favorite things, so he'd be comfortable."
"What are you talking about?" Elizabeth turned to her friend, appalled at the implied accusation.
Rosemary stood, pacing back and forth in front of Nathan's desk for a moment before flouncing over to stand outside Elizabeth's cell. "Lee and I were standing outside when Laura delivered Jack's things to the Weisses. The door wasn't closed all the way, and I could hear him inside. He was so excited when he saw the book on top. 'Mama used to read that to me' he said. It's the one with the little boy and his pet dragon…I forget the title, but I know it's his favorite."
Elizabeth huffed. "I know. We read it every day. We've missed the last couple of days because I couldn't find it."
Rosemary shook her head. "Weeks. It's been weeks. You know how I know that? Because that book has been at our house. Laura stopped by as we were leaving to ask if we still had it. You forgot it there the night Laura ended up leaving him with us because you were four hours late. Do you remember that? The poor girl had dinner ready and everything. She thought you would need cheering up, so she made her mother's herbed chicken for you. Your favorite scalloped potatoes. Green beans steamed just right. She even had brownies for dessert and Jack already fed and bathed. And you didn't show up. Didn't send a message that you were going to be late. Nothing. The only reason we didn't worry was because Lee told us he'd seen you two walking into the saloon together hours earlier. Laura came over to ask if Lee would be willing to drive her home whenever you bothered to get back, because she didn't want to walk home in the dark. Again." She paused, glaring down her nose as Elizabeth sank onto the cot behind her, tears in her eyes. "Lee and I ended up eating that wonderful dinner with her, and then he drove Laura home while I took Jack back to our house. As I recall, you didn't even thank us for watching him. And I know you never apologized to Laura. I'm guessing you didn't even bother to pay her extra, did you?"
Lucas scoffed. "Why would we want to eat some girl's simple chicken when we could have Gustave's beef Wellington?"
Rosemary shifted her glare to him. "First, I don't remember you being invited that particular evening. And second, because that girl's chicken was better than anything I've ever tasted at the saloon. I even asked for the recipe, but Laura said it's a family secret. She only made it that night because it was Jack Sr.'s birthday, and she thought it deserved to be celebrated."
"Why?" Lucas asked, furious. "Jack. Is. Dead. There is no reason to celebrate his birthday or commemorate your anniversary. It's time everyone just forgets about him!"
"How dare you?" Rosemary exclaimed.
Lee jumped in, physically picking her up and moving her back out to desk. With a quick glance at Nathan to assure that he would keep Rosemary in her seat, he turned, walking slowly back towards the prisoners.
"You never met Jack Thornton, but he was one of the best men I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. If not for him, this town would have been overrun by the Pacific Northwest Mining Company, the Tolliver gang, or any other band of bullies and criminals. And who knows? Maybe those are the kind of people someone like you would prefer we had run the town. I imagine there are a number of other business ventures you could be offering, in and out of the saloon, with people of low morals and an eye for profit being in charge. But I'm glad the town is the way it is. People matter, not profits." Lucas opened his mouth to speak, but Lee refused to be interrupted. "I came here when this town was at its lowest, and Jack was one of the first people to welcome me. He helped me find workers for my business, not to mention cleared the way for me with the incredible woman I now get to call my wife. His death was a tragedy, and his life and his legacy deserve to be celebrated. He did more for Elizabeth and Hope Valley than you ever will."
He turned his back on Lucas, walking back to his chair by the door and ignoring the other man's irate sputtering. When Lucas realized he wasn't going to get Lee's attention, he turned his ire back to Elizabeth.
"I have done more for this town than anyone!" he insisted. "Who else was going to give you a building for your library, not to mention the books to fill it? Who else has brought in vendors and welcomed people from all over for a Christmas Festival? Who kept the oil company going when Henry Gowan was about to run it into the ground? ME. I deserve all your accolades and recognition, but have I asked for it? No."
"No," Elizabeth agreed, getting to her feet again. "You only asked that I abandon my child and a career that I love to be some… some… trophy figure!" she spat.
"And we're back to the kid again," Lucas grumbled. "He's just a child."
"He's my child!" she retorted. "He is the most important thing in my life."
"I should be the most important thing in your life!" Lucas shouted. "If you want a child to dote on, then we can have one after we get married. A proper, cultured child, fit to stand beside us in society."
Elizabeth could only gape at him is startled disbelief for a moment. "And what about Jack?"
Lucas shook his head, pacing in frustration. "What? Your son will receive the best education our money can buy."
"Our money, or my father's?" Elizabeth hissed. She shook her head, seeing clearly for the first time in months. "Would you ever grow to love him?"
Lucas scoffed again. "Why do I need to love the boy? He's not my child. I will give him a home and make sure he has a proper education- away from Hope Valley – and adequate care. What more do you expect? If I were going to love a child, it would be my own blood. I'm not about to give my name to the son of some lowly Mountie."
Nathan and Rosemary held each other's eyes as they both struggled not to intercede or interrupt. It broke their hearts to hear young Jack relegated to something less valuable than a shoe, but if this is what it took for Elizabeth to finally see the truth…
"So that's it?" Elizabeth glowered. "You think you can just sweep in and take me away from everyone and everything that I love, and for what? So that you can make a name for yourself in society?" She laughed bitterly. "I grew up in that world. I know what it takes to get to and stay on top. Do you really think you can buy your way in with insincerity and charm?"
Lucas smirked. "It worked on you, didn't it? I bought you. Seems my investment is more trouble than it's worth."
Nathan held the door for Rosemary and Lee to follow him outside. All three of them breathed a sigh of relief.
"It's so quiet," Lee sighed happily.
"I thought they were never going to shut up," Rosemary added, glaring briefly at the door to the jail.
Elizabeth and Lucas had spent most of the night arguing. He blamed her for their current circumstances, saying it was because she had led Nathan on. She accused him of goading Nathan with his constant need to make everything a competition, leading the Mountie to take such drastic measures. He shouted about how she never gave him her full attention. She retaliated by pointing out that he had all but forced her to neglect her son as well as her duties in the classroom. They went back and forth all night, finally dozing off out of sheer exhaustion about an hour ago. Parts of it might have been entertaining if it hadn't meant that Nathan and the Coulters were up all night as well. But at least the disgusting little romance seemed to be over.
"You guys stay out here," Nathan said, nodding towards the chairs beside the door. "I'll go get us all some coffee and breakfast." He paused, glancing at the door himself. "I supposed I should get something for them, too." He frowned but stepped off the boardwalk and started across the vacant street to the café.
Lee and Rosemary sank gratefully into the chairs, pulling them together to lean against one another. "I'm sorry it came to this," he said quietly. "I know she's supposed to be your friend, but I have to say, I am relieved she's finally being held accountable for her actions."
Rosemary sighed. "I miss my old friend. I know things were terrible for her after Jack died, but I kept hoping that if we gave her enough time and space, she'd find her way back to herself. I never in a million years imagined she'd fall this far. I don't know how to help her. I've done and said everything I can think of, but she still refused to see reason. I feel like I've failed her. Jack, too."
"You didn't fail anyone," Lee assured her. He sat up, turning to face her. "It's like you said. You gave her time and space. You prayed for her. You tried to give her advice. How many times did you watch Jack without a moment's notice so that she could go out with Lucas? And how many times has she asked about you? Does she know you had a miscarriage last month? No. Because she was too wrapped up in herself to care about anyone else. You've been a better friend to her than Jack or anyone else could have asked. You deserve better."
Their conversation stopped as they saw Nathan step out of the café, a basket over one arm and a thermos in the other hand. They smiled, standing to help him pour coffee and distribute the food. The three sat in contented silence, watching the town slowly come to life.
Inside, Elizabeth sat on the hard cot in her cell, tears streaming down her cheeks. She had awoken when she heard Nathan and the Coulters go outside. The door didn't close behind them, and despite Lucas's snores, she could hear their conversation.
To say she was ashamed of herself was an understatement. She had been so caught up in the possibility of romance and blinded by her own fears that she didn't realize how badly she was hurting the people closest to her. Nathan, with all his quiet strength, who had stood there while she tore his heart out again and again. Rosemary, her best friend, whose advances and advice she ignored again and again, certain that she was right about everything. How could she have been so selfish as to not see what her friend was going through? Lee. Bill. Even worse, Allie. And worst of all- Jack. Her son. The living breathing reminder of her beloved husband and all the possibilities in this world. Instead of nurturing him, she had left his care to others so she could be pampered and spoiled by Lucas.
Lucas. Glaring across the aisle at his sleeping form, she couldn't fathom how she had ever been attracted to him. Sure, he was fairly good looking, if you could get past that awful beard and obsessive neatness. This is the frontier, not Hamilton. He doesn't always have to look spotless. He was well off; not as wealthy as her father, but better off than most of the people in this town, and it was nice to be reminded of the fancy things she'd left behind when she moved west. But from the very first moment they'd met, right outside the saloon, he had treated her son with disdain. When there were other people around, he offered the boy a smile or a wave, but not once had he talked to or played with him. That should have been a warning that things weren't going to go well between them.
If she had listened to her heart instead of letting Lucas feed her fears of being broken again if she loved and lost another Mountie, she could have developed a stronger relationship with Nathan. There was a strong bond between them; that was obvious. The way they always found their way back to one another despite harsh words, missed opportunities, and the fears in both of their hearts… She knew now that was real. Not books or sweets, fancy hotels, or big festivals. The simple act of being there. Offering a hand but not holding her back. Protecting, not isolating. And showing her son the love, attention, and guidance that his father wasn't here to give. That was love.
And now it was too late.
She'd seen the agony in Nathan's eyes when she said those terrible words to him at the jail. She saw the look on his face when he'd confronted her and Lucas last night at the bridge. If only Bill's wish could come true, and she could repeat the last day. Do things differently. Be the woman Jack was proud of. The mother their son could look up to. The teacher her students could respect. The someone Nathan could love.
She was startled when the door of the jail opened. Nathan entered, stopping outside the cell to offer her a plate of eggs and toast and a cup of coffee. He barely looked at her. When she took them, he turned without a word, crossing the aisle and kicking the bars of Lucas's cell to wake him up. "Here's your breakfast," he stated, leaving the plate and cup on the floor just outside the bars. "I'll take you to see the judge when you're done. I want to get this over with."
"Nathan…" Elizabeth tried to get his attention, but he just gave her an empty stare before going back outside to finish his own breakfast.
"Trying to charm your way out of this mess?" Lucas sneered at her. "I should have known you would go running back to him at the first opportunity."
Elizabeth glared across the aisle but didn't dignify his remark with a response. She wasn't just turning to Nathan now as a way out of the charges. She did love him. She just needed a chance to show him.
"Come on." Rosemary interrupted her thoughts, standing outside the cell while Nathan unlocked the door. "Let's get you cleaned up a bit before you see the judge." She gestured silently towards the back room and held up a clean dress and a hairbrush.
"What about me?" Lucas whined. "Where's my fresh suit and a comb?"
"Here," Lee grumbled, passing a comb through the bars to him. "I'm afraid you'll have to make do with what you've got on. I wasn't willing to go over to the saloon to go through your stuff."
Lucas huffed but set about trying to tame his hair and brush the wrinkles out of his jacket and pants. When the women returned, Nathan cuffed Elizabeth's hands again before allowing Rosemary to lead her out the door. He did the same with Lucas, pushing him ahead as Lee followed behind them.
Bill Avery scowled bitterly as Elizabeth and Lucas were led into his chambers. He had finally had enough of their outrageous and, frankly, embarrassing behavior. While he didn't care what happened to Bouchard, it broke his heart to see the woman he had considered a daughter become such a disgrace.
"Elizabeth, what's the matter with you?"
"Elizabeth! What's the matter?"
She awoke with a start, seeing her sister's concerned look. "What happened?"
Julie frowned. "I think you were having a nightmare. You were talking nonsense about how sorry you are, that you want another chance… you even called out for Jack, though I'm not sure if it was your son or his father. Are you alright?"
Elizabeth looked around the room. She was sitting at her own kitchen table, a bowl of potatoes beside her and another of peeled ones in front of her. She could hear Jack and Allie playing in the other room and saw Nathan's serge jacket draped over the chair next to hers.
"I'm okay," she tried to assure her sister, forcing a smile despite still being unsettled.
"If you're sure…" Julie looked unconvinced but turned to gather her coat and purse.
There was a knock at the front door. Allie ran to answer it, and they heard her greet someone and invite them inside. A few seconds later, Lucas stepped into the doorway. "Hello."
Julie crossed the room to welcome him, but Elizabeth shrank back. She could still hear his sneering words and see the angry gleam in his eyes; she knew it had been just a dream, but it still felt so real that it left her anxious.
Heavy footsteps heralded Nathan coming down the stairs. Elizabeth heard him greet the children, promising to play some sort of game with them after dinner. When he came into the kitchen a moment later, his eyes found hers immediately. She expected to see the same loathing and disgust that had filled them in her dream and was startled by the love shining from them instead.
"I'm glad you're awake," he said, leaning to kiss her cheek. "I wasn't sure how I was going to finish making supper with you sleeping there."
Elizabeth stood quickly, turning to wrap her arms around him. It was just a dream. Thank God, it was just a dream.
She heard Nathan tell Lucas and Julie to have a good time, promising to wait up for her, and then they were alone.
"Are you alright?" he asked, holding her tightly against him. "That must have been some dream you were having. Do you want to tell me about it?"
Letting herself get lost in his eyes for a moment, she shook her head, smiling. "I'd rather forget it and hear about your day."