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A Toast to What If

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Chapter 1

The train platform began to fill up with passengers, all awaiting the arrival of the last train scheduled to depart north. Milling about were a number of families; husbands and wives reunited now that the war was over, ready to take their children back into the cities so they could resume some measure of normalcy. The sounds of the youngsters’ excitement filled the air, mingling with the raucous laughter of service men ornamented in uniforms that denoted their country of origin, branch of service, and rank.

Men like Killian Jones. As a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy (well, technically a Captain now, but what did it matter), he did not enter into the merriment his comrades were revelling in. Unlike them, he wouldn't be headed home tonight. He’d arrived too late to secure a ticket, the incoming train fully booked and nothing available until the morning. Another delay in a long comedy of errors keeping him from returning home.

Dropping his duffle off his shoulder, Killian massaged the ache it left behind and waited for one of the benches to open up so he could settle himself there. He wasn’t looking forward to spending the night on its hard surface, but he had little choice. What few funds he had were needed to get him the rest of the way home. A deep sigh released itself from his chest, but was interrupted and replaced by a startled gasp when a pair of arms wrapped themselves around his waist.

“Hey there, soldier. I was wondering if you’d make it in time.”

Killian peered over his shoulder, his brows furrowed in confusion, and met an equally perplexed gaze of brilliant green which quickly morphed into mortification.

“Oh, God!” the woman exclaimed, pulling her arms away as she took several steps back. “I am so sorry. Clearly, I thought you were someone else.”

“It’s alright, lass,” Killian chuckled, enjoying the beguiling blush blooming across her cheeks. “Can’t say as I mind having a beautiful woman’s arms around me, especially when the war has made that an impossibility for so long. This someone else is a very lucky man.”

He’d meant for his words to hold an air of lightness, a sense of flirtatious frivolity that might assuage her embarrassment, but with the way her blonde hair was glowing in the setting sun, its dying rays hugging the curves of her body in their caressing silhouette, a note of soft sincerity found its way into the hushed tone of his declaration, causing a blush of his own to tint the tips of his ears.

“Um… thank you,” she responded, tucking a loose strand of hair that had come free from its pins behind her ear as she searched about the platform with her gaze. “Lucky and very late,” she muttered before looking up at him with an apologetic smile. “Sorry again.”

Instinctively, Killian reached out to lightly grasp her elbow when she moved to step around him. “Might I be of some assistance, lass? I take it you’re looking for a fellow British officer?”

“Yes… I mean, no. He’s American, actually. You just looked like him from behind.” Her eyes snapped shut and the tint at her cheeks deepened. “I mean, the uniform. Your uniforms look similar from the back.”

Killian quickly schooled his grin and choked back the laugh bubbling up from his chest, not wishing to embarrass the woman further. “I’m afraid I haven’t noticed any Yanks milling about, but if I do I’ll be happy to point them out to you Miss…”

“Swan,” the woman replied, taking his proffered hand and giving it a polite shake. “Emma Swan.”

“Lovely to meet you, Swan.” Killian grimaced and shot her a look of apology. “Sorry. Habit.”

“I get it,” she waved off with a smile. “It’ll take some time for me to get used to addressing people by something other than their last name or rank, too…” Her eyes narrowed, homing in on the details of his uniform before they widened slightly when she’d obviously identified his rank, “Captain.”

“Please,” he said, scratching behind his ear with an air of discomfort. “Call me Killian. Killian Jones.”

“Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Captain Jones,” she replied with the deference she’d likely been taught in whatever role she’d served in during the war.

He couldn’t fault her for the protocol, yet the hollow void in his chest, coupled with the sour feeling that occurred in his stomach whenever anyone addressed him as Captain, had him balling his hands into fists and gritting his teeth. “Please, love,” he responded in a strained and slightly pleading tone. “Just Killian.”

Emma wet her lips, her brows pinched together for a moment until understanding seemed to seep into her gaze, which he thankfully found lacking in pity, something he’d received enough of these past few weeks.

Killian gave her a small smile and wished her well on her endeavors. “I hope you find the man you’re looking for.”

“Yeah, um… thanks,” she said, seemingly having forgotten all about her beau and turning her attention back to the crowd. “I’ll um… Maybe I’ll see you on the train.”

Before he could respond with the unlikelihood of that possibility, she brushed past him and went on her way. Glancing at her over his shoulder, Killian couldn’t help the smirk that tugged at the corner of his mouth when he saw her do the same.

Off in the distance, the distinct rumble of the incoming train was heard and felt by all, prompting everyone to take their appropriate places on the platform and opening up a bench for Killian to procure for the night. He’d just reclined against the hard surface, having lowered the front of his cap over his face to shield his eyes from the setting sun when a shadow appeared, making the action unnecessary.

“Aren’t you coming?” the familiar voice questioned, prompting Killian to flick the bill of cap up so he could look up at her.

“Afraid not,” he answered. “Tickets were all sold out by the time I got here, so I’ll have to wait for the morning train.”

“So… what? You’re just gonna sleep out here?” Emma replied, incredulously.

“I assure you, love,” he replied with a small bit of sass, settling his cap over his eyes once more. “I’ve slept in worse places.”

He had not pulled the brim low enough to miss the way she worried her lip, casting a glance over her shoulder when the conductor called for those with tickets for the sleeper carriage, nor the way she scanned the surrounding area one last time before reaching down and grabbing his hand.

“Come on.”

“What?”

“Come on,” she repeated, tugging at him to get up. “You don’t want my other ticket to go to waste, do you?”

“But… what if your beau arrives just in the nick of time?”

“Then I guess you’ll have to sleep on that bench after all, but seeing as he isn’t here…”

She left the statement hanging between them, her hand still firmly wrapped around his own with her brows lifted in expectation. It took him less than a moment to snatch up his duffle, following her as they both rushed towards the train hand in hand.

“Are you sure about this, Swan?” he asked when they entered the cramped quarters of the sleeper compartment.

“It’s fine,” she assured him, lowering the bed still folded against the wall and plopping herself down onto the plush mattress. Her suitcase had already been delivered by the porters, stowed away in the storage area above them. “You can take the floor,” she told him with a coy smirk. “It’s not like you haven’t slept in worse places, right?”

“Aye,” he said with a chuckle, dropping his duffle and making himself cozy on the carpet.

Though he was happy for the turn of events, Killian couldn’t help but war with himself when the train began to pull away and Swan took one last longing look out the window, clearly hoping her man would magically appear.

“I’m sorry he didn’t make it, Swan,” he said, turning on his side and propping his head in his hand.

“It’s okay,” she shrugged. “He must have got caught up in town. I’m sure he’ll make it on the next train out.”

“I’m sure he will,” Killian agreed. “He’d be a fool not to.”

Her cheeks flushed and she dipped her head at the compliment, until a soft knock at their door interrupted the atmosphere his words had created between them.

“Miss Swan?” the attendant asked after she’d called out for him to enter. “This letter was left at the station for you with instructions it be delivered once we were underway.”

Swan accepted the envelope with a trembling hand. With her focus solely fixated on the letter, her fingers shakily running over the scrawled handwriting on the front of the envelope, Killian took it upon himself to thank the attendant and send him on his way with a tip from his own meager pocket. He could feel the dread and despair rolling off her in waves as she turned the letter over in her hands.

Sensing she would most likely need some time to collect herself after the letter revealed whatever it was she was fearing, Killian cleared his throat, snapping her attention up to him.

“I, uh… I’m going to go stretch my legs a bit,” he told her, thumbing over his shoulder to the corridor beyond the door. “Maybe get us both a night cap?”

Swan swallowed thickly and acknowledged him with a small nod before turning back to the letter. The soft crinkling of paper being unfolded followed Killian out the door.

~/~

Another tear splashed against the letter clutched in Emma’s angry fist. How? How could he do this to her? Balling up the paper, she threw it as hard as she could at the door, only for it to smack Killian Jones in the chest when he appeared with two steaming mugs in his hands.

“Sorry,” Emma mumbled, wiping her face on her sleeve.

“I gathered when I left you weren’t anticipating good news,” he said, extending one of the mugs towards her. “Hot chocolate?”

“Um, thanks,” she sniffled, taking the proffered beverage.

“I know I mentioned a night cap, but I’m afraid my funds wouldn’t extend to the outrageous prices the dining car is charging for rum, so I took a chance with the cocoa,” he explained, settling back on the floor and softly blowing on the piping hot liquid before taking a sip. “I hope you don’t mind it plain,” he went on, licking his lips. “I wasn’t sure if you were more a marshmallow or whipped cream sort of girl.”

Emma knew he was likely prattling on in order to avoid the elephant still laying crumbled up on the floor where it had landed, and she was grateful for it.

“Whipped cream,” she replied, taking a sip and letting the rich, warm liquid coat her tired throat, raw from the pent up emotion she hadn’t fully released yet. “And a sprinkling of cinnamon.”

“Cinnamon?” he hummed in consideration. “I’ll have to try that sometime.”

They lapsed into silence, enjoying the hot chocolate as the train rocked them with a gentle rhythm while barreling on through the darkness. Once finished, Killian collected her cup and set it outside the door with his. Picking up the discarded letter, he stood there apprehensively for a moment. Emma’s eyes were trained on him, expecting the words about to cross over those perfect lips of his.

Yes, she probably shouldn’t have been staring at them earlier when they’d met on the platform, but it was hard not to. Truth be told, she’d had a hard time not staring at any part of him. From the dark fringe that had hung over his forehead beneath his cap, to the bright blue eyes that had nearly rendered her speechless, Killian Jones was a hard man to ignore. His appeal only grew now that they were in close quarters and he’d had a chance to relax his appearance. Removing the cap had uncovered a riotous mess of dark hair her fingers itched to help smooth out, and when his uniform jacket followed, the tight fit of his shirt and the expanse of neck and chest displayed when he loosened a few buttons certainly didn’t help matters. It was clear from the several days' growth along his jaw that he’d been traveling and unable to shave, and while not exactly regulation, Emma thought the look suited him rather well.

Now, standing before her with his shirt sleeves rolled up his forearms and a hesitant expression in his eyes, Emma’s breath caught in her chest. It felt like a betrayal, being attracted to this man, which was ridiculous considering the letter she’d just received. And yet...

“I don’t wish to pry, love, but,” Killian paused, his tongue swiping over his lip and his Adam’s apple bobbing before he continued, “if you’d like to talk about it, I’m a pretty good listener.”

Emma’s eyes flitted between his and the hand he had stretched out, handing the crumpled paper back to her. She tried not to take notice of how both their arms erupted in gooseflesh when her fingers brushed his while taking the letter from his grasp, and instead patted the mattress beside her, inviting him to sit. She felt the bed dip when he settled himself next to her, patiently waiting for her to begin without any pressure, leaving plenty of space between them.

“He isn’t coming,” she told him, though she was sure he’d probably worked that out by now. “Said he can’t go through with it.”

“Can’t go through with what?”

“Facing my family.” She shifted uncomfortably, a mixture of shame and defensiveness coming to the surface when she confessed. “I’m pregnant.”

She knew his eyes had darted to her left hand, noticing the distinct lack of ring, but he said nothing.

“We were supposed to go to my family together. Announce our engagement and insist on a quick wedding, so no one would find out that we…”

She buried her head in her hands, a sob choking in the back of her throat as she pictured the looks on her parents’ faces when she would now have to tell them she got pregnant out of wedlock. Killian’s arms tentatively wrapped around her, only tightening when she leaned in and pressed her face into his chest. He held her, gently smoothing a hand over her back while she cried tears of anguish and anger, not saying a word until her emotions were spent.

“He knew you were pregnant and chose to leave rather than facing the consequences?” She wasn’t sure if it was actually a question, but she nodded in response anyway. “Then the man is a bloody wanker and not at all deserving of you or the child you carry. You’re better off, love.”

Irritation flared within her and she pushed him away. “That’s easy for you to say,” she spat. “You’re not the one who has to face those consequences alone!”

Regret and contrition over his words pulled at his features. “You’re right, Swan. I’m sorry. But surely your parents will--”

“It’s not my parents’ reaction I'm worried about.”

Once again, he stoically sat beside her, his posture and expression open and accepting with his apology still swimming in his eyes, encouraging her to continue. Emma sighed, and dove into the tale.

“It’s my grandfather,” she began. “Shortly after the last war, he came to England and bought up estates that were on the verge of financial collapse. He’d made his fortune in America, and wanted to… I don’t know, make a name for himself among the nobles here. He brought my Uncle James with him, but years ago when my uncle died, my father, mother, and I relocated here to assist Grandpa George with his estates. Reputation means everything to him, and while I couldn’t care less if he disowns me, I couldn’t live with myself if he took his disappointment out on my parents.”

“Would he really do such a thing?”

Emma shook her head. “I don’t know, but I wouldn’t put it past him.” Tears welled up in her eyes again, and try as she might, she couldn’t keep them from falling down her cheeks. “My father and uncle aren’t his biological sons. He adopted them when he married their mother after their real father died. He always favored James for some reason, so he and my father never really got along. My father marrying my mother only made matters worse, because she wasn’t from the right sort of family.”

“Your grandfather sounds like a peach,” Killian quipped, squeezing her hand.

When had they started holding hands?

“Look, Swan, I didn’t mean to make light of your situation before. I can’t even imagine what you’re going through.”

She reciprocated the squeeze on his hand, hoping he’d take it as a sign of her forgiveness. When she glanced up at him, he wore a pensive expression, his tongue once again running along the seam of his mouth before asking, “Are your parents expecting you to arrive with your fiance, or was this to be a surprise visit?”

“A surprise. I’ve never even mentioned him to them.” That detail seemed to surprise him, causing his brows to shoot up his forehead. “It was sort of a whirlwind romance,” she muttered defensively, dropping her eyes to her lap.

“Then they won’t know the difference when you introduce me in his place?”

Now it was Emma’s turn to look at him incredulously with wide eyes and high brows, her mouth dropping open as a half shrieked, “What?” left her tongue. “Introduce you in his place? Are you insane?”

“Hear me out, love,” he pressed. “You and I can do exactly as you and your… he were planning to do. We’ll tell your parents how hopelessly in love we are, that the war taught us how short life can be, and how we wish to be married immediately. Once wed, I’ll stick around for a week or two then skulk off in the middle of the night. Everyone will believe you became pregnant after our nuptials, and even if they don’t, our marriage certificate will legitimize the babe. You can hardly be held at fault for a low life wretch like me cutting out on you, forcing you to seek a divorce sometime in the near future when you do meet the man you’re meant to spend your life with.”

Emma’s throat was drying out from having her mouth hanging open all this time. Was he serious? He didn’t even know her. Who in their right mind would offer to do something so insanely selfless?

“It’ll be my way of repaying you for the ticket.”

Emma wasn’t even aware she’d said all that out loud. Taken aback by his response, she snorted and quipped, “The fare wasn’t that expensive, Killian.”

“Then this will be my way to repay your kindness.” Reaching behind his neck, Killian rubbed the muscles between his shoulders, the tension he carried there apparent on his face. “Look, Swan. You don’t deserve to go through this alone, and if I can help you in any way then… let me.”

“What about your family? They must be expecting you. You can’t just disappear for weeks. Don’t you need to get home?”

Killian’s jaw clenched, the muscle beneath his cheek flickering briefly before he confessed, “I have no more family, and I’m not sure the destination I was heading to is even home anymore.”

“What happened?”

Killian’s jaw clenched and his eyes dipped momentarily. “I, uh… I lost someone close to me during the war.” His Adam’s apple bobbed and his voice became tight as he continued. “My brother.”

Emma took his hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “I’m so sorry.”

A tight smile pulled at his lips; one that did not reach his eyes. “It’s alright, love. It just means I have no obligations awaiting me, and am therefore available to stand-in as your betrothed.”

Sensing the pain festering just beneath the surface, Emma shied away from pressing him for details about his brother. Instead, she gave voice to another concern that had just come to mind.

“Um… when you say stand-in what, exactly, are you expecting once we, uh… you know?”

From the slight tilt of his head and scrunched forehead, it was clear he did not readily know what she was asking. After a moment, comprehension seemed to dawn on him.

“I have no expectations,” he assured her. “Our marriage would be in name only, and while I am sure we’ll have to share quarters in order to make it seem convincing, I assure you, love, I am a gentleman.”

Emma nodded at his reassurance. She’d already expected as much, but wanted things to be clear between them. It occurred to her that they’d have to discuss other details as well. Things they’d have to be in agreement on when they introduced him to her parents; how they met, how long they’d been together, how he’d proposed. Her mother would insist on a play-by-play, and her father would most likely give Killian the third degree.

After relaying these thoughts to Killian, they spent the next several hours coming up with and rehearsing their story. Before finally bunking down to try and get a few hours of sleep, Killian brought up one more issue that needed resolving.

“It wouldn’t do for my fiance to not have a ring,” he said, reaching back and unclasping the necklace he had hidden beneath his shirt. “This was my brother’s,” he told her as he unthreaded it from the chain, turning it over in his hand before reaching out to slip it on her finger. “I know it isn’t much, but--”

“It’s perfect,” Emma assured him, the words catching in the back of her throat as her eyes pooled with tears.

“Swan? I’m sorry, did I… have I upset you?”

“No,” she shook her head, flicking away an errant tear that had broken free from her lashes. “It’s just… that was the errand Neal said he had to make when he left our hotel this morning.” Swallowing thickly, she looked up into Killian’s eyes, swirling with a heated mix of compassion and anger as she continued on. “After brunch, he said he was going into town to find a jeweler. Said he’d likely be gone all day, and I should just meet him at the station.” Emma’s eyes fell to the red stone resting on her finger, feeling foolish for believing it would have taken him all day to find a ring. “I suppose the fact he took his luggage with him, rather than having me send it to the station with mine, should have been a tip off, huh?”

“You couldn’t have known, Swan,” Killian said softly.

“I’m starting to think I didn’t know him at all.”

“Perhaps not, but you do now.” Killian took her hands into his own. “Better to find out the truth of what sort of man he is before he could ruin more lives.” His gaze fell to her stomach.

A haunted shadow peeking around the corner of his expression told Emma he might have had some experience with that, but as with his brother, she had no wish to pry, despite her curiosities.

Lifting one of her hands, he placed a soft kiss to the back of it and murmured, “Get some rest, Swan,” before settling himself back on the floor.

Emma switched off the compartment light and sank beneath the covers when she began to worry her lip with one last revelation she knew she needed to reveal.

“Um, Killian?”

“Aye?” he said groggily. How long had she been lying there warring with herself?

“There’s one more thing you need to know.”

“What’s that, love?”

“My name,” she said. “It’s not… it’s not actually Swan. I, uh. I changed it when I enlisted so I wouldn’t be treated differently from the other ladies working as clerks.”

“Treated differently? Why would you be treated differently? What’s your name?”

“Nolan,” she replied, “Emma Nolan.”

“Bloody hell.”