Emma never hated Killian more than she did at 4am when the phone rang. Because he was him, the phone on their bedside table was one that had been in this house longer than he had, and when it rang it sounded like it was trying to tear itself apart from the inside.
It rang for the third time and she hated him because once upon a time he had decided that all night repair calls were good for the business but here he was, rolling over beside her and burying his head under his pillow when the calls actually came.
She supposed she had agreed to take shifts driving the big truck around town at all hours of the night and morning, but still. His fault.
"'S your turn, love," Killian mumbled as it rang again, his words muffled by pillow and sleep.
"It's your business," she grumbled back, but reached for the phone anyways. Her hand fished in the empty air for a fraction of a second before connecting with the familiar shape of the phone, and this was such a habit now that she didn't even open her eyes as she pressed the receiver to her ear. The conversation was short and simple, the person on the other line apologetic about waking her so early, and that almost made it better.
"What's wrong?" Killian asked when she hung up, pulling his head out from under the pillow and opening one eye to look at her.
"Some idiot without snow tires slid off the road and got stuck in a snow bank," she muttered, rolling over to face him and wedging her bare feet beneath his socked ones under the blanket, chasing the blissful warmth of this bed for another moment. She saw something flash in his eye and offered him a small smile before his expression could darken, before his mind could run away with him. "Nobody's hurt. They're just in too deep to get out without a tow."
"You alright alone?"
"Yeah. I'll just hook them up and pull them out. Easy." She let her eyes drift shut, let herself fall into the blissful fantasy that she wasn't going anywhere in the still-dark morning, that she was just going to let him pull her close and fall back asleep in the warm cocoon of his arms. His thick woolen socks were snug against her feet, the arm draped over her waist a pleasant line of heat, and more than anything she just wanted to stay here one second longer.
She sighed once, long, and opened her eyes again, only to be met with both of his. They were the dark, clear blue they only were at this hour, and they were shining with laughter that was so at odds with his peaceful, sleepy expression and the pillow lines still on his cheek.
"Nothing," he said, and she could hear the same laugh in his voice too. "I know what you're thinking."
"What am I thinking, then?" She let herself indulge a moment longer, shifting fractionally closer and reaching up to brush a strand of sleep-wild hair out of his eyes, and she never loved him more than she did in these moments at 4am with the shrill of the phone a memory in the air - when he would look at her with everything in his eyes and she knew she was looking back the same.
"You're thinking," he murmured, catching her hand and twining his fingers with hers, pressing his lips to her knuckles in a now-familiar gesture and whispering his words against them, "That Granny's probably going to be up and baking by the time you're done so you'd like to bring muffins back so I don't have to leave this warm bed."
"Is that so?" She tried not to smile but it was hard in these moments when every touch flowed freely, when she could look him and know he was hers as much as she was his.
"Mmhmm." He released her and rolled onto his back as she slid out of bed. As she shrugged on a hoodie his blinks became longer and longer, and he murmured in that way he did just before he fell asleep at night. Her smile was soft as she pressed a hand against the cold pane of the window because this...this was everything she had never even believed was possible for her.
"You know what I think I'm thinking?" She said quietly, smile turning sly as she pushed off the window. Even as he turned his head sleepily in her direction in a move that was almost too adorable, her cold hand darted under the side of the blankets found his calf immediately. She couldn't help the small, soft laugh at the yelp he let out or at the way his eyes snapped open in indignation. "That." She darted out of the way as he waved his hand blindly in her direction - clumsily, because he was still unwilling to come out from under the blankets - but she hooked a finger in the top of his sock as she did and tugged the floppy thing off one foot. "And I'm taking your socks."
It was a longer job than expected, the car half-buried when she and the truck made their way to it, and even her feet snug in her heavy boots and Killian's thick socks were feeling the bite of the cold wind and deep snow by the time she finished. She watched the freed car disappear down the road as she sat in the cab of the truck filling in the final pieces of the service report, the defroster blasting the windshield and filling the interior with white noise.
As much as she hated leaving the cocoon of her and Killian's bed for these early calls, she only had to be out a few minutes to remember why she loved it. Ice and cold aside, there was something magical about the truck in the morning - the heater slowly turning crisp air into a comfortable heat, the abstract streaks of frost that shone on the windshield, and the weak light refracting on the snow and the yellow lines of the road outside. It was also the way the silence courted memories, but not the kind she had gotten used to over twenty-eight years alone. No, what lived in the truck on mornings like this were ghosts of smiles slid across the roofs of beat up cars, hands lingering a moment too long as tools were passed back and forth, and the whisper of Killian's fingertips against her ankle as he tugged on the floppy tops of stolen socks, the rush of breath against skin as he smiled against her lips. It was belonging most of all - a spot in the driveway for one yellow bug, a warm bed and warmer arms always waiting, and the familiar rumble of the truck mingling with the soft radio in the cab as she pulled of the shoulder and made her way home.
She parked the truck behind the shop when she got back and hiked up the driveway to the house, a soft smile making its way onto her face when she saw the glow in the kitchen window that meant that Killian, for all his words about never leaving the bed, was awake.
"What would you have done if Granny's had been open on my way back?" She asked in greeting, knocking the soles of her boots against the outside wall of the house as she came in the door. It was a futile effort as snow always seemed to blow in off the porch anyways, but it felt familiar now, too - the hollow thunk of the thick soles against the brick and the faint breath of cold air that followed her in. She shed her coat and mitts in a pile next to the door - his fault, too, because she hadn't been nearly as messy before he had rubbed off on her.
"I would have dumped my bowl of cereal, for one thing," he said, meeting her halfway to the kitchen and pressing a steaming cup of hot chocolate into her hands. "But I'm guessing your question means I'm stuck with it?"
"Alas." She knew before she took a sip of the drink that it would burn the roof of her mouth, but she couldn't find it in her to care. Her smile only spread as the warmth of it shot through her and she still loved him most at 4am when he wore a smile that was just for her, but only just. "God this is good. Thank you."
"If it was cold coming down the stairs, I can only imagine what it must have been like outside."
She looked up and caught the edge of his smile, something sly in the shape of it because he knew she didn't care - knew that no matter how much she loved waking up in his arms every morning after uninterrupted nights, she had carved out a place for herself in the cab of his truck in the early mornings, the world waking up around her and nothing but the road in the glow of her headlights.
She shot him a soft grin back because as much as he knew her, she knew him, and knew what it meant that his little corner of the world had become hers, too.
"It's not so bad."
It took four more calls about cars sliding off the road before Killian started getting antsy.
The more the phone rang in the early hours and the more turns she took driving to fish cars out of ditches and snowbanks, the less likely he was to be truly asleep when those calls came - instead just dozing and waiting. It was that and the fact that every time she left, the words that followed her weren't sleepy mumbles or his soft, early morning laughter, but a crisp, clear, alert Be Careful.
Four calls of that then, one day, spoken across the garage, "You don't have snow tires, do you Swan?"
She hesitated a moment, his voice quasi-confident as it rang in the space but a little too something to truly convince her, then said, "I have all-seasons."
She spoke it into the yawning cavity of a Ford engine because she knew they weren't the same thing.
"You know how slick the roads can get out here," he said.
"And you know your car doesn't have four wheel drive, or traction control."
"It's not like I drive much more than the truck in the winter anyways," she replied. This was her second winter and he knew as well as she did how close to home she stayed when the wind was howling over the fields.
"But if you're ever out without the truck."
"I'm not," she said, and she could hear the edge in her voice, "Going anywhere. Without the truck. It's fine."
"Alright." She didn't need to look at him to tell he had his eyebrow raised and both hands held in mock surrender. But they had talked about this before, last year, and he should have known how unlikely it was that she would ever change her mind once it had been made up.
But then, two mornings later, she woke suddenly in the middle of the night and the phone wasn't ringing. The phone hadn't rung because she always woke up when it did, but somehow she still found herself in bed alone.
Killian had left his thick socks folded on the chair in the corner and she slipped them on, padding silently down the stairs and half-blindly grabbing her jacket and boots by the door. All the overhead lights weren't on in the garage, but one strip of fluorescents still shone through the window to make a thin path of light on the snow for her to follow from the house. Killian's footsteps were already half-filled with snow that had blown from the drifts pressed against the house, and she wondered how long he had been gone before she had noticed.
She slipped quietly through the back door and found him immediately, sitting cross-legged on a folded pair of coveralls to cut the chill of the concrete floor with what must have been two full sets of socket wrenches spread out in front of him. His fingers were combing through the collection, to all appearances arranging them, but she could tell he wasn't really seeing them.
"I'd ask you if you know what time it is, but..."
"I know," he said, and his voice hadn't sounded this tired in a long time.
She wanted to ask him what he was doing out here, but they both knew the answer. Instead, she crouched next to him until he shuffled over, making room for her to sit beside him on the makeshift cushion. It was tight enough that they were pressed together hip to shoulder, and she could feel a slight tremor in his arm against hers - cold or something else, she didn't know.
"Are you organizing these by brand or by size?" She asked softly.
"Both. I've got the boxes for the sets over there." He jerked his head towards the back bench and she couldn't see anything in the dark mess of stuff, but she let him say it anyways.
They worked in silence for a while, the harsh clank of metal on metal and the empty howl of the wind outside the only sounds. She wished she had brought gloves because the metal of the wrenches was cold against her fingers, and by the redness of his hands she could tell Killian was feeling it too. She wanted to reach out and grab him, hold his hands and him close until the warmth from the house followed them down here.
"It's just..." he said, and her eyes snapped up to his because it was like he knew she couldn't just sit here saying nothing and watch him like this. "I don't want to pressure you, Emma. You know that. But..." And now he looked at her, and the look in his eyes was emptier than this garage. "I know you're ten times the driver than any of the people we have to tow out of places, and I know you're usually in the truck, and I know you're not stupid, but..."
"Killian, you don't..." she started, because she knew where this was going.
"Every time you take one of those calls..." he whispered, and that cut through her voice so thoroughly he could have been screaming. "You know what I'm thinking."
"I know," she said, and her voice was softer than his now. Every time the phone rang and every time she took the call, his eyes were full of crumpled metal wrapped around hydro poles, full of empty rooms in a house that echoed with loneliness, full of a sign painted Jones Bros. Automotive, full of years-passed fear that she knew felt fresh even now. So yes, she knew what he was thinking. Every piece of it, she knew.
"If you're really so opposed to the idea of snow tires," he continued, "I won't push the issue, but-"
"I..." She didn't know why she thought that they would never talk about this - about the one thing that still sat between them, even if they could both mostly ignore it. But she couldn't listen to him breathe these words into the air and stay silent, like she didn't think the same things he did, and not give him an explanation. "It's not that I don't...but...I just don't want to be able to...and I don't want you to think I'd ever..."
The word Leave hadn't been in either of their vocabularies for a blissfully long time, but she wasn't stupid enough to think it wasn't always on both of their minds.
"I'm not going to lie any say I haven't though about that too," he said, and her heart broke. "But..." His hand came up to nudge her chin, guiding her eyes to lock with his, and it wasn't fear or anger or sadness or anything there - it was that same everything expression he wore in the mornings, the one he saved just for her. "Wherever you go, if it's down to Granny's or...somewhere else...I'd rather you be safe."
"Even if it meant..."
"Yeah." He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and drew her close, breathing the words into her hair. "Even then."
She didn't say anything then because she couldn't - because her heart was suddenly in her throat and her eyes were suddenly full. So she leaned into him and felt his breath swirl warmth between them and wondered for a bare moment how he could ever think that her being anywhere but here was an option.
Eventually, she just said, "If I were to say yes, I'd probably have to work them off, right? So it's not like I could really go anywhere anyways."
"In theory." He pulled away and the look he gave her was complicated and sheepish. His arm fell away from her shoulders as he stood, wiping nonexistent dirt from the legs of his pajamas before holding his hand down to pull her up with him. He didn't look at her as he led her across the garage and into the office, but still said, "But that also may not be an issue."
It took her a moment to figure out what he was showing her, the two of them standing in the doorway to the storage room off the office, but when her eyes adjusted to the dark and followed the finger he was pointing into the space, she knew.
"How long have you had these?" She asked, turning to face him. The hand that wasn't still in hers drifted up to rub behind his ear, and he offered her a small smile that was half-grimace.
"They came in a parts order in September."
"Last September," he clarified, the words a rush as they fell into the open air.
Last September. She hadn't been here that long then, and he couldn't have been sure that she would even stay - not after the way she had taken her car and left the first chance she got. But these...he'd had a stack of tires sitting back here long before the first snowflake had fallen, long before they had talked about snow tires the first time, then the second time, then every time after that. Long before she had said no. Long before the late nights and early mornings together, the conversations while working that filled them with as much of the other as of themselves, the way he looked at her and she at him, the way she realized every day how little she wanted to be anywhere but here.
"Killian, you know I'm not going anywhere. Tires or not. Right?" The question was more fragile than it should have been because she knew she wanted to be here, but did he?
Instead of answering he just pulled her close again, his lips finding her forehead and holding there for several long moments - long enough that she could feel the faint beat of his heart through them, long enough that they were breathing in the same sliver of time, long enough that she knew he knew before he whispered, "I know."
"I mean it," she breathed back. "Forever, if you..."
"You know better to ask if I want you here." He tilted his head back so he could look at her, let her see the way his eyes shone at her words, but he didn't let her go. "Though I'll have to get you a lot more than four tires to keep you here that long."
"You wouldn't." She said. "But if you did..."
"I know." His answering smile was everything it always was at this time of night, but more, and just for her - always just for her. And she though that tires or more than tires or nothing at all, it wasn't something she wanted to give up.