"Please tell me both of you are joking."
Emma's phone was tucked in the breast pocket of her thickest flannel and set to speaker so she could carry the conversation with her sister-in-law while she made trip after trip down the stairs of her apartment building. The call had been welcome despite Mary Margaret's timing — Emma had been carrying a full cooler of food — but her apologetic tone had made up for the interruption. Up until Emma found out what she was calling for, at least.
"Believe me, I wish we were," Mary Margaret answered in a forlorn voice."He's got the rash all over his hands and face. I've been washing all of our sheets and towels and his work clothes. He's starting to blister, too."
Emma made a noise of disgust, feeling sorry for David and even sorrier for Mary Margaret, who already sounded resigned to helping him. "Where did he even find that much poison ivy?"
"Tramping through the forest on a night shift. We're just lucky that —"
"—you got the time off already. I know," she muttered, feeling a little selfish for bring frustrated with the both of them. She knew Mary Margaret and David lived on a tight budget. This trip was one of the few luxuries they allowed themselves out of the year, and there was only so much time a sheriff's deputy could try to take off when he and his wife were expecting a baby in a few months. Emma sat herself down on the cooler, watching her breath cloud the morning air in front of it. "I just can't imagine this trip without the two of you."
"Oh, Emma, don't worry about us. It's not like we haven't seen all the sights before," she said, lingering on the edge of her next words. "Besides…you and Killian can still have fun. It won't be a complete waste."
There it was, the less-than-subtle hint of satisfaction that made Emma think she was not as upset as she should have been about being forced to bow out. She'd been expecting Mary Margaret to work it into the conversation at some point, but this felt a little early, even for her. Thankfully, she heard a muffled shifting noise, shortly followed by what sounded like David's voice asking if it was here on the line.
"Emma, I just want you to —"
"Is David there?" She interrupted, trying to steer their conversation back into safe waters. "He promised he'd tell me how to get to that cheap gas station near the border. I won't know how to find it."
The phone line crackled a little, and then she heard a pained, pitiful hello.
"Feeling okay there, Deputy Nolan? You should probably leaf the foraging to the professionals."
"Did you say leaf?" he asked. "Emma, that's terrible."
She grinned and leaned her head back against her car, the one she'd spent all morning packing. So much for getting up before dawn to beat traffic, she thought to herself."I learned from the best. Are you going to be alive when I get back?"
"I'll do my best. Just promise not to take the car on any off-road trails without me."
She laughed at that. "I don't think you need to worry about that. Old Yeller can't take a lot of extreme weather."
"You can't take a road trip in your car. You're coming by to get the keys."
She lifted her head off the wheel well and furrowed her brow. "I don't need the Range Rover. Especially if it's just going to be me and Killian."
"No way, Emma. I would be a failure as a brother if I let you sleep with the driver seat leaned back like you did last year," he said pointedly. She could practically see the paternal look on his face, the one he turned on her when he could sense a fight coming on. "The Range Rover already has the air mattress packed underneath everything else. It just needs a little…rearranging."
"You're going to make your pregnant wife unpack the car?"
"Of course not. You two are going to help. Killian's already on his way."
Emma pulled up to David and Mary Margaret's house, a small tudor duplex that felt just as much like home as her apartment. The shutters were weathered from one too many icy winters, and there were several loose stones in the walkway that Emma had learned to avoid if she didn't want her ankle twisted on the way in. There was a burner on the stove in the kitchen, the back left one, that only ever heated when it was turned on high. The window in the guest room — her room, David and Mary Margaret insisted, even though it was about to become a nursery — refused to open in the summertime, and whistled when the wind blew just right. Simply put, she loved the place.
David and Mary Margaret shared the duplex with a woman they collectively referred to as Granny. She was a bit of a legend where all of them were concerned — the woman could hunt as well as she could bake — and she had taken David and Mary Margaret under her wing from the moment they began to rent the top floor of her house. She stood outside with a firewood tote at her feet as Emma pulled up to the curb, with Mary Margaret practically bouncing on the other side of her.
"You're here!" Mary Margaret's arms came around her as much as possible, given that she was five months along. "Killian beat you to taking all the luggage inside, but it's okay. He's just talking to David now." She leaned back and gave Emma a pointed look, as if she wanted to talk at more length, but thankfully Granny was still hanging around. Emma made a mental note to bring her back a souvenir.
"I hope he's doing that from a safe distance," Emma responded breezily. The more she acted like things were business as usual, the easier it would be to get on the road. "Are you completely sure you still want us to go? We can always book it later on."
Mary Margaret shook her head, resolute as ever. "Completely. You two need to go. Tradition can't be abandoned for little bumps in the road like this." She said it with a squeeze of Emma's shoulders,and a whiny sort of hopefulness that only Mary Margaret could make endearing. Emma couldn't do a thing but nod.
"Well," she told her, tipping up the corner of her mouth with a grin, "I guess I better go say goodbye, shouldn't I?"
David was, as promised, lying prone on the couch in the living room. His face was red and blotchy where it wasn't pink with calamine lotion, the poor guy, and he was talking to Killian with his eyes closed. Emma tried to smother her amusement as she caught a glimpse of his hands, which were wrapped up in oven mitts patterned with little birds.
"Mary Margaret's trying to get rid of us," she announced, spotting a head of familiar dark hair at David's side. "Are you ready?"
Killian swiveled to look at her, his whole body twisting to put her in view. He was settled on the arm of a leather chair next to David's sofa, arms folded against his chest, and he was still bundled up like she was. Whatever David had been saying a second ago left a smile on both of their faces, and Killian was still wearing it when he looked over. It dropped into something softer when he saw her, and Emma felt a nervous sort of twist in her gut the instant it happened. It was the kind of thing that Mary Margaret always liked to point out to her when he wasn't around — Emma wasn't exactly sold on the idea that it meant anything, but now she was just as aware of it as Mary Margaret.
"Everything I brought is packed in the Rover, if that's what you're asking. Dave was just telling me where they sell the cheapest gas this side of Toronto," he informed her with a wink. "Do you need help with your things?"
"I only brought a couple of bags, if that's what you're asking," she answered back, brow raised. If he wanted to fight her hastily packed luggage in the cold at her side instead of staying in here, then she wasn't going to stop him. They needed to get on the road anyway — there were a thousand and some miles between them and their destination. Tradition was waiting.
Emma yanked open the hatch of her Bug a few minutes later, shivering the second the cold metal touched her skin. Killian had teased her about her lack of gloves on the way out, but she refused to waste any more time by digging around in her backpack when they were about to be in a heated car anyway.
"I can't believe you let him get covered in poison ivy," she said, handing off her duffel bag. "What was he doing out there?"
"Had I accompanied him on that particular adventure, love, I would have certainly done my best to keep him away from the offensive plant," Killian replied, sounding almost sad that he'd missed out. "But from what I hear, he was being very noble. He went through that thicket so the two officers training with him wouldn't have to."
"What a hero," Emma deadpanned. "I'm gonna ask him for his autograph when those mitts come off."
"My thoughts exactly." Killian went for the rest of her luggage and stopped just before he could shove her backpack on top of the rest. He swiveled around and shook his head to himself, as if he should have known better, and stowed it in the passenger seat of the Range Rover.
"Whoa there, buddy," she told him, following him over to the side of the car. "What makes you think you're taking the first leg?"
"The fact I've got these, for one," he told her, digging keys out of his pocket and flourishing them in front of her. "And for two, well…I got here first, didn't I?" He stepped off to the side, pulling the passenger door open wider, and grinned wide at the woman in front of him. Emma rolled her eyes and slid onto the chilly leather upholstery, trying to act like it didn't affect her. If she couldn't handle the way he held a car door open, after all, she was never going to survive an entire road trip.
"It's strange not having them here with us, isn't it?" Killian asked, eyes flicking to the rearview mirror. Emma pulled hers from the license plate in front of her to look at him and nodded, glancing back at the space where the backseat of the Range Rover usually was. In its place was everything they'd packed, piled on top of an inflatable mattress that had seen better days. "A bit quiet."
"You say that like it's a bad thing," Emma joked. Right about now was the time that their favorite local radio station cut out. David usually liked to fill the silence by pulling out his instrumental road trip playlists, but there was a distinct lack of James Newton Howard in the air around them.
"True. We might actually stay awake for once."
"You'd better stay awake, Deputy Jones. It's both of our lives at stake here."
"Relax, Swan," He shot back, grinning as he took the exit that set them northbound on the highway. "Nothing's going to happen to you as long as I'm around."
He sounded as though he meant to be teasing her back, but something turned in his voice, thickening his accent. He knew it made him sound more trustworthy — Emma still regretted telling him that for how often he used it on her — and it made her wonder what he and David had been talking about before she'd gone inside and joined them.
"Still," he added lightly, breaking her from her thoughts, "I suppose it is strange. Tradition won't be the same without Dave and Mary Margaret along for the ride."
Emma knew he felt it more deeply than she did, and she didn't begrudge him for it for a second. This was only his second trip with them, after all. She'd been making the journey up to their cabin on the shore of Lake Superior with them for years, to the point where she had almost all of the journey memorized. David's secret spot for gas was one of the only places she ever forgot, so she was counting on Killian to remember it for the both of them.
The sun was high by the time they crossed over Peace Bridge, and Emma was elbow-deep in her backpack. Killian had gotten them through the stop-and-go traffic at the border by reminiscing about Mary Margaret's puppy chow, and now she was slightly annoyed with herself for forgetting to pack a snack where she could reach it.
"How far are we from getting gas?"
"Dave said it was just a mile or two after the bridge. It's a little off the beaten path, but it's also a good forty cents cheaper."
They had passed forty gas stations getting on the bridge to begin with, so Emma held him to his word. They wouldn't reach London, Ontario for another two hours, and she refused to wait that long to eat or use a bathroom. Her backpack held no surprises for her, but in the end Killian's promise held up. They rolled to a stop at the very last pump and she jumped out of her seat before he could even pull the keys out of the ignition, earning a look from him that she easily rebuffed.
"If I hear a single word of judgment come out of your mouth, I'm not sharing my food."
Killian's hands rose in surrender, another grin growing on his face. "I was only going to ask for a bottle of water, Swan. Nothing else."
She eyed him suspiciously, ignoring the fact that he answering smile rendered the expression harmless. "Nothing else? Not even hot chocolate?"
He shook his head. "I know the rules. Just water."
Emma lingered as long as she dared in the warmth of the gas station convenience store, but eventually it was time to brave the cold again. She jogged back to the car and hopped into her seat, tossing his bottle of water to him and dropping her bag of trail mix in favor of pressing her hands to the air vents.
"Remind me to find my gloves before I fall asleep tonight. It is too damn cold outside for this," she muttered, fanning her fingers across the dashboard.
"You could have asked for mine."
"And you would have just handed them over?"
"Perhaps I would have."
It was sentences like those, the ones he always said with a little too much sincerity and a little too softly, that echoed around in her head for the rest of the ride to the overnight campground. It wasn't an awkward ride in the slightest; they saw each other too often back in Boston to be able to fill the remaining hours with conversation, and it wasn't as though either of them were big talkers anyway. Emma ate her snack in silence and stared out at the dark, knowing if she lowered the window she would smell crisp pine and cold earth rushing past them. It was the kind of earthy scent she couldn't find back in the city, and it was one of her favorite things about this trip. Tradition was nice, but she almost liked the ride more than the destination ahead of them.
She did, however, have something to say once they were within the campground.
"Why aren't we going into Campground C?"
"Because A is closer to London."
"Yeah, but we still have to leave from the main road. We can't drive through the woods. It doesn't count."
He paused, and then he cut his eyes over to her. "Maybe I wanted to be closer to the water."
"It's going to be colder near the water, Killian."
"Aye, I know, it's just…"
"It's just what?"
"The waning gibbous is out tonight."
"Oh, well in that case," Emma scoffed, turning her eyes back to the road to try to keep from smiling. Killian had the phases of the moon memorized, and he never failed to point out meteorological phenomenons when they came across one. She still remembered the argument he and David had over the Dreamworks logo.
"Laugh all you want, Swan, because I see a spot close to the water."
Unpacking for the night was easier than Emma expected it to be, despite not having Mary Margaret and David there to help — or perhaps because of it. While he lifted their bags off of the air mattress, she dug the extension cord out from in between her cooler and the spare tire. It inflated as slow as she remembered, but at least the cab of the car was still warm when he came back to help her stretch the fitted sheet over it.
"I'm not sure I'll be able to sleep on this with you tonight."
Emma looked up at him, startled by the sudden seriousness in his voice. The fitted sheet slipped right off the corner she'd been fighting with. "Why not?"
He waggled his eyebrows at her, his smile wide and toothy. "This is where David and Mary Margaret usually sleep. Who knows what it's been used for?"
"If you don't want to sleep on perfectly clean sheets, the front seats are open."
"I didn't say that."
"You didn't have to," Emma answered loftily, reached over and tugged his corner up in response, making it so he'd have to struggle with it all over again. It was childish, but so was his comment. Or at least…he wanted it to be. Emma knew something else was hiding in the way he ducked his eyes down to focus on what his hands were doing, how he pointed out imaginary drool marks David left behind on the layers of blankets they continued to set down. It didn't take long to figure him out, though — he was working hard to diffuse the tension between them before it even appeared. Killian was always one step ahead of her like that, knowing what she felt before she did. She'd never let herself think about it long enough to be a problem, but then she'd never been alone with him in close quarters on a road trip through Canada.
Maybe she should have thought this through.
Emma rolled an extra layer of woolen socks over her feet as he brushed his teeth outside, trying to remember what side of the bed he slept on. She was almost sure he slept on the left, but she couldn't rule out the possibility that he would sprawl across the entire thing when he got back and left her to fend for herself. She slipped under her blanket, a heavy knitted number that Mary Margaret had given her for Christmas, and edged herself over on the right half of the mattress, leaning against the trunk wall until she felt the chilly air that meant he'd joined her again. She'd expected him to have some kind of remark ready, but he just shoved himself right into the space next to her and lifted a corner of her blanket, setting his cold shin against hers.
"I cleared off the top of the car," he told her, heading off the protest that was about to fall from her lips. "We've a perfect view of the moon."
Emma shut her mouth and looked up, surprised to find it smack-dab in the middle of the sunroof. "Wow," she whispered, forgetting the press of cold denim on her warm leggings. "That looks….exactly like it did an hour ago when we were driving."
Killian nudged her shoulder, but she heard a chuckle escape him. "That it may, but it's not the shape we're appreciating. Do you see the way it's lit from the bottom, rather than from the side?"
She obliged him for a minute, which turned into several. Emma listened to him talk about the moon's seasonal shifts for a little while, but eventually her eyelids grew heavy. He got the hint after she started to slump against his arm and nudged her again, this time much more gently than before.
"C'mon, Swan. Long day tomorrow."
Emma only grumbled and slid down the mattress until her feet were pushed against the other wall of the trunk space. She felt him shift down and join her after that and resisted the urge to look back at him over her shoulder. The feeling of having someone only inches away from her was completely foreign, and it had her eyes open again, resisting the urge to look over at him.
"Stop thinking so much," he whispered, sounding half-asleep himself. "Just sleep."
Easy for him to say, she thought to herself, just before her eyes drifted shut.