They eventually reach a point where even she doesn't know how much time has passed. She knows in vague terms - a month, a year, a while - but not in a physical sense. She takes to using Henry as a real clock. He marks how long she's been doing this, living this life. He's just shy of being a toddler when it clicks. When she realizes it. She has her hand on Henry's shoe when she meets Graham's eye. Her fingers halt on the tiny laces, frozen the way the world is. There's a look she has come to expect. A look of emptiness, of ambivalence and confusion, that she has come to expect from the sheriff. But in this look, there's a spark. A glimmer of something she doesn't want to define. Won't dare to define. She realizes the difference between this world and their last. In that one heartbreak is only the beginning; in this, it is everything. Every look, every frenzied touch, every shuddering breath, every year, every month, every moment. For the rest of their lives.
He says it first. She has no idea what compels him to. Maybe it's the way the moon shines in and hits the soft skin of her face. It lights her eyes in a physical way that emotions never quite can. It makes her seem calmer, smaller. There's a world outside of Storybrooke. One where the moon is invisible and the stars hide away. One without hope. It's a silly thing. Hope. Regina hoped that she would get her happily ever after. She hoped that her huntsmen would kill Snow White. She hoped that her father could be with her for this new world. Hope breeds eternal misery. Then again, all of those hopes brought her to now. To Graham. To the moon. To a softly whispered, "I love you."
Regina doesn't have dreams; she has nightmares. She has memories. Sensory overloads. The roaring sound of flames so gruesome she imagines them swallowing her whole. The oddly warm dripping sensation of blood covering her fingers, lining her nails, gushing. The understanding in her father's eyes as she -
She startles awake. Breathes deeply. Tries to erase them. But she can't. She is the only one who can never forget.
The joke is silly, stupid even. Yet she winds up chuckling. Giggling. Laughing. Graham joins her. Their voices blend. His arms find their way around her. Eventually, they're together, her back to his chest as the rumbling of their joy gives way to the echoing silence within their souls. She places a kiss to the arm on her shoulder. He pulls away. He always pulls away. It's okay though. Later, she'll say the punch line and they'll laugh all over again. Not for too long. But it will be enough. It has to be enough.
"Henry knows, Regina! He's not two anymore, and you're not exactly quiet."
"I wouldn't have to be so vocal if you knew what you were doing."
"Oh, I'm sure you would find something to harp about."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"Exactly what I said! You harp about everything. You have to control everything. You may be the mayor out there, but in here, you're just Regina. And I'm just Graham, the guy you've been sleeping with for years. I'm through hiding it. What's the point? Henry's seen me leaving at five in the morning. He left out a bowl of cereal for me last week. He knows. So why can't I kiss you with him around?"
"It's not appropriate."
"That's not a good excuse."
"Well, it's the only one I have. I don't have to explain myself to you, Graham. We don't kiss in front of Henry. We don't do anything around Henry."
"Then stop calling me in the night to come over."
"Fine? You won't last a week."
She doesn't last three days.
His heart's on the bottom of her heels, literally falling onto the ground she walks on. She treats the rest of the night like one of her dreams. She pretends she doesn't hear the call to go down to the morgue. Pretends she doesn't feel the world giving way beneath her feet. Pretends she doesn't feel at all. She simply walks home, crawls under a cover on the couch, and waits. Waits for this real world to balance out and give her the happy ending she's been waiting on. Isn't that a bitch? Her magic solutions keep dividing into smaller little battles. Today, it's the fight not to break, not to falter, not to cry. She loses it but swears that she won't lose the war.
They fit like a well-worn puzzle, piece by piece, again and again.
He blocked out the rest of the world.
She brought him excitement.
He brightened her day.
She relied on him.
He needed her.
She had his heart.
She gave away the dignity he needed for love.
He gave away the honor that she needed.
She cared about herself.
He cared about the world.
She saw the dark side.
He saw nothing at all.
Just because she had his heart didn't mean she owned it.