Robin's frown deepens as he hears her light steps on the carpet. The intermittent sounds of rushing water in the bathroom as she washes her face, brushes her teeth, smoothes cream onto her face and hands. He can picture the rituals, moment to moment, the delicate way her thumb rubs lotion into her palm, the loosening of her shoulders as she wipes away the darkest of her makeup, and the way the sight of herself, bare-skinned, in the mirror, makes something deep in her eyes shift. But he has not actually seen these moments for weeks.
At first, he thought little of it. It puzzled him, the several days on end when she stayed in her study reading work reports until the earliest hours of the morning, the nights when she crawled so late into bed, pausing when she thought him asleep to press a kiss to his temple, a lingering thing that spoke of unquiet thoughts. It has been weeks now, since they have done their well-practiced dance of getting ready for bed together, since she has teased him about the brevity of his routine, since he has pressed a kiss to her unpainted lips and told her she looked beautiful.
They have spoken during the day, but about very little. The boys' after-school activities, and whether they were running out of dish soap, and whether red or white wine would go best with dinner. He has tried being disarming, tender, joking, serious. None of it has reached her.
A few nights ago, aching with confusion about what had changed, with missing her, Robin had tried to raise the issue. She'd crawled into bed late in the evening, lying so close to him but not touching, and pressed her lingering kiss beside his closed eye. He'd turned, slowly so as not to startle her, and caught her lips in a tenderly desperate kiss, his brow furrowed, his eyes pressed shut.
She'd kissed back for a moment, until she'd stiffened, as though remembering herself, and pulled away.
"I'm tired, Robin," she'd whispered, almost huskily, not unaffected by his passion.
"It's been weeks," he'd replied, struggling to keep the frustration out of his voice.
"I…" she'd fumbled.
"Not just since this, I-I miss you. I feel as though we've barely spoken." He'd tried to reach for her, and her dark, hurt eyes, and she'd pulled away again.
A crunching, clattering noise had startled them both, the flickering of lights, the mirror above her vanity table cracking with the force of untethered magic. Terror, panic, bright in her eyes, as though he'd not understand, as though he could possibly be angry, as though, worst of all, he might pull away from her in fear.
"I'm sorry," she'd croaked, and then she'd absolutely broken down; quiet, fierce sobs shaking her body, tugging at his heart.
She'd let him hold her close after that, her trembling body pressed into his, her face buried in his chest as he stroked fingers through her hair.
He'd lain awake, worrying, long after she'd succumbed to sleep.
Now, he lies awake once more, wondering whether it would be better for her to pretend that he still sleeps.
The bathroom light turns off, her silk bathrobe rustling softly as she hangs it on a hook, and walks back to their bed.
Her lips meet his temple, lingering longer even than they had in the nights before. Somehow, the tenderness of it makes him want to cry.
When he wakes, with the early morning light barely breaking through white curtains, she is still sleeping.
He decides to let her sleep, silently rises and closes the door, dropping a kiss to her forehead, half hoping she is awake to know of it, hoping she will wake knowing he did so even if she is not.
There can be something so different about her in the light of day. Regina becomes Madam Mayor, piling on armor as she steps out of their door, like a knight preparing for battle.
Perhaps, Robin thinks, it is that woman, the one with four-inch heels, and a face heavy with makeup, and shoulders she tries to hold higher for every pound of weight the world presses upon them, who he has been unable to reach.
He calls her secretary, and makes an appointment.
She opens the door with an impenetrable calm. Yet something in her eyes sparks, a melted-warm sadness, her love for him as plain in those depths as it was to him from the first days of their relationship. It makes him desperately sad, and even more desperate to find his way into whatever maze she's lost herself in these past weeks.
"Robin," she says, unsurprised. His determined poking and prodding at the weakest points in her armor rarely surprises her anymore.
"I made an appointment," he says, following her into the office, where she sits, straight-backed and regal, on one cushioned chair, and gestures between him and another, "because I would like to talk now."
"What?" she asks with maddening, heartbreaking coolness.
"What's going on?" he asks, taking the seat.
She averts her eyes, her voice contrastingly strong, "Nothing."
"You're drifting," he presses. "You're drifting away from me." He feels tears burning in his eyes, and fights them back.
"I'm busy," she replies. "I have a new budget to draft, and changes to accommodate from the sheriff's office. There was significant damage to the library, which has to be fixed before it damages all of the books. The school needs teachers now that some of them have decided to go back to other jobs. The hospital needs updated equipment…I have to fix things, because I'm the one who…" she trails.
"Regina," he sighs, "I'm your partner. Why don't you tell me when you feel this way? I want to share your burden."
He reaches for her hand, grasping it between his, wondering if she means that he cannot share her burden, or that she cannot speak of it. "The weight of the world is not on your shoulders, Regina."
"But the weight of what I've done, is," she argues.
He shifts closer. "It won't fix anything if you simply cut others out."
"And you cannot fix everything with your dimples." It is spoken harshly, meant to sting.
"Regina, that isn't fair." He looks down at their hands, and so does she, her fingers slack but still in his. "You don't need to wall the world out like this. And you certainly don't need to do it to me."
"I'm not Robin. I'm busy. I have things to get done." She stands, turning and walking back to her desk.
"Please talk to me."
"We've talked," she insists, as she sits behind her desk and picks up a heavy file, "What else is there to say?"
She falters, just a little, and it's how he knows she's growing. "I love you," she offers, eyes truly on his for possibly the first time since he walked in, hand outstretched.
He takes the offered hand, squeezing it tightly, smiling softly at her. "I love you, too."
Once the boys are both in bed that night, Regina follows him to their room. Silently, she goes about their usual routine, a warm hand on his hip when she shifts around him to reach a towel, the twitching beginnings of a grin when he uses cold water to wash his face and leaves the warm tap untouched.
In bed, she lies beside him and takes his hand, wrapping his arm around her waist and threading their fingers together. He shifts a little closer, bewildered, but patient. It takes patience, after all, to be a thief.
He wakes to the scratching sounds of pencil on paper, a dim glow coming from somewhere beside him. He blinks his eyes open to find a globe suspended before Regina's face, her features dimly lit by its magical glow. She holds a stubby pencil in her hand, a piece of paper resting on a book in her lap, dark lines appearing as her hand moves.
He watches her for a moment, considers waiting to speak
But a short sob escapes her which she quickly covers with a palm, and that's what leads him to softly push back the covers and shift his weight onto his knees, where he is closer to her.
He murmurs her name, softly, so as not to startle.
Her eyes fly to his.
She wipes the tears away with the pad of her thumb, her hand falling over the drawing, of which he catches the barest glimpse. A portrait he does not recognize.
"What is it?"
The words seem so far from her reach, they do not even begin to form on her lips.
He waits patiently, watching the bluish white light of the globe on her features.
"Snow thinks I'm afraid of what happens if we keep being happy," she says, voice soft and rough and scratching over the words.
Regina swallows, and he watches her gather the words again, smoother this time. "She thinks I'm afraid I won't know how to deal with it. Being happy." A slow breath. "But that I do."
"She's right," he agrees quickly.
She blinks, looking helpless.
He moves closer, lifting one of her hands, clasping it within his. "Tell me what's happening, Regina. What's been going on in your head?"
His heart lurches as he waits for an answer, nevertheless half expecting her insistence that nothing's changed these past few weeks. Nothing's wrong, she's fine, she's busy, she's coping.
"It was the anniversary," she says, voice stronger than it has been in days. "I don't know how to count the years anymore. But it was the day Daniel proposed to me." She swallows. "And the day he died."
His eyes fill with tears as hers do, and she flattens a hand on his chest. Later that night, as they hold each other, she will tell him what stunned her in that moment. His heart, with its thin, flimsy cover, the way he soaks in the pain around him.
She tears up, lifting his hand into hers. "I thought I was forgetting his face."
He squeezes her hand. "May I see it?" he asks, of the paper.
"Not stopping you," she whispers, tenderly, and it makes him smile.
He eases it out of her hands.
The sketch depicts a broad-shouldered man with warm eyes and a goofy smile.
"He looks kind."
He pulls her closer to rest against him, his arms wrapped around her and his nose pressed into her hair.
"I'm sorry," she hums, and he shakes his head.
She shifts slightly more onto her side and uses one hand to turn his jaw, pressing a firm kiss to his lips. "I'm sorry," she repeats, resting their foreheads together.
"I forgive you."
Her lips form into a trembling, delicate, breathtaking smile.
It's often felt as though her life were etched in stone somewhere, she explains, shifting again so that they are back to chest. Her mother had forced her to learn drawing, and yet picking up a pen became something in her control. Her way of doing something about it, of sketching out a different kind of life.
"So choose our life," he suggests, taking a deep, even breath. "Sketch that out every day."
She wrinkles her nose.
He kisses her cheek. "Only if you want to."
She begins on old scratch paper from Henry's homework, sketches absentmindedly on paper napkins and the instruction manual for the new coffee maker and marked up early drafts of budget proposals.
One night, he silently leaves a sketchbook and drawing pencils on her bedside table.
She picks it up, silently as well, and that night as he reads the book Henry's reading for school, determined to catch up with this land and its stories, he feels her eyes on him, hears the pencil scratching. He does not see that portrait. But there is something easier about her when they finally fall asleep.
She carries it often.
She draws the slightest little things: the boys jumping in piles of leaves in the garden, Robin looking out the french doors in the kitchen, smiling, with a steaming mug in his hand, Snow wiggling a toy over the baby's head. Some she shows him, or Henry, or Roland. Some she does not.
She seems newly at peace to him, like everything she sketches is something she gets to hold on to, real, and right, and hers.
And Regina draws a sketch for Robin, too, the two of them in soft cotton clothes, limbs tangled.
Though her eyes are closed, he is draw with a peaceful look of unyielding affection.
And he knows somehow that this is what comforts her, the trust she has that he is looking at her like that, even when she cannot see. The way she is learning to draw herself from his point of view.
And that, he hopes, is what comes to be etched onto her, through the work of her own hands.