"I love you…" The words fall from his mouth like summer rain, unexpected and warm.

"What?!" The brunette flinches and pushes him back just before he leans to kiss her.

"I, I…," Graham stutters, being just as surprised at what he has just said. Her hand is firmly placed on his chest while his heart hammers wildly against it. "I said I love you," he repeats, sounding almost unsure of the truth of the statement. The incredulous look on her face doesn't help boost his confidence. She seems to be nearly on the verge of a panic attack, ready to start running in any direction as long as it takes her somewhere far away.

"Why would you say that," she pauses, a nervous smile flashing on her face, "now?"

"It… seemed appropriate," he swallows loudly. He tries to read her expression, but, as usual, it is impossible to tell what is going through her mind. He already regrets the confession, and a hundred awkward scenes from romantic films pass before his eyes. Maybe she's not ready to get serious yet. Maybe she's frightened of commitment. Maybe she doesn't feel the same way. Maybe she'll decide she doesn't want me anymore.

Amongst the myriad of scenarios Graham imagines, none are even close to the truth.

A moment goes by, and Regina is visibly relieved, having realized that there's really no reason to be alarmed about magic dissolving in Storybrooke. Graham reminds her of a lost cub, seeking reassurance in her eyes that she will not abandon him completely alone in the cold darkness. It's a look she's more than used to, and it soothes her to know that he still needs her.

"Was I not supposed to say that?"

The apology and despair she detects in his voice are enough to amuse her and a mischievous smile tugs on the corners of her mouth. It is undeniably flattering to hear those dangerous three words spoken to her again, even though she's convinced they can't be true. It is undeniably satisfying to see the craving, the addiction the once wild wolf has developed for her, and which he mistakes for love.

How is he to tell the difference? He is lucky in a way, she supposes, because he cannot miss what he's never had and he is blissfully ignorant of the agony of heartbreak. Unlike him, she knows too well the devastation that true love leaves after it's gone. Unlike him, she is painfully aware that what they have is a mere substitute, an inefficient medicine against their shared loneliness and self-inflicted seclusion.

But for now, she can let him have the precious illusion that he is in love. "I'm glad you did," she replies with an intoxicating sweetness in her tone. She wraps her hands around his neck, pulling him closer. His tense shoulders relax under her arms, and anxiety flees from his handsome face. She kisses him, and it's a kiss so exceptionally tender that he holds his breath, unwilling to let the moment go. It is one of those rare occasions when she seems to surrender herself to him, and he treasures every second it lasts.

Perhaps, he thinks, this is what he's been missing, an admission of her feelings for him, even if an unspoken one.

Perhaps, he finally knows what happiness feels like.