the sun in winter: reign, francis/mary fix it because they're just so sad right now, set after 2x10, trigger warning: for allusions to the events of 2x09, 1802 words; Healing takes time. In this version of history, they have time.
He finds her on a balcony one evening, her hair dark against the black sky. The rumours about her relationship with Conde have grown just loud enough to gnaw at his heart, an aching that his head tells him he deserves. She hears him approach and turns to look at him. She is as lovely as ever, but as remote and removed as one of the stars that sparkle sadly overhead.
"Do you ever wonder," he asks her now, "what it would be like if we could just disappear?"
He thinks about it sometimes at night, when the screams of the dying Protestants haunt his dreams. He thinks about it when he wakes up in a sweat, because somehow all their faces are Mary's. If they were just a girl and just a boy; if they'd met in a village somewhere far from here; if he could have run away with her like she once ran away with Bash.
They would disappear, he was sure of it. Somehow their love would be enough to make it so. They would become villagers, farmers; they'd work for a living. His hands would become hardened and calloused from labouring, and hers would be dry and work-worn. He would notice it as she would run her hands down his skin in that quiet village somewhere late at night, far from the pressures of a kingdom. There would be just the two of them, no duties but those to each other; no responsibilities, but to their happiness. There would be a child too, Francis is sure of it. Not a child borne of bitterness and hurt (though he loves his son), but one to bring a light to Mary's eyes, a smile to his face. A boy with his eyes, or a girl with her hair. And every day he would look into her beautiful eyes, and thank god he had the courage, or perhaps the cowardice, to leave.
"I'm not involved with Conde." Her voice is even, and in the dim light, he can only see half her face. "I can't believe you think I would … that I could – After all that has happened, and so soon."
He's a fool. He's a fool and a king who doesn't know what's right anymore. His hands feel too big as they hang by his side, itching to hold her, to do something, to fix something. To break something in his impotence.
"I'm sorry," he says, and what he means – what he always means – is I love you.
She turns towards him, and her expression is still and her eyes are dark and unfathomable. "He doesn't ask anything of me." A light breeze tugs a strand of her hair across her face and she lets it. "Sometimes he makes me feel safe." She pauses a moment, and laughs, a short bitter sound. "Goodnight Francis."
She hasn't been safe since she first arrived back in France.
Though he knows he shouldn't, he finds himself reaching to her, but as always (it seems), she is already slipping through his fingers. Yet he still stands there, arm outstretched awkwardly, and it is a while before he lowers it.
His body doesn't make sense without Mary's.
His life doesn't. He's not sure he wants it to.
He passes her in the corridors, sees her in meetings. Her eyes never quite meet his.
"I'm worried about Catherine." Francis is in his bedroom and doesn't hear the door open, but his wife is standing in the doorway. She carefully closes the door behind her, and he can feel his pulse thumping in his chest. It's the first time they've been alone in weeks. "She doesn't seem herself."
Time was, his wife and his mother couldn't stand each other. No, they couldn't stand to be in a room with each other, each a sun too fiery to spin so close in orbit. But a fierce protectiveness had sprung up between the two of them in recent times. Sometimes he would see them walking together from his balcony. Not arm-in-arm – never arm in arm – but with a gravity keeping them just close enough. Mary favours his mother's company over her ladies' nowadays, and he is glad for it. But he is gladdest when he sees her with Greer, or Lola, or Kenna, because sometimes he'll hear laughter, and he can imagine that it's hers.
"Servants tell me that she talks to herself sometimes, and grapples at thin air." Mary continues. "And she looks so tired. Sometimes she calls out names of people who are dead."
They're all haunted, each one of them, Francis thinks.
"I'll talk to my mother," he promises. For all the good that will do. He couldn't save his father, why should his mother be any different? He doesn't want to tell Mary this though, not when she is looking at him with such painfully unfamiliar trust. But keeping things from her is what got them here in the first place, and so it is quietly that he confesses, "but I'm not sure I'll do any good."
She sighs, slowly sinking down on a chair in the corner. He tries to breathe very quietly so as not to frighten her away. "Maybe she needs a physician."
A physician. There is only one that his mother trusts. "Perhaps," he says slowly, and it is almost like old times again: the two of them brainstorming solutions together. "Perhaps she needs Nostradamus."
Catherine recovers. Mary's relief is palpable, and when Francis comes to visit his mother, she doesn't leave the room immediately.
The next time she comes into his chambers, his child has died and he is numb. After all the plots and schemes, after all Narcisse's threats, it had been a fever that took the child away after all. He is sitting on his bed, head in hands, when Mary slips in, as silently as the last time. There is hesitation in her step this time, and her clearing of her throat makes him look up.
"Hi," she says.
There is so much between them, so much unsaid, that it could take years for them to cross this space, but Mary manages it anyway, moving into a chair opposite him. He watches her, and his grief at all he's lost this year is too overwhelming to speak. But she doesn't speak either, just stares at her hands, at his feet. Perhaps she's as unsure as he is what she's doing here.
Her nails are bitten to the quick, he notices. It's a nervous habit that hasn't resurfaced since their early years together. She is so much the queen these days (and so little his wife) that he's scared he's started to forget her little quirks. Maybe he's scared she's started to forget his too.
On the day she was sent to the convent, her nails had been bitten raw.
"I'm sorry for your loss," she says finally, breaking the silence. "He was a sweet child."
"I'm sorry too," he says and means it. He's sorry he slept with Lola; he's sorry that Mary lost their child and watched his and Lola's christened in the same day, he's sorry he didn't notice. He's sorry that he killed his father, and that he did all the wrong things so early in his reign, that they grew so far apart, that everything was set in motion by the decisions he made.
She nods, and he thinks she might understand.
They have done so much to one another. So much love, so much pain.
"Maybe I should go," she says.
"Don't." A sob nearly breaks his voice, but he stops it. Mary pauses and there is indecision in her eyes. "Please don't."
She slowly sits back down. "You changed chambers, Francis," she says lightly.
"I didn't think you'd want to go back to our old chambers," he replies.
It's a quick smile she gives him as she turns her face away. Almost too fleeting to pin down, but he holds it in his heart anyway. It's a start.
He seeks her out on a sunny autumn day almost without thinking. Up till now, he's been careful to give her space but the flowers in the forest had been so beautiful and he'd gathered some carefully. Her nighttime visits have become a weekly occurrence now: he'll be in bed fretfully dozing, and he'll hear the door shut. When he looks up, she'll be curled up on her chair eyes determinedly closed. He won't say a word, won't move an inch, just afraid to scare her away. Sometimes she whimpers in her sleep, and it's all he can do to stop himself from gathering her up and chasing away the demons, but he knows it won't help. Instead he contends himself with watching her sleep, her breathing a steady metronome, a clock ticking with the hope of better times.
The flowers swing from his hand now. There is a freshness in the wind and a lightness in his step, that only a day of riding and peace in France has brought him.
Her cheeks are pink from exercise, and her eyes are bright when she sees him. This time, the uncertainty in her eyes only lasts a moment before she walks towards him, the reins of her horse trailing loosely from her hand.
"I was just out riding with Bash," she says when they meet. A year ago, and a twinge of jealousy might have stung him, but the day is too lovely for him to allow that to hurt. (They are man and wife only in name after all.)
"Did you have a good ride?" he enquires instead.
Mary smiles, and everything, Francis decides, is worth it. "It was a good day," she says.
"I also went riding," he tells her. "I picked you these."
The flowers are a mass of bright blues and purples and yellows, and her smile widens. "For me?" she says.
Always for you, he thinks. "For you."
"They're lovely." She buries her face in the flowers.
"I love you," he blurts out, and freezes.
She lowers the bouquet. The sunlight dapples the scene yellow gold when she answers. "I know."
Healing takes time. In this version of history, they have time.
Today it is dawn, and they meet almost by chance in the palace gardens. The sun is rising over the east, pale colour spreading across the sky. They walk side by side, fingertips almost brushing, their feet crinkling over wet grass.
"I'm always losing you," she says, and there is a tenderness in her voice that he hasn't heard in a long time.
He takes her hand. There is always so much to say, so many burdens they need to cover.
"I'm here," he says, and it feels like an answer.