Dedicated to every dear fellow Frary fangirl who still holds out hope
and to all who look for light in the darkness – You are not alone.

Esperánce (Hope)

High hopes – it takes me back to when we started
High hopes – when you let it go, go out and start again
High hopes – and the world keeps spinning

The Bavarians arrive with the Springtime air and the sprouting of lily stalks throughout the gardens. Their presence wakens the Court, long having slumbered under the dormancy of winter and its icy gray grip – its grip which makes the travel of important personages risky and not worth the taking.

The hall glowing warm and alive for the first time since the Christmas festivities, he realizes he has not touched his wife in months. It dawns on him in that lingering moment when the voices swell and the air grows ripe in anticipation of the dancing. He hears the musicians begin to sweep their bows across strings to test the tuning, crafting a sweet hum that reminds him of summertime.

That is when he glances up and sees the sweep of her skirts as she enters the hall – and that is when he realizes just how long it has been.

She has not worn any color since that terrible night when they came for him and found her instead, and her hair has been tightly wound and pinned at every occasion. Every new dress has been carefully crafted with high neck and full sleeves.

Every day, when she appears in his chambers to talk through their responsibilities as sovereigns, it breaks his heart to see her cover up her beauty, her femininity, and put every ounce of strength she possesses on display. She is strong, certainly – stronger than anyone he has ever known – but he wishes she didn't feel the need to hide so much of herself behind it. He understands why she does, but it grieves him.

The night the Bavarians arrive, his eyes pull toward her, drawn by the deep red of her dress and the dark curls that cascade beautifully down her back. He recalls the last time she wore the gown, one of many constructed for her to wear during their coronation festivities. She glowed in the merriment of the hall; lovely and rosy; happy and bright in the security of their new rule and in the early stages of her pregnancy.

He squeezes his eyes shut at the sharp pain that washes over him, remembering their lost child. He has long battled with the guilt of not noticing her pain or seeking her out as soon as he noticed she was missing after his son's christening; of letting Lord Narcisse dictate his movements against the Protestants and turning him against the wisdom of his own wife; of how he attracted the anger of vile men who would seek vengeance only at the price of their king's life or the violation of their queen.

So much of his life has become a grappling with the pain and the guilt, with the disconcerting realization that he cannot change the days which lie behind them. And, thus, his only recourse is to make the days ahead different.

Finally out from under Narcisse's thumb, he has sought to regain some portion of the good man he once was – the man she loved, the man she trusted.

And all he can do is continue to devote all of his energy to that end.

But it is not quite the same. She alone makes him that man.

He reopens his eyes and finds he has lost sight of her. A frustrated sigh slips from his lips.

A light tap on his arm alerts him to his sister's presence. He turns, determined to grant Claude his full attention as he listens to her question, and the evening carries him along.

She doesn't know what to do with her hands, and so she reaches down to smooth a fold turned awry on her skirts. She doesn't know why, of all nights, she chose to wear this dress tonight. After a winter of high-necked bodices and colorless frocks, she feels exposed as the air comes into contact with the skin below her neck – and she feels conspicuously uneasy, noting the way men look fondly upon her. She steels herself, recognizing her need to emerge from the shadows where she has dwelt for too long.

Like the dress she wears and the memories she has of wearing it, she must redeem the months since the coronation. She must move forward.

She feels his eyes on her the very moment she enters the room. She doesn't have to see him – she always knows when he's near. Her body pulls toward his, inescapable even after all this time and all that has transpired between them. It calms her a little to know he still keeps watch, that as long as he has her in his sights, he will do everything within his power to keep any harm from befalling her.

The nightmares come less often now and without them, she has finally been able to sleep. While the bruises have healed and her courses arrived, there are moments she still relives the panic of those first few weeks – the initial shock, the ache of her body, the not knowing. Her stomach churns sickly inside of her at the thought of what they did to her. At times, she still feels the phantom hold of the intruders upon her arms and neck and, in the dead of night, there are still moments when her hands shake and her body shudders with fear. It happened and she cannot escape that reality.

She marvels, however, that somehow she awoke yesterday and went about her morning appointments without thought of the terrible blackness of that night – her mind unusually sharp and focused. And, as she sat down to write letters after the noon meal, she suddenly and keenly experienced the oddity of its absence. She breathed deeply, securely, for the first time in months. It was the first moment she realized that her days might still hold good things for her to discover, that her life would not always hold such crippling pain. She lifted a prayer of gratitude before the statue of the Blessed Virgin in her room, overcome by that one tiny glimmer of hope.

This morning, too, she woke and knew today would be different – better somehow.

And, so, she reached for a less constricting gown and left her hair down for the evening.

Even still, the events of that night cannot be undone. It doesn't matter that the men responsible are now dead. Their faces still haunt so many of her nights. She knows she will carry forward her memories and the trauma through to the end of her days.

And she knows that he will, too, in his own way. He will remember. She knows that now.

She has seen him return to his old self, albeit a more sober and determined version. All of his efforts have gone into the country and securing peace for all who call their lands, 'home.' He has been merciful and just, kind and tolerant. To anyone who does not know him well, they would assume he merely performs his duties as king – but to her trained eye, she can sense his desperation to be the man she married.

She can see that now.

When he said he would not live separately from her, to be married only in name, she knows it to be true. There is France, but there is no Francis. He works late into the night before he ventures to her door to be sure she is safe. Her guards have often told her of his presence – how he will open the door the littlest bit and lean in just long enough to catch the sound of her soft breathing. He sleeps alone and visits his son in the mornings. There are no other women.

She has not become Catherine; he has not become his father.

Yet, he has also kept his distance. The Court has whispered all through the winter, curious as to what turned the affections of their sovereigns – and she has heard every word – but he has not pursued even a moment in her presence without her request of him. He has not touched her. He has not urged her to reconsider. He has given her every bit of space she could ever want.

Except for his eyes. His eyes still invade her very soul.

It is not her touch that he misses the most, though he does miss it; neither is it the intimacy they once shared as husband and wife, though he misses that as well. Instead, it is a hundred small moments he laments the loss of daily.

Those still, lovely seconds in the first light of day when he would cradle her sleeping form in his arms and listen to her breathe; the smooth motion of her arm as she brushed her hair before bed; the quick, smile-smothering glances when his mother would say something inappropriate – the ones when her eyes would twinkle with subdued laughter.

Those are the moments he misses the most.

She embraces Greer, who has just arrived at her side. The hug is timid, as if she were learning how to touch people anew. Her lady has been gone for a few weeks, visiting her husband and stepchildren at their home. The two chat and enjoy the distraction of one another's company. Her nervous hands flit their way to her sides, settling a bit as she eases into her time with her friend.

And then she turns her eyes – just for a moment – but she finds she can't look away.

His mother leaves him as the musicians begin a new song and he notices he is alone for the first time this evening. Across the room, he spies the scarlet of her gown. He feels the voyeur, attempting a look at his own wife. For the first time tonight, however, he can see her face. She chatters to Greer while he watches, still wholly captivated by her.

She turns then, startling slightly as she meets his eyes. A small, tired smile plays at her lips and for a moment – just the briefest of moments – he swears he sees her flush.

She feels a familiar heat rise against her neck as his eyes lock to hers. Familiar and foreign, all at once. Even a few days ago, she would not have thought she could ever again react to his gaze in that way.

It might not last till tomorrow but, for tonight, she believes she has finally turned a corner.

He tries earnestly to pry his eyes from her, but he fails. She is still lovely, she is still his wife, and he still loves her. Unlike his father, there will be no other women. If she never returns to his bed, he will sleep alone for what remain of his days. He will strive every day once more to be the man she married. She deserves that.

Excusing herself from Greer, she begins to make her way across the room. No matter how much she says she thinks they should lead separate lives, she knows that neither of them really want to do so. She sees it in his eyes every time she catches him staring.

It will be difficult, certainly – and it will take time to heal the damage that has been wrought – but she knows she will come to regret the schism between them if it continues to widen. She knows he will wait forever, if he must.

She must make the first move.

She moves toward him, stirring him from his thoughts and causing his breath to catch in his throat. She glides across the stone floor, gracefully weaving between nobles and other courtiers – her eyes trained on him and him alone. As she arrives at his side, he nods to her, "Mary."

She settles herself in at his side, where their Bavarian guests expect his queen to stand. Her head tips in reply and he hears her speak softly, "Francis."

"You look lovely," he sputters – a bit mortified at how quickly the words rush from his mouth. He feels uncharacteristically nervous. She stands so close he can feel the heat radiate off of her body.

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees the flush reappear, but he blinks and it disappears from view. As the night wears on, they stand in companionable silence. The dancing becomes more lively as the wine flows more freely.

The opening strains of a saltarello break through the room and he recalls how much she loves the dance. Something in the meter and its accompanying drums calls to the wildness that runs free in her blood – the fiery part of her that remains fully Scottish, even after her many years in France. He hears her voice and turns to catch the words, which are a little hesitant.

"Will you dance with me?"

Speechless, he nods and holds out his hand so he might lead her to the floor. He finds he must remind himself to breathe. Her hand reaches out and fits into his, trembling.

Gasps erupt. It has been no secret to the French Court that their once-amorous king and queen have not been seen together in quite some time. Rumors have abounded in the absence of answers.

But they do not hear the gasps – or the whispers.

They take up the dance and awkwardly remember where to place their hands as they continue in the steps with their turns and leaps. The tension of everything both said and unspoken between the king and queen hangs palpably in the air. All who stand along the sides of the hall stop and stare at the couple before them.

Far too soon, however, the music ends and the steps cease. He leads her back to the side of the room and, much to his glad surprise, she leaves her hand in his own – its touch now firm and warm and still.

"Are you sure?" he asks quietly, indicating their hands with a nod of his head.

"Yes," she insists. Her eyes lift to meet his. "I think, perhaps, it is time to start again."

And for the first time in many long, terrible months, he senses it – Hope.

Author's Notes: Yes, I'm still here. Yes, I'm still writing. Yes, so much has changed in the last few months for this fandom – and it really makes me sad in so many ways I can't begin to express. This is the first time in a long time I've felt compelled to write something more in line with canon. A special thanks to Heather and Robin, who took a look at this to a) make sure I wasn't crazy and b) that I was appropriately sensitive to the matters at hand, as well as what remains of the FF Frary community.

Disclaimer: Nope, I still don't own anything. Reign and its characters belong to the CW/CBS and Laurie McCarthy. I just make use of it to keep myself from going crazy.