AN: How do you solve a problem like Mary-ala-Season2? Rather than the rape being used as a plot device to push the love triangle with Conde, I hope the Conde affair is part of the larger, and much more important, story of Mary dealing with her sexual assault. This is my version of how I'd like to see that developed and resolved. (I started this 5 days before 2x16, but I just finished it today. Please forgive me if anything sounds like it's copying the script; it's purely coincidental, I swear!)

It had felt like freedom. A gasping breath of life-giving air after months of suffocation.

Mary was finally getting away from it all. Away from Francis' pleading eyes and crushing disappointment. Away from the ruins of their once-happy marriage. Away from the crowded halls of the cold castle. Away from the pressure, the pain, the memory. Leaving French Court meant leaving her cloistered life and her sadness behind. For her, it meant stepping out of the darkness and into the sun.

She rode with wild abandon across wide open fields, thrilling at the way her heart raced to the hoof beats of her galloping horse. The wind roaring in her ears blocked out everything else. There was just the rush of adventure, the blush of new love, and a lightness she thought she'd lost forever. But it had returned, and so would she. She would regain her strength, her passion, and her country. She would decide what was best for her and her people, and no one would dictate her life anymore. After twelve long years, she was returning to Scotland, where she belonged. At last, Mary was going home.

It had seemed like freedom. But it was an illusion, a mirage that teased salvation but only made the maddening thirst worse.

"Are you happy?"

When Louis asked her this, Mary smiled and said, "I am," and in that moment she believed it was the truth. It had been the first truly good day since the attack. She had broken free of her bonds, and Louis had escaped with her. Noble, stalwart Louis, who loved and protected her and asked for nothing in return but her company. He did not require a royal heir or expect intimacy from her. He did not constantly remind her of every tragic mistake of the past year. Louis was just the present, and perhaps her future. A new chance at love and happiness.

And he did make her happy. Running away together, riding like the wind through the countryside, and now pretending to be a young noble couple renting a room at an inn for the night; it was all so exciting and new, flirtatious and fun. And when they lied down to sleep, and Louis respectfully gave her plenty of space, Mary felt safe and content.

But as night fell, the shadows returned. Or rather, they had never left. Every dark corner hid an assassin; every creak signaled danger. Louis was very patient, checking and double-checking the security of the room. He offered to watch over Mary, and she relaxed. Once she fell asleep, however, his close presence which had been comforting at first became terrifying. To her unconscious mind, the sound of a strange man breathing heavily, and the feel of a warm body she knew was not her husband lying beside her, instantly brought her back to that night, in that bedroom, with that man. The nightmare was always the same. No matter what she did to alter it, it always ended with the horror of her worst memory replayed.

Rough hands grabbed her arms. Mary, still half-asleep and blinded by panic, tried to fight back, thrashing wildly against the man in the dark, but he pinned her down. Distantly, she could hear someone saying her name in concern, and she called out for help, for Francis. She felt the man slacken his grip some, so she immediately wrenched her arm free to strike out at him with all her strength. The man gasped in surprise and pain and backed off. Mary gave him a hard kick that knocked him to the floor as she jumped out of the bed and ran to the other side of the small room, disoriented and alarmed by the unfamiliar surroundings. It was only then that Mary fully awoke, remembered where she was, and realized who her "attacker" was.

"Oh, my God, Louis! I thought you were-. I'm so sorry. Are you-?"

"Don't worry, it's nothing." Louis got up off the floor, wiping blood from his cracked lip. She had punched him in the face. To his credit, he did not seem angry at all, only worried about her well-being. "Are you alright, Mary?" He strode quickly to her, and Mary took a step back, instinctively flinching away from his outstretched hand. He froze and then slowly withdrew.

After an awkward few seconds, Mary explained, "It was simply a nightmare."

"I know. You were tossing and turning and shouting in your sleep. I tried to calm you, but..I'm afraid I only made it worse." When Mary didn't correct him, he continued, "You were asking for Francis."

Mary blushed but remained silent. She knew it was true. Deep in her heart, she still loved Francis, but that love had been tainted. They had promised to always be there to save one another, but his actions and secrecy had left her vulnerable and alone when she needed him most. While the brutality of the attack had caused her much physical pain and wounds that took some time to heal, it was the memory of the violation, the humiliation, the helplessness, that continuously haunted her. Just as the recurring nightmare kept the horror alive, it also kept the anguish of abandonment alive. That night, and every night since, Mary's heart had been crying out for Francis to save her. But he had not, and he could not, and that truth was devastating. It had broken Mary and her marriage. And even though she was gradually rebuilding herself, she wasn't sure she could rebuild her life with Francis.