A/N: This is not meant to be a reflection of judgement of anyone's personal beliefs. This scenario is merely for entertainment purposes only. I hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I have writing it :)

Mary closed her eyes as the ax came down bracing for, what she didn't know; excruciating pain, a slithering cold as death claimed her. She felt nothing. Seconds that passed like hours ticked by and she felt none of the expected sensations. In fact, she felt warm, but again no pain. It was not the flames of hell flickering behind her eyelids but rather the caress of sunlight on her face. Dazed and bewildered, she opened her eyes to find herself standing in the midst of a lush green glade alongside a crystal lake. It was beautiful and peaceful; the exact opposite image the preachings of fire and brimstone had inspired. And yet, she couldn't help her heart from sinking as a stone would into the nearby waters.

She knew this place. It had haunted her dreams as well as her nightmares; both waking and sleeping. Her hand flew up over her mouth, catching the anguished gasp that had fallen from her lips. It was only then that the bright fabric of her dress caught her eye. It too was familiar. Being raised in the Catholic faith she had always been taught to equivocate eternal damnation with a burning that could never be extinguished but perhaps there were worse fates than being thrown into a fire, such as being thrown into the memory of your greatest heartbreak to relive unceasingly.

Her mind began to swirl with images; terrible images of choices she had made, people she had hurt, lives she had taken. Had Catherine been right all along? Had her station in life required her to drench her hands in blood, and if so had her spirit been irreparably stained with that blood? God had given her that station, but had he taken it from her in the end through Elizabeth's hands? Was it possible her Protestant cousin was only a tool of the Lord, wreaking his own vengeance against her?

"Is that to be it then," she cried out, voice shaking. "I'm here to be tormented throughout the hereafter?"

She had survived miscarriages and rape, the loss of her heart and head; even her only child's hatred and rejection. For as long as she could remember she had been praised for her strength, but that endurance had all been depleted. Standing in this place, reliving those last moments made every part of her ache. Could she survive an eternity of this? She didn't think she could bear it.

"You fear this is hell," a voice called out from behind, one she knew as well as her own. Mary whirled around, her chocolate eyes blurring with tears of joy as they set sights on Francis; her Francis. Healthy and proud and staring at her with such love in his eyes as he stepped toward her, while she stood frozen in disbelief.

"Being here with you, well, it was as close to heaven as I had ever been in my living years," he insisted with a smile.

His living years. It felt so wrong to hear him speak of their time together in past tense, just as it had when she had been forced to do so. But that's exactly what it was, in the past, since they were both no longer living. And yet, there they were together. She sprinted forward, her heart thrashing against her ribcage, no longer caring where she was or what her fate might be. His arms encircled her as she threw herself into his embrace. Let the hallelujah chorus sound or the flames of hell swallow her up. Whatever the cost, she would gladly pay it for this moment in his arms again.

As she buried herself inside the circle of his arms she could hear him chuckling at her reckless abandon, feel his fingers in her long dark hair. He smelled of bark, and berries, and sunlight, and something unique to himself. She clung to him at first, afraid if she were to glance upward he might dissolve in her hands as sand through a sieve. He seemed to understand this as he stood patiently, holding her close. Gently he leaned his head down and whispered little assurances into her ear, urging her forward. Her mind reeled back to her life without him and all the times she had felt him encouraging her from the beyond. Sometimes it was all that could keep her placing one foot in front of the other.

He placed a kiss on the crown of her head and her eyes fluttered closed, silent tears trickling down her cheeks. In life she had been a queen, a ruler; never able to show any sign of weakness, but that burden had been removed from her shoulders the moment she had passed through the veil. The tips of his fingers brushed her tears away, tracing her cheekbone and then down to her mouth where her lower lip quivered in his hands.

"How-," she gasped, eyes still closed, "can this possibly be heaven? The place where Nostradamus's prophecy was fulfilled..." her voice trembled as she relived those last painful moments. "The place you traded your life for mine..."

Catherine may not have blamed her for that day, but she had never forgiven herself. Even learning the true catalyst behind the attack and running a blade through the man who ordered it had not lessoned her own guilt. She had been warned from the start that their marriage contract would be the same as his death warrant and by signing it she had cut his life span to the quick and condemned herself. It was as he had said long ago. She had positioned herself for the worst kind of heartbreak and even knowing this, she couldn't find it within herself to regret their time together or wish to forfeit it in exchange for a less perilous path with another. A year of the greatest love she had ever known was far better than a lifetime never knowing it.

"And had i the choice to make over, I'd do it again," he declared.

He knew she wouldn't want him to say it, but it was true. As he had lain there watching his life flash before his eyes it was her that he saw, only her. Perhaps he could have lived a longer life, but what would that time have meant to him without her? Nothing.

She wrenched in his arms, finally daring to look up into his face.

"Francis, no!"

But the words died on her lips as she found herself drowning in the ocean of his eyes. So many nights she had laid awake tracing over the contours of his face in her memory and now she stood before him doing the same. She had feared that time would wash the image from her mind but as she stood reveling at the sight of him, she found those lines had not blurred the slightest. Each feature was exactly as she recalled. Her hands roamed with a life of their own, to frame the face she held so dearly, and Francis placed a warm hand over her own, leaning into her touch. How could this be heaven she had asked? The answer seemed so clear to her now. Anywhere could be heaven as long as he was near.

"We were happy here; so childlike and carefree," he pulled her closer, pressing her body against his. He had waited a lifetime for this moment with Mary and as he peered into her dark chocolate eyes he knew he'd have waited several more if need be. "We weren't a king and queen that day, or an alliance of two nations, we were just...a man and a woman desperately in love."

Just a boy and a girl finally husband and wife.

Her lips curled into a smile at the memory of the two of them racing down to the water's edge and shedding their clothes. Never had anyone unlaced a corset so quickly as her husband when properly motivated. The corners of her mouth began to fall, all radiance washed from her expression.

"Those days were far too few and between," she mumbled absentmindedly.

In a year full of marriage they had had maybe a handful of days like the one he described.

His handsome features contorted in a mask of despair as he heard the words she didn't dare speak.

"Oh, Mary, no," her murmured as he took her face in his hands as she had done previously. "Please tell me that's not what you've been holding onto all this time," he pleaded.

The pain in his eyes reflected like fractured glass, as though he were looking at her through a shattered screen. Her heart contracted as though she were breathing in the shards; sharp and agonizing. His pain was her own as well, and neither could bear it. Neither should have had to, she thought bitterly. She cast her eyes downward toward the moss and dirt beneath their feet. The last thing she wanted was to taint what might be their final memory together or tempt the wrath of God to force them apart again. How could she say what was truly in her heart without risking whatever perfect limbo they were currently residing in? Still, she wouldn't lie to Francis, nor would she hold back. She had done far too much of that in their life together.

With new resolve she lifted her head to meet his gaze and shook her head from side to side in his hands.

"No, of course not," she said taking one of his hands in her own, delivering a kiss into his palm. "I thanked God each day for every single day we shared, good and bad..." she broke off in silence, seeking the right words. "It's just...I wish that I'd given you more good to remember."

They could have been man and wife sooner had she not have attempted to thwart the fates by abandoning him the night they were to wed. They could have been dancing under the stars at the Louvre, partaking of the ripest oranges in Nice; all the things Francis had dreamed they'd do together on his death bed. Instead she had pulled away from him and broken both their hearts. And even after knowing that pain and that loss she had made the same mistake a second time, blaming him for what the Protestant rebels had done to her that night in their bed chambers and turning to another for solace. They had only just found one another again at the end.

His fingers gathered at her chin, lifting it til she could see the blue flames flickering in his eyes; a contradictory balance of fierce intensity and gentle sincerity staring back at her.

"We both made our share of mistakes and neither need be dwelt upon," his tone ringing with a compassionate finality. His gaze hovered at the curves of her lips, an unspoken request passing between them. She leaned forward rising to meet his mouth with her own; each falling into their natural rhythm against the other. A sound escaped his lips, low and guttural and she swallowed it with a smile. He took her response as an opportunity to wedge his tongue between her parted lips, entering a forgotten paradise. She tasted of Eden; her essence overpowering his senses.

Her arms encircled his neck, tangling her fingers in the hair at his nape. She melted into him, her bones liquefying at his touch. Still, it wasn't enough. She needed to be closer. Was it wrong to have such sinful thoughts in the afterlife? Yes, she had married again, but only because Francis had passed on. He had been her true husband in the eyes of God, and that same God had delivered her into this place here with him. Surely, that meant he still considered them man and wife...but was there supposed to be lovemaking in heaven? She hoped so because there were definitely still carnal urges flowing through her veins, especially with him kissing her as he was.

He began walking forward, leading her back toward the blanket that had seemed to appear just when needed most. Perhaps it had been there all along and he'd failed to notice, but it's origin was of little consequence. She was here now, in his arms, and they had an entire lifetime to make up for. With a boyish grin he swept her up into his arms and laid her out tenderly over the fabric, cradling her head from the impact with the ground. Once she was flat on the surface his hand traveled from the back of her head to the curve of her neck; his blonde curls falling into his eyes. Carefully he bent down to brush his lips against hers before pulling back to watch the sunlight catch in her coffee colored orbs.

"I was so afraid this moment might never come," he confided quietly while planting kisses along the trail of her jawline.

His lips moved down to her neck as she arched toward him, but her thoughts had snagged on the words he had just spoken.

"You feared for my soul," she asked, pushing down her primal instinct to ignore her concern.

She had always found comfort in the concept of his ethereal presence; the thought that he had been watching over her somehow. It had never occurred to her how he might have felt watching her life play out without him or what he might have seen. Had he witnessed her affections toward a man sent by her sworn enemy so soon after his death? Had he seen her take Monroe's life without the slightest twinge of remorse?

Francis must have sensed her unease because he ceased his assault against her senses and sat up with a sigh, allowing her to do the same. She stared at him expectantly, willing him to speak. He reached out his hand, tracing her fingers with the tips of his own. His blue eyes were fixed on their hands, smiling at the feathery touch with which her own fingers responded.

"I never doubted you would find favor with the Lord," he explained; his words cautious and his gaze still hesitant. "When I died I told you to love again, and I meant that. I wanted that for you...but, and perhaps this is selfish, I also wanted this time with you."

Mary glanced down at their fingers gliding over one another, a soft smile covering her lips. Selfish or not, she had wanted this too. The workings of God were very much a mystery to her. She didn't know how or why things had happened as they did, but she was grateful nonetheless. Francis, on the other hand, had been on the other side for years and seemed to believe this experience they were sharing had not always been promised to them.

"You had an entire life after me; time to live and to love another," he continued, his voice barely above a whisper. "Had your heart not longed for me as mine has for you, we wouldn't be here having this conversation."

If this glimpse of eternity had been contingent on her love for Francis past his death, then he hadn't needed to fear all that time. She had tried to honor his final requests though she had denied him that day in the glade. She had married again as he had wished and she had managed to open her heart to others, but no vows of love and devotion could eclipse the longing in the darkest recesses of her heart for the husband she had already lost. In the end her words of refusal to move on had rung true, despite her efforts, and she had found herself hoping for his understanding and forgiveness for not being capable of fulfilling his ultimate prayer; a prayer he appeared grateful now to have gone unanswered.

He met her gaze with shame in his eyes. It was wrong for him to rejoice in the fact that she had spent her life wishing for him most, but he couldn't deny the joy that knowledge gave him. Nor would he, even if he could. It was his lies that had driven such a distance between them during their marriage and nearly cost him one of the only two things that he truly cherished. He had deceived her and as a result she had lost faith in him. That was a mistake he would not make again; in this life or any other.

Her expression grew contemplative as a question formed.

"Where exactly is here," she asked, entwining their fingers. "I know this isn't hell but, is this- is this heaven?" She stumbled on the enormity of their current subject.

It was one thing to imagine what might come after their lives. It was another to actually experience it.

Slowly she edged her way closer, positioning her spine against his chest. A contented sigh escaped her lips as he leaned his head down to press a kiss to her shoulder. She could feel him smiling against her skin. She reached out for his second hand, wrapping both his arms around her slim waist. Francis tightened his hold until there was not even the slightest fraction of space between them.

"This could certainly be my heaven," he whispered into her hair as he lifted one hand to brush her the dark strands back and glide his fingertips across her delicate skin. Mary giggled as he reached one of her many tickle spots. Oh, how he had missed that laugh! He planted a kiss just below her ear, provoking a different sound. "But no," he elaborated on his response, "this not actually heaven."

She moaned in pleasure as he teased another tender spot of her flesh. "Then what is it," she asked, barely conscious of the fact she had asked a question.

He leaned down to kiss her collarbone, his hair tickling the surrounding skin. "A waiting place of sorts," he murmured, but her mind was no longer on his reply to her inquiry. It was on the way her body blazed beneath his ministrations. Now this was a fire that could never be extinguished licking at her veins. She reached up to the back of his neck, tangling his curls around her fingers as she lured his lips down to her hungry mouth. She fed on the sweetness of his tongue while a fire with the fury of a tempest raged in her blood.

"As much as I'm enjoying this-" he panted between their kisses, "and truly I am," he continued despite her greed for the taste and feel of him, "I'm afraid we have a decision to make," he finished with much effort.

She began to lower herself back onto the blanket, her grasp beckoning him to follow her down.

"Whatever it is, my answer is yes," she insisted, nibbling at his earlobe.

A groan of frustration escaped him. There was nothing he would love more than to lay her down here in this grove and make the two of them as one again, but unfortunately that was not the purpose of this place. When he had first passed from the mortal realm into the hereafter he had assumed his time of making such choices was done, but he had assumed wrong, as his maker had charged him with one final decision. Unable to imagine any existence without his wife he had asked to wait so that, were she to choose him as he had chosen her, they might decide together.

"You may want to hear the proposition before you come to any final conclusions," he replied, a certain warning in his tone that shook her from her daydreams of lovemaking. Whatever the matter was it was obviously serious in nature and demanded her full attention.

Francis ran a hand through his golden curls as he watched her reluctantly resume the seated position; turbulent waves of emotion crashing in his blue eyes. The subject he was attempting to reach was surreal at best, and though he had a firm grasp of both the French and English language all words seemed to fail him at the moment. The air surrounding them suddenly felt thick with pretense as he rose from the blanket and offered her his hand. Perhaps the circulation would clear his mind, he hoped as she slid her delicate fingers into his palm. Never before had he been so aware of his human tendencies in this place hovering between heaven and earth. He had never acquired the spiritual superiority one was supposed to accomplish with death. If anything, his carnal desires had been intensifying over the years as they lay dormant beneath the surface.

Together they walked the grove hand in hand. Francis fearing the words and Mary fearing the silence. They had been but a heartbeat away from the reconciliation of their bodies and souls when he had demanded they talk, but yet he hesitated to actually do so.

"You know, I never cared for the notion of fate or words of seers and prophets," he began cautiously.

Like a flood it all came rushing in; the moment their eyes had met in the courtyard, the feathers falling from the sky, Catherine's warning of the prophecy from Nostradamus, the lion and dragon in the field of poppies, Aylee's life draining from her eyes, Francis sprawled over white fallen petals as his eyes glazed over. She remembered it all and wondered if he was too.

"I always believed that we as people defined our own lives by the choices we made, and I wasn't entirely wrong," he confided, his expression growing contemplative.

"Of course, I wasn't entirely right either," he mumbled more to himself than her.

He could see the confusion in her russet orbs and knew he was making little sense, but how could one explain the secrets of celestial glory and grand design without sounding slightly mad to those who were not privy to the same information?

He caught her glance from the corner of his eye. If ever there was physical proof he had seen of divinity it was standing at his side now. She was evidence of a maker who knew his heart and soul better than he ever had, a kind and loving God who had gifted him with the most beautiful, brave, compassionate woman he'd ever been privileged enough to behold.

"It turns out that we were both right. We have free will while we live and so in many ways we determine our own fate," his lips curled into a thoughtful smile as he turned to face her, "but there are some things that are supposed to be...such as you and I. A love so great and pure and absolute, it had to be ordained by God himself."

Mary couldn't help but beam at his poetic turn of phrase. Deep down she had known from that first day she had returned to court that something so blessedly unexpected as love in an engagement arranged for political reasons must have a greater purpose. Though that faith had wavered when she had seen the truth of Nostradamus's words; for what good and affectionate father would allow them to love each other so were it to destroy them from the start? Even knowing their fate she had never truly been able to accept it, to believe it. She had not cursed God for taking Francis from her. Elizabeth yes, Monroe yes, even herself, but never the will of God.

His words were beautiful and their sentiment validating but she could still see the struggle within and she wondered who or what he was battling against.

"We were meant for so much more Mary," there was something in his voice; a rough gravelly sound that she couldn't quite place.

It was strange to hear him talk this way after all his diatribes on superstition during their life together. Most people spoke of missed opportunities with regret or sadness but neither colored his tone. He spoke the words as if they were fact, as though he were telling her that the sky was blue or the lake was wet.

His troubled gaze was focused now, fixed on her features; seeking something from her; what she couldn't say.

"We were robbed of so much. Years we were meant to share, children we never got the chance to meet, an entire lifetime that never happened."

Her brow furrowed in response. She had often had the same thoughts throughout the course of her life. Occasionally she had even allowed herself to imagine how he might have aged or what their children would have been like, but their lives were gone now and they were together somewhere in the universe. Why dwell on what had been lost?

"Mary," he whispered her name like a prayer of worship; with tenderness and awe. "What would you say if I were to tell you that we could have it all back?"

He stood there, clinging to her hands, a similar twinkle in his eye as they say he had sunk to one knee in the courtyard and asked her to become his wife. Over the years he had imagined every way this conversation could possibly go. Her reactions had ranged from misty eyed and marveled to wide eyed and slack jawed terror, but never had he anticipated that she would blankly stare at him in disbelief, without so much as a word in reply. But he couldn't unsay the words. All he could do now was wait.

What would she say?

What could she say?

Finally, she blinked rapidly, as if coming out of a daze. Her lips parted slightly.

"Francis, that's not possible," she said, her voice trembling.

A triumphant grin spread across his face as he clutched her hands to his heart, his eyes dazzling and focused; sharp as the ridges of a gemstone.

"But it is, should we choose it," he spoke with yearning. "Our lives were not our own when we were living. There were choices made by others that kept us from our true destinies. Now, we can accept that and move on to whatever paradise awaits..." he inhaled deeply as if bracing himself for impact, "or we can choose to step into an alternate existence where we might live out the fates we were originally intended."

Mary felt herself grow dizzy with this new information; as though she were trying to follow his lead in an elaborate dance she hadn't learned the steps to. And in all this spinning and twirling and stumbling blindly there was Francis; strong and sure, and smiling as she struggled to keep up.

"You want this," she whispered the realization. "You do. I can see it in your eyes, hear it in your voice..."

He wanted this other world where things might be different. She had spent the remainder of her life believing she had wanted the same, but if her years in court and then banishment had taught her anything it was that there is something more comforting about the devil you are already acquainted with when compared to the one you have yet to meet. The girl in the courtyard with him that day so long ago probably would have leapt at the opportunity without bothering to ask a single question. The trouble was that she wasn't exactly that girl anymore, and while her husband stood before her knowing which path he wished to take, she had only learned there was more than one and found herself unsure which direction to lean.

Something shifted behind his gaze; something she couldn't see but rather feel in her heart.

"You're right, I do," admitted without shame. "But this is our decision to make. Whichever we choose, together we will decide what's right."

He had said the same of her claim on England, of everything really. His promise was familiar and sincere. He would pressure her. He would listen to her. He would argue with her, and most importantly he would love her, even beyond both their deaths it seemed. For that alone she wished to give him whatever his heart desired, but this particular request threatened the very foundations of her faith. In all her years of religious study and practice never had she read of servants choosing their own fates. The concept, though meant to be a gift according to her husband, felt more like blasphemy or one last test. One last way for her to cost herself everything she held dear.

Could she lose Francis again?

Could she bear the pain of having her heart wrenched away when she had only just gotten him back? For so long he had been the only love she had known great enough to mark her soul but that was no longer the case. There was one other deep enough to rival her devotion to her once lost husband.

"And what if I can't?," she challenged, her hands flying up in distress as she continued.

She stepped past Francis, her dark eyes fixed on the water below. From where she was standing it appeared solid as glass but one small pebble could easily disturb its peaceful calm, rippling out to the edge. They had discussed their mistakes during their time together and her romantic partners after him, but there was one topic neither had dared breach yet. The subject of her only living child with another man.

"James may despise me," she nearly choked on the words as she wrung her hands, "but he is my son." Finally, she dared to face him. "Whether he was meant to exist or not I love him, I couldn't possibly wish him out of existence."

Francis staggered back, feeling all the air leave his lungs. He had known there was a chance she might have children, had even hoped it for her. That wasn't what had struck him. It was the name, James; the same name he had christened their imaginary son as he lay dying in their bed. How could any child, especially Mary's child, grow up to be so heartless as to reject their own mother? Even he hadn't been able to do so, and Catherine had certainly given him enough reason to in his shortened lifetime.

"What about Jean? You loved him so much. Could you really trade his life for anything? Even your love for me?" She pressed further.

She already knew the answer. They both did. He had been given that choice once before, and though everyone else might have been happier had he done so, he couldn't release his son out into the world. He couldn't deny him a place at court or his name.

He shook his head, his blonde curls bouncing as he swayed.

"No, I couldn't," he confessed. "And I wouldn't be. Nor would you," he assured as he took her hand and led her toward the edge. Years before they had stood in this place, or a place identical to it, stripping one another of their riding clothes between kisses. Now he sat down and began pulling off his boots, his sideways glance inviting Mary to join him. Once his feet were bare he rolled up the legs of his trousers and dipped them into the water with a boyish grin.

Her lips curved upward as she stifled a giggle at his expression. He knew exactly what she had been remembering and what that thought had done to her. Of that, she was certain. Fisting her dress in her hands, she lifted the skirt and lowered herself onto the ground next to him, shedding her shoes and stockings as well. They both leaned back on their hands, their fingertips brushing against one another.

"We wouldn't change what has already happened. They will still be our children...we just might not be waiting to greet them when they pass on."

She twisted to meet his adoring gaze which was already set on her silhouette.

"we would be able to see them again though, someday, wouldn't we?" She asked, her smile beginning to falter.

Her son had been raised by Scottish Protestant Lords once she had been forced out of her home and station. He had been raised to believe she was a traitor and a whore. In all likelihood, he would never ask for her, even as he lay dying, but that hadn't kept her heart from wishing someday he would.

Francis seemed to hear the words she hadn't spoken and his heart broke for the woman he loved. He knew that ache all too well. Jean had barely begun to live when his father had died, had been too young to remember his namesake or how he had been doted on. All his son would ever know of him was what he had been told by others. He trusted Lola to raise their child well and to speak kindly of him, but sometimes he wondered if he had done the right thing allowing her to marry Stephan Narcisse. For he was the only father his child would ever know. He couldn't fault his son if he held no love in his heart for the man he had scarcely known, but knowing his child would never fully return his love was still a hard pastille to swallow.

He reached out, pulling her close to his side; knowing she needed the comfort as much as he did. Her brown eyes shifted to meet his with a sad smile before lowering her head onto his shoulder with a sigh. They had both been raised to believe heaven was a place free of all agonies, however, he couldn't imagine any delight that could cure the wounds that came from losing their children, both together and apart.

His hand ran up and down her arm as he rested his head on top of hers, whispering into her hair.

"That would depend on us," he explained, "on the choices we made and the lives we chose for ourselves."

And there it was, the price one must pay for a second chance at life; the question with only one right answer. Eternal salvation or a life with Francis?

"I don't know..." she mumbled beneath him. "I made so many poor choices. It's a wonder he hasn't already forsaken me-"

She had assumed this grove was meant to torment her upon arrival. Did he not realize the reason for this? Did he not know the sins which she had committed throughout her life? No. He couldn't possibly, or he wouldn't be tempting her now.

"But we will have one another to find strength in. We are better together," he reminded, attempting to quell her fears.

There was no doubt in his mind that he spoke the truth. Mary's goodness was etched into her very soul and together they would keep one another on the right path, just as they always had. It was when they denied their hearts that they had done terrible things they both feared unforgivable. Fortunately, their lord was far more loving of them than they were themselves.

She tensed against him, pulling back, putting distance between them.

"Not always," she refuted, her words pointed like the ends of the arrows he'd taught her to shoot with a bow.

"Who's to say we would even remember what we are to one another or the lessons we have learned?"

What good was going back only to make the same mistakes all over again?

"Who knows what this alternate reality might offer, where it would begin? Would we wake up in the castle just after our honeymoon," her voice was rising with every word, "or stepping into the courtyard and laying eyes on one another for the first time since childhood? What if we choose this second path and then never find one another?"

He wanted more than anything to console her, but what could he say? He had no answers of substance to offer, no way of knowing what actually waited on the other side. All he had was his faith in a loving God and his faith in the love they shared. For him, that had been enough, but could it be enough for them both?

He took her hand in his once more, stroking her her knuckles with the pad of his thumb.

"I will admit there are some risks, and if you truly don't want this I will respect that, but I've never known you to shy away from a challenge before or to ignore the call of your own heart," he reasoned gently.

In her long list of hesitations never once had she said that she was against it, only that she feared the consequences.

She stared down at their hands. He was always so careful with her. From that first day he had allowed himself to love her, asking her what she had wanted and when he was going too far. He had always urged her to make her wishes known and done his best to honor them, in spite of his contradicting commitments. It was that same message in his eyes now; him pleading with her to tell him what was in her heart and why she would throw away any chance at happiness they had been given. How could she tell him that she had changed? That she was no longer the woman he remembered who had really been but a child at the time. She had been so sure that she had known what was right and best and at every turn it had come back on her with malice.

"That was before I lost everything. I lost you, my friends, my homeland, my crown, my child..." she lingered on that particular loss, feeling it all over again, "my freedom and eventually my life, all for a claim that I never asked for or wanted."

He had prayed for her to find love and happiness, but it seemed she had found only more heartbreak in his absence. Knowing his Mary, she had gone home and destroyed the peace treaty in her grief. Someone had sent those men to the woods that day and Elizabeth had made no secret of her suspicion where his wife's birthright was concerned. She would have remained in France at his side all her days, given the opportunity. However, without their life together, their alliance, her crown and name were once again her most precious possessions; a fact that would further fuel her cousin's distrust.

"Didn't you though, at the end?"

For the queen of England to have taken so much from her, the only conclusion to be made was that Mary had dared to stake her claim on the throne.

There was no judgement in his voice, only quiet understanding. He knew better than anyone what a burden that claim had been to her, how much she wanted peace. The only power she had ever wanted was as Scotland's queen and Francis's wife. Conquest wasn't in her nature.

"Only after I had lost everything of consequence," she murmured.

He bent down to kiss her hand. It was such a sweet and simple gesture but it offered a grand certainty, and she understood it for exactly what it was. With that small kiss he had told her that he loved her, that she was still worthy in his eyes. Even knowing what she had done, what she had been driven to do out of desperation, he thought of her no differently.

"I understand why this frightens you..." and he truly did. She was afraid to lose it all again, afraid she couldn't survive it a second time.

"It scared me too at first but I've had a long time to weigh the options and this is what I have come to realize. The two of us could accept the hand we were dealt and move on to whatever comes next, a place with no pain or discomfort and I'm sure it would be lovely." The intensity of his gaze pierced her very soul as he continued, "We could spend the rest of eternity there together, maybe meet the children we were supposed to have, but we could never bear or raise them as we hoped. We would be at one another's side but never grow old together." She recognized the shift she had seen behind his eyes before. He had been attempting to harness his longing. "I have no doubts that I would find you and I can think of far worse fates than falling in love with you all over again" he promised as his free hand caressed her face. "I know it must be overwhelming. You've only just learned what I've had years to process, but this our chance Mary to fulfill every dream we left undone."

There had been so many, and how many people were offered such a gift? Could she really cast it aside so easily? Could she deny Francis his heart's greatest desire? And what of her own desires? In this alternate reality she could spend the rest of her life with the man she loved. She could be a mother in more than name. Wasn't that a treasure worth any price?

Mary scooted closer, climbing into his lap. He happily accepted her, wrapping his arms around her waist as she brushed his curls from his face with a smile.

"We will meet our maker together," she replied as she stroked his hair, taking note of how he tried to hide his disappointment. "And when we do we must thank him for his generosity," she continued. Francis mumbled some form of agreement, ignorant of the mischievous gleam in her brown orbs. She raised her jaw, forcing him to meet her gaze.

"But that day will not be today."

She watched with pride as a wave of joy swept over her husband, illuminating his features. The last time she had seen that beaming grin was the day she had told him she was carrying their child. Now with this choice made, she would have the chance to have that day over and have their happiness last.

"Mary, you mean it? You're certain?"

She took his face between her palms, her slender fingers splayed across the sides of his face.

"I am certain of you," she assured with such passion and sincerity he would have no choice but to believe her, "of us, and if God loves us so much as to offer such an extraordinary gift, then who am I to refuse," she leaned forward covering his mouth with her own.

As her lips came down over his and her body pressed against him, the grove seemed to shimmer and fade away with her promise of new beginnings. He was barely conscious of the sunlight bearing down on them or the current tugging at his feet. All he could see and hear and taste and feel was Mary. His Mary, who giggled in his arms as he smothered her in short, sweet kisses of elation.

"Are you trying to dump me out into the lake because if I go in I'm pulling you in with me," she teased as she fastened her grip to the frame of his shoulders.

He smiled at the mental image of the two of them caught in the waters below, their clothes wet and clinging. She swatted his arm, abrubtly returning him to the present.

"Francis, if you scoot any closer to the edge we will fall," she chastised, clearly no longer amused with his playfulness.

Except that he hadn't been scooting toward the edge; not deliberately at least. Perhaps the current...lakes didn't have currents. They weren't moving bodies of water. And yet something was most definitely forcing him closer to the water's edge. No sooner had the thought entered his mind, than the pull became more forceful, dragging them both into what appeared a calm surface but beneath felt swirling and violent. Both Mary and Francis kicked and struggled, doing their best to tread the lake.

"What's happening," she shouted, gasping for air as she began to sink further down.

Francis paddled furiously desperate to reach her but found himself no stronger than she was.

"I don't know," he responded as he groped for her hand.

He had never known what would happen once the conversation had been had and the decision made. She forced a smile but he could see the terror in her eyes as they were both pulled lower into the vortex.

"Whatever happens, I love you," he promised as he caught the tips of her fingers.

They were both nearly under now.

"And I you," her final words before disappearing below the surface.

Once she was under she gave up kicking; a wave of peace washing over her. It was as though a voice spoke to her from within whispering comfort. She was not drowning, not dying. This was not an end but a beginning. She opened her brown eyes and saw Francis nearly immersed as she was. He was probably afraid now that she had slipped from his view, but he would soon be reaching toward the bottom of the lake watching the sunlight reflecting in the center of the pool. He would know then that they were safe and that everything would be okay. The light grew, bathing the two of them in shimmering waters, carrying them somewhere far away from the lives they had known and the loss they had felt. Whatever happened next, wherever this choice led them, they would be together. They would begin again.