Liesl Von Trapp was twenty four years old when she saw the boy she had once loved again.
The war had weathered Rolfe Gruber from the almost too pretty boy on the verge of being a decidedly handsome man to a sad eyed man who walked with a limp. For a moment, when she passed him in the street she did not recognize him as her Rolfe.
Her Rolfe had been a cocky young boy who walked with a spring in his step. The man in the street looked defeated; his leg hitched just a little as he walked.
"Rolfe?" She called out quietly. Had he not have been just as intent on her as she was on him, he would not have heard it.
"Liesl." He said in the same quiet tone. "You're still very pretty." His face had not really changed, his features had strengthened but they were, as a whole, still the same as the pretty boy he had once been.
It was more the way he held them; his mouth had once easily smiled a crooked grin. Now, his mouth bowed downward. "What happened to your leg?" Had his leg changed him? After all, such an active young man must resent his handicap.
"During the war, I was shot." His eyes were far away and full of horrors she would not have wished on him, on anyone. "It was an American bullet; I made it to the end." His mouth quirked into a bitter, crooked smile. "An American soldier told me that the war was over when I awoke in their make-shift hospital."
"I'm sorry." For a moment she lets the image settle in her mind, of an injured Rolfe lying in a hospital bed realizing that he had given his vitality to a dead cause. "The war was horrible, for everyone." The victors had not all came back whole, either. Rolfe was not the only soldier to come back with a limp from the war.
"You've lost some of your Austrian accent." He noted in his own thick Austrian accent, one that comfortably reminded her of her childhood. "Where did you take refuge during the war, Britain?"
"No, America." America had become her home over the past years and it was hard to think of it as just a refuge. "My family actually plans to stay there. It's become as much there home as here. I've two brothers and a sister that were born there. What of your life, what have you made of it? I doubt you're still the telegraph boy."
"No, I'm a mechanic. Simple work, but I'm a simple man. So it suits me." For a minute his face lifted and she supposed that it really did suit him.
"What ever happened to politics?" She still remembered the boy who had planned to run for office one day. All bright and full of potential, had the war not came he would have gone far.
"I fought for the wrong army," He shook his head. "I can hardly ask men to forgive and forget when I can't forgive myself, and I certainly can't forget."
"You were very, you-"He cut her off.
"I was eighteen, old enough to fight." His mouth quirked again. "I am not a man of great principles; I did not go to war because I believed the glorious lies, nor did I go because I had a family to fear for. Had your father fought, that would have been honorable in some ways. I fought, quite simply, because I was weak."
"Everyone is entitled to moments of weakness." She says this because she believes it, because she still remembers the hesitation in his eyes when he saw her and her family at the Abbey. Because, she remembers her first kiss in the rain.
"More than just moments," Rolfe argues, and she realizes the bitterness does not come from his leg, but because he does not forgive himself. "I would have handed your family over to the Nazis; you don't know the things I did. They were more then mere moments of weakness. Had I taken your father's offer that night and walked away I would have been the kind of man who deserves forgiveness."
It had begun to rain, and they stand in the street that had cleared of people. Rain is falling freely and his hair (as blond as it ever was) flops down in his face, his shoulders are crooked from the way he leans on his good leg and one shoulder is wetter than the other.
"I forgive you." She says it because back home she has a very American fiancée who is sturdy and strong and as far from Rolfe as he could be. She says it because Maria preaches forgiveness. She says it because her forgiveness means little if he doesn't forgive himself.
But mostly she says it because she remembers when he was seventeen and kissed her in the rain.
"You're still hopelessly naïve." But, then he kisses her and she lets herself pretend, for just a moment that he there was no war.