A/N: I know I'm working on another story right now, but this one-shot just came into my head during work today, and fought to get out. Hope you like it; please review!
The beautiful summer's day had turned into a beautiful summer evening. The Von Trapp children were all in their beds, after having spent a wonderful day with their father, who had only just yesterday opened his heart to them again. This was a day they had been dreaming of for a long time, and it had not disappointed.
Their once strict and cold father had melted away into a warm and caring father, and had let them decide what they wanted to do all day, only to happy to go along for the ride. They had rode bikes, had a picnic, walked around the town, played games behind the house, and finally he had read to them all before sending them up to bed. Had it not been for an urgent phone call he would have put them to bed, but the children did not mind in the slightest. All had fallen into happy sleep with little smiles on their faces.
That is, all but one.
Seven-year-old Marta, for some reason, could not fall asleep. Much as she tried to by counting sheep and thinking of her most favorite things, sleep would not come. Her little sister, Gretl, was fast asleep and clutching Hedwig, her doll. She was suddenly jealous of her little sister's ability to fall asleep whenever she wanted to without trouble.
Sighing, Marta got out of bed. She grabbed her blanket and wrapped it around herself like a shawl to keep warm, and tiptoed out of the room, not wanting to wake Gretl. If Gretl woke up, she would want to come with Marta, and Marta didn't want that right now.
Her first thought was to go to Fraulein Maria's room; Fraulein Maria could always make her go to sleep with a lullaby. Upon reaching the doorway, she saw the room was empty. Then she remembered that Father had given her the day off. She must not be back yet. Sad that her Fraulein was not here, Marta walked back towards the rooms of her brothers and sisters.
Marta clutched her blanket ever tighter. She'd had it for as long as she could remember. It was crocheted of very soft, pink yarn, perfect for a baby, and Marta still treasured it.
Upon reaching the closed door of her older sisters' room, Marta bent down low to look under the door. Complete darkness. Brigitta loved to read well past her bedtime, and a small amount of light would be enough to indicate that at least one of her sisters was awake. But tonight, it seemed that Brigitta had let the exhaustion of the day take hold of her.
What else was she to do? Her only options were all gone, the people she would go to normally when she couldn't sleep . . .
The seven-year-old looked down onto the first-floor hallway from the mezzanine railing. She could just barely see a faint yellow light spilling from beneath the doorway of one of the rooms. Her father's private study . . .
And then it hit her: she could go to her Father! Now that he loved them, she could go to him!
But she was a little scared. After all, two days ago, she could barely remember her Father as an approachable man. But now he was. Her other siblings were all so much braver than her, so why shouldn't she be brave?
"Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens…" she sang in a very tiny voice as she descended the stairs Coming to the first floor, she became silent again. When she finally came to the closed door, Marta almost ran away. Then she remembered something Fraulein Maria had said to her once, when she had expressed fear: Chin up, stand straight, and say to yourself, "You can do it."
"You can do it," she whispered. Then, on an impulse, she raised a tiny fist and knocked on the door three times.
A few moments of silence, then a deep voice from the other side of the doorway called, "Come in."
Taking a deep breath, Marta grabbed the brass knob, turned it with some effort and pushed the door open.
Marta could not ever remember going into this room before, or even having a glimpse of it; Father had always kept the door closed off from everyone else. The light from the lamp and the fire in the fireplace cast a golden hue to the room. Rich, wine-colored drapes and cream walls, dark-wood bookshelves full of so many books – she wondered if Brigitta ever sneaked in here to get a new one. Probably. Though Brigitta was introverted, she was brave. Sitting at the desk on the other side of the room was her father.
He looked surprise to see her, and Marta waited anxiously, wondering if that would turn to anger for disturbing him. But it didn't. Instead, it turned to warmth and concern. "Marta! What are you doing out of bed?" His tone was gentle and inquisitive, rather than severe and accusatory.
This gave her courage. "Well, I couldn't fall asleep . . . and Fraulein Maria's not back yet."
Her father nodded in understanding, and he looked kindly on his second-youngest child. He rose from his desk and motioned her forward. "Come in, come in."
Marta stepped into the room, pushing the door almost closed behind her. "You're not angry at me, Father?"
Her father looked confused. "Of course not. Why would I be angry, Marta?"
As she felt relief flood through her, the seven-year-old explained, "Well, you once said that bedtime was…" She screwed her face in concentration on the strange words she didn't quite understand, "strict-ly ob-served. Liesl said that meant we go to bed on time no matter what."
For a moment, her father looked very sad. Then his faced looked resolved as he stepped around the desk and knelt before her, so he was eye-level with her. "Listen, Marta. I know, in the past, I had a lot of rules that were . . . harsh. I was harsh, to all of you. But that's changed now. Now, I would still like for all of you to go to bed on time. But if ever you have a nightmare, a problem, or trouble falling asleep, don't be afraid to come to me. I'll never turn you away. I promise. All right?"
His voice…Marta was still not quite used to that gentle tone of voice. It felt wonderful in her ears, the way her favorite strawberry ice cream felt sliding down her throat. She smiled and nodded.
Her father smiled too, and lifted his hand up to stroke her hair. "When did you grow up so fast . . ." He looked sad again. "I'm so sorry I missed your birthday, sweetheart."
Marta felt a lump rise in her throat, and lowered her face to look at the tan carpet. "It's all right . . . everyone else threw a tiny party for me. It was Fraulein Maria's idea."
"Thank God for Fraulein Maria," he murmured, so softly Marta almost didn't hear him. Then his voice returned to normal. "You know, I'm very glad you came down here tonight, Marta."
The seven-year-old met her father's gaze, shocked and confused. "You are? Why?"
He gave a small smile. "Because I have a chance to give you your belated birthday present."
Her entire face lit up with a smile. "Really, Father? Where is it?"
He chuckled. "Go sit on the sofa and I'll get it from its hiding place," he said in a playful tone. Marta rushed to the plushed sofa and practically bounced on the cushion as she took a seat. She watched her father eagerly as he opened a cabinet and pulled out a long white package tied with a bright pink ribbon. Her smile widened even further and she reached out her hands for it, her normally shy self gone out the window.
Her father laughed and sat down beside her, placing the long package carefully in her lap. "Go on, open it."
She didn't hesitate. Marta pulled at the loose end of the bow and it came apart smoothly. Not wanting to lose such a pretty pink ribbon she wrapped it around her neck like a scarf, which earned another chuckle from her father. Sacredly, she lifted the lid of the box and her eyes widened in surprise and pure delight.
"A pink parasol!" she exclaimed, lifting it carefully from the box as if it were made of glass. "It's so pretty!" There was no arguing that. The color was an understated but very pretty pale pink, the umbrella looked like elegant silk. Eagerly, Marta sought to open it but wasn't sure where. "Father, where do I . . ."
"Here, Marta," he said, reaching forward to show her the tiny lever that opened the parasol. She tried it and the parasol opened with a tiny whooshing noise. She gasped and smiled with delight, getting up off the couch to hold it the way she'd seen ladies in town do.
Her father smiled and looked at his little daughter, with her baby blanket worn like a shawl and her pretty pink parasol. "What a lady!" he exclaimed.
"Oh, Father, I love it! How did you know I wanted a pink parasol?"
"Well, yesterday, I asked your sisters what you had wanted for your birthday but didn't get."
Marta very carefully closed the pink parasol and laid it down on the ground. Without further ado, she leapt onto the sofa and threw her little arms around her father. "Thank you, Papa."
Her face buried in her father's shoulder, she did not noticed how her father's eyes fill, but she did feel his arms come around her and hold her tightly. "You're welcome, sweetheart."
They hugged each other for a long time.
Maria entered the now dark house as quietly as he could, tired but feeling very good indeed. It had been nice to have a day off. Of course, she had tried to argue against it – having only been the governess for two and a half weeks – but the Captain had insisted, saying he wanted to spend the day with his children. Now she was grateful. She had visited the Abbey, caught up with the Reverend Mother, and spent a lot of time in the hills around her mountain.
Before heading up the stairs, she saw a light coming from a doorway that was opened just a crack. Ever curious, and not knowing which room this was, Maria tiptoed to the door and took a peak.
The sight she saw made her heart fill.
The Captain was sitting on a sofa with an arm around little Marta. He was reading aloud in a soft, captivating voice from a small, worn green book with gold lettering she could make out at this distance. Marta looked half-asleep, but was listening raptly.
Maria had an urge to sit by the door and listen too, but her stronger, wiser urge made her step away from the door and head up to her own room. That precious moment was for them, not her.
The young woman made no attempt to wipe the smile off her face. So much had changed, all for the better. The children had a loving father, and the strict, cold sea captain was not so strict and cold anymore . . .
"And they lived happily, ever, after," concluded Georg, in a soft, dramatic voice, shutting the book of the Brother's Grimm fairy tales and setting it down on the coffee table. His little Marta was snuggling under his arm against his side. Her eyes were half closed, probably half asleep.
"I like that story, Father," said Marta. "Will you read it again sometime? Gretl would like it too."
"Of course, Marta," Georg said, giving her a squeeze. "Now, I know you said Fraulein Maria sings you a lullaby, but my voice is nowhere near as good as hers is."
"It's still nice, though," she said, her voice very weary. After a pause, she said quietly, "I'm glad you love us now, Father."
Georg could practically feel his heart being stabbed. He closed his eyes and clenched his jaw for a moment, willing control to find him again, before cupping Marta's face and looking into her eyes, which now opened wide at the intense expression in them.
"Listen to me, Marta. I have loved you, and your brothers and sisters, from the moment I found out you were coming into the world. I never stopped, even though I changed and treated you all so unforgivably. It was always there, it just . . . hurt to love you for a time. But that's done now, and it will never happen again. Please believe that, Marta."
It was the best he could explain to his seven-year-old daughter, but she did seem to understand, and feel great relief and happiness with this. She hugged him around the chest again and said, "I love you, Papa."
"I love you, too, sweetheart," said Georg, holding her close and kissing the top of her head. "I never stopped and never ever will."
A few minutes later, he was carrying his sleeping daughter up the stairs, with her pink parasol, to her own room.
After Maria had showered, changed and gotten herself up, she didn't feel quite ready to sleep yet. Though her body felt tired, her mind was wide awake. A cup of tea sounded like the perfect thing to help her.
So she wrapped her dressing gown around herself and quietly left her room and went downstairs. She noticed the door to the Captain's study or office was still lit, and the door was partially open still. Since she had to pass it on her way to the kitchen anyway, she felt no guilty passing the room.
She wasn't going to take another peak, but the sound she heard made her feel compelled to. It sounded like someone . . . crying. She hoped Marta hadn't had a nightmare.
But it wasn't Marta who was crying, for Marta wasn't in there anymore. It was the Captain, and he was sitting on the sofa, face in hands, shoulders hunched and shaking . . . crying.
Her hand flew to her heart, and Maria had a sudden impulse to rush to this man and comfort him. She didn't know specifically why he was crying but she could imagine it had something to do with his recent reconciliation with his children. Perhaps his guilt had finally caught up with him and dealt him a bad blow . . .
She didn't dare go in, though. One thing she had learned about grown men was that they did not like to show weakness of any kind to women, especially strangers. She was practically a stranger to him, she was sure, being only the governess. No, it was not her place to go in there. But she still felt the effort of walking to the kitchen the whole way there, still wishing she should go in and comfort him.
Maria had an idea in the kitchen as she put the water to boil. Perhaps she could make a cup of tea for him instead. Leave it outside of his study, knock on the door, and then rush out of sight so he would know it was her. It would at least be something, and she felt like she had to do something. Her kind heart could never just stand by and watch someone in pain.
So she made a cup of tea and quietly made her way back to the study. But this time, no sound came from behind the door, though the light was still on. She took a peak inside, and saw that the Captain had fallen asleep on the sofa. His head rested on a pillow of the sofa, but his feet were still on the ground, sleeping while sitting.
That can't be very comfortable, and he'll be sore when he wakes up, she thought. So, going against what she thought was her better judgment, Mara very quietly went into the room and approached his sleeping form. Setting the tea down on the coffee table, she noticed the fire was nearly dead now, and the majority of light came from the table lamp. She would deal with that last.
Suddenly feeling incredibly shy, but determined to do something kind for this man after witnessing all she had witnessed, Maria knelt before him. Carefully, she untied his fine black shoes and slid them off his feet, looking up at him every few seconds to make sure he was still asleep. He was.
Setting her jaw determinedly, Maria then lifted his legs to rest on the sofa, extremely grateful he was still asleep. She would not know what to say if he had woken up. But no, all he did was make a noise in his sleep and rest his head on the pillow a little more. Heaving a deep breath of relief, feeling the biggest task was over, Maria lifted a blanket from over the back of the sofa and proceeded to cover him, tucking him in tenderly.
Her task done, she looked at his face. His cheek glistened with a freshly fallen tear, and before she could stop herself, she reached out and brushed it away. "A fine, brave man . . ." she murmured, thinking back to her initial conversation with the Reverend Mother. Now, finally, she could believe it.
All she had witnessed yesterday and this evening had confirmed in her mind that he was a good man, and would now be the father his children deserved. Smiling, she turned off the desk lamp and picked up her tea before quietly leaving the room, with one final glance at the sleeping captain before closing the door.
But Georg was not sleeping. He had been awake since he had woken to the sensation of his legs being lifted onto the sofa. The more comfortable position had woken him up. But after his cry, he felt too tired and embarrassed to fully open his eyes to see what was going on, so he only opened them a fraction.
What he saw surprised him. It was Fraulein Maria. He then watched through his eyelashes as she covered and tucked a blanket around him, a look of tender determination on her face. It touched a very deep place in his heart. When she had completed her task and turned her gaze to his face, he had shut his eyes completely again, unwilling to interrupt her for some reason. Also, he was just too tired.
Then, he felt fingers, soft, warm and exceedingly gentle, brush against his cheek. His skin burned, his heart raced, and he felt moisture being wiped away. She had seen a stray tear and was brushing it away . . . He felt embarrassed, ashamed, that anyone had found out he'd let his emotions out. Even with Agathe it was difficult. Now he was surprised to find that a small part of him rejoiced in the feeling of being comforted, and by a young governess who had done so much but he barely knew.
But what surprised him most was what she murmured to herself that he almost didn't catch: "A fine, brave man." Did she really think of him that way? Even after how he'd first treated her? Even after she had seen evidence he had cried?
The light had turned off and he heard the door shut. He knew he was alone now, and sleep claimed hold of him again. He felt extremely comfortable now, and thankfully sleep stayed his confused and complicated thoughts of the governess.
But that didn't stop him from dreaming about her. It was not the first time, and it would be far from the last . . .