A/N: Now, I'm writing in a song and musical group that are about thirty years too early, but if I can use my favorite musical in 'Arrangement,' I can use my favorite music artists in this one. It's pretty obvious who they are. And the reason I chose the particular song I chose? Look up the song along with "Maria & the Captain." It's quite amazing, I think, how well the song works.


Sunday

At midnight, four young best mates and bandmates arrived back at the Ritz Hotel after a very successful concert in a nearby, high-end night club. They were laughing and joking together, giddy with their recent success as only young men can be. Three carried guitar cases and one carried drumsticks, all wearing matching dark suits and Italian boots; even their haircuts were similar.

As they came into the lobby, still laughing and joking, the sound of a cry caused all of them to stop and look in front of them. A young woman had just collapsed running out of the elevators, probably tripped from going so fast. Immediately, all four of them rushed to her to help her up. "Oh, miss, are you all right?" asked Paul, taking her arm to help her up.

"Yes, you look like you've seen a demon," said George, who supported her other arm. "Can we call you a cab or call someone?"

Both of them had forgotten they were in France for a moment and spoke in their native English. But before they could correct themselves, the young woman – whom they couldn't really call young, because she looked their age – replied, "No, thank you, I just need to get out of here, excuse me," in English with a type of German accent. Tears were streaming down her flushed face, and she was shaking all over. And before any of the four of them could stop her, she had run out of the hotel at lightning speed and disappeared.

Shocked, and no longer in a mood for joking after seeing such a frightened, heartbroken creature, the four men headed for their original destination: the small, intimate bar that housed a beautiful grand piano.

"Oh, good, it's free!" said Paul when they came into the empty space, heading straight for the piano to stake his claim. "I thought it might not be, usually that dark-haired man is always at it, like today."

"Well, let's take advantage of our turn now," said John, pulling up a chair so he could sit beside the piano. As he got his guitar out of his case, he said, "I just hope that poor thing's all right. She reminded me of a frightened bird who's been shot at."

"Tell me about it," said Ringo, standing beside the grand piano and leaning his forearms against it. "I wish she'd have let us call her a taxi or gotten her a drink or something."

"Yes, in her state, she shouldn't be running through the streets at night," said John reflectively.

"I think someone broke her heart," said Georg, pulling up another chair after taking out his own guitar. "She was crying, and she's quite pretty, even in her state."

"Well, there's nothing we can do about it now, lads," said Paul, who was opening up the grand instrument. "She didn't stay long enough for any of us to say another word, and we just have to pray…"

As the two men tuned their guitars and Paul warmed up with some scales, the man who had always been at the piano in the past week came storming in. The four men looked up at him as he entered. He looked the perfect image of both a broken man and a storm cloud, even more of the latter when he saw that the piano was taken.

"Sorry, mate," said Paul in English – again, forgetting this was France, conveniently because he barely spoke the language – "but you weren't here and we wanted to work on a new song."

The man let out a very frustrated sigh and growled, "Fine," in English. He went to the bar and sat down on a stool. He leaned forward and looked around for a bartender.

"Uh, the bar closes at midnight, mate," said John, who was watching him.

The man slammed his fists down on the bar, cursing quite colorfully to himself in his native tongue, which was German.

All four English men cringed a bit; German is quite ugly to English-speaking ears when spoken so harshly. "You German, mate?" asked Ringo, a little suspiciously; the political turmoil did not paint the Germans in a good light back in their home country.

"Austrian," the man practically shouted, looking at the four of them fiercely. "I want nothing to do with Germany and that political party that's taken control their thanks to that monster."

"Relax, mate!" said John, leaning back and holding up his hands. "We're from Liverpool, and we can only distinguish English dialects, let alone know only three words of German between the four of us."

The man seemed to relax a little and had the grace to look a little abashed. "I'm sorry, you've met me at the worst possible time…I've just lost everything."

"It's all right, mate," said George, who could hear in the man's tone that he was, indeed, heartbroken. "And we'll be done with the instrument as soon as we're done working out this song, right lads?"

The rest of them all nodded and reassured the man. After all, he'd been friendly to them in the past and was a fantastic piano player. The Austrian man tried to smile but was indeed grateful. "All right, then, I'll wait. Don't hurry on account of me."

But just before Paul began his song, he remembered the young woman who had tripped in the lobby from running. She'd had the exact same accent as this Austrian man, which meant she was Austrian, too. Two Austrian people in Paris who seemed heartbroken…nope, no coincidence.

"Uh, mate…when you say you've just lost everything, do you mean a woman?"

The Austrian man began to tap her fingers like a metronome on the bar counter. His silence was answer enough.

"Would she happen to be around my age, have short golden hair, pretty blue eyes, and have the same accent as you?"

This caused the Austrian man to look up and at Paul very abruptly, his blue eyes sparkling. "You saw her? You've met her?"

"I'll take that as a yes," muttered Paul to himself before saying, "Well, we didn't exactly meet her, it happened very quickly. We had just come into the lobby when we saw her trip from running out of the elevators. We helped her up, but she wasn't hurt, and she just said she had to get out of here and ran out. Poor thing looked like she'd been shot at…what did you do to her, mate?"

The Austrian man looked so heartbroken that he couldn't even try and look defensive. He turned back to the bar and rested his head on his hands. "I ruined the best thing that has happened to me in years…because I was a coward. I never planned to meet her, let alone fall completely in love with her, just before I leave the country. I can't bear losing the woman I love again. Once nearly killed me…when my wife died three years ago."

The four young men were silent for a few minutes after the Austrian man had finished. Being quite young and focused on their music right now, none of them could comprehend the thought of loving a woman so much, let alone losing them. But they could at least try to understand, especially Paul and John. Both had lost their mothers, and knew what loss was like. And George, perhaps the most intuitive of the four, tried the most to understand.

"Well, mate…it's not the Dark Ages," he said tentatively. "There are letters, telephones, and trains; they all travel very quickly these days."

"Right," said Ringo, casually twirling his drumsticks. "Just takes a little more patience and dedication."

The Austrian man gave a hollow and humorless laugh. "The only problem is that she now hates me."

"You don't know that," said Paul. "Did you physically do anything to her that crossed the line? Did you insult her in some horrible way?"

"Never!" the man cried, pounding his fists on the table again. "I could never…but not even she would be good enough to try this with some middle-aged widower who just pushed her away, like I do with everything good in my life…" With that, the man buried his face in his hands, defeated.

Paul opened his mouth to argue, but John held up a hand, silencing him. And before Paul could question him, John pointed to the keyboard with a significant look. "Why don't we try out that new song, eh, mate?"

Paul exchanged a smile with him, now knowing the plan. The other two were smiling as well, in on the plan which would hopefully have a good result. John and George readied their guitars, and Ringo looked poised.

John gave a silent countdown on his fingers and Paul began his new song on the piano.

Hey Jude, don't make it bad.

Take a sad song, and make it better.

Remember to let her into your heart,

Then you can start to make it better.

The four young men exchanged another smile, the guitars now joining in, while Ringo tapped his two sticks together in a soft percussion.

Hey Jude, don't be afraid:

You were made to go out and get her.

The minute you let her under your skin,

Then you begin to make it better.

None of them looked at the Austrian man, not wanting to make it obvious what they were doing, or for him to think they were teasing him.

And any time you feel the pain,

Hey Jude, refrain:

Don't carry the world upon your shoulder,

For well you know that it's a fool

Who plays it cool

By making his world a little colder.

Paul gave an excited smile to his bandmates when they joined in with some vocalizing harmonies, and they nearly giggled when they tried some 'nah nah's, but they worked. Paul entered into a new verse, doing everything but looking at the Austrian man, in awe of how much his lyrics were meant for him to hear.

Hey Jude, don't let me down.

You have found her, now go and get her!

Remember to let her into your heart,

Then you can start to make it better.

He nodded at John, who had sung harmony with him to great effect, and they exchanged a significant, satisfied look.

So let it out and let it in.

Hey Jude, begin!

You're waiting for someone to perform with.

And don't you know that it's just you?

Hey Jude, you'll do.

The movement you need is on your shoulders.

Paul knew now, doing the song with his three mates and actually doing it with a purpose, that this was a good one, a really good one. He had no idea where he had pulled this tune from, but it was a true treasure. So he went into the final verse with a lot of confidence.

Hey Jude, don't make it bad.

Take a sad song and make it better.

Remember to let her into your heart,

Then you can start to make it better…

Movement had caught his eye and his voice faded when he did. All four of the band mates watched in shock as the Austrian man, very abruptly, got up from the bar, walked to them, dropped a generous bill into George's guitar case (as one would tip a street musician or group), and walked out with a determined and energetic stride.

The tip left the four of them in no doubt what the outcome of the song had been to the Austrian man. So the four bandmates cheered for him and for themselves, then had a jam session until dawn.


Maria thought that this must be what it felt like to be dead. At least, physically. She'd cried until she couldn't cry anymore, and now her body was spent, exhausted, both from running and from sobbing. She lay on her bed, face in the pillow, unable to move a muscle except to breathe. She didn't feel very angry anymore, but she felt very sad.

Over and over again in her mind played her memories of him, especially their last encounter. More than any other emotion, she felt heartbroken for more that one reason: that Georg did not want to care for her, that her first love had ended like this, that so many complications had gotten in the way, that she did not have the courage or was ready to share her body with the man she loved.

She wanted to call her grandmother or one of her friends to find some comfort, but it was after midnight now, and she didn't want to disrupt anyone's peaceful sleep with her problems.

Because her three friends had promised to come with her to the train station in the early morning, and because she herself would get on a train to Rouen with Jacque and his wife shortly after Georg's left, Maria concluded that she would see him at the station to at least say good-bye to him, apologize if anything she had said in anger hurt him, and thank him for the good times they had in the past week together. This idea made Maria nearly sick to her stomach, but what else could she do, if Georg didn't want anything more with her?

As she came to this reluctant conclusion, Maria thought she heard a knock at her door. When she concluded that it was only her imagination, it came again, louder. Confused and a bit disoriented, Maria got up from the bed and walked to her front door. A third knocking.

She didn't have a peephole, so she called softly through her front door, "Who is it?"

"A cowardly fool."

She knew that voice, and she'd never heard it so filled with regret before. Maria hadn't thought he would come after her, and the first reaction she felt inside was complete surprise. That surprise led her to open the door to make sure she was still not dreaming.

No. There he stood, dressed as he had been when they'd last been together. His face match the tone of his voice: pleading, desperate, scared yet resolute. His expression was so open and honest, and the fact that his tone matched that when he called himself a 'cowardly fool,' really touched the honest Maria. Her anger with him had long since taken a back seat, for reasons she still couldn't identify.

The two of them stood there looking at each other for a long minute before he spoke again. "Please, Maria. I know I don't deserve it, but I can't leave town without resolving some things between us."

Maria stepped aside, a silent invitation that he could come in. She let him in for two reasons: one, she could see that his remorse was genuine, and two, she wanted things resolved between them, too.

After she closed the door, Maria silently motioned for him to sit down at the kitchen table. He did, and she took the seat next to him and faced him, showing she was willing to listen. She stayed silent because she didn't know what to say, since she did not know what he had come here for.

Georg's hands were shaking, like he wanted to reach out and take hers, but he didn't. "Maria…I'm so sorry for what I said, and for what I asked of you. I know it wasn't fair, and I know it was selfish. I asked them because…I don't want to lose you."

Maria's breath caught in her throat at his use of the present tense, and by the strong look in his blue eyes.

"I love you, Maria," he said without apology or hesitating. "I believe I fell in love with you the first moment I saw you. I never thought I was capable of loving any woman again after Agathe, and I didn't recognize my feelings for what they were until last night. When I first met you, I thought that I had met someone who could be my friend, keep me company, remind me of my homeland but not of the memories I was running from. A distraction, for I needed one, and I'm sorry you heard that.

"Then I knew what we shared was much more profound on Wednesday, when I asked you to meet me and you took me to your special place. The fact that you were the first person I wanted to call, and that I could talk to you so freely about something I had trouble talking to anybody about…I knew what I felt for you was something deeper than friendship. But I was still afraid, both then and last night. I know what it's like to lose the person you love, and I still feel insecure about our circumstances. But I do know that I am in my right mind now, and I know what I want to ask."

Georg leaned forward slightly, emphasizing what he wanted to say. He still wanted to take her hands, it looked like, and Maria wanted to offer them to him, but she needed to hear what he wanted to ask first.

"I want us to try, Maria. We don't live in the Dark or Middle Ages. A letter takes only a few days to deliver, a telephone call takes only a minute, and there will always be a train connecting us. I know it will be hard at times, but I am in love with you, Maria Rainer, and I do not want to let you go. But it's up to you. If you're not ready, or if I've hurt you too badly, I will leave you alone. Or if you need some time, I will wait for as long as it takes."

With that, Georg was finished speaking. Maria now felt something overwhelming rise inside her, so much so that she had to get up from the table, covering her mouth with one hand. She stood at the window for a moment, so she could collect herself enough to speak. When she did, Maria turned around to face Georg, who was still sitting at the kitchen table with that vulnerable expression on his face. Hers was just as vulnerable, she knew.

She spoke in a soft, resolute voice. "No matter what agreement we come to, I will be at the train station to see you off. I want that clear, and you can take my word on that…" Her eyes caught sight of the clock, and she got a sudden inspiration. She took a deep breath and sighed, turning her eyes back to him. "It's a quarter to one, and I want to change into something more comfortable. I need to clear my head a bit. I need to breathe. If I come out of my bedroom at one, and you're still here, then we both want to try. If you leave or I don't come out, we'll have the opposite answer. All right?"

Maria's eyes pleaded with him to do this, to give them this opportunity to really think before jumping in. Georg nodded, and she nodded before disappearing into her bedroom, softly shutting the door behind her.


Those next fifteen minutes were the longest minutes in either of their lives. But finally, one o'clock came, announced by a single light chime from the clock in Maria's living room.

A few seconds after the clock chimed, the door to Maria's bedroom opened softly and she came out slowly. She had now changed into her white nightgown, covered by her blue robe. Her feet remained bare. She walked down the tiny hallway that led into her living room slowly, arms crossed and her head down, terrified of what she might not find.

When she crossed the threshold into the room, she stopped, took a shaky breath, and raised her head. Her eyes filled with tears she didn't know she still had in her, but it shouldn't have surprised her. Before she had cried tears of heartbreak and anger – now she cried tears of relief and happiness.

There he stood, facing her, for he had been waiting for her, hoping she would come out. And through her tears, she could see the same relief and happiness on his face. And, without saying a word, Georg opened his arms to her. Maria didn't hesitate, and went straight into his arms.

She let out her happy tears into his shirt, holding him tightly to her. He held her just as tightly back, kissing her head and rubbing her back soothingly. Eventually, she looked up at him, neither of their holds loosening.

"I'm so sorry," breathed Georg, looking into her eyes. "For what I asked of you, and for pushing you away."

Maria shook her head. "I know, and I can understand why you did. I'm sorry if anything I shouted at you hurt you."

Georg shook his head. "No, you were right, about everything." He reached up a hand to caress her neck. "I meant what I said, Maria, when I said that just one week with you is not enough. I've found you, and I aim to keep you, for as long as you'll have me."

Maria took that hand and tenderly kissed his palm. "I'm in love with you, Georg," she said quietly, but with all of her heart. "That means you'll have me forever."

Now Georg was the one to get tears in his eyes. He leaned down and kissed all traces of her tears away from her eyes and cheeks before pulling her closer for another hug.

Maria sighed deeply, resting her heavy head on his shoulder. Her body was beginning to give out after everything, so she asked softly, "Georg, can we sit down?"

"Of course," he said, keeping his arms around her as he led her to the couch, and when he sat down, he guided her to sit across his lap, so he could continue to hold her close. Looking at her face closely while he caressed it, he said, "You look worn out, my love."

Maria's face broke into a real smile at the term of endearment, and her cheeks flushed, chasing away the worn-out look on her face. "I'll have to get used to that."

"I hope to give you plenty of opportunities to do so," said Georg tenderly, kissing her flushed cheeks. He took a long look at her, his long fingers playing with her short, silky hair. "I've just remembered something you said…was I really the first man to kiss you?"

Poor Maria blushed even more and nodded. At the look on Georg's face she said, "Don't look so surprised. I spent most of my life from puberty onwards in a house of nuns and orphan girls; the only males I ever saw were priests and monks for a long time."

His surprised looked turned to one of humble pleasure. "Well, I'm honored, my dear. To tell you the truth, I've never been a woman's first kiss before."

"Really?" This surprised Maria. "Not even…"

"No," Georg said, shaking his head. He no longer felt pain speaking of Agathe, because he knew now that he was doing her memory justice and honor by moving on. "And believe me, she never failed to tease me about the fact that I was not the first young man who courted her with a few secret kisses."

Maria giggled, and said, "Well, then, I'm honored, too." A pause, then Maria blushed and buried her face in his shoulder. She groaned, "Oh, this is all so new to me…please tell me if I'm doing something wrong."

Georg laughed, hugging her tightly to him. "Believe me, darling, you're perfect to me, and will never be in any danger of me thinking that." His hand continuing to run through her hair, Georg noticed her head still on his shoulder, her eyes closed in a peaceful expression. "Do you want to get some sleep? You must be absolutely exhausted after everything."

Maria immediately opened her eyes and lifted her eyes to look at him. "No, and don't let me. I can sleep on the train to Rouen and after mass there. I'm not going to waste one second that I have with you. What about you?"

"I was planning on sleeping on the long train ride anyway," said Georg. "I won't arrive in Salzburg until the evening, so I'll have plenty of time for that." He kissed her forehead. "I don't want to waste any time, either."


So they didn't. They spent the next four hours in Maria's living room. Georg lit a fire in the fireplace and Maria lit a few candles. He found her records, putting one of Chopin on so it played softly, and Maria found a blanket for them. They laid on the couch snuggled together. Sometimes they looked through and read from Maria's Shakespeare volume, which she had left out from the afternoon just before going to the party; sometimes they just talked about everything and nothing; sometimes they didn't talk at all (though they certainly used their lips). Both had a silent agreement between them not to get sad about the upcoming separation, for both were determined and resolved about one thing now: this was not the end, but only the beginning of their love story.

This resolution remained when five o'clock came and the sun came up. They watched it together out of Maria's window before going back to the Ritz Hotel, where Georg checked out of his hotel room and picked up his luggage. They then took the same taxi to the train station, where they would meet everybody else on the platform where Georg's train would be leaving.

The two of them, walking hand-in-hand into the station, had to pass several platforms before they got to their own. At one they passed, a series of cheers and shouts caused the both of them to turn their heads at a stationary train they were passing.

Leaning out of the window were four very familiar-looking young men, with matching hair-cuts and suits. They were waving at the pair of them, smiling and cheering for them. Maria looked very surprised at this and looked at Georg, who only shot them a grateful and very satisfied expression as he wrapped an arm securely around her as they kept walking. "Thank you," he called over his shoulder once they passed them.

"What was all that about?" asked Maria, wrapping her own arm around him, repeating his gesture.

He shot her a secretive smile. "I'll tell you someday."

Shortly after that, the two of them arrived at the right platform, ten minutes before the train's departure at six thirty. They were the last to arrive as it turns out, because all of their friends were waiting for them: Jacque and his wife Hélène, Max with his own luggage, Claude, Adele, Therese, and Nicole. When the seven of them spotted the pair, they all cheered, seeing they had their arms around each other.

"So how was it having Max as your guest?" asked Georg jovially to Claude. "Did he eat you out of house and home, or am I the only one?"

Everyone laughed at that, while Max looked dramatically indignant. Claude replied innocently, "I don't know what you're talking about, Georg! Max, does that mean you don't like me as much?"

They all continued to joke like that until the conductor of the train came out and announced, "All aboard!"

This announcement sent an ice-cold dread through both Maria and Georg, but their friends were ready to distract them from it with their good-byes. Claude and Jacque embraced Georg and Max like brothers, and the four young women were touched by the sight. Then Max stepped up to Maria and kissed her cheeks. "It was wonderful to meet you," he said, then added in a softer tone. "And thank you, for saving my good friend's life."

Maria couldn't think of anything to say to that, so she merely smiled and squeezed his hands. "I plan to visit Salzburg some time in the summer, so I hope to see you again."

"Oh, of course! Any chance I get to have free access to Georg's terrific wine cellar."

"The more you come, the less free it will be," Georg mumbled, before stepping up to Maria himself for his own good-bye. Both of their friends respectively took a few steps back to give them a little privacy.

Both could feel lumps rising in their throats, but they held true to their silent vows not to let themselves be sad. Georg took both of her hands in his, wishing he could wrap her in his arms but well aware they were in public and in the company of friends who would most certainly tease them if they saw anything like that. "You'll really come to Salzburg this summer? I'll take your word on that."

"Most definitely," said Maria, speaking in the same soft tone so their friends wouldn't overhear them. "Like you said last night, there are ghosts there I want to vanquish, and I do want to see my homeland again, especially my mountain. And meet your children, if I can."

"Of course," said Georg. "I can't say I'm not nervous to see them again, but –"

"You will be fine," said Maria firmly. "You all will be fine, for you love each other and you're not afraid anymore. I have complete faith in you."

"Thank you," he said softly. He looked down at their joined hands. "I'll write you once I get home and tell you what happens."

"I'll look forward to it," said Maria, knowing their goodbye was nearly finished.

They shared a powerful look that said all they were feeling before Georg slowly let go of her hands after one final squeeze. "Auf weidersein."

"Au revoir," she replied, pushing her tears back fiercely.

One final smile, and then Georg turned away from them all and followed Max towards their entrance onto the train.

When Maria saw him approach that door after Max got on, something inside of her snapped. One thought ran through her mind as she rushed to him: To hell with it!

"Georg!" she called, and he turned around abruptly. Throwing all caution, insecurities and modesties to the wind, Maria rushed right up to him, wrapped her hand around his neck, and brought his head down to kiss him fiercely on the mouth, the first time she had initiated such a kiss. If Georg was surprised, it didn't last long, for a second later he was returning it just as fiercely, giving into his urge to hold her again.

When their lips parted, they shared a joyous smile that they had said a proper farewell. "Mon amour," whispered in his ear. And she whispered back, "Meine Liebe." One more soft kiss as the whistle blew, and then Georg finally got on the train, punching Max on the arm before his wicked smile could give way to a wicked tease. Immediately, Georg went to his suite and stuck his upper body out the window as the train began to move. As long as he could see her, his eyes never left the figure of the woman he loved, wearing a beautiful blue dress and a loving smile on her angelic face as she blew a kiss farewell, until they would meet again.

For that was the very least of what would happen between them in the future.


Maria and Gabrielle walked into what was now Maria's room in the little cottage after they had come back from 10:30 Sunday mass. She, Hélène and Jacque had arrived in Rouen just in time for it – they had eaten breakfast with Maria's friends before boarding the 9:00 train – and Gabrielle had been there to greet her granddaughter with a joyous hug at the station, seeing in her eyes all she needed to know about what had happened between Maria and her love.

"Now you must get some sleep, Maria," said Gabrielle firmly, pulling down the covers as Maria changed into her nightgown. "After being up all night, you must be dead on your feet."

"It certainly is all catching up to me now," said Maria, yawning. "I want to get as much rest as I can before taking that early train back to Paris in the morning."

Gabrielle saw something unfamiliar on the floor. "Did that drop from the pocket of your dress?" she asked.

Maria looked down to where her grandmother was pointing, and gasped. That piece of white cloth was very familiar. She picked it up and her guess was confirmed. Maria couldn't stop laughing joyously as she caressed the handkerchief that had been there at the very beginning, glad she had something of his to hold on to. She got into her bed smiling and holding the handkerchief tightly. "I know I'll have good dreams now," she said.

Gabrielle smiled and knelt by the side of her bed, caressing her beloved granddaughter's head. Maria had told her about hers and Georg's shared feelings and resolutions about their future. "I'm so proud of you, mon ange," she said with great emotion in her voice. "And I know my Christine is so proud of her daughter."

Maria smiled with her heavy eyelids closed as her grandmother kissed her forehead. "Sing me the lullaby, grandmére…" She said, already falling asleep.

Gabrielle complied, and stroked her granddaughter's head as she sang the familiar lullaby, sending Maria into the wonderful dreams of her sea captain, the man she loved and who loved her in return, she had hoped for, after one final, happy thought:

It's all just beginning…


Georg felt dizzy with emotion and happiness as he climbed the stairs of his home.

True to his word, he had slept the whole journey back to Salzburg while Max amused himself by talking to people. He was in for a true surprise when the train arrived and the two of them got off. Waiting for Georg were six of his seven children, all looking nervous but hopeful. Max had smiled at Georg, telling him silently that this was his doing. Georg had approached them just as nervously with a timid smile, and in the next moment the walls were destroyed and he embraced his children who eagerly embraced him back. This was truly a moment too beautiful to describe in words.

But one of his children had been missing: Marta. Her fever was gone, but she still felt weak and so Frau Schmidt had told her she must stay in bed. So Georg made his first destination when he got home her room, his children following behind, eager to see little Marta smile again after a week of sickness.

When he came to the door, Georg knocked softly on it and didn't enter until he heard the tiny, weak voice call, "Come in!" He obeyed, and his heart filled when he saw little Marta sitting up in bed. She still looked pale and tired, but her eyes were sparkling with shyness, life and hope when she saw her father come in and walk to her.

"Hello, Father," she said quietly.

Georg knelt beside her bed, while the other six children stayed by the doorway, silent witnesses to the final reunion that would complete the circle. "Hello, sweetheart," he said. Slowly, so as not to frighten her, Georg reached out a hand and touched her face. "How are you feeling?"

"Better, Father," she replied, leaning into the almost unfamiliar but very comforting touch. "I don't feel hot anymore."

"Good," said Georg, who indeed felt no fever, which relieved him. "And I brought something for you that will make you feel even better. A gift from an angel, to be exact." Georg then opened his suitcase that he had brought in with him, and pulled out the doll Maria had so selflessly given.

Marta's eyes lit up at the sight of the doll and eagerly held out her arms for it. She embraced it immediately, saying, "It looks like me! She's perfect."

Georg smiled, and lifted Marta's chin so he could look at her. "You're so brave, Marta, and so strong," he said, and looked to her siblings. "You all are. And I'm so…so unbelievably proud…of all of you. I know it may take a while, but from today on, I will make amends to each and everyone of you, and try my best to be the father you deserve, and be worthy of your love." He finished his speech looking at Marta.

Tears came to her brown eyes. "Oh, Papa…" she said, and hugged him. He embraced her back just as strongly, tears streaming down his cheeks that he was not ashamed of. The rest of the children came into the room, joining in the embrace and crying with joy, too. It was a moment straight from God to the once-broken-now-healed family.

And the first thing Georg did after putting his seven beloved offspring to bed was fulfill his promise: write to the woman he loved and who loved him in return, the one who had saved him from the darkness and brought him back to the light.

It's all just beginning…

FIN


A/N: And so it ends. Not sure if I want to write a sequel or not, and if I do, it won't be for a while. I have a lot of other story ideas I want to get out first. Thanks to all who have read and reviewed, it means so much to me!