He would never forget the night she taught him to dance.
He had seen her dance many times before that night, the first time being at the funeral of Alfons Heidrich, but he had never paid much attention before. He had certainly never considered dancing with her.
How many times had he strolled through the timeworn streets of some august town with her at his side, its cobbled alleys and squares awash in music, pageantry and festival splashed across its venerable walls? Certainly he had sat at some forgotten cafe and watched as the music finally took hold of her, forcing her to surrender to its primal power. Surely he began to see, to appreciate, just how beautiful she truly was awash in the lamplight and caressed by moonbeams as she swayed and turned in time to the minstrel's magic. How many mornings had he caught her in the kitchen swaying to some unheard melody, only to receive a coy smile and the faintest blush of embarrassment for his efforts?
And yet in spite of all this, he remained a steadfast man of numbers and formulas. He was a man who always saw the world through the lens of cold, calculated reason, for whom there was more charm and melody in chemistry equations and physics theorems than in the troubadour's ancient art. Until that night, that is; until she taught him things that could never be learned from a book.
Looking back, he always wondered if it was the wine - they had collectively enjoyed more than a few bottles of sweet summer wine - or the shafts of moonlight striking through the clouds, or the way the moonbeams danced across the ripples of the twisting Rhine as it snaked its ancient, immutable course through the valley below. Perhaps it was the heady perfume of wildflowers wafting on the gentle summer breeze that whispered secrets in their ears and teased its evanescent fingers through their hair. Maybe it was everything. Maybe it was just her.
As the carousing of the Roma caravan roared on into the night and the flames of the bonfire leaped ever higher, tongues of flame licking at the radiant sky, she had slipped her hand into his with no more than a conspiratorial glance, and stolen him away like a ghost. Together they dashed from the meadow and through the woods, through the hush and the shadows, leaving Alphonse and the others to their laughter and singing, until all the noise died away and left only the night time stillness.
In his mind's eye he could always picture her as she looked that night: wreathed in the moonlight, her dark eyes shining as she turned back to glance at him and held out her hand. She wore a long crimson dress with a white sash, the hem decorated with hundreds of small tassels. Her hair cascaded down over her shoulders, her face framed in her wild bangs and the two long braids she always wore, though on that night they were graced with a pair of gold rings that held them at the ends. She had kicked off her sandals, letting her lovely toes spread through the grass beneath her feet. She stole his breath just then, took him completely by surprise.
"Dance with me..." she said, her voice a tender, longing whisper.
He smirked at her, the unknowing fool, and jabbed a steel thumb back toward the veil of the woods, "The music is all back there...it would be dicey for me to try, even with Marko playing; without music it would be an abomination!"
"Please?" she begged, pleading with those dark eyes of hers until he relented with an exasperated sigh. He reached out and caught her hand, and she drew him in, guiding him into her world, until they stood side by side staring out at the Rhine valley; its great expanse was flooded in moonlight and starshine, dotted here and there by the blazing points of light that marked castles and the spires of hushed pastoral towns.
The stars above blazed with a fervor he could never have imagined, that indeed he had long forgotten since those halcyon days of innocence in the bosom of Risembool. Lost, long ago nights when the fire of the stars still filled him with awe and the caress of moonbeams on another girl's face still had the power to make his heart skip a beat. Tears would have stained his cheeks then if she had not enveloped him in her strong yet supple embrace, her cheek resting against his. He had grown considerably since he first arrived in this world, so that now she had to tilt up her chin to whisper in his ear, "Now listen, and feel...do you hear it?"
He furrowed his brow and drew back from her, though only enough to allow him to gaze into those dark pools again and be drawn deeper under their power. Little could he have known the sway his own golden gaze held over her in that moment. She smiled up at him, losing herself in his shimmering sunburst eyes, "The music is right here with us...listen for it."
He parted his lips to protest, but her finger pressed against them silenced him, and she lay her head on his shoulder. It could have been an eternity they stood there, wordless and still, as the night breeze caressed them. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, he felt her begin to sway. As though guided by ethereal hands, he followed, powerless to resist even if he had the will.
The first movements were small, subtle, fleeting, yet undeniable. She swayed to a soundless melody, her fingertips slowly tracing down the curvature of his shoulder blades, playing across the small of his back. He in turn let a few silken locks of her dark hair entwine between his fingers as he followed her slow, rhythmic motion. He let his wheat-gold eyes slip closed as her silent music drowned out the world.
He slipped away into her embrace, and found his left hand guided to the small of her back to rest just above her shapely hip, his other hand tracing a tender, searching line down her supple arm until their fingers intertwined. He felt the swaying motion begin to deepen and expand, and to his amazement, his feet began to follow hers in delicate, halting steps. He felt like holding his breath for fear that even a sigh might break the spell she cast, yet the dance went on, turning and swaying under the shining canopy of the night.
She stepped in and he lifted his arm, delighted by the way she spun away from him again, only to be drawn back after a full extension. Her body once again pressed against his, they stepped forward, back, turned and swayed again, his body completely enthralled by the siren song of her sensuous form.
And then, when he abandoned all doubt and reason, he truly began to hear it; he could hear the music that coursed through her, that tingled from her fingertips and flashed in her chocolate eyes, and he was swept away. Now, finally, he understood the truth; the music was in her blood, as vital to her as breathing, a never ending serenade that pulsed in her very soul. Music was life, death and everything in between.
He smiled and his heart heaved within him. A rond, a turn and chasse (he had no name for the steps then) until she was once again within his embrace, and with an uncharacteristic flourish, he concluded their soundless nocturne by dipping her, which she accepted with a backward stroke of her hand until her knuckles brushed the swaying blades of grass and she let out a delighted giggle. He was loathe to let her up, such was the heady view of her gorgeous features bathed in silvery moonlight, the tender weight of her lithe body resting in his hands as she panted from the exertion of the dance, but he lifted her until they once again stood face to face, close enough to exchange the warm, fleeting caress of breaths on each others lips.
He blinked in utter astonishment, his breaths slowing as he recovered from the rigors of the lesson; all this time such mystery had moved in graceful orbits around him, enticing him, teasing him with glimpses of its arcane power, and yet he had remained oblivious to it...until now. As he stood there bathed in moonlight, even the steady rise and fall of their breaths seeming to be in harmony, he was finally overcome.
He leaned in, tenderly pressing his lips to hers, his arms snaking around her middle and drawing her inexorably into his embrace, and she, in turn, drew her arms around his neck and returned his passionate kiss, losing herself in the deep, needful exchange. It was a long time before they had the heart to draw back, and even then only enough to press their foreheads together and let their tingling lips hover just inches apart, yearning to caress one another once again, if only they had the chance.
"Th..thank you..." he managed to whisper, his arms tightly wrapped around her middle.
She shook her head softly in reply, their foreheads still resting together. She snaked her fingertips through his hair, drawing her touch slowly down to brush against his cheek, "Thank you," she said, "For finally letting me in..."
Many more tender words and caresses were exchanged that night as they lay together in the grass staring up at the sky, her head cradled against his chest, his arm always protectively wrapped around her, until sleep had finally conquered and left them sprawled in each others arms. They slept peacefully until the morning dew had dampened their clothes and Alphonse's teasing snickering had awakened them.
There would be many more nights they shared together, both in joy and sorrow, in love and in anger, in despair, pain, and hope since that blazing summer night overlooking the Rhine, but always, until his dying day, he would remember that mystic evening when she taught him what magic really was.
Oh no, he would never forget the night she taught him to dance.