A/N: Why an epilogue? I loved writing this story, and I was thrilled that so many people enjoyed reading it. I'm not a big AU writer, so my goal had always been to create a backstory that fit neatly, like a puzzle piece, into the original film, and I thought I had a clever way to do that. I was taken aback when my readers were disappointed that the story simply ended with the original scene in the gazebo. With one notable exception, though, I was very grateful that even reviewers who were disappointed with the ending took the time to tell me that they liked the story, and to thank me for my hard work. To thank those reviewers – and the one sweet person who said, "I don't need to use my imagination, I can watch the film!", she really got it—I've written this epilogue, hoping it will scratch the itch for a happy ending. Thanks to my Proboards friends for previewing my ideas, and to lemacd for her suggestions. I don't own the Sound of Music or anything about it.
ONE WEEK LATER
"What a beautiful night," Georg murmured. He kept her arm tucked firmly in his as they walked along the lake shore, toward the woods. The sky was dark, with only a sliver of moon on display, but a carpet of stars shone above them. "These cool evenings are such a relief. When we get to Paris, it will not be so beastly hot during the daytime, and..."
"Mm, " she replied absently.
"Maria? Is everything all right? Ten minutes ago you were chattering away about the wedding, and now you're in another world."
Although their evening walk had quickly become a routine, they usually ended up in the gazebo. This was the first time he'd led her away from the gazebo, toward the woods, and the closer they got, the more uneasy Maria became. She wondered how he was going to react to what she had to say. Although it was such a little thing to be troubled by, really, compared to everything that had happened in the last blissful week, and the way the whole future lay ahead for the two of them.
"Out with it, Maria," he prompted her.
She sighed. "I have something to talk to you about. Well, I mean, to give you."
He stopped and turned toward her, raising a questioning eyebrow. In response, she reached under the collar of her dress and pulled out a length of string until, at last, a key emerged. Her key to the garden.
"So you had it all along!" he chuckled. "I thought you'd lost it."
"Lose it?" she asked earnestly. "As though I would ever be careless with something that's so precious to you. And that's why..." she lifted the loop of string from her neck and extended her hand toward him, the key in her open palm.
"I don't understand."
"I'm returning it to you. It's not mine, not really."
Georg looked puzzled. "But of course it is. You were the only other person I've ever wanted to have it. After everything that happened there this summer? The way you fought with me, fought for them, the way we found each other..."
"I know. But Georg. You built that garden for her. You said it yourself - it was a special place, only for the two of you."
"Are you using my own words against me now?" he groaned. "When I said those things, I was not talking about – you must know that you are every bit as precious to me -"
Maria reached up to caress his cheek. "I understand that. I really do. But you know how I said that I went to the garden because I was curious about her? I realize now that the real reason I kept returning there was that it was the only way I could get close to you. I wanted you and now - now I have you. You and I can make our own memories in our own places."
"And you do have me," he said, turning to kiss her palm. "I don't know quite how to explain it to you, Maria. Loving you. Loving her. "
She shook her head. " I know that it isn't a comparison. A contest. But that's exactly why I don't belong there anymore. I'm not taking her place, and the garden was her place, don't you see?" She tucked the key, still on its string, into the pocket of his jacket.
"All right." He put his arm around her shoulders and held her close for a moment, kissing her forehead gently. "Once again, I submit to your wisdom. As I have all summer. At least this time, you didn't shout at me."
Laughing, she took his arm again and pulled him back in the direction they'd come from, away from the woods. "And anyway..." she said slyly, glancing at him from under her lashes. "There's another reason I prefer the gazebo."
"Why is that?"
"You know perfectly well what would happen," she said, her cheeks reddening, "if we were alone in that garden now. I would not be safe from you, and..."
Grinning, Georg finished her sentence, "...I would not be safe from you either!"
She laughed again. "But there is something I've wanted to ask you. About the garden. That night, the night of the storm, remember?"
"I do indeed."
"Well...you came within moments of kissing me. Don't try to deny it."
"I wouldn't dream of denying it. Within a millimeter or two, I'd say." Smiling wickedly, he leaned in close to her, as though to demonstrate, but she stopped him, her hands on his chest.
"Why didn't you, then, Georg? You know perfectly well I'd have kissed you back."
He took her hands in his. "And that's why I didn't do it. I do have some scruples, you know."
"I don't understand," she said. "I was perfectly willing..."
"Well, for one thing, you told me you were scared, don't you remember?"
"I wasn't scared of kissing you, for heaven's sake. I was scared about … what the future held for me if I didn't take my vows."
"And that's another thing," Georg went on. "I wanted you. Oh-ho, you were irresistible, dripping wet, in that ugly nightgown of yours. Which, by the way, I never want to see again after the wedding." He leaned forward again, and this time he did kiss her, hard, briefly but urgently, as if to reassure both of them that she was his now.
"But I wanted you to want me for the right reasons. I knew perfectly well that if I kissed you, you'd be so dazzled, you'd forget your doubts." He smirked, and she smacked his arm in mock disapproval.
"Seriously, Maria. I didn't want to pressure you. I wanted you to decide whether to go back to Nonnberg of your own free will. Asking you to love me, to become their mother, would have been an unfair complication. If you had gone back there, the children would have been heartbroken, and I don't think I could have borne it, losing you. But I wanted your happiness more than anything, so..." he broke off. "Why do you stare at me that way?"
"You loved me!"
"Of course I love you. That's why I'm marrying you. Isn't that the way it's done?"
"No, that's not what I mean. You already loved me then! You were putting my happiness above your own, and the children's, even though you knew perfectly well that I'd have done anything for you."
"What about with me?" he winked.
"That too," Maria exulted, lifting her face for another kiss. She loved him for the way he understood her and believed in her, but she believed in herself now, too, in a way she hadn't for quite a while. What a relief it was, to know that he returned the feelings she'd had for him all summer! Although nothing could have prepared her for the way she could lose herself in his kisses, the way he seemed to need her touch every bit as much as she needed his. With every passing day, he'd become less reserved and more, well, uninhibited in word and deed. Her heart skipped a beat when she thought about what lay ahead for them on their honeymoon. She was trying her best to act like a lady, but she was eager for more intimacy with him and she knew he could tell.
She wasn't sure how long they stood there, lost in their embrace, but eventually they parted and continued walking along the lakeshore until they arrived at the gazebo. She sat down and pulled him down next to her.
"It wasn't only about you, Georg. I never really considered a future besides the Abbey, and I didn't have a very good opinion of love and marriage. Remember that ridiculous book of Liesl's? In the end, that came closer to the truth than any of my misimpressions. Then there was the way your children – and you, in your own contrary way – kept their mother's memory alive. When the Reverend Mother talked about the way that love between men and women is holy, I realized there wasn't any question about the life I was meant to live."
"Still, that night, the night of the storm," he said, "You were not ready. I mean, you did tell me to get married. Repeatedly. But you didn't volunteer for the assignment."
Maria laughed. "If I recall correctly, you told me the same thing – to find myself a husband – I didn't hear you volunteering for the job either. And anyway," she added, her voice sobering, "you weren't ready, either."
He turned to her with a somber expression, his eyes dark. The passionate, light-hearted mood of a moment ago had vanished. "You mean Elsa? I thought had made your choice, that you were never coming back. And I barely thought I deserved another chance at real happiness."
She put her finger to his lips. "Please, Georg, you don't have to apologize for that. Ever again. I was only talking about the way you ran away to Innsbruck the night after the storm."
"Ah , my trip to Innsbruck," he sighed. "I should have stayed my ground, I suppose. But I didn't know what it would be like between us if I stayed. It hardly seemed likely that things would cool off between us. Go back to the way they'd been. And I did not want to be a cliché," he added, firmly.
"I'm sorry?" Maria asked.
"The Baron chasing after his governess. And I was right to be afraid of it. In a matter of a day or two after I did return, I was twirling you about the terrace and holding you in my arms. Who knows what might have happened the night of the party if you hadn't run away from me?"
"The same thing that did happen in the end," Maria reminded him. "You are marrying your governess. We both could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble and heartache if we'd stopped running away from each other. From the truth. Taking the safe way out."
"Are you calling me a coward?" he asked, mockingly. "Don't all those medals count for something?"
"We were both cowards," she admitted.
"You are no coward," he said. "You are casting your lot with seven unruly children and an irritable man twenty years your senior. Someone who wants to give you everything, everything you ever wanted, and things you didn't even know you wanted. But, alas, who may shortly be without a home or a country."
"Georg," she reminded him. "I'm not the girl in the drawing, remember? I don't want diamonds. Or ball gowns. The only thing I want is you. You and them."
"Are you sure you know what you're doing?"
Maria nodded vigorously. "I am doing what you told me to do."
"Being who God meant me to be." She wrapped her arms around his neck.
Georg ran a finger down her cheek. "And are you setting the world on fire, Maria Rainier?" he whispered.
"I intend to, Captain."
She leaned toward him for another kiss, but he pulled back to gaze at her, his eyes sparkling. "Let's make a deal, Fraulein. Next time, let's run away together." He kissed her cheek, letting his lips move down toward her neck until she shivered. "In fact, let's run away right now," he breathed. "To a place with no children, no sponging chaperones, no wedding plans… "
It had been just one lovely evening out of many during their brief, tumultuous engagement. But Maria remembered it two months later, the day they returned from their honeymoon. Sadly, their time to run away had arrived, much sooner than they had expected or desired. As they prepared to escape from Austria, the poignant memory of Georg's carefree invitation suddenly came back to her. While readying the children for their journey, Maria glanced out the window to see him striding purposefully toward the woods, toward the garden. Of course. He was going to say goodbye to Agathe. Her heart broke for him, for all of them .
But only a few minutes later, Georg emerged from the woods and moved quickly back toward the house. He looked upward , toward the window where she stood, searching for her just the way he had the night of the puppet show. This time, she raised her hand and she let her eyes meet his. This time, she'd be here to greet him. They would face the future together.
But they would never see the garden again.