The ball was in full swing. All of the guests had arrived, drinks and hors d' ouevres were being passed freely, and the band was playing waltz after waltz. The bright colors of the gowns the women wore were a lovely counterpoint to the black of the mens' formalwear, and the von Trapp children were gathered on the patio just outside the ballroom, watching through the open French doors.

"The women look so beautiful," Brigitta sighed.

"I think they look ugly." Kurt sniffed.

Louisa laughed at him. "You're just scared of them."

Kurt looked at his sister, a sour expression on his face. "Silly, only grown-up men fear women."

"I think the men look beautiful." Gretl chimed in, attempting to be like her older siblings.

"How would you know?" Louisa taunted her littlest sibling, who turned up her nose and looked away.

Brigitta noticed Liesl, waltzing around the patio alone. "Liesl, who are you dancing with?" she asked, walking toward her.

"Nobody." Liesl replied, still waltzing.

"Oh, yes, you are," Brigitta insisted, in a louder voice, attracting the attention of their other siblings.

Friedrich stood before Liesl, and made a little bow, as he asked, "May I have this dance?"

"I'd be delighted, young man," she said, smiling and curtsying to him. The brother and sister began waltzing together across the patio.

Maria came out from the garden maze, and spied them dancing as the others looked on. "Why didn't you children tell me you could dance?" the governess asked, as the waltz ended and a new song was beginning to play.

"We feared you'd make us all dance. The von Trapp Family Dancers," Kurt joked, as he spun around on one foot.

Brigitta walked back toward the doors, intrigued by the new song and the dance that the entire room of guests was beginning. "What are they playing?"

Maria answered her curiosity. "It's the Laendler. an Austrian folk dance."

Kurt approached Maria, and asked, "Show me?"

Maria tried to discourage him. "Oh, Kurt, I haven't danced that since I was a little girl."

"You remember. Please?" His pleading look started to turn her resolve. "Well. . . ." "Please?"

With the plaintive expression he gave, Maria couldn't say no. "All right. Come on over here."

She positioned herself in front of Kurt, facing him, with about and arm's length of space between them. "Now you bow, and I curtsy," Maria began her instruction. "Like this?" "Fine. Now we go for a little walk." She turned to face the same direction he did, and took his hand. "One, two, three. One, two, three," she counted the beats, helping him with the steps. "One, two, three, step together." She joined both of her hands with Kurt's. "Now, step hop, step hop." "Now turn under. Not quite," as they struggled to get Kurt's arms over the taller governess' head. "This way. Hop step, hop. And under," as they tried once more to get the turn right. "Kurt, we'll have to practice," Maria demurred, hoping that would be enough to make the boy happy this evening.

No one had noticed Captain von Trapp in the doorway, watching his son and the governess with amusement. Maria looked more beautiful tonight than he'd ever seen her before. He smiled, and pulled on his formal leather gloves. We'll just have to see about this, he thought, and before he could question his own judgment or motivations he was patting his son on the head, saying, "Do allow me, will you?"Kurt immediately stepped aside, and the children formed a group at the end of the patio nearest the door to the house, and watched with rapt attention as their father and their beloved governess fell easily into the intricate steps.

XxXxXx

The Captain held out his hand to Maria. He saw her hesitate for just a split second before placing her slender hand in his, and joining him in the traditional dance of courtship. He had danced with many women during his visits to Vienna, but none had moved so easily in partnership with him. Maria was so graceful, seeming to barely touch the ground as they stepped and spun to the music. As he looked into her eyes, he could see she was enjoying herself immensely, and he smiled in response. Once again, she surprised and impressed him. Is there anything she can't do? he thought to himself.

XxXxXx

Maria looked up in surprise as she heard a deep baritone voice say, "Do allow me, will you?" and watched Kurt back away. In his place stood his father, her handsome employer, holding out his hand to her. She hesitated for the briefest moment before placing her bare hand in his gloved one, feeling his warmth through the white kid. The Captain led her expertly through the steps and turns, and Maria found herself in awe of how elegantly he moved. She caught his eye, and noticing his smile, grinned back at him.

XxXxXx

As the two moved expertly through the dance, each of them had the sensation of the rest of the world falling away; there was nothing save for the two of them, the music, and the starlit sky. The Captain watched as Maria whirled around him, her skirt flouncing up and exposing more of her long legs than he'd seen before. His gaze traveled up slowly, taking in her small waist, pert bosom, full pink lips, creamy complexion that routinely blushed an adorable pink shade, and made her eyes seem even more blue than a cloudless summer sky. Now it was his turn to dance around her, and as the Captain turned his back to set for the next segment, it crossed his mind that perhaps she wouldn't continue. He smiled in surprise and satisfaction when he felt her hand grasp his own over his shoulder.

Maria knew what was coming next, and yet didn't hesitate to follow the Captain in the next steps, reaching for his hand, and spinning into his arms in a double hold, then reversing. Each time they changed direction, she could feel him pulling her closer, his hand warm and comforting on her waist. She looked up at his face, and found he was already looking at her, his eyes fixed on hers. Maria blushed, looking down, as they changed direction one more time. Looking up at him again, her eyes locked with his. She could hardly breathe, and yet neither could she look away. Their steps slowed, then stopped. They released their arms, poised above their heads, and lowered them in tandem, as if they were one.

The Captain's eyes were fixed on Maria's lips, his hand holding hers behind her waist. As he moved in to kiss her, she turned her face up toward his, knowing what he was going to do and wanting him to do it, desperately. Her breaths became more shallow, and she was nearly panting when his lips finally met hers. Soft, warm, and gentle, theirs was a kiss of two lost souls who rejoiced in finding one another. As they separated, they remembered they were not alone.

XxXxXx

"That was beautifully done. What a lovely couple you'll make."

The voice of Elsa Schraeder jolted them from their reverie. It was also at that moment that Maria and Georg remembered the children had been watching them. The governess blushed a furious shade of red and backed away, as Georg cleared his throat in an attempt to respond.

"Elsa, I..." he began, but he Baroness stopped him.

"You don't need to say anything. I will go back inside, and behave as if nothing has happened. I just am thankful that none of the guests were here to witness your indiscretion. In the morning, I will pack my little bags and return to Vienna, where I belong." She turned on her heel, and re-entered the house.

The children still stood, speechless, near the door where the Baroness had returned to the ballroom. Unsure of what had just happened, the youngest two girls watched in confusion. Liesl and Brigitta looked on, open-mouthed, not believing what they had just witnessed. And Louisa and the boys looked from their father to the governess and back again, curious about what would happen next.

"Well, I think it is time the children said goodnight," Georg floundered for something to say.

"Oh, ah, yes. We've got something special prepared, right, children?" Maria responded. At this, the seven von Trapp children began chattering all at once about the secret performance they'd planned. "We'll be in the ballroom in a moment, Captain."

The children made their way to the edge of the garden maze, to follow the hedge to the front of the house, where they would appear in the entry for their official good night to the guests. Maria started to follow along behind them, but stopped when she heard her name.

"Maria?" he called, his deep baritone voice caressing her proper name.

"Yes, Captain?"

"Would you meet me in the gazebo later, after the ball?"