Just a Kiss

A/N: This story idea was sparked both by a song I heard which immediately made me think of Maria and Georg, and a photo prompt posted at our proboards group. I've borrowed the title of the song for this bit of fluff. Enjoy.

Maria sat on the warm sand, the breeze off the salt water ruffling her hair. She loved everything about the sea, and she could now understand why the Captain had been so adamant about sharing it with his children, and by both extension and necessity, with her as well.

Just six weeks ago, she found herself face to face with a national war hero, his demeanor stoic and strict, emotionless and unmoving. Four weeks ago, she'd watched his facade crumble before her eyes, as she tore down, stone by stone, the walls he'd erected between himself and his children. Two weeks ago, he'd cancelled arrangements for an elaborate party which had been planned, presumably to announce his engagement to the Baroness Schraeder; he sent the socialite back to Vienna, telling his children that he had no intention of sending them off to boarding schools when he finally had come home.

Now, he'd insisted on taking them to the sea. After spending time with each of his sons and daughters learning about what they enjoyed and what was special to and about each of them as individuals, he announced a trip to the Italian Riviera for the last few weeks before they would begin a new school term. While they knew that he'd been a navy captain, and an honored war hero, none of the children had ever been to the sea. The Captain wanted, needed them to see it, to smell the saltiness of the water, witness the vastness of what for so long had been such a vital part of him.

Naturally, Maria had to come along to help care for them. While he was much more comfortable being with the seven of them, he had insisted she travel with them. She had demurred at first, not feeling that a family vacation was her place, but when sweet, quiet Marta had turned her enormous eyes and her adorable gap-toothed smile toward Maria, she couldn't help but agree to accompany them. Even as she smiled at the memory, a creeping sense of sadness began invading her thoughts, knowing that not long after their return to the villa, she herself was supposed to return to the Abbey. While she once had been reluctant to leave, now she was quite certain she didn't want to go back.

"Beautiful, isn't it?"

She jumped at the sound of the voice behind her, relaxing her muscles and smiling when she turned and recognized the source. Well, recognized being relative. It was certainly the children's father, but dressed as he was in linen trousers and a casual shirt, with no tie and the sleeves rolled up, he was not the Captain. Even his hair was undone, a much lighter brown than it normally appeared when combed neatly, the unruly locks curling around his ears and down across his forehead. She dearly hoped the gasp she heard herself make was lost on the breeze, and hadn't reached his hearing. In the last light of the sunset sky, he was impossibly handsome.

With some embarrassment Maria realized she had yet to reply. "Hmm, yes, I never imagined anything as beautiful as my mountain, but I have to say this is stunning."

Not nearly as stunning as you, he thought. He noticed the blush on her cheeks in the fading light, and for a moment feared he had perhaps voiced the sentiment aloud. "Well, I am very happy you weren't disappointed," he remarked. A truthful statement, he hadn't fully realized how much he wanted her to enjoy what was essentially his first love.

"Oh, I don't think anyone could see this and be disappointed. The Creator knew what He was doing," she laughed.

"Not everyone has the same appreciation for it, I'm afraid," his thoughts briefly turning to the woman he'd nearly proposed to. "It takes someone very special to recognize the beauty."

"True beauty is often found in the simplest things, Captain." Maria looked up at him, smiling again.

Oh, you have no idea, Fraulein. "Such as sitting by yourself on the sand after my children have run you ragged all day?" He smirked.

"Goodness, yes. You know how much I enjoy them, but yes, they can wear even me out some days," she laughed.

He gestured to the sand beside her. "Uh, may I?" Maria nodded, as her heart began to flutter as if it would burst from her chest and fly away.

Sitting beside her, he was careful to maintain a proper distance between them. In the few short weeks since Maria had been sent to his home, he had found himself more and more intrigued by her; she was so wise, yet at the same time innocent; a woman of great faith with an irreverent wit; willing to stand up to him to passionately defend the children's best interests. Now that intrigue had made way for affection, which was increasingly becoming intensified with a physical attraction he had never expected. Not being sure yet that she returned his feelings, he wished to move carefully.

They sat in comfortable silence for a few moments, as the sky deepened from violet to indigo, and the scattered, twinkling stars became constellations. Georg spoke first.

"When I was in the navy, I found the night sky not only indispensible for navigation, but very comforting. Do you know anything about the stars, Fraulein?"

"Very little, I'm afraid," she replied, her voice barely more than a whisper. "Except that the big, bright one there is Polaris, I think?"

He smiled. "Not that one, that's Sirius. Polaris," he took her hand and pointed it with his own, "is over there."

The warmth of his arm along the length of hers cause her to shiver. Rather than move away, he took the opportunity presented him.

"Are you cold? The breeze once the sun sets can get quite chilly." He moved just a bit closer to her.

"Oh, no, not at all." She looked up again at the night sky, the stars quickly becoming as numerous as the grains of sand upon which they rested. "Tell me more. About the stars, I mean."

He began pointing out different markers within constellations, describing how to use them to get where one wanted to go, whether on water or land. Maria mostly sat quietly, listening carefully, asking a question here and there. By the time Georg had told her some of the myths associated with the starry outlines, he was leaning back bracing himself with one arm, while Maria leaned against him, his free arm around her shoulders as he pointed out the various shapes.

Maria was finding it hard to breathe once she realized how close she was to the Captain. For the last several weeks she'd been fighting the feelings beginning to take hold within her, and now she felt herself losing the battle, knowing that she'd never felt this way about anyone. But she didn't dare move-she never wanted the feeling of warmth and comfort to end.

Georg was having similar thoughts. He hadn't opened up to anyone-not Elsa, not really even to Max-until Maria. She reached a part of him that he'd closed off, and not only tore down the walls the first full day she'd known him but had helped him rebuild the broken relationships with his children. Now, as he was essentially holding her in his arms, it felt right, and real, and he knew without a doubt that he had fallen in love with her.

"Maria?"

"Yes?"

"I've been meaning to thank you. My life would be very different today, if you hadn't come into it."

"You're welcome, but I really don't think I did anything…" He cut her off.

"You showed me that I could move on from my grief; you made me see that life was going on with or without me. But most of all," he put his finger to her chin and turned her face toward his. "Most of all, you made me realize that I couldn't marry someone when I was in love with someone else."

Her azure eyes grew wide, her soft, pink lips parting in surprise. "How did I….I mean….what..." Words failed her, she stopped trying to speak and just stared at him.

"Well, I've been wondering, and um, hoping, actually, that perhaps you'd stay on with us, after the summer? I know you are planning to return to the Abbey, but…"

"No."

His heart sank.

"Yes, I mean, no, I'm not returning to the Abbey."

"You're not?"

Maria realized that while she'd not consciously made the decision, it felt right in her head and her heart. "No. The Reverend Mother sent me to your family to see if living a cloistered life was something I could expect of myself. And I've come to see that I just can't." She turned her face back to the sea, her attention to the moonlight reflecting on the water.

"So you'll stay?" Georg held his breath, waiting for her reply.

"The children won't need a governess once they return to school," she replied.

Georg chuckled nervously. "I, ah, wasn't thinking of you staying as governess, Maria." She turned back to look at him again. "Now, I don't want to push too far, but I was hoping that, ah, maybe you'd consider staying….with me. I know, it's a shot in the dark, to think that you might feel the same way…"

"You mean, like you're the one I've been waiting for?" He smiled, and gently nodded. "Yes."

They smiled warmly at one another, as Georg took her hand, and brought it to his lips. "Now, you are cold," he stated. He stood, holding out his arms and pulling her up off the sand.

Walking back toward the house hand in hand, they paused as they reached the door. As the moonlight softly lit their faces, Georg pulled Maria to him, giving a first, gentle kiss. She responded quickly and eagerly, their lips both searching for and offering comfort and love.

They parted, Georg's lips feathering light kisses across Maria's cheeks as he pulled her even closer to him.

"I don't want to say goodnight," she whispered, her own lips grazing the softness beneath his jaw.

"Hmm, nor do I. But you'll be in my dreams tonight," he answered, as his lips found hers once more.

A/N: If you want to hear the song that inspired this, search on youtube for "Just a Kiss" by Lady Antebellum. If you'd like to get story prompts, good conversation, and loads of silliness, ask me about our proboards group. Oh, and happy 85th birthday to my muse, Christopher Plummer. Still the sexiest man alive.