A/N: Sorry for the long waits for updates! This month is crazy busy and I have had literally no time for writing as I'm starting a new job at the University here, preparing for a huge audition, and trying to finish a ton of papers and projects!
I can't make any promises for upcoming updates on Layers of Secrets but at this point I'm thinking (tentatively) May 30th for the next chapter.
(Huge thank you to guest reviewer Team Omelia – firstly, never apologize for constant reviewing and second of all, thanks so much! I'm so glad you like it)
Anyway, hope you guys like this last chapter.
Maria looked frantically between the Captain and the Reverend Mother. For once in her life, she was at a loss for words.
"Sister Margaretta, would you take the children to a few guest rooms?" Sister Margaretta nodded, ushering the children towards the guest rooms.
When they hesitated, looking back at their father and Maria, the Captain said, "I'll be there an just a little bit. Don't worry, nothing will happen to you here."
His words seemed to comfort the children, and they reluctantly followed Sister Margaretta.
The Reverend Mother turned to another nun standing several yards away in the corner of the rooftop, and Maria turned back towards the Captain.
She took a step closer to him and finally had time to notice the darkened circles under his eyes and his unshaven appearance.
"You look exhausted," she commented, her outspokenness rearing its head once again.
He grimaced. "I haven't exactly been sleeping."
Maria looked down. "I'm sorry. I can't believe everything that's happened. You really sang in the festival?"
The Captain smiled softly. "Yes. The children were magnificent. I thank you every day for bringing music back into our house," he cleared his throat, as if he hadn't wanted to admit it. "In any event, we were able to dash out discreetly immediately after our performance and come here."
Maria let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. Nearly doubling over with emotion, she walked over to a wall and leaned against it. "That was too close. The Nazis were right there," she choked.
The Captain nodded, glancing towards the place they had hidden, his eyes stormy.
He looked back at her to see her eyes still on the ground. He had an overwhelming need to put his hand under her chin and lift up her face. Instead he pinched his thumb and index finger to suppress the urge.
"What about you?" The Captain asked, and Maria lifted her face, looking at him, her eyes meeting his blue ones. "These past few weeks have wrecked havoc on me and I know that they couldn't have been easy on you, not after we met in town…" the rest of his sentence was left unspoken, but Maria blushed and hoped he couldn't see the color of her face in the dimly lit space.
"No, that's what the Reverend Mother wanted me to talk to you about."
"She thinks that I made the wrong decision," Maria whispered.
The Captain's eyes widened. He could barely process the idea that there was a chance he could actually be with Maria.
Maria nodded. "She thinks God doesn't want me to be a nun."
Before the Captain could say any more, the Reverend Mother walked over to them, interrupting their small conversation.
"I know you both have a lot to discuss," the Reverend Mother started, and Maria glanced over at the Captain, only to find his eyes already on her, making her heart drop.
She still couldn't breathe. The Reverend Mother said softly, "However, what you both need desperately right now is sleep and rest. You cannot make rational decisions when you are sleep-derived."
They nodded. She was right.
"Captain, Sister Berthe will lead you to your room next to the children's."
He nodded his thanks and, taking one last look at Maria, he turned to go to bed.
He walked behind Sister Berthe, wondering how in the world he would be able to sleep, knowing that he was so close to Maria.
The Reverend Mother looked at Maria. "Maria."
She looked at her.
The next words that came out of the Reverend Mother's mouth shocked Maria to her core.
"It's my fault."
Maria stared at her, open-mouthed.
"I failed. I was supposed to guide you in your discernment period, and I allowed you to take your vows when I knew you shouldn't have. I did not take enough time to pray about your choice, and I have reflected since your confession on this. God is telling me that you will be happy with the Captain and your calling is not religious life."
Maria swallowed. "But that's the thing! I am happy here, I really am! That's what's making me so confused."
"Of course, Maria. You are close to God here, and his presence here will make you happy, I can see that. But what will make you happiest? I think God knows that living your life with Captain von Trapp will make you happiest. I believe that is what He is calling you to do. I think that he has shown you that you live life to the fullest with the Captain and his children."
Maria felt pure anguish. How could she choose? How could she leave? Why did her entire life have to change?
"You must go to bed. Pray tonight. God will guide you."
Maria nodded, taking in a shaky breath as she walked to her room.
As she lay wide awake in bed that night, Maria's thoughts ran wildly through her mind.
She couldn't leave the convent. She had already taken her vows.
Could she leave?
Leave for what? To pursue a relationship with the Captain?
The thought was scary to say the least.
The Captain and she…they were both so different and yet somehow they fit together. He brought out sides of her she didn't know existed. She wasn't a better version of herself when she was with him. She just felt…more complete.
Everything they had done weeks ago was wrong.
But everything about them felt right. Was that what God was trying to show her?
It scared her. Because what if one day she lost it all? She had lost it all when her parents had died. It could easily happen again. What if he left her? What if their relationship had only been passionate because it had been forbidden?
She certainly had discovered a lot about herself in the past year. But now that she was discovering that running away might not be an option and that she finally had to face her fears, she wasn't just afraid.
She was terrified.
The next morning, Maria reported to the Reverend Mother's office.
"Maria," the Reverend Mother greeted her, sympathy in her voice.
"Hello Reverend Mother," Maria responded, taking a seat.
"You have a big decision to make before nightfall."
Maria nodded, swallowing thickly.
"I've told you what I thought. I know that you've been reflecting about it as well. I'll send in the Captain and I think you two should talk."
Maria's heart dropped.
Without waiting, the Reverend Mother walked out and Maria's gaze wandered to the window, gazing and wondering how her world had tilted on its axis so quickly. She felt as if she was slipping, scrambling for purchase on the side of a swiftly crumbling mountain.
She heard the door open and close but she didn't turn around.
She heard his footsteps and she felt the Captain come up slowly behind her. She was frightened to turn around and look into his eyes. When she didn't turn, he wrapping his arms around her waist, her name a pleading whisper on his lips.
A shuddering breath escaped her and her hands flew to his arms, fingernails digging into his forearms as she held on to him. Her body shook with a silent sob and he pulled her closer, his chin propped against the top of her head as she let her body melt back into the solid mass of his chest.
"Talk to me," he breathed.
Taking a deep breath, she turned around, feeling his stubble brush against her forehead. Words she had been too afraid to say or speak after locking them tightly in a guarded part of her heart began bubbling to the surface. But in the safety of the Captain's arms, she let them out.
"I'm scared," she said. "But I want this, I do," she gestured between them. "But I don't know what to do because I'm scared to leave the abbey."
"And I've prayed and I don't know," Maria said. She wished God would just come down and tell her what to do.
The Captain was silent for a minute, looking at her, hating that she was in agony and he was the cause of it. "If we left tonight and you stayed behind, would you regret it for the rest of your life? Would you think about it for the rest of your life?" He asked quietly.
"Yes! No! I mean, uh…" Maria trailed off.
"Yes," she admitted truthfully, looking down. "But what do I do? Leave the convent? I've already said my vows! I'm a nun! And leave for what? To continue to be governess to your children? To pursue a relationship with you?" Maria took a gulp of air.
The Captain nodded. "I would very much like to pursue a relationship with you, Maria, but I don't want you to make this decision based off of what I want."
Maria took a shaky breath and said, "I'm going to make a decision based off of what I think God is calling me to do. And, Captain, I think that the Reverend Mother knows best."
The Captain's heart starting racing, knowing that hope wasn't completely lost like he felt like it had been for the past ten months.
"I…I'm going to spend the rest of the morning in adoration, reflecting and praying to God. I will have to make a final decision after lunch because it will require an afternoon of planning should I choose," Maria's voice cracked, "to go with you."
The Captain nodded, taking a step back. "Maria," he said, drawing her name out.
"I just want for you to be happy."
Maria swallowed, a tear slipping out the corner of her eye.
"And please, don't mention any of this to the children. If I….I just don't want them to get their hopes up," Maria said.
He nodded, his heart pounding, as he walked out of the room.
After lunch, Maria marched into the Reverend Mother's office, set in her decision. There would be no going back or changing her mind.
Sitting down in front of the Reverend Mother and her desk, the Reverend Mother looked at Maria quizzically. "You've made a decision, my child?"
Maria nodded. "I believe it is the will of God that I leave this abbey and go with the von Trapp family."
The Reverend Mother nodded. "Very well then. I would have to agree with you. Although I will miss you, Maria. We all will."
Tears Maria didn't even know had been collecting in her eyes started sliding down her cheeks. "I know. I will miss you all too."
"God is calling you to do great things, Maria."
Maria smiled through her tears. "I just want to do the will of God wholeheartedly."
The Reverend Mother smiled. "Absolutely. I will give you my blessing and we will have to go through a few more things to let you go. Renouncing your vows and leaving religious life is not to be taken lightly, but I think that this shall be treated sort of like an annulment…in that you became a nun but it was not valid in the eyes of God and your inability to judge what you were doing at the time because of your emotional state."
"Okay," Maria agreed, attempting to process all the sudden onslaught of information.
Once everything had been finalized, Maria ate dinner and received the Reverend Mother's blessing. The goodbyes to the sisters were painful, but Maria knew she had to look ahead and not dwell in the past. She would never forget the nuns who had made her feel at home, and their closely-knit group made promises to pray for one another.
Night soon fell and Maria went into her room, dressed in her travel outfit, to get a small bag she would take with her to travel over the hills to Switzerland with the von Trapp family. Hearing a knock, she called, "Come in!"
Surprised to see the Captain standing in her doorframe, Maria stared at him. "I can't believe this is happening," he whispered.
"Me neither," she said back quietly. "Do you want to come in so we can talk before joining the children?"
"The Reverend Mother suggested we talk before joining the children. May I come in?" he asked tentatively.
She nodded, and he shut the door behind him. "The Reverend Mother and I have everything sorted out, so I'm all ready to go. With you," she added, unable to stop the smile from spreading across her face.
He nodded in agreement. "Nothing was the same without you in my life. And I missed you. Every second of every day." With every word he stepped closer and closer to Maria, backing her into the wall, so that eventually their toes were nearly touching and the softly whispered words caressed her already sensitized skin. Every nerve was on fire. Every cell in her body was super aware of the body that was just hovering above it. She felt his lips press to the sensitive spot by her ear, and her hips arched in response, her spine curving into him. How could her body react like this to such minute touch?
She was all sensation, her body humming, set on fire by this man, this strong, courageous man who had stolen her heart the minute he blew that whistle nearly a year ago.
He gradually pulled back his face, trailing his lips in the ghost of a touch through her right cheek and stopped just a hair breadth away from her lips that were already swelling with need. His lips didn't touch hers. His lips didn't move away. They just stayed. Hovered. She could close the gap between them with just a breath. But she continued to breathe in slowly, sharing her breaths with him, sharing the air with him, without sharing touch. They existed in one space, so close that a mumbled word would snap the tension between their lips.
She waited for him to do something, anything, to keep herself from exploding. The anticipation was killing her. She saw his gaze flicker to her lips, and her own flickered to his. A breathy moan escaped her before she could stop it. Her eyes closed of their own accord and she waited with baited breath. She finally gave up, realizing that the only way he would kiss her would be if she made the first move so as not to scare her, and put her arms around his neck, pulling him into her body, cushioning his hard muscles with her soft roundness.
They collided together like two magnets in the midst of a storm. His hands moved over hers like he had just gotten permission. One hand held the back of her head firmly, tilting her head at just the right angle to give him access to her mouth. The other hand was moving, traveling across her back, smoothing over her waist to the curve of her spine and pulling her forward. While earlier they hadn't been touching at all, now there was not any part of their bodies that wasn't touching the other. They were wrapped around each other like vines, trying to meld into one another, and it was the most incredible thing Maria had ever felt.
He took her lower lip between his own, biting gently and sucking and nibbling on it like her mouth was water and he was thirsty and starved. His tongue was mating hers, in heated battles and softer sighs. They were kissing like long lost lovers who just met after ages of being apart. Which was completely true.
Panting for air, they rested their foreheads together and gasped, trying to breathe in more air.
She bit her lip, marveling at how quickly this man could arouse her and make her combust. He leaned in, biting the lip she had bitten, kissing her softly. She moaned and pulled him closer, feeling the tenor of the kiss begin to chance. It started out slow, but the softness was quickly gone, replaced by an intensity she associated with him, firing her blood even more. Their tongues melded and danced with each other but he kept kissing her like he wanted to kiss her for eternity, holding her like he wouldn't let go.
"I love you," he whispered into her ear and felt her arms tighten around him even more, his neck wet from her eyes, his entire body shaking in her arms.
"I know it wouldn't have been fair to tell you that I loved you before today. But Maria, I've been in love with ever since you sat on that ridiculous pine cone. I didn't stop loving you when you became a nun, I still love you this very moment, and I will continue to love you for the rest of my life. And now I can finally say it because we can be together," the Captain said, feeling free and happy for the first time in a very long time.
He was breaking down, letting go, and she held on to him tightly, letting him, telling him she would keep him together. He had waited so long for this. She could feel that ache inside him. It was so palpable.
She ran her fingers through his hair as he picked her up, crushing her to him like he would meld their bodies if they could, and she held him.
"We need to leave," the Captain panted. Maria nodded.
"For the first time in a very long time, I feel free," the Captain whispered to her. "And happy."
Maria looked into his blue eyes, her own shining with love and awe.
"Are you ready?" He asked, and she took one last look around the small room.
"Yes." Maria grabbed her bag and the two left her room, shutting the door behind them.
Maria held the entry gate to the abbey open for the seven children. They filed outside, and the Reverend Mother gave Maria one last hug.
"May God be with you," she said. "And you," Maria responded.
Maria slowly shut the gate, it closing with a clang, and looked ahead, into the Captain's eyes. She took a deep breath. "Where the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window."
His response was in his eyes, and Maria reached forward to grasp his hand, the warmth of his larger one spreading into her smaller hand.
And suddenly it became crystal clear. God was calling her to live with the von Trapps. Maria was meant to be with the Captain. And crossing over the hills with him to Switzerland, simply being next to his side and knowing that they were together, was like tasting a sip of eternity.