A/N I wrote this story back in 2003 and posted it to the old network 54 board. It is the only story I have ever actually abandonded. I am just not comfortable in actually re-writing Gone with the Wind...notice I have no problem re-writing SCARLETT :D
So, I was totally comfortable never thinking of it again, but then freanking Alica finds it BURIED! on the old network 54 boards and decided that it was a topic for the Gone With the WInd podcast...So I figured I would repost it here for everyone to mock.
Ah, our early work...so embaressing, and yet ...nope still embaressing.
In the time that followed her illness, Scarlett noticed a change in Rhett and she was not altogether certain that she liked it. He was sober now, often quiet and preoccupied. He was at home more often for supper now and he was kinder to the servants and more affectionate to Wade and Ella. He never referred to anything in their past, pleasant or otherwise, and silently seemed to dare her to bring up such subjects.
Scarlett held her peace, for it was easier to let well enough alone, and life went on smoothly enough, at least on the surface. His impersonal courtesy toward her that had begun during her convalescence continued and he did not fling softly drawled barbs at her or sting her with sarcasm. She realized now that though he had infuriated her with his malicious comments and roused her to heated rejoinders, he had done it because he cared what she did and said.
Now she was left to wonder if he cared about anything she did.
He was polite and disinterested and she missed his interest, perverse though it had been. She found herself missing the old days of bickering and retort.
He was pleasant to her now, almost as though she were a stranger; but, as his eyes had once followed her, they now followed Bonnie. It was as though the swift flood of his life had been diverted into one narrow channel.
Rhett was out late many nights but he came home sober on these nights. Often she heard him whistling softly to himself as he went down the hall past her closed door. Sometimes men came home with him in the late hours and sat talking in the dining room around the brandy decanter. They were not the same men with whom he had drunk the first year they were married. No rich Carpetbaggers, no Scalawags, no Republicans came to the house now at his invitation.
Scarlett, creeping on tiptoe to the banister of the upstairs hall, listened and, to her amazement, frequently heard the voices of Rene Picard, Hugh Elsing, the Simmons boys and Andy Bonnell. And always Grandpa Merriweather and Uncle Henry were there. Once, to her astonishment, she heard the tones of Dr. Meade.
And these men had once thought hanging too good for Rhett!
This group was always linked in her mind with Frank's death, and the late hours Rhett kept these days reminded her still more of the times preceding the Klan foray when Frank lost his life. She remembered with dread Rhett's remark that he would even join their damned Klan to be respectable, though he hoped God would not lay so heavy a penance on his shoulders. Suppose Rhett, like Frank-
No. Nothing like that could happen to Rhett. He was too smart to be caught up in a Yankee ambush. But then again, Ashley was just as smart and he'd ended up shot through the shoulder. Ashley could be in danger too if he was still involved with the Klan. Yet, as much as she still told herself she cared only for Ashley, it was Rhett's safety that presently concerned her.
One night, when he was out later than usual, she could stand the strain no longer. Venturing down the stairs, she seated herself on the middle landing of the long staircase. The hours passed slowly, the clock in the foyer keeping her company during her otherwise silent vigil. Shifting uncomfortably, she contemplated moving to the dinning room or her office, but she was afraid that she would miss him. Her ribs still ached sometimes if she sat in the same position for too long and her current position was none too comfortable.
Squinting, she peered down into the dim foyer at the bottom of the stairs. The lamps had been turned down for the night but two were still lit in anticipation of the master of the house's return. A memory was there, of her mother, returning to Tara after a day of helping others. The little negro boy that used to wait with the lamp, to light her way into the house.
He used to sit on the front steps, waiting for her mother just as she was waiting for Rhett now. Why was she waiting for him? Was there any point to it?
Once, before her fall, the stairs were gleaming hardwood. It used to please her, to see the deep, rich wood reflect the glow of the lamps. Now they were concealed, shinning hard wood hidden under a long deep red carpet. It had been done during her time out at Tara. Initially, she wanted to ask why he'd covered up the stairs but eventually she ignored it as she always ignored unpleasant truths.
Still, she couldn't help but wonder if Rhett must feel something for her if he couldn't look at the slick and gleaming hard wood stairs that had contributed to her fall.
When she heard the rasp of his key in the lock, she tensed. They hadn't had a conversation that wasn't completely polite and noncombatant in she didn't know how long. Rhett mounted the steps nearly reaching the landing she occupied before realizing she was there.
His expression, absent, thoughtful, changed to surprise when he saw her standing there.
Gripping the railing, she came to her feet. She was clumsy in her haste and it took her a minute to get her bearings. Lifting her eyes to his, she saw a flash of what she would have once perceived to be amusement. The need to know outweighed her need to remain aloof, the desire to remain polite. "Rhett, I've got to know, I need to know if you-if it's the Klan-is that why you stay out so late? Do you belong-"
In the flaring gas light he looked at her incuriously and then he smiled. For a second, she felt her lips begin to curve into a smile then she realized his was not a kind smile.
"You are way behind the times," he said. "There is no Klan in Atlanta now; probably not in Georgia. You've been listening to the Klan outrage stories of your Scalawag and Carpetbagger friends."
"No, Klan? Are you lying to try to soothe me," she asked suspiciously.
"My dear, when did I ever try to soothe you? No, there is no Klan now. We decided that it did more harm than good because it just kept the Yankees stirred up and furnished more grist for the slander mill of his excellency, Governor Bullock. He knows he can stay in power just so long as he can convince the Federal government and the Yankee newspapers that Georgia is seething with rebellion and there's a Klansman hiding behind every bush. Thank you for your apprehensions, but there hasn't been an active Klan since shortly after I stopped being a Scalawag and became a humble Democrat."
Most of what he said about Governor Bullock went in one ear and out the other for her mind was mainly occupied with relief that there was no Klan any longer. Rhett would not be killed as Frank was killed; she wouldn't lose her store, or his money...or him. The thought frightened her more than she would be willing to ever admit aloud. For it did matter to her if there were no Rhett, if he were suddenly removed from her life.
When Charles had died it had been a relief, it had freed her from the prison bars her recklessness had built. Frank had hurt a little, but because she felt responsible and knew that the whole of the old guard agreed whole heartedly with her on that point but what if she lost Rhett?
"Scarlett?" Rhett questioned mildly but his eyes had regained some faint glimmer of the old cat at the mouse's hole he'd had when they'd first been married.
"Yes?" Scarlett replied deliberately avoiding his eyes.
"Scarlett look at me," he said. Taking her chin in his hand, he gently tilted her face upward so that he could study it.
"Rhett, please I'm tired, what ever you wish to discuss, surely it can wait till the morning?" Her voice had taken on a nearly pleading tone. Their fragile peace could be shattered with the utterance of a single wrong word and now, belatedly, she realized that nothing good could come of continuing the conversation.
"Whatever I wish to discuss?" His white teeth flashed in a smile. "My pet it was you, not I who was sitting here in the middle of the night desperate for conversation."
"I was not desperate for conversation," Scarlett denied coloring lightly.
"Your lying,"he replied smirking.
"Why would I lie to you about wanting a conversation?"
"Why do you lie about anything Scarlett? It's just something I assume comes naturally to you."
Scarlett jerked her chin from his warm hand. "I'm going to bed, good night Rhett."
A moment's hesitation before he replied, "Good night Scarlett."
He watched as she gathered her wrapper around her slim body. Now she would hurry up the stairs and lock herself in her sanctuary. The desire to prolong the moment caused him to call out, "Scarlett..."
She turned to face him but in turning, her wrapper became entangled around her feet. Feeling herself pitching forward, she cried out and made a frantic grab for the railing but suddenly, Rhett's arms were around her, pulling her against him.
Once, during the war, a wave washed him from the deck of the boat he was piloting. In that moment, treading water in the middle of the Atlantic, all of his senses were heightened. His heart raced in his chest while the blood pounded in his ears as he swam against the breaking waves. Even then, fighting for his life against the brutal sea, he hadn't been so completely terrified as he had been a minute ago when he thought she might fall again.
Scarlett's muffled sobs as she clung to him shook him from the past. "Scarlett, shhh," he murmured, "you're fine." Sliding his hand down her back, he rubbed her back lightly. "Don't cry, please darling, don't cry."
She lifted her face from his broad chest, the tears rapidly streaming down her gray face. "I didn't mean it, you have to believe me, I didn't mean what I said..." She began to cry again, her breathing hitching in her chest.
She was shaking in his arms now and he held her even tighter. "Didn't mean what honey," he asked, confused at her desperate words.
"The baby, about the baby. I didn't mean it when I said I didn't want the baby. I wanted it so badly and then when you came home and you were so cold. You asked who the father was, I couldn't believe you would say such a thing. I was so happy about the baby I just wanted you to come home."
She was sobbing now. The words she'd been keeping inside so long came bubbling up to her lips, spilling forth like water from a spring. Deep down she knew, word by word, she was destroying the fragile peace that existed between them since her accident. It had been inside her, pushed down deep for so long that she could sooner stop breathing than speaking.
"You told me to have a miscarriage. Why would you say that? Why?" Her voice cracked. "Rhett, answer me? How could you say that to me? You wanted Bonnie before she was born but not this baby, did you really think it was someone else's?"
"No, I didn't think it was someone else's," Rhett said tonelessly.
"Then why did you say it was," Scarlett asked with detached curiosity.
"I'm not sure why I said what I said."
"Because you hated me," replied Scarlett softly.
Rhett's face lost all expression, becoming a bland mask, hiding the emotions that Scarlett's comment had triggered. "I don't hate you," Rhett said tautly. "What would make you think that?"
"I don't think it; I know it. You hate me," she looked down morosely, "but then again, how could you not? I'm a horrible wife and an awful mother. I treat Melly terribly despite the fact that she's practically the only person on the face of this earth that does care at all for me."
"I don't hate you-,
"You do! You hate me so much you took our child and left me. You knew that people would run their mouths about me, but you didn't care. You left. Even though you knew that would cause even more scandal you left me to, how did you put it?" She smiled sardonically mocking both of them equally, "To the lions was it?"
"I needed time to think things over; I wanted to gain some sort of perspective on things between us. If indeed there was even an us."
"You needed time and I needed you." With that observation made, Scarlett pulled herself from his arms and hurried up the stairs.
She was halfway down the hallway toward her bedroom when Rhett caught her arm, jerking her to a halt.
"We aren't done discussing this yet Scarlett."
"Really Mr. Butler, I was under the impression from your earlier comment that you were contemplating if there even was a we," she commented in a light tone of voice that cut him to the quick as she turned his earlier comment against him.
"Is that what you'd like, to end it? If there is no longer an us, why continue to labor in a situation that is not desirable to either of us?"
Scarlett's face took on a strained white look as though his words had physically wounded her. "Is that what you want Rhett, a divorce?"
The two of them faced each other in the darkened hallway Scarlett breathing heavily while Rhett calmly assessed her as though weighing the merits of continuing the conversation.
"Well, aren't you going to answer me," said Scarlett somberly, "do you want a divorce?"
In an attempt to cover his hurt at her probing toward his feelings on a divorce, Rhett hurled the first words that came to his tongue.
"Why are my feelings on the subject suddenly so important to you Scarlett, does it have anything to do with the ever noble Ashley..."
He didn't see it coming, the stinging slap she delivered to his face. Before he could stop to think, he grabbed her wrist and twisted her arm behind her back.
Forcing her to take several steps back until her back was against her bedroom door. She bit her bottom lip to keep back a whimper of pain.
"Do you still see him?" He shook her slightly. "Do you?"
Scarlett writhed against Rhett's grasp but it was no use, his grip was unyielding.
"Not unless I can help it," she admitted candidly, "and even then it's only for a few minutes when I'm picking up Melly to go calling."
He nodded curtly, momentarily satisfied. "I want to ask you a few questions and I'd like you to answer them as truthfully as you can, I know telling the truth is difficult for you, but if you could try."
She tried to kick him in the shin, but he only chuckled softly before moving against her, pinning her against her bedroom door. "Let go of me this instant." She squirmed ineffectively before admitting, "You're hurting me."
He let go of her arm but continued to stand in front of her, pinning her against the door.
"Your wish Madame, is my command. Now question one, while we've been married has Mr. Wilkes ever shown you how he supposedly feels about you? In a physical sense?"
"He doesn't feel anything for me, except how he might feel for a sister," Scarlett replied, as she covertly tried to open the door to her bedroom.
"If that's the case, then Mr. Wilkes is far more disturbed than I had originally supposed. Has he ever kissed you?"
Her face colored to a deep rose when she recalled the way she'd begged him to run away with her at the corral or when she'd kissed him in Aunt Pitty's parlor before he'd gone back to war that last Christmas before Atlanta fell.
But then again he'd never really kissed her. She'd been the one to throw herself at him in each of those encounters.
"No, he's never kissed me," she finally admitted in a soft, distant voice before looking away from his piercing gaze.
Rhett reached forward and tilted her chin up. "Look at me Scarlett."
She met his searching gaze with her own hostile green eyes.
"But you've kissed him, haven't you, and after he and Miss Melly were married I'd wager."
"Go to hell," whispered Scarlett before tears welled in her eyes.
"Aren't we already there my dear?"
"Why are you doing this to me? What is there left to gain by hurting me?" Her voice rose slightly but still kept itself at a low pitch in deference to the three sleeping children down the hall.
She took a breath and began again. "Fine Rhett, you want the truth, we both know what it is, don't we? I wasted nearly all my adult life chasing a man who looked at me as a sister till I relentlessly pursued him and then he looked at me as a woman he'd like to bed. You think I don't see how things truly were and are?"
"No, you asked, you also said what you felt now it is finally my time to speak my piece and then I'm going to bed. I chased Ashley Wilkes endlessly. I had three long months while you were gone to think about every callous, cruel word you flung at me before you left. I thought about them all. How I was a horrible mother, how I was no better than Belle Watling or worse because I wouldn't live up to the bargain you and I made."
Rhett swallowed convulsively, he'd been angry when he'd left with Bonnie and had wanted to hurt her, but not as badly as he'd obviously had. The three months he'd left her alone must have been terrible for her. Not only did she have the child she was carrying to be concerned about, but she'd also dwelt excessively on the opinions of a husband who'd said too much in haste and anger.
"What I said to you that morning was not meant to be so heavily examined..."
"Why not, you meant it." She hesitated, clearly hoping for some statement to the contrary but before he could find the words, she continued. "Of course you meant it, every single word. I didn't say I blamed you; after all, everything you said was only the truth. I am indeed a horrible mother and a disappointment as a wife. I am a businesswoman and I can recognize a poor investment when I see one." Shrugging, she bowed her head to hind her tears. "I'm only sorry you didn't realize sooner."
"Ashley Wilkes was the one who put the idea in your head to bar me from our bed, wasn't he?"
Scarlett head snapped up. "Why would you say that? Where you would you get that idea?"
"Because it's the truth, that day you went to the mill after Bonnie was born, the ever chaste Mr. Wilkes told you he'd given up his wife's bed, not for love of you but because Miss Melly could not risk another child."
Scarlett's cat green eyes widened and for an instant, her mouth formed a surprised O. "How could you know that," she asked, her voice panicky and horse.
"Honestly, I didn't until this very minute. Scarlett, how could you be taken in by that of all things?"
She could no longer help it; the tears that had been threatening to fall for several minutes began to course down her cheeks. She reached up, brushing the tears away with the sleeve of her nightgown.
Rhett studied her as she sobbed openly. She was so young. She'd never been willing to tell him her exact age but doing the math quickly in his head, if she had been about sixteen when Wade was born and the boy was now nine, Scarlett had to be about twenty five years old. Really, she was a child with a woman's body who'd been forced to grow up terribly fast.
"What are you staring at," she whispered in a tear choked voice.
"I didn't mean to stare. I was just thinking, I think it is time for you to go to bed."
Gently he stepped forward while she watched him with a sense of detachment. Whatever he was going to do, he could not be stopped, certainly not by herself at any rate. No matter what Rhett thought of her parenting skills, she would not yell and frighten them half to death.
Carrying Scarlett across the threshold of her bedroom, he moved toward the dais that held her massive bed.
They reached the bed and bending his knees slightly, he gently lowered her. After depositing her in the bed, he drew the down turned covers up to her waist and would have tucked her in as though she were a child if she hadn't caught his wrist in her small, fine boned, hand.
Both of their eyes were draw to the contrasts between them. How pale her skin looked in the weak glow of the dying embers of the fire. Rhett's own skin was so dark and swarthy; much like what Scarlett had always pictured real pirates to look like. She'd read only a few books during her sojourn at the Young Ladies Academy in Fayetteville, one of them being a book about a pirate captain. He was so strong, even his wrist pulsed with strength and vitality. Had he chosen he could have thrown of her grasp no matter how hard she'd try to hang on.
Suddenly, without warning or perhaps with the knowledge of how truly long those months without him were, she found that she wanted to hang on. She wanted him in this bed, holding her, stroking her hair and studying her face in the dawn's first glowing rays just as he'd always done when he thought she was asleep and unable to examine his every gesture.
Rhett's eyes finally lifted from their entwined hands to met Scarlett's inquisitive gaze There was no challenge in his dark eyes, no sardonic mocking smile on his lips. He was simply waiting. She'd set this portion of events into play and now it would have to be Scarlett that set the course.
"If I asked you to tell me the truth would you," she finally asked softly.
"Honesty, at this late hour," he countered, his tone containing only a trace of mockery but this time it was mockery equally aimed at both their shortcomings.
"Is it ever too late for the truth?"
"Ask and we'll see."
"I'm afraid to ask you Rhett."
"Scarlett I quite honestly do not believe you've ever been afraid of anything in your entire life."
"I was afraid you and Bonnie were never coming home. I was terrified to wake up each new day because I knew it was another day for you to move further from me. I was so scared the night some of the fog began to clear after my accident and I knew the baby was dead..."
He flinched. It was involuntary, but still he flinched, betraying his emotions to the only woman he'd ever really wanted but couldn't really trust.
She pretended not to even notice though she did, how could she not, he'd looked as though she'd slapped him.
"Do you know why I was scared them Rhett?"
He shook his head. "No, I guess I don't Scarlett, but I find that I've never really understood the inner workings of your mind."
"I was scared that because I'd so hated having babies, that I'd treated my children so poorly, God had given me a child, a child that I wanted desperately and then he'd taken it away. Just...like…that." Her last word was no more than a sigh but Rhett had heard it nonetheless.
"As I lay in that bed listening to Mrs. Meade and I think Mrs. Merriweather discuss whether or not the child was really yours, I thought about what you might be thinking. I wondered if there was enough, at least friendship between us for you to believe that I could have never lie with another man while being married to you. I was sure I would die and then I could never tell you how much this baby meant to me. I kept calling for you but you never came and I was sure you'd taken Bonnie and left for good."
Rhett cleared his throat "Ask me your question, I'll answer it." It was so simple but the look on his face was profound. He would answer her question no matter what the cost.
"What would you have done if Frank hadn't died? Would you have eventually left Atlanta and just moved on? That is, what I mean is, if you could have only been friends with me and nothing more would you have stayed..." She trailed off lamely. That wasn't the question she'd wanted to ask at all, she could feel the hot blood rising to her cheeks and staining her face rose.
"You mean could I have simply admired you from afar knowing that I could never be alone with you without it causing a minor scandal?"
"I don't know what I mean, never mind I was being silly and it's late so you should probably..."
He interrupted her before she could dismiss him. Rhett knew if he left her room without everything coming out in the open one way or another in the morning she'd pretend they'd never talked at all and he found, to his chagrin, he couldn't let it go.
"May I ask you a question?"
"Scarlett shrugged delicately. "Of course."
"Consider it carefully my dear, because I want an honest answer."
"Great balls of fire Rhett, I said you could ask me anything, go ahead."
"I want to wake up in the morning holding my wife, the question is does she want to wake up being held?"
Scarlett looked down at their clasped hands atop her ivory coverlet. His hands were so large and hers so small but even that didn't really matter. Small as hers were, she'd wrought enough damage to destroy them forever and large as his were they could be so gentle. The first time he'd held Bonnie, she was so tiny but Rhett was so gentle.
"You didn't answer my question," she said softly, stalling for time.
"Could you have just been my friend? Would my friendship have been enough for you?"
Rhett let his face fall into lines of deep contemplation. "Could I have sat idly while you were married to a man whom you didn't love, indeed barely felt any regard for? Could I have let you be condemned to a marriage with a man who made no secret of the fact that he was embarrassed to be married to a woman who owned mills and leased a bar?"
"Never mind, I don't care."
"You obviously do or you wouldn't have asked. Would I have left Atlanta? Of course." The next words he offered were reluctant but he continued forward. "And yet I would have returned again and again, wishing a man ill whom I had nothing against really except that he was sitting across from you when it should have been me. Even knowing that he probably hadn't laid a hand on you after Ella was born, envying him the right to lay next to you in the dark. I am not use to being jealous my pet. I am certainly too old to envy mine neighbor as the good book admonishes and yet I begrudged a man his every breath simply because he'd had the misfortune to be in your path when you needed a savior, or a bank account."
"Do you love me?"
Rhett's eyes met hers. "I thought you'd deemed me too low to be capable of such a sacred emotion."
"That isn't true. You love Bonnie and even though they aren't yours by blood, no one could be more of a father to Wade and Ella than you are. You care deeply about Melly and whenever you mention your mother and sister, it's obvious how much you care for them. But I'd like to know, do you love me too?"
Rhett stood and walked to the window to look out the on expansive of moon lit grounds behind their home. If he admitted to her that yes he loved her, had done so since that first time in the library at Twelve Oaks when she'd tried to put him in his place. If she knew he loved her, she'd twist it into something ugly. Scarlett wouldn't be able to help herself. She thrived on control and he refused to be controlled even by her.