A/N This is it. The final chapter. Choppy, further work needs to be done to make it better, but I wanted to publish it now so that my readers can read it. I have probably spent about 30 hours writing this (and several thinking about it) and am still hit with writer's block!

Chapter 50

After the night of Eleanor and Henry's wedding party, and those that followed, Rhett hardly touched his wife. They still shared a bed and, if she snuggled up to him, he would put his arm around her and breathe in her scent, but he never initiated intimacy and, on the couple of occasions that she had tried to kiss him, he had gently pulled away, before sitting up in bed and lighting a cigar or, worse still, reading a book, until she fell asleep.

Scarlett tried not to panic. Even though she told herself that things would change when he had replaced the box, she felt uneasy and, if she had known how, or where, to acquire preventatives, she would have done so.

One evening, after they had whiled away a pleasant enough few hours at Maybelle and René's, they arrived back at their home shortly after midnight. As they fell into the house laughing, Scarlett slightly tipsy, Minnie appeared in the hallway. Rhett glanced at Scarlett and then at her maid and, without asking his wife's permission, he dismissed her.

When they were in their bedroom, he removed his jacket and cravat and then, Scarlett having slipped out of her midnight blue gown, he unlaced her, his hands hovering over her breasts and the small of her back for just a bit too long to be ignored.

She felt herself blush, uncertain what all this meant, and walked into the privacy of her closet, to change into her nightgown and wrapper. When she came out, he was sitting on the bed, his eyes boring into her and, as soon as she sat down on her vanity stool, he was suddenly beside her, taking her hair in his hands and brushing it. He hadn't done that since they had returned from Charleston.

Once he was finished, she picked up her scent bottle and spritzed lemon verbena on her hair and then, his eyes locked on her, on her décolletage.

"Cathleen once told me that you should always spray some scent where you hope to be kissed," she murmured, suddenly feeling brazen.

He didn't say anything but smiled and then watched her walk over to the bed. But as she started unbuttoning her wrapper, he was quickly by her side.

She glanced over her shoulder and saw that old, hungry, lustful look in his eyes. He reached across and touched her arm gently. "Scarlett," he whispered. "Let me. Let me take off your wrapper."

He turned her around so that she was facing him. She felt her knees quiver as he touched the buttons. In moments, he had removed the velvet, so that she was clad only in her nightgown. He caught her gaze and then he reached down and kissed her.

Even though she had been expecting it, the kiss surprised her and she jerked away.

"Don't Scarlett," he said softly. "Don't move away. Unless you want to."

"No…I…no I don't want to. I mean, I want you to kiss me," she clarified, before she felt his moustache tickle her lips again.

She watched his eyes flicker with longing as she felt his arms go tighter around her waist, dragging her body towards him so that it was flush to his own. She felt the familiar tremble in her legs again and then she put her arms round him before he picked her up and carried her to the bed.

He placed her down as he began to remove the rest of his own clothing, his lips never really leaving her own.

"Have you...I mean did you manage to get some new…" She let her voice trail off, embarrassed to refer to the preventatives by name.

He shook his head.

"So…" Again, she stumbled.

He read her confusion.

"It doesn't matter," he said, between kisses. "Unless…unless it suddenly matters to you."

"No…no…I want…I mean…" She pulled away from him so she could properly scrutinise his face. "Rhett…I…are you sure? I mean, we can wait until-" but he cut off her inadequate words with a harder kiss.

"It's been three weeks, Scarlett. And I can't wait. Can you?"

"No. No. I can't," she murmured as she reached up to place her hands round his neck. "But…" She was thinking of a child, how a child might come of this.

"Shhh," he commanded. "No buts."

"But…are you ready? I mean, what if I get-"

"Scarlett, please. No more," he whispered and he pushed her down on the bed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S&R~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Afterwards, he held her more tightly than he had in a long while. His right leg was draped over her own, his hands, on her hips. "I've always felt…scared…around you, Scarlett," he said. "Because I always feel so out of control. And having my…box…and using its contents was my way of ensuring I was in control."

"Scared around me?"

"Yes. Because I have never felt like this about anyone else. Not even come close to it. Someone I know once referred to you as my poison. But I think that was the wrong analogy. You are my drug. And, after everything that has happened between us, somehow, rather miraculously we are still here," his hands traced the contours of her breasts. "We are still together, thank God, and I don't always need to be wholly in control with you. Not now."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S&R~~~~~~~~~~~~~

On the first anniversary of Melly's death, Scarlett awoke early and even though Rhett's arm snaked around her as she tried to leave the bed, she held firm that she needed to start her day. By half past seven, she had breakfasted and fifteen minutes later, just as she heard Rhett coming down the stairs with Ella, she left the house to go to the store. Other than supper at Miss Eleanor's with Aunt Pitty and the Wilkes's, Scarlett had no commitments for the day. And that was exactly what she wanted.

The intense heat of the summer had at last given way to a cooler temperature, and the early morning, crisp air was refreshing, the sky a brilliant, cobalt blue. So different to last year, she mused, as she took the reins. So different to last year, when the rainy mist had only heightened the drama and misery of the day.

She arrived at the store, shortly after eight o'clock, happy to see that there were already plenty of customers in Kennedy's. It had been one of Hugh's suggestions, to open earlier than the other shops, in order to catch the travellers before they departed to Marietta or Jonesboro on the early morning trains.

She greeted her customers and her staff, cordially, and then headed to the back office, with Hugh, to look over a couple of orders. She tweaked them in a few places - more to remind him who was the boss than for any other reason – and then flicked through some correspondence from suppliers before directing Hugh how to answer them. He took her comments graciously, before she turned her attention to some new merchandise that had come in and talked through a couple of new displays with Emma and Mary.

After an hour in the store, she excused herself and drove to the florist. "I'd like to change my order for the house next week, Mrs Williamson," she said as she walked into the flower shop. "White roses instead of yellow please. If you have them. And fewer freesias in the arrangements. I think Ella might be allergic to them. She's begun sneezing again."

The florist obliged and made an annotation in the order book. Then, Scarlett gathered a huge bunch of lilies and blue campanula, paid for them and drove over to Oakland Cemetery. She parked her buggy and walked through the original six acre plot of the cemetery towards its border with the confederate section. She found Bonnie's grave first, and replaced some wilting roses with the fresh campanula and then she moved to Melly's and lay the white lilies by the rotting, wooden cross. She would be back here in a week, she thought, with Ashley and Beau and their families, when Melly's formal headstone would be laid. Just over a year after she had been buried.

By the time she arrived back home, it was almost midday. She handed over the reins of her horse to Thomas, the oldest stable boy, and then she slipped into the house via the kitchen so as to avoid having to walk through the throng of bakery customers to get to her front door.

For once, Mrs Merriwether wasn't there – thankfully, she had popped out to check on the progress of the rebuilding of the bakery – and Scarlett could hear her assistant, Lucy, outside on the front lawn, helping India run the stall and the tea shop.

"'Af'noon, Miss Scarlett," Dilcey said, looking up as Scarlett walked in. Dilcey was hovering over Pansy, helping her roll out some dough. "Ah wasn't 'pecting you bak till later. Ah get yer dinner ready now."

"Don't worry Dilcey. I think I might skip dinner today. I'm not feeling hungry."

"But you doan eat much of yer breakfast either," Dilcey replied.

Scarlett smiled. Whoever would have thought that the quiet, contemplative Dilcey would morph into Mammy?

"I know. I promise I'll eat better tomorrow." She walked over to a side table, poured herself a glass of water from an earthenware pitcher and took a small apple from a bowl. She bit into it and chewed.

"Where's Captain Butler, Dilcey?" Scarlett asked, as she discarded the apple core into a waste pile.

"Mista Rhett gone out. 'Bout an hour ago," she replied.

Scarlett nodded, and then looking round the kitchen for some cordial to take up to her bedroom, she caught Pansy's eye and smiled at her. Pansy shyly smiled back.

"Miss Scarlett, my Prissy en' havin' a baby," Dilcey announced abruptly.

Scarlett pivoted back towards Dilcey.

"Prissy?"

"Yes'm. In February. An' she goin' ter get married, too. Poke tole her if she 'en havin' a baby, she better get married."

"Well, Dilcey, you must take a week off and go to Tara when the baby's born." She paused as she momentarily considered the news. "Do you want to go to the wedding as well? Who is she marrying?"

"Well, ah doan know 'bout goin' ter the wedding." Dilcey cleared her throat, and then steadied her gaze at Scarlett. "De father is li'l Sam."

"Little Sam?"

Dilcey nodded.

Little Sam, the son of Big Sam. Had he really got so old that he was now fathering babies and getting married? But he was a good boy – like his father. Far too good, for someone like Prissy.

"He's a good boy. I mean, he's a good man," Scarlett corrected and then she glanced over to Pansy again, who was trying to cut shapes out of the dough with a blunt knife. "Here, Pansy," Scarlett said, reaching up to take one of Mrs Merriwether star shaped cutters, hanging from one of the numerous contraptions she had installed in Scarlett's kitchen. "Use this."

"But, Miss Scarlett, it's Mrs Merriwether-"

"Mrs Merriwether's not here, Pansy. And besides, she can hardly object when she has used my kitchen for months. Why don't you make some star shaped cookies for you and Ella and ask your mother to bake them? Ella will be finished with Mrs Brickston in an hour or so."

"Miss Scarlett, you see, ah was wonderin'…" Scarlett's eyes swivelled back to Dilcey. She had thought the conversation was finished. What more was there to say about Prissy, the no good fool?

"Yes?" Scarlett said.

Dilcey remained mute, her lips moving but no words coming out. She started clutching the corners of her apron very tightly and staring intently at Scarlett.

"Go on, Dilcey," Scarlett encouraged.

"Ah's know you have lots of servants here, but…well…ah was wonderin' if Prissy and Sam come an' live here."

"What. Permanently?"

Dilcey nodded, slowly.

"I see," Scarlett said, beginning to feel uncomfortable. Good Lord, she did not want Prissy back, living under her roof, Scarlett having to pay her for her lazy ways. Especially if she would be nursing a baby! With all the changes that had happened over the last year, the one change that she hadn't been sorry about was taking Prissy back to Tara with her and leaving her there. Suellen had been none too pleased when Scarlett had told her that she was returning to Atlanta with Mammy and leaving Prissy in her place.

Scarlett swallowed as she looked into Dilcey's pleading eyes and then she sighed as she pulled up a chair and sat down.

"Well…" she began. She dragged a hand across her face, trying to think.

"Ahs know, Miss Scarlett, how good y'all been to me an' my family," Dilcey said hurriedly.

Scarlett looked again at the diligent, faithful servant and her heart softened. How could she and Ella and Wade have got through the last year without Dilcey, Pork and Mammy? And Pansy! Ella adored playing with the little girl more than any of the Old Guard's children.

"I don't know…" she started again, but then she stopped as a vivid image of her parents flashed before her. They would have acquiesced to Dilcey's demand. They had always hated how families were sold and split up by slavery. Why, that was how the O'Hara family had ended up with Prissy in the first place!

"Let me talk to Captain Butler about it, Dilcey," she found herself saying, although she knew that Rhett had no more patience than she did with Prissy. "And then I'll have to think of how to handle all of this with Sue. But I am sure we can agree on something."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S&R~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Afterwards, she went to her bedroom, using the back, servant stairs. She was intending to lie down for a while but, when she looked at her clock, she realised that she had another five hours before they would be going over to Uncle Henry's and Miss Eleanor's for supper and she needed to fill her time with something.

She changed out of her boots, into some soft leather slippers, removed her hat, loosened the grips in her chignon, that had begun to dig into her head, and then wandered down the corridor towards Bonnie's room.

She hadn't been in the room since her little girl's birthday, but today, on Melly's anniversary she felt drawn to it.

When she entered the room, the curtains were half drawn and she almost tripped over the cardboard boxes that she had asked Dilcey to order in, months ago. She drew back the curtains and then looked at the boxes again. Yes, that was what she would do, she thought. She would sort the room out. She would pack up its belongings and make it habitable again. It would be her final task as Bonnie's mother.

She surveyed the room for a few moments, took a sharp breath in, and then opened her daughter's large, walk-in closet, which had stood, untouched, for the last fourteen months, like a museum artefact. She had forgotten how materially spoiled her daughter had been. There was row upon row of dresses, blue dominating all the other colours, many of which had never been worn. She had had far more clothes than Ella had, or Wade. She had only had to say she liked something before she got it. In multiple colours. And when she returned with Rhett after that three month absence, her wardrobe had tripled in size.

She started rifling through the clothes, before her eyes were drawn to the sapphire blue riding habit that Rhett had ordered – unbeknownst to Scarlett – a week before Bonnie had died, and which had arrived a week after she had been buried. She had remembered opening the package and then swallowing a scream before Mammy had quickly scooped the blue material out of her lap and had taken it away. Scarlett had assumed it had been thrown away, burnt or buried, but Mammy must have decided to place it in the wardrobe.

She started to take it down, but then stopped. Who would have this? she wondered. Who would wear it now? It was too symbolic, too precocious for any child other than Rhett Butler's daughter to wear. She ran her fingers along the velvet and then brushed her face against it.

She wiped a tear away from her left eye as she pushed it to one side, resolving to ask Rhett what he wanted to do with it, and then, inhaling deeply again, her practicality winning through, she gathered an armful of dresses and stripped them from their hangers. She lay them across one of the boxes and then reached up to the rail and took another armful of dresses. Then, she knelt on the floor and started sorting them into three piles: one for Sue's youngest two daughters, one for Anne-Marie Picard and one for Cookie's grandchildren.

Once that task was complete she emptied the contents of the shelves. Cotton and silk socks, vests, drawers and nightgowns tumbled onto the floor and, again, she divided them into three piles and then placed them in the boxes. Then, she did the same with Bonnie's boots and slippers.

She stacked the boxes in one corner of the room and wrote a detailed description of what each one contained. Then, she stood up, arched her back and stretched, before she walked over to the window to open it. She felt flushed, light-headed and tired and slightly rued that she hadn't been more sensible and eaten more than an apple for her midday meal.

She sat on the window ledge for a while, gulping in the cooler air and when her giddy spell had passed, she slid over to the book shelf that was standing next to the window. She flipped through the books briefly and started placing them all in one box. Ella wasn't a great reader – in any event, she had enough books already – and so she decided that they would all go to Sue, whose daughters always seemed to be squabbling about which book was whose. Then, she moved on to the shelves of Bonnie's dolls and wooden toys, and pushed them clumsily into a box. Maybe she would keep them, just in case she did have any other children.

After three hours, the room was bare, save for the furniture, the rocking horse and Bonnie's dolls' house. She would ask Pork to move the dolls' house into Ella's room, the rocking horse into the nursery and she would think about what to do with the furniture later. Then, she lay down on the daybed, her head propped up against the cushions and looked out over the garden. She saw Ella and Pansy walking side by side, picking flowers from the beds and then she saw Wade run across the lawn towards the stable yard, no doubt to ride Red Hunter. She smiled. Her children were getting older and in a handful of years, Wade even less, they would be children no more.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S&R~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rhett found her dozing on the daybed an hour or so later.

"Scarlett?" he whispered, gently, as the door creaked open and he trod over towards her.

She opened her eyes and glanced over her shoulder.

"How did you know I was in here?" she said, croaky with sleep.

"Mammy saw you come up here."

"Oh, I see." Of course. Mammy had always had eyes like a hawk and ears like an elephant's.

He walked over towards the daybed and sat down. "Why are you in here, darling, today of all days?" he asked, softly.

She shrugged. She wasn't entirely sure. Only that she had wanted to keep busy. And Melly's death made her think of Bonnie. Sometimes, it felt as though all those horrible events had blurred together into one single event. Bonnie, Mammy, Melly and Rhett.

"I've been meaning to sort out this room and I wanted to keep busy today. It's the first anniversary of Melly's death…" Her voice trailed off, as she felt an unwelcome sob rise in her throat.

"I know, honey. It's not the easiest of days," he said as he reached down to stroke her hair.

She felt her body shake as she tried to compose herself and not cry.

"Oh, darling," he soothed, as he felt her judder. He swung his legs up onto the daybed and pulled her towards him.

"I wanted to do something useful," she choked out.

"You could have done lots of other things, today, to be useful. You didn't have to do…this…"

"It had to be done at some point. And I wanted to do it. And I wanted to be on my own. To think of Melly. And Bonnie."

"I'm sorry that you were on your own all day. It wasn't my intention. But the time rather ran away from me."

"But I wanted to be on my own today. If I had wanted company, I could have told you what I was going to do but I didn't," she said softly.

"You didn't need to tell me what you were going to do today. I could have guessed…" He paused, as he placed a finger to his lips, pretending to contemplate. "You went…to the store and then… to the florist to buy some flowers for Bonnie and Miss Melly and then you went to the cemetery…and then you came back here."

His accuracy made her smile.

"And the day rather ran away from you because you either bumped into an old acquaintance you hadn't seen for a while…" She stopped and breathed in the aroma of his clothes. She couldn't smell any liquor on him. "…Or you were trying to close a business deal."

He grinned. "You know me too well," he said softly. "I don't think I'll ever be able to hide much from you again."

"Good," she sniffed.

He shuffled further onto the seat and then looked around the room, at its eerie emptiness, at the discoloured wallpaper where the letters of the alphabet and where pictures of fairies had hung. After a while, Rhett said, quietly, "I can still hear her in the house, sometimes."

"I can, too," volunteered Scarlett. "And Melly. I can remember Melly in this house, even more than I can in Ivy Street. Her laughter, her role play with the children. Do you remember the day she named Bonnie? Bonnie was never a Eugenie or a Victoria."

"Just as you aren't really a Katie." He squeezed her tightly. "My scarlet woman."

She smiled and then she felt her eyes water again. She shook her head, trying to stop tears from falling. "I can't believe that they're both…just…gone." She brushed her hand across her eyes, and caught a tear on her finger. If she started crying now, she might not be able to stop. And they had supper to go to at Miss Eleanor's and Uncle Henry's later and she would be expected to be strong. For Ashley, for Beau. For Aunt Pitty.

She sighed and burrowed her head into his chest. "You don't mind me clearing the room out, do you?"

He shook his head. "Of course not. I should thank you. I'm not sure I could have done it."

"That's what I thought." She paused as she looked at the boxes. "I'm going to give some of her clothes to Matilda and Hetty, Sue's youngest. And, unless you object, I want to give Maybelle some of her other clothes for Anne-Marie. The ones she never wore. The rest...the rest I'll give to Cookie for her grandchildren. Her books…I'll send them to Sue, too. And the dolls' house, I'll let Ella play with it. And then…then, I want to turn the room into a guest bedroom. I don't want any of our children to ever use it again. I mean…if…if of course we ever have any more children," she amended quickly.

He kissed her on her forehead. "You've got it all planned."

"I just thought it was about time."

He nodded, slowly, but when she looked at him, she realised he wasn't looking at her. Something else had caught his gaze. He gently placed his wife's head back onto one of the cushions and went over to the bed and picked up a piece of cream material, stuck between the wall and one of the bed posts. It was an old muslin that Scarlett had used when she had nursed Bonnie and which Bonnie had subsequently tied as a petticoat onto her favourite teddy bear. He ran it through his fingers. Then, he held it to his nose and sniffed it.

Instinctively, she got up from the daybed and walked over to him. She touched his face, gently. He tried to smile at his wife and then he leaned his head into her hand and kissed it.

After a while, as he held her, she whispered, "We're meant to be going over to your mother's tonight. Remember?"

"Yes. I remember," he replied.

"And Ashley and Beau and India will be there."

"I know."

"It won't have been an easy day for them, Rhett."

"Don't worry Scarlett, I'll be good."

"No snide remarks to Ashley?"

"No snide remarks to Ashley."

"Thank you."

They both stood still for a while, looking at the room and at the boxes that represented their daughter's short life.

Then, he put his arm round his wife. "I have something for you, Scarlett. In our bedroom," he whispered down to her.

She twisted her face up to meet his and she saw a flicker of remorse in his eyes.

"Why-"

"Many women, whose husband's walk out on them, wouldn't be quite so forgiving." He stopped and then he leaned in and brushed his lips against her. "I'm aware of what other anniversary today is."

She gave him a watery smile as she tried to hold back her emotions. "I wasn't going to mention it."

"You're a lot more gracious than I am, Scarlett. And a lot more forgiving."

He led her back to their bedroom, holding her hand tightly. When they were inside, he went over to his bedside cabinet, took out a large envelope and handed it to her.

Tentatively, she took it from him. He had written her formal name on it. Mrs Rhett Butler.

She turned it round and felt it. The envelope wasn't heavy or particularly thick and she wondered what could be in it. She picked up a small knife, from the mantelpiece, to slit the envelope. Then she took the papers out and began to read them.

"These are title deeds to a property on Peachtree Street," she murmured. "In my name."

She looked up at him, confused and wary. Was this some sort of bad joke? "I…I thought you liked the house, Rhett. Now that it's been redecorated. I don't understand."

"It's not a house, Scarlett," he said quietly.

She looked again at the papers. Where did it say it wasn't a house?

"It's a small building," he continued. "Two shops down from Mrs Merriwether's bakery." Scarlett continued to frown. "I thought you could open a tea shop. Like the ones you liked so much in London. Like the one in Charleston. I have seen how restless you have become. You don't spend anywhere near as much time as you once did in the store. And it can pretty much run itself, from what I've seen."

She didn't say anything – she was thinking back to their trip in Europe, when she had suggested expanding Kennedy's to cater for a restaurant.

"But you were so…dismissive of the idea."

"Yes, selfishly I was. But I think you were on to something. Especially now that I see how successful the tea shop in our front garden has become. Then, there is India. What is she going to do after Mrs Merriwether returns to her bakery? I thought, perhaps, you could offer India a job…" he looked for a reaction to his suggestion but she was blank. "…Or anyone really, unless you wanted to work in it full time. India could run it, perhaps with Fanny or Maybelle. Or even my mother, when she is in town. And you could oversee it."

"But…" She thought back to their conversation in London, how he had wanted her to spend more time with her family.

As if reading her thoughts, he continued. "Call it my penance, Scarlett."

"Your penance?"

"I want you to be happy, Scarlett, and I see how you are never going to be the traditional wife, holding coffee mornings, sewing meetings-"

"But I have been holding sewing-"

"Yes, I know. Sorry, darling. I know you have been hosting sewing meetings and attending some of the fundraising committee meetings. What I mean is, though, you, Scarlett O'Hara, need something more than all of that. I want you to be happy, Scarlett, and being a successful business woman makes you happy."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S&R~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The following afternoon, Scarlett called on India to put the proposal to her. Scarlett explained that the food would be sourced from the bakery – she didn't want Mrs Merriwether's nose to be put too out of joint by the new venture - India would run it and Scarlett would use her business acumen and help out from time to time. In return, Scarlett would give India thirty per cent. of the profits.

India had looked at Scarlett circumspectly and asked to think it over but the very next day, she stopped by the Peachtree Street house to give Scarlett her answer. Yes, she said, she thought it would be a very good idea and then she started sharing some of her own ideas which Scarlett listened to intently. By the end of the afternoon, they had worked out a detailed business plan, decided on a menu (which included Minnie's special lemon cake) and drawn up some interior plans.

By the time Mrs Merriwether moved her bakery out of the Butler mansion a week before Thanksgiving, the building work on the new tea shop had already started and two weeks later, it was opening its doors to its first customers.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S&R~~~~~~~~~~~~~

By the end of 1874, Mammy was over sixty years old and it was becoming increasingly difficult for Scarlett to ignore her infirmity, her tiredness and her winces of rheumatic pain, even if Scarlett did dismiss her early and ensure that her duties were mostly confined to keeping Ella and Wade in check.

Scarlett, too, had detected a subtle shift in the power between the servants, and it had begun, almost as soon as Scarlett had returned from Charleston. Mammy could still terrify poor William and the stable boys just by giving a shake of her head or by throwing a discerning look, and Minnie and Reena would never dare to disobey the old, great, O'Hara stalwart, but Scarlett had noticed that it was Dilcey that now chastised the servants if they were tardy, idle or overslept, it was Dilcey that would run her hands over the furniture after Minnie or Reena were supposed to have dusted it, and tell them to do it again if she wasn't satisfied and it was Dilcey that came to Scarlett to run through the menus for the week. To all intents and purposes, whilst Mammy hadn't quite relinquished her crown as the most important and the most revered servant, it was Dilcey who now ruled the roost.

Scarlett noticed this and one evening, when she was getting ready for bed, she mentioned it to Rhett. He laughed and told her he had seen it too, but told her that, as Mammy was not kicking up any fuss, Scarlett shouldn't worry. Perhaps Mammy was happy with the change in status quo? he had added.

Scarlett mulled over his words and began to observe Dilcey and Mammy's interactions even more intently and after a while, she decided that Rhett was right. Mammy didn't seem to mind at all, and indeed, a cool friendship seemed to have developed between the two of them.

In early December, a couple of weeks before the family was due to leave on vacation, to spend Christmas with Mr and Mrs Henry Hamilton in Charleston, Scarlett was in her bedroom, sorting out the presents she had bought over the last few weeks and trying to determine what clothes she would take with her for the vacation.

There was a knock at the door.

"Come in," Scarlett called, expecting to see one of her children. But it was Mammy.

"Good afternoon, Mammy," Scarlett said as she lay a couple of day dresses out on the bed. They would probably be conservative enough in Charleston, she decided. Neither of them had too big a bustle, both had high necks and long sleeves.

Mammy mumbled some sort of greeting before she waddled in and closed the door.

"What do you think of these, Mammy?" Scarlett asked, ironing out some creases in the fabrics with her hands. She stepped back to look at them. "Do you think they'll be suitable for Charleston? You know how dreadfully boringly they dress there."

"Yes'm. Ah think so."

Scarlett started humming an old tune she had once known the words to as she examined the materials for dirt – one of them would need to be cleaned before she packed it - and then she walked over to her closet to pull out another couple of day dresses.

"And what do you think of these?"

She held each of them up in turn, against her, to garner Mammy's approval.

Mammy nodded.

"Yes, I think so, too," Scarlett said before tossing them onto her bed and going back into her closet.

"Miss Scarlett, Ah need ter talk to you."

"Well, talk to me, Mammy. I'm listening." But it was clear that if she was listening at all, it was only with one ear and no real concentration. Scarlett was scanning her dresses, pinching some here, picking at some there, smoothing folds.

"Miss Scarlett!" There was a gentle reproach in Mammy's tone, enough for Scarlett to stop fussing with the dresses and to poke her head out of her closet towards her old maid.

"What is it, Mammy? If you want the night off, you know you only have to ask."

"Miss Scarlett, Ah need ter go bak to Tara."

"Is that all? Well, you can visit Tara when we get back from Charleston. You can take the train straight from Charleston after we have celebrated the New Year with Miss Eleanor and Uncle Henry. I'll write to Will and Suellen so that someone will be sure to be at Jonesboro station-"

"Ah don't wan' ter jus' go bak to visit," Mammy interrupted. "Ah want ter go bak an' live there."

Suddenly, Mammy had Scarlett's entire attention. She moved out of the closet and stood facing her, her eyes scrutinising the black, wizened face. There was no mistaking her candour.

"Go…go…back?" she managed to stammer.

"Yes'm. Lak ah wen' bak before. After Miss Bonnie."

"But…but…" Scarlett suddenly felt strangled by emotion and started rubbing her face. Mammy couldn't go back to Tara! Not now. Apart from those two early years during the War, she had lived with Scarlett her whole life.

"You can't go back, Mammy," Scarlett managed to say more forcefully. "I need you here."

"Now, Miss Scarlett, no you don'. You has Dilcey an' Minnie an' Reena."

"But they're not you, Mammy." She felt a sole tear trickle down her face and when she focussed again, she noticed Mammy's eyes were watery, too. And heavy, tired and melancholy.

"Miss Scarlett," Mammy began, her own voice choking. "When Ah cam bak 'ere, after Miss Melly die, after you were prostrate wid grief, ah says to myself dat ah only stay until you better. Until you were happy again. Until I doan have to lie awake worrying 'bout you. But now…now…you have yer husband bak – thank the Lord – and he make you happy. An' now, I need to go bak to Tara."

"But why, Mammy? Why do you need to go back to Tara? Aren't you happy here with me?"

"It's not about being happy wid you, Miss Scarlett. Ah love you, lak you were my own chile. But, when ah die, ah want to die at Tara. Ah wan' ter be buried at Tara." She paused and Scarlett saw her swallow. "Tara is my home."

"I…I could make sure you were buried at Tara," Scarlett stuttered, frantically, trying to think of something, anything, to make her stay.

Mammy chortled and then shook her head. "Ah, Miss Scarlett. You is-"

"What if I have another child, Mammy?"

"Dere is plenty of good nannies, Miss Scarlett. An' Prissy is comin' bak here in January."

"Prissy might be coming back but…" Scarlett paused, "She is the most useless-"

"She grow up, too, Miss Scarlett. An' in two or three years, you will have Pansy, too. An' ah see yer chile when you come ter visit Tara."

"But what if Rhett leaves me again, Mammy?" Even Scarlett knew that that excuse would no longer cut muster.

Mammy snorted and then laughed. "He aint gwine do somethin' as foolish as dat! Ah already told him that if he ever leave you, Poke will shoot him 'fore he leaves. Or Mista Hamilton will shoot him af'er he leave. But he aint leavin', Miss Scarlett. He crazy in love wid you."

Scarlett stared at the wise woman in front of her and felt her lip tremble, before, finally, she gave way to the floodgates of tears. Unsteadily, she walked over to her bed and sat down, her body hiccoughing with her sobs. There was nothing she could say or do to make Mammy stay. Her mind was made up. She could see that. Oh, how could Mammy leave her again? Why couldn't she be happy in Atlanta? But even as she asked these questions, she knew the answers. Mammy loved Tara as much as Scarlett did. She wasn't leaving because she didn't love Scarlett. Or Wade or Ella. She was leaving because her job was done, she had helped put Scarlett back together, given her the strength to carry on, with or without her husband, and now she wanted to return to the place she considered home, to while away her last few days.

Mammy slowly approached her and then enveloped her in her broad bosom.

After a while, when she felt able to speak again, Scarlett asked, "When do you want to leave, Mammy?"

"Nex' week, Miss Scarlett."

Scarlett nodded. "I'll…I'll write to Will today and I'll ask Pork to arrange your passage home."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S&R~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Over the next few days, Scarlett did her best to put on a brave face, even though, whenever she thought of Mammy's impending departure, she would have to bite her lip to quell her tears. Rhett trod carefully around her, listened to her nightly, pour out her sorrow and concern that Mammy was really going back to die, and tried to cajole her out of her low mood by staying around the house more during the day and taking her out in the evenings. He tried to distract her by sharing his thoughts on some of his investments, and tried to get her to opine on whether or not they should financially support a Canadian based, Scottish inventor, who was trying to transmit the human voice by telegraph, but Scarlett barely seemed interested. She seemed lost in her own world.

When the day came for Mammy to leave, Dilcey, Pansy and Ella had baked, and iced, a cake for her and all the servants and the family, including Beau, Aunt Pittypat and Uncle Peter, who had come over specially, had stood round the table in the dining room to wish her well.

As they sipped on tea and lime cordial, they presented her with various gifts. Aunt Pitty gave her a new shawl, Ella, Wade and Beau had bought her some new head scarves and Eleanor and Henry had sent some new crockery, with the letter M enscribed on the bottom.

At Rhett's suggestion, Scarlett had arranged for a new bed and new mattress to be delivered to the old plantation. "We want to make sure you get plenty of good, quality rest, Mammy. I've told Sue that you have retired and that she has to look after you. Not the other way round," Scarlett said, biting her lip to stop from crying as she presented the linen to Mammy and told her about the new bed.

"Ah doan need this fuss," Mammy had stammered, trying not to let emotion take over her and then everyone raised a toast before Mammy cut the cake.

An hour or so later, Rhett, the children and Pork accompanied Mammy to the station to say goodbye. Scarlett stayed home, scurrying to the privacy of her bedroom as soon as the front door slammed shut. She refused to come down for supper and when Rhett came up to their bedroom with a tray full of food, she was already undressed and in bed.

"Scarlett, darling, you will see Mammy again," he said as he sat down next to her.

"I hope so," she said, the words muffled by the pillow. "It's all just so painful. I wish she had told me how tired she was becoming."

"She didn't tell you because she didn't want to worry you." He stroked her head, pushing her dark hair behind her ears. "Darling, you can go back to Tara whenever you want. You know that."

"But that'll mean being away from you!" she had huffed.

"Not necessarily."

Scarlett turned her head round so that she could take in her husband's whole demeanour. "What do you mean? You never come with me. For the whole time we have been married, you have never so much as set foot in Clayton County."

"Well, maybe I need to change that."

Scarlett looked at him. There was no mockery on his face. He seemed genuine.

"But you always said you didn't much care for the country."

"It's part of you, so I have to care for it a little bit. Or try to. Now, please eat something, Scarlett. The whole house is beginning to get worried about your lack of appetite. You haven't eaten properly for days."

"It's hard eating when you have a knot in your stomach," she mumbled.

He left her for an hour or so, whilst he tucked Ella in bed and read her a story. When he returned, Scarlett had eaten half of the chicken pie and was sitting up in bed, trying to read the latest Godey's Ladies Book. But her mind wasn't on it. All she could think of was Mammy.

Rhett undressed and slipped into bed beside his wife. Then, he pulled her towards him, lit a cigar, and started telling her his own stories about Mammy, some of which she had never heard. They made her laugh and she wasn't entirely sure if he was embellishing them. He had always been rather too good at telling stories.

"She hated me for marrying you, Scarlett," he said. "I'll never forget the dagger looks she gave me, after we had said our vows. There is a lot of truth in the saying, if looks could kill."

"She was only trying to protect me," Scarlett scoffed.

"It was me that needed protecting," he chided. He stubbed out his cigar and wrapped Scarlett's thick, ebony hair around his throat. "Thank God we had Bonnie, though. If we hadn't had Bonnie, I'm not sure she would have ever come to tolerate me."

"She loves you, Rhett," Scarlett said.

"She loves you, too. And more."

He slid down in the bed, so that their faces were next to each other. She inhaled the intoxicating mixture of his cologne and cigars and then let out a heavy, contented sigh.

"She would never admit it, but I think she always knew I was the right man for you."

Scarlett playfully hit him with her hand. "You conceited varmint, Rhett Butler."

"Conceited but you know I speak the truth."

Then, he started kissing her. Slowly, leisurely, as though he had all the time in the world. He stroked her body, her curves and pushed back her hair from her face, so that he could see her emerald eyes. He liked it when she looked at him, rather than when she closed her eyes. And then she started kissing him back, covering his body with her own, before she surrendered, completely to him.

Afterwards, she lay awake in Rhett's arms. He had fallen asleep; she could tell by his breathing. She gently wriggled out of his embrace and looked down at him. Her beautiful, imperfect husband. The love of her life. The only real love of her life.

She lay her head back on her pillow as she thought over the events of the last few months. It had been a hard year, but she had survived. And she had been wrong on that horrible, October night, as her world had fallen apart. She had lost people but not everyone. She had still had Wade, her mini-protector and fiercest defender. She had still had Ella, scatter-brained but loving. She had had Uncle Henry, who was watching out for her behind the scenes. And she had had Mammy. Mammy, who dragged her weary body back to Atlanta, to help fix Scarlett's broken heart.

She looked back at her husband and suddenly felt compelled to tell him how she felt. She hadn't told him that she loved him since the night of Miss Eleanor and Uncle Henry's wedding party. It wasn't because she was trying to punish him, but because she felt silly telling him, when he didn't offer up a similar declaration. But she knew that he loved her, even if he wouldn't admit it. He was probably trying to wrestle with losing that last bit of control.

She inched towards him, her body flush against his and reached across his naked stomach. She didn't want to say the three words out loud, in case he heard. Her hand hovered over his stomach and then she started tracing them. I love you, she wrote. I love you, she wrote again.

Then, she pushed her body higher on the bed and kissed him gently on the cheek. Maybe it was that touch that woke him, or maybe he had been awake all along. She never asked.

"I love you, too," he murmured. "I love you, too."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~S&R~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A/N First of all, a huge, huge thanks to all my faithful reviewers. I can't name you all – and some have drifted off the story. But when I started this, it was Sweet Carolina Butler and Aunt Pitty that really provided the constant encouragement, and Guardian Spirit and Julia. And then, from the middle it has been the wonderful Lawdy Miss Scarlett, Ondine, Dixie, the gorgeous Amaranthe, both Melodies, Wiolka from Poland, Noagnes and then more latterly, Christine, Anna, Joyce, NG Army Wife, festinalente50, Carol. And then intermittently, DarthRipley, Coco B, Blaque Cat, Jen. And throughout it all – Alison. Thank you Alison for sticking with this, even though your interest in GWTW has waned. Thank you for your encouragement, your PMs, your honesty.

I never thought writing a story would be so hard. Actually, I should correct that, I did know writing a story would be hard because I have tried to write my own fiction on numerous occasions, sometimes writing over 100,000 words but then I get stuck. Getting reviews, hearing that people have a view on your story (good or bad), helps. It helps you correct things, change things, it morphs the story. I hope writing this helps my own writing. Dixie, Ondine, Amaranthe – you are all AMAZING to write so prolifically, and Dixie – I am seriously in awe that you can write so many stories SO QUICKLY!

One thing in this chapter – I realised quite a while ago that the children would have slept in the nursery and not had their own bedrooms (with the exception of Wade). So I don't think Bonnie ever had her own bedroom – but as I had referred to it as far back as Chapter 6, and it was a pivotal point in my story, in as much as Rhett watched Scarlett react to Bonnie's belongings and then they ended up sleeping together that night, I couldn't change it. But this is wrong in my story and it is something I may try and correct. But the idea of Bonnie's belongings having to be packed up – that isn't wrong.

For those that are interested, this is what shaped my story. I never thought that a sane Rhett Butler would leave Scarlett and the children. I think Wade and Ella were his biggest ties – and he would have wrestled with his conscience (I do think he has one) and realised he couldn't abandon them. I do believe that he thought he didn't love Scarlett at the end of GWTW – possibly he didn't. But if she could show him that she could be graceful, peaceful – then, why wouldn't he live with her? Like Chris, I think the last scene could have ended differently if Ashley's name hadn't come up. I don't think he really believed her when she said she loved him. I think he thought she thought she loved him – but he needed to test her.

When he came back after six months, he came back, in part because of Bonnie, in part because he wanted to see Wade and Ella, but also in part, because he needed to see Scarlett. It was very easy to go to bed with her – as Dixie demonstrated in her Where All Roads End story. And in my story, that sparked something in him. He was definitely still sexually attracted to her but I think he needed to go away and think things through. And Scarlett definitely needed to give him a piece of her mind. He got away so lightly at the end of GWTW (did MM hate Scarlett by then?)

I wanted Eleanor and Mammy to help push the two of them together. We are told so little about Eleanor but I imagine she would have whole heartedly approved of Scarlett – and what I think is a shame in GWTW is that Eleanor is made out as the best friend of Eulalie (or is it Pauline? I can never remember!) but this relationship is never explored. Scarlett's maternal aunt and her mother in law are best friends? What a coincidence and yet it might as well not exist. I wonder if MM meant to make this more important than it ended up being in GWTW? Or was it her subtle way of showing that Rhett and Scarlett are very alike?

And India – well, I think it is open to interpretation in GWTW that India realised on Melly's death bed that maybe Scarlett didn't love Ashley after all- or that Ashley didn't love Scarlett. What was she "wrong about" that she felt she needed to tell Melly on her deathbed? I also think that Melly dying would have shaken India to the core and she would have realised that Beau needed both his aunts. I hope I haven't depicted their relationship as too sickly but India is also an aunt to Wade so can't be written out of Scarlett's life entirely.

And my ending was always going to be about Mammy returning to Tara – not necessarily to die but to retire. It was only after writing Chapter 8 that I realised how I was going to get there.

A few things need to be revised/taken out (I would like to chop about 50,000 words if I can but not sure exactly from where). Not sure Rhett's assault on Scarlett under the table was right at the first ball (I was trying to prove that he was v attracted to her and also wanted to make it clear she was his woman but this is 1870s in Atlanta!). Possibly Chapter 39 was wrong – inappropriate for this story and perhaps inappropriate altogether. Some of the middle section (I am thinking between Chapter 16 and 22) became bloated. So thank you for indulging me and allowing me to write the bloat because – without it, I am not sure I would have finished.

In any event, I have been almost traumatised by the ending of GWTW ever since I saw the film when I was nine or ten years old. It was shown in two parts over two days over a Christmas holiday and I remember saying to my mother after the end of the first part "Oh, this is such a happy, romantic film." I had fallen in love with Rhett Butler. Well, I must have been a very disturbed child because it is utterly depressing – not just the ending. And then, the next day, after I had watched the second part, I just cried. And cried. So, writing this sequel, has exorcised all those ghosts from that long ago Christmas holiday season.

This has also provided some form of therapy for me getting over my sister's death. A lot of what I wrote about Bonnie was what I went through or witnessed my parents going through. So if I have laboured the parts about Bonnie's death, it was my form of therapy.

I am going to take a break from writing GWTW fanfiction but I will, at some point, (probably next year) finish One Night.

Thanks for reading, and for those that bother to review, thanks so much for reviewing.

Over and out.