So what does one do, when one is behind on everything, including one's fan fiction writing? One writes a new story of course. This little story (it will have 3 chapters in total, though it will take me a while to get there) was inspired by a conversation I had with LawdyMissScarlett at some point last year. I stole some sentences from MM to make it happen.
As always, thanks go to iso. I usually say "yes, ma'am" to her, but was now made to say "no ma'am" instead and I hope she'll approve.
The birth of the second Butler baby was quite unlike that of the first.
For one thing, the expectant father could not be found pacing outside the room in happy anxiety, as he had during that first joyous occasion. Instead he sat in the darkened dining room downstairs, sprawled heavily in his chair, the smell of whisky swirling so thick around him that, when Melanie Wilkes finally opened the door to announce the birth of his son, she had to keep herself from taking a hasty step back. The soft light pouring in from the hallway revealed the new father coatless and unshaven, staring at a half empty decanter in front of him. He made no move to get up at the news.
"Is she…" he began hoarsely.
"Scarlett is in fine health, Captain Butler. Dr. Meade is very pleased. She is resting now, but I imagine she will want something to eat soon."
He nodded once abruptly, without looking up. Melanie lingered in the doorway with a hesitant swish of her skirts. She had hoped he might offer to bring Scarlett dinner himself, as he had when Bonnie was born, or that she, Melanie, would somehow muster the courage to suggest it, if he didn't. But she had been so terribly shy around him after his return and he looked so withdrawn and darkly forbidding in his silence now that she could not find the nerve after all. She turned to leave, closing the heavy door behind her with a sigh.
And then too the birth of the first Butler baby had mostly been an event for its family. The birth of the second was an event for the whole of Atlanta. Nine months to the day, the baby's mother had been caught in adultery. Three days later, her husband had deserted her. Three months after that, he had come back, she had tumbled down the stairs of their mansion, and all of Atlanta had learned that she was with child. It was a feat of elementary arithmetic to put these facts together. Public opinion was only divided on minor particulars. Had the unfaithful woman launched herself down a flight of stairs to erase the proof of her sin or had her husband done it for her, in a fit of wrath? One's position on the matter largely depended on how far one credited Captain Butler's character and restraint. No one credited Scarlett with anything and no one thought it had been an accident.
Regardless of who had been behind it, the fall had not fulfilled its purpose. The child had survived inside its mother's battered body and through her long illness afterwards. It had survived and it was now ready to be born—and Atlanta was waiting with bated breath for the final addition to the sum of this momentous scandal, the greatest the town had ever seen. No one but her father had spent any amount of time speculating what color Bonnie Butler's eyes and hair would be when she was born, and he had kept that tender, foolish exercise wholly to himself. Everyone was wondering that about the new Butler baby, and few had been shy about voicing their guesses. Some measure of public circumspection had been imposed on men when rumor spread that Captain Butler had promised to meet anyone wishing to inquire into the legitimacy of his unborn child on a field, at dawn. It was far from certain that the threat had indeed come from him, but, even if it had, it did little to deter women, who knew themselves safe of his challenge—and women in all walks of life were the main conduit of such talk to begin with. Only the previous week, Mammy had had to throw two new maids out on their ear after she had caught them indulging in dangerous genealogical speculation in the hallway.
Yet despite all this, in at least one aspect the new baby's arrival could be counted much more fortunate than that of its sister. For the most important presence in a baby's life was, undoubtedly, its mother—and Scarlett was, for the first time in her life, looking forward to the birth of a child with something resembling joy. Hers was a complicated sort of joy, kept hidden from both her stony-faced husband and the gleeful gossips of Atlanta, a joy made in equal measures fierce and fearful by all that had happened since the baby's conception.
She had been three months pregnant when she had fallen down the stairs. Waking up in a whirlwind of pain and bewilderment after the accident, her first clear thought had been that she had lost her baby. How strange that such a thought could hurt her, when there were hot, sharp pinchers plucking mercilessly at her flesh, when a dull knife stuck in her left side sawed viciously inward every time she drew breath, when her head felt as if it would split open at the slightest motion… Stranger still that it should have been the first child she really wanted, her fleeting resentment at her condition now entirely forgotten. She had wanted it and she had lost it. Yet just before she slipped back into the waters of mindless, feverish fear from which she had briefly emerged to measure her loss, Melanie's voice whispered in her ear.
"You have to be strong, dear. You have to be strong for your baby."
So she was still pregnant and the baby was not gone after all! But her tired mind could not fathom that she would have to be strong now and fight for both of their lives. She was exhausted and in pain, and had no strength left to pick up this burden. She needed someone else to do it for her. She needed Rhett. Rhett was strong and he loved children. Rhett would know what to do. But Rhett had jeering eyes and a cruel smile, and he didn't want her. He didn't want their child. He'd said—he'd said…
"We'll be strong together," Melanie's soft voice cut through the rising darkness once again. "Everything will be all right."
Everything was not all right. Everything was heat and pain. The Yankees were coming and Melanie was having her baby. No, it was she that was having a baby and the town was afire and Rhett nowhere to be found. They had to hurry, leave before the Yankees arrived, but they couldn't because of the baby. They would have to leave the baby behind. My poor baby. My poor baby, cried a voice in muffled delirium. No, she would stay with her baby. They could go—Melanie and Wade and Prissy—they could go and be safe, but she would stay here. She would fight the Yankees if she had to, but they won't take the baby from her. She was not afraid. Still, she clung fiercely to Melanie's hand.
"Don't go yet," she rasped. "Don't leave me."
"You know I won't leave you, dear. Everything will be all right. I'm here."
But Rhett had left. She had seen his broad shoulders dissolving into the night on that dark road. He had kissed her and then he had left, and now she had crawled for miles in an endless nightmare. She was thirsty and she was in so much pain. Water, she tried to say through cracked lips, but no sound came out. He had left her to die. Melanie was driving the wagon, but it was small and rickety and the road was so uneven. A slab of wood from the wagon's bottom was digging cruelly into her side. She tried to change position, but she was too weak to manage it and the whole world was swaying unsteadily with the wagon, rolling up nausea in her stomach and a throbbing pain in her head as she stared up into the dark, dark sky…
The days of her illness passed over her like a tumultuous flood, leaving her weak and bruised in their wake. But just as they had depleted her in body and spirit, they had also served to tie her to the baby growing inside her in ways that went much deeper than her initial feelings towards it. When she had finally woken up as a convalescent, to learn that the child had survived inside her womb, she had placed shaky hands on her abdomen and had been fiercely glad. They had pulled through together—she and this child, the first she had ever wanted. Little else mattered.
And throughout the months that followed, months of tedious, enforced rest and fear for her health, months of cold silence between her and Rhett, when she had felt more trapped and miserable than ever before, she had clung to the baby as to a tiny ray of hope on the horizon. He would be a perfect little boy and he would be all hers. She would care for him and make sure he had everything he ever wanted. And she would not let Rhett take him away from her, like he had Bonnie. After all, hadn't Rhett shown, through words and gestures alike, that he didn't care for either her or the baby? If she needed more proof of that after their vicious confrontation on the stairs, his behavior in the months following her illness had served to seal her conclusion.
Oh, he had apologized to her! But could one truly apologize for almost killing one's wife and child? It did not occur to her that Rhett might have entertained the exact same question as he walked into her room after the accident, looking entirely unlike himself—grave and pale and sober. Many things did not occur to her at the time, for it was barely a day after she had recovered from her fever and everything around her was still dim, hazy and tiresome.
"I owe you an apology," he said stiffly. "You have been injured twice through inexcusable behavior on my part. I mean, of course, your delicate condition and the accident that almost cost you your life. I can only beg your forgiveness on both counts, and assure you that I deeply regret my actions and wish more than anything that I could take them back."
She had looked at the severe folds of his necktie as he first started to speak, but then turned her head towards the wall as he recited the rest of his apology. She was not ready for this, for any of it—she didn't want to hear it and, in truth, barely heard more than the sound of his voice. Sometimes at a party, when one was tired and everyone was speaking at once, the only way to get through it was to let the noise wash over you and not listen to the words themselves, for else hundreds of conversations would rush in over you at once and strain your mind to the point of madness. No, she didn't want to hear him.
"I am tired," she said tonelessly.
"Of course," she heard him exhale. "I—"
But he never did finish his sentence. He left the room so quietly that, when after long minutes Scarlett finally turned her head to check, she realized he must have been gone for a while. And it was only then that some of his words finally sank in and her mind registered that he had referred to her pregnancy as an injury and had claimed to regret his part in it. She would have been in perfect agreement with such an apology for any of her first three pregnancies, if anyone had thought to extend it to her. But this one—this one stung like a slap and she hardened her heart against him once more. He had not once inquired after the child.
And he would not during the months that followed either, though he would try for some time yet to coax her into forgiving him. He never did so openly after that first visit and, in fact, rarely came to see her at all. But Bonnie came almost every day and she occasionally brought gifts that she could not have possibly selected herself. Some were small, like flowers or bonbons, others more expensive, though never more than a jeweled pin or a delicate hair comb. By far the most magnificent was a great silk fan that Bonnie presented her with during the last suffocating heat of August. It was the loveliest jade-green, with tiny glinting goldfish strewn all across the top of its folds, looking, with every swish of the fan, as if they were swimming along the surface of a clear green water.
Scarlett, who had at first resented not being able to reject the presents, delivered as they were by her small daughter, and had in the meantime come to secretly look forward to them, frowned at it when she saw it. It tugged at her mind like a mute reminder, but of what she did not know and she half-suspected some joke at her expense. Somehow, it felt more intimate than the previous gifts. This would be the one she sent back, she decided. She would have a servant hand it back to Rhett as soon as Bonnie left. But when the time came, she found she could not part with it, for it was so startlingly beautiful it made even her dreary sickroom come alive. She had been cooped up in here for so long, had been so sick in body and weary in mind, with so little to alleviate her misery. She could not bear to give this up as well. She would give back the next gift instead.
But the fan was to be the last gift of its kind she would receive. A few days later Rhett himself came into her room, holding a box of bonbons. Clad only in her nightgown and wrapper, Scarlett was in an armchair by the door of her dressing room, supervising Prissy who was packing the clothes she would need for Tara. She had decided to go home, though it was only yesterday that Dr. Meade had expressed his firm disapproval of the plan. But she could not endure the thought of staying here even a day longer. Atlanta was stifling and deadly, bearing down on her with the weight of countless bad dreams and worse memories. She would not get better until she was home, and the need to run away burned so strongly in her weakened body that she almost trembled with it. She squared her thin shoulders when Rhett entered the room, ready to speak out in defense of her cause, but the box of bonbons in his hand startled her into silence.
"Hello," he said in a careful voice. "I came to—What is she doing?" he asked with a raised eyebrow, as Prissy struggled to push a trunk out of the dressing room.
"Prissy? She is packing," Scarlett said, not quite meeting his eyes. "I am going home to Tara tomorrow."
"Tara? I thought Dr. Meade had declared it out of the question."
"Yes," she shrugged, "but I've decided to go nonetheless. I'm fine, really. I've been recovered for weeks now."
He looked at her impassibly for a few seconds, the corners of his mouth curling down.
"Prissy," he said, "leave that trunk and go downstairs. Whatever you've packed, you can unpack later."
"Yes, sir," Prissy curtsied and hurried to leave the room. Scarlett watched her go, her jaw clenching slightly. There was no use in ordering the girl to stay, for she didn't want her eavesdropping on the conversation, not if Rhett was going to be difficult.
"There is no need for that sort of high-handed behavior," she said, turning to him with a cold flash in her eyes. "I have already decided that I am going."
"And you will decide against it," he shrugged, "as soon as you weigh the risks with a clear mind."
"You don't understand—"
"I think I understand perfectly. Dr. Meade made it very clear that he expected this pregnancy—" Her cheeks colored suddenly at the word. "—to be a difficult one in light of your illness, and that you required both complete rest and constant supervision going forward. Neither of which would be facilitated by your sojourn at a farm."
Scarlett struggled to keep her voice even, the first tendrils of anguish already coiling up in her throat. "I can rest at Tara. It would be better for me—"
"Scarlett, you've only been allowed out of bed for a total of five days now. On two of those days, you were too weak to get up. Traveling so soon might well incapacitate you for weeks. And even if it doesn't—what if you fall ill on the train or at Tara, with only a country doctor, if any at all, to look after you? What would happen then?"
He would not back down, she realized. He would bar her way with a wall of patient condescension and hypocritical concern and he would not allow her to leave. She would languish here, trapped in a cage, while the soothing dream of Tara melted away. Desperation and anger rose in her chest, so heavy and so scorching that she could hardly draw breath for their heat.
"You don't care what would happen if I was ill!" she ground out through clenched teeth. "You care that I might have the baby there and then people will think—"
"I do not give a damn what fools think," he cut in, roughly. "And, frankly, I do not give a damn whether you have this baby or not. I do, however, care about your health and the way you are determined to risk it."
Her composure gave way under the strain of her fury, her face twisting into a pale, angry mask. "Say what you will," she cried, starting to rise from the armchair. "I will go home and you can't stop me!"
Suddenly his hand was on her shoulder and he was pushing her down on her seat, gently but with overbearing force. "In that you are quite mistaken," he said without releasing her, though her whole body had stiffened against his touch. "You will find that I can stop you and that indeed I will. My light exercise of them might have led you to forget that, as your husband, I enjoy a number of prerogatives under the laws of this country. I would not hesitate for a second to act in that capacity in the present situation."
She could feel his hand burning her shoulder through her thin wrapper, and she jerked away towards the back of the chair to escape it.
"You know," she said, staring up at him with cold hatred, "I wish I had died rather than married you."
She'd struck him, she knew, for his shoulders briefly tensed up in the manner of one who'd received a blow to the chest and struggles to absorb it standing. That small hitch filled her with such cruel satisfaction that she almost smiled. But when Rhett spoke, his voice was cold and unaffected.
"Never worry, on that you have made your feelings quite clear. But in the interest of keeping you alive, this will nonetheless be my last word on the matter. You are not to travel without my and your doctor's permission."
He bowed and was gone, leaving Scarlett to mull upon her overall defeat and her small victory over him at the end, that strangely didn't feel entirely like one. He hadn't given her the box of bonbons, she mused irrelevantly later that evening. She half-expected to see it in Bonnie's hands, when she came to visit the next day. But there was no gift that day. There was no gift for almost a week and, when one did come, it was a picture Bonnie had drawn of her kitten—a smudge of black and brown lines that Scarlett struggled mightily to feign any sort of enthusiasm in.
Soon after that, she was allowed to leave her bed for good and Bonnie's visits stopped. But while being free of her sickroom should have soothed her mind, Scarlett soon found herself even more bored and stifled than she had been before. She could not leave the house, for Dr. Meade had advised against it and, even had she wanted to disregard his decree, where could she go? She was pale, thin and visibly pregnant, and, from the worried, falsely cheerful way Melanie had answered some of her questions, she had a fair idea that Atlanta was now thoroughly against her. Inside the house there was little to amuse her. Melanie was the only person that ever visited. The children vastly preferred spending their time with Rhett. And Rhett—Rhett had turned into a polite, distant stranger. It startled her, the first time he addressed her with that impersonal courtesy, as if they had just met in the lobby of a hotel and there had never been anything between them before. It startled her and she did not quite know what to make of it. But as the days wore on, she realized that the change in him went deeper than just his manner.
He was sober and 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. With her, he was polite and disinterested. He never referred to anything in their past, pleasant or otherwise, and did not fling softly drawled barbs at her or sting her with sarcasm, as had been his custom. 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. And as father and daughter spent all their time together, with Wade and Ella occasionally drawn inside their charmed circle and always hanging hopeful on its edges, Scarlett felt that she had been entirely left out. The children all preferred Rhett, and the only person Rhett truly cared about was Bonnie.
But it did not matter. She would have her baby and he would love only her. She drew even closer to the child during the second half of her pregnancy, spurred by the knowledge that they were both unwanted. Her pride might have prevented her from accepting that Rhett no longer cared about anything she did, or at least it kept her from dwelling on it too much. But that he did not care about the baby, that he never referred to her pregnancy at all even obliquely, was an unmistakable fact and one she could not let pass. Perhaps he still thought he wasn't the father or else who knew what thoughts were going through his head. She had never raised the topic herself so as not to break their peace. But underneath the cool, smooth surface of her life, her feelings for the child gradually hardened into a sharp, fierce love that was as much a weapon as it was a shield.
And that was the only thing that kept her from sinking into lethargy or despair towards the end of her confinement. Her belly was now pushing fully against her ribcage and Dr. Meade was worried that her newly-healed rib would not withstand the birth without breaking. He foresaw a difficult birth as it was, and the thought kept Scarlett awake with anxiety. Standing up eased the pressure slightly, so she paced her room every night, wishing more than ever that she could be at Tara and not here. She was almost sick with longing for home. And that too was Rhett's fault. Rhett, whom she could hear retiring to his room early each evening, unburdened by any worry for her or the child.
The labor, when it came, was smooth and easier than anyone had dared hope. It meant hours and hours of pain, but no broken rib at the end. And then the baby, freshly bathed and swaddled, was finally placed into her arms and she cooed at it softly, her chest full of some trembling emotion that threatened to spill over.
"You belong to me, don't you?" she whispered and realized, as she said it, that it was true. Wade and Ella and Bonnie, they had all belonged to their fathers or their extended families, and she had not minded, for she did not truly feel they were hers. But this baby—this baby belonged utterly to her and to no one else.
She would make sure that it was true, she thought fiercely. And she would make it perfectly clear to Rhett as well, as soon as he came into the room to see his son. He was not to think that he could waltz in here and be first in the baby's heart, not after he had been so hateful to her during the last months. But then the little boy in her arms opened his eyes to look at her and she forgot her thoughts. For his eyes were black, unmistakably and familiarly so, and before she knew it, she had started to cry.
When an hour passed, the baby fed and placed into his bassinet, and there was still no sign of Rhett, a twinge of anxious unease slithered into her chest. Rhett had been there immediately after Bonnie was born, before she was even swaddled. She remembered that he had come to her, Scarlett, afterwards and had kissed her forehead, and had laughed and kissed her again when she had grumbled at him. There would be nothing of the sort today, of course, but could it be that he would not come to see the child at all? That was too much, even for him. He could not possibly think that was acceptable behavior… could he?
After a while, Melanie came in, carrying a great silver tray with dinner. Spying its contents, Scarlett suddenly relaxed against her pillow. There was a small crystal bowl in one corner, holding three snowy mounds of peach ice cream—the same kind Rhett had ordered made for her after Bonnie's birth. So that was his game, she thought. He had sent Melanie in now, like he had sent Bonnie to bring her gifts when she was ill. All so that he could gain her forgiveness before showing his face. Well, he was mistaken if he thought she was that easily played. She would not fall for it this time.
"You can take the ice cream back to the kitchen," she said airily. "I don't want it."
"Oh, I'm sorry," Melanie said quickly. "I just remembered that you had it last time and thought—"
"You thought? You had it made?" Scarlett asked in a stricken voice before she could stop herself and felt blood rush into cheeks at how revealing the question had sounded.
But Melanie seemed not to notice. "Yes," she fluttered over the tray, "but I will take it back, dear, don't worry."
"Yes, make sure that you do," Scarlett said coldly, masking her mortification with petulance. "I don't want it."
She watched with crossed arms as a flustered Melanie left the room with the crystal bowl. And then, because she was foolish, she sank back against her pillows and cried.