More immature banalities coming up! Did I mention that this story is loosely based on an old Cheers episode? If you don't enjoy Sam and Diane's banter, then 1) who and/or what ARE you? 2) you might as well stop reading now.

Sleep tight, Muddy Wilbury. You meant the world to me.

Part 2a

Show a little faith, there's magic in the night

The atmosphere had become rather frosty of late. Even Scarlett - notoriously oblivious of her surroundings - was not completely unaware of a sudden change in her husband's demeanor.

Rhett had been staring - glowering, more like it - into the wall for the past quarter of an hour. Each attempt at conversation had been cut short, as he had taken to answer everything with a curt "yes" or "no". If he even bothered with an answer at all, that was. Scarlett leaned forward and absentmindedly scratched her upper arm, carefully assessing her husband. His jaw was set, his face stubbornly turned away from her, and he was rapidly tapping his foot against the floor in a passive aggressive manner; the very picture of brooding severance. She tried once more to approach him, acting as if nothing was amiss:

"Did you see Mrs. Merriwether's dress this evening?" Scarlett said with a small laugh. Receiving no answer, she graciously charged on. "What in God's name was she thinking? I'll never be able to wear puffed sleeves again after tonight. Her meaty arms flopped around like- like a- like a pair of worn out concertinas!"

"No."

He didn't expand his answer to reveal if it meant 'no, I did not' or 'no, they did not'. Either way, Scarlett reasoned, it was a horrendous lie. She had spotted that ruffled abomination a mile away, and the old peacock had most certainly looked like a broken flutina. Even Melanie had said so! Or at least voiced a miserable "I'm sure the lights are playing some trick", which was about as far as her open disapproval went. The old Rhett would have laughed at her apt observation, and she had a sneaking suspicion that the Rhett of half an hour ago would have done so as well. The present Rhett, however, looked as though he had swallowed a toad. She glared at the back of his head, silently willing him to turn around. Nothing. The tip of his shoe clicked against the stone floor with increased tenacity. Scarlett, whose reputed patience did not precede her, massaged her forehead as the clacking sound bounced sharply against the walls.

She heroically refrained from rolling her eyes when she realized he had no intention of warming up towards her. Then she sighed and cleared her throat. Always the bigger person, she mildly chided herself, before she took the first charitable step towards reconciliation:

"I honestly don't know what you're moping about-"

His head whipped around at the sound of her voice, the restless foot thankfully coming to a stop. "Of course you don't." he interrupted with a sneer. "You have the perception skills of a blind lobster."

"So I prefer blondes, what of it?" Scarlett went on, gracefully sidestepping her partner's stomping foot. "That's hardly the end of the world- not even for someone as extraordinarily conceited as you." she added as an afterthought, a small retribution for the lobster quip. "Besides, if there's ever a man born who's not attracted to me, I'm sure I would accept it gracefully."

"'Accept it gracefully'?" he repeated with a croak of disbelief. "You'd send the cherubs flying so fast it makes my head spin just to think of it."

"Look. I'm not saying you're… well, ugly or anything." Scarlett went on, unperturbed. "I'm sure you're even considered handsome by some standards, although…" she trailed off.

"Although what?" he demanded testily.

"... Although I can't imagine what those standards might be." she finished lamely.

His face twitched in a way she interpreted as vain disbelief, and Scarlett's eyes shone with frenzied triumph when she realized a second strike had found its mark. Then Rhett began to chuckle slowly. "Asinus asellum culpat" he quoted, with the kind of unflattering pomposity normally practiced by Dr. Meade.

She rolled her eyes in annoyance when it became clear he had no intention of elaborating further. "Go on then." she urged with a resigned sigh. "I know you're dying to lecture me."

"I said: that was an interesting choice of words…"

"Thank you."

"... seeing as you're no beauty yourself."

"Excuse me?" she croaked.

"That cannot come as a surprise, surely?" he said, his eyes curiously straying to a lock of hair that stood out from the rest like a twig. Scarlett followed his gaze out of the corner of her eye, gasped in horror, and desperately tried to pat the unruly curl back in place. It would have none of it. "Considering that it would be the very first thing I'd mention if I were to describe you. Your chin has the stubborn disposition of an Irish peasant-"

Scarlett began to sputter and curse indistinguishably, her face twisting into a furious grimace that did nothing to help her case.

"... and I dare say you've got the mouth of one too."

Stronger than outrage, even stronger than instinct, was the urge to prove him wrong. Said noble cause was the reason she was able to rein in a horrible profanity just as it was leaving her lips. "F… irst of all; you're lying. Second of all, I'm charming."

"Lorena is charming. And beautiful. Whereas you?" he gave her a quick, dispassionate once-over and huffed. "You are a nuisance, and an expensive one at that."

Once again, she bit back her initial - decidedly unchristian - retort. "Charming or not, I don't see your precious Lorena getting you out of here." she answered instead, albeit through gritted teeth. "I, on the other hand, would pick useful over charming any day of the week."

"Your hardheaded mind certainly picks useful over charming, yes. You've made that painfully clear since - quite literally - the moment I met you. Your heart, however? I don't see usefulness playing any prominent part in its decisions."

"Ashley is- well, he doesn't have to be useful!" her mind adjusted quickly, automatically, apparently reeling against such an abominable lie. "He has honor!"

"He has…" Rhett nodded in agreement, then shrugged carelessly. "At least for an adulterer. But I don't see neither him nor his honor getting you out of here any sooner than Lorena."

Scarlett tried to conceive an image of Ashley coming to her rescue, but drew a complete blank. "I'm quite capable of taking care of myself, and he knows it." she sniffed instead.

"That is why he let you come to Atlanta, to me, to collect money for the taxes?"

Scarlett let out a roar of frustration.

"He didn't know!" she practically wailed at the unjust accusations being thrown at Ashley. It was hardly his fault for being an ineffective deadbeat in these matters. "And even if he did, he couldn't have stopped me. I had to get that money somehow." Rhett's eyes gleamed in triumph. "And how dare you bring that up again?" she hissed, quickly changing the subject. "It's not like you got off scot-free!"

"Perhaps I'm still nurturing the foolish notion that if the truth stares you in the face often enough, eventually even you will see it!" he barked into her oblivious face. She blinked back at him, owl-like, her nose wrinkling at his sudden, uncharacteristic outburst. He buried his face in his hands with a frustrated groan, and when it resurfaced behind the palms, his face was wiped clean of any emotion. It was almost disturbing, how effortlessly he was able to rein in his feelings. Especially to Scarlett, who held no more control over her temper than she did the weather.

He sank back onto a wine crate and massaged his eyelids in slow circles, and she was taken aback by how old and tired he suddenly looked. As her eyes quickly darted over his composed but resigned posture, she felt some of the earlier resentment slide off her as well. She sighed heavily as she, too, had a sudden urge to sit down and rest for a moment. It was an exciting and stimulating endeavor to be on one's toes at all times - but at the same time terribly draining. Almost as exhausting as acting cordial towards The Old Guard an entire evening, or feigning interest in Ella's childish tangents. Absentmindedly, she looked around for another wine crate. Finding none, she let her gaze wander aimlessly. Suddenly her eyes were alight, blazing with cunning determination - her prior weariness completely forgotten. An idea was hastily forming in her mind.

"Well, however you're planning to enlighten me, it's obviously not working." she said matter-of-factly, as she began to pace across the room. Rhett looked up with wary eyes. "And since the truth won't set you free, it seems you're left with me." she finished with a saucy smile, her face positively alight with creator's bias.

He frowned. "What does that even-"

"It means-" she interrupted impatiently, "I'm getting out of here. And faster than you could say Jack Robinson."

"You mean you're going to incapacitate your other arm as well?" he scoffed, unimpressed, but the vigilance in his eyes had been replaced by a curious gleam. "By all means, go ahead! Will you be slamming it into the door or onto my face?"

"Of course not." she answered tartly. "I'll need my arm in full working order when I'm waving you off at the station in half an hour."

"And how exactly are you planning to do that?"

She held up her hand in front of his face and dismissively wiggled her fingers in the air.

"Cute." he huffed. "How are you planning to get us out of here?"

"Considering your recent behavior, I'm not even sure there is a 'you' in 'us' anymore..." she muttered.

"Of course there is, you illiterate fool!"

She focused determinedly on her target, unperturbed by his jeering tone. Rhett swallowed and slowly turned around as he followed her gaze. There was an infinitesimal pause as he - with widening eyes - realized her design, then:

"You're going to climb through the transom?" he asked incredulously, his voice rising with every word.

"Yes."

"You're out of your Goddamned mind! This place is as high as a church - not that you would know. You'll fall and break your neck."

Scarlett seemed thoroughly unimpressed by his dark premonition. "Pff. For your information, I climbed trees just as well as the boys when I was little."

"Oh, sure. When you were little." he echoed silkily.

"That's what I sa-" she stopped and gaped as the insinuation hit her. "You dare-"

"Graceful acceptance!" Rhett coughed into his balled fist. Scarlett's mouth closed with a snap, nostrils flaring.

"And anyway, it doesn't matter!" he went on, lazily waving away her indignation. "Everyone gains a little weight with age. Look at Mammy, Pittypat, Dolly Merriwether… Why, I could think of a hundred unmarried women!"

"Keep that up and I could think of a hundred and one!"

One corner of his mouth twitched, once. Scarlett would have missed it, had she not been staring at it. She caught herself, furiously shaking her head to rid it of such heinous thoughts, regrouping her focus to the task at hand. She simply had to take him down a peg or two. His lips stretched into a taunting, self-assured sneer as he guessed her thoughts, and Scarlett's eyes narrowed into slits. Three, at least.

"I hardly need to point out how exceedingly ill-bred it is of you to-" she began, but he cut her off.

"Look, I'm sorry-" he drawled (in a way relieving he was anything but), the palms of his hands forming a protective barrier between them. "- but there's no better way to say it. You're bloated."

"There must be hundreds of better ways to say it! Literally hundreds!" Scarlett fumed. "Besides, Mrs. Merriwether was obviously married."

"That was a long time and at least fifty pounds ago!"

"You're such a hypocrite! Why, just- look at this! What do you call that?" she cried accusingly, making a dart for his waist and grabbing a handful of flab that had not been present when he left three months earlier.

He calmly looked down at her hand, then back up again. "The time of my life?" he suggested, unperturbed. Scarlett released him with a snort of disgust and flexed her fingers again, with more tenacity this time. There's something wrong with them, she thought with some distress, sensing an unpleasant clamminess in the palm. And there's something wrong with the circulation in here!

"Have you got a better idea?"

He shrugged. "Plenty, but - alas! - none as amusing as watching you trying to wriggle your way through that hole."

"Then you'll help me?"

He threw his arms out in mock surrender. "Sure. It'll be elephantastic."

"Come again?"

"It'll be fantastic." he repeated with a straight face.