So, I've noticed there were too many mistakes. Tried to fix them… It's another version of If only. I'm a bit stuck in my two last ones (Milady and Yours Truly) any ideas will be welcomed. Thanks for all the comments so far.

1825

"There you are! I looked for you all over the place."

The four year old boy looked at the dark young man with resentful eyes.

The young man (or was it a teen aged boy?) did not seem bothered and he lift him on his shoulders without asking. The sulking turned soon enough to delight. The young man began galloping around making horse sounds, causing the toddler to yell with joy. After, they marched for a while, than he put him down and kneeled beside the boy -

"Rhett, I'm sorry I couldn't come to play with you the other day. I was delayed and I came today."

The boy remembered his disappointment and pouted. The tall boy kneeling besides him smiled at him with bright green eyes and tickled him with his long tanned fingers -

"Don't pout, you're not a baby. You should learn to forgive or you'll never know happiness"

"I'll forgive you, Philip. Always."

"I'm glad" Philip smiled and lift him again up his shoulders.

***IF ONLY***

1835

"Hold your sword from above Rhett! Above! I said Above!"

He gave the younger man a hand and helped him up.

"Not bad for a first timer! Rhett."

"Just give me a week or so, Phil and I'll knock you down!"

"Are you sure?"

"I dare you!" he bit his lower lip with excitement, "and sure I'm sure! Just give me a week or so."

***IF ONLY***

1839

"I thought you -." The younger man was pleading.

"You stupid child. I defended you. I defended you to all your family." The green eyes were lit with a dangerous fire "You never learn, do you?"

"I thought—"

"You think too much, Rhett. And you're a coward."

The younger man was up on his feet in a second, his fists clenched, but Philip pushed him to the chair –

"Yes, you're a coward. You were scared of asking, of demanding what you wanted. You're too proud" he uttered those words with disdain.

"Sometimes things are too broken."

"Never, Rhett. It's never too broken if you are strong and brave. In the end it comes down to that – being brave enough."

Silence

"I won't do it again. I promise."

"Don't you dare back down on this one with me."

***IF ONLY***

1844

"If I go I won't be able to help Philip."

"Go Rhett. Don't worry about us. We'll elope anyhow."

The green eyes watched the black ones with concern -

"Rhett, you'll have to forgive your father at some point in the future."

"He disowned me!"

"You're still so young. You'll have to learn to forgive people for being human. Perhaps you'll never see him again, but don't go on with your life with such hatred."

The younger man hugged him and replied in jest "I always forgave you, haven't I?"

"How I miss our games."

"I never beat you, Phil"

"Sure you have" Philip's hand rose - five fingers open near his heart "I will see you again Rhett".

***IF ONLY***

October 1844

"Dead?" it was half a question half a cough. He could hardly breathe.

"Yeah, for six months now. Her sisters and pa managed to send him to New-Orleans, in a bar fight."

"And Lennie?"

"Gone. Married an Irish man a month ago. Old enough to be her pa and left to Georgia. They say she's barely writing her sisters. Blamed them and her pa for his death."

Hours later within the fog of alcohol in his mind he was whispering "You promised to see me again. You have to come and see me again."

One learns how to breathe with less air.

***IF ONLY***

1850 - October

Mist and fog on an autumn afternoon.

"Scarlett, what'a doin cry'n out here' honey-child?"

"I fell from a tree."

"Ain't you been home?"

"Yes, I -"

"Ya, so your ma be mad at you?"

"A-ha" she nodded.

The little green eyed girl sniffed and cuddled to the large frame of the black woman.

"Don't you be sad, honey-child."

"I couldn't breathe Mammy."

"Now you can, can't you? You know I's love you like fire and water and wind?"

"I love you too" answered the child "like wind and water and fire and land."

"Land?"

"Pa says it's the only thing that lasts."

"Oh honey, a man is made of earth and returns to earth, but the wind lifts the sand and takes it where it goes, so does the river to the soil and them rocks and trees."

"Tell me my story, Mammy."

The voice comes from the large framed woman with a sound of sea.

"Once upon a time in a faraway land there lived a brown eyed princess and a green eyed prince."

"Was it like my green?"

"It was emerald green, now don't you be interuptin' me"

The child smiled contently and closed her eyes -

"The princess and the prince were very much in love and wanted to marry. But the king of the land would hear of no such thing.

In their despair there was but one knight willing to help them. He was a kind hearted and generous and admired both the prince and princess from the bottom of his heart. The prince, eternally grateful to the good knight promised him his eldest child's, daughter if be, hand. Unfortunately, a black hearted witch who had wanted the knight for herself had heard the promise and cursed the knight and baby not yet born to misery.

A fairy had heard the curse and though she could not reverse it, on account of the fact that the witch's powers were great, she sweetened the fate - misery shall prevail in but one life circle, but on the baby will receive a gift of magic, bringing her back in time to choose otherwise and reverse their fate in both life cycles.

The witch who had rushed away to tell the king of the plot did not hear these words.

Soon after both the knight and prince were expelled from the land, and the prince shortly after died in his exile. In nine months' time the princess had her first born daughter.

Fearing the king's wrath the princess left the land with a peasant who had given her his heart and promised to raise her daughter as his own and the.

Years passed and the princess's heart never mended.

The poor knight was left to wander around the world never finding love or peace. His heart was sad and hard.

The princess became cold hearted and indifferent to the beauty of the world, even to her children and the peasant."

"What happened to the witch?"

"She tried to trap the knight, but she failed. He wouldn't marry her no matter what trick she pulled on him. Then she disguised to be a man dueling for honor, and died, for the knight was a fine swordsman."

"Tell me the baby's name, please-" The green eyed girl hugged the big frame black woman.

"Ruby. The peasant, wanting to protect her gave her his mother's name."

"How would she go back in time?"

"She would have to summon her fairy."

"How?"

"Saying twelve times a word of wish and truly wish for it to be different as hard as can be."

"Mammy, did Ruby come back in time?"

"I don't know, my lamb, that is left to be seen."

"How can she reverse both life cycles?"

"I don't know, my lamb, that is left to be seen."

"Does the knight love anyone else?"

"No honey. He can't. His heart is promised."

"Who told you this tale? You never say."

"Nor will I say it now."

"Oh, Mammy, I believe in magic!"

" Run along and play love-child and remember, never tell a soul of this story or the magic'll grow weak."

***IF ONLY***

1853

"Scarlett dear, you shouldn't mention your age anymore."

"Ms. Ellen, the child's eight springs old" the dark woman whispered.

"Men remember, Scarlett, soon enough you'll feel too old and they'll know."

The green eyes were looking at the tall thin woman dressed in black, wide with admiration.

"Yes mother".

As the skirts ruffle faded in the hall the dark woman muttered "One'o'diz days you'd say you' age, and if you don't, God help you, my child, cause a man who loves you don't care if you is twenty or forty"

"Forty is ancient, Mammy! How old are you?"

"None of your business child, but I's been forty ages ago. I brought your ma to dis world, same as you, an' I intend to bring your daughter to dis world too." With a huff she turned her back at the child and started leaving the room, but the child rushed after her and hugged her strongly –

"I'll tell my age to the man I love, Mammy, I promise."

The woman smiled.

***IF ONLY***

1864

-Scarlett - Mammy won't help in the fields.

-Sue, leave her be. Go back to your row and stop slouching.

-Scarlett! It's not fair! She should work, not me or you or Careen.

The voice of the green eyed women grew icy "I said LEAVE HER BE"

-You treat her as if she were mother and not some common slave -

The sound of the slap caused the people in front of them to stop "Need I remind you that she raised us? Go back to your row this instant!" she growled at the other woman.

Hours later she was sitting trying to tend to her bruises when the older big woman came in -

"You shouldn't have slapped her, child."

"That's a fine thank-you, or do you care to join us tomorrow?"

"Don't you be giv'n me any of your lips, Miss Scarlett" the tone was harsh but the eyes were soft and the tone as well.

"Oh, I'm just tired of everyone complaining. You're not fit for the fields anyhow."

"You're a good child, Honey-child".

"Tell me my story, please"

"Ain't you too old for that?"

"Never."

"Me neither" and she laughed and began reciting the well known words as the young woman leaned to her bosom like the toddler she was would.

***IF ONLY***

1873 October

Midnight.

She was crying on the stairs mumbling 'if only'. The clock began ringing. It was stronger than her, but she began reciting those words in agony. Her head was pounding but she kept uttering with the sound of the clock.

She felt a soft wind by herself.

She raised her head and was mesmerized by the look of the Mammy's figure.

Then she heard the sweet voice echoing and she knew this was no dream.

"It is time Scarlett Rubillard."

"Rubillard?"

The dark woman was talking in a different way than she remembered. No drawl. Majestically. 'Like the sea breeze' she thought, and her lounges felt at ease for the first time in months.

"Time to go back in time, as I prepared you all along, my sweet brave Rubillard child. You will start your second course of life now, dear. You had suffered so. So has your knight."

Layers of years, mistrust and agony were peeled from her. Her heart was once again young and unscarred.

"Could I avoid all my mistakes? Charles and Frank and even Ashley?"

"Them yes. But not all of it honey. It is too strong a magic, child, but you'll be able to change things."

"Will I remember it all?"

"Only some of it, child, for some things I cannot change and it will be unbearable to remember them."

"Bonnie?"

"That remains to be seen. Honey-child, it won't be easy. Some of it will be truly hard"

What part of the tale was true? She couldn't wonder much for she was herself, with no patience to wait, yet one question was too strong -

"What about this life cycle?"

"You've just altered it."

"How? When?"

"You kept your promise to me."

"What? I don't understand- My age? I told him my age?"
The black figure nodded smiling a satisfied smile.

"That was enough. Revealing something that you always kept aside. Relinquishing your pride. Believing in magic against all odds. You summoned your magic love-child"

"Will you kiss me goodbye?"

"I'll kiss you, but never goodbye my sweet-one. You are coming back to me, only you won't remember this, for I can't have you asking me for magic all day long." The wide smile was contagious.

A second or so before the room turned white with light she smiled faintly and lift her hand to her heart "I will see you again."

The echoes were clear "So you shall."

***IF ONLY***

1861

She was going up the stairs at Twelve-Oaks when she felt someone was looking at her. She turned. He was standing at the bottom of the stairs. A brazen smile, looking at her in that undressing gaze.

She did not properly remember, but she was hazed. She felt her age, sixteen and a half. She was drawn to the man at the bottom of the stairs. As if compelled by magic she went down the stairs leaving her friend who had just finished telling her of his bad reputation behind -

"Do we know each other sir?"

"I believe not, Miss-?"

"Scarlett O'Hara, sir."

"Your eyes… They are…" he was at loss when he noticed their shade and shape.

"Oh, I know, everybody comments about them" she batted her eyelashes but he chuckled making her blush.

He took her by her elbow directing her towards the side entrance straight to the gardens.

"Rhett Butler, it's a pleasure - Miss O'Hara."

"Oh! I heard of you."

Once again he laughed. Her ire rose "Nothing good, you shouldn't laugh!"

He halted and smiled softly at her "What should I do in your opinion if not laugh?"

"I don't know-"

"You seem like a bright young woman, not many speak their mind." He was amused yet appreciative.

"Oh. Well, my mother would say it isn't ladylike of me" she sighed but his smile widened.

"Ladies never held any charm for me, at least not the charade required or entailed in the matter."

"When I said that I nearly got my head off my neck" she laughed and her eyes were open with wonderment."

"So, you know that you are required foolish requirements, and you abide?"

She lowered her head. For a reason she felt she could tell him what she'd usually hide. Hide from her mother, peers, siblings, even her mammy, but it wasn't proper, and she knew it. Lowering her head so she noticed her décolletage and swallowed suddenly. She wondered how Mammy let her go out this way. As she raised her head she saw his grin -

"No need to be embarrassed, you make a lovely view and your secret is safe with me. I shall not tell a soul that you despise a set of useless rules and pretenses."

She raised her eyes -

"How did you know? That I don't abide if I think that I can get away with it?"

"Ha! You admit it out loud? Bravo!"

She was looking at him, a true stranger, with more interest than she could remember in any man ever.

"But you must be running late, I heard at least three young man who anticipate to eat with you this luncheon"

"Oh dear. Not three, eleven" she muttered matter of fact. "Well, if you wish to eat with me I will cancel with them."

"How will you do that?" he was laughing again.

"Easily, just wait and watch" her smile was radiant "But do you? Want to have lunch with me?".

He was speechless. Such out-front appeal was unthinkable, but this young small woman had done something no woman had done in his life - she made his heart clench.

"Show me, I can't wait" his eyes were glimmering.

She turned on her heels and headed towards the twins who were standing not so far off -

"Stu, darling, I have been thinking, it would be awfully rude if you eat with me after courting India all summer. She does care for you, you know?"

The young man blushed and she continued "I know you meant no harm, but you should go to her. Right now."

"Does this mean you choose Brent?" asked the young man hesitantly.

"Stu, you me and Brent are like those three musketeers from that French story. The only book I enjoyed reading in all my time at school. I love you two just the same, and Brent will not be eating with me either, he'll pay my youngest sister attention."

"Careen?" asked Brent with a smile "She likes me?"

"Admires, but don't you be breaking her heart or I'll come after you!"

The next target was Mr. Kennedy she berated him for neglecting Sue and dared him to repeat it in the future. The poor man was so flushed that his hair and face color seemed to blend.

In less than thirty minutes she dissolved her obligations and was soon at his side again. He was leaning against an old tree in the shade watching the light play games with the emerald color of her eyes.

"I have one question for you, Miss O'Hara - why eleven? What was the plan?"

She lowered her eyes "I'm sure I don't know what you mean."

"I'm sure you do. And you're a poor liar."

"No I am not!" she realized her slip of tongue and blushed.

He was smiling at her again "You are, in fact. You have a readable face. Not that it isn't beautiful. In fact, it makes you even more beautiful - the fact that you can't lie."

"Oh." the compliment silenced her for a second "But I do lie" she confessed blushing to the roots of her hair.

He laughed "I didn't say everyone can read you."

"You are a conceited one, aren't you?"

"Definitely so." His smile was devilish "humor me, what was the plan? There obviously was one plan. No one enrages so many women without purpose"

"Alright. I'll tell you. But you mustn't laugh. I wanted to make Ashley Wilkes jealous. He's going to marry his cousin and I thought he loved me-" Even to her own ears it sounded silly now.

He was trying to control the laughter aiming to escape from his body and with effort said "Fine plan, so easily deserted? Or have you decided that I will suffice for the matter?"

"I haven't thought of that. You are horrible, to think that I would be with you just to spite, I don't even know you!"

His brow rose, and she laughed "Alright, but I really did desert that plan. After all he usually bores me to death with his talk of poetry and philosophy or of ancient ruins."

"And the other men?"

"They're just friends, and Frank's my sister's beau. She's hateful most of the time."

"Yet you berated him."

"Why shouldn't I? He was horrible to her, and she is my sister. Even if I never felt like it."

He was choking from laughter at her candor, than he realized that a tone of sadness was in her voice.

"So you and your sister aren't close"

"No. Never were. She's rather normal, but she irritates me to tears."

He became serious remembering his own family.

"And your parent's?"

"I love my parents" she answered simply with a bright smile. She finger pointed at her father - "This is pa, and I wish ma was here, but she's delayed at home today. My mother comes from Charleston, like yourself, or have my ears fooled me?"

"Guilty as charged, Madam. Born and raised until ten and seven years ago or so."

"Ma left at around that time to marry pa. Her sisters were dead against it. Oh, silly old peahens. I never could stand them."

Again he was laughing a roaring laughter.

"Who are these lovable sisters?"

"I can't tell you now, now can I?" she was smiling not in the least embarrassed "You probably know them, I know most of the families in five counties and Atlanta, so it couldn't be much different for Charleston and Savannah".

Hours later as the calls of war were in the air she found him again -

"Will I ever see you again?" her voice was small and young and her green eyes wouldn't leave his.

"Come to Atlanta. I'll be there quite a lot." His eyes were dark and for the first time in years wanting. He was talking to her in the shade, away from prying eyes. By now she had been berated for associating with him, but her mother was not there so she ignored the others. Her hand rose - five fingers open near her heart "I will see you again".

For hours later he was feeling as if his lounges had regained a capacity they lost years before. But how could that be possible?

****IF ONLY****

Many events seemed like dejavu to her in the following three years. A bazar in which they met again, where she danced all evening with him. Too expensive gifts. Hearing him say he was not a marrying man, and that she was a child, thus saddening her for no coherent reason for many weeks to follow.

He never kissed her, but kept coming.

One afternoon she was in a foul mood and she snapped at him -

"You treat me like a baby. I don't know why you even come to see me."

"You amuse me immensely and few things do" he was not looking at her as he answered.

"Oh!" was the most she could utter.

He realized it too late for her face was down and a fat tear was rolling down her cheek -

"Scarlett, you're crying?" he asked gently "I'm sorry honey. I was jesting. I was sure you knew."

She sniffed.

"Why do you come to see me?"

He smiled at her and gathered her to his chest silently.

After a while he whispered "You are so young."

"No I am not!" her voice was the complete opposite to her claim. So were her pouting lips. It was comic, but he refrained from laughing "My mother married pa when she was fifteen and I am four years older".

He wasn't paying attention.

"It's not all bad - to be young, or as in your case - younger than myself. I once had a friend ten years my senior."

"What kind of rascal would take you for a friend?" she asked still upset from his demeanor.

He smiled "The best kind. I will admit - he was a rascal, kind of like me."

"Was? Did he become a gentleman at some point?" she was curious.

"Was - he died almost two decades ago."

Her face saddened.

"So many of my childhood friends died this year"

"Sadly, he died long ago. Before you were born."

"My friends were also older than myself."

"How much older?"

"Are you asking me my age?"

"Would it be so dreadful?"

"Ma always warned me from stating my age. She claimed men remembered when you were older."

"Did she take men for fools? You do know that I can count the three years that passed since we first met and you were over fourteen if you were there, so it puts you between seventeen and nineteen."

"Mother was adamant about me not telling my age to anyone since my eighth birthday. I wonder why. She hadn't been so persistent with Careen or Sue."

She lowered her face and asked quietly - "Am I still a child in your eyes?"

He did not answer but rather gave her a cautious look.

"Over five years, even six, men ask my hand in marriage. Some of your age or near. See Frank, my sister's beau, is nearing his sixties and Sue is merely- well, I shouldn't mention her age, I suppose."

"Precisely. He is as old as your mother's father. Perhaps older. Yet he deems himself a proper candidate to wed her."

"So does she."

"And many others. It doesn't make it right."

She stood, frustrated - "I am not a child Rhett. Even if I am young and you are older. And yes, I'm nineteen, practically an old maid if you ask some. If you had listened to me before you'd have known my age, I told you my mother was 15 when she married and I'm 19."

She suddenly remembered her promise and her eyes watered.

'Here, I kept my promise, Mammy' she thought.

She was aiming to leave the room when he took hold of her hand. She raised her chin and squared her shoulders "All day long I'm surrounded with pain. Amputations, lice, pneumonia, take your pick I don't wish to be ridiculed in my spare time."

He gathered her to him again. For the second time in the same day he held her, not for dancing, or assistance of any kind, he simply held her to him for a short while. She felt his hold loosening but she couldn't have it any more and looked him in the eyes.

Than he let go and smiled at her again - "Rest. You've had a bad day." One moment he was jeering and insufferable and the next sweet and comforting but after a second his eyes glimmered "Tomorrow we'll meet at the gathering again and I promise to behave."

"So you won't ridicule me?" she asked with her brow raised

"No I won't. I'd say I give you my word of honor, but then you'd know I'm lying. But I promise, and to make you believe me I add that , I will not ridicule only you."

For the second time ever she raised her hand to her heart five fingers open facing him and whispered with her piercing eyes "I will see you again."

It came down on him like a lightning. But how could it be?

The next evening they were in a gathering. He had said his piece and was aiming to leave after being reproached for his opinion regarding the fate of The South. She followed him when Mrs. Elsing held her dress and stopped her.

- He is a traitor, let him be.

Of all the moments in her life this was the first one she actually remembered she had been here. She did not bother contemplating but she remembered this evening as if it was written in one of those fairytales she had heard ages ago.

Herself dressed in nothing more than a Greek frock made of linen with flowers in her hand.

At the moment she sensed the ridicule of the moment. Herself a child trying to impress a men with her acting part. It was he that she wanted to impress. Than it passed. She was then and there once again.

She straightened her eyes at Mrs. Elsing, she saw Rhett wear his mocking smile, intending to leave. Mrs. Elsing was holding her by her dress –

"He is no less a patriot than any of my friends, Stuart or Brent or the Monroe brothers." For once she wanted to defend him.

"How dare you?!" uttered a scandalized Caroline Mead.

"No, how dare you insult him and call him a traitor to my ears?"

The eyes in the room were all laid on her. Even Melanie's displayed pure shock. It was scandalous to declare love in public and she might as well have done exactly that.

-If you please let go of my frock, I'd be much obliged.

After a short pause the matron in front of her indeed let her frock go and moved from the small young woman in front of her.

-Captain Butler, won't you please lend me your coat while you escort me home?

Although it was phrased as a request her tone was commanding.

She radiated power and determination.

Something seemed to peel off from Rhett's face. Something vulnerable she had never seen. Majestically she marched across the room allowing him to put his cloak on her bare arms. She fastened the buttons up to her chin. Though it was early summer and it was rather hot and humid she did not want to be seen making her exit from polite society for God knows how long, clad only in that costume.

He helped her up his buggy in complete silence. After a few moments she smiled at him a bright smile –

"Rhett, will you wait for me and take me to the train station?"

He scanned her from top to bottom, her flushed cheeks and smiling face were contagious –

"So, you're leaving after causing a greater commotion than the one I have with my non-patriotic notions of defeat?"

"They are damn fools to mistake your reasoning with allegiance."

"Ha! But doesn't allegiance require complete faith?"

"I wouldn't know, Rhett. I'm not that much of an expert in such matters and, Rhett? And another thing, I would kindly ask you not to speak in riddles with me, it's annoying. It's like puzzles or chess, I always hated both."

"Scarlett, for such a practical soul I have no idea how you, of all people figured out that I hold sentiments to this land of ours, especially knowing some of the dark businesses that I've been doing in these times. But these people do think that loyalty is violated once you presume that this war will not end with the hopeful prospects."

"So you want to fight for The South?" she asked quietly.

"Not quite. I never loved the Southern ways, I detest what's considered polite or proper, not to mention slavery which ought to have never began."

She remembered something her father once said about the trouble he had with slave-owning. His brothers in Savannah had none.

"And yet you love it. You love the grace and the beauty that it represents to you" she echoed words she had heard from him in a different reality without memory as to where they came from "Though I will admit that I never see beauty nor grace in these ways. All I see is duty and pretense."

She sounded sad.

He lingered on her last words and reached for her hand. She squeezed his lightly.

They reached the house. She jumped down before he could help her, looking defying at the tall man on the other side of the buggy.

"Why are you leaving, Scarlett?"

"I will cause Melly and Aunt Pitty more trouble if I stay after making this grand exit. Weren't you going to leave town in a few days too? I'll go for a few weeks to see my mother; I do miss her terribly and I'll return before you do, most probably."

He hadn't told her, but somehow she knew he'd vanish again.

They entered the house. She took off his cloak and handed it to him. She noticed how bare, in fact, she was with no corset underneath, -

"Are you sorry?"

"No. I'd do it again and even add a few words to mark the stupidity of these women had I the opportunity. To treat you with such a boorish manner!" She was upset.

He softened "I never saw you as someone who'd defend me. In fact I don't remember anyone-"

"You don't see everything, apparently-" her tone was dry.

She was turning from him towards the stairs when he took her waist and held her still, making her stay close to him. She looked at him with unclouded eyes -

"Kiss me, Rhett"

And for the first time he did. She melted in his arms. She couldn't decipher where he began and she ended.

After that she leaned to his chest, fully aware that he could feel her entire body through the thin cloth. She breathed deeply-

"I'll go and change for the station and tell Prissy to prepare. I just might reach Tara before midnight."

"It's madness leaving tonight." He was holding her again.

"Will you come for me in the morning?" Her head was tilted up at him.

"Be ready at 8 sharp."

He was aiming towards the door.

"Won't you-" she was stuttering now.

"What is it Scarlett?" His voice was somewhat impatient.

"Aren't you going to kiss me goodbye." It was barely a whisper.

He smiled and approached her lightly placing a chaste kiss on her forehead -

"You've had enough kissing for one afternoon." his eyes were dancing at her blush.

"Oh, you can go to Halifax for all I care and never come back!"

"But I will come back".

When Melanie came by her room she hugged her with no words. For a reason she could not decipher she felt herself choke with tears. Melanie had mistaken her tears for the chaos she had made in the gathering "There, no need to cry. I am sure that once they all calm down it will be alright. They were mad at me too. I told them that Ashley had told me at the beginning even before enlisting that this war was a mistake that would destroy our world. They found it difficult after that to be mad at such opinion. Oh, they are still furious at Captain Butler, but not as before."

"So you stood against them all alone?" she asked and sniffed with watery eyes and held her closely.

"Old peahens, how dare they criticize you to my ears? You were right to defend the captain. He is your friend and has been courting you ever so long." The last words were spoken softly.

She raised her eyes and kissed her friend's cheek whispering- "Thank you"

"Scarlett, I have one thing to ask, though. If you intend to go to Tara, promise you'll return for July. I am due in August and I want you with me. I don't know if Aunty is up to this and -"

"I'll take a small bag with me."

"I want them to know that you have not fled the city." Her eyes were cold with determination "I'll arrange dinner with friends three nights ahead."

"Two days, then."

"Yes. For two days I can spear you."

"You are like a general, Melly, you think a head and never fear fighting. Who would have thought?"

"Are you any different?"

"I don't think ahead-" laughed embarrassed at the sheer truth.

"Together we'll make a fine army and win any war" smiled Melanie.

***IF ONLY***

Silently he handed her his handkerchief.

"It's a wise decision to leave for only two days" he said, as she tried to dry her eyes.

She sniffed loudly, making him smile "Melly's idea, not mine. I'd never think of it, it's not my way. I don't even understand why I'm crying like some ninny."

"Would you rather I took you by carriage?" he asked as they began the journey down the street.

"It wouldn't be proper, Rhett. I couldn't. Ma would -"

At that he turned the horse towards the outskirts of town, as if receiving the opposite answer. She watched him closely and decided to refrain from talking. When they reached the small woods he turned to her with a fierce look that almost scared her -

"Why did you do it?"

"Do what?"

"Defend me."

"Why do you think?"

She offered him her small hand and he took it, brushing her knuckles with his lips.

"Make an effort, Scarlett. Why?"

"I think it's rather obvious, Rhett" her voice was low "For the same reason I told you my age".

He did not understand. How could he?

She caressed his cheek lightly. He took her hand again, this time kissing it at the core of her palm and smiled. After a short pause she pouted.

"I'm famished! I was too upset to eat in the morning, and I did plan to buy something on the train. Now we are stuck with nothing to eat for hours."

He laughed his roaring laughter and she joined him. He stopped the wagon at the side of the road and let her down. It was a spot where they used to go pick flowers in the spring. Now it was mainly with yellowing grass.

"I brought a picnic bag made by the excellent cooks of the Atlanta Hotel, though I'd expect that romance would be enough to feed you."

"Oh!" her eyes were bright with happiness and she hugged his neck with a burst of joy surprising both of them but he was quick to hold her and lift her body in a twirling motion for a few moments, as if she were a mere child. Her laughter tickled his core. She was holding his neck to gain stability when he stopped.

Watching his guarded expression turn his face to blandness she became irritated - "Stop doing that!"

"What?"

"Pretending you don't care. Pretending to be indifferent. I'm not indifferent and I'm not ashamed of it!"

"What does this mean, exactly? This difference?"

"Oh dear!" she sighed "and here I thought you'd be fun to be with."

"Tell me, and perhaps I'll become fun."

She turned. With her back to him it was easier- "I promised my Mammy when I was a child to reveal my age to the man I love. I kept that promise, haven't I?"

He tried to turn her to face him but she resisted him so he hugged her from behind kissing her neck in a way she never knew, a way that made her tremble.

"Oh, you have to stop" she whispered after a few moments.

"If you look at me."

She turned.

His lips descended on hers slowly. He was holding her gently, as if she were something breakable.

"I intend to leave tomorrow for Liverpool, one last time before it's all too late. Say you'll come."

"Tomorrow? I- I can't" she was stuttering "Why we are not -"

He looked at her attentively "Married?"

She lowered her head again "Yes, married." He raised her chin with his finger softly - "Rhett, I remember you aren't a marrying man, though I can't figure out why."

"Would you have considered it, hypothetically speaking, if there wasn't that issue?"

She gave him a stern look "I suppose I would have, but it would be wrong. Some rules are not wrong. I shouldn't be with you in that way unless we are married, Rhett."

She blushed to the roots of her hair but she did not lower her gaze -

"We'll marry tonight."

"Oh, you shouldn't make jokes on - "

But he bent his knee and to her utter shock he pulled out a small box, never adverting his eyes from hers.

"Will you grant me this great honor and marry me, Scarlett O'Hara?"

She clasped her hands before she lowered her head to his and whispered before she kissed him "Of course I will".

The sunny ride home would be remembered years later as her last memory of her carefree youth.

At the gates of Tara she noticed Mammy lowering her eyes as she stepped in with him. Her mother was standing at the top of the third staircase. Scarlett hadn't noticed that her mother froze, nor that Rhett. She hadn't noticed his paling face nor a soft smile that was soon wiped off his features to an impassive blandness when he felt the frostiness of the landlady's demeanor.

"Katie Scarlett - you will join me in my study".

She took the scene in and breathed deeply.

"Ma, I would like to introduce you to -"

"No introduction needed, Scarlett. Captain Butler, you won't be staying on these premises."

"Mother, you can't surely-" she stuttered all shocked.

"You will go to my study at once, young lady." The brown eyes she'd remembered for years, in another dimension as soft and caring were nothing but frosty "And you, sir, will leave at once".

She squared her shoulders in a posture that her mother had never seen directed at her and raised her chin grabbing his hand. In a frosty tone of her own, business-like, none had yet heard come from her she answered quietly -

"I am afraid that wouldn't be possible. I suggest you invite the Captain to the study as well or my visit shall end now."

Her mother lost air for a second but her fury came undoubtedly fast "Visit? How dare you? You will enter the study with no further talk, I will not hear of it. You are under my roof, young lady."

She gave her mother a soft look, almost compassionate but her tone was unmoved "You are right, I am under your roof, and if we are not welcomed here we will leave. I do implore you to invite the Captain to the study as well."

Her father entered the room looking, not understanding -

"Pa, please, let us all talk inside. Please!"

"I will not tolerate this, Scarlett" her mother uttered in a hushed tone.

Lowering her eyes she answered slowly "I am my own woman and over 18 now. If you wish me to leave, I will, though it will break my heart. Please mother, can't you find it in your heart to let us- let's just talk together, I am sure we could sort this -"

"Sort?! You will stay in this house until further notice and-"

"Mother, I'm afraid I won't."

"How dare you disgrace us by disobeying?"

"You know nothing of him! Please listen to me!" her tears were swelling inside "Please!"

She felt his iron arm soften. He tried to release her, but she held him with wet sticky palms - "Perhaps you should-" he began.

"No." Despite the tears that could be heard in her voice there was determination in it that couldn't be waived aside and she turned towards her mother - "Won't you consider to just hear me, Mother? I've known him for three years now, since I left for Atlanta, and what those folks probably wrote you, well, that's plain silliness and nastiness".

Her mother blinked with confusion, and again she was focused -

"You have shamed your family in the association with this man. You have forgotten our ways. Will you go with him against our explicit wishes?"

"I am like him, Ma. No one understands me better. I love him. Have you never loved before to distraction? surely-"

"It is of no relevance to you."

She saw that this answer caused pain, not to her frosty mother but rather her father, but her mother had not finished her tirade -

"If you leave with this man you are no longer daughter of mine" the finality in her mother's voice was something she knew wouldn't change. She left his arm, he was watching her as she walked slowly towards her mother wondering if these last words broke her resolve. For a second she seemed defeated to him but as she straightened her back she bent her face to kiss her mother's cheek -

"Goodbye Mother."

Her father was at loss - she came to him and with all the effort she could muster she smiled a watery smile "Take care Pa, you never take care of yourself" she fell on his neck and hugged him briefly "I love you Pa. Always." She kissed him once more.

She noticed a big figure at the side of the room and ran to the open loving arms. Her tears were chocking her but a whisper came to her ears, as fresh as the sea breeze "Go with your knight, honey-child. You are joy to me."

The whisper echoed inside her head. She wondered if she imagined it. She squeezed the woman in one last embrace.

"Let us take our leave, Rhett."

He helped her up the wagon. When the wagon reached the curve of the road she turned back to see the fading figure of her father. She raised her arm, and knew that he had raised his as well.

She did not ask him where he was riding but a few minutes later he had stopped by the courthouse in Jonesborough. She didn't need any documentation. It was all there. Her birth, all known to the justice of peace who had known her and her parents all his life.

Rhett gave her a look - "Are you sure you don't wish to wait and let your parents get used to the notion? Perhaps your mother needs some time and-"

She shook her head and with a determined voice she answered "No. I have made my choice. She will always be welcomed to change hers and I will never shut them out if any of them decide otherwise. I dare say that I never expected this, but this is what it is and-"

Rhett looked at her and asked for a minute -

"What is that choice, Scarlett? It is hard to be without family. I know that I talk of it in a form… Only yesterday you told me that you missed your mother."

"I won't be without family if I have you. As of today you will no longer be without family either - you'll have me."

"And your mother?"

"I choose you." There was stubbornness in her that was touching, and his walls came tumbling down "If I were younger I'd elope if need be, but I am nineteen now".

His eyes widened "You kept your promise" he whispered.

"Of course I did, I always do."

"Not you, my love, but it is you." she did not understand but he gave her no time to wonder as his lips touched her forehead and raised her left hand to observe it, as if for the first time.

A few hours later, at the Atlanta Hotel she'd sent a note to her dear friend telling her shortly of her wedding.

She saw him loosen his shirt. A soft dejavu hit her once more. She was not embarrassed by his presence as he'd expect her to be, it was as if she had missed him and she wondered how it would feel to be in his arms. She closed her eyes and tried to collect herself. He had mistaken it for nervousness.

"Have your mother ever spoken to you of these things?"

She realized what he was asking. Averting her eyes she mumbled - "To bear and endure."

His brow came up -

"Well, isn't this what you were asking me? That's basically it. Nothing more."

He refrained from further talk but his eyes were soft and attentive. With every sigh and move that she'd make he was there with her. His eyes never leaving hers. In the midst he whispered "It will hurt only this once, I promise." but the pain never came. The small inconvenience was soon soothed by his touch, causing her to tremble without control at the height of it.

He was strong and tall, and she loved his warmth. She felt her tears swell inside and as he smiled at her a content smile she couldn't keep them in. They were pouring midst their love-making.

He took it for sorrow on account of her mother's objection to their union, or perhaps pain, he eased his paste and passed the back side of his hand on her face -

"Perhaps she'll change her mind, my love."

"Who?" she puzzled "Oh, I'm not thinking of mother. It isn't that, darling. This is so good. I never knew it could- so happy - then again - - I'm so happy, so very happy and -".

She couldn't explain. How could she? She didn't understand it either.

"I don't know why I'm crying, Rhett, I don't" she sniffed and hid her face in the crook of his arm.

He gathered her to him and kept quiet for a while.

"You are not a goose. Despite your young age, I suppose that you know that some things will never be the same again. That's a good enough reason to cry about."

Her eyes were questioning him, so he continued -

"For years all I've had was the margins of life and society. Never with people who grew where I have, or loved this land like myself. Never with people who shared my culture, my likings. It's always been me on my own. One gets used to it. Breathing less air."

Suddenly he smiled. "I've felt this way for years, until the first day we met And then you came and snuck into my heart, bringing me my lounges back and making me spend more time than I ever cared for in polite society. But you are like air to me. Yesterday I was aiming to leave that gathering asking myself how I'll be able to visit you, if I should wait outside the hospital."

"You would?"

"Haven't I?" he smiled at her "You are so unaware of things that it is a miracle that you responded to that woman's words."

"I'll never regret this." she said quietly.

"Then why the tears?"

"You think it is regret?"

She turned to him and surprised him by spreading herself over his naked form just so to kiss him one light kiss over his lips. But this initiated something utterly unguarded in him.

"Darling?"

"Hmm" he was lighting a cigar while holding her naked form with his other hand

"Was all we did in fact legal?"

He roared with laughter as she blushed, and gathered her to him.

"What part seemed illegal, darling?" he asked in a low voice.

She was too shy to talk and kept her face glued to his chest.

He raised her face to him with a serious look he answered - "Nothing is illegal between us. Nothing can be. You are my wife, what we do in the privacy of our bedroom is only our affair."

After a while he asked "Are you in pain?"

She blushed and shook her head.

"Did it hurt?" he was looking at her in a way that made it impossible to lie.

"Not really, something adjusted." She noticed the stained sheets "Oh dear! What will they think of us?"

He kissed her slowly and promised "That we've just married. Don't worry yourself. We are not the first newlyweds in this bridal suite"

"Oh."

As if to prove or emphasize his words he began caressing her naked form.

Before noon the following day they were on the train towards Savannah, aiming to Europe.

"What are you doing with your legs there?" he was smiling at her in the private compartment.

"I thought I couldn't walk" she was laughing with her eyes bright.

"One of these days we'll make sure you can't walk in the morning" he laughed "not yet."

"I dare you!" she bit her lower lip with excitement.

"Are you sure?"

"Sure I'm sure! I'll knock you down first! Just give me a week or so." Her cocky demeanor made him laugh as he hadn't in years.

A month had gone by. Only once did she hear him speak harshly to an associate in her presence. He apologized afterwards for her witnessing this. She realized that he was protecting her, shielding her from the world.

She was his princess.

On the night prior to their arrival at Atlanta he asked her "What will you do when we're back? Would you rather we went to some other city?"

"No. I want to be with Melanie when her time is due. Besides the hospital will be needing me and they won't be able to resist us with these medicines you bring on this last shipment. I intend to return there and ignore those busybody matrons. One of these days they'll repent what they said about you."

At her insistence he had bought more morphine and chinin the he had intended. She took some bottles to safe keep. She wanted it for Melanie's labor.

A week after their return he enlisted. She was crying rivers all morning -

"I don't want you to go" she choked as he tried again to soothe her tears "Please stay with me at least till Melly has her child, and then I can leave here and perhaps go to Tara."

"She won't accept you, darling."

"Is that why you're going?"

"In part. But most of it is because you're right. I feel in pain as I see this land go down to its final blow. I know my enlisting won't change it, and if a bullet gets me, so help me God, I'll deserve it for being such a fool."

"I'll never forgive you for leaving me now, I hate you, I do!" she was pounding at his chest.

"Never has there been a worse liar, my sweet-sweet love." he gathered her to his chest and wiped her teary face with his lips - "I'll be back. These past few weeks have been heaven for me. I'll be back for you, you give my life reason and beauty and laughter. Sweet sweet Scarlett."

A memory came to mind, he did return. She knew that the war wouldn't take him. She breathed deeply and offered him a memory of livelihood before going to war, whispering her love to him.

"I never beat you" she whispered after.

"Sure you have. You are my conqueror".

In his absence she indeed returned to the hospital and, at Melanie's insistence, she returned to live under the same roof as her and Aunt Pitty. The woman who came back from Europe in the body of young Scarlett Butler was a stranger to the elderly doctor. There was something detached yet very efficient in her manner. She has become his favored assistant in surgeries being as quiet as she was, ordering the soldiers to endure their pain and enduring their screams of pain with resilience that surprised him. She had asked him especially to call her on child-labors. She wanted to be prepared. It was considered below her status to be a birth-maid, but she insisted explaining she wanted to be there for Melanie "Just in case this war gets out of hand when the day came."

She refused his invitations to social gatherings and fundraising and when he hinted that the ladies wanted her company she answered directly -

"I haven't forgiven them. They made my mother - " she paused and continued "Rhett gave this land all he could in blockade running and enlisted after his last shipment knowing fully well it is a lost cause - as do you. I know he made profit, but he always brought this hospital supplies at half the market price and they judged him, insulted him and tried to ruin our happiness. No, I don't wish to be in their company doctor."

At that the man lowered his eyes. No hint of his superior manner. He was humbled.

Her mother kept to her cold withdraw. She kept writing her and her father, but one afternoon she received all her letters to her mother attached in a parcel with a small note "You are kindly requested to refrain from further correspondence."

She had no more tears left after that.

One evening as she left the hospital Belle Watling approached her - "Mrs. Butler would you please wait?"

She halted. She observed her with cool eyes that make the other woman lower her eyes and yet she gathered her courage -

"Will you give the hospital this money for me?"

She opened the handkerchief and for some odd reason she was expecting to see her husband's initials, but it was a plain cloth with no inscription. She breathed deeply and smiled at the surprised woman a sincere and happy smile "I'd be honored to assist, Miss Watling."

The other woman blushed. "Mrs. Butler, thank you. Could you perhaps- Would you please tell me if- You see, I've known your husband for years. Since childhood. Is he -"

She realized what she was asking and she answered again in a cool manner "Rhett is fine, as far as I know."

She seemed relieved, then she noticed the hurt in the young woman in front of her "Mrs. Butler, I'm just an old friend. I've known him since childhood. He's always been kind to me and my boy. I even knew your mother back then, before I became, well, before she married your pa."

"You knew my mother?" suddenly she felt lost. Her mother had said she needn't introduction regarding Rhett. Had she known him? Never perceptive, not even now to the fact that her face was the perfect mirror to her thoughts.

"Only by name, Mrs. Butler. She belonged to nobility, your ma, whereas I was an overseer's daughter from Rhe-, your husband's family plantation."

She was looking at her suspiciously, and the red-headed woman noticed.

"Well, then he was banished, and I only met him years after, with my boy - right after his birth." she added with a pointed look. " Run along, Mrs. Butler or you'll be seen talking to me, no good will come out of that for you, child."

This encounter was observed by onpasseres and a few days later she received a letter from her mother, berating her for her further moral deterioration.

After that letter she came to one afternoon gathering at the town hall. As she entered the room was silenced and soon turned back to motion. She walked herself to Mrs. Mead's side and sat by her quietly, never lowering her gaze, with her shoulders squared -

"Dear Scarlett, I'm so glad you came! Arthur's been telling me wonders of your work in the hospital, though he is worried you'll wear yourself out." Caroline Mead was in her mourning dress for her first born. Scarlett feared that it was a matter of few weeks before his younger brother joined the same fate. She swallowed hard and smiled at the woman with effort -

"He worries too much. And how have you been with Phil away?"

The woman smiled a wide smile, as if seeing her for the first time "It is kind of you to ask. I'll admit, I can't sleep. But tonight he's here" She saw the young boy behind her now and felt the tears swell inside her, the lump in her throat was choking her and coming up

"I shouldn't have come. I knew I shouldn't have. Since Rhett's left I'm no good for company. I should go home -"

"Don't you dare!" growled Mrs. Mead "You'll stay next to me all evening if need be, or perhaps dance with -"

"No. I couldn't dance but you should, with your son."

"I'm in mourning" whispered the elder lady "What will folks say-"

"Fiddle dee dee, Caroline Mead, your handsome son is back for one evening and you won't dance with him?! And your poor husband who's been slaving for weeks surrounded by nothing but pain and death?"

The doctor had heard her last words and joined with a weary look on his face "Dance, Caroline, and spear one for me. Phil is here, we should dance. And Scarlett, please dance with me, your husband surely won't hold it against you."

She kept coming to these gathering. Never dancing with anyone but Dr. Mead or Henry Hamilton. Never associating with the matrons, Mrs. Mead excluded. Melanie had long been confined when on a nice July evening she felt a tap on her shoulder while trying to avoid being stepped upon by the good doctor midst a dance -

"Will you spare a dance for your old Pa?" she turned around and saw the stalky white haired man standing behind her with a soft smile.

He looked tired, she noticed, a sad tone in his eyes, new wrinkles adorning their sides. As if in a dream she walked towards him -

"My sweet child" he kissed her forehead.

They danced quietly, her breathing was rapid when the dance came to an end. He took her hand gently, "We should talk, child. I came for this purpose alone."

In a corner of the great hall they sat, her hand in his. She was his eldest, and it was a first time she'd ever felt like a woman talking to her father at eye level.

"When you came with the Captain a few months ago, you had heard your mother. Unfortunately, that hadn't changed. She is still adamant in her demand that you not visit home. She received numerous letters, Henry Hamilton came to visit, even the same Mrs. Elsing who you blame for this ruckus called her to beg her to change her mind."

"Pa, why have you come?"

"Katie Scarlett, I came to explain. You deserve that. I know Mrs. O'Hara, your mother had caused you pain; is causing you pain."

"You don't owe me anything, pa. Merely by coming you made me so happy-" she didn't want to hear that her mother never loved him, but his sad eyes revealed that it was too late. Her choice had made a difference. They were far from the crowd, yet he lowered his voice to a mere whisper -

"I will take you to your house, we shall converse there."

In the darkened parlor they sat as his story unfolded -

"Your mother is not mad at you. She can't bear the thought that she too had a choice many many years ago to defy her father and go with a man she loved. A man who was an outcast, considered a rascal, and her cousin. Well, the poor boy she loved left to New Orleans on her family's demand and died in a bar fight, leaving her heartbroken and pregnant with you, my child."

Scarlett turned white.

"You are my daughter Katie Scarlett O'Hara. Never doubt this fact. I made sure that legally no one will ever be able to dispute this. I became your father before God. My favorite child you are, so help me God. I knew this before I wed her. Your mother is an honest person. Nevertheless, the more news of your bliss, and even of your husband's enrolment she became more upset. I suppose it reflected on her failure to chose the same. I never inquired much of her past. I always let it slide. But now, for the first time in our marriage I ordered her to tell me. She didn't say much, but I gather she and your husband had crossed paths in the past. He left prior to our marriage, and I suppose he didn't know till he came with you to our house, who your mother was."

Her head was throbbing with pain. His demeanor upon their arrival to the house rose in her memory.

"So you all knew?"

"No, child. She told me she knew your husband only yesterday. He was supposed to help them elope. He was her cousin's best friend, and protégé being younger."

"Does mother have anything against Rhett, other than his history? And, and how can she judge him, the story being as you told it?"

"I don't think she does, but it doesn't matter lassie. I met him once, two years ago, and he's a fine man, even if not a gentleman, holding his liquor as he does" he smiled at her, averting the subject, but she wasn't fooled.

"How are you, with that, pa."

"Oh, I knew we weren't alike. Your mother and myself. I love her and I saw no point in envying a dead lad. And you loved me the way she might have- Well, I always hoped it would be enough. My love for her. I suppose there are times that it isn't."

"She won't see me?"

"No."

"Pa?"

He stood to leave -

"Thank you for being my father"

"Hush my child. This instant. You are a gift from heaven to me."

"Stay with us tonight, pa. Return tomorrow. Please. I will come home anyhow, after Melly gives birth, and try to soothe her."

"How can you soothe her? She blames herself for his death. She thinks I don't know, but she cries for him in her dreams, for years now, asking forgiveness.

"And I am his child?"

"Yes. Nevertheless, You are mine. You have my mother's name for a reason, child. You'll always be my child."

"I could tell her that if I didn't have you for a father, but rather her father, I wouldn't defy anyone either. Not at fifteen, and not at nineteen as I am now."

"Oh, she blames me alright, for your defiance."

"I don't understand."

"How can you?"

In the morning he was at the door when he turned to her -

"I will tell your mother that you know now. She will thus have to face you, and will not be able to hide behind this righteous fury."

"Don't!" she grabbed his hand "I beg you not to. If there is anything left to break it will break her heart completely. If you love me, father, promise me you won't." she was crying desperately.

"You'd let her keep this wrongful act towards you?"

"Yes. Poor mother. Poor poor mother."

"You are a great lady, Katie Scarlett Butler, even if you are married to an Orangman".

"I'm no lady, pa. These past few years are proof enough for that. But both you and my husband love me just the same. Perhaps on account of it." she gave him a teary laughter.

He held her close whispering "One of these days you will know that you are. Greater than any other lady you know. I never needed a son."

***IF ONLY***

Days after that she was walking in mist. Having her nightmare, only this time much worse than ever. After too many nights that the house woke from her screams, Melanie forced her to join her in her room.

There were no news from Rhett.

It was late August. She came to visit Mrs. Mead. Early afternoon she noticed a man approach the front of the small white house. He was carrying another.

It was Rhett.

He had brought Phil home injured. She gave up half the morphine she kept hidden. Caroline Mead asked no questions and never told her husband that she in fact used half a bottle on her suffering son, instead of surgeries for those who still had a chance to survive.

But he survived. A chain of pain remained, but it was not severed.

When she stood to leave with her husband the doctor took her hand "You have become a child to us. Don't forget that."

At night her husband held her. She kept hanging to his frame in silence.

"Why did you say that you can't bear it again?" he asked after a long while.

"You heard that? I thought I've only thought those words-"

"Why, Scarlett?"

She sighed "You know me too well, my love." but she wasn't going to let him know what she had meant, she couldn't understand it either "Pa came a few weeks ago- So much pain- He told me you knew mother."

He sat slowly -

"What else did he tell you?"

"That you knew my father as well."

He was silent and pale.

"How long have you known?"

"I should have known when we first met, but no. I realized only when I saw your mother, adding your age to the matter. You didn't tell me who your mother was and I never inquired."

"How could you realize this?"

"You have his eyes. You say things - same as he said." He moved with unease.

"Mother always said it came from my father's side. Pa's eyes are blue and his brother has green eyes. I assumed… That person"

"Person? My best and only friend's. Scarlett, he was my only friend ever. Apart from you now."

His eyes were bright and teary -

"How was he like?"

"Philip?"

"Was that his name? Pa never told me"

"He was older than me; ten years difference or so. And yet we befriended. He was the only kind soul in my childhood. Taught me to fight, ride horses, even play cards. Wild. Untamed. He pitied me or liked me for some reason since I can remember myself. He admired the soles of your mother's shoes, though she was younger. Fifteen or so."

For once she felt her husband's loneliness and it made her rest on his lap. They clung to each other like a drowning person clinging to a tree branch.

"And ma? What was she like?"

"Vibrant, light headed, and mostly in-love. She was head over heels with him. I came to visit her when I heard of his death, but she was already gone, and no one told me where. Today I would have found out, but it was only some-time after my own banishment and no one would talk to me. One would think that she'd be happy for having you and your father, he's a real fine man, but it broke her. The woman I saw in Tara is a shadow of that girl. It's like something froze deep inside her."

Scarlett recalled the tale, she was princess Ruby, she now knew. Mammy had changed the name but left her many a clues so she could follow the trail left if indeed it was the second one, or was it not?

"Rhett, who told my grandfather of mother's plan to elope?"

"Dotty - the girl from the carriage incident. Though the oddest thing happened after the duel. I know it is said that she was ruined, but I never heard of her again. It was as if she disappeared.

"Why didn't mother rejoice in our marriage? I can't understand."

He took her to his chest "She wrote me one letter after we married, begging me to keep quiet about the past."

She asked to read it. Reluctantly he obliged. She would recognize the handwriting anywhere. She couldn't control the impulse and she brought the paper to her nose, but the lemon-verbena scent was missing.

Rhett,

It has been over two decades since we last met. I beg you to keep my secret. The Gods have heard both you and Philip. Your wish has been granted. Our promise fulfilled. Scarlett needn't know of Philip or of me, as I was, for those people are long dead. I ask this for me. If you ever cared for your childhood friend, Lennie you'll do it for that memory.

I don't ask your forgiveness for my brutality, nor your understanding.

Ellen O'Hara.

"The Gods?"

"We were always teasing each other about Pagan Gods of sorts. I didn't quite understand what she meant. I thought -"

He shut his eyes and a memory flashed back up -

"On our last encounter, a week before, before the buggy incident and my banishment we were sitting at Philip's apartment downtown Charleston. He was older than the two of us, I'll admit that the company in his house was never what you'd call decent, I loved it there. I am your mother's elder in four years, I believe. I was your age at the time. They were planning to elope, and we were a group aiming to assist her in escaping her home. At that day she was supposed to be in some Catholic retreat, and she must have lied and come to stay with him for a few days. We were laughing and they were teasing me regarding my statement that I wasn't a marrying man."

"I remember that one. You sure kept to that statement."

"Well, my answer was that I was waiting to marry their eldest daughter, after she'd come of age, and that my heart was shut for all others. Your father, Philip had caught me later on, I was going to drive them across the border. I thought we were laughing, but he promised you'd be mine if indeed I waited for you to come of age. And the rest you know."

"How hypocrite of Ma!-"

"Don't be mad at your mother, Scarlett. She was aristocracy, Scarlett. She was designated for a wealthy match. A life of comfort, perhaps in France. Instead she married -"

"A man who gave her only respect and admiration, who treated me like a princess."

"That's no surprise to me. They were like royalty, Lennie and Philip, young as she was at fifteen, beautiful and vivacious. Now that I think of it you have his temper, stubborn and he never understood people, kind of like you, and you have her passion, she loved wholeheartedly, with no boundaries. I stood no chance against that. I wasn't drawn to your mother - make no mistake. It was their combination which was perfection incarnated. As are you. Tara was the land of the kings of ancient Ireland, you must know that."

"What? I don't understand half of what you speak of. You surely know that, don't you? As for your remark - I am not mad at mother, Rhett. Pa wanted to tell her that I knew. I beseeched him not to do so. To give her that small favor"

"Rhett, I have one more question, and please be truthful. Did Belle Watling know my mother and Philip?"

He gasped. His features were rough now -

"Did she approach you? I'll -"

"She only gave me money for the hospital and inquired of your well being. I was hurt. She explained she knew you since childhood, and mentioned my mother. She said she knew her only by name."

"Belle said she knew who your mother is?"

She nodded.

"Sure she knew. She was still there for five more years. She is around my age. Our overseer's daughter, and let's just say that she was never very strict with her ways with men She had her reasons. She was in that gathering. She must have known whom your mother married. That explains why she told me several times that it's helpless."

"What is?"

"Me trying to forget you, all those times. She kept quiet about it these past few years. Always laughing when I'd complain of you."

Her forehead wrinkled "Why would you complain of me? Oh, never mind, I get the picture - "

"No you don't. For some odd reason I always felt some pain with you. Something I never understood. And you are so young."

"As if you had known me before." but she remembered she may not tell the tale to a soul so with all her power she smiled at him "Perhaps you have, and perhaps you were right. But she was kind, that friend of yours."

***IF ONLY***

"I know what I'll do! I just won't have any more children"

The dark woman gave her a long look.

"Oh, don't give me that look Mammy! You know I don't mean it. Besides, I'd miss him too much."

"Miss whom, my pet?"

"Don't call me that Rhett if you wish for me to keep missing you" she answered without turning her head.

After Mammy left he came to her - still in her corset observing her figure in the mirror.

"You look enchanting, Scarlett"

"Don't lie! I know I'm fat." she huffed displeased.

He smiled at her with eyes dark with lust - "Don't call my wife fat if you know what's good for you" he teased, but in a more serious tone he continued "I've been aching for you for nine long weeks since Bonnie came to this world. Your skin is radiant and your curves drive me to distraction. He began unfastening her corset. She took a long breath to her freed lounges -

"Don't ever put this so tight again. I like you breathing completely." he had a commanding tone she couldn't quite figure, but before she could dwell on it his lips were on her breast -

"Oh, Rhett, please - You'll -"

"Taste you?" he mumbled as his hands descended on her belly and giving her pleasures causing her tongue to go numb, she nodded -

"Would you mind that?" he asked with his piercing dark eyes "I want to know even that in you. Enjoy even that."

She shook her head slightly, but that was all he needed.

1871

"You're still mad at me"

His back was turned. He was silent.

She surprised him when she shook his shoulders "How many times will I have to say I'm sorry? I never meant a word I said! Why in God's name can't you forgive?!"

He was startled –

"It takes me time, Scarlett. I'm not like you."

"Oh yes you are! You're just too lazy and proud. You cling to your righteous anger like Mrs. Merriwether or that ugly India Wilkes."

He began laughing and it drove her insane so she shouted –

"COWARD! That is what you are—"

But he wouldn't let her continue. His face darkened and she was silenced.

She was aiming to leave the room. Defeated when she felt the large hand take hold of her –

"What?"

"I always forgive you. Just bear with me a little longer. I'll never back down, my love."

Another spell was broken. A promise fulfilled.

May 1873

A child is galloping on a pony.

A mother was watching from the window.

A wave of nausea shook her -

"Bonnie - please get down, Mummy needs a hug." she called faintly.

The child stopped the small horse "Mr. Butler, you'll have to wait for that jump."

As she held her child she whispered "I once fell on my belly from a tree. I don't want you to get hurt so."

"Mr. Butler will be disappointed Mummy."

"We can give him some sugar cubes. Would he like that?"

"I think he will."

1873 October

The bells from the church at the corner chime twelve.

At a house in Peachtree Street a woman stands and goes down the stairs to prepare a cup of tea. She sits at the parlor and waits.

A man is standing at a railway station waiting. The mist surrounded him.

'She's scared of the fog' the thought crossed his mind 'she must have run home in this thick fog before I…' He couldn't decipher why he was dwelling on her. Wasn't it all broken? Was he too weak? Too scared?

"The train will arrive in 29 minutes sharp sir."

He nodded.

Twenty nine.

'She can't be 29, can she?' but he knew she wouldn't add to her years, after all for many years she wouldn't say more than her birthday being in April each year. He recounted the years back.

It was late July 30 years before when he last saw Philip Roubilard.

He always wondered how it came that he had married her daughter of all people.

The green eyes flashed in front of him.

"COWARD"

"You'll have to learn to forgive people for being human"

"I will see you again"

A promise. Philip never broke his promises.

Dear God. Is that what he meant? That I'll have to forgive her? I never did learn. Philip - - The noise in his head was growing, he felt himself shudder -

"You'll wait until she's grown, Rhett, I mean it. Ellen knows she loves me, but if my child has an ounce of me, before my age there is no way she'd know what she wants."

"Never, Rhett. It's never too broken if you are strong and brave. In the end it comes down to that – being brave enough."

A coward.

Then his own words - "I won't do it again. I promise."

Philip's words echoed - "Don't you dare back down on this one with me."

Their young laughter at the time came as a breeze to his memory.

The laugh was on him.

He hadn't waited. Or had he?

Had he waited longer could he have avoided the pain? His? Hers?

He had no explanation why he remained all this past agonizing year, since his child's death.

It was time.

An empty station. A sound of the coming train. No passengers waiting to board.

Mist and fog are clearing away. The moon sends its white light to the big mahogany door.

A soft rain to replace the tears begins falling.

She doesn't utter a word as he enters, but she stands.

"You're awake".

"I waited for you to return."

"I didn't know" it was a whisper.

"You promised me."

"I have."

"And the broken pieces?"

"We'll make new ones."

She reaches for his hands.

"Will you forgive me for the pain?"

"I have nothing to forgive."

Who said those words last words to whom?

In a mansion near by a princess and her knight were united to never be parted again.

The spell was broken.

The big framed woman was smiling as the sea wind came to take her home.

She was home.

The End