I've read and reread this so many times I've no idea if it's any good or even if it makes sense anymore, so feedback is appreciated and constructive criticism welcome.
She's running. Running away from the wet eyes and grasping hands that are always demanding more. Mother is gone, everyone is looking to her, Scarlett, and she can't bear it, is so tired of it all. She runs out into a strange, silent land. Hunger gnaws at her stomach, twists her insides. The cold air chills her to her bones. And then the mist is creeping up, long curling tendrils twining around her ankles and tugging at the hem of her dress. Half hidden in the mist there are figures, shifting shadows that want to drag her down into the earth, to some empty place where she will always be hungry. Cold fear grips her heart, races through her veins, and she pushes herself faster.
If only she can get there, if only she can find it. She'll be safe. No more hunger, no more helpless eyes.
But the mist is getting closer. A steady, tireless pursuit. Pushing forward around her feet, swelling and ballooning upwards around her body until the whole world is hidden by a grey blur. She's not going to get there. Invisible hands grab at her. She screams and screams and runs, but she's not going to get there.
And then Rhett is there, sweeping through the mist with that savage gait, eyes laughing at her fear. Scarlett runs to him, hands outstretched, and he catches her in strong, hard arms.
"There, there, darling," he says in a gentle voice that soothes the panic inside her. "I'll take you home."
She feels something brush her hair. His lips?
The mist is still there, but he holds it at bay, and it waits silently for her to be alone again. She grips his jacket, hiding her face in his shirt.
"Come on," he says, stepping away and starting off, her hand held tightly in his.
She stumbles after him, wondering where they're going, why they're going. He's walking so fast.
"I'm going with the army," he tells her, and he's not holding her hand anymore.
"Wait!" she cries breathlessly. "Wait for me."
But an invisible force is weighing down her limbs, keeping her back, suffocating her cries. And Rhett is getting further and further away.
"No! Don't leave me!"
But she's been here before and he does leave her.
"If I wanted you, no lock would keep me out," he calls jauntily over his shoulder, as he leaves her.
The mist is crowding in, rising in front of her so she can't see his retreating figure.
"No! Rhett! Rhett!"
Scarlett wakes up with his name dying on her lips. Her heart is pounding, her nightgown clinging to her with cold sweat, and she turns to Rhett's side of the bed with her hands outstretched- She's alone. He's not here.
Still half in her dream, she doesn't remember that she banished him, that going to him means losing this battle. She only knows she must find him, for only Rhett has ever chased away this suffocating fear.
She scrambles out of bed, across the room, across the hall, please, please don't let him have locked his door. It's open and she leans over his bed, hands searching in the dark for him. Nothing. The bed is empty. She trembles, hands skittering aimlessly. Then she turns and runs to the nursery, for he likes to watch Bonnie sleep sometimes. Only three sleeping children. The dining room, she thinks, perhaps he's drinking. Her nightgown billows around her as she hurtles down the stairs. The dining room is empty. His study, he must be in his study.
Scarlett has only been in there a few times and then she hovered by the doorway, unsure of her welcome, but she goes in without knocking because the tightness in her chest tells her she already knows what she will find. His tall chair rears up at her from the dark. Papers are stacked neatly on his desk. A cigar case gleams in the moonlight. Empty.
She sits down heavily on the chair, tears rolling down her cheeks. Where is he? She doesn't know. She realises with hollow wonder that she has no idea where her own husband is. Hasn't for months, not since the day she requested separate rooms. He's never offered information and she's always been too proud to ask. He could be anywhere. He could even be out of town. No, she reassures herself, no, he wouldn't leave Bonnie.
As she thinks this she hears the front door open and close. She gets up and runs out into the entrance hall, almost crying out with relief at the sight of Rhett's tall form, lit by a lamp in his hand. Their eyes meet and before she can think he's coming forward, face creased with concern, a hand gripping her shoulder. As always, the darkness seems to recede before his vitality and the last shreds of the dream fall away from her.
"Is it Bonnie?" he asks urgently.
"Is one of the children hurt, Scarlett?"
"Oh, no. Everybody's fine."
He relaxes at this and looks at her curiously. The backs of his fingers brush her cheek and she closes her eyes at the touch, willing him to take her in his arms. But his hand falls away.
"Your old dream?" he says lightly.
"I- I don't know," she says, opening her eyes and frowning. It all seems so confused now, the mist, the hidden figures, Rhett. There's no reason for her to be so frightened.
"You don't know why you're scared?"
He sounds amused and she can't help smiling despite herself. She pushes back her frazzled hair and wipes away her tears with the backs of her hands. Rhett stops her with a hand on her wrist and passes her a handkerchief.
"Thank you," she murmurs, blowing her nose. "It was my old dream, Rhett, but it was different. I found-"
She hesitates. Rhett's always been nice about her dreams, but then he'd always been nice about her work before that trick with the sign. Rhett can be as nice as any man she's ever known, and then turn on her when she least expects it. But his hand is gentle when he grips her chin and turns her face up towards him.
"I found you," she confesses. It's too dark for her to see the eager light that catches in his eyes, but she takes comfort from his silence. "I found you but, oh, Rhett, you left! You left me in the mist and I just knew I couldn't get out of there alone."
He searches her face with sharp eyes and then laughs. "I left, and you didn't jump for joy?"
Scarlett stares up at him confusedly and sees his jeering smile. Oh. Oh, of course he isn't going to comfort her. He's going to mock her. At any other time, she would have struck him with words or fists, and anger would have driven out the hurt. But the dream and subsequent searching has left her drained and she suddenly feels very weary. All she wants is to be upstairs, locked in her room, alone. No, she doesn't want to be alone. She wants someone strong to hold her and soothe her back to sleep.
She realises with sudden clarity that she'll never have that. Both her parents are dead, Ashley will never hold her, she herself pushed away Rhett, and now there will never be any other man.
She married Rhett impulsively, for all they were engaged a year. The night she accepted his proposal she had felt that it wasn't her choice, that a higher power was settling her problems for her, and she had clung to this feeling throughout the year, so she never had to think on it deeply. She had tied herself to him, cutting herself off from other men. Not that she wants any other man, of course. She loves and will only ever love Ashley, and if she can't have him it doesn't matter. Except right now Ashley seems very far away and it all seems to matter very much.
Hot tears sting her eyes and a burning lump rises in her throat. She turns away from Rhett abruptly and starts for the stairs, but Rhett stops her before she reaches them, his hand gripping her upper arm.
"Scarlett, don't cry," he says, voice suddenly warm and kind again.
"I'm not crying," Scarlett says, mortified by how the words wobble, contradicting themselves.
Then finally Rhett draws her into his arms, guiding her head down onto his shoulder and stroking her hair.
"Don't cry, darling."
She relaxes into him, breathing in the familiar comforting scent of horses, tobacco and brandy. This is all she's wanted since she woke up. As he holds her the remains of fear and hurt melt away, and she finds herself becoming drowsy. If only she could go to sleep like this her nightmares would not return. She yawns against his shoulder, an arm coming up to wrap around his waist.
They stand there for an indeterminable time until Scarlett yawns again and Rhett pulls away.
"You should get back to bed. It's late," he says.
This brings up something Scarlett had forgotten in the relief of having him home. It is late, and yet he only just got in.
The world is full of beds- and most of the beds are full of women.
Uneasiness stirs within her. Is he a bit dishevelled? Are his cheeks a little flushed? His hair untidier than a ride through town would cause?
"Where were you?" she asks.
He looks down at her, face wiped clean of all emotion.
"Poker game," he says shortly, putting an arm around her waist. "Now come on."
He climbs the stairs with her before leaving her at the top to poke his head into the nursery, eye cataloguing each child and lingering, she assumes, on Bonnie. A rare surge of affection rises in her chest. His attitude towards Bonnie is embarrassing, but it's rather sweet too and it's certainly convenient. She hasn't had to get up for the child once since she stopped feeding her.
He leaves the children and comes back to her, but he doesn't reach for her again and she's disappointed. They walk side by side down the hall, not touching. In a moment they will arrive at their separate rooms and he will leave her. Nothing will have changed and tomorrow night he will go out again. Not to play poker.
And so, because she's tired and sad and lonely, she reaches out and tucks her hand into the crook of his arm, bent at the right angle because he's carrying the lamp. Rhett sees the set of her shoulders, the defiant light in her eyes that dares him to question her, and for a moment his breath stops. It's not love, there's no tenderness in the possessive grip she has on his arm. But it's not indifference either, and this sets his heart racing.
They've stopped outside their respective rooms and the silence swells between them. Scarlett doesn't know what to do. She never does. She never can find that elusive word or gesture that will convey to Rhett what she wants and that he will respond to the way she wants. That she doesn't really know what she wants in this moment doesn't occur to her.
Rhett moves, but she doesn't give it time to form into something specific in either direction, for fear at him leaving has shot through her and her hand comes up to grab his arm automatically.
"Stay," she says.
He pauses, takes a breath, and moves with her into her room. He hasn't crossed the threshold since the day she cast him out, and she feels suddenly shy as he closes and locks the door. Will he expect anything? That he might sends equal parts excitement and dread coursing through her. She doesn't know what she'll do if he tries to kiss her.
She never finds out what she'd do, because Rhett doesn't try to kiss her. He places the lamp on the bedside table that used to be his and makes his way to the dressing room. She can hear him disrobing and when he comes out he's just wearing his shirt. She's still standing in the place he left her, but he doesn't comment as he makes his way to the bathroom where she can hear him brushing his teeth and washing his face. The familiar routine calms her enough that she can move. She climbs into the high bed and snuggles down under the covers, waiting.
The lamp goes out and the mattress dips beneath his weight. For a moment she thinks he'll stay on his side, but then he wraps an arm around her, his chest pressed against her back and his breath warm on the back of her neck. She slowly relaxes into the embrace, her heartbeat slowing, her breath coming more evenly.
"Goodnight, Rhett," she whispers into the darkness.
She thinks she can hear a smile in his voice when he says, "Goodnight, Scarlett."
When she sleeps, she doesn't dream.