A/N If you only knew how much I enjoy writing these two idiots. I don't know whether it's the final chapter, but let's leave it open for more, for now. Thanks for reading and reviewing! 3
"Mrs. Butler?! Why aren't you sleeping?" Oh, he knew perfectly well why she was awake and if he was honest with himself, he simply knew she'd be awake and ready for a quarrel. Going at Belle's must have boiled her blood and he was anxiously curious to hear it from her. He'd die to hear the details coming out of her mouth. A wild joy was vibrating through his body and he was second guessing his intention to simply go forward and kiss her, kiss her as gently and as passionately, like there is no tomorrow, like she has granted him liberty and life after death sentence.
"Light the candles for Bonnie and I expect a conversation. In my room!" She sounded serious and strict and very distant but Rhett was ready for whatever weapon she was ready to attack him with.
He quickly lit the candles and went to her, without even removing his coat.
She was still waiting at the door frame, hands now crossed over her chest, blocking the light of her bedroom with her body.
"What is so urgent that can't wait till tomorrow, Mrs. Butler?" Fully aware that his voice was mocking and a little too nasty, he got in front of her, looking down until she raised her head and looked back.
"Where have you been?" Her voice was questioning and harsh, and he realized that this was going to be a long night. He was prepared and ready for everything. The only thing that was difficult for him was hiding the smirk on his face, which this time was caused by pure pleasure of learning that his wife snapped and went looking for him. Oh how he wanted to tell her that it meant more than anything in the world knowing that she went at Belle's with just one intention – getting him back home.
"Riding" his voice was cheerful.
"Is that so? Riding till one o'clock after midnight?" She hissed.
"I enjoy clearing my head when the streets are empty, Mrs. Butler. You have any more questions?"
"You seem a little too content after riding across town in ungodly hours. As if you've been…"
"Oh, at Belle's you mean." He chuckled. He was able to see her anger rising from the heels of her feet, up through her chest and almost exploding on her face. She was trying her best to remain calm, but he knew his wife a little too good, to know that her eyes were always betraying her.
"How dare you, after I forbid it!"
He started chuckling again, trying his best to suffocate the sound as much as possible, for the house was in deep slumber."
"My dear, don't you know that if you forbid me such thing I must get something in return?" His left hand tried to remove a curl that was falling over her face, but she blocked his touch by lifting her right arm and smacking it to the side. "If you want me to quit visiting that house, which I believe you already saw wasn't so bad, you'll have to stop denying me the warmth of your bed and your charms."
Lightly he turned on his heel, fully aware that his nonchalance was already making her boil. He was barely half-way to his bedroom, when Scarlett run after him and started smacking him with her little fists all over his back.
"You cad, you devil…" She was sobbing and smacking, crying and cursing, not carrying whether anyone could hear or wake up. "After everything you did…people seeing purple marks on my neck, you varmint…"
Rhett was taken aback from this unexpected development. He certainly didn't think she would explode like that. In one fast movement he swiped her in his arms, lifting her only a little bit from the floor, pushing her towards her bedroom, while she was kicking and biting his hands, muffled curses and cries escaping her mouth.
With her in his arms, he went step backwards to close the door, preventing the scene to escalate and disturb the dream of the children.
"I'll put you down Mrs. Butler only if you calm down." He was squeezing her hard, holding her in his big arms, limiting her liberty as if she was in a cage. But, Scarlett wasn't planning to stop. Still kicking with her legs, although mostly in air, she was trying to let loose every way that she could.
The floodgates were now open.
"Put me down or I'll scream so loud, Mammy will come up immediately."
And he loosened his grip, allowing her feet to touch the ground. The moment she stood on her legs, she collected more strength and managed to get out of his arms.
"So you stayed true to your words, Mrs. Butler? You went to see the inside of Belle's house? Did you like it?" His sarcasm was now painful and he knew that he was crossing the red line. He instantly regretted the question.
She was panting and darting him with her pale green eyes, which he was now able to see were quite bloodshot and a little puffy from crying.
"Was she a good host?"
What was he doing? Why he was hurting her even more, when all he wanted was to take her in his arms and hug her, hug her until she stops crying and till her breathing takes a normal rhythm again.
"I told you not to, and you still went there…" She swallowed the hard stone in her throat and tried her best to calm down her voice.
"I think it seems convenient for a cheated husband to seek a little consolation in such house." He showed his white teeth in a wide smile that seemed to add more oil to the fire.
"You know you aren't a cheated husband, you cad!"
"Aren't I?" Now he was no longer smiling, his voice was no longer enriched with mockery, but a deep and angry mix of sorrow and pain.
"How many times did I beg you to allow me explain that day?"
"What's to explain, my pet? I said I know you were physically faithful to me. As far as I'm concerned you can sleep in different bed every night, only if I had your…" He stopped. He felt that he was dangerously close to the edge and even now, he was afraid to jump down. "Now tell me, did you like Belle's house?"
Her chest started trembling visibly, unable to remain calm and steady, and as it happens with children, that trembling manifested in a shaken lower lip and tears, a sea of tears on her face. She started hitting his arms and chest again, but no matter how hard she tried she knew she wasn't truly hurting him.
"You cad…" Smack. "You evil creature…" Smack. "You nasty and disgusting man…" Smack. "How could you lead me thinking that you went there…" Smack. "Make me go to that place…" Smack. "Disgrace me like that?!" Smack.
He wasn't even trying to defend, all he had to do was lift his arms and her attempts to hit him were futile. He was now laughing.
"Darling, I didn't make you do anything. It was your rich Irish genes and your short temper that drove you there, when in fact I was clearing my mind, riding."
"Then how do you even know I went there?" She was still smacking his arm, crying and trembling like a child.
"Yes, that…" Her arms were now tired, but she was not quitting the attack.
"I went to leave my key."
She stopped and looked at him quizzically, tears still streaming down her pale face. Her hands and arms were hurting now, and she lazily dropped them by her sides.
"Now seriously… What on earth were you thinking when you went there? Have you ever considered not following your impulses for once? Are you even aware… thank god she didn't let you in, I'd have strangled her..." He stopped and made a step towards her, unable to ignore her tears that seemed to fall in endless waterfalls.
No, this wasn't crying out of spite and because things weren't her way. It seemed like something deeper, more painful, sadder than he ever witnessed.
"Were you laughing at me? With her?" She had a hard time saying the words, for the knot in her throat seemed to be suffocating her.
The Captain heard the question but was too astonished to comprehend that her darling little head was capable of thinking something like that.
"Were you?" She cried. New wave of rage flushed over her body and she threw herself at him, screaming and hitting his chest with fists. "I can't take this anymore. You of all the people… "
He grabbed her hands in his and squeezed them until she was no longer able to move or hit him.
"You're acting like a child when a toy is being denied, my pet." But the smile on his face was forced, because he no longer felt cheered and amused.
"I am a child. I am a child." She was crying. "I can't… Can't you see it? Everything was taken away from me. Can't you see that I'm in constant pain for years? First my mother, then Tara, and Pa, and being hungry, and the old days, and my carefree girlhood and my dresses and, and…" She was sniffing and sobbing, almost hiccuping, a wave of fatigue crashing her body, face and eyes and she was no longer giving her entire force to get rid of his grip. Only now she was truly capable to acknowledge her grief that was building in her chest for years.
"And Charles and Frank? Ashley?" He tried hard to sound cheerful and make her sadness go away like he used to, but even he didn't believe in his forced mockery.
"I'm tired and you…" Her voice was quiet now. "I can't take it anymore and I'm not that strong, I'm not strong at all and a varmint you like continues to mock and laugh at me after…Just because you heard what I said to him years ago in the library... I can't take your punishing anymore…"
Once the words were said he broke - the sardonic shield cracked into million pieces and he let her hands loose. He grabbed her for her shoulders, pressing her on his chest, until she sunk into his torso, muffled sobs ending into his heart.
In those years of craving her presence and physically dying every time he'd have seen her with old Frank by her side, in those years while he was running away, sailing and finding temporary joy in several beds, trying to soothe his heart every time he'd think of her obsession with Wilkes, he forgot one thing – his wife's childhood was abruptly aborted first by her own spiteful nature, then by the war. He was seeing her as someone who was capable to endure anything without breaking at all, and somewhere on that road he forgot that, after all, in those fragile hours of the night, she was just the same sad little girl from Twelve Oaks that was only now getting her first bitter taste of actual maturing.
"From all the people…" She sobbed again. "From everyone I know, you were the only one to allow me speak my mind out, to be who I was, even while mocking me and making me laugh, and now you're gone. Have I known this would happen I wouldn't have marry you, Rhett. I lost the only person who was seeing the real me without trying to bring me to my senses."
He closed his eyes with pain, a bitter grimace covered his face, fully aware how closer they used to be in the years when she was making herself stand on her feet. Not in his wildest frustration and longing for her, did he think that things between them could become this painfully difficult.
"About Ashley…" He begun, and that name worked like a spear in her chest. She wriggled out of his arms and her face was now vile.
"Damn it with Ashley already!"
He certainly wasn't aware what her words meant but before he was able to speak again and made another attempt to bring her back to his arms, she pushed him away.
"I am tired of Ashley Wilkes. Nothing… nothing is like before, not him, not me, and certainly not what I thought…what I thought I felt about him. He comforted me as a friend the other day. He's so lost in the past and the old days, that managed to drag me down and I don't want to be dragged down, not after everything I've been through. I thought he was the only thing that was keeping me connected with the old days, with Mother and Pa, Tara and my childhood…and now he's gone. He's been gone for years. I feel nothing. Not even mercy, nothing - maybe a little irritation when he barely works and just a little sadness for his inability to adapt. And what India and Archie saw was a mere hug of two people who are so distant and so aware of that… But that old hag hates me, so now everyone thinks… And you're constantly mentioning him, always cutting me with your mockery, before I am able to to tell that I no longer love him. Perhaps never have, at least not till recently, when I realized I love… Why did you even marry me, Rhett? Was this another challenge for you? Another pass time? The only way to have me at your mercy? Why did you marry me when you… when you never truly abandoned that woman?"
The storm that was building in him with every word she said through tears was now dangerous and the tornado in his chest swept everything that used to shield him from his wife, so he put his large hands on each side of her cheeks, fingers wrapping at the back of her head, tangling in the thick dark curls.
"I'd have never even think of another woman have you not banished me from this sanctuary of yours!"
His voice was rough, deep and quieter, and he was now resting his forehead on hers, inhaling fast and short.
"Don't you understand? I'd have never even look at her or any other, have you given me half a chance, a sign that you wanted me here. I'd have… I'd cut my heart for you to wear it if you want to, Scarlett."
He was shaking as the storm from inside was cracking through his bones and fear prevailed through her body. Somehow this storm was transferring to her, so she put her hands on his wrists, for she needed to hold on something in order to remain on her feet.
He distanced his forehead from hers, just mere inches, so he could see her eyes and the wet dark eyelashes that were framing them, and she was finally able to see his pain, pure and unshielded, that flickering glimpse that was always confusing her whenever she'd have catch him staring at her. She was finally able to see frustration leaking out of his dark pupils, the same thing that was making her think that he was painfully longing over something for years. She finally understood.
"Did it ever occur to you that I love you as much as a man can love a woman? I loved you for years before I finally got you." The speed of her heart thumping in her chest was the same with her tears drying on her face. "During the war I'd go away, trying my best to forget you, but I couldn't, and I was always coming back. I had no intentions to stay in Atlanta till I heard that you moved here with Miss Mellie and your aunt, and I made up my mind that I will come back as often as possible. I was watching you that night at the bazaar, bored and frustrated wrapped all in black, and once I saw that my teasing wasn't working its magic upon you, I could feel your frustration that you couldn't dance and I had to bid for you, not that I cared that much to invest my money for the Cause. I made up my mind that I will cross your path until… until… After the war I risked arrest, just to come back and find you. I was bribing and cheating those damn Yankees, so I can get out of jail and give you the money you needed for Tara. You have no idea how much I dreaded the thought of you going to someone else and offering yourself for the tax money, I was mad... And then, Frank put his paws on you, or however it happened, damn it… But I couldn't go away, not even when I noticed you were with a child and I knew how stubborn mule you were, eager to work and keep things under control at the mills, so I'd have leave everything I was doing, just to take you for a ride, make you laugh, tease you, make you forget who you were going back home to. I needed your presence like air, no matter who you were going to bed with. I cared so much I believe I'd have killed Frank Kennedy if he hadn't died when he did. I couldn't care less whether I was putting your reputation in the gutter when I proposed, because I was scared you'd go away or marry someone else, before I return from England. In fact I didn't even have to go to England, I just did to avoid possible change of your mind, for I knew you won't change it once I return with a ring… I knew you didn't love me, but I thought… And the other night when I was carrying you upstairs, I thought… I hoped, I hoped so much… but I got scared, I was petrified you'd laugh at me the next morning, so I left your bed, went at Belle's and drank for two days straight, until I wasn't able to think or speak."
"But…" She was now squeezing his wrists, feeling the tremor in his large hands. The dark eyes of Rhett Butler were so full in pain, pain that was finally liberating him. Good God, she was so aware of his shrewd caginess, she could understand him to her core, his obstinate pride that kept him from telling her his true feelings because he was mortified she'd reject him.
"Everything started so good. New Orleans and you being carefree and having fun like I haven't seen you having for years, and I wanted to give you all that, everything, anything that won't put misery in your eyes. And we had a good time, I could tell … I was finally able to awaken your passion and show you that you can enjoy with your husband more than you can imagine and I know that you did.
I knew how much you wanted to be secure with money so I wanted you to have everything and then Bonnie came… and I thought we'll make it…but then you decided… you and Ashley decided that I no longer belonged here, in your bed. How many times I could have strangled his neck, shoot him, let him die while he was up north… but I'd rather have him sewn on your skirt till the rest of his life, than you hating me for that."
"No…" She whispered, rubbing her thumbs over his wrists, never leaving his dark eyes. "It was a mistake…" Her voice was now too tired from crying, she was barely able to find strength to raise it and speak louder. "I regretted saying that I no longer wanted you in my bed the moment I said it and you seemed so unbothered…"
"Unbothered…" He chuckled in pain, bringing her forehead to his lips. "How many times did I tell you that no lock will keep me out have I wanted you… but I never dared to enter this room that way, because I wanted you to want me, to allow me back here and you never did, until the other night and I'm still not sure whether…"
Inhaling his scent of tobacco, horses and cold crispy late winter air, mixed with the soap he was always using, scent that unmistakably reminded her of him, of that day when he was holding her like this, promising that he'll get her to Tara, safe and sound, she remembered how strong his arms felt and how much she wanted to stay there forever. She wrapped her arms around his waist and glued her frame to his. It felt so good, she could have fall asleep on her feet, just by being pressed to his strong chest.
"I don't want a divorce, Rhett." She mumbled in his shirt. "I don't want you going away; I don't want this feeling eating my guts, making me cry till I fall sleep…"
"What do you want, my pet?" He lifted her chin and looked in her eyes, both large thumbs wiping the tears from underneath them.
"I want you."
He kissed each of the wet eyelids gently, the warmth of his lips so soothing on the thin skin.
"My dear, this shattered pride can be a solid base for rebuilding this poor and doomed marriage." The glimpse in his eyes was now lighter, mischievous, and almost reborn.
"I tried to tell you the moment I realized that I love you… I must have loved you for years… since, since, well… since you carelessly spend one hundred and fifty in gold just to give me a few dances… I wasn't able to understand it, I think it dawned on me that afternoon on Ashley's birthday or perhaps when you acted like you didn't give a damn after I said no more babies. I tried to tell you, but you were so nasty, Rhett."
He was hugging her now, so firmly, one arm wrapped around her head, the other around waist, not letting her go, his nose buried in the dark curls, inhaling her scent hungrily. Her little hands were squeezing his lapels and she was leaning on him, as if he was a rock, a large door that was protecting her from the wind.
And just like that with her in his arms, he leaned on the door, slowly gliding on it, landing on the floor, scooping his wife's petite body in his lap, holding her as if she was a child that needed to be taken care of.
He leaned his head, kissing her temple, eyebrows, each eye and her nose, lips ending on hers, in a gentle and warm kiss, nothing like the hungry one from the other night. And he was kissing her and kissing her, small pecks and lazy, languid pressing of lips, as if he was finally able to rest there without feeling that he was intruding a forbidden land. Her little palm was not leaving his face, making sure it always guides him towards her lips.
She was no longer speaking or hiccuping, the heavy burden of sleepless nights already visible on her eyes. Her body was completely relaxed in his arms.
For the first time in a long time Captain Butler's heart wasn't pumping poison in his chest and he was finally able to breathe easily.
"Now what is this, my pet?" He whispered, as he was removing a few curls off her neck, noticing the marking of his lips from the other night. The thought made his lips curve in a malicious and content smirk. Gently touching the marks with the tips of his fingers, he kissed her forehead again.
"Varmint" she mumbled in his cravat.
"I have a few as well, I guess, my loving wife didn't want her husband to feel left out. Had I known what that night would bring, I'd have done it much earlier."
And as she was slowly drifting in a sleep, caused by a fatigue after long crying. In the safety of the Captain's arms, she smiled. As he was pulling the sides of his coat on her bare feet and on her back, she gripped harder on his chest, like she was afraid he'd leave.
"Don't go when I'm asleep", she pleaded.
"Never" He whispered.