A/N: Frankly, I've always had the impression that for Scarlett and Rhett to finally talk about their relationship maturely (or at least somewhat), they would the equivalent force of a frying pan smacked against the side of their heads. So, I decided that it would be best to get them drunk silly and go from there. How's that for romance?

- - -

Scarlett O'Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler was not drunk. In fact, she was so un-drunk that it would be a crime just to think it, let alone say the thought aloud. Her condition, more accurately, should be described as delicately tipsy and be left at that. Nevertheless, she had a monstrous headache, and she had had about five rounds too many – the bartender was beginning to worry and the bouncer was eyeing her warily from beneath heavily lidded eyes. Scarlett's head tipped into her hand and she sat there, watching the world sway dizzily before her eyes. Damn, she thought. Damn, damn, damn. A shot goes a long way.

"Ma'am?" questioned a very timid voice. It was the bartender; he was cleaning a shot glass with a dirty rag. "Ma'am, maybe you should reconsider going home at this hour. You're as drunk as a Yank. Just find a room o'er here. I'll give you it for half-price …"

"I'm not drunk," Scarlett slurred. "I'm tipsy. And I don't want a room."

"Where're you gonna go, then, Ma'am?" he asked her. He exchanged a glance with the bouncer. "Even for a young gal as pretty as you, I wouldn't let you stay in the bar after hours."

Scarlett didn't answer. She massaged her head and ran a finger along the rim of her glass. Jesus Christ. Didn't these men understand that she needed some privacy? It was hard enough with the crowds, when she had to cover her face just to make sure no one saw her. Now it was even worse – asking, in a not-so-subtle way, when she was going to leave! Scarlett paid, didn't she? She paid for every last glass. Why did they care?

It was obvious that neither the bartender nor the bouncer had an inkling of what to do with her – throwing her out bodily was simply wrong, and asking her to leave did just as good as talking to a brick wall.

As both men were pondering this puzzle, the doors swung open. Out of habit, Scarlett hid her face and slouched a bit, gulping down half of her glass in one go. She was about to have a peek at the newcomer when his voice drawled:

"I want a brandy, gentlemen, and the strongest one you have."

Scarlett blanched. She knew that voice. Knew it so well that it was as familiar as the back of her hand. God damn it all.

There was a slight pause. "It's after hours," said the bartender.

A laugh and the sound of hand slapping on wood followed. "Good Lord! Do you think that I would come after hours without a penny? Take it, gentlemen, and pour me the finest."

The bartender mumbled, "Yes, sir," and went to work. Scarlett heard the clinking of glass and the whisper of shuffling feet. She slouched lower in her seat, praying to God, the bloody bastard, that he wouldn't notice, wouldn't ask. She could outlast the pain but not the humiliation.

"I see you have had some troubles getting some fellows to leave tonight."

The bartender sighed. "Yep. This one's been drinking for a couple hours at least. Almost passed out over the table. She's got a fiery temper, too – shot me a look as sharp as a dagger when I tried to get her to leave."

Scarlett wanted to strangle the bartender with her two bare hands.

He laughed. "I take it you have never seen a woman drunk." Laughing again, in a very odd way, he continued, "They are conniving little devils, every single one. Manipulative. Shrewd. They know how to make your skin crawl, but at the same time, you can't help but come back for more."

"Amen," said the bartender.

Scarlett's mind whirled and dipped and whizzed and flowered strange thoughts. The two men were talking again, but she couldn't concentrate. It was all a network of tedious and boring irrelevances. She felt her hands shake. Under the cloak she was sweating, and her stays were horribly tight, crushing her ribcage. She could barely breathe. Drawing in breath seemed to hit a vacuum, halting her airflow. Scarlett's head gave an almighty throb of pain and she saw colors swimming in front of her like pastel paintings before all went black.

- - -

Scarlett came to with her body limp in someone's arms, and she immediately cried out. She squeezed her eyes shut, afraid of what she would find if they were opened. Oh God, where was she? What had happened? She almost cried out again but a voice shushed her, parted her hair, and dabbed a wet washcloth over her sweaty face. It felt marvelous.

"Before you go and drink yourself silly, my dear, you might want to hire a chaperone," said a lovely drawling voice from above her. She opened her eyes.

"Rhett," she said weakly. "Rhett, I think – I think I passed out."

She was still very drunk, she felt it, but it wasn't enough for her to deny it. She sat up, head pounding, room swaying, and stared into his black eyes. She could smell the alcohol on his own breath and for some reason it excited her.

He laughed softly and brought a calloused hand to her cheek. "I should have known it was you from the start," he drawled. "Only you could have managed so much alcohol. Only my Scarlett could have borne it."

My Scarlett. Scarlett had never belonged to anyone. She opened her mouth to tell him this but a spell of nausea overcame her and she collapsed forward onto his chest. His lips brushed against her hair and his hands traveled up her sides.

"Good Lord, how you tempt me," Rhett said huskily. "You and your little naiveties – it would make any man wild to protect you. I married you to protect you, you know, my shrewd little devil. I wanted to keep you as my own and maybe, maybe …"

He trailed off, laid her down on the bed, and stood up.

"Don't go," Scarlett whimpered, stretching her hand out to him; "please don't go, Rhett. Stay here with me."

He laughed, in a malicious way that sent shivers down her spine. "Yes, darling, I'll stay. I never meant to leave. You have me trapped in your spider's web, you know that. Ever since I saw you …" He grasped her hand and forced it up to his mouth to kiss. "Ever since I saw you, I've been chasing you. Good Lord, how I hated you for making me weak. I wanted to rip out your heart and trap it, so that you would run to me – but you, Scarlett, you have a heart plated with iron. We're two of a kind, in that way. Sinister, conniving people who will stop at nothing to get what they want."

Scarlett was both frightened and entranced by this change, staring up at him with wide eyes. The alcohol was swimming in her.

"I wish you could feel it," he snarled suddenly. "The hurt and the hopelessness of loving a heartless person. I could stand here all day and proclaim my love for you and you would simply laugh. You would take my words and twist them into your own meaning, ruin me. Everything I said you would use to drive your dagger deeper. It's a constant, raging battle."

She knew that the alcohol was talking. Knew it. But she still couldn't help but feel a little shame and shiver at the word love.

"You love me?" she asked.

Rhett looked at her with eyes as hollow as if they had been scraped of their brilliance and didn't answer. She noticed, for the first time, how dowdy and tired he looked. His hair was unkempt, his clothes rumpled, and his breath reeked of alcohol. She knew she was in a no better state.

"No," he said finally. "No, I don't love you."

Scarlett's heart plummeted and she pondered the feeling with newfound amazement and confusion. Why did she care if Rhett Butler loved her or not? Why did she care? Why did she care?

"Fine," she said very angrily. "I don't care. You're a drunken fool and you don't know what you're saying."

He moved closer to her, a smirk returning to his face and a teasing spark returning to his dark eyes. "If I'm a drunken fool than you, my little darling, are a drunken fool's wife. But I'm afraid that we're both drunken fools right now, so we can't really grant each other titles without being hypocrites of the worst degree."

"I'll never understand you," Scarlett said waspishly and irately. "If you can't be serious then we can never talk like mature adults."

"Mature adults!" Rhett repeated, laughing in a mirthless way. "My darling Scarlett, even if I was serious we could never talk that way."

Scarlett's anger was intensified by the alcohol as she stared into her husband's face. "Do you mean to insult me by refusing to respect me?"

"Oh, I respect you," said Rhett. "But it's different. I respect your will to survive, your drive, your passion. I respect you as a parent respects their child, my pet – for a pet you will always be. It's in your nature. You have been raised to be pampered and I am pampering you."

Scarlett was so furious that she wanted to slap him. How dare he! She had survived when others had not, she had made a living for herself, she had flourished! Rhett noticed her expression and he raised his eyebrows. "Is it possible that you care what happens to this marriage?"

She was stopped cold and confused. He had turned the tables on her without her realizing it. Her face reddened in utmost embarrassment.

"You're a lousy, good-for-nothing cad, Rhett Butler!" Scarlett cried out heatedly. "I don't know why I ever married you! I don't even love you! You're the most ill-mannered, vile excuse of a man ever to walk this earth! You're nothing compared to Ashley! Nothing!"

He moved toward her threateningly, eyes blazing, but didn't touch her. Scarlett felt a furious kind of pleasure sweep through her. "You're jealous!" she snapped at him. "You're jealous, Rhett. You're in love with me and I could care less. Just look at me. Do you think I love you? Do you think I want to stay here with you? If Ashley asked I would be gone in a moment!"

Scarlett had stood up, and was planning to walk past him, but Rhett grabbed her wrists and pulled her against him. He put his face very close to hers and whispered, "But could I make you love me, I wonder?"

"You wouldn't dare," hissed Scarlett. "You wouldn't dare touch me."

"Would I?" he said, drawing her closer and kissing her neck. She stiffened. "You have never objected before."

"You disgust me," said Scarlett, shivering as his talented lips brushed past her collarbone. And lower, sweeping across the silken skin of her heaving breasts. He looked up at her face and smirked, playing with her tendrils of hair with his hands.

"I disgust you," he repeated, as another wave of pleasure coursed through her. He felt her skin respond to his touch. "I highly doubt that. But that doesn't matter, does it? You don't love me, not like a woman should love a man. Scarlett, I recall that you were fond of me. My God. I love you and you are fond of me."

Scarlett stared at him, too stunned to remember her fury. "I thought you said that you didn't love me."

"Does it really matter what I said?" Rhett responded, bitterly. "I've decided that I'm tired of lying. Does it make you happy, Scarlett, that I have a weakness? Does it make you happy to hear that you can not only mention that bastard Ashley to your advantage, but you can pour salt onto an open wound? Well, it if does, then I'm glad. I really do want your happiness."

Shocked, Scarlett even forgot to defend Ashley. Rhett's eyes were hollow again, his face set grimly, braced for impact as if he expected her to attack him in some way.

"That's why you married me," whispered Scarlett as if she had made some amazing epiphany. "That's why you've been watching me … like – like a cat watching a mouse hole!"

The full reality of the situation hit her suddenly. This man was truly in love with her – not for money, not for lust, not for fun, but because he cared. Oh God.

"What has happened?" asked Rhett rhetorically and sardonically. "Marriages used to be the heart and soul of a romance, the sealing of vows and the true essence of a proper life. Ha! Not anymore! What's the point of loving someone if you can't snatch their money while you're at it?"

"Well, it is an added bonus, Rhett," said Scarlett, almost defensively.

He seemed to think it over. "Perhaps I can't argue with that. Oh well. Romance can go to the dogs, and I suppose the south, along with the world, will suffer."

"Don't talk like that," Scarlett scolded. "You know as well as me that I had to marry Frank to survive!"

He laughed at her. "So it's about you now, is it? I suppose that's unavoidable. As for Frank, God rest his pathetic soul, you needn't have married him. I was ready to help you. But there was a good thing that came from you becoming Mrs. Kennedy – you learned to be a shrewd businesswoman, which I admire greatly. You went through terrible hardships, but endured. Wonderful accomplishments, every one of them – but perhaps there is some vast, unexplored regret in the fact that you managed to kill him in the process?"

Scarlett stiffened. "You don't have to be so mean, Rhett. As I can recall, you have made some terrible choices in your lifetime too."

Instead of turning on her at this bait, like she expected, he laughed loudly. "Oh touché, Mrs. Butler! Bravo, that you can make such a point when you are drunk!"

Scarlett recoiled and snapped, "You're drunk too."

"Yes, I am. And very. I will probably regret everything I say tomorrow morning, but what can a man do? I feel like progressing. Besides," he added, "I can't just stop from trying to succeed with you, now that I have your attention. Maybe, just maybe, there is a place in your hard little heart for me."

She glared at him unblinkingly.

"But there will always be Ashley, won't there?" said Rhett. "I can't win. Every man who loves you is doomed, because of Ashley. Ashley, Ashley, Ashley. I want to strangle him," he added fiercely. "He doesn't deserve you and you don't deserve him."

Setting her jaw, Scarlett crossed her arms.

"Not speaking to me now? That's fine. You can listen. God, Scarlett, even if you have no empathy for me, at least have empathy for Mrs. Wilkes. She loves Ashley and she deserves him. She's a great lady, and I will not tolerate you ruining her happiness. Ruin mine, if you like, but not hers."

Scarlett huffed in exasperation. Didn't he realize that she, Scarlett, had been the one to save Melanie's life, offer her a home, help deliver her baby, and pay for her to live with the others at Tara? Why were those accomplishments suddenly so pointless? She opened her mouth to reproach him again, but he held up his hand.

"No more, Scarlett. I don't want to hear it." He turned back to the bed and sat down. He put his head in his hands, breathing heavily, rubbing his hands over his scalp as if to massage away something intangible. Scarlett watched him angrily, but after a while his haggard, harassed state almost earned some of her pity.

"I wouldn't hurt Melly," Scarlett said finally, her eyes shining fiercely; "but what I don't understand is why you would blame the whole ordeal on me – if it did happen. Ashley would be just as guilty."

Rhett didn't reply for a long time. "I would feel better if he forced you into it, but I know that you're not that kind of woman, nor would he have any kind of bravery in attempting it. God, to think of you as the seduced – it's almost laughable. You would be the seductress, no doubt, and a damn good one too. Yes, Ashley would be guilty as well, but he is not in my area of influence. He is his own man – not a very worthy one, but a grown man nonetheless."

"And you're worthy, Rhett?" asked Scarlett. "You conceited rat! You accuse Ashley of being unworthy and yet you marry me, and you're the most unworthy of all!"

"Yet I did marry you, which is more than he can say."

"I'm not some kind of trophy!" cried Scarlett angrily. "You – you varmint, you think – do you actually think –"

Scarlett stopped, unsure of what to say. Rhett stared at her, laughing with his eyes. "You, a trophy! You're more like a nuisance. But you married the right man. Simpering, shallow-minded, demure little ladies are of no interest to me."

It seemed for a minute as if the bottom had dropped out of her stomach. Before she knew what was happening, she was bent double over the side of the bed, retching. Rhett had pulled back her hair and was making soothing shushes at her crying, rubbing his hands along her back. It was too embarrassing for words! Scarlett remembered the last time she had retched in front of Rhett; remembered how she had been so mortified and ashamed she could have died; now, it was worse. She could not bear to be weak!

"Get off me!" she cried, and tried to push him away. Her shoulders shook with wracking sobs.

In response to her words, Rhett wrapped his hands around her waist and held her tightly to him, until she turned around and began sobbing like a child onto his strong chest, beating him weakly with her fists. "I-I hate you, I hate you, I hate you," she sobbed, hiccoughing.

Rhett laughed quietly, kissed her hair, and rocked her gently. "Shh," he murmured. "Shh. Calm down, my darling, calm down."

"I f-feel s-so stupid," she muttered into his shirt.

"Why? For getting drunk? Yes, it was quite stupid and I still don't know why you did it, but it shows spirit, and I admire that." Scarlett shook her head and cried harder. "Come now," and his voice was soft and gentle, "it can't be that terrible. The rug can be cleaned."

"It's not that!" wailed Scarlett in a decidedly childlike way. "I – I – oh, Rhett! I lost, I lost!"

Rhett looked down at her in bewilderment. "You lost what, my pet?"

"I lost!" she cried again, as if trying to get him to understand. "I'm no stronger than you are … a-and – oh, Rhett!" She burrowed herself deeper into his chest, sobbing even louder. "I'm weak! I'm so embarrassed!"

Rhett smoothed down her hair absently. "To err is human, my dear Scarlett. We are both ashamed of some things we have said tonight."

"But I'm still weak! I've always been in control, and now – you – you're ruining me!"

"Am I?" he asked her quietly. "Is it a crime to shield myself against your manipulation? I have bared my soul to you, although unwittingly – do you think I too feel weak? We are both on the same page, I dare say; I, who have always able to be hard, callous; and you, who can manipulate men like the shrewd woman you are. We both cannot be weak, but we both have been, and now we feel like idiots. Do you agree with this assessment, my pet?"

She nodded, sniffed, and lifted her head up from his chest. Her eyes were red and swollen, but she looked satisfied. She hiccoughed again.

"A truce, then, my dear?" asked Rhett, kissing her forehead with surprising gentleness. "Or will we have to live our lives constantly spatting, involved unnecessarily in this foolish game?"

Scarlett laughed, and it was music to Rhett's ears. Overcome for a moment, he leaned down close to her, so that his breath was warm on her red lips, but then stopped, grinning. Scarlett opened her eyes when he didn't kiss her and pouted.

He raised his eyebrows. "Don't give me that look, Scarlett. As much as I adore kissing you," and his eyes swept her body before meeting her green eyes, "I am not very fond of the taste of vomit."

"Oh, you vile, mean, loathsome –"

But he kissed her anyway.

- - -

And they lived happily ever after. Or so I wish.

Anyway. Happy – belated – Holidays and New Year! Eat chocolate and drink champagne! (Unless you're a minor, of course – wouldn't want to encourage that, haha). Cheers to all!