Title: Virgil in Hell
Summary: Rhett helps Scarlett flee Atlanta.
Author's Note: Some of the dialogue is paraphrased from the novel, which isn't mine. The story departs from there. I'm not yet sure whether this is a stand-alone or will continue.
He turned the creaking, battered wagon onto Peachtree Street and wondered just what he was getting himself into. The last time he'd seen Scarlett, he'd offered to make her his mistress, and she'd ordered him away.
That had been over a month ago. He'd stayed, because he had nowhere else in particular to go, and to make sure she made it through the coming carnage. The plan was to keep an eye on her from a safe distance, fiddling and watching Rome burn. But somehow, he'd ended up involved. She may have rebuffed him, but he still wanted her, and wanted her badly enough to agree to assist in this madness.
As he pulled up to the Hamilton house, he saw Scarlett waiting on the porch, looking as if the only thing keeping her upright was the pillar she was leaning against. She called his name, barely discernable against the distant rumblings of war, as he climbed down from the wagon. He didn't answer at first, simply tried to gauge her state of mind as he strode confidently up the walk.
Stumbling down the steps, she nearly tumbled into his arms, just keeping herself together as he stopped in front of her and spoke. "Fine weather we're having. I hear you're planning a trip?" He hoped his jesting tone would spark enough temper in her to color her pale face and give her the bravado to make it through whatever foolish endeavor she was planning.
"Don't you dare joke with me right now, or I'll never speak to you again!" Her voice trembled as she spoke, obviously not rising to bait that would normally be enough to send her railing.
"You're not afraid?" He looked at her with feigned astonishment, and she glowered at him.
"Of course I am! If you had any sense, you would be, too! But we don't have time for this now. We've got to get out of here."
His mind flashed through images of the two of them, dancing in Paris, dining in the Bahamas, sitting idly in the Mexican sun. He'd take her anywhere she wanted to go. "At your service, madam. But where were you planning on going? The Yankees have the town surrounded, except for the McDonough Road our army is using to evacuate. And if we follow that road, the Army will take the horse, which while not much of an animal, was considerably difficult to procure. Just where were you planning on heading?"
She was trembling as he spoke, and looked close to fainting at his mention of the McDonough Road. "I'm going home."
"Home? To Tara?"
"Yes, to Tara. Oh, Rhett, we must hurry!" She looked frantic.
For a moment he could only stare at her and wonder whether it was blind foolishness or naïveté that inspired such a request. "Tara? God Almighty, Scarlett, you can't go to Tara! There's been fighting around Jonesboro all day, the Yankee army will be swarming all over the County by now. You can't go through the middle of the army!"
"I will! I will go home!" Tears were streaming down her face, and her voice broke to a scream as she pounded her fists against his chest. "You can't stop me, I will go home!"
He couldn't control the impulse to take her in his arms, wrapping them tenderly around her slender, shaking form. At that moment, the world around them was far from his mind; his only thought was to protect her. Almost as soon as the idea occurred to him, he knew he was lost. It was more than mere desire for her body that had him holding here on the steps of her Aunt Pitty's porch, wanting to comfort and shelter her as the world fell down around them. He stroked her hair and murmured reassuring nothings, and, as he kissed the crown of her head, he admitted to himself that he was dangerously in love with her.
"Shh, don't cry. You will go home, by brave girl." She felt so warm and pliant in his arms, as if she were perfectly willing to allow him to hold her forever. Given half a chance, he would. The very desire frightened him more than the madness of the world around them.
He pulled away from the embrace, trying to distance himself from his own emotions. Preferring not to think of them for now, he pulled out his handkerchief and allowed her to dry her eyes and blow her nose. Then he set her in motion once more, considerably more composed, helping organize and load the rest of her family into the pitiful excuse for a wagon.
The idea of transporting Melanie all the way to Tara in that wagon was not an appealing one, but he had no choice but to carry her as gently as possible down the stairs and hope that consciousness would not be with her for long. Her journey down the stairs would be the easiest part of this trip.
As he turned the wagon west, an explosion shook the air around them, and Scarlett jumped on the hard wagon seat, landing several inches closer to him than she'd previously been sitting.
"That must be the ammunition trains," he said matter-of-factly as fire licked the sky over distant rooftops. "Why they didn't get them out this morning when they had the chance I'll never know."
"Must…must we go through that fire?" Her voice did not shake, but he could hear the effort it took for her to keep it from doing so.
"Not if we move quickly." He felt guilty forcing the poor horse into a steady trot, but knew he would feel far worse if anything were to befall the people he'd now taken responsibility for.
Under his guidance, and with steady urging from his makeshift whip, the horse carried them ever closer to the flames. Scarlett moved closer to him the nearer the flames drew, going so far as to take her arm in his hand as she sat shivering on the seat next to him. The urge to comfort and reassure her was nearly overwhelming, but he only looked at her, hoping his outward confidence in the face of this inferno would be enough. He would be their Virgil, and must content himself with that role.
He handed her a pistol, and he had to smirk as she tucked it next to her dead husband's. Had she ever really been married? He'd like to show her what marriage truly could be, and for a moment, sitting still as a line of soldiers passed in flaming silhouette, he indulged the fantasy of spiriting her away from this, of making her his wife. Then he was angry, at himself for such daydreams and at the entire maddened world that caused them.
"Take a good look, my dear. One day you'll want to tell your grandchildren how your watched the last of the Glorious Cause retreating." Bitterness spiked his tone, harsher than he intended the sentiment, but it released some of his frustration.
Scarlett only looked at him sourly, as if she'd like to fling him into the fires herself. Yet her hand remained tight on his arm as she watched the retreating soldiers pass, the fires giving her face another worldly glow only heightened by her anger at him. Never had she looked so beautiful to him, and never was he more certain that he had to retreat from her before she destroyed him, just as surely as the Army was retreating before Sherman's forces.
With this realization, he galvanized himself and brought the whip down on the horse once more, sending the wagon lurching forward toward the flames. He focused all his attention on what must be done, and was almost unaware of the raging fires or straggling citizens as he guided them through the streets of Atlanta. Only the hot, clammy hand clenched around his bicep seared into his consciousness with more intensity than the heat of the burning city. He hated himself for it, hated her for the love she stirred in him.
When she tried to thank him as the wagon rattled through the outskirts of town, he could not keep his eyes from betraying him as he looked at her. She shrank away from him, afraid of what she saw in his face even if she didn't understand it. He let out a sigh of frustration and disappointment that was lost in the noisy night.
It felt like hours before they were alone on the dark road to Rough and Ready, the flame-tinged sky fading behind them. He stopped the horse for a rest, and gathered himself for the confrontation he knew was coming. Scarlett urged him on, and for the first time since they'd left Aunt Pitty's, he spared her a long, assessing look. She was no longer shivering with fear or adrenaline, now looking only worried and slightly lost.
"Are you still planning on doing this?"
"Getting through to Tara. Both our cavalry and the Yankee Army are between you and Tara."
"Oh, yes, please, let's just hurry. I know a way, we don't have to take the main roads if only we can get close enough to Rough and Ready." There was something so childlike about her determination that nearly broke through his resolve.
"You might make it then. If you don't run into the Yankees. Or if you don't run into Steve Lee's cavalry wanting your horse."
"Yes, if you." He tried to pretend that his voice hadn't nearly cracked on that. That it wasn't nearly killing him to have to leave her. But he couldn't stay with her.
"Rhett, you…You're not going to take us?"
"No my dear, I'm leaving you at this juncture."
She looked panicked, as if unsure whether to laugh or cry or slap him. Echoes of the night's earlier flames danced in her eyes as she stared at him like a trapped fox.
He nearly laughed, at himself, at her, at the whole mixed up world. "I'm going to join the Army, dear Scarlett."
"Oh, stop your joking and let's go home."
"Dare you doubt my devotion to our most Glorious Cause?" He couldn't help but laugh at it all now. The only thing he could find to escape from her was to join a loosing Cause.
She looked truly frightened now, with tears once again threatening to spill down her cheeks. He felt a few of them fall, dropping down on his wrist as he guided her down from the wagon and kissed her hand.
"Selfish to the end. Think of the service I'll be doing by joining our boys at the eleventh hour."
"Oh," she cried, "why are you doing this? Leaving us here!"
He laughed. "Perhaps it's sentimentality. Perhaps it's shame." The sentimentality of loving someone he knew was not capable of reciprocating his feelings. The shame of being unable to face those feelings. He knew he could never explain to her, and so couched it all in deepest sarcasm and gambled on her confusion.
"Ashamed? You should be, leaving us here, alone and helpless!" she sputtered.
"Scarlett, you're the least helpless person I know! God help the Yankes should they get you."
He pulled her away from the carriage and into the darkness. The world around them was silent, stillness enveloping them as he held her. "I don't expect you to understand. Hell, I hardly understand myself. But I want you to know before I go, in spite of what I said last month, that I do love you Scarlett." His hands caressed her bare arms, sliding up to knead her tense shoulders. "I love you because we're so alike. Neither of us would care if the whole world burned around us, so long as we were safe and comfortable.
She allowed him to pull her close, and he allowed himself the brief indulgence that they were alone in the world, free to do as they wished. As her body came in contact with his, he could feel her stirring unconsciously, drawing closer to him. "Are you sure you won't reconsider my offer? You could send a soldier off with beautiful memories." If she'd only agree, if only she'd ask him to stay for her not them, if she'd only admit that she felt something too, he knew he would not leave, could not leave her. It would take so little.
He kissed her, giving free reign to the passion he'd always kept so tightly in check around her. The way she fell loose in his arms, but wrapped her own around his shoulders, he knew she'd never been kissed his way before. His lips trailed down her neck, touching the hammering pulse at her neck, and knew she was as affected as he.
Then Wade's frightened voice broke the silence of their world, and she drew away from him. For a second she seemed dazed, then she slapped him with surprising force.
"They were all right! You aren't a gentleman!"
Touching a palm to his cheek, he could only laugh. "My dear, how inadequate." Had he really expected her to profess her love for him? Whatever his heart had wished, his intellect had known better, had known he was less likely to be wounded in by war than by her careless sentiment. "Goodbye, Scarlett."
He turned and walked away, refusing to look back, knowing the darkness of night would blot her from his view and hide the tear he allowed to escape down his cheek. But just over the hill he settled onto an uprooted tree and waited. After several minutes, the shuffle of hooves and creak of wood announced the progress of the wagon towards Tara.
"God bless you, Scarlett. May we both come through the slaughter to see a better end than this," he said, rising. Brushing the dust from his linen pants, he walked away from the woman he loved.