Title: Rome, Paris, London

Rating: PG-13

Fandom: Gone with the Wind

Pairing: Rhett/ Ashley (sort of)

Summary: My favourite of my fics. Rhett tells Ashley about a time which never happened

A/N: Set just after GWTW. Complies with canon completely, though does not fit with Scarlett (GWTW's sequel.) Contains a hint of slash. Slash relations between two men. Don't like, don't read.

Rhett's breath tickles Ashley's lips as he whispers with something more than a guess, something that feels more like an uncanny knowledge of what could have been, than any mere mortal has a right to possess. "We first met in Rome. Amongst the ruins and glory of ancients past, near the Piazza d' Coro. You remember. You had bathed your hands in the fountain, your sleeves rolled back, and you were smiling at the girl selling roses. Their hearts were pierced through with wire, and they hung from the basket, like the soul of summer, scenting all the air around them. She was plain, but when she smiled she was beautiful, and you smiled back in order to capture the moment. The air was warm, from the last of the summer sun that bathed the entire square, in the rich golden light it radiated. It caught your hair, turning each strand into a treasure that Midas himself would have envied, but you were unconscious of the sight you made, and I could only watch. I asked you the time, and sat beside you on the cold marble seat. You asked my name, and when I told you, you smiled at me, eyes crinkling in mirth, as you traced the untraceable connection between our families.

I told you I would buy dinner, to celebrate meeting another American in Italy. You demurred and I insisted, and finally you let me show you a tiny restaurant, where the wine was awful, and the food tasted like heaven. It was warm inside, and when the candles were lit it was stifling, so we moved outside. You told me to stay and disappeared, returning ten minutes later with a bottle of half decent Bordeaux. You ate veal in mascarpone sauce, I ate spaghetti, and we compared notes on sites visited, and where we planned to go next. You told me you left for Paris in two days, and I nodded. We argued over the merits of Da Vinci, Caravaggio and Botticelli. You told me you loved Dante more than any writer except for Shakespeare, but I put up a good case for Boccaccio and his Decameron, which you had never read. I slept that night better than ever before."

Rhett paused, and pushed his fingers through the soft hair, before continuing. "I met you on the platform to Paris, and I think maybe I was not totally unexpected, because when you smiled it was like the sun leaving the clouds. We talked the entire journey, and by the end we'd agreed that since we were both travelling Europe, and we both had Paris and London left to visit, before we returned home, that we might as well see them together. Paris was a noisy, bustling marketplace, with an indescribable smell, which could only be described as humanity. It was a melting pot of different people, going different places, and you loved it. You were as wide eyed as a child, even if you were twenty one, and your French was a schoolboy's stumbling phrases. I corrected you more than once, which made you shake your head and grumble. In days, your accents sounded native, and I teased you about being a Parisian at heart. You told me you preferred Rome. Late at night you read Balzac and Molieré, lips stumbling over the French phrases, while I merely enjoyed the sound of your voice. We drank coffee in miniature cafes, so strong it left rings on the white iron paintwork tables, and walked streets for no reason than their names sounded familiar. You met an organ grinder, and with your stiff awkward French, asked him to play a song, watching in delight as two gypsies danced with flamenco like movements to draw the crowd. You clapped until your hands were sore, and we were almost too late to see a production of Hamlet. We entered in the middle of Act One, and stayed until Hamlet's death. Afterwards I argued that Hamlet was too much a man of his time, to believe in ghosts, and tapping me on the arm, you said laughingly. There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

You squandered money on books you claimed could not be bought in America, or rather only censored versions could be obtained, and I laughed at your purchases, teasing you on your fondness for Defoe, Diderot and Voltaire. You got half way through Memoirs of a Nun, before you thrust it from you, face flaming, biting your lip. I bought you Hume's essays, and made you read Machiavelli, and watched you try and refute their arguments. You brought your cousin sheet music, that you said she would love, and I bought you a copy of the Decameron, after first making you promise to read it all the way through."

There was silence in the room for a long moment, before Rhett again resumed talking. "You loved London on sight. You had adored Rome and her beauty, Paris and her culture, but in London you felt at home. You wanted to see everything. We went to church at Westminster Abbey, and you strayed amongst the tombs, something in you embracing their cold, grey mortality, as it rejected the rich decadence of Rome and her acolytes, and the sybarite Parisians. You confided in me that you wanted to live here, though you could not explain your unreasoning affection. You haunted bookshops, dragged me to pubs where writers declaimed their work, or celebrated success. Here you read poetry, memorised lines of Keats, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Spencer, Blake. For an afternoon we busied ourselves at Saville Row, wearing our clothes with a hint of laughter. You bought books of fashion for your sister, with coloured plates, oblivious of the looks that women gave you, and insisted on buying lengths of beautiful material, no matter how much I assured you, that it would be crushed by the time you reached home. You merely laughed, and looked at me with bright eyes and a smile, telling me it did not matter. One day, I would not tell you where we were headed, merely propelled you onto a train, installing you neatly in a seat next to me, until we reached Oxford. You did not need to tell me what you felt. Your heart was in your eyes, and I wished that you could stay there forever. That was where you belonged, my dreamer, amid the ivory towers and dream bedecked walls of Oxford.

You drank too much one night, and so did I. You kissed me, awkwardly across a table, almost upsetting it and the wine into my lap. Did it merely strike you as a good idea, or was it meant. I neither knew nor cared, because I told myself I would never let you slip out of my hands, like an idea too fragile to be spoken. I did not let you go, I kissed you back, until your morals, and your Gods were forgotten, until the copy of Wordsworth that you held in your hands dropped unheeded to the floor, until you came willingly and without fear to my embrace. In the cold light of morning, you stood by the window, and you looked out on the spires of London, until kneeling, you picked up Wordsworth and dusted him off with careful hands, placing him back on the table. Thinking I was asleep still, you kissed me on the mouth, just once, shyly. I kept my promise. I did not let you go."

Rhett's voice faltered off into quietness. He looked at the body laid in state in the parlour, at the young worn face, the ash blond hair that had so faded. He looked at Melanie's dead husband, the man whom Scarlett had wanted as a lover. His voice did not tremble, as he ran his thumb over the cold cheek once. "In another world Ashley. In another world. Perhaps we missed only by a yard in this one. Did you smile at a plain flower-girl in Rome, while I turned the wrong corner? Who can ever know?"

Okay, that was really weird. Blame the noodles and the cup of tea. CC very welcome, indeed craved. What can I say? I have an addiction XD

Explanation

Follows GWTW timeline. Ashley dies a few months after Melanie in this, and that is Rhett talking to his corpse, about what might have happened in a different world. He is not claiming that it has happened, or even that it could happen in this world between them, just musing on another reality.