I'm not going to lie. It gets fluffy in parts ;)
There was a warm glow about the house on Christmas morning of 1863 as the happiness of reunited family members radiated through the rooms, smiles rarely leaving anyone's faces, even India's. This Christmas was especially thrilling because Ashley was home, and Melanie took the time to fill the house with holiday's trimmings, wanting to make it as memorable as possible so that he might have pleasant memories to take back with him when he returned to Virginia. An undersized evergreen tree was perched on a small wooden table in the dining room, its trunk encircled by white lace and its branches adorned with homemade decorations of pine cones, strings of dried fruit, silver foil, and tiny candles which waited to be lit. The rest of the home was garnished with bits of hung holly, mistletoe, ivy, and pine boughs that filled Aunt Pitty's with an unmistakable scent of Christmas.
Everyone was in the highest spirits, despite the ongoing war surrounding them, even Scarlett, who was separated from her own family at Tara, although through her own doing. When she had discovered that Ashley was going to be home for Christmas, nothing could have pulled her away from Atlanta and his side. Much to her dismay, his attention was fully occupied by Melanie, both his sisters, and even his father, and there was never a time where she could steal away one moment alone with him, something she longed for desperately. As much as Scarlett wished she could be the one to sit by his side and clasp his arm protectively, it was enough to be in the same room with him, to hear the sound of his voice as he spoke, and to dream about the instant where she would finally get him alone and have him confess his love for her. Scarlett hung onto the idea that he must still love her, but she needed to hear him say it so that she might be able to replay them in her mind when he left. Her chest tightened with pain and fear when she thought of a life without Ashley if he should die, and it only made her all that more determined to coerce him into declaring his love and into granting her a kiss.
Scarlett often imagined what it would be like to have Ashley as her own, to have him send her letters of his devotion while he was off at war, and to have him address her as Mrs. Wilkes. As these rosy visions filled her head on Christmas morning, she sighed and walked down the stairs and towards the parlor in a daze. What she would have given for a simple kiss on the lips! So caught up in her reverie of her dashing golden soldier, Scarlett almost missed the sound of Melanie's agitated voice.
"Auntie, I promised," Melanie finished as Scarlett poked her head into the parlor to see what was happening.
"Oh dear," Pittypat fluttered, her hand at her heart. "We could get Ashley to—"
"No," Melly answered firmly. "I invited him, and he should be here any moment. Auntie, please don't get upset—"
"Who's going to be here any moment?" Scarlett interrupted curiously.
"Captain Butler. I invited him to spend the day with us."
"Rhett! Melly, why in the world would you invite him? Don't you think we have enough people filling the house as it is," Scarlett said resentfully, wishing that India and Honey hadn't decided to make the journey to Atlanta.
"And think of the gossip," Pitty added, nodding her head.
"Let them gossip. Scarlett, he's all alone for Christmas, and I won't let anyone spend Christmas alone if I can help it," Melly said with emotion in her voice, her face aglow with kindness.
Scarlett rolled her eyes but remained quiet, wondering how that varmint had manipulated his way into receiving an invitation from Melanie.
When Rhett came to the door, his hands filled with various gifts and his words laced with over the top flatteries, Scarlett saw how her aunt melted, and she wanted to laugh outright. She watched as Melanie greeted him courteously with Ashley by her side, and then her heart quickened with anxiety at the thought of both men being in the same room together. Until seeing both men side by side, it hadn't occurred to Scarlett that she would have to worry about Rhett's behavior, but the man was volatile and she was indeed worried now. Very worried. When his dark eyes landed on hers, he smiled like a devious child, and Scarlett knew that he had conjured up this whole event only to spite her. He's done this on purpose, she thought, her green eyes hot as her blood started to simmer.
"Scarlett," Rhett said smoothly as he made his way over to her and placed an airy kiss on her hand.
"Captain Butler," she answered coolly, and she could have sworn she heard him chuckle.
"Aren't you happy to see me? Maybe you're just surprised."
"I'm not surprised, Melly's a fool. How did you manage to get yourself invited?"
"Oh that. No big trouble really. I ran into Mrs. Wilkes the other day, and I discovered you weren't venturing home for Christmas. Well, when she learned I would be spending my Christmas in a desolate hotel room, she graciously invited me to spend it with all of you," he answered with a vibrant light dancing in his eyes.
"Hotel room?" she scoffed. "I know exactly where you'd be and it isn't in your hotel room. Besides, it's your fault that you're all alone and that even your own family won't receive you for Christmas, and I don't feel the least bit sorry for you. You know you were only invited because Melly pity's you."
"Were you trying to wound me? I'm sorry, but that didn't hurt a bit. I don't mind being pitied, especially when it gets me what I want. And I have what I want, don't I Scarlett?" he said softly, leaning towards her, then laughed when she crossed her arms in frustration and glared furiously.
"I actually find it rather amusing to be pitied. Obviously you don't agree, what with that frown you're wearing. Care to tell me what has you in such a mood?"
"I am not in a mood. I was fine until you showed up. I don't see why you have to spoil everyone's Christmas just because—"
"Whose Christmas am I spoiling exactly? Yours?"
Rhett chuckled softly. "Could this sudden worry be because a certain gentleman is home on furlough?"
Scarlett pinked and lowered her eyes in discomfort. She should have known he would see through her in an instant.
"Don't tell me you're worried I'll mention your honorable declaration of love? Didn't I tell you your guilty secret was safe with me?"
"Hush up," she hissed. "What if somebody hears?"
"No one will hear. Now would you stop worrying? This guilt is rather unbecoming I'm afraid."
With great effort, she bit back a retort to his barb and asked, "So you will behave?"
"I will be on my best behavior… For Mrs. Wilkes," he added then watched amusedly as her green eyes flashed.
"Somehow I just don't believe you."
Rhett laughed and took a hold of her arm. "No, you probably shouldn't," he said with a grin then propelled her into parlor where everyone had already gathered.
Scarlett watched in amazement as Rhett made polite conversation with members of the Wilkes family, and she only prayed that no one would be foolish enough to bring up the war since she couldn't help but recall the embarrassing scene Rhett had caused at Twelve Oaks. He certainly could be charming when he wanted to be, and she wondered why he could not behave this way more often. Her life would undoubtedly be simpler if he would only keep his opinions to himself. Suddenly, she saw Honey take a great interest in Rhett, and she felt a twinge of jealousy. Why this should be, she didn't know, but she found Honey's attempts at flirtation quite ridiculous. When she heard Rhett's laughter, she scowled in their direction.
"Fool," she muttered under her breath, and then he turned to face her as if he had heard her words.
She then saw Honey touch his arm and heard her irritating laugh, and she cringed at the sound. Scarlett couldn't decide which was worse; Rhett's mocking laughter or Honey's high pitched giggle. Deciding to ignore them, she looked to Ashley, but he was deep in conversation with Melanie, probably discussing some nonsense or other, like literature. She sighed softly, thinking that this Christmas had not gone quite like she had envisioned. Ashley had been home for five days, and not once had he addressed her personally. Even now, his sole attention was on Melanie. If only I could get him alone just for an instant she though, trying to find a way to manipulate the situation, but Rhett's voice brought her out of her musings.
"And what exactly has made a sudden wallflower out of you Scarlett?" Rhett asked, and she could hear the laughter tingeing his voice.
"Did you come here simply to harass me?"
Rhett laughed. "I was only wondering why it was that you were standing alone. I fail to see where harassment—"
"I was not standing alone."
"No? And who was it exactly that you were standing with?" he asked mockingly.
"I…Oh leave me alone! If you want to irritate somebody, go back to that Honey Wilkes. I'm sure you were having a wonderful time over there."
"Ah, so you noticed," he said as a light leapt into his eyes.
"Of course I noticed. She was laughing like a simple minded fool. I couldn't help but notice."
"Dare I hope that you are jealous?" Rhett asked with a teasing grin.
"Jealous!" she cried out, enraged that he would have even suggested such a thing. "Jealous of that rabbit?! Don't be ridiculous."
Rhett threw his head back and laughed so loudly that the hum in the room gradually died down. Many eyes were focused on the bickering pair, but Rhett and Scarlett were so engrossed in their conversation that they failed to notice.
"You are jealous aren't you," he said, goading her.
"No I am not."
"I believe you are lying. Really Scarlett, you're a terrible liar."
Her green eyes glittered with a fuming rage. "What would I have to be jealous about?! I feel sorry for her because she has to try so hard to get noticed she's so plain."
"Yes, I am curious about that point. Just why is it that you are jealous?"
"I am not—"
"Could it be because my attention was not focused on you for a change? I know how you treasure my company, but you couldn't expect me to spend my entire time with you. It would have been the height of rudeness."
"It will be the height of rudeness when I order you out of this house Rhett Butler!"
Rhett laughed and took her hands in his, which she snatched away immediately.
"You're in quite a temper for so simple a question. It makes me wonder—"
"Would you stop!"
"Stop what?" he asked, feigning innocence.
"Tormenting me. Oh, you are impossible. I thought you were going to behave."
"I thought you didn't believe me? With good reason I might add."
Scarlett was about to respond, but then she realized they we being watched. Having been caught spying, the crowd looked away and resumed their previous discussions.
"It appears as if we have a knack for shocking the confederacy, Scarlett."
"We?" she asked with a raised brow, and he chuckled.
"I don't believe I've been talking to myself this whole time," Rhett said with a smirk, and then he took her by the arm in a tight grip and guided her out of the parlor.
"What are you doing?" she asked, trying to resist his pull.
"I am not doing anything; you are showing me to the library."
"No I'm not. I don't want to go anywhere with you."
"True as that may be, you're coming just the same. You wouldn't want to create another scene now would you?"
Scarlett glanced Ashley's way, not wanting to be separated from him for one moment, and she answered, "You know very well that—"
"Come Scarlett, damn propriety," he added convincingly.
Scarlett gave in and allowed him to lead her to the library, suddenly eager to get away from the sickeningly happy couple Ashley and Melanie seemed to make this holiday. As much as Rhett's teasing and mocking grated on her nerves, he had a way of expunging the consuming thoughts of Ashley from her mind, something she was secretly grateful for at the moment. It was excruciating to watch him stand by Melly's side, where Scarlett secretly believed she rightfully belonged. Somehow she had managed to let herself fade into the background when she had once been the vibrant center of attention. It was disconcerting. Melanie was now the center of his world, but how could that be if he loved her? Scarlett pushed away the unpleasant thoughts from her mind, deciding that Ashley avoided her so that his family would never know the truth of his love for her.
"Scarlett?" Rhett said for the second time, trying to get her attention.
"What? Why did you want to bring me here?"
"Don't tell me you're seriously pining over a man who hasn't once acknowledged your existence this afternoon?" he said acutely, ignoring her questions.
She looked up and their eyes locked. His face was inscrutable, and she wondered what made her face so easy to read. He was the one man she would have liked to hide her emotions from and yet, he was the one who had the uncanny ability to read her mind.
"Leave me alone. You don't understand."
"Oh, I understand perfectly. You're in love with a man who is quite obviously in love with his wife."
"No, Ashley loves me," she answered stubbornly, prepared for a fight.
"Does he? And when did the honorable Mr. Wilkes confess this love for you?"
Scarlett faltered and lowered her gaze.
"Ah, so I see he's never actually said the words. Why do you think that is?"
"Stop! Leave me alone. He does. I know he does."
"Indeed? Tell me, why didn't he marry you then?"
"Because he…well—oh what do you know about love!"
"I know that if I was in the same room with the woman I claimed to love, I would hardly be able to ignore her."
"He had no choice," she defended quickly. "It's only natural that he would—"
"What? Devote his full attention to his wife?"
Scarlett turned away in frustration. Ashley loved her. She knew he did. She couldn't imagine herself in a world where he didn't.
"I don't want to discuss it. You just don't understand," she said obstinately.
Rhett remained silent, which surprised her because he wasn't one to do as asked, then she heard his laughter, and she braced herself for more of his mocking remarks.
"Scarlett, you really should watch where you stand," said Rhett as he came towards her.
Turning to look up at him, she saw the mischief in his dancing black eyes.
"What are you going on about now?"
"You aren't very observant are you?" he teased, his eyes focused above her head.
Scarlett looked up to see what he could have possibly been staring at, and then she saw the hanging mistletoe. She wanted to curse Melly for decorating the house, and especially the library.
"I'm not kissing you if that's what you think," Scarlett said as she took a step back, but Rhett had her by the shoulders before she could get away.
"No," she answered softly, but it came out more like a question than a statement.
Rhett chuckled softly then leaned in, and she giggled in anticipation. She didn't know why, but the thought of being kissed by Rhett and having him fall in love with her was exciting. The power she could wield if he should fall in love with her brought a sparkle to her eyes and a genuine smile to her lips. How she would make him pay for his jeering, for making her doubt Ashley's love for even the slightest instant.
"You sure you won't change your mind? Is refusing really worth the risk Scarlett?" Rhett teased.
"What am I risking?"
"Your luck, or worse, a missed opportunity."
"For you," she said with a saucy grin.
Rhett laughed. "You know, they say I kiss very well, and you are passing up a valuable experience. I'm disappointed."
She scowled. "You are a conceited varmint, but…I suppose one kiss wouldn't be so bad," Scarlett said as she offered up her ivory cheek.
Rhett's arm snuck around her tiny waist, and all of a sudden she was being pulled and bent backwards into an unexpected ardent kiss. Clinging to his shoulders for support, Scarlett found herself kissing him back even when she wanted to be insulted, should have been insulted, but she couldn't help but dissolve in his warm arms. His skilled lips were evoking sensations she'd never felt before and didn't want to feel, not from him. Somehow the control she had desired was now out of reach, but while her heart was beating wildly out of her chest and as her mind was spinning, it no longer seemed to matter. When their lips parted, she opened her eyes to a grinning Rhett, but his eyes had a strange glow about them, something that she'd never seen before.
"I assume that wasn't—er—so bad," he teased.
Scarlett laughed and disentangled herself from his arms. He was impossible. He mocked and teased her until she thought she couldn't stand it any longer then laughed impertinently, but as much as she desired it, she couldn't really hate him.
Before she had a chance to respond, Melanie walked in and said, "There you are Scarlett dear. Dinner is ready. You both should come sit down."
"Yes, we're coming Melly. I was only showing Rhett the library."
"I've never had the privilege of seeing it. I admire your holiday trimmings. Did you decorate the room Mrs. Wilkes?" Rhett asked, his voice respectful and devoid of all mockery, and Scarlett scowled in his direction. He was always so much more polite with Melanie, and it drove her insane.
"Yes. I wanted it feel like Christmas," Melly answered, smiling warmly as she walked out of the room ahead of Rhett and Scarlett.
Rhett winked in Scarlett direction, and she rolled her eyes, biting back a laugh.
Shockingly, Rhett was on his best behavior for the entirety of the dinner and the rest of the evening, and Scarlett was no longer as upset as she had been with his unexpected arrival. She wondered what real reason lay behind his coming for Christmas. As much as he enjoyed teasing her about Ashley, she couldn't help but think that there was something else which drove him to want to spend Christmas with them. Could he really be lonely, she wondered as the group sat around the heat of the burning fire. Even if she had chosen not to spend the holidays with her family, she couldn't imagine how it would feel if she weren't welcome at her own home.
When the fire and conversation gradually died down, Mr. Wilkes and his daughters made their way back to their hotel room. Afterwards, Scarlett walked Rhett to the front door after he courteously thanked Melanie for the invitation and hospitality. He opened the door and she followed him onto the front porch. The wind was crisp, and she shivered slightly.
"So, you are walking me out? Does this mean that I haven't spoiled your Christmas?" Rhett asked with a smirk.
"I suppose," she said then laughed. "Why did you come Rhett? Are you honestly lonely?"
He laughed. "Why would I be lonely when I have you to entertain me?"
She grimaced. "Can you ever be serious?"
"What would you prefer I say? That I'm drowning in emptiness because I was cast away by my family? I'm sorry, but no. I'm enjoying my freedom and the adventure that comes with the blockade running, though it won't be long until I'll have to sell my ships. That's why I should be leaving any day now for one last trip."
"You're leaving again? Will you be back soon?" Scarlett asked, surprised that he was telling her that he was leaving since he usually departed without even saying goodbye.
"Why? Will you miss me?" he said mockingly, but his dark eyes were boring into her hers, scrutinizing her face.
"Don't be ridiculous," she said offhandedly, and he chuckled and lifted her chin.
"Scarlett," he said softly then paused, his eyes searching her face for something he didn't find. "You should go inside. It's cold."
Scarlett looked up at him, waiting for something more since he still held her chin in his warm hand. Going against his better judgment, Rhett brought his lips down and kissed her gently. It was fleeting but tender, almost as if he had kissed her this way a million times before, the way he would kiss her instinctually if he could share the rest of his life with her.
"What was that for?" she murmured, a little stunned. "I don't see any mistletoe."
Rhett chuckled softly and pinched her chin playfully.
"That was just for me. In case I—er— get lonely," he answered with a smirk then walked down the front porch steps.
He turned around to face her before boarding his carriage.
"Merry Christmas," she said with a smile.
"Merry Christmas, Scarlett," he replied, grinning, and then she hurried inside to escape the chill of the wind.
There might be 1 or 2 chapters left to this.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! :)