A/N: First of all, thank you SO very much for your wonderful reviews! It's so nice to see this lovely book and film still have such a large fanbase! Secondly, I've decided that this will be the final installment of this story. Although the response I received was lovely, I was a bit intimidated since I started to doubt my ability to write a good, substantial multi-chapter fanfic. I know that I could never live up to Margaret Mitchell's wonderful storytelling, so I don't even want to try what would more than likely be a failure.
On a side note, I hope Mammy's dialect in here isn't too off-putting. I wanted to mimic how Mitchell wrote it in the book, so that's why there's constant misspelling. With that said, I hope you enjoy the final chapter!
P.S. A reader asked why this story is called "Caged," so I figured I'd answer the question here for everyone to see. Basically, I chose the word "caged" to describe how trapped both Rhett and Scarlett feel. Their emotions are what's holding them both back from enjoying each other (and life) again, so that's basically why I chose this title. :)
CH 2: Resolutions
The night after the soiree had not gone as planned, and Scarlett's pride was suffering from botched attempts at rekindling her marriage.
As was customary, Rhett had proposed that they both retire to their separate bedrooms, but Scarlett had done everything in her power to make it clear that this wasn't necessary. She'd remarked on how she no longer felt safe without a male presence around, and when that hadn't worked, she'd tried her usual method of flirtation. Rhett had laughed at her silly behavior - to which she'd responded by calling him a boorish cad - and that had been the end of their so-called "romantic evening."
Now that it was morning, Scarlett was intent on forgetting her failures and starting anew. She'd make Rhett Butler rue the day he abandoned their love!
With proud determination on her features, Scarlett turned and called over her shoulder, "Mammy! Mammy!"
There came the sound of slow, lumbering steps, and then a breathless Mammy appeared in the doorway. "Wat you be gettin' on 'bout, Miss Scarlett? I'se mendin' da chillun's clothes."
"Oh, fiddle-dee-dee! They don't give a horse's foot about their clothing!" Scarlett huffed. Now pointing behind her, she urged, "Lace me up, Mammy - I have big plans for the day, and I'd very much like to get started."
The large woman gave her a searching look, but nonetheless began to fix up the corset. "This wudn't happen ter be 'bout Mist' Rhett, wud it? I knows you, Miss Scarlett, an' you'se got dat glint in yo' eye."
Scarlett gave her a simpering smile. "Now whatever do you mean? Can't a girl have plans that don't involve her husband?"
"Hmph! Jus' be gentle wif dat po' man's heart, yuh hyah? Dat's why he lef' in da firs' place."
"You hold your tongue!"
"I ain't sorry, Miss Scarlet, cuz you know it's da truf," Mammy sternly bit back. "Mist' Rhett ain't like da other gempmums, an' you shud know dat by now."
Scarlett's lips trembled with rage, for she did know that - Melanie had said as much on her deathbed. And what's worse, Rhett probably still assumed she loved Ashley. It was a perfectly reasonable assumption, considering how she'd held a torch for the man for so many years, so how could she possibly hope to undo such insurmountable damage?
Feeling discouraged, Scarlett pinched her cheeks a bit harder than necessary to get some color, then she turned on her heel and coldly dismissed her childhood servant. The last thing she needed right now was a distraction!
As she rearranged the tea set on her personal tray, Scarlett couldn't help but gloat over how clever her seemingly innocent ruse was. She'd walk into the sitting room, offer Rhett some tea, and then he'd have to speak with her!
With a pleased little smile on her face, Scarlett lifted the tray and sashayed into the room where her husband currently resided. He was idly smoking a pipe and staring at the adjacent wall, but he lifted his gaze in mild amusement when he saw his wife coming toward him.
"What, have you fired all the hired help?" he ribbed.
Cheeks flushing hotly, Scarlett managed to keep herself in check before insisting, "I figured you would want some company."
Rhett laughed. "Well how delightfully presumptuous of you! I wasn't aware that my aura was giving off the exact opposite of my desires, but I'll be sure to rectify that in the near future."
Eyes flashing, she snapped, "Oh, must you always spit on my gestures? I worked very hard to prepare this!"
"Indeed? Well I'm very sorry, my dear, but I refuse to eat or drink anything that wasn't prepared by a servant."
Feeling her last thread of hope unraveling at a fast pace, Scarlett surprised Rhett by dropping to her knees and touching his elbow. "Oh Rhett, why did you come back? Was it merely to torment me?"
He gave an amused smirk. "Why, I came back to fulfill my husbandly duties, of course! I said I'd stop by enough to alleviate suspicion, so here I am."
"You lying cad! Fifteen months is not enough to alleviate suspicion, and you know this!"
Rhett shrugged, his eyes distant as he relented, "Perhaps you're right, darling, but what does that matter?"
"What does it matter? My reputation is on the line, you...you...!"
"Please! You've done a brilliant job of tarnishing your family name all on your own." Now idly inspecting his pipe, he provoked, "Have you gone through all this trouble just to chide my unchangeable sense of character? Because really now, Scarlett, you should know that this is an unbreachable subject."
Body tensing, Scarlett raised her green eyes and gripped Rhett's arm more tightly. "I think you came back because you love me - by God, I know you do!"
"Is your vanity truly that great?" With a huff, he removed his arm from her grasp and scowled. "I did love you once, yes, but we've been down this road before. I only have room for one person in my heart, and you no longer have the honors of holding that spot."
Scarlett's bottom lip quivered. "Surely it's not that Watling creature...?"
"This discussion is finished, if you please. I would very much like to relax after my travels, and you are not helping in the slightest."
Judging by the injured tone of Rhett's voice, Scarlett knew that she'd just done something atrocious in his eyes. Could it be...? Oh, but it must!
With a sorrowful look in her eyes, she squeezed her husband's arm and lamented, "Oh Rhett, I loved our little Bonnie as much as you, and-"
"And yet you say this in the past tense," he coolly interjected. "I happen to still love my sweet little girl, and the very fact you refer to her in the past tense proves we could never see eye-to-eye. If you haven't guessed by now, I came back to pay my respects, and nothing more."
Biting her lip to the point of pain, Scarlett meekly bowed her head and fought back the tears that yearned to escape. Truly fearing the answer, she ventured a soft, "Then I...I suppose it's too much to hope that you could ever love me, again?"
"I've changed, Scarlett - we both have. I fear we no longer have anything in common."
Raising her head in disbelief, she spluttered a shrill, "Nothing in common? If this were the case, I wouldn't be so grief-stricken at the very thought of losing you!"
At this declaration, Rhett gave her a smile that could only be defined as cruel. "Indeed? Once upon a time you would've said something similar about Ashley, but Mammy told me you rarely keep in contact with him. To think I may someday share that man's fate isn't a ridiculous notion, you realize." Shaking his head, he lowly sustained, "No, Scarlett, I am merely the man you want at the moment. Next week you may favor someone far younger or more dashing... Tell me, am I describing anyone you might know?"
"Oh! You are a beast!" Scarlett seethed, but deep-down she thrilled in the fact he was still speaking with her. At least he hadn't closed himself off completely!
Smiling as he tapped the ash from his pipe, Rhett remarked, "I do so love your little pet names for me, my dear. Who could ever settle for a charming belle when I have an abrasive, demanding siren at my side?"
"You are purposely trying to vex me!"
"Only if it's working," he relented.
Rising sharply to her feet - there was no sense in getting her knees dirty any longer - Scarlett picked up the tea cup she'd prepared and threw it across the room. The glass shattered on impact, and the sound of Rhett's loud, raucous laughter caused her to spin on him in an instant. "Oh! I demand to know what's so funny!"
"You are," he clarified, laughing yet again before crossing his legs at the ankle. "Are you trying to be sentimental, my dear? Because if I recall, this is a very similar tirade to our first meeting."
Scarlett felt herself grow hot from head to toe. Oh, would this horrid man never forget that?
Refusing to let herself be mocked any further, Scarlett lifted her skirts and gave a crisp, "Good day," before heading out of the room in a huff.
Two weeks. Two long, agonizing weeks of avoiding the man she loved and pretending as though he never existed. She couldn't go on like this... Sooner or later she would have to face him, and when that day finally came, she needed to be prepared.
Inexplicably, on this particular morning, Scarlett felt herself drawn to little Bonnie's grave. The flowers had been kept up well enough, but she felt guilty for not visiting more than she did. At first she rarely came because of the horrendous heartache it caused, but now, after hearing Rhett's words, she knew she owed it to the poor little child to be a proper mother.
Kneeling down in front of the small headstone, she placed a gloved hand against the cold granite and frowned. "Good morning, darling," she ventured, inwardly pained since she knew Bonnie would've much preferred her father. "I...well...it was such a lovely day, so I thought I'd stop by. The field hands picked these just for you."
Laying a lovely bouquet down in accordance with these words, Scarlett gave a feeble smile, then lapsed into an uncomfortable bout of silence. What more could she say? She'd loved her daughter - oh, she knew she did! - so why weren't the words coming?
With tears of frustration in her eyes, Scarlett finally managed to choke out, "Oh, Bonnie, I am so sorry... I failed you when you needed me most, and what's worse is I've always blamed your father instead of taking responsibility. I should've been there for you more... I should've introduced you to safer hobbies so you wouldn't have been so taken by horses! I should've..." Trailing off, she pressed a handkerchief to her mouth and sniffed. Bonnie had been every bit Rhett's daughter, so deep-down Scarlett knew she never could've changed the child's fate. If Bonnie had wanted to ride horses, that's exactly what Bonnie would've gotten.
Bowing her head, Scarlett stroked the granite once more and whispered, "I...I guess what I'm trying to say, darling, is that I loved you and never stopped. From this day forward, I promise to stop by and visit at least once a week. Would you like that, sweet girl?"
A twig snapped in response, and Scarlett cried out before whirling around in walleyed surprise. "Oh! Rhett!" Managing to regain her composure, she slowly rose and clutched at her shawl. "Why did you come here? I heard you tell the servants you were going into town..."
"Maybe she sent me," Rhett softly returned, his eyes now turning to the grave at Scarlett's feet. "Maybe I needed to join someone who understands my loss."
At these words, Scarlett felt her heart thud hollowly in her chest. Gingerly approaching him, she dared to reach out a hand and touch his rough, unshaven cheek. His eyes were watery and bloodshot, but he did not draw away from the much needed contact.
"I'm glad you came," she whispered, now managing to smile through her tears. "Come...we can both talk to Bonnie together - I think she'd like that very much."
Rhett nodded, and allowed Scarlett to take his hand as they knelt before the tiny grave. In that simple gesture, her heart soared as their shoulders touched and their knees soaked in the damp, dewy earth. Perhaps he didn't love her, but with this solemn communion, she knew she at least had his unyielding promise to never leave.
'One day,' she thought, sparing him a furtive, and admiring gaze out of the corner of her eye, 'one day things will be as they were before.'
And in that moment of tentative understanding, it most certainly was.
A/N: Aaaand, that's it. Not as good as I would've liked, but they're a surprisingly difficult couple to master. I hope you enjoyed, regardless!