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For You Were Not The One

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March 17th, 1875

Sandford, England

4:52 P.M.

There was a moment of silence as Victor left the room. Then Victoria collapsed onto the sofa, putting her face in her hands. "Victoria?" Christopher asked, sitting down next to his wife.

"That was harder than I thought it would be," Victoria whispered, not looking at him. "Of course, I thought seeing him again would entail visiting his grave. . . ."

"I thought it went pretty well myself," Christopher said, placing a hand on her back. "He was very understanding."

"Yes, but. . . ." Victoria raised her head, staring at the doorway. "It was like seeing a ghost," she whispered. "When you told me he was here, I couldn't believe it. I – I don't think I wanted to believe it. Knowing that he was alive all this time. . . ." She blinked, trying to clear the threatening tears. "I feel like I failed him, if that makes any sense. The way he looked just before he left. . .so tired, so – broken. . . ."

"Victoria, you didn't know," Christopher said, rubbing circles along her spine. "You couldn't have known. All of us thought he'd – gone Below."

Victoria nodded, finally turning to look at him. "I know. And please don't think I regret marrying you. You were – are – the best thing to happen to me here. I just–" She shook her head. "He was supposed to be happy with Emily. Not still hoping that. . .that we might. . . ." She twisted her hands together. "Maybe it's the timing that's got me so upset. If he hadn't come here so soon after our honeymoon. . . ."

Christopher slipped his arm around her. "I don't know what to say to make this better for you," he confessed. "It was awkward for me too. Seeing the man that you were supposed to marry. . .the one you'd initially told me you wanted to marry more than anyone in the world. . . ." He laughed weakly. "Victor and Victoria. A good match."

Victoria laid her head against his shoulder. "I just told you not to think I regret being your wife," she said, half-teasing, half-serious. "I love you, Christopher. I meant what I said before – I love talking with you, I love laughing with you. . . ." She looked up at him with fond eyes. "I love just sitting with you. You make me feel – comfortable. Safe. Like I'll never worry about anything again."

Christopher smiled at her. "And I meant everything I said as well. You're an amazing woman, Victoria Elizabeth Everglot White." He paused. "God, that's a mouthful. I should have left off either the Elizabeth or the White."

Victoria tittered. "I'll always be grateful you were the one who stopped on that cold, rainy night." She stretched up and pressed her lips briefly to his. "I don't like to think about us never meeting."

"Even with your ex-fiancé having just paid us a visit?"

"Even then. Having Victor here today proved something – I loved him, but I never got a chance to know him." Victoria looked down at Victor's abandoned cup, still full to the brim. "I don't even know how he takes his tea. I was willing to marry him based on his first impression, of course, but. . . ." She turned back to Christopher. "I think I like what we have more. Getting to know the person before one gets married makes a lot of difference."

Christopher nodded. "Victor seemed to have his doubts about the whole business too." He frowned slightly. "Do you really think Emily wouldn't have been a sore point in your marriage? You're only human, after all."

Victoria shook her head. "I was never jealous, strange as that may sound. Before I saw them in the church, I was only worried about Victor's safety. I barely gave a thought to the bride herself, except as the evil force holding him captive. And afterward. . . ." She sighed, clasping her hands. "I still feel horrible about what happened to her. That's a fate I wouldn't wish on any young woman."

"Nor I," Christopher agreed, grimacing. "I worry sometimes that she wasn't the only one Barkis murdered."

"I'm almost certain of it," Victoria said, voice low. "The way he was acting all throughout his visit, complimenting my parents at every turn, knowing just when to step in after Victor vanished. . .I got the feeling it was all according to plan. And I wouldn't be surprised if he'd honed that plan on other unfortunate girls." She twisted her fingers together. "Part of me's convinced he meant to kill Victor," she suddenly confessed. "Why else would he show up to attend our wedding just one day before the nuptials? That's no time at all to present himself as a possible groom, unless. . . ."

"It's a puzzler," Christopher agreed, tapping his fingers on his cheek. "I've always wondered why he bothered with your family at all. I know your parents took pains to keep your bankruptcy a secret from the rest of the world, but. . .why risk going back to the small town you once committed murder in?"

Victoria shrugged. "I have no idea how that man's mind worked. And I'm rather glad of it, to be honest. The very notion of thinking like that monster sickens me."

"I agree – I don't want to share any of his traits," Christopher said, shaking his head rapidly as if to cast off any Barkis-like musings. "I suppose we should just be grateful that, whatever his plan was, he wasn't able to carry it out. At least not in full."

"Oh yes." Victoria snuggled into Christopher's side. "It may be awful for me to say, but – I'm rather glad he died. I've no doubt he would have continued to ruin the lives of everyone around him otherwise."

"Me either," Christopher nodded. "And considering one of the lives he almost ruined was yours, I won't hold it against you for being glad he's dead."

"You're very kind." She smiled briefly, then sighed. "But still. . .I've gotten my happy ending. What about Victor? It's not fair that my happiness should come at the expense of his."

"Well, from everything you've told me, and what I just saw of him, he's one of the sweetest, gentlest, and bravest young men in the country," Christopher said, squeezing her. "I don't think he'll have much trouble finding another young lady to love."

"Perhaps. And I suppose there's always – going after Emily." She swallowed. "Although. . .I don't mind him being happy with her, I really don't, it's just – the very idea of him – ending it all. . . ."

Christopher kissed the top of her head. "That's his choice to make. But I hope he'll find something to live for myself. I've always been of the opinion that this world can be a rather nice place, if you know where to look."

Victoria nodded. "I just want him to be happy," she murmured. "I want him to find someone who makes him feel the way I feel when I'm with you."

"Weeelll, if you're willing to share me. . . ."

Victoria couldn't help laughing. "You're terrible."

"I am," Christopher agreed with a grin. Then, sobering, he added, "I hope for the same, though. None of this was his fault, poor fellow. And it would be nice if all three of you found the happiness you've been looking for."

"It would." Victoria picked up her teacup. "To Victor finding the love of his life?"

Christopher lifted his. "To Victor," he agreed, clinking it against hers.

The End