My second Dark Shadows fic. One thing I wish the show had done was resolve the mystery of Victoria's parentage (even if in an anticlimactic way). So much emphasis was placed on it at the beginning and then the whole issue just fizzled out. Therefore, I decided to resolve it myself. :D
One thing to note: This takes place right after the Adam and Eve storyline, so Barnabas is human here. :)
Of all the mistakes people make, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard thought, the worst had to be assuming they had more time. Victoria Winters was gone, and as far as anyone knew, she would never be seen again. Elizabeth had never expected her to stay at Collinwood permanently. She'd come there young, single, and full of life, and though she'd grown very attached to David, it had always been in the back of Elizabeth's mind that she'd eventually leave in pursuit of bigger and better things.
Elizabeth wasn't in the least surprised that Vicki had left because of a man. What she'd never imagined, though, was that that man would be from the 18th century and Vicki would choose to join him in that time, unable to receive letters or phone calls from anyone she'd met in the present. She was simply gone.
She had left behind all of her belongings. Her clothes were still in her bedroom closet. She had no use for them (short-skirted dresses weren't exactly the fashion in the 18th century), and they served as a tangible reminder that she had existed. But looking at them was painful. Roger had mentioned giving them away to charity, but Elizabeth couldn't quite bring herself to do that. "Why ever not?" he'd asked. "It's not like we've never had a governess leave before."
"True," she'd agreed. Then inwardly, she'd added, But none of those other governesses were Vicki. "I still want to keep them, at least for a while" was the only explanation she'd given him. He didn't understand but let the matter drop. He knew all too well arguing with his sister was futile.
Elizabeth sat alone in her bedroom, donning one of her nightgowns, gazing at her reflection in her vanity mirror. It was nearing midnight, but she had no desire to go to bed. Taking in her own features—her sad, tired eyes; her skin, wrinkled with age and worry—it occurred to her that Vicki was dead. How could she not be? No one from the 18th century could be alive now. The realization of that fact jolted her and she shivered. "Vicki is dead," she said to herself, trying to solidify it. The first thought that followed was: We need to bring her back! Then came the next one: It was her choice. And Barnabas said she was happy. I can't take that away from her.
No, she couldn't take that away from her. Happiness was such a rare thing to find, and rarer still for anyone who lived at Collinwood, it seemed. Elizabeth could vouch for that. Eighteen years a recluse had all but shattered any hope she'd had of being happy. Now, what happiness she experienced was vicarious, through Caroyln and David. It had been through Vicki as well. Barnabas had relayed what had happened after Vicki was saved from the gallows: how she'd been fully resolved to give up everything she'd had and known in the present to commit to Peter; how, for the first time in what felt like ages, she'd seemed truly happy; and how, despite his original plans, Barnabas hadn't the heart to bring her back to the present, telling her instead to leave with Peter and continue to be happy. Elizabeth couldn't fault Barnabas for that, or Vicki for her decision. If she faulted anyone, it was herself.
There was something she'd wanted to tell Vicki ever since she'd arrived at Collinwood but never had, even though there hadn't exactly been a shortage of opportunities. She almost told her on a few occasions but had stopped herself. Why, she wasn't sure. There were ways she could still tell her. She was knowledgeable enough about the supernatural to know that. A seance would probably be the easiest way. But she didn't like to meddle in those things unless she felt it was absolutely necessary. Meddling had caused so many problems at Collinwood, and the last thing she wanted was to create more. She couldn't be sure how Vicki's spirit would react to hearing the truth, and if making it known meant an afterlife of unrest for Vicki, she would keep it to herself. She would bear that secret as she had so many others.
Tears pooled her eyes, blurring her vision. No, she thought. I have to tell someone. Even if I don't tell Vicki, someone must know. I can't carry this to my grave. Not this secret. The only person she could fathom telling was Barnabas, the last one to see Vicki before she left Collinwood forever, the one who got to say a proper goodbye. She debated waiting until morning but decided against it. By morning she may have lost her resolve, and she needed to do this. For once, she was going to let someone else share her burdens. For once, she wasn't going to wait for some elusive right moment.
She changed out of her nightgown and into one of her dresses. It occurred to her as she did so that Barnabas had more than likely retired for the night, but she did not let that deter her. He was generally understanding and accommodating, and she had to see him tonight. If he had a telephone, she could try to call him and let him know to expect her, but due to his aversion to modern conveniences, that was out of the question. She would simply have to show up and hope her knocking woke him.
She managed to slip outside with ease. Using a flashlight, which she kept in her room and had remembered to grab, to guide her, she walked down to the Old House. The grass was wet from an earlier storm. There was a breeze that rustled the leaves on the nearby trees. Crickets chirped. If it weren't for that, the only sound she'd have been able to hear would have been her own breathing.
She tried to think of how best to word what she was going to say. Should she come right out with it, or work her way up to it slowly? Either way, Barnabas would be surprised. He would wonder why she'd waited so long, and for that she couldn't conjure up a reason—not a reason that felt good enough for her, anyway. It amounted to fear, she realized while walking in the dark, but she wasn't sure she could confess to that. It would make her vulnerable, and as the matriarch of Collinwood, vulnerable was one thing she loathed to be.
When she reached the front door of the Old House, she turned off her flashlight and, before she could start second-guessing her decision, knocked. It opened sooner than she thought it would, by Willie Loomis, Barnabas' handyman, who looked as though he hadn't had a decent night's sleep in weeks. Elizabeth couldn't say that was anything new. Barnabas kept Willie busy, and with all the strange happenings at and around Collinwood, with little to no reprieve in between, it was a wonder anyone got any rest.
"Mrs. Stoddard," Willie said. "What brings you over here this late at night?"
"I need to speak to Barnabas," she replied matter-of-factly.
"He's gone to bed. Can it wait till tomorrow? I don't like disturbin' him."
"I'm sorry, Willie, but it can't. It's an urgent matter. I'm sure he'll understand."
Willie hesitated for a moment, and then moved to let her enter the house. She waited in the parlor while he went to wake up Barnabas. Electricity had never been added to the Old House—it was another modern convenience that Barnabas hadn't seen fit to embrace—so there weren't any lights she could turn on. Aside from a fire in the fireplace, no doubt made by Willie for warmth, the room was completely encased in darkness.
When Barnabas descended the stairs, brandishing a lit candle, he was wearing a robe and appeared a bit haggard. That was something she'd noticed as of late: a weariness about him that had seemed to come out of nowhere, as though he'd lost a sense of vitality that he'd had before. It concerned her but she never mentioned it to him. She supposed it had to do with Vicki's departure. To think that before Peter had come back into the picture, Vicki had been engaged to Barnabas. How things changed.
"Elizabeth," Barnabas greeted. "Willie tells me you have something important to discuss."
"Yes," Elizabeth said. "I apologize for coming so late. But, you see . . ." She paused, taking a deep breath to steady her nerves. "This couldn't wait."
"I understand." Slowly, Barnabas made his way around the drawing room, lighting each of the candles in the old candelabras that he still used for light. "Please, have a seat," he told her as he did so.
Once every candle was lighted, he blew out the one he held and set it on the counter situated on the opposite side of the room from the fireplace. When he turned around, he saw that Elizabeth was sitting on the chair closest to the fire, rubbing her hands—either from cold or nervousness, he couldn't tell which.
There was a moment of silence between them, Barnabas waiting patiently while Elizabeth gathered up her courage. Finally, she turned her face towards the fireplace, as though unable to face him, and began: "Do you remember how Vicki said she came to be at the foundling home?"
"Why, yes," Barnabas said. "She was dropped off there as an infant."
"With a letter," Elizabeth added. "'Her name is Victoria. I cannot take care of her.' It seems rather heartless, doesn't it, dropping off a baby like that, with nothing but a name."
"I do have a hard time imagining who would do such a thing."
There was another moment of silence. Elizabeth took a deep breath. When she spoke again, her voice was low and feathery, on the verge of cracking. "I would."
She managed to meet Barnabas' astonished gaze. Her eyes were brimming with tears. "In 1945, I met a young man," she said. "He'd just returned from the war. I loved hearing his war stories. They were exciting to me. I'd always lived such a sheltered life, and he'd seen and experienced so much . . . I think that's how I fell in love with him, through his stories. And he reciprocated. My parents didn't approve of him—looking back, they were right not to—but I hardly cared. We were young, foolish, and very much in love." A slight smile crossed her face. "Carolyn and I have far more in common than she or I like to admit." She looked down at her hands, which were trembling on her lap. She bunched them into fists and continued: "When I learned that I was pregnant by him"—Barnabas gasped—"I told him immediately and begged him to marry me. He assured me everything would be alright. Then the next day he left, and I never saw him again."
"What did you do?" Barnabas asked incredulously.
"The only thing I could do. I couldn't keep it. My life was ruined if I did—mine and the child's. Elizabeth Collins, the unwed mother of a bastard? I wouldn't have been able to withstand the shame, and I couldn't bear the thought of my child being ostracized and ridiculed. My parents suggested a secret abortion, but I refused. Those procedures are so dangerous, and I didn't have the heart to go through with it." She sniffled and inhaled another deep breath. "So I was sent away to have the baby. I gave birth in New York, in the winter of 1946, to a girl. I wanted so much to take her home with me, to see her grow up, my reputation be damned. But of course I couldn't. It wasn't just me I had to think about, it was her—her well-being. My parents had connections in New York. They were told about the Hammond Foundling Home." Unable to hold back any longer, Elizabeth broke into tears. "I put her in a cardboard box and left her there, on the doorstep. I pinned a note to the box; the note only contained two sentences: 'Her name is Victoria. I cannot take care of her.'"
Cupping her hand over her open mouth, Elizabeth cried silently, paying no attention to Barnabas, overwhelmed by her memories. She started at the touch of Barnabas' fingers on her shoulder, but was comforted by them. "Two years later," she said once she'd regained composure, "my father died. He left Roger and me a sum of money. Every month I sent some to Victoria: fifty dollars in cash, along with a letter. I never mentioned who I was in the letters; I never even signed them. I just wanted her to know someone cared about her—someone outside the foundling home. It helped, writing to her. It made me feel like I hadn't abandoned her." Elizabeth choked down a sob. Barnabas squeezed her shoulder. "But I did, didn't I?"
"You chose the best option, for you and her," Barnabas said. "No one with a sense of compassion could blame you for what you did, Elizabeth. I certainly don't, and neither would Victoria."
"It's been such a heavy burden . . ."
"I told myself, when I married Paul and had Carolyn, that I was going to make up for it. Carolyn would be my atonement. I suppose I overcompensated. I always was overprotective of Carolyn. But the guilt never left. Then, back in June of '66, David's previous governess left and an idea came to me. I sent Victoria a job offer as David's new governess. I was thrilled when she accepted, though I hid my feelings to avoid suspicion. Finally, Vicki was coming home. Having her here was harder on me than I thought it would be, though. So many times I considered telling her the truth. Whenever she spoke about the foundling home, I wanted to scream, 'I did that to you! It was my fault you grew up there!' But I never could. I was too . . . afraid." Elizabeth's stomach knotted at the word "afraid," but she'd said it and it was out in the open now, lingering in the air. She started crying again. "I feel terrible, Barnabas," she uttered through sobs.
"You have no reason to," Barnabas assured her. "You are a good woman, Elizabeth. You do what you believe is right. You think of everyone before yourself, and I admire you."
Elizabeth stood from her chair and wrapped her arms around him. He was taken aback—it was so unlike her to show that level of affection, and even more unlike her to indicate that she needed it; she'd always been so guarded—but he returned her embrace and let her cry over his shoulder.
"I take it no one else knows," he said when she'd calmed herself and released him.
"Roger knows about the pregnancy, but not about Vicki. Please, don't tell him. Don't tell anyone. This family's already been through so much and I don't want to make things worse, especially now with Vicki gone."
"I won't. You have my word. This will stay between us."
Elizabeth sat back down and wiped her eyes, which were now red and swollen. She cleared her throat and regained her poise. A hint of a smile formed on her face as she said, "It's probably a good thing you and Vicki didn't marry. Although I suppose you are distant enough."
Barnabas smiled in return, his eyes shifting to the side, away from Elizabeth, as though he were struck by a sudden thought. "Yes," he responded, "I am quite distant." He turned his attention back to her and continued: "But that is unimportant now. Her love was for Peter. She loved me enough, I think—I know she was very fond of me—but I could never have made her truly happy, and she deserved to be happy."
"That she did," Elizabeth agreed.
"As do you."
Elizabeth gazed at Barnabas in silence for a long time, as though contemplating what he'd just said, letting it sink in. "Do you really mean that?" She already knew what his answer would be but wanted—needed—to hear it anyway.
"Without doubt. No one deserves happiness more than you, Elizabeth."
"You deserve happiness too, Barnabas," Elizabeth said. "I know losing Vicki has been painful for you. And I may not know much about your past, but I can tell you've suffered a great deal. You deserve happiness as much as anyone."
Barnabas smiled in appreciation. "Then let us both strive to be happy. For once, let us leave the past in the past and look to the future."
"I intend to," Elizabeth said. And with that, she stood up. "I think I'm ready to get some rest now."
Barnabas accompanied her to the door and opened it for her. Before stepping out, she turned to him, standing erect and proud as she was known to do, and said, "Goodnight, Barnabas."
"Goodnight, Elizabeth," he replied.
Then she switched on her flashlight and walked out into the night.