Very recently I decided to take a peek into my past, and I was dissatisfied with what I found there.
I've evolved a lot as a writer since I first signed onto this site with the express purpose of posting this fic, and after renewing my interest in the Corpse Bride fandom after a long hiatus, I have made the long-overdue decision to rewrite it to better reflect my current skills and abilities. To old readers, I hope that the new story has evolved with your tastes, and to new, please enjoy and tell me what you think of it.
"I will be…"
The crowd, the candles, the cup, and the corpse. The poison in the goblet had smelled like dust, and as he'd held it near to his mouth his hands had shaken so hard that he almost dropped it all, like the fool he knew himself to be. His mind had not been as calm as he'd wanted, and his heart had drummed frightenedly on the beat that it had followed since the day of his birth and would soon fall from forever, but his will had remained resolute. He had made his peace – probably – and said goodbye to his earthly ties, he was pretty sure. Victor Van Dort was about to die.
It had been hard for him to not think of the void in his hand, held gently against his middle and index fingers, but it could be avoided if he worked to hold Emily's gaze instead. Her strange beauty had seemed to warp the air around her, her eyes wide and moist and dark. The words, the only words left in this world that he needed to hear, had been on her blue lips, but not yet out in the air: "I will be," she'd said. And when she said it again ("I will be…"), it had felt the longest moment in history. The wine was so close he could taste it on his teeth, honey-sweet and terrible.
So he'd said it for her: "I will be your wine." He'd said it because she couldn't, and because he couldn't bear to wait for a moment longer. Even as he'd lifted the goblet to the edge of his lips, he'd realized suddenly that he felt quite numb, and then he'd panicked because he didn't want his last mortal moment spent in the same unfeeling cold as death, but it no longer really mattered. The bloodred liquid had already tipped toward his tongue as his hands had seemed more determined to turn him over to the dark than his rebellious mind.
I am about to die, he had thought, and he was ready.
So you can imagine his surprise when the bride said no.
She'd just… changed her mind, reached a sudden understanding, reached upward to pull the cup from his lips. She'd turned his eyes toward hers to tell him through tears that, No, she couldn't take him from either life or love.
"I love you, Victor," as she had said, "but you're not mine."
For a second, it had hurt. It had hurt that she would end the wedding even after he'd so shown his willingness to join her in drinking the black. No matter how ready to leave he'd thought himself to be, though, at the moment that she led Victoria toward him from the shadows like a veiled ghost and pressed their still-warm hands against one another's, he'd set the wine upon the altar without a further thought and wrapped her fingers in his, tight as drumskin and cord, and he'd had the sudden realization that there might be no other place in the world where they could so perfectly fit. Victoria's slow smile had not been ethereal like Emily's, but it was a thing of bright mortal beauty nonetheless. In her cheeks there was blush, in her palms strong muscle and a heartbeat that could warm her breath at night.
Their eyes had gone together to Emily as she stood with them, her fingerbones still lingering on their hands, but she had withdrawn beneath their gazes and returned their smiles with a look that was as heartbreaking as it was happy.
"But I made a promise," he had told her.
And she had told him, "You kept it."
It was the sardonic voice of congratulations floating over the heads of the congregation now, though, that seemed to truly end the ceremony and bring the light air crashing down around their heads again. Lord Barkis Bittern strolled up the aisle at the attention of all eyes. "Isn't this sweet," he crowed, clapping his palms together. "Here they've come, two young lovers together at last!" Victor wrapped his hands around Victoria's ever tighter. The white light of the moon highlighted the lord's hair and the hard glint in his cruel eyes. His approach was slow and careful, drawing close to the living bride at the altar with a hungry look. Victor thought that Emily had grown very still beside him, but that was a hard thing to be certain of in a dead woman. "But you forget that she's still my wife," Barkis snarled suddenly, grabbing Victoria's arm with a cruel twist and pulling her down the steps to his side. "I will not leave here empty-handed!"
Victor was not a brave man. Even as Victoria was jerked from his grasp, the only thing he seemed to be able to feel was the sudden cold sweat on his palms in the absence of her heat.
Beside him, Emily whispered, "You."
Victoria appeared to be on the verge of frightened tears as Barkis looked up to meet the corpse's gaze. For an instant his expression dropped into the same depths of disbelief that had been felt in the dead woman's voice; "Emily?" he asked.
"You!" she said again.
"But -" Barkis turned, and held Victoria tighter, and looked back at Emily with something strongly resembling fear. "I left you."
When Emily completed his unfinished line, a whispered "For dead," Victor felt coldness flood his chest. He stepped forward as the congregation gasped and as Barkis began to decry Emily's delusions, searching desperately for an escape. As the lord drew a scimitar from the admiral's dead chest, the young man became acutely aware that without interference, Victoria was not going to survive this night.
Emily had known it from the moment she saw him.
The very shell of her dead body seemed to ache as she remembered the knife that he had once buried in her ribs. She'd thought that her rancor and pain were long withered and gone with age, but at that moment by the altar she realized that she wanted nothing more in either life or death than to throttle the man she'd once known as Love with the veil still draped over her bony shoulders. Now Barkis was pulling the living woman Victoria from the church to claim her for another victim, and once again there was nothing she could do to stop him.
Then Victor stepped forward again and said, louder and lower than she'd known he was able to speak, "Take your hands off her."
To her surprise, Barkis did stop, his eyes narrowed at the young man as his gaze flashed to and fro from the door to the unmoving corpses in the pews. Lord Barkis Bittern was not a stupid man. Surely he understood that if they could have done anything to stop him, it would be long over for him already.
So he straightened and pasted back his hair with a lazy hand, letting go of Victoria's arm and pushing the sword against the young man's breast. "Do I have to kill you, too?" he asked, just a second before he let a horrid scream as the pure white teeth of a dead dog clamped themselves around his ankle. He flung the animal across the room with a kick, but this small distraction was enough time for Victor to pull a long tined fork from the corpse cook's spine. Victoria stumbled away toward the altar and Emily found herself reaching out to her as Barkis made the first swing at Victor's face. She held Victoria by the shoulders as the girl screamed with each swipe of the sword aimed to kill her beloved, and pulled her from harm's way when the men's duel brought a row of pews toppling toward them. It seemed a familiar gesture for her to make. A sisterly one. Maybe there was more in her history than her rotting mind let her remember sometimes.
Barkis pushed the young man back against the walls, around a pillar, beneath a pew. Though Victor was so far unharmed, he was faltering. He was no fighter, and as brave as his pale face seemed as he fended off the killing blows of the much larger man, she could see his arms lifting lower and lower each time to block with the fork, could practically hear his bones creaking in their sockets. She started moving before she had realized it, leaving Victoria at the altar and running. She couldn't fight, but as Victor was finally knocked to the floor one final time and the sword leveled against his chest, she knew that she could at least stand at the barrier between life and death again, as she had for years waiting in the dirt.
She stepped before Victor as the sharp curved blade was plunged forward for a final time. Horrifyingly clear as her memories of dying were as Barkis's sword slid perfectly into the split in her ribs that he'd first made years before, it was strangely satisfying that things should end between them in the same way that they had begun. He recoiled at the crunch of her dry cold bone beneath the steel and removed his hand from the hilt of the blade; she could hear Victor scrabbling backward on the floor behind her, nearly able to see his wide eyes and the pale full skin his face. She pulled the blade from her own chest with shining ring and bared it before the man who had filled her head with so many false promises, the man she'd once thought the love of her life.
And all the bastard could deign to say to her was, "Touché, my dear."
The anger in her chest was far colder than even the winter of her death. "Get. Out." He had caused her more pain and heartbreak than the entire afterlife could hold, but even now, as she found herself the one wielding the instrument of death between them, she knew she could do no more than threaten. Barkis smoothed his hair backward again and looked at her imperiously. His face was still so handsome after all these years, monstrously, loathsomely beautiful.
"Oh, I'm leaving," he promised, stalking proudly toward the altar as Victoria stepped quickly away from him. "But first!" he cried, lifting the abandoned goblet of poison into the air before him, "A toast! To Emily! Always the bridesmaid, never the bride." She nearly didn't hear the insults he tossed toward her as her eyes fell on the cup held delicately in his fingers. The sword in her hand lowered. "Tell me, my dear," his words echoed emptily in her head, "can a heart still break once it's stopped beating?"
The Elder Gutknecht cried to the gathered congregation, "Stop! We cannot interfere!" as it stirred in anger, and she saw a sudden light shining in the eyes of the man before her, but she just thought to herself, Drink.
And he did drink.
He drained the honey-sweet wine of ages from its goblet and tossed it aside like he once had his Corpse Bride. He pressed his hands neatly behind his tailcoat and took easy steps down from the altar, his eyes sly and mean and lingering on hers as he passed by her arm. She could nearly feel the tense thrum of a heartbeat in her chest as she counted down.
3… 2… 1…
Barkis pulled the sword right out of her limp hand.
She was so slow to react that she hadn't even time to grip the hilt so that her forearm might snap off to impede him. He yanked it away from her cleanly and swung over immediately to Victoria's side by the pillars. "Back," he barked at the crowd. "I. Will. Kill her."
It was a funny thought, Emily almost realized, threatening death before a congregation of corpses. Why wasn't he dead? Perhaps the wine was old. Perhaps the wine was false. Barkis was pulling Victoria away and down the aisle once again. But even as Emily's head flooded with doubt, a strangled cry rose from the depths of the crowd as Victor surfaced again, his eyes wide with anger and fear and his suit badly torn. He lunged forward as only a man consumed by earnest love can, still holding the fork but not properly aiming it at any particular space. She knew, suddenly, what was going to happen. She'd been in his place too many times in dreams to expect any differently. She saw the count of Barkis's swings in her mind, One, two, just before they happened in the air before her very eyes – Victor Van Dort, so ready to die for love, deflected backward toward the ground with one, two long slashes in the material of his jacket turning a quick-blooming red.
He fell back on his elbows as Barkis shoved Victoria away from him and took a step toward the young man on the ground, curled over his own legs and choking. Emily felt rooted to the spot. Drink, she'd thought to herself before. Now the mantra in her head was a sharp, desperate, Die, die!
And Barkis did die, but not before he had pushed the young man down against the floor with a kick to the chest and slipped the blade of the sword quite neatly between his sixth and seventh rib-bones. Emily quieted and Victoria screamed and rushed forward, clawing desperately at the chest and face of the man who was even now pulling the bloodied sword from the chest of her beloved – of their beloved. Emily's empty body seemed to have been thrown far away from the eyes and mind that witnessed the pale young man falling limp and silent on the floor. The crowd was shouting and Mrs. Plum was gesticulating and the barber was leaping out of his seat, and Barkis said something that only Victoria could have heard.
And Emily wondered, how different was this death, really, from that of the wine?
Barkis pushed Victoria away from him and then pulled her back, reestablishing the blood-slicked sword in his hand and dragging his wife down the aisle. This time when Emily counted, she was perfectly on time. He made it exactly six steps before he began to slow. On the seventh, he fell and died on his knees.
They pulled him into the back room, in preparation for such violations of the church's sanctity that Victoria could hardly imagine. He screamed the entire way, cursing and spitting at the wave that pushed him toward the doorway, but she hardly heard.
She couldn't do anything at all.
The wedding dress that Victoria wore was one that she'd dreamed of passing on to her daughter, but instead now of being a bride and someday a mother, she was a widow, and small florets of blood were leaked up through the white silk skirts as she knelt in the red. The dress was ruined. It seemed the only thing she could think about. The dress was ruined.
She could hold the man she loved, but, husklike, couldn't even seem to summon tears from her rough throat to mourn him.
She knew now what it meant for the world to end. It was watching someone you loved suffer a death spent slow and in pain after the resolve to live had been rekindled in them like fire. It was almost possible to disregard the bright red blossoms around his body, but the way he just laid there was impossible to ignore. She held him, clutched at his warm cheeks, but the light behind his eyes was gone. He simply wasn't there.
But the corpse woman remained.
She was tall, Victoria thought in the remaining corner of her mind that wasn't devoted to an empty cotton pain. She was tall, and beautiful, in her way. Victoria turned up her chin to look at her standing above the two of them, her face quite still and sad.
"He's yours, then" she found herself saying, voice tremulous and high. "He'll be waiting for you."
For a moment the Corpse Bride didn't speak, but when she did it was slow and full of pain.
"He came here with a resolve to die," she whispered. Victoria could feel something cold coil around her stomach. "And I think Death remembers the promises you make him." She paused and then knelt on the other side of the young man's body, quite uncaring for the staining blood. She pressed her bony palm against his forehead, and against his neck, and then wrapped his hand in hers, her harsh slim shape limned in the moonlight spilling across the threshold. Tears came finally to Victoria's eyes. She bent her head and sobbed, rubbing a hand across his chest and then squeezing his palm and pressing her fingers to his face, which was beautiful in a way that she'd never really let herself realize before. Emily's eyes were quite hidden.
As the first butterfly alighted on Victoria's shoulder, she could have sworn that a piano was being played somewhere in the church's depths. When she spied the moon-blue creature by her jaw, she gasped through her tears, and then a second and a third and a fourth flitted their way around her ears and the hems of her dress. The Corpse Bride knelt with butterflies breaking away gently from her veil and skirts, her fingers still loosely entwined with those of the young man on the ground. Victoria stared upward in wonder; with each second, more butterflies filled the air around her head and spiraled toward the vaulted ceiling of the church. From the corner of her eye she could see the other woman standing with her face turned toward the moon.
Then Victor's fingers, wrapped within Victoria's own, weakly squeezed her back.
The air was full of shining wings when the young man sat up on the clean cold marble floor to press his hands against his chest and then embrace the woman who knelt at his side with tears in her eyes. "Oh, Victoria," he whispered into the nape of her neck, and never once before had she felt so in love. Powder fell from the air around them as butterflies born of a broken veil danced in a frenzy across rafters and moonbeams. When Victoria looked up with blurred eyes, it was to see a dark diminished form stepping into the light.
She didn't say anything and she didn't look back, but Victoria was sure that, as the last butterfly broke away from the shining place at her heart, Emily was smiling while ten thousand wings rushed from the doorway to embrace the moon above.
As the last of them flew outward as the tide, the church was left silent as a grave. She helped Victor to stand, his feet pressing firmly against the hard marble ground which was no longer smeared with blood, but as clean as the day it was laid. His jacket was torn but unsoiled and his eyes were soft as they approached the doorway together, hand-in-hand. The moon was large and the stars were bright and their hands and beating hearts were entwined so tightly that they might never let go. Victoria felt something brush lightly against her arm and turned her eyes upward.
It was one butterfly, quite alone in the cold autumn air. The delicate creature flitted twice past Victoria, then alighted for an instant on Victor's finger.
He smiled sadly at the tiny thing. It almost seemed to kiss his hand once before it was gone and gliding off into the night again, leaving behind only a fleeting memory of pale blue wings.