It surprised Victor how dark it actually was. He couldn't see a thing. Including Victoria. Cautiously he put a hand out, feeling along the blankets. Where had she gone? He squinted into the darkness, as though that might help. Finally, embarrassed beyond telling, Victor said in low voice,

"Um, Victoria...Where are you?"

He heard her answer in a whisper that barely reached his ears. "Just over here, Victor."

Ah, somewhere to his right. Victor pulled himself onto the bed, and on his hands and knees began looking for Victoria again. He moved slowly, wondering whether he wanted to find her or not. Still, he kept going, his hands moving across the blankets.

Oh! Victor's palm came to rest on something. It was firm, but rather soft. What is this? he asked himself. He prodded it a little before realizing it was the pillow on his side of the bed. Suddenly Victor blushed, realizing that he'd have to be a bit more careful with his investigative prodding--that could have been Victoria. He took a deep breath. If this was the pillow, Victoria must be a little that way...

He moved his hand over to the right across the pillow. He felt another pillow (Victoria's pillow!), and then his fingers connected with something soft.

"Ouch!" came Victoria's startled voice from the darkness. I guess I found her, Victor thought stupidly.

"What, what happened?" Victor asked, quickly withdrawing his hand. "Are you all right, Victoria? What did I do?"

"Yes, I'm fine," Victoria reassured him. Her voice, however, gave away that she was in a bit of pain. "It was just my eye," Victoria said. From her tone Victor could tell she was trying to make him feel better. It didn't help.

"Oh, I am so sorry!" Victor said, feeling terrible. "Are you certain you're all right?"

"Yes, yes, don't worry," she said. Then there was silence.

Steeling himself, Victor crawled a bit farther. Eventually he was right next to her, and he lay down on his side. He didn't quite dare to touch her. As his eyes adjusted to the complete darkness, Victor could just barely make out Victoria's outline next to him. All he could hear was the sound of their breathing--from the sound of it, Victoria was having as much trouble taking a breath as he was.

Victor knew what he was supposed to do. The trouble was actually doing it. Admonishing himself to grow up, and vowing that he'd redeem himself to Victoria somehow, he took a deep breath. Oh, I am so sorry, Victoria, he thought. Closing his eyes, Victor rolled to the right, and maneuvered himself until he was on top of her. Victoria let out a startled "Oh!" as he landed a bit harder than he meant to. Victor mumbled an apology, his cheeks burning with embarrasment.

Victor fought the urge to vomit from nervousness. He was very aware that there was only a blanket separating him from Victoria. Something told him that that might be an encumbrance later, but he decided not to think about that just yet. Victor had the distinct feeling that he'd gone a bit too fast. Perhaps he wasn't supposed to jump right to this step yet--but he wasn't sure. What was he supposed to do with his hands? Not wanting to touch Victoria inappropriately (any more than I absolutely have to, Victor thought with a cringe), he put his hands on Victoria's pillow. Probably they were on either side of her face, but he couldn't tell. After that, Victor couldn't move. Through his terror, he noticed that Victoria wasn't moving either.

Victoria let out a small gasp. Victor looked down at where he supposed her face was. "Victoria...Are you all right?" He hoped that she wasn't about to pick up the lamp from the nightstand and bash him over the head with it. Still, Victor felt he deserved it. This was an awful violation of Victoria's personal space, after all.

She gasped again, and said breathlessly, "Victor, I don't mean to...I suppose you know what you're doing, but...You're crushing me, just a little."

"Oh! I'm sorry!" Victor said. How stupid of him. He propped himself up on his elbows. "Is that...at all better?" he asked, feeling hopelessly embarrassed.

"Yes," Victoria replied. She doesn't sound it, Victor thought, feeling quite guilty. What could he do for her? Um...Ah, a kiss, maybe? The first time they'd kissed had been wonderful, after all. Yes, perhaps a kiss was just the thing. Still, it felt very, very strange to kiss Victoria while lying on top of her. He'd best ask.

"M-may I kiss you, Victoria?" Victor asked, his voice coming out sounding more like a croak. Even he couldn't see Victoria's face, he was almost certain that she was rather perplexed by his question. At any rate, it took her a moment to answer.

"Well, yes, I suppose you may," she said, shyness starting to creep back into her voice. Then she added, in a bit of a stronger tone, "In fact, that might be very nice."

At those words, Victor felt a bit more at ease. Victoria wasn't frightened. She trusted him not to do anything to harm her. Victor hoped he could honor that trust. No, no--no good getting ahead of yourself! At the moment, he needed to focus on a kiss. Just one thing at a time, he told himself as he leaned down. Closing his eyes, he aimed at what he supposed was the general area of Victoria's mouth.

Unfortunately, he'd miscalculated a bit. Instead of meeting Victoria's mouth, or even her cheek, Victor's lips connected with Victoria's ear. Or more precisely, the pillow next to her ear. He could feel her hair tickling his cheek as he groaned inwardly, feeling like an idiot. You absolute ninny, he thought, you can't even get a kiss right!

"Victor? What are you doing?" Victoria asked. She sounded quite bewildered. He could feel her lips move against his jawline as she spoke. Victor couldn't answer. What could he possibly say that wouldn't make him sound completely foolish? He was the man here, he was supposed to know what to do. If only it weren't so dark and confusing! And terrifying, and guilt-inducing, and...Victor tried to decide what to do next. Should he attempt another kiss? Oh yes, brilliant idea--maybe my next one will land on her other eye, and I can blind her completely.

As Victor lay there berating himself, he suddenly felt something wriggling against his chest. What was that?

"Victoria?" Victor asked into her hair. He still didn't quite dare to move; not so much out of fear for Victoria, since she didn't seem all that frightened, but rather because he was completely at a loss as to what to do. Well, you'd better figure it out soon! he said to himself. The wriggling continued as Victoria answered, "I'm sorry, Victor...It's just that my right arm is sort of...wedged in between us."

"Oh!" Victor said, lifting his head a little. That wriggling must be her fingers. Without thinking, Victor asked the next question that popped into his head. "Where's your other arm?" As soon as the words escaped his lips, Victor rolled his eyes at himself. How courteous of me, he thought sarcastically.

But Victoria treated the question as though it were the most sensible thing in the world. "Don't worry, the other one's over here...Oh, that's right, you can't see me, can you? Um, it's just here--near my head...Next to your hand..." She trailed off. I didn't notice that my hand was right next to hers, either? Victor wondered if there were some sort of prize awarded for Most Bumbling and Inattentive Husband. The plaque might look nice on the mantel in the parlor.

Victor rushed to be accomodating. "I'm terribly sorry, let me..."

"No, no, it's nothing," Victoria said quickly. "It's only a little uncomfortable. I'll be all right." She stopped moving her hand. Now that she'd drawn attention to it, Victor could suddenly feel Victoria's arm from elbow to fingertips pressing against his chest. How could he have missed that before? How could he possibly have been so unthinking and self-absorbed?

"But I don't want you to be uncomfortable, Victoria," he said seriously. "What shall I...?"

"If you could lean back just a little, I think I can...erm, extract it."

"Of course." Victor propped himself up on his forearms and leaned away from her, feeling a sudden wash of guilt. He imagined her little hand turning purple underneath him. He quickly chased the thought from his mind, and said, "Does that help?"

"Yes, very much, thank you," Victoria answered. With a nervous laugh, she added, "I thought for a moment that it was going to go numb."

Well, this is going extraordinarily well. Poking Victoria in the eye, squishing the breath out of her, those just weren't enough--he had to go and cut off all the blood to her arm as well. Idiot. "I'm very sorry...Is it at all better now?" Victor asked with concern.

"Yes, it's fine," Victoria answered reassuringly. She started wriggling her arm again in an attempt to pull it out from under him. Victor leaned back as far as he could without sitting up, trying to help. His spine was starting to protest against the strain. He couldn't see what Victoria was doing; luckily, she was keeping up a bit of a running commentary.

"I think I've almost...Oh no, Victor, you don't need to get up completely, I think I've got it now. Yes, there."

Victor began to lean forward again just as Victoria finally pulled her arm free. As she did so, she accidentally dealt Victor a tooth-rattling backhanded slap across the face.

"Oh!" Victor cried in surprised pain. Victoria is stronger than she looks, Victor found himself thinking through the sting of the slap. He rolled off of Victoria and lay on his back next to her, rubbing his cheek.

"Victor! Oh my goodness, I am so sorry! It was an accident...Did I hurt you badly?" Victor felt Victoria sitting up next to him, and then her hand fumbling about until she touched his shoulder. "Are you all right, Victor?" she asked, sounding terribly worried.

Although his face still stung rather badly, Victor answered, "Yes, I'm fine, really...You didn't hit me all that hard..." He blanched. He hadn't meant for that to sound so accusatory.

"Let me light the lamp," Victoria said, "and then I can take a look at your face. Oh, I hope I didn't break anything...Is your nose all right?" Victor felt the blankets straining underneath him as Victoria leaned over to relight the lamp.

"Don't worry, you missed my nose," Victor said, wishing immediately that he could have come up with something a bit more witty and reassuring. Oh, Victoria...

"Well that's good, anyway," Victoria said. Victor could hear her trying to strike a match in the dark. Finally the flame caught, and a warm glow filled the room as Victoria turned up the lamp's wick. Victor sat up, hugging his legs up to his chest and burying his head in his knees. He supposed Victoria was looking at him, but he just couldn't bring himself to face her.

Sure enough, Victor felt her hand on his shoulder. Before Victoria could say anything, he mumbled into his knees, "Victoria, please forgive me. You must think me a terrible fool. I...I'm sorry." Victor couldn't think of anything else to say.

"Oh Victor," Victoria said softly, moving a bit closer to him. "I most certainly don't think you're a fool." She paused, and then said, "Victor, please look at me."

Slowly Victor raised his head and turned to look at his wife. He winced a little as he noticed that her right eye looked a bit red from where he'd poked her. A fresh guilt washed over him at the sight. But Victoria smiled at him reassuringly.

"Come over here near the lamp, and let me have a look at your face," she said, giving his arm a gentle tug. Grateful that he hadn't been unceremoniously thrown from the room, Victor moved over until he was sitting by Victoria's side on the edge of the bed. "Here, turn a little that way--yes--let me see," Victoria said. She held his chin gently in her hand, and made a little sympathy noise in the back of her throat--the kind usually reserved for sick children and injured small animals.

"Oh, Victor, I'm so very sorry," she said, removing her hand. "It looks as though you're going to have a bruise."

"At least you didn't poke me in the eye," Victor said, turning toward her. He touched her face softly with the tips of his fingers. "Your poor eye. Are you all right?"

Victoria took his hand between both of hers. "Yes, Victor, I promise," she said, looking up at him. Victor smiled weakly before turning away again. Looking at the floor between his feet, he said,

"I don't think I can apologize enough, Victoria." He squeezed her fingers gently and continued, "That didn't go quite the way it was meant to...as you're probably well aware..." Victor trailed off.

They were silent for a moment, listening to the faint sound of the clock downstairs. Then Victoria said quietly,

"Well, it was rather...interesting." There was the slightest hint of amusement in her voice. Victor looked at her again and opened his mouth to speak, but Victoria anticipated what he was about to say. "No, Victor, I wasn't frightened at all. Don't be worried about that."

Victor believed her. He could see from her eyes that she was telling the truth. She really does trust me, he thought. Granted, he hadn't gotten all that far, but...No, don't think about that, he told himself. For once in your life, just stop worrying. That was actually pretty sensible--had he really thought that? Surprising.

"I'm very glad to hear that," Victor said, putting his other hand tentatively on her knee. "I love you very much, Victoria."

"I know you do," she answered. "I love you as well." Victor gently removed his hand from Victoria's, and put his arm around her shoulders. Victoria rested her head on his chest, and Victor let his cheek rest on her hair.

They sat that way for several moments, enjoying the closeness. Why can't it all be like this? Victor wondered. This is so pleasant, as opposed to...well...Maybe Victor just didn't have the temperament for..well, that. Of course he knew that "marital relations" were part of his duty, but why go so fast? He sighed, pulling Victoria a bit closer to him.

"Well Victor," Victoria said, breaking their contented silence. "What shall we do now?" Victor didn't know. He was sure that he didn't want to make a second attempt at...er, that, and he was fairly certain that Victoria didn't either.

When Victor didn't answer, Victoria said, "Perhaps we should just...go to bed?" What? Maybe I thought wrong! Victor thought, panicking slightly. As though sensing his surprise, Victoria added hurriedly, "I meant to sleep, Victor, go to sleep! Not...er, to bed, you understand." She sounded a little embarrassed.

Oh good, Victor thought with relief. He said, "Well, I suppose we could...But I'm not really all that tired. Are you?" he thought to ask.

"No, not so much," Victoria answered. Then she lifted her head and looked up at him. "You know what we could do..." she said, getting up. Surprised, Victor watched her cross the room to the door. For a second Victor worried that she was going to leave and sleep in the parlor or something--the better to avoid any more of his advances. That's not fair, Victor thought, again disgusted with himself. She just told you she loved you--what more do you want from her?

But no, Victoria wasn't running away--she had just gone to the small table that stood next to the door. In spite of himself Victor was relieved. He watched as Victoria picked something up and headed back toward him, smiling slightly. Looking more closely, Victor saw that she was carrying a book. Victoria sat back down next to him, putting the book into his hands. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne.

"I brought it up here with me. I was already in my room when I realized I'd forgotten to leave it in the parlor," Victoria explained. Victor smiled at her, and ran his hand down the spine of the book.

"Shall we, then?" he asked. Victoria smiled widely back at him by way of an answer. She crawled onto the bed and made a pile of the pillows near the headboard. Then Victoria slipped under the covers, resting her back against the pillows. Victor quickly joined her. They made themselves comfortable, Victor holding the book with an arm around her shoulders and Victoria resting her head on his shoulder. It was very cozy, the two of them curled up together under the blankets with the yellow glow of the lamp falling over them. Victor opened the book and soon found the part of the story where they had left off earlier. Victor, on impulse, leaned down and gave Victoria a kiss. Then he began to read.

Victor soon forgot all of the terror, nervousness, and embarrassment of earlier as he read aloud to Victoria. Perhaps this isn't quite how a wedding night is supposed to go, he thought as Victoria snuggled closer to him, but it is lovely.

Besides, they still had two weeks at the manor house. And a lifetime after that. Really, a few weeks in the country, some privacy, and time to get to know each other--that was all they needed.