Each breath acted as a time keeper, letting Odette know she was one second closer to the sealing of matrimony. She would have suppressed the thought, or even scolded it, had it not been the dominating voice of reality in her mind.

So even while she stood in front of the crowd, both hands on a knife with Derek's, concealed and protected by his arms, she could not focus on many positive things. She couldn't see the genuine smiles on their guests' faces, the coming together for a happy event, or even the beautiful white gown that would be the envy of many brides-to-be. All she could see was the passing of time and an evening that she was not ready to endure...

A mighty cheer swirled up to the ceiling as the knife sliced the delicate white icing of the cake. The vibrations from it seemed to resonate in Odette's head, making her feel light-headed and momentarily disoriented. If Derek's arms had not been supporting her, she most likely would have fallen. The fact did not go unnoticed by him, either; he peered down at her curiously and then gently squeezed her hand in reassurance after seeing a slight sway.

The pair gave the customary grin to their surrounding audience, fractionally shrugging away from the attention they had for the evening.

It wouldn't be long now, Odette kept telling herself, scaring her heart into a thrashing beat. She didn't know why she felt the need to shy away from her duties as a wife, especially since she did not have any personal references to go by, but she did. She was not worried about what would happen to her, since Derek was not willing to even let her out of his grasp let alone hurt her in any unnecessary way; she was not concerned about who she was going to be so intimate with, since Derek was the person she would have picked if given the choice; and she was not shying away from marriage itself. It was her vulnerability in being alone in the dark, unable to see, with another body.

If she was honest, though, that wasn't the only item worrying her.

The fact that she had not had an older sister or a mother to mentor her meant she was going into the night blind and uneducated. How would she know what to do? Are there things you're not supposed to do? How do you make the night as painless as possible?

She would have only a brief time with Uberta as she dressed for bed, and was unsure if she would say anything without prompt.

Odette didn't want to disappoint anyone but she should not inquire about such things.

Together, she and Derek began to make the formal turn about the room. Hand in hand, step-by-step, they walked to the first corner of the floor. He bowed, she curtseyed, and then their guests returned the acknowledgement.

Derek could feel the slight trembles down Odette's arm, and quickly decided upon two plausible reasons for them: she was scared about the room full of people, or she was scared about the night to come.

He couldn't help the pang of guilt shoot down to his stomach, knowing that he would become the cause of the latter. He wished he could make it better, find a compromise that would please the kingdom and his love, but nothing came to mind.

As well as he understood how Odette may be affected by the revelries, he could not do anything to unmake her the object of his affection. He could scarcely take his eyes off of her. She was divine, a goddess of a higher world. The pale flush on her cheek, the flecks of grey in her eyes... there was no way to encapsulate her beauty other than in her physical self.

She set alight fields of burning desire within him; from his fingers to his toes shot a hot, tingling wave anticipating a night of fulfilment.

They came to the next corner of the floor, bowed, awaited the polite response, and then turned to the next group.

Despite the clash of thoughts and emotions, Odette and Derek could not hide their undying infatuation with one another. Their connection was almost tangible. It was enough to make the older, wiser guests grin with pride in the new future King and Queen.

Another bow and a curtsey, and they glided off together, hearing nothing but praise and best wishes from the people they passed.

As much as Odette was terrified, she could not help feeling a tiny twinge of thrill. She wanted to make that sensation the most potent spark inside of her, but she just couldn't. Every smile she passed seemed to just morph into an evil leer, knowing what mysteries lay in the night before her. They were what kept her fear firmly in place.

Derek's hand moved then, brushing his fingers ever so slightly against hers. Odette peered at their outstretched hands. Her delicate, pale one was on top of his strong, tanned one as if to tame it. It would have been comical had his hand not brushed up against hers again as they took another step together. Instead it became a sort of innuendo, one which Odette had always been taught was a sin to conjure as a woman. But, that's what helped to quell the negative feelings that continually crashed up against her insides, so she let the thought develop.

They finally came to the last corner of the floor, acknowledged their guests, and waited for the general response with their heads bowed. After a round of applause meant to show utter acceptance of the future king and queen, Odette and Derek turned around to face the rest of the room. Another grand cheer rose up as they made their final bow for the evening.

Uberta signalled for the trumpets to announce their leaving. In perfect unison, the horns hurled out their tell tale sound and so ended, officially, the evening and began the night. While the guests would be left to enjoy the festivities and the company, the young couple were being sent to celebrate their marriage in a private, more intimate manner.

The crowd parted politely to line the path to the promising doors. Derek and Odette turned, arms entwined like their hearts, and followed a very pleased Uberta and Rogers out. Bromley and Bridget tagged along behind them.

It had taken so many tears and nights of hopelessness to finally get to this evening, and Derek couldn't help but notice the wonderful sense of happiness it gave him to see that he had been right all along. The ceremony, the party, the dancing... it had all been tolerable, when he mustered enough to think about it, but nothing would have been able to distract him from the fulfilment Odette provided as she held onto his arm delicately.

And, today, she had seemed even more of a physical incarnation of a goddess than usual. Derek was too innocent to know why, but he would come to understand by tomorrow morning.

At the doors of what would be their bedroom, the party stopped and turned to face each other, almost as if in a duel. Odette curtseyed to Derek, and he bowed appropriately in return, fighting the urge to just pull her into the room with him and forget propriety for the night.

Odette smiled timidly at her new husband as Uberta put her arm around her shoulders to usher her away. She then led Odette off down the hall, leaving the men to prepare for her arrival.

Together, they turned to face the doors, which Bromley only opened when Rogers snapped at him to do so.

The room was dark, but did not have the damp atmosphere Derek was half expecting. No doubt it would have been mother who ordered the room be aired and clean thoroughly throughout the day.

He shivered at the knowledge that it wouldn't be long before he and Odette would be left alone within these very four walls, exploring, together, a world between the sheets that they had been denied access to until now.

Suddenly the room gained a soft gold glow, and Bromley began removing Derek's cape as he was instructed to do earlier in the day.

"Now Derek," Rogers began, inspecting the torch he had just lit. "As your counsellor, it is my duty to guide you in the right direction when it comes to marital affairs."

Bromley sniggered behind Derek, removing his vest. "Old Man is going to tell you how it works... A little ironic, don't you think?"

Rogers chose to ignore the immature boy he liked to call a braggart, and started pacing back and forth across the length of the room. "A man and a woman fit together like a lock and key-"

Bromley stifled his laugh too late.

"Rogers, please," Derek cried, nudging his chuckling friend with his elbow. "I have been friends with Bromley long enough to know how it works."

Rogers turned a quizzical brow to Bromley, who, in turn, smiled sheepishly.

"Then perhaps mister chivalrous should do the talking for the evening," Rogers quipped, folding his arms defiantly.

Derek had to suppress a groan; the two could not get through one night without bickering or humiliating one another.

"I don't see why not," Bromley offered, shrugging.

"We don't want to corrupt the kingdom with an unhappy marriage, that's why," Rogers replied. "Derek, this is important."

"And I said that I already know everything... maybe even more than you want me to, judging by your reaction," the Prince replied, slipping the nightshirt over his head. "You know I appreciate it, Rogers. But, it's unnecessary."

"Then perhaps some more... fatherly... advice, then, since you've already been tainted by him-" he jerked his head in the direction of Bromley. With his fingers raised in a steeple, he took in a breath. All he could do to stop the images of young, innocent Odette and her proud father appearing was to honour William's wish to have his daughter cared for. "Just remember, she's been taught to react the way she does. It's not necessarily indicative..."

It was true. Odette was being reminded of it at that very moment.

The duty of being a woman, society called it.

She was reminded of the obligations after the details of the pain involved were shared. Intercourse would not be similar to the literary masterpieces for a while, in which time a young woman could do nothing but wait and learn.

The information, though relevant, had not been of particular help. In fact, it took every ounce of courage Odette had to ensure that she did not bolt out of the room and hide in the castle for years to come.

If she was a nervous wreck at her age, she wondered what she would have been like if she had married Derek at eighteen when he first proposed. Would she have been inconsolable, or would child-like ignorance have served her well?

The question swirled around in her head until reality forced its way in. Every gentle pull on the laces of her corset felt as if it were a hook stuck in the skin of her back. Her acute alertness was a reaction she had trouble quelling once it was initiated. It had been a necessary instinct when she was sleeping in a forest with Rothbart mere steps away, and now it was second nature. She often found herself able to count the tiny holes in mortar, or see brush strokes in paintings, when she felt the slightest bit threatened.

Quickly, and skilfully, however, Uberta had the corset completely unlaced and peeled it away from the princess' body. Odette took in a deep breath, feeling a strange cool edge in the air settle in pinpricks down her throat.

Odette turned around to face her new mother, and noted, as she peered over her shoulder, that each thread on the rug stood out in sharp relief.

She knew that she had to suppress her anxiety in order to be a sufficient wife for the night, and the pressure she put herself under made her throat swell up further.

"Calm yourself," Uberta said fondly, placing a hand on Odette's cheek as she noticed the small trembles along her shoulders. "I have raised you a good, kind husband."

"I know..." Odette replied in whisper, looking down at the floor.

Uberta smiled sympathetically at the young woman, understanding the unspoken worries in the crease of her brow.

"The first night is always the hardest, my dear," she offered, taking Odette's hand, "But, it's not the worst thing that could happen to you..."

Bridget began unbuttoning the petticoat and Uberta picked up the nightgown from the bed.

"One day, you will look back, and you will wonder how on Earth you ever felt this way..." the Queen said, pulling the nightgown over Odette's head. "The fear won't last."

Odette found a tiny slither of peace in her conviction, and took in another more relaxed breath to slow down her racing heart. She would survive the night and eventually learn to be skilled enough for Derek, her saviour.

"Come now," Uberta beckoned gently, linking her arm with her daughter, "you mustn't keep him waiting."

Together, though the steps felt like she was poised on knife blades, they left the room in silence, choosing to leave their one light source behind.

They came to a stop, outside the bedroom, too quickly for Odette's liking. Despite the walk closer to the room being mentally excruciating, she preferred it to her 'womanly duties'.

Bridget moved to stand by the door and placed a hand on the latch, waiting for the nod of approval.

Odette stopped her breathing short, a shrill squeak coming from her attempts. Uberta heard the subtly cry for help and could only give her arm an encouraging squeeze. Odette turned to her and received a motherly kiss on the cheek, one meant to say that the night was inescapable. When Odette mustered enough coherent thought to smile in return, Uberta nodded subtly to Bridget and let go of her arm.

From there on, Odette would have to run on instinct.

Derek heard the door crack open from out on the balcony, and so he peered back into the room to see if she had finally arrived. He saw what he wanted to and couldn't help but smile at how coyly his soft, young bride walked into the room. It was as if they were strangers.

Odette opened her eyes once she heard the doors seal shut behind her. It took her eyes a few moments to adjust to the dim lighting, but she could see Derek out on the balcony, his lean body and sun kissed skin coated silver by the moonlight. It took her a moment longer to realise that he had been watching her the entire time.

A gentle breeze made the gossamer curtains billow into the room. It was an enchanting scene, Odette tried to see, but she found herself slightly distracted.

Never before had she seen Derek in the state of undress that he was, and never had she been alone with him unaccompanied.

Derek, turned completely then, and followed the breeze back into the room. He saw a withdrawn look on her face and so Rogers' words rang in his head.

"Odette, please don't fear me," he whispered vulnerably, standing a few steps apart from her. Judging it safe by the hint of life that appeared back in her eyes, he closed the distance between them and gently concealed her within his arms. "I couldn't bear it if you did."

With a soft kiss to her forehead, she peered up at him tentatively. "I could never fear you, Derek."

It was hard to think of Derek without thinking that his needs were like any other man's.

"Perhaps, then, you should just sleep tonight," he suggested delicately, fondly running the back of his hand down her cheek. "I can wait-"

"You don't have to," she said, placing a finger to his lips. He waited to hear the reasoning, but she simply took a portion of a step back from him and brought her hands up to the laces on her nightgown.

Derek knew what she was doing, and put his hands on hers to stop her. He would not refuse if this was what she wanted. "Why hurry?" he asked, lowering his lips to hers. "We have all night."

Suddenly their bodies moulded into one. No longer was there a contour to separate them, and no longer did thick fabric and petticoats conceal the shapes and crevices of their skin. Her hands wound around his neck, and his held firmly to her lower back. Their lips pulled and pushed, crashing down on one another like the waves against a ship, conveying all the hope and pleasure to come in the future. Tenderly, he held onto her like she was the most precious thing in the world.

Then they stood motionless against one another, their breathing already showing signs of labour. Derek brought one hand up the length of her torso to her face. Edging in closer, only just able to see a blue spark in her eyes, he put his thumb across her lips. She gripped onto his sleeve with one hand and the other clawed at the shirt on his shoulders.

With a very delicate touch, he swiped his lips on Odette's then pulled back. She gripped tighter. He withdrew his lips a fraction, but then Odette closed the agonizing gap after a few moments. She followed his leading movements expertly, letting go as he did to sigh against his hand inching over her hips.

Odette took hold of the edge of Derek's shirt and, together, they removed it. He moved in and placed soft, slow trails of kisses along her jaw, then moved up her cheek to her mouth.

He felt her lips pushing on his, urging him to fight back. But he wouldn't, in fear of her stopping what she was doing.

So he let his hands trace the outline of her figure instead, until he stopped at her chest.

Odette's mind started racing. Never had any sensation come close to how she felt now, lost in a scorching world of intense love.

One by one, his fingers pushed into her soft flesh, gently, but still with confidence. Odette stopped kissing Derek's neck and whimpered his name, unable to do anything else.

Encouraged, his hands began to work in a rhythm, discovering how supple a woman's body could be with pure desire. In response, she laced her fingers through his hair and tilted her head back, exposing more of her throat.

Slowly, ever so slowly, he dragged his lips down her neck. She moaned, he moaned. So he moved further down to the edge of her plunging neckline.

Odette could feel his tell tale sign that desire had won him over, and it oddly didn't scare her too much.

But, when she felt his hands pulling on the laces of the nightgown, she felt her throat constrict and had to gasp to inhale.

The fabric fell from her body, sliding over the skin, and pooled at her ankles in a symbol of lost purity.

Now she had nothing to hide from him. Unable to discern his expression, either shock or disgust she was sure, Odette was surprised when he just pulled her back into his arms and let his hands wander over her curves.

A nip on her skin, a caress on the back of the neck, it all would have been wonderful if Odette hadn't noticed that they were in the dark.

"Perhaps the bed would be better," Derek suggested, breathing against her neck. He sounded so different... so masculine.

Odette moved out of his arms and went to lie down on the bed as she had been asked to. Derek followed her, but stood in awe at the foot of it, seeing how the moonlight from outside made her glow like an angel. Her face had soft lines, her breasts stood up firmly, her stomach appeared smooth and flawless...

He got on the bed, after removing his remaining garments, and gingerly ran a hand between her breasts and down her stomach.

He could see the contained fear in her features, again, and knew that there was little he could do to help that.

Odette had to force her legs from snapping together as she felt Derek's hand skimming down her thigh. She had to grip the bed sheets to stop the petrified scream from her lips.

It would be better when she learned that it was Derek holding her body so close and not Rothbart.

A/N: And there you have it. That's then end of my little exploration of Derek and Odette's wedding. Hope you liked it!