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Mrs. Pearce says, "But what's it to look like, sir!"

Higgins says, "What do you mean what's it to look like, it's to look exactly as it did before."

"On the contrary, sir! Eliza living here as your pet project is a very different thing than Eliza living here permanently."

"Everyone in this house lives here permanently. You don't see me having to address what it looks like with Agnes the housemaid, do you? Anyhow, Pickering's here to keep it all aboveboard."

"He won't be here forever, sir," says the housekeeper, ominously.

Pickering adds his voice to the argument. "Forgive me, Higgins, but Mrs. Pearce is correct. I trust you and I know Eliza trusts you, but it must look right."

Higgins throws his arms up. He turns toward the young woman sitting with hands folded on the library settee. "Very well, some ground rules. Eliza, you are never to run off again like you did this morning without telling anyone where you were going. You gave Pickering a real scare."

A cough at the library door. The butler announces, "Mrs. Higgins, sir," and the lady in question sails into the room like an elegant blue-crepe yacht.

"Mother! I thought you were with the bishop."

"I heard Eliza was here and I wanted to make sure it was of her own volition."

"Of course it was of her own volition! What sort of monster do you think you've borne?"

"I ask myself the same question every day, Henry." She crosses the room to Eliza. "How are you, my dear?"

"Very well, Mrs. Higgins, thank you," says Eliza, with a composure that gives credit to her words.

"He can't keep you here, you know, Eliza. If you want to leave, you may at any time."

"Yes," says Eliza. "I prefer to stay."

This throws Mrs. Higgins, but only briefly; she rallies admirably and announces, "She will live with me."

Higgins exclaims, "Nonsense! This is her home."

Mrs. Higgins takes a deep, fortifying breath, as though inhaling all the words she plans to spew with force at her only child, but Mrs. Pearce beats her to the punch. "That's what I've been saying, sir! It isn't proper for Eliza to live here permanently, if she isn't to be staff or student! Sir!"

"I don't give a damn what's proper! I never have, and I'll be damned if I start now!"

Mrs. Higgins snaps, "Watch your tongue, Henry. I don't care that you're a grown man and I don't care that it's your house—don't think I won't march you upstairs and wash your mouth out with soap until you remember the lessons of your youth. Use some manners for once in your life!"

Pickering says, "We might ask Eliza what she thinks."

The conversation in combination with the presence of his mother has driven Higgins across the room to the whiskey decanter; he pours himself three fingers while saying, "She's already said she's here of her own volition."

"Certainly," says Pickering, "but in what capacity?"

All eyes turn toward the settee. Eliza says, "I should think it pretty well obvious. We must be married."

Higgins drops his glass. The others begin to exclaim.

It takes the professor a moment to recover his powers of speech, but when he does, he erupts impressively. "Out! Out! Everyone OUT!" he roars. "Except her."

The others exit with surprising alacrity, considering the size of the crowd; some of this must be attributed to the force with which the professor is able to, in their stunned state, shove them out of the room. He turns on his self-proclaimed greatest triumph.

"Go - to - the - devil, Eliza!"

"Go there yourself. I can't stay here and keep my good name, that which I worked so hard for so long to keep. I haven't any intention of leaving, so if I'm to stay I might as well marry you."

"Oh, you might, might you!"

"Certainly. Besides, you haven't any intention of ever marrying, you've made it clear, and I've lived with you long enough to know I'm not interfering with some grand love affair you're conducting. It should be quite easy for you."

"Packaged me up neatly, haven't you! What about you? You're still young and—sometimes attractive, what happens when a strapping young man catches your eye? Do you mean to make a fool of me? Is this your revenge for the dictaphone?"

"I've had my fill of strapping young men. I find I much prefer the cunning that comes with age."

"In that case you're best marrying Pickering!"

"Perhaps I should marry the Colonel. He has always treated me better than you do. And then, when he returns to India, I may go too."

"Nonsense, when Pickering returns to India we're all of us going too." Higgins strides to the window and looks out with eyes that don't see the street. "Perhaps we might just tell everyone we're married. No vows involved. Then you can stay without any awkward questions, and when you wish to be free, all you need do is repent and vanish with the man of your choosing. Much easier than running the gamut of the divorce courts."

"I won't live a lie. I'll be married or nothing."

He rounds on her. "Ahh HA! So you are a social climber after all! Tell me, creature, was this part of your long con?"

Elisa's placid demeanor gives way to fire. She bounds to her feet, eyes flashing and wrathful. "If that is what you think—if that is what you truly believe—I will walk out that door and never show my face here again. Tell me this instant, Professor Henry Higgins, is that what you truly think of me?"

"I think—I think—Confound you, Eliza." He wilts somewhat. "I think it's borrowing trouble, this plan of yours."

"Yours are much worse," she points out. "Any of yours."

"Yes, yes! Well. You seem quite decided. It strikes me that you have forgotten one important point."

"What's that?"

"We'll kill each other within a single day."

"What a baby you are! We're not dead yet, are we? Though you certainly deserve to be!"

He says, "Marriage is an altogether different beast than whatever these last few months have been. It's permanent. It means no running out like a spiteful cat."

She says, "It's a partnership, too. No insults. No debts. No withholding."

"Listen here, Eliza. I think you'll find me a ghastly sort of husband. I shan't make marriage easy for you (though surely easier than you'll make it for me). If you expect a wedding vow to turn me patient, or forbearing, or polite, or selfless, you're extraordinarily wrong. I warn you now, I shall be jealous of your friends and hobbies and anything that holds your attention for any undue length of time. You'll want me to see things from your point of view, and to put your interests before mine, and I may promise to do so, and I might even mean it, but I'll be lying. I'm a self-important wretch who will want to clip your wings and put you in a little box until I've turned you into a mirror of myself. You'll end up hating me, and rueing the day you turned down that pup Eynsford-Hill, and you'll poison my tea with mushroom powder—and I daresay I'll deserve it. You may be willing to risk it, but you must know the facts."

"Am I to list all my faults now?" she says. "Do you suppose you've told me something I didn't already know? I don't know what the purpose of all that was, unless it was to drive me away. If you don't want to marry me, I won't force you. I had thought that there was enough regard between the two of us to make a go of it. If you'll write me a reference for a new landlady—"

"Didn't I say I want you to stay? How many times must I repeat it?"

"You and your words! If you want me to believe you, you might start acting like you mean them."

"I don't know what else you want me to do. Haven't I welcomed you back into this house? Haven't I had the decency to listen to your harebrained marriage idea instead of tossing you out on the pavement?"

"Decency! That's a word that has never applied to you, Professor, and likely never will."

"No insults," he throws across the room at her.

"We aren't married yet," she flings back.

"You've set a bad precedent, Eliza, you. How am I to know you won't get bored with us and vanish into the ether and abandon me to ridicule just as soon as I've publically stepped into the noose?"

"I don't live for you, Professor. My life and happiness aren't bound up in you."

"Thank God for that!"

"I could strangle you most times. Other times, you... make me very happy. But there is no cause for thinking you'll bore me into leaving when you already play such a small part in contributing to my daily happiness." This is said with some loftiness.

He scowls at her and stuffs his hands in his pockets. "You might want children one day."

"Yes."

"I dare say you know how children are begat, don't you?"

She rolls her eyes eloquently.

"You would suffer me in your bed?"

"I dare say there wouldn't be any suffering about it, if we'd a mind to enjoy each other," she says slowly, and lifts her eyes to his.

For a moment, the library is absolutely silent.

Higgins says, "Well, in that case - in that case, I think—MOTHER! Mother, come back in here."

The library door opens with a speed that indicates there was a hand waiting on the handle. Mrs. Higgins re-enters the room wearing the dissatisfied expression of someone who has been attempting to eavesdrop through the heavy oaken panels and failed. Pickering and Mrs. Pearce file in after her.

Eliza announces, "We've agreed to be married."

Exclamations of excitement from Pickering's corner; Mrs. Higgins makes sounds of bewilderment. Mrs. Pearce groans.

Eliza continues. "Is the bishop still at your house, Mrs. Higgins? Do summon him over. Everyone is here; he can perform the ceremony right now."

Objections around the room, this time, from everyone but Higgins.

"Eliza, you can't really want it like this! No one in attendance, no decor—"

"No bridal feast planned, we're having last night's pot roast for luncheon—you only own the one white dress—"

"There aren't even any flowers in this house—"

"The only people I want in attendance are the people in this room. I don't care about the rest."

"Nonsense. My son is getting married. I can finally throw the party I planned twenty years ago. It will be the social event of the season!"

"Wait a year," says Eliza. "Let him get used to the idea. With any luck he won't have kicked me back to the gutter by then."

"And you won't have absconded with a Royal Ascot jockey," returns Higgins with venom. Eliza slips her hand into his. His fingers close around hers. She says, "Colonel, will you do me the honor of walking me down the—hallway?"

"Hang on!" says Higgins. "He's to be my best man, first and foremost."

"Share, children," says Mrs. Higgins wearily. She sends Eliza upstairs with the housemaids to be ironed and powdered into something resembling a bride, and Mrs. Pearce hightails it to the kitchen to see if anything can be scraped into some semblance of a wedding cake.

~

For one reason or another—guests, unpacking, a visit to city hall—they aren't alone again after their conversation in the library until well into the evening.

Eliza shuts herself in the bathroom for a solid thirty minutes more than Higgins requires to prepare for bed. He listens at the door but all he can hear is water running, then silence, then water running again. He climbs into bed and reads with one eye on the bathroom door.

It finally opens and Eliza appears, her hair in a long braid, clad in her nightgown, swathed in a cloud of lavender.

When she said her vows and wrote her name in the register she was just Eliza. Now, glowing white in lace and linen, she is more bridal than she has been all day, and they are both aware of it. Not a student, or a housemate, or a secretary. A wife.

She slides in between the cool crisp sheets beside him.

"Well," says Higgins. "Goodnight, Eliza." He turns out the oil lamp and settles in beneath the covers, his back toward her.

"If you think I'm going to lay here like a board while you sleep through my wedding night, you're about to learn otherwise," she says fiercely. "I'll be made a proper wife, I will."

"Stuff!" fires back Higgins, who clearly can't think of anything better to say.

There is a moment's silence.

She turns sweet. "I suppose it's because you don't know what to do, seeing as you've scorned female companionship for the bulk of your adult life."

"If you think to goad me into bedding you, Eliza, you're about to learn otherwise."

"I'll help you."

"Will you! Tell me, just what did you and that lizard Eynsford-Hill get up to while I wasn't around?"

She flies up. "How dare you!" she shouts. "Calling my virtue into question on my own wedding night! Apologize right now, or I'll make you sorry—"

"What have I got to apologize for?! I'll say what I want in my own bed!"

"It's our bed now and don't you forget it!"

"I've done everything else you've wanted, Eliza, but I will not, I repeat, I will not be dictated to in my own bed!"

"I'll be made a proper wife or I'll make sure you're never able to act a husband!"

"I'll see you hanged first!"

Such a loud, inelegant argument can only conclude in one way, and it does: the bridegroom shouts, "I warned you, Eliza, you're not going to change me!" and the bride climbs out of the bed, huffing, "I'm going to my own room, where at least things is friendly!"

"Are friendly!" he bellows after her. She storms out, making every footstep count, and slams the door behind her.

Higgins listens to the tick. tick. tick of the clock until four o'clock in the morning. When the chimes of the clock in the foyer go off, he gets up and pads soundlessly down the hallway to Eliza's room.

She is tucked into her bed, sleeping peacefully in the center of a pile of frills. He looks for signs she cried herself to sleep but finds none. Annoyed, he picks up a book and drops it on the bureau with a bang.

She starts and sits up. She's awake like a shot thanks to the combined forces of adrenaline and upbringing. She stares incomprehensibly at him for a moment before saying, "Professor."

"It's Henry to you." He sits on the bed beside her, facing her. "Do you trust me, Eliza?"

"What?"

"Pickering says you trust me."

"How can you ask that, after I put me - my whole life in your hands? What a thing to—"

"I trust you, too." He takes the hand nearest to him in both of his and studies it while he speaks. "Nothing gives me greater joy than speech. The variations, the way it evolves, what it teaches, the secrets it contains, the way it can better a life. It's not without its struggles—" here, a hard look at her, "but it gives me purpose and passion. It's a beautiful give-and-take, can you see it? The moment it loses its joy is the day I throw all my instruments and recordings into the street and take up selling hobby horses. I can't bear the thought of a joyless marriage bed, Eliza. To share such intimacy without that… it would feel false. Empty. Criminal, in its own way."

"I love you, too," she says.

Henry Higgins, Professor of Phonetics, is rendered speechless.

She waits expectantly.

"Love me," he echoes, voice not entirely steady.

"Listen to him. For someone whose business is words, your powers of translation are sorely lacking. What do you suppose I've been saying all day? I said it last night and I said it this morning. You've been saying it too," she says pointedly.

"Haven't," he counters automatically.

"There's one thing in this blessed business I do better than you, and that's knowing how to hear the words between the words. All the ones you skip. You lock them up so tight they leave a shape in the air. I thought we had agreed to stop hurting each other."

"Had we?"

She says firmly, "Yes." His eyes trace her face. She says, "Are you going to let me love you?"

"Well, I—There's a lot to be considered, you know—"

"No there isn't."

He frowns at her.

"There's us. That's all. Do you want me?" she says simply.

"Oh," he says, studying the floor and running a hand over his jaw. "More than I've ever wanted anything in my life."

She holds his other hand in her thin warm one. Her voice is quiet. "Will you let me, Henry?"

"You see—I don't—I'm rather unsure how to… give it back. That part of me is a dusty, creaky box with a rusty latch, Eliza."

"Yes," she says. "Pry it open. Put me inside."

"Well, I… I... I think," he says, with the air of a man working out a difficult sum, "you may be onto something." He takes a deep breath and looks at her. "Where do we begin?"

"All the ones you skip," she says. "I want very badly to hear them."

He smiles with the heartfelt warmth and affection that make Henry Higgins a man worth loving. He brings his mouth so close to her face that the soft skin across her cheekbone skims over his lips as he whispers. She learns that she is lovely and terrible and he cares for her more than he ever thought he could care for anyone. Far more than he cares for himself, as it were. A future without her in it isn’t one worth wanting. He says a great deal more. Her smile is so happy she's nearly incandescent.

He braces himself against the bedframe and leans in, fitting his mouth to hers, not touching her anywhere else. Her fingertips skim across his shoulders; her lips part. He lets go of the bed and melts into her.

His hand slides into her hair; his arm encircles her ribs and pulls her flush to him. They sink back into the mattress, kissing each other long and deep.

~

Agnes hums to herself as she makes her way down the hallway, her arms full of freshly pressed bed linens. The house is quiet; the morning is new and the sun still warming up. She opens the door to what was Miss Doolittle's room and shrieks.

The pair inside, twined together without a stitch of cloth to be found between them, stir slightly at the sound of a slamming door. They reach sleepily for each other, sigh in contentment to find the other located precisely where desired, and sink back into sleep.