A Better Man
Author's Note: Sorry guys! School, distractions, drama, and writer's block are solely to blame. :(
Henry Higgins was once again in a church, and of his own free will. It happened very infrequently in his not-so-short life. Eliza was sitting next to him in the front pew, smiling serenely. Henry often wondered how the ravages of time seemed to never touch his little guttersnipe, when getting out of bed and walking down the stairs were now a chore for him. There were lines around her eyes and mouth, it was true, but they were fine, barely perceptible, and did nothing to diminish the beauty of those features. Her rich dark hair only held a few strands of silver. The very idea that she had agreed to marry him was staggering. He was not young when they walked down the altar, and he was remarkably less so now, as they witnessed the marriage of her-... their son Jack.
"She is a silly creature," Henry whispered to Eliza as Miranda Dobbins, soon to be Hill, walked down the aisle to her betrothed. The girl had features as delicate as a china doll; cornflower blue eyes framed by long, thick lashes, a little snip of a slightly upturned nose with a smattering of freckles on the bridge, and a cupid's bow of a mouth. Her strawberry-blonde hair was piled in curls on top of her pretty head, and she carried a bouquet of pink lilies that matched her suit. The girl's entire ensemble had been designed by Clara, whose sobs could be heard throughout entire church. The affair was small, and informal, as Jack's leave from the army was brief.
"She is a nurse for the military, you can hardly be a silly creature when you are bandaging grotesque wounds," Eliza hissed back, pinching his arm.
"You were an exceedingly silly creature, and managed just fine." Eliza shot him a glare that removed the smug grin from his face. "You are still so very easy to bait, my dear." He took her hand and squeezed.
"Hush now. The ceremony is starting."
Henry tried valiantly to pay attention to Jack's nuptials, but his mind was elsewhere. He was thinking about a cold night, and a ballet, and the woman who gaped incredulously at him when he confessed that what he wanted was her.
"Do not make me flower the sentiment with drivel, Eliza. I'm not a romantic man." He had informed her as she repeated his declaration. The very thought of him being the romantic sort was enough to pull Eliza out of her astonished stupor. She snorted in a very unladylike manner, and agreed with him whole-heartedly.
"And I want you," She had confessed. Were he a demonstrative man, he would have pulled her into his arms right then and there, but he had not. He decided instead to be the inquisitive man.
"My whole life, it would seem."
Still unable to express what he wanted so desperately to do, Henry instead took her hands into his own, and brought them to his lips to kiss them. It was not her mouth, but he would never allow himself to passionately kiss someone in public, no matter how much he wanted.
Eliza was not that disciplined. Her mouth was on his for a brief, thrilling moment, causing his grip to tighten on her gloved hands. She looked contrite as she pulled away.
"Oh, God. I shouldn't have done that... Professor, I am so very sor-" He lost the war with his emotions, and cut her off by reciprocating her innocent kiss. He hands flew to her face, cupping it gently as he deepened the kiss, pulling away only when she moaned slightly into his mouth.
"Well now that's done, Henry Higgins. You'll have to marry me. There are witnesses to your shameless debauchery", she whispered, turning her gaze over his shoulder. He craned his neck to see a pair of ruffians, ages six and eight, staring in Henry and Eliza's direction. He turned back to her.
"I suppose I will do just that, if you are open to the idea."
Turns out she had been very open to the idea.
They had stood at the very altar that Jack and his beloved stood at, only a lifetime ago. Their own wedding was just as sparsely attended, although with Miranda's circle of girlfriends, this ceremony was a bit more giddy than Henry and Eliza's reserved affair.
Jack had still been a child. Henry choked back the emotion that had plagued him ever since the boy had enlisted. Not a boy anymore... a man. Henry and Eliza's union did not produce any children, but Henry didn't care. His Jack had been son enough. Ten boys of his own blood couldn't have made Henry as proud as he was of the child he had helped raise since infancy. He prayed Jack would return from the war to have a long fulfilling life with the silly girl he had chosen. He prayed the boy would have decades more time on the earth than his poor father, Freddy.
Now his attention was on the ceremony. Miranda was glowing with girlish delight, undoubtedly pleased with her choice of husband, and Jack was blushing. There had been nothing but praise for the girl in the letters he sent home. She had nursed a bullet wound that he retrieved. Nothing to cause alarm, and certainly not the sort of wound that would debilitate and ultimately send him home.
Eliza absolutely adored her, of course. Henry supposed that there was a part of him that liked the girl as well. Her delicate appearance did not mirror her inner-strength, clearly.
Just as Eliza's steel spine was masked by lace, silk, and an achingly sweet figure.
Why did she stay with someone as old as he? Henry was nearing blindness, as was constantly plagued by a rhuematism that exacerbated his ill temper. Yet, she stayed, and he was grateful for that.
He lifted a hand to tuck a stray stand of hair behind her ear, and she smiled at him. Why had he wasted so many years not being with her? Foolish. Now it seemed that their days were numbered.
"Don't give me that sour look, Henry Higgins." Eliza chided.
He managed to smile back at her. He had gotten his lifetime with the squashed cabbage leaf of Covent Garden, and for that gift, he would put away his regrets forever.
"Who is being sour, you silly girl?" He asked.