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Propriety

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Sophie was out of sorts about spending the night in the market chipping house. She wanted to cap off the beautiful, intimate day she had with Howl by sleeping in his arms in their bed in their room in their castle. And possibly make love properly for a third time (she blushed thinking about their busy day off exploration). But Howl insisted she go, quoting another trifling Welsh tradition about not seeing the bride before the wedding.

“You would never even meet the bride with a tradition like that!” Sophie complained, standing in the bookcase doorway. “Unless it's all arranged marriages over there. Is that the real reason you ran away?”

Howl looked up at the ceiling and sighed deeply.

“Sophie, cariad, please do this one thing for me.”

“Don't you cariad me, Howl Jenkins. I'm not some moony eyed girl taken in by a dramatic pose and a handsome smile. I know the real you - temper tantrums and all - and you can't flatter me into getting your way.”

“But I cleaned my room…” Howl raked his hand through his hair helplessly.

"Our room," Sophie corrected haughtily, and then added “I'll not reward you for something you should have done years ago.”

“Sophie,” Howl took her chin in his hand, his voice soft and warm.

As much as she wanted to resist, Sophie wanted his intimacy even more. She melted under his touch.

“Howl,” she said, her eyes softening from their fury.

“If you stay with me tonight I won’t want to control myself,” Howl hummed.

“I won’t want you to,” Sophie leaned forward, nearly touching his lips with hers.

“But tomorrow is a big day and I must have my beauty rest if I'm to stand before all of Ingary.”

Sophie snapped out of her lovestruck trance and smacked Howl’s hand away from her face.

“Fine,” she said through gritted teeth. “You can stand up there all alone then.”

“You don’t mean that,” Howl said, laughing and pleading all at once.

But Sophie was already closing the bookshelf between them.

“Sophie wait,” Howl said, reaching his hand through the narrowing gap in the wall.

Sophie stopped and relaxed slightly. She hoped he’d changed his mind and wanted her to stay.

“You’ll send me your love tonight?” Howl asked, his eyes begging.

Sophie’s eyes opened round as saucers. She slammed the bookcase shut with a frustrated grunt, narrowly missing Howl’s hand.

“The nerve of that man!” she said to her room.

Sophie realized that perhaps this wasn’t the best way to treat her fiancé on the eve of their wedding. Nor was it the best way to treat him on the same day they shared such intimacy for the first time. But he was Howl and Howl could be so… infuriating. Besides, he’d already seen her at her worst and still fell in love with her. She threw caustic weed killer right at his head and he still offered her a happily ever after - willingly chose to be pinned down. Why should she now sit back and accept his frivolity with a smile? Just because of a wedding? Just because he had been inside of her?

Sophie gripped and paced about, taking much of the evening to calm down. But of course she still worried about Howl's loneliness and sorrow. And so she clutched Howl’s earring in her hand and sent her love to him with all the earnestness she could spare.

Settling into her bed, Sophie couldn’t sort out the swell of emotions stirring round inside her. Yes, she was angry at Howl for leaving her alone but also felt so much love and affection for him. She felt another sort of warmth over the intimacy they shared. She was hopeful for the future and excited and nervous for the wedding. All that and Sophie hadn’t even begun to untangle her feelings about the discussion she had with Fanny yesterday. It was all too much and she just wanted to be held. But she suspected that if she wandered into the castle Howl would send her right back round and she was, frankly becoming too tired for another fight. Besides, her family would arrive early to help her preen and prepare. She really ought to be here when they arrive.

So Sophie settled into a restless sleep alone. It was a night full of tossing and turning.

She wondered if this was how every bride felt on the eve of her wedding.

---

Lettie pinched Sophie’s nose shut, snapping her out of a dreamless doze.

“Ow! Lettie!” Sophie cried, swatting at her sister’s hand. “I thought you’d be done with that since we’ve grown.”

“Sophie, I will always do my best to torment you, no matter how old we are or how far away you live from me.”

“How did you get in here, anyway?” Sophie asked, sitting up and rubbing her nose.

“Howl let me in through the bookcase,” Lettie said.

“He shouldn’t have,” Sophie grumped.

“Why? Your secret’s out Sophie, there’s no need to hide anymore.” Lettie sat down on the edge of the bed. She was already dressed in her wedding finery; a lovely green gown and silver jewels. Her dark, curly hair was pinned up in an intricate style.

Sophie wondered when her sisters had become such early risers and she had become such a late sleeper.

“Fanny still doesn't know about the bookcase," Sophie complained. "And it’s not nice to have people appear in your room without warning."

Lettie sighed and handed Sophie a mug of tea from the bedside table. Sophie hadn’t even noticed it in her grogginess and accepted the drink graciously.

A knocking came at the front door.

“That would be Martha and Fanny!” Lettie hummed and rushed out of the room and down the stairs.

Sophie sighed into her drink.

Sitting in her bed with her tea listening to Lettie and Fanny and Martha’s excitement downstairs was the last moment of peace Sophie had. And the moment was quite short. Very soon Sophie was out of bed and in a little chair across the room being accosted with hairbrushes and makeup and other implements of grooming torture.

“This is all very unnecessary,” Sophie said, attempting to dodge some pinkish lipstick. “I look how I look, why should I change that for one silly day?”

“Oh Sophie.” Martha rolled her eyes.

Fanny continued her gentle humming, ignoring Sophie’s protests.

“I see Howl’s been up to some mischief again,” Lettie said, touching a tender spot on Sophie’s neck. “But I suppose you won’t mind if all of Ingary sees. I’m sure the king will understand.”

Sophie covered the spot on her neck with her hand and felt her entire body turn hot with flush. This sent Martha into a laughing fit. Fanny kept on humming.

“Fine,” Sophie said, finally crossing her arms. She added, “I’m sorry, Fanny.”

“I’m only hearing what I want to hear today and ignoring the rest. Think of it as a wedding gift,” Fanny said merrily.

Lettie smirked and continued her assault on Sophie’s skin.

Once the hair and makeup was complete the three women examined their work. Sophie fidgeted with her nightgown under their scrutiny. When Fanny decided she was satisfied she sent Lettie and Martha downstairs to fetch the dress.

Once they were alone Fanny sat on the edge of the bed facing Sophie.

"Traditionally, this would be an appropriate time for me to share my wisdom with you as a married woman," Fanny said. "Living together, intimacy, compromise. But what is there for me to say that you haven’t already experienced?”

Sophie thought Fanny seemed a bit sad. Regardless, she kept up her happy demeanor.

“But I won’t have you suffer through a lecture where you feel you must feign ignorance for my benefit," Fanny continued. "Not as I had to do on my wedding day with my mother. Especially not since you’re already so much more worldly than I was. So all I’ll say is I love you and if ever you need advice perhaps you could turn to your old stepmother.”

“Oh Fanny!” Sophie jumped up and embraced her.

“You’ll squash your hair!” Fanny cried, pushing Sophie back after a brief hug.

Lettie and Martha soon appeared with the dress and Sophie was accosted all over again - this time with constricting undergarments. After Sophie was properly pinched and pulled and tucked and stuffed into her dress she was allowed to examine the results. She was of the same opinion as her family that she did look rather agreeable. The dress fit her in a flattering way, the makeup that Lettie and Martha chose highlighted her favorite features like her blue-green eyes and round cheeks, and hid the perpetual red undertones of her skin. They didn’t try to make her look too glamorous like Howl would surely be; she simply looked like herself brought to the forefront.

“It’s lovely,” Sophie said, admiring the pinned up hairstyle with curls cascading down her shoulder, expertly draped over the makeup-covered mark on her neck.

“Yes, well. The carriage is waiting in Kingsbury, we haven’t time to dwaddle,” Fanny said, wiping at her eye.

“Let’s take the bookcase,” said Martha. “Sophie, which book is it?”

“Bookcase?” Fanny asked curiously.

“Oh no, don't,” Sophie said, forgetting her makeup and holding a hand to her face.

But Lettie had already strode over and pushed the correct book. The shelf creaked and swung into the castle.

“Amazing!” Martha exclaimed.

“Oh no!” Sophie cried again. Her last secret was no longer secret.

Fanny peered through the entryway then closed her eyes and inhaled through her nose.

“I’m only hearing what I want to hear today, and seeing what I want to see,” she said. “What a lovely, brand new passageway. Very brilliant that Howl made it just for this morning. Alright, off you go.”

She motioned for Sophie to pass through.

Deciding to take Fanny’s gift for what it was, Sophie complied and headed into the castle with Lettie, Martha and Fanny trailing behind. After all, she’d soon be married and this would all be a bump in the past.

When she turned the corner to the staircase Sophie stopped in her tracks. Howl stood at the bottom of the stair, leaning against the wall in a careful pose that made him seem casually charming. He wore his beautiful wedding suit which truly did suit him as much as Sophie supposed it would. He had been hard at work with his beauty spells; his skin was smooth and his eyes shone and his fair hair, half pulled back in a ponytail, looked like silk. He was ethereally beautiful.

“Your tradition,” Sophie scolded from the top of the staircase, folding her arms.

“Is to not see the bride before the wedding,” Howl said, extending his hand toward her.

Sophie raised her eyebrows and gestured about, exasperated as she started down the stairs.

“Are we in Kingsbury? Is this the grand hall? Is the king here? You put up all that fuss over tradition just to- OH!”

When she reached the bottom of the stairs she saw.

Strings dotted with little lights drooped from the ceiling. Sophie had no idea how the lights worked but assumed it was some kind of magic. White and purple satin streamers criss-crossed along the rafters and draped down the walls. Lit candles and an assortment of white and purple flower arrangements were displayed across the room and the floor was covered in white rose petals.

Michael and Ben were there wearing very smart looking suits, though neither was as ostentatious as Howl. Calcifer glowed a deep shade of blue and crackled happily from his spot in the fireplace. Even Megan and her family were there dressed up in their odd sort of Welsh clothes; Gareth looking about suspiciously, Neil putting an awful lot of effort into seeming bored, and Mari fidgeting with her finery. Megan held a small rectangular box with a glass circle sticking out of it up to her face. Sophie thought it was a gift at first but realized it was some sort of magical… thing. Meghan pushed at the top of the box and it made a click-whirrr sound followed by a bright flash of light that made Sophie have to blink several times to regain her sight. She wondered what the point of such a box was. Howl didn’t seem perturbed by it so Sophie decided it would be best not to make a fuss at her new sister-in-law. Not yet anyway.

“I was so worried you'd spoil another surprise by sneaking down here early. Do you like it?” Howl asked, taking Sophie’s hand.

“What is this?”

“It’s your wedding,” Martha butted in, handing Sophie a bouquet of lilacs.

“It was mostly our idea,” added Lettie.

“And mostly my labor,” Howl said, not to be outdone.

Michael made a very put-upon sigh.

Calcifer crackled in a way that suggested he was clearing his throat.

“And Michael and Calcifer helped,” Howl mumbled.

“All your planning - the doves, the hall, the king. It was a trick?” Sophie asked suspiciously.

“Oh no, that will still be happening,” Howl said, pulling Sophie to the middle of the room with him.

“I don’t understand,” Sophie was too stunned to collect her thoughts. She absently followed where Howl led her, marvelling at the beautiful room.

“I realized I don’t want to live the rest of my life hearing you complain that I didn’t give you the wedding you wanted, so-”

“Don’t you cheek me. Not today of all days!” Sophie interrupted.

"So I decided you deserved the wedding you want. But I also deserved the wedding I want, don’t I?” Howl took Sophie’s other hand in his. “So why can’t we have both?”

“It- it’s… unusual,” Sophie stammered.

“I don’t think a single thing about our lives has been usual. Why should we start now, cariad?”

Sophie looked up into Howl’s earnest face smiling down at her. They were standing roughly in the same place they first held hands smiling at each other. She realized she hadn’t an argument about the subject and let her mouth spread into a smile as well.

“My gift!” Sophie said, noticing Howl's empty earlobe. It was tinged red and purple from Sophie's own love bites and she wondered if he left it that way on purpose or not.

Sophie pulled at the string on her neck, removing the earring from it. Howl bent down to allow her to put it in place. Both smiled and gently laughed all the while.

“Quite an impressive bit of magic,” she heard Ben whisper to Michael.

“Well?” Sophie asked when Howl straightened.

Howl put one hand over his heart. “I’m overwhelmed. It's perfect.”

Sophie covered his hand with hers. Hearing the click-whirr of Megan's box she straightened and felt herself furiously blushing.

Howl laughed and took her chin in his hand.

“Sophie, cariad. You're allowed to afford me some affection in front of family at our own wedding.”

“Yes, well. Don't get carried away,” Sophie mumbled.

Howl smiled his soft warm smile. A smile without posing or pretense that he saved only for Sophie. He leaned forward and gave her the gentlest of kisses.

Click-whirr *flash*

And so, as Sophie and Howl held hands smiling at each other Ben delivered a queer speech that he and Howl both claimed to be Welsh tradition.

“I've had to endure that one already,” Sophie said at the bit about sickness and health.

“We’ve already tested that one extensively,” Howl said at the bit about for better or worse.

Sophie snorted quite emphatically at the bit about taking each other for richer or poorer then added, “the spendthrift you are, it will be poorer I suspect.”

Gareth attempted to mind Mari’s fidgeting and Neil tried hard to look impassive. Megan alternated between making fawning noises at the couple and making that click-whirrr *flash* with her little box.

Lettie and Fanny, holding each other’s hands dabbed at the tears in their eyes. Martha leaned into Michael, letting her own tears flow openly. Michael wrapped a comforting arm round her, making content little sighs.

And Calcifer flickered and crackled from the fireplace without much comment. He was much too curious about watching his first human wedding ceremony, and cared for Sophie too much to interrupt. It would be much more fun to make mischief during the ceremony in Kingsbury anyway.

Soon enough there would be pomp and grandeur and the king’s speech and receiving lines and toasts and dancing and all types of other formalities.

But for now, with just their family watching on in the place they came together, the place they fell in love, the place they saved each other’s lives in more ways than one, Sophie and Howl held hands smiling at each other as they each said “I do.”