A/N: Guys! Suddenly I remembered this old collection of stories, and decided to edit the worst mistakes out of it. So, there you go. You should also know that: a) English isn't my native language - and b) These stories aren't linked, they're one-shots - I'm just too lazy to create a new story every time...

Heartbeat

Sophie yawned and straighted her back, which protested the act with loud crunching. She groaned as every clack passed painfully through her back. No one was around to hear her - Michael had already gone to bed and Calcifer was sleeping in the fireplace. Howl was in his room upstairs as well, so Sophie was alone in the downstairs and could moan and groan without getting any pitying or odd looks on her.

Sophie dipped the rag into the water and started to hum a song Calcifer had teached her. Her voice as an old woman was a bit tremulous as she sung softly, "Oh my darling, oh my darling, oh my darling Clementine..."

"Thou art lost and gone forever, dreatful sorry Clementine!" continued a familiar voice from the stairs. "Sophie, Sophie." Howl said her name smiling and shaking his head at the same time. "Always at work!"

When Sophie heard his voice she flinched and turned around, angry that he had been eavesdropping her. She did her turn too fiercely, and something clicked in her back. The sudden pain caused her cry out loud and bend to double - which made the wizard strode to her.

"It's nothing, I'm okay", she tried, but Howl laid his hand on her back, exactly on that spot where the pain was the most severe. Sophie moved her old eyes on him. There was a slight flash in his glass-green eyes and she stood back astonished - the pain was gone.

The peculiar moment of silence lasted for a few heartbeats, but then Sophie recuperated from her shock. "Do you normally eavesdrop me?" she huffed, remembering how he had continued her song earlier.

Howl smirked, back to his own self again. "Not at all. I only came down to see if you were still drudging. You should get some sleep!"

"As an old crone you don't really need that much sleep anymore."

He raised his other eyebrow, looking at her incredulously. Sophie rised her hands defiantly on her hips. Howl in turn lifted his hands up to air. "Peace! I don't want to fight, I only came to watch that you wouldn't work yourself alive. Althought", he added, "I don't think that's even possible."

Sophie sighed and put down her hands. Howl offered her a chair, looking demanding. She sat down without any complainings - she was admittedly exhausted. Not until now did she properly take notice on his messy hair and shabby nightshirt He was looking quite natural now, yet he was even more handsome than with all his beauty spells. Sophie just couldn't understand why he made so much effor with his looks if without all that magic and spells he was still looking like that.

It was too late when Sophie realized that she was staring at him, and that he had caught her staring at himself. Howl grinned. Sophie snorted.

"Is there still a lot of work to do?" Howl asked.

"Well, not actually, I'm going to bed quite soon."

"Good."

Today has been a stressful day, scarecrow's attack and everything. Howl was being exceptionally solicitous, it made Sophie a little embarrassed.

"Sophie, do you have a family?" Howl asked suddenly. Sophie couldn't see his face, he had turned away from her.

She was confused. Family? Then she realized - Howl assumed she was as old as she looked like, and was referring to a husband and children. Sophie decided to answer truthfully for once.

"I have as much children as I have husbands - none", Sophie stated, still sitting on the chair, leaning against her cane. Howl turned to look at her.

"Have you ever had a husband?"

Sophie thought should she start to tell lies about 'poor deceased Alfred-dear', but she reasoned that it was better to lie as less as possible.

"I am what I am - a lifelong old maid." Then she decided to add her credibility. "My parents were not happy about it, but I said; what to sorrow, we've still got my dear sisters and their dear children. They are gone now, my parents, but I can still remember how my father looked at me with that sadness in his eyes while seeing how I got older and uglier day after day." She sighed, as if she was remembering her late parents. "Why are you asking?"

Howl's expression was ambiguous. Slowly he straightened his legs, stood up, stretched himself and yawned. He smacked his mouth and said, "Good to know."

That, too, was ambiguous.

He started to walk towards upstairs. "But if that really is true, you getting uglier day after day, I would've liked to see you when you were young, indeed. You were probably the most beautiful woman in the whole town", he noted sleepily, without any clear mockery while climbing up the stairs. "I'm going to bed now. Good night, Sophie."

She did not answer, and he was not expecting her to do so. The girl was sitting on the chair as an old woman, watching the sleeping fire. Eventually she blew the candles off, crawled into her bed under the stairs and fell to sleep. The castle glided slowly in the waste, at the same pace with the moon.