By Min Farshaw

Chapter eight: In which Sophie and Howl are very wet.

This was the absolute last straw. It was penultimate. Sophie wasn't exactly certain what penultimate meant, but it had such a definite feel too it that she found it appropriate, and at just that moment, she couldn't be bothered with looking up the meanings of words.

She stormed up the stairs, felt the walls quiver with the force of her will. Howl's bedroom door burst open, scattering the sheets of the unmade bed and the trash that had mysteriously accumulated there.

The seals around the edges of the extra door trembled with pathetic resistance as she directed at them the full force of her glare. They burst into flames all at once and fell to the carpet in little heaps of ash. Sophie touched the metal knob and she felt the inner workings of the lock melt away. A trickle of ultra-hot metal poured from the keyhole and Sophie flung it away, her magic protecting her bare hands. It hit the wall above Howl's headboard and stuck there like a chunk of glue, or perfectly done pasta. It did not burn the wall, but formed a particularly interesting threatening pattern over where Howl's head would normally be when he slept.

The lock broken, Sophie flung open the door. There was a closet behind it.

On some level, Sophie had always known that it was going to be a closet. After the strange closet full of cleaning supplies, Sophie had a strange feeling that the room issue was far from over. However, this did nothing to cool her temper. She blew past rows of hanging shirts and a few dusty jackets, far less elaborate than the silver and blue confection, or even the red and grey garment in it's lesser complexity. They were obviously very old, and didn't appear to fit very well. Sophie's one extra dress hung in the back, along with some ridiculous thing made of yellow and white silk that Sophie supposed Howl would look particularly dashing in. She stripped off the ruined grey silk dress, not even caring if Michael and the rest of the natural born world stood outside the door to the closet. The outer layer of petticoats went with it, and then the second, until she was stuck shivering in her shift. Her old dress went over her head, and a plain white apron soon followed to cover the places where she had to patch the woollen material. She even left the ruined clothes on the floor, a mark of her obvious rage.

Sophie stormed back to the main room. Micheal and Calcifer were there together, their heads bent in conference. She ignored them and began pulling book after book off the shelf.

" Locating spell." She growled, and the pages of the book she had selected ruffled open until the appropriate spell was turned face up on the page.

" Sophie! What are you doing!" Micheal cried in horror.

" Finding Howl."

" But you can't!" He said in protest

" Can't I?" Sophie asked dangerously.

" Umm, you're.. emotionally unstable and, err, it could umm lead to dangerous things?" Micheal attempted pathetically, surreptitiously attempting to ease the book from her hands, " Howl will come back on his own, I'm sure"

" No. No he won't" Sophie said, her hands flattening on the book, " He took his clothes with him, he isn't going to be back for a good long while." Micheal's mouth went round, the shape of an 'O'.

Sophie took this time to snatch the book from Micheal's hands. She screwed up her eyes so that she could read the words properly. It required an object of Howl's, so she pounded up the stairs, still reading. She came into Howl's room, and searched for any suitable object. On the night table lay a glittering pile of tangled jewelery, earrings mostly, but with one or two finger rings tossed carelessly into that jumble. She teased out a jet black taper that she remembered him wearing once. Holding it in her palm, she began to read.

The words were strange and foreign to her, and her tongue twisted around them in uncomfortable ways, and she began to feel the spell grow raw in her throat. As she read though, the words began to come to her faster and faster, jumping over each other in their rush to be set free. A wind, she was not sure if it were real or imagined, began to pick up at her feet as the magic began to burn. Suddenly she realized that she didn't know what she was doing any more, and her anger flashed to fear. It was too late to stop it now as the last three words flew out of her flaming throat. She found her body completing the spell with absolutely no instruction from her brain, as she blew gently on the earring.

For a moment nothing happened.

Then it was like lightning had struck her. Sophie felt all of her muscles contract into rigidity and all sound had just simply gone away. The next thing she knew, there was a smoking hole where Howl's bedroom window had been. The earring was no where in sight, and Sophie felt sick to her stomach. Worse, she still had no idea where Howl was. Sophie staggered over to the window and peered out but she couldn't see anything. She leaned out further and felt suddenly dizzy, as if the most intense feeling of vertigo had struck her. As the smoke cleared she saw herself looking out into Megan Parry's backyard.

This made so little sense that it left Sophie to lay hanging out the window in a daze, even though she could hear Micheal pounding on the door behind her, asking if she were alright. Sophie saw Megan herself tear out into the backyard, a soapy frying pan in hand, her sleeves rolled up to her elbows and her curly hair pulled back into a sloppy ponytail.

" What the blazes is going on out here?" Megan shouted, brandishing her pan like a weapon. She turned and saw the ginger haired girl hanging out the window, " Sophie?" She cried, shading her hand against the sun, " What the hell just happened?"

Sophie dragged her head up and tried to focus in on Megan without going queasy again. " I was trying to... I was trying to find Howl" Her words seemed strange to her own ears, " It didn't work. It didn't work, he's not here." she said dazedly. Her throat still felt raw and scratched

"Howell?" Megan asked, " He hasn't come back yet? He was here, didn't he tell you where he was going?" Sophie's vision began to clear and she found that her rage was slowly coming back to her. Howl was there? He had been to Whales?

" What are you talking about?" Sophie said, " He was supposed to be in the bathroom." Sophie was beginning to expect that Megan was catching her anger. Sophie found herself trying to climb out of the second story window against all reason. Micheal finally burst through the door just in time to see Sophie's red gold hair bobbing out of sight. He dashed over in panic too see her slowly and unsteadily climbing down a decorative trellis that Megan had set up outside her house.

" What are you doing!" Micheal asked in utter horror.

" Go watch the shop Micheal. I'm just going to track down Howl is all." Sophie said, concentrating on her next foothold. That was a lot harder than she thought it would be. Megan had apparently dropped the frying pan, because Sophie felt her tugging gently at her skirts. Gratefully, she let the older woman guide her down the final bit, mostly because she wasn't entirely sure if she could make it on her own. Micheal had apparently disregarded the order because he looked likely to climb down after her in fear. " I'm fine. Go look after the roses." Sophie shouted at him, before she turned away, not really caring if he did or not. The roses could go hang as long as she was concerned, she had a wizard to find

Sophie was both pleased and shocked to discover that the spell had indeed worked, after a fashion. She could feel where Howl was, and he wasn't in Megan's house. He was... West ish she thought, and she felt a tug at her chest. The tug grew stronger, so she had to move. She had to find him now, so she started walking, brushing past the bewildered Megan and almost started climbing the fence before Megan pulled her down again.

" What on earth are you doing my dear?" Megan said, keeping her hand on Sophie's shoulder.

" I have to find Howl. I'm compelled to find him. If you let go of me right now, I'll probably climb over that fence and run him down." Sophie said, and shivered at the sound of her own voice, " If you don't let go of me, I'll probably do something I'll regret, and I won't be able to stop myself. Please let me go Megan." Sophie had begun to crackle somewhat, so Megan let go. Sophie climbed over the fence with a determined look on her face.

She pattered down the street, suddenly realizing that she had no shoes. However, even this failed to stop her. She used to run around shoeless all the time when she was little. The rough texture of the ground bit into her soles as she began to move faster and faster, ignoring the small, pointed stabs of the gravel that was scattered about. The direction was coming clearer now, and faster. Turn right here, up this street. She had taken to running across the broad black/grey expanse of road without care. She was certain that someone almost hit her at least once. She didn't know how long she walked for, or how long the spell had taken, but it was starting to grow dark.

This is the building she thought suddenly, looking up. It was a drab brick thing with a glowing sign at the second floor window. The bottom looked to be some sort of corner shop or something. She pushed her way in to the tinkle of a little bell.

The shopkeeper behind the till looked up from his newspaper, first at her face, but she saw his eyes travel downward, taking in the dishevelled state of her hair, her odd manner of dress and finally her bare feet.

" 'ey You can't come in here like that miss!" He said with a rather pointed glance to her dusty feet. Sophie ignored him, and began to pointedly stalk the rows of merchandise that lined the store. Not There. He wasn't there. That was... impossible, she felt him, he was right where she was standing.

" Where is he, where are you hiding him?" Sophie cried, standing right before the portly shopkeeper. He calmly folded his newspaper.

" I don't know strictly who you're talking about miss." He said, adjusting his piggy little glasses, " If it's your young man or some such, you might want to try upstairs at the pub" He pointed upwards with the paper. Sophie's gaze followed the paper product and suddenly she knew. He was there.

" Show me, How do I get up there." She said. It wasn't a request, it was an order. The man adjusted his glasses again,

" You head round back and up the stairs under the sign. First door on your left" he told her, appraising. Then he glanced down at her bare feet again. " On the other hand missy, you're in no condition to be wandering around in dark alleys. I'll take you up the front way." He touched his glasses again, and for the first time, Sophie looked down at her feet. She blushed ashamedly at him, and he smiled a little. What was she really doing here after all?

Sophie followed the man back through the store to a little side door. He pulled out a large jangling bunch of keys from his belt and unlocked it. Sophie stepped through cautiously.

" Ye be needing any help missy?" The shopkeeper asked suddenly, grasping her arm, " Young men are an unpredictable lot." Sophie smiled suddenly at this strange, courteous man.

" I'm fine, I'll be fine." She told him, suddenly feeling like herself again, " I'm sorry for earlier." She turned then and went up the long dark stairwell.

There was a door at the end, with a tiny landing. She opened it a crack, suddenly finding that all of her anger had gone. She was drained of it, like water escaping a balloon, and now she felt stretched. But she opened it anyway, to poke her nose around.

The room was nearly empty of patrons, only a few rugged looking men scattered around drinking alone or in pairs at the scattered tables. It was a weekday now after all. Howl was relatively easy to pick out, being the only one in a jacket, and the only man who appeared to brush his hair on a semi-regular basis. He sat alone at the bar nursing a mug of something. She wanted to go in, but something held her back.

" What was I thinking," He said quietly, hunching over on his barstool, " A girl like her, What was I thinking!"

"Cheer up then," said the barkeep, " it can't be that bad. From what you said, I get the impression..."

"Blast impressions!" Shouted Howl, " She... do'you know what she's done to me! She's infiltrated every part of my life, every part of my head and I can't get her out."

Sophie stood stock still, completely unsure of his meaning. Why was she always unsure? Why could she never get closure on this issue? It made her head hurt Did he want her out? Was all that marrying buisness just drunk talk? But he was drunk again now wasn't he?

The bartender said something then that Sophie didn't hear. She wormed her way through the door a bit so she could hear better. One of the dirty patrons looked at her, but she didn't hear

" She's the wrong age," Howl said, and Sophie's heart stopped, " It was simple before. She was old and nothing had to happen. Nothing had to happen. She was safe." He took a long draught, " Too young She's too young."

" I think you've had a few too many." Said the bartender, but the damage would done.

"What are you talking about, this is only my second drink."

Sophie's heart started beating again and she wanted it to pound out of her chest. She had to get out, she couldn't look at him any more, not after that. She slammed the door with a choked sob and pounded down the stairs. The shopkeeper had left the door at the bottom ajar, so she tore through that too, locking it behind her with magic.

" You alright Miss?" the man asked, but she didn't hear, just staggered out the door into the street. A yellow street lamp was lit, and she realized that it was night. When did that happen? Where did the hours go? Did it matter? Sophie was in love with a man and he couldn't stand her. Old, why couldn't she be old again. Then she was safe then he was safe.

One of those wretched moving metal beasts rolled up to the curb, and the window scrolled down to reveal a very concerned looking Megan. Michael sat in the other seat, looking concerned as well, but almost as if he were going to be sick.

" Sophie dear," Megan called, " are you alright?" No she wasn't.

" I'm alright," She sobbed, " Just let me go. " She bolted again, staggering in front of the hood of Megan's car. Another blazing metal beast rushed by her as if to prevent her from crossing but she ran through anyway, the gravel of the road biting painfully into her feet. She ran blindly until her feet felt cool grass. She was in a park. She tripped and fell, grass stains on the knees of her dress, but she kept running until she found the fountain. Finally, Sophie stopped, gasping for air in choking sobs.

" Sophie!" She stiffened. It was a man's voice. It was his voice. She stayed turned, resting her hands on the fountain's cool stone rim. " Sophie!" again came the cry, closer this time. Her hands dipped into the cool water, " Sophie," She heard, as his breath whispered against the back of her neck, warm in the cool summer evening's air. She felt a hand at her elbow, grasping, unsure. She turned, her hands full of water and slapped him in the face.

Howl staggered back , water dripping from his lashes and the ends of his carefully dishevelled hair. She wanted to scream, but the expletives wouldn't come.

" What was that for!" He shouted, cradling his injured cheek. She stared at him accusing. He sighed, " You heard. What did you hear."

" Enough."

" I was drunk."

" It still means you thought it."

" Thought what?" he begged, trying to approach. She pressed closer to the cool stone.

" Is that how you think of me Howl! That I'm better of as an old lady?" she sobbed, " So you don't have to do anything, you don't have to try. Am I too young? I'm not a miss Angorian, twenty five with raven black locks. Just nineteen with ginger hair. You want me out Howl? Well you win."

" Sophie! No!" He begged. He tried to touch her shoulder and she jerked away violently, sending Howl unexpectedly head first into the fountain. He was wearing a new jacket, she suddenly realized, green and black. He looked so pathetic, drenched to the nines and the spout of the fountain drizzling onto his hair, plastering it onto his head. She reached out her hand, and found herself in the fountain beside him.

" HOWL!" She screamed with rage, and launched at him. Water sprayed up around them as he splashed back into the water. The fountain wasn't deep, only about five inches, But she did her best to hurt him ; Her fist flew at his chest. He grunted but didn't move, only waited for her to stop. He rose out of the water and gripped her shoulders straightening them out so that the spout of the fountain splashed off to one side. She shivered ; The water was cold.

" Sophie I can't get rid of you. I could never get rid of you. No matter how far I run away you're always there in the back of my head, reminding me to come back to you. I... I would never want to get rid of you." He said earnestly, his voice strangely stuffed, as if he were getting sick again. She couldn't look him in the eyes.

" And my age?"

" I'm a coward Sophie. You, me, Us, it scares me half to death thinking that you might not want me, that a beautiful young girl like you would see me as too old for you. When you were old I was safe. I didn't have to take action, and I didn't have to fear someone stealing you away. But now... Now Sophie I'm afraid every day some young man is going to come along and take you away from me. But I'm afraid to stop them I'm afraid to do the one thing that would stop them forever. I'm a coward, such a coward. That's why I ran away. I tried it once, tried to... stop them but I got interuppted and I got scared again and I ran away."

She looked at him then, those dishonest eyes filled with a fearful hope. She hit him again, and he fell back into the water, blinking, Sophie leaning over him.

" You stupid idiot!" She yelled, " Didn't you get it! There wasn't going to be anyone else. I couldn't even think about anyone else because of you!" She was crying now, harder than before, " Because I love you."

There, it was out. Everything was silent save the sound of water splashing into the fountain and the gentle sound of auto mobiles far in the background. The wind didn't even rustle the trees. It was the moment of truth.

" Oh thank everything that is holy!" Howl suddenly exclaimed with relief, and Sophie suddenly found herself half submerged in the fountain because Howl was kissing her.

" You don't hate me" Sophie exclaimed between breaths and kisses, " Even though I'm bossy and nosy and cut up all your clothes"

" God Help me Sophie I love you because of all that!" He said, and Sophie saw him reach for his pocket -

- and freeze.

" Err, I'll be right back." He said moving to get out of the fountain. He loved her? He had said it right, her ears hadn't decived her. All other noise seemed to fade into the background. He had said it and he had kissed her...

" Looking for something Howell?" Rang a voice from above their heads. Howl clambered out of the shallow baisn, his jacket plastered to his back, water dripping off him in droves. Sophie remained frozen, kneeling in the shallow water, her hands coming protectively to her brest, "I'll give it back if you promise to be at least somewhat respectable" Megan called, calmly stepping out of Howl's dripping reach.

" What do you take me for Megan?" he asked, one hand behind his back, fingers crossed, "I am nothing if not respectable."

" I take you as my irresponsible, keniving little brother, that's who." She said, then sighed, " But the time for me to mother you is long past," and gave him something that Sophie didn't see.

" Thank you. Now, if you'd kindly..." He said, raising that dashing eyebrow of his.

"Nope." She said smugly, crossing her arms, " Who would willingly give up a front row seat to the most unlikely event of our generation?" Howl turned stiffly away from her, but paused, and ran a his fingers carelessly through his hair. All of the water ran out of his suit and hair leaving the green and black jacket stiff and dry and his hair so carefully and dashingly dishevelled. From his pocket he drew a gold earring with an emerald bauble and fastened it to his ear. He... glistened.

He walked up to her with long, measured strides and caught her hand with his own and knelt down in the grass and smiled up charmingly at her. His teeth sparkled. She was forced to bend down a little from her position in the fountain to accommodate him.

" No wait! I'm all wet and..." Sophie cried out suddenly, realizing what was going on.

" That doesn't matter. " he said, brushing her wet locks aside gently with one hand, still grasping hers, " Sophie Hatter, I love you, for older or younger, for all the magic in the world. Sophie will you marry me?" He pulled the little black velvet box forward and flicked it open with a showman's ease to show her a solitaire diamond set in a ornate gold band.

Sophie looked down at his sparkling teeth, and his glossy blonde hair gleaming against the dark silk of his jacket, glinting of the emerald in his ear, and made her decision. She wanted to do this right.

" No."

" What!" Howl cried in despair and was about to jerk away when Sophie pulled him back.

"Wait." She said. Gently she pulled the jewellery from his ear and placed it carefully on the fountain's rim. She smudged the make-up from under his eyes (which had miraculously avoided running in the water) and filled her cupped hands with water, which she promptly dumped all over his head, ruining his hair and soaking his jacket once again. His ultra charming smile had faded to a look of abject confusion, and she placed her hand alongside his cheek.

" But I will marry you. I don't need the peacock or the popinjay. I don't need a wizard or a knight. I just want to marry you."

Light dawned in his eyes and he smiled at her like a blind idiot. She found herself smiling back and Howl slipped the ring on her finger and picked her up off the fountains rim and they twirled around together, laughing like children.

" But I guess I'll take the other half too. It's a package deal." She told him after they stopped, and he kissed her again, and for once, Sophie felt no consternation whatsoever.

" Come on now, Lets get you two dry." called Megan from the sidelines. Howl and Sophie looked at her, and each other, and laughed again, smiling like maniacs. It was right now.

" What a pair." Megan muttered as she led them away.

" It ought to be hair raising." Howl said, raising his eyebrow with a wink. Sophie smiled at him, catching the joke.

" So when will the wedding be?" Megan asked, pulling open the door to her car.

" This winter. " said Howl just as Sophie jumped in with: " In the Autumn" They glared at one another, still wrapped up in eachothers arms.

" A wizard doesn't get married when the leaves are falling! Only after the first snows fall could be appropriate! I can create a summer oasis in the middle of the cold..." He started, when Sophie cut him off again

" I am not getting married in the freezing cold! Besides, Fanny would never stand for us to remain unmarried so long!" She released one hand from his waist to add punctuation to her statement.

" Blast what Fanny thinks, We should decide for ourselves!" Howl added using his newly freed arm to his advantae

" Yes, and I think it should be in the fall!"

" Winter!"


They entered the car, still holding hands as they bickered, and Megan drove off, leaving the park quiet once again, a darkly shining earring all that was left behind.

--- The End ---

Final Author's notes:

Yes, it's been a while since the previous chapter came out, and I bet you'd all near given up hope. But this final chapter is here now, and I don't think that I'll do an epilouge unless there is great outrage (loose ends you say? I don't have any loose ends!). I get this odd kind of satisfaction with having actually finished this fic. Short as it may have been (actually investigating this, I think it's the longest complete multi chaptered fic in this category at this point in time), my first finished multi-chaptered story has been completed, and I'm ridiculously happy about it. I'd like to thank each and every one of my reviewers personally, but I'm not allowed to do that here any more , so says the brand shiny new rules, but I'll try my best to respond to any reviews I get for this chapter. You guys have made this an awesome experience for me, and I can't tell you how big a motivation just simple words are. Never underestimate the power of a review to get someone like me off their lazy bums, even if it's months after the last update. I really would like to revisit HMC in the future, mainly because of the awesome group of writers that I've come into contact with here.

So thanks for the ride, It's been fun kiddos.


Min Farshaw