Disclaimer: "Howl's Moving Castle" is the property of Diana Wynne Jones and her publishers. The movie is property of Miyazaki Hayao, Studio Ghibli, and Walt Disney. I am none of these people, so no, I don't own any of it. I'm simply borrowing the characters to write a silly story that I'm not going to be making any money off of, so please don't sue me!

Author's Note: Whoo-hoo! The first ever "M" rated story in the Diana Wynne Jones category! I don't know if I should feel proud or ashamed. Honestly I would rather rate this piece "T" all the way through, but by US standards (where I live), naked Howl is an immediate "Mature" rating. Honestly, what's so bad about skin and dangly bits, anyway? Everybody's got 'em! But so the fanfiction dot net gestapo doesn't decide to pull my fic and lock my account for too low a rating, I suppose I must place this at the "M" level.

This little fic hit me right out of the blue. It's mostly book-based, but there aren't any spoilers if you've only seen the movie. Just Howl and Sophie will seem out of character if you haven't read the book.

I must give credit where credit is due, however. A very big "thank you!" to Caudex for her scene in "Embarazada" where Sophie does the same thing to Howl, which inspired me to write this.

There has been a slight one-word alteration made since I first posted this story, thanks to the wonderful feedback given by Ina-chan! Poor word choice on my part. Thanks so much!

Part 1 is technically suitable for the "T" crowd, but I'll have to rate it "M" due to Part 2. Darn you, Howl, you cheeky devil!

Pairing: Sophie/Howl
Rating: M - for "nakey time!" in part 2. Part 1 is "T" for implied "naughtiness".
Genre: Romance/Drama/Humor

Summary: Curiosity killed the Sophie, but satisfaction may be even worse!

Natural Beauty
by Mimea

Early morning light filtered into the shockingly clean master bedroom. Even the small colony of spiders that had taken refuge in the book stacks in one corner were not yet stirring. Yet, predictably as the sun itself, Sophie awoke as the first hint of brightness penetrated the room.

But she barely moved, only enough to raise her head and look at the face of her sleeping husband.

It was her own private face. Luminous green eyes closed, lips slightly parted with only a faint snore coming from them this morning. It wasn't the unguardedness of his expression that made her feel so special, though. It was the light brown stubble that showed on the normally hairless cheeks, chin, and upper lip. The slightly more angular features. Faint bluish shadows under his eyes from too many long nights of working on spells for the King.

"And now other things," she thought with a slight blush.

Even his scent spells tended to wear off somehow. She thought it odd. His flowery perfumes were actually the opposite of his natural scent. It was musky and spicy, and altogether quite nice. She was extra glad of the spells' short lives when Howl was forced to spend the night elsewhere by royal command. His pillow and the edge of hers kept her company on those nights she was alone.

She wanted to reach out and wind a lock of hair around her finger, but she didn't dare. She'd found out there was no quicker way to awaken her husband than to touch his hair.

Then she spotted one strand, obviously shed during the night.

Moving as stealthily as she could, she picked the blond hair off her pillow. A wicked grin spread over her face as she contemplated her prize. Howl would most likely retaliate in the most interesting and infuriating way possible, but it would be well worth it.

The only thing, the only secret he had not yet shared with her, was what color his hair really was.

Calcifer had disparagingly called it "mud-coloured", and the very short hairs that gave her nighttime whisker burn seemed to support that. But she wanted to see for herself.

She brought the rogue hair close to her lips, hoping its tie to its brethren was still strong enough for the spell to work. "You aren't that colour really, are you?" she whispered to it. "Take a breather for a couple of hours and let that obnoxious dye go!"

The hair quivered in her palm, then slowly began to lose its golden hue, making a tiny tendril of yellow float up from her hand. She focused on a point just above Howl's head and watched in fascination as the color spells bled upward like smoke to dissipate in mid-air. Finally, she had the courage to look back down at her handiwork.

His hair was brown, all right, but it most certainly wasn't as hideous as he seemed to regard it. There were tiny reddish highlights that the weak sunlight picked out from the field of dirt.

It wasn't striking. It wasn't flambouyant.

Somehow it better suited his morning face, and made her realize that here, in the privacy of their own room, he was not Wizard Pendragon or even Horrible Howl. He was simply Howell Jenkins, a normal man who'd somehow been gifted with abnormal powers.

"Any particular reason you're staring at me?"

Sophie started, dropping the bit of hair and fixing her eyes on Howl's face. His eyes were still closed. "No, not really," she said flippantly. "I just felt like it."

His eyes finally opened, and she nearly drowned in his sage-colored gaze. "Do you now?" he asked wryly.

"Yes, you so rarely stay still, I take what I can get."

"Hmmmm," was his incredibly intelligent reply, pulling her close so that her head was cradled in the hollow between his shoulder and chest.

Sophie's pulse sped up a bit, just as it usually did when he was openly affectionate. Especially when their bodies touched skin-to-skin. It had taken the better part of a month for Howl to convince her to sleep in such a scandalous fashion. It wasn't until he'd let slip that his nightshirt was merely a concession to propriety for her sake, and he preferred to sleep in the nude... It was a compromise she ended up not minding at all. Even if occasionally she was awakened in the middle of the night by curious, insatiable hands.

But that morning, those hands contented themselves with rubbing her back and tracing lazy patterns on her forearm.

"Trying to place a spell on me, Mr. Pendragon?"

"Wouldn't dream of it. Mrs. Pendragon." Howl gave her a sly grin as he inserted a short pause, playfully reminding her of the time she'd masqueraded as his mother.

Sophie gave a very unladylike snort. "No, you wouldn't dream of it. You'd just cast the thing and see what happened for yourself."

"Ah, convicted without a trial. You wound me, dear Sophie."

"Only your pride, and that can stand to take a beating."

"Ouch!" Howl cried with a wince. "Enough! It's too early for these kind of attacks!"

Sophie grinned up at him. "Never."

"Fine then," the wizard told her with a sniff. "You force my hand."

"Eh!" Sophie's eyes widened a split second before she found herself being rolled over, pinned, and suffering from a most delicious onslaught from her favorite antagonist.

To be continued...

And what will happen when Howl discovers what Sophie has done to his hair? That is for Part Two! evil cackle And don't forget to review, if you're so inclined. :) They're the only form of payment I can accept. I take constructive criticism and praise. Flames will be used to keep me warm this winter. Thank you!

Howl's real hair color: A big "thank you" to my anonymous reviewer "julie" for pointing this out. The Miyazaki movie actually confuses people more than it really should. According to my paperback version of "Howl's Moving Castle", Mrs. Pentstimmon does say "I prefer him with black hair" (pg. 178), and Mrs. Fairfax says "his hair used to be black in his student days" (pg. 123). However, Calcifer, who has a more "intimate" knowledge of Howl than either of those two, says to Sophie when he's telling her Howl's getting ready to dye his hair (before the green slime incident), "For a plain man with mud-colored hair, he's terribly vain about his looks" (pg. 87). So Howl was probably already dyeing his hair before he studied with Mrs. Fairfax and Mrs. Pentstemmon.