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: No, no green slime, I'm sorry. Also, remember Michael is fifteen in the book, not the seven/eight year old he is in the movie (in Japanese and in the book it's "Michael". Bad translators who don't realize that "Mai-ke-ru" is "Michael", not "Markl" or don't use the original novel as a reference!).

Much, much thanks goes to Hermoniezclone, nyaaaaaauuuuuuuu, and MaineGirl for reviewing Part 1! Also huge thanks goes to the members of the "movingcastle" LJ community who gave me the courage to post this story on fanfiction dot net (and for giving me such wonderful feedback!)!

Now, on to the story!

Natural Beauty
by Mimea

The sun was high in the morning sky by the time Sophie found herself alone in the bed. She wanted to be tense in anticipation of when Howl reached the bathroom, but she didn't have the energy. She'd heard his footsteps on the stairs, and judging from the slight murmur of voices, he, Calcifer, and Michael were having a conversation.

Well, if he was going to just stand around jabbering, she was going to use the hot water first!

She dragged herself out of bed and made her way to a tiny addition whose only entrance was from their bedroom. Inside was a toilet, sink, towel cupboard, and a shower stall that Sophie had thought only big enough for one until Howl had proven her wrong.

She re-entered the bedroom roughly fifteen minutes later, searching for her clothes. As she dressed, she remembered how she could almost feel Calcifer's amusement through the droplets of water as she bathed that morning. He still remembered the one time she'd drained a spring, leaving Howl with a coldwater bath or none at all. She should have felt uncomfortable, but Calcifer's heat suffused the castle every day. Besides, it wasn't like he was peeping or anything. She hoped.

Once she had finished tying the sash of her dress made of sensible brown linen, she made her way out of the room to see what had Howl so tied up he hadn't gone to primp yet.

"You won't get it out of me, Howl! I'm not under contract anymore!" Calcifer roared with glee.

"Blast you! Michael, for God's sake, stop staring at me like that! Or at least tell me why!"

Sophie reached the top of the stairs in time to see Michael's mouth move, but nothing came out. His eyes were fixed on Howl's hair.

"Out with it!"

"Horrible Howl terrorizing his tenants this early in the morning?" Sophie commented, breezing by him on the staircase. "It must be a new record!"

Howl gave her an irritated look, which melted into exasperation. Then she saw inspiration dawn, and knew she was in trouble. Exasperation became doe-eyed pleading with a winning, wistful smile. "Sophie, my love, my dearest..."

"Sorry, can't help you," she snapped. "It's almost time for the shop to open, and we don't have any new wares!" She marched over to a table by the window and picked up a large straw hat trimmed in brown velvet and pinecones.

"Sophie," he wheedled, still on the staircase, clad in only his nightshirt.

"Don't ask me," came her tart reply. "I have no idea what's going on."

Calcifer billowed out from the fireplace, laughing hysterically, which only earned him a sour glare from Howl and a stern look from Sophie.

"Just don't burn the place down," she admonished.

Michael was finally able to voice what had shocked him so, but he was completely drowned out by Calcifer's laughter. "That'll be the least of your worries soon, girl!"

Sophie ignored the fire demon's remark, gathering up the massive basket she used for collecting flowers from the field that supplied their modest shop. She knew better than to try and use one of Michael's floating metal tubs. They liked her way too much, getting underfoot like errant puppies and making her trip to land headfirst in the mud.

"Fine!" Howl pouted. "And some have called ME heartless!" He sniffed for dramatic effect as he straightened. "I am going to take my bath, since I'm obviously not wanted here." He regally stalked down the remaining stairs and into the bathroom in high dudgeon, slamming the door behind him.

"Such drama," Sophie muttered, making sure her hat was on straight before turning to go out the door.

Michael heard the sound of water filling the bathtub and took his opportunity to run over to Sophie in hopes that he wouldn't be overheard. He regarded her with fearful, awe-stricken eyes. "What did you do to Howl's hair?" he whispered frantically.

"Oh, I just told it to get rid of all those dye spells. Imagine, a woman not knowing her husband's real hair color after nearly three months of marriage!" she said airily, apparently quite unperturbed by her actions and their possible consequences.

"But, you shouldn't have had to go that far! Couldn't you tell by…" Michael stopped and turned bright red at what he'd been about to say.

Calcifer chortled, and Sophie fought her own blush as she attempted to maintain her composure. "Vain man. Even THAT gets dyed to match the rest!"

Michael goggled. "You're kidding."

"I wish I were."

The teenager cringed, as if desperately wishing he were sitting so he could cross his legs protectively, but said no more.

Sophie had just turned the color wheel to purple down and placed her hand on the doorknob when a howl like a damned soul rocked the castle to its very foundations. Calcifer immediately burned low, trying to hide behind his logs. Michael seemed torn between staying to watch the fun and saving his own skin. He settled for making a mad dash for the workbench where he quickly busied himself with a very complicated spell for one of the residents of Market Chipping. Sophie merely raised an eyebrow and waited.

"SOPHIE!" the wizard raged, flinging the bathroom door open and smashing it into the wall. Michael turned slightly, then went back to his work wishing he hadn't looked. There were just some sights he had no wish to see.

And a furious, skin-clad sorcerer was one of them.

"WHAT! HAVE! YOU! DONE?" he cried in utter agony, holding his hair straight out from his skull.

"I didn't do anything. Not my fault your hair got tired of all the torture you put it through."

Howl stormed up to her, the fury in his eyes quelling any amusement she may have derived from his state of undress. "You know I hate unpleasantness, but this time you've gone too far! Even I can only take so much!" His vibrant green eyes shone with a seriousness that pinned Sophie where she was and almost made her heart stop beating. Soul-deep sadness darkened his glare. "Don't lie to me! I don't care if you change the subject, just don't lie to me!"

Guilt seeped into Sophie's show of bravado, making her cower slightly. "It wasn't a lie," she murmured. Then she found her voice and stood up straighter. "It was a half-truth." Her hands clenched at her sides as her own temper flared up again. "It certainly didn't object when I made the suggestion!"

Seeing the effect his rage was having on his wife, and aware of how dangerously close he was to lashing out with his power, Howl forced himself to try and calm down. If he kept on going the way he was, he might vaporize her or send her far away without even realizing it. Then he truly would have 'gone to the bad' as Mrs. Pentstemmon had put it. He took several deep breaths, an early litany from his teacher aiding him. "With great power comes great responsibility," she'd reminded him time and again.

If he unleashed his anger on Sophie, she might not survive.

Rallying every bit of his considerable will, he concentrated on letting that anger drain out of him a little with every breath.

"What could have possessed you to do this!" he demanded at length.

"Curiosity, you peacock! How am I supposed to know what is real when you keep turning your feathers like that?"

Sophie continued to glare, but Howl crumbled, the place where his fury had been raging inside now empty and aching. He tore his gaze away and dragged himself to a fireside chair, despite Calcifer's protests.

"Hey, I don't want to see that! Put some clothes on, or I'll set your bits on fire! You hear me, Howl? HOWL!"

"Go ahead, Calcifer. Repulsive men like me have no right spreading our wickedness to another generation."

Sophie dropped the basket and took off her hat, setting them both on the floor beside the door. "Do it, Calcifer, and I'll make sure the next rain cloud I see gets permanently attached to you!" Sophie snapped as she came to stand between the fire demon and the wizard. She put her hands on her hips and stared at her husband. His head was bowed, Calcifer's blue flame and her own shadow turning his hair dark. "Howl?"

He didn't respond.

All at once, Sophie relented, dropping to her knees before him. She gently placed a hand on his knee. "Howl?"

"Go away, Paulina Pry," he muttered. "You've seen what you wanted to. Now take your long nose elsewhere!" After several minutes passed and Howl realized she hadn't moved, he lifted his head slightly. "What are you waiting for? Go pick your flowers or the customers will knock our front door down!"

"The flowers can wait, and so can the customers," Sophie retorted.

"Could've fooled me, the way you were ready to rush out earlier," he groused. "Why won't you just leave me alone with my misery?"

"Because, as you've said yourself, misery loves company."

Howl sighed. "You've completely misinterpreted that saying. Either way, I'm hideous. Look... LOOK... at this mop!" He yanked at his hair as if he wished he could pull it all out by the roots.

"You're speaking to the girl with ginger hair, remember?"

"Red gold," he corrected sullenly.

"Calcifer said your hair was the color of mud. I think I prefer to call it chestnut."

"Calcifer told you my true hair color?"

"Long ago, back when I was still just the cleaning lady." She lifted her hand, running her fingers through the ends of his hair. "I always wondered what it looked like. It suits you better than that flaxen color you seem to love so much."

"I like being blond, thank you very much. I feel much more beautiful that way."

Sophie swallowed the slight lump in her throat, knowing she would kick herself later for being so sentimental and feeding his colossal ego. But it had to be done. "I think you're beautiful, no matter what you look like."

Howl snorted, but didn't say anything.

Sophie fought the urge to punch his arm for being so difficult, and even worse, for drawing this confession out of her. "In fact, the only reason I love mornings is because then I get to see you at your best."

"My best?" he echoed incredulously. But when his eyes met hers, they were shining with tenderness. "Only you would ever think that when I am at my absolute ugliest, I look my best."

"No, you're at your ugliest when you dye your hair the color of brass! It clashes horribly with your skin tone!"

"I only wear that when I want to make a statement."

"Yes, the statement that the second Royal Wizard of Ingary is colorblind!"

"A shot to the heart, dear one!"

"I'll aim a shot at something even more sensitive if you don't stop moping about like this!"

Howl's first reaction was to flinch. Then he remembered that he was, indeed, still as naked as the day he was born. And Sophie's head was at just the right level. A slow, mischievous grin stole across his features. "Oh, really now? With Calcifer and Michael watching? I never dreamed my little mouse was such an exhibitionist!"

Sophie turned a violent shade of red, also finally realizing her position. "Howl Jenkins!"

"Yes, Mrs. Jenkins?" He waggled an eyebrow suggestively.

Sophie smirked, then merely patted his knee before standing up. "Since you're feeling better, I should attend to those flowers now... ACK!" She found herself swept up off the floor and into the arms of her irrepressible wizard.

Who was grinning like a maniac.

"Michael!" he called out, the trailing skirts of his prize finally giving him some semblance of propriety. "Go get those flowers and watch the shop for a while, will you? My wife is going to get a lesson in spell reversal."

"You're not serious!" Sophie protested.

"Of course I am. You broke it, you help fix it." He winked at his apprentice, who turned slightly green. "This may take a while."

"Put me down this instant, Howl! I've already bathed!"

"Yes, but those dirty thoughts of yours must be cleansed."

"MY dirty thoughts?"

"I'm still filthy, so it doesn't count."

"Why you..!"

During the exchange, Howl had carried his beloved wife to the bathroom bridal-style, and Sophie's indignant protest was cut off by the bathroom door, miraculously still in one piece, closing behind them.

"I hope you're planning on fixing that wall..." came Sophie's reproachful voice.

"Eventually," came the reply.

Then silence descended on the main room of the castle.

Calcifer's voice ended the brief respite. "Well, that certainly was interesting! Now I know why I come back here and let myself be abused all the time. I couldn't find better entertainment out in Market Chipping. Or even Kingsbury, for that matter!"

Michael made a face in the general direction of the bathroom. "If Lettie and I ever act like that, you have permission to set my bits on fire."

Calcifer yawned as Michael got up to do as Howl had commanded. "I'll be nice and pretend I didn't hear that," he commented knowingly.

Michael crossed the room, whistling sharply as he did so. Instantly, two metal basins flew in from the flower shop, ready to accompany him into the fields on the edge of the Waste. He was almost to the door when Calcifer's sleepy voice stopped him.

"By the way, you owe me."

Michael gave him a blank look, then the memory came back to him all at once. "You're right. It only took her three months before she was fed up enough to do it."

"Not six," Calcifer replied, slightly smug. "Now remember..."

"Madrone, right?"

Michael could almost see Calcifer drooling. "Well seasoned, and only the highest quality!"

"Of course," the apprentice said dourly before the door swung open, then closed behind him and his two creations.

At last, the place was silent. Which meant Howl had placed a soundproofing spell on the bathroom, and the couple would not be out for some time.

Suddenly, Calcifer wondered what cold water would do to Howl's dye spells.

Thus he conveniently forgot to heat more water.


Author's Note: Madrone is a very hard wood that is considered one of the best woods for burning. Calcifer would have no use for money, but tasty logs? Oh yeah!

That question mark after the "fin" is just a joke. I could go on forever with this, but it'd be the same joke over and over. I'll leave the rest to your imagination, so please no asking for a direct sequel. Or if you do, I will take it as a greatcompliment, but this is it for this particular tale. Perhaps my muse will be gracious enough to bestow another story on me before long. Heck, that's what I'm hoping.

To everyone who has reviewed, thank you so much! To those who haven't done so yet, please do, and my deepest thanks in advance!