((I'm back! Yes, I'm working on ANOTHER Howl's Moving Castle fan fic. Of course this one is not as developed, I just kind of...starting writing and this is what came out. I will have to get back into the swing of things and this fic is going to be of the Mature sort later on, mainly because of a request from one of my friends (who will remaine anonomus) and so this story is pretty much for her. I hope you guys like it. I'll try to think of a nice plot to put in here so it isn't just under-developed babble.))
In Which War Returns
"Markl, has the castle stopped moving yet?"
"No! We're still moving pretty fast, I think we've plowed over the rhododendrons!"
The little boy pushed the door back shut, turning the knob and pulling it open again; hanging out of the doorframe, he scanned over the empty streets of Porthaven, the sky was dark with clouds as dark as granite, the foul stench of cannon fire made him wrinkle his nose and he pushed the door back shut again just as another warship rumbled overhead, making loose stones do a little jig in the cracks they had been resting in.
"Should we put out the fire?" he called up, turning the knob back down to the previous color, his hand resting on the knob still.
"No, Howl said to leave it going before he left."
Markl turned towards the stairs as he heard running feet descend them, a young woman with silvery hair in a lengthening braid appeared, holding onto handfuls of her dress to giver her legs the freedom to run. She managed to slow to a stop, clinging to the railing as she looked over at the fireplace where a fire of silver and white flames flickered in the grate. She could feel the heat vaguely where she stood.
"We'll…just h-have to remove—some of the logs so that it…gets smaller and the c-castle slows down." She panted, brushing her bangs out of the way.
Markl nodded, going to the fireplace and picking up the poker, pushing the logs away from the fire and the flame hisses and spluttered as if protesting before it started to die down, crackling in disapproval at its sudden dwarfing size. Markl laughed, it reminded him of Calcifer.
"Sophie…where did Master Howl go?" he asked, replacing the poker as Sophie had trained him to do rather then simply dropping it near the grate.
Sophie laced her fingers together and tensed her arms so that they were straight in front of her before she swung them back to her sides and took a few nervous steps towards the table, looking into the basket of eggs she had purchased earlier from the market in Market Chipping.
"Howl went…out." She said, eyes trailing over the white shells of the eggs to the ring on her left hand. The stone still gleamed like new and it still reminded her so much of Howl's. She couldn't help but abandon the eggs and touch the jewelry thoughtfully with her fingertips.
Yet the more she looked at the ring, the more she thought about Howl, and the more she thought about Howl, the more she missed him….
"Actually, Markl…Howl has gone to help with the new war." She said guiltily, lowering her hands so that they rested upon the rim of the basket. Her eyes on the eggs and yet looking right past them, mind trailing elsewhere, drifting off to her memories of Howl and the ominous black feathers sprouting out all over his flesh.
A chill ran down her spine, making her shiver and return to the present where her conscious ears hear only the crackle of the fire in the fireplace. She risked a glance back behind her at Markl and the child was staring down at his feet, twisting his fingers together.
"He didn't tell me he was going to help with the war…" he murmured.
"It came as a surprise to me too." Sophie said softly.
In fact, the war came as a surprise to everyone. Both of the kingdoms had been on peaceful terms ever since Prince Justin was returned but for some reason, another war has come up due to disagreements with the country to the south and now Prince Justin's armies were fighting and Howl was summoned for by the prince in spite of his dislike of the wizard. Now Howl was aiding the Prince in the war but as Sophie recalled, Howl was loosing his humanity the more often he became a bird-like creature. Was he using that method again?
Before Howl left, he made the fire in the fireplace and warned Sophie not to extinguish it. Howl intended to keep the castle moving so that the enemies would not try to hurt Sophie when they found out that he was assisting the prince and saw her as his weakness. It was for her safety, the safety of his wife…
"Markl, I think you should go check on the Witch of the Waste and her apprentice, I'm sure they will like the company. I'll stay here so that I can let you in when you get back."
The child nodded, "Alright."
He hurried over to the narrow closet where Sophie had hung the disguise cloaks and removed one, pulling it on and drawing up the hood. The Witch of the Waste always loved how he looked whenever he showed up as an old man and the apprentice would also get a kick out of it then ask to try it as well. It was funny watching a willowy old man parade about their little abode outside of Porthaven.
Sophie approached the door and turned the handle, opening it for Markl so that he could be on his way. To her surprise, the apprentice pulled the hood back down and ran to her, flinging his arms around her waist and burying his face in her stomach.
"You're worried about Howl as well…" she smiled thoughtfully, "I understand…he'll be alright, Markl."
He nodded into her belly and Sophie managed to pull him away gently, crouching down to eye level with him and cupping his face in her hands.
"I promise; he'll be home soon. Howl may be vain and childish sometimes but he is a great wizard."
Sophie couldn't recall how long it was since Markl had left but she was managing to feed one more log to the fire, noticing that the flame was about to splutter out in the ashes when the door began to rattle. The handle was red side down…it had to have been Markl…
Leaving her seat in front of the fire where she had been mending the hem of her plain dress, Sophie folded the dress over her arm and wondered down the steps, reaching out and turning the doorknob. She tugged the door open, taking a step back as a gust of wind buffeted her dress and she franticly pushed it back down, backing out of the wind just as something streaked inside and crashed into the wall on the other side of the room.
Sophie pushed the door shut and immediately turned to the creature that had flown inside and gasped upon seeing the mass of black feathers crumpled at the base of the wall just at the foot of the stairs, her chair that she had been sitting in was now in pieces scattered around the floor, her sewing basket knocked over with bobbins rolling over the boards, unraveling thread from spools.
Draping her dress over the railing of the stairs leading to the door, Sophie cautiously climbed the stairs and steadily approached the figure on the floor. It moved a little, slumping back down after the attempt and producing soft grunts and groans.
She recognized those grunts…
She closed the gap in between them quickly, dropping painfully to her knees and turning over the birdman, his arm thudding onto the floor as she turned him and managed to pillow his head on her lap, touching his face.
He opened his eyes slightly, lazily looking up at Sophie with a slight smile suddenly curving his lips; she hardly noticed that his feathers were disappearing as a human hand reached up for her face.
"I'm home." He said wryly.
"Are you alright? Are you hurt?" she asked, looking from his collision point on the wall to him and back again.
Howl touched her face, reaching up so that she held it still with both of his hands and sat up, leaning closer to her so that his lips came against hers in a light kiss. Sophie stiffened as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her against him, both of them having to shift for Howl to hold her effectively. He turned his head a little; opening his lips slightly against hers then closing them again almost like a fish. It was as if he was trying to…deepen their kiss.
Sophie pushed against him quickly, "This isn't the time for kisses! Howl; you need to let me know if you're alright!"
"I'm alright." He said, patting her head, "See, feathers are gone and everything."
He held out his arms, presenting himself to her. She cautiously looked him over, the feathers were indeed gone and he seemed alright other then the fact that his face was a little dirty and he smelled of smoke. She touched his face, turning it side to side for a moment before she leaned forward, pressing her forehead into his chest.
"I was worried…Markl was too…we were afraid that you—"
"Wouldn't come back?" he asked simply.
"Don't take it do lightly!" she snapped but didn't lift her head.
Howl fingered her braid with his with a considerate smile, running his hand so that he rubbed her back and left the braid alone. Her warmth was soothing and something he wanted to feel after a day of flying through the burning smoke and being swept by chilling winds. He wrapped his arms around her again, running his hands over her back slowly as he embraced her.
"You feel good…" he murmured against her hair, "And you smell wonderful."
"Don't say that." She said; feeling her face burn, "Don't lie to me, Howl."
He slipped a hand from her back, tilting up her face, "Never…in a million years through a billion curses, will I lie to you."
Once again, Sophie had a feeling she was as red as a cherry. This would have been a fine moment for Markl to return home…but he didn't.
"Sophie, you're my wife, aren't you?' he asked, taking her hands.
"Why won't you sleep with me in my room?"
Sophie hung her head, "I-I don't know…"
"You don't know?" he craned his head down, trying to catch her eyes but she turned her face away.
The truth behind this was that Sophie was scared of sleeping in the same bed with Howl…he had snuck into the bed with her when she was sick but other then that she could not imagine being able to fall asleep in the same bed as him with them bound by marriage and no limits to how far things could go between them. She was afraid…
"You're lying to me, Sophie." He said, smirking.
"I-I'm not lying!"
He frowned, "That's not fair, I promised you that I wouldn't lie and now you lie to me." He stuck out his bottom lip, pouting.
"Don't pout. Men don't pout, Howl." Sophie said, standing up and brushing off her dress but Howl caught her wrist, pulling her over once again as he was extended up on his knees, his face against her stomach as Markl's had been. She gingerly ran her hand over his tousled hair and he sighed against the fabric of her dress before slowly standing up, keeping close to her warmth.
Howl's expression was no longer the childish pout as he looked down at her face, his hands resting on her shoulders and eyes holding her firmly into place. He could feel how she tensed up under his serious gaze and that was how he could tell that she was lying, whenever she tensed up was because of a guilty conscience or something of the sort.
"Sophie…it might not seem like much to you, but I feel as if you don't like being near me…and we're married. Was I wrong to have asked you to marry me?"
"No, Howl." She shook her head, "I'm happy to be your wife! I really am glad, Howl. It's just…I'm afraid of what you expect of me."
The wizard slipped a hand behind her head and brought it to his chest, stroking her hair and messing up her braid a little but she didn't seem to mind. He closed his eyed, rocking a little from side to side, trying to comfort her from her fear. Of course he didn't really understand what she had to worry about since he could be a simpleton at times but it was best to comfort her rather then let her look upset like she did.
"Why don't you try it out tonight? I'll keep my hands to myself if that is what you're worried about. I need a shower and I'm really tired anyway so you should be safe."
Sophie hesitated when Howl placed a hand on the small of her back and started to steer her towards the staircase. He added a little pressure to his touch and she moved upwards.
"B-But the mess…I have to clean it up."
"I'll take care of it." He said dismissively, indicating she take another step up the stairs and he hung back as Sophie disappeared upstairs. He stepped back down onto the floor, backing up against the wall and pressing his back into it, sliding down back onto the floor and touching his side as he caught his breath. His breathing was heavy and his face paled as he sat there, his collectiveness vanished, leaving behind a sickly figure of his former self as if a spell had just been lifted…oh…a spell was just lifted…
My own kind…
"You're going to have to tell her, you know…she'll find out that you were wounded and you'll never hear the end of it." A familiar voice said from the fireplace and Howl lifted his head, smiling wearily over at the returned Calcifer. "Come by for another visit Calcifer?"
"Yeah and it looks like I came in the nick of time. Good job on convincing her to go on up, another moment of that cuddling and I would have gagged and aside from that, she may have noticed that you're starting to bleed through those make-shift bandages."
Howl blank down at his side, the fabric was indeed stained with blood in a generously sized spot. "You don't miss a thing, do you?"
"After living with you for so long, I've learned that you never stop lying."
"It was for her own good." He said quietly, glancing up the stairs, "I don't want her to get any more worries, Calcifer. Sophie's spent her life away from men and then she's suddenly living with them. She doesn't know what it is like to be a wife, let alone someone's lover and so she's scared. She is worried that she will disappoint me somehow."
He looked down at his ring that he had replaced onto his left ring finger the day they were married. "Sooner or later…Sophie will realize…that she's going to have to let me complete it."
"Do I look out of sorts still?"
Sophie looked up from where she was sitting on the end of Howl's bed as the wizard leaned against the doorframe leading into his bedroom. He wore the same childish smile that he always had and was already in his long shirt he used to sleep in; the shirt was tied shut though…that was a first. Sophie's hands were busy pulling on her braid, the little hair rope draped over her shoulder with a few strands of hair escaping the elastic holding it together.
Howl went to his bed and climbed in, looking over at the empty place beside him and patting it gently.
Sophie sighed, releasing her braid and climbing beneath the sheets with him, lying down immediately but Howl curled up under his sheets with his back to her. Was it safe?
Relaxing, she closed her eyes, turning over onto her side so that they were back to back and curling up into a ball as her realization of how silly she was to have been so frightened of sharing a bed with Howl sank in. She sighed, inwardly scolding herself as she tugged the covers farther up so that she was buried beneath them.
I thought he would have been clingy or worse…she thought, eyes peering about in the darkness, I wonder if Markl has gotten back yet…Did Howl clean up that mess as he said he would?
She felt him shift, turning over into another position.
Wasn't I a simpleton to have lost my head…?
An arm snaked beneath Sophie's waist and she gasped as she was suddenly against Howl again…only he was holding her from behind and his arm was around her, another one rested upon her abdomen. She could hear his soft breathing and feel his chest rise and fall…he was lulling, his fresh clean scent soothed her and she could feel the sudden weariness of sleep…
I want to make you happy Howl…I love you…and I don't want to disappoint you…