Of Infirmity and Matrimony

Howl's got a surprise for Sophie, but she gets very sick! How does Howl deal with it, and will Sophie ever get better? (bad summary, I know)

Rating: PG / K+ —whatever
Disclaimer: I don't have any claim to Howl's Moving Castle except for the fact that I own a copy of the DVD, and that is MINE! grrr… HMC belongs to Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli, and others, and I love you Miyazaki-sensei! You're a genius!
Notes: I've never read the book (though I am trying to get a copy so I can) so this is a movieverse fanfic. OOC-ness is to be expected, and is a given. I also haven't written fanfics in almost a year, and I wrote this up in a few hours, so please bear with me on this one… tis crap, I know, but I actually think it gets better as it progresses. Read and Review please:) thank you! Now, on with the fic!

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"Calcifer, stop it! Just let me cook breakfast!" It was a normal morning in Howl's newly repaired (and flying) castle, Sophie was trying to get Calcifer to cook breakfast, Markl was watching the usual argument but paying more attention to Heen chasing his tail, the Witch of the Waste was asleep still, and Howl was nowhere to be found.

Sophie was wearing one of the new outfits Howl had gotten her, this one a very pretty navy color. She sighed and continued to argue with Calcifer.

"No! I am a very powerful fire—" at this point Sophie got fed up and banged the pan down on Calcifer, which threatened to smother him if he didn't cooperate, while stifling a yawn. "Hey, are you okay Sophie?" Calcifer asked, "you don't look so good."

"I'm fine Calcifer," Sophie replied, "I'm just tired." She turned to Markl, "do you know if the Witch of the Waste is awake?"

"Nah, I think she's still asleep," Markl answered, "we all had a late night last night."

"Yes, thrilling," Calcifer drawled, "I never knew cards could be so tiring." Sophie shot him a look and Calcifer shut up.

"You're just upset because you couldn't play with us." Markl and Calcifer continued to bicker for a few for minutes, but no one paid them any mind. At this point the Witch shuffled to the table, still looking half asleep.

"Good morning," Sophie said cheerfully, "did you sleep well?"

"What a pretty fire," the Witch replied(1). Sophie sighed and returned to cooking breakfast. When she finished, she brought the pan over to the table, dishing out food to everyone there, and herself. She paused when she had filled everyone's plate.

"Where's Howl?" she asked, "did he ever get back last night?" she looked around for any traces of his return.

"Nah," Markl innocently said, "I think he said he was looking for something." He ignored Calcifer's frantic motions for him to shut up, "it's really not that unusual, he still goes out very often."

"Oh," Sophie said, looking a little sad. She turned to put the pan back and stumbled but caught herself, "guess I'm more tired than I thought," she muttered to herself," I'll take a nap after I do the laundry."

With that she sat down at the table and began to eat, and the rest of breakfast passed without any further excitement. Sophie cleaned up the leftovers and fed them to Calcifer and asked him to let her know when Howl got home. She then went upstairs and began to collect the laundry.

After a few minutes she felt a pair of strong arms wrap around her waist and she leaned into the warmth.

"Hello love," Howl murmured in her ear, "how are you on this fine morning?" Sophie laughed and turned around in his arms and gave him a hello kiss.

"So where have you been?" she asked, tapping him on the nose, a grin on her face. Howl grinned back and shook his head.

"It's a secret," he replied, "come, take a break and lets go downstairs, I want to talk to you" Sophie nodded and they both headed downstairs. On the way down Sophie again stumbled, and Howl swept her up into his arms and carried her the rest of the way.

When they got there the area was empty except for Calcifer who was, of course, in the hearth. As they entered Calcifer looked up expectantly and Howl gave him a knowing look, and gently placed Sophie down in one of the chairs. He then stood up and began pacing in front of her, talking softly to himself.

"Howl?" Sophie asked with a questioning look, "are you—"

"No, please," Howl stopped her, "I'm fine, please don't interrupt me, I'm just trying to figure out how to do this, and I practiced, it's just harder when it's the real thing, and…" Sophie smiled at Howl's rambling and patiently waited for him to finish, when all of a sudden he dropped down in front of her on one knee. "Sophie," he began, "I'm not quite sure how to say this, but, I've known you for a few years now, and you've changed me, definitely for the better, and I know I want to spend the rest of my life with you, and not just as friends." Here he pulled a small box out of his pocket, and opened it, revealing a diamond ring there, nestling on black velvet.

"Sophie I love you more than life itself, and it doesn't matter that you returned my heart to me because you are my heart. So, would you do me the honor of marrying me?"

Sophie was speechless, and tears pricked the corners of her eyes, but before she could respond, her eyes rolled up in her head and she collapsed.

"Sophie!" Howl yelled, fearing for his love, and leaping forward to gather her in his arms.

"She fainted," Calcifer deadpanned, and Howl turned to glare at him.,

"Thank you Capitan Obvious," he growled, and returned to trying to wake Sophie up. Markl, the Witch of the Waste, and Heen, alerted by Howl's cry, rushed into the dining area. All of them froze at the sight of Sophie passed out in Howl's arms.

"What happened?" Markl exclaimed, "Howl, what did you do?"

"I didn't do anything," Howl responded, frantic, "she feels like she has a fever, and her pulse is erratic. Draw up a bath of cool water for her, hurry!"

As Markl ran upstairs to fill the tub, the Witch hurried forward to check Sophie herself.

"Do you know what's wrong with her?" Howl asked, "is it just a normal fever or—"

The Witch of the Waste cut him off mid-babble, "she's mostly just exhausted, but sometimes this sickness is a side affect for mortals who are constantly around magic. Normal mortals, that is, that aren't part magic, created from magic, or magic users themselves. Because she is so tired it has probably hit her harder. Don't worry, it's not permanent, and in addition to normal fever treatment, she will probably need some TLC(2); just keep doing what you're doing and she'll be fine."

Howl nodded, and proceeded to carry Sophie upstairs.

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Sophie turned in her sleep and murmured something incoherent. She was clad in only her undergarments, and her face was flushed. She was tucked under a blanket and was lying in Howl's bed. The wizard himself sat next to her, gripping her hand in one of his, and brushed her sweat-soaked bangs out of her face. She had already woken up once, but she had just opened her eyes, leaned over the side of the bed, and threw up. He remembered what the Witch of the Waste had told him also might occur.

"She will probably also have nightmares, and will talk or even scream in her sleep. It's not going to be easy, as the nightmares will also cause her to thrash about. The fever is going to last the longest. She might wake once in awhile, but that will most likely be accompanied with hallucinations or throwing up…"

Howl sighed and kept up his vigil, jumping a little in surprise when Sophie sat up abruptly in bed, her eyes wild, and her mouth open in silent scream. She yanked her hand out of Howl's grip and began clawing at her arms. Howl pulled her arms down and encircled her in his embrace, riding out the attack with her. As suddenly as it came, it ended, and Sophie went limp in Howl's arms.

Howl sighed and laid Sophie back down on the bed. He took the washcloth that had been on her forehead, but had fallen off when she sat up, and dunked it in the bucket of cold water beside him, wringing it out and laying it back across her forehead. Unbidden, words resurfaced in his mind; the words he had said to Sophie when he had left to protect the hat shop from the next wave of bombs.

"Sorry, I've had enough of running away, Sophie. Now I've got something I want to protect. It's you."(3)

Howl clenched his hands into fists as he bowed his head. He had promised to protect her! What kind of promise was that? He had never felt so useless in his entire life; now, when Sophie really needed him, he couldn't do anything. He couldn't even use his magic to help her because that would only make it worse. He sighed again and ran a hand through his dark hair, trying not to rip it out of his scalp. Right now, he couldn't do much more than wait.

"Howl." The call was unexpected, and he looked up hopefully at Sophie, only to see her eyes still closed in sleep, her face contorted in pain. "Howl," she called again.

"Sophie?" Howl asked anxiously, keeping his voice low, "Sophie, can you hear me?" Sophie's face relaxed for a few seconds before contorting one more.

"No, Howl, no, stop!" she cried, "Howl, Howl, Howl… no! Come back, please! Don't leave me, Howl! Wait, I didn't mean to! No, don't go! Please don't leave me! Howl, no, Howl!" Howl's eyes widened at the words tumbling from Sophie's lips, but he quickly took her hands in his once again and tried to calm her down.

"Sophie, I'm here," he said soothingly, "I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere. I promise you. I love you, Sophie. Please, it's going to be okay. Sophie calm down, I'm here." Sophie's cries eventually faded into silence and Howl leaned back in his chair to await the next outburst together with his love.

"I love you, Sophie."

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one week later A/N: yes I'm jumping time, I don't care

A hand on his shoulder sharply brought Howl back to the world of the living. He started, and looked behind him to see the Witch of the Waste and Markl standing behind him. The Witch of the Waste smiled at him.

"You've been sitting here for over a week," she said, "the only sleep you've had is the little sleep you've gotten when you fell asleep at her bedside, like just now, and you need a bath." The witch help up her hand to forestall the wizard's complaints, "we've asked Calcifer to warm up water for a bath for you."

"Yeah," Markl chimed in, "you need one, you stink! If Sophie were to wake up your appearance and stench might send her back under!" Howl glared at his young apprentice, and refrained from making a biting remark.

"In a way he's right," the witch commented, "if Sophie does wake up and you are falling asleep on your feet, you will be of no help to her. Now go take a bath, get some rest, and return to your sexy-looking self. Go."

"Fine, I'm going," Howl grumbled, "but under protest." He got up and headed for the bathroom, grabbing a change of clothes on his way out. They were right though, he thought, a bath did sound very appealing.

"Don't worry," the witch said, "if her fever breaks we will tell you."

Markl and the Witch of the Waste watched him leave, before the witch occupied the seat Howl had just previously vacated, and Markl sat down on the bed. Neither of them needed to say so, but it was obvious that both of them were very worried for the young woman on the bed.

Howl, on the other hand, continued to grumble the whole way to the bath. When he was done, clothed once more, and feeling somewhat refreshed, he headed downstairs to rest on the couch.

"Eh, lover boy's finally here," Calcifer commented, "finally tore yourself away from the fair maiden to take care of yourself? At least you guys left me supply of wood here so I don't die out. Hello? Hey! Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey…" Howl was too out of it to come up with a snarky reply, or even to tell the fire demon to shut up. He finally made it to the couch and collapsed onto it, and was asleep ten seconds after Heen jumped on his chest. Heen also curled up, and followed Howl into sleep.

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The next eight or so hours passed pretty much uneventfully. In the sense that nothing exploded, and no one died. Howl slept, and Sophie had some periodic attacks, but the Witch of the Waste and Markl were there for her to help her get through it. Heen, however, had woken up and jumped off Howl's chest, and was once again occupying himself with chasing his tail.

Suddenly, upstairs, Sophie took a deep, shuddering breath and opened her eyes. Her eyes were cloudy but clearing, evidence that her fever was breaking. The two other occupants in the room gasped, and large smiles broke out on there faces. Sophie looked around, confused.

"Howl?" she asked softly, "where's Howl?"

At that exact moment, downstairs, Howl's eyes snapped open, "Sophie!" he exclaimed, and shot off the couch and upstairs. He slammed open the door, and gazed inside, "Sophie!" he exclaimed once again, "you're awake! Thank God!" He rushed in and pulled her into his embrace, "I thought I lost you," he murmured in her ear, "I was so scared." He reluctantly released her from his arms, and pulled back long enough only for her to catch her breath, before swooping in again and kissing her passionately on the lips.

Eventually they had to break apart for air, and both were breathing heavily.

"Howl," Sophie asked, "when did you get back?" Howl looked at her wide-eyed and confused. He lifted a hand and brushed back her starlight-colored hair, which was falling into her eyes.

"What do mean?" he responded, "I haven't left for a week. I got back and—" he stopped and gasped, "you don't remember anything, do you?"

"Remember… what?" Sophie looked around at the others, waiting for them to explain what was going on.

"Sophie, dear" the Witch of the Waste began, "you've been sick and more or less unconscious for over a week. Howl was at your side the whole time; until just a few hours ago when we sent him downstairs to get some real rest."

"Really?" Sophie asked, wide-eyed. Howl nodded, sheepishly.

"Now," the Witch of the Waste put in, "Sophie, lets get you cleaned up, and then you and Howl can have all the together time you want." And with that she shooed Howl and Markl out of the room to tell Calcifer to warm up some water and let him know Sophie was finally awake, while she stayed to help Sophie prepare for her bath.

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"So what are you so nervous about?" Calcifer asked, "you know she's going to say yes. Besides, you've done it once before, call it a dress rehearsal or something."

"I know," Howl replied, "that doesn't make it any easier. I rambled like an idiot last time."

"What are you talking about?" Markl asked, but both Calcifer and Howl ignored him.

"But, you have it," Calcifer questioned.

"Of course I have it," Howl snapped, "it's become a nervous habit. I keep checking to make sure it's in my pocket, and—Sophie." He broke off what he was saying as he saw Sophie walking downstairs with the witch's assistance. He smiled and stood up, opening his arms to his love, "Sophie you look beautiful."

Sophie walked towards him, blushing a little,and he gently lifted her up in his arms and placed her in a chair(4). She smiled up at him and wondered why he seemed so nervous. Howl fidgeted and placed his hand in his pocket.

"Umm, Sophie, I asked you this once before, but you don't remember it, so I'm going to try once again, and hope nothing goes wrong this time. I just have to remember exactly what I said," Howl paused for a few moments before continuing, "Sophie, you and I have known each other for a long time, and you know that you have helped me and changed me in so many good ways. Know that I would die for you, you are my life, my love." Howl got down on one knee, and pulled the ring-box out of his pocket with one hand, opening it, and took one of Sophie's in the other and placed it over his heart.

"My heart beats for you Sophie, and it belongs to you; it always has. I really almost thought I lost you before, and I never want to be apart from you again. Would you… make an honest man, wizard," he corrected himself, "if there is such a thing, out if me? I love you Sophie, would you marry me?" He let go of Sophie's hand, took the ring out of the box, and slipped it onto her finger.

"Oh Howl, I love you too!" Sophie cried, and threw herself into his arms, covering his lips with her own. Heen chuckled, and the Witch of the Waste covered Markl's eyes, and Calcifer went "awwwwww". They broke apart, and there were tears in Sophie's eyes.

"It's for real, isn't it?" she asked, trying not to bawl, "it's really real?"

"Yes, it is. Oh, Sophie, what's wrong?" Howl asked, cupping Sophie's face, and brushing a tear off his fiancé's cheek. They looked into each other's eyes and knew that neither would be happy with anyone else, and that was just fine with them.

"Nothings wrong," she responded, starting to laugh, "I'm just so—so happy!" And with that Howl laughed too, and then kissed her again.

"I am too, love," he responded when the kiss ended, "I am too. The future is definitely looking up."

And a new story had just begun…

--OWARI--

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(1) I know, I know, an overused line, but hey, she's half asleep (in fact the whole first page is probably cliché, but what in HMC fanfiction isn't?)

(2) tender loving care :)

(3) yup, that's exactly what he says; the Japanese version translates to: "I'm through running away. I've finally found someone I want to protect. You." (thank you subtitles), but I decided to use the English version of the lines in the fic. both sound very romantic, but I think the English ones sound more romantic

(4) déjà vu anyone? No, it's not going to be exactly the same, but yes, it will be quite similar

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Okay! It's done! Yay! Yes I know it's really bad, but there are some parts which I think have merit. Also, I know the title practically gives away the whole story, I'm sorry! I might add another mini-fic about the wedding (as another chapter or another one-shot I don't know yet) but it all depends on reviews if I do at all! Hint, hint… I'm probably going to add an omake to this sometime (teaser: in which Howl sings karaoke), but not now, it's finals week for me, and I should have been studying during the time I wrote this up. Remember, reviews are a writer's best friend, so please, please let me know what you thought of this, "like omgwtf, you suck a$$! This is total $#i+" and other such flames, do not count, and will just get fed to my muses. Thank you again, and I'm probably going to make edits at some point over the summer, so if you have some constructive criticism :twitch: whoa, that sounded way too teacher like, but still…if you have constructive criticism, I will keep it in mind when I make edits, but that doesn't mean I will change what you want me to change necessarily… i'm also sorry for any grammar mistakes that I didn't catch or that ff .net caused (evil ff .net) i have no beta,w/e, REVIEW PLEASE :) hugs

-m-chan, signing off…