Disclaimer: Howl's Moving Castle (c) Diana Wynne Jones.
A/N: This story is set after the animated movie version from Studio Ghibli. The movie differs from the original book in a number of areas so certain elements won't be the same here either. Hope you enjoy reading it!
Even after gaining hair the colour of starlight and the youth she had lost goodness knows how long ago, she still looked in the mirror and sighed.
How she could have turned out so plain when her sister and mother were both such stunning women, she had yet to understand.
Calcifer, being a flame that held an unusually high sense of self confidence, scoffed at her occasional worried glances into the mirror. She ought to be near bursting with pride, he said. After all, was she or was she not Sophie Hatter, once hale and hearty old woman who managed to free him of the complicated contracts? She only shook her head and made him bend his head for the frying pan.
Michael remarked that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever known in his entire life as he watered flowers within the moving castle. His honest eyes and the impish grin on his face made her smile but she knew the boy had quite some growing up to do. He would certainly meet much lovelier ladies when little Michael became as old as his mentor. She took comfort in the fact that with her around, perhaps he could be educated enough not to throw a slime filled tantrum if he was rejected by a girl.
All in all, she didn't really believe she was… beautiful. That adjective was applicable only to other people, other women who weren't her. When she thought of herself, the words 'clean' and 'stubborn at the right moments' came to mind. On a good day, perhaps 'not a bad loss' was present.
But Sophie Hatter was never beautiful, lovely or pretty in her own eyes.
"Penny for your thoughts?"
Sophie took in a deep breath, leaning back into a soft cotton shirt and warm, strong arms. His scent of cotton, cologne and the underlying increasingly familiar smell of magic powders filled her.
"You know… the usual."
"Ah, of course. The usual. What else could you be thinking of?"
Even if she had her eyes closed, she could practically hear the grin in his voice and smirked. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"That means, Mrs. Jenkins," She let out a small yelp as he swept her off her feet with a flourish. "You're thinking of how your wonderful, friendly, warm and ever charming husband has been neglecting you for the past few days and about how you're about to punish him for it even if the last thing he deserves is the cold shoulder."
Sophie was used to this sort of talk but it didn't mean she had to let him get away with it. And while she hadn't been thinking of that, she might as well not undeceive him on that point. After all, he had been 'neglecting' her in a way. "Mr. Jenkins, put me down this instant or I shall indeed make you sleep outside tonight."
In a voice that everyone but her would have identified as hurt welling from the deepest recesses of his heart, he protested. "Sophie!"
"I mean it!"
"But I haven't even made up for neglecting you," he replied as he opened their bedroom window with a mere nod of his head. "Why you misjudge me so often, I haven't the slightest clue."
Sophie snorted. It was a good an answer as anything she could have said in words.
Howl could only grin as he took off from the window sill in one smooth rustle of his coat and Sophie's skirt. Even if he had done this many times before, she still felt the need to cling to him as tightly as she could. He would never drop her, she knew… but there was always something about being over 30 feet in the air that was disconcerting.
"Now, Sophie, there's no need to choke the air out of me just because the king has been working me to death and keeping me away from home…"
Sophie gradually released him as they went upwards slowly. It was after dark now, with the sun having set about an hour ago. Trust Howl to be dramatic in his presentations…
"Howl, I think you've showed me the Milky Way before. You know… during our wedding night?" Despite herself, she smiled at him. It had been an amazing gesture… a wedding gift only he could have pulled off.
He gave her an appalled look. "As if I'd repeat myself. No, my dear, this is something completely…" He moved his hand once in a clockwise circle, twice in an anticlockwise circle and finished with a complicated looking wave.
Sophie stared as she floated in midair, hands still clasped to Howl's left one. Her eyes darted all across the scene in front of her, hardly believing it. Slowly, she took it all in before finding her voice to whisper.
Pleased at the reaction and deeper inside, warm at the fact that he had succeeded in making her happy, Howl nodded.
"Yes. It's you. A portrait of Sophie Jenkins… in the stars."
True to his words, her face had been made into a large constellation, twinkling silver stars connecting together at regular intervals to form the contours of her face, the familiar tilt of her eyebrow and the curve of her nose. Her lips were stretched into the calm smile she wore everyday.
"…it was a bit of work, trying to get those stars to form your forehead the way I wanted them though. Took me the better part of the day earlier on."
She looked up at him, knowing very well what such casual words were meant to disguise. He'd known. All along, he'd known just why she had been staring into the mirror so dejectedly.
Howl returned one of the smiles he only gave her – the one where it wasn't as charming as it was real and sweet. It was one thing she had asked of him long before they had gotten married and the one thing he had worked hard at to keep giving her every day.
"You do know you look like this everyday to me, don't you?"
She tried to chuckle through the swelling of her heart. "I, I look like a disconnected picture made of silver dots?"
He didn't laugh, merely smiling and shaking his head. "You make jokes at the worst times, my dear."
Howl bent lower, gracing her with a gaze that swallowed her in without hesitation.
"Sophie, you are the most beautiful woman on this earth and above it. Nothing will change that… not even you."
She broke into a smile, closing the short distance between them, kissing him softly for a moment. Drawing away, she surrounded his waist with her arms and leaned her head against his shoulder, feeling safe and comfortable now.
"You silver tongued, rascally excuse of a man."
She could feel the vibration of laughter that emerged from his throat. It only resulted in him getting hugged tighter.
"…thank you Howl."
He completed the embrace settling his head against hers as he watched the portrait of his wife twinkle against the night sky. Howl had thought that the stars were a pale comparison to the real thing but it was the best way he could think of to show her what he knew as pure, unshakeable truth.
That truly, he had not known such beauty before Sophie Hatter.