"Howl Jenkins! Have you completely lost your mind?"
Sophie stared open-mouthed in shock. It was her. A 50ft tall towering model of her. Constructed in it's entirety out of flowers. It was HUGE. Calcifer was roaming the statue of sorts, taking care to not get close enough to burn whilst cackling and wolf-whistling his approval.
Howl appeared then, landing lithely on his feet with a faint whump in front of her. And Sophie's jaw dropped even lower for the notoriously vain Wizard Howl was looking, if possible, an even bigger mess than he had that morning. His hair was sticking up in twenty different directions, his clothes were splattered in mud something else Sophie was sure would take at least three different stain removal spells to take out and god knows what poor creature had died on his boots. And yet, for all of his disheveled appearance, not to mention his total disregard of personal hygiene he stood with his arms open, a grin that split so wide it could very well break his face and cheeks flushed a rosy red.
"Well?" he asked, the gleam in his eyes a little too bright. "What do you think?"
The first thing Sophie did- which was wise considering flies were probably nearby with the state Howl was in- was to close her mouth.
The second thing she did was to eye the parade float of herself critically before turning her eye back to the half-crazed wizard in front of her. Considering this was Sophie, this was also rather wise seeing as she had decide against criticizing something she hadn't even examined properly.
She had thought her third move to be wisest of all but a girl can't get everything right; she opened her mouth. Then, to the crowd's surprise, closed it. But then she pursed her lips and opened it again. The crowd tensed in excitement, finally getting the chance to witness one of Howl and Sophie's notorious fights without having to cement their ears to the flower shop door. They were glad the couple were finally giving some thought to their bruised knees and sore backsides from crouching under their window sill for so long.
"Howl," said Sophie, completely oblivious to the circle of spectators that had formed around them and the float. "Will you-"
"Yes?" he asked, his grin so wide it probably bruised his cheeks.
She looked at him strangely for a minute. But the expectant, blinding, quivering grin did not fade. She gave a small shrug and ploughed on. "Will you please tell me what this is all about?"
To say Howl's face fell would be the biggest understatement of the century- it all but slipped of his head. He hung his head. The crowed flinched and 'oohed' in consolation- not that they had any idea what Howl was on about either but still. Indeed, even Sophie in her wildest slime-induced nightmares could not have envisioned what was to follow. "Howl?" she asked, concern flooding her voice as the wizard's sorry form began to tremble. "Are you alright?"
Howl's body shook and shuddered. Dark storm clouds began rolling in. An ominous growl of thunder sounded overhead. Worried patrons began hurrying into nearby doorways to protect their May Day best where they would still be able to watch the showdown.
"Howl?" asked Sophie tentatively.
But the tempestuous wizard was deaf to her and any who wished to reason with him. The storm clouds were directly above by now, a cold, biting wind whipping at their faces and clothes.
"You said you would," he said in a low voice, head still bent. A fierce gust swept through the town square sending those of lighter stature sailing past. "You promised!" he screamed.
"Howl!" shrieked Sophie, holding down her dress with her hand and digging in her heels with a bit of extra magic.
"I did everything you said!" he continued, his green eyes flashing with sparks of madness and uncontrollable magic. "I fulfilled every single one of your little requirements!" He pulled at his hair causing a few bolts of lightening to strike the ground near his feet. "WHAT DID I DO WRONG?"
"WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?" Sophie yelled back trying to make herself heard over the roar of the wind. Fist-sized raindrops began to fall.
The crowd had by now fully disappeared; those that hadn't blown away had finally decide it simply wasn't worth it (besides, it'd be far more enjoyable to pretend like they had been there and fill in the details themselves).
Howl stared at Sophie, his mouth still half open. It took a few minutes before her words finally registered.
"You- you honestly have no idea what this is all about?" he asked incredulously, his features reverting to a semblance of normality. The wind gradually died down till it was reduced to a playful breeze.
"No," said Sophie stiffly, smoothing down her dress and wringing out her hair. "I do not. So if you could kindly explain to me what this madness has been all about, I would be very grateful."
Howl's expression shifted into one of shock, his jaw hanging slack and then one that was distinctly sheepish. And, as Howl hated feeling embarrassed to any extent, he covered it up by being dreadfully dramatic- and by doing so hopefully shifting some of the embarrassment onto his dearly beloved. Sophie waited, her arms crossed.
"All my efforts, wasted!" he cried, having fully reverted to normal. "All my romantic endeavors, lost to ignorance!" he said, holding a trailing sleeve up to his face.
Sophie threw up her hands and huffed. She turned on her heel and marched back towards the shop not wanting to made a fool of any longer than necessary.
"My poor bruised-"
He stopped mid-sentence.
Howl, thanks largely to a mud-encrusted sleeve blocking his view, had missed Sophie's disgruntled exit and thus when he peeked through the holes in his sleeve he found himself standing quite ridiculously alone in the square of Market Chipping. "Bother that woman," he grumbled striding towards the shop. "She'lll be the death of me yet." He slammed the door behind him and went inside. "Sophie?" he called into the gloom.
"She went out to kill some weeds," said Calcifer. Howl looked at the smug orange fire ball sitting in his grate and glared the fiercest glare he could muster. Calcifer didn't flinch. "No point trying to calm her down looking like that."
Howl looked down at his clothes and in the next instant was gone. "Hot water Clacifer! Now!"
Sophie lay her half-empty watering can beside her and sat down upon a small knoll of grass. She'd walked quite far away from the castle; she could see the small turrets and the little multi-coloured flags Michael had fastened atop of them for May Day. She pulled her knees up to her chest and sighed, not wanting to think about Howl or any of his crazy antics for once. The cool spring breeze helped. She took off her hat and undid her hair braid, letting the wind play in her red gold tresses.
Howl shielded his eyes from the onslaught of sunlight and looked around. He eyed a solitary figure crowned by a flag of fiery red and smiled.
"Go away Howl," she said without opening her eyes as the scent of elderflower and hyacinth engulfed her. Well at least he'd had a shower.
"I do believe this is still a free country, my dear," he said teasingly, sitting down beside her. "Unless of course the flowers have pledged their allegiance to you without my knowing."
Sophie opened her eyes and snapped. "What do you want?"
"You really don't know why I've been running around like a headless chicken all week? Well, no," he continued not giving her the chance to open her mouth. "That would explain your actions now of course. But then I always thought it was just your inherent stubbornness acting up again..."
"Are you going to explain yourself or do you expect me to sit here and listen to you insult me?"
Howl laughed and then fell silent.
"Well?" she said.
Howl laughed nervously again and gave her a quick sideways glance. "You honestly don't remember? At all?"
"Just try," pleaded Howl with a mixture of exasperation and embarrassment in his emerald eyes. "Please."
Seeing he was not doing this to make her feel silly she crossed her arms and furrowed her brow in thought. "You're going to have to give me a clue at least."
"A few days after Michael's birthday," he said promptly. Sophie raised her eyebrows in surprise but closed her eyes and thought nonetheless.
-They'd given Michael his presents; an old spell-book from Howl and a new suit from Sophie. Martha had showed up with a three-tiered cake and they'd all had a lovely time. After the cake and presents Michael had proposed and then-
Howl fought with his fidgeting beside her.
She opened her eyes.
"Well?" he asked, using a carefully blase attitude to mask his hope.
"The wedding?" she asked. "You're not telling me this was all so that you wouldn't have to do Martha's fireworks are you?" she said, eyes narrowed.
Howl pinched the bridge of his nose. "I swear I am this close to sliming, here and now." He looked up and cut Sophie's protests short. "Of course this isn't about their bloody wedding!" he snapped.
Sophie looked up at him then; his tousled, damp blonde hair; his viridescent eyes, his pale, porcelain skin- She'd never been one to judge based on looks but Howl was undoubtedly a very handsome man.
"Close your eyes," he ordered, placing two fingers on her either side of her head. "And concentrate."
Sophie obeyed. No sooner had her eyelids closed a slow steady stream of what felt like cool liquid coursed through her forehead and suddenly she could see Michael's birthday as though she was there. Except it was from Howl's point of view because she could see herself quite clearly handing Michael his suit. Then the scene blurred and she could hear snippets of the conversation they'd had '-wonderful news! Congratulations Michael! I'm so... . And suddenly they'd skipped to the little dinner they'd had after the party, just her and Howl while Michael escorted Martha home. The scene finally steadied and she watched with amusement as she watched herself eat while Howl's voice floated out of her mouth.
The other-her snorted.
'Howl Jenkins, I wouldn't marry you even if you asked me. No,' continued the other-her. 'If ever we get married I'll be the one to do the asking; I still don't trust you Howl Jenkins,' she half joked, waving a piece of meat at him.
He dabbed daintily at his mouth. 'Oh? Knowing you, you probably have a whole list of criteria that I can't fulfill.'
'Mhmm,' she said, playing along. 'My husband will have to be selfless and generous and hardworking and humble and not vain-' she said, counting off the traits on her fingers.
Howl laughed but not unkindly. 'Then I wish you luck in finding a husband, madam'.
The scene dissolved and as Howl pulled back, the grassy knoll reappeared around her. Howl fiddled with his jacket and did not look at her.
"But I thought you didn't like the idea of marriage," she said at last. "You pulled enough jokes at poor Michael about it."
"I didn't," he replied stiffly. "But that was before I knew that you cared so little for the notion."
Now, there were two ways Sophie could take this: a) that Howl had intended all along for her to propose to him and therefore she could berate him for dismissing marriage only because he thought that she'd do it for him eventually (not that marriage could be done by one person, but then who knew how Howl's brain worked) OR b) that the absolute inconceivable had happened and the Howl Jenkins actually wanted to get married without the aid of a law ordering him to do so by decree of the King of Ingary and she should just capitalize on the moment.
But then again this was a marriage proposal, albeit a rather perverse one but still this was a man asking for her hand. The question now was, should she give it to him? She reflected upon all of Howl's crazy antics the past week; the bouquet of flowers, the rain of gifts, the finishing the King's errands before they were due, the running out of the house looking like a haystack on legs... And decided that perhaps she could, but just to make sure she would opt for choice b).
"Now, correct me if I'm wrong," she began, tapping a finger to her chin. "-and I may be very wrong here- but are you asking me to believe that- it's absurd, I know- but are you actually saying that you want to get married?" She gave the discomfited wizard the most guileless look she could muster and waited for his reply.
"I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch that."
"Oh look, I think I hear Calcifer calling me-"
Sophie yanked him by the coattails and sat him back down. "You are not going to slither out of this one, mister," she said sternly. "Now answer my question; do you or do you not want to get married?"
He heaved a sigh and threw up his hands."Yes," he said grumpily. "Happy?"
"Good," she said, getting to her feet and smoothing out her dress. "Then I expect you to do this properly." Howl looked at her blankly. "You don't really expect me to do the proposing, do you? I may be forthright for a lady, Howl, but I still have standards."
Howl grinned deviously. "But you said, and I quote, 'If ever we get married I'll be the one to do the asking'." Sophie glared.
"Howl Jenkins if you don't ask me to marry you now I will never say yes even if you bring down the moon and stars as gifts."
Swiftly smoothing his features he stood up dusting off his trousers and deliberately towered over her. Sophie glowered up at him. He smiled charmingly and gracefully sank onto one knee, pulling out a small velvet box nestled conveniently in the lining of his jacket.
He took hold of her hand and repeated the question that was as old as time itself. "Sophie Evangeline Hatter, will you be my wife?"
Sophie eyed him critically, her left hand still in his. "Do you promise to stop sliming the castle?"
Howl looked vexed, knowing full well what was going to follow. "Yes."
"And to never again put on such a hideous display of affection like you have been doing so this past week? And to let me have my turn at the shower before midday? And-"
Howl forced the little silver ring on her finger. "There," he said triumphantly. "Now you have to marry me- whether you like it or not."
Sophie was about to stutter her half-hearted protests when a thunderous round of applause suddenly filled the air and the townsfolk who had been hiding amongst the flowers the entire time jumped to their feet and cheered. Well, it wasn't exactly an 'I do' but it would have to do. Sophie stared at the little diamond ring; not too big that she would feel uncomfortable wearing it but big enough to show that it probably cost a pretty penny. The men of the village were clapping him on the back and Calcifer was making little fireworks explode in the air above their heads.
Howl extracted himself from the exuberant townspeople and made his way over to his bride-to-be's side. "You planned all this, didn't you?" said Sophie with a reluctant smile.
"Who, me?" he said innocently. Sophie swatted him affectionately on the arm. "Now, my fiance," he said sweeping her up into his arms to the crowd's approval and Sophie's blush. "It is time we planned our wedding."
A/N: Wooooh! It's finally finished! :D Like you all didn't see this coming a mile away. Sorry if the characters seem a little OOC- I did try, honest- but i didn't refer to the book as much for this chapter, so...
I dragged this on for as long as humanly possible haha. ANd I'm still not too happy with the ending -.-; PLEASE review and tell me what you guys think. You have an authoress on her knees here. I'm begging.
*Little note: The whole idea for this came from the fact that Howl would probably never have the guts to ask for commitment himself and therefore would capitalize Sophie's offer to be the one to force the marriage contract into his hands. That, and how Howl loves a challenge :3. Do you think I managed to carry it off? I can't remember if it was mentioned in the book but the name 'Evangeline' just seemed to work for Sophie :)
Hope you guys enjoyed the story! =D