Lingering Perils of War
I do not own Howl's Moving Castle, the characters are all properties of Diane Wynne Jones and Studio Ghibli. This is just my personal thoughts on what might have happened after the movie, with some elements from the book thrown into the mix.
English is not my first language, so feel free to point out any possible errors of spelling and grammar, and I will try to correct them!
Sophie and Howl are married, and Ingary is being rebuilt after the war. But as Howl comes down with a mysterious illness, the residents of the Moving Castle become aware of that the perils of war will linger much longer than expected.
Genres: Angst, hurt/comfort, romance
Warnings: Rated T for possible frightening imagery/descriptions and suggestive adult themes. Just beware-this is NOT your usual light hearted fluffy HMC fic. Consider yourselves warned.
Other notes of interest: As I first got inspired to write this scenario, I wanted to get to the action right away. Then I realized that the story is set quite a bit into the future from where the movie ends. There are lots of things in need of explanation-sometimes, even *I* had a hard time grasping some of the events that obviously have occurred. Hence, I chose to include most of the important episodes from Sophie's and Howl's time together. Some of them might not be very detailed-in fact, on request, I'd be happy to develop them into separate stories. Still, these events are rather crucial to the storyline, so I suggest you'd read it from the beginning.
Another thing that might be of interest regarding this story is that by the time the first chapter is posted, I do have several chapters in store that are only in need of minor adjustments before publishing. I promise it won't be long between the postings, especially if I'm getting aware of that there are people following (and maybe enjoying) this.
So… let's get on with the story then, shall we?
"Sophie… please… be back soon… promise! Promise you won't stay there and move in with them… pleeease!"
Sophie couldn't help a small giggle escaping her as Markl was grasping her skirt, burying his face in the fabric. However, she was aware of that there was more to this clinginess than just mere affection. Orphaned at an early age, Markl had been left to sleeping at people's doorsteps, until Howl had taken him in as his disciple. The fear of separation was deep within him.
Kneeling down, she returned the embrace, and ruffled his hair while meeting his anxious eyes. "Markl, dear… look…"
She showed him her left hand, where the stone of her wedding ring glistened like a firefly in the dim light. "I and Howl are married now, see? Married people wouldn't move out to live with their sisters, no matter how dear they are to them. They just want to visit them once in a while."
They were interrupted by a voice from the staircase. "This is what married people do!"
Sophie wasn't certain whether he'd been using magic or that it was just the swiftness of his feet, but in the wink of an eye, she felt Howl's arms grabbing her from behind. Even before she could catch her breath he'd swept her up, and his lips met hers in a passionate, but deliberately over dramatic kiss.
"Oh Howl… you… you-" Giggling, Sophie struggled just a bit, trying to free herself.
"I love you so much, Sophie." Howl pulled back a little, and his eyes, now serious, met hers. "I'll miss you."
This time, Sophie returned his kiss. "And I love you, Howl."
"Bleeeh!" Markl wrinkled his nose in disgust, turning his back on the couple. "I'm NEVER gonna get married," he muttered under his breath as he scurried upstairs, Heen the dog following in his footsteps.
Sophie shook her head, laughing, but Howl's eyes were serious again, and she quickly sobered.
"It may still be dangerous out there… are you really certain you should go alone? I can go with you…" He took her hands, entwining his fingers with hers, stroking them gently.
She shook her head. "I know, but you shouldn't worry… I'll be all right, and we'd have to bring Markl along… it would be far more dangerous for him, especially considering that dog would get into everything…"
Howl nodded. "I know. But it's just…" He was trailing off, brows furrowed but his eyes locked on her.
Sophie pulled their joined hands closer, pressing them to her heart. "I know you care. But I will be back soon, in pristine condition. I swear."
They hugged and kissed once more before Sophie turned the handle to yellow-the Market Chipping portal door. A sickening metallic smell merged with smoke and something which origins she really didn't want to speculate upon, hit her with a gust of wind as the door blew open. She shuddered a little, but tried her best to conceal it.
"I'd better get going, then. But remember my instructions, and don't get too carried away, you two." She winked.
Howl nodded obediently, trying but failing to conceal a slight annoyance. "Dinner's in the cupboard, just heat and eat, and Markl in bed at nine if you're not back until then" he chanted.
"Very good." Sophie giggled. "And make sure to get some dinner yourself, too."
"Yes, ma'am." Howl initiated a hand motion that probably was meant to be a salute, but froze in mid air, quickly composing himself, shivering slightly. Sophie knew that by now, even the smallest reminder of the war would make him uncomfortable.
After placing another quick kiss on his nose, Sophie took a deep breath and let go of Howl's hands. She stepped outside hearing the door close behind her, knowing Howl would pose himself behind the window, watching her until she was out of sight.
The evening breeze was warm and moist, and the blue sky of the clear summer afternoon was a deep contrast to the charred town surrounding Sophie as she was walking down the street, trying to avoid the craters and the scattered pieces of twisted metal and debris. It had been more than a year now since the peace talks were initiated, but only a few months before the actual signing of the peace treaty and the last flare up of the war.
There were not a single structure that had made it through the war intact. At the station, the ghostly remains of a train were still waiting for departure; a sinister creature with iron claws and crumbled funnels blindly trying to crawl its way out, though its wheels would always be welded to the zig zagged twisted rails.
All that remained of the once so magnificent church closest to their home was a scattered pile of boulders and the very tip of the tower; the spire, though somewhat bent, still pointing toward the sky in a gesture of defiance.
The shops and cafés along the main street were all in ruins-including her own hat shop and childhood home. Initially, as she came back from the Wastes with her new family after the returning of Howl's heart, they had been unable to find her sisters and her step mother. Furthermore, Howl had been feeling so weak and heavy that he could barely make it off the ground; he'd felt like having to learn how to fly all over again.
He'd found that he was still able change into a birdlike form, but his new preferred shape was slender, partly humanoid… far from his former monster creature. Nevertheless, it took him a long time to muster up the strength and skill to scout the landscape as he did before.
There had of course been other, even more urgent matters to attend. With all the portals destroyed and the castle in scattered pieces (as well as the house in Market Chipping), Howl and Calcifer had had to build something that at least would do as a makeshift home for the family, and it had to be finished before the first nightfall. Despite a great effort and much help from Calcifer, Howl had only been able to create a moderate sized, sparsely decorated common room with a single window and a couple mattresses and blankets on the floor. Naturally, there was also a bathroom, but only with the most basic equipment; a toilet and a basin with a shower hose attached, and towels no bigger than sheets of paper.
Initially, there had only been two portals-the black and the green colors on the dial. From the outside, the castle had looked like a giant cannon ball with two dark eye cavities; its surface resembling an iron patched quilt. Squatted in the midst of the Wastelands on its raptor like feet, it hadn't been moving at all, and it would take a long time before it did.
The first night, everyone but Sophie had fallen asleep the second they'd hit their mattresses. Still too overcome with emotion, in a strange way like she had never experienced before, she found her mood pending between feeling on the brink of laughter and on the verge of tears. There had been no more kissing between her and Howl… he had just been able to manage a faint "good night" before he'd slumped down on his bed in a far corner of the room.
Eventually, Sophie gave up on sleep, and rising from her bed, she positioned herself by the window. A soft rain was falling over the wastelands, but the almost full moon was still visible through the clouds. Walking over to Howl's bed, kneeling down, she watched his sleeping face, desperately trying to quell the desire to kiss him awake.
Even with all his beauty spells disarmed, he looked almost like a work of art, she mused. However, a twitch of his face indicated that he wasn't sleeping peacefully, and suddenly he bolted upwards, eyes wide open in panic, clutching his chest. Sophie was so startled that she nearly pulled away as he clung to her, pulling her into a tight embrace.
"'Tis all right," she soothed. "It will just take some time to get used to the sensation…"
Quietly, Howl buried his face in her gown, and she held him, gently stroking his back, until his labored breathing had slowed, and she felt his body relaxing again.
"Please… stay…" he pleaded in a whispering voice.
"I'll be right here," she promised, pulling her mattress closer, so that their headboards now were facing each other. Naturally, part of her was longing for just… snuggling up under his blanket, holding him close for the rest of the night… or at least placing her bed alongside his, but she knew it wouldn't be proper, considering that they weren't married… Instead, she just positioned herself so she could feel a light brushing of his hair against her forehead, and offered him her right hand. He took it, clasping it in his. She gradually felt the grip weakening… until she was almost asleep herself, but suddenly, another noise got her attention.
Markl was standing by their beds, looking as he was about to burst into tears any moment. "I'm scared… and cold… and hungry!"
Not until then it dawned on her that their entire storage of food was gone, and there was nothing edible in the house whatsoever. With the bombings, the stores wouldn't open for a long time, in any of the cities.
"I'm sorry, Markl…" she whispered. "Come here." She lifted her blanket for a bit, and the boy curled up against her.
Suddenly, though, she felt a slight shifting of Howl's bed, as he was making an almost undistinguishable motion with his free hand. And right in front of Markl, a sandwich appeared. Even though the bread was rather stale, and there was nothing on top of it save a thin layer of rather tasteless butter, it was edible, and Markl accepted it gratefully.
"Thank you, Master Howl" he managed in a happy sigh of a whisper. But Howl was already fast asleep, still holding Sophie's hand.
As soon as Markl was finished, he cuddled up under the blankets again, but this time, a hissing sound got Sophie's attention. Heen the dog was standing at the foot of her bed.
She sighed in resignation. "All right… go ahead."
Heen ran around in a small circle before eventually curling up in a ball against her feet. And thus, they were all falling asleep.
To be continued...