Disclaimer: All characters below belong to Dianna Wynne Jones (minus those who are obviously not).
I'd like to dedicate this story to Ms. Jones, who left us on March 26, 2011. She'll live forever in her wonderful works, and in the hearts of her readers.
(However, I'm not quite sure she'd approve of this content.)
Chapter 1: It Always Bloody Rains
It was a cold, rainy day that saw Sophie home from work. With a scowl, she tugged the collar of her pea coat tighter around her neck, and tucked her head down against the wind. London weather was never expected to be great, but today marked one of the more horrible days.
"Oh, it'll be just cloudy today, the weatherman is never right, it should be a nice walk so just let me borrow the car again," she muttered, mocking her ex-roommate who was obvious to blame for her current discomfort.
She had lived with her sister Lettie for one year when Lettie started university and Sophie was in her third year. A year later, she couldn't help but feel glad that her sister had just left to move in with her boyfriend. No more picking up dirty clothes, washing dirty dishes, and being bereft of the car when she really, really needed it. And no more spiteful pecking about her wardrobe either.
Sophie growled at the mess of rain in front of her, lost in thought. Her job didn't need her to dress up, not entirely, and she very well wouldn't. Organizing shipments, inputting profits, and discussing the next season's style, on top of coursework, were troublesome enough jobs without having to wear painful heels and restrictive skirts. Being the daughter of the company's president allowed her to stick behind the scenes. All the public relations and business deals were her step mother's job.
The rain was coming down even harder, and she had to squint her eyes to prevent the rain from blinding her. She knew her coat was going to stink something awful after getting this wet, and she'd given up trying to shield her purse.
So intent was she on getting home, that she didn't notice the two men standing in front of her until she nearly bumped into them.
"Hey mate, it's a little drowned mouse. How perfect."
"Yea mate, she looks like she needs something to warm her up."
"Well, we'd be happy to help her out, wouldn't we mate?"
"Oh yes, we'd be delighted."
They inched closer, their umbrellas hiding their faces in a sinister way. Sophie stepped back, nearly frozen with sudden fear. This would happen. All the shitty things always happened to her. In a past life she must have really pissed off someone.
"L-leave me alone," she squeaked out.
"Aw, it's so cute when it cheeps. Just like a little mousey. Don't worry, you'll be in...good hands."
At that, Sophie turned on her heel, and fled blindly into the opposite direction. Unfortunately, her escape was blocked. She had run directly into something solid, and had bounced off of it and onto the pavement.
Mentally groaning, she scrambled to get up on her feet, when a hand yanked her back up, eliciting a yelp from her.
"Pendragon," one of the men growled.
"Always a pleasure to see you, gentlemen." The hand wrapped around her shoulders, securing her to a chest, which rumbled pleasantly.
"You've got balls to show yourself, mate. Thought you learned your lesson the last time."
The voice laughed, and Sophie trembled as the sound carried through her. The thugs across from her sneered, their fat lips baring cigarette stained teeth.
"You think those ignorant plebeians could handle me? Your leader has always been, for lack of a more eloquent word, stupid."
"Don't insult the Lady!" The other man yelled, flipping out a switch knife and waving it menacingly. "Get lost, before you piss us off some more and we'll really teach you a lesson."
"I guess it can't be helped." The hand released Sophie and spun her around. She came face to face with a very handsome, very blonde man, who was holding an umbrella over both of them.
Huh, no wonder I felt dry...I hadn't noticed... she thought.
"Please wait here, miss, and don't run off." He turned to face the men, paused and then turned back towards her. "In fact, here take the umbrella, go stand over by the corner there, and if you would be so kind as to not call for the police I'd be most appreciative."
At a loss for words, Sophie did what she was told and backed up against the indicated wall, watching as the man calmly walked to one of the men and punched him in the face. The other man chucked his umbrella to the ground, grasping his knife. The man who had saved her was merely standing in front of them lazily.
The fallen man unsteadily picked himself up.
"Well?" her savior said.
With frustrated yells, both men leapt at him.
Sophie watched in frozen terror as the men reached for and grabbed at the blonde man, but they were only able to graze him as he dodged them, letting them stumble. The rain had immediately plastered all three of them with water, and Sophie merely clutched the umbrella handle tighter and squinted to see. She was aching to run, but she couldn't just leave her savior. Even if he had asked her not to go to the police, should she go anyway?
She realized then that she was in the middle of some sort of gang fight. Of course. Good fucking grief.
Distracted by her worrying, she almost missed it when one of the goons finally landed a punch. Her savior hissed in pain, and Sophie let out a loud gasp before hurriedly covering her mouth. Taking advantage of his pain, the other goon landed another punch and grappled with him before the blonde man threw him off, breathing heavily. The fist fight continued, the blonde taking hits to his face and stomach. Sophie clenched her jaw in horrified anticipation , until the worst possible thing happened.
The goon with the knife had slipped, and the blonde had miscalculated where the hit would land. The switchblade sunk into his shoulder, and he let out a pained exclamation. Sophie yelped, wishing she could do something, when she saw the other goon picking himself off the floor to ram into the blonde man, who was bent over, clutching his arm.
Impulsively, Sophie pulled shut the umbrella she was given, and ran over. Closing her eyes, she swung the umbrella like a baseball bat, whacking the goon in the head. The goon keeled over, clutching his nose, and she stood there, feeling slightly terrified at what she did.
Shit shit shit shit.
The other goon jumped back towards her savior, pulled out his blade and kicked the blonde man over, before stalking towards Sophie. Trembling, umbrella in hand, she backed away, swearing.
He made to leap at her, when a fist smashed him in the back of the neck, rendering him unconscious. Gaping, and still brandishing the umbrella, Sophie stared at the still man, before looking up.
The blonde man was standing there, now clutching his shoulder tightly. The thug Sophie had hit was now sprawled out cold in a doorway, where he'd hit his head on the stoop.
"Idiot girl, I told you to stay over there," he growled, before shakily falling to one knee.
His fall startled her out of her shocked revery, and she hurried over, discarding the umbrella.
She knelt before him, anxiously trying to inspect the wound he was squeezing the daylights out of. Though it was covered by his hand, she could see copious rivulets of blood streaming around it, and she cursed under her breath.
She moved next to him, and pulled him up, highly aware of his pained hiss.
"My flat, it's not too far from here...I have bandages and antiseptic and we should get out...of the rain..." He'd already stalked off in the direction she'd indicated, and she hurried to follow.
He sneezed in response.
They'd made it to her flat in record time, (despite her having to partly drag him the last few minutes as the blood loss got to him), into the elevator and into her apartment. She threw her sodden coat on the wooden floor, ignoring the fact that it was now half soaked with blood on a shoulder, and ran into the kitchen.
The man had followed her slowly, dripping rainwater and diluted blood on the floor as he glared balefully.
"What in the world are you doing in the kitchen."
She looked up, as she snatched the first aid from under the sink, and slapped it on the kitchen table.
"Getting you first aid?" She motioned for him to sit, and he did so, wavering on his feet.
"Don't people normally keep important things such as that in the bathroom, the place known for holding important things such as that?"
"So? I have more accidents in the kitchen than in the bathroom," Sophie retorted, feeling unnaturally defensive.
He merely huffed, and achingly peeled his coat off.
"That was Burberry too...bloody shame," he muttered.
Raking a hand through her tangled hair, and subsequently getting her hand tangled in it, Sophie sighed, and irritatedly opened the first aid, pulling out the iodine, cream, bandage rolls, stitch wire, stitch needle, clotting aid, sling, numbing spray, Advil, leftover Vicodin...
She stopped, and looked up irritably. The man was leaning back in the chair, leering with red-lidded eyes.
"Half of that stuff isn't even in a first aid kit."
"So? It's saving your skin, isn't it?...And I kind of need all this stuff." She mumbled the last part to herself, a blush rising on her cheeks as she remembered all the idiotic accidents she had gotten into. Slamming her arm in the cabinet door and getting it punctured by a random screw that was in the middle of said cabinet door was one of many embarrassing accidents.
"Hm...why am I not surprised."
She blushed furiously, and busied herself with the supplies. Antiseptic first, or numbing spray? Would it need stitches? Probably...although is it a good idea for a non-professional to be stitching up a...
There was a thud.
Sophie snapped her head up, to see that the man had slumped over in his chair, falling onto the table. She let out a sigh, blowing her hair out of her face.
"You have got to be kidding me. I swear, this is the worst day ever." Worse than boat accident day and bikini accident day combined. Raking a hand through her now half dry hair, she stalked over to his chair.
Arms akimbo, she glared down at the slump form, and poked it.
There was no response.
She glanced at his wound, which was still sluggishly bleeding. Grabbing a bandage roll and a cotton pad, she pressed the latter on the wound, and tied it tight with the former.
He stayed still, his breathing shallow.
Sophie glanced around, wondering where she should put him. There was no way she could carry him, so she'd have to drag him in the chair. Her bed was too far away, but the couch was right there...
Taking a deep breath, Sophie grabbed the back of his chair, and painstakingly dragged him across the linoleum onto the hardwood floor of her miniscule living room, half-heartedly blowing her hair out of her face. She hardly had any furniture, so maneuvering the chair to the couch wasn't too hard, and she only paused once to move the coffee table out of the way.
Stopping the chair directly next to the couch, she swung his legs up onto it, before lugging the rest of his body. He was dead weight, and she had to dig her fingers into his shirt to keep him from slipping.
Successfully on the couch, his head and injured arm still lolled off the side of the sofa, and she had to prop it up with the chair. A little push took care of his head, but when she pulled her hands back, they were covered in a sticky yellow residue. Looking closer at his hair, she could see black roots showing through what seemed to be very expensive spray on hair dye. She nearly gagged, and ran to the kitchen to wash her hands. It felt like they were covered with sludge, and it was extremely unpleasant.
On to more important things.
Sophie grabbed her supplies, cradled them to her chest, and carried them back to the living room, spreading them out on the coffee table. She had only stitched up someone once, and it was Martha, and under Martha's instruction. Martha was studying to be a nurse.
She could do this though!
Antiseptic and numbing spray in hand, she turned on towards the man, when she realized he still had his shirt on. A long sleeved, form fitting shirt, which needed to come off. A shirt covering a body, she finally noticed, that was quite fit. Shaking her head, she placed her implements down, and crawled over, her hands hovering uncertainly over the hem of his shirt. She sucked in a breath, biting her lip agitatedly.
"Oh, fuck it. If he dies, I'll have even worse problems to deal with than undressing an unconscious body."
Determined, she first undid the makeshift bandage. Then up inched the damp shirt, her eyes averted.
It was going well, beautiful abs aside, until she got to his armpits. Biting her lower lip harder, she pulled at the shirt, folding the uninjured arm to slip the sleeve off, and then holding his head up so she could slip it through the hole. She gingerly inched the shirt over his wound, flinching when a small moan escaped his mouth. It was with a relieved sigh that she finally got the shirt off, and she wiped off his hair goo on it.
Sophie uncertainly picked up the antiseptic and numbing spray that she left on the floor, and applied them carefully to the wound. His face was looking hot, and when she placed her hand on his forehead, it was burning with a fever. She almost got off her feet to get a damp cloth, when it occurred to her that she was avoiding the most pressing problem.
"Wound. Focus on wound. Then everything else."
Sophie was sprawled on the floor, absolutely exhausted. She peeked a glance up at her charge, who was sleeping soundly on her couch. She had tugged off his pants, as they were sodden, and placed a few towels under him to keep him dry (especially under his head, she didn't want that goo on her sofa). Of course, she maintained perfect composure the entire time.
Afterwards, she layered blankets on him, and placed a cool cloth on his forehead. And for good measure, she placed a chair under his draped legs so that they were comfortably stretched out.
When she was satisfied that he was in as good shape as she could manage for her conscience, she'd flopped onto the floor, tired to the bone.
It was 11 o'clock at night, and she still hadn't had dinner, and she was a frizzy mess, and all she really wanted was a shower. And food. And sleep. New shipment logs were coming in tomorrow, and she had a pile of unfinished coursework a mile high.
She dragged herself into a sitting position, pausing before she hauled herself to her feet.
"Okay. I'll take a shower, and get into my pj's, and have a quick bite. Then I'll check on him and then, then I'll go sleep. Glorious, glorious sleep."
Fifteen minutes later, a clean and content ginger stepped out of her bedroom, fluffing her towel-dryed hair. Stalking into the kitchen, she bee-lined towards the fridge and pulled out the leftover lasagna, intent on eating it out of the container.
She grabbed a fork, and went into the living room, plopping herself in the only armchair. The man was still out cold, and he hadn't moved an inch from where she left him. He was sleeping peacefully, his lips slightly parted.
A sigh passed through a lasagna filled mouth, and she suddenly lost her appetite after a few bites.
Looking down at the blob-like food, she suddenly felt a rush of fatigue.
With a groan and a pop, she got out of the chair and deposited her food back into the fridge. Next to the fridge was the dishwasher, and Sophie pulled out a clean glass and filled it with water, before heading back to the living room. The water was placed on the table next to the Advil and Vicodin, in case he wanted a choice.
"I," Sophie stated to no one in particular. "Am going to sleep. Now."
And so she did.
The next day, her car was thankfully in the garage below the complex, where it belonged. However, Sophie drove it to work muttering about ironic events and horrible timing that plagued her life. She muttered through a giant pile of paperwork, which she found out later were only copies and that her secretary had already sent in the official documents. She muttered when she found out that they had gotten too many shipments of the plain blue hat bases, and had to call the company to send them back. She muttered through her Japanese culture lecture, and she muttered when she drove home, with the sun setting brightly in a cloudless sky.
"Honestly," she huffed.
With all her mutterings, a cloud of discontent had begun to roil over her head, and she was in a horrible mood when she unlocked her apartment. The mood slightly worsened when she saw that her couch was unoccupied.
The chairs were all replaced, the blankets were haphazardly folded on the sofa arm, and all the supplies (except the Vicodin and bandages) had disappeared, most likely back into the little first aid box. The man was no where to be seen, but as she walked further into the apartment, dropping her keys on the counter, she could hear the sound of running water.
Now sure of where her invalid had disappeared to, she trudged into her bedroom and changed out of her baggy work clothes into baggy sweats.
Tired, but with enough energy to make her antsy (the stomach butterflies were on a rampage), she stalked into the kitchen, and began puttering around, turning on the stove to boil water for tea. While she waited, she found herself staring absentmindedly at the man's coat, which was still hanging on the back of a chair. It was a dark navy, with a grey-silver lining that was most likely silk. The coat was also wool, although after leaning forward to take a discreet sniff, it didn't smell as awful as hers did. She didn't look at the pale brown-red stains that streaked the lining.
The sound of the pot's lid bouncing snapped Sophie back to reality, and she shuffled over to turn the stove off. She used to have a proper kettle, but Lettie had had an inordinate fondness for it, and so had taken it with her. Sophie pursed her lips irritably, splashing hot water on the counter as she poured the water into a mug.
The sound of the shower ceased as Sophie was on her tiptoes, reaching into the tea cabinet. Suddenly , a nervous feeling fluttered through her, making her fumble with the tea box. Half a dozen boxes went tumbling to the floor. Sighing, she bent down to pick them up, noticing that none of them were the tea she'd wanted.
"Mm, are you making tea?"
Sophie jumped with a small shriek, nearly dropping all the boxes she'd picked up. The man was leaning against the door jamb, wearing nothing but his pants. He had a towel around his neck (her favorite towel), and was halfheartedly fluffing the back of his hair. Hair that was now pitch black and hanging about his face, curling below his jawline. His body was glistening with rivulets of water that had escaped the towel. His eyelashes were sinfully long, a sooty line caressing his cheeks.
He strolled into the kitchen, unbothered by her ogling, and brushed past to retrieve a second mug from the cabinet, first try no less. Sophie remained still for a moment, before whirling around.
"Do you have mint? I feel today is a mint day. Or mint night," he stated, twirling the mug on a finger.
She snorted, and briefly glanced at a tea box in her arms before shoving it at him. Gorgeous he may be, but he was a dangerous stranger with no consideration for peoples' towels.
"Would you like mint as well?" he asked.
For some reason, Sophie was feeling weird. Her stomach was flip-flopping into her throat, her hands were trembling slightly, and she felt like laughing. So she did.
The man gave her nonplussed look, and then shrugged, taking care of his own tea before plopping down at the kitchen table.
Right. Chamomile tea, let's go. Sophie painstakingly put the boxes back, hissing angrily whenever a box made to fall out. Only when all the boxes were put back did she realized that she'd boxed in the tea she'd wanted. Jaw clenched, she gripped the counter top, almost entirely sure that she was seconds away from flipping it. In fact, she nearly went into the living room to flip the coffee table (which was actually flippable), when she felt herself pressed against the counter top by something very, very warm.
An arm appeared in her line of vision, and a breath of warm air tickled her neck. After a few seconds, she registered the air carried words along the lines of, "Shall I get it for you?".
"Uhm. Chamomile. At the back," she replied automatically, too dazed to formulate any other words.
With a whoosh of air, she was pressed further into the counter, and then she was free, her box of tea dropped courteously in front of her. A whiff of lilac, with a sudden rush of cool air, told her he'd retreated. (And that he'd used her expensive soap, the bastard.)
Plopping a crisp tea bag into her steadily cooling water, she shuffled over to the table and sat across from her savior, who had now draped the towel behind him, completely exposing his toned glory, minus the stark white bandages. Sophie bit her lip, and determinedly dunked her tea bag.
"So, seeing as I saved you from a traumatic experience which would've most likely involved your death, would it be too forward of me to ask a favor?"
Sophie glanced up, to see that he had leaned forward with his chin propped up on his hand which was propped up on its elbow upon the table.
Traumatic experi...oh. Rainy day accident.
"W-what sort of favor?" Damn it, she stuttered. She could already feel a blush crawling up her neck.
"Oh, nothing too—"
"Wait, wait," she interrupted. "I don't even know your name, and you don't even know mine. For someone who is so..." She paused, trying to think of an appropriate word.
"Chivalrous?" he offered.
"No, no." She bit her lip. "...superfluous." It was entirely unnecessary to expose her to all that skin. "Yes, superfluous about everything. I'm surprised you haven't kissed my hand and bowed over it already." That's right. Go Sophie.
He gave her a patronizing look, allowing her to see the beautiful shade of green his eyes were, before sighing indulgently.
"I do sincerely apologize for my lack of manners." He stood up, and moved to her side. "I am Howl Jenkins, or in most circles, Pendragon. It is a pleasure to meet you." With that, he took her hand, and kissed it lingeringly, and she couldn't help but noticed the amused quirk of his lips.
Uncomfortably and immediately pulling her hand out of his, she waved irritatedly back at his seat, where he went to sit good-naturedly.
"A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Pendragon—"
"Ah ah, it's just Pendragon. But feel free to call me Howl."
"Uhm. Howl." She blushed. "I'm Sophia Hatter, but you can call me Sophie."
"Ah, Sophia, Plato's fourth cardinal virtue, the coveted wisdom." He paused. "Not entirely appropriate."
Indignant, she made to defend herself but Howl cut her off.
"Just kidding. Mostly. You wouldn't happen to be Sophia Hatter, daughter of the President of Mad Hatters Co.?"
She glared suspiciously.
"Hm. Interesting, interesting. Well, now that introductions are finished..."
Sophie was holding her hand up, like a little girl in class. Amused, he nodded, indicating for her to continue.
"How do you know where I work?" The Mad Hatter Co. was a popular brand for hats, but its executives and their families weren't common knowledge.
He shrugged. "I know lots of things."
"Ahem...you leave your paperwork everywhere, not a very good habit you know."
Sophie pointedly looked around her spotless apartment.
"... And I have colleagues of sorts within that company."
"Oh." Colleagues, eh? "Well, what do you do?"
Howl raised an eyebrow. Sophie stared hard at him, intent on acquiring an answer. No normal person threw himself into street fights, fights with people who'd previously attempted to kill him. Or who just happened to have colleagues in her family's company that enabled him knowledge of its workers.
He fiddled with the handle of his mug, twisting the cup around on the table top, his face in contemplative thought. He made as if to reply twice, but remained silent instead. Sophie rapped her nails on the table impatiently.
With a sigh, he tapped his cheek with one long finger.
"Well, I suppose you could say I'm a jack-of-all-trades. For crime syndicates, of course."
Sophie gaped at him, slightly stunned by his blatant honesty. He waved a hand frustratedly, and placed the palm on the table, shifting his seat in the chair.
"Now. About that favor. I'm sure you have many questions you wish to satisfy, but your nosy side will have to restrain itself." He sipped his tea, grimacing slightly at its cool temperature, before continuing.
Sophie's eyes widened. "Wait...what exactly do you want me to do! You work for mafias!"
Howl opened his mouth, his eyes narrowing in frustration, only to be interrupted by the sound of an old fashioned telephone. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a thin mobile phone. Holding up a finger, he glanced at the caller id before sliding it open.
Sophie settled her chin tiredly on the back of her hand, staring balefully. Of course, he'd let an important conversation he instigated be interrupted for a phone. Did anyone have manners today?
And the man had lips to die for. It really wasn't fair.
"Ah, Cal. Yes I know we were supposed to go last night, however I ran into...yes. Well, I know that already, and am currently rectifying the situation. No, I don't check my mobile often, you know that."
They were full lips, but not to the point of being feminine. The bottom lip was slightly fuller than the top, and as he spoke they spread temptingly over straight, white teeth. She licked her own subconsciously.
"Get your ginger ass here then. Where is here? Hold on, I'll ask. Shut up for a moment. Sophie?"
"Hm?" She pulled her glazed gaze up to his eyes.
"What is your address?"
"11 Nansen Rd, flat 7R."
"11 Nansen Rd, flat 7R. Yea, Wandsworth. Hold on, let me rectify first, and then you can pop over. I don't know what I'll have to resort to yet." He glanced at her. "Although, I doubt it will take much."
He had a really nice jaw line too. Wait, what in the world is he resorting to? She readjusted her seat and recrossed her arms. Focussss.
"Yes. Yes. Calcifer...don't be sour. Fine. Pull up then. I'll be by the road." There was a distinct growl on the line, and then a click, before Howl slid his phone shut with a snap and returned his full attention to Sophie.
She glanced back at him, blinking tiredly.
Howl stood up, sweeping his coat on in a twirl, before leaning over to place a minty kiss on Sophie's mouth.
"Bye bye, now."
And then he was out the door, leaving Sophie sitting in her chair, looking unattractively stupid. The click of the door shutting brought back her senses, and she scrambled out of her chair, running to the window. She could see Howl stepping into a sleek black car, waving cheerfully at the driver.
Sophie ripped her window open.
"Wait! What about your favor?"
Howl had shut the door, and hadn't noticed her. The car pulled away with the screech of tires, and Sophie scrunched her nose at the smell of burnt rubber.
Shaking her fist out the window, she screamed at the disappearing black blot. "WHAT THE FUCK?"
That made her feel loads better.
AN: SO, do you like it? Tell me what you think?
I have one more chapter that is already written, and a positive response will help me churn out some more SophiexHowl lovey dovey ummyness.