"Hey." A tall man dressed in a soldier's uniform drawled. He straightened up from where he stood leaning against the alley wall, a smile spreading across his face. Sophie, who had just about ran into him, held back a gasp. "Looks like a little mouse lost it's way."

"Oh," Sophie stared at him with wide eyes as she began to nervously back away. "No. I'm not lost." Undeterred by her timid refusal, the man simply smiled wider as his friend came out to stand beside him.

"This little mouse looks thirsty," he said, almost teasingly, as he stepped in front of her and blocked her way. "We should take her for a cup of tea."

"No thanks," Sophie glanced towards the ground, her hat shielding her face from view as the man's mustachioed friend leered at her. "My sister's expecting me."

"She's pretty cute," the man's mustache twitched as he smirked. "For a mouse."

"How old are you, anyway?" The first man leaned in closer, still smiling. Sophie looked up at the both of them with wide eyes. "You live around here?"

"Leave me alone!" Finally put up with their attitude, Sophie took a few steps back.

The two soldiers were not deterred. "Your mustache scares all the girls," the first man remarked, uncaring, as that damnable smirk still played upon his face.

"So?" His friend leaned in closer to Sophie once more. "I think she's even cuter when she's scared."

Please, Sophie prayed as she edged away from the soldiers, please just let me get out of here!

But she wasn't the youngest, or the middlest, or even really that pretty, so she wasn't too surprised when nobody came to save her.

"I have to go," she said as she edged away to the side and tried to make her way past them.

The first man still wore that strange little smirk when his mustachioed friend grabbed her arm. Hard. Sophie winced as his fingers dug into her arm with more than enough strength to bruise.

"You're not going anywhere," he said.

A/N: Because sometimes even I don't get it, so I figured you'd might like some pointers.

This is not a love story. This is not a fairytale. This is not the dashing prince steps up to the rescue not a moment too late; this is not true love's kiss saves the day; this is not a story where ontological inertia need not apply.

This is the story of one girl who has something unspeakably horrible happen to her, something so unspeakably horrible that it happens every two minutes (at least here in the United States. I'm almost too afraid to look it up for countries like Mexico, where I found out that being convicted of rape can earn you a few hours in a jail cell).

This is also the story of one boy who, for reasons I never quite understood from the film or from the novel, viewed himself as so much of a coward that he sold his heart to a demon, slithered out of every possible obligation, and (at least in the film) took to flying through burning, bombarding war scenes in his free time.

Rape isn't a plot device. Rape isn't something meant to get you off. Rape isn't something whose only downside is the possible baby and sexually transmitted diseases. If anything, rape is something that leaves you depressed and angry and suicidal, gives you nightmares and eating disorders and neurosis. It's something that should make you feel a bit sick after hearing about it.

Sexual assault isn't always damaging physically, especially when things like alcohol or drugs are involved. What it always is, however, is damaging psychologically. And, as with all types of psychological traumas, individuals react in different ways. I tell you this not so to freak you out or to add another couple hundred words onto to my belovedly short intro, but to offer you some measure of preparation.

Honestly, Howl's probably where I'll be taking most of my liberties from the film. I've never really been a fan of the perfect hero archetype, and I've always sort of fancied Howl as the kind of person whose inner monologue spoke a completely different language than his character would suggest. However, putting him aside...

Sophie isn't some crying little maiden who falls to pieces at the first hint of trouble. When she was cursed to be an old lady, she didn't wish upon a star or run crying to her fairy godmother. She didn't even bother to tell her real mother. Instead, she just packed a small lunch sack and made her own way out of town. Sophie is a strong person. Chance of her falling into Howl's arms weeping as he solves all her problems and then whisks her off to a happy ever after? Zero. Chance of her forcing herself into his life as she solves almost all her own problems and then accidentally manages to make both of them some more? Ninety nine point nine nine percent.

So, yes, this is the story of a girl and a boy who fall in love under trying circumstances; their names don't have to be Romeo and Juliet for them to be considered star crossed lovers.

But that doesn't necessarily mean that there can be no happy ending.