Disclaimer: I do not own Howl's Moving Castle or any of its characters. I dedicate this story to Ms. Jones, the author of this book, who passed away March the 26th, 2011.

Chapter One: The Mysterious Gentleman

The various beads and ornaments in the small paper bag made clattering sounds and bounced around as Sophie walked furiously down the alley, below the bridge, her red-brown braid wavering side to side as she went.

"This is the last time I'm ever going to buy hat decorations at that store." She muttered. "This is ridiculously expensive." In her mind she searched through the town, trying to remember a store that sold cheaper ornaments.

But as she was walking down the alley, looking down at the bag, she saw out of the corner of her eye something that contrasted from the dull gray of the walls. She stopped and looked up.

"Hello, little mouse." She saw a young man, maybe in his twenties –but definitely older than herself – with his right arm planted across her path to the wall to her left, blocking her way. He looked down and grinned at her, raising his eyebrows in a way that made Sophie uncomfortable. He flipped his dirty blond hair sideways, as another man – a brunette with a mustache – approached from behind him. They looked like the guards from around the castle, with their fancy uniforms and neat appearance – probably taking a break. "Does the little mouse need help with something…?" He seemed to be flirting with her.

The brunette man peered in for a closer look. "Oh, it is a little mouse." He seemed amused.

Sophie swallowed. "Let me pass, please!" The blond guard laughed.

"Hey, mate. Your mustache must be scaring her."

"What? Why would it scare her?" said the brunette man, seeming slightly offended.

Sophie backed away slowly, step by step, until she bumped into a wall and froze. What now? She thought.

Sophie let out a gasp when the wall reached out and wrapped an arm around her shoulder in a very casual way.

She whipped her head around sideways to see a platinum-blond young man with eyes like blue glass marble, tall figure and a handsome face. He smiled at the guards, not looking at Sophie.

"Oh, sorry, this is my date." He said to the two men.

The brunette man gasped as the blond guard's face twisted into a look of horror.

"You… you are…" The mysterious rescuer blocked off the man's words, pressing his finger onto his mustache and lips.

"Shh, why don't you two go get on with your work?" The man moved the finger from the mustached man's lips and thrust out his arm, pointing backwards with his thumb. The two men marched in the direction of the point, boots stomping, making little noises in their fear and confusion.

The man turned to Sophie, his arms still around her in a casual hold. Her eyes averted in all directions, not knowing where to look. His bleach-blond hair was a contrast from his azure eyes. His amazingly long eyelashes batted against his pale skin that seemed to be lit from underneath, seeming like the moon.

"I'm sorry about those men; they have no bad intentions, but they can be shallow and rude sometimes." Sophie turned her eyes a second too late from the sparkling jewels that hung from his ears and neck - both an emerald green color – and looked at him.

"Thank you so much for helping me, but I must go on to my shop." She told her savior, blushing at the fact that she couldn't stop staring at his beauty.

"I will take you to your destination, wherever that shop may be." He held on to her shoulder still, and started walking. He smiled at her, creating a weird sensation in her belly.

"Oh, I'm sure that won't be necessary," she said, trying to slip out of his grip.

"Yes, I think it is," the man replied. "What if this kind of thing occurs again?" he walked faster.

Sophie swallowed again. What were this man's intentions? "No, my shop is not far…" she was interrupted by the blond man's finger.

"Shh, I'm being chased, and I am wounded. Help me out." he whispered into her ear. She was about to ask him what in the world he was talking about, then stopped. There was a spot of red on the sleeve of his white and silver shirt that he was resting on her shoulder. Sophie tensed up at the sight, and started walking faster. The sky was darkening. I don't know who this is, she thought, but I must help this man – after all, he did help me.

The man's breathing grew heavier but shallower as they continued walking. "Hello? Are you alright?" she asked, looking at the man. His head now hung down, the only support he had being her shoulder. He did not answer. She took a look at his shirt again.

The small spot of blood was now a deep red pool that was dripping onto her clothes.

Sophie took a breath and walked even faster, but had to relocate his arm on her shoulder when he started going limp and collapsing to the ground; the blood loss was getting to him.

A few drops of liquid fell on her face. Sophie looked up to see gray thunderclouds gathering in the sky. The drops increased in amount and fell faster and faster.

"Mister?" she asked in panic. Still no answer from the man that was now drenched in blood and rain. She hopelessly looked ahead and saw the familiar street. There were only a few people running from the rain.

There was a bright flash of light. "Oh, dear," Sophie whispered as she pulled the now-unconscious man's arm back up again. Then there was a deep, crackling rumble. "Oh, curses!" Sophie muttered. Raindrops rode on the harsh wind and whipped her clothes and hair in all directions. "Fleas and mosquitoes! This is not getting any worse." Breathing in relief when she saw the sign of her hat store, she practically dragged the man inside, set him temporally on the floor, and closed out the storm behind her.

Drizzles of rainwater fell out of her hair as Sophie pulled her hair out of the drenched braid and shook it out. Her hair fell around her shoulders in a messy wet curtain.

"Mister, we are in my hat shop. Are you sane?" Her rescuer answered her question with a light snore. She stifled a laugh, and quickly got the first-aid kit from her cabinet. She opened the wooden box and grabbed the linen strip and unwrapped it from its paper wrapping, then set it to the carpeted floor.

Oh, right. His clothes. She thought.

Sophie gently unbuttoned his shirt. She slid the sleeves off of his arms, the sleeping man groaning softly in pain. She winced as the wound was revealed. A somewhat of a deep cut, seeming like it was made by a dagger. Then she went on to pull out the shirt from underneath him, and set it aside.

Good thing he's asleep, she thought as she lightly wiped his blood away and packed his cut with sugar, like she heard from a doctor who bought hats for his wife once in a while. The sugar crystals turned pink as they absorbed some of the blood. Sophie gently but firmly wrapped the clean linen around his arm, tucking the end into a looser strip. She sighed in contentment after the work.

Sophie stopped and stared at the man's naked torso.

The green jewel handing from a delicate silver chain was set slightly sideways on his collarbone. The man's abs was well-defined and seemed solid. His wide shoulders made him more masculine, a contrast with the man's delicate and handsome face, his eyes closed and his nose a smooth, high mountain in the middle of his face. Full, pink lips glistened in the moonlight that had broken through the thick clouds and rain, and had arrived at her window.

Then Sophie came back to the situation – she had let a stranger, particularly a young man inside her shop, late at night, when all the other women were off on a vacation to their homes!

"Well, he did help me," mumbled Sophie, trying to find an excuse to herself. "And now I need to get him dry so he does not catch a nasty cold on top of that terrible gash." She got up and grabbed a fluffy white towel from a closet. Sophie walked back to the man and patted him dry, being especially careful not to hurt him or wake him up. Fortunately, the man was not very wet below the waist. She set the clothes in the laundry basket; she would wash them tomorrow. Then she went and got a wheeled cart with a wide platform from the entrance that she used to carry heavy boxes and such and, with much grunting and pulling, got the man on top of the platform securely.

As she pushed the cart along the hallway, she thought about this mysterious rescuer. Why had he been injured? Who was he running from? How long will he stay here?

Sophie blushed at the last question. Well, it is not my wish to have him here, she thought. But the women wouldn't mind having such a man in the store for some time.

Sophie arrived at the extra room that was at the very end of the hallway. She pulled the man onto the bed and pulled the blanket over him. I know it's summer, but there is a nasty storm out there, and he is shirtless. She turned to leave, when the man lifted his head, grabbed her wrist and pulled her down to his face. Sophie was frozen with shock. "Thank you." His voice was barely audible. The mysterious gentleman pressed his lips to hers and then fell back asleep.

A/N: This is my first story :D Hope you enjoy it, and I'll try to upload as soon as I can – I know how it feels not to be able to read a story you've started, whether it's good or not.