This Time With Feeling
By the time Morgan was three, Howl was very sure he had the basics of parenting under his belt. After all, he had watched his sister's children on occasion, and he was proud to say Sophie trusted him alone with their son more often as the years went on (though she had implemented some rules, such as not turning their child into any matter of creature for the sake of comfort or entertainment). This new found confidence of course, was one of the many things the cosmos and karma seemed to like to twist against him. Because once he was sure he was content in his role as a father for one child, Sophie informed him they were having another.
There was no grand announcement, nor Sophie beaming with motherhood as she told him the news. It was simply a quiet day in the spring when Sophie told him to go check the tulips for the flower shop and just before his foot hit the door frame she spoke up again.
"I have a large bridal order coming up this week. Also, you should probably know that I'm expecting."
"Right," he said without a thought, going out into the fields with a roll of his sleeves. It was there, in between the forget-me-nots and the lilacs, that Howl fully understood the meaning behind Sophie's words. Because he had thought 'expecting' meant gossiping women in part of his house for hours on end deciding on bridal bouquets, not that Sophie was pregnant, that they had made another child together and that he was, once again, going to be a father.
The flowers quickly went up in flames, as Howl clutched his chest and fall hard onto his rear in shock. Then he quickly stumbled to his feet, his limbs suddenly too long and awkward to work properly as he flew into the house, finding Sophie on a chair in the kitchen, cleaning cobwebs from the rafters. He swooped her into his arms, mumbling utter nonsense as he spun her about, kissing her hair and her cheeks as she held onto him for dear life.
"Sophie!" he cried, ecstatic and giddy and all manner of things silly and pleased, "Sophie, love, how long have you known?"
Sophie's hands clutched his arms in a death grip as she attempted to speak between his kisses and ramblings. Finally she kicked him hard in the shin, making Howl yelp and very nearly drop her.
"Put me down Howl!" she ordered, and he was instantly cowed. He placed her feet gently on the floor, stepping back as she irritably fixed her skirts. She looked to him, lips set in a scowl and he flinched, trying a charming smile. "Really Howl! Was that all necessary? It's not as if we don't already have a child. Honestly!"
"But it's great news Sophie!" he protested, "Why shouldn't I be excited to hear we're having another?" He took her hand, pulling her close despite her glares and shoves, "Is this another Ingary custom? To not celebrate your other children as much as the first? I have to say it's quite barbaric. I wouldn't have survived such a cruel culture."
"That's not what I meant," Sophie huffed, not-quite resisting as he hugged her and kissed her hair, "It's simply just too much dramatics for such a simple thing."
"Sophie!" he scolded, pulling back to look at her properly, "It is far from simple! You're having our child; if you'd let me I'd set off fireworks from the chimney so the whole country would know!" He embraced her again, shaking his head, "Don't sell yourself short; anyone with half of my genetics is sure to be an absolute nightmare. You've seen Morgan's tantrums."
He could feel Sophie's face heat with a blush, and she muttered quite softly into his collar. "It's the same for me then. I have a rotten temperament."
"I suppose then that our children take the best of us!" he laughed, and squeezed her tight.
In the months that followed, Howl had found himself in some sort of rose-colored frenzy. Sophie, during her first pregnancy, spent most of it as a feline while Howl was locked up in a bottle following around a very disagreeable boy. Therefore they were both quite new to the whole thing, despite the fact that they already had a child who was very nearly four.
Howl did his best to fulfill the role of the attentive husband, fretting over Sophie's well-being and bragging excessively to anyone who'd listen. After finding Sophie standing on a chair dusting cabinets for the second time in a row, he promised to enchant the castle to clean itself until she was in a less delicate state, which of course earned him a box on the ear and a slew of sour words from Sophie. He even made courageous attempts at cooking (one of which involved a cursed fish that sang a very vulgar song and ended with half of the kitchen in shambles), all in the hopes to lessen her stress in order to keep their unborn second in the best of heath. Despite Sophie's demands that she was perfectly fine to continue as she was, Howl still fussed, until Sophie begrudgingly agreed to lighten her chores until after the child was born.
When Sophie began letting out her dresses and borrowing spares from her sisters, Howl noticed the slight but telltale swell of her stomach. And quickly became enamored. He had seen a pregnant woman before, after all he had been there when his sister was carrying her children, yet it was an utterly different experience when it was something he knew he had helped create. He and Morgan were oddly fascinated by the change in Sophie's figure, much to her embarrassment. He would wrap his arms about her waist in order to rest his hands there, waiting patiently for the first fleeting signs of life, and he would poke and prod the bump while Sophie slept, earning himself a few sleepy swats and smacks. Morgan got into a habit of speaking to it, something that Howl quickly imitated.
"Howl," Sophie had said in a voice that expressed her exhaustion of the subject, "I doubt the child can hear you."
"Actually," Howl replied, shifting in his position of his head in Sophie's lap as he turned the page of the storybook he held, "In my country there is some proof that they do."
Sophie didn't argue, and Howl continued to read softly to the bump under the quilt.
Nine months after Sophie's lackluster announcement, Howl was interrupted during a bath with another.
"Howl, I'm going to see Fanny and Miss Fairfax."
"Of course Sophie," he answered as he leaned back against the rim of the bathtub, "Is something the matter?"
"I believe I'm going to have the baby soon."
Howl almost broke his neck stumbling out of the tub and skidding across the wet floor into the door.
It was nearly a full day later when Howl and Morgan were properly allowed to see Sophie. She was propped up in their bed with pillows, and she held a small wrapped bundle in her arms. Morgan climbed onto the bed to get a better peek, and Howl leaned over Sophie for his own.
"It's a girl," Sophie said.
"She's lovely," Howl said.
"I wanted a brother," Morgan said.