?

Log in

Shades of Color

[Howl's Moving Castle] Sleeping Beauty

shades_of_color

Sun

[Howl's Moving Castle] Sleeping Beauty

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Sun
Title: Sleeping Beauty
Fandom: Howl's Moving Castle (movie-verse)
Pairing: Howl/Sophie
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: none, really
Disclaimer: The characters belong to their respective owners. The story is mine.
Summary: One morning Sophie just won't wake up. Howl has to find the cause if he wants her back.
Notes: Written for Aj_Sedai in the Yuletide Challenge 2008.
A huge thank you to whimsy_chan for the beta and to belina for neverending and much needed support and encouragement.


When Howl woke that morning, slowly and a bit reluctantly surfacing from a good night's sleep, he had a fleeting feeling that something unpleasant was clinging to him for just a moment. He quickly shook it off, knowing his house – their house – to be safe from any harm that might try to invade. He'd taken care of that personally.

Instead, he chose to focus on the beautiful sleeping woman beside him. Turning onto his side and supporting his head on one arm, he simply looked at her, memorizing the details of her beloved face, although he already knew every single line even with his eyes closed. He'd always known them, from the moment he set eyes on her that fateful day in the city and heard her voice that reminded him of a promise given long ago on another fateful night. Every wrinkle of her old face, every gentle slope of her young one, all of them were imprinted in his mind.

He'd never stood a chance, not for a second, although he'd realized that only much later. There was something about this woman that had taken his heart captive with ease at a time when he didn't even have one. There was that spark that never left her eyes, no matter how dire the situation, and the proud tilt of her head, even when her back was bent with age. From the first day he'd come to love and admire the way she faced everything head on despite her fears and insecurities, something he could only do now and only through her. She was his greatest strength and his greatest weakness.

Howl let his hand hover over Sophie's face, so close that the warmth of her skin flowed against his palm, yet not close enough to touch and disturb her sleep. At least not yet, Howl thought, a devious little smile curving the corners of his lips.

Fingers bent at the knuckles, he traced the silky strands of her hair fanned out on the pillow and framing her face. Hair like starlight he'd once named it, and it had become his favorite color since.

Amused, he remembered how the length of that silver braid had changed with Sophie's current appearance and relative age when the curse still had her firmly in its grasp, and how such change had completely evaded Sophie's own self-perception.

Howl let himself be caught up in and swept away by memories for a little while longer before he got bored and decided that now would be a good time for Sophie to wake up and entertain him as any good woman should.

Far be it from him, however, to wake her in a rude and abrupt manner. Ever so gently he laid his hand against her rosy cheek, curving over her sleeping form to press a sweet kiss against her temple and nuzzle her nose with his own. He drew back, smiling mischievously and expecting her eyes to flutter open at any moment, regarding him slightly dazed at first and quite exasperated a second later before settling into affectionate amusement at his well-known impatience.

However, nothing happened.

Mildly surprised, Howl tried again, this time trailing the tip of his nose along Sophie's jaw to the spot just below her ear where he knew she was particularly ticklish.

She didn't even stir.

Howl blinked. "Sophie? Come on, Sophie, time to wake up," he called out to her, though the words were spoken soft and low. When he still couldn't gain any reaction, he tried again, louder this time, sharper, and a trace of impatience ringing in his voice, but Sophie just slept on.

Something was wrong, Howl realized. Admittedly, Sophie wasn't exactly a light sleeper, but she would have definitely woken by now, as Howl knew from experience. There had to be more to this than exceptionally deep sleep. When even roughly shaking her didn't work in the least, Howl suddenly remembered with gut-stabbing insight the feeling he'd had earlier, the feeling that something was not quite right.

Apparently it wasn't just "quite". Something was very much not the way it was supposed to be, though Howl couldn't pinpoint anything past the notion of wrongness. Sudden fear seared through his insides, and the unbidden thought of 'what if Sophie never woke up again' sent his heart into a frenzy so wild it was painful. It wasn't that he took Sophie for granted, but she'd been such a constant in his life until now, so persistent and reliable, that the possibility of losing her had never really entered his mind. If anyone had ever run the risk of getting lost, and coming quite close, too, it had been him.

Closing his eyes and counting slowly to ten, he managed to calm himself enough to consider his options. Causes could be either natural or unnatural, and either physical, mental or magical. It didn't take Howl very long to check over Sophie's body, and he wasn't surprised by the lack of evidence there. He didn't possess the skill to access her mental status, but magic…magic he was good at, he thought grimly.

It took nothing more than a couple of hand gestures and a mumbled incantation to weave a tight net of detection spells that enveloped first Sophie, then the bed, and finally the whole room with their silver-light threads.

With a few more words of command, the web began to glow softly in certain places, indicating where magic had left its traces. Some of the tracks Howl recognized immediately, having worked said magic himself. It called out to him and he hushed it quiet, turning the glow into a warm golden hue. The more he distinguished the magical patterns this way, the more apparent one area became among all others. With every banished silver trace, a circle of fiery white light glowed bright and brighter around Sophie's temples and forehead until Howl could make out a pattern that resembled something like a tiara. It enclosed Sophie's head like entwined metal bands forming a beautifully crafted piece of jewelry made of light.

At any other occasion, Howl would have loved to see Sophie wearing something so exquisite. Right now, however, he wished it to the ninth level of hell, and with it whoever was responsible for its existence, for although he knew of curses shaped like this one, he didn't have the faintest idea how to undo it or even who could have created it.

The last two years since the great war had been peaceful and quiet, and Howl was pretty sure he hadn't made any more enemies. Of course, there were always people who envied him for his talents, his connections, or his looks, but anyone who possessed the level of skill necessary for a curse that Howl could neither break nor hadn't noticed in the first place until its consequences had already fully taken effect had no real reason to envy Howl.

With another hand movement, Howl copied the pattern onto a piece of parchment, then vanished the tracing web. He'd seen enough of it for the moment. For a long couple of minutes he just sat there, watching Sophie sleep, though with feelings so far from the ones he'd entertained earlier. She didn't look any different than she always did in her sleep, her skin rosy and healthy, and her face peaceful and relaxed. Fierce determination gripped Howl's heart. He would find a way to break this curse no matter what. Sophie was his and he would do everything to protect her.


***


Sophie didn't wake up that day.

She didn't wake up the next day, and not the day after that, either.

Howl hadn't really expected it, but the glimmer of hope had been as persistent as Sophie herself, nurturing the irrational thought that maybe, just maybe, she would be strong enough to pull through on her own.

However, hope or not, Howl put everything he had and knew into the search for the curse and its caster. He made Markl spend hours and hours in libraries and archives, bent over brittle scrolls and dusty books. He asked Calcifer to fly over the lands, looking for clues and listening for rumors that could pose a lead, and he sent secret word to Prince Justin, asking for assistance, while he himself spent his days visiting old and new friends and acquaintances, hoping to learn something useful, or trying to decipher the exact structure of the curse in order to unravel it.

Nights and every moment Howl could spare, however, were devoted to watching and guarding Sophie's sleep, sometimes holding her in his arms and sometimes just sitting by her side, fingers entwined with hers. He would talk to her and tell her about his day and the progress of his quest, and though her unresponsiveness cut deeply into his heart, it was better than nothing at all. He missed her and everything about her - her voice, her laughter and her scolding, her hand in his hair and her lips on his own. He never forgot to eat, or sleep for a bit now and then, or even comb his hair and brush his teeth, because she was always there in the back of his mind, taking care of him even now. And every day he solemnly vowed to find the one responsible for the curse and a way to break it, for she was his life and he had sworn to protect her. Not once did the thought of running away cross his mind, and he knew Sophie would be proud of him.


***


Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. Promising leads proved to be dead ends more often than not, and most tracks became cold much faster than they could follow up on them. Prince Justin's intel was an invaluable source of information, and it frustrated Howl to no end that he couldn't find an efficient way to make use of it that would produce the desired results. Either their opponent was infinitely cleverer than they were, or he had a perpetual streak of sheer dumb luck. Howl didn't like either possibility very much, really.

Above all, he missed Sophie, and the thought of anything or anyone hurting her evoked a mixture of rage and desperation inside him. It also very much grated on his pride that the enemy kept evading his grasp like a slippery fish, though, and there were days when he was very moody and irritable, just this far from oozing green slime. Only the memory of Sophie's softly chiding voice kept him from letting himself tip over that edge.

Although they usually took the brunt of Howl's bad moods, neither Markl nor Calcifer seemed to truly resent him for being short with them, for which Howl was almost as grateful as for their indestructible will to help. He knew their main motivation was their love for Sophie, reflected in the frequent misty eyed looks Markl would give the door to Howl and Sophie's bedroom and Calcifer burning a sad, deep purple whenever he thought he wasn't being watched. They were his friends, too, though, and Howl did try his best to make it up to them when he could.

Sophie, on the other hand, seemed to be frozen in time in her sleep, for although she didn't seem to need food or water, her condition was completely healthy and stable. Oddly enough, she was breathing at a low and even pace, typical for a person who's asleep, and her skin always stayed warm to the touch despite the lack of essentials that are normally crucial to a person's survival. Said skin, however, had taken on a lucid transparency over the weeks that made Sophie look fragile, almost ethereal, and her hair was growing much faster than usual, spilling over and around her form like spun silk.

No matter how many times their leads failed, though, and no matter how much work appeared to be wasted when they ran into a dead end again, they never gave up. Howl firmly believed that there was a way to break the curse and that it was nothing but a matter of finding out how. He had actually managed to extricate most parts of the spell pattern. He knew now how the curse had gotten past the defences of the house – it must have lain dormant within Sophie for quite a while, like a seed waiting for the right time to sprout from the earth, so the house could get used to its signature and simply accept it as a part of Sophie herself as it grew and prospered, doing no harm at all until it was ready to be unleashed secretly and without anyone noticing before it was too late.

It was indeed an exceptionally intricate piece of sorcery, there was no denying it. So much so, actually, that if he was completely honest (of course, this was on a professional level only) Howl couldn't help but be in awe of the refined magical work the curse caster had done. However, it did not lessen his anger toward the culprit or his utter puzzlement as to why someone would go to the length of doing it. He was absolutely sure that Sophie had never hurt anyone in her life, so it had to be connected to himself in some way, but he could not fathom how. All his enemies from the great war such as the hack wizards had disappeared, been killed, or rendered powerless.

At the very beginning and only for an instant, Howl had suspected Suliman, though merely because of the enormous level of skill needed to create such a curse than out of real conviction. He knew the woman had no reason to mean him ill now that he was no longer bound to Calcifer, and he was quite certain she actually rather liked Sophie. And yet, considering their history and the fact that he was still friends with Calcifer, he'd been reluctant to approach her so far, exploiting his other resources first. As time wore on, though, and he became more desperate, asking her for help seemed not so unlikely anymore. Even Calcifer, who was at least as cautious as Howl when it came to the wizard's old teacher, mentioned the possibility a time or two.

The decision was taken out of Howl's hands, however, because it seemed that Suliman herself had taken an interest in the case when the rumors had reached her, initiating some investigations of her own. In fact, it was her messenger who finally provided Howl with the essential hint as to who was behind it all, making him see a light at the end of the long and dark tunnel.

The intensive studying of books and spells, the inquiries and information gathered over the last few months, and not to mention all the magical experiments and practice Howl had done while trying to decipher the pattern of the curse seemed to pay off now that they finally knew who and what they were up against. Howl was mildly surprised and also a bit smug at how much more experience – and thus power – he had gained in that rather short period of time compared to when he'd been an apprentice.

But even with all the new knowledge gained, it took Howl and Calcifer two weeks to come up with a suitable plan and said plan still lacked one important feature: a way to extend Howl's magical power so he was actually a match for their incredibly powerful opponent. Howl had once possessed such power, but both he and Calcifer knew that Sophie would never want them to go down that road again.

So, in the end, Howl admitted defeat, which had a lot to do with spending hours and hours watching Sophie's motionless sleeping form, and did what he thought he would never do in his life; he swallowed his pride – and fear – and went to visit Suliman to ask for her help. He took Calcifer with him since his intuition told him that Calcifer must be his source of power, but neither of them knew how to merge without a contract in order to combine their strength.


***


The old sorceress turned out to be more gracious about Howl's companion than they had anticipated, though she did wrinkle her delicate nose with obvious distaste. She listened to Howl's explanation of their plan with great attention and interest, interrupting only occasionally to make a comment or suggestion here and there. Calcifer kept close to Howl, hovering uncharacteristically quiet over the wizard's shoulder and near his ear, so he could make whispered comments of his own.

All in all, it was not an unpleasant experience, and it reminded Howl of the old days when he was still Suliman's pupil. He had always held his teacher and her tremendous knowledge and power in high esteem, as she had him for his eagerness to learn and his obvious talent, their relationship only tainted by his own hunger for more and more power and her disapproval of his methods in achieving that goal. He was not disappointed this time, either, for Suliman knew indeed of a way to make Calcifer's magic available to Howl, though she only revealed it to them after taking their oath that they would never enter into a contract with each other again, even if they failed this time. They barely hesitated, simply agreeing that failing was out of the question. However, the spell was tricky and dangerous and would only work once and only for a short fifteen minutes.

It would just have to be enough.


***


With a last look at the woman he loved so much and who he was willing to risk his life for, Howl stepped out into the living room, the old seven-mile boots he'd dug out of the closet dangling from his hand. Calcifer and Markl were waiting for him. Howl smiled at them dangerously, eyes sparkling and shoulders set with determination. "Ready, Calcifer?"

The fire demon bristled in response and Howl sighed. "Just make it as painless as possible. And NO HOLES!"

Calcifer nodded and settled in the air right next to Howl's face before reaching out and around with fiery tendrils. Within the fraction of a moment, Howl's beautiful shoulder long hair was gone, cut down to less than an inch all around, and the last strands quickly vanished in Calcifer's wide open mouth. The demon turned black first, blue fire glowing around him, then exploded into a ceiling high flame that engulfed Howl completely. A second later he was gone, but Howl could feel him on the inside, extending within the boundaries of Howl's skin until he was part of every fiber, every single cell in Howl's body. The wizard could also feel Calcifer's conscience in his mind. For the next fifteen minutes they would truly be one.

Almost drunk with their combined power, Howl motioned for Markl to open the door and then slipped into the seven-mile boots while the boy scrambled to comply. With the rush of a whirlwind they were out the door and over the hills. It took them but seconds to reach the tiny house set deep within the mountains, where their opponent had taken up residence. Time was precious since the other could detect them any moment now and vanish before they could do anything. They only had this one chance and they would not fail.

With more elegance than he had thought, Howl slipped out of the boots in front of the house, but the momentum carried him forward and sent him crashing through the door right into the house.

The enemy had not been expecting them, but he was nonetheless ready in an instant, efficiently blocking the curse Howl sent flying at him. The moment of surprise gone, Howl took a second to look at his opponent. Nothing visibly familiar was left of his former classmate, the best of Suliman's students right after Howl. Howl shuddered at the realization that this was exactly the fate that had awaited him barely two years ago and how close he'd come to lose his own sense of self. The other wizard had been completely taken over by the demon he'd given his heart to, swallowed by darkness that turned his face and body into those of a feathered monster. The brilliant green eyes, sole remnants of the person he had once been, gleamed with malicious intent far beyond the simple envy of Howl's talent that had driven the boy back in the days in Suliman's care, when he'd tried to surpass Howl by any means possible.

Prior to coming to this place, Howl had entertained the thought of trying to have a talk with the other wizard like sensible adults, in order to find a peaceful solution. But now, upon encountering what was basically nothing but the demon in its raw and most evil form, he abandoned every notion of solving this dispute without a fight. There was a fleeting feeling of regret, but time was ticking away, and Howl and Calcifer were not going to waste even a second of it. Calling onto Calcifer's fire magic, Howl let it swirl around him, gathering it into manipulable strands so he could use them for his next attack.

Before he could unleash it, however, Howl's opponent made his move, and Howl barely managed to dodge the blast of poisonous green magic that blew past him. Howl countered swiftly, Calcifer's power running through his veins and thundering in his blood like a drug, but his head was surprisingly sharp and clear.

It was blow for blow after that, faster and faster, so that Howl lost count after only a few turns. It took all his wit, all his strength to keep up with the demon, who was not only hurling curse after curse at him, but also showered him with a never-ending stream of obscenities that were quite distracting; still, Howl felt that they were quite evenly matched. Calcifer confirmed this thought with a smug laugh in the back of their mind that made Howl smile grimly. There was no way he was going to lose. He was going to defeat this evil creature, freeing not only his beloved Sophie, but many other victims as well, if Suliman's spy was to be trusted.

'Only two minutes left,' Calcifer reminded him gently but with urge. Exhaustion was slowly but surly taking its toll, and numerous cuts and bruises covered his body, but their opponent was also far from unscathed. Bloody and singed feathers littered the floor, and the creature's screeching had lost much of its edge. The feeling of concentrated evil in the air had been steadily increasing, though, so Howl suspected that he was about to be hit with something really nasty. Nodding to himself, he reached deep within his body where Calcifer's heart lay. This was their final trump card, their ultimate move. It was all or nothing now.

Calcifer whispered his consent in the back of their mind, giving himself over to Howl completely without a second thought. It was the most intense feeling Howl had experienced since he had joined with Calcifer for the first time, so pure that it brought tears to his eyes. He gathered their magic into a single sphere of blinding white light, then closed his eyes and thought of Sophie, of her tears and her smile, of her love for him and his love for her. He pushed all those thoughts, all that love into the humming ball of white magic and then thrust it out with all his might, forward and into the cold black shape of evil in front of him.

Howl froze. Calcifer froze. The monster froze.

The world came to a halt, suspended in time for the fraction of a second as fate shifted and took its righteous course.

And then, with a final blood-curdling scream, the evil demon exploded in a blast of white-blue magic soiled with streaks of oily black that blew the roof off the house and roared through the mountains like more than a hundred thunderstorms.


***


When he came to, Howl found himself lying on his stomach, hands still covering his head. Calcifer hovered near his face, a flickering and bouncing ball of joyous orange fire.

"We did it, Howl, we did it!"

"Barely," Howl replied, running a hand through his too short hair, already missing and starting to mourn the lost silken length.

"Doesn't matter. All that counts is that we made it!" Calcifer's unwavering excitement was contagious, though, and Howl allowed himself a smug little smile. They had done it, indeed, which meant…

Sophie.

"Sophie!"

Pain and exhaustion forgotten, Howl hurried out the door almost as fast as he'd gotten in, a snickering Calcifer trailing in his wake.


***


"… and then I sacrificed my beautiful hair, just for you, Sophie!"

Sophie simply smiled and ruffled Howl's short cut hair. "There there, Howl. I actually quite like it. You are still the most handsome man I know." Resting her hand at the back of his neck, she drew him down for a kiss, effectively shutting up any more complaints that might ensue in response to her words.
Powered by LiveJournal.com