For those of you who favorited and following my story, thank you and sorry this took so long. This one's especially long.
I do not own Fairy Tail or Howl's Moving Castle.
Chapter 2 A New Friend named Sophie
Repairing the scarf would take a while, but Natsu and Happy were quite content with waiting around the shop until it was finished. As the minutes went by, Sophie got to know the two customers in waiting. Natsu was rather brash and obnoxious, but she could tell he had a good heart given the fact that she was repairing his most treasured possession. Happy was seemingly the most mature of the two, but also had a habit of making smart remarks and quips. The one thing they seemed to have in common was their shared love for childish antics. This was signified by their act of putting on the other hats she had in the room and talking in bad British accents like they were members of high society.
"Would either of you like some tea"? She asked, almost hesitantly.
"Tea? By George, that would be quite delightful"! Natsu said in the worst British accent, "Wouldn't you agree, Happy"?
"Here here", Happy replied, "And maybe some yummy fishies to snack on too".
Sophie sighed as she got up from her stool to go and fix the tea. Even though they were strange and acted like children, the young girl felt comfortable in their presence and had even begun to enjoy their company. About an hour later, she came back with a tray containing a few mugs, a kettle, and a bowl full of sardines. Natsu and Happy had since finished their game and decided to enjoy the beverages and snack laid out for them.
"I've never met a talking cat before", Sophie said, pouring some tea into Happy's mug, "Are you some sort of demon"?
"What?! Demon? I'm no demon, I'm an exceed"! Happy said, somewhat insulted.
"An exceed? What are those"? Sophie asked, turning to Natsu.
"It's a LONG story", Natsu said with a sigh, smiling as he thought back to his guilds' adventure in Edolas, "I'll tell you more about it later".
Happy's attitude shifted as he turned his attention to the fish.
"Mmmm, for tiny fishes, these sure taste good", Happy said as he stuffed his face.
"I'm glad you like them", Sophie said with a smile, "I never liked them myself but I've had them around for a while".
"My guess is they've been waiting for someone like me to come and claim them"! Happy claimed as he scarfed down another mouthful.
"Oh brother", Natsu said, rolling his eyes as he took a sip from his mug.
Sophie giggled at Happy's bravado. There was something refreshing about his childlike attitude. He reminded her of her sister in a way. With her customers occupied, she went back to repairing Natsu's scarf.
The young hatter turned to see one of her coworkers standing in the doorway.
"We just closed the shop. You've done enough work for today, why don't you come and join us"? The lady said.
"No, that's alright, I've got to stay and finish this", Sophie replied, "You all go and have fun for me".
"Alright then, suit yourself", The lady said, exiting the doorway, "Let's go girls"!
Natsu and Happy were a bit surprised. They would have thought that Sophie would much rather go out and have a good time with her friends than spend the rest of the day at work.
"Sophie, you know you can just finish it tomorrow", Natsu said, "We won't mind the wait".
"It's no trouble", Sophie said reassuringly, "I'm almost finished anyway".
"Look it's Howl's Castle"! One of the ladies said, pointing at the window.
As all the ladies clamored to the window in the other room, the people in the other room looked through the window. Natsu and Happy scanned the scenery outside the window, but all they could see were the green hills that were being covered by the thick, white mist.
"What are they talking about"? Natsu said curiously, "I don't see any castle".
"Me neither", Happy said.
Sophie, who was also looking out the window, could barely make out the shape of a large moving object in the mist, but she paid it no mind. It was always like that for her; While everyone else was fascinated and enthralled by the world of witches, wizards, and magic, she preferred her solitary, mundane lifestyle. For her, it was more simple and there was nothing complicated about it. Whereas some people would be easily bored with such a life, Sophie was quite content with it.
With a few snips of the scissors and a last tug of thread from the needle, Sophie had finally finished the repairs. The stitching was barely visible and a new tassel had been added to replace the one that was lost. The scarf looked as good as new.
"All done", she said proudly, handing the scarf over to Natsu.
"Wow, you really fixed it"! Natsu said, inspecting it thoroughly, "This is awesome! Thank you so much"!
The pink haired wizard immediately enveloped her in a surprise hug. Though she was taken off guard by the affectionate display of gratitude, Sophie smiled knowing that she was able to help someone.
"Oh right", Natsu said, pulling away and reaching into his pocket, "How much do I owe you"? "It's fine", Sophie said, holding up her hand, "This one's…on the house".
"What"? Natsu said confused.
"Are you sure"? Happy asked.
"I know what it's like to lose your father", Sophie confessed sullenly, "I lost mine too. A long time ago".
"Oh wow", Natsu said softly, "I'm so sorry".
"This shop is all I have left of him", Sophie said with a sad smile, "When I first started working here, I felt so close to him".
Even though they had just met, neither one of them had expected to find some common ground so quickly. Both of them knew what it was like to bear the burden of losing a loved one. Especially when it was someone as dear and beloved as a parent. The awkward silence was soon broken as Sophie got up from her seat and brushed off her apron.
"So, where are you two staying"? She asked.
"Well, Happy and I were just gonna try for one of the Inn's", Natsu said, scratching his head. "And if that didn't work out, we could always camp out on the outskirts of the town", Happy added.
Sophie frowned. She didn't expect them to be so ill prepared. Then again, after spending a few hours getting to know them, it wasn't too surprising.
"If you want, I suppose you can stay with me for the night", Sophie said, taking off her apron and reaching for her hat on the table.
"Whoa, really? Are you sure"? Natsu and Happy said together, both taken off-guard by her kind offer.
"It's no trouble", Sophie said plainly, "After all, with all the soldiers in town, there probably won't be any available rooms left at the Inns, and I'd hate to think of what you might encounter out in the Wastes".
"What's with all the soldiers anyway"? Natsu asked curiously.
"Our country is at war", Sophie explained, "There's a parade in town to show respect and support for the troops that will be going out and risking their lives".
Sophie then exited the room as she went into the part of the shop that acted as the house. She walked over to the tri fold vanity mirror where modeled off her hat. She smiled, but only briefly, and pulled down on the brim as her smile quickly turned into a frown. As she walked back out of the room, she turned her head to see Natsu and Happy back in the sewing room.
They were laughing, probably at a joke one of them told. Sophie couldn't explain it, but there was just something about those two. All her life, she had become accustomed to being alone and independent. Yet, these two strangers, an odd pink haired boy and his talking blue cat, somehow managed to get to her. After all, not just anyone could get her to fix their scarf for free or even let them stay over at her house. There was certainly something special about those two that Sophie just couldn't figure out.
Pushing it aside, she walked back into the sewing room.
"I'm going to stop by my sister's workplace", she announced, "Would you two like to come along"?
"I don't know, I just got comfortable", Natsu said lazily, sitting in the stool with his feet propped up on the table.
"And I'm really into this tea you made", Happy added idly as he calmly took a sip from his mug.
"Did I mention that she works at a bakery"? Sophie asked coyly.
"BAKERY"?! Natsu and Happy both asked in surprised.
Immediately, their minds raced with the thoughts of all sorts of baked goods and confectionaries ranging from pastries, cakes, pies, cookies, and more.
"We're in"! Natsu and Happy both said giddily.
Sophie chuckled warmly at how they were easily swayed. It was funny really, almost like getting a kid to go clothes shopping with the promise of Ice Cream later. Soon after, Sophie led Natsu and Happy out the front door and, after making sure it was locked, they were on their way. Since the two Fairy Tail wizards did not know their way around, they followed Sophie's lead. However, as they saw Sophie approach a trolley-like vehicle, Natsu immediately began to sweat.
"Something the matter"? Sophie asked as she got onto the outside step.
"M-maybe we could walk the rest of the way there"? Natsu suggested nervously.
"Oh boy, here we go", Happy sighed irately.
"What's wrong"? Sophie asked, her voice starting to show worry.
"Natsu and vehicles don't really mix well", Happy explained, "He gets sick almost instantly".
"Oh come now", Sophie said, not believing him, "How bad could it possibly be"?
5 minutes later
"I'm DYING"! Natsu groaned, leaning against the hand rail as the trolley slowly sped along the rails, "It's like my stomach HATES me"!
"You really weren't joking", Sophie said to Happy as she held the cat in her arms, "Poor thing".
"Yep, Natsu's pretty much like this with any kind of vehicle", Happy said tiredly.
The Blue Cat suddenly took notice of all the festivities going on. The parade was quite lively; there were people cheering and waving at all the soldiers marching down the avenue as confetti and streamers rained down. The horse mounted soldiers carried various flags with lovely colorful designs and symbols. Up above, there were aviator like vehicles that also carried flags of bright, vibrant colors. Even though Natsu was too distracted by his current ailment, Happy smiled as he watched the merry revelries. For a small town, it sure was filled with life and laughter.
Later, after disembarking from the trolley, Sophie helped Natsu off of the platform and steadily balanced him as he tried to regain his bearings, with Happy following close behind them. The nauseated mage leaned on Sophie's shoulder as they walked across the brick street, still feeling the effects of his motion sickness. The young fire wizard slumped down as they walked down a flight of stairs.
"I need to sit down for a minute", Natsu moaned, holding his stomach.
"You go ahead, Sophie", Happy encouraged, "We'll catch up once Natsu feels better".
"Alright", Sophie said after glancing at a piece of folded paper she had in her hand, "Don't take too long".
As Sophie forged ahead, she kept glancing from the paper in her hand to the quiet alley around her. She kept looking around until she almost ran into the chest of an older soldier. As she looked up at him, she could see he was grinning at her.
"Oh look, a little mouse that's lost it's way", he said coyly. "Oh no, I'm not lost", Sophie said, nervously backing away.
"She looks thirsty", the soldier continued as his friend went over to his side, "We should take her for some tea".
"No thank you, my sister is waiting for me", Sophie said hastily.
"She's pretty cute", the soldier's friend said.
"You live around here? How old are you"? The soldier asked.
"Leave me alone", Sophie said boldly.
"Looks like you scared another one", the soldier said to his friend, "I keep telling you, it's that moustache of yours".
"So? She looks even cuter when she's scared", the other soldier said.
"You heard her", a new voice said.
All three of them looked back to see a familiar pink haired mage, scowling as he crossed his arms. Happy was by his side, with a look of worry aimed towards Sophie.
"Leave her alone", Natsu said, going to Sophie's side.
"Natsu", Sophie said softly, surprised by his appearance.
"Uh oh, she's got a bodyguard with her", The soldier said, pretending to be scared.
"So what? How tough can he be"? His friend joked, also undeterred by Natsu's presence.
"What was that"?! Natsu growled, cocking his fist back.
"There you are sweetheart, sorry I'm late", said another new voice, "I was looking everywhere for you".
Sophie tensed up as she felt a hand softly grip her shoulder. Natsu's focus shifted as she felt a hand on his shoulder too. He looked up to see an older man with blonde hair standing behind them. He wore a plain white shirt with dark pants and a plaid coat with a red and a blue diamond pattern, yellow trim, and white sleeve cuffs.
"Thank you for escorting her, my young friend", the stranger said, patting Natsu's shoulder, "You truly are a kind and caring individual".
"Uhhhh…", Natsu said, suddenly finding himself at a loss for words.
"Who IS this guy"? Happy said to himself.
"Hey, beat it, we're busy here", The soldier said harshly.
"Really? Cause it looked to me like you were just leaving", the stranger said.
He suddenly flicked up his index finger and, without warning, the two soldiers suddenly stood at attention, and with a wave of his hand, they both marched away, seemingly scared at what was happening at the moment. Sophie and Natsu were both taken off guard by what just happened. Happy could hardly believe it either. Neither he nor Natsu had ever seen any kind of magic like that before.
"Try not to hold it against them", said the stranger, "They're actually not that bad. So, where to? I'll be your escort this evening". "Oh! We…we were just heading to the bakery", Sophie said nervously. "Don't be alarmed, but I'm being followed", the stranger said vaguely in a low voice, "Act normal". "Followed? By WHAT"? Natsu asked.
The stranger said nothing as Sophie linked arms with him and they slowly started walking ahead. Natsu sighed irately as he and Happy followed after them. Sophie was anxious and stiff as a board. A feeling that was quickly understood as a large, black glob like creature with a large nose and hat suddenly emerged out of the wall. It was soon joined by several others. Happy glanced behind them and could feel the color drain from his face as he looked at the horde of mysterious creatures.
"Uhhh, I think those are what he was referring to", the little blue cat said nervously.
Natsu turned his head and gasped in surprise as he saw the creatures appear out of nowhere.
"Sorry, it looks like you're all involved now", The stranger said, not taking his eyes off the path ahead.
"Involved in WHAT exactly"?! Natsu exclaimed furiously.
"Yeah, just what kind of messed up trouble did you rope us into, blondie"? Happy shouted.
"This way", Howl said, changing the subject as he quickly turned left.
Sophie whimpered as the creatures behind them began following after them at a faster pace. Even though they had faced much scarier and more powerful enemies, Natsu and Happy were finding it difficult to keep a cool head. It became even more difficult when even more blob men appeared ahead of them. Both the mage and the cat looked down both sides of the alleyway for a possible way of escape as they ran to keep up with Sophie and the mysterious stranger.
"They've got us covered from both sides"! Happy said fearfully.
"We're trapped"! Natsu shouted in a concerned tone.
"Not for long", the stranger said, wrapping an arm around Sophie's waist and offering a hand to Natsu, "Grab on".
Although they had just met, Natsu felt as if this stranger truly wanted to help them. So, the young wizard reluctantly grabbed hold of the stranger's hand. Instantly, they all took off into the air, narrowly avoiding the blob men. Natsu and Sophie both gasped as they quickly realized that they were both high in the air. The pink haired boy quickly looked around as he noticed that something, or rather someone, was missing.
"Hey, where's Happy"?! He shouted in a worried tone.
"Oh no, did we leave him down there"? Sophie asked, equally concerned.
Natsu, Sophie, and even the stranger turned their heads to see Happy, who had just sprouted wings, floating next to them on their right.
"In all the excitement, I had actually forgotten that I could fly", Happy said sheepishly, scratching the back of his head.
"You….you have WINGS"? Sophie said in disbelief.
"Well aren't you full of surprises"? The stranger said, sounding quite impressed.
"Aye", Happy said proudly.
"Wait a moment, how is it you can talk AND can fly"? Sophie questioned.
"You can tell us later", the Stranger said, "For now….".
He then turned his attention to Sophie.
"Just straighten your legs and start walking", he instructed calmly, "Oh, would you mind carrying him for me, my feline friend? I need both hands".
"Oh, okay. Sure", Happy said, flying over to Natsu.
Once Happy had Natsu secured, the stranger turned his attention back to Sophie.
"Now, just straighten your legs and start walking", Howl instructed.
Seeing as how she had no other choice, Sophie complied and slowly started copying the stranger's movements. Though being many feet up in the air was frightening, there was something exhilarating about her current situation. She was walking on air, after all. Though they were also flying, Natsu and Happy were quite amazed as well.
"Natsu, I've never seen flight magic like that before", Happy said softly.
"Yeah, me neither", Natsu replied, "It's almost as if he's manipulating the air itself. But not like Wendy does, this is way different than that".
"See? It's not so hard", the stranger said reassuringly to Sophie, "You're a natural".
Sophie couldn't help but smile at his praise. Here she was, high above all the people, and doing something no one else would think possible, and with a handsome stranger, no less. They soon landed on a small balcony. Natsu and Happy landed next to them, still unsure of what to make of things. The stranger stood on the railing as he addressed his plan.
"I'll draw them off of you", the stranger said, "But wait a while before going back out".
He then turned to Natsu and Happy.
"I'll be counting on you two to keep her safe", the stranger said, "Think you can do that"?
"Uh…Aye sir", Happy said nervously.
The stranger gave them a warm smile, which was soon replaced by a frown as he took a closer look at Natsu, particularly his scarf.
"That scarf", he thought, "It can't be…..".
Natsu raised a brow as he was unsure of what to make of the stranger's gaze that was set on him.
"There a problem"? Natsu asked.
The stranger suddenly snapped out of his trance set on by the sight of the scarf. He then reapplied the smile he had earlier.
"No problems here", he said amicably, turning to Sophie, "Stay safe".
"Okay", Sophie said nervously.
"That's my girl", the stranger said taking a step back.
And with that, he took off down into the streets below. Sophie, Natsu and Happy all looked over the railing to see that the stranger had completely vanished.
"Boy, what a weirdo", Happy said after a moment of silence.
"Compared to you two, I think he was quite ordinary", Sophie joked.
Natsu and Happy couldn't help but laugh as they followed Sophie inside. Upon going inside, Natsu and Happy relaxed on a couch nearby. After waiting a while, they both had fallen asleep, and were then awakened by a girl wearing a pink dress and a frilly white apron. Sophie introduced her as Lettie, her younger sister.
"You both have my gratitude for sticking up for my sister when you did", Lettie said amicably, "If there's anything I can do for either of you, don't hesitate to ask".
"Lettie, really", Sophie said stepping in, "You don't have to…".
"Hold on there", Happy said, immediately as he held up a paw, "If she really wants to reward us for being such good friends, who are to stop her"?
"Yeah", Natsu said with a coy smile, "Hey uhhh, this IS a bakery, right"?
Later in the stock room, Lettie had treated Natsu and Happy to a smorgasbord of baked goods, such as cookies, cakes, doughnuts, cupcakes, and even pies. As the two Fairy Tail mages stuffed their faces, Sophie told Lettie of their encounter with the mysterious stranger.
"Wow, he must've been a wizard then", Lettie said as Sophie finished her story.
"But he was so kind", Sophie said, "He saved me, Lettie. Natsu and Happy saw him".
"Of course he saved you, he was trying to steal your heart", Lettie said worriedly, "You lucky, Sophie. If that wizard were Howl, he would've eaten it".
"What's this about Wizards eating hearts"? Natsu asked after taking a big bite from a slice of cake he held in his hand.
"Please wipe your mouth", Sophie deadpanned as she noticed the icing and crumbs covering his lips.
"Sorry", Natsu said, wiping his face, "So, what's this about wizards stealing hearts"?
"Around here, that's something that all wizards and witches are known for", Lettie said sadly.
"Whoa, that's crazy", Happy said, looking up from his doughnut.
"Yeah I mean, we're wizards and I don't do stuff like that", Natsu said casually.
"You're a wizard"? Sophie and Lettie both said, quite surprised.
"Yep", Natsu said with a smirk, pointing to the mark on his shoulder, "We're members of the Fairy Tail guild in Fiore".
"Fiore"? Sophie asked curiously, "That's several miles across the ocean! How in the world were you able to make it here"?
"It wasn't easy", Happy groaned, "Especially with this sea sick sack of potatoes slowing down the speed of the boat".
"Oh shut up! It's not like I have any control over it"! Natsu shouted defensively.
Lettie and Sophie both chuckled as they bickered. If there was one thing that was for certain, those two certainly didn't act like any wizards they had heard about. They acted like children, fought like siblings, and seemed quite genuine when it came to their feelings. As touching as it was, Sophie couldn't help but frown.
"You're wrong about Howl taking my heart though, Lettie", she said, "He only does that to beautiful girls".
"Don't give me that", Lettie sighed.
"Yeah, you're beautiful, Sophie", Happy said, looking up from the cookie in his paws, "At least, I think so".
"I think so too", Natsu added with a grin.
Sophie was surprised at first, but then sent them a warm smile. She couldn't remember the last time anyone had paid her a compliment like that. Though she hadn't known them for long, she was slowly starting to become attached to these two strangers who entered her life without so much as a warning. Her train of thought was lost as Lettie spoke up.
"Anyway, you should be more careful out there, it's dangerous", Lettie warned, "Even the Witch of the Waste is back".
"The Witch of the Waste"? Natsu said curiously, "Who's that"?
"A very powerful sorceress", Lettie explained, "I've only heard stories about her, but I can assure you, from what I've heard, she's not very friendly".
Lettie then turned his attention back to Sophie.
"Are you even listening to me"? She said.
Sophie only replied with a short, poignant sigh. The younger sister groaned at her sister's indifference.
"Lettie, the chocolate eclairs are done", one of the workers said, sticking his head out from the kitchen.
"Thank you, I'll be right there", Lettie replied.
"Alright, we'd better get going", Sophie said, standing up, "I just stopped by to make sure you were doing okay".
"Awwww, do we HAVE to leave"? Natsu said, looking up from the platter of baked treats that was already half eaten.
"Yeah, we haven't even finished off all these goodies"! Happy added.
"I'll fix you something when we get back", Sophie said firmly, "Besides, if you eat nothing but sweets, you'll ruin your appetites".
Natsu and Happy groaned as they reluctantly got on their feet. Lettie couldn't help but laugh. The way the three of them interacted reminded her of how Sophie would act when they were both children. It certainly was nostalgic seeing Sophie put on her parent act. Later, Lettie helped see them out of the bakery and stood with them at one of the entrances.
"Sophie, do you really want to spend the rest of your life at the hat shop"? Lettie asked.
"The shop meant a lot to father, besides I'm the eldest, I don't' mind", Sophie said reassuringly.
"Y'know she's got a point, Sophie", Natsu said, "Don't you ever worry that you might get bored"?
"Yeah, your Dad may have wanted to run the shop, but what is it that you want to do with your life, Sophie"? Happy added.
Sophie was about to say something but hesitated. Instead, she slowly turned to leave.
"I better get going", Sophie said, walking away.
"It's your life Sophie", Lettie said, not dropping the subject, "You're allowed to think for yourself every once in a while".
"Bye Lettie", Sophie said, not turning her head.
Lettie sighed sadly. As much as she loved her, she hated that Sophie could be so stubborn at times.
"Don't worry, Lettie", Natsu said, getting her attention, "We'll make sure she gets home safely".
"Aye"! Happy said.
"Thank you", Lettie said warmly, "Both of you. Even though we've only just met, I can tell you're both very kind".
"Come along, you two"! Sophie called.
"Coming"! Natsu and Happy both said, rushing up to catch up to Sophie.
As Natsu and Happy ran across a small bridge and finally caught up to Sophie, they failed to notice a small pink palanquin with two well dressed, masked attendants wearing white top hats standing nearby. The door to it slightly opened up, and a small pot was put out. A long stick with a hook attached to the end peeked out from the door and tapped on the lid of the pot. As it opened up, many tiny blob men amassed where the pot was and slowly got inside it. The hooked stick then picked up the pot and pulled it back inside as the door closed behind it. The attendants then stood at attention, picked up the palanquin, and then, after turning around, slowly walked away.
Meanwhile, as the tram car slowly sped across the rails, Sophie looked back at the scenery behind it. While Natsu leaned over the railing, his motion sickness kicking in once again, and Happy napped as he lay in the crook of her arm, Sophie couldn't help but ponder on what Lettie had said. As content as she was working at her father's hat shop, she couldn't help but wonder if there was more to life than just that. She also couldn't help but wonder something that was just as important; what did she want?