Bad Hair Day

Howl had only wanted to get his own back on Sophie – it was just a prank!

Well, that's how it had started, anyway.

It had been several weeks since Sophie's release from the curse and her returning Howl's heart to him. Life had been continuing pretty much as normal, although maybe a little louder. With the return of Sophie's youth she had discovered to what great volumes a youthful voice could shriek. It came in very handy when she and Howl had arguments. Which, to tell the truth, was quite often.

Sophie had availed herself of that useful shriek again this morning.

Howl had been waiting for it – well, not necessarily the shriek, but some reaction – ever since he had come out of the bathroom after his own ablutions, conveniently having switched the shampoo and the hair dye while he was in there. (Simply in order to make Sophie's life more interesting.)

But the shriek was followed by a grim and unexpected silence. Howl had expected Sophie to burst through the bathroom door, eyes blazing, cheeks prettily pinked – hair also pink – and screaming reprimands. Perhaps, if he was really lucky, wearing little more than a towel. Instead, nothing.

Funnily, when the door finally opened, the first thing Howl noticed was that Sophie's eyes were red-rimmed, as if she'd rubbed them after trying not to cry. The second thing – and more important, Howl would add in hindsight – was that Sophie's hair was not pink. In fact, it was not there at all. The dye – or whatever he'd put in the shampoo bottle – had caused all her lovely ginger (red-gold, his inner voice shrieked at him) to fall out.

Howl's cowardly instincts took over his brain. He gulped. He wasn't sure he could slither out of this one. Then he began to think fast. The ominous silence stretched long and large between them.

Finally he managed to say almost smoothly, "Why, Sophie, it seems that you mixed the, um, shampoo with the hair-removal crea—"

He was interrupted by one of the most unearthly shrieks he had ever heard Sophie utter.

"You switched them, you horrible man! Don't you even try to deny it!" Tears had sprung to her eyes and her hands clenched fists in her sea-green skirt. Howl noted that she was trembling. Before he realized it, he was across the room, his hands reaching for her arms, but she pulled back. Really, said the voice in his head that sounded like Calcifer, this has gone too far. Apologize already.

"Sophie, I only meant to turn it pink, like you did that time to me. I thought it was the dye I put in the bottle – I'll grow it back!" When he reached for her shoulders this time, she didn't pull away from him, but maybe that was just because the wall was a scant five inches behind her. She sniffled into his shoulder.

"It all fell out in clumps," she whispered, "It was disgusting."

Howl had been thinking up a spell to re-grow her hair, but this grabbed his attention and made him feel even worse.

"Oh, Sophie, I'm sorry," He felt her smooth scalp against his cheek and had a wild, hysterical urge to laugh. In an effort to suppress the rising giggle, he said something he had not quite meant to, "Cariad, I'm sorry. I'll fix it as soon as I can."

Sophie pulled back at this and looked at him sharply. He found that a shiny spot on her bald head fascinated him.

"What?" she asked. "What did you just call me, Howl?"

"Nothing, nothing – now just let me remember that spell—"

"Didn't you call Mari, that? That cari-whatsit? Is it Welsh? Howl," and from the tone of her voice he knew he wouldn't get out of this easily, "I want to know what it means!"

Howl was surprised to feel his cheeks heat. He thought he had left off being embarrassed ages ago. He said quickly, "How about I tell you once I grow your hair back?" He refused to look her in the eye, still staring fixedly at her smooth, shiny head.

Howl was surprised for the second time in a short while when, instead of doggedly pursuing the matter, Sophie capitulated. Evidently the loss of her hair was quite a blow. Howl felt he could sympathize.

Howl had almost got the spell in his head now, and smiled to hear Sophie muttering between sniffles, "Grow hair, go on, then, and grow back." Ahh, and there was the whole spell diagrammed in his head. He placed his hand on Sophie's head, which startled her, and with a few muttered words he read off the mental spell, he felt the magic respond from Sophie's scalp. Within seconds, her hair began to curl out of her head, like spaghetti out of a noodle press.

"Tell me when, Sophie, or you'll have your hair dragging on the floor like a regal ginger train…"

"Red-gold," said Sophie snippily, "And I would appreciate if you would stop it at the middle of my back, thank you very much."

"Oh, come now, Sophie dear," said Howl teasingly, "I'm growing it back, am I not?"

"And why did it vanish in the first place, may I remind you?" asked Sophie, her volume escalating.

Ah, good, thought Howl. She's distracted. He attempted to further distract her by carrying on the argument.

"Because someone unnamed did not check to see if she – or he," Howl added as an afterthought, "Was actually using shampoo or not—"

"If her disreputable, infuriatingly childish, no good companion could keep his petty pranks to himself, she wouldn't have had to!" Howl thought that was rather harsh (though he rather enjoyed the angry slant of her brows and the spark of fury in her eyes), but Sophie hadn't finished.

"And if he thinks," she continued, "That he can slither out of this, then he can just forget it! You said you'd tell me!"

Howl wanted to point out that Sophie was the one sounding childish at the moment, but wisely refrained. Instead, he said, "And so I will, when I finish growing your hair—"

"You're slowing it deliberately," cried Sophie, accurately, but as she said this, she turned to attempt to see how long her hair had got, giving Howl the perfect excuse.

"Well, it's hard to keep it going steadily when you flail around so," he taunted.

Sophie gritted her teeth. Howl fought to keep a straight face. He honestly had to admit to his dishonest self that he thoroughly enjoyed riling her up.

"Very well," said Sophie shortly, "I will stand still until you've finished, and then you can tell me what it was you said, and we can stop fighting with each other before Michael or Calcifer comes back."

Neither Sophie nor Howl noticed the tiny blue sparks from between the (now naturally) burning logs in the fireplace.

Howl sighed quite audibly, and with a flourish as if he were cracking a whip, finished off the spell. He turned to face Sophie, whose face was now framed by clouds of newly grown strawberry-blondish hair, with the look of a man prepared to face his doom. With his new sky-blue-lined mahogany-velvet suit, his impossibly blonde hair, and a twinkle in his eye, however, he contrived simultaneously to look entirely unrepentant. Sophie gave a sigh of her own.

"Well," she said, "If you're going to be this troublesome about it, maybe I'll let you slither out after all. Maybe I don't even want to know what you said."

But as she turned toward her cupboard, well, room, now and still, as she and Howl hadn't even begun to negotiate things of that level, Howl's hand closed around her wrist.

"Sophie," he began softly, "I know I have a distressing habit of trying to avoid the issue at all costs, but allow for the fact that this dastardly wizard knows – some of – his own faults and does occasionally try his best to rectify – some of – them."

His hand slid from her wrist to her own hand, and was joined by his other hand, and they gently began to trace patterns on her palm. Sophie, still not facing him, wondered if that meant he was nervous, too. Or, she thought uncharitably, perhaps he's just ensorceling me.

"I know you may not believe me – in fact, sometimes I think I can practically feel the disbelief radiating off you like your magical aura – but I've never been quite—at all—serious before," and now Sophie could hear the smile in his voice, and, involuntarily, felt her lips quiver upward, "Which I think I've tried to tell you before…God, Sophie, if this keeps up, you'll make an honest man out of me!"

Sophie swung round.

"And we wouldn't want that, now would we, Mr. Jenkins?"

He'd grabbed both her hands, now, and was pulling her closer.

"But where would the fun in that be, Mrs. Nose?"

Sophie would have answered him, but he had already wrapped both arms around her back, and somehow hers had found their ways around his, and her face was buried in his shoulder, to boot. It was easier to just chuckle, which she did.

"Ahh, Sophie," said Howl, almost to himself, "You might indeed make an honest man of me yet. For what is meant by cariad," he continued, more strongly, "My darling dear, is exactly that: my love…"

Howl was glad she had her hair back now, because it allowed him to hide his woefully pink cheeks – not that she could see them, but he felt self-conscious all the same. While he waited for her to say something, he concentrated on the feeling of her heart beating against his chest, and the reason his was beating at this moment at all, and all at once he felt more in control of the situation.

"Why, Sophie," he exclaimed as he drew back, knowing she still couldn't see his pink cheeks, "I had no idea that would result in such a cold reception! I suppose I'll have to stick to 'Mrs. Nose,' or 'Mrs. Jenkins' – weren't we going to try that one, too? Or—"

"Were we?" cried Sophie. She'd lifted her head from his shoulder to glare at him accusingly. It was somewhat spoiled by the fact that her cheeks, he noted bemusedly, were even pinker than he imagined his own to be.

"Were we?" she started again. "I don't ever recall your asking…"

"Well," said Howl, trying to discover where his momentum had got to, "Perhaps I'm asking now? Although as I recall, we agreed on happily ever after, didn't we? Or are you reneging on that agreement?" He looked at her in mock-surprise, "Why, Sophie, I had not thought that even you could be so heartless—!"

"Howl!" Sophie almost-shouted, "Shut up!"

But she was having trouble keeping a wild grin from slipping onto her face. Howl had ceded to impulse already, and was beaming unabashedly.

"But Sophie, cariad, I'm just trying to settle the details of our future—"

Sophie kissed him full on the mouth, surprising them both. It was the first time she'd ever kissed him, and their first kiss more serious than a chaste peck, but it shut him up quite effectively. Howl attempted to deepen the kiss, and Sophie, after initial hesitation, responded quite gratifyingly. That was one more thing he loved about Sophie: that after jumping into situations with nary a forethought, she always managed to rise splendidly to the occasion.

After a significant spell of time, they receded from one another, slightly out of breath.

"I ought to go pick flowers, now," said Sophie, but her eyes didn't leave Howl's.

"Yes, you probably should, shouldn't you?" Howl responded absently. He looked slightly crestfallen.

"Will you come with me?"

"You know," replied Howl, "I think I might." And with that he fired a smile so dazzling at Sophie that she blushed bright red.

"After all," he continued, "You probably need a personal consultant to prevent you from bringing in those mutant daffodils again."

"Oh, please," said Sophie, "I made those myself – why are you laughing – oh, you're insufferable!"

As she flounced toward the door, Howl grabbed her hand, and, signaling to the metal flower-bucket, which rose obediently, followed her out. As Sophie turned the knob purple-down, Howl slipped an arm around her waist. He then nuzzled the top of her head.

"Fresh-grown hair," he sighed dramatically, "Nothing like it in the world!"

Sophie sniffed and cast a baleful eye at her lover and would-be husband.

"Except the natural, un-magically-disappeared kind. By the way, Howl," said Sophie primly as they stepped out into misty fields of flowers, "Your own hair's a mess."

Calcifer, who had watched the entire episode from his conveniently forgotten fire on the hearth, just cackled.

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AN:

First HMC fic I've posted...I don't know... I have SO much work to do and I spent the afternoon eating Reese's mini peanut butter cups and candy corns and writing this. Hopefully it shows more of the thought and less of the sugar. I'm still working on try to get the spirit of the book. Which is unbelievably, insanely good. (Obviously you know, or you wouldn't be reading this.)

DWJ rocks my socks!

Love,

The sugar-high authoress!