i've never been beautiful in my entire life
you're born the eldest of three daughters, and you can tell from a fairly young age that you are not like your sisters or even your stepmother. not in any way that's particularly extravagant or exciting. no, not in the least. everything about you is as plain as dirt, boring and not pretty in the slightest when left on its own. there are no flowers blooming in your depths, and it's just something you accepted about yourself over the years, something that can't be changed no matter how hard you wished for something different. you're not pretty enough to attract anyone like your sisters can, and you just can't see yourself dressing in anything expansive in an attempt to make yourself look more appealing. frumpy is the best way to describe you. nobody likes a frumpy girl who doesn't dress nice and smile big.
if you're honest, you gave up on yourself a long time ago. you don't really see yourself finding a man and settling down. what man would think you were pretty enough to marry? you don't even think you're pretty enough to marry. it was better to just not expect anything like that in your future. you can't get your hopes up that way. there was no point in trying either because you would never get anywhere looking the way you look. it might have been a lonely existence, but that's exactly what you saw for yourself.
not really thinking about it if you could help it and accepting it as fact helped ease the pain just a little bit. it didn't mean that you had no want for something greater; it was just you coming to terms with how you would have very little in life. working in your late father's hat shop was the least you could do as you doubted you could do anything else. you grew up in this shop and you'd hate to see it get left behind one day. the rest of your family are preoccupied with their own lives so it was only a matter of time before the shop ended up being closed down for good because no one else was around to run it. eventually, you also think you'll be left behind, perhaps not on purpose, but just because you don't fit into anyone else's life anymore. in that regard, the hat shop and you are in the same boat. the two of you may as well keep each other company as you age together.
one day when the shop is all closed up and it's just you left all by yourself, again, you look at yourself in a mirror and remember how you'll never be pretty. not even a nice hat makes you look good. you may accept your unattractive self as fact, but that doesn't mean you don't feel frustration at it. you're so young, yet you already feel so old, burdened by your responsibilities and expecting to die alone. you leave the shop to check on lettie at the bakery because you are the oldest, and while you haven't been abandoned just yet, you may as well see some of your family while you can before their lives take them completely away from you.
being stopped along the way obviously isn't in your plans, and neither is being led along by a handsome man saving you from a couple of creepy guards. you're overly aware that you're part of whatever he's in now; being followed always seemed like messy business and this is your first time experiencing it. you're also very conscious of how you're now linked arm in arm with a person you never thought would give you the time of day in your entire life. it's hard to stay relaxed when that's all you can think about, and you're positive that you must feel as rigid as a block of wood walking next to him. your hands are definitely clammy, you know that for sure.
the large black blobs following the man reveal themselves and chase after the two of you until the man uses what you can only assume is magic to take to the air. walking in the sky is the scariest yet the most exhilarating thing you've ever felt in your life. you're dropped off at the bakery as promised, and you feel like you're in a dream, all hazy and unsure if what just happened to you was even real. you've never had an encounter with a wizard before, never really thought you would since you've heard they were dangerous for most of your life. not to be cliche, but it felt magical, nowhere near what people told you might happen if you ever ran into someone who used magic. you can't really stop thinking about it because, honestly, who would have thought something like this would ever happen to you? your sister doesn't seem to think much of it other than you needing to be careful, but you brush it off. that happening to you was once in a lifetime, and you really don't expect to be running into that man or any other wizards and witches ever again.
it's dark by the time you return to the shop, your body tired from the day and ready for bed. a woman enters right after you, though you swear you locked the door behind you, and although you try to be nice considering the shop is closed for the night, the woman clearly has no interest in listening to what you have to say. that part of you that figured you'd never see another magic user again ends up slapping you in the face faster than you thought it would. the witch of the waste is infamous in your town for many reasons, most of them not very good at all, and she just walked into your shop. your hackles raise very quickly, though you know it won't do you any good. she's going to do what she wants regardless of anything you say, and that turns out to be more truth than you could have realized. one second she's coming at you, and the next she's gone, left back through the door where she came like nothing happened.
only, that's not the case at all. it doesn't take long at all for you to realize that your body has changed into an elderly woman. you don't know why the witch of the waste would have cursed you like this. you don't think you've done anything wrong, but it's obvious she must think otherwise if she made you like this. or who knew? maybe she just wanted to ruin someone's life and it just so happened that she picked you out of everyone else in town. you end up staying awake much longer into the night than you intended just trying to calm yourself down.
the next morning you resolve to leave before anyone can know what happened to you. you can't stay in the shop, not like this. it was only a matter of time before you were caught (you can only pretend to have a cold for so long), and sitting around here isn't going to do a thing about removing your curse. , but you don't plan on spending the rest of your life as an old woman, for however long that is. you feel pretty healthy for your age so at least that's something. you sneak away without saying goodbye and head toward the wastes, intend on finding some witch or wizard, if not the witch of the waste herself, to break the curse on you. you don't really have any other options.
how you ended up in howl's castle, a strange and movable structure unless anything you've ever seen, could only have been some massive stroke of luck on your part or an even worse omen than anything you've experienced so far. you're trying to be optimistic considering your circumstances, and he didn't outright make you leave - or do even worse than that - when he discovered you here. howl is a source of gossip in your town, especially among the women. you can't count how many times you've heard about the wizard who steals the hearts of pretty girls. you don't think you have much to worry about; you are old now after all and you never were pretty enough to have your heart stolen anyway. you can't deny that felt a little wary at first, but the longer you stay the more you feel like nothing is going to happen to you. you don't have anywhere else to go, and you did make a promise calcifer to help break whatever arrangement he has with howl so you may as well try to stick to your end of the bargain, despite how little you know about anything magic related. you're almost amused by how mouthy calcifer is for a talking flame, but you're kind of expecting to see a lot of things while with howl.
your days are spent cleaning up the castle, mess that it was, and spending time with markl. you don't mind so much because markl is a sweet boy, helpful and by your side near constantly. howl is in and out more often than not, hardly ever home for you to really worry about. it's a good thing you lied and said you were a cleaning lady because you honestly could not have stayed in the castle as it was when you arrived. with how often howl isn't home, you're not at all surprised by the state it was in. still, you expected a bit better from a wizard infamous for eating the hearts of young, attractive girls. he's a lot kinder than anyone gave him credit for, but if you were around anyone else, they would say that he was tricking you. and honestly? you don't think your situation can get any worse anyway. if you ever see that turnip headed scarecrow again, you'll have to thank him once more for leading you to a place that ended up being a haven for you when you really needed it most.
you realize that howl is more like a child than any of your first impressions led on. honestly, only he would get so upset over something like the color of his hair. it makes you angry, touches a part of you that you tried to bury down in an attempt to not be as miserable as you would have been during the rest of your lonely life. part of you can understand crying over not being beautiful; you've done it enough times in your life to know that it's a horrible feeling. you grew up with sisters and a stepmother who were much more beautiful than you could ever dream of being. that left a mark on you, something sad enough to make you think you could never find love. the difference between howl and you, though, is that he will be beautiful no matter what his hair color is. your youth was taken from you by a curse; you have no chance to try anymore. as upset as you are, you can't really leave him to wallow in his misery. you're not that cruel, even if he is just throwing a tantrum. he has been kind to you, much more so than you could have ever dreamed.
howl is nothing like you ever thought he would be. you can admit that you never completely bought into all the rumors said about him, but the reality seems to be the complete opposite of the truth. you feel like you know howl, that you understand him and you learn a little bit more everyday. he's really not as bad a person as everyone paints him out to be, and you have more faith in him than probably anybody else in the world.
oddly enough, he makes you feel young sometimes, if only a little.
you're crying, the tears rolling down your face big and flowing like a river. you've cried your fair share of tears in your life, but these are the saddest and most regretful tears you could have ever made.
the castle is all but destroyed, and you have this sinking pit in your gut that you just killed howl when you were trying to save him.
you couldn't have seen that your meeting with madame sulliman could have ended like this. you only had good intentions at heart, whether it be wanting a senseless war to finally stop or to help howl with his burdens so he wouldn't be suffering with them by himself. he was too scared to go, and you couldn't just sit by and let him bear with it alone. you didn't have it in your heart to say no, even if you did think he was better off going himself instead of asking you to. it was better that way in the end. as much as you thought howl should take a stand against his problems, you also don't want him to get caught up in a trap. you left with a withered and old witch of the waste, whom you only feel sorry for now that all her power been stripped from her by sulliman, and returned to howl's castle with his aid and the ring he gave you to guide you.
madam sulliman's words about you being in love with howl never truly left your mind, though, because maybe you do love howl. at least, that's what you thought at first. your maybes and doubts are all gone now. sitting here, crying your eyes out over howl's possible death only makes you love him even more.
it only got worse from there. from a terrible dream of howl bestial and covered in feathers, consumed by his own magic and the demons haunting him, to being involved in a bombing raid in your own hometown. the happiness you had before seemed fleeting, almost as if you never had it at all, like it was just another dream you had, an impossible fantasy of something wonderful that could never happen to you. it didn't matter that you were back at your old hat shop and got to see your stepmother again. it didn't matter that howl gifted you with a field of flowers and called you beautiful, because even then you still felt you were nothing but plain and good for nothing. you felt like you didn't deserve his kindness and his gifts. were you not still cursed, you think you would have left it all behind long ago before you ever got to this point, before you fell in love with howl.
it was amidst all the chaos, of the town you grew up in being bombed and howl leaving to protect you from harm, that you threw water on calcifer and put out his flame. calcifer always said that if he ever went out, it would the death of both howl and him. you had acted on instinct, because you thought the witch of the waste would burn alive otherwise. you didn't care that she was trying to steal something of howl's for herself; at that moment, you didn't even care that she had cursed you. you would never truly wish death upon anyone no matter what they did, even if you did hold your anger towards her close to your chest for a good portion of your stay with howl. it had drained out of you because it's not like she could harm anyone anymore and she could not break your curse. you're good at just accepting things as they are sometimes, and you had accepted that holding your anger wouldn't do you any favors. you had not forgotten, but you certainly could forgive. the castle, which was already on it's last legs, really falls apart after that, pieces of it scattering all over. calcifer was the only thing keeping it together without howl, and now both of them were gone.
and now you're here, crying because you think you killed the one person who had done nothing but help you ever since you met. you killed the one person in the entire world who cared enough to put himself in danger for. you killed your first and only love, and you couldn't help but weep for the loss, both for something you hadn't really let yourself have and for what you can only assume is a return to your life of loneliness. you didn't want to be alone anymore. you didn't want to live a life without howl. you can't even be happy to see that you're young again for reasons you don't even know.
the ring on your finger lights up, because you want nothing more in your heart than to see howl again, and you follow the light to the broken remains of the door to howl's shop. it opens up to blackness, inky and deep like ocean's depths, and you're not even sure how the magic on it still works or how it can still take you to other places. you don't think on it much beyond bracing yourself for whatever you may find once you go inside. as long as it leads you to howl, you don't really care where it would take you.
on the other side of the door once you reach the end, you come out on the field howl had presented to you, only now it's only covered in grass instead of flowers. stars falls from the sky and burst in an array of colors in the distance until they reach closer to you. you see a young boy in the distance, and you can tell without asking that it's howl. with the ring on your finger steadily wearing itself away, you run toward him, your feet stomping through grass and mud. how you ended up in the past isn't really a concern to you, but you know you have to do something. the ring led you here for a reason; you can only think it's to save howl.
one of the lights falls into howl's hands. you don't know what he says to it, but he swallows it down before clutching at his chest, a flame coming from out that you recognize as calcifer straight away. all this time howl's heart had been right under your nose and you never knew it. all this time the way to break the curse between them was right in front of you. it might not be too late to return howl's heart to him.
the ring finally snaps, and you're sucked down into blackness. you yell to howl and calcifer, asking them to wait for you because you know how to fix what they've just done.
when you come back through the door, howl is sitting there waiting for you, covered in feathers and breathing swallow, hoarse sounding breaths. you apologize for making him wait and kiss him, asking to be taken to calcifer. you're not surprised to see the witch of the waste still clutching the dimmed flame of calcifer as if her life depends on it. you really didn't expect that she would let it go; after all, she wants howl's heart nearly about as much as you do. you beg her to give back what belongs to howl and she concedes. the tiny flame in your hands, howl's beating heart, feels warm against your skin. you pray that everything will be fine once you give it back, and it is exactly as you wished it to be, with both howl and calcifer alive and well, almost as if nothing had ever happened, howl's heart beating away in his chest where it belonged all along. howl calls you beautiful with your new hair, short and silver since you gave most of it to calcifer to get away from the bombings, the color only being attributed to how you had switched by to youth and stay that way. his voice is amazed and almost childlike in its wonder, and you agree, for the first time, when he calls you beautiful. for once in your life, you truly think of yourself as beautiful and deserving of love and praise. you almost lost all that once before you really let yourself have it; you weren't about to let it happen again.
with the war finally over and the prince of the attacking kingdom finally having returned from being cursed into the form of the turnip headed scarecrow (and, really, who knew a kiss from you could have broken that spell? you only feel sorry that your heart was already occupied by howl when it happened), you feel ready to allow yourself all the things you thought were impossible for you. love, a happy life with a family you can call your own that just fell into your lap on accident, a place to belong without feeling like you were nothing but a burden. being able to finally call yourself pretty rather than plain. you never would have imagined that you could have any of this. you can't say it was easy to get, but you're glad you're here now, with all these precious things well within your grasp, things you're going to hold onto tightly from now on.
you have a new home and a new life to look forward to alongside howl. you couldn't be any happier if you tried.