Trying, and failing, to feign sleep for a few blissful seconds more, Calcifer grumbled softly from where he was situated on a particularly comfy bed of coals. His fiery brows creasing a moment in frustration, before he slowly and reluctantly opened first one eye then the next to stare down the source of his disturbance with a wry look.
Balanced precariously against the side of the fireplace on legs that hadn't quite mastered the basics of walking just yet, stood Howl and Sophie's firstborn. Tiny fingers grasping at the smooth brick ledge, he peered determinedly up into the grate to give the fire demon a wide, toothless smile. Bright blue eyes sparkling far too innocently for someone who was supposedly too short to reach bothersome things like doorhandles and crib safety latches and yet seemingly had no trouble getting past them at all.
“You,” Calcifer told the child with a matter of fact sigh. “Are supposed to be napping.”
Unfazed by the accusation, the toddler babbled happily at the attention. One small hand reaching over to pat the ashes sitting along the edge of the fireplace while the demon winced at the resulting mess.
“Yeah,” Calcifer watched the ashes drift graceful out of the fireplace and onto Sophie's pristine floors with a crooked grin. “You're Howl's all right.”
Determinedly ignoring the way the kid smiled with all the happy exuberance of someone who'd just found a playmate, Calcifer's gaze trailed plaintively from the toddler to the castle door and back again.
“Sophie...” She was gone, he knew. Just popped out to take advantage of the kid's nap time to make sure Markl was handling everything in the flower shop all right. But that didn't stop Calcifer from calling out wistfully. “Hurry up and come take care of your kid.”
A dry wheeze sounded from the opposite side of the room and Calcifer aimed a glare at the aged dog laying curled in the Witch of the Waste's usual armchair.
“Don't laugh.” The demon countered grumpily, eyes narrowing thoughtfully. “You're the one with legs, mutt. Try helping out, why don't you?”
One ear cocked slightly in response, Heen's tail twitched with poorly suppressed amusement. Then, carefully clambering up to his paws, the dog stretched, rolling sore shoulders languidly before slinking down out of the chair and trotting out of the room.
“Hey! You better be getting help you-” Now feeling slightly abandoned, Calcifer sputtered as a fresh cloud of ash filled the air amidst renewed gales of childish laugher and mumbled softly. “Traitor.”
He could, of course, simply fly away himself. Calcifer was no longer bound to the fireplace by contract nor heart, after all. Still. A niggling of discomfort and a healthy dose of respect for what Sophie (and Howl) would do to him if they found out he'd left their kid all alone and unattended kept him fixed in place.
“All right, all right.” Calcifer groaned again before turning his attention to his eager audience of one. “I get it. Just once, you hear me?”
The toddler, having grown tired with holding himself up, was now sitting amongst the spread of ashes on the hard wood floor. His eyes fixed curiously on the fire demon while happily gumming a dirty fist.
Giving one last sigh of indignation, Calcifer straightened himself up. One long tendril of flame darted out along the edge of the fireplace to pick up any stray dust and grim that had a tendency to collect there, having drifted in oft times from magical experiments and random bits of baking. And, taking a deep breath, the fire demon raised his head with a flourish worthy of Howl himself.
The handful of sparks he managed to throw off was paltry at best. Just a small smattering of mult-colored embers that managed to hang in the air a few moments longer than his usual leavings.
But that didn't stop his watcher from giving a shrill shriek of delight. Small hands waved eagerly in the air as the toddler flailed about with glee, tumbling onto his back to spades of giggles.
Calcifer rolled his eyes to the ceiling. His pride as a fire demon gave a small shudder and died just a little bit.
And as the toddler continued to clap eagerly, despite his earlier declaration, Calcifer found himself repeating the process - grabbing what stray dust he could and sending it up in the form of more colorful sparklies or, that failing, from stretching his form to create increasingly sillier faces for the amusement of the small child on the floor.
The soft chime of the castle door opening on the Kingbury side was readily lost under all the noise.
Snapping to attention, Calcifer stared in abject horror at the wizard standing casually in the castle foyer. Sputtering slightly in a hasty denial, his tongue rolled back in his mouth as he quickly scowled.
“Good afternoon, Morgan.” Smoothly making his way up the steps, Howl greeted his still giggling son with a kiss on his ash smudged cheek. Swooping down and lifting the toddler into the air to prop him up in his arms with a cheerful disregard for the messy child-sized hand prints left behind on the fine silk of his jacket, Howl fixed Calcifer with a curious look. “Where's Sophie?”
The fire demon's mouth opened and closed once in unspoken embarrassment at having been caught playing, of all things, with the child; before, tipping his head up, he simply decided to feign indifference.
“Went to check on Markl at the shop.” Calcifer said, his scowl deepened momentarily. “Your kid's a nuisance.”
“Oh?” Howl smiled brightly in a way that Calcifer knew meant his statement was believed not in the slightest bit. “Is that so?”
“He managed to make his way past your spells on the nursery,” the fire demon continued, jerking his head to indicate the child in Howl's arms. “Again.”
“Really?” Howl pursed his lips together slightly, but wasn't quite able to stop from beaming proudly at his son. “He's just that clever, isn't he?”
“Honestly,” Calcifer scoffed at the wizard's overabundance of paternal pride, but plowed on nonetheless. “The castle's dangerous! Aren't you teaching any sense of self-preservation to that kid?”
Howl's eyes slid away from his son to slyly take in Calcifer's grumpy countenance. One blond brow arched mockingly. “I suppose I should leave it to you, then Calcifer, to teach him the dangers of playing with fire.”
The fire demon coughed slightly, coloring with something akin to a blush.