Disclaimer: Howl's Moving Castle characters © Diana Wynne Jones. Not mine. TT

Summary: Inspired by "30 kisses"—a one-shot for every theme. Pure fluff.


4. Our Distance and That Child

"A holiday?"

Howl shifted his gaze from a travel brochure from his native country. "Yes, Sophie," he murmured thoughtfully. "A holiday in France. Would that suit you, my dear?"

Sophie's eyebrows arced in a contemplative scowl. "Wherever is that? Sounds like a horrid place to go, though. Such a harsh name I've never heard in my life!"

An inner chuckle brought a smile to the wizard's face. Horrid indeed! "It's around where I come from," he explained. "Only a flight away."

This seemed to startle Sophie quite a bit. "Flight?"

Sophie Hatter, native to the town of Market Chipping in the kingdom of Ingary, had never felt such turmoil in her life.

Three parts blind panic and half a part wide-eyed with awe, white knuckled hands gripping the uncomfortable cloth-covered armrests and an angry pout bespoke the half-part regret she had for agreeing to this "holiday."

"It's a plane, darling," Howl said from beside her. He put his hand over hers in an attempt to comfort. "Perfectly safe. Flying is hardly a marvel in my world."

She huffed her indignation. "I'm in a metal tube with skinny metal sticks that you insist upon calling wings when they have no feathers whatsoever." Her eyes squeezed shut to block out the claustrophobia. "Howl, I refuse to call this a holiday! This France had better be worth this wretched contraption and more!"

Howl sighed and said not a word, instead choosing to admire the silver band set with emeralds shining like a crown from his left ring finger. Like your eyes, Sophie had told him the day she'd given it to him.

After a particularly harrowing run through customs and the chaos of exiting the airport, Howl found himself an dumbstruck man as Sophie, having burst through the door in an frenzied bail for freedom, goggled openmouthed at the land that surrounded them.

"France…?" Her voice was a mere whisper, all hope and hushed awe.

He nodded. "France."

The wizard had never heard a sigh like hers. "Oh, it's beautiful, Howl."

Howl gazed at the ginger-haired woman who was his wife and thought that he couldn't agree more.

The couple quickly found out there was hardly enough time to absorb it all. Sophie, especially seemed extremely disappointed by this. But being Sophie, she made due with the time she had and proceeded to move through the sights and sounds and feels of Paris as if the world had ended five minutes ago.

"This, Howl!" She pointed and 'ooh'ed and 'ah'ed. "And this!"

And though Howl had always been one to take his time and amble along the beaten path, he'd never felt more exhilarated in his life, fueled by his wife's spastic, happy energy and her insistence upon seeing it all. He'd never known Sophie had it in her.

It was during one particularly lovely evening while they were resting a cozy little sidewalk café that he discovered something quite astonishing.

Both he and Sophie had been nibbling away at a light dessert and sipping some heady coffee when he caught her staring past him, entranced. Curious, he shifted to catch her focus in his peripheral vision but finding nothing of interest, turned back to her.

"What has caught your attention, cariad?" The endearment caught even him off-guard, and he took a swig of coffee, playing it down. It still felt awkward to play the married couple.

Sophie reluctantly dragged her eyes away from whatever she'd been looking at. Her fork lifted to her lips with another morsel of apricot tart. "Oh, nothing," she said around her food. But her eyes followed something behind him again.

It annoyed him that he couldn't be her sole focus. The feeling made him itch to find the source of her interest.

Shadows flickered on his right, and, watching as Sophie's gaze marched along with them, Howl turned, determined to assess the situation.

What met his dumbstruck stare was a little boy with black hair and, as he passed under the dim light, glinting blue eyes. The boy skipped alongside a red-haired woman, who chatted animatedly with a dark-haired man with a charming smile. For a moment, Howl's breath caught. What a resemblance this family seemed to bear to his own! At least…the man and the woman. Perhaps. But a child! So ironically like he'd imagine a child of his and Sophie's to appear…

Howl blushed at the thought and drowned some more coffee to pass off his embarrassment. Sophie had never mentioned anything about children, after all.

But there it was. Hadn't she been staring after that child? Perhaps there wasn't a need to say anything at all.

He turned back to her with a lighthearted joke, but it died on his tongue as soon as he saw her expression.

She looked out beyond him again, this time into a night sky decadent with stars. Even then, it seemed her gaze had no focus at all. As if she were looking into herself, or out beyond where the human eye could reach. A little lost, a little dazed, a little hopeful, but mostly a wistful sort of defeat.

"Sophie?" He could hardly hide the waver in his voice, the small little-boy-lost tone he thought he'd left far behind.

For the second time that night, it seemed his wife was reluctant to return the eye contact. The thought of it touched an icy finger to his heart.

She offered him a tired smile and said just as much. Could they go back to the inn? All that sightseeing had made her weary.

Yes, of course, Sophie. Anything for you. That, too, was on the tip of his tongue. That, too, died away like a passing breeze.

As they trudged back in a pensive silence, Howl pondered over his beloved's gloominess. A product of weariness, surely, his heart hoped. The beginnings of disappointment in her life, his head warned. It was all too complicated, the feelings of a woman. He could hardly hope to make anything out with his Sophie's disposition as it were. From high to low in sixty seconds flat. It was unbelievable.

He gazed down at her in the waning moonlight, the passing shadows of streetlamps doing nothing to hide her from his view. Even in darkness, he could imagine every contour of that beautiful face, all angles and sharp relief. A soft kind of relenting sternness, though, in every line that stroked her smile. He wished he could paint it on her now—that glorious smile of hers. Pure kindness, pure strength. Nothing empowered him more.

But her profile was awash in deep thought, a small frown tugging at the corners of her mouth.

What's troubling you, my Sophie? The idea of a child? The idea of no such children? The idea of his being a father? If only she would tell him! If only he would ask…if only he weren't such a yellow coward…

If only that boy hadn't come waltzing in like he did, upsetting his fragile Sophie…

If only they hadn't stopped at the old café…

If only they'd never come to France…

If only he hadn't brought up that blasted idea of a holiday…

He frowned as well, continuing to stare at her. If only these things could be kissed away…he'd certainly have no trouble with that.

Howl sighed. He never really liked France anyways. Blasted country of blasted baguettes and fancy French fashion. He certainly could've done without.

If only he hadn't fallen in love with Sophie Hatter…

Author's Note: Rushed, it seems. But ah well. I decided for these one-shots that they would be completely raw. I've not enough experience writing like that. It's always say it right the first time so that my first drafts often end up being my final ones. Rather wretched way of writing, if you ask me. Anyways. The translation was changed from "our distance and that person" to "…that child" for mindless reasons. For one, I believe it is the literal Japanese meaning. For two, jealousy's overrated. XD Not true, I love jealousy. But I'm rather narrow-minded with these themes. Not entirely the most creative person. Hum. Anyways, throw some thoughts at me, if you'd like. Always appreciated.

Thanks for reading!