In Which the Argument Goes Too Far

A/N: This is my first story that isn't a oneshot that I've actually finished (okay it's three chapters, but still)—huzzah! Let the celebration commence!

That being said, I live for feedback. Not entirely true, but it's rather scary how true this half-truth is. :P

Disclaimer: Still not my characters!

Chapter 3

In Which There is a Duel

She was exactly where Howl thought she'd be.

Sophie sat on the edge of Star Lake in a wooden chair as old as she was. Her scowl was the only indication that she was aware of Howl's approach.

Once he was next to her, she spoke.

"When you're old, all you want to do is stare at the scenery," Sophie said bitterly.

"Duel me," was Howl's response.

"What?" Sophie squawked, sufficiently startled to swirl around in her seat and look at Howl.

"You heard me."

"What are you trying to do, Howl?"

"You'll see."

Howl's typical lack of elaboration only served to annoy Sophie more. "I've had enough of your games," she decided, turning back around.

"Still, wouldn't it be satisfying to beat some sense into me?" Howl badgered.

A few moments passed.

"Fine. Have it your way."

Sophie stood up painfully and eyed Howl; she did not know how these wizard duels were supposed to work, but she wasn't going to tell him that.

"Alright then," Howl began cheerfully, making Sophie's scowl deepen, "this space will do. Now we start 5 feet apart, like so." (Howl came to her since it was difficult for Sophie to move quickly.) "We bow," Howl gestured flamboyantly. Sophie merely stood stiffly, but Howl let it pass. "We turn our backs and walk in the opposite direction." Once Howl was roughly 30 feet away from Sophie, he stopped and turned around. "This'll do! Now we start when I lower my arm," Howl explained, simultaneously raising his arm so it was at a diagonal to his body. "Ready – "

"Wait!" Sophie yelled, alarmed. "How do we know when it's over?"

"You'll know," Howl said flippantly, annoying Sophie further. She was starting to regret her hasty decision to go along with Howl's silly idea. She knew she had no hope of beating him; Sophie wished he would leave her in peace so that she could better acclimate to her old age. She toyed with the tantalizing idea of giving up. The sooner this was over, the better.

Sometime during this dejected string of thoughts, Howl had lowered his arm. Immediately two doppelgangers split off from the real Howl. When Sophie finally came to her senses, she was fairly startled to see three Howl's running at her.

She took a few hobbled steps back from the fearsome sight – before reminding herself that this was unnecessary. Right, Sophie told herself, all I have to do is stand here until it's over.

"Ha!" doppelganger number one – or was it the real Howl? – shouted, moving to her flank.

"Is that the best you can do, old woman?" another of Howl's minions yelled.

Sophie huffed dramatically. The situation was impossible – she wanted to beat Howl to a pulp, but how could she do anything to stop Howl when his very profession was magic?

As the Howl's closed in on her from all sides, something clicked. She may not be able to do anything to stop them, with these old bones, but what if she –

"Do something about them, will you?" Sophie yelled at the ground.

In response, the ground began to move violently – as if there were immense bubbles of air beneath the surface, pushing the grass up in forms akin to crashing waves. None of the Howl's managed to keep their footing. The doppelgangers tripped comically, arms flailing, and crashed into each other; as soon as they came into contact, they poofed into nonexistence. The real Howl, however, merely toppled over, skidding across the ground, simultaneously earning him grass stains and a mouthful of sod. He stayed on the ground on all fours, coughing up the grass along with a few choice words.

Sophie chuckled, feeling a little lighter. Perhaps this wasn't so difficult after all.

While Howl remained occupied with the grass, she shuffled over to the lake. She bent over the water, cupped her hand against her mouth, and whispered, "Go after that horrible man, will you? I hear he just loves baths." Sophie then edged to the side to watch the fun.

Enormous spirals of water jetted out from the lake, seeking out the man who loved baths so much. The man himself had finally stood up and was totally absorbed muttering no-stain incantations, praying that the grass stains would come out of his expensive clothes.

Howl never saw it coming. He yelped and almost fell over when the first jet of cold water hit him.

"Sophie," he spluttered, spitting out water, "how are you doing that?"

Sophie chuckled harder, doing what would have been an impressive rendition of a crazed old witch – except that she was no longer so hunched over. No, Sophie was standing up straighter and exuding something, that if pressed to name, she would have called confidence.

But Howl had already recovered from his initial shock, and was murmuring strange, complex phrases. The wind began pick up, forcing Sophie's somewhat gray hair into her face. The gale increased to such magnitude that Sophie was swept off the ground and carried over to Howl, who was still being doused with water. When she reached Howl, the wind disappeared as he grabbed her by the shoulders, holding her in place. Before long Sophie was soaked down to her undergarments, utterly cold, and frustrated that she once again hadn't thought things through. Hastily, she called the water off. She struggled, but Howl kept her rooted in place.

"That's amazing, Sophie," Howl said, sounding genuinely impressed. "I don't even know how this works – you aren't even using any spells! It's as if…" Howl paused, thinking. "It's almost as if you make the spells." He looked down into her wide eyes. "You're amazing, Sophie."

Sophie began to smile, but then remembered she was dueling Howl. He was probably attempting to distract her into forgetting about the whole matter. Which would be a shame because Sophie now knew that she could win, if she put her mind to it.

With the agility of someone much younger than ninety, she broke away from Howl's now lax grasp and ran towards the old chair by the water.

"Wait– " Howl called out, somewhat helplessly.

But she had already reached the chair, which sprang valiantly into action, bounded over the field, and wrapped itself around Howl, who struggled in vain to move.

Sophie meandered back over towards Howl, laughing at the sight of his shocked face. After a few moments, Howl joined in the laughter. Sophie smiled wider. It really was just a game.

"You've lost, Howl," Sophie said, trying to be stern, and failing. "Give it up!"

"Never!" Howl said playfully.

And with that he disappeared.

Startled, Sophie whipped around, searching for Howl.

He found her first, though – his arms enveloped her in a bear-hug from behind. She was the trapped one now.

"How did you do that?" Sophie demanded.

"Now Sophie, I can't give away all my secrets during the first lesson! That would be unprofessional."

"You mean – you'll give me magic lessons?" Sophie asked wonderingly, attempting to turn around and study Howl's face without success. Giving up, she found resting her head on his chest and gazing up at his visage a suitable substitute.

"Well," Howl dodged, grinning down on her, "now that Michael's gone, I suppose I need to occupy my time somehow."

Sophie grinned. That was Howl-speak for yes.

Howl began playing with a flank of her hair.

"Your hair's different," he said lightly.

Sophie looked down at the strand in question to see that it had resumed its usual redish-gold hue. She wondered vaguely if this had anything to do with the new feeling of confidence that was still coursing through her.

"I'm glad it's ginger again," Howl continued, smiling.

"It's red-gold!" she snapped.

"Whatever!" Howl conceded, chuckling and spinning her around so she was facing him.

"Sophie?" he began tentatively. It was important he didn't forget.


"I truly am sorry."

His eyes bored into hers, as he held his breath, waiting.

"I know Howl, I know."

They embraced.

"And I've been thinking about it, you know!" Howl said excitedly, pulling back, but keeping his arms draped over her shoulders. "Maybe it's not such a bad idea if we went to Megan's party. I'd like to see Mari. But we should disguise ourselves, of course. Perhaps we could be servers at the banquet? We'd have to wear all black naturally – I have a few things that would do. Or maybe I could be the bartender, while you dress up as –"

Howl droned on while Sophie just rolled her eyes. She would persuade him eventually. After all, they had survived this long.

A/N: LA FIN. Did you enjoy the ride?

Limited time only! Act fast! Readers who review win my undying love and also a duel/sappy fluffy make up session with none other than Howell Jenkins himself!

(Also, is it just me, or did the commas have a mind of their own in this chapter? Hah, good thing I know grammar... ^^; )