Title: That Old Ten-Percent Chestnut

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: PG

Summary: "So. Now that you've saved the world, you ready to learn some real magic?" 1500 words.

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the world is Disney's.

Spoilers: "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" (2010)

Notes: So, I just went and saw this ridiculous yet entertaining movie, and felt the need to channel Balthazar a little before going back to my other projects. *grin*

Dave descended the metal staircase cautiously, hoping he'd guessed right about where Balthazar would have gone after leaving the park. He didn't think the old sorcerer had found a new place to live since he'd roared back into Dave's life a few days ago, but it hadn't taken him long to learn not to take anything for granted. Apparently, a guy could pick up a lot of quirks in over a thousand years.

"How was Paris, Dave?" a familiar, dry voice floated up from the lab before he'd taken more than half a dozen steps downward, and he let out a quiet breath of relief at the sound. He still had whiplash from learning magic was real in the first place; and Balthazar's terribly still form was too fresh in his mind from the night before. Call him clingy, but ever since he'd dropped Becky off he'd had the creeping nervous feeling that he would arrive here to find that some or all of the last week's events had been nothing more than a cruel dream.

"Which one, Paris, France or Paris, New York?" he joked, hurrying down the rest of the stairs.

"There's a Paris, New York?" Balthazar replied, looking up from the bench where he was seated, Veronica tucked under one arm and the other spread out over the Incantus. Dave could see fresh ink glimmering wetly between his parted fingers, sketching out images of water and fire; no doubt an illustration of the battle the night before.

"Yeah, somewhere between Albany and Syracuse," he replied, nonchalantly. "I figured actual France might be a little far for a second date."

"Also, it's a long flight, and there aren't any bathrooms on a metal eagle," Balthazar added blandly, one corner of his mouth quirked up in cool amusement.

"Yeah, there's that too," Dave agreed, shuffling his feet a little in his pinched leather shoes. "So... you doing all right? I know probably should have stuck around last night, but..." He shrugged, helplessly.

"I was your age once, you know," Balthazar said, then looked down at the still face of his girlfriend, dozing peacefully on his shoulder. The expression that crossed his face next could only have been called sappy; Dave expected his own face had been doing that a lot over the course of the last few hours, but it didn't make it any less weird to see on his intense, crazy teacher. It was gone again a few seconds later, though; when he looked back up at Dave, he was his usual inscrutable self. "So. Now that you've saved the world, you ready to learn some real magic?"

Dave's eyebrows shot up. "What the hell do you call what I've been doing the last few days?" he asked in disbelief. He'd defeated Morgana with nothing more than his mind and a creative application of electricity, after all, and he'd been led to believe that was a pretty huge deal.

Balthazar's mouth quirked again. "Raw, quick and dirty evocation at its finest," he replied. "Which is about as accurate a picture of magic as a whole, as that little analogy I gave you about accessing a greater percentage of your brain than other people."

"What do you mean?" Dave asked, thoroughly puzzled now.

"Come on, Dave," Balthazar said, wryly, "that old ten-percent chestnut was disproved before I even went into the jar with Horvath."

"Then why tell me that?" Dave frowned, finally leaving the foot of the stair to cross the etched brickwork of the floor and drag one of the scattered student chairs over in front of his mentor.

"Because most people have heard of it, and I thought you might accept that quicker than a long lecture on genetic influence, confluences of ley lines, and all the other factors that go into whether or not someone is born with the ability to become a sorcerer," Balthazar answered, matter-of-factly. He drew up his fingers in a wicking motion over the open Incantus, leaving a completely dry page behind, then shut the heavy tome and set it beside him on the bench. "I should have had ten years to train you, at least; instead I had days. I needed you to believe me, first of all; and once I had your attention, I needed to teach you to survive. I figured we'd have time for philosophy and thaumaturgy and all the other bells and whistles if we ever made it out the other side."

Dave snorted as he processed that. "Next thing you'll tell me I don't really need the old man shoes, either; they were just a distraction to take my mind off the odds."

"No." Balthazar quirked another smile. "The more organic material you wear, the better; and rubber's a definite no-no. Why do you think I still wear the, what did you call it, 'three-hundred-fifty year old leather trenchcoat'? Or Horvath, that coat with the fur collar? Certainly not because they're in style."

Dave sighed, nonplused, leaning forward to prop his elbows on his knees and his chin on his fists. No rest for the victors, it seemed. He didn't know why he'd expected anything else. "Better conductors, right," he said. "So. How long's it going to take to learn the real thing, then? I don't have all that much longer 'til graduation, and I'm not sure where I'll be after that. Depends on where I get a job."

Balthazar snorted, gently carding the fingers of his free hand through Veronica's long, soot-dark hair. "You still don't get it, really. Dave. This is your job now. You turned a sports car into a Pinto. You think you'll need to earn money the old-fashioned way?"

Dave sat back in the chair again, eyes widening as that sank in. He could turn things into money, or- maybe create things instead of buy them, or whatever? He hadn't thought of that.

Balthazar continued. "Besides which, like I told you; I don't age." The lights shining down from the vaulted ceiling of the old subway interchange sparked off his rings as he gestured toward his face. "Merlin made sure of that. And you're his heir. How long do you think it's going to take you to learn 'the real thing'?"

"That's a trick question, isn't it?" Dave shook his head, chuckling in amazement. "C'mon, can't you give a guy, like, a week to let all this sink in before you throw a pop quiz?"

"I think you already took the pop quiz, and passed with flying colors," Balthazar replied, the light-hearted mood leaching out of him with those words. His expression shifted to something almost- proud, and Dave had to look away in a hurry before embarrassed pleasure led him to make a fool of himself.

"Fair enough," he said, clearing his throat. "So. This is one of those 'never stop learning' kind of callings, huh? Good thing Becky seems to like magical me."

"Yeah, good thing," Balthazar echoed, smiling down at Veronica again.

"So, what now?" Dave asked him, glancing around the still-disarrayed equipment and furniture in the lab space. The emptied Grimhold stood in two pieces on one side table; next to it lay an ornate cane with three pieces of magical jewelry fixed just under its silver-and-glass knob.

"Right now, I find Veronica and I a bed to sleep in," Balthazar chuckled. "She's been fighting Morgana and the other occupants of that trap for centuries without any rest, and I did kind of die last night. I think we deserve the next few hours off, don't you?"

Dave flushed, ducking his head again. "Yeah, sorry."

"No, don't apologize; I'm glad you're eager to learn. Finally." He smirked. "Go on. I'll see you after class tomorrow; we'll work up a better schedule then. Oh- and bring Becky. As quick as she believed you, she might have a little bit of talent herself. We'll have to see."

Dave swallowed at that thought. Now that would be cool beyond words; even more amazing than the check-yes-for-girlfriend fact of her reciprocated interest in the first place. He had only to look at Balthazar to see how strong a couple could be, with magic on both sides, even after more than a thousand years apart. Call him a romantic idiot, but that idea appealed to him, a lot.

"Okay," he said, standing up from the chair. "Sure. See you tomorrow, then?"

Balthazar made a wide swirling gesture, and pieces of equipment began to spin in place, drawing closer together and shifting shape into a joined object that looked like it might end up as a bed. "See you tomorrow, apprentice," he echoed, absently. "Oh, and don't let your guard down too much; Morgana might be dead, but there are other sorcerers of her line still out there, and I'd be really disappointed if you got yourself killed now."

Dave rolled his eyes as he climbed back up the stairs. "Yes, Master," he murmured, smiling, and shut the access door carefully behind him.