The Arcana Cabana
Summary: Dave didn't discover the Grimhold as a child; Horvath was never released. But Balthazar Blake, through an unlucky display of Dave's lack of coordination, still ends up trapped in the urn for ten years. Morgana and the others can wait—when the sorcerer is finally free of the urn, he finds himself focused on only one thing: bringing his apprentice to heel.
Notes: Yes, this is Balthazar/Dave slash. And, as you probably guessed from the summary above, it is an AU.
The boy was the Prime Merlinian. Balthazar wasn't sure how he knew—he hadn't had enough time to even show the boy Merlin's ring—but he felt it in a way that he never had with any of the other candidates. He had traveled the world through more lands and eras than most people could contemplate, he had been in the presence of some of the greatest philosophers and magicians in the history of man, and yet he'd felt something from that boy that he'd never felt before. Beneath the earnest innocence, awkwardness and, under the circumstances, panic, the boy possessed a surprising strength—the strength needed to wield Merlin's powers and defeat Morgana.
There was only one problem with Balthazar's discovery: he could do nothing about it.
He'd been behind the boy when a young elbow had flailed out and knocked over the Emperor's Urn. In that slow second, as Balthazar watched the Urn's lid fall open, he'd realized several things: first, he was in the presence of the Prime Merlinian; second, the boy was hopelessly uncoordinated; and third, there was no time to inform the boy of his destiny. Blackness had enveloped him, as swift and sure as any punishment—he was trapped inside the Urn. The greatest sorcerer the world had ever known would have to go untaught and unaware for another ten years. He didn't even know the boy's name, but Balthazar did know one thing for sure: whether it was ten years or a hundred, he would find the boy again; his apprentice would not escape.
Dave Stutler considered himself average in most respects. He was neither beautiful nor ugly, tall nor short, blessed nor cursed. At just under six feet, he was thin without being sickly, pale with brown hair and eyes, hopelessly out of fashion, and in a near constant state of jittery nervousness around people he didn't know. The only things he could lay extraordinary claims to were a keen insight for physics and a pleasant, if awkward, childhood.
And, of course, Becky: his one great love. Never mind that he had fallen for her at an age when most boys still thought girls had cooties; Dave had loved Becky as much as he'd been capable of at nine years old. Which, looking back, hadn't been a heck of a lot. They had held hands and snuck forbidden kisses when teachers weren't looking and, for a while, it was heaven. But by the time middle school rolled around, their interests had drifted, the kisses stopped seeming worth the hassle, and they eventually grew apart. By high school, they weren't even in the same school district anymore, and it hadn't been until just a year before, in the midst of college, that they'd gotten back in touch.
Becky was a great girl, as sweet now as she'd been back in elementary school, and Dave could remember why he'd loved her so much. But seeing her again dredged up strange memories, unsettling visions he'd rather forget about the day they'd started dating.
It was the same field trip into The City that their school took every year—even more boring now that they were on their third or fourth visit. But this time there was Becky, the blonde haired imp that was darting her gaze between him and the yellow note he'd had passed down to her. The wait was killing him; at nine, he was very sensitive to rejection, and he desperately wanted to know if Becky was just his friend or his girlfriend. Suddenly, the line of students was moving—like cattle being led to gawk at the same sights they'd been shown year after year—and he could see the note, resting just out of reach. Dauntingly, the moment he went to retrieve it, a stray breeze picked the light note up and carried it off. Despite all the dangers, despite the knowledge that he could just turn to Becky and ask her what she'd checked, Dave ran after that slip of paper like it was the greatest treasure the world had ever seen.
His madcap dash through The City ended at the Arcana Cabana, a store he'd never heard of before, and couldn't actually remember having ever been where it was. The store gave him shivers, like ice running up his spine, and a grating sense of more-than-meets-the-eye raked over his young mind. Inside the shop it was gloomy, dusty, and crowded. From one wall to the next, the Arcana Cabana was packed with all manner of antiques and strange gizmos, leaving only enough room for a person to squeeze between roughly organized isles. But there, among the disorienting hodge-podge of the store, was his note and he quickly bent to retrieve it.
Unfortunately, the weight of his bag tipped him over, nearly sending him sprawling to the floor. As he desperately tried to regain his balance, he bumped into a giant pot of some kind that then tipped over at the feet of the man he assumed owned the store. Dave steeled himself for anger and yelling, but the man merely look surprised—maybe even a little pleased and annoyed—before he had vanished completely, sucked within the toppled antique.
Dave had found his way back to his classmates, back to Becky, who had checked girlfriend, and had never told a single soul what he had witnessed within the Arcana Cabana. In truth, he'd never been able to decide if it had happened at all, or if he had merely imagined it. But if he had imagined it, then his memory of the daydream was surprisingly untouched. The shopkeeper had haunted his dreams for years, and Dave could recall exactly how he had looked: tall, with curly-graying hair that nearly fell to his shoulders, piercing blue-ish eyes, and enough stubble to almost be considered a goatee. He had stood behind Dave, looking strange and mysterious, dressed in pinstripe woolen slacks, a dark shirt, a woolen vest with a chain of keys jangling under the lapels, and an ancient-looking leather coat.
For ten years, Dave had driven himself nearly insane trying to figure out if the man had even existed at all, and why the shopkeeper's image had stayed so fresh in his mind. He'd never been able to reconcile anything, and had desperately tried to forget instead, but time had not dulled his memories at all. When he least suspected it, when he was at his weakest or most vulnerable, the shopkeeper surfaced from the back of his mind to taunt him.
"You seem distracted," a sweet voice said from beside him.
Dave struggled to bring himself back to the present, to pull his mind out of the shadows of the past. He was in one of the NYU libraries with Becky, trying to help her understand his much beloved physics. She had no talent for it and they both knew it, but their study sessions gave them time to reconnect. "Sorry," he replied, "my mind just drifts sometimes."
Becky smiled. "If I were half as smart as you are, I'd probably drift a little too."
He was about to assure her that she was a very bright woman, that physics was just a hard subject for a lot of people to understand, when the hair at the back of his neck stood on end. Something seared across his nerves, like the sound of nails on a chalkboard, and he suddenly felt as though he were being watched. Slowly, Dave raised his eyes and looked around, dreading what he would find.
But there was no one around, aside from Becky and a few late-night studiers. The stacks of the library were quiet and motionless; there was nothing threatening lurking behind their shelved books.
And yet his unease persisted.
For a man who had lived over a thousand years, Balthazar had to admit that the past ten had seemed slower than any he'd ever witnessed. Largely, that was due to the fact that he was stuck inside the preternatural blackness of the Emperor's Urn, but a part of it was due to the fact that he had finally found the boy that would be his apprentice. Of course, he wouldn't be a boy anymore by the time Balthazar got out; after ten years, the child he'd seen would be closer to a man by now. That complicated matters—a child was easy to lead and quick to follow instructions, whereas an adult would be obstinate and insubordinate—but the Prime Merlinian had to be taught sorcery, or the world would forever be in danger of Morgana's power.
He felt something shift in the darkness, felt the subtle easing of the suffocating magic holding him in place. His ten years were just about up; his freedom was almost at hand. It was nearly time to claim his apprentice.
A gust of air rushed past him, whipping his hair in all direction, and when it finally died down and he was able to open his eyes, he found himself standing within the familiar surroundings of the Arcana Cabana. The shop was a neat piece of magic: a small strip of building that never stayed in any part of the city for too long, meaning he never had to pay rent, he couldn't be traced, and if he happened to disappear for a while his possessions would be safe from the hands of others. He took a moment to breathe in the sweet air of his home, then set about in a flurry of action, stuffing his pockets with small contraptions and grabbing Merlin's ring before bolting out the door.
He would savor his freedom later, when he knew he had the Prime Merlinian in hand.
Dave aborted his program in mid-run and listened to his Tesla coils slowly power-down. He'd come to his subterranean lab to blow off some steam, to reorient himself. More than anywhere else in the world, he felt at home here among his coils and advanced technologies, but tonight it didn't seem to be helping. His study session with Becky had slowly gone downhill as he had become more and more aggravated by the strange feeling that was plaguing him; eventually the two had simply agreed to call it a night, and that they would meet again later. He had hoped that coming to work on his coils would have calmed him down somewhat, but each passing moment only found him edgier, until he felt like he was going to jump out of his skin.
"What is wrong with me?" he wondered aloud, wearily running a hand over his face.
"You're hypertensive to shifts in your perceived reality," a voice answered from above him.
Dave's head snapped up, and he watched in what felt like slow motion as the shopkeeper from his memories crossed the short catwalk and descended the stairs into his lab. The moment was so surreal, in fact, that he had to wonder if this was an hallucinatory precursor to the breakdown he was obviously heading for. "This isn't happening," he muttered to himself, backing out of his safety cage. "It's not," he added for good measure, pinching his own arm as hard as he could.
"And here I thought you'd be less of a child," the man laughed softly. "Calm yourself, Dave."
"What," Dave stammered. "Who are you? How do you know my name?"
"My name is Balthazar Blake," he replied with a steely look in his eyes. "Preemptively, I'd like to mention that you're not dreaming." He drew closer, until he was within an arm's reach of the younger man. "And I know you name, Dave Stutler, because your roommate is the most talkative person I've ever met."
I am going to kill Bennett, Dave thought to himself. Assuming that the man in front of him was actually there, he was coming off kind of stalkerish—and that was definitely outside of Dave's comfort zone. "I'm going to have to ask you to leave," he said as levelly as he could.
'Balthazar' nodded his head comfortingly. "I need you to do something for me first," he stalled, fishing a strange-looking band of silver out of his pocket. "If you could just look at this for a second, and give me your opinion," he trailed off, holding the object out.
It belatedly occurred to Dave that the man was possibly not a figment of his imagination, but someone that his professor had directed to Dave for help; the fact that he bore a wicked resemblance to the shopkeeper was just a coincidence. "Yeah, of course," he stammered. "I'm sorry, it's just been a long night."
"I probably should have waited until a more decent time," Balthazar agreed. His entire manner was relaxed and friendly, but there was something hungry lurking in his eyes.
Dave shook off the incongruent feelings he was getting from the man and reached for the band. It was cool to the touch and made of a highly polished metal, no longer than his land or thicker than his thumbnail. He marveled at it for a moment, taking all the details in—it was etched with a series of strange symbols and he couldn't quite tell what it was made of. But, as interesting as it was, he couldn't help but wonder why it had been directed to him; this wasn't exactly his area of expertise. Just as he thought that, the band heated, lengthened, and began to move, slithering around his hand until it spiraled up his forearm, and locked around his wrist and elbow.
His gaze darted from the thing on his arm to the smug man standing opposite him. He was pretty sure he made some kind of noise, although what it was he genuinely could not tell, before he stumbled back from the older man. "What's going on?" he asked, his tone pinched and a little hysteric.
"You, Dave Stutler," Balthazar replied, eating up the distance between them once more, "are my apprentice."
A/N: This movie really got under my skin, in a good way. I don't think this story will be very long, but it should be a few chapters at least.
Disclaimer: I do not own anything from the Sorcerer's Apprentice, nor am I making any money off this story.