Disclaimer: I don't own the company, Disney or their creation, The Sorcerer's Apprentice (either version). I don't own the quote that this fic starts with. And those of you who are astute will notice that I don't really own the title of this fic either. The title "Autumn Within" is actually the title of a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who is quoted right under this disclaimer. That said... welcome to a world of magic. I hope you enjoy.
"It is autumn; not without
But within me is the cold.
Youth and spring are all about;
It is I that have grown old."
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "Autumn Within"
"Again." Balthazar's voice was abrupt, a sharp contrast to his relaxed appearance, as he leaned back against an old tree, reading a book. If one didn't know better, it would appear as though the man weren't even paying attention to the boy standing before him in the middle of an elaborate circle torn into the empty field that they currently occupied twenty miles out of the city. The only sign that he cared at all about the boy's existence was his repeated barking of "Try again", "No", and "Not good enough." An occasional flash of annoyance in his eye when something went terribly wrong and he had to fix it. Or, if the boy did something passable as he just had, the sorcerer might nod vaguely at him and snap, "Again".
The target of his irritation was David, his twenty-year-old apprentice, who had been working for hours while the older man flipped pages and occasionally complained about the "degradation of the modern writer" between his criticisms of the boy's skills. After being snapped at for the hundredth time, Dave managed a glare at the older man, though his exhaustion wiped out any chance he had at appearing intimidating. "Balthazar," he griped, "I've been at this for three hours. I'm tired. And I have my finals starting Monday. Can't this just wait a week?"
"Why not?" The gangly youth dropped down to the ground, sulking. "The only exam I'm even prepared for is my physics final. If I don't actually read some of the assigned books that I've supposedly been studying for the past few months, I'm going to bomb English. I guarantee that my professor isn't going to let me off for 'saving the world'."
"And I'm not either, so stop whining." Balthazar finally looked up from his book. "As soon as you get it right, you can go home."
"You could help. You could stop looking at that stupid book long enough to tell me what I'm doing wrong." He motioned to the paperback in his master's hands. "What are you reading that's so fascinating anyway?"
"Modern smut." He slammed the book shut and tossed it onto the grass beside him, leaning forward to look at Dave. He raised one eyebrow, and his lips twisted into a slightly sarcastic smirk. "There you go. I'm watching. Do it right this time."
Dave ignored his master's sarcasm, and shot a glance at the book. "What are you doing reading 'smut' any..." He trailed off, actually reading the title. "Wait a minute. Balthazar, that's Romeo and Juliet! That's not modern! It's—it's a classic."
"I'm a thousand years older than that book, David. It's sappy, contrived, and off the top of my head I can think of at least two other stories and a poem that it completely rips off. Trash. Now focus." He finally stood and stretched his back, wincing at a sharp twinge as he straightened. He scowled. My own fault for leaning against a tree like that for so long. I wind up with muscle cramps and stiff joints. His eyes shot over to David, who was still sitting like a lump in the grass. And I get an apprentice who looks like I've been making him save the world again instead of growing a tree. He snorted, walking over to the boy, and stopping just outside of the circle. "Now..." He motioned to the sapling that Dave had managed in three hours to grow from an acorn. "I want to see you make it grow. Run that thing through its life cycle." His blue eyes scrutinized the youth. "Where's your ring?"
Dave finally pushed himself up to his feet. "In my pocket. I'm the 'Prime Merlinian' aka 'Wonder Wizard' why would I need to wear it?" He waved his hands in front of his face in a pseudo-mystical way, adding, "The Prime Merlinian doesn't need a ring."
Balthazar didn't miss Dave's mocking impression of his voice. "Because," the man growled, "you're doing a lousy job without it. Merlin's heir or not, until you can manage to do the work with the ring, I don't want to see you wasting both of our time trying do to anything without it. You're already lucky enough that Horvath didn't notice your ring missing from his staff in his rush to escape. And you're even luckier that Veronica spotted it in the grass before we left. Now, put it on."
Grumbling, David dug it out of his jeans pocket, brushing sweat and dark hair out of his eyes. Trying to ignore his irritation. Failing miserably. He understood that Balthazar had his best interests at heart. Probably. But that didn't make his obsessive pushing any easier to take. It was as though the older wizard expected David to somehow understand every spell immediately. Just because he was Prime Merlinian didn't mean that after only a few months of training, he could match the skill of a master sorcerer who had been honing his own magic for over a thousand years. But trying to explain that to Balthazar was like standing in a puddle while talking to an electric fence. One that could shoot plasma bolts and flames. It was a useless—and somewhat intimidating—gesture.
Sometimes he really did feel like Balthazar had only lived this long to make Dave's life a living hell.
Finally managing to yank the huge silver ring with its massive dragon out of his pocket, he shoved it onto his finger. "Could they make this thing any bigger?" he groused. "It's like they needed to compensate for something."
Balthazar shot Dave a sharp glare that silenced the boy before continuing. "Now," the tall sorcerer started, in a deceptively docile voice, "try to make the plant grow." He paused. "And try not to set the field on fire. We need to keep a low profile."
David motioned to the huge torn-up circle in the grass around him. Merlin's Circle. His focusing point... In the middle of a field. "This is supposed to be low profile?"
Balthazar waved his hand dismissively. "Crop circles. No one ever investigates. That's why if we practice outdoors, we use a field."
"And why exactly are we training outside again?"
"Because, David," the sorcerer responded through clenched teeth, "you can't manipulate plant life without plants."
"And the potted plant in my lab wouldn't work because...?"
Balthazar's hand went up to his face, and he pinched the bridge of his nose as though suffering from a severe headache. "Just shut up and practice. Age the tree. Run it through its life cycle. Show me that you've been paying attention to something I've said." Prove to me that I'm not wasting my time here. Though that last thought wasn't really fair, and Balthazar knew it. The boy had proven himself when he'd faced Morgana. And when he'd saved Balthazar's own life. He just needs to be able to control magic all the time. Not just when the people he cares about are threatened...
"Right." The boy raised his hand, brow furrowed, eyes intent. Get it right. Go home. He sighed. Then study. Call Becky. Study more. Maybe study with Becky... His ring glowed. The sapling did nothing except lose a leaf, which actually was probably more a result of wind than magic.
His master made a sound of disgust. "Clear your mind. Stop worrying about the exam. And Becky. And your experiments. Just focus on the tree." He moved until he was beside David, still just outside the circle. "Watch me." He raised his own hand, closed his eyes, and after a moment's pause, turned his palm upward, lifting it a bit higher. In response, the tree groaned as its trunk thickened, sprouts shot up, leaves unfurled. The sorcerer's eyes opened, and he lowered his arm, flexing his fingers a few times as it dropped. "Like that. Did you see what I did?"
Dave nodded. You closed your eyes and wiggled your hand around like I do. Only when you do it, magic happens. When I do it, I look like an idiot.
"Did you understand?" For the first time that day, Balthazar actually seemed concerned about whether or not the boy was getting it. And for the first time that day, Dave realized that his master was distracted. He was always a bit sarcastic. A little... off. But today he was irritable as well, and his abrupt shift from annoyed master to concerned teacher suddenly brought that all into sharp focus. David almost felt bad for being so distant. Balthazar seemed as tired as he was.
"Dave! Wake up!" Balthazar snapped his fingers near the boy to catch his attention. "Do you understand what I just did? Why it worked for me and not for you? You have to push past everything. Thoughts. Fears. Frustrations... Everything. Think of it like one of your science projects. If you have a current splitting into a dozen wires, some that fizzle out to nothing, you're wasting energy. One clear line gives the most efficient current. Now, I want you to conduct your magic clearly and efficiently into that tree. So first you need the cut away all of the loose ends. Got it?"
Dave paused a moment. Simple scientific explanation. Much clearer than the magic mumbo jumbo. Balthazar was speaking his language again. Thank god. "I think so." He closed his eyes this time, trying to copy Balthazar movement for movement, his brow immediately furrowing. His expression tense. He remained motionless until his features finally relaxed. With a smooth motion he raised his hand, paused, and felt the energy flow from his fingers. He opened his eyes. The tree had grown a few inches. There were buds on the branches. That was all. He frowned in disappointment. This was going to take forever.
But to his surprise, Balthazar's voice was approving. "Good. You're getting it. Now you can practice on your potted plant at home."
"I'm done?" Dave turned to stare at his master, startled. The man never cut practices short.
The older man nodded, rubbing again at his stiff shoulder. "Might as well." He swatted at a bug in front of his face. "I hate the great outdoors," he muttered sourly. "Three hours of training and I'm tired, sore, and now the mosquitoes have discovered me. The things I do for you." He slapped another one. "Damn things."
Dave had already made a dash for his laptop case and physics text before Balthazar could change his mind. Scooping everything up, he ambled over to the sorcerer, commenting, "It's just a mosquito."
"They're little bloodsuckers, draining me one drop at a time."
Dave rolled his eyes. "It's one bug!"
His master responded gruffly, "And if a swarm came at me, they'd suck me dry." He graced his apprentice with the faint smile that he reserved for those times when he dropped his teacher mode and was just a regular person. Practice was over. One good thing about Balthazar was that as strict a tyrant as he could be during training, he was actually kind of fun to be around as a friend. "Don't you ever watch those Discovery Channel things? There was one where a swarm of mosquitoes took down a bison."
Dave paused a moment, just staring at him. Finally he shook his head. "You really need to find a hobby, Balthazar. I knew it was a bad idea for you to get a TV."
Balthazar just chuckled and walked back over to the tree he'd been resting against. He scooped up the book and flung his heavy leather coat over his shoulder. "Come on, let's go." He began walking toward the dirt road where an inconspicuous old truck was parked. David followed close behind. "The television is Veronica's toy. She makes me watch it with her once in awhile. I got sick of those things before they were even colorized. I don't get why I'd want to watch pictures on a screen when I can just go out and experience things for real." He grinned. "Or manipulate them."
He walked through the field of grass smoothly avoiding every pitfall, as Dave somehow managed to find every groundhog hole to stumble into and root to trip over. "Yeah," Dave started, struggling to catch up. "About that, Balthazar... Why exactly am I learning to manipulate the age of trees anyway? Am I going to progress to speeding up time? Or manipulating human ages? Or something with more use than the ability to make really great tree houses?"
The older man snorted, glancing behind him as the youth awkwardly stumbled through the grass. "No. The point is to experience the cycle of life. To accept the birth, aging and death of everything. To experience it quickly enough to see the changes time makes. That's it. All of your training isn't about being able to do magic tricks. Some is practical knowledge, some is theory."
"Okay. So I basically just wasted three hours learning to make a tree older for no reason."
"You didn't waste anything. Manipulating plants has its uses, they just aren't always practical. But you're learning more than that. You're also learning to gauge what is worth manipulating. I find making plasma bolts and defensive shields to be much easier than changing living things. There are things we mess with and things we shouldn't. The best way to learn what shouldn't be tampered with is to realize that important things are very difficult to change. And if you do manage it, they're even harder to reverse. The age of a plant is hard to manipulate. The age of an animal is even harder, which is a sign that it shouldn't be done." He smiled faintly. "The point of our existence isn't to play God. We don't mess with things like human ages. Or time."
"Oh. Well, that kind of sucks."
Balthazar glanced back at him, an odd look on his face. "Not really."
They walked in silence for a few more minutes until they reached the road. Balthazar had already hopped into the truck and started it when Dave suddenly froze in his tracks just outside the passenger door. "Wait. That doesn't make sense."
The older man sighed deeply and looked very much like he was about to hit his head on the steering wheel in frustration. "You know, for someone who wants to leave so badly, you're sure taking your sweet time. Just get in the truck. We can talk on the way home."
"Right." Dave whipped open his door, hopping in and buckling up, not willing to risk his life with Balthazar's driving. Before his belt had even clicked, the vehicle was in motion. A short ways down the road, the sorcerer stuck his hand out the window, tapping the truck lightly on its roof. Its ugly exterior immediately melted away as their "low profile" vehicle dissolved into a sleek black car.
Dave shook his head amused. "The truck wasn't good enough, huh? God forbid you drive something slow and ugly."
Balthazar ignored the comment. "Now," the sorcerer asked, "what doesn't make sense?"
Dave just shrugged. "It's nothing, really. I was just thinking that it doesn't make sense to say we can't manipulate time or human age."
"Why? Do you think we should play God? Control everything around us?"
"No. It's not that."
Dave silently studied his master a moment. Older, but not old. Middle-aged maybe. Longish dark blond hair, a layer of stubble on his chin that the man seemed incapable of shaving off. A few lines on his face placed by both time and stress, indicating that he wasn't exactly young. Yet at the same time, there was something ageless about him as well. "Exactly how old are you, Balthazar?"
"What?" Obviously that hadn't been the response he'd been expecting.
"You heard me. How old are you?"
Balthazar's eyes were focused on the road. "Exactly? I have no idea. It's been too long. 1500 years, 1550... Something like that. Why?"
Dave pressed on. "And how old were you when you began fighting Morgana?"
This time the older man's eyes shifted from the road for a moment to meet David's. "Somewhere in my thirties. Why?"
"How do you still look like you're in your thirties then? I mean, why aren't you an old, old man?"
Balthazar stared back out at the road again, sighing. "I've explained this before. Merlin put us all in stasis. We were his fail-safe in case he died. He froze Horvath, Veronica, and my ages with the understanding that none of us would grow any older until Morgana was destroyed. We were all kind of trapped in time, I guess. Now that you've defeated her, we're back to normal...-ish. At very least, we can age normally. Which is a relief to me at least. It's hell watching the world change around you when you know that you aren't really a part of it." He paused, suddenly remembering where this conversation had been going in the first place. "Why?"
His apprentice shrugged. "Well, if Merlin could keep you young, then isn't that the same as manipulating time or ages or something?"
A faint smile played on Balthazar's lips. "Of course it is."
"But—" Dave sputtered. "But you just said—"
"I was talking about ordinary sorcerers, David, not about Merlin. Of course he could safely manipulate human lifespans. Morgana tried her hand at is as well. She was much older than she looked even when I was young. But that's complicated, dangerous magic. Even I don't like to mess with that. There are some spells you don't try to find." His eyes darted from the road again to shoot Dave a sharp look. "I mean it, Dave. That isn't in your Incantus, and it's not there for a reason. Stick with plants. Got that?"
Dave just nodded. There were some times that you didn't push things with Balthazar. Clearly this was one of them.
"Good. I'll drop you off at your apartment."
They drove in silence for the rest of the trip, which, given the speed the sorcerer was driving, Dave found to be alarmingly short. In no time at all, they were sitting in front of the old building where Dave and his roommate lived. "All right. I'm going home. Get some rest." He shot Dave a sharp look. "And study."
"Wait. That's not fair! You said we were done for the day! I just spent three hours—"
"I didn't mean sorcery. I meant for physics or English or whatever it is that's been distracting you. You have some kind of test, right? Study for it. You have one week off." He held up one finger, just in case Dave wasn't capable of understanding the spoken word. "One. That's it. Then you're mine again. I can tell you'll be useless until those exams are over anyway."
"Wait. You're giving me a week off? For real? You?"
"And you'd better do well," Balthazar continued gruffly, choosing to ignore the incredulity in David's voice. "I'm expecting perfect scores in exchange for this. And you'd better plan on training harder than you ever have in your life afterward. This isn't a free-bee. You'll be paying through the nose for this."
Dave nodded, willing to agree to anything at the moment. "Yeah. That's great. I mean, that's fine. Thanks."
Balthazar's only response was a shrug. "Now get out of the car and get some rest."
Dave was gone in a flash. As soon as the boy was out of sight, Balthazar allowed a small smile to light onto his face. David was a good kid. Just young.
He finally pulled away from the curb and squealed back into traffic, wincing again at the pain in his shoulder and back.
Trying to ignore the fact that it had been hurting him all day.
Author's Note: So, this is the first time in a VERY long time that I have attempted a chapter fic other than Rurouni Kenshin (Honestly, I think the only other non-Ruroken chapter fics I have on here are from Harry Potter... back when book 5 was "coming soon" if that tells you anything...), so I'm a little nervous about this piece. I watched Disney's The Sorcerer's Apprentice in theaters a few days ago, and loved it, which was funny given that it felt predictable and contrived at parts, which I tend to find annoying. But me, being the character obsessive that I am, fell in love with the character of Balthazar Blake and his relationship with his goofy little apprentice (I'm a sucker for that stuff *cough*HikoandKenshin*cough* -for those of you who read my other stuff). I've been scouring ff . net for good Balthazar and Dave fics, but given that it's a very new fandom, even with the great fics I'm finding I'm still running out of stuff to read. And so I bring you something new.
To those who like my other stuff, hopefully you'll give this a chance and not be too terribly disappointed that this isn't from my other fandoms. To those of you who don't know who I am and just want to read about Balthazar, I hope you enjoy this fic and aren't too terribly disappointed.
And finally, to those of you who are wondering why my author's note is so irritatingly long... I'm shutting up now. I promise.
Thanks so much for reading. Reviews would be appreciated.
P.S. A thank you to Kaytori for pointing out a time frame and ring issues. I think I've got it all fixed now. Thanks!
And a big thanks to lolo popoki for beta-ing this chapter for me! Especially since I begged her to do it when she hasn't even watched the movie yet... ^ _ ^;