Dave tapped his fingers on the counter, trying to decide what to do next. The groceries had been put away, and he'd managed to manually clean up what he could, having decided that it was better to clean without magic than make Balthazar do it at all. The one splintered chair had been tossed into the corner, and the remains of the toaster as well as the shattered glass Dave had found all over the floor had been tossed into the garbage. He'd scrubbed the charred spots off of the refrigerator and the wall and had wiped a great deal of splintered wood off of the counter below the cracked cabinets. He'd leaned the two dislodged cabinet doors against the wall. He couldn't find the third, and he suspected that that had likely been the mass of wood splinters he'd been picking out of just about everything in the room. The kitchen was finally looking like a kitchen again.
Dave sighed, looking at the cracks in two walls and the broken cabinets. He was pretty sure he could fix those with magic, but he'd agreed to only fix the room up manually. Honestly, he should have just left everything to Balthazar, but he knew the old man wouldn't bother doing it with magic. He hated laziness. He had his exceptions... like starting the car, for instance. But for the most part, if Balthazar wanted something, he got up and grabbed it. If he needed something moved, he pushed it out of the way. And if he wanted something cleaned or fixed, he pulled out cleaning supplies and the small toolkit he kept in one of the lower cabinets. If magic was going to be involved, then it had to be something he couldn't do on his own. Unless he happened to be in a hurry.
So, though Dave knew that Balthazar was capable of fixing up the entire room in five minutes, rather than the hour Dave had spent on it, the youth had done the job anyway. Because even as an old man, the elder sorcerer would have stubbornly done things his way. And Balthazar wasn't in any shape for manual labor. At very least not until he'd gotten some rest and taken some painkillers. Even Veronica could only do so much.
He was just looking around the room, trying to consider his next move, when he heard classical music begin playing in the living room. What the hell? He turned and walked to the kitchen door, peeking out into the other room. Half expecting to see Balthazar messing with the record player. No one was in the room. Suddenly the music stopped.
Dear God, don't let me finally have gone crazy in this place...
He glanced around, his eyes finally lighting on Balthazar's forgotten cell phone that now lay quietly on the table, lit face finally fading. Dave sighed. Apparently Balthazar had finally gotten around to changing his ringtone from the annoying old-school phone one it used to have. Of course he'd have to pick classical music. What was that anyway? Sounded like something off of Fantasia...
He walked over to the phone and checked out the number. It wasn't from the older sorcerer's address book. It wasn't a Manhattan number either. He picked up the phone, considering bringing it to his master. But he hesitated. If he brought it to Balthazar, then they'd both have to acknowledge the fact that the old man had forgotten it on the table. It wasn't as though that were a particularly odd occurrence. Everyone forgot things now and then. But honestly... it was Balthazar. The man had an incredible memory.
Dave winced. At least he used to...
He honestly just wanted Balthazar to find the phone later when Dave wasn't around so they could both pretend the master sorcerer hadn't forgotten. Dave sighed, knowing that wasn't an option. The call might have been important. It might have been—
The phone rang again at that moment, startling Dave so badly that he dropped it onto the carpet. "Geez," he muttered quietly. "It's a phone, Dave. Relax." He bent to pick it up. Same number as before. He considered just letting it ring again, and hope it went to voicemail. Dave's grip on the phone tightened. Because if he answered and it wound up being Horvath on the other end of the line...
But what if it's one of Balthazar's contacts? What if they've got news for him?
It was a long shot. Neither of them was supposed to call for a couple days. Dave sighed and flipped the phone open. Whether or not Dave believed that Horvath was really going to help them, he supposed it could happen. And Dave had already promised himself to do everything he could to save his master. Even if it meant putting up with that psychotic prig.
He jammed his finger irritably into the accept button and brought the phone to his face, speaking before the voice on the other end even had a chance. "Balthazar's in the other room," he growled abruptly. I'll get him. Hold on." He pulled the phone from his ear so he wouldn't have to hear the response and stalked over to his master's room, knocking. "Balthazar?"
There was a brief pause before the older man answered. "What do you need?"
"Nothing." Dave's hand tightened on the phone and he took a deep breath. "You forgot your phone out here."
"You just noticed that?" Balthazar's dry sarcasm certainly hadn't faded.
Dave rolled his eyes, responding without thinking. "At least I noticed."
There was a long silence, and Dave suddenly realized how that had sounded. He winced. Dammit. Their banter was always quick and regular. This was something he'd have snapped out at any other time, and Balthazar would have just come back at him with some other smartass comment that would have soundly trumped Dave's feeble attempt at checkmating the man. But dammit, did he have to say it now when Balthazar probably hadn't noticed the forgotten phone...?
His master finally opened the door. His expression was stone as he reached his hand out for the phone. "Thank you," he said in an oddly quiet voice.
Dave felt even worse. "You got a call," he muttered. Not meeting the old man's eyes.
"Who is it? Horvath?"
Dave shrugged. "I don't know." He handed the phone over. "Take it."
He turned to leave.
"You didn't recognize the voice?"
Dave glanced back at the old man. "I didn't let him talk," he replied simply. "If it was Horvath, I'd have probably hung up on him. I don't like him helping." He paused, finally meeting the old man's eyes. "But if he's going to help..." Dave shrugged. "I'm going to get something to eat. Just finished up cleaning the kitchen." With those words he walked away.
Balthazar stared after his apprentice for a moment. He then looked down at the phone. So he'd left it out there after all. That was the third damn thing he'd forgotten today. The fourth if he counted missing his exit on the way home, though he preferred to just tell himself he'd been too distracted at the time to pay attention to mile markers.
Everything he'd forgotten had been minor, but still... little things added up. And lately, everything had started adding up more quickly than he liked to admit.
He glared down at the offending item as though his lapse in memory were the phone's fault, then brought the phone up to his ear, growling gruffly into the mouthpiece. "Hello?"
There was a small pause before an amused voice responded lightly. "I was starting to think I had actually been put on hold."
"Dr. Kirk," Balthazar responded, a touch surprised that the professor was already calling back. Though it technically had already been a couple of days since they'd spoken. U of Pennsylvania had been Balthazar's first stop.
"Marcus," the man responded mildly. "Drop the Dr. Kirk stuff. We've already gone over this. I was what—eight—the first time we met? When you handed me that little trinket of yours? And I couldn't have been more than thirty the last time you turned up. Something's just not right about you using titles with me. Especially not when you're so old."
"Thanks for reminding me," the sorcerer responded dryly, a small smile playing on his lips.
"You know what I meant, Balthazar. I'm not foolish enough to think you're an ordinary man. Normal men age. You were on a standstill for awhile there, weren't you?" There was a small pause before the other man continued. "Anyway, I take it you found your little dragon's owner and wound up getting your girl?"
Balthazar blinked, startled at the abrupt change in subject. "Yes. And how exactly did you work that out?"
"I assume that was your son who just answered the phone." Balthazar could imagine the man grinning on the other end of the line.
He sighed. "He's not my son, Marcus. He's my student."
"Your student is answering your cell phone?" The professor's tone was amused.
"For some reason, I'm not surprised. Everything about you seems to be complicated." The professor paused, then continued. "I didn't realize you were a teacher."
That small smile twitched at Balthazar's lips again. "Of sorts."
"Well, my mistake, then. Easy enough to make though." The other man chuckled in clear amusement. "The boy didn't let me get two words in. Seemed to have your winning personality. I was sure you two had to be related."
"Did you call for a reason, Marcus?" Balthazar cut in, sourly. "Or did you just contact me for your own personal amusement? Because if that's the case, I'll just hand you back over to Dave so you can be properly ignored again."
Marc burst out laughing at that. "God, you haven't changed at all. I thought it was just the stress of the drive, but you're still the same crazy, sarcastic bastard aren't you?"
And I was worried I'd make him uncomfortable? He's more comfortable mocking me than Horvath even...
"The point?" he repeated, backing into his bedroom and shutting the door firmly. He glanced back at Veronica who was sitting on the bed, her expression curious, and motioned for her not to worry about it.
She nodded and drew her feet up beneath her, picking a science magazine off of the night table where Balthazar had left it. She immediately appeared absorbed.
Balthazar smiled faintly at that. She had absolutely no idea what was going on in that magazine. Her tactful way of paying attention without staring.
The professor sighed. "Right, right. Always business with you, isn't it?"
"I'm in a bit of a time crunch at the moment, or have you forgotten?" the old man asked dryly, walking to the foot of the bed and easing himself down onto the mattress.
"Right. Sorry." A pause. This time Marc's voice was quieter... more concerned. "How are you doing, anyway? It's been a few days..."
"I'm fine, Marc. Can we move on?"
"Right." He cleared his throat. "Anyway, I did a little digging through the standard texts and came up empty-handed. No surprise there. No historical accounts or alchemical records of spontaneous aging, even within the realms of standard mythology. I even went so far as to check with a few of my colleagues—academic curiosity of course—but still nothing..."
"It wouldn't have been in a standard text, Marc. You know that."
"Just covering all bases. Our department is small, Balthazar. And honestly, there aren't many people out there who have a working knowledge of alchemy. I told you that when you visited. I can't just will things out of thin air."
"If I needed to will things out of thin air, I'd do it myself," Balthazar responded smoothly.
"I don't doubt it. Anyway, I made a few calls to some museums, used bookstores, etc. I even called that crazy psychic lady. Remember the one down the street? Used to sell that creepy tar slop and call it love potions."
"Marcus, I told you not to mess with her. She's the real thing."
"And she's one of the bad guys." He paused for emphasis before adding, "Just like that old man who used to hang out in the university library. And those guys you thought were dealing drugs a couple of blocks from your apartment building."
"Yeah, yeah. And that crazy couple you blitzed back in '84 when they tried to kill me. I know. Your point?"
Balthazar sighed deeply. "That doesn't bother you at all, does it?"
He could imagine the other man grinning at the other end of the line. "Not particularly. What's she going to do? Sic a gargoyle after me? Wouldn't be the first time."
"I told you that if you provoke another Morganian, I'm going to sit back, buy popcorn, and watch the show."
This time the man did laugh. "Never. You're too damn benevolent for your own good." He sighed. "One of the reasons we're going to get you through this. There aren't enough people in the world like that. Can't let one of the few left die over something stupid like this..."
"You're getting warm and fuzzy, Marcus. I don't like warm and fuzzy." Balthazar sighed. "Did you just call to tell me you hit a brick wall?" His voice was flat, though the faintest hint of disappointment managed to leak through his usually impassive mask.
The professor ignored him. "You're lucky one of my interns is an obsessive over collecting oddities. And you're lucky she's nosy. She overheard me talking to a contact about the idea of aging properties in medieval days and earlier. Problems, solutions, reasons, magic. We eventually got to talking about all sorts of mythological creatures. And within an hour, she's knocking on my office door with a book that dwarfs the Oxford English Dictionary in her arms."
"Yeah. A book. With a hell of a lot more information in it than most libraries can store."
"On everything. This thing is old, Balthazar. I've never seen anything like it. I had to promise to make some very important calls for her just for the right to keep it locked in my office. You're lucky I like you so much."
"Did it have anything useful?"
"What do you know about demons, Balthazar?"
"Not much. Only an idiot would deal in demons," he responded in a derisive tone.
"Really? Because this book has an extensive section on demons. And your name comes up."
Balthazar was dead silent for a long moment. "It's someone else. 'Balthazar' isn't that uncommon a name..." He paused, continuing lamely," ...in some parts of the world." When Marc didn't answer, he added, "Especially a millennia or two ago..."
"I never come up, Marcus. Especially not by name."
"This is a strange book, Balthazar. Changes every time I look at it. There are chapters I'm quite frankly afraid to read."
"An Incantus..." Balthazar whispered.
"It's called an Incantus."
"I take it you've seen one before?"
"I own one. There's nothing in it. I've scoured the thing from cover to cover. I've literally pulled information from the pages. It has no answers."
"Maybe you're asking the wrong questions."
"I've owned mine for centuries, Marcus. In fact, I can guarantee that I wrote part of what you read in yours. I know how they work."
"Yet I found something that you didn't. We could keep arguing if you'd like, and I could sit back while you pitch a fit. Or the other option is that you could stop interrupting and let me talk. Unless you want to waste a couple weeks of your life arguing an irrelevant point."
Balthazar fell silent at that. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, and rubbed his hand over his eyes tiredly. "I'm sorry," he replied quietly. "Go on. What didn't I ask?"
"We've been focusing on what's wrong with you, but what if that isn't the problem at all? What if it isn't what's been done to you that's the problem. What if it has to do with something you've done?"
"Something I've done?"
"You sealed a demon once, didn't you?"
"Demons don't like that, Balthazar. Especially not this one."
Author's Note: Big apology, first of all for the long wait for an update on this fic. I didn't forget about it. I just got hung up on Odds. My other apology is for dropping off the face of the world entirely for awhile there. Things have been crazy busy for me between nanowrimo, moving, working two jobs, and personal issues. Things are starting to slow down again, so updates will hopefully be a bit more regular again. My apologies.
A big thank you to kaytori and lolo popoki for their invaluable beta work. And of course, thanks to all of you for waiting patiently (or not so patiently, as they case may be) for my updates. And thank you for reading. Please review. It really is motivating:)
And to those of you waiting for me to update Odds... Thanks for the words (and prods) of encouragement to update. I'm trying. You can ask my betas. Hopefully a new chapter for that fic will also be coming your way soon!