Disclaimer: I don't own Sorcerer's Apprentice, either the movie or the novelization. Sadly, I don't own Dave or Balthazar either. However, I hope you enjoy my foray into their world.
Against All Odds
"Success is not measured by what you accomplish, but by the opposition you have encountered, and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds." -Orison Swett Marden
"Your plasma bolt needs work." Balthazar shook his head, raising an eyebrow at his apprentice. "In fact, I think it was better before we practiced."
Dave glared, breathing hard. His body bent over, hands on knees to support his exhausted frame. Of course, Balthazar hadn't even broken a sweat. Two hours of practice and that was what Dave got. Criticism and derision. Then again, why am I surprised? If he didn't criticize me, I'd spend the rest of my training wondering what's wrong. Still, knowledge of that fact didn't make him feel any better. "You don't think that might be a result of exhaustion, do you, Balthazar?" he replied, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
The tall sorcerer barely spared him a glance, walking from the training circle to a small table containing a six-pack of orange pop surrounded by twice as many empty cans, a box of half eaten pizza that Balthazar could have sworn had been there for the last three practices, and a small teacup resting beside a teapot on a trivet. "Dave, has it occurred to you that less sugar and decaying food might help your concentration?"
"I don't think my lack of concentration has anything to do with my diet."
Balthazar ignored him, not really having wanted an answer to begin with. He picked up the cup and took a sip, making a face at its cold contents. "You need to either start learning things more quickly, or else invest in a microwave so I don't have to choke things down cold." He took another sip.
His lanky apprentice rolled his eyes, brushing dark hair from his face, and joined his master at the table. After testing three open cans before he found one that was still half-full, he took a long drink from it. Balthazar made a face at that, too. One more sip of the cold tea, before he sighed. "I'll just make more later."
"Or," Dave replied, irritated, "you could just warm it up."
"Maybe you haven't noticed, but there's no stove down here, Dave. You don't even have a Bunsen burner."
"You're a sorcerer. Sorcel it or something."
Balthazar coughed a bit at that. "First of all, the word is 'ensorcell'; we're going to have to work on your handle of the English language soon. Second, Merlinians don't waste magic on laziness. That's how you wind up with a hundred mops washing a giant electrical conductor." He sent Dave a significant look as he set the cup down. "Anyway, break's over. Back to practice." He began walking briskly to the Merlin's Circle. "Move it. The sooner you manage to get a hit on me, the sooner we can get out of here."
"Like that's ever going to happen," Dave muttered, tossing his empty can on the floor and dragging himself up out of the chair. "You know," he said a bit more loudly, "maybe if you gave me a chance to actually recuperate between your rounds of blasting me into the wall, I would be in better shape to fight you."
His master stopped halfway to the circle, and turned back to the boy, raising an eyebrow. "So you think I should go easier on you, then? You think that might help?"
Balthazar nodded, appearing to consider the idea. "And you think that Horvath, or any other Morganian for that matter, is going to make sure you're feeling okay before they try to kill you?" He ignored the sharp glare from the boy before him. "You've faced Morgana. And Horvath. And even that little apprentice of his. You know they won't fight fair. They count on you to weaken. And unlike me, they always shoot to kill."
"Yeah, yeah," Dave groused. "You don't have to shoot to kill. You'll just train me to death." His voice raised in his frustration. "You act like I even have a chance against you, Balthazar. No matter how good I get, I'll never beat you." He quietly added under his breath, "No one is good enough to beat you."
"Morgana was," was Balthazar's only reply.
Dave glanced up to see a distant look in his master's eyes.
"And you defeated Morgana," the man continued. "We tracked her for hundreds of years, Veronica, Horvath, and I. Neither Veronica nor I could perfectly contain her with the fusion spell." He unrolled a sleeve showing a vicious scar that David have never seen before, crossed by a number of smaller ones. "I have scars like this everywhere from all the times she nearly killed me. Would have killed me." He paused, his expression serious. "Did kill me." He took a deep breath. "You're my apprentice for now. But the point of this is for you to surpass me. I'm counting on you to do that, and I have faith that you can. You're already stronger than I am in some ways. You just need to learn to control the powers you showed when you faced her. The rest will come with time. And a great deal of training. You have to become stronger than I am, otherwise you're wasting your potential. And if I can't guide you to that point, then I'm wasting your time."
They were both silent for a long moment before Dave responded, "Balthazar, you aren't wasting anyone's time. I'm trying. I am. But you have over a thousand years of experience on me. What do you expect me to do? I can't compete with that. I'm trying to reach my potential here, but I'm up against a master. Against Merlin's own apprentice. Do you think that's easy for me?"
Balthazar leveled a steady look at him. "I may be Merlin's apprentice, but you carry Merlin's blood. You have capabilities that Veronica and I will never have because of that. After a thousand years, how much more magic do you think I have left to learn? I'm at my peak. You can only gain on me now. Eventually I expect you to surpass me." He smirked, the uncharacteristically quiet tone leaving his voice. "Don't get cocky, now. I mean it when I say 'eventually'. You have a long way to go... But you are capable of great things when you get there."
Dave sighed. "I don't know how you can be so sure." He dropped back down into the chair in frustration.
His master shook his head, approaching his apprentice again. "Okay, let me try to explain this differently... It's like this: Anyone can draw. No matter how terrible it is, we are all capable of scratching out a picture. But that doesn't mean that everyone is an artist. We have to work to improve our art. Eventually, if we have enough passion and enough skill, we can become great artists. I am a great artist, trained by one of the greatest. You still doodle." Dave snorted at that comment, unsurprised at its addition to the explanation. The sorcerer continued, unfazed. "But in the end, even with my skill... no matter how long I train and how good I get... I will never be Michelangelo." He shot Dave a sharp look. "You already are. My job is to give you the knowledge you need to paint the Sistine Chapel."
There was dead silence for a moment before Dave responded awkwardly, "I can't even draw stick men."
"It's an analogy, Dave." He rubbed his temples. "We really are starting English lessons tomorrow. This is just getting painful for me, now."
As minor a comment as that was, it was finally the last straw for Dave. He was tired, frustrated, and irritable. And he'd been putting up with Balthazar's dizzying explanations and expectations ever since their little "break" had started. He was going to go insane soon.
The boy finally leapt from his seat, and brushed past his mentor, entering the Merlin's Circle. "Okay... so things I'm 'capable of''? Like what? Making plasma bolts that might get through your defenses if I attack while you're complaining about your tea? Managing to block your fire because it's coming at my face and I kind of don't want to die?" He motioned expressively at the entire room. "You can make my own Tesla coils attack me. You have as a matter of fact. Repeatedly. And I'm supposed to believe that I'm capable of doing more than you. Like what? What am I capable of?" He pointed quickly at Balthazar before the man could speak. "And don't bring Morgana up again. That was triggered by extreme stress and the fact that you were injured too badly to do it yourself. Otherwise you would have."
Balthazar approached the circle, entering it and standing across from his apprentice. "You want an example? How about this? You don't need the ring. You have proven that you can do magic without it. Not well, in general. But you can when it matters, Morgana or not."
"That doesn't count, Balthazar. You don't use a ring either! When do you ever point a ring at anything?"
His mentor paused, running his hand through his dark blond hair. "I always use my ring, Dave."
The boy stared at him. "What? You... what?"
"I always use it." Balthazar approached his apprentice, and spread his hands open for the boy to get a good look. "I wear all of these rings, so no one can disarm me. Because it's harder to take something when they don't know which I use."
"But..." He stared at the man's hands for a moment, then looked his master in the eye. "But I've never even see you use it."
"I'm a master sorcerer, Dave. I don't have to point it at things like you do. I use it to channel my energy into my hands. I use my hands to control my magic. But without it, I have nothing." At Dave's disbelieving look, the older man sighed, yanking one ring with a large green diamond off of his finger. "Hold this," he growled, irritated. "Do not play with it or drop it or try it on. Just hold it."
Dave nodded, carefully taking the ring from the older man.
Balthazar moved to Dave's side, the way he often did during training to be sure his apprentice could clearly see every one of his motions. Carefully, the man moved into position for a plasma bolt, one of Balthazar's favorite bits of magic. The first spell he had ever taught David. One of the most basic. He raised his hands, moved them exactly as he always did to form the ball of energy between them.
Dave waiting for the spark and the glow.
There was nothing. Not even the small hair-raising feeling of the electricity forming in the air. That tiny jolt of something that Dave had managed after a couple of tries.
Balthazar had been unable to even make a spark. Dave just stared at the man, unnerved. He glanced back down at the ring in his hand... Such a small thing, but so vital to his master. Dave suddenly felt both uncomfortable and important that Balthazar would allow him to hold something so valuable to him. That Balthazar would entrust something that was so clearly a part of him to Dave, even if only for a few moments. Silently, he held the ring out to Balthazar. The older man quickly reached for it, slipping it back on his index finger, feeling complete once again. It was as though a part of his soul were missing when his power was gone, it had been a part of his existence for so long. It defined who he was. He felt almost as though he were nothing when it was missing. "You see?" he said, softly. "I'm no stronger than any of them without it. Just much, much older and more experienced in life and death. Without that ring, I'm no different than anyone else."
Dave shook his head, discomforted by the odd tone in Balthazar's voice. "That, I don't believe," he replied lightly. "Trust me, you've never needed that ring to be 'different'."
The dark mood was broken as Balthazar smiled faintly at the boy next to him. "Anyway, I think you've stalled on your training long enough. If you haven't managed to get your second wind by now, then you deserve whatever I dish out at you."
Dave groaned as Balthazar moved back to the opposite end of the Merlin's circle once more. "Step into my office," he said, grinning, an almost wicked glint in the Merlinian's eye.
"You mean your torture chamber," Dave muttered. He obediently stepped into the elemental circle, anyway, bracing himself for another hour of hell.
And now that he's recharged, I get to be his human punching bag again. God, I love my life... Though, Dave had to admit that he preferred this to having seen his master stand powerless within the circle.
Author's Note: A little something that popped into my head when I realized that you never really SEE Balthazar pointing a ring around like Horvath often uses his staff, and Dave generally uses his own ring. I knew he HAD to have something, so I asked Kaytori who pointed out that the large yellow ring on Balthazar's index finger glows when he uses magic in the movie. And THAT got me to thinking... what if Balthazar's ring went missing...?
A big thank you to Kaytori for being my sounding board (and adding greatly to the idea) when we discussed this. And thanks to lolo popoki and Kaytori for their great beta work.
And of course, thanks to all of you for reading. I hope to have the next chapter soonish (although Autumn and some of my Kenshin fics are really due for an update ^ _ ^; ).
P.S. A thank you to Delta VT for pointing out that Balthazar's ring is supposed to be green, not yellow (weird movie lighting...). A green diamond. Very cool.