Title: Freedom to Live

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: K+

Summary: They reminded Balthazar a little of he and Veronica in their early days. 1500 words.

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

Spoilers: The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010)

Notes: 5th in my post-movie sequence. Drawing some of the previous threads together, because Balthazar is love. Title is the 17th and last stage of the hero's journey, as enumerated by Campbell.

Balthazar looked up from the pages of the new Incantus he was enchanting, a faint smile curling up one corner of his mouth as he watched his apprentice at work. Dave's face was screwed up with effort as he concentrated on the spell he was trying to master; evocations came easily to him after the confrontation with Morgana, but he was still adjusting to the rigors of more complex spellwork.

Once you got beyond basic applications of will and energy, magic wasn't as simple as the physics analogies Balthazar had first drawn to convince Dave to give it a try, and the kid was struggling a little with the more creative aspects of the art. At the moment, every new visualization exercise was a strain. Still, Dave had the raw ability, intelligence, and instincts; he'd retrain his patterns of thought eventually. And in the meantime...

The rich sound of Veronica's laugh drew Balthazar's attention to the far wall of the lab, about twenty feet beyond and to the left of Dave, where the senior sorcerer and her new apprentice were seated next to each other. They were intent on some discussion, Becky's eyes wide with wonder as Veronica made elegant, emphatic gestures, ring glowing faintly under the lights; to an appreciative audience, they made a very appealing picture.

Becky had a little scientific grounding through mathematics, which came easily enough to her as it related to her music, but she was otherwise starting from the complete opposite end of the theoretical scale as Dave. Veronica had thought a softer opening approach might work better for her; hence Balthazar working on the second Incantus while Veronica went into more of the background and philosophical framework of the Merlinian order of sorcerers. Becky's gift wasn't as strong as Dave's- her native ability was like a candle next to a hearthfire compared with his- but her control would probably be a lot finer once Veronica had helped her create her own focus ring. She'd probably also be spectacular at the subtler arts such as illusion and emotional perception magics, if Balthazar's encounters with gifted bards in his youth were any indication.

Becky drew Dave out of his carefully ordered worldview, and Dave gave Becky focus, the two already laying the groundwork for an effective partnership. It reminded Balthazar a little of he and Veronica in their early days, when they'd relied on each other's friendship and magic to cover their weak spots during the war with Morgana's followers. All that was missing was a resentful third apprentice, nursing his jealousy as they gravitated more and more toward each other. Fortunately, if Drake Stone did take up Balthazar's tentative offer for further training, the kids' relationship was already settled: there would be no repeat of that mess.

...Wait, who was he kidding? They were a trio of twenty-something sorcerers; they'd find something to dramatize. But at least they wouldn't start the next apocalypse over a broken heart. He hoped.

"Yes!" Dave cried in triumph, disrupting Balthazar's line of thought.

He turned his attention back to the lit Merlin's Circle and raised his eyebrows, watching his apprentice slowly drift up off the symbol representing space and time. Levitation of self was more akin to gravitic manipulation than the simple exercise of willpower required for extrinsic levitation, and therefore much more difficult that most of what Dave had managed so far. The fact that the kid had actually floated on his third try was pretty impressive- but it wasn't a good Master's job to cater to his student's ego, now was it?

"I wonder if your Tesla coils are still having that problem with random firing?" he mused aloud, raising a hand as if to gesture at the nearest tall, wire-wrapped cylinder.

Dave froze mid fist-pump. "You wouldn't!" he exclaimed, feet flailing as he instinctively tried to shift to a defensive stance in mid-air.

"Wouldn't what?" Balthazar countered, feigning innocence as the yellow-green jewel on his index finger began to brighten with energy.

Dave's concentration broke at the sight. He dropped the eighteen inches or so to the ground and recovered in an awkward crouch, raising his arms in front of him as though to brace against an onslaught.

"Hmm, I guess not," Balthazar mused, lowering his hand again with an air of puzzlement. "Funny. I guess you'll just have to try again- until you can focus enough to defend yourself while maintaining that spell, if you have to."

"Are you serious?" Dave groaned, staring at him in affronted disbelief.

Balthazar just smirked, making the expected gesture in front of his face: finger and thumb, held just about half an inch apart. Then he widened them, expanding the gap several inches wider.

"More than a little. A lot more than a little bit serious. Great," Dave sighed. Then he frowned down at his old man shoes as he thought it through. "Because an enemy sorcerer isn't going to wait for me to drift to the ground like a leaky balloon; he's going to plasma bolt the heck out of me in transit. Right." He wrinkled his forehead, then extended his hands out to both sides, palms downward, and focused.

Balthazar chuckled, then turned his attention back to the Incantus.

Another hour or so should do it. After that, it would be time for a meal, and he and Veronica would leave the younger couple to achieve their quota of saccharine courtship rituals for the evening while they investigated a few potential sites to reestablish Balthazar's apartment and store. He'd prefer to reclaim the location now occupied by the Electronics Emporium if he could; he'd maintained the Arcana Cabana there for 112 years, and laid down several solidly anchored maintenance and security spells that probably still kept the building free of shoplifters and accidental breakage even after a decade without renewal. If the current owners wouldn't resell it, however, they'd have to find a new place, preferably near either Dave's apartment or his lab.

In all the hundreds of years they'd worked and fought together against Morgana's followers, he, Veronica, and Horvath had all technically remained Merlin's students. They'd been too busy and too devoted to their art to set up towers of their own; and when that period had ended- well, Balthazar had gone from being essentially the youngest son of a long-established household to a lone bachelor with a world-spanning Quest all in a single night. He'd never dedicated a threshold with his beloved; nor had the pleasure and frustration of choosing furnishings and decorations together; nor shared a bathroom cupboard; nor fought over the meat-to-vegetable ratio of the grocery list. He was rather looking forward to the whole process, joys and irritations alike.

He could still hardly believe that the threat of Morgana was finally gone; that Merlin's dying request of him was at last fulfilled. He had no idea how much longer Merlin's age-defying spell might last- as the only sorcerer ever to master life and death, his Master hadn't been very explicit about the details of what'd he done- but whether it was another four years, or forty, or four hundred, didn't matter nearly so much as the fact that Balthazar was finally free.

Free to live; free to love; and- yes, free to finally teach an apprentice or two.

Horvath was still out there, but he'd have to create a new focus cane before he was a threat, and he could not manage a Rising on his own. Most of the other potential sources of magical threat out there were not likely to attack without warning in New York, and even if they did, Veronica now knew most of the favored tricks of Morgana's line. Which meant- Balthazar could finally relax, for the first time in twelve hundred and seventy years.

For values of relaxation that included keeping Dave too busy for mischief, of course.

Balthazar smirked again at the intensely pleased expression on Dave's face as the boy hovered a couple of feet off the floor, then gestured at the nearest Tesla coil- this time without warning. Dave swore, then crossed his arms and absorbed two plasma strikes before hitting the ground with a muttered, "Ow!"

"You're getting better at that," Balthazar told him cheerfully, dismissing the energy. "Take ten; let Becky and Veronica use the circle a while."

"Oh, thank god." Dave stumbled across the fiery line, then tottered over to sit on the bench next to Balthazar. He missed, flailing a little as he sat hard on the floor; but then he relaxed, leaning back against the seat, hair right within easy tousling reach.

Balthazar had never had the temperament to be a saint. He tousled it; then thwapped Dave's forehead with middle finger and thumb. "Do something constructive and read over the theory while you wait."

"Yes, Master," Dave sighed, tilting his head back to roll his eyes at him.

Balthazar allowed an audible chuckle in return. Then he schooled his features and went back to work.