Welcome to yet another fic by me, who was, in fact, slightly tipsy last night upon beginning this newest marvel. Fortunately forty-five minutes of sitting in a freezing cold McDonald's and eating ice cream- no one ever said I'm a smart drunk- brought me round right quick-like.
The 'five things' idea was lifted from the SGA fandom, and possibly one or two others, I can't remember. It's fun and easy and I'd like to continue this, assuming I get new ideas. Hint, hint. These turned out different than I expected, although implying that I was actually thinking about how they'd turn out when I was writing them might be giving me too much credit.
Disclaimer: me no own.
Five times Balthazar Blake got drunk, and one time he didn't
The first thing he was aware of was pain, a pain so deep and profound he wished someone would just cut his head off and be done with it. His mouth was dry and felt odd, as though he'd tried to swallow wool. His head throbbed in beat with his heart. His stomach rebelled at every movement. The light seemed overly bright and chased him across the straw pallet until he had wiggled under the blanket and lay in a miserable, moaning huddle.
By the powers, what did he drink last night? Everything the serving girl had put in front of him, he remembered, which clearly meant she was out to kill him.
As soon as his physical discomforts had been cataloged, the emotional and mental ones started clamoring for attention. The loss of Merlin, of Veronica- not even a month past- was a sucker-punch to the gut every time he thought about it. Losing Maxim- Horvath- was even more painful, in its own way. Everything he knew, gone in one night, and now it was him against the world. No wonder he'd let himself relax a little too much last night.
Once the vicious sunbeam had ceased harassing him, he chanced climbing out of bed. His stomach rolled, as though it was on a boat while the rest of him was still firmly on dry land. He made it to the washbasin and proceeded to turn his stomach inside out.
Some kind soul had left an ewer of water hear the doorway, and he could smell tea. He doubted he would be eating anytime this century, but that tea…
The inn's owner and his two daughters, the older of whom had tried to murder Balthazar the previous night, all stared at him as he walked- staggered- in. The younger girl promptly went an alarming shade of red and vanished into the kitchen. Balthazar watched her go, then turned back to the other two.
"Is something wrong?" he asked, praying he hadn't done anything too stupid last night.
"No, not at all," the innkeeper replied drily. "We were just wondering if you planned on vanquishing any more evil sorcerers while you're here."
Balthazar stared at the man, the words slowly seeping into his marinated brain. He racked his memory several times, trying to recall… No, no evil sorcerers to his knowledge. That he could totally blank out on something that big scared him.
"Are you sure?" he asked, demanded. The man snorted.
"That he was evil? You said he was, and he almost killed my girl, so I just assumed-"
But the sorcerer wasn't there anymore- he lurched out of the room and back into his room, dropping to his knees next to his pile of bags and searching through it until his fingers found unnaturally warm, glossy wood. He tugged the Grimhold free of its wrapping and turned it around in his hands, studying it. Not a detail out of place. It wasn't ingrained habit yet, checking on it. Another few scares like this one and it would be.
The innkeeper nodded at him when he reappeared, cloak on and bags draped over his shoulder. The thought of riding a horse right now made him cringe, but he couldn't stay here.
"I owe you my daughter's life," the man said. "But…"
"I'm leaving," Balthazar replied, shifting uncomfortably. The older daughter gave him a cup of tea to drink as he saddled his horse; he sniffed it cautiously before sipping at it. It helped settle his stomach and lessen the pain in his head, but it was still several hours before he kicked his horse into something faster than a slow walk.
He didn't drink again for over three hundred years.
The girl at the liquor store was barely old enough to partake of her merchandise. She had a peppy, happy personality and a head full of tight corkscrew curls that somehow mirrored her attitude. Balthazar paid for his hideously expensive scotch and left without saying a word to her, feeling old and worn thin. She would get married, have kids, grow old and die, and he would still be here, stuck in neutral.
He didn't want to go back to Dave's lab but had nowhere else to go; his store was no longer his, and he didn't have the time for house- or apartment-hunting. Maybe when- if- this whole Morgana thing was all over. Or maybe not; he'd lived the vagabond lifestyle before, and he was feeling the restlessness that indicated it might be time to do so again.
You're stagnating, old man, he told himself, and laughed because it was true.
Dave's lab had only plastic silverware. Balthazar couldn't do that to perfectly good single malt scotch, so he drank it straight from the bottle, which was slightly less blasphemous. A Scotsman would approve, he thought, and tried to figure out if he was one. The lines had been drawn and redrawn so many times, so many people fighting the same wars, the same land being renamed time and time again- he was from the northern half of Britain, he was fairly sure, but from there history was just too foggy. He had lost even that bit of identification.
He had lost the important part- sorcerer- a long time ago, in self-defense against a world that aggressively refused to believe.
Dave was gone, of course. Another date with Becky. If Balthazar were being honest with himself, he would admit that that was what had kick-started this self-pity party; seeing the two kids, so happy, so in love. It was grinding salt into an old wound, one Balthazar picked at often enough to keep it from healing. He considered pulling out the Grimhold, just to be closer to her, but firmly told himself no. The scotch was going straight to his head. When a normal person got drunk and let loose, they made out with coatracks and convinced themselves they looked as good as Brad Pitt. When a sorcerer got drunk and let loose, they leveled city blocks and unleashed demons.
When the bottle was empty, Balthazar set it delicately on the table. He would dispose of it later, before Dave got back. No need for the kid to see him in this less-than-reassuring state. But first, he wanted to try something.
The lab had mostly been restored to its normal state for Becky. Balthazar sent several errant pieces of trash and furniture skittering out of his way and stood in the circle. For several long minutes, he merely breathed. The scotch had left him tipsy but not fully drunk; his mood was too somber for artificial elevating.
The first bolt of electricity struck a sour note and Balthazar scowled at it. The next was much better, the one after that exactly right. Balthazar smiled, bittersweet and ironic, and set the coils to singing. The electricity arched around him, purposely avoiding contact, and he settled himself firmly into his spot and closed his eyes. Most of the music of his childhood had been lost; what remained was too modernized to be recognized. All that was left now was what he remembered of it.
He stood now, in the middle of the circle, listening to the sounds of his art and his youth, blending together and carrying him back to a better time. He laced his fingers together and dropped his chin against his chest and simply remembered, letting those few treasured moments wash away the centuries of pain and loneliness.
By the time a giddy Dave returned, the lab was back to its messy state, the scotch bottle was in a recycle bin two blocks away, and Balthazar was curled onto the couch-slash-bed, sleeping off the alcohol and dreaming of an emerald land.
It wasn't, regardless of how it seemed, that Balthazar disapproved of his fellow Merlinians. It was exactly the opposite, matter of fact. But he had been around too long, seen too many lives begin and end, for him to be willing to form attachments. He was a Merlinian sorcerer, true enough, but he was a different breed than the rest. He was almost a god to these- these children.
Still, some things demanded proper celebration.
The capture of Horvath had been all Balthazar, but every single Merlinian within two hundred miles- some forty strong- descended upon a small bar not far outside of San Francisco the night after.
The Grimhold, with its brand new outer layer, sat in the place of honor on the bar. It had taken half a bottle of whiskey for Balthazar to unwind that far; no one said anything about how he loitered next to the macabre centerpiece all evening long, or how he tended to glare at anyone else who showed signs of hovering.
It didn't take long for that crowd to get rowdy, much to the alarm of the bartender and the one waitress currently on-duty, and the goal of the evening quickly became to get the man of the hour as drunk as possible. Balthazar entertained them for a little while with a story or two from his youth- those were hard to pry out of him, and he tended to shut down and sink into a depression if allowed to dwell there too long. When the mood began to drag a little, the others began to swap One Time, Balthazar stories. He might try not to get too attached, but he was a Merlinian. If anyone needed his help, all they had to do was ask. Every single person in the bar had had their butts saved at one point or another by the ageless sorcerer.
Balthazar listened, and was embarrassed by how many times he blushed or ducked his head, unable to meet a grateful, if plastered, smile. It was touching as hell, even if he would never admit it- he had always seen himself as a shadow, passing through the living world without actually affecting it. He had thought of his whole life as being the search for the Prime Merlinian; nothing he did prior to finding the boy would have a lasting impression. It was honestly shocking to see how many lives were the better for his being in them, even if only briefly.
Of course, such maudlin sentimentality was probably the whiskey talking.
After the stories ran out, the jovial air began to wear thin. They broke off into smaller groups and talked about whatever. Balthazar didn't join any groups, but drifted freely- his life in a nutshell. Several people left, calling for cabs or family or friends to come pick them up. The bartender began to look a little less like the lord of a besieged fort and started adding up his tips. The waitress, who had been listening to them all evening and quite firmly believed they were all nutcases, took her share and left a layer of tire in the parking lot in her haste to escape.
Then someone- Balthazar didn't quite know who, he was on the other side of the room the moment it happened- decided to make the evening more interesting by throwing a little magic into the mix.
With help from two of his fellow Merlinians, Balthazar fixed the giant hole in the roof and the electric sign over it. One of his helpers, a tiny little thing named Anna, informed him that the sign was leaning at a fifty-degree angle, and that it probably shouldn't say everything twice. His other helper couldn't really remember his name but had good balance, which was important since his job was to stand beside Balthazar and grabbed his arm every fifteen seconds or every time he started to fall over, whichever came first.
They never did manage to convince the bartender that he'd imagined the whole thing.
The beer was some Canadian brand; not real stuff, as far as Balthazar was concerned, but then the real stuff to him was a very short list that featured no beer of any sort. Still, it was what was available, and when in Rome... Or Canada, as the case may be.
Balthazar wasn't entirely sure of his birthplace, so he tended to view himself as something of a mix between English and Scottish. As such, he had an unspoken and largely unexplained rivalry with the Irish, which certainly explained why he was trying to drink a Cluricaun under the table. It was an Irish faery, after all, and the Scottish all but invented alcohol. Somewhere in the tangled web of his psyche lurked a healthy dose of stiff-necked Scottish pride.
The little creature- like a leprechaun, only constantly three sheets to the wind- drained its fifth bottle and threw it to the side, watching as the glass shattered. It giggled and broke out into a heavily butchered version of what might have been the Canadian anthem.
"Come on, magic man," it chirped in between the last official verse and its own addition. "Keep up."
Balthazar rolled the neck of his bottle between two fingers, trying to remember why this had seemed like a good idea. Something about regional pride, or some such nonsense. Now he was stuck here, half-drunk, and if he dared pass out there was a nice mischievous faery to make sure he regretted it. The Cluricaun wouldn't steal from him or try to play any tricks on him; it knew better than to piss off a sorcerer like that. But it had a permanent marker, Balthazar had caught sight of it earlier, and he'd be spending several hours trying to wash a very vulgar comment off his forehead if he dared close his eyes for longer than ten seconds. Causing trouble was simply the nature of these creatures and nothing anyone could do would change that.
Still, he could give as good as he got. "Has anyone ever told you you have a lovely singing voice?"
"Why, thank you!" the little faery chirped. Balthazar shot it a wry look.
"I didn't say you did. I only asked if someone else has."
"Ha!" The Cluricaun belted out a long, hearty laugh, clapping one hand on Balthazar's back hard enough that he dropped his beer. They both watched as the pretend-alcohol poured out into a puddle on the cement.
"You seem more like a single malt kind of guy to me anyway," the Irish faery said finally, when watching the puddle became boring. Balthazar had to agree with that.
"You should probably…" he began, gesturing. Leave, was his last word. Go home, maybe. Get away from public places so the next sorcerer you encounter isn't out to kill you.
"There's this bar in town, they know me there," the little creature said cheerfully. "We'll get you some whiskey and me some sangria, how's that sound?"
Like a very bad idea, Balthazar told himself, except he was lonely and tired of hiding what he was and even if the Cluricaun was only hanging around because he was paying for the booze, it was still company.
"Give me the marker," he ordered, hand out. The faery made a grumbling noise and slapped the requested item into his palm. Then it whooped and took off across the parking lot as if someone had just jabbed it with a cattle prod. With a long-suffering sigh, and for reasons he couldn't clearly identify, Balthazar followed.
When he woke up the next morning, there were no drawings or words decorating his skin. This was due to the Cluricaun's restraint more than anything else, he knew. There was, however, a note pinned to his shirt.
You're a decent guy, asarlaí. Maybe we can do this again sometime.
He couldn't help but smile and think that maybe the Irish were onto something.
Saving the world was all well and good, but it wasn't all that impressive if no one knows about it. They had their own little party, the four of them, once Dave and Becky came back. The curly-haired girl was at the liquor store again; she recognized him, from her smile. Balthazar got his scotch, and a bottle of champagne, and some rum and a strawberry daiquiri mixer for the hell of it. If the kids wanted it, they were welcome to it. Balthazar himself didn't drink pretend alcohol.
They toasted the not-end of the world, Merlin, and everyone who had fallen in their nameless war. They swapped stories and compared notes, and Balthazar had the sickening feeling that he was winning the Who's Suffered The Most contest, seeing as to how he died. Even worse, there was validity to this argument- once he was done assuring Becky that Dave really hadn't peed his pants in the store ten years ago, which was a surprisingly big issue for Dave, he could feel his strength waning. That, combined with the half bottle of scotch he'd polished off on his own, left him needing someone to lean on.
Veronica supplied this, putting his arm around her shoulders and weaving with him over to his makeshift bed in the corner.
"Sorry," he said to her as he collapsed gracelessly onto the covers. She smiled at him fondly.
"You're tired, Balthazar. You have every right to be. We'll discuss it in the morning."
That sounded vaguely ominous, but her smile took the edge off. He smiled back, well aware that he was half-drunk and exhausted and giddy and not acting remotely like himself. Once again, his life had totally changed in the space of a few hours, and he was once more on a completely different path than he was before. Ironic, that such a powerful sorcerer had never truly had any say over his own life.
"We beat Morgana," he told her, fuzzily, as if she hadn't been there. After a moment he corrected himself. "My apprentice beat Morgana."
"It was a group effort," Veronica said, which was a charitable lie. She stretched out next to him and he could feel the gentle warmth of her magic, woven into a healing spell. He turned towards it, curling against her, reveling in the familiar comfort of her presence.
Both looked up, peering around at Dave, who was standing nearby, shifting from foot to foot and jittering like a chihuahua on a double shot of espresso.
"There's not going to be any- um. Is there? Because we could leave." He gestured to Becky, who was staring at her boyfriend in silent horror. She flashed Balthazar a look that clearly said I'm not responsible for this, you bought the booze.
"Dave? Go away."
"Like, away away?" Dave asked, pointing to the stairs.
"Oh my god," Becky moaned, and Veronica started laughing.
Balthazar left that one for Dave to figure out and buried his face in the pillow, fingers combing through a strand of Veronica's hair. After a while, he slept.
He got the call at a little after midnight. At first he thought it was a crank call, since he didn't remember having a nephew, until things suddenly fell into place with an almost audible 'click'.
The police station was busy, even at night- especially at night. The desk sergeant didn't have time to deal with him and so pointed him to a row of plastic chairs that were beaten only by hospital chairs in terms of discomfort. After about twenty minutes a young policewoman escorted him back to the holding cells, explaining as they went.
"It's his first offense, and since he was only walking, not driving, and it's his birthday, we're letting him off with a warning. Next time, though, it's for real." She paused and squinted at him. "Are you really his uncle?"
"Not really," he admitted easily. If it got the kid into more trouble, oops, his bad. "Old family friend would be more accurate."
Well, he was certainly old, and he was close enough to be family, so technically that wasn't a lie either. She nodded in acceptance and pointed him to the proper cell. Balthazar regarded the pathetic little huddled ball of his apprentice. He was alone in the cell, probably out of deference to the fact that he looked like a stiff breeze could kill him. Balthazar wasn't worried; the kid looked like a rake, probably always would, but he'd learned a thing or two in the last year and could easily handle himself in a bad situation- against normal people. His sorcerer-fighting skills still left something to be desired.
"Dave?" Balthazar called. There might have been a twitch. "Are you all right?"
"No," the boy croaked.
Long pause. "Her mom came."
"Ah." Becky's mother, Balthazar knew, Did Not Approve of Dave or his friends- read: Balthazar himself- and while not actively attempting to sabotage the relationship, the woman certainly wasn't going to make Dave feel welcome. "Want to go home?"
"Yes," Dave groaned. The policewoman unlocked the cell as Dave unfolded himself from his huddle, wincing with each movement.
Balthazar called Veronica on their way out, since he was an abysmal healer and hadn't bothered to flounder his way through teaching Dave yet. She agreed to meet them at Dave's apartment- a new one, thankfully, Balthazar wasn't even going to try navigating the stairs at the old one. He briefly considered leaving Dave to suffer through his hangover but discarded the thought, more because of his own experiences than out of any sympathy for his apprentice.
"So stupid," Dave muttered once he was in the car. Balthazar smiled but didn't say anything. Instead he recalled a bar with a hole in the roof, and a fight with a Morganian he still remembered nothing about, and barhopping with a leprechaun.
"What?" Dave lifted his forehead off the cool window and peered at the older sorcerer uncertainly.
"You haven't hit stupid yet," Balthazar replied.
That was all the explanation Dave could get out of him.