Written in response to cottoncandy_bingo prompt: adventure and hc_bingo prompt: secret identity discovered (but only kinda vaguely). Becky isn't in this, make what you will of her absence. Characters not mine, please enjoy! Comments are awesome.
Dave is sound asleep when he hears Bennet go clambering around in the hallway in the middle of the night. He squeezes his eyes shut as if that alone will make the intrusive racket stop and allow him to go back to sleep. When that fails, he blinks his eyes open, trying to focus on the display of his alarm clock, the glow in the dark hands tell him it's barely four in the morning. Ugh.
"Who's there?" He hears his roommate whisper into the darkness. "I've got a bat and I'm not afraid to use it!"
But, whatever Bennet is oh-so-bravely going after, he's not going to find it out there.
Mostly because it's already made it into Dave's room.
Dave scrambles back in surprise when he spots Balthazar leaning against the wall by the door. He's soaking wet and dripping all over the floor, and the shell-shocked look in the sorcerer's eyes is something that Dave has never seen before. And it quite unnerves him.
"Mm, what's goin' on?"
"Get your things, Dave. We need to move."
Dave stares at his Master in confusion. "Please tell me you're kidding right now. It's, like, not even dawn yet, Balthazar. I'm not going anywhere except back to sleep."
But, then there's a hand curling around his arm and hauling him out of bed. "I'm not asking you," he says, voice solidly cold and demanding. "We need to leave. Either you get dressed and pack what you need or I'll drag you out of here just like this." It's the middle of January and it's apparently raining and Dave is currently clad in all of a pair of well-worn flannel pajama pants. Logic tells him to go with the first choice.
Despite this, Dave keeps struggling. "I'm not going anywhere until you tell me what's going on!" He is very much awake now, and given how tense and hyperaware Balthazar is looking, something has to be seriously wrong.
When Balthazar tries to pull him toward the door without answering the question, Dave plants his feet and tries as best as he can with his scrawny body to keep from being moved. That doesn't produce much by way of results, so he uses his powers to slide his bookshelf in front of the door, hoping to at least momentarily distract his very determined mentor.
"Don't!" Balthazar snaps at him. He sounds angrier than he ever has before. "No magic. Not now."
"Then let me go and tell me why."
He hesitates as if he's thinking about actually explaining himself, his grip still tight on Dave's wrist. "Pack your stuff and I'll tell you once we're out of here. But, trust me, Dave. We need to move."
"O-okay." Dave stammers in compliance.
Before Balthazar can let him go, Bennet comes barging into his room, too. "Dude, I could have sworn I heard some-" He stops when he spots Balthazar and his less than friendly grip on his roommate. Still armed with his baseball bat, he raises it. "What the hell, man?"
"Put the bat down, Ben." Dave insists, as he squirms free of his master's hold on him. "This is Balthazar, he's cool." He backs toward his meager closet, grabbing as many layers as humanly possible. Long-sleeve shirt, t-shirt, button down over-shirt, and then a hooded sweatshirt that will keep him warm once Balthazar drags him out of here, a rain jacket for over that. "Balthazar, this is Bennet. My roommate."
The sorcerer nods in greeting, but it's clear that he's far more interested in getting out of here than in standing around talking.
"What's he doing here?" Bennet asks, still wary. "And how'd he get in?"
Pajama pants swapped for jeans and he's tugging on socks and his favorite tennis shoes before he can answer, stifling a yawn.
"Dave gave me a key," Balthazar lies, impatiently waiting as his apprentice shoves some more clothes into a backpack.
"Dude, why are you packing?" That's Bennet, still looking completely baffled. "You going somewhere now? At four in the freaking morning?"
He waves idly in Balthazar's direction, "Apparently, there is some sort of… family emergency going on and I'm going with Balthazar for a while. Speaking of, how long will we be gone? And where are we going?"
"Don't know." Balthazar tersely responds, unwilling to disclose any sensitive information in front of Bennet. "Hurry up, already, would you?"
Dave throws a couple changes of clothes, his physics texts and a few comic books into his backpack along with his mp3 player. "Fine, let's go." He tosses it over his back and absently spins his dragon ring – his way of making sure it's there – and steps toward the door.
"Cell phone stays here, Dave," Balthazar warns, when his protégé grabs for it off the bedside table.
"But-" he starts to argue, but he drops the subject and the phone. Balthazar probably has reasons. "Whatever. Bennet, can you watch Tank for me?"
"Ugh, yeah. Sure, man." Bennet is still clearly not sold on this whole situation – for that matter, neither is Dave, but there's really no arguing with Balthazar right now and making his roommate think he's being dragged out of here against his will probably won't help matters any.
"Thanks!" Dave manages to call out before Balthazar's grabbing at his wrist and literally dragging him outside. "Alright. Now. Would you mind filling me in on what the hell is going on?"
Balthazar shakes his head, his eyes darting around the dark, rainy, mostly vacant streets like someone's after them. "Not until we're safe."
"And where will that be?"
"Somewhere far away from here."
They're not using magic, so they get as far as Kentucky by the next night. They've made a few stops for food and gas, but Balthazar has yet to explain anything or supply any sort of reasons at all for their scenic approach at escaping New York.
Balthazar tries to argue for sleeping in the car for a few hours, but Dave is having none of it after more than twenty four straight hours crammed in a small car with the other man. He insists upon a hotel for the night as well as an explanation – as Balthazar has yet to offer one. Begrudgingly, Balthazar complies, pulls the car into a small, chain hotel and books a room.
The shabby little hotel off of some backwoods road contains all the amenities that one would expect. There's a lone, full bed stuck in the middle of the room (because one bed for one person (Dave is forced to sneak in) attracts less attention and they need to attract as little attention as possible, apparently), with a nightstand pressed up against either side. A small table with two chairs, both wobbly and unstable, sits across from the door, beside a barely functioning micro-fridge with an equally dilapidated microwave atop it. A just this side of too small bathroom, scratchy towels and scentless samples of shampoo included, is attached.
Dave takes in the room silently while Balthazar wanders the perimeter of the hotel (looking for what, Dave doesn't know) vigilantly.
When he comes back, carrying snacks from the vending machine at the end of the row of rooms, Dave is more than anxious to hear his reasoning for this impromptu road trip thing. "Start talking."
A sigh, and then a frown, and then pacing that spans the length of the small room. He stops, opens his mouth to say something but closes it and keeps going until finally Dave reaches his quota for craziness and steps into his path. Balthazar's hands come up reflexively, landing on Dave's shoulders when he is forced to stop just in front of him. He takes a deep breath, and the last thing Dave is expecting to hear when he finally gets the words out is, "Veronica's dead."
"She's dead, Dave. She's gone. For real, this time." And Balthazar's face is a stony mask of nothingness, but Dave knows better than to fall for that. Balthazar has spent more than a century being hopelessly in love with Veronica, even longer than he was looking for Merlin's descendant. Losing her has to be killing him.
"W-what happened?" He asks, voice less argue-y and softer now because he can totally understand Balthazar's need to get out of New York after that.
"How have your studies on Arthurian legend gone?"
The question throws him, because what the hell does that have to do with all of this? Merlin's accomplishments don't really factor in to 21st century deaths, do they? "Uh, fine?"
Balthazar leans against the wall nearest the window, enough to be able to glance out through the cracked blinds and dirty glass panes to watch the street. "Uther Pendragon."
"He knew Merlin before Arthur was born. Hell, he was the reason Arthur was born. He convinced Merlin to use his magic to help Uther win his enemy's wife. In, well, not so moral ways, honestly. Merlin wasn't happy about his powers being used like that and they had a sort of falling out after. And when Morgana gained power and Horvath joined her, those who had been loyal to Uther, the Utherian's we call them, turned on magic. They're opposed to its use for any and all things and will kill anyone believed to be practicing it on sight." The explanation comes out coldly, like Balthazar's reading from a book as opposed to telling Dave something critically important to his life.
And, really, "you didn't think I needed to know about them before now?"
"They were mostly wiped out about 300 years ago, just after the end of the Salem Witch Trials. At least, they seemed like they were gone. No one ever bothered me. But now they're back."
"And you think they're after you?"
"Us," Balthazar corrects. "They're after us. They knew about you."
That might have triggered mild hysteria for Dave because Utherian's don't exactly sound like they'd be fun to run into on the street. And if they've already killed - murdered - Veronica, then...
"Can we stop them? I mean, you're, well, you and I'm a kind of trained descendent of Merlin. Shouldn't we be able to, I dunno, keep them from killing us?" But Dave thinks he might already know the answer because Veronica was nearly as well-trained as Balthazar (despite her 1,300 year break) and she hadn't been able to stop them. And oh, god, what if Balthazar was there? Was he? If the two of them together couldn't... if Balthazar couldn't save her, then there's no way. And Dave kind of feels like he's going to be sick, kind of like the first time Balthazar made him fly around on that giant, metal eagle and then just casually skyrocketed straight up the Chrysler Building without any warning at all. He makes a dash for the too-small bathroom and spends a good few minutes dry-heaving over the toilet, his knees digging into the sharp tile floor, after he's puked up everything else, and he's too hot and too cold all at the same time and the taste in his mouth is something awful.
"Here," Balthazar is saying, hovering awkwardly in the doorway and holding out a bottle of water for him.
"Thanks," Dave coughs out, taking a sip to rinse his mouth before he shuffles his way back out of the bathroom to sit on the edge of the bed. "Were... uh, were you there? When..."
A nod, and Balthazar drags a hand through his hair slowly. "Yes, Dave. I couldn't stop it. I got there too late to stop it."
"I'm sorry," Dave says because it's all he can think to say. He lays a hand on Balthazar's shoulder and he leans into the touch for a moment before he shrugs away. "I know you loved her and I'm sorry."
Balthazar heads for the door again, turns to speak to Dave before he ducks back outside. "You should take a shower and get some sleep. We're moving on in the morning."
Dave wants to ask where he's going, where they're going to go and how they're going to survive this, but Balthazar's already shut the door.
Six days later and they're somewhere in Colorado after some really scenic routes and spur of the moment detours. They're in another motel for the night, this one just as basic and rundown as the last one had been. Maybe more so, Dave thinks, it's getting hard to separate the standard state of barely functional that they all seem to perpetually exist in. Dave's just on the edges of sleep, curled up on one side of the bed just in case Balthazar finally decides he needs some rest, too. He's barely spelt at all, not since whatever happened in New York and all of Dave's attempts to get him to have fallen flat.
Dave yawns and stretches out, pulling the blanket up around his shoulders tighter. The room is cold, the shitty heater on the far wall isn't doing much against the snowy, -3 degree temperature outside.
Balthazar is sitting in the chair by the door, pointedly on guard against whatever faceless terrors might be lurking outside in the darkness. At least that's where he was when Dave climbed into bed.
"Tomorrow we're staying someplace with heat," he grumbles, can practically feel his teeth chattering as he forces the words out. He'd swear he can see his breathe in the room.
"Maybe," Balthazar says, but Dave knows that the answer will probably be 'no,' then, too.
"Or you could come here," Dave offers, lifting the edge of the blankets in invitation. "Then we could both be warm."
Surprisingly, because Dave is not expecting success, the chair scrapes across the floor and he can hear Balthazar's footfalls cross the small, dark room. There's a pause, the sound of his leather jacket sliding off his shoulders and landing on the foot of the bed and the scuffle of shoes settled by the edge and then the bed dips and Balthazar's there.
"Hardly," Dave answers. Friends dying, murderous anti-magical thugs and a run-for-your-lives road trip aren't exactly on Dave's list of things that make him happy. Being warm, though, that's up there, so he rolls over and curls against Balthazar's side because despite his five layers of shirts, two pair of pajama pants and three pairs of socks, he's still freezing. One of Balthazar's arm falls over his chest because he has nowhere else to put it and Dave shifts a little closer as the blankets get pulled higher. "But this is better."
"If you say so."
Six a.m. and they're on the road again, headed north.
Dave's drowning himself in the biggest, hottest, most caffeinated cup of coffee he could find when they stopped for gas and Balthazar still shows no signs of the exhaustion or loss that Dave knows he must be feeling by now.
They're just crossing into Wyoming when Balthazar finally notices the cars. There's a tan SUV that passes them and falls back again seven times in an hour and a black four-door sedan that pops up every once in a while. There's a silver SUV, too, but he's not sure about that one yet.
"We might be in trouble," he tells Dave, reluctantly.
This gets Dave's attention. "What?"
"We're being tailed."
Dave looks over his shoulder and out the back window, spots the tan SUV lingering behind them. "Can we get away from them? Without using magic?"
Balthazar shakes his head, keeps his eyes on the road and the suspicious cars on it. "Not using magic was to keep them from finding us. Now that they know where we are, we have to use. And we have to do it soon before they get us cornered. That would be bad." He switches lanes on the sparsely populated interstate and speeds up some.
Once he puts a little bit of distance between them and the persistent SUV, he tries to cast. His ring glows a dull yellow and then fizzles back out within seconds and oh, crap.
"Ugh," Dave stutters, "Balthazar, it's... It's not working."
"I noticed," Balthazar answers, head swiveling around to try to locate the cars that have been following them. One is ahead of them, where is has been for a while, and two are behind, off to either side. "We're surrounded."
"Well, drive faster!"
And that sounds like a decent plan, so he does. He dodges recklessly around other cars, passing one after another until he's just behind the lead car.
"Try and use your magic," Balthazar says. He might be better trained, but the power of Merlin that Dave's got to work with might start to work if they get close enough to the edges of this trap. He floors it and swerves left around the tan SUV, nearly spins out of control but levels himself back out and finds that he's neck and neck with the enemy. "Now!"
Dave powers up just as they inch past the car and uses a transportation spell that he's not exactly excellent at to get them out of there.
They reappear somewhere in southern California, in the parking lot of some amusement park that Dave and his family went to once when they were on vacation in Los Angeles (since you can only transport to places you've been to before). Luckily they're in one piece.
"Good," Balthazar sighs, his white knuckled grip on the steering wheel loosening slightly.
Dave heaves a sigh of relief, too, and sinks down in his seat. "Now what?"
"Now we cover our tracks."
From there, Balthazar takes over, using his ring to continue with transporting them. He bounces them all over the place to get the trail of their magic so spread out that it's hard to follow. Baltimore, Portland, some population two-hundred town in Idaho, a quick jump back to New York, then over to Ireland to make it even more difficult to trace them. There's a stop in Puerto Rico before they hit another no name town in Texas, then it's Alberta in Canada and Miami and Detroit and Boston and Oahu and Nashville before they're back to small towns again. Then Bali and then the place where Balthazar claims that Camelot used to be, Iceland, Rio, and Mozambique. Charlotte, North Carolina is next and finally they settle in Miami again.
Balthazar gets them to a hotel, this one a few levels up from the sleazy things they've been staying in. The combination of everything that's been going on with seriously overusing his powers (single transportation spells aren't easy on good days, let alone dozens of them in life or death situations while toting another person and a car along for the ride) catches up with him faster than he expected it to. He takes one step through the door to their room and, despite trying to resist, he passes out.
Dave panics for a moment, a startled, "Balthazar? Come on, no no no no," comes streaming out of his mouth, but he figures out soon enough that he's just finally succumbed to exhaustion. "Aw, come on," he sighs, as he tried to drag him over to the bed. It would be now, when they're back in no-magic mode, that he would have to do this. It's harder than it looks - that giant coat must weigh fifty pounds on it's own. He pulls Balthazar's old man shoes off and somehow divests him of the cumbersome leather duster and lets him sleep. This time, he's the one standing guard, far too wired to sleep after all that's gone on.
After twelve straight hours of watching Balthazar sleep, Dave gets kind of bored.
He leaves the room and wanders around the neighborhood. It's nice enough, touristy and full of Miami related merchandise. He picks up some take-out at a Chinese restaurant and grabs some basic supplies at a convenience store just a block off from the hotel.
He's almost back when he spots the newspaper in the lobby. The headline reads 'New York Magician Found Dead,' and there's a picture of Drake Stone under it. He trades cash for the paper and flips it over, eyes scanning quickly over the story. Two days ago, Stone and an unidentified man were found murdered in Stone's penthouse apartment. The police have no leads, robbery was not believed to be the motive. Might be linked to another murder, this victim an unidentified female, just a few days prior.
Dave is suddenly not hungry.
Sure, Drake was on Morgana's side, but that doesn't mean he wanted the Utherian's to brutally murder him, however they go about doing that. And this 'unidentified man'? Is that Horvath? He and Balthazar know he escaped after the fight with Morgana, but they haven't heard from him since. But who else would it be? If so, he and Balthazar are all that's left, as far as he knows.
He quickens his pace back to the room.
His eyes are on the hallway, making sure he isn't followed, when he enters the room, making sure it's securely locked behind him. He heaves a sigh of relief at returning safely and is about to turn around when a solid weight pins him against the door.
Panic hits him first, then self-preservation, as his powers boil up and release themselves, but they self-destruct before they can cause any damage because the hands are spinning him around and it's Balthazar pinning him.
"Oh my god, what is your problem, why would you do that to me?"
"You do not leave my sight," Balthazar angrily demands, his hands gripping at Dave's shoulders with vice-like desperation, hard enough that there'll probably be bruises there later, shaking him as he speaks to punctuate his words. "The Utherian's can and will kill if given the chance and they will not bargain or reason with their captives. I couldn't save Veronica," he says, his voice dropping along with his gaze, "I watched them kill her, Dave, and I couldn't stop them. So, until this is done, until we've found a way to stop them, you stay where I want you to. I'm not losing you to them, too."
And, okay, fair enough, Dave thinks. "A-alright. I won't leave again," he promises.
Balthazar visibly relaxes as he releases his hold on Dave. "Good," he says. "Alright."
"I didn't think you'd wake up before I got back," Dave explains. "I just went to get food and stuff. And, and, ugh, I think Drake and Horvath might be dead?" It's not really what he wants to tell Balthazar in the wake of that fear-crazed reaction, but he needs to know about it. He passes Balthazar the newspaper and lets him read for himself and he seems to come to the same conclusion because he gets all panicky again before he goes all stone-faced nothingness and suddenly it doesn't seem like they'll be staying in Miami much longer.
"We need a new car and we need to go someplace we haven't been yet."
Dave casts a longing look at the bed he didn't get to sleep in and gathers his things.
Eighteen hours later, they're pulling into a motel somewhere in the middle of Georgia after taking some seriously roundabout routes to keep their trail clean. They've obtained a crappy, old sedan along the way that runs just well enough to justify having purchased it, but it's not going to win them any races. They haven't stopped since they left Miami and they're both pretty exhausted. Dave's asleep in the passenger's seat, and he jumps when Balthazar shakes him awake.
"Dave," he says, and reluctantly he unfolds himself from his curled up position and climbs out of the warm car and into the chilly evening air.
"Room's this way," Balthazar says, looking just as tired as Dave feels.
Dave mumbles incoherently and blindly follows after Balthazar, up a set of stairs and down a long hall, his backpack slung loosely over his shoulder. The room is yet another in a long series of standardly sub-par rooms, but Dave's used to them by now. "Bed?"
"Yeah," Balthazar agrees, "Bed."
Dave flops down on the bed with no further ado, staying to one side and burying himself in the blankets to fight the cold. He thinks it'll be a while before Balthazar joins him, at least it usually takes a while for him to do his usual sweep of the property, and Dave figures he must've drifted off because when he opens his eyes again, the other man is sound asleep beside him.
But, that doesn't last long.
The sound of someone messing with the lock to their room is apparently enough to draw Balthazar back into consciousness and then startle him into full awareness. This leads immediately into Balthazar waking Dave, a hand pressed over his mouth to keep him quiet (and isn't that a fun way to wake up?) as he shakes him lightly.
There's no one else that that could be except Utherians, they both know.
"What should we do? Transport again?"
"I might not have the juice to hide the trail again," Balthazar answers quietly. "We'll have to face whoever it is and hope for a chance to get out. If anything starts going badly, you transport as far away as you can."
And Dave doesn't like the sound of that. That sounds like sacrifice and leaving Balthazar behind and no, no way.
But the intruder derails any further plans or protests when he finally does get the door open. The stranger is not what they'd been expecting. He's just a kid, probably about Dave's age, and he looks like he just fell out of a Hollister advertisement. Dave doesn't see much of a threat, but Balthazar must because he puts himself directly in front of Dave and fires off a blast of energy that binds the guy to the wall (which is pretty impressive considering that Balthazar had been telling him about a theory that claimed Utherians were able to avoid retribution from their attacks because of an immunity to magic (which has thankfully proved false)).
The kid yelps, and looks kind of panicky himself now that he's trapped, but Balthazar's sympathy is clearly running on low. "Utherian."
That seems to rile the kid sufficiently, though. "Sorcerer," he spits back with a look of disgust on his face.
"Well, yeah. I was pretty sure that was the reason you were trying to break into our room."
"The other's know I'm here," the stranger says, even as Balthazar rifles through his pockets.
He finds a wallet that he tosses to Dave, who finds an ID that reads Daniel Putnam, and "oh, great," Balthazar is saying, "A descendant of one of the main accuser's in the Salem Witch Trials. Fantastic."
"We've been watching both of you."
Dave isn't sure what's going on here. This is all very strange and suspicious, he thinks, but he stays quiet and lets Balthazar do what he wants. Why would an Utherian come barging into their room with little to no stealth and showing no fear? Why would he come alone?
Balthazar's apparently thinking the same thing, because his next question is, "Why're you here?"
"I ended up in Miami after you two started your travelling magic show. I caught your trail and I followed you here. Thought it would win me some points if I brought you down singlehandedly."
Answering questions is bad, too, Dave thinks.
"I... I think we should leave," Dave says, as a decidedly bad feeling creeps over him. "Something's not right."
"You've got that right," Putnam says, grinning a wicked sort of all-knowing grin and Dave's concerns are increasing by the second. The binding spell is wearing off (it shouldn't be, there must be something effecting it) and Balthazar stumbles a step back like he's been shocked or something. Then there are shouts from outside and Putnam is advancing on Balthazar with a crazy, curved blade that appears from nowhere. He sees Balthazar try his magic again, but nothing works, the yellow glow of his ring dulls out again, like it did in the car.
There's a steady mantra of 'no, no, no, no, no,' from his own lips, though he doesn't realize he's talking. Balthazar shoots him this distressed, broken sort of look before he closes his eyes and braces for the blow from the blade.
And he's thinking that he can't lose Balthazar, just like he can't let Balthazar lose him (he's lost enough people already with Merlin and Veronica, even Horvath, plus more than a century's worth of friends and family) because they're all that's left now. That he can't let Balthazar get hurt protecting him when there's something he can do about it, at least something he should be able to do about it because he has magic. He has magic and Merlin's blood in his veins and by all accounts, he should be powerful enough to stop this. He feels his blood pulse and something lurches in his chest, but then there's a flash of bright green light and suddenly, they're alone in the room and the noise from outside has quieted completely.
Dave stares at Balthazar, wondering how he'd managed to get his magic to work and it takes nearly an entire minute of this awed, relived staring for him to realize that he was the one who did that. In fact, his ring is still faintly glowing with the lingering power of whatever spell he'd unconsciously cast. Confused, Dave manages, "what just, I... what happened?" before he collapses to the floor.
"Mm," Dave groans, coming back to his senses in the crappy, old sedan. The glare of the afternoon sun makes him regret opening his eyes and, "What?"
"You're awake," a sigh of relief, "Good."
Dave straightens himself out slowly, pushes himself away from the window he's been leaning against to sit up properly. His head is pounding and he feels a bone deep ache all over his body. "Ugh, what did I do? Get hit by a train?"
"That would be magical exhaustion. It sucks, doesn't it?"
"Yeah," Dave grumbles. "It's just a blast. And speaking of blasts, what happened?"
Balthazar frowns at him. "I was going to ask you that, Dave."
"I remember freaking out and then green and then they were gone."
"I think you transported them instead of us. It's impressive that you got the ones outside of the room. There were at least six more out there, probably more on the way."
"But how did I do that? I wasn't trying to. I was just... and you couldn't cast, so why could I?"
"Why could you stop the knives Horvath threw at me when ten minutes earlier you couldn't levitate a chair? Why could you hold off Morgana without your ring? Why could you bring me back when I should've been dead?"
The questions Balthazar poses are ones Dave has thought about a lot since the fight with Morgana. There are two answers. One, it's the Merlin's line thing. He has Merlin's blood and that enables him to pull off fantastical spells without knowing what the hell he's doing at all; he's just running on instinct. Or, two, also instinctual, is that it's a Balthazar thing. Because all of those things have involved Balthazar's life being in danger and his magic always comes through when he needs it when that is the case.
Both answers are perplexing and he already has enough of a headache so he decides to hold off on thinking about it anymore.
"Where are we?" He decides on, instead.
"North Carolina," Balthazar answers. At Dave's surprised look, he adds, "you've been out for a while."
"There might be a way to stop them," Balthazar says, after they've lapsed into a long silence. "Now that we know that they're susceptible to magic after all. It seems like mine stops working when I'm surrounded, but yours can still work."
And, okay, yeah, Dave thinks, but there's a flaw in Balthazar's idea because, "mine only works when you're in trouble."
"I guess I'll have to be in trouble, then."
Which sounds like a terrible, terrible plan. Dave doesn't even like the idea of that plan. Just the thought of Balthazar being in danger is enough to make his ring pulse faintly - which only makes everything hurt more. "Or... or we could move to Antarctica! They have to give up on us eventually, right? So how about Antarctica, no one will look there. Or Alaska, if you're not feeling up to being that cold. We'll pop back to New York, grab Tank, and go. Wherever you want. As long as we can find a warm bed to sleep in, I'm good."
Balthazar raises an eyebrow at him, "your only condition to moving anywhere is one bed?"
"One warm bed," Dave corrects. "And, well, you."
There's a jolt in the cars speed, as Balthazar's foot stutters off the gas, but he corrects quickly and then turns to shoot a quick look at Dave. "Interesting," he says. "But you know we can't do that. They won't stop unless we make them."
Dave frowns, tries another method. "Fine. Okay. You're right. I don't like this at all, but you're right. At the very least I need to rest so that I can actually fight back when we do this epically stupid thing, okay? We can plan and I can wait until everything stops hurting and then we can go home and this can be over."
"We'll stop when we hit Virginia."
Dave spends most of the subsequent twenty-four hours waiting for his bones to stop hurting. It's a really annoying sensation, like that deep muscle-y ache that comes with the flu, only exponentially worse. Magical exhaustion is more painful that taking Morgana's unending plasma bolts, he thinks.
Constant planning isn't helping his headache, either.
"So, if they're doing what I think they're doing, then they're using magic themselves."
"Hypocrites," Dave mumbles, sprawled out on the entirety of the bed with an arm tossed over his eyes to block out the light while Balthazar paces the room.
"But their magic is tied to the group. It only works when we're surrounded. They did it to us with the cars and then when Putnam distracted us. So, we have to let them surround us - me, at least - and let them think they're winning and then you can use your magic to stop them and..."
Dave sighs, doesn't really know how to explain this. "How am I supposed to do that? Other than the knives, I haven't known what I was doing at all when I protected you. I wasn't trying to cast when I blasted them all away from us, I just... it just happened."
There's another curious look from Balthazar, like he's just figuring something out, but he's apparently not going to let Dave in on the secret because he barrels on with a dismissive, "Then we'll just have to hope it happens, then, too."
"I hate this plan."
"Do you have a better one?"
Dave lifts his head and glares at the other man, "As a matter of fact, I did."
"Where should we do this...?" Balthazar says, mostly to himself, just before he starts spouting off the merits of one place over another.
Dave grabs the nearest pillow and shoves it over his face. "I hate this plan so much."
Unfortunately, Dave is mostly back to normal by the next afternoon. Which means that it's time to set their plan in action. Only, well, they're plan doesn't exactly go to plan.
They're only just leaving the hotel when Dave gets this weird feeling. It's the same one he got when he started to suspect something was up with Putnam's bizarre break-in. It's too quiet and despite the size of the motel they've been holed up in, there should be some movement, some people, but there aren't. He catches Balthazar's shoulder and stops him from continuing toward the car, and sure enough, a familiar Hollister-clad kid is back.
Several others begin to approach from an array of angles, and Dave spins around to watch them approach. Most of them are older, but they all share a look of anger and disgust when Dave and Balthazar appear in their sights. A couple of younger ones linger by Putnam, who's leaning against the shitty sedan and its four recently flattened tires.
And this time they're not taking any chances. He and Balthazar are surrounded in seconds, with a lot of those pointy, curved blades aimed their way. And they seem to have shifted their focus from Balthazar, the sorcerer of the 777th degree, to that of the barely trained descendant of Merlin because only one of them has proven able to fight back.
With Balthazar rendered powerless by the ring of anti-magical magic-users, they seem like they're gonna go for him first. Putnam steps into the circle that has formed and lunges for him, which makes Dave move, too, only then there's someone catching his arms behind his back and suddenly Dave is the one being restrained. There's something pressed against his neck and it takes him a moment to realize it's a knife, curved like a sickle and with mysterious, unidentifiable symbols engraved into the blade.
Someone plucks his ring off his finger and tosses it to another Utherian outside of the circle.
"It's Merlin's ring!" Someone verifies.
"Uh," Dave starts, trying to lean away from the blade as much as he can. "So. This... can we maybe talk about this?"
Someone else is busy restraining Balthazar, catching him like they did Dave. They take his ring, too.
This is bad.
Bad, bad, bad, in so many ways and the knife is biting into his skin and they don't seem to care that he's devolved into unintelligible, hysterical rambling.
And this is apparently the part where he gets to learn exactly what the preferred method of execution is for the Utherians. It's a question he never asked Balthazar in the wake of Veronica's death, he asked as few questions as possible, honestly, to try to keep his mind off of having seen her merciless death at the hands of these crazy people. He'd guess that it would involve their curvy knives, but he's also assuming it's more involved and much more drawn out than a simple slice to the neck. That's not nearly violent enough for people who supposedly hate magic so much.
"You know," Dave chokes out, "it's not really fair that you can use magic to trap us, while you're all on your 'magic is evil, destroy it all' bandwagon thing, I mean..." he's saying, only because he can't not talk right now. "Or, ugh," but maybe he can not talk right now because the blade bites deeper and he can feel a trail of blood on his neck.
"Would you shut up already," Putnam hisses at him, landing a blow to Dave's head that makes him see stars.
They move as a whole, the entire circle slowly moving back toward the motel room that Balthazar and Dave only just exited. The two of them are force-marched along for the trek and it's only once they're in the room that things start to make sense.
The pressure on the knife lets up slowly and there are hands tugging at heavy ropes on his wrists, binding them tightly behind his back. Someone else sets to work on his feet and then, once he's sufficiently tied up, they toss him on the bed.
He sees containers full of gasoline and he understands. They're going back to their witch-hunting roots, back to burning at the stake, just without the stake. The cheap, aged bed is probably more flammable than wood, anyway.
He swallows down some of his panic and looks to Balthazar. He's still being physical restrained by another Utherian, but there's panic in his eyes, too, along with a clear mixture of pain and dread. Dave doesn't want him to have to watch this again, not after what he had to see with Veronica.
It only gets worse when they start pouring it on him. It sops through his three layers of shirts and through his jeans. Putnam's the one pouring and he takes care to splash as much as possible, looking far too pleased with himself as the odor from the gasoline makes Dave cough and sputter, makes his eyes burn, and it feels like fire is already burning through the small cut from the blade on his neck.
"Balthazar," he manages, a hopeless sort of sound that just makes Balthazar look more desperate to get them out of here.
But then the room clears, leaving only enough people to keep them minimally surrounded and keep their magic at bay. A match flickers into life in Putnam's hand and Dave braces for the pain of a fiery death and the pain of knowing that Balthazar will be forced to watch it.
There's heat, but Dave refuses to open his eyes and watch. He feels the flames lick up his leg and the smell of burning skin and smoke hit him hard, making his head spin.
And, god, it hurts.
But then it doesn't.
There's a blast of strong power, can't be anything but magical, that shakes the room, but it comes from Balthazar which is baffling because he doesn't have his ring and he needs it to do magic, he doesn't have Merlin's blood to fall back on like Dave. Except apparently, he did magic without it. Dave wonders how. The Utherians still lingering suddenly fall to the ground for no apparent reason, Putnam included, and suddenly Balthazar's free and rushing toward him. It's enough to break the lines that stopped their magic, so Balthazar uses his to extinguish the flames before they can get much higher than Dave's knee.
Shouts outside, and Balthazar shoots off another blast. Silence. Dave bets they went down, too.
"We should get out of here," Balthazar tells him, hands lingering on Dave as he unties him as carefully as possible, like he doesn't want to let go. He helps Dave to stand, pulls one of his arms over his shoulder to support him and, after quickly reclaiming their rings and their supplies from the car, he transports them away.
The next thing Dave knows, they're in New York. Balthazar landed them just outside of a hospital.
The ER is busy, and all Dave really wants to do is go back home to Tank and sleep for as long as he possibly can, but the pulsing pain in his leg (and Balthazar's unwavering insistence) force him through the wait.
On the plus side, the combination of a concussion and mostly 2nd degree burns from his ankle to his knee gets him seen pretty quickly. They wash him down and give him a pair of hospital issue sweats to replace the gas-soaked clothing that they take away. They clean and bandage his leg, slathering it in a fair amount of burn cream, there's another small bandage for the cut on his neck, and they want to keep him overnight for the hit to the head he took from Putnam, but he's had enough by that point.
"I'll be around to keep an eye on him," Balthazar assures the doctors. "If anything changes, I'll drag him back in."
Dave has no doubt he will.
They let him sign out, give him an ample amount of supplies to change his bandages with, fill a prescription for the good pain medicines and let him go.
Balthazar gets them back to Dave's apartment with a quick burst of magic. He's pretty drained, Dave knows and he protests as much, but he does it anyway.
Bennet looks surprised to see them, especially since Dave comes in limping and Balthazar is nearing 'can barely stand up' territory, but Dave manages an excuse and a promise to relay the tale (one he'll have to make up) later, and drags Balthazar toward his room.
Tank is there, and Dave spends a long moment reigning in the bulldog's happiness at his return before he actually manages to get into a shower (because gasoline is still kind of stubbornly stuck in his hair) without getting his leg wet, then he's clumsily changing into the most comfortable clothes he owns before he buries himself under heavy covers. His eyes are heavy with the dose of strong painkillers, but he doesn't let himself give in yet.
"Try to get some rest, Dave," Balthazar says, leaning heavily against the wall like he's just planning to stand guard all night.
"You could join me," Dave counters, because he is well aware of what magical exhaustion feels like now and a comfortable bed does help, at least a little.
"Supposed to keep an eye on you, remember?"
Dave sighs. "I'm fine. If I feel not fine, I promise to wake you up and tell you and then get Bennet to take me back to the ER so that you can sleep."
Reluctantly, Balthazar pushes off the wall and crosses the room. He left his coat on the couch on the way in, so he just climbs in, kicking off his old man shoes and sliding into the meager space at Dave's side and trying not to disturb Tank, who is curled up around Dave's feet.
"The Utherians... are they going to come after us again?"
There's a long pause, a heavy sigh. "No," Balthazar says, with a note of finality that says he's sure of that. "They won't. None of them will be coming after us again." And Dave still doesn't know what his spell did, but he's willing to take Balthazar's word for it. "They were going to kill you, but they'll never get the chance again."
And that brings Dave to his other question.
"How did you... you didn't have your ring and I thought I was the only one who could cast without that?"
"I can protect you for the same reason you can protect me."
And that is not a helpful answer, Dave thinks.
"And... what might that reason be, exactly?"
Balthazar seems to choose to forego an explanation (of course, because that would be helpful) and instead jumps, as usual, right into things. He kisses Dave soundly, a hand pressed to his chest to keep him down on the bed and it takes a second for Dave to process what is happening but by the time he does start kissing back, he can feel Balthazar grinning against his lips.
He pulls away with just as much warning as he'd seen fit to give when he started it (none) and leaves a stunned, wide-eyed Dave looking up at him.
"What was that?"
"That's why our powers work better."
Dave blinks, shakes his head and proclaims, "Nothing. You have literally explained nothing at all, Balthazar."
"I can kiss you again, if that would help."
And, well, okay. That would be nice, Dave's not going to deny that and hopefully they can get to that once he forcibly drags these answers out of Balthazar. "Are you saying that we can save each other because, what? We like each other?" And that brings up at least three dozen questions on its own.
"It's a little more complicated than that, but in a general sort of way - yes."
That explains a lot of Balthazar's overly protective behavior on their adventure, he thinks, but then that leads to thoughts of what had started that road trip from hell in the first place and suddenly there's a weight on his chest because maybe Balthazar could have saved Veronica if he'd been linked to her like he is to Dave and thus avoided this whole thing. Add to that the fact that it's only been like two weeks since she died and Dave is even more confused by Balthazar's actions.
"Are you okay?"
"You are still a terrible liar," Balthazar tells him. "What?"
"Veronica... could you have... if it weren't for this thing between us, could you have saved her?"
A sigh, and Balthazar kind of deflates. "I don't know. I loved her forever, Dave, you know that. But things had been different since the fight with Morgana. She wanted to be normal, have a life without magic and I... I can't do that now. Not after so long with it. Part of it was you, though. I think you'd been linked to me since the beginning, but I think I linked to you when you brought me back to life. Things were falling apart, and I didn't want to lose her, especially not like this, but we wouldn't have been together much longer."
"I'm sorry," Dave says sadly. He shifts, trying to put a little bit of distance between them in the aftermath of such a serious conversation, but the movement jars his leg and sends pain shooting up his spine, despite the heavy duty medicines and he winces and bites his tongue.
"You have nothing to be sorry about, Dave," Balthazar tells him, letting an arm drape over Dave's chest to keep him from wandering too far away. "But you do need to sleep, give your medicine a chance ot kick in. I'll explain the linking thing better in the morning. And we'll make something up for your roommate, okay?"
Dave nods and stays still to keep from further aggravating his injuries. "Okay," he agrees.
They both try to sleep but get nowhere inside of ten minutes, which is completely ridiculous because between the exhaustion and the pain meds, respectively, they should both be solidly out for some time. It takes some careful shifting before eyelids start growing heavy again, and Balthazar ends up curled protectively around Dave on the small bed.
"Better?" Balthazar asks, voice rough with near sleep as an arm traps Dave in place against him.