Veronica kept her eyes on Balthazar as he clasped the necklace around her neck, hardly daring to believe that he was here in front of her, that they'd survived. She clung to him, beginning to shake as the full impact of everything that had happened caught up with her. He rubbed her back soothingly, murmuring in her ear. "It's all right. We did it. We're safe."
"Don't ever do that again," she whispered, nestling her face into the crook of his neck. She breathed in the familiar scents of leather, plasma, and Balthazar.
An ironic chuckle rumbled in his chest beneath her hand where it rested over his heart. "I didn't intend to get killed, you know."
"I wasn't referring to that," she retorted, pulling back enough so she could glare at him. "I meant you taking Morgana's soul into your own body. That was very stupid and risky."
He raised an eyebrow at her, a smirk playing at the corners of his mouth. "As if it wasn't when you did it?"
"Well." She couldn't hide a sheepish smile. "I just wanted to save you."
Balthazar's smirk softened into a smile of his own. "Exactly my point."
"She's gone for good at least," Veronica commented, tucking her head under his chin once again. "Thanks to the Prime Merlinian."
Her beloved chuckled again, even as his arms tightened around her. "Yeah, Dave Stutler. The poor kid's only had a couple days' worth of training."
"He did rather well for only a few days of training," she assured him, quite sincere. "He will certainly rival Merlin's skill and ability once he's had proper training."
She felt him shift his weight from one foot to the other, clearing his throat. "Well, I actually found him ten years ago."
"Why haven't you been training him for the past ten years?" Veronica frowned at that, pulling back again to stare at him.
Balthazar sighed deeply. "Because Dave accidentally freed Horvath from the Grimhold and the only way to protect him was to trap both of us in an urn."
"Maybe you should tell me all of this from the beginning," she suggested gently.
He nodded. "Yes, and we should also get out of here before the wards I set up to keep the innocents away collapse completely."
"Also a good idea," she agreed, shivering a little as they moved away from the stone fountain they'd been standing near.
Without a second thought, Balthazar removed his coat and draped it over her shoulders. "Is that better?"
"Almost." Veronica took his arm and pulled it around her shoulders while slipping her own arm around his waist, savoring the warmth that always seemed to radiate from him. "Much better."
He smiled and squeezed her shoulders gently. "I quite agree."
They walked on together, happy to be side by side once again.
It was almost lunchtime by the time Dave returned to his lab. After breakfast in Paris, he'd taken Becky back to her apartment, and then went to his own to fall into bed fully-clothed. After a good long sleep, he got up, showered, dressed, and headed to the lab. Balthazar wasn't there, but Veronica was, seated at the desk and looking through an Encantus. She must have heard his footsteps on the stairs, because she looked up and he was caught for a moment by her dark, delicate beauty. No wonder Balthazar and Horvath had fallen for her! Dave waved weakly as he continued his descent. "Uh, hi, uh, Veronica. I'm Dave Stutler."
"The Prime Merlinian," Veronica added, Dave still unable to place her accent. She stood when he stepped off the metal stairs onto the stone floor. "Balthazar told me."
Of course he had. Dave rubbed his neck nervously, feeling tongue-tied as usual in the presence of a woman as beautiful as Veronica. His gaze caught on the necklace around her throat and he grinned. That's where it belonged. He faltered as he glanced around more fully, realizing that they were the only two in the cavernous space. "Um, where is Balthazar by the way?"
"He went to arrange accommodations for us now that he's sure we're going to be here for some time," Veronica explained, her hands folded together in front of her. It didn't escape Dave's notice that the slender fingers on one hand worried at the ring on the other hand. He supposed that was her focus. Her eyes were warm as she gazed at the young man. "Thank you for bringing him back to me--to us."
Dave waved in what he hoped was a grandiose manner but probably just came across as clumsy. "Oh, hey, no problem. I figured, after all these lonely years, he deserved a chance to be happy with you." Realizing belatedly how that must have sounded, he quickly added, "Not that you don't deserve the chance to be with him, too! I mean, you were stuck in that Grimhold with Morgana and the others and--"
"Dave, you should shut up before you make things worse," Balthazar's voice was a welcome interruption to the younger man's awkward explanation.
He turned and looked up with a grin, not surprised to see a rather large sack in the man's arms. "Right, shutting up now."
"Where's Becky, Dave?" Balthazar added as he finished descending the stairs and crossed over to where Veronica waited patiently.
Politely, Dave waited until the older man set the sack down on the desk and greeted Veronica with a soft kiss before replying, "Oh, I dropped her at her apartment this morning before I went to my own and crashed."
"Dropped? Crashed?" Veronica repeated the words with a furrow to her lovely brows.
Kissing her cheek, Balthazar turned to begin pulling items out of the sack. "He doesn't mean it literally. He means that he took Becky home to sleep before he went to his own and did the same." Raising his eyebrows, the sorcerer looked at his apprentice. "Right?"
"Yeah, right!" Dave nodded quickly, choosing not to mention that 'dropping' Becky had almost been literal.
Balthazar nodded in reply. "Nothing for you to worry about."
"There's so much I'll have to learn about this time," Veronica mused as she sat back down, noticing for the first time how much food Balthazar had pulled out of the sack. "I won't be able to eat all of this."
He drew up a chair beside hers. "Of course you won't. Some of it's for me."
"You always did have a large appetite," she commented with a fond smile, reaching out to brush Balthazar's hair back from his face.
His eyes intent, Balthazar caught her hand in his and held it against his cheek. Veronica smiled and leaned over to kiss him softly. Feeling as if he was intruding on a private moment, Dave turned to go. He paused at the walkway when Balthazar's voice carried to him across the space, "Be careful out there, Dave. Oh, and bring Becky with you when you come back later."
"Why?" Dave turned and eyed his 'master' suspiciously. He wouldn't put it past the older man to have an ultimate purpose behind requesting Becky's presence.
The smile on Balthazar's face was completely innocent which was completely feigned. "Oh, no reason at all."
Becky kept firm hold of Dave's hand as he led her down into his lab space. He'd explained more fully about what happened that day at Arcana Cabana and about being a sorcerer during their breakfast and when they'd met up later after they'd both gotten some sleep. She'd asked lots of questions and he'd admitted that he couldn't answer a lot of them because he was just learning himself. When he suggested they go to his lab so she could talk to Balthazar and Veronica herself, Becky had eagerly agreed. She hadn't expected to find the two throwing spells at each other. Glancing up at Dave, his expression made it clear that he hadn't expected it, either. Stretching up on her toes, she whispered, "I thought you said they're in love with each other?"
"I did say that and they are," Dave whispered back, throwing up one hand when a deflected plasma bolt headed their way. Becky flinched instinctively, but the bolt was absorbed by some sort of shield.
The sound of spells tapered off at that and Becky peeked down to see the two sorcerers looking up at them. The man, Balthazar, waved. "Hi, Dave."
"Balthazar," Dave replied, leading Becky down to the stone slab floor. "What's going on?"
The circle of fire on the floor snuffed out at that and the other two stepped close to each other, embracing briefly. "That was a practice duel, to help us keep our magic sharp."
"So you weren't trying to kill each other?" Becky couldn't resist asking, blushing a little when everyone turned to look at her.
Veronica answered the question, her long dark hair pulled back from her face. "No, we were making it possible for us to survive."
"Exactly." Balthazar smiled, pressing a kiss to Veronica's temple. "Veronica, this is Dave's girlfriend, Becky Barnes. Becky, this is Veronica."
She offered her hand to the older woman, smiling shyly. "I'm pleased to meet you."
"And I you, Miss Barnes," Veronica replied in her alto voice, her accent either Italian or Spanish. When she took Becky's hand, the gem on her ring glowed with a soft lavender light. Before she or Dave could ask what was going on, bright swirls of light surrounded the two women. Becky stared at them in awe, turning her head as she caught the sound of beautiful music just on the edges of her hearing.
When Veronica released her hand, the light and music faded, leaving Becky disappointed. Dave, on the other hand, was agitated. "What the heck was that?"
"That, my young apprentice, is how we normally determine whether someone has the potential to become a sorcerer," Balthazar replied, smiling fondly. He turned to Becky. "Miss Barnes, would you like to learn magic?"
She stared at the older man in surprise and awe. Learn magic? Learn the spells she'd briefly seen Balthazar and Veronica using just a few short minutes ago? Learn how to do the things Dave had told her about? The answer was obvious: "Yes, totally! That would be beyond awesome!"
"Are you sure about this, Becky?" Dave asked her, looking concerned. "It's not going to be easy. Balthazar's been rather hard on me these last few days."
Veronica lightly touched Dave's shoulder, her voice gentle and soothing. "Only because he had to, Dave. He knew Horvath would stop at nothing to free Morgana and you needed to be as ready as he could make you to stop her for good."
"Besides, Becky's not going to be my apprentice," Balthazar added, his gaze almost apologetic as he gazed at the younger man. "She'll be Veronica's."