Title: The Old-Fashioned Way

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: T

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.

Summary: Wesley focused not on fire but plasma for his second strike, the very first offensive magic he had ever been taught to use. 1700 words.

Spoilers: A:tS fixit for "Not Fade Away"; Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010).

Notes: 24 Days of Ficmas 2011, Day 9: for milady78. Prompt: "Two possibilities. 1) Balthazar helps Wesley deal with Vail. Or 2) After surviving NFA Wesley ends up in New York and interacts with Blake. What form of interaction and how he survived NFA is up to you."

Alarm thrilled through Wesley as Vail summoned the fireball right out of his hand, extinguishing it in the clutching net of his own fingers.

It had been nearly two decades since his father had banished the 'Merlinean' tutor his mother hired and sought out a 'proper' instructor in the ritual ways of earth magick instead- none of that illusory nonsense about physics and energy flows for his son. But Wesley had known for some time that his minor ability with props, chants, and petitions to powerful spirits would not avail him against the more powerful category of foes Angel's team had begun to collect, and had gone back to his earliest training in search of the means to make a difference.

To the power his tutor had claimed would only find its limit in the strength of his will. He supposed he had that measure now; and that he had rather overestimated the changes the last few years had wrought in him.

It was the visit from the cyborg version of his father all over again, without the gun to even the odds. Wesley could almost hear that familiar disapproving voice again as the collapse of his plan brought an ugly smirk to Cyvus Vail's red, wrinkled face: You have failed me enough for one lifetime.

"I mean, really," the demon sneered, raising his hand to respond in kind. "I crap better magic than this. Now then, let me show you what a real wizard can do."

Vail's next spell shoved Wesley backward, wringing a gasp from his throat; a constricting pressure wrapped tightly around his limbs and torso, suspending him just high enough above the floor to prevent him from standing. From his perspective, Wesley couldn't tell if the effect was wrought via telekinesis, a pre-prepared spell, or even the same type of sorcery he'd been attempting to wield; but whatever its cause, the effect was still the same. A bleak despair swept over him at the thought, sending him fumbling at his waist for the knife he carried as a last resort.

Vail circled him, oblivious, scoffing as he toyed with his prey; Wesley narrowed his eyes in return, adrenaline building up in his veins as he began to nerve himself up to strike.

"Did you really think you had a shot at this? I can bend the very fabric of reality to my will. Your parlor tricks could never kill me, boy."

Technically, Wesley could bend reality to his will as well; he simply wasn't skilled enough, or practiced enough, to do so. If the infamous Balthazar Blake, or even one of his Morganian opponents, had stood there in Wesley's place, the story might have been far different. A running battle between two powerful, experienced sorcerers could be anything from a straight-up slugging match to a deadly masquerade dance in a hall of smoke and mirrors: nothing as it seemed, the loser the first one to slip up.

Nothing as it seemed... Vail came to a halt in front of him, laughing, still trailing a length of thin plastic tubing as Wesley's brain finally engaged again. The tubing couldn't be what it appeared, given Vail's obvious power; and anything disguised was obviously a weak point.

"Then I'll just... have to do this... the old-fashioned way," he panted, and pulled at his will again, forgetting the knife. He focused not on fire but plasma for his second strike, the very first offensive magic he had ever been taught to use. He fed all of his determination into it, his anger at Vail's condescension, and the memory of what he'd felt the last time he'd seen Vail, and entirely forgot the sense of doom that had haunted him ever since Angel had shared his suicidal plan.

A ball of white-hot electrical energy formed in cup of one hand, pinned tight at Wesley's side. Then he aimed it as best he could toward the enemy, savoring the way Vail's eyes flared wide in sudden alarm. The red-skinned being threw his arms up in front of him, summoning a hasty shield- but rather than lashing out in a still-compact orb, the bolt shattered and split, only part of it dying in a cascade of sparks against Vail's defenses. The majority of it grounded through the complicated medical equipment attached to him instead, flash-frying it and filling the air with unpleasant odors.

Wesley felt a wash of hot satisfaction rush through him as Vail shrieked, collapsing where he stood, coughing on searing gasses and the fumes of melted plastic. Then a deluge of exhaustion followed on its heels, bringing the cost of the overpowered casting home. He briefly found himself on his feet again as Vail lost track of his imprisonment, then sagged backward, caught at the last minute by a pair of unanticipated leatherclad arms.

"Wesley," Illyria said- and for a wonder there was a note of worry in her tone. She felt swiftly over his torso, searching for and failing to find any sign of injury. "You are not wounded?"

He couldn't help but smile at her through his fatigue. He would never forgive Fred's death, not even should he live a thousand years; but since speaking with Illyria earlier that day, applying bandages and discussing emotional realities, he had finally come to accept that it was not she who truly held the blame for it. And he who did, Wesley had already paid in like coin. She was no innocent, but neither had she ever acted from true malice; she was a hawk, a hunting cat, a hurricane made flesh, and yet suffered herself to take correction from his hand.

"Only tired. It was good that you came," he said, praise faint but fully meant.

They would be misfits together, then, Wesley thought ruefully. For he couldn't see himself returning to Angel's side any more than Lorne would. They'd said their goodbyes, companions in arms who hadn't always been allies acknowledging each other's valor; the scales had finally been balanced between them. And he doubted Illyria would stay where he did not.

She didn't quite smile back; but the lines around her icy blue eyes softened in acknowledgement- before hardening again, as the sounds of choking in the background suddenly lightened to a rasping chuckle.

"How very touching," the old sorcerer said, climbing back to his feet. "But this fight was never for mortals. You've done your worst, and I'm still here. Do you imagine this girl can do any better?"

Illyria rose to deliver her indignant response, leaving Wesley to catch his own weight on his elbows. Then she unleashed a fist, powered with her own formidable will, at Vail's chin.

The impact more than answered his question.

The better part of a year after Los Angeles was temporarily overrun by the Senior Partners' army, Wesley and Illyria fetched up in New York. He fell back on his P.I. license to set up a new business there; it did not please her to identify as his partner, but neither did she choose to do anything else, and they scraped along well enough to afford a few luxuries.

He'd mostly left Watcher-endorsed magick and demon fighting behind him, but still practiced sorcery; he was still a novice at the art and mostly self-taught, but it felt cleaner and came easier than he remembered even from his childhood. He avoided all other Merlineans and Morganians alike, however; he doubted he could tell them apart from a philosophical argument, and wasn't quite sure whether either order would accept him. He had killed with his magic; he had used it for selfish causes; and he cared nothing for either Morgana's politics or Merlin's legacy.

Illyria approved, both of his learning and his independence. He suspected she saw him as hers first and foremost, a more effective replacement for her previous Qwa'ha Xahn, and would ill abide any fresher claim on his allegiance. He chose not to argue; to do so would only reopen old wounds and upset her to no purpose, and upsetting her, it seemed, was no longer sufficient purpose on its own.

During their third month in the city, one of their cases took Wesley to a street lined by narrow buildings, a mixture of apartments and shops. One of the storefronts was dark, its stoop thick with dust broken only by the bootprints of a mailman. The Arcana Cabana: a sign in its window gave its date of establishment as 1888. It reeked of sorcery, of the coppery aftertaste of wardings beyond Wesley's current level of skill... but there was a staleness to them, like a piano just beginning to drift out of tune.

City records showed that the building was privately owned, and that its bills were paid via automatic deductions from a bank account under the name Balthazar Blake. Its doors had not opened in nearly five years, and there was some talk of having the proprietor declared dead in absentia. Wesley choked on the name, his desire to remain under the radar warring with the potential benefits of an information exchange with the Merlin's surviving apprentice, and returned to the shop to find a way past the locks. He hadn't got the sense that Blake was dead; merely... out of touch.

The wards were watchful, but friendly enough once he gained entry; the d├ęcor was something else altogether. Especially the oversized enchanted urn standing front and center, fairly vibrating with the auras of two imprisoned souls. One had to be Blake. But the other...

There was a time release mechanism embedded in the magic, he could see; luckily, he traveled with a former god-king who yet retained some limited power over the fourth dimension. Moments later, a sorcerer in a fur-collared coat shot out the shop's front door, propelled by Illyria's fist- and Balthazar Blake followed Maxim Horvath back into existence with the Prime Merlinean's name on his tongue.

His gaze was as sharp as a knifepoint and as compelling as Angel's; the combination was as inevitable as a trap springing shut. But... it had been a rather quiet five years. Illyria enjoyed a good fight. And Wesley could hardly leave a potential apocalypse unfought.