Balthazar Blake has an arrangement with the Watcher's Council. They preserve several of the most consistent sorcerous bloodlines in Europe; he asks them to watch over matters the senior Merlinian on the planet doesn't have time to oversee, and in return they always let him know when they have a child of the right age for him to examine.
Rupert Giles is not the first of these children, nor will he be the last. He's sullen about it, though, which is unusual in Balthazar's experience; he wants to be either a green-grocer or a fighter pilot, and imagines that if he fails whatever test Balthazar is there to perform he'll be allowed to choose his own future.
He isn't impressed with the ring. Nor it with him; he only has a moderate amount of potential. But what he does have will make him a prime target for Morganian mischief if he retains that attitude as he ages. Balthazar leaves a charmed stone with the boy, one bespelled so that he can't lose it, and tells him to touch it and call his name if he ever genuinely needs assistance.
When the inevitable occurs, he does-- and Balthazar is there to help him pick up the pieces.
He's older, now; still reckless at heart, but scarred by his experiences. Most of what talent he'd had has been lost to him, locked away and forsaken to the darkness-- but something in his spirit has hardened like diamond. He knows, now. He understands. And in the face of whatever is to come, he'll stay the course.
Not all heroes must be innocent and pure of heart and mind; against some evils, firsthand experience is the best defense. Balthazar consoles him for his loss, and sets him back on the path to his destiny.
In the early seventies, Balthazar does not spend much time at the Arcana Cabana. He'd established the shop in 1888 as a safe place to rest between travels; but after awhile his feet always start to itch again. Someone has to charge the anti-theft and repair wards and know which items aren't for sale, but it doesn't have to be Balthazar.
He comes back from a trip a few days early, though, in 1973; just before the new Egyptian exhibit collapses at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Like every other being with any magical sensitivity in the city, he feels the anguished cry that accompanies the accident-- its source a young onlooker who'd witnessed his parents' deaths.
It takes a few days for Balthazar to find a way to approach eight-year-old Daniel Jackson, and by then it's too late. The boy is inconsolable; he's convinced he should have been able to stop the disaster, and that since he didn't he'd failed them both. The sad thing is, he's not entirely wrong.
If he'd been a bit older; if he'd had some training; if he'd had a ring.... But he wasn't, he hadn't, and he didn't, and in his distress he'd utterly burned out his magical ability trying to save them anyway. Lack of immediate metaphysical care had made the condition permanent.
Daniel could have been the one, the descendant of Merlin Balthazar's been searching for all these years-- and now, he'll never be anything more than an ordinary human.
Well-- maybe not quite ordinary. Sorcerers with that much native ability are always driven: to create, to discover, to reshape the world-- for better or for worse.
Young Daniel may not have access to that particular source of power any longer, but Balthazar has no doubt he will still perform wonders.
Little Eliot is one of the most perplexing boys Balthazar has ever presented to Merlin's ring. Not so much for who he is-- but because of how Balthazar came to meet him.
It's the early eighties; the economy's a mess, and little towns all over the Midwest are drying up. It's in one such town, on his way south toward Dallas that Balthazar's beloved 1935 Rolls Royce Phantom abruptly gives up the ghost. Surprised, he gives it a stern talking-to-- but it still refuses to budge.
Coincidence has put him in some really interesting situations over the years, though; places and times where he found himself needed, even if it brought him no nearer his goal. So he sighs, has it towed to a tiny local shop, and waits for necessity to show.
Necessity proves to be a small boy fueled by a burning well of anger, walking by protectively holding the hand of his younger sister. The ring doesn't respond to him; Balthazar would have been surprised if it had. But he's here to do something-- so he layers a couple of minor prosperity and luck spells on the kid.
Years later, after his emergence from the Chinese vase, he meets another Eliot: one who's tamed that fire into a defensive warmth. That Eliot is known for his near-magical physical prowess and his complete lack of a past-- and he runs with a crew much like (though considerably cleaner than) the original Robin of the Hood's band. He doesn't blink when Balthazar hires the Leverage Consulting team to track where Horvath took Merlin's ring, or acknowledge their previous meeting; but Balthazar doesn't mind.
Neither of them is who they were back then, and everyone deserves the chance to acquire a new life and a new family to live for.
Centuries after finally fulfilling his purpose, Balthazar Blake finds, to his mild surprise, that he is still alive. He's no less rootless than before-- his one anchor these days is Dave's compound on Beaumonde-- but he has no purpose left to move him. So he trusts to chance instead.
Chance takes him to Persephone on a day when an older-model Firefly named Serenity is advertising. Without putting much thought into it, he succumbs to the pretty barker's offer and books passage on the boat.
Sitting down to dinner that night is like taking a walk back through the pages of history. The destined protector who'd lost his way, then found it again after trial and anguish: he sits at the head of the table, warrior woman at his side. The brilliant young man who'd sacrificed his own potential in an attempt to save his family: he's here, too, laughing as he teases his sister. The muscle with a heart of gold, older than anyone in his career has a right to be: he's also here, seated amongst the family he's found for himself, munching on an apple and smiling at his Captain's joke.
And at the table's foot: beauty, elegance, and poise. Dark hair above creamy skin and an elegant dress. For a moment, he's too choked with memory to speak. He'd lost Veronica in the final exodus from Earth-that-Was; she'd sacrificed herself to ensure the survival of as many refugees as possible.
He'd wanted to stay, too. She hadn't let him, leaving him unconscious in Dave's care. And now he is here: transfixed once more by an incandescent spirit.
Inara Serra looks up to meet his gaze-- and then she smiles.
Enchanted, he smiles back.
Even in the midst of darkness, there is always a light to be found.