AN: this chapter went through a minor change after initial posting to include a bit different path for Percival. I apologize for doing this, but for the story to move forward it needed to be done.
Lyrics from "Crystal" by Stevie Nicks are used in this chapter to help set the mood. I don't own them or Merlin.
Do you always trust your first initial feeling
Special knowledge holds truth, bears believing
I turned around
And the water was closing all around
Like a glove
Like the love that had finally, finally found me
~Stevie Nicks, Crystal
A soft beeping and a blinking light had Leon sighing and untangling himself from the sheets. Reluctantly, she let him go. She watched him for a moment, as his graceful, naked form walked across the small room to the chest that held his clothing. Closing her eyes, she tried not to think about what they had learned.
After dressing, Leon turned on the small computer display in his quarters. "There's a message from Gwaine. We need to return immediately."
Laney sat up and drew the sheets around her protectively. Returning to Earth would mean facing the truth, and delivering the news to Martha and Merlin about what had been discovered. It was not something she was looking forward to.
"Where the hell are ya?!" Gwaine's voice yelled through the communications system.
"I was under the impression that I wasn't needed for a while." Leon said in exasperation.
"Well, plans change. We've got a window and Merlin wants us to be ready to take it, ASAP. How long 'til you join us?"
"We're approaching Earth's upper atmosphere now. We should be on the ground in about thirty minutes." Leon disconnected the communication as he felt Laney's hands wrap around his torso. Finding her fingers, he threaded his own in between the spaces.
He looked over his shoulder into her warm, brown eyes.
"At least, you're still the immortal space boy, right?" She whispered against the bare skin of his shoulder blade.
Leon nodded and squeezed her hand.
"Make sure the other guys come back home, too."
"I will. When we do return, we'll figure this out, Elaine."
Chuckling against him, she asked, "Why can't you just call me Laney, like everyone else?"
"Because, I love your name. Just as I love you." He turned around in her arms and kissed her deeply.
She bit back a snicker and shook her head at the cheesy line. "Fracking romance novel hero." She wouldn't admit out loud how, deep down, she enjoyed nearly every minute of it. "Mmm. Well, we still have half an hour, right?"
"I need to send a message to Heimdall first, to check on the status of the Asgard ship that was sent to Celestis. Then, I'm all yours."
He felt like he had on his first day at Stargate Command. He stood and stared up in awe at the crystalline Stargate. He had seen it dozens of times since coming to the cave to save Merlin's life, but the air in place felt different today. For the first time, he knew they would be actually activating it.
Anticipation. Anxiety. Excitement. He was ready for it, and nervous at the same time. It wasn't as if they were going to just any planet in their galaxy. Instead, they would be going straight for Celestis...the heart of the Ori's power.
Percival was rechecking the supplies for their backpacks and the ammo counts for their weapons. Mickey would stay behind. The young man had a way with computers, and had learned the systems in the Crystal Cave better than any of the rest of them. It would be his job to stand watch against incoming threats if the Gate was discovered, or to call for outside help if it was need.
Torchwood was on standby to back them up if need be, and many of the defense activations had been routed through to the Hub. Once the wormhole was activated and connected to the Gate address that Morgana had given Merlin, the Ori - if Jackson's plan didn't succeed - would know that there was a Gate on Earth with the power to open a wormhole to another galaxy.
It was going to work, Gwaine told himself. They would go through, and kick the asses of the followers of Origin, while Jackson did his own thing to hopefully wipe out the Ori.
Gwaine had one thing left to do, and it was not a task he was looking forward to. He knew that once he made the call, someone outside their circle might have a clue about what they were planning to do. In his mind, in a flash of a memory, he saw Eira sitting on his bed and looking concerned that he was leaving; asking him where he was going.
Cursing at himself, he shook the thought away and reminded himself that Carolyn probably knew more than he did at this point. If he didn't call to at least let her know he was going to be out of touch for a while, he knew he could kiss what remained of their relationship goodbye.
Bringing up her number on his phone, he hit the call button and stepped outside the Crystal Cave while he waited for her to pick up.
His heart sank when he reached her voicemail. Glancing at the clock, Gwaine realized she was probably doing her morning rounds at the SGC. He hung up and redialed, deciding he would at least leave a message for her, in case he didn't have the time to call her back before they left.
How the faces of love have changed,
Turning the pages
And I have changed oh,
but you...you remain ageless*
Strong, slender arms slipped around her waist. A slightly scruffy chin under a mop of dark hair came to rest upon her shoulder with a sigh. She tilted her head to the side and closed her eyes, as his lips kissed gently along the length of her neck.
"I want to go." She said breathlessly. The lips halted and a huff of hot breath escaped.
"Martha..." He half-groaned against her skin.
"But, I won't, because of the baby."
"I know. If..." He sighed again. His hands moved lower to cover the slight bulge. The life inside her glowed brightly in his mind's eye. "Even with the baby, if you really want to..."
"No." Martha felt him relax the moment she said it. "You need to focus on the mission. I think I understand that a bit more now. I am just so worried about if you need a doctor with you, or...being left to be a single mother. I don't want to be a single mother, Merlin."
"I don't want you to be, either. If the worst should happen and..." His arms tightened, pulling her possessively against his chest. He chuckled softly. "My mother was amazing, and you would be, too."
"Do you think about her a lot?"
Merlin shook his head and stared out the windows in front of him. "Until recently, I don't think I'd allowed myself to."
"What happened to her?"
"Did I never tell you?"
"No." She wetted her lips and waited for him to talk.
"Hmm. Well, I'd been abroad on the continent. Peace treaties, wars...whatever we did back then. It was after Leon had disappeared. I know that, but I can't tell you how long afterward or anything. I came back home to find out that Ealdor had been ransacked by some upstart warlord. By the time I reached the village, there was nothing left."
She shivered at his voice, devoid of emotion, as he told the story. Typically, there was feeling behind every story he told; a passion that was part of what kept him going year after year, century after century. It was odd to hear him being so detached about something like his mother.
"I used magic to see if she'd been among those taken prisoner, but couldn't find any sort of sign... of anything." He chuckled, but there was no joy in the sound.
She wondered if he was even paying attention to his own words, as he continued. He was in different world, as he relived the memories.
"I think I'd become used to that. If it was someone I cared about, my magic was never able to find them after something tragic had happened." He inhaled abruptly and rolled his shoulders, forcing the melancholy away. He moved back to their original conversation. "You know, I'd love to have you at my side for this, right? I know our life together hasn't turned out anything like we thought."
"Maybe not. But, I think it's actually better." She placed a hand over his.
"You know, out of all my wives, I really think you are the only one who could have ever understood me like this, and have a clue about what I'm going through." He tried to bring up memories of the others, wondering how they would have reacted to all of this, and the fact he was about to leave through a gateway to another galaxy. Even Mithian might have had a hard time with this one.
"If you ever happen to see that Doctor friend of yours again, be sure to tell him I said thanks."
He grinned impishly and nibbled on her neck. "Letting you get away."
"Ha! Alright, I will."
They fell quiet, just watching the drizzling rain outside the window together. "I'm going to miss you. I think I've gotten rather used to being around you so much lately. Don't know what I'm going to do without you."
"I'm sure you'll manage." He heard his phone beeping an alert from a nearby table. He glanced at it, his eyes glazing over for a second as if he was thinking about ignoring it. Then, he nodded to himself and came back into the moment. "I better go get Arthur."
He smiled as he pulled away.
I turned around
And water, was closing around me
Like a glove
Like the love that had finally, finally found me
Then I knew
In the crystalline knowledge of you
Drove me through the mountains
Through the crystal-like clear water fountain
Drove me like a magnet
To the sea*
"I don't care if it's a lie, or that we really have no idea about anything out there. You're going to come home to me, right?" Thin fingers wrapped around his neck and threaded through his hair.
Gwen's soulful eyes held his blue ones. He could feel what she was truly asking for. She wanted hope, plain and simple. Arthur gave her a loving smile. "Of course I am."
Merlin stood off to the side and watched his friends from the corner of his eye. He and Martha had already said her goodbyes, and she had decided to stay back at the house with Laney and the kids.
He was grateful for that. As much as he loved her, he needed to focus on the task at hand.
The Ancient Moros, residing in Daniel Jackson's body, had a plan, and Merlin had given him the final piece needed to complete the weapon that would hopefully wipe out all Ascended beings in the Ori's galaxy.
All that was left, was for Jackson to come through on his part and convince the SGC to shut down their link from the Pegasus Galaxy to the Supergate in the Milky Way. At the same time that Jackson planned to dial out and send a ship through with the weapon, Merlin and the knights planned to go through the Stargate in the Crystal Cave to the Ori's homeworld of Celestis.
It was Merlin's hope that the human followers of the Ori would be caught up in panic and confusion over losing their masters, and not notice them coming through to find the captured dragon. The whole plan was flimsy at best, and hinged on a piece of technology that no one knew for certain would work.
Mickey's voice broke through his thoughts. "I hate to break up the party, but we've got an intercepted message. The Supergate wormhole has disconnected. There's an Ori ship - probably the one with Jackson on board- about to go through."
"This is it, then!" Gwaine grinned and cocked his weapon.
Merlin took a long, deep breath. His mind was centered, and he allowed himself to be truly quiet for the first time in months.
He felt a small smile forming. Despite his revulsion at knowing what the staff was, he had pushed past that and found the connection to the dragonkin through it. The power was there, calling to him just below the surface. It was weak compared to what he remembered of Kilgharrah, but the magic of the dragon inside it was undeniable.
He thought about Aithusa and wondered if he would be able to survive walking through the wormhole. Merlin was more prepared to deal with the assault of emotions and pain this time, or at least, he hoped he was.
Arthur and Leon would be going through first, to provide cover against any of the followers of Origin who might be guarding the gate; followed by Percival, himself, and Gwaine bringing up the rear.
Gwaine was in his own version of BDUs, the Battle Dress Uniform that was a standard in modern day military, but no longer needing to maintain the strict code of the SGC. Merlin allowed himself a slight grin, just the barest upturn at the corner of his mouth, thinking about his friend and descendant. He still couldn't believe how Fate had played her cards on that account.
Nervous but solid, Arthur stood ready to go. He also wore BDUs, similar to Gwaine's, but with one major exception. At his hip, hung his sword. Arthur had never officially named it, nor had Merlin. It was Gwen who had given the sword its name, and it wasn't until they had all come back together that she revealed she had guessed the origins of the sword long ago.
The former queen had confided to Merlin that she had recognized how similar it had been to the piece crafted by her father, and that was the name he had given it.
Leon was dressed as he normally was, not feeling the need to change his outfit to match his companions; pulse gun at his side, and various other weapons hidden on his person. After centuries of running and smuggling, he'd picked up more than a few tricks in the name of survival.
After training with Torchwood and sailing the stars with Leon, Percival had adopted his own manner of dress somewhere in between the others. He nodded at Merlin, signaling his readiness to depart.
Taking another series of deep breaths, Merlin opened his eyes and glanced at his companions. It was time and they were ready.
Reaching for the power within himself and extending out to tap into the power of the surrounding crystals, he focused his magic into the staff. It wrapped around and through the crystallized, infantile dragon at the head of the staff, and the power began to multiply.
When he felt it was enough, he called up a visual in his mind's eye of the Gate address Morgana had given him, and began feeding the power out through his hand and into the Stargate.
Unlike the Stargate at the SGC, this one was composed of crystals. There wasn't any loud grinding of metal circles and clanking of chevrons locking into place. The computing programs were within the crystals themselves, not an external Dial Home Device, or DHD, as those in the SGC called it.
One by one, the symbols of the address came to life. He could almost hear Walter's voice from the SGC calling out each one, even though Merlin had only been aparty to the Master Sergeant's annoucements a couple of times.
Chevron five, encoded. Six, encoded. Seven...normally the final one that locked into place to open the outgoing wormhole...came and went. Encoded, but not locked. Chevron eight lit up, locked, and the whole device came to life.
With a loud whoosh, the bulbous wave of power spouted forth from the ring, before it settled back into the event horizon. For a moment, Merlin pondered how it resembled the surface of a lake. Slight ripples cascaded across the glassy surface. They reminded him fleetingly of Avalon. He wondered about the significance of that lake, and his own personal history of sending those he loved through the mist to the other side.
Aithusa was on the other side. He stamped down the anxious energy that threatened to well up inside of him.
Mickey sent a remote camera through the Gate first, and they waited. They held their breath, ready or not, for whatever was on the other side.
Arthur and Leon were looking over Mickey's shoulder at the visual display. Arthur pointed at something, glanced at Leon, and they nodded in agreement. Moving in front of Merlin, he drew his sword and smiled.
The other three realized they weren't going to be filled in on Arthur's battle plan for the other side of the Gate. As it had been in the past, it was assumed that they would follow Arthur's lead.
They shared a look of amusement when the former king swung his sword in wide arch and gave a familiar battle cry. "On me!"