A fight with the Crystal Gems has left Peridot cracked within an inch of her life. Trapped on Earth, with no one and no way to get home, Peridot's all but given up hope. But she doesn't know the lengths Steven is willing to go to in order to keep her alive.


10. 10

Steven pictured it like the revolving door he’d once seen in the city. Tourmaline surrendered their consciousness, passing quietly into one end of the spinning passage as Steven pressed his weight from the other side. It spun for him, his sight and hearing and smell sharpening like a front of heat after stepping into the sunlight. And beside him, Tourmaline passed the other way into the senseless recesses of their shared mind.

He felt a stab of guilt in his now-existent stomach. Steven could sense the ebb of abject failure move out with them. They’d been created for the purpose of resolving an unsolvable problem. And when that failed, Tourmaline had just been used as a puppet—their mouth used to make threats that weren’t theirs, their body used to do harm they never wanted. In control only for a few minutes, taken over by Peridot, in control, taken over by Steven. Tourmaline had been reduced to a vessel whose own thoughts and feelings were shunted aside by the very people who created them.

Sorry, Tourmaline… Steven thought. I’ll find a way to make it up to you.

It was a fleeting thought, It had to be, as Steven became aware of his new body, his new surroundings.

These legs were bulky, heavy. They moved with a clunk in every step. His single arm scared him. Clenching only his left fist sent thrills of panic down his borrowed spine. There existed a steady ache where his right arm stumped. It brought a small whine of pain to his lips, which he swallowed down. He shivered, remembering the first time he saw Peridot reemerge. One arm stumped, the other gone completely. It bred anxiety in his stomach.

With small tilts of his head, Steven looked side to side. They’d warped in his mental absence. Knots of green bushes and heady grass flanked them on all sides. Trees dripping with the wilted dregs of summer flowers, ground peppered with the flakes of red and orange foliage the signaled the start of fall. Steven’s whole world had bled to iridescent green. It was splintered by a crack in the center of Tourmaline’s visor. Garnet and Amethyst walked to his left, Greg and Pearl to his right. Steven felt himself stiffen as he made direct eye-contact with Pearl.

Hatred burned there. Pure hatred.

He stared back a moment longer, mystified. It unsettled his stomach to see such raw disdain in her face. Pearl, who kissed his booboos better. Pearl, who read him bedtime stories and did the voices for him even if they were never right. He knew she was strong; he knew she was a soldier, but seeing that pure rage directed at him felt…surreal. Teeth clenched, eyes blazing and streaked with drying tears, every nerve in her body taut and prepared.

Steven looked away. He noticed after a moment he’d stopped breathing.

They still think I’m Peridot, he remembered. Steven glanced down to his single gloved hand. Tourmaline’s, he supposed. Or maybe no one’s—a costume to be thrown around and yanked on and shed until it broke down entirely. He fought down the bubbling terror in his gut at the thought of it.

He shunted those fears to the back of his mind. He had to think. He needed something, a strategy, a way forward.

He had…nothing.

No plan. No grasping tricks. He had control of Tourmaline, sure, but that meant less than nothing when he had no influence over the Gems. Everything he’d tried had failed. All his begging and pleading had gotten him nowhere, worse than nowhere. It’d earned him nothing but conflict.

And now, Steven had nothing else to say. He had only Peridot’s pained apology echoing in his mind, and he knew he couldn’t explain it the way he’d experienced it. He couldn’t find a shred of faith in his ability to show them what he’d seen. Not now that Peridot had threatened his life directly.

Another dusting of murky sand clinked down his visor. It didn’t startle Steven. He only wondered absently how much of Peridot’s gem had been lost to these tiny, eroded cascades.

Garnet. He looked to her next. It took an obvious twist of his head, and he felt himself unable to search her face. He only looked to the cluster of tiny gem shards rebubbled in Garnet’s hand.

He twisted to Amethyst, who looked almost comically stunted beneath Peridot’s two mechanical arms. Steven hadn’t been entirely conscious of the demands Peridot made when she took control of Tourmaline, but some small part of him recalled her screaming about the Gems bringing along her arms for her after she healed.

“Look, uh, Peridot. We’re not gonna try anything. Really.” Greg jogged up closer. Apprehension widened his eyes. He looked from Pearl, to Garnet, to Amethyst, tracing out the path Steven’s gaze had taken. “Steven staying safe is the most important thing to us. We wouldn’t risk trying to double cross you or anything. W-we’re almost there.”

“O-oh. Okay,” Steven answered. He hid his face away, finding interest in the chalky ground beneath his feet. It hurt him, seeing that fear in his dad’s eyes.

It’s me! It’s Steven again! Please stop worrying. I’m okay! Peridot and I worked it out and great news, she’s changed her mind about…killing me.

He buried the thought, fighting every urge to scream it aloud. The Gems were cooperating now, only because they believed Peridot held his life in her hands.

Steven looked forward. The fountain bloomed nearer. A stiff, warm cliffside to the left, wide blue skies on the right. It had been overcast back home—Steven was sure of it. Here though, the clouds had slipped away. In the center sat her fountain. The stone Rose towered high at its center. Her arms were spread out, open. They were passive and kind and welcoming. Pale, pink streams of water washed from her eyes. They rippled in the fountain below, their currents revealed by the swirling dance of flower petals caught in the flow.

He could run and dive into the fountain, take the Gems by surprise. He could split from Peridot underwater, and hope she’d have enough sense to bolt away in the confusion. Maybe she could get away then, fly off—maybe—out of harm’s reach.

It meant trusting a lot to uncertainty, Steven realized with a tight-throated swallow.

He could order the Gems to back away, stay back two hundred feet while he approached the fountain. That would definitely give Peridot the headstart she needed. They’d listen to him too, so long as he still pretended to be her. As long as he lied to them, and threatened himself.

The thought of putting them through that brought guilty tears to his eyes.

He blinked them back. His heart beat faster as the fountain approached, as time thinned. Even if he did that, even if Peridot could get away, it left the hollow certainty in his gut that it wasn’t enough. He hadn’t convinced anyone of anything. The Gems would never stop looking for her. She’d live out the rest of her days on Earth hunted and scared and constantly looking over her shoulder. It wouldn’t be enough. Nothing Steven could think of would be enough.

I’m sorry. I’m really sorry… Steven searched inside his mind, but Peridot had vanished. He couldn’t tell when she’d stopped paying attention, but it drove it home with a pang to his gut that she really had given up hope. He felt so suddenly alone in his head.

“Alright Peridot, this is Rose’s fountain. Not that you should even be here,” Pearl said with a nasty bite to her voice. Steven saw her teeth grinding inside her closed mouth. Her empty fingers twitched, stir-crazy without a weapon to grasp. “…But it’s for Steven.” She turned to him, vicious eyes boring into his. “I’ll remind you that if you do anything to hurt him once you’re healed, we will crack your gem for good. And we will do it slowly, piece at a time. Maybe we will heal you along the way, and therefore you can live every day in agony, for millennia, until we finally shatter you through. The war made me creative, Peridot. I don’t make empty threats: I swear on my honor as a knight of Rose Quartz.”

A shudder of horror worked its way through Steven’s commandeered body. He dropped his eyes, trying to scrub the visual from his mind. “Yeah, I wouldn’t… I’m not…” Steven quieted. He couldn’t find the words Peridot would use. Her voice was lost to him, her thinking gone. His head swam in isolation.

Garnet stepped forward. The bubble popped, and she offered a stiff hand forward. Somehow, her silence burned harder against Steven’s heart than Pearl’s threats. “Heal yourself, and then release Steven. That’s our deal.”

Amethyst eyed Garnet before moving forward. A forced calm settled on her face, eyes dull and mouth tight. “Yeah, and here are your gross robot arms, fresh from the Kindergarten muck.” Amethyst spread her arms wide. The two mechanical limbs collapsed into the dirt with a metal clunk. “Want me to spit-shine ‘em too?”

“Uh… no?” Steven cowed under the Gems’ aggressive gazes. He looked instead to his dad as the beginnings of tears pricked at his eyes. “And uh are you gonna let…me escape, once I’ve unfused from Steven?”

Greg stared back. The fear ebbed from his face; it tightened instead, eyes suddenly narrowed. He leaned forward. Steven looked away.

“Of course,” Garnet answered. “We care about Steven far more than we care about cracking you.”

She’s lying, a little voice whispered in Steven’s head. He could sense the edge to her voice. She’s not gonna let Peridot escape after this. But it’s not like she’d tell you that. Not when you’re supposed to be Peridot, and you have Steven “hostage.”

Not enough. Nothing would be.

Steven edged to the fountain. He skimmed his remaining hand over the stone wall, about a foot high. It was cold, bumped with jagged ruts and seams. He breathed in deeply, and the soft floral air stole his mind away.

Something was pushed beneath his eyes. He focused, startled, at Garnet’s hand. She offered the gem shards without a word. Steven struggled to find his voice. “O-oh. Oh yeah. Thank you.” He gathered the shards in his hand and cradled them to his stomach. It brought him back to the previous night, with Peridot’s shattered gem housed in his folded shirt. It felt a lifetime ago.

“Hey, uh, Peridot?” Greg. Steven looked up at his dad. Greg’s eyes were piercing, but not unkind. “Y-you know, I wasn’t so certain about you at first. But I’m starting to think—you know, we all mess up. And make mistakes. Sometimes we don’t understand things until it’s too late. Maybe we rushed this… I mean, i-it’s kind of a saying-- If every porkchop were perfect—“

“—we wouldn’t have hotdogs,” Steven answered in quiet monotone. It came so naturally, a default response. The realization hit him a half second later, and he stiffened. Eyes wide, face alert, he searched the Gems. They’d all frozen. New eyes stared at him in disbelief.

“Steven…” Garnet breathed.

Pearl clapped her hands together. Hope broke clear over her voice. “You got it back! You did it Steven! I knew you could—Unfuse now! Before it’s too late! Who knows when she’ll come back?! Quick, Steven.”

“Yeah man!” Amethyst jammed her hand out for a high-five. It hung there, unreciprocated, as Steven pressed himself back against the fountain. His head shook rhythmically.

Pearl’s face fell slowly. “…Steven?” She swept an arm out. “Do it now, Steven! Unfuse now!”

His held-back tears finally rolled to his cheeks. Steven gave a quick glance to his broken, monstrous body before looking up again. His voice was hardly a whisper. “You don’t get it… She apologized. She apologized to me. And gave it back. And gave up.” He swallowed, and tried to ignore the open horror on Pearl’s face. “I could feel that—linked to me—that decision to give up living. You can’t understand…”

“Steven,” it was Garnet now, speaking through clenched teeth, “how long have you been in control?”

“O-only a few minutes!” he answered hurriedly.

“I knew it…” Greg whispered from the back. Amethyst spared a second’s glance to him before focusing on Steven.

“Dude, ‘a few minutes’? That’s like--a freaking eternity for us here!” She threw her pleading arms out. “You know how many seconds that was where I thought you were gonna die? Every single second I thought you were dead, man! And I couldn’t do anything about it!”

Steven opened and shut his mouth a few times. Loss wormed its way into his heart. He felt useless, he felt cruel. It spread to shaking in his single arm. Imploringly, he looked to Pearl.

“It’s…It’s not like that. No one gets it. I never wanted… This—This is all wrong, guys. I didn’t mean for it…” His eyes shifted among the Gems and his dad. “…Guys?”

Pearl tooka  step back. Her trembling hands tightened to fists at her side. Suddenly taller, suddenly colder. “What’s wrong with you, Steven?” Pearl asked. And the hurt in her voice cut deeper than any anger.

“…I can’t believe you.” Garnet was hardly audible. She kept her head lowered, angled to the side, as if she couldn’t stand the sight of him. Steven noted a tremor that worked its way into her clenched fists. “Everything you’ve done today. Peridot. Fusing. Letting us believe…that we—that I…” She backed away and pressed a finger to the center of her shades. “I’ve never been so disappointed in you, Steven. Maybe we were wrong about this…Maybe you can’t handle the responsibility of the Rose Quartz gem.”

The words came like the lash of a whip. Steven flinched. All the doubt that had been whirling in his mind crashed over his body at that second. He’d done everything wrong. He’d ruined everything. He’d hurt them. It choked up his lungs and sprung tears from his eyes.

Until his mind flooded with confusion at the sound of a small, sad chuckle from Pearl. He looked to her, Amethyst and Garnet too. Her eyes were lost in the distance. They were soft again. A gentle blue, the kind Steven remembered. Alertness returned to Pearl’s face, and a fierce blush crawled along her cheeks.

“S-sorry,” she muttered. “It’s just—I-I remember…they said just that to Rose. So many Gems turned their back on her when she…declared she had every intention of fighting for Earth’s protection.” A near imperceptible smile pulled at her lips. “She’d told me ahead of time; I was prepared. I understood her reasons, but so many other Gems didn’t. I heard it in the whispers…that maybe she wasn’t fit to lead. Maybe she’d cracked under the pressure. Maybe she’d hated her troops all this time.” She twisted her hands together. The distant, nostalgic smile on her face dropped. Her mouth grew firm, and her eyes dropped. “I…can’t believe I’d forgotten. Taking the brunt of their hurt and their hate, from the people she loved. I’d forgotten how much I…admired her for that.”

Pearl took a step forward. Past Amethyst, past Greg, past Garnet. She stopped just shy of the Tourmaline body, staring into eyes she recognized as Steven’s. She reached a hand out to his cheek, and pressed her palm there gently as Steven’s face twisted with fresh tears. “Rose was so…flawless, in my eyes. I forgot anyone could doubt her. I forgot how strong she was when everyone turned on her.” She wrapped her other arm around Steven’s back, and pulled the fusion in. “I’m hurt, Steven. We’re all hurt. …But you never wanted that. You’re Steven. You’d never want anyone hurt.”

A sob broke from Steven’s mouth, and he buried himself into Pearl. His cries echoed, hard and heavy. All the pent up anxiety and fear exploded outward. He leaned in harder and found support in Pearl’s grasp.

Amethyst stepped forward. Her eyes shot from side to side, a guilty timid hunch entering her figure. “I uh…I knew Pearl was the smart one for a reason.” She busied her eyes in a particular stone on the ground. “What are we doing yelling at you, huh? You’ve had it worse than any of us. Just for…tryin’ save someone’s life. You really are Rose’s kid, aren’t you?” She looked up, pushing herself to her tiptoes. Amethyst patted a hand against the matted dark green hair on Steven’s head.

Pearl released him. Steven found his own footing. His breaths came in hiccupping bursts, and he fought to find his composure as he glanced up. Garnet had moved forward, closer, intent on him. Steven pressed the gem shards closer to his stomach. His breath caught.

Garnet fell to her knees, and grabbed him close to her. Steven’s heart fluttered.

“What am I doing?” she breathed into his hair. “The clusters, Peridot, Homeworld—I’m angry, Steven. I’ve felt lost. I’ve felt scared. I’ve felt useless ever since we found them…a-all these years, thousands and thousands of years they’ve been here, and I’ve done nothing for them. I’ve been angry. Angry at Homeworld. Angry at Peridot. Angry at myself.” Her arms tightened around Steven’s back. “…But not at you. Never at you, Steven. …I’ve made you do such terrible things today.” she pulled him closer as she spoke. “How can you forgive me?”

Steven eased away from her. Tremors of relief racked his body, and he smiled at her. He grasped the gem shards in his palm, and used the back of his hand to wipe away the tears from Garnet’s face.

“By talking,” Steven answered. “…By finally talking to me.”

Greg’s hand came down hard on Steven’s shoulder. He turned, and found his dad’s beaming eyes brimming with tears. “Why’d I ever have to fall in love with a woman as brave and selfless as your mother? Why’d our kid have to take after her instead of being a big old scaredy coward like me?” He wrapped Steven in another hug. “Gave me quite a scare there, kiddo…”

“I’m not super brave like Mom was, Dad…” Steven answered breathlessly. “I’ve been so scared this whole time.”

“That just makes you super brave,” Amethyst answered. Her eyes dropped to Steven’s chipping gem. “But maybe go for something a little less stupid next time. Dive in that fountain before you turn into sand, dude.”

Steven nodded. He disentangled himself, backed up a few steps, and swung one leg over the fountain’s edge. The next followed, until he stood about a foot deep in the pool’s periphery. He glanced toward the center, noting how the fountain’s floor sloped downward, deepest toward the middle. He waded out, step by step, as the currents lapped higher. The water surface broke in ripples. A jolt rocked through his body as the ring of water around his waist lapped at the edges of his gem. The Rose Quartz gem glowed instantly, its webbing cracks receding into nothing. The pains he’d buried vanished in part. The exhaustion pulling at his gut loosened. He felt alive, restored, renewed.

And Peridot’s gem…

Steven froze. The other Gems did too as an edge of tinny static broke over the air. Steven felt a singing echo to the noise in his right arm, like a phantom limb. Nothing there, but something calling to it.

…ishing contact. Signal received. Crystal System Peridot, do you copy? Crystal System Peridot.

Steven spun in the fountain. He looked toward the edge, eyes falling instantly to the two dropped limbs in the dirt there. One of them sung out with the same signal.

Attempting to establish contact. Crystal System Peridot, do you copy? Crystal System Peridot.

Silence, thick and heavy, followed the radio sequence.

“Why’s it doing that?” Amethyst hissed. She was met with a harsh shh from Pearl and Garnet both. The voice on the other line stirred something inside Steven, something he knew wasn’t his. An alertness. A hope. He raced back to the Gems as fast as he could in the sluggish water.

He caught only a quick glance of the four frozen faces surrounding the mutilated limbs before Tourmaline snagged back control.

Greg backed away from the piece. He put his hands up and out before twisting to Garnet and whispering. “What’s happening? Who’s that? What does it want?”

“The radio transmodulator has picked up a signal from a Homeworld Gem,” Tourmaline breathed as they set one foot out of the fountain. The Gems and Greg looked to Tourmaline with lost faces. The change in tone, the knowledge of Peridot’s systems, a silent understanding settled over them that Steven was no longer in control.

“T-tourmaline?” Amethyst tiptoed around the arm, sidling up beside the fusion. Her wide, panicked eyes shot between the limb and Tourmaline. “What’s that even mean? Explain it please because I am fa-reaking out a little.”

“It…it doesn’t make sense,” Tourmaline whispered back. Their mind whirled with impossibilities. A tempest of fear and hope swamped their thoughts as the static crackled. “None at all. There needs to be a functioning warp pad to carry a signal from Homeworld.”

“We destroyed those,” Pearl hissed. She summoned a fresh spear from her gem and drew it tight to her chest.

“That’s why it doesn’t make sense. Steven helped you destroy the Homeworld Warp, and Peridot never fixed it again. It’s down.” Tourmaline quieted, stiffened, a spark flickering across their cracked eyes. “Unless…”

“Unless what?” Garnet asked. She drew her gauntlets, but uncertainty kept her from smashing the signing limb.

“Unless…” Tourmaline shivered at the thought, for both fear and excitement. The wind was cold on their wet skin, hollow in their ringing ears. “It’s a local signal.”

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