Tourmaline

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.

http://archiveofourown.org/works/4409723/chapters/10015133

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11. 11

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

Steven landed hard on his hands and knees. He let out a small oomf, even if his lungs and voice weren’t technically there. It came as a reflex to the sudden fall from control. He looked up, blinking the disorientation from his body as he found himself back in the fuzzy, not-so-real matrix of their shared mind.

A sharp motion caught his attention. Peridot startled at the intrusion. She was still lying on her side, but her eyes flew open. She flinched as Steven crashed beside her, before scrambling to get her stump of an arm under her for support in a fit of adrenaline-fueled panic.

“What- What are you doing here?! What happened?!” Her words echoed raw with static. Steven gave her form a once over, noting with a pit of fear in his stomach that her cracks had gouged deeper, and her form had blurred.

“I-I’m sorry,” he choked out. Steven crawled backwards. A seed of heavy, twisting failure knotted in him. “I couldn’t heal your gem in time.”

A shade of alertness dropped from Peridot’s eyes. Peridot gave a quick glance to Steven’s healed gem, almost with disinterest. She lowered herself flat to the hazy ground again. “Then leave me alone. I wanna die in peace.”

Steven didn’t budge though. He sat there, immobile, uncertain. It bred a thick tension between the two, one Peridot couldn’t willfully ignore. Peridot cracked her eyes open and searched his face. Confusion and terrified uncertainty bled through to her mind—emotions that weren’t her own. She inhaled deeply in hopes of stirring her failing matrix. “…What happened?” she clipped out, as if it pained her to even ask.

“I-I-I was gonna do it. I had to be careful about it because all your gem shards and everything—if I lost one maybe it wouldn’t work. I was being slow. And then your arms—you remember how you told Amethyst to bring your arms?—they uh…see I don’t really know but…”

“Spit it out!” Peridot answered. She jerked her head forward, body still pressed to the floor.

It picked up a signal someone’s talking to it!” Steven shielded his hands over his head and squeezed his eyes shut. He froze, then cracked one eye open to Peridot.

Peridot didn’t answer. She blinked. She waited. Against better judgement, Peridot shoved herself bolt upright. “WHAT?!”

Steven hopped back. He stumbled to his feet and all but pinwheeled away. Peridot’s voice rang in his ears with an intensity he hadn’t thought possible in the mindspace.

“A…Homeworld signal, I think.”

He watched, almost awestruck, as Peridot’s remaining limbs shoved and kicked against the ground. A flailing, fading, uncoordinated mess, she got herself standing before all but tipping over. Steven jumped forward and grabbed her half-arm to keep her upright.

“A signal. A signal?! Impossible that’s impossible there’s no warp to carry across it’d have to…” She rocked. Steven tightened his grip and pulled against the weight of her body. “…be here… It means they’re here. It means they came back they came back for me.”

She yanked and swung her arm in wild loops, grabbing for freedom away from Steven.

“Peridot, you’re gonna hurt yourself worse!” Steven whined. He endured the desperate tugging, knocked left and right like a chew toy. “You disconnected yourself from me now you’re just hurting your gem!”

“Get off me I don’t care!” One final, savage swing of her arm sent Steven off. “I need to take back control! I need to talk to them!”

Peridot moved forward, attempting a run as her head swung side to side in search of the front view. Steven scrambled after her. He threw himself at her leg and tackled her in a rolling fit of limbs and (form Peridot) curses. He endured a few ungraceful kicks to his face.

“Peridot, stop! I gave Tourmaline control; let them handle it!”

Why?!” Peridot waved her useless stump as Steven dragged himself closer to her face, hands still clamped around her trapped body.

“Because I’m not letting you tell Homeworld to come back and hurt us!” He sat himself firmly on top of her. She flung another string of curses at him as he crossed his arms. “I made Tourmaline to handle this, and that’s what they’re gonna do.”

“They’re gonna get me killed!”

“Why would they do that?” Steven asked with an edge to his voice. “They’re half you…”

Steven tried to ignore the way the vigor and life drained from Peridot’s body. She went limp, face to the floor, and gave up the fight.

“It’s only fair,” Steven said quietly.

He breathed in deep, steeled himself, fighting the worming panic in his chest as Peridot whined and cried into the imaginary ground.

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

“Okay so staring at this thing is fun and all,” Amethyst spoke in a clipped, panicked whisper. She’d sidled up beside Garnet, both hands clamped painfully tight to Garnet’s leg, “but what do we do what’s it mean what do we tell it? Garnet, come on.”

Garnet took to only small shakes of her head, before shifting her attention to Tourmaline. They returned the stare, nodded once, and pushed off from the fountain. They knelt down in the mulchy dirt. Tourmaline pressed their hand to the ground, and with gentle care they dropped Peridot’s gem shards. The bits of stone clinked together like a wind chime, existing for only a second. Cautiously, they tapped their fingers against the disconnected limb. It whined with a burst of white static, feedback.

“…This is Crystal System Peridot,” Tourmaline said. “I copy.”

They looked up to the Gems, mouth shut, eyes wide, and shook their head in large, exaggerated arcs. They glanced back to the limb before looking to the Gems and aggressively mouthing No I’m not…

“Crystal System Peridot, this is Crystal System Commander Cinnabar. Do you copy?”

“Yes, Crystal System Commander Cinnabar,” Tourmaline answered. They stuck their single hand to their forehead in salute, despite no visual connection to the voice.

“Mission status?”

“U-uh…mission failed, for the most part. Ship is down, status unknown. Informant and Escort are gone, status unknown.”

“Copy, Crystal System Peridot.” There was a rustle in the communication. “We are receiving no visual. Can you confirm?”

“Yes. No visual on this end.”

“Why?”

“U-uh,” Tourmaline tripped over their words. They opened and closed their single fist, eyes scanning the Gems and Greg for some kind of signal. “My gem is cracked. I imagine that is the source of…of the technical difficulties.”

“Status?”

“…Severe,” Tourmaline answered truthfully. They crossed their legs beneath them and leaned in. They didn’t dare blink as they stared down the arm.

“We’ve received files from your database. Transferring now. Are these the data on the Crystal System Clusters?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Tourmaline answered. “Clusters are developing as expected, some ahead of schedule.”

…Well it’s nice to have one part of this monumental pain in my ass cleared up.”

“M-ma’am?” Tourmaline asked.

My branch has absorbed the Cluster Project from you. We are en-route to Earth. Expect contact in one planetary rotation.”

“Oh!” Tourmaline answered in a strangled fit of excitement and terror. Their whole body felt suddenly numb at the implications. Freedom! Death! Home! Capture! Steadily, fright won over in Tourmaline’s head as something about Cinnabar’s voice dug into their mind.

The blackbox signal from Captain Jasper’s spacecraft has also cleared transfer. Jasper claims you’ve found the Rose Quartz gem on Earth embedded in a human. Can you confirm?”

Garnet, all but silently, let a sharp hiss of air pass her teeth. Pearl clasped her spear closer. Her mouth worked in fits of unspoken words. Things she couldn’t possibly say out loud without blowing their cover. She settled on covering her mouth with a hand she loosened from her weapon. Amethyst backed away with large, disbelieving shakes of her head. Greg glanced among the Gems, but didn’t dare say anything.

Tourmaline swallowed down a few different responses. They pressed their hand to the healed gem on their stomach.

Peridot, do you copy?”

“L-loud and clear! I-I just… I cannot confirm. I am not familiar with the Rose Quartz gem. I do not know.”

Did you take hostile gems and a human prisoner? Please confirm, Crystal System Peridot.”

Tourmaline looked back to the Gems. Stressed tears eked at the edges of their eyes. She’s got Jasper’s message, Tourmaline mouthed to the others. Tourmaline saw past the Gems, to the garden beyond. The dense network of trees rustled. Rusty leaves dropped with each passing gust of wind, wilting, shriveling, dying.

Slowly, Garnet nodded her head.

“…Y-yes, ma’am. We did.”

Were they the cause of the crash?”

“I…U-unknown. The ship started losing altitude while I was piloting it. Some internal failure I-I think.”

Status of the Rose Quartz gem?”

“U-unknown.”

There was a slight crack on the other end. “What do you know, Peridot?”

Tourmaline flinched. They stared into the mechanical arms, attention drawn to the buckling metal. Harsh seams cut through and mangled them. Green chipped away, revealing rough gouges in the silver plating. Seeing the arms like this hurt Tourmaline in a way they couldn’t quite grasp. “N-not much, Crystal Commander Cinnabar. Jasper understood much better than I—uh I just…when the ship went down, I took the escape pod. That was 49 Earth rotations ago. I’ve collected the Cluster data, but I haven’t figured out anything else since.”

A sigh pierced from the other side. A moment of silence. “Attempt to locate the Rose Quartz gem. We will make contact at the crash site.”

There came a click from the limb, a momentary crackle, then heavy bleeding silence. Tourmaline slumped in on themselves. The Earth was damp and cold beneath them.

“It’s off, you know… You guys can talk,” they muttered.

Three voices started up at once, two of them quieting as Pearl’s question rang loudest.

“Who is she?” she asked with an edge of hysteria in her voice. Her hands trembled.

“Commander Cinnabar…” Tourmaline swept their hand back. They skimmed over the green shards in the dirt. Their fingers played over the sharp contours, the jagged edges. Clinking, broken, sad things.

Amethyst puffed herself upward. She swung her arms wide, and drove one fist into her open hand. “Welp. Are we ready for Homeworld butt-kicking round two?”

Tourmaline spun fiercely, still on their knees. “No!” they shouted, voice imploring. “You can’t fight Cinnabar! She’s got hundreds of Gems under her control. T-they’re not with her, but if she goes missing, they’ll know! And that’s assuming we can win,” Tourmaline scrambled to their feet, swaying with the effort, “which we can’t! Cinnabar’s been in charge of the Crystal System for like…thousands of years.”

Pearl angled her head down to the dirt. “She probably assumed command after the war.” A derisive, indulgent smirk crossed her face, and she laughed. “I can only imagine Homeworld’s opinion of someone leading the Crystal System after Rose’s rebellion. It can’t be positive.”

Tourmaline nodded. “Yeah, they’re at her neck all the time.”

Garnet shifted. She looked Tourmaline over. “You know this for a fact.”

“It’s…yeah, I just do. I guess Peridot knows?”

“And now she’s on her way here,” Garnet followed up. There was no inflection to her voice.

Tourmaline stared back into the ground. Their eyes trailed to the pile of gem shards. “She’s…she’s excited that Rose Quartz might be weak. If she can capture the gem…Well, she could earn Homeworld retribution for the War. She thinks so, at least.”

Garnet took another step to Tourmaline. She was a foot taller than Tourmaline and looked down through glaring shades. It unsettled Tourmaline, who took a step back.

“I-I’m not gonna try to double-cross you guys! I really promise.”

Garnet didn’t move. “Peridot didn’t know anything about the Rose Quartz gem when she came to Earth. Jasper alone recognized Steven’s gem. Peridot may know Cinnabar, but there is no reason for Peridot to know Cinnabar’s motives if they involve the Rose Quartz gem.”

Tourmaline blinked. They held their breath against the suddenly hostile energy. “O-oh. Are you asking me how I know that?” Tourmaline angled their head back to the pile of arms. “I heard it. Didn’t you guys? Just now.”

Pearl eyed the cluster of limbs. She narrowed her eyes. “I have an immaculate memory. …One could assume that’s why she has interest in the gem, but she didn’t say anything of the sort.”

“What are you talking about?” Tourmaline asked in a whisper. They turned to Greg. “Greg, you heard that, didn’t you? I-I don’t remember the exact quote.”

Greg only gave a small shrug. He looked to Pearl. “I didn’t. I gotta go with Pearl on this one.”

Amethyst broke into the loop. She just narrowly avoided crushing Peridot’s gem shards into the ground. “Okay but consider this: Who cares?!” She thrust her arms out. “Homeworld’s back in orbit, and we’ve got nothing. They could be here looking for a pencil they dropped 5,000 years ago and we’d still be screwed!”

Garnet stood center. She twisted to get a good view of everyone present. “We were lucky last time. It was a fluke that we were able to escape, and that was with only two Homeworld Gems opposing us. We need to evacuate Beach City, and we need to leave.

Pearl swallowed, ashen faced, and nodded. Amethyst looked lost for once, no protest rising to her lips. Greg sat down, and lowered his head in his hands. Garnet closed back in on Tourmaline and placed a gentle hand on their shoulder.

“Tourmaline, I am sorry. I am sorry for how we’ve treated you so far. I’m sorry you’ve had to exist for this reason. But we no longer have the luxury of caring about Peridot’s existence. We cannot give her back to Homeworld. We cannot put ourselves in any further danger for her sake.”

Tourmaline stared back, silent. Steadily, they brought their one hand up to Garnet’s. They rested it on top, then leaned their head against it. Sad, listless eyes scanned the ground.

“It’s not like returning her to Homeworld would help her much anyway.”

A ripple of confusion broke over the Gems and Greg. Amethyst let out a huff, crossing her arms. “Yeah, death is probably better than going back to some slave-driving evil dictatorship.”

Tourmaline angled their head back up. “No, I mean they won’t take her back. She’s cracked. told them she’s cracked…”

A beat of silence. “Elaborate,” Garnet said.

“She said it at the end of the message!” Tourmaline insisted. They stuck their pleading hand out. “I-I screwed up! I told her Peridot’s badly cracked. Now they won’t take her back! And even i-if we healed her now, then they’d know we’ve got something on Earth that magically heals gems. They think the Earth is useless! And that’d give them a reason to come back!”

Pearl shook her head. “Tourmaline, Cinnabar did not say that. I’m positive.”

“She did though! I-I didn’t imagine it.”

Greg came forward. “Tourmaline, what exactly did she say? What words did she use?”

Tourmaline opened their mouth to speak, suddenly lost. Anxiety tore at their face as they glanced among the Gems. “I-I’m not cracked through yet. I’m not that broken. I-I know what I heard. I just don’t remember…how she said it.”

“Tourmaline, look at me.” Garnet crouched by the fusion. She stared hard into their shattered eyes. A moment of silence passed, pregnant with the wind and rustle of leaves. “Now repeat to me what I told you.”

Tourmaline tilted their head, narrowed their eyes. “You said you want to get the word out to Beach City about this once we get back, so they can get as far away as possible.”

Greg glanced between the two fusion Gems. “Garnet didn’t say anything, Champ.”

Tourmaline’s eyes shot to him, offended. “I heard! She was quiet.”

“Greg is right. I didn’t say anything,” Garnet cut in.

“But you—“

“That is what I want to do though.” Garnet stared through her darkened shades, unblinking. “You understand intentions, Tourmaline. You’ve been understanding intentions this entire time.” She pulled the fusion closer. “You knew when Pearl was lying back in the house. Steven, in your body, knew when I lied about not intending to heal Peridot. Was that you who told him?”

Tourmaline nodded, looking away like a child caught eaves-dropping. “Y-yeah, I told him that.”

Garnet angled herself backwards. Her vision strayed to the fountain behind Tourmaline. Tourmaline turned with her, scanning the soft stone face at the top. Rose’s eyes were shut, but a steady flow of tears fell from them. They rippled below, spun currents, released a stream of gentle white noise.

“Rose Quartz had incredible powers of empathy. She understood emotions, and pain, and love better than any Gem before her. This is something Steven has inherited. He senses emotions; he understands others.” Garnet refocused on Tourmaline. She came closer. Through her shades, Tourmaline caught the sharp worry in her three eyes. “He understood Peridot’s pain. He felt it with her. Everything Steven has done up until now has been for her protection, and he has had no reason to protect her.”

“He did, though. He had a reason. He did it because he cared that she was hurt.” Tourmaline answered quietly. They looked down to their own cracking body as they spoke.

“Yes, more than any of us.” Garnet bent lower, commanding Tourmaline’s attention back. “And he created you in an act of pure empathy. You are an amplification of his power. That’s what you are, that’s why you exist: you are a conduit for emotion.”

Tourmaline shook their head. They tried to shrug away Garnet’s hands. “T-that’s not true! You say that like—you make it sound like I’m a mind-reader!”

“I did not say you are.” Garnet took a step back. “I said you sense intention. You understand unspoken action. It’s how you knew when the three of us lied about not intending to break Peridot. It’s how you’re able to share emotion between Steven and Peridot. It’s how you’re able to sense Cinnabar’s intentions with the Rose Quartz gem, with Peridot.”

Slowly, silently, Tourmaline nodded. It was reserved; the revelation meant nothing to them. They angled their eyes up. “So… so what? I need to die either way. Peridot needs to crack through, and Steven needs to escape from Cinnabar.” They looked directly into Garnet’s eyes.

“You know what I want you to tell me.”

“What’s… What’s Cinnabar’s plan then if she can’t find the Rose Quartz gem…” Tourmaline screwed up their face, concentrating, as if trying to remember. “The Earth is useless and dead beside the Clusters… Attacking it would waste resources, and time. Homeworld wouldn’t have any reason to.”

Amethyst circled around Tourmaline and Garnet. She kept her eyes to them and leaned against the fountain. “So… Homeworld’s got no beef with the Earth right now. They just want Steven. That means we just gotta bury Steven like ten miles underground somewhere, yeah?” she asked. “Put him behind like 18 locked doors? Ship him off to the Bermuda Triangle? Just keep him on the down-low and hope they give up?”

Tourmaline watched her. Defeat broke clear over their face. “Their gem-sensing technology would see through that. They could probably scan the whole Earth in a couple hours. It’s a system they use mostly to scan Kindergarten planets and figure out how well they’re producing.” Tourmaline’s eyes flitted among the Gems, suddenly meek. “P-peridot knows that.”

“24 hours is not enough time to build anything that could get Steven off-planet,” Pearl said. Anxiety cut her voice. She threaded her fingers together and finally let her spear disappear from existence. “It didn’t matter then, whether or not we’d killed Peridot. Cinnabar was coming for the Clusters anyway. She’d have found Jasper’s transmission regardless, once she was in range.” She swallowed, slumped to the ground, and offered one cynical laugh. “All this running around, all this fighting, got us nowhere in the end…”

Greg watched her, stricken. He looked young, almost childish, peeking up from the ground. His attention turned to Garnet. “That…that can’t be true, can it? There’s gotta be something…somehow…anything we can do…”

Garnet crossed her arms. She stared down into the dirt, and when she spoke, her voice was laced with shame. “This clock has been ticking ever since Homeworld started the Cluster project… We couldn’t have known any sooner, and there isn’t much preparation we can do now.” She stiffened her arms at her side. “We knew this was a possibility ever since Peridot made contact with Earth. We’ll warn Beach City, and we’ll do everything we can to hide Steven.”

Four sets of eyes moved to Tourmaline. Focused as they were now, Tourmaline could feel the intent behind their gazes bleeding off, thick, palpable, warbling like sound waves. Thoughts that once felt like intuition now screamed in their mind, clear as day.

Unfuse now. Leave Peridot’s gem behind. Run.

Or, in other words, Die

Tourmaline nodded to the unspoken requests. Their broken body trembled with fear, their every nerve aware of the consequence of losing Peridot. Another scattering of gem dust toppled down their visor, thin now. Tourmaline swallowed; they felt inward, found all the sharp stabs of pain in their body, the strain of existing. Peridot’s gem had stopped leeching off Steven’s, and the splitting pain of it pulsed thick behind their visor. Short, sad, painful, failed existence.

“Okay,” they said. “I’m sorry I couldn’t help. I’m sorry for not fixing anything. I did try.” They glanced up, testing the air. “You know that, though.” Tourmaline placed a hand against the cracked gem on their forehead. It stung on contact, and they pulled the hand away, dropping their fingers to their stomach. Subconsciously, they were glad they could only see the Rose Quartz gem—distorted as it was in fusion. It was desaturated and murky, like a blend of mismatched paints, but alive and whole. They knew through Steven how brilliantly the pink was meant to shine. This was dull, opaque, housed in Gem skin.

“We’re sorry, Tourmaline,” Greg voiced. He watched Tourmaline with apprehension.

“Wait…” Tourmaline breathed. Their skin buzzed, nerves alert. Something rash and terrifying quickened the pounding of their heart. They looked up, stood taller. Their eyes were wide, mouth dropping open suddenly. They looked first to Pearl, then Amethyst, then Greg, then Garnet. “What if…what if we don’t hide Steven at all?”

Silence met the question.

“Then Homeworld takes Steven, cuz they think he’s Rose, and the rest of us die probably,” Amethyst answered bluntly. She looked Tourmaline over. “Look, I-I know we’re asking a lot of you, basically asking you to kill yourself off for us and all. I get it. But if we do nothing, then both Steven and Peridot are screwed. There’s not really an option where you…” She scanned Tourmaline’s face, her eyes twisting with guilt before she looked away. “…live.”

Tourmaline knotted their fingers in their hair, head shaking in panicked excitement. “No, no I mean… T-there is. I just--” They thrust their arm out. “Cinnabar only knows what Jasper knows. Cinnabar’s looking for the Rose Quartz gem that’s been transferred to a human. She’s coming here, looking for Steven. They don’t care about anyone but Steven.” Tourmaline braced their hand against their stomach, eyes bright and forward. They looked among the four, mouth working soundlessly, before finally speaking. “And I’m not Steven.”

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