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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14. 14

Steven scrunched his toes against the rippling, semi-solid ether of his mindspace. He’d braced his hands against the ground, lost in thought, as he stared up at the open nothing that crowned above his head. The silence of everything edged into his mind; the vast emptiness felt suddenly suffocating.

Steven shook his head. He wanted something, anything, to distract himself. He wanted Connie back; he wanted the Gems back from before any of this had happened. He couldn’t have that, though; he had only the endless mindspace, and his single silent companion.

Steven refocused on his feet, which felt strange squishing into the not-really-there flooring. He spared a moment to wonder where his sandals had gone, bare squirming toes pressing freely into the nothing. As if on cue, a snaking pink rope shot from the ground. Steven jumped with surprise as it wrapped like vines around his feet—left foot first, then right foot--until it congealed into two exact replicas of his real sandals. He stared at them in wonder, before rocking back onto his tailbone and wiggling his feet in the air. “Coooool!” he voiced. The sound of his words carried around the mindspace in one echoless breath. He rolled over, sparkling eyes set to his companion. “Hey Peridot, check this out! You gotta try it.”

Peridot didn’t move. Steven gave her a few seconds to respond, feeling the heavy twist of anxiety tighten in his stomach as the seconds passed. He fought it back; if he could feel it, then Peridot would feel it, and he didn’t want to spread his own worry. He mentally blocked away his own emotions, and refocused his eyes on her motionless form.

Peridot was lying down on her side, turned away from him. Her knees were tucked up close to her chest, single stump of an arm slung over them. She was 30 or 40 feet away, and nothingness bled away from her in all directions: down, up, left, right, nothing. Her outline blurred with a growing, seamless acceptance.

“Hey, Peridot!” Steven insisted again. He braced his hands beneath him and hopped to his feet. “I said you gotta check this out.” He shoved his left foot in her direction. He wobbled on his right foot, looking between his presented new sandal and Peridot. He waited, set it down again, and focused solely on his foot. His lips puckered, and Steven let out a delighted laugh as the sandal melted off in a viscous pink slurry. He wriggled his toes, which were stained a pale rose. “It does what I want it to!”

He shot a sidelong glance to Peridot again. Her body hadn’t budged, and the small smile slipped from Steven’s face. His lips pressed together, eyes roving over her prone body. “…Peridot?” He bunched his hands protectively close to his chest, fingers meshing with each other as he moved forward. Sharp sparks of fear raked through his body. He breathed in deep, hoping to bury them.

“You know, it’s just gonna be you and me in here for a while. Tourmaline’s got control back now for when Cinnabar comes. They know all the stuff both you and me know, so they’ve got the best chance of talking Cinnabar out of uh…you know…wanting to kill us.” Steven plopped down beside her. He looked to her, but didn’t dare touch her. “But uh…you know if that doesn’t work…” Steven twisted his fingers together, “if that doesn’t work, we could both die in here. …Is this really what you want?” He looked down at his hands before glancing back to her “…To spend the rest of your life not talking to me?”

Silence, thick and bleeding, came down on them. It felt so much denser in the vast, echoless expanse of their mind. Steven balled his fists. He waited. He breathed. He stood, mismatched feet squared on the floor. “You’re not gonna say anything?!” He thrust his arms out. “Why are you suddenly okay with dying, huh? Why am I the only one still trying?! Why aren’t you—“ Steven leaned over Peridot, his head upside-down as he looked her in the eyes. He stopped himself.

Peridot’s mouth was clamped shut, but her eyes were open impossibly wide. A steady stream of tears leaked from both, running into the hazy matrix of the world that surrounded them. Her head lent itself to small trembles. There was a harsh tension in her jaw, and all at once Peridot’s emotions hit Steven like a whip.

He felt his body flush with a panic attack.

Steven stumbled away. His heart beat frantically against his chest. He lowered himself to the floor, and fought to separate himself from Peridot’s shared emotions. The sensation ebbed steadily, leaving behind cold tremors that washed through his body.

“Peridot…” Steven shook his head. He scrambled forward. “A-are you okay?”

A pause. A breath.

“Am I okay?!” Peridot answered. Her head rocked, and her voice broke over itself. “Am I okay?!”

“I’m really sorry—“

She flinched, pushing herself up a fraction as her head swung to him. Something like bafflement crossed her face as she looked at Steven. “What? No, not you. Them. Everyone.” She raked her knees inward and let out a derisive laugh. “Why was I kidding myself?! Cinnabar doesn’t need me back! Since when do they salvage Gems?! She’d crush me! She’d use me as fuel.” Peridot threw her head back, laughing as tears streamed freely down her cheeks. “And now I can feel it… I can feel them all wanting to kill me. All the time. All the time fantasizing about the ways they didn’t kill me before. I can’t shut it out. Always always all the time in the body and I can’t do anything—“ She silenced herself, slumping in. “Everything hurts. I just want to die already. Please don’t make me keep living…”

Steven steadied himself with his palms to the ground. He only shook his head. “No… No, I can still save you!” he insisted, hand slamming into the ground. “We’ll send Cinnabar away, and then the Gems and me will talk, and then we’ll save you.” He balled his fingers. “Because now I know you don’t care about killing us. If Homeworld doesn’t want you, and you also don’t wanna kill us, then there’s no reason for you to die anymore.”

Peridot let out a huff, wobbling as she tried to stay sitting upright, and dropped her head onto her knees. “Oh joy. So I get to survive on Earth? That’ll be fun. That’ll be great. I’ll have a great time losing the rest of my mind to this backwards, dead planet.” She rolled back onto her side. “At least until you Gems change your mind and kill me anyway.”

Steven sat back. He crossed his legs and pooled his hands in his lap. He shot a few uncertain glances to Peridot. “It’s…not so bad on Earth. There are so many cool things all around, and so many cool people. I was telling you that before. It’s true. Why don’t you wanna live, and see them all?”

“Why would I care?” she answered back.

“Because you haven’t even tried liking Earth.” Steven pushed himself into a standing position. “You just keep thinking it’s awful here without trying.”

Peridot didn’t move; she resigned herself back to silence.

Steven glanced down at his one shoeless foot. It fascinated him, still stained with pink from where he’d melted off his sandal. He’d made it do that, just by thinking it should.

Steven steeled himself, focused on his wriggling shoeless foot, and let loose a noise of delight when a shimmering red slipper grew over it. He didn’t really own a pair like that; he remembered it from the costume Connie kept in her closet. She had it for a school play of sorts: plaid blue dress, ruby-red slippers that sparkled in the light. He remembered her laugh as he hobbled around in her room in those shoes, reciting back the lines that Connie had been practicing on him. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.

He focused hard on Peridot. He stared at the back of her head, clenched his teeth, and imagined.

Peridot yelped. Her single arm pinwheeled about as a large, floppy, straw-woven sunhat appeared on her head. She shook it off, giving herself into breathless huffs as Steven laughed.

“What th—What was that? What did you do?” Peridot demanded. She wobbled, before falling flat again on the shared ground.

“It’s a hat. Hats are personally one of my favorite human inventions.” Steven puffed his chest out. He gritted his teeth, shut his eyes, and popped them open in excitement when he felt the heavy weight of a pirate’s hat drop onto his head. “We’re not really ‘here,’” he said. Steven spun around, arms out wide, as if to encompass the whole mindspace. “In fact, I don’t think there even really is a ‘here.’ Our bodies don’t exist here. They’re both part of Tourmaline. My body isn’t really here, but I feel like I can see it.” Steven stuck a foot out, still ruby slipper-clad. “I just look how I know I look. I forgot about my sandals before, so I didn’t have any. And when I remembered them, they were there. So now I remembered Connie’s shoes, and here they are!”

He stepped closer, offering a hand out. Peridot didn’t retract. She only stared on in fascination. “We look how we remember we look. Because we’re not really here. It’s just in our heads.” Steven stopped just shy of her. He crouched and looked into her cracked eyes. They were still too-wide with suspicion. Slowly, obviously, he redirected his hand to her stunted shoulder. “But, you know, I also remember how you looked before you were broken.”

“Stop—“ she answered hastily, a moment too late.

Steven’s hand touched down on her shoulder. When he swept it out, an arm bloomed behind in its wake, finding form, structure, solidity. Green, mechanical, with hovering fingers hanging loose at the end. It didn’t budge at first, stuck in immobile confusion. It wasn’t until Peridot blinked, letting her head jerk back, that the newly formed fingers flexed. They closed into a fist, loosened, closed again. Peridot set it under herself and used it to push herself upright. Steven took the opportunity to grab her stumped elbow. He breathed in deep, and let the same imaginary trail of her mechanical limb generate in his wake.

Peridot didn’t respond. She only pulled her two arms close to her chest, shocked into silence.

“And let me just—“ He got on his tiptoes as he pressed his open palm to her visor. The crack disappeared along a zippering seam. The rivets in her face crawled backwards, paving over themselves with regular skin. They tucked back into her gem, which stitched over itself with remembered shards and substance. Peridot reached her newly-formed right arm up to her gem. She pressed her fingers against it, stunned into silence, until her faced twisted up with fresh tears.

Steven watched her cover her face. He offered a small smile as he drew his hand back. “I couldn’t fix you in real life… I’m sorry about that. Your gem—it’s still very hurt in Tourmaline’s body. But we can pretend in here it’s not! We can look however we want in here! A-and if we die in here…” he swallowed, fishing for the smile that almost dropped from his face, “it can be without either of us feeling hurt.”

Peridot didn’t answer. She just flexed her fingers over and over, moved her arms back and forth. Steven watched her for a moment before dipping at the waist and retrieving his imaginary sunhat from the ground.

He spread his feet—one sandal-clad, one slipper-clad—and presented the sunhat again. “Now, as I was saying about hats…”

Tourmaline let a light smile brush over their face. Their eyes roved over the half-cleaned kitchen without really seeing anything, not the windex-streaked fridge or the air-drying pans in the sink. They were focused internally. Tourmaline lifted their chin from the cold counter and laughed.

It drew the attention of all three other Gems.

“What? What happened?” Pearl leaned inward. She spared a glance toward the two mangled mechanical arms, which had been set side-by-side at the center of the counter, before looking again to Tourmaline.

Tourmaline shook their head. “It’s nothing. Steven’s just…being Steven.” They wrapped their singular arm on the counter and rested their head on it. Moving too much sent cold flushes through Peridot’s gem.

“Is he okay?” Pearl asked. Her eyes flickered below the counter to Steven’s gem.

“He’s fine.” Tourmaline redirected their attention to the arm pile. Pearl sat to their right, Amethyst to their left, Garnet directly across. The kitchen fell back to silence. “Just making the most of things. …’s got good taste in hats.”

None of the Gems knew how to follow up.

Amethyst only twisted uncomfortably in her seat. She eyed the arm pile with growing disdain. “…Maybe it was a false alarm, you know? Maybe Cinnabar said that stuff so Peridot would think she’s getting rescued, but really she’s not planning on coming here at all.” Amethyst sat up straight, one hand pressed hard against the countertop. “Just a guess.”

“I really don’t think so,” Tourmaline answered. “She felt really serious about it when she contacted us before.”

“Shhh,” came Garnet’s quick response. All the Gems looked to her before falling silent. Anxiety wormed into their minds, and Tourmaline caught a quick glimpse of the vision that had just passed through Garnet’s mind. Coming, any second now…

A shohck of static crackled over the arms. It was loud, erratic, the pitch careening up and down. Amethyst even covered her ears before the tone found stability in a constant flood of white noise. It left behind a negative patch in the room’s sound. A heavy, nothing, silence.

Until

“Crystal System Peridot, do you copy?”

The arms bled out the noise like water from a waterfall. It seeped into the room and filled the Gems’ ears like a thick presence. They didn’t react immediately. Instead all eyes moved to Amethyst, who inhaled deeply before scooting herself closer to the arms. “Yeah, negatory. This is Amethyst. Can I ask who the hell I’m talking to?”

A thick silence followed. Tourmaline sensed the jolt of surprise from the other end of the transmission. There was a shuffling, a flurry of hushed whispers, before someone came back and cleared their throat.

Hello….Amethyst. This is Crystal System Commander Cinnabar. Are you with Peridot? And if so, may I ask to speak to her privately?”

Amethyst chewed on her lip. She let a smile break over her lips, and she indulged herself in her next words. “Sorry, no can do. She tried to kill us, so we kidnapped her. No hard feelings bro.”

Radio static, a solid three seconds’ worth.

Well, that is understandable, Amethyst. I am Peridot’s superior, and I have no intention of turning a blind eye to any acts of hostility or violence performed in Homeworld’s name. It has come to my attention recently that three of our Gems may have involved themselves in illegal acts of aggression against Crystal System natives. I apologize for the…sensitivity of the subject, but were you one of their victims?”

Amethyst snorted. “Oh, you mean did your goons try and kidnap us before we smashed their ship into the rocks below? A-yeah, that’s me and Pearl and Garnet and Tourmaline here.”

More silence. Tourmaline leaned back, lip curling into a bemused smile. “You probably don’t need me to figure this out, but she’s faking…” they whispered. Tourmaline leaned farther away from the arms. “She is pissed we have Peridot though. …Insulted, actually, I think.”

A break in the static.

“And now she’s gonna ask to meet with us,” Tourmaline concluded with a hushed whisper. They dropped their head back onto the counter and closed their eyes.

Amethyst, I appreciate you being upfront and honest with me. If possible, would you meet with me in person about this? You and your friends of course. I know your location from Peridot’s transponder. Morally, this is not something I can ignore. Your testimony would be valuable to our investigations.”

“Sure thing, Cinnamon. Looking forward to seeing your ugly mug in person.”

There came a sharp click from the arms. All eyes shifted to Tourmaline, who confirmed with a quick nod of their head that communication had been severed.

Amethyst straightened, and let out a coarse laugh. “She’s so uptight! I don’t think Pearl even has a stick shoved that far up her butt.” Amethyst thrust her hands against the counter, ignoring the silence glare from Pearl. “I can’t wait to see how she tries that whole ‘kind understanding warrior for justice’ shtick when we meet her.” Amethyst spun to Garnet. “Can I keep insulting her?”

“No. We can’t goad her on.” Garnet crossed her arms, focusing intently on whatever she saw in her mind. “We’re trying to diffuse this.”

Amethyst shrugged. “Eh, I’ll just come up with some great one-liners in my head then. Tourmaline gets me.”

Tourmaline opened their eyes again, humoring Amethyst with a quick laugh. They lifted their head and glanced about, stopping when they saw the gray headband resting on the countertop. It ended in beaded tassels wound into braids. Tourmaline pressed their hand to their visor, easing it off their face with extreme care. They set it down, cracked lens facedown to the granite, and shifted their hand to the headband.

“She’ll be here soon.”

“What’s she bringing with her?” Pearl asked. Her hand hovered over her glowing gem. In increments, she dropped her hand, spear unsummoned. She moved forward instead and grabbed the headband from Tourmaline, who couldn’t tie it over Peridot’s gem single-handedly. Pearl threaded the ends of the band behind Tourmaline’s head with excessive care.

“No weapons, unless you count the blade she can summon. Only one crewmate is coming down with her, but her ship can blast things just like Jasper’s could. We gotta be careful of that. But she won’t blast us when she’s standing right next to us.” Tourmaline flinched as Pearl knotted the headband. They watched Pearl back away, and pushed their fingers to the new accessory. “She’s not planning on fighting us…yet, at least.”

“And that’s the most we could have hoped for, I guess,” Pearl answered quietly.

Tourmaline didn’t face her. Instead they hopped down from the counter and set their sights on the front door, trying their hardest to ignore the roiling pot of emotions that bled off the Gems.

“Come on… We should get outside before she does.”

“And…where’s that exactly?” Amethyst asked. She followed quickly in Tourmaline’s tracks.

“Same place as Peridot…back when she arrived.” They set their sights to the crashing shoreline, fighting down the chill of familiarity that washed over them at the thought of someone landing there again.

The beach air rolled with salty, muggy humidity. The saltiness came with an abnormal, crackling heat, and clung like a presence to the Gems’ bodies. The churning wind blew back their hair, choked in the back of their throats, roared in their ears.

The maelstrom of wind and heat and salt came as the least of their worries. Instead the Gems focused wholly on the massive, hulking ship that worked itself down in the sand. The Gems had watched it bloom out of the horizon, faster and sleeker than the one Jasper had arrived in. It had been maybe three minutes between its first appearance and contact with the sand, but to the Gems’ churning minds, it had amounted to an agonizing wait.

The ship’s hull reflected back sheets of sunlight, blanketing the ship in a blinding coat of light. Only its underbelly was visible, which choked out the sun.

Rolling heat, suffocating drafts of sand and salt water, the sun eclipsed by the massive perimeter of the ship. Every roaring instinct in the Gems’ core told them to take an offensive stance, to start attacking as soon as possible. Or at the least, to draw their weapons. They couldn’t. They merely stood their ground, every nerve on fire, as the ship made itself comfortable in the receding wake of the ocean.

Its front tapered to three sharp points, its body thinner, smaller, sleeker than the massive hand Jasper had directed to Earth. Its color was indistinguishable; the parts of its body that faced the sun only shot back blinding white light. The bits of its hull shaded from the sun lived in complete shadow. The thing sent out pulsating waves of energy. Its engines screamed across the vacant buildings. Tourmaline glanced about among the other three Gems. They regretted it instantly as borrowed fear leeched through their whole body.

There came a shift in the ship’s main nose. It let out a pneumatic hiss, engines dying, and disconnected itself entirely from the body of the ship. A conical section merely rolled through empty air, like a sliding door, in no need of its own support. A thick, polished steel carpet shot out like a whip. Tourmaline dodged to the side as the edge of the new bridge exploded into the sand they’d been standing on. A puff of sand ballooned outward, settling on its own after a few seconds. Tourmaline hurriedly rubbed the dust and grains off their body with their single arm, peddling back from the walkway.

Clunk. Clunk. Clunk.

Tourmaline froze. The front of heady, fierce intent hit them like a crashing ocean wave. It sparked with excitement. They looked up, back straightened, as a blooming silhouette moved down the steel path.

She grew out of the wobbling hot air, finding shape, finding color. She stood taller than Tourmaline, hair cropped short and sharp about her head. A faceted gem glimmered on her forehead, off to the right, where her hair parted. Her eyes were thin slits, her cheekbones sharp on a sallow face. Her uniform came to sharp edges and jagged plates, decorated with an array of both weak and heavy reds. Front and center, a yellow diamond blazed below her collar.

Her face was stone as she appeared, eyes scanning over the four Gems. She reached the end of the walkway and stopped, toe to toe, face to face with Tourmaline.

A wide, gentle smile broke over her lips. Tourmaline fought down the shiver they felt at the stream of thoughts that lay behind her crocodile grin.

“Hello, I’m Commandeer Cinnabar, leader of the Crystal System. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

She stuck her right hand out in greeting.

Tourmaline only stared, immobile, at the offered hand. They felt Cinnabar’s eyes flicker to their right side, and mutual understanding bridged between them.

Tourmaline didn’t have the hand necessary to meet it.

   
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