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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15. 15

The next second beat down like an eternity, pregnant and chaffing with the ship’s artificial heat. Its hot wind swept in behind Cinnabar, and the only motion existed in the tiny, fluttering movements of her hair. In a singular fluid action, Cinnabar dropped her right hand and swung her left forward, palm open and offered. Her mouth turned up with a soft smile, thin lips stretching white.

“I’m sorry. That was rude of me.” Her voice came in authoritative clips, but the edge was gone from it. It was softer now, quieter, warm with something like understanding. Her eyes flickered to Tourmaline’s stumped right arm. “Battle injury?”

“Something like that,” Tourmaline answered. They clasped their left hand in Cinnabar’s and moved with the one, solid shake she offered. Her grip was tight, but not crushing. Tourmaline struggled to meet its firmness. “I’m Tourmaline.”

Cinnabar nodded, before allowing her hungry eyes to move among the four of them. The ships engines died down in a twisting whine. The air grew flat, but did not lose its sucking heat. Cinnabar started first with scanning Tourmaline’s gem, before shifting her focus to Amethyst on Tourmaline’s right, and Pearl on their left. Her gaze lingered a moment longer on Garnet.

“Garnet’s gems are on her palms,” Tourmaline answered aloud. They clamped their mouth shut, rocking with a wave of regret as they became aware a second too late that Cinnabar’s question hadn’t been verbal.

Cinnabar’s attention flickered back to Tourmaline. She only smiled and nodded in response, before giving the beach another casual once-over. “I see Peridot’s not with you.” She cocked her head to the side. “Why?”

“She’s in a dog crate inside. But—“ Amethyst thrust a foot out. She kicked away the sand that had accrued into a thick mound. The sweeping revealed Peridot’s two mechanical limbs—dented, stunted, broken, as the layers of sand shot away. They emerged, like something printed out of the ground. “—we’ve got her robot arms here. In case you had any doubts about us kicking the snot out of her.”

No expression crossed Cinnabar’s face, but Tourmaline fought down a shiver at the burst of disdain in Cinnabar’s mind. The Gem Commander only shook her head, light smile tugging at her lips, and let out something like a chuckle.

“I shouldn’t be laughing; it’s not professional, but I’m glad you four have taught her a valuable lesson even in my absence. I can’t condone it officially, but as a Commander from Homeworld, I’m glad to see justice unfold in all its deserved forms. Homeworld doesn’t support what Peridot did; we don’t support aggression as a foreign policy,” Her sharp eyes flashed to Tourmaline, “anymore.”

Amethyst angled herself around Tourmaline, foot screwing into the malleable sand. Cinnabar still stood at the ramp’s edge, offering her a six-inch height advantage over the other Gems. The difference in stature didn’t faze Amethyst. “Yeah, you guys are lucky we didn’t just take a hack saw to her if we’re being totally honest here.” She intertwined her fingers and set them behind her head, eyes shut. “We were feeling generous considering she tried to roast us with her ship.”

A twitch along Cinnabar’s lip. A hot wave flashed down Tourmaline’s spine.

Cinnabar shut her eyes, shook her head, smile plastered on her face. “A small, displaced sect of Gems is more civil than even Homeworld’s best. Who would have thought? We could learn a thing or two from you natives about not entertaining the idea of killing our own.” Cinnabar stepped forward. She swept her arms out, as if to encompass the four gems facing her. Her expression hardened. “It…was just an attempt, right? None of your sect was cracked by our Gems?”

“None. We’re all still alive.” Garnet folded her arms over her chest. A tinge of a threat danced at the edge of her words.

“Good! I’m glad!” Cinnabar’s attention shifted from gem to gem—Amethyst’s chest, Pearl’s forehead, Tourmaline’s stomach. Tourmaline stiffened, swallowed, clenched their fist as the probing gaze worked its way into their mind. “You four were certainly lucky.”

“No, we were not lucky,” Pearl answered instantly. There was a bite to her words, and she set a foot forward. “We’re skilled. We’re strong. We do not take well to anyone from Homeworld trying to harm us or this planet!”

Cinnabar blinked. She cocked an eyebrow, eyes wide and unassuming. Until she let her head rock back with a laugh. “Oh! Oh my dear, you think I’m—“ Cinnabar waved off the concern. “I’m not here to hurt you four. Not in my wildest dreams. Homeworld signed an armistice with Rose Quartz ages ago. It would be nothing short of illegal for me to break that.” Her eyes narrowed, dropping with disdain to the clump of arms in the sand. The half-buried things shined in the ship’s reflected light. They dazzled, like small displaced clones of the vast, hulking machine that haloed behind Cinnabar. “Which is precisely why I’m here looking for Peridot. She has broken this important intergalactic treaty, and I cannot morally turn a blind eye to it. I will find justice for you four, no matter what.”

Cinnabar took a step to the left, off the last of her steel walkway. Her eyes were wide and watchful of the four gems, her movements slow and exaggerated. She moved again, another step, until she stood directly in front of Peridot’s limbs. She crouched then, and ran a hand along the hull of one. Cinnabar let out a condescending tsk.

“A faulty model, no doubt. She’ll be shipped off to the Refinery once she’s convicted, and all these tired parts will be recycled.”

Amethyst dropped a foot on top of the arms. Cinnabar’s hand retracted to avoid being stepped on. “Refinery?” she asked, arms folding.

Cinnabar stood. She looked Amethyst up and down. Her hand rose to her face, brushing back a loose strand of her fiery hair. “Oh, you’re a Kindergarten gem,” Cinnabar answered. Her voice had changed; it adopted a sing-song affectation, something cutesy and almost motherly. “The Refinery is where we send convicts, defectors, cracked or dead Gems—they’re ground up and their gems are used as a source of energy. It’s a very green practice. Limits the number of planets we need to set up with Injectors.” She took a step back. Her head swiveled, investigating the beach, as if expecting to see one. She found only sand, the stone monolithic walls, and the Temple watching over from above. “It was inspired, in part, by Rose Quartz. Her compassion for interstellar life made us reevaluate our policies.”

Tourmaline almost laughed as the harsh, sour shock of the lie rippled on their tongue.

“Fusion!” Cinnabar barked. Tourmaline went rigid, head snapping to attention. Their body flushed with anxiety, stomach clamping, mind whirling. What had they done? What had given it away?

Cinnabar walked toward them, harsh boots soft in the sand

Then past them.

Cinnabar stopped just shy of Garnet. She had to angle her head up a fraction of an inch to look Garnet in the eyes. “May I see your palms?” Cinnabar asked. She folded her arms behind her. The cutting edges of her uniform, sloping out from the back of her elbows, raked into the air.

A silent moment passed. Garnet gave a curt nod, her body drenched in shadow from Cinnabar’s ship. She turned her palms out. Cinnabar inspected the color, shape, and facets on each hand. Her hands lingered above each, never daring to actually touch Garnet. A pulsing few seconds passed before Cinnabar nodded and backed away. It was annoyance then that rippled down her spine. It bled off to Tourmaline. “And who are they, may I ask?” She enunciated each word, not maliciously.

“Ruby,” Garnet clenched her left hand. “Sapphire,” right hand.

“Jasper mentioned something about a…permanent fusion.” Disgust wafted off from her open, unassuming face. “The culture you Gems have developed on Earth is very…different.” Another tight smile on Cinnabar’s lips. “We could learn a lot from each other.” She gave one more sidelong glance to Garnet as she reestablished her position at the head of the Gems. Her boots clanked on the half-buried walkway. The sun was dropping below the ship’s hull. Crashing waves from the ocean were dwarfed behind it; uneven, debris-speckled sand dunes were eclipsed in shade. The monster of the ship crawled across the beach in shadows.

Cinnabar’s eyes flickered back to Tourmaline. Tourmaline shivered before the question was even asked.

“And you, Tourmaline, is your gem quite alright?” Cinnabar took the chance to let her gaze linger on the stone, prodding, probing. Tourmaline kept desperate pace with Cinnabar’s thoughts. Murky, dull, tinged with green. Projecting a body that did not resemble Rose Quartz in even a single detail. “You seem injured.”

Tourmaline shrugged, and set a foot back in the sand. Their eyes moved away from Cinnabar. “Gem’s fine. It’s not cracking any time soon.”

“Your projection—“

“Last reformation was rushed. My fault.” Tourmaline felt their voice dropping. They refocused their eyes on Cinnabar (cracked, skin crawling with rivets) and inhaled deeply. “’m waiting until my next reformation to fix it. I don’t wanna waste the energy now.”

Her eyes were invasive. Suspicion, like dense heavy mud, worked its way into the creases of Tourmaline’s mind.

“How is your weapon?”

Tourmaline shrugged again on impulse. They felt their heartbeat pick up, exacerbated by the bleeding anxiety from Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. Tourmaline made to cross their arm over their chest, giving up when the gesture proved awkward and uncomfortable with only one limb. They didn’t look directly at Cinnabar. Their eyes lingered on the smooth, shimmering, convex exterior of the ship, warping with the heat it generated. “Weapon’s fine. Why?”

“Summon it, if you would please.”

Tourmaline shook their head. Their blood pulsed much too loud in their ears. “I thought this was friendly company? Why would I summon my weapon?”

Cinnabar’s eyebrows went up, open and unoffended. She thrust her arms out. “I’m asking you to. It’s not a sign of aggression, it’s a sign of trust.”

Tourmaline swung their head around, making quick rounds of the other Gems. Small nods met them, until they turned dead-on back to Cinnabar. “A-alright.”

They breathed in deep, set their arm in front of them. Sweat trickled thin and hot down their neck. Tourmaline shut their eyes, focused, insides squirming with terror. They couldn’t summon the Rose Quartz shield: their life depended on it. They needed their fusion weapon, all at once. Like Garnet’s gauntlets—one weapon, summoned from the simultaneous projections of the two components…

Pure light sparked in front of Tourmaline; it condensed into a sheet. Rectangular, rippling outward, form growing hazy. It adopted a rounder look, which sent a bolt of fear through Tourmaline. They focused harder on it, and eased back when the thing solidified into an octagon. The top, left, bottom, and right edges grew thick cylindrical barriers. The diagonals floated free and unbound in space. It bloomed larger, larger, until the screen created a solid glass window between them and Cinnabar.

It sparkled mint green, before beveling outward with a pop: convex, with eight triangular faces whose tapered ends met in the middle. Dark, thorny vines crawled along its surface, and coalesced into a thick tangle dead-center.

Cinnabar appraised it in silence. She set a hand to her mouth, sinking into the tense silence.

“It’s a shield?” she asked.

Tourmaline dropped their arm to their side, letting the weapon disintegrate on itself. “More of a light screen,” they answered instinctively, the knowledge unburying itself from their mind, as if they’d known all along. It brought a wry smile to their face; the term had come from one of Steven’s games. They had the memories: sleepy uneventful afternoons spent on the bed, upside-down with feet kicking at the air and DS in hand, amassing a team based on which Pokémon design appealed to Steven the most. Tourmaline distanced themselves from the strange nostalgia. They’d have liked to play…if only once.

Tourmaline felt their body flood with relief as they caught a hint of the pure confusion from Cinnabar. Not the Rose Quartz shield.

“It’s interesting. And,” she did another once-over of Tourmaline’s broken form, “I hope you sort out your reformation issues soon.” Cinnabar threw a nod back to her ship. “If you Gems would be so kind, could you bring Peridot out? The sooner we get her home, the sooner she can face justice for her actions.”

The relief faded, cold, hollow, from Tourmaline’s gut. They almost didn’t notice the silence that followed, as whirling emotions stole their focus. There was an emptiness behind Cinnabar’s words, one which hadn’t been there before. Her previous sentiments had been riddled with a fiery anticipation, dense and pungent like pepper. That had disappeared with Tourmaline’s shield: excitement gone at the final confirmation that Rose Quartz was not among the Earth gems.

The ship had detected eight gems in the vicinity. The two underwater were the escort and the informant: useless pieces. That left six ashore. The Amethyst: one. The Pearl: two. The Ruby/Sapphire fusion: four. Peridot: five. Tourmaline: six.

The mental check-off played like an audio recording in Tourmaline’s mind. Every gem was accounted for, Tourmaline’s masquerade seamlessly filling the spot of the Rose Quartz gem. Success. Success…

And in excitement’s hollow, vacant spot, cold fury found purchase. Disappointment. Frustration. Insult. The feelings hit Tourmaline in a rush. Their legs shot cold at the tidal wave of ferocity.

Cinnabar only cocked her head again, offered another smile. “We can send you updates as the trial progresses. We have no intention of pardoning her. I assume you four could bring her out to me? The sooner I can be out of your hair, the better—I know my presence is an inconvenience as is.”

Tourmaline felt it then too: the Crystal Gems had turned to them for an answer. They steeled themselves, adrenaline flooding through their emotion-hijacked body. They took a step back, and rooted their foot deep into the sand.

“No…you’re lying.”

Cinnabar’s smile dropped, as if she was hurt. “It’s interstellar law. I’m required to take Peridot back to Homeworld.”

Tourmaline shook their head. They tried in vain to shut out the horrifying visuals that bloomed in their mind. Sand turning to glass in a fiery wake, scattered debris of what had once been the Temple—

“No, you’re lying about everything.” Tourmaline opened their cracked eyes, hot and livid with Cinnabar’s borrowed emotions. “You’re angry. You’re angry at us for not being what you wanted, and you’re angry at Peridot for getting the ship wrecked in the first place. You don’t care about law. You don’t care about her. You don’t care about us.” Tourmaline steeled themselves. What they knew terrified them. “You only want us to head back into the house so you can tell your goons on board to ready the lasers and destroy us.”

The response was immediate. Amethyst let loose a growl, whip at the ready. Garnet went tense. Her fists clenched, and she angled herself to Cinnabar with her feet knotted in the sand. Pearl set an eager hand to her forehead. Her eyes narrowed, spear at the ready.

Cinnabar did not draw her weapon. She blinked again, this time with genuine surprise trickling down her spine. She kept herself standing tall. Her arms clasped tightly over each other, hidden behind her back. Her mind whirled, recalculating, replaying her moves so far in search of where she could have slipped up.

“And now you’re trying to figure out how I could have known all that from the things you said.” Tourmaline moved forward, sandal digging deep into the sand. “I-I know a lot of things you don’t want me to know, Commander Cinnabar.” Tourmaline pushed their head forward. “You hate the Crystal System. No one in their right minds would want to be put in charge of the Crystal System—dead, indebted, war-torn section of space.”

Another step forward. Cinnabar reeled back instinctively. Tourmaline kept on.

“You’d have crawled your way to the top if not for this place—y-you think so at least.” Tourmaline’s face stayed impassive. “It’s all over your face. You’re constantly asking and taking, borrowing money borrowing troops borrowing resources. They hate you for it. They hate you. But you have no choice, because the Crystal System is a failure.” Tourmaline threw their one hand out. “But it’s all because of the previous Commander, not you! She let the System die like it did. She made sure it did! And now you want her to pay for it.”

“Shut up,” Cinnabar hissed. Her jaw clenched unnaturally tight, her eyes stretched wide.

“No one would fight Rose Quartz, not in their right mind. Even if you got her, you’d lose hundreds of Gems in the process. And Homeworld would hold you accountable: blood-thirsty, vain, petty—you know that’s how they’d see you if you ever tried that sort of thing.” The other Crystal Gems wrapped around Tourmaline like a shield. Cinnabar didn’t notice them; her attention didn’t move from Tourmaline’s cracked eyes. “And here you are, sitting on top of another failure. A lost ship, three lost Gems, all for an old dumb pet-project that no one has actually cared about in 5,000 years. Another mess you’d have to take responsibility for.” Tourmaline’s next step brought them onto Cinnabar’s steel walkway. Their sandals slid, sand-strewn, along its surface. “You thought this was just another failure. Until you got Jasper’s transmission claiming she’d captured the Rose Quartz gem. No losses, no damages, a-at first at least. But her ship’s in pieces, and she’s drowning at the bottom of our Earth’s ocean. Something went wrong. Something you don’t understand. Something you can’t figure out took that ship down, tore it to pieces, tore your Gems to pieces.” Tourmaline was breathing deep now. They poured all their energy into the tirade.

“Get off. Get away,” Cinnabar insisted. She swung an arm out, arcing it to her gem, which drew out a long, gleaming, symmetrical blade. She slashed it through the air, missing Tourmaline by a solid six inches. Tourmaline flinched back, but didn’t quiet.

“You came here because you wanted to find the Rose Quartz gem. But she’s not here. She hasn’t been here for a long time. Longer than I’ve been here! You missed your chance. There’s nothing for you here to take.” Tourmaline’s eyes flickered up to the ship’s innards, connecting with a tiny, started Gem attendant who’d popped her head out when the shouting began. The tiny thing squeaked and reeled backwards into the catacombs of the ship, hardly visible. Tourmaline moved their attention back to Cinnabar, who hadn’t budged. “And you’re angry now. About everything. And you’re going to try to make yourself feel better by blasting us to pieces.”

“That’s a lie!” The little Gem in the ship’s interior popped forward again, like a mouse. Her voice squeaked as she spoke.

Howlite, leave.” Cinnabar spun and snapped at the thing. The little Gem flinched away from her superior, answering with mute, aggressive nodding.

“It’s not a lie,” Tourmaline continued. Cinnabar spun back to them, attention divided, frazzled. Her hair swept about her face in wild arcs and waves. Her lips curled away from her gritted teeth. Anger pulsed thick like heat from her eyes as Tourmaline pressed on. “It’s the truth. You want to kill us. You think you can get away with it. M-maybe you can. But you know….Jasper tried. Peridot tried. Do you know why they failed?”

Fear pulsed in thick with Cinnabar’s anger. Tourmaline focused on fighting it back. They danced around only Cinnabar’s anger, outrage, hoping to let it fuel the last of the rant that their two components would have cowed from. “We sank Jasper’s ship. We got Jasper chained to the ocean floor.” Tourmaline paused, reversing themselves on Cinnabar’s walkway, until their feet hit cold sand again. “And Peridot–” they turned their body, wound one foot up, and drove it into Peridot’s arms. The two metal stumps rolled over in a waterfall of sand and clanking metal, “—do you know how, why, we’re hauling around Peridot’s…severed body parts? In pieces? We…we destroyed everything you sent here last time. How do you know…we can’t destroy you too?”

Garnet stepped forward. Her gauntlets appeared in flashes on her fists. Pearl sprung up beside her, spear drawn. “I don’t think Homeworld will miss one more Gem, especially one so reviled as you,” Pearl added, pointed end of her weapon thrust outward.

Stop,” Cinnabar mouthed. Her eyes darted about in wild bursts. She stood tall above the other Gems, body eclipsed in the black shadow of the ship.

Amethyst cracked her whip, delighting when Cinnabar flinched at the noise. Tourmaline’s anger was draining. They felt worry, anxiety, fear leech into place. They worked to shrug the new sensations off, smiling as the meaning of these new emotions sunk in.

“Vile, disgusting, barbaric…” Cinnabar was backing into the ship’s hull. Her face was twisted, a roiling ocean of hot emotion. Her sword quivered at her side. “Rot here. Keep Peridot and rot. Yellow Diamond will destroy this sad, cold, dead hunk of rock, and I’ll be sure to feed your cracked gems into the Refinery myself.” She spun in place, eyes set to the ship’s interior. “Howlite, start the engines.”

“M-ma’am?”

The engines.”

The steel walkway shot back into the ship like a whip; Tourmaline had to dance out of its way once more. The ship’s conical nose rolled back into place, leaving Cinnabar’s face in view just long enough for her to shout “Die here.” to the Gems before vanishing entirely. The engines roared to life, thin and high-pitched at first, before finding volume, gusto, weight. Their pitch beveled up and down, before settling into a cacophonous scream. Whirlwinds of sand kicked up into reeling columns. A blast of heat shot from the ship’s undercarriage. It singed along Tourmaline’s sweat-sopped face, evaporating the water instantly. The careening winds sent the Gems’ hair into fantastical dances. The world dissolved into a thick soup of mechanical screeching, blasting heat, and a maelstrom of salt-soaked, sweat-soaked hair. An inferno. An end.

Until it gave way to the swamping cold calm of an autumn day. The ship retreated into the sky, losing volume, like some shimmering fever dream. Tourmaline watched it go, their mind adjusting to the buzzing static of…nothing.

That was, until Amethyst tackled them from the right. She shrieked, and drove excited, playful fists into Tourmaline’s trapped body as Tourmaline squirmed. “That. Was. Brutal man! Who’d have thought something made of half-Steven and half-dorkcopter could be so fierce?”

Tourmaline wiggled about and shielded their face with their one arm, giving into a burst of chuckles. “I-it was mostly Cinnabar, actually. I was getting the anger off her. I-I don’t think I could do that again now. It seems…mean.”

“Darn tooting it was mean!” Amethyst answered, throwing one last mock-punch before rolling off Tourmaline into the sand. She spared a glance to Garnet and Pearl, who were coated in a fine layer of wet sand. Pearl was suppressing a smile. Garnet’s hair had been blown to almost cover her whole face. “Man…we’re a mess.” Amethyst glanced to Tourmaline, who’d managed to get the worst of the salt- and sand-whiplash. “You mostly.”

Tourmaline felt the sand coating their neck and laughed. They pushed themselves to a standing position on wobbling feet. “We uh…we should probably get cleaned up.” Their body felt light, washing through with a cold tingling sensation. They were alive. They were alive.

For…now at least.

“Nah, let’s stay all scratchy and gooey. It’s weird. I like it,” Amethyst mussed up her hair further, cracking a wider grin.

“No, we’ll track it all over the Temple. There’s no saying how much of a pain that would be to clean up,” Pearl answered. There was an unsuppressible edge of mirth in her voice.

Garnet came forward, silent, and dropped a palm onto Tourmaline’s head. Tourmaline accepted the gesture with a flush of embarrassment.

“We’ve uh…still got some important stuff to sort out,” Tourmaline breathed. They felt the instant drop in the atmosphere.

“….Aaaafter,” Amethyst drawled. “We just survived not dying! Let’s take like five minutes to celebrate, huh?”

No other answer came forward. Tourmaline resigned themselves to a nod, and watched as Amethyst danced off toward the Temple. Pearl followed close behind, eager to get clean. Garnet came next. Tourmaline moved in the back of the line, stepping carefully in the other Gems’ footsteps.

It was…odd, the emptiness that followed. They should have felt terrific. Incredible. Elated. Any of that.

They didn’t.

Instead only worry wormed into Tourmaline’s heart. It was senseless, misplaced, unexplained. Tourmaline blinked, and swung their head to the side. Their eyes dropped to the abandoned prosthetic in the sand: Peridot’s right arm. They cut their course away from the Temple. Instead Tourmaline moved to the kicked arm, stooped to it, and yanked it out of its half-buried tomb. They dusted it off. It unsettled Tourmaline. It dredged up a thick, choking worry in their throat.

The other Gems had stopped and turned as well. They watched Tourmaline steel the limb against their knee, and prod their fingers into the forearm’s interface.

“Uh, Tourmaline?” Amethyst asked. Her eyes shot to Pearl and Garnet. “Whatcha doing with that thing?”

“Shh,” Tourmaline said. They spun a half-hidden dial, oscillating over frequencies, until solid white radio static pierced through the air. Muffled shouts and sounds echoed on the other end—Cinnabar’s end–too distant to make out.

The Gems didn’t watch the arm. They looked to Tourmaline, whose face had gone a bloodless white.

The mechanical arm dropped from their grasp, and bled its static back into the shoreline.

   
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