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.


17. 17

There came a strange vacuum of noise just then. It wasn’t that the beach itself had gone silent: Cinnabar’s ship still crackled and coughed with smoke. Fierce winds, stirred up by the unnatural fluctuation in temperature, still ripped across the beach. The gentle lap of the ocean returned to the shore. But those were natural, inanimate noises. They were rhythmic, mindless. This silence came from the three Gems, and most damningly, from Steven.

A thousand thoughts shot through Pearl’s mind, each as useless as the last. She wanted to speak. She wanted to fill the shuddering void their silence created. But she had nothing to say. She only kept her hands clamped tight over her mouth as she stared down the vessel that had housed Steven moments ago. Garnet had his head on her thighs, her hands pressed to both sides of his head. Her thin fingers wiped away the edges of tears still on Tourmaline’s cheeks—Steven’s cheeks. It had been Steven when the body dropped.

Amethyst jumped to her feet. She took enormous, unbalanced steps around the immobile fusion. Her fingers snaked into the sand. She dug out gem shard after gem shard—some thinner than splinters—and cradled them to her chest as she did. “Someone help me!” she snapped instantly, and her voice choked. “What if they blow away?! Or the ocean gets them?! We’ll get him to the Fountain. We’ll—“

The bottle.” Pearl was on her feet before she could think. In a tear-stained daze, she crouched, and skimmed her hands over the beach. Something sharp jabbed her finger, and she grabbed it. …Only a sea shell. “We’ve got the tears inside! We just need his shards. He’ll be fine. We’ll save him. Rose trusted us. We can do it. Garnet. Garnet?”

Garnet hadn’t responded. She still ran her thumb along Steven’s cheek, gentle, warm, shaking. Her head dropped over him, and she planted a kiss on his forehead. On top of the headband, on top of Peridot’s gem. “Fusion…is supposed to be wonderful, Steven. I wanted that for you. I wanted you to know that…love, and comfort, and confidence. I’m sorry that this…that this is how…”

Garnet’s voice trailed off to silence again.

Amethyst gritted her teeth. She jabbed Pearl hard in the leg. “Forget her. Help me find all the shards! Use your head light thingy!” Amethyst spoke through gritted teeth, but the aggression dropped from her face as soon as she glanced to Steven, motionless on the sand. Uncertainty grabbed her then. “He’s still fused, so that’s gotta…probably mean he’s not dead right?”

Pearl twisted her fingers together. Raw grief bubbled in her gut; it clouded her mind; it numbed her tongue. “I-I don’t know that for certain, Amethyst. The Clusters—“

“Okay- whatever! Just hold these!” Amethyst dumped her collected shards into Pearl’s surprised hands. She cupped her palms together, and watched the greenish splinters clink together into a pile.

And suddenly, she was back on the battlefield 5,000 years ago. The flames licked hot around her. The clanking, crashing shudder of Gems in combat. Sticky, wet, loud, shards raising spikes underfoot. And she was small, weak, useless. Good only for protection, with those cold splintered shards in her hand. Rose’s gem. Rose’s gem. In her hands. Shattered. It was the same nightmarish vision that burned behind her eyes in every battle. It was real now. In front of her. In her own hands.

Pearl dropped then to her knees. Her whole body had gone numb with shock. Amethyst whirled on her, wide-eyed, and watched in silence as Pearl crumbled. Heat choked in her throat.

“Come on, Pearl!” Her imploring arms shot out. “Someone go get the tears! Someone help me! Garnet! Pearl! …Guys?” Her aggressive breathing lessened. Her shoulders dropped, body angling backwards. She pressed her palm back to her chest, Tension grabbed her fingers; they tightened, and dug into the shards she’d since gathered. Amethyst felt them tearing into her skin then, but she couldn’t stop. The pain was the only thing that felt real. “I-it’s not too late. It’s not.” She stepped backwards on the sand, in the direction of the house. “I-I’ll… I’ll go get the tears. Please…someone hold—“ Amethyst offered out her shaking fist, still clenched around the fragments. It trembled so hard she feared dropping the bits of gem back into the sand. Her offer went unheeded, unheard. “O-okay,” she whispered, “I’ll just g-go—“

Her tiny feet dug indents in the sand. She moved backwards. Her eyes were still set to Steven, as if he might vanish if she looked away. Amethyst drowned herself in it.

She didn’t hear the heavy, clunking footsteps that moved across the hot sand. She didn’t hear the choking breaths, and she didn’t smell the approach of singed clothing. The surroundings had turned to sensory overload, and it masked the obvious intruder.

It was the drawing of a blade that caught her attention.

Amethyst snapped at the noise and spun, her face a mask of wild, angry grief as reality sunk in. Cinnabar stood not five feet ahead of her. Even with her shoulders hunched, stance wide, and breathing heavy, Cinnabar had a solid three feet of height on Amethyst. Pearl glanced up, and a spark of understanding lit in her eyes. She set a hand to her gem. Garnet held Steven closer to herself as Cinnabar hobbled nearer.

Cinnabar glanced among the three, and a flicker of joy crossed on her face. Her hair had been singed, her uniform curling back over burned folds, her face coated in ash. A raw cackle built in her throat, a broken careening noise as she wobbled in place before finding her footing. Her fist clenched hard around the blade’s hilt. She slashed it in the air. Amethyst dodged in narrowly.

“Back away,” Cinnabar ordered. Her attention abandoned the three Gems. She stared only at Tourmaline—at whatever they were now. She still appraised the unmoving body with caution--eyes shut, mouth slack, face draining of color, gem shattered. “I want…to kill her.” Cinnabar slashed at the air with her blade again. She wobbled with the excessive force. “I will kill her!”

It was Pearl who jumped first. Her spear was at the ready. There was a raw, murderous rage contorting her face which hadn’t been there for 5,000 years. The flames from Cinnabar’s ship threw harsh shadows over Pearl’s face. They shrouded one eye in darkness, and lit the other ablaze. “I’d sooner die.”

Amethyst followed suit. She drew her whip and pocketed the shards into the collar of her shirt. She felt them chink down her skin and come to a rest at the elastic band encircling her waist. Cold, they alone were cold. Plucked from the hot sand, they were somehow so cold. “In your dreams. We’re gonna kill you. And fast. And then we’re gonna save S—Tourmaline. And then we’ll rip your ship apart and kill all your crewmates and grind their gems into our coffee!”

Cinnabar considered this, until a thin smile slithered across her face. She wobbled again, then threw her head back with a laugh. “No, you’re not gonna kill me. You’re not gonna do anything to me. You three are going to back away and grovel while I split that gem the rest of the way. And you are going to let me.” Her blade came up. “Unless, of course, you want all of Homeworld knocking at your door in search of me?”

Peridot pressed her fingers to the brim of her sunhat. It was large, bulky, unnecessary in every conceivable way. But the presence of…anything was better than it had been before. Her fingers trailed higher, finding purchase on a large, gaudy red bow. Steven had insisted it went well with her outfit—“like Christmas” whatever that meant.

Her hand dropped, and she glanced about. Broad, pale stretches of nothing ran in all directions. She could see edges fizzling out, she thought. Or it was her mind playing tricks. None of this existed, as Steven had insisted, so it’s not like she really knew one way or the other.

Peridot drew her knees up and rested her chin there. Her eyes dropped to the floor on her right, and appraised the abandoned pirate hat there for a few silent moments. A huge straw-like appendage was propped on top of it (a “feather”—and no, there wasn’t any reason for it to be there.) White atop the sparkling blue of the hat’s fabric. Its brim angled upward at both sides. The turned-up edges framed a single picture at the center. It was the defleshed, stripped-back core of a human. A skeleton, which apparently was all that remained of a human after death. It seemed morbid, but the Steven hadn’t been concerned. Humans were more open to dying, she supposed. They lived so short, they had to be.

She blinked, and prodded a toe out to the hat. It shifted across the floor. Its feather flopped over, and Peridot reached a hand out to right it. The brim of her sunhat dropped over her eyes.

Alone. Alone except for the company of Steven’s two hats. Why? What had happened on the surface? Peridot felt the beginning webs of anxiety crossing through her stomach. So she stood, hat pressed back, and tried to get a glimpse of the real world. She swiveled her head in search, but vast nothing bled through everywhere she looked. She snapped her teeth together and whined in frustration.

She’d disconnected her gem from the Steven’s back when she gave up on making it out of this alive. With her gem on the brink of shut-down, the Tourmaline fusion ran solely off of power from Steven. She shared his mindspace, but she didn’t share his gem, and that meant the outside world had fizzled out to a nigh-imperceptible nothing. It was Steven who always came back and relayed what happened.

But he hadn’t come back this time.

The possibilities bloomed, aggressive and many, in her mind. Tourmaline had been talking with Cinnabar right before Steven left. Maybe that discussion was still ongoing, but she swore she’d felt Steven around for that. Not here, not with her, but a part of the same consciousness. Something had shorted that. Peridot pressed a hand to her self-projected gem.

Her gem. In reality, it was on the brink of destruction. It was whole in the mindspace only because Steven had wanted it that way. Maybe it had just finally shattered, and it was her who was fading out. The thought was almost nice—nothing she felt hurt. It was a soft, quiet, painless death, if this really was her end. Her hand went further up, the weight dropping atop her hat, and she sat back down. Almost childishly, her fingers curled around the two sides of the sunhat and pulled down. It smushed her hair, encompassed her whole head. The straw smelled like lilacs.

“Good try,” she spoke aloud. It was quiet, maybe just for herself as she folded inward, “but I told you right from the start that I was dead.”

She breathed in deep, let the silence work its way through her body, and shut her eyes.

They snapped open instantly at the crack that broke through the air. Her head jerked to the left, and she watched Steven’s body hit the floor with enough force to shake the mindspace. The sight of him bred new anxieties inside her. She dropped her hands from her hat and used them to crawl across the fifteen feet that separated them.

“Steven?” With her newly reformed arms, she took Steven by the shoulders. She dropped him the instant she noticed the shattered bits of his gem clinking down his body. Peridot’s eyes watched them, mesmerized, as they spilled in a halo. It was as though the space adopted its own vexing gravity. Steven fell flat on his back, but the shards scattered in an even ring around his tiny body. (We look how we remember we look!) Her attention shot back to his face, teeth gritted. “What?! What happened?!”

Steven lifted his head to glance at her before laying it back on the semi-real floor. He shut his eyes, which were red-rimmed and dull. His arms and legs splayed out like a starfish; rips and tears raked over his clothes, the most notable one a slit over his stomach that revealed his shattered gem. He was dirty, and bruised—damaged, but in a human way.

He seemed to catch her wandering eyes, and responded with one small laugh. “I went for a walk is all.”

The noise offended Peridot. There was a weakness she didn’t want to exist in his raspy voice. She was the damaged one, she was the fading one. And he was gonna see her through it. She didn’t want this, not any of it.

“No you didn’t! You took control I know that!” Peridot hopped to her feet. Her eyes shot wider. In a fit of disgust she ripped the sunhat off her head and threw it to the ground. It offended her too: its cutesy floppy bow, its comforting scent, the way it’d let her shield herself just now from reality. She hated it, and she spared only a second to glance at it before it dissolved—unremembered--back into the nothing. “I mean what happened out there?!”

Steven gave a shrug. “I might have used Tourmaline’s shield too much.” His head rolled to the side, half-cracked eyes looking directly into Peridot’s. She crouched down to him on instinct. Her eyes looked into his, which were cracked in a different way. She couldn’t explain it, and it terrified her. “You shoulda seen, Peridot. It was so cool…”

“No, no no…” She drew her head back, crawled a few feet away. She could only sit there, washes of panic and uncertainty flooding through her. Peridot reached a hand out, and her fingers clamped at the nothing in the air. When she glanced around, she found an edge had entered the mindspace. It was a crawling, crackling blackness. Rolling inward, with Steven at its focal point.

Peridot shook her head. “What about me? What happened to me?! What happened to us? I don’t feel—“ she pressed one quivering hand to her gem, “—I didn’t feel anything.”

“That’s fine.” Steven gave a slight nod. “Don’t try to. You wouldn’t like it.”

Peridot backpedaled further, as if staring down something infectious. “Why?! It—what happened?! Steven—“ Peridot quieted, glassy-eyed, as a wave of feeling rocked past her. She felt the ground shake beneath her, and choked on the tumult of memories.

This caught Steven’s attention. He glanced to her with a spark of concern in his eyes. His hand reached out, and the edges of his fingers had fuzzed into the unreality of the mindspace. “I said don’t try,” he repeated.

Peridot only took to rhythmic shakes of her head. “No. No no no no. No I knew it. We’re dead. I’m dead. Dead all along. That’s it I’m dead—“ her eyes flickered to Steven, suddenly hurt, “—and you are too.”

Steven passed along only a sympathetic smile, though his body didn’t move. His hand trailed to the ring of shards around his body. He clamped one in his hand, fingers exploring its glinting edges and contours. Somehow, Peridot knew it was cold. “Nah, the Gems’ll figure this out. They always do. We gotta trust them.”

The ship. The laser. The shield. Crashing, burning, fiery comet. Peridot shook her head as if to tear apart the shared memories. “No, Cinnabar will roast us for what we did! Dead! Dead dead dead…” Peridot blinked, and she got to wobbling feet. Her eyes drifted, almost unwillingly, to the shattered gem uncovered from Steven’s torn shirt. On reflex, she pressed her hand back to the gem on her forehead. “She…did roast you. Already. You… you…”

“Aw come on, you’re not focusing on the right thing.” Steven lifted his arms, spread them wide in the air, and opened his fists like tiny explosions. He made a throaty, quiet bwooossh noise. “It was so cool. You see it now, yeah? I sent the whole thing back, and the ship… Like….fireworks,” Steven’s voice trailed. His eyes drifted shut for a few moments, arms dropping down again. “You’d like fireworks, on Earth. That’s another great thing. Even better than hats…”


“I’ll show you sometime. Just wait til New Years.”

Peridot bared her teeth, inhaling deep through them. Her head still shook, arms quivering. Her eyes dropped to the sequenced pirate hat resting abandoned in the ether. It had aged. Its edges decayed to black, wilted, until tiny pieces blew off like ash into the approaching darkness. Peridot looked away. “That’s stupid! That’s stupid and pointless- just tell me how you did that gem-fixing thing, huh? I don’t wanna…I don’t want to look at you like that!”

Steven considered this. He nodded, just a small motion. A vacuum of sound set in between them as the deconstruction of their endless sanctuary rolled in—now so small. “Come over here then.”

And she did, one hesitant step at a time. She felt the edges closing her in. The feelings from Steven washed over her; they invaded every crevice, buried her, drowned her. She kept a hand pressed over her gem. She wanted to go back to forgetting—she wanted to forget everything real until they both cracked through completely. She wanted to die in ignorance. She wanted to break in peace. She wanted the stupid, tacky, floppy, pointless hat back.

“Okay, here I am. Right here! In front of you. Tell me what to do.” Peridot thrust her arms out, arms she had because of him.

“Crouch down.”

Again, Peridot complied. She dropped to her knees beside Steven. Pain prickled along her gem, clamped in her chest, sent cascades of fear and fuzziness through her mind. The boy was an open floodgate, and she was suffocating.

“Yeah, okay. Now what?”

Steven didn’t say anything this time. He only lifted his arm, hardly an inch off the ground, and turned it palm-up. Peridot glanced to it with uncertainty. She waited for a command, until Steven jostled the waiting hand in the air.

“Take my hand.”

With trepidation, slow and shaky movements, she did. She put her hand in his, and he wrapped his fingers around it.

The effect was instantaneous. A storm of memories crashed through Peridot’s mind then, too many to sort out, too many to focus on. Sticky sweetness of weekend breakfasts and the gentle grip of a Gem’s hand in Steven’s and the feeling of breathing in the warm salty breeze of the beach with toes scrunching in the sand. The whole-body assurance of tight hugs and the excitement of choosing outfits for Gems who had no need for external clothing and the pride of seeing your drawing of all four of you tacked on the fridge. Hot itchy lawn chairs in front of the car wash and the sopping-suck of watermelon in your mouth. Brisk, callous nights heeded off with a dense fire and scalding hot chocolate and over-cooked marshmallows and ghost stories that Connie told so well, with hand gestures and a lilt to her tone and a flashlight contouring her face from beneath.

And the cold fear of the clanking, echoing, hollow Kindergarten, the ache in your heart seeing someone you love crying over everything she is. Hot guilt over the person you’ve taken away from them and the queasy uncertainty of whether or not she loves you as much as she loved her. And the bleeding, shattering, insecurity of seeing the strongest among you break down over an act of war you don’t understand. And terror, like a thick dark mud, that blooms in the twilight hours of invasion. Crushing self-doubt and a mad love and a desperate need to survive because above all those feelings, above anything else in the world, you care.

“NO!” Peridot shrieked as she yanked her hand away. She rocked in place, as though she’d been electrocuted. It spasmed up and down her body. It clamped in her stomach. It echoed in her mind. Closing in, blackness, all around.

Steven smiled up at her, eyes shut. He dropped his hand, at peace as the eating edges of blackness swamped hungrily over the gem shards that circled him. “Tag…you’re it.”

Peridot scuttled to her feet. She looked down at Steven, and blinked in a desperate attempt to unsee what she’d seen. She looked up, and found the sky had opened up to the outside. An inferno lighted on the skyline—screaming, shrieking, clashing chaos. She felt numb. She felt cold. She felt sick.

Peridot dropped her head. She clamped her arms over it as if to stop the flood. “No!” she cried. Her eyes screwed shut, but it only brightened the flashing memories in her mind. A sob wrenched from her throat. “I hate your feelings!” She scrambled another few feet backwards. Her heel slipped over the crawling black nothing, and she pulled it back as the sensation of falling flashed down her spine like ice. She could only look up, to the world, or down, to Steven’s fading form.

“I hate you!” Peridot cried. And it came with a harsh crack in her voice.

Steven didn’t respond. His hand went limp against the floor, and the tension about his closed eyes loosened. The little flicker in his gem extinguished itself, and not even his chest rose and fell. Still, silent, nothing.

Peridot grabbed at her hair. She spread her feet and stared, wide-eyed and unseeing, at the floor. She didn’t want to look. She didn’t want to know. She didn’t want to think…

“I…hate you…” she declared, just before another harsh sob worked past her throat. She blinked out the tears that bloomed suddenly in her eyes. They dripped, hot, wet, uninvited down her cheeks, coalescing at her chin and dropping. Her last few moments, and somehow he managed to go first. She’d done nothing—useless, worthless, Refinery fodder, she was. A wasted, pointless, empty life she’d lived…

She shut her eyes.

…But, she wasn’t dead yet.

Peridot clamped her mouth shut, eyes sharp in that instant. Her arms were stiff at her side, and she stalked forward. Peridot spared one glance to Steven. He gave no sign he heard her, no sign he was even there. Whatever choice she made now, he’d likely never know. Peridot breathed in deep.

“Dumb…stupid pointless planet. Pointless mission. Pointless war.” Her voice was a monotone. The tears had dried up instantly in her eyes, and she looked only to her flexing hand. “…Pointless life. I…hate all of it.” And with a final glance to Steven, she looked forward.

Her breathing came deep and steady. She angled her head upward, and welcomed the painful storm of reality that waited at the surface.

Pearl lashed out. She swiped wildly with her spear, feet digging into the super-heated sand. The crackling, residual heat evaporated her tears as they fell from her eyes. Hot anger exploded from her grief, and she gave one more arcing swipe of her spear.

Cinnabar jumped back from the assault. Her eyes darted among the three Gems. A twitch entered her lips. “No, I want to kill her! I—aha!—I already did! Look! Look! She’s dead. Dead for what she did to my ship!” Cinnabar thrust the sword out to the shattered gemstone on Tourmaline’s exposed stomach, her blade shaking with the effort.

No!” Amethyst’s voice cracked alongside her whip. It shot out to Cinnabar, who avoided it with a quick backpedal. “You didn’t!”

I did!” Cinnabar declared, and her voice was like a mocking second grader. “She’s not moving! She’s broken! She’s dead!”

That vacuum of sound was back. It sat among the Gems, thick as mud, and fed off the stalemate that bloomed there.

“…Who’s dead?”

Every head snapped to Tourmaline’s face. Their eyes had popped open, dripping with malice. Gone was the firm anxiety of Tourmaline, gone was the kind understanding of Steven. These were cold, harried, murderous eyes. Cracks threaded across the whole body, and whole pieces dropped to the hot sand below as they pushed themselves up from Garnet’s lap.

These eyes only had interest in Cinnabar. They were mad, glinting green things possessed with a suicidal desperation to die with reason.

Their mouth opened again—not Tourmaline, not Steven, but Peridot this time. “Because I’m still here.”

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