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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18. 18

(Note for clarity: Peridot is in control of the Tourmaline body. No unfusing has occurred.)

Because I’m still here.”

The fury leeching off the cracked Gem was palpable. Cinnabar stared back, wide-eyed and mute, as her hair lashed across her face with the churning winds. Embers raked across her cheeks.

It was Pearl then who stood center in front of the Tourmaline body. She moved with a fluid grace to her body. Her back was firm, arched. Her spear twirled outward with the intent to kill. She spared only a moment to glance at the fusion, to consider the weight behind the distinctly un-Steven words. But these words, regardless of who had spoken them, lit a manic spark inside her. She was still on the battlefield, air hot and slick and salty, but her leader wasn’t dead yet.

Garnet took the opportunity to stand and snap on her gloves. She moved forward with Peridot, trailing by a scant few inches. One arm stayed low, ready to catch the wavering body if necessary. Amethyst only let out an excited holler. She cracked her whip into the molten sand, and unleashed a stinging shower of rock and pebbles.

“I knew you wouldn’t go down so easy, man!” Amethyst barked another laugh. Her tear-stained eyes scanned the fusion up and down, smile flickering. “Tough as nails, C-cinnabar! It’s what we are. Deal with it!”

Amethyst was answered with a building chuckle. Cinnabar, who’d been frozen moments ago, allowed a fit of laughter to rack her body. Her blazing eyes trailed up and down Tourmaline’s body in one gloating motion, and she brushed back her wind-blown hair. “And this…changes anything? You’re hardly standing!” Cinnabar swung her sword in an emphatic arc; its silver blade glowed red with conducted heat from the beach. “And not for long, at that.”

A thick silence followed this, an uncertain stalemate. The brief joy in the air had trickled out to renewed paranoia. In increments, the scene was made clear to Peridot. The observations hit her in acidically nervous waves, shared understanding with the Crystal Gems surrounding her: Steven’s gem had shattered into a halo along the uneven sand. Muted rosy splinters stuck out like thorns and glass; patches of the ring were missing where Amethyst or Pearl (Those were the Gems’ names…) had gathered the gem shards up. Peridot caught glances of herself through the others’ minds: half-composed, eyes wild and wide in the flood of pain and noise, body dropping jagged, cracked pieces into the sand.

Peridot—the last voice in the Tourmaline body’s echo chamber—responded to the silence with a grin to match Cinnabar’s. “You’re right. You’re totally right. I’m hardly even standing. HA! I’ve been just about dead so long I’m getting used to it!”

She raised her single arm to point to Cinnabar. The thumb snapped off with the motion, and tinkered unnoticed into the sand below—a part of the Tourmaline body that hadn’t come from her, cracking along with the Rose Quartz gem…

Cinnabar dropped her smiling face to the ground, and savored the moment that she drove her toe into a loose gem shard. “Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if you just let me put her down? We do this with Gems in the Refinery all the time. It saves them the agony of dying.” Cinnabar flashed her eyes to Pearl. Her smile had vanished, and the line of her mouth was firm as stone. “Unless you want to die with her.”

“Why don’t we save everyone time and just crack you through, huh?!” Amethyst swung her whip out with a forceful thrust. Cinnabar slammed her blade down, like a meat cleaver into a thick cut of flesh, and severed the whip clean. Amethyst froze, another flash of terror rippling off her body. She took a step back and drew a new whip from her gem in silence.

Garnet angled her head toward Amethyst and spoke through gritted teeth. “Pearl and I can handle this. Get the tears. We can’t let Cinnabar waste our time.”

As if on cue, Cinnabar drove her blade deep into the ground. Its red-glowing tip shot to blue, and she swept it through with a single swipe of her arm. A curtain of licking red flames lashed out with it, curved and arced. It swung around behind Amethyst and Garnet. Amethyst snapped her whip in closer to prevent it from getting cleaved again, at the expense of finding herself on the concave side of the flame wall. Cinnabar stepped inside the ring just as the leading end reconnected with its tail. It made a perfect circle, sealing the Gems inside with Cinnabar.

Cinnabar lifted her red-hot sword, and planted it gently on her open palm. “Sorry, it sounded like you planned to leave.”

Amethyst twisted. She squinted her eyes against the towering moat of flame now blocking her path. She gritted her teeth, lip curling up. “You go get the tears, Garnet. ‘s fire. Not like I can get through it.”

“What about the shards?” Pearl hissed backwards. She kept forward, eyes set to Cinnabar who broke into a wider and wider grin as the buzzing panic among the Gems became apparent. “They’re buried under the flames.”

“Okay, so…what then?!” Amethyst wasn’t looking at Pearl or Garnet, not even at the fusion. Everyone’s eyes had trained to Cinnabar, watching her like a spider that might slip through the confusion. Cinnabar drank in the undivided attention she’d earned, and cocked her head to the side.

“So let me crack your friend,” Cinnabar answered simply. “I might even let you Gems out.”

“We don’t have time for this,” Garnet muttered, and the words were soaked in poison. She moved like a bullet, churning up pillars of sand in her wake. The vision struck Peridot like a lightning bolt.

Garnet, split in two. The memory hit Peridot from two angles. Once from the side, washed in only mild irritation over Jasper’s overzealous need to fight. And again from behind, beneath, with the hot spasm of panic and pain over watching a loved one die.

Steven’s memories, Peridot realized with a tightness in her throat.

And now, she saw it again, as a twinkle in Cinnabar’s eyes…

Destabilizer!” she shouted, and watched wide-eyed as Garnet dug her feet into the sand just as Cinnabar thrust out the destabilizer she’d slipped from her belt. The Commander’s eyes were wider now, a huff to her breathing, as she stared dead-on at Garnet. She glanced to her destabilizer, then Garnet again, then Tourmaline. Cinnabar took three purposeful steps backward, back near the edge of her fire ring. Her head was haloed in flame.

“I’m getting…somewhat tired of you countering everything I do.” A flash of fire hit her eyes, pinpricks staring into Peridot’s—Tourmaline’s—face. “Just crack already!”

The whole world beat in on Peridot then—loud and hot and painful. It throbbed in her head and licked at her burning feet. The two cracked gems felt as though holes had been bored in the body with acid. And even against the torrent of stimulus assaulting her body, the most noticeable to her was the silence left in the wake of the dumb human’s voice. Leaving her here, alone, to deal with this.

Peridot’s lip curled. She breathed in deep, and with her single borrowed hand she shoved past Garnet. She stopped dead in front of Cinnabar—within striking distance.

“I will,” she answered simply. Cinnabar met her stare with a hint of confusion at the seeming surrender. Peridot kept on. “I bet you I will. It’s about goddamn time I died. But once, just once,” her eyes flashed sidelong to the other Crystal Gems, then back to Cinnabar, “before I die, I’m gonna get my say.”

“No,” was Cinnabar’s definitive answer. She dropped the destabilizer into the sand, and moved both hands to her sword. The other Crystal Gems jumped when Cinnabar lifted her blade, but Peridot didn’t flinch. The blade hung there, just shy of the cracked gem (Steven’s gem) on her stomach. The glinting, hot metal stayed there, trapped in stalemate. Cinnabar’s eyes had stayed to Peridot’s, and grew wide with suspicion.

“You’re not gonna kill me– yet,” Peridot responded. She pressed the heel of her palm to Cinnabar’s blade, and pushed it over. “Because this is too easy. It’s a trap, any moron with half a brain could see that. Why would I be standing here willing to have you kill me if it wasn’t?” Peridot took a step forward, and delighted in the sight when Cinnabar matched her with a step back, shoulders to the flame wall. Peridot’s face, cracked and splintered, glowed manically in the light. “We gotPeridot somehow, didn’t we? We got her and we cracked her and we kept her shackled like an animal ready to die hoping to die.” Another step forward, matched by another step back. Like shale, pieces of Peridot’s forearm sloughed off onto the ground. The decaying body revealed an arm, soft and fleshy. “And Jasper. And Lapis. And Peridot’s ship. And yours now. There’s gotta be sometrick, huh? And you don’t want to gamble anymore…”

Cinnabar’s face curled with murderous rage. She dug into her stance, and drew her sword back. Disheveled red locks dropped over her eyes. Peridot responded with a step backwards, one arm thrown wide. She had her body exposed, vulnerable, and pieces of her collar broke off into the sand.

“Well here’s the deal: there isn’t one. No trick! I’m good as dead. So do it.” Peridot shut her eyes, angled her body inward again. “But who cares what happens to me anyway? You don’t. Homeworld doesn’t. What good is killing me?! What good is it when you should be a lot more concerned about yourself?”

A spark of anxiety shot through Cinnabar’s spine at this. She clamped her hands around her sword hilt again. Her legs were spread, tense, and digging into the crackling sand. Her eyes shot among the four gems she’d trapped in the fire ring with her. There came a shift in her mentality, an uncertain rocking between warden and prisoner in her situation.

“Let me make a few things crystal clear to you about what happens to you after I crack straight through.” Peridot swung her arm wide, and something like a delirious laugh broke past her lips. “One: Peridot dies. We crack her straight through—not that you care about her—it just leaves no one to fix your ship.” Her eyes flickered to the burning wreckage. “And yeah, I do know you didn’t bring any technicians with you. It’s written all over your face.”

Cinnabar swung her sword out. Peridot hopped back from it, finding the other three Crystal Gems immediately at her side with weapons drawn.

“Empty threats! I can fix the ship myself!” Cinnabar shouted.

“No you can’t,” Peridot answered with certainty. “Fourteen other Gems were on board with you, and no technicians. They’ve been downsizing you. You had to borrow Peridot directly from Yellow Diamond because the warp pads were down and you had no one to fix them. You can’t fix a ship.”

Cinnabar curled her hands around the hilt of her blade. “The Diamonds will notice my absence. I only have to wait. And I need to kill you anyway, since you plan to kill me. I’ve got nothing to lose.”

A cruel smile pulled the edges of Peridot’s lips—abnormal on Tourmaline’s gentle features. It splintered out with cracks along her cheeks. “No. No, Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl aren’t gonna kill you.”

Peridot could feel the ripple of confusion—hot anger even—that came from the Crystal Gems just then. She’d made a promise in their name, one they didn’t endorse. But they had enough uncertain hope vested in Tourmaline’s intuition to not voice this aloud.

Cinnabar responded with a level stare. “How hospitable of you. I’m wiping away tears of joy.”

“I’m serious. They’re not gonna kill you once I’m dead. No, they’re gonna do to you what they did to Peridot.” Peridot arced her arm out, displaying Tourmaline’s body. “You never asked! You never bothered figuring out what happened to Peridot, huh?! Are you interested at all? Do you want to know what happens to Homeworld Gems who get abandoned on Earth?! I’ll tell you!”

At this, Cinnabar stuck the tip of her sword into the sand. She leaned on it, exerting an air of fake calm. Rage still burned hot underneath her mask, but a sort of morbid curiosity had set in. Not concern, not dread—just curiosity.

“Fine, humor me. I’ll put all the juicy details in my report when Homeworld asks why I killed four Gem natives.” She gave the group a once-over. “Not that they really care.”

“They don’t care,” Peridot answered. “You’re right. They don’t. Not about anything you do, not about anything that happens to you. ‘The Diamonds will notice my absence’?! Ha! Like they noticed Peridot’s?”

“She was disposable.”

“And you’re not?”

Cinnabar bared her teeth. Her fingers twitched along her sword. “I’m in charge of an entire System.

“Yeah, the Crystal System.” Peridot laughed. “A festering, abandoned garbage dump. They’d sooner forget it even existed.”

The insult flashed through Cinnabar’s mind, like an oil fire catching light. “They trusted me with it because alone could handle it! I’ve proven myself for millennia!I’ve been nothing but loyal to them!”

“And Peridot wasn’t!?” came Peridot’s response, and her voice cracked as she spoke. Her single arm grasped at the air. “She did everything that was asked of her! Without question, without hesitation. She lived and breathed and worked for the glory of Homeworld. And they left her here to rot.”

“You four attacked her!”

“Yeah and we—she attacked first…at Homeworld’s orders. And when the mission failed, what did Homeworld do?”

Cinnabar didn’t answer this time. She only maintained her level gaze which moved periodically to the other Gems.

“They left her! On a barren, hostile, Gem-independent planet. She hid herself away in caves while the organic life on this planet stalked her and ripped at her—wet, hot, filthy things. And she sent out message after message, requests and notices and pleas for rescue. Every day for months. And they did nothing. They left her to oxidize in this planet’s atmosphere and lose her mind and senses and decay like an obsolete machines rusting away in the Kindergartens! …And that’s when we found her, already so panicked and unstable and broken, and then we cracked her, and tore off her arms, and locked her away, and dangled her life in front of her face every moment every second until she was begging for death.”

Cinnabar gave no immediate response. She considered the words, wide-eyed, and shrugged. The tension that held back her shoulders kept her stiff. “I’ll borrow a new Peridot then if this one’s so broken.”

“That’s not the point Cinnabar, and you know it…” Peridot drank in the Commander’s form. An edge of claustrophobia rippled down Cinnabar’s spine, locked in with her own flames. “No one cares about Peridot. She’s nothing.” Peridot glanced down to her broken body. The sand around her was littered with shattered bits of…everything. Leg, arm, torso, piling up like shattered glass, ripping from her body as the fibers holding the fusion together were pulled loose. She looked back up to Cinnabar with a new fire in her eyes. “But she’s yourpredecessor. And we’ll do to you everything we did to her.”

Cinnabar shook her head. “As if you could capture me…” she responded with a bite. Cinnabar pressed a hand flat to the fire barrier she’d erected around them.

“Run then. Run like Peridot did. Let the elements break you down first!” Peridot swung her head in wild arcs. Tourmaline’s head. Steven’s head. At the brink of complete shattering. “Go ahead and learn for yourself how much Homeworld doesn’t care. Go learn how much of nothing you are to them! Refinery fodder! Replicable, worthless, Refinery fodder—no different dead than alive.”

“I am not…Refinery fodder,” Cinnabar lashed back.

“No? Peridot didn’t think so either.” Peridot motioned backwards, toward the house. “I wish you could see her! Wish you could see what we turned her into. Limbless and shattered beyond recognition! Just for a second…let you feel that kind of self-loathing we put in her.” Peridot moved forward. Cinnabar’s blade didn’t even flicker to attention. “I’ll be dead soon. Don’t worry. I know. But the three behind me are more than capable of doing all of that. And they care a hell of a lot about this gem you just shattered…they’ll pay you back.”

Cinnabar’s attention shifted to the ship behind her. She swiveled back around with renewed vigor. “My crew! It’ll be fifteen against three. We’ll crack you all easy! I’ll be fine!” Cinnabar countered.

“Your crew?” Peridot answered with an incredulous lilt to her voice. “You didn’t bring warriors with you. You had to borrow Jasper from Yellow Diamond… No, your little crewmates’ll get cracked through, and you’ll get to watch everything in this world that ever maybe cared about you die! Can you picture it? Living with the fact that the very last thing that ever cared about you is dead cold gem dust?”

“Shut up,” Cinnabar answered, and her voice had shot to ice. The flames licking behind her had dropped to ankle-height. The anger on her face had bled out to something like worry. Peridot caught a mental flicker of the tiny black-and-white gem that had appeared with Cinnabar. Howlite, that was the Gem’s name. Lost in the wreckage of the ship somewhere… “Just shut up already. Shut up and die.”

Peridot doubled back when Cinnabar swept her sword out. It didn’t connect, but the motion released a shower of gem dust to the sand below. Garnet was in front of her instantly, Pearl and Amethyst too with weapons drawn. Cinnabar took one more step back, stepping over the lowered barrier of her flames.

“Why does any of that matter huh?! What does it change?!” Cinnabar thrust her head out. Her loose hair swung with the motion. “Either you kill me or I kill you! And I choose to kill you!”

“Or you choose the third option,” Garnet answered with weight to her voice. All attention shifted to her. “You back off now. You let us tend to Tourmaline’s wounds.”

Cinnabar’s eyes flickered from Gem to Gem. For a split second, she looked behind her, and absorbed the weight of the crackling ship. The horizon was backlit with the licking flames, a few small Gems—mere shadows–scurried around the hull. They gathered pieces and checked systems and spoke in clipped, panicked tones to each other too quiet to carry across the shore.

Why?  What do I get out of it?” Cinnabar demanded.

“You get Peridot.”

Garnet’s words hung in the air, unanswered. Cinnabar backed up another step and raised her sword.

“Why do I care about Peridot?”

“She has the capacity to fix your ship.”

Cinnabar let out a sharp laugh, face twisting in frustration. “You told me yourself she’s cracked! Cracked and almost dead! Wasn’t that the basis of this monster’s threat or did I miss something?”

“Yes, Peridot is badly cracked. But she’s alive. She can instruct your crew in how to fix the ship.” Garnet moved forward, letting one hand trail over Peridot’s (Tourmaline’s, Steven’s) shoulder. “You have no one else who can.”

Amethyst’s whip cracked into the sand. “Sounds like a pretty sweet deal if I’m being honest,” she responded, glancing to Peridot. “All that junk Tourmaline said about Peridot? Pretty nice way of saying we utterly wrecked her. Like I’ve been cracked before—aint fun—but all that junk we did to Peridot? I’d probably’ve killed myself halfway through just be done with it all.”

“Make your decision,” Garnet said. “If Tourmaline dies, Peridot dies. That is a promise. You lose any chance of returning home.”

“Unless, of course, you still have an ounce of faith in Homeworld coming for you?” Pearl said with a note of mockery to her voice. She crossed her arms, and let a smile pull at the corner of her mouth. “Do you know how many Gems they abandoned here back during Rose Quartz’s rebellion? They disowned them for failure.”

Cinnabar flickered her eyes over all of them. Her mouth hung open half an inch, and the dying flames sapped the fury from her face. Options buzzed in her mind, dead end after dead end, until the tension loosened from her forehead. She gave one last glance back to her ship, to the tiny panicked Gems mulling about in the hot sand, before looking back to the Crystal Gems. Defeat pulled her eyes wide, and crushed hard against her soul.

Peridot felt the answer before it passed Cinnabar’s lips.

“Fine… I accept your offer.”

She dropped her blade into the sand, falling to her knees, and the loose, littered gem shards dug in against her uniform.

   
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