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.


19. 19

Garnet supported Tourmaline’s limp body. She kept their arm draped over her neck, body hugged tight against her own, as she made the slow trek toward the house. She moved with a deliberate fluidity, as if the slightest bump might rock loose the last bits of the Rose Quartz gem that held it together.

Amethyst and Pearl trailed by a few feet. They had swept the whole beach after Cinnabar extinguished her flame fence. Pearl ringed herself with at least 40 bubbles, each housing a gem shard smaller than the last. Amethyst only cuddled a few slivers close to her. They were the ones she’d managed to pick up before Pearl. The vast majority had been swept up by Pearl; Pearl didn’t use her sand powers much (and when she did, it was usually to model simple things on a living canvas) but she’d upturned tons in a few short minutes to ensure they’d gathered every last piece. It’d left the beach jagged, hot, and churned up.

In the meantime, they could only trust that Cinnabar would make good on her agreement, and wait by her ship until they dragged Peridot out. The Gems knew in the back of their minds that there was no way they could guarantee her cooperation, but the chance to save Steven reigned above all else.

Garnet paused when she reached the stairs. She toed the lowest step, considering. How much would it jostle Tourmaline to carry them up? Her mind strayed to calm, warm nights with Steven asleep on the main couch. She would lift him, cradle him, carry him up the stairs to his bed without so much as a stutter in his breathing pattern. She always knew how to be gentle enough with him. Steven was a heavy sleeper, though, and the thought wasn’t comforting at the moment.

With care, Garnet took the first stair. Tourmaline moved with her, unaware, and without any indication of further gem shattering. Whatever—whoever—had been in control of the fusion during their confrontation with Cinnabar had since slipped away. Or else, they made no show of being conscious anymore.

Amethyst watched ahead. She paused, tense, as she noted the hesitation in Garnet’s step. She glanced to the house, which sat immediately to their left now. Far now from the flames of Cinnabar’s ship, it looked all but normal. Unaware of the damage that’d been done. Amethyst refocused on Garnet, who hadn’t dared to climb the first step to the deck. “Ya know, I can go get the tears. They’re right inside! I can free up one of my hands. You don’t have to try to get them up—“

“We need Steven to unfuse. It cannot be anywhere in sight of Cinnabar. He needs to be inside the house.”

Amethyst nodded aggressively, unseen. “Yeah, yeah I get it. I can shapeshift—you know—like a ramp or something?”

Garnet responded with silence. Steadily, she moved her foot to the next step and followed through with the motion. There was no clear response, positive or negative, in Tourmaline’s condition.

Garnet took the next step, then another. Sand tracked on her heels. Ordinarily she’d have rid herself of the sand and salt and water from the beach with a sharp snap of her body. The thought now was unthinkable. So she climbed, sand clinging along her body and against her shades, with Tourmaline pressed right against her. Pearl and Amethyst followed behind in the exact same silent manner. Pearl, who’d been coated worse than any of them in her violent sifting of the beach, didn’t make an effort to get clean.

At the top of the deck, Amethyst scurried ahead to open the door. She moved all her shards over to one arm as she ran, and opened the door with enough force to rattle its hinges. It rebounded on itself and warbled as Garnet ducked through it. She kept Tourmaline as still as ever.

“Pearl, get the tears.”

“Y-yes, Garnet!” Pearl answered in outburst. She was a strange sight: her body moved fast, fluid, and anxious as 40 levitating pink orbs followed. They circumscribed her like well-trained dogs.

She lifted the bottle from the counter. Its underside bore a simple coating of flour, as did most of the kitchen. Patches had been cleaned where Pearl tended to them. Otherwise, syrup soaked deep and hot into the mush that remained of the pancakes. Pans were still soaking through, their coating wearing away with the dishsoap bath. The air’s sticky sweetness had grown more pungent in their absence.

When Pearl turned, Garnet was laying Tourmaline on the couch. Her movements were so small and deliberate, so unlike the average rough-and-tumble style Garnet usually favored. She’d trained herself to be gentle; she learned it when Steven was just a baby.

“I got these shards!” Amethyst voiced. She hovered over Garnet and Tourmaline, stepping in agitation. She thrust her share forward as if it might be forgotten otherwise.

Pearl came closer in silence. She held the bottle coddled against her chest. The bubbles moved too, meshing into each other like rows of vehicles in a car wreck. They moved seamlessly into each other though, and they coalesced into one enormous bubble at the center. Pearl uncapped the bottle before easing one hand out. Her hand rested, palm up, right beneath the bubble. It popped with an audible clap, and released a shower of gem shards into Pearl’s waiting hand. Her fingers curled ever so slightly around them.

Amethyst glanced down to her own coddled pieces. She pressed them tighter to herself. Grains of sand ground against her skin. She glanced back curiously to the door. It swung with the beat of the wind, and three distinct trails of sand spread across the floor. “So uh, do we gotta jigsaw him back together? Or can we just shove everything back in and let the tears handle it?”

“We are not going to take haphazard risks with Steven’s life, Amethyst,” Pearl bristled in response. There was a brittle edge to her voice, like glass. It was firm and unbending, but threatening to shatter at any moment. Pearl turned away from Amethyst. She seated herself beside Garnet, who now had Tourmaline’s head resting on her thigh. Pearl leaned over to get a better look at the body. She fidgeted where she sat. “We can figure out the exact construction of his gem from these pieces. It won’t be terribly difficult. Just find which shards form exact pair-bonds with other shards.”

“Yeah, well, that’s gonna take an eternity! And we don’t have a lot of time, Pearl. And the tears are magic! Maybe they know how to shuffle everything around all normal and we don’t need to bother.”

“There are three of us we can figure it out—“

“Amethyst is right,” Garnet said. She tore down the argument with her single addition. Amethyst and Pearl grew deathly quiet. Amethyst didn’t take to gloating; she only nodded, along with Pearl. The two were well-tuned to the inflection in Garnet’s voice when she made a decision based on future-vision. It was a hard sound, a forced control. It wobbled ever so slightly with held-back emotion, leaking from whatever bad path Garnet had been forced to witness. No one argued with Garnet’s future-vision. In most situations, Amethyst thrived on winning arguments with Pearl from Garnet’s verdict. There wasn’t any joy in it this time around.

Amethyst waited for a cue from Pearl. She received a short, directed nod, and she moved her hands over Tourmaline’s stomach. With excessive care, she released her gathered shards into the open cavern of Steven’s gem. They clinked gently. Pearl followed suit; she lay down more shards with even less noise. Pearl moved the bottle of tears into position.

“He’s alive, right Garnet?” Amethyst found herself whispering. She pressed a hand against her own flawless gem. It felt cracked beneath her fingers, when Steven had saved her, when he’d broken down at the thought that he couldn’t. The idea of dying had been so surreal then. The idea of watching Steven die now was too damningly real. “Like, we’re just gonna drip this stuff on him and he’ll pop up, good as new, yeah?”

Garnet glanced to Amethyst; at least, she probably did. The slight twitch in her neck implied it. Her next words were directed to Pearl.

“Be gentle,” Garnet told her.

Pearl nodded. She hid her eyes from view, but her whole body shook as she tilted the bottle.

Peridot withdrew into the mindspace completely focused on recreating her undamaged, unbroken form. Weight grabbed her. It pulled her down, and made her feet collide hard with the poorly-defined floor.

Quiet. Cool. Gentle. Soft.

Peridot let out one deep sigh. A shudder of relief racked her body as she collapsed onto all fours. Tears sprung in her eyes, and she felt a few sobs break past her lips. The pain was gone. The fire and noise and maelstrom of intent–gone. She was back to nothing, back to peace, back to a fading calm.

Until she cracked her eyes open, and remembered the creeping black void that edged in from all sides. It wasn’t like space, which was littered with small lights and signs of activity, life, work. The black was vast and all-consuming. It was an end. It was an absolute. Peridot knew that from the terror it raked through her gut at the sight of it. It had encroached closer than before, and left her alone with—

“Steven…” she muttered to herself. Almost against her will, Peridot glanced behind her. The boy lay there, spread-eagle, with the same ring of gem shards around his body as before. His shirt was hiked up above his stomach. It displayed the cavernous gem for all to see. It looked worse even to Peridot than her own. She glanced back to the void as edges of their mindspace chipped off. Instinctively, she scrambled inward, toward the body.

“Hey uh, so good news (for you): your lame family isn’t about to get roasted by Homeworld. Not right now at least. So you’re welcome, by the way.”

Peridot crossed her arms (both her arms, whole and attached to her body) and looked down at the motionless boy with distaste. The gentle smile on his lips bothered her. “As for me, I now get to die out in space instead of here. Maybe. I get to be Homeworld’s puppet one last time before Cinnabar hucks me into the Refinery. That’ll be fun.

She sat down, curled her legs up to her chin. It was lonely again, the mindspace. “So yeah, thanks for nothing. You didn’t save me. How’s that make you feel?”

Her eyes drifted to him again, the looseness about his face, the gentle smile. Small and soft and kind—she could almost picture the kind of panicked, baselessly optimistic gibberish the boy would be spitting if he were around.

“Yeah, and I didn’t ask you to try. Remember? You coulda just left me therein the Kindergarten. I’d probably have hobbled off 50 feet before your Gems returned and shuuunk,” Peridot curled her fingers in, thumb pointed out, and jabbed it toward her gem. She stopped just shy of actually hitting herself. “And you’d be off playing…human games. Or engaging in mindless disorganized work until you died. Unless Cinnabar shattered you…” Peridot turned away. She leaned her cheek against her knees. “Whatever. You humans die anyway. I’d die eventually once they decided to shuttle me off to the Refinery. We all die. So who cares what happened here?” Her legs loosened, knees dropping forward somewhat. Her feet edged closer to oblivion, where the formless nothing fell out in cracks. She watched it intently. “Who cares whose fault this is? Not mine…”

Peridot considered it. She considered stretching just a bit farther, and letting the nothing disintegrate under her. The mindspace broke down to ashes once it fell, she probably would too.

And she wanted to go before she watched his body slip into the black.

“What’s the point of having a body here if you’re dead, huh!? I thought our bodies didn’t exist.” She spun then, facing Steven head on. He only lay inside his gem shard halo, motionless. “Oh what do I know!? You’re the only losers desperate enough to fuse. Yellow Diamond would crack me on spot if she knew I’d fused! I don’t get any of this.”

The transferred memories spun in her head just then. For the ones she and Steven shared, she felt a strange, unsettling dual response. It was an intrusive thought just then, how much the fusion had been terrifying and new to him as well. Sweaty palms and a racing, terrified mind and an overwhelming commitment to…

…keeping Peridot alive.

Peridot slammed her fist down into the ground. She laughed too, a forced, desperate sound. He wouldn’t even know he failed.

(He wouldn’t even know she’d failed him.)

Peridot straightened up. She felt a strange tightness in her stomach then, a laughable flood of something like guilt. She let out a chuckle–something wrong and twisted. She’d failed him on what? She hadn’t promised to protect him, or keep him alive, or any of that. He’d made every decision so far. She’d even triedto help him in the end. This had been Steven’s fault, through and through.

(That’s a funny lie.)

“Shut up,” Peridot snapped into the nothing. The noise didn’t echo. No voice answered back. She had only the nagging thoughts in her mind, slipping in and out of the light like roaches, to plague her. The ship. The laser. Jasper. Using him as a human shield. Every memory burned sharp in her mind, and split along a parallel. They were all simple tactics to get what she wanted. They were all mindless, bloodthirsty attempts to kill everyone who mattered. Her memories, and Steven’s…

“Why…do I still have your memories?!” she asked aloud. Her head shot to him then, eyes sharp and accusing. She swept her hand out to him. Nothing. “You’re dead. You’re dead.” And his last memory flashed through her mind then—a bleary projection of herself, leaning anxiously over his body. The memory bled off with hope, and trust, and pride in what he’d done. What he’d done for her.

Peridot drew her hand back, and felt the tears welling in her eyes. “You’re…dead. And it’s my fault.” She moved slowly, cautiously along the floor until she closed in on his body. “Yeah, are you happy now? This is my fault. You got me. You did it—all your dumb guilt-tripping techniques—got me. You really think I’d be screaming at Commander Cinnabar if I didn’t feel…”

Her eyes roved over him. She noted the sparkling shards, some of which had slipped dangerously close to the black. Others lay glimmering, unaware of their impending destruction. Steven had grown paler, and in a way she couldn’t explain, he seemed smaller.

“What if I remember how you looked normally? What’ll that do, huh?” she challenged the body. Her eyes flitted over it nervously. Nothing.

Peridot let out a frustrated noise. She swept her arms out and grabbed at the gem pieces. She moved on her knees, careful to not disturb the crumbling mindspace, and gathered the remaining shards into her hands. She turned to Steven’s body and dropped them all on top of his gem. The looked like the broken bits of a vase, stacked atop each other. Peridot screwed her eyes shut then. She focused on digging up every memory she had of the boy’s gem intact.

“I’m giving you one chance to not be dead. Take it,” Peridot growled. She opened her eyes a fraction. Her lip curled up at the sight of the boy still lifeless. Broken, broken, broken…

…like she was.

Peridot laid her hand on Steven’s shoulder, resigned to acceptance when it snapped off. Because in reality, she wasn’t whole. It was Steven who’d kept up that illusion, Steven and her own willingness to lose herself to unreality. It didn’t matter if she could will his gem back to wholeness in the mindscape—it changed nothing in his real body.

In turn, her second arm clunked to the ground. It severed at the shoulder, and she winced at the sharp disconnect. It sent torrents of pain across her chest. And she bit back the cries it brought on. Her forehead throbbed. She let her illusion shatter under the acceptance of reality.

She would  have been responsible for killing him during the invasion; that was reality.

Crack. Her visor let out a plastic snap as it split long the middle; reality.

She’d nearly thrown his life away after he tried to protect her; reality.

Clink. A rain of shards rolled down her visor, cracking with a hot burn to her gem; reality.

He was dead now because of her, because of Homeworld, because of everything she’d brought on; reality.

Peridot opened her eyes against the shower of gem shards. A strange light had entered her vision, a glowing around the boy’s gem. She looked at it first in awe, then confusion, then utter disbelief. She let out a rocking laugh at this. She was letting reality in, so what business did the gem have healing itself in fantasy?

Through the throbbing pain in her mind, the connection clicked—because maybe, in reality, the boy was healing. “The fountain tears…” she muttered. Peridot turned her head then to the sky, which was rocking with the steady deconstruction of the fantasy world Steven had erected for her. Cracks bloomed along her cheeks, across her eyes, up and down her legs. The world came in violent and loud and real.

A stir. A soft, pained noise. Quietter than everything—louder than it all to Peridot. She swung her head around then. She watched his body, inched toward it, crouched over the form. He cracked his eyes open, looking blearily to her, then to the vast expanse above: the house’s living room, the Crystal Gems, Pearl anxiously pouring the bottle of tears over the Rose Quartz gem.

“…What happened?” Steven asked. He pushed himself up on shaky hands. His eyes dropped to his stomach, and he patted the strangely healed gem there. It glowed under his touch. His eyes widened in amazement.

Until they turned to Peridot. Peridot, who watched him mutely. Peridot with the edges of tears in her eyes. Peridot, with her arms gone again and cracks crawling along her shattered form. “You’re broken again,” he whispered with a child-like pain, and he reached a hand out to her.

She watched the hand reach for her. For a split second, she considered letting him touch her. He was alive, so who cared what he did in her last few moments?

She didn’t though. She batted it away. Terror beat in hard against her mind; it was pain, light, noise, everything from the real world somehow leaking directly into their mindscape. And it terrified her more than her own death.

“Forget that!” Peridot barked. His hand retreated, and she felt the cut of guilt in his stomach. She bit it down, and motioned her stumped arm outward. “You’re seeing that too, right? Reality? What’s happening in here? Why is that crashing in?”

Steven looked up, considering, then nodded. He blinked out confusion from his sleepy eyes, which grew steadily more concerned as they came back to reality.

“Why do we both see it, huh? Who’s in charge: you, me, no one?!” Peridot kept her terrified eyes forward, to the encroaching room, and swore for a second that the Gems reeled back in response to her.

“I think it’s both of us…”

“Why?! What’s it mean?!” Peridot’s whole body shook as her real-world cracks and injuries reemerged in full. She watched her own legs decay as the world above became clearer.

“It happened with me and Connie before…where we’re suddenly both in charge.”

“Tell me what it means,” Peridot insisted. The rot in her own body terrified her.

Steven stared out, watching the motionless Gems who seemed all too attune to the conversation. He turned then to Peridot, and his eyes were fresh with new fear.

“It means we’re splitting apart.”

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