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.


20. 20

Cinnabar dragged her sword through the sand as she moved. It drew meandering tracks, detouring around stones and clanking along sea shells. It was a passive thing, and it bent to the will of the terrain. Cinnabar could have released it back into the nothing. She could have held it firm rather than let it sputter and clank against the terrain. Cinnabar didn’t want to; she found a strange comfort in its dragging, catching weight.

The ship swelled larger as she approached. Its nose was half-buried in the sand, and its hull bore rows of shreds and scratches that caught loose light. The air spiked with its heat, but most of the spitting flames had been extinguished. Her weighty eyes surveyed the scene: a dozen small Gems scurried around its hull like ants. They stomped down on embers and barked high-pitched orders at each other. They ran with small emergency kits banging against their knees.

Cinnabar put a soft hand to her head. The brittle chalkiness of burnt hair met her touch. Strands disintegrated to ash in her fingers. It spiked the air with a smell like gasoline. She spared a glance down at her own outfit. A muted shame welled in her gut to see burnt, chafing patches of black peppering her uniform. Everything that had been spared from singeing was coated in a fine layer of smoky ash. Cinnabar dragged her hand down to her cheek. It drew away wet, hot, and trailing soot. She was small, she realized, standing entirely in the ship’s shadow.

A break in the mulling—one of the little Gems had pivoted midstep when she recognized Cinnabar. The Gem took to shouting greetings and culling the others’ attention. Cinnabar watched it passively; she didn’t remember that Gem’s name. Not at the moment. A small bronze thing, with her hair pulled back in a tight braid and sharp almond eyes lighting with recongizition. Her bangs curled up black and ashy.

“Commander! Commander Cinnabar, Ma’am! You’re back, Ma’am!” the Gem chanted. She took to hopping in place. The patching kit in her hand dropped into the sand. “Do you have any orders for us? We’re doing our best to repair the ship. If Pyrite can find a connection to Homeworld she can have a repair manual transferred over—“

Cinnabar had stopped listening. Her eyes wandered over the smoking rubble. The ship’s frame and paneling at least seemed to be in tact, but even tiny fissures in the hull could mean the ship would combust mid-flight—and it took her only moments to spot half a dozen of them. It looked suddenly like a skeleton then—a colossal corpse—despite being almost entirely whole. It was a murdered thing, which she’d led to its own death. And if they couldn’t bring it back to life…

“—found the sealant, and it’s warp-approved by Homeworld standards. Just need to be careful to use it conservatively or—“

“Where is Howlite?” Cinnabar asked. Her attention had shifted away from the ship to the scuffling Gems. They made up a rainbow of busy activity, a dozen of them, all dark and desaturated in the ship’s shadow. They glowed a pale red with the remaining embers.

“Hmm?” the bronze Gem cut herself off. Her head swiveled back to the ship, singed braid swinging with the action. Both she and Cinnabar watched the stewing chaos in silence. “Oh, s-somewhere I bet. We haven’t done a head count yet. Trying to put out the flames first—“

Cinnabar pushed past the Gem then. She dropped her sword into the sand, stepping on the hilt as she moved. Cinnabar made herself tall, and she moved with purposeful strides. A tension clamped at her chest like a vice.

The bronze Gem scurried after her. “Ma’am, you can just tell me! I’ll pass on any orders to Howlite when I see—“

Howlite!” Cinnabar called. The ship bounced her voice back at her, then swallowed up the silence. Working Gems froze in instant, simultaneous response. It took them only a second to snap to attention. They dropped pieces and kits and manuals into the scalding sand now that Cinnabar stood in sight. They were like statues, unblinking in the shaded darkness. The twelve haunting stares burned into Cinnabar then. She took a single step back, teeth gritted, fists clenched.

“You dropped your blade ma’am!” The bronze Gem scuffled up to Cinnabar. She extended the weapon, hilt in one hand, broad side of the blade in the other. Cinnabar pivoted and looked at her.

The bronze Gem froze. Her eyes were wide, and the blade slipped from her hands. She didn’t dare blink as she stared eye to eye with Cinnabar. The whites of Cinnabar’s eyes, her shaking pupils, her curling lip. Silence. Silence. The bronze Gem shrunk back down on herself, flushed white.

Ma’am! Ma’am Ma’am Ma’am oh thank goodness you’re okay Ma’am! I knew it of course. You sorted this all out expertly I’m sure! What—what did you sort out?”

Cinnabar spun then. Her eyes shot instantly to the ship’s hatch buckling open. She caught sight of Howlite crouched there, peering out the growing opening. Howlite carried a few dozen packets of something in her arms—bland gray tear-packaging on each. She set a careful foot out to find purchase on the beach. The hatch normally wasn’t ground-level, but the nose of the ship had dug itself deep enough in the beach to just reach.

Cinnabar didn’t notice when the bronze Gem scurried away. She only moved toward the ship, unflinching attention forward. Howlite glanced down self-consciously at the packets in her arms.

“I found resin mixes in the storeroom. They’ll need half an hour to set once applied but then anything they patch should be okay for flight. Of course we shouldn’t mix them all now. They’d set before we caught everything. I figure a full system inspection—“

“We’re getting Peridot back. She’ll know how to fix the ship.”

Howlite shut her mouth. She craned her neck up to look at Cinnabar as she moved forward. Tiny cracks riddled her visor. “Oh! Oh excellent Ma’am! Smart thinking! Of course I knew you’d find a way to fix this. That’s why you’re leading this mission! You know the right decisions to make.”

Cinnabar stayed silent. She picked apart the tiny Gem’s appearance—singed bits of hair and uniform blended in with the black-and-white scheme. They were almost unnoticeable. Only a few smudges of grease and ash across Howlite’s face stood out, the slight dishevelment of her curl.

Howlite shrunk down on herself a bit, frantic eyes dropping to her hands. “O-oh, oh I’d be saluting you M-ma’am, but my hands—I’m holding—hang on.” Howlite shifted the fifty-some odd resin mixing packets to her right arm. She jammed the edge of her left palm against her temple, stiff, breath held and cheeks puffed.

Cinnabar looked to Howlite’s cargo, then to the salute. She felt her jaw tighten. “You’re saluting me with your left hand.”

Howlite gave a fast nod. “Yes’m! Thought I’d…switch things up a bit. It’s new!”

Cinnabar only nodded. She let her dead eyes rove over the scene once more before moving past Howlite, toward the ship.

“They’ll bring Peridot down here. Keep an eye out, and intercept them. Then come get me.”

“Yes’m!” Howlite answered with a huff.

Howlite held her position stiff until Cinnabar moved into the ship’s interior. She waited a few more moments before letting the tension escape from her body. She sighed and rolled her stiff shoulders as her salute dropped. The packets shifted back to equal dispersion across her arms, and Howlite moved forward toward the nose of the ship. She’d already noted a few scars that would need attending.

She let her attention drop to her right hand then. Glimmering light thrown by the embers reflected off the oval gem, embedded in the back of her hand. Howlite could almost pretend she didn’t see the single, spiderweb fissure at its center.

Howlite puffed her chest out instead, hoisted the packets and angled her body forward with fresh purpose. The ship needed her; Cinnabar needed her.

“Who’s in charge: you, me, no one?… I think it’s both of us… Why?! What’s it mean?!…It happened with me and Connie before–where we’re suddenly both in charge… Tell me what it means… It means we’re splitting apart.”

Pearl listened to the muted exchange with a fresh spike of terror in her heart. She held the bottle of tears in a death grip, still angled over the Rose Quartz gem. She’d stopped pouring though. Her eyes were locked, large and unblinking, on Tourmaline’s—which had cracked open just a fraction.

“…Steven?” Pearl whispered too quiet to even hear. She felt her body clamp tight like a vice. A thousand terrifying thoughts shot through her mind and erased her voice.

“Garnet…Garnet, is this good? Is he okay?” Amethyst kneeled on the floor. Her hands clawed tight at her thighs. Her leggings bunched up in her grip and threatened to tear. She looked to Garnet, stricken. “That’s Steven talking? Yeah? Yeah? He’s alive he’s alive isn’t he- he is, isn’t he? Hes gotta be it’s gotta be him it’s gotta.”

She silenced herself. The mutterings faded out to nothing. Tourmaline’s dim, half-lidded eyes flickered then. A spark ignited there, and they snapped to attention. Entirely too aware.

“They’re gonna break. I-I’m not—“ Tourmaline stuck their one hand against the cushion and tried to push themselves out of Garnet’s lap. The couch cushion only gave into the pressure. Their movements were weak, pathetic. Wild fear played behind their eyes, and they gave up the effort. “It doesn’t—I don’t feel right. His gem’s rejecting me.”

“Tourmaline, is Steven alive?” Pearl cut in. Her hands were like claws around the suspended bottle, her voice like a razor. Eyes that didn’t dare to blink probed against Tourmaline.

“He—“ Tourmaline swallowed, shaking. “Yeah. You and Peridot—got him back. It’s forcing a split now. Cutting itself off to protect–I-I don’t think Steven can overpower it. I can’t. I’m—“ A spark of anxiety lighted then in Tourmaline’s eyes. They put all their strength into sitting up, succeeding this time, and grabbed Pearl by her stiff left arm. Tourmaline leaned forward as they spoke. “Cinnabar’s still going to kill Peridot. Once the ship is fixed. Please…”

Their grip loosened, a weariness long overdue grabbing their whole form. They took only a deep breath, tension leaking from their body as their eyes dropped to the couch. “If you could just…maybe…”

Silence met them, thick, and all awareness ebbed out of their eyes. They slouched there, unknowing, for all of a second.

Well can you stop it?… I dunno how! You try… I’m not in charge of anything!… I can’t—make it…I-I can’t…”

The last mutterings dropped from Tourmaline’s lips as a white light built up over their entire form. Their silhouette bled to nothing, indistinct against the shelves that bordered the couch. Brightness swamped their form into a hazy ether. The headband dropped, unsupported, to the cushions below, no more than a limp ribbon. Two gems appeared like dark islands in the wash of white,

Then fractured entirely through.

The light dismissed itself like smoke, and in its wake, it spit out two solid forms. The tiny one landed with a soft bounce on the couch.

The other was thrown to the floor.

Steven Universe—11 years old, half-Gem, clothed in a simple starred pink shirt and blue shorts—cracked his own eyes open for the first time in more than a day. They were puffy and pained, and scanned over the Gems with only a dim awareness. He flexed his own tiny fists, and offered the slightest of smiles to the three anxious faces that stared down at him.

“That…oops,” he muttered. And it was all he could mutter before Garnet gathered him up in his entirety and clutched him close. Gone was the gentleness she’d used to carry Tourmaline; gone was her stiffness. There was a warmth about her body that Steven had never noticed before, and a softness he loved. He gave himself entirely to the embrace. Garnet had clutched him from behind—her thigh supporting Tourmaline’s head only moments ago—and Steven shut his eyes as he leaned back into her.

There came the distant clink of a bottle being set down on wood. Softer, thinner arms clamped around Steven from in front, somehow tighter even than Garnet’s.Pearl. These shook with their vice clamp. A third body moved into the cluster.Amethyst. These arms shoved their way in and grabbed at Steven as though he were their last tie to reality.

The silence was broken in a few breathless moments. It was Amethyst who started crying first, and she did so with gusto. The noises were deep, long, and broken with the bottled up pressure inside her. She pressed herself against the huddle with all the strength she could muster. Her staggering breaths were hot and damp. They sent pleasant shivers through Steven’s body. Amethyst grabbed at his warm skin and soft hair, clenched him against her palms, and gave herself into the building wail in her chest.

Pearl broke down with more composure. It happened with a few staggered sobs and a breathless mantra of ‘thank goodness’. She’d made herself small, wrapped her whole being around Steven’s tiny body. It wasn’t befitting for a knight, but it was befitting for a mother.

Garnet alone didn’t make a noise. She only trembled as she held Steven tight against her body, and let tears leak unbidden from beneath her visor.

Something cracked then in Steven, something that unleashed a flood of tears and shuddering breaths and whole-body trembles. He could hardly breathe beneath the mound of bodies holding him, and he didn’t care. The suffocation was welcome—the support and love and shuddering outpouring of emotion that hit from every side, hot and wet and shaking and living in one moment of being miraculously alive. He gave in to it entirely. He released himself, and if only for the moment, stopped fighting to be strong. He blubbered and sobbed into them like a scared, 11 year old child.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry,” he murmured into them. The sturdy, strong reassurance of Garnet’s body pressed to his. Pearl’s overbearing form tangled against him. Amethyst, wide and soft, walling him in against every bad and painful and wrong in the world. They heard him, answering only in tighter grips and fiercer rocking. At that moment, nothing else existed.

Then, through the cluster of bodies, he cracked his eyes open. And he made eye-contact with her. Peridot, tossed to the floor, used all her strength to push herself upright against the coffee table. She’d shoved it backwards, and her brokenness was chilling in the warm afternoon sunlight. Her crumbling body sat there, unmoving, unspeaking, as she watched the breakdown unfold in its entirety. Her wide eyes were locked on Steven then, and for the first time in what seemed to be an eternity, her feelings were entirely closed off from him.

Amethyst eased back just slightly, just enough to cut Peridot off from Steven’s view. She stared him in the eyes instead, making no effort to hide the tears leaking from her own. Her matted hair swept wild and relieved around her streaked face “Steven Universe…first of all, you suck. Second of all, that blast was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. Third of all, you suck.”

The images of Peridot faded hazy in his mind. He saw only Amethyst then, slipping back into the safe embrace of the Gems. His body was flush with relief; it rung in his ears. “But…it was cool, so that’s what’s important.”

“What is important…is that you’re alive, Steven,” Pearl corrected breathlessly. She eased back too, and fought down the hiccups in her breathing. Her eyes were warm. The smile that pulled at her lips trembled. “You scared us, you know…”

“I know,” he answered, and he pulled her back in with one extended arm.

“And we have been scaring you,” Garnet responded. She didn’t pull away from Steven as she spoke. She still held him tight. “…We’re so sorry, Steven.”

“Hey, it came in good use!” Amethyst cut in. She gestured a hand to the door. “We’ve got Cinnabar running for the hills. Probably crying to her Homeworld mommy about how mean these Earth Gems were to her!”

At this, Steven went stiff. His head swiveled to the door—as best it could under the Gems. Slats of sunlight cut through the screen. The deck was washed in lazy sunlight, the distant beach sparkling with the rolling tides. Normal, save for the spiraling column of smoke that spun its way into the sky. He wiggled against the bodies holding him, fighting to sit upright. “Wait, what happened? Where is Cinnabar?” He shot imploring looks to all three Gems. “Is she still trying to attack…o-or?”

Amethyst returned his gaze, her pupils shifting from his left to his right. She chewed on her lip a moment. “You uh…you don’t remember?” She paused as Steven shook his head. “Okay well, maybe that makes sense. I mean you were pretty…dead, until like four minutes ago.”

Steven shrugged himself free. His head swung around, heart beating uncomfortably fast. “What’s she going to do?”

“Nothing,” Amethyst shut him down in an instant. The small smile on her mouth dropped. She drew back, and gave an apprehensive glance behind her before turning back to Steven. “That…rant…just now at the beach…”

Steven looked to Pearl, then craned his neck around to Garnet. “ I-I don’t know what you… I gave Peridot control. That’s the last thing I remember.”

Amethyst crossed her arms at this. She slouched in on herself, uncomfortably. “Yeah…I guess that makes sense…Considering all the–”

She didn’t complete the thought. In the silence that followed, all four of the Crystal Gems looked to the floor. Warm light washed over the wooden flooring. A few scattered, mismatched toys beat across the scene. The coffee table, angled away, sat passively, as did the Gem pressed against it. Peridot didn’t dare break the silence. She only pulled her legs up a fraction closer to her body, watching through wide, hunted eyes. Broken gem, broken body, broken everything. She returned the stare to all four of them, but to Steven most of all.

Amethyst shrugged against the weighty tension. “Eh, well it was pretty badass. You nearly had Cinnabar peeing her pants. You coulda fooled me with all that.”

“…I didn’t make any of that up,” Peridot answered after a beat. She waited, breath held, in case the Gems reacted to her comment.

“Make what up?” Steven asked. An edge of anxiety worked its way into his voice. He looked Peridot up and down again: arms gone, face cracked (now visorless), uniform torn at the edges and legs crawling with split seams.

“…Yoouuuuu should really get to sleep, Steven,” Pearl answered. She slid her arms past Garnet’s, and Garnet relented. Pearl lifted him as though he weighed nothing, and Steven didn’t have the strength to struggle. “We’ll call Greg first to let him know you’re alright, and then you can sleep as long as you like.”

“What? No!” Steven wiggled against her grasp. His head spun to Peridot, and he drank in her decaying form. “What happened?! What’s Cinnabar doing!? Peridot—we need to heal Peridot! She’s not gonna hurt us! We gotta!”

A moment of hesitation followed, broken by a sharp noise of distaste from Amethyst. She looked to Garnet, then Pearl as her lip curled. “Really? We’re gonna not tell him? Have we learned nothing from this?” Her voice broke as she spoke, incredulous. “News flash: that’s why we’re in this mess to start! Lying to Steven! So let’s just be straight with him for once, huh?”

“Cinnabar has agreed to leave us in peace so long as we hand Peridot over. That is assuming Peridot can instruct her crew in ship repairs.” Garnet stood from the couch, her attention dropping to Peridot.

Steven blinked at this. He followed her gaze down to the cracked Gem. Unease washed through him. “So Peridot gets to go home?” He twisted in Pearl’s grip toward the kitchen, searching the spattered mess for the pile of green gem shards. “We—we still gotta heal her though! We still gotta heal her and then send her home so she…” Steven stopped; he turned back, breath held, and scanned the Gems’ faces. Garnet’s betrayed nothing, but Pearl and Amethyst looked away in avoidance. “…What are you not telling me?”

“Cinnabar knows Peridot’s cracked six ways from Sunday, Steven.” Amethyst took in Peridot’s appearance as she spoke. She sounded unsettled by her own words. “That’s like…the whole basis of our ‘Get off the planet or we’ll mess you up like we messed Peridot up!’ threat. Cinnabar’s gonna call our bluff if Peridot’s fine.

Steven watched only Peridot’s face. He waited, hoping for some sort of reaction in her deadened eyes. She avoided his gaze, and did not speak. “Can’t they…doesn’t Homeworld have hospitals? Can they help her?”

“Well, we haven’t been to Homeworld in 5,000 years,” Pearl answered with a lilt in her voice. “It’s possible they’ve developed care facilities since we—“

“Pearl knock it off,” Amethyst cut in. She threw her arms out to Pearl. “I don’t wanna hurt his feelings either, but cool it with the lies.” Her eyes softened as she refocused on Steven, and she moved forward with caution. Steven, still in Pearl’s grip, shrunk away from her approach. “It’s way easier for Homeworld to just grind up broken gems and use them to power junk. That’s what they do. That’s what Cinnabar’s gonna do with Peridot. Tourmaline told us.”

Steven stopped fighting against Pearl then. He went slack entirely, attention glued to Amethyst. There was a glassiness in his eyes, a tremble in his lips then. Devastation ate slowly across his whole face, and he looked then to Peridot. She turned her head away from him just as the shine in his eyes coalesced into tears.

“No…” he whispered. “No no no no. That’s all wrong. We’ve…we’ve got the tears! We can save her. We gotta. We gotta save her. We’re so close…” He quieted then, and there came a crack in his voice when he spoke again. “Peridot—“

She flinched at the address, but didn’t turn to him.

“Peridot, please! Tell them you can’t die. Tell them please! We worked so hard. We’ve got your gem shards! W-we can talk to Cinnabar. I won’t…..I-I won’t hand you over just to die! You gotta help me. You gotta tell them…Peridot…”

Her head twitched to him then, and annoyance burned bright in her damaged eyes. “Tell them what exactly? That I don’t wanna die? Or you don’t want me to die? We don’t always get the stuff we want.” The gusto dropped from her voice. She seemed to choke on her own words. “You tried…so thanks. Now just…go to sleep.”

“No! No I’m not tired!” Steven shouted. He banged his fists uselessly against Pearl’s grip.

“Well I am,” Peridot answered. She pressed the stub of her arm to the floor in an attempt to stand. It was Garnet then at her side, hoisting her by the waist into a ragdoll slump. Pearl moved then with Steven to the stairs. Garnet and Peridot passed by too, but they didn’t cut at the stairs. They kept on in a slow, dead-man’s march to the door.

Numbness crawled through Steven’s body, like bleeding static. The world crashed around him, and he watched Garnet open the door as if from outside his own body, surreal. “This can’t–…You can’t–…Please, Peridot.”

“Bye, Steven,” she said, and she didn’t turn to him.

Then she was out the door. A small gust of stale air moved with them—Garnet and Peridot—as they passed.

Steven blinked, 

and Peridot was gone.

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