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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21. 21

It was a relief, almost, to be dragged out across the beach. Peridot’s toes carved two shallow rivets in the hot sand. They clunked on imbedded rocks and scratched against the jagged edges of shattered sea shells. The heat radiated up still, peeled at her skin, but she was cracked to the point of numb. Almost, anyway. Everything had been so hot, so loud, so real and painful when she’d dragged herself to consciousness in the fusion. Now, as herself, the dissociation was a far nicer way to exist.

Her head sagged down, in part because she didn’t have the strength to support it, in part because it was easier that way. She saw only the grainy topology of the Earth, not him, and not anything around her.

As she got farther from the house, it became easier to give in to the distant thrum of static in her mind. Hoping had taken too much of her energy, and fear was too powerful to maintain. Now that she was alone in her mind, she could comfortably bury guilt along with all those other feelings. Hope, fear, guilt, rage—they were nothing under the exhausted blanket of apathy. It turned her mind into a wash of impassive nothing. Peridot had never slept, but from Steven’s memories, she imagined this would be how it felt. She could die this way, and maybe it would be fine.

Peridot’s body lurched. She let out only a small huff as the fusion ground to a stop. Garnet, Peridot’s shared memories filled in the name. Garnet, fusion of Ruby and Sapphire, a strong and loving and warm thing in Steven’s life. She was taller in memory, fierce in an admirable way, gentle in a fashion that didn’t seem possible with her strength. The memories were laughable, almost. Fake in their entirety. Peridot let out a bemused snort. Garnet was a monster, and Peridot knew that.

Peridot lifted her head when the movement didn’t resume. She blinked for the few seconds it took her eyes to focus. Garnet had stopped about fifty feet shy of the crashed ship, and she’d frozen at the sight of a tiny grayscale Gem waving them forward. Peridot flinched as Garnet yanked Peridot’s stumped arm tighter around her neck. It seemed intentional, the aggression in it. Peridot didn’t dwell on it—she only spared a moment to be thankful that she couldn’t feel the others’ emotions, and returned to her mute slump.

Oh! Oh that must be Peridot. Yes! This way! No don’t worry—we won’t attack! I’ve got orders right from Cinnabar saying not to!” The voice was shrill. Peridot hated how it broke through to her mind. She missed the silence that had come of Garnet marching her out. She missed hearing only the whispering hiss of sand against her feet. “I mean—well I’d probably say something like that even if I was gonna attack you. But I’m not a warrior Gem! I’m just a Howlite. No need to worry you can just bring her forward!”

There came a silent moment of hesitation before Garnet picked her pace back up. Peridot tilted her head up again; a dozen or so Gems had stopped to watch her, a litany of colors. They all clenched tools in their tiny arms or manuals unfolded to four feet long. She hated them all in that instant: their hungry eyes, the morbid curiosity in the amazed horror on their face. It made her feel herself again. She mentally picked apart her missing limbs and cracked face and decaying uniform. A display. A curiosity.

And some part of her seethed. Because the Gem that had done this to her now carried her, disaffected, to turn her over to her death. Peridot didn’t trust a single one of Steven’s memories at that moment: there was no way that this fusion was anything but cruel.

Okay good! You know what, let me go get Cinnabar. She’s right in here. Be back in a jiffy.”

Peridot watched the ship now. With thousands of years of repair experience under her belt, it took her a single pass of its exterior to make a hundred different judgements on its condition. It was a standard Y-Diamond 54th Class Starstreaker. She’d helped build several of them in the past few centuries. In that time, she’d repaired even more. This one was shredded and burned at all points of its exterior. The glass in front was cracked, but not beyond repair. It dragged out a grim satisfaction inside her to realize, for once, she’d played a hand in destroying one.

Maybe she’d play dumb. Maybe she wouldn’t fix a damn thing, and she could cling to life long enough to watch Cinnabar and the Crystal Gems exterminate each other—both stranded on Earth.

In that same moment, her mind dredged up the image of a small, velvety pirate hat, a halo of pink gem shards, a soft voice making empty promises about life and love. The gleeful, vengeful thought vanished in a wave of self-loathing. She didn’t let the feeling linger; Peridot packed it deep into the back of her mind and took instead to mentally mapping all the fissures she could see in the hull. Emotionless. Distant. It was a mechanical, uninvolved process. Her own feelings meant nothing; she didn’t have time for them, because she was a machine for repair. It was the sort of thing she’d done for millennia, and it was the sort of thing she could relearn. The next task in a long life of endless, boring, emotionless tasks.

The last one, she supposed…

It hardly registered to her when Cinnabar stepped out onto the beach. The Commander had cropped away patches of hair that had singed in the explosion. Bits of her uniform had been scrubbed, still bearing the off-white stain of ash and soot. She’d wiped her face clean, making her the only Gem present whose skin was free of the dark chalky residue. Peridot blinked at the thought—no, she was clean too. It had been Tourmaline’s face that took the brunt of the embers and ash. She was clean. The sun was steadily dropping below the ship, and long shadows crawled across the beach, consuming them.

Peridot’s half-lidded eyes drifted to the tiny black and white Gem that padded along on Cinnabar’s heels—Howlite, this one. Cinnabar stopped directly in front of Garnet, hands crossed behind her back. Howlite sidled up beside her. She stood directly in front of Peridot. Slumped as Peridot was, the two Gems could almost see eye to eye.

This one, Peridot decided, she hated the most. This one stared at her in a way the other Gems hadn’t—it wasn’t morbid curiosity on Howlite’s face, not gawking intrigue. This little Gem looked on with wide, wide eyes. Her face was drained and her pupils trembled. Her jovial attitude had dropped completely for ashen silence.Terror. This Gem was terrified to even look at her.

Peridot felt her own decaying body then more than ever. She had traces of Steven’s memories to remember exactly how she looked: a corpse, hacked apart and torn up and shattered like very few living Gems ever were. She pictured the craggy, jagged splinters of her gem—visorless now, in full display—and her ripped up eyes and shredded face and missing body pieces. She indulged herself in it for the moment, and fixed Howlite with an unblinking glare. If Howlite wanted to look at her, she’d give the Gem a show.

Howlite flinched. Her tiny legs shook, and she immediately cradled her right hand in her left. She moved it then to her chest and hugged it close. Peridot’s eyes shifted then to the Gem’s visor, tinted gray. She noted the horizontal crack across it, and suddenly the Gem’s terror wasn’t entertaining anymore. And so she looked away.

“You get Peridot to repair your ship. Then you leave our planet alone,” Garnet said. She hoisted Peridot a little higher. Cinnabar’s eyes fell on Peridot then, and Peridot only spared a single glance upward.

“How familiar are you with these ships?” Cinnabar asked.

A superior, asking about Gem technology. Normal. Normal…

“Plenty,” Peridot answered. It came as instinct. “I’ve built and repaired plenty of them.”

“You really cracked her gem.” The address had shifted now to Garnet, and Peridot was an object once more. “She doesn’t look like she’ll last long.”

“Then get started,” was Garnet’s emotionless response. She shrugged Peridot over like a rag doll. Peridot only watched her own dangling feet; tiny scraps of metal littered the beach.

“Howlite, support her. Do not let her crack more.”

“Yes’m!”

The little thing came under Peridot then. She took Peridot in with her left side, and she trembled slightly under Peridot’s weight. Or maybe it wasn’t the weight that caused the Gem to shake… Peridot couldn’t tell.

“What are you waiting for? Take her to the ship!”

Yes’m!”

Howlite trudged through the sand with huffing breaths. She moved with purposeful strides, more jarring than Garnet had been. Peridot tried to ignore it. She ignored all the painful sensations pulsing through her body at every step. She saw only the ship, only the mission.

“Standard issue resin is in the store room of every Starstreaker. One-to-one mixing ratio, patch all tears less than one centimeter with two coats. Anything larger requires three coats or welding with spare sheet metal. Consult me first.” Peridot hardly heard her own words. She just poured out the information that had made her useful as a Gem of Homeworld. Howlite nodded and responded with something; Peridot wasn’t listening.

You are free to leave now.” Cinnabar’s voice rang out from behind. Cinnabar was still turned away, speaking to Garnet. Absolute silence met her; Garnet didn’t answer, and she didn’t move. To Peridot, the moment was filled only with Howlite’s tiny fast breaths. “…Or, you can remain. We’re not planning on betraying you. Do what you want.”

Garnet didn’t answer, and she didn’t dare budge from her spot.

Soft streaks of sunlight threw themselves across Steven’s comforter. They washed his stuffed animals in warm, desaturated light. Dust clung gently to his television screen and hung in the air, fixed by the streaming rays. It was a warm day for fall, a sleepy, quiet afternoon.

Steven wore his pajamas. They were striped, soft. Fuzzy, comforting fabric against his own skin. They felt like a betrayal. He sat on his bed, legs crossed and hands pooled in his lap. He kept his head angled down and away.

“Steven… I know this isn’t perfect, but we’re very…lucky with how things turned out.” There came a gentle weight on the far end of the bed. Pearl lowered herself there, and Steven curled into himself further. “Tourmaline’s plan worked! We’re all very proud of them.”

Amethyst sat on the top stair. Her feet rested one stair below, and she twisted her body around to face Steven. He didn’t look at her.

“Yeah, and it’s not like we’re hogtying and gagging Peridot to do this. She just…went, man. ‘s not our fault. …’s not yours.”

“I don’t care about that,” Steven whispered. He bunched his hands up in his pajama pants. “I care that we’re just gonna hand her over to die. I care that we’re not trying to find some other way to fix this.”

“Steven, I dunno exactly how to say this buuut…I kinda think Peridot wants to do this.” Amethyst twisted around in the other direction. She squirmed when Steven’s glistening eyes moved to her. “I mean I know you weren’t around to hear her rail against Cinnabar but like…man, Peridot hates herself. Like you got way inside her head, Steven.”

“That doesn’t make me feel better, Amethyst,” Steven muttered. He pulled his legs up to his chest, arms folded over his knees and face resting in them. Amethyst stuttered.

“Nah nah you didn’t let me finish. I mean sure she hates herself, but she doesn’t hate you.” Amethyst looked to Pearl, then back to Steven. “She said this thing to Cinnabar. She said something about…having to watch the things that care about you die…and how awful that it. And she—I mean it’s not like she was talking aboutme ya know? Or Pearl or Garnet or Homeworld or any of that junk.” Amethyst stared down to the floor. Her eyes trained on one of Steven’s stuffed animals that had been knocked from the bed. “And you just…it was right after you got shattered. And I didn’t connect it at first but like, it was definitely Peridot saying all that junk to Cinnabar. And she wasn’t saying it because she was trying to be tricky—she just wanted to scream and complain before she died. And she wanted to scream about you being dead, Steven. A-and—“

“What Amethyst is saying is this is okay with Peridot,” Pearl cut in when Amethyst faltered. She scooted up higher on Steven’s bed to rest one palm on his knee. “This isn’t about us involuntarily cracking her anymore. This is a decision she’s okay with.”

“But I’m not okay with it,” was Steven’s whispered response. He curled in smaller on himself—it was how he felt: small. Powerless. Useless.

“You…can be proud of her, Steven,” Pearl said hesitantly. She lifted her hand from his knee. Only silence met her. She threaded her fingers into each other instead. “Because…I think we all are. You uh—you made us see a lot of things, Steven. You made us understand a lot. We’ve been so focused on staying alive and on protecting Earth- it became so easy to lose sight of anything that wasn’tus. But not you, never you…”

Pearl looked up then. She caught the small leaking tears in Steven’s turned-away eyes. Her hand reached out, and she used her thumb to brush them away. “You scared us, Steven, but you scared us into listening. I want to listen, now. I want to understand. I don’t want to blindly agree to decisions anymore. I never want to be weak like that again.” She pulled her hand away from him. “I think, maybe, I can understand it…having a mission and caring only about completing it. It’s how Homeworld functioned for millennia. And it’s because of you that Peridot was able to see things differently… We’re proud of you, Steven. We’re proud of her…”

Steven rubbed furiously at the tears in his eyes. The warm room, his soft pajamas, his healed gem all filled him with a crushing sense of guilt. “But she only just learned. And now we’re gonna let her die. I wanted…I wanted to show her Earth. I wanted to let her see all the things that make everything so great, so she’d understand too, and wouldn’t–…a-and we have the fountain tears. We’re choosing to let it happen this way…because we’re too afraid for ourselves.”

“We’re doing what we gotta do to stay alive, Steven.” Amethyst filled in the guilty silence. “There’s not…anything wrong with that.”

Steven’s head snapped up at this. His eyes were wet, red, and angry. “That doesn’t make any sense, Amethyst. Because that’s exactly what Peridot was doing when she poofed you guys at the Kindergarten! And that’s what she was doing when she took control of Tourmaline. And that’s what she stopped doing when I made her realize how much she was hurting us. Those were all—“ Steven threw his arms out, “—those were all things she did because she was trying to stay alive. So why is it only okay when we’re doing them?!”

Pearl’s arms were around him then. She held him tight. When she spoke into his ear, her words were stained with tears. “I’m not saying any of this is fair, Steven. But if we go against Cinnabar now, we’re risking the destruction of everyone. We’re risking the death of everyone Rose fought so hard to protect. Us, your friends and your dad, everyone… I’m sorry, Steven. I’m sorry we put you through this. I’m sorry we couldn’t save Peridot. But she’s helping us save…everyone. You can be proud, Steven, and you can be sad.”

“I don’t want to be proud or sad! I wanna save Peridot.” Steven squirmed against Pearl’s grip, but she held him tight.

“I lost friends in the battle for Earth. Our side lost Gems that I miss every day, Steven. And I am proud of them, and I am sad, but mostly I’m thankful. I’m thankful that they gave up their lives for us. And that’s all I can be.”

No…” Steven answered. He stopped struggling. In an uncertain fit, he loosened his arms and slid them around Pearl, returning her hug. “That’s not fair.”

Amethyst pushed herself to her feet. She walked with purpose to Steven’s bed, and raised herself up with one knee on his comforter. She wrapped herself in the hug as well.

“Sorry, Steven. They’ve got us in a corner. You did good, though. You and Peridot both… Better than the rest of us.”

The silence that hung between them was thick and tainted. It was locked in with the warm sunlight, until Pearl eased herself away. She wiped the tears from her eyes and spared a glance to the kitchen, to the mess. She let out a small laugh.

“I uh, I suppose we should call Greg. He’s got to be worried sick. I’ll bet he’d like to talk to you.” Pearl glanced back to Steven just as Amethyst disentangled herself too. Steven met her gaze for all of a moment before easing himself onto his back. He spread his arms and legs wide, looking first at the ceiling before rolling onto his side.

“Actually…I think I am tired right now, Pearl. Is it okay if I sleep first?”

Pearl hopped off the bed in a single, instantaneous motion. “Oh! Oh of course, yes. You must be exhausted. I mean you—even more than any of us. This was very inconsiderate of us. Amethyst—Amethyst, get off the bed. Steven needs to sleep.”

“Hey hey I am!” Amethyst answered defensively. She stuck both hands in the air as she shifted her weight back to the foot on the floor. She took a few extra steps backwards for emphasis. “Letting him rest, got it.”

“S-sleep well, Steven,” Pearl said as she moved toward the stairs. Amethyst followed in tow. “We…we love you.”

“Heck yeah we do,” Amethyst added, though she watched Steven with obvious anxiety on her face. He rolled toward them, looking back for only a moment before letting his eyes slide shut.

“Me too…” he said, and nothing more.

Pearl’s feet made hardly a sound as she descended the stair case. Only Amethyst’s clunking gave away that the Gems had moved at all. An intentional silence filled the house then. Light footsteps paced about on the main level. The kitchen faucet turned on a few times, though silence always returned when one pot or tray banged just a bit too loud. Pearl attempting to clean—probably. Long gaps of sheer white fuzziness followed. How long, Steven didn’t know.

“…I don’t like that Garnet isn’t back yet,” came the first spoken words in fifteen minutes. It was Pearl, and her voice was scarcely audible. “You don’t think something went wrong, do you?”

I dunno. I’m not the one with future vision, Pearl. I’ve been here with you this whole time.”

I mean intuitively do you think something could have happened?”

“I aint Tourmaline either, Pearl.”

“Ameth–!” Pearl sucked in a breath for composure. “Keep an eye on Steven. I’m going down to the beach to make sure nothing’s gone wrong.”

“Uh, no offense, but if this is something Garnet couldn’t handle, then I dunno what you’d do about it P.”

“And do you think you could handle it instead?”

“No, dummy, I mean bring me with you.”

“What about Steven?”

“He’s asleep, Pearl! We’re not doing any good here.”

“Fine, fine, just keep behind me and watch my back once we get close to the ship.”

“I’m not your backup.”

“You—guh! Fine. Do as you like. Just lock the door behind you.”

“Yeah, wouldn’t want all the evacuated people of Beach City sneaking in on Steven.”

“Why do I even try to hold conversations with you, Amethyst?”

Amethyst answered with only a self-satisfied laugh. Their footsteps moved to the front of the house, and the jagged peel of the door being dragged against its frame split the air. It was no longer a perfect fit in the frame, not since it had been torn off and refitted so many times. Its orientation had changed so often that it no longer had any proper fit.

And it shut, latched, and fell to silence as the Gem’s footsteps faded away. A moment of pure nothing passed. A moment of emptiness.

Steven cracked his eyes open, and he swung his bare feet to the floor beside his bed. It was cold, each step he took. He didn’t get socks, though. He didn’t even get shoes.

Pajama-clad, shoeless, and with heavy bags of exhaustion beneath his eyes, Steven moved to the stairs descending from his loft. His heart beat fast in his chest, and his eyes scanned the first floor of the house for the things he wanted.

   
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