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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23. 23

Greg had drawn the plastic woven blinds over the windows of his van and fallen into a fitful, anxious, spinning half-sleep. He edged in and out of consciousness repeatedly, as every slip was met with images of gruesome, shattered fusions tearing out of Steven’s skin and the icy nostalgia of seeing Rose for the last time. He’d sweat clean through his tanktop and took now to staring blankly, exhausted, at the dark roof of his van. He’d made a bed out of winter clothes, and parked himself on the side of a gravelly back road about 15 miles out of Beach City. The air had grown stagnant, hot, but Greg found himself too paralyzed with fear to move.

There came a shrill noise, a default ringtone, that fractured the stuffy air. Greg felt his heart jump into his throat as it snapped him to attention. He fell off the musty pile of clothes he’d fashioned into a bed. His trembling hands pawed in desperate arcs for the cell phone.

“Hello? Hello hello hello I’m here,” Greg wheezed into it. He crushed it against his cheek. His chest fluttered with pitiful attempts to breathe.

Greg? It’s Pearl.

“Yes yes it’s me what—what’s happened? You’re alive! What—where—please—I-is Steven?”

Steven is okay, Greg. He’s healed, and he’s resting. I think he’d like to see you. Amethyst is calling up Mayor Dewey right now to bring everyone back into Beach City.”

Greg didn’t answer. His vision vanished in a flood of tears, and the phone slipped clean from his grasp.

“…Greg?

The first desperate sob wrenched out of his chest. Then another. Greg buried his face in his hands and cried. In his dark, musty, shade-drawn van pulled over to the side of a ditch, Greg sobbed. The noises shook through the entirety of his body, which had gone numb with relief.

…I’ll…give you a moment, then. Take your time…” the phone buzzed with static, and Greg cried.

His son was alive,

and the thought only made him sob harder.

[So for the story, I was thinking. What if Rachel and Angela were secretly in love with each other and not Brad? And that’s why they faked Angela’s death. So theyd be together. It’s like Ruby and Sapphire]

–Read 5:17pm—

[Steven!? Steven oh my god are you okay?! Is that you?! Please call me. No I’ll call you!]

–Read 5:18pm—

[Okay. Please tell me what you think of my idea.]

–Read 5:18pm—

Peridot had shifted to the corner of her holding cell. It bled cold and hard against her fractured body, spread the numbness faster. It protected her, at least somewhat, from the bursts of turbulence that rocked the ship. She kept her ears tuned to the sound of the engines, the hums and thrums of working machinery, without knowing exactly what she’d do if they did start to malfunction. She’d be able to instruct them in any needed repairs (probably) but it’d be nicer to die in the icy vacuum of space than in the Refinery.

Maybe, once they docked, she could plead for her life.

Maybe she could beg.

It probably wouldn’t help. Homeworld didn’t heal Gems. The most she could probably barter for would be permission to be tossed in a Homeworld landfill, and live out the rest of her days there until her gem cracked of its own accord. It probably wouldn’t take long.

Peridot pulled her legs into herself, curled into a fetal position. They were the only protection she had, and she hated herself for how primal it felt. Just a few hunks of body and metal, half-shielding a decaying form and a dead gem. She’d accepted death. She had. But Homeworld was approaching, the Refinery was approaching. It was an enormous, walled-in monstrosity on the outskirts of Central. The churning gears inside were normal, distant background noise to the city. And you never openly acknowledged when the sputtering, grinding hum from inside rose to a rocky fever pitch. It was business, productivity. The Gems who entered were, essentially, already dead.

And Peridot had been dead for quite some time.

She let out a sharp huff when the entire ship jolted upward. It coalesced into a cry of pain, and when Peridot cracked her eyes open, she was looking at a few grains of gem glittering on the grated floor. She held her breath and listened. The engine had stopped.

But, so had the ship. And a litany of small cheers echoed from the closed off halls. Peridot closed her eyes again. She rolled onto her back and tried to normalize her breathing. They’d…landed. She’d made it home. Months stranded, she’d made it home. As hardly more than a prisoner.

The floor and walls echoed with the clacking of tiny boots on metal. Little bursts of voices and noise cut through the air. Gems grabbing this and that, Gems disembarking, Gems giving orders. No doubt one was already running through the streets of Central, head swiveling around for the Main Repair Hub. Peridot had worked there once, a lifetime ago, before she’d been reassigned.

A pneumatic hiss broke the air. Peridot pretended not to startle at how close the noise sounded. She only rolled further, nose pressed to the wall, when she heard two sets of footsteps enter.

“Crystal System Peridot, we’ve docked. Some of the sealant tore away on the hull, but no terminal damage. Your repair work has performed to expectations–”

Peridot cut Cinnabar’s voice out. She wondered instead what would happen if she slammed her head forward at that moment. The wall was thick, firm, cold. She could hit it gem-first, and maybe shatter herself through. And then no one could send her to the—

“—Refinery. The request has cleared. See yourself there.”

Cinnabar’s words raked through Peridot’s mind then. It sent thrills of coldness and panic down her spine. She turned, scrambling upright, and fixed the Commander with a wide-eyed stare. Cinnabar had been looking down at a green screen projecting out of a device in her palm. Her eyes flickered up, almost surprised, to meet Peridot’s. Howlite, who’d been standing at Cinnabar’s side, backed up a few feet.

“Did you hear me, Peridot?” Cinnabar asked. She glanced back to her screen.

“I—But I uh…I-I belong to Yellow Diamond…” Peridot stuttered. She felt the watered down weakness of her own words.

This got Cinnabar’s attention. Her jaw was set, confusion drifting to annoyance. “Yes, Howlite’s cleared you from Yellow Diamond’s directory, not mine. I’m not an idiot.”

“I mean…it’s up to Yellow Diamond…what happens to me.” Peridot had stopped looking at Cinnabar. She swung her head around, hot with anger at her own cowardice.

“This is not a personal decision. Cracked Gems get sent to the Refinery. It doesn’t matter who orders it.” Cinnabar took a step closer. She bowed at the waist, her face slashed by the holding cell’s bars, and she stared eye-to-eye with Peridot. Cold, thin red slits, her eyes were. “I don’t know what changed in you on Earth to make you think you have a say in this, but it’s an order. Follow it.”

“I’ll uh—Ma’am?—I’ll escort her. That’s—I can do that.” Howlite had peeked her head around from behind Cinnabar. Her curl bobbed with the motion. She’d stuck her right hand in the air, index finger raised. “Really it’s no problem! Someone needs to carry her arms anyway. They make bridges out of that metal. It’s good for the environment to recycle them.”

Cinnabar stood tall then. She turned and fixed Howlite with a stare that Peridot couldn’t read. Peridot only pressed herself farther against the wall and fought to hold back the clawing panic in her chest.

“Fine. I want you back within half an hour. Yellow Diamond needs my reports as soon as possible—better start sucking up now if I want any chance of keeping…anything.” Cinnabar had her eyes set back to the main hallway. She moved forward with fluid steps, glancing back once at Howlite. “You’re better at that.”

“I-I uh…Ma’am I…” Howlite wrung her hands, trailing off. She shooked her head then, and cocked a stiff salute with her right hand. “…Y-yes’m. I uh…I…”

Cinnabar was gone though, the automatic doors hissing shut behind her. Darkness crawled back over the holding compartment, and Howlite went slack. She dropped her arm and exhaled, glancing back to Peridot with much less vigor in her eyes.

“Come on, we’ll go together.”

Howlite pressed her tiny palm against the scanner. The bars unlatched with a firm click, and Howlite clasped them in her free hand. She swung them forward. They grated sharp against the cold metal floor, the bottom of the door scratched away from an imperfect fit. Howlite only shoved it harder as it stuttered, eyes fixed to Peridot.

“I uh…I need to get your arms. Can you stand?”

The numbing static hand spread to Peridot’s entire body. She watched her own feet to judge their motion. The slid inward, sole to the grated metal flooring, and she pushed herself standing by using the wall as support. She wobbled once, but kept her feet beneath her.

She took one step forward. Then another. Howlite scooched to the side, and spun backwards to the door which opened at her command.

Light poured through, blinding then, revealing the hustle of a crawling city stretching dozens of miles over the horizon. Bright, loud, enormous—everything Peridot was used to. She moved forward on swaying legs. She teetered, hobbled, moved with three times as much effort and focus as any normal Gem.

But she didn’t fall.

Steven was entirely too warm, but he didn’t care.

Greg sat in bed with him, his large right arm draped around Steven’s shoulder. It was large enough to wrap back around to Greg’s own stomach. It felt like a cocoon—a soft, squishy, warm cocoon. Steven wiggled himself against Greg’s body in response, and Greg held him closer.

Connie sat cross-legged to Steven’s right. The mattress hardly even buckled underneath her. She kept one hand in the lap of her jeans and the other one gripped to Steven’s arm. The undersides of her eyes were dark and blotchy, and she fought down yawns every few minutes—a matching set with bleary-eyed Steven

“Okay, so, tell me if I have this all right. Cinnabar came down on shore, and Tourmaline convinced her that you didn’t exist and that she was better off leaving in peace. Then she changed her mind and attacked anyway, and you deflected the blast and uh…got shattered. But then Peridot took control and scared Cinnabar enough to leave for real, because her ship was busted and if she made peace with you guys, you’d give her Peridot who could then fix the ship. And now you’re healed, and she, Peridot, and the ship are all gone.”

Steven yanked one hand free from Greg and swept it through the air. “And that’s what you missed last time on ‘Under the Fusion’.”

Connie pressed her fingers to her nose, suppressing a smile. “No…No Under the Knife references right now, Steven. You almost died.”

“Yeah but…I didn’t.” Steven dropped his arm. He shrunk in closer to Greg then, eyes averted from Connie. “So there’s no reason to talk about it. You promised we’d work on your Under the Knife fanfiction after this was all over.”

Connie didn’t answer immediately. She glanced out the window, watching the calm darkening beach. Her face was unreadable. “…That idea about Rachel and Angela actually being in love? Brilliant, Steven. Angela’s father is a Catholic priest, and Rachel mentioned in the season 2 premiere that her mother campaigned for Nixon in the sixties. It would make sense for them to keep a lesbian relationship a secret, not to mention all the scenes where they fight over Bradford? At least one other hospital worker is always present. I checked on the ride over.” She turned then to Steven, with a knowing smile pulling at her lips. “This is going to make the Brangela and the Radford shippers furious, but it is a story that needs to be written.”

“I uh—is this a show you two are talking about?” Greg shifted under Steven’s weight. “Also my leg is falling asleep Kiddo.”

“Sorry Dad.”

“Oh and it—well sort of. Under the Knife got canceled after its third season, so the writers were forced to throw together a loose and ambiguous ending. A lot of the fans are unhappy with this, so we’re theorizing possible true endings. I’m the writer! And Steven is helping with ideas.”

“I used Garnet for inspiration!” Steven glanced over the loft. He saw Garnet tilt her head to him, but only for a moment. She returned to staring forward, silently, arms swung over the back of the couch. Steven pressed his lips together, dejected but not hurt. He knew Garnet was busy scanning all the futures she could see, double-checking that they were safe.

Connie followed Steven’s line of sight. Her attention trailed farther, until she had a bird’s eyes view of the kitchen. Pearl was sweeping through it—clearing plates and scrubbing away syrup stains and dumping soggy pancakes in the trash. Connie went bright red.

“Oh my goodness, Steven–the mess we made!” Connie rocked forward until she was on her hands and knees. She gave the kitchen a once over from here. Pearl looked back, and waved with a soft smile on her face. Connie only went redder. “Pearl I’m very sorry! We didn’t clean anything up. (Oh that’s been there almost two days now). Don’t tell my mom! And please let me help!”

Connie made to scramble off Steven’s bed, but Pearl waved her off. “I have this under control, Connie. Just stay with Steven.”

“Are you sure?” Connie answered. She made her voice loud, and it echoed just slightly.

“Entirely. I enjoy cleaning anyway.” Pearl turned back to the sink. She scrubbed at eaten-through pans and took now to humming a soft tune. It carried back to the loft crystal clear.

“What…did you tell your parents anyway, Connie?” Steven asked. He bunched up his hands in his pajamas.

“Well I certainly didn’t tell them Beach City was evacuated… It’s a good thing this town has so few people; otherwise the empty streets might have been suspicious.” Connie sat back down with a fwump. The bed springs bounced and eeked with the motion. “I uh…I told them you have a very bad bike accident and broke your leg and now you needed a friend. My mom almost tried to come in here herself to examine you so you’re lucky I convinced her not to.”

Steven smiled at this, though he lowered his eyes to the mattress. “More like a tandem bicycle accident…I guess. That’s almost right.”

Connie looked away too. Her eyes strayed to the window, and her fingers folded into each other. “So uh…what happens to Peridot now? Is she…is she okay now?”

Connie glanced back to Steven. She didn’t dare speak as Steven kept himself closed off from her.

“You know Steven, a lot of people are alive right now because of you.” Greg tightened his arm around Steven. “Cinnabar was on her way to earth regardless. She was just filling in for Peridot’s mission. If you’d never saved Peridot, we probably wouldn’t have known anything about Cinnabar until it was too late. Who knows how many people she might have killed? Or what she might have done to you guys. …You saved lives, and most importantly to me, you saved yourself.”

“I just had to scare you half to death to do it, huh?” Steven asked.

“Well, Tourmaline did most of the scaring, to be honest. Not that they meant to.” Greg eased away from Steven as Connie scooted in under the covers. She rested her head on Steven’s shoulder, allowing her eyes to drift shut. “I’m proud of them, Steven. And I’m sorry it had to end like this for them… but you’re alive, which means Tourmaline’s still half alive, at least. It’s better than nothing.”

The front door banged open. Steven didn’t (well, couldn’t) turn to look, but he heard the jabbering mix of Amethyst’s and Mayor Dewey’s voices. They were arguing about something to do with constant town evacuations and how badly it reflected on the mayor’s approval rating. A small smile pulled at Steven’s lips as he listened to Amethyst dissolve into mocking blah blah blah noises, much to Dewey’s annoyance. There came a shuffling from the couch, the sound of sharp, heavy footsteps, and an audible eep from Dewey.

“Steven is trying to sleep. Go. Away.”

“Y-yes Garnet. We’ll—I’ll uh—talk to you about this later?”

“No.” The door shut. A silence followed, broken only by the sound of Amethyst rubbing sand off her body.

Amethyst, I am cleaning.”

“Yeah, which you love. I’m giving you more to do.”

“No, do that outside! I’ve already wiped down the floor and the coffee table and the counters! I don’t need—huh…”

A moment of silence. Steven’s eyes felt suddenly too heavy to keep open. Maybe it was Connie’s rhythmic breathing, maybe it was Greg’s soft heat, but sleep pulled Steven under. His eyes slid shut, and a welcome darkness filled his vision.

“…What, Pearl?”

…I thought…on the co…?”

“…?”

Exhaustion won out, and Steven fell into a dreamless sleep.

Homeworld Gems weren’t meant to acknowledge each other in passing; this was common knowledge. But what Peridot felt as she hobbled through the streets was like nothing she’d ever experienced before. She was used to disinterest; she was used to forward gazes never meeting her own. This…was not that.

This was catching the momentary glimmer of pupils directed to her own—there and gone in the split second. And it was seeing the full-body change her appearance prompted in others. These Gems stiffened, faces falling to a tight, intentional blankness as the averted eyes sparked with fear and curiosity and interest. It was gazes burning into her back as she passed. She wanted to be mad; she wanted to lash back, but a sickening pit in her stomach knew she’d been guilty of the same hundreds of times before. Cracked Gems stood out on the streets, and their dead man’s march always turned heads.

Peridot forced herself to keep pace with Howlite. The little Gem looked back at her constantly, her steps slowing as Peridot’s grew heavier, more labored. Peridot drove herself forward. She worked herself into a tunnel vision. Tall, sleek skyscrapers towered over her. They buzzed with gem-generated energy arcing over wires and churning gears. Crafts sped by overhead with harsh shrieks and vacuums in the air. It was a hot day, Peridot assumed. Her body felt thick and padded with numbness, but the weather had been warming up when she left. She could only assume from the three bright balls of red crawling through the sky that the heatwave had swept over most of Homeworld in the meantime.

All other Gems blended into dark streaks of color. Some marched in procession—twenty of the same Gem type—on their way to complete some unknown mission. Others docked at high-ceiling metal terminals, ready to board. For a moment, Peridot wondered how many of them were off to invade some lesser planet. She wondered how many of them would be committing murder today.

Then she and Howlite turned left on the next avenue, and they were gone from her mind.

These buildings dropped lower. They shined with a muted luster, and the fissures in their walls went unfixed. The street too had been beaten away with chips and splitting seams. The Gems who ducked through the walkways were shorter, smaller in their entirety. They kept their heads bowed. Clear fear twisted on the faces of those that dared to look up. Peridot couldn’t focus well enough to identify any of them by gemstone. Her attention drifted to her other senses; a harsh smell like rot and gasoline hung in the air. Waves of stagnant air rolled over her body. Moisture bled out of cracks in the walls and dripped in steady rhythm, coalescing into puddles below. The liquid was thick, and tinged green. Wastepipes, unattended.

In another lifetime, it could have been her duty to redesign the piping system. Not here, not in the outskirts of Central. These streets were allowed to decay.

It came first as one distant rumble; like lightning. Then it chugged through the air again. Louder, clearer. Peridot felt certain that the ground vibrated underfoot. It beat out in thick waves, warbled, shook the steel beams of buildings until they chattered like teeth. Peridot scrunched up her nose at the hot, heady smell of coal and ash.

Howlite said something then. She didn’t hear; she didn’t want to. Peridot only lifted her head to the construction that grew out of the skyline. The buildings had thinned along either side of the street now. A few huts of crumbling rubble peppered the edges. Small, battered Gems shot in and out of the periphery like rats—Gems who’d been decommissioned in the heat of war and civil unrest. Gems who would have been sent off to the Refinery in a time of order. Gems who’d wandered off half-broken and directionless into the slums where the toxic air and construction fumes eroded them to scarcely-sentient shadows of their former selves. Peridot knew about them, but she’d never seen them before. She’d never come close enough to the Refinery.

Even these Gems faded to nothing as the Refinery crept closer. The torn down huts and rotting fences thinned out. Black, desolate soil spread out from the street, which had come to a complete halt. Only a tinged orange skyline and black sodden ground stretched forward, meeting in the center as one massive powerhouse: the Refinery.

Peridot moved with caution as she transitioned into the mealy, acrid soil. It stung against the soles of her feet. Howlite let out a tiny yelp as she stepped over onto the black ground, but otherwise didn’t slow her pace. She only pulled herself in closer to Peridot. Her breaths came in fast huffs as she adjusted the weight of Peridot’s arms in hers.

A gate. It stretched ten feet overhead, and its barbed, yellow-crackling wire top had been splintered and gnarled. It pitched inward to the Refinery—designed for keeping Gems in, not out. Peridot blocked out the unwelcome images her mind summoned of how the wire had incurred its damage.

Peridot looked to her right. The gate stretched hundreds of feet off. It disappeared at a vanishing point in the horizon, at which point it cut left to wrap around the rest of the Refinery. It swirling wire ran the same track, all electrified with yellow energy. Peridot glanced left too, met with the same sight.

Hhhhshunk. Hhhhhshunk. Hhhhshunk. The noise beat an even rhythm. Something falling. Something pounding. Over and over and over. It was complemented with hissing undertones. Crackles and clanks and high-pitched shrieks. Peridot tilted her head back and stared over the gate. A large, dark obelisk dominated the horizon. A chute rose into the sky, completely covered in dark metal, but rumbling.

Beep. Peridot startled at the high pitched noise. She spun left, finding a guilty-looking Howlite raising her badge to the gate lock. She fixed Peridot with a terrified stare as another click followed, and the massive gate unlocked at its center.

Howlite hobbled back to Peridot, green dented arms clasped tightly to her body.

“I uh…I don’t think I should go in,” Howlite said. Her eyes were wide, unblinking. They sent thrills of discomfort through Peridot’s numbing body. “Please, uh, y-you think you can take your arms? I mean you’ve got…half of one. Just try—here—if I can fit…”

Howlite inched forward. She stuck one mechanical piece between Peridot’s stumped left arm and body. Peridot tightened the stump against her chest, and it just barely held in place. Like a game of Jenga, Howlite placed the second one on top. It wobbled, but managed to not fall. Peridot’s stumped arm shook with the strain. She couldn’t find a reason to resist though.

“You uh…you should get going. Those might fall. They’re heavy—your arms. They’re very heavy. The right one especially. Wouldn’t want to drop…” Howlite nodded to herself and backed up. She stared hard at Peridot, then the arms, then Peridot. “Well uh…bye. It…I’m…” Howlite only took to quiet stuttering. She backed away, and Peridot felt a new wave of loathing for the gem rock through her.

She looked forward instead, peeked through the gate which had opened a crack for her. Peridot held her breath, steeled herself. Hot anger flashed through her stomach as she worked her right shoulder (what remained of it) into the opening, and moved through it.

Refinery Gems: Enter Here

The sign blazed over the singular opening to the dark monstrosity that had been contained inside the gates. Peridot could see into it now. She caught the glittering edges of teeth—thousands of teeth—decorating rolling pins. These moved in steady rotations, the belt beneath then rolling through. Behind them, a rectangular mallet oscillated up and down. When it slammed down, it twisted, grinding, and rose back up with steady clacking of its chains. The air beat down on her hot andthick. It gummed up in her nose, the stink of grease and lubricant assaulting what was left of her sense of smell.

The whole belt, hundred and hundreds of feet long, and at least twenty wide, rose up through the caged-in chute. It hit a precipice at the top, and dove down. Peridot couldn’t see into it, but the fierce red glow that ebbed out told her everything she needed to know about what lay below.

She blinked, surprised to find tears dripping from the corners of her eyes. She’d started shaking. Whole-body trembles racked her, as well as small strangled sobs. It wasn’t real. It couldn’t be real. She didn’t feel like herself. She didn’t feel like any of this could actually be happening to her.

She put one foot forward, and toppled. Her arms flew out of her grip and clattered into the mud. Her face hit the ground, and soaked in the oily, dripping residue that had ground out from the machine. The grease of ground-up Gems long past. She lifted her face, and found herself staring into the two scattered arms that had once been hers.

She pushed herself to her knees—all she could manage—and crawled to the first arm. She gathered it against her chest and kept moving. The second arm wouldn’t scoop up now that she was supporting the first. It bothered her more than reason would allow. She cried out, and slammed her stub into it.

The arm flipped over, which Peridot expected.

What she couldn’t explain was why it rattled.

Even once it stopped moving, the tinkering noise of settling objects echoed in her ears. She stared at it, dumbfounded, and dropped the arm she already held. Peridot dragged her knees through the mud, and slouched over this arm.

With her stub, she moved its thin conical opening into view. The inside was dark, black, and somehow bore the textured shadows of things. She gathered it up in her half-arm, opening to the ground, and shook it with a few twists of her torso.

A jangling, a rattling, an object. Four of them.

One was a letter, and she slammed her stub down into it first as a gust of wind threatened to carry it off. It had been folded over twice on itself, and it took contorting both half-arm and feet to smooth it over its creases. She would have felt like a fool in any other situation, right foot and left stub jamming a piece of paper down into the muck to read it.

Peridot

I’m really really really sorry about what happened. I really don’t want you to die, and for some reason that’s still okay with you. If we had more time, I was gonna show you all the really cool things on Earth. We could have been really good friends I think. Because you’re not evil. You just didn’t know why you should have cared about us, and I think you know that now.

I can’t keep you on Earth though. I don’t think I can save you either. But I’m trying really really hard.

I said really a lot in this. So I’m just sorry. I’m sorry.

–the smallest Clod

Peridot’s eyes trailed down the paper. More writing followed, but this was done crudely with something like soot-stains. The handwriting was only barely legible.

Hi!

I usually have to confiscate these things. Except I might have borrowed some of it. Sorry! I was just grabbing stuff and accidentally figured out what the bottle does. I put a bowl in here though! It folds up so it fits. I think that’s helpful. Maybe it makes up for it.

I deleted the Refinery request and used Commander Cinnabar’s signature to sign you back on to active duty with Yellow Diamond. Please do not tell Cinnabar! If you ever see her again, pretend to be a different Peridot.

If this all works out, then you should turn around right now and see that the Refinery gate is still open. I’m gonna not latch it behind you (haha oops!) that’s against orders though so also don’t tell Cinnabar. I can’t tell you this out loud because my uniform is audio-monitored. I hope you figured it out. P.S. the dog is very cute and very smart! Also it is sorry.

-Howlite

The letter concluded with a crude, cartoony drawing of Howlite’s face, bearing a bright smile.

Peridot moved forward, a being possessed. Her stumped arm drove the letter into the muck, and she didn’t care. Her eyes drifted over the other items:

A baggy, the “pretzel” baggy Steven had tried to tempt her with when she first regenerated. The packaging was littered with swollen spikes, suggesting it held a litany of sharp, splintered objects inside.

A bowl, Homeworld standard, made of something dull and very thin. The center of it was creased from being folded to fit inside the arm, but it still bore enough of its original concave shape to be useful.

A bottle—filled about a third of the way with tears.

Peridot’s single arm trembled as it reached outward. She hooked it into the bowl, and dragged it toward her. She sat on her knees, and rested the bowl directly in front of her. Next she raked the pretzel baggy forward. Its opening had been rolled over itself. Peridot lowered her face to it, grasping it with her teeth. She worked her jaw to unroll the top, then shifted her bite to the bottom of the bag. She raised her head, lifting the baggy upside down, and heard the tinker of gem shards drop into the bowl.

Then her arm knocked over the corked bottle. It didn’t roll freely in the mud, so she had to coerce it with sharp pulls of her arm against its back side. Once to her body, Peridot opened her legs a few inches. She pushed the bottle upright against them, clamped it between her knees, and used her teeth to tear out the cork. It gave with a single, squeaking pop.

Her teeth then moved to its neck. Delicately, with all the focus her numb body could manage. She lifted it. She righted her head over the bowl, and held her breath as the tears sloshed out and drowned her gem shards. She lowered the bottle to the muck again once empty.

Peridot held her breath then, heart pounding.

And dropped her head into the bowl.

The water touched her gem with a maelstrom of sensation. Her neck almost snapped back, but she forced it to remain steady. It was like fire at first, hot and strong and everywhere as it coursed over her body. She let out a tiny yelp of pain into the water, but didn’t dare move. A brightness flooded over her shut eyes. Movement tickled across her noise as the contents of the bowl shifted.

The fogginess edged out of her brain. The seams retreated into her skin. She felt a heaviness, a wholeness, pull against her forehead. Bright and clear and present and right. The pain washed away with the seconds. Feeling pulsed back through her legs, grabbed at her body. It overwhelmed her. Being whole, being everything. Beads of light streamed over her right shoulder and rewove the missing arm.

And then, silence. The glowing light retreated, and every prickle of pain had vanished from Peridot’s body.

She yanked her head out of the water and gasped. Hot air raked down her throat, through her lungs. Hot and wholesome and incredible. She sucked in the ashy, toxic air with a happiness bordering on delirium. Peridot let one rocking sob escape her body. Then another. She fell over onto her side, curled her legs and arms close, and indulged herself in the echoes of her relieved manic cries.

She sang a chorus with the pounding, grinding Refinery equipment.

Peridot opened her eyes, and stared in wonder at the floating fingers that had reappeared at the base of her phantom arms. She sat up, and scooted on her knees to the first arm. The fingers from her left hand moved to the bowl, which she dragged around in her mind. Her fingers held it over the limb and tilted the bowl, which spilled out a stream of tears. The tears and seams and dents down the arms vanished. The shape buckled back out, whole. She plunged her right arm stub into the piece, and found it clicked exactly into place.

She repeated the process with the left arm. It clicked too, reconnected.

Her eyes shifted across the ground, and caught the nearly-transparent object she’d missed on the first pass, or objects, she supposed. It was her visor, cracked apart into seven different pieces so that it could be jammed inside her arm with the rest of the objects. She grabbed up the pieces greedily, and dunked the into the bowl of tears. Intent possessed them; they moved and flowed with the liquid, until the tears aligned them back into place. The cracks zippered over themselves, as if never there. The lifted the article from the bowl, and pressed it gently to her healed face, her healed gem. The visor fit perfectly.

Peridot looked down at her body. It glowed. Flawless streaks of green polished to a shine. It made her tremble; it made her mutter wet, thankful whispers into the empty air.

And then she dropped the bowl of tears, kicked a mound of dirt and muck over it. She repeated the process with the pretzel bag and the empty bottle. For the letter, she bent down and gathered it up in her hands. Gently, she folded it back over itself, and tucked it into the opening of her right arm.

Peridot turned her back on the Refinery then. Its rhythmic noises bled to nothing. Her eyes fell only on the gate, which had remained half-cracked as promised. She didn’t run for it—she raced. She pumped her fully-functioning legs against the soupy ground and didn’t dare look back. She shot like a bullet through the gate, and fling her fingers back to shut it in her stead.

The slums of Homeworld loomed ahead of her; the ratlike creatures of gems half-cracked and long abandoned. She didn’t spare a moment of thought for them. Peridot only flew forward, huffing and wheezing and bursting with occasional cackles of girlish joy as the hot hot air swirled around her.

The slums vanished behind her. The streets grew bigger, buildings taller and better-kept, the crowds denser. She was a sight among them. A careening, whooping, anomaly in the stream of silent and asocial Homeworld workers. She earned dozens of stares as she passed, until she stopped entirely on one street corner, bent at the waist and huffing.

She looked up then, and saw Homeworld. Homeworld. The place of her waking dreams and distant pleas and tortured cries, the place she’d have traded life and limb to return to. The place that wasn’t Earth.

The…place that hadn’t come for her.

She straightened then, feeling a wash of discomfort spread across her whole body. She swallowed, and looked about, in vain search of the place she’d known it to be. The empire she gave herself for, the society that she dedicated her life for.

The place that was cruel enough to leave her.

Her breathing returned to normal. She stared in silence at the tall-crawling buildings that ate into the orange sky. Her eyes flickered over the stuttering streaks of electricity that shot street to street. She noted the washed, glassy windows and the thrumming ships weaving through the city like rats in a maze. The day was hot, it burned against her body, but the world felt cold right then. And it was dark, compared to Earth. More efficient and sleeker and crueler in its progress.

Peridot dropped her eyes to her hands and stared at them. She could see the ghost image of Tourmaline’s there—the thing Steven had created with her. Hands that worked to protect, to save, to care. She realized almost as an afterthought that the fusion was still alive—neither she nor Steven had died, and it meant the fusion was saved as well. With all their naïve faith in the good of others’ hearts. Peridot could almost hear their voice as she reimagined Tourmaline’s single hand over her own: thick and gloved and gentle.

These…these with the floating fingers and the buzzing matrix. These were her hands alone. These worked only to serve.

Peridot looked forward again. She dropped her hands to her side and twisted left. An alley, fading out with shade met her. It was a shortcut she recognized, leading straight to Yellow Diamond’s headquarters—where she was expected to return now that Howlite had signed her back in to active duty. Peridot followed the line of sight. An enormous, rising building on the horizon—its edges were sharp and its exterior glimmered in boast. It rose as three upside down pyramids, stacked on one another, and it reflected back all the light that it gathered from the three dim suns. The sky bled out orange behind it: cloudless, but choking with smoke.

It felt surreal, how familiar the sight was to her, and yet how alien it had become. Her place of work for 4,000 years now, altered almost beyond recognition in a few months. She would be able to walk right back in, and no one would think of her any different. They wouldn’t wonder where she’d been, they wouldn’t wonder how she felt returning. That wasn’t their job, and so the other Gems who’d worked alongside her for thousands of years simply wouldn’t care.

That was how Homeworld functioned, after all, by simply not caring.

And, in her moment of hesitation, Peridot found herself moving forward. Her eyes were glued to the large, glimmering, glassy building. She drank in its sharp edges and then lifted her right hand in front of her face. Her fingers spun into a screen, which exploded with thousands of missed messages in her absence. Like nothing had changed.

She would go there. She would resume her work. Her legs moved, arms swinging at her side, body resuming the mute, focused indifference of all Homeworld Gems. It came on instinct, the thoughtless buzz of a dedicated worker. She scrolled through her missed messages at lightning pace—most things had since been taken up by other Gems in the department. But fresh orders still spilled in by the dozen. They coalesced in her inbox, trusted to her, on the faith that she would execute them all exactly as Homeworld wanted.

She would return to work. She would serve. She would be a good Gem to Homeworld.

Peridot swept her eyes across the influx of messages with a hand clamped to the hidden letter inside her right mechanical arm, and—as a good and loyal and inconspicuous Homeworld Gem—she wondered, on the low down,

-A malfunctioning core of Injectors on a J-System planet. A new Cluster project that needed monitoring on Alpha-4. A request for repairs to a 54th Class Starstreaker from the Crystal Cluster-

how much saving she could manage to do too, how much sabotaging perhaps,

and she wondered just how easily she could get away with it

(very easily, she imagined)

because Homeworld didn’t know anything about her

and Homeworld couldn’t possibly know that Peridot cared.

   
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