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.


6. 6

Steven clumped together the empty couch cushions. They piled together like a pilly, faded-gray nest. He placed his hand down first, lowering himself gently. His attention stayed locked on Peridot, who watched him with just as much intent. Steven rested his phone on his knee.

He opened his mouth and shut it a few times. The sight of her still sent thrills of fear down his spine. The sensation prickled, and he wasn’t sure whether that anxiety stemmed from his worry for her or for himself. Her face was closed and cold: every bit the thing that had fired off the lazers set to kill him, Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl.

It was the crack in her visor that drew his attention the most. It was the only superficial damage on her body. Steven was reminded of an attack two years back that had left his dad’s windshield cut almost in two. No one had been injured though, nothing damaged but the van. It felt safer to look at that than her cracked gem, just a few inches above.

“Does it hurt?” Steven asked quietly. He adjusted the phone on his leg. It bled out a steady stream of static as Connie listened.

“Those Gems are going to be back. Soon.” Peridot’s eyes roved over the house. They settled hungrily on the closed front door. “Let me out now.”

Steven angled his head over his shoulder. He scrunched his hands in his jeans. “I can’t do that.”

“Why not? You said you didn’t want me to die!” Peridot pressed her face against the bars, one half-arm extended. The splinters in her gem caught the light at a hundred different angles. “So then let me out! I won’t kill you. Like I even could.”She waved her arm in a frenzy. “Let me out if you don’t want me to die!”

Steven’s here to talk to you, Peridot. You’re not being very kind to someone who just saved your life!” Steven’s phone vibrated with Connie’s voice. The speaker was cranked to full volume.

“Oh excuse me, where are my manners?!” She slammed her elbow into the crate again. Steven lurched backwards. “Please let me not be shattered! Please and thank you.

“Peridot c’mon…” Steven muttered as he inched forward again. “I’m trying to help! But I…I don’t know.” He skimmed his hands along the floor in agitation. “I’m lying to the Gems about something really important. And you tried to kill us! I don’t know…I don’t know anything about what you’re doing. If I let you go, and you hurt the Gems, or you hurt me, or you hurt anyone…” He trailed off. Connie stayed silent too; the phone sang out with white static.

Peridot glanced between Steven and the cage lock. Her body tensed, and she lashed out. “Yeah, you got me. I’ll just blast them all with the ship I don’t have.Maybe break them up with the Destabilizer I lost. I’ll send Jasper except—oh wait—she’s gone.” Peridot’s teeth ground together. She drove her left foot into the cage wall and startled when a small shower of gem dust rolled down her face. She quieted, immobile, eyes wide.

Steven froze too at the scatter of gem dust. He looked Peridot over in a panic, in search of any piece of her more broken than before. The same spider-webbing cracked her skin. The same sallow light from her gem.

Yeah, that’s right. You’ve got nothing! No weapon, and no arms, and no…no anything! Steven’s got all of that. So stop telling him what to do, Peridot. And instead listen to him! Or else you’re going to die. And you know that!”

“…Who even are you?” Peridot asked in a burst of noise. Her voice bore an overtone of tinny static. She stared at the phone, livid. “You two things are humans. You are nothing. You die too fast to know anything. Why should I bend to something that lives 8 days?”

“You’re wrong!” Steven leaned forward with fervor. “Humans live way longer than that. Like 80 years! And I’m already 11!”

“What’s the difference? Who cares?” Peridot thrust her foot out again into the side of the cage. Her eyes were wide and wet with panic. She let out only small strangled noises as she drove her foot over and over into the cage wall. Steven watched in horror as a thick, vertical crack along her leg beveled with the force.

“You’re gonna hurt yourself!” Steven insisted. He stuck a hand forward, startling when Peridot turned on him with fierce eyes.

They’re going to hurt me! I’m running out of time. They could do anything to me in here!” Tears leaked from her large unblinking eyes. They flowed down her cheeks, panicked, unnoticed. “What chance do I stand, huh!? I can’t do anything. My gem is cracked. Cracked. That doesn’t get fixed.” She slammed her shoulder into the opposite side. Another shower of gem dust rained down her face. “I’mdead. I’m never getting home. Because of this stupid mission. This stupid stupidmission. They don’t care! They don’t care! I’m dead and they don’t care! I’m dead. I’m dead. I’m dead.”

“Who doesn’t care—“

Anyone. Not your Gems! Not Homeworld! Not Jasper!” Steven watched a new crack pry itself open along Peridot’s shoulder. “No one cares.”

Steven jumped to his feet. The phone clattered to the ground. “Why are you saying that?!” He stepped forward and clamped his hands around the cage bars. “Why are you saying that to me? I told you already!” He rattled the cage, a fresh stream of tears rolling down his panicked face. “I told you already that I care! Please stop. Please stop hurting yourself!”

“You don’t count.” She insisted as she spun on him. “Why should I care what you think?!”

“Because I’m the only person you’ve got! Steven jammed his thumb into his chest. “Because the Gems care about me. And because…” His eyes darted around. Anxiety crossed fresh over his face before he spoke, “because I can heal! I healed Lapis! I healed her when she was cracked!”

Peridot froze. Her cautious eyes turned to Steven through the split visor. A scowl crossed her face. “You’re lying to me.”

He’s not. He healed my eyes. He healed Lapis! Why do you think Lapis wanted to protect Steven so much?”

Peridot didn’t make a move. Her visor was dirty with bits of dust, statically clung to the front. The sharp look in her eyes made Steven shiver. “Okay, then heal me! I don’t stand a chance like this so heal me.”

Steven felt his palms grow slick. He took a step back from the cage. His eyes stayed fixed on her disintegrating gem now. “…No. No, I won’t let you tell me what to do.” He thrust his arms out, and noted the way Peridot jumped. “I’m offering to help you because I’m thinking…I’m thinking maybe you’re not really a bad person! Maybe you just don’t know enough about Earth, and about us, and maybe you didn’t try to care.”

“Come on! Just—“

Steven stuck his hand out. “I don’t like this! You think I’m nothing, and worthless, and you don’t care at all about how I feel even when I’m trying.” He glanced down at his phone, galvanized. “I was hoping you wouldn’t be like this! But I guess you really don’t care at all about me or the Earth…even when you try. You only care now because you know I can help you. That’s not caring! That’s using me.” He blinked the tears from his eyes, face falling.  “I won’t let the Gems kill you while I still think you might not be evil. I don’t want you to die, Peridot. But I trust the Gems a whole lot…and you’re really, really dangerous to us, and I’m getting in a lot of trouble for this.” He searched her anxious, uncertain face before collapsing onto the pillow nest. “So please…give me a reason why I should try to save you.”

Steven watched her eyes fall half-lidded. Her body lost its vigor, surrendering the fight to the cage. Exhaustion flooded dull and obvious over her face, defeat alongside it. “You’re right. I really don’t care about you.” Her eyes flashed to him. Something dark crossed her face. “Why should I? You don’t have any value to me. Your issues don’t affect me. You die anyway—you die quickly. So what do you matter? And why should that matter to you?

He matters a lot to me,” Steven’s phone trilled out. Connie’s voice came closer to the microphone. “I was so worried back when you invaded Earth. I was so worried for Steven. He said he might die. And I wouldn’t…I wouldn’t have been able to handle that.”

Peridot shrugged (as well as she could with a single shoulder.) “You matter less to me.”

Steven stared down at his lap. He chewed quietly on his tongue. “What do you care about, Peridot?”

She glanced to him, eyebrows scrunched, as if the question agitated her. “Not dying, right now. That would be great.”

“No!” He clenched his fists. “I’m being serious with you, Peridot! What kind of things do you care about? Do you have friends? Or family? O-or hobbies? …Flowers you like?”

She gave him a level stare. A few granules of stone clinked down her visor. “I care about whatever they need me to care about. At best. I do my job.”

What stuff do they make you care about?”

Sharp disinterest crossed Peridot’s expression. “Missions. Productivity. Whatever’s for the betterment of Homeworld.”

“And how do you feel about the clusters?” Steven asked.

“They’re developing on schedule.”

Steven wrung his hands. He glanced to the warp pad. He blinked, and saw the ghost of Garnet’s silhouette behind his eyes. So strong and impassive, as usual. Not frozen in terror like she had been…

“Those clusters are made out of Gems that were cracked during the war. It’s not right. It’s cruel. They’re suffering!” Steven swept a hand out. His pleading eyes settled firmly on Peridot.

“Yes I know. I know my own assignments.”

“And do you care that they’re hurt?”

Her eyes narrowed. Agitation curled her lip. “They rebelled, and they’re cracked. They’re worse than useless. It’s the mission I was assigned. What do I care?”

Steven stared into his lap. He nodded once. “Peridot… Is something only worth caring about…if it has a use?” The warp pad danced in the edge of his vision. He looked to it, then looked back down. “I know Homeworld only wanted Earth so they could make Gems in it. They cared about that and not the people. Jasper only cared about keeping me alive when she realized I had my mom’s gem. And my mom was very important. Now you don’t care about me—or you didn’t until I told you I can heal you. Is that…is that was makes Homeworld care? If something has use?”

Peridot’s eyes dropped to the cell phone on the floor. She stared at it mutely before her gaze moved back to Steven. “Would you care about that thing if it broke? Would you care about keeping it safe and whole if it didn’t do anything for you? What’s the point?”

The phone doesn’t think or feel. It can’t get hurt!” Connie answered.

“What if that…phone—what if, not only did it not work, but it took every opportunity to undermine your mission? What if it worked tirelessly to undo your work? Would you care then if it were safe or not?!”

Steven rested a hand on his cell phone. He dragged it closer to his side. “…You’re talking about us. Me and the Crystal Gems. Because we broke your things.”

Repeatedly!” Peridot insisted with growing ire. “I could have warped to Earth and back! I got my Robonoids to repair the warp pad. But you destroyed it! I could have checked on the clusters remotely, but you destroyed my equipment! I had to come all the way out here, only to have you strand me here!” Her breathing grew ragged, and she banged her head against the back of the crate. “So no, I don’t care about you. I have no reason to care about you.”

Steven pooled his hands in his lap. He inched forward. “Do you want me dead?”

“I said I don’t care.

“You know, Peridot…” Steven forced his attention to her face. The crawling cracks had spread to her eyes. He found small, dime-sized pieces chipped away from her face, her body. She looked for all the world like a statue dug out of ancient ruins. “I don’t have any use for you. You hurt me. You made me very afraid. You did bad things to me, like we did to you. But then I meant what I said before—Icare about what happens to you. …Why is that?”

The first hint of pain crossed Peridot’s expression. Another crackle, another small shower of gem grains. Her lips were parted slightly as she looked him over, at a loss for words.

“Because humans are foolish with what they care about?” Her voice was flat, disinterested. She tucked her legs up, and lowered her face to her knees. “…Or maybe, because you’re kind.”

A small tired smile stretched at Steven’s mouth. He nodded, once at first, then more vigorously. He inched himself to the edge of Peridot’s cage and placed a hand against the bars. “Yeah, that’s it exactly! And that’s what’s so great about Earth. People are kind. So many people, who all make their own lives and love all different things, and they’re so kind to each other.” He wrapped his other hand around the bars, nose pressed inside the cage. “You keep talking about going home…but if no one is kind there, why would you want to? Wouldn’t you rather stay here…and learn how to be kind?”

Steven saw Peridot look up. He didn’t have the time to read her expression. A sharp, crystalline clink erupted from behind him. He jumped to his feet, feeling ice flood through his veins as he spun to face the glowing, active warp pad.

Steven!” Garnet’s voice echoed off the walls.

He thrust his arms wide. His body shot numb with fear, panic, as the column of light around the warp pad vanished. Pearl and Amethyst stayed still on the warp. It was Garnet, front and center, who moved forward.

She was huge—in a way Steven never seemed to realize. Tall and strong and solid and powerful. He read her gritted teeth, the sharp glare in her glasses, and felt fearful tears prick his eyes. He wanted to run, but he kept his feet planted in front of Peridot’s cage.

Steven? Did something happen? I heard a noise. Is that Garnet? What—“

Garnet’s heel came down on the phone. Steven winced as the screen cracked. It bled with spiderweb cracks and sent a new ripple of terror down Steven’s spine. Connie’s voice shorted out permanently.

“Move out of the way, Steven. Step away, do not look, and start thinking of a proper punishment for yourself for lying to us.” Her lips parted wide over her teeth as she spoke. Her gauntlets flashed to life on each stiff hand. She brought them up eye-level with Steven. He heard a terrified squeak from behind him, a scrambled against the wire meshing in the back of the cage.

“I’m sorry, Garnet.” Steven backed into the cage. His wide-spread arms clung to its edges. “I’m sorry but you were gonna kill her! Please don’t. Please don’t! Please don’t kill her Garnet please don’t!”

“Step aside.” Garnet angled her head down to him. The strength bled out of Steven’s legs until he couldn’t feel them. “This is not your decision. You do not get to override me, and you do not get to lie to me.”

“Steven, just listen to Garnet!” Pearl called. She hopped off the warp pad, moving forward with brisk sweeps. “You won’t be in as much trouble if you just move away now. We’ll talk about why you lied to us after this is all done. You don’t need to be afraid. We’re disappointed, but we would never hurt you Steven!”

“But are you going to kill her?!” Steven spoke through fluttering sobs. His eyes darted between Pearl and Garnet, who stood solidly above him. “Are you?! Is she gonna die? Why? Why are you killing her? Why won’t you tell me? She can’t hurt us now I promise! I was talking to her!”

Three seconds of solid silence pressed down on them. Steven held his breath to dampen his own convulsive breathing. Garnet stared down without answer.

“C’mon Garnet, just be honest with him for once, huh?” Amethyst hopped around Garnet’s side and placed a firm hand on Steven’s shoulder. “She’s gonna kill Peridot, yeah. That’s what’s happening.”

“Amethyst, stay out of it.”

Steven looked to Amethyst. He clung mentally to the heavy hand she had on him. He glanced back to the cage. Peridot was out of sight, pressed as far against the crate’s back as she could go.

“I…I’m gonna ask you something first, Garnet! Please. Please let me ask this.” He looked to Pearl, who had a hand pressed over her mouth. Then Amethyst, who nodded with a muted understanding. His eyes settled on Garnet, who gave no response.

“Let ‘im ask, Garnet,” Amethyst said. “What’s it matter if Peridot dies now or in five minutes? Nothing’s different.”

Another beat of silence. Then slowly, firmly, Garnet gave a nod.

Steven followed with small, fast nods of his own. He swallowed, and spread his feet. “Peridot’s very hurt right now. And very scared. And she has no hope about getting home. And when I look at her, a-and I see how hurt she is, it makes me sad!” He clenched his fists. “She’s dying right in front of me! I’m watching her die. And I…I don’t know if I can stop it. And I know she’s not good. I know she almost got us killed. But I don’t want her to die. It’s—I care about what happens to her, because she’s alive, and has feelings, and she’s hurting.” He stuck a shaking hand out, pointing to Garnet. “So I want to ask. I want to ask you Garnet. What’s…what’s different with you?” He threw a quick glance to the cage and felt his heart clench at the field of dust, chips, and shards that littered the crate floor.

He found his strength again. Steven looked forward, footing firm, and stared hard into Garnet’s eyes. “I wanna know…Why don’t you care?”

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