Actions

Work Header

United I Stand

Chapter Text

Garnet is her own person. Well, sort of.

Intellectually, she knows that Sapphire and Ruby are in there—that she literally cannot exist without them—but it’s not like they step in too often. When Garnet finds that glorious, giant purple axe in the strawberry fields, there is no question of whether or not she’s keeping it. Technically, her reaction could be broken down and described as Ruby getting really excited over all the potential futures in which they might wield the thing like a badass, and Sapphire shrugging her shoulders because hey, it is a nice axe. That’s not what it feels like, though. It just feels like… her. Taking the huge purple weapon home to the temple was a decision she made by herself, for herself.

Garnet is Ruby and Sapphire, but she is also more than that. She’s been around for 7,000 years now, and in all that time she’s unfused in less than a dozen instances. If Sugilite can develop a unique sense of self in just a few days, then you can bet that Garnet began to feel like a singular individual much sooner than that.

That being said, maybe it’s not such an oxymoron to say that Garnet cannot understand why Rose Quartz would give herself up to make a human-gem hybrid, but Sapphire and Ruby can.

The Crystal Gems do not react well to the news, to put it kindly.

“You’re going to what?” Pearl squawks. Her complexion is at once flushed light blue and strangely ashen, as if she is just seconds away from retreating into her gem. “Rose, are you hearing yourself?”

Of course, Pearl has to speak over Amethyst’s screams of rage and anguish. Their youngest member has latched herself onto the leg under Rose’s tiered skirt, and is refusing to let go for anything. “You can’t do this,” she mutters into the fabric. “You can’t do this to me. You can’t leave me too.”

Garnet doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t know what to say. What to think. Rose Quartz is a deeply trusted friend, one whom Garnet was honored to fight next to during the rebellion, and not at all upset to live with in isolation for the 5 millennia that followed. They have saved each other’s lives more than once. They both gave up everything to preserve Earth; there is a bond between them that can never be replicated. Now, in a short year’s time, all of that is going to just—disappear? Garnet likes Greg Universe well enough, and she doesn’t begrudge Rose Quartz the happiness she finds with him (because they are, undeniably, happy together), but this?

Instead of vocalizing her opinions, Garnet silently watches on, leaning against the side of the temple entrance with her arms crossed. She waits until Pearl has ranted herself hoarse and disappeared into her room, Rose watching her tensed, skinny shoulders with an expression of gut-wrenching sadness. She waits until Amethyst has run off without any indication of whether or not she will be coming back (she will; Garnet can see too many ways she might do it to find anything else more probable). Rose reacts to the latter with a grimace like a mother who knows she’s pushed her child way, way too far.

Garnet waits until Rose is standing, resolute if somewhat disheartened, on the edge of the temple’s stone plateau, before finally standing shoulder to shoulder with her, both of them facing the ocean.

“What about you, Garnet?” Rose asks quietly. “You haven’t said a word.”

Whether she realizes it or not, the palm of Rose’s right hand is resting next to the gem on her abdomen like she expects to already feel something, though her announcement was only of her intentions, and not of an actual pregnancy. There are tears of empathy and grief shining in her eyes, but she doesn’t let them fall.

“Doesn’t seem like it would make much of a difference if I did,” Garnet remarks idly.

The taller gem gives her a look that is so deadpan it’s almost entirely human. “Which doesn’t mean you lack an opinion. I know you better than that.”

The words are obviously coming from her mouth, but the question “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” isn’t actually Garnet’s.

There are still tears in her eyes, but suddenly Rose is smiling. “Yes,” she says. She doesn’t say so outright, probably because hearing it outright would hurt more than her family planning announcement has already, but Garnet hears in her voice that this isn’t an obligation. Rose knows that no one is asking this of her; Earth doesn’t necessarily need it. She’s doing this because she wants to, wholly and completely. It doesn’t make the decision hurt her closest friends any less, and it certainly won’t soothe how much they will all miss her once she’s gone, but the fact that she knows what she’s doing has Garnet turning to face her and holding out both hands.

“Then you’ve gotta do it,” Ruby says with Garnet’s voice.

Sapphire adds, “We’re going to miss you.”

Rose, still teary eyed, reaches out to clasp their hands together. She’s wearing another smile, but this time there’s irony in it. She replies, “Why would you have to miss me? It’s not like I’m going anywhere.”

When Rose squeezes, pressing her two gems against the flesh of her palms, Garnet finally understands. Just as Sapphire and Ruby never truly left when they decided to stay fused together, neither will Rose. Rose will just be making a fusion of a different kind.

Chapter Text

Considering the fact that her very existence is an alternative to gem norm, Garnet is in no place to judge other alternative relationships. To be honest, she really doesn’t understand what Rose Quartz sees in humans, but she doesn’t have to. As long as it works for Rose, and Rose doesn’t slack on her duties as a Crystal Gem, then there’s nothing Garnet can say.

Besides, humans have such short lives. Rose’s romances never last long, and to complain about something so temporary is just not dignified.

Seeing Greg Universe so inspired by fusion kind of gets to her, though. He understood in one instance exactly how wonderful and intimate it is; in fact, he spent three hours of his short life setting up a dancefloor on the beach, just so he can potentially experience it himself. For the last hour, he has been trying to dance like Pearl because he thinks that’s the only way to fuse with Rose. In all of her years, Garnet has never seen a human work so hard to understand a gem. All of that effort makes Greg better than the others, in Garnet’s book.

Does she think that this will work in the traditional way? No. However, she likes that he’s trying.

Maybe it’s a little impulsive to send Amethyst bolting after some driftwood so she can tell him how fusion is different for everyone and he just needs to relax and be himself in order for it to work. In fact, it absolutely is impulsive, but Greg really seems to take it to heart, and Garnet can only appreciate his implicit understanding.

Besides, by the end of the night it seems to her like Rose is on her way to actually making something beautiful with this one.

Chapter Text

Garnet can’t resent Rose for what she did. Sometimes people want to create something together that’s bigger than themselves. She is a living embodiment of why it happens, and by her own existential definition she can’t possibly hold it against anyone else if they do the same.

Steven, though.

“Garnet, Garnet!” the boy cries as she appears on the warp pad. He rushes out to her, arms wide, and hugs her legs (the tallest he can reach).

How do you explain to a young child that each day you see the dozens of ways his clumsy, little organic body can perish? How exactly does one bring up the fact that they are actually an amalgam of two different gems? There are a lot of cultural norms here on Earth that Steven is absorbing without even realizing it. A fusion with ESP isn’t exactly one of them.

Garnet doesn’t say anything. Instead, she just hugs Steven back and gently detaches herself before mussing his hair and heading for the temple.

To be fair, Steven himself is remarkably adaptable. Even as a baby, he took in the gem culture with the mundane and responded by enthusiastically gumming at his own fist. Garnet didn’t have any intimate experience with human infants before Steven, so she has no way of telling whether or not this is a unique trait or if human children in general are adaptable. She thinks of Greg Universe as a child in a lot of ways—he’s not even been around a century, and Sapphire, her oldest component, is well over 10 millennia at this point; she can’t help it—but he adapted to gem culture pretty well too, all things considered. So maybe it is just a human thing?

“Garnet, wait!” Steven cries just as she raises her palms to open the temple door.

Humans don’t have very long lives, but they sure do accomplish a lot in that time. In a couple hundred more generations, they could really make something of themselves. It’s one of the things that make Garnet think Earth is worth preserving.

“Yes, Steven?” she says, pausing.

And just like that, he’s at her side again. He’s grinning up at her, adoration painting his young features. Steven admires Garnet and her abilities; she knows that much. It’s why she tries so hard to be a respectable role model. “Did you bring me anything?” he asks excitedly.

Oh, right.

Garnet obligingly produces a spiral shell from the underwater cavern she just came back from. It’s cream colored, but streaked with a deep purple. Rather pretty, if one likes that kind of thing.

“Woo! Thanks, Garnet!” The boy runs off, and Garnet takes a moment to watch Rose’s legacy dash up the stairs into his loft to carefully place the shell on the shelf next to the other souvenirs she’s brought back.

Garnet knows she’s loved unconditionally. Has from the start. Considering Steven’s utterly nonjudgmental nature, it would probably be fine if she told him (most possibilities indicate it would, anyway). Hell, he’s a smart kid; maybe he’s already got it half figured out.

All of the questions, though. Half the reason Garnet hasn’t mentioned her future vision or the fact that she’s a fusion is because she’s avoiding the million and a half inquiries that would come with it. There is zero probability that she will be able to avoid them (she’s checked). She doesn’t have the time to deal with all of that; not when there are still corrupted gems to track down and bubble.

Steven stands back, arms akimbo, and makes a considering sound at his souvenir shelf. He tilts his head to get a new angle on the display, and then moves the cream-and-purple shell. “Maybe it’ll look better over here…”

Besides, Steven hasn’t even pulled his weapon from his gem yet. He isn’t ready. If he can do that, and if he experiences fusion himself, then maybe there would be less explaining to do. Garnet is a gem of action, not words. Well, the probability of him asking less questions is higher if he’s experienced more gem stuff firsthand. Garnet’s willing to put her bets on that.

“Yes!” Steven claps his hands together in triumph. “That’s exactly what this shelf needed—isn’t that right, Sir Bearington?” He glances at the teddy bear with the monocle that’s resting on his pillow for confirmation. The bear does not reply, naturally, but he still says, “You’re right. It is weird that we live on the beach, but don’t actually have any ocean-themed decorations. Astute observation, Sir Bearington!”

Nope, not ready in the least.

Garnet mentally shakes her head as she finally heads into the temple. She’ll tell him all about herself one day. She will. Maybe on his next birthday.

Chapter Text

As a whole, Earth tends to function on the principle that an individual has a right to happiness. Homeworld doesn’t think like that. It’s one of the reasons that Garnet—that is to say, Sapphire and Ruby—left.

Well, to be honest, they left because their discovery of fusion hadn’t been received well by the Diamonds, and they managed to escape before their gems were destroyed, but they hadn’t wanted to stay longer anyway. Any culture that could look at a powerful, beautifully intimate thing as fusion with such disdain and disgust wasn’t one they wanted to be a part of.

Homeworld wasn’t a huge proponent of romance, either, and they’d been feeling that strain long before Garnet ever happened. All the more reason to leave.

“It’s most probable that we’re going to a tiny planet called Earth,” Sapphire reports, allowing her gloved hands to fall from her temples and into her lap. She’s sitting atop one of the giant metal crates full of injector parts in the cargo hold of the space ship they’ve snuck onto. It isn’t exactly a glamorous way to travel, but hey, at least they have their lives.

“Huh. I could have sworn we snuck into the other one. Oh well.” Ruby folds her arms over the petticoats covering Sapphire’s knees and looks up at her. She offers a grin. “New home, Earth, here we come.”

Sapphire smiles back, but only briefly. Her fingers curl around Ruby’s as their eyes meet. “Do you think we’re doing the right thing?”

“You’re the one with future vision, you tell me.” Then, when her quip is met with silence, Ruby says honestly, “All I know is that I don’t think it’s fair to be killed for loving each other, and if doing this means saving your life, then yes, I think it’s right. The rest doesn’t matter.”

When Sapphire strokes her cheek, Ruby can’t help but lean into it. “Don’t act like such a martyr,” she says as her hand drops, albeit fondly. “I never would have left alone. If anything had happened to you, I…”

She doesn’t have to finish the sentence, because Ruby already knows. “Yeah,” she says, resting her head in her partner’s lap and closing her eyes. “Me too.”

They stay like that for a moment. Then, ever so lightly, Ruby feels a hand ghost over her hair, her ear, her cheek and jaw. “What if we don’t let anything happen?” asks Sapphire softly.

For all that they’re doing this to save Garnet, they’ve only fused twice since that first time. The first was when they finally figured out how to replicate it, and the next in a demonstration to the Diamonds’ representatives. None of the three instances lasted long. It’s possible that being Garnet for longer isn’t possible. No one’s ever done this before; they don’t know what might happen to them as individuals if they’re in there too long.

It’s a risk. But there again, so was sneaking into the cargo hold of a Kindergarten supply ship to avoid execution for essentially being heretics. Sneaking off the supply ship without being noticed will also be a risk. It’s not like they’re unfamiliar with putting themselves on the line, and doesn’t this have a much higher probability of working out than anything else? After all, it’s not like there’s any internal conflict.

Ruby doesn’t respond with words. Instead, she lifts Sapphire off the crate and swings her around with a soft whoosh of petticoats. Just as her feet gently touch the floor, they share enamored smiles and their foreheads press together. It doesn’t take much for Sapphire and Ruby to meet together on the same wavelength. They know each other too well, trust each other too much. The warmth and light envelops them like an old friend, and they don’t have to look back or regret this decision because nothing has ever felt safer.

Whatever surprises Earth might have in store, Garnet is ready to take it on.

Chapter Text

Sapphire has been a part of Garnet for so long that when she wakes up in that cell on Jasper and Peridot’s ship, and sees slender hands gloved in white when she looks down, she nearly screams.

When she realizes that Ruby is not with her, she nearly cries.

After millennia of being a part of something that’s bigger than herself, of someone who needs her in order to exist, the loneliness that threatens to overwhelm her is acute. There is a yawning emptiness in her right palm where Ruby’s gem is supposed to be.

The last time they unfused was well over a thousand years ago, their longest stretch yet. Sapphire knows that having her gem anywhere but on her center line is a bad thing, but she has never really felt skewed to the side—asymmetrical—until now.

She doesn’t press her gem into her empty palm and sing as loudly as she can just to let Ruby know she is okay, if she is within earshot. It isn’t just to give Steven, Pearl and/or Amethyst something to track, either, though both of those things are part of it. No, Sapphire sings because this is the only way that she knows how to keep from—to use a popular human colloquialism—utterly losing her shit.


 

Waking up alone in a cell guarded by a sheet of electric yellow agony inspires a tsunami of unchecked emotion the likes of which Ruby can’t remember experiencing in a very, very long time.

She knows can’t break out of the cell. Garnet could probably have forced her way through the sheet metal, but Ruby sure as hell can’t.

She’s all alone.

Sapphire’s alone.

Sapphire’s all alone, and Ruby can’t get out of this tiny damned box. What if Sapphire starts having a vision and Jasper finds her, mentally light years away, completely defenseless?

Sapphire. Sapphire. Sapphire.

Each reiteration of her name pulses in Ruby’s gem, in the hand that’s supposed to be holding Sapphire’s. Each second that ticks by is just another in which something bad could happen to the other half of her.

She needs to get out of here!

She doesn’t know how to get out of here. Not without hurting herself so badly that she’d be useless for everything that comes afterwards.

Ruby clutches at her head and groans. She kicks at the air. The pulsing of both gem and missing-gem continues. Stupid, useless, futile. What kind of partner is she, anyway? Sapphire’s on this ship, probably also in a cell like this, all alone, and here Ruby is, just sitting here.

She snarls at nothing in particular and presses her forehead into her kneecaps. Gotta calm down, gotta think of a way out of this. Think, think, think!

But she can’t. Ruby can’t think straight when she’s so full of rage and panic and worry that it’s a wonder she’s not literally catching fire from all of the metaphorical friction. It’s a vicious cycle. She makes herself mad because she can’t think, and then she can’t think because she’s so mad. Typically Sapphire is there to break the cycle, but without her Ruby is coiling herself up tighter and tighter, narrowing in on an inevitably disastrous snap.

Since when is she unable to function on her own? The last time they were separated wasn’t this bad. Ruby may not like to remember any time she and Sapphire aren’t fused these days, but she swears last time she wasn’t incapacitated like this.

To be fair, the last time they unfused hadn’t been due to a gem destabilizer literally ripping them apart in what was starting to taste like the beginnings of another war. That makes a pretty big difference, especially since Jasper clearly doesn’t have any regard for their lives.

That’s it, she vows. This is all Jasper and Homeworld’s fault! It always is. As soon as she gets out of this box and saves Sapphire, Jasper (the only one within reasonable punching distance) is going down.

The moment of purpose and clarity is great, but it doesn’t last. Ruby lets out a frustrated scream as she realizes she still doesn’t know how the hell to get out of here.

That’s when she sees something run by in her peripheral. Ruby looks up. Oh, it’s just Steven.

It’s Steven.

If she had a physical heart, it would have stopped beating right then and there. When she regains at least some control over herself, every expletive Ruby’s ever learned is running through her mind as she slams her fist into the stupid wall. “Oh great!” she shouts. “This is just perfect!”

There goes the surprise they were planning for his birthday. What else can go wrong?


 

Sapphire isn’t exactly proud to say that she forgets about any and everything else when Ruby spots her across the hall, but the truth is that she does.

“Ruby!”

In a blink they’re in each other’s arms. It’s not close enough, not by half, but Sapphire doesn’t feel like screaming anymore and that’s a marked improvement.

“Did they hurt you?” asks Ruby. It seems a silly thing to say, seeing as they probably wouldn’t be holding each other like this if something were wrong, but she’s cupping Sapphire’s face and peering at her with such sincere concern that technicalities don’t precisely matter anymore.

“No, no, I’m okay.” She also can’t help holding that broad, strong hand against her cheek, though. It’s not close enough, it’s not, but it’s sweet and good and right now she’s too relieved to be back together to complain. “Did they hurt you?”

“Who cares?” The tears that spring into Ruby’s eyes betray how miserable she’s been, even if she refuses to admit it, but this isn’t the time to chastise her for disregarding herself again.

“I do!” Overcome, Sapphire surges up and kisses the tears, saying without words that you matter, you are loved, I love you.

When Ruby grins, Sapphire knows that her partner hasn’t actually forgotten.

She can’t help laughing when Ruby picks her up and swings her around like she’s the younger one. Falling into each other’s warmth and light is so easy then. They don’t even need to dance, they just need to play and laugh and welcome each other with open… well, everything.

It should be scary, how effortless it is to lose herself in Ruby. Being Garnet is so all-consuming that most times she honestly forgets all about who Sapphire used to be. It should terrify her that she doesn’t mind, that she likes it, but creating this incredible person who can only come from them is so, so worth it.

Garnet is powerful and fearless, intelligent and patient, a home and a guardian wrapped up in one. She is Sapphire and Ruby, and yet Garnet possesses something that is fundamentally all her own. Being with her as she learns and grows is nothing short of a delight. Seeing this life through her eyes is beautiful. If Garnet needs her to sacrifice something in order to keep doing, and seeing, and evolving as a person, then Sapphire will happily give up any and everything. And if she loses her individual definition along the way, that’s alright, because she’s only doing it to be closer.

Sapphire doesn’t mind losing herself, as long as it’s with Ruby.

Chapter Text

After reforming, Garnet never feels like herself right away. She’s more aware of the fact that she’s two people than usual—which is to say, Ruby and Sapphire are still settling. They are far more likely to step in and take over, or to talk to each other aloud, during this time. All else being equal, it takes about a day for Garnet to feel normal again.

Right now, all else is not equal.

What she and Steven find in Kindergarten shakes her to the core. After the Crystal Gems are done capturing and bubbling all of the clusters, and Garnet makes damn sure they haven’t left a single one of them behind, she has to take a moment for herself. She’ll talk to Steven after that. She has to do it, she knows she does—and she wants to, it’s not that—but right now…

“We almost lost it,” she says. She’s actually isn’t far from the temple. Right now she’s sitting cross legged on the top of the Beach City water tank, watching the humans go about their lives in ignorant bliss. She couldn’t have gone much farther than this. Not right now. She needs to be close, just in case something happens. All around the peninsula, the ocean sways and heaves like a great breathing beast.

Jasper and Lapis are still out there somewhere.

Don’t do that right now. One thing at a time. You’ll find them, you’ll fix this. It will happen. Just give yourself a moment—isn’t that why you’re here?

 “I almost lost it,” she admits. “I’m still here to protect you, to be you, but those gems… our friends…”

“It’s not our fault,” Sapphire says softly, using Garnet’s mouth. They’ve heard it before, but it needs to be said again. “There’s no way we could have known this would happen.”

“We know what Homeworld’s like,” says Ruby fiercely. “What were we thinking, showing them fusion and expecting them to understand it the way we do?”

“It was one time, and it was over 7,000 years ago! No one can see that far into the future, even if you know what to ask. If predicting what happens next week takes as much as 80% speculation, seven millennia—”

Ruby is looking down at their palms. “I know. I know.”

As they’re both using Garnet as a mouthpiece, things are getting a bit jerky. This is a discussion that might actually be easier separated, but they can’t, they can’t, not after…

If Homeworld is going to torture Crystal Gems and call it fusion, then there needs to be at least one example of it that isn’t bastardized. One example of real fusion. Besides, they’re safer together; they can protect each other better this way.

After the waking nightmare that nearly split them apart, and the monstrous force of will that kept them together anyway, the only response that makes sense is to hold on tighter. To never let go. The fact that their fusion is good and stable and full of love is a comfort. It’s probably the only form of comfort that could work right now, because the memory of nearly being torn down the middle isn’t leaving, those gems were reaching to her for help, she can still feel it, they needed her help and she couldn’t do anything, she froze, and that feeling is still there—

“Fusion isn’t a bad thing,” Sapphire says, neatly interrupting Ruby’s spiral of fury and anxiety. There is conviction in her voice, but both of their gems are quivering with unease; there’s no ignoring that. “I can’t regret this. I won’t.”

“What, and you think I do?” says Ruby incredulously, throwing out an arm. “I can’t regret this either, but the fact of the matter is that if we hadn’t figured out how to do it then Homeworld never would have gotten the idea to do something his monstrous, and those gems wouldn’t have been—spliced together like some kind of human science project!”

“So what do I do?”

 The question comes from Garnet herself, and at first it is met only with silence.

Quite without warning, tears spring into Ruby’s eye. “Sometimes I forget that you’ve come into your own, even when we use you to argue.”

Automatically, Sapphire reaches up and wipes the tears away with their right hand. “We’ve had our moment, and now we need to stay strong and move on. The next step is talking to Steven.”

So it happens that by the time Steven goes up to check the laundry, Garnet is already there waiting. She can’t feign lightness, can’t pretend like everything is okay, but she has to admit, talking to him does make her feel a little better.

Chapter Text

All truth told, Earth is the only planet that Garnet knows. She didn’t exist on Homeworld long enough to get a feel for the place, so Earth really is her home.

She first meets Rose Quartz when the latter catches her sneaking away from the cargo ship, roughly an hour after landing.

A shield, round and pink and decorated with thorns, cuts through the air in front of her nose. Garnet jerks back, her red gauntlets with their spiked knuckles raised and ready for anything.

She has to admit, she’s a little surprised to see a gem in flowing white gown, and massive curlicues of pink hair, standing in her way. Her tried and true battle ready stance—not to mention the flamboyant pink sword in her shield-free hand—betrays her as a quartz of some kind, a warrior by trade.

The setting isn’t the same as her first vision of this gem, but does that actually mean anything? It’s possible that it could just be another version of this same confrontation. Right now, it’s impossible to tell either way.

“Who are you?” the quartz gem asks. She’s leery, but not outright confrontational. “Your gems—how do you have two? I’ve never…” She trails off, but after a thoughtful moment the realization strikes. “You’re the one the rumors are about. You stowed away.”

Garnet doesn’t say anything. Her fists are still raised; she’s not taking any chances. The pink gem is bigger than Garnet, but a quartz’ hardness on the Mohs scale is inferior to that of a corundum (though not of garnets; does that mean she has a lower Mohs than Ruby and Sapphire? Is that even possible?). A fight between them would probably be hard won, but victory is slightly more likely than failure.

“But why this ship?” the other gem asks. Her sword lowers slightly. “Why here?”

“I knew your ship would be traveling light years,” Garnet replies. She hasn’t been killed yet, so she supposes she owes the quartz at least that much. “It didn’t matter where.”

“So what’s the plan? Are you just going to run off and live on your own in solitude? Well,” the quartz stops, reconsidering. “Together, I mean. Is that how it feels, or do you actually feel…” She gestures to Garnet’s solid-looking corporeal form with her sword “Whole?”

Enough small talk. “Aren’t you going to send me back? Turn me into an indentured servant?”

“Regulation demands I should, to be sure,” the quartz concedes genially. Is she—enjoying herself? What kind of sick, pink-tinted creature is this? “But honestly? I have so many questions about what you’ve discovered—what it’s feels like, how you do it, does it hurt—and you both obviously think it’s something worth fighting for.” To Garnet’s surprise and distrust, the shield disappears, and the quartz sheaths her pink sword as she straightens up. “We’re so isolated out here, if I don’t say anything I don’t see how anyone from Homeworld is going to find out this is where you are. I’d so much rather have you work with me than die or disappear.” She offers her hand and smiles. “I’m Rose Quartz.”

Reluctantly, Garnet allows her gauntlets to fade. Rose, once she notices the gems set into her palms, allows her own hand to fall without needing to be told that offering the most vulnerable part of you by way of introduction isn’t exactly how Garnet wants to play this.

“Well, do you mind telling me your name?” she asks. “I’d like to know what I should call you. Either of you.”

After a pause Garnet says her name aloud. It’s still so new to her that the thrill of it hasn’t quite faded, but Rose Quartz doesn’t seem to notice.

Her smile grows. “It’s nice to meet you, Garnet.” She steps back and sweeps her hand out behind her. “Welcome to what will soon be Kindergarten.”

Well, Garnet thinks to herself as she follows along and stands more or less wordlessly while Rose Quartz introduces her to the construction crew as if this unexpected addition to the team had actually been planned all along. The ones who catch sight of her two gems whisper amongst themselves about rumors and anomalies, but no one brings it up outright. Rose obviously already has command of their respect; she is, admittedly, a rather charming individual. Garnet can see the confusion warring with the trust in the other gems’ demeanors; if Rose is giving their new addition the green light, then it must be okay, right? However, the fact Garnet stands nearly as tall as Rose also probably has something to do with the fact that they haven’t been challenged.

This can be used to her advantage, Garnet thinks. The probability of survival on a foreign planet is better if she’s part of a group, at least initially.

Except Garnet forgets to leave and, ultimately, that’s what changes her life.

Chapter Text

It takes fifteen hundred years to figure out the alarming way that Kindergarten is draining Earth’s natural resources. By then, Garnet and Rose Quartz and many of the others who were involved in the initial construction of Kindergarten have developed a connection with the planet, and they’re beginning to feel guilty for doing something this destructive.

“A rebellion?” repeats Garnet when Rose broaches the topic with her.

“Look at them,” Rose says, gesturing to the human village on the valley bottom. They are currently on the crest of the ridge, but no one within several kilometers of the area could miss the smoke coming from the human’s fires. “They may not be as advanced as we are, but humans are sentient and intelligent creatures, and you can’t find them anywhere else in the cosmos. If the Kindergarten continues, this planet is lost, and they’ll go with it.”

No wonder Rose brought her here. She wanted a living example to use for her sales pitch.

Garnet props her hands on her hips and raises her eyebrows behind her mirrored glasses. “I thought you were sent here to make sure the Kindergarten thrived?” She knows the answer to this question already. Bending the rules here and there is Rose’s style, but outright defying them? Garnet wants to hear exactly what she’s thinking.

“You know I was,” Rose says. “But all of the initial status reports about this planet were wrong. This place isn’t barren and empty; it’s a thriving, living ecosystem. We have an ethical duty to preserve this biodiversity, and I can’t turn my back on that. Not even for the Diamond Authority.”

Rose isn’t the only one who’s been feeling this way, but it’s the first time anyone’s said it aloud. Now that this view has been articulated formally, they cannot ignore it anymore.

“Hence the need for a rebellion,” Garnet says with a nod. “I’m in.”

She knows she’s signing herself up for an uphill battle. Eradicating Homeworld’s influence from Earth is far easier said than done. She knows that she will be branded as a traitor to her own kind—but Homeworld already wants her dead, so what’s the harm in antagonizing them a little bit more? Garnet doesn’t have it in her to fear something simply because it’s difficult, and she has no loyalty to Homeworld anyway.

Rose Quartz does a double take despite herself. Her charisma falters, just for a second. “What? Just like that?”

Garnet gestures to the village below. “Humans aren’t advanced enough to defend themselves against gem technology. The only ones who can are gems. Besides,” Garnet says. “This is my planet too.”

After a stunned pause, a bright smile lights Rose’s face. “Garnet, I think that’s the most you’ve ever said to me!” she says, her tone teasing.

“Don’t get used to it.” Garnet says it, and she even has her arms crossed so that she can continue looking gruff and intimidating, but she’s smiling too. Just a little.

Rose Quartz laughs straight from the gut, a rich sound that floats down to the valley floor. “Well, okay! That was much easier than I expected. Do you think anyone else will join us?”

Garnet adjusts her glasses, acknowledging the subtle reference to her future vision. “They can’t until we ask.”

Chapter Text

Steven has fantastic intuition.

They are on a mission to poof and bubble a corrupted gem. No clusters, no dark secrets, just your average mission.

This corrupted gem used to belong to someone powerful, though. It is putting up one hell of a fight. Steven isn’t ready for this kind of battle, so they’ve instructed him to keep out of the way while they handle it.

“Steven, no! What are you doing?” cries Pearl as Steven, predictably enough, ventures from his hiding spot and boldly approaches the creature.

Garnet sees what Steven is about to do about fifty seconds before it actually happens. It’s unorthodox, but ultimately effective. “Let him go,” she tells Pearl.

Perhaps it’s strange to say, but in many ways Garnet doesn’t worry about him like she worries about Pearl and Amethyst. Steven is young, and his body is fragile, but these are things that will be addressed through accumulated experience and completing missions with them. And, when all else fails, Steven’s utterly empathetic and compassionate nature wins out anyway. He has Rose’s heart and, in many ways, her luck too.

The corrupted gem roars and screams as Steven comes closer, but while he is a little apprehensive he is ultimately not afraid. “Hey,” he says quietly, holding out an empty hand. “Are you still in there? Can you hear me?”

“Garnet,” Pearl hisses. “That thing is going to kill him. We need to get him out of there!”

“Steven can handle this.”

“I don’t know,” Amethyst remarks dubiously. Her whip is out and poised, ready to rip Steven out of harm’s way at a moment’s notice. “Doesn’t look like he’s exactly fighting it off.”

Amethyst and Pearl. They fight like drenched cats, and it takes putting Steven in danger or the threat of Garnet’s own wrath to make them function like actual teammates (now, for example; they are actually agreeing on something). Having fundamental personality differences is understandable, but they have those with Steven and Garnet too, and that doesn’t affect how they get along.

Steven is still talking to the creature, who is either deeply bemused or outright stunned that this is happening. It never would have paused like this for anyone else. “It’s okay, I won’t hurt you. You’re still in there, right? You can hear me? I can’t believe you’re all gone.”

They have been living together for thousands of years, but losing Rose really did a number on the Crystal Gems’ dynamic. Steven is wonderful, and whether he realizes it or not he’s done a lot to heal the grief Rose left in her wake. He can’t ever replace Rose, though—Steven is his own person, and while there are traits that he and his mother obviously share the point remains that he is still Steven.

Steven closes in just enough to put a slow, steady hand on the creature’s leg.

That’s about when it decides that it’s had enough of whatever is going on. It strikes out with one of its many tentacle-like arms.

“Steven!”

None of them ever would have looked to Rose Quartz as a son, for example.

Steven catches the creature’s blow with his shield. Much like with the Lapis Lazuli’s water clones, the reverberation from the impact causes the creature’s illusionary construct to destabilize, and it retreats harmlessly into its gem. Pearl is quick to dash up and bubble it.

“Steven, what were you thinking? You could have gotten yourself killed!”

“Woo, Steven! You poofed that thing all on your own!” cheers Amethyst. She allows her whip to dissipate as she runs up, relieved but also excited. “That was awesome!”

Their love for Steven is no less real or potent; it’s just different than the love they had for his mother (very different, in Pearl’s case). As such, it makes sense that they can miss Rose and adore Steven in the same breath.

Steven isn’t smiling or cheering. Instead, he is looking at the bubble floating in Pearl’s hands. “I really thought that would work,” he says as she sends it to the temple. “It really looked like it was listening to me.”

Garnet walks up and rubs at his hair affectionately. “You did a good job today.”

“But don’t scare us like that again!” says Pearl.                                        

“I don’t know, I thought that shield trick was pretty cool,” Amethyst remarks.

“Amethyst! Don’t encourage Steven to do reckless things like that!”

For people who can live an eternity, if given the right conditions, gems don’t adapt very well to change. The Crystal Gems are leagues better now than they’ve been since Rose left a little over a decade ago, but in so many ways those emotions are still fresh and raw.

Maybe that’s why it makes sense for gems to be so long-lived. It takes them decades to properly deal with anything.

Steven glances up at Garnet, who still has a hand on his head. They both ignore Amethyst and Pearl’s bickering as he smiles, already past with his melancholy mood. “You’re right, Garnet. I can’t give up!”

She smiles. He’s misinterpreting what she said, but that’s okay. His heart is in the right place, and the direction he is choosing is a good one.

And maybe that’s why Garnet doesn’t worry so much about Steven. He may be half a gem, but he possesses all of the adaptability of a human, and that’s a beautiful thing.

Chapter Text

Sugilite is a lot of fun.

Not the kind of fun you would want to have all the time, but once every century so it’s good to let loose with her. At least, it is until Sugilite takes over, refuses to unfuse, overexerts their bodies to the point they can’t move afterwards, etcetera.

It isn’t just Ruby and Amethyst’s fault that Sugilite is so crazy, either. Their two personalities riling each other up is definitely a part of it, yes, but Pearl and Steven would never believe it if anyone told them how much Sapphire adds to the mix.

Sapphire is calm when she’s with Ruby, and her chronic mistrust and thirst to prove herself become moot because with Ruby, the most loyal, trustworthy person she knows, she doesn’t have anything to prove. Ruby doesn’t tend to value herself, and it’s only too easy for her to become overemotional, but when she’s with Sapphire, who values her above all else and isn’t afraid to interrupt the vicious cycles she stumbles in to, she becomes peaceful and clearheaded. Together as Garnet all of their insecurities are fully addressed and set aside, and there is more time to focus on missions and logic.

However, as soon as Sapphire’s mistrust and eagerness to prove herself combines with Amethyst’s self-indulgence and partially unresolved self-hatred, things become a little toxic. Once you add in Ruby’s impulsiveness and easily overwhelmed bluster, you get—well, Sugilite.

Sugilite holds herself above all else—because if she doesn’t, who will? The immense strength and size that comes from being a three-gem fusion makes her valuable, and she’s always quick to jump on the tasks that make it obvious. She prefers to work alone, mostly because her only other choice is Pearl, who is a complete snore fest. She enjoys her strength and massiveness; the sheer power that makes up her physical form is delectable.

And, when she first meets Steven, Sugilite wants nothing more than to show him that she’s the best thing to happen to fusion since it was invented. She does a pretty amazing job of it, if she says so herself. The stars in that boy’s eyes! Ah, she can’t get enough of it.

Of course, Pearl or one of the other Crystal Gems always finds a way to defuse her, which leaves her components with the hangover of the century and a great reluctance to fuse again. That’s why Sugilite is so adamant about not splitting up—because once, just once, she’d like to stick around and let everyone gawk at her in awe a little longer. Is that really so much to ask?

Why, yes. Yes, it is. Because, as much fun as Sugilite sometimes is, it’s always better when Garnet is herself afterwards; nothing else feels like home.

Chapter Text

The first time Garnet sees the sky—honestly takes it in—night has already fallen on her first day on planet Earth. 

It had been a busy day of introductions, preliminary Kindergarten construction, acclimating to her new planet, and ever so slowly letting her guard down around Rose Quartz, otherwise she probably would have remembered to look up sooner.

At this point in Earth’s history humans are still hunters and gatherers, so light pollution hasn’t been invented yet. It’s also a clear, crisp night, with only a sliver of a waxing moon shining like a slow smile to mess up the sight. Everything else is just the Milky Way (of course, that term hadn’t come about yet either, but nevertheless), bright pinpoints glittering on a bed of darkness.

She doesn’t recognize any of the constellations or planets. Earth is about as far from Homeworld as a space ship can go, way on the other side of the universe, so even if there are clusters and constellations she knows up there, she wouldn’t know where to begin looking for them from this new angle.

Their celestial identities don’t matter anyway. She’s seeing them; that’s what matters.

It’s been 5,856 years and one-hundred-thirty-one days—or is that thirty-two now? They must have passed a translatable intergalactic date line (the equivalent of X, given the amount of light years you’ve travelled) at some point during their flight, but in which direction?

The days don’t matter anymore. She’s standing under an open sky now, and—and…

Sapphire doesn’t know why, but she is so deeply moved by the sight that Garnet fades. She falls gently away from Ruby and alights on the grassy knoll overlooking the Kindergarten base camp so she can stand under the stars as herself. She even goes so far as to move her bangs out of the way so she can stare without any barriers, mouth slightly agape.

Ruby isn’t offended by this brief interlude of separation. In fact, a quick sidelong glance proves that she’s looking up with awe in her eyes too.

“I think I’ve been around you too long,” says Ruby after they’ve spent several silent minutes like this. “Seeing this shouldn’t be so monumental.”

Sapphire is still looking up, but she notices her partner gazing at her in her peripheral. “After sneaking onto a spaceship headed into the most remote corner of the universe to live out the rest of our foreseeable existence in the same body together, this is what makes you think we’ve gone too far?”

Her partner lets out a hearty laugh. “When you put it like that, it sounds unreasonable.”

“I call them like I see ‘em.”

Ruby laughs again, delighting in Sapphire’s dry tone, but she grows quiet when she notices that Sapphire still can’t take her eye off of the stars.

“You’d tell me if you weren’t okay, right?” she says softly, stepping in and touching the small of Sapphire’s back. I’m here, the contact states; you have my full support, no matter what.

At first, no response feels like it would be descriptive enough, so she doesn’t say anything. She lets out a breath that quivers as it moves, and that’s about when the words find themselves, “It’s been nearly six thousand years. I never thought I’d see anything like this again.”

“Neither did I.” Ruby’s hand slips around her waist in a decidedly more companionable manner. Putting her own arm around her partner and leaning in until their shoulders touch is nothing short of automatic.

Sapphire gazes up for a little longer—just a little bit longer—before looking Ruby in the eye. It’s sort of strange, seeing her without the familiar blue fringe in the way, but not in a bad way. With Ruby, it’s nothing to be afraid of. “I could never give this freedom up again.” Certainly not for a metal box deep underground; she is never, ever going back there.

“We shouldn’t have to, if Rose Quartz is everything she claims to be.”

“That’s not what I mean. Ruby, if anything were to happen—”

“I know.” Ruby turns and hugs her for one long moment, saying without words that they are on exactly the same page, before drawing back and placing a hand on Sapphire’s neck as she presses their foreheads together. “You know,” she murmurs, tracing the pad of her thumb over Sapphire’s jawline as Sapphire takes her by the waist and elbow and draws her in until their torsos are touching. “It’s usually me who cries.”

That’s when Sapphire notices the moisture on her face. She blinks, surprised, and more trickle down. There’s no real need for an explanation—they both know why this is happening—so instead she offers a small smile and quips, “What? I’m just trying to keep things exciting.”

They both giggle, but Sapphire’s insides melt when she feels the soft lips press into the skin just under her eye. She is so warm, so thankful to have this love and support, that she can’t help grabbing Ruby by the ears and kissing her full on the mouth. If she’s still crying, then at this point she’s utterly forgotten about it.

“I think I’m ready to go back to Garnet now,” she says, cupping her partner’s cheeks and offering a smile of both gratitude and affection. “I don’t like it when we’re this separate.”

Ruby lets out a powerful sigh of relief. “I’m so glad I’m not the only one feeling that. I mean, it’s been less than an hour, so I was thinking maybe I developed a co-dependency problem somewhere in the last few days of being her on the ship, and then keeping it up here—”

Sapphire kisses her again, neatly disrupting the run on sentence before it can become a full-fledged rant. “You’re not the only one who feels it,” she promises. “And if it’s a co-dependency issue, then I’ve got it too, and it becomes functionally moot by virtue of my reciprocity. Now come on and dance with me until it doesn’t feel like you’re far away anymore.”

Chapter Text

The first time Rose broaches the subject with Garnet is after ten happy years with Greg Universe. It’s the longest she’s ever been with a human, and in all honesty it looks like they could keep going and going. They have a well communicated give and take of opinions and interests, a mutual respect; it’s a solid love. Frankly, Garnet is impressed at all Greg has learned without ever seeming to want to leave.

“Can I ask you about the future?”

They’re in the temple at the moment. Greg has been here with Rose a few times, but never unattended and always briefly, so there isn’t a chance of being overheard in case the outcome is negative. And if Pearl or Amethyst happen to be eavesdropping right now—well, they would have heard it all eventually anyway, so no harm done. It’s a smart move, bringing it up here, but Garnet can’t help but think it’s also because Rose Quartz is worried about what she will hear.

“You know that’s not specific enough,” Garnet says. “What are you thinking?”

“If things stay like this, between myself and Greg. It can’t stay this good forever, I know that; something will inevitably change, but I’m just wondering—is there a moment that is more influential than others? A threshold that shouldn’t be crossed?”

This is no small request, and Rose clearly knows that. She waits patiently as Garnet wades through the possibilities, preposterous and highly probable alike (because you can’t have one without the other, unfortunately). It helps to know that, if given her way, Rose would continue with things as they are, so she can slot in placeholder decisions with reasonable certainty whenever she is presented with a crossroad in the timeline.

Eventually she says, “Humans like having families. They like making them. Up until that point, it’s nothing you can’t handle. But that’s where the most drastic change potentially occurs.”

“And if that path is chosen?” prods Rose.

Is she asking out of academic interest, or because she’s actually considering it?

Garnet shakes her head. “There are too many outcomes with similar probabilities, and they range from positive to negative to a shift so monumental that it’s hard to say whether it will ultimately be positive or not.”

“Anything else I should be aware of?”

“Nothing you can’t anticipate on your own.”

Rose hums, already lost in thought. Subconsciously, she touches the edge of one of the points on the star cut into her flowing white dress. “Thank you, Garnet.”

“Of course.” Still, Garnet can’t help but take Rose’s somewhat melancholy demeanor as a sign that she’s already made up her mind. Pearl and Amethyst are not going to like this.

Chapter Text

For all that the Crystal Gems gave up everything to isolate themselves on Earth and protect it from their own kind, until Greg Universe they remained more or less aloof from humans and their civilizations. The latter rises and falls too easily—humanity really has some catching up to do, on the galactic scale. Best leave them to it, right? Even Rose, who loved humans more than anyone, still had only known enough about them to play out brief storybook romances every few decades or so.

It’s not like they don’t care about humans. They wouldn’t have risen up in a catastrophic rebellion against their own people, if that were the case. They just have a lot on their plates with collecting corrupted gems of their old friends and foes and making sure any and all communications with Homeworld are well and truly dead, like they themselves are supposed to be. They respect that humans have a right to exist and progress in their own time, blissfully unaware of what almost was, and it seems only fair to leave them to continue in this way.

Besides, humans are just so—primitive. “Talk to me when you figure out a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels like the rest of the Milky Way, right?” Pearl always says, grinning at her own joke.

“Gems had to struggle when it came time for us to solve that problem, too,” Rose Quartz never fails to retorts, gentle but admonishing.

Instantly, Pearl flushes light blue. “You’re right, Rose. Humans are just young. It’s not fair to hold them to our standards,” she mumbles.

“They are pretty dumb, though,” Amethyst will chime in, grinning and snickering. “I mean, look at how they travel these days!”

Garnet doesn’t typically have anything to add. She thinks humans are primitive and virtually defenseless against gem technology, but her loyalties are to Earth itself, not its endemic inhabitants. She thinks neither highly nor lowly of the species. They exist, and she acknowledges this fact; that’s about all you’re going to get out of her.

Nobody else seems to realize that Rose’s protests are half-hearted at best. That’s what usually has Garnet laughing by the end of the conversation.

It isn’t until Greg that the Crystal Gems learn that humans can be pretty interesting, even without a solution to their inevitable energy crisis. There are a lot of things they’ve overlooked over their centuries of apathetic cohabitation on this planet—like music. Homeworld doesn’t have anything even remotely like that (it’s why dancing was never invented, prior to Sapphire and Ruby stumbling upon it), and wow, have they been missing out!

Even then, though, learning about human values and inventions from Greg or secondhand from Rose is one thing. Having Rose Quartz leave her young gem-human hybrid son in their care was something else entirely.

To say that the Crystal Gems were not prepared for Steven would be a gross understatement. Steven inherently brings with him Earth’s alien culture that they’ve been avoiding for so many centuries, and he makes them learn it with him every step of the way.

No, learning isn’t the right word for it. They are immersed in it. Only Steven can get them to play ridiculous board games like Kitchen Calamity, or participate in a barbeque/impromptu volleyball tournament with the Pizza family. He forces them to invent things that gems don’t need, and to care about human life in ways they never thought they could. He may be learning how to be a gem from them, but they’re learning so much more from him. They’re learning an entirely new way of thinking, of living, of being.

“We’re bad at this.” It’s a rare day to hear Amethyst so sad about something, but she truly sounds defeated this time.

They’re still waiting outside of Steven’s three-room test with a comically huge bouquet of star shaped balloons and a great big Congratulations banner. Have been for nearly an hour now. Doubt is starting to creep in. Was this even worth the time it took to set it up? Steven couldn’t really have found a way to hurt himself in there, could he?

Has he figured it out? Garnet can see three futures in which he does; that means it’s statistically more probable that he could—and, what’s worse, she will never be able to tell from the way Steven acts when he eventually finds them on the other side. He’s a better actor than he thinks.

Garnet’s powerful, confident stance hasn’t changed, but her fists are clenched at her sides. She can’t help it. Feeling the warmth of Ruby and Sapphire’s gems in her palms is a comfort.

“What?” says Pearl, aghast by Amethyst’s declaration.

 “Yeah.” It’s hard to tell if Amethyst is upset because she doesn’t know what to do, or because Pearl refuses to see that she doesn’t know, either. “You can’t control him, and he shouldn’t be taking advice from me, and we don’t have Rose to tell us what to do!”

Garnet doesn’t say anything, but privately she thinks that Amethyst may be right. Is giving Steven an impossible-to-fail task that raises his confidence based upon a lie appropriate? Were there other options that would have raised his confidence better? Does he need to physically accomplish something to feel better, or does he just need to talk? They designed this test with a gem’s mentality, but is that the same as a half-gem’s?

They honestly don’t know what they’re doing. It isn’t like Steven came with a user’s manual.

“But he needs us to show him how to be a gem!” is Pearl’s mantra—and oh, if only that were the end of it. Showing Steven gem stuff is easy. It’s everything else he comes with that trips them up. They’re doing their best, but there are times where Garnet fears that may not be good enough.

“Steven is not just a gem. There has never been anything or anyone like Steven.” Garnet adjusts her glasses as she says what they’re all trying not to think about, “We don’t know what he needs.”

One might thing that being the first fusion gives Garnet a leg up on how to deal with unique beings. However, while fusion and love-children could be comparable philosophies, in the physical realm fusion is nowhere close to being a totally new species. Garnet is still a gem through and through, and, while they have pooled all of their resources together to give Garnet existence and the power to realize her full potential, Sapphire and Ruby—the only two who could potentially have some useful advice on something like this—are pretty well removed from the situation. They tend to stay happily tangled up in each other and let Garnet take care of everything else. Of course they love Steven—if they didn’t, then Garnet certainly couldn’t—but they haven’t become mothers the same way that Garnet, Pearl and Amethyst have. They don’t interact with him in the same way; their bond with him is entirely through Garnet. That isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but when she’s on her own Ruby simply doesn’t look to Steven as a son, and neither does Sapphire. That’s the difference.

Garnet never asked to have a little half-gem thrust into her care, tutelage and protection, but now that Steven is in her life she couldn’t stomach an existence without him. She knows this, and she doesn’t resent it. She can’t, it’s Steven. He’s far too precious for her to think of him as something regrettable. At this point she and Amethyst and Pearl love that little boy more than Garnet ever envisioned they could, and that’s not a bad thing.

It’s just. Sometimes, Garnet just wishes she could understand what being a good parent entails with better clarity, so maybe she won’t end up floundering like this again.

Chapter Text

Garnet doesn’t lose.

Be it a rebellion against Homeworld, or just a game of Steven tag, Garnet is irrevocably compelled to make sure she comes out on top. It’s probably an ego thing—winning makes her feel powerful and proud and accomplished, and she loves all of that. She can admit that her competitive spirit can get a little overzealous sometimes. When it comes to games in particular, she tends to get overly invested in the outcome—but she can’t help herself. Winning games is one of the few frivolous things Garnet actually cares about.

However, this brand of winning tends to bleed into all aspects of her life and personality. Once Garnet has decided to have her way on something, there is no stopping her. That’s just how she is.

“I know what the diamond means.”

At first Garnet doesn’t think anything of the odd adolescent human’s remark, hollow with realization. Steven has been saved from being chained to a chair in his homemade snake costume; mission accomplished. Garnet wins again.

The young human straightens up and thrusts both fists into the air. “Polymorphic sentient rocks!” he cries.

That catches her attention. She and Pearl exchange a quick look, and Amethyst makes a mildly impressed humming sound that is drowned out as the child begins to laugh maniacally. They are all thinking the same thing: no, way.

Just because the term ‘polymorphic sentient rock’ describes gems perfectly doesn’t mean this human has actually figured anything out, right?

Naw, couldn’t be.

She and the Crystal Gems (and the odd human’s brother) leave the weird one to his laughter. They all walk calmly from the lighthouse as the weird child rushes out to the balcony to call after them.

“They’re here to hollow out the earth!”

Garnet reaches out to affectionately ruffle Steven’s hair as they stroll back down the hill.

“It’s part of the great Diamond Authority!”

Pearl is carrying Steven on her shoulder, and Amethyst doesn’t appear to be paying the least bit of attention to what’s being hollered down at them.

“They’ll take on any form!”

Steven and the other human child are none the wiser.

It isn’t until Steven has been asleep for hours that Garnet meets with Amethyst and Pearl in the temple. They’ve kept this planet safe for too many centuries to become complacent now, even over something this small.

“The guy’s crazy,” Amethyst says with a dismissive wave of her hand. She crosses her arms across her chest. “So what if he put it up on his blog? Nobody’s going to believe him anyway.”

“That was more than simply a wild guess,” says Pearl. “I don’t know how, but that young human boy actually figured out that the Diamond Authority exists.”

“He doesn’t know anything,” Garnet maintains, her arms akimbo. “He just thinks he does.”

“He referenced the Kindergarten!” cries Pearl.

“I don’t know why we’re freaking out,” says Amethyst, casually digging earwax out of her own ear. “I didn’t think we were in hiding.”

“We’re not, but the Diamond Authority thinks we’re dead,” Garnet says gravely. “If one person with enough power believes that human, the commotion it causes could potentially be enough to draw their attention. We’ve already fought off one red eye, so we know they’re still watching Earth. What we don’t know for sure is how closely they can manage it, with all communications with Homeworld down.”

“But if we make a big deal out of it…” says Pearl.

“It could end up just the same,” Garnet agrees. “We did the right thing, ignoring him as we left. If he actually knew everything, then the first thing he would be doing is going after us. He didn’t, and he’s not. If nobody takes the bait, then he will probably move on.”

Amethyst groans. “Are we actually still talking about this?”

“It’s a small thing,” Garnet concedes. “But we’ve come too far to fumble now. Even something this small needs to be handled properly.”

“The last thing we want is Homeworld stalking this planet again. They’ve already done enough,” Pearl chimes in.

Amethyst lets out another sound of aggravation and props a hand on one hip. “Okay, so we pretend like nothing happened and hopefully it will go away. Is that the plan?”

Garnet adjusts her glasses. “For now, yes.”

Of course, this discussion takes place long before the long-dead communications tower starts spontaneously trying to contact Homeworld again, or Steven sets Lapis Lazuli free to fly back to Homeworld and tattle that the rebels aren’t all dead after all, or Peridot and her blasted robonoids begin fixing the intergalactic warp pads. By the end of all that, pretending like nothing has happened is no longer an option. Might as well have given the weird blogging human’s revelations the good ol’ thumbs up of approval, for all the good it did.

By the time they find the waking nightmare that is the cluster, it’s pretty clear that a second war for Earth is brewing. It’s impossible to say whether it can be diffused before it can begin, but Garnet is already preparing herself for the worst.

Did she expect to have to fight Homeworld off a second time after winning the rebellion? No. Is she ready to do it anyway? Absolutely. After all, this is her planet; it’s the only home she knows. Humans are still defenseless against gems, too.

There is also something to fight for that she never had last time: Steven. Keeping that little boy safe is more than a promise she made to his mother, and it’s more than an obligation; if anything were to happen to Steven, Garnet doesn’t know what she would do, which is why she is determined to never find out. Technology and numbers are not in their favor, but damn it, the Crystal Gems are going to win anyway.

Why? Because Garnet doesn’t lose.

Chapter Text

Unfusing is difficult these days.

“Happy birthday, Steven!” says Pearl warmly as Steven trudges down from his loft. They’re all already in the kitchen, as they’ve been for hours while Pearl methodically goes about baking and frosting his birthday cake. There is going to be an actual party later on tonight, but the Crystal Gems wanted to give him something from just them, too.

Garnet is a sensual being. She delights in the simple physicality of being alive. She loves being able to run, and breathe, and punch great white sharks for group photos in the early 1900’s (or was that still the 1800’s? Eh, doesn’t matter). The fact that her body is an illusionary construct doesn’t change the fact that she takes joy in its existence. Everything she is screams testament to that, from her body’s dramatically feminine curves to the fact that she is always the first to rush into a fight, gauntlets at the ready.

“Woo, Ste-man!” Amethyst whoops, pumping a fist in the air. “You survived another year!”

Much of her existential exhilaration is credited to the very bond that sustains her, it’s true. If Sapphire and Ruby didn’t love being this close to each other, then Garnet would not be as great of an experience as she is.

Garnet smiles. “Happy birthday, Steven.”

At the same time, though, Garnet really doesn’t understand how Ruby and Sapphire voluntarily relinquished the feel of sun and rain and wind on their skin, or the rush of adrenaline that comes from facing off with a monster and winning, or just the meditative feeling that comes from resting on the couch in Steven’s room with an ankle on one knee and her elbows propped on the backrest. If she were in their position, she wouldn’t be quite so willing to just give that up. She isn’t willing. It takes a very, very good reason to make Garnet split apart. Nothing less will do.

Steven, being Steven, excitedly oohs and ahhs over the cake. He grasps each of them in a hugely affectionate embrace, and chatters happily about the birthday shenanigans he and Connie and his other friends will get up to at the party tonight. It isn’t until he’s had a piece of the cake (they have to stop Amethyst from eating the rest—“Half? What do you mean, I have to leave at least half?!”) and has settled at the breakfast bar with a bowl of cereal that it hits him.

“Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I almost forgot!” Suddenly, he’s looking at Garnet with stars in his eyes. “I get to hang out with Ruby and Sapphire today!”

Amethyst starts snickering, and even Pearl has to smile at his expression of eager anticipation. “That’s right,” the latter says. “It is still a part of your plan, isn’t it Garnet?”

It had been a good reason, back before Steven had met Sapphire and Ruby. Not that the fifteen minutes he had spent with a panicked and frazzled Ruby, or the two he had spent with a Sapphire who only barely had the presence of mind to drag him along as she found and went back to fusing with Ruby, precisely counts as quality time. Still, though.

“Come on, Garnet.” Steven’s tone is pitched like he thinks he’s being persuasive. “You promised!”

She takes a breath from where she is, standing at the end of the breakfast bar with her arms casually looped together. He can’t see it from here, but her fingers are curled over the comforting warmth of Sapphire and Ruby’s gems in apprehension. “You’re right, I did,” she says. Nevertheless, she can’t stop herself from adding, “But only for an hour.”

There’s a good reason for the caveat, admittedly. Anything longer than that, and things have a much higher statistical probability of going to hell in a handbasket. Sapphire’s future vision is not quite as detailed as Garnet’s; being without it for much longer seems to tempt every corrupted gem monster from all over the globe to try their luck spreading chaos.

“Thank you, Garnet! Best birthday present ever!” Before she can reply, Steven has hopped out of his chair and rushed forward to hug her around the legs. He speaks much quieter, squeezing her with more strength than a human boy his age would ever possess. “I know what it means that you’re doing this.”

Garnet smiles as she hugs him back. It’s hard to regret splitting apart for an hour, when you get thanks like this. She can also see that Steven will be overjoyed to have her back when it’s all over, as well; while it wouldn’t have been hard to predict even without her future vision, it’s still nice to know.

“Amethyst, there’s something in the temple I want to show you,” Pearl says suddenly.

“What? No you don’t.”

“Amethyst,” says Pearl through gritted teeth. “Come with me into the temple.”

“Why should I—oh.” Amethyst’s disbelief and distaste fall away as she finally realizes what Pearl is trying to do. “Oh, yeah, I guess I needed to see that thing anyway,” she mutters. They leave, but not before Amethyst scarfs down the rest of the cake.

Well, that was completely dramatic and unnecessary.

“I feel like I should have seen that coming,” Steven remarks as he pulls away and gazes at the empty platter, only slightly forlorn. “It was a good cake, though.”

“Pearl can make you another one, if you really want it,” Garnet says.

“That’s okay, we can have fun without cake!” he exclaims, abruptly animated once more. There are stars in his young eyes again as he grins and watches Garnet like he expects something amazing to happen.

Oh, right. Unfusing. She’s supposed to be getting on that.

The moment their separate forms solidify, Ruby and Sapphire find themselves being dragged into a very tight embrace. “I’m so excited to see you guys again! We are going to have so much fun!”

“Getting a lot of hugs today,” mutters Ruby, spitting out a chunk of Sapphire’s hair that has somehow gotten in the way. Not that she’s complaining or anything, it’s just an observation.

“Steven’s taller than you now,” says Sapphire lightly, marking the height of Steven’s curly head and drawing an invisible line over to Ruby’s with one delicately gloved hand.

“What, I am?” asks Steven, clearly impressed. He almost literally jumps back, and tries to do the same thing. “Really?”

“Psh, no. That’s just your poofy hair, kid,” Ruby scoffs. There is no way she’s shorter than Steven, just none.

“It’s not,” Sapphire says. She stands them shoulder to shoulder before checking again. “I factored in hair height for both of you.”

“And now you’re rubbing it in,” Ruby growls, eyes narrowed. “Being the tallest short person isn’t something to brag about, you know.”

Sapphire laughs, and that douses the flames of Ruby’s annoyance somewhat. Hearing her partner’s laughter is one of the few advantages of unfusing, she supposes.

“Okay!” Steven says. His fists are clenched with zeal, and he’s practically bouncing up and down. “We don’t have much time, so what do you two like to do?”

Sapphire and Ruby exchange a look. What did they like to do?

“We, uh. We figured you already had a plan, Steven,” Sapphire says lamely.

“Yeah! If we only have an hour, we’re going to do what you like to do for a half hour, Sapphire, and then what Ruby likes to do for the other half hour! It’s the perfect plan.” And Steven nods, his arms akimbo. It is, in his young mind, the perfect plan indeed. He waits for one long, awkward minute, and then he all but pounces on Ruby. “So, what are your hobbies? Do you like board games, or do you want to play outside—ooh, maybe we could watch Crying Breakfast Friends or go to the Big Donut and visit Lars and Sadie…”

“Err.” Ruby takes a step back, flustered by the barrage, and shoots a somewhat frantic look at Sapphire. Help me. “I don’t—uh, I was thinking, um…” Becoming overwhelmed, she groans and clutches at her temples. “I don’t know!”

“Astronomy,” says Sapphire before Steven can either become concerned or insistent. “I like astronomy.”

Ruby instantly latches on, straightening up and letting her arms fall to her sides. “That’s right! We love astronomy.”

“No, I like astronomy.”

Ruby shoots her a sharp look. What are you trying to do to me?

Steven seems a little confused, but so far he’s rolling with it. “Well, astronomy’s great! We even have a telescope, but…” He glances at the window. “It’s morning right now, so I think star gazing it out of the question.” Ruby hides a grimace when his gaze turns to her again. “What do you like to do when the sun is out, Ruby?”

“Err… missions.” She’s a little dubious at first, but then she squares her shoulders and sniffs confidently. She makes a fist around her gem and hammers into her other palm. “Yes. I like punching stuff. It’s my favorite hobby!”

“It’s Garnet who likes punching stuff,” Sapphire says.

Ruby lets out a sound of aggravation and throws out one muscular red arm. “Well, you took astronomy! What else am I supposed to say?”

“Are… you two okay?” Steven is officially concerned and bemused now. “Is this too much?”

“No, no, Steven, it’s not that,” Sapphire soothes while simultaneously laying a hand on her partner’s shoulder. Ruby’s frazzled tension fades under her palm as she explains, “We’re happy to be here with you, honestly. But when we were on Homeworld—”

“Whoa, hey, no, no, no,” Ruby interjects, waving her hands as she abruptly steps out of shoulder-touching range. “It’s his birthday, and Homeworld already ruined our first plan. Does it have to ruin everything else, too?”

Sapphire just looks at her. Do you really think I’m going to go into that right now, of all times? Being unfused doesn’t feel right anymore, which is putting them both on edge, but how can Ruby think she would bring up something like that so offhandedly?

Ruby is remarkably adept at interpreting Sapphire’s Looks, blue bangs notwithstanding. This time is no different. Relief and apology briefly mix on her expressive face—okay, so I jumped to all the wrong conclusions. Sorry.

“Look, Steven, the long and the short of it is we don’t have any hobbies,” Ruby says point-blank. “Not—not like this, anyway.” She gestures to the gap between Sapphire and herself, but the empty space on her right palm distracts her. She stares at it for a beat before murmuring, “It’s weird enough just being alone.”

Sapphire makes a small noise of agreement. It’s good to know that she’s not the only one feeling this unbalanced. “What Ruby means is that we haven’t been separate on Earth long enough to develop any hobbies that are uniquely our own,” she tells Steven. “I know it sounds odd, but these forms don’t really feel like home anymore.”

Ruby snorts, her only acknowledgement of that massive understatement. Neither of them add that these personalities don’t feel right anymore, either, and at this point it’s all mostly muscle memory and conjecture. What they like, who are they as individuals—the truth is, they both forgot the answers to those questions a long time ago, and they never looked back.

“No, it makes sense,” Steven says, realization dawning on his young face. “Garnet told me that she often forgets who she used to be. You’ve been putting all of your effort into being Garnet for a really long time. You don’t like being separated. This isn’t you anymore. Do…” He looks between them, sincere and serious, their best interests clearly all over his face. “Do you just want to go back? I wouldn’t mind.”

“Hey, just because it’s weird for us doesn’t mean we don’t like spending time with you,” says Ruby.

“We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t want to, Steven,” adds Sapphire, just to drive the point home. She offers a smile, but it’s a bit on the crooked side. “You’re just going to have to bear with some of the quirks we never had a couple thousand years ago, that’s all.”

Steven is an easy sell, and he instantly perks up. “Well, alright! Since you don’t have any requests, we’ll just have to do a little bit of everything!”

If either of them thought that Steven was exaggerating, they certainly couldn’t say so forty-five minutes later. At this point Ruby is getting dizzy from the whiplash of so many rapid subject changes. Sapphire is faring a little better, due to her lifelong future vision problem, but even she was hard pressed to match Steven’s energy levels and brief attention span.

Human children, right?

“Hey, I know you have to fuse again pretty soon.” It’s funny how he hasn’t even questioned why Garnet said that. They gave him a time limit, and he happily acquiesced to functioning inside of it. “But can I ask you something?”

Spoke too soon.

Steven fiddles with the hand of cards he’s been playing with for their game of Kooky 7’s. “It’s… kind of personal.”

Ruby and Sapphire exchange a look. Is he curious about their experience on Homeworld? How Pearl keeps accidentally calling him Rose? How Amethyst looks and acts a lot like Jasper, and why is that anyway?

“Uh, sure,” Ruby says all the same. “What’s on your mind?”

Steven sets his cards down on the coffee table. “Have you ever—felt alone? While you’re Garnet, I mean.”

Sapphire exchanges another look with Ruby. They’re sitting next to each other, practically shoulder to shoulder. She presses her gem holding hand into her partner’s strong thigh as she wonders, “Steven, where is this coming from?”

“It’s just, when Connie and I were fused, it was great at first. Stevonnie was really taking Garnet’s advice—running and laughing all over.”

Sapphire can feel the sadness radiating from him. It’s like he thinks he’s failed them or something. She squeezes Ruby’s knee, and Ruby leans in until their shoulders are pressed together. “Uh-huh.”

“And then—we went to the Big Donut, right? And Stevonnie got two donuts, but… we were only one person. So then we went to this rave with all of the teens in town, and Sour Cream was DJ-ing! And dancing was fun, until people started staring. I don’t know if it was that Stevonnie was an unfamiliar face, or if we had done something wrong, but it just… it got really lonely, then. Really fast.” Steven looks down at his cards, and starts shuffling them, seemingly for something to do with his hands. “Connie’s one of my best friends, but as strange as it sounds, I think we would have felt closer if we had actually gone to that dance party separately. If we had done everything separately. I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently, and—is that weird? Is that normal, for anyone?”

“Well,” Sapphire starts, though she doesn’t have the faintest clue of where to go from there. She’s out of her depth, here. Steven is expecting introspective personal answers from two beings who don’t even remember themselves anymore. But how do you explain that?

“I think it’s normal for humans,” Ruby says, though as she speaks she seeks the comfort of intertwining her stocky red fingers with Sapphire’s. Talking about fusion like this is only reminding them that they’re not as close as they prefer being. Holding hands is a poor substitute, but at least it’s something. “You can’t fuse in the same way gems can, and even if you could, it’s a cultural quirk to pride yourself on your separateness regardless. Humans enjoy having two different perspectives on the same event, and then comparing notes later. If you have exactly the same perspective, then how are you supposed to talk about it? It seems to me that that’s what’s going on.”

Stars above, she’s right.

“Fusing for something other than tactical, life-or-death reasons isn’t for everyone, even amongst gemkind,” Sapphire says. “It wasn’t for us at first, either.”

“Assuming we could have figured it out earlier,” Ruby mutters.

Sapphire hits Ruby’s shoulder with her own, because the fact that they discovered fusion is not really the point she’s trying to make here.

“It’s not weird, Steven,” Sapphire says with a reassuring smile. “It just means a part of you is human, but you already knew that.”

Steven smiles, even laughs a little. “Yeah.”

“To answer your question, though,” Ruby adds, in the interest of fairness. “No. We don’t get lonely while we’re Garnet. Honestly, it’s probably lonelier not to be her. Even this,” she holds up their interconnected hands, their arms bumping comfortably together with the movement. “Is pretty far away, for us.”

Sapphire lets out a hum of agreement, but then notices Steven’s expression and tries to clarify as their hands fall back onto Ruby’s thigh. “Up until the last fifty years, it had been well over a thousand years since the last time Garnet unfused. It tends to change your perspective on what it means to be close to someone.”

Naturally, Ruby snorts at the understatement.

“Did that help, a little?”

“Yes.” Suddenly they’re being hugged again, and fiercely. Garnet picked up on it earlier, but in these bodies it’s much more obvious that Steven is a lot stronger than he looks. “Thanks for spending so much time with me. This was an awesome birthday!”

They both smile as they return the embrace. No wonder Garnet thinks of this wonderful, affectionate child as a son.

“We love you, Steven,” Sapphire says as the group hug ends. “Always have, always will.”

“Yeah, don’t you forget it,” Ruby says, pointing in mock-sternness.

Steven laughs and grins as he promises, “Never.”

Chapter Text

Garnet is supposed to be a leader. For the most part, she thinks she does well. The Crystal Gems follow orders, anyway, and while Pearl and Amethyst bicker they are all still a solid team—a family—at the end of the day. For her, that is a job well done.

Can they still say that now?

No, of course they can. Just because she got herself caught up in the easygoing charisma of Sardonyx and failed to see what had really been going on—well, none of that matters now. It will all be okay, eventually. Most futures indicate that it will, anyway. That’s close enough.

It hurts.

Garnet is a leader. She can’t be petty. How many minor transgressions has she allowed to roll off her shoulders now? And no harm has ever come of that. She can do it again.

But this isn’t a minor transgression, like someone wandering into the burning room when they aren’t supposed to. This is a fundamental betrayal of implicit trust. Pearl should have known better—

But Pearl obviously didn’t know better. The Crystal Gems have a lot on their plates. Malachite is apparently on the move, Peridot is cobbling together distress signals to Yellow-freaking-Diamond, and who knows what other cluster-esque nightmares Homeworld might be dreaming up on the other side of the galaxy or even here, right under their noses—a severe lack of internal cohesion amongst the Crystal Gems is the very last thing they need right now. The sooner they can put this whole Sardonyx debacle behind them, the better.

When Garnet hears that Greg Universe is taking Steven out of state for a day, she immediately invites herself along. Greg is clearly bemused, but he rolls with it and that’s all that matters. The change of scenery will help, she thinks. She can finally cool down and move on.

That’s not how it works. You can’t shove hurt like this away like it means nothing.

Greg tries to strike up a conversation on the drive to the Keystone Motel, but Garnet isn’t in any mood to play along, not even when Steven chimes in. After a couple of tries, they give up and talk amongst themselves. Garnet stays silent, her mind a maelstrom of contrasting opinions.

This is bigger than that. Personal feelings can’t matter when it comes time to defend your friends and family. Your home.

Steven gasps at the sight of the motel room, excited. He’s never stayed in a motel or a hotel before, so this is an entirely new experience for him. “I’m gonna swim in the pool, order a movie, get free ice! It’s gonna be great!” And he immediately belly flops onto the bed closest to the bathroom.

Is this really ‘home’ right now?

Greg tries to sound glib as he says something about bedbugs, but Garnet isn’t listening.

That is uncalled for, melodramatic, and untrue. If this place isn’t home, then home doesn’t exist.

Garnet can’t hold in her grunt of annoyance as she carries in everyone’s luggage. Maybe coming on this road trip wasn’t a good idea. She doesn’t like the idea of showing her own structural instability in front of Steven, but with the way things are going she might not have a choice in the matter much longer.

The concept itself is a bit amorphous anyway, isn’t it?

“Good news, we’re bedbug free!” Greg announces as Garnet sits on the end of the second bed with open hands resting on her knees. Just keep it together.

No. Enough of that.

The team needs a leader, someone who is calm and logical. Someone they can trust to handle internal conflicts and efficiently direct them through the process of defending Earth from whatever Malachite and Homeworld and Peridot have in store. Things are going to come to a head very soon, and the Crystal Gems need to be ready for it. They need to be strong, to be a team.

Greg’s phone blings. “Oh, that’s my cue! Hey, do you mind holding down the fort until I get back?”

But it hurts.

Garnet hears Greg as if from miles away, but she gets the gist of it. It’s all she can do to maintain her composure long enough to create a thumbs up. See, she’s listening.

A good leader can be the bigger gem and forgive that.

Garnet maintains the thumbs up as Greg Universe says something about the internet and the police and takes his leave.

This isn’t like all of the other times. It’s way, way worse. Forgiving this—ignoring this—is like saying it’s okay to flagrantly disregard and disrespect everything that defines us. It is not okay.

The thumbs up fades.

There is no time to dwell on this.

“Garnet, jump on the bed with me!” cries Steven as he flops on the striped comforter. He’s keen on getting her attention, making her talk, but she can barely hear him through the cacophony in her head.

Make time.

“Or we can read brochures! Ooh, Keystone Caverns…”

Put this incident into perspective.

Perspective? You put it in our perspective!

Garnet groans with effort, cinching her fists around her knees. Just keep it together. Made of love, right?

“Calm down.”

“I don’t feel like forgiving Pearl!”

Garnet can feel herself shaking uncontrollably. This isn’t good.

“You don’t understand, you must.”

Garnet clutches at her shoulders. She’s trying to hold herself together, but they’re pushing away, and right now they’re reclaiming what is theirs, so there’s not much left of her to protest right now.

“If you’re not going to listen, then you can just go!”

Chapter Text

Sapphire doesn’t get angry. Not anymore. She learned a long time ago that it’s not good for her and Ruby to be upset at the same time, and since Ruby obviously can’t control herself in that regard, it’s up to Sapphire to be the calm one.

So she frosts the motel room a little bit. And apparently freezes the toilet to the point where it becomes unusable. The air conditioner wasn’t working very well, anyway, and in Keystone that’s just asking for a humid, muggy room. Really, Sapphire is doing everyone a favor by cooling the place down.

Put it in our perspective.

Does she notice the ice crystals that form around her like a makeshift throne as she and Steven chat and watch TV? Yes. That’s not because she’s furious, though. Fury happens once you raise your voice and start gesturing sharply. Anything up until that point is annoyance, which—while somewhat troublesome—is still ultimately benign. Sapphire isn’t incensed, because she makes absolutely sure her voice is calm, calm, calm.

It hurts.

As for the sharp gesturing part, Sapphire’s got that covered because she’s just not moving right now. She doesn’t shift about once depositing herself onto the bed (except to politely incline her head towards Steven every once in a while) because she doesn’t feel the need to, thank you very much. It’s not because her brand of rage swirls up and engulfs her so completely that her limbs are cemented in place, and she doesn’t have the energy to spare on lifting a hand because she’s too focused on trying to keep it all contained. Perhaps that would be possible, if Sapphire were irate right now. But she doesn’t get angry, so it’s not. Anger is a choice. Feelings are a choice, and right now Sapphire is choosing to abstain.

You’re not as above this as you think you are.

Pearl made a mistake. Mistakes happen. Right now the Crystal Gems need Garnet’s levelheaded confidence far more than they need brutalized feelings and trust ground into a fine, fine powder. Sapphire stands by what she told Ruby: the sooner they forgive Pearl, the better. They have to think about more than just themselves, and it’s all going to be resolved soon anyway, so what’s the point on dwelling on it?

Don’t you feel used?

They have to forgive Pearl eventually. That’s how friendship—how family—works. They’ve known each other far too long for the possibility of another resolution to be statistically significant. What Sapphire wants has nothing to with it; it can’t, because as soon as she starts thinking about what she wants

Nope, not happening.

The ice crystals that are clinging to her skirt and the comforter look rather pretty in the light of the TV, don’t they?

She hopes Ruby comes back soon. For all of her other flaws (inadvertently burning the carpet in the room and leaving behind the distinct stench of singed hair included), Ruby never pulls punches with her honesty. At least someone doesn’t.

It’s going to be so nice, once they all start laughing together again. Good, just focus on that.


 

Ruby’s temper is maelstrom and fire. She knows this. How can she not? She literally burns from it. Anger flows hot, hot, hot when it courses through her, like combusting nitroglycerine. It’s not the kind of emotion you can feel standing still. Pacing, sparring, punching things—they all work just as well. Working off some of that scorching energy isn’t the most effective pressure valve, granted, but it’s a hell of a lot better than keeping still.

The more Ruby cares, the hotter she has the potential to burn. Once she considers something or someone important, they instantly develop the potential to make or break her. It’s not a choice she makes lightly, because it is often an irreversible process. It explains why she takes trust and betrayal so seriously.

Sapphire is the only thing that has ever made Ruby feel this fulfilled and happy, calm and warm instead of too hot.

Ironically, nothing and no one can make her angrier than Sapphire.

It’s the way she shuts down, mostly. The way she refuses to react. When she’s most upset, Sapphire has a way of encapsulating herself in a frosty cocoon of apathy so thick that not even Ruby can break through. Back in Containment Unit 6, she bottled everything up until it exploded, usually when they were sparring—it was belated, but at least it got out. Now, she simply makes sturdier bottles to stuff everything in. They’ve been fused for so long that Ruby knows exactly what Sapphire’s doing, even if she can’t stop her. But she nonetheless expects Ruby to believe it when she says she’s going to forgive Pearl for being the gem who cried fusion, just like that.

Frankly, it’s insulting. When she asks Sapphire a direct question—don’t you feel used?—she expects a direct answer, not some deadpan bull about how Ruby’s not looking at the bigger picture. Who the hell does she think she’s talking to? Which one of them is she trying to fool, really?

Just because you tell yourself you don’t feel anything doesn’t mean it’s actually true. If nothing else, Ruby knows she has that right. When Sapphire spent the better part of a century stewing in resentment because she couldn’t tell if they were actually friends, it took them nearly killing each other in order for her to work it all out. Like hell Sapphire is ready to forgive Pearl right now.

They discovered fusion together. Garnet is the most influential, incredible, and intimate thing to ever happen to them; she has defined Ruby and Sapphire’s existence for millennia now. Fusion is not correct or legitimate unless there is clear-eyed consent from every participant, which is the principle they deliberately and methodically drilled into all of the gems they taught fusion to. Including Pearl.

The moment Pearl disregarded the sanctity of fusing with full disclosure, she disregarded Ruby’s trust. It’s as simple as that. She ruined Sardonyx.

All of that, and Sapphire says she’s not upset. Sapphire says that Ruby is being unreasonable. Sapphire says they’re all going to make up sometime in the foreseeable future, so she’s going to speed up the process by forgiving Pearl now. Sapphire is trying so hard to keep the team together and make everybody happy that she is pointedly denying anything that she herself may feel.

Who does that?

She’s plenty pissed enough on her own, but if Sapphire won’t get angry for herself then Ruby is more than happy to be angry for her. Then she’ll also get angry at Sapphire for not having the self-respect to be incensed for her own sake. Just splash some more nitroglycerin on this bonfire, baby. Crank up the thermostat! Ruby doesn’t mind the heat.

The secret to swimming through lava? Be hotter than the lava. After that, it’s not so bad.

Chapter Text

“They’re not getting it,” Pearl informs Garnet.

Garnet doesn’t look up from the tactical schematics she is reviewing for Rose Quartz. “What’s there not to get?”

“ ‘Just dance until you fuse’ doesn’t do a very good job of breaking down a highly abstracted concept to troops.” Pearl wrings her hands together. “I don’t even understand what dancing has to do with it, actually.”

To be fair, if Pearl doesn’t get it then it’s highly unlikely that anyone else will. Garnet lets out a distracted sort of hum.

“Maybe if we had a demonstration…?” Pearl’s tone is hesitant. For all that she and Rose and everyone else understand that Garnet is the leading authority on fusion, no one has really met Ruby and Sapphire. As far as Garnet is concerned, they don’t need to, because it’s not like Sapphire and Ruby are absent from day to day life.

Well, okay, they don’t care so much about the day to day anymore. But this talk of fusion demonstrations has piqued their interest, and not exactly in a good way. It’s not because they don’t want others to understand fusion—Garnet wouldn’t have brought it up as a tactical solution to Homeworld’s larger numbers if others fusing wasn’t something she approved of—it’s just that a demonstration would require unfusing.

“No one understands?” asks Garnet.

“None that I could find.”

It doesn’t sound like there’s much of a choice, if they still want to use fusion as a battle tactic.

Garnet lets out a breath. She’s tense, and she knows it. She lives on quite vibrantly in Sapphire and Ruby, even when she unfuses, it’s just… it’s hard to convince herself to make the same sacrifice of personhood that Ruby and Sapphire continuously make for her, even for a little while. Perhaps it’s a confirmation that the relationship that defines her is good and stable, or that she as a personality has well and truly taken over. It’s hard to see the distinction from this vantage point, but Garnet doesn’t think she’s ever realized this about herself until just now.

Well, that and she hates talking to crowds.

“Garnet?” prods Pearl, looking concerned.

“Gather them on the training field. We’ll do one demonstration.”

She doesn’t miss Pearl’s poorly concealed look of glee as she dashes off. It’s to be expected, she supposes. It’s not as if their comrades are unwilling to learn.

Still, though. Unfusing.

Garnet nevertheless strides over to the training field with all manner of confidence, because that’s what someone of her stature has to do. The thirty or forty gems that have shown an interest in fusion are already there. All conversation instantly quells as Garnet stands on the raised stage in front of them, her arms akimbo. The crowd seems impossibly huge, and not even the toughest foe has bothered her like this.

“Fusion,” she says, and she makes sure that she’s projectingand way more articulate than usual, because she isn’t going to say this twice. “Is a verb. It is a process that continuously redefines itself, long after the initial effort has faded. It is a conversation between two gems who do not feel the need to hide from one another. If you are not willing to commit to full disclosure with your partner, then don’t fuse with them.”

There is a somewhat stiff silence, and then a fluorite asks, “So what’s the dancing for?”

“It’s a tool to help you align yourself with your partner. The point is not to match them perfectly, but rather to compliment them. Rearrange your physical constructs in such a way that they are compatible on a molecular level. Dancing forces you to find a rhythm together, and in doing so it makes the process of fusing easier.”

With that said, Garnet takes a breath and falls apart. When the gems in the crowd see Sapphire and Ruby, a hushed silence falls over them. It’s almost reverent.

Ruby shuffles uncomfortably. Reverent or not, all of these stares are making her itch. Would pacing on stage be terribly unprofessional?

Sapphire, who knew this would happen, glances at her partner and rightly realizes that Ruby won’t be the first to speak aloud.

“We—” she gestures to Ruby. “Are both corundums. On a molecular level, that makes fusing a little easier, but rearranging yourself with someone else is still a challenge, no matter who you do it with. And it isn’t an experience that can necessarily be described.”

“But if there is no trust,” Ruby speaks up, albeit reluctant and a little self-conscious. “You’re just going to fall apart again. There needs to be an openness, an understanding between you.”

Nobody moves. A veritable sea of eyes blinks back at them. Are they expecting something more?

“Well?” Ruby demands, quickly becoming more authoritarian from her annoyance. “Are you going to try it out or just stare at us all day? Get dancing!” Still more silence and staring. Ruby lets out a noise of frustration. “Like this!”

Sapphire finds herself snagged by the waist and her hand pressing into her partner’s as their fingers intertwine.

She can’t help her teasing grin as they begin to rotate in a chaste, well-coordinated waltz. “Oh, is this how we dance now?”

Ruby scowls, still self-conscious. Her cheeks are a darker red than usual. “You are not helping.”

Sapphire laughs. “Relax, Ruby, everything is going to be fine.”

Her partner seems to have the presence of mind to know that Sapphire is also talking to herself. To be fair, though, she’s already checked for the most probable outcome.

They break apart when someone says, “But I don’t waltz when I dance on my own. Is that a problem?”

“You can’t force your dancing style,” Ruby replies, gesturing. “Fusion doesn’t work like that.”

“But what if our dance styles are totally different?”

“Then you either have to find a style that works as a middle ground, or you need to switch partners,” Sapphire says. “Shifting your style to allow someone to join you is very different from trying to impersonate a style that isn’t your own.”

A tanzanite speaks up, gesturing to her partner. “She does ballet, and I like grinding my hips; are we badly matched?”

“Ever tried tango?” asks Ruby after a moment of thought. “Tastefully sensual, that.”

The tanzanite and her dancing partner, an aquamarine, exchange a considering look. The aquamarine shrugs. “Sure, I like to tango.”

 On the other side of the crowd, there is a flash of bright light followed by noises of surprise and admiration as a tall gem with four eyes and four arms straightens and examines herself for the first time. Awe and satisfaction emanate from her. “I look good!” she says gleefully. Then she stops cold. “Wha—that’s not my voice!” Two of her four hands cover her mouth. “Oh, it is now—this is amazing!” The fusion jumps, and seems to delight in all of the stares.

Ruby and Sapphire share an amused look, knowing all too well what their companions are feeling. They hop off the stage and the crowd parts easily to allow them to visit the fusion up close and personal.

“What’s your name?” asks Sapphire.

“Moonstone.” The fusion seems surprised by this implicit knowledge, how easily it falls from her mouth.

“So how did you do it?” says Ruby. “Do you remember what it felt like the instant before you came into being?”

“Well, at first it wasn’t working, but then we started letting go of the anxiety and started having fun and getting into it, and that’s when—” Moonstone lets out a small ‘oh’ of comprehension. “I get it now.”

Ruby crosses her muscular arms and nods in satisfaction. “There you go, a demonstration. Now, if you’ll excuse us…”

Without warning Sapphire is snatched up and tossed into the air. She shrieks, at first in surprise and then in giddy laughter as Ruby catches her. They twirl once, and they’re both smiling hard as their foreheads bump together and they are enveloped by white light.

Garnet, stoic as ever, puts on her glasses and nods at the troops in supportive acknowledgement. “Have fun practicing,” she says as she takes her leave.

There is a flash as Moonstone breaks apart. Her component parts—a zircon and a topaz, oddly enough—exchange looks with the rest of their peers in disbelief.

“They’re good,” Topaz breathes. “Well, I guess that’s no surprise, since they invented it and all.”

“She’s nothing like them,” says Zircon, still shocked. “I never would have guessed.”

Garnet doesn’t turn back, but she does smile to herself. Just a little. In all likelihood, she will never have to give a demonstration again.

Chapter Text

Alexandrite is the worst.

Well, okay, that’s not exactly her fault. The more gems that fuse together, the less stable their resulting fusion becomes. The fact that Alexandrite is a fusion of four completely different personalities is not in her favor.

That’s one of the biggest problems with Alexandrite, though: she doesn’t really have any personality to speak of. It’s why she falls apart so easily—there is no central hub that her component parts can gather around. One small disagreement between Pearl and Amethyst, and Alexandrite is doomed.

The fact that Garnet, Pearl and Amethyst can’t let go of themselves enough to allow a centralizing personality to form is, admittedly, not Alexandrite’s fault. Fusion is tough magic, and complex fusion is even harder to accomplish. They could have handled that well enough, if skill in magic was all it took. The fact that fusion involves no-holds-barred honesty and full disclosure is what the Crystal Gems trip over.

Garnet knows from her experiences as Sugilite that Amethyst is pretty well convinced Pearl sees her as a big mistake, a shameful reminder of the horror of Earth’s Kindergarten. Amethyst believes that Pearl only tolerates her because Rose liked her—and now, because Garnet said so. Amethyst doesn’t believe she gets any respect from Pearl for how far she’s come, or all the good she has managed to do. Whatever friendship-bonding moments they manage to have, Amethyst always wonders if they’re actually real. So yeah, Amethyst likes riling Pearl up, because when Pearl’s pissed at least she’s being honest.

Likewise, Garnet knows from Sardonyx as well as verbal conversations with Pearl that there are times Pearl can’t get it out of her head that Amethyst is set to drive her insane for the simple vindictiveness of it. She doesn’t know what she’s done to deserve it. Pearl feels a bit victimized, as well as aghast at Amethyst’s ‘animalistic mannerisms’. She feels as if Amethyst doesn’t have any respect for her, her ideas, or her abilities. She also wants to help Amethyst be the best gem she can be, despite the wretched Kindergarten backstory, but her help has spurned far too many times for her to try anymore.

And Garnet, for all that she enjoys a good fist fight with a corrupted gem monster, is downright anti-confrontational in the emotional sphere. Whenever the layers of disrespect and hurt and misunderstandings between Pearl and Amethyst begin to show themselves, Garnet always takes a step back. It’s their problem that only they can overcome, and Garnet meddling with it is only going to make it worse. Within a fusion with both Amethyst and Pearl, Ruby and Sapphire tend to cling to each other just that little bit tighter, because 1) their individual personalities tend to exacerbate whatever issue Pearl and Amethyst are arguing about right now (they’ve tried before, to disastrous results), and 2) it makes them even more grateful for Garnet’s serene self-containment, which in turn has them subconsciously reinforcing her existence as a singularity.

When you take the time to look at it, the reason Alexandrite has no personality of her own makes sense. It also tends to result in two mouths, three sets of arms, more eyes than you can shake a stick at (thank the stars for opaque sunglasses), and three very distinct holdouts within her mind where nobody is willing to put in any more effort than they have already.

Unless, of course, there is a cause to unite them.

For all of her other flaws, Alexandrite is powerful, and she’s wonderfully task oriented.

Once the Crystal Gems, Greg and the Maheswarans realize that Connie and Steven have left the restaurant, it takes less than two minutes for Garnet to see where they will most likely find the children—but if they don’t hurry, they won’t be able to catch up with the bus.

Alexandrite’s long legs make quick work of the distance. “Steven!” she hollers with a voice all her own, aggravation and worry all wrapped up into one.

“You two!” Nobody has to give the explicit command for Alexandrite to snatch up the bus and glare at the children through the emergency exit window. Once she sees that they are safe, the aggravation well and truly takes over. “Come out of that bus this instant!”

For all that Garnet can be scary, and Pearl and be stern, and Amethyst can be—well, Amethyst, none of them could have intimidated the children into cooperation like Alexandrite did with that one line of dialogue.

It doesn’t last long. Almost the instant Steven and Connie’s feet touch ground back at The Crab Shack, Alexandrite falls apart to reveal Pearl, Garnet and Amethyst once more, but she’s served her purpose.

Maybe calling her the worst isn’t fair after all.

Chapter Text

Sardonyx is a lot of fun.

Not fun in the reckless, consuming way that Sugilite is fun, but the kind of fun that makes you laugh until your sides hurt. Innocent fun. Sardonyx delights in her own quirkiness, enjoys magic tricks, loves to laugh, takes pride in her work—she’s just an all-around happy fusion.

Is she conceited? Indubitably. And sometimes Sardonyx is also a bit too uppity, but if hard pressed she can figure out when it’s time to be serious. Sometimes.

Garnet enjoys being Sardonyx. She truly does. She’s so much more relaxed now that Steven is aware of Ruby and Sapphire and her future vision, but she knows her own personality will always trend towards the serious; it feels great to be goofy for once. After the horror of the cluster, and the anxiety caused by Malachite and Homeworld and Peridot, knowing that someone else fundamentally understands fusion the way she does—and then can help her become a part of someone so cheerful—is the breath of fresh air that Garnet needs. In hindsight, she clung to Sardonyx too. Sardonyx is so much fun to be, and she feels wonderful; she’s a great escape from everything that’s going on. That she’s actually useful to addressing the revitalized communication hub is just the cherry on top.

Pearl doesn’t think of herself like that, but she’s good at fusing. Amethyst has grown up a lot, especially recently, but she still becomes overzealous and unprofessional without guidance and supervision. Pearl does not. She’s mature enough to handle herself, and in a lot of ways fusing with her is so much easier because Garnet simply doesn’t have to worry. Sardonyx has never fallen apart the way that Alexandrite does; she always separates neatly and peaceably.

Looking back, Garnet is kicking herself for not realizing what was going on with Pearl sooner. Pearl unquestionably took Rose’s decision to have Steven the hardest, and she has struggled to recover from that, but in hindsight there has been something truly, heart-wrenchingly off about her since they found Rose’s scabbard.

Steven mentioned to Garnet once, briefly, that Pearl has accidentally called him Rose. He didn’t divulge all of the details because he didn’t think Pearl would appreciate it, but he also told Garnet about chasing after Pearl on the strawberry battlefield. That, along with the recent you-are-nothing indoctrination with Connie, should have tipped her off. She should have seen.

She should have felt it, when they were Sardonyx.

It really had been a while, though. Gem memory is fairly accurate, but time always, always smudges the finer details. If Garnet thought that Pearl felt odd, or that her giddiness over being Sardonyx was a little manic, then it was simply written off as a detail she misremembered from the last time. Maybe she should have realized that Pearl was embracing Sardonyx a little too eagerly—but there again, Pearl and Amethyst are always like that when they fuse with Garnet. She just figures they’re excited to interact with Sapphire and Ruby. While they’re never truly gone, it’s different when Ruby and Sapphire interact with the Crystal Gems as themselves, so fusing with Amethyst or Pearl can be a lot like a reunion.

Still, Pearl hides her loneliness well. Even as Sardonyx, Garnet couldn’t feel it. Or maybe Sardonyx filled the loneliness before she had the chance to sense it. Sapphire’s calm and Ruby’s passion tend to soothe and encourage simultaneously, automatically, because that’s just how they are with others. And Pearl is such an easy partner to work with—how often does that happen? Because Sardonyx is as silly as she is efficient, sometimes things get subconsciously ramped up to 11.

So maybe it isn’t hard to understand why Pearl’s loneliness was so well obscured.

Garnet knows that Amethyst and Pearl look up to her as a fighter and a leader—of course she does. Pearl reaches for her whenever she’s in need of reassurance, and when she’s compromised the typically rebellious Amethyst always looks to her for direction. Typically Garnet is contented with filling these roles that Rose left behind. After all, there are only three of them left, so who else can do it? Steven? He’s far too young for something like that.

She just… never realized that Pearl looks up to her as an inspiration for self-confidence, too.

Garnet loves herself. How can she not, when she is the literal personification of Ruby and Sapphire’s love? She doesn’t need to look outside of herself for validation, because her internal doubts tend to be soothed by Sapphire and Ruby by the simple virtue of their presence within her, being her. If that doesn’t work, then all she has to do is wake them up and ask; Garnet is never alone. In that sense, she is self-contained.

It never occurred to her that someone else might envy that, least of all Pearl. Pearl has singlehandedly reinvented what it means to be a pearl; she’s unbelievably resourceful and precise, her drive is indefatigable, and she’s one of the best damn swordfighters Garnet has ever known—and pearls are noncombative gems! Garnet always thought she was proud of that.

But Pearl is trying desperately to fill the yawning cavern that Rose Quartz’s constant support and encouragement left behind, and she thinks she’s worthless because she couldn’t protect Rose from herself. She’s trying, but she can’t fix herself like she fixes Greg Universe’s van. Pearl needs external help and affection and support in order to heal, and that is nothing to be ashamed of. But she’s been like this for years, and what does it say about Garnet that she’s never noticed until now?

Gems are too long-lived for their relationships to be easily defined as This or That, especially longstanding ones like theirs. Amethyst and Pearl are Garnet’s well-oiled team, her best friends, her sisters, her fellow mothers to Steven, and her wards—but they’re more than that, too. You can’t fuse with just anybody, you know? Fusion is the ultimate connection between gems—it’s powerful, but it’s intimate too.

Ruby and Sapphire’s relationship is straightforward; when they say love, they mean romance, and they happily accept all of the necessary trusts and commitments that come with it. They enjoy being intimate with one another—it’s all they ever want to be. It’s not complicated.

You spend five thousand years living in isolation with three other people that you occasionally share your entire being with, and you try to describe what they are to you in only a few words. Caring deeply for them comes with the territory, and in so many ways that love touches upon every subtlety it can. You would do anything to make them happy and healthy, just as you understand that you are, in fact, an integral part of their health and happiness, and it goes both ways. It’s not easy to explain. There is no word in any human language to describe it. Garnet’s bond with Pearl and Amethyst is multifaceted, and it is rooted in her far deeper than any human can manage in a single lifespan, and at this point she wouldn’t have it any other way.

All of which is to say, there are no words to describe what it’s like when the trust that inherently exists within such a bond is breached and broken. Can something so complex even be glued back together after it is shattered like this? Will it take another five thousand years?

Maybe, if Garnet had only noticed Pearl’s devastating emptiness sooner, they would have been able to avoid this.

Sardonyx used to be fun. Really fun. The kind of innocent, happy fun that makes you laugh so hard your sides hurt. Hopefully, one day, she will be again.

Chapter Text

Sapphire is a longtime witness of various deaths and destructions. It’s always been this way, ever since she forced her way out of the soil, lo those many centuries ago. She sees the worst of every situation so often that callouses have formed, and she can no longer be scared of the possibility of something going wrong.

Since she sacrificed her second eye, the visions have come in purer clarity: Less choppy, and with more sensory details. Still, those old mental fortitudes hold, and at the end of the day Sapphire can always establish a distinction between what is and what can be; she is unshaken, no less grim than she’s ever been. This is a trait she passes on to Garnet, and Ruby has never experienced what it’s like not to have it. She will never be so vulnerable and blindsided.

Good, Sapphire thinks. I’d never wish that for you.

When Garnet splits apart, she doesn’t die. She is the incarnation of an emotion, the physical manifestation of a bond between two beings. You can’t kill that by unfusing her. It’s not that simple.

Likewise, she doesn’t die when Ruby falls.

She doesn’t die when the war shatters the bright red gem, either.

Just because Garnet isn’t dead doesn’t mean she will ever form again. There are two halves to make her whole, after all, and if one of them is irrevocably destroyed…

Garnet might as well be dead.

Sapphire would have endured the same fate, were her Mohs not that teensy bit higher. As things are, she manages to escape, but just barely. The joys of being a rare corundum.

She didn’t have the chance to snatch up Ruby’s pieces. Not even a shard.

No use looking for them now. She can already See that there’s no way she’ll find them all.

There is no steady warmth within her anymore. She’s alone. Utterly, completely, irreparably.

At this point, Sapphire can’t remember the last time she was alone.

She looks around as the wind picks up, ruffling her tattered skirts and raking her bangs away from her face. All around her, gems are still fighting for the rebellion. There are poofs and flashes of light, retreats and advances. The cacophony of clashing weapons and shouts is loud, but more or less consistent. Perhaps it is her size, but no one has spotted the small blue gem in the dress that’s just… standing there.

Garnet isn’t dead—she can’t be dead, she can’t leave too, Sapphire is still here, she’s still here—but she can’t be remade, either. There is no Garnet without Ruby, and Ruby’s not here anymore. Ruby’s not here, she’s gone, she doesn’t exist anymore—

Shattered gems are just added to the great recycling of the universe, right? It’s only natural.

Only natural.

Garnet’s not dead. Garnet will only die when the love that she personifies is gone, and Sapphire’s still here, she’s still in love, she can’t give up, but she’s gone, oh stars, they’re both gone—

Ruby’s gone. Garnet’s gone. But Sapphire’s not. Sapphire’s not gone, so Garnet isn’t dead.

But Garnet might as well be dead, because Ruby’s dead. All that’s left is some tiny, asymmetrical gem in a flouncy, ripped dress. Shorn in two, half of a whole. She’ll be dead soon, too, because she no longer understands how to function on her own. She’s cold, she’s too fucking cold; she doesn’t know how to be warm anymore.

She hopes she’ll be dead soon.

It probably starts as a song—yeah, that would be like her, singing in a time like this—but it quickly dissolves into the sort of shriek that burns your throat raw (good, let it burn, something needs to burn for her). It immediately draws the enemy’s attention to her, and good, good, let’s fight, fight me, try and stop me, try and tear me apart.

Stop me.

She screams, and she screams. She can’t remember the spiked weapons appearing on her hands, but they sizzle with electricity, and the static builds up in the air. She’s too cold, it’s starting to take over—maybe if she pushes it away, just keeps forcing it out, she’ll feel warm again. Her skirts snap with the force of her motion as she moves fast, faster, fastest, trying to outpace it all (go on, catch me, stop me, use your pathetic swords and spears and axes, see if I care). She can’t, though, the notion is as fast as she is (how is that possible, nothing is that fast, she’s the fastest there is).

The ice that forms on the ground doesn’t bother her. She’s gliding over it anyway, pushing more and more of the cold out of her skin as she moves. She still remembers warmth (it’s got to be in her somewhere); she just has to move this chill away so she can find it.

The thick crack of lightning that pierces and scorches the land doesn’t bother her, either. Well, yes it does. It’s too cold for anything to catch fire, but something has to burn, something has to be warm. (Why is there no fire?)

Her opponents fall—sometimes in droves, sometimes as individuals. Lightning keeps striking vertical, but she is horizontal, and her touch is electric and so cold it burns. They’re both fast, too (fast, fast, faster). That’s close enough, right?

Is she still screaming? Probably.

Why is she doing this? She can See that nothing is going to end well here (is it going to end at all? She doesn’t want to find out, but she does, she wants this to end, stop me, make it stop, please). All she Sees is destruction. Devastation. Emptiness. Ice. What starts badly can never possibly end well. She’s going to self destruct. It’s inevitable.

Ruby’s gone. Garnet’s gone. All the best parts of her are gone. There is no warmth left in her; there’s nothing left but the cold sizzling of the swiftly encroaching future.

“Sapphire!”

Ever since she allowed herself to have only one eye, Sapphire’s visions have come in greater clarity. So clear and vivid, in fact, that there are moments where it’s very hard to tell the difference between them and reality.

 “Sapphire, please.”

Sapphire is good at establishing a distinction between what is and what can be. This is a trait she passes on to Garnet, and Ruby has never felt what it’s like to be vulnerable and blindsided.

“I don’t understand what happened. She—you—Garnet was doing fine, right up until Sapphire collapsed. Has this ever happened before?”

“No! I don’t-I don’t understand it. Suddenly, she was just—pushing away. She’s never done this—Sapphire?”

And Ruby still doesn’t know what it’s like to be blindsided by your own visions.

Good, Sapphire thinks. I’d never wish that for you.

She takes in a sharp breath, what feels like her first in a while, and coughs to clear her airway. The sensory details of this world are simultaneously fuzzy and painful, compared to the vision. She can’t quite decide which feels the most realistic (oh, that’s probably not good).

Nevertheless, it’s pretty clear that she’s on the ground right now. Well, she’s mostly just in Ruby’s arms and lap. But Ruby is kneeling on the ground. That still counts, right?

It’s so warm here. Not too hot, not too cold, just wonderfully, beautifully warm.

“Sapphire!” When Sapphire opens her eye, she can see through her hair that her partner is freely weeping. Judging by how wet her face is, this has been going on for a while. “You’re okay,” Ruby half sobs. “You are okay, right?”

Sapphire winces. She’s in trouble, but it could be a lot worse. Ruby could have Seen. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to worry you,” she in a voice that’s raspy like she really has been screaming this entire time.

No. She can’t have been, right?

Abruptly, Ruby is scowling. Her tears instantly volatilize. Pearl, hovering concernedly over her shoulder, startles and gapes at the steam that is suddenly in the air. “Sorry for worrying me? Is that all you can say?” Ruby shouts, her hot-handed grip on Sapphire subconsciously tightening. “Sapphire, if I wasn’t so relieved that you’re still alive and sentient I would be throwing you into orbit right now. What were you thinking? What in the cosmos could have ever made you—no, no, no, no! Don’t cry! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to yell, I was just so scared when you—S-Sapphire…?”

Ruby’s is limp with confusion as Sapphire presses a kiss to the whole, gently thrumming gem embedded in her broad palm. Her eyes widen with further perplexity when Sapphire sits up in her lap and hugs her hard, her shoulders shaking with silent sobs. It wasn’t real, this is real, she’s safe, she’s fine, she’s right here.

“Err, should I go?” asks Pearl awkwardly. “I should go. Yes, I think I’m just going to—leave now…”

Sapphire scarcely notices the lithe gem speed walking away. All she cares about right now is the warm, precious being in her arms.

“You’re incredible, Ruby. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” she whispers into the crook of Ruby’s shoulder. She shuts her eye and presses in closer, drinking in the contact. The warmth. She never wants to feel cold again. “Thank you. Thank you for never giving up on me. Thank you for loving me.”

“Sapphire, I don’t understand,” Ruby says in a small voice. Her arms come around Sapphire anyway, rubbing between her quaking shoulder blades. “What happened? Why did you…” She trails off and stiffens, and Sapphire realizes even through her own soundless sobs that Ruby has a pretty good idea of what happened. “What were you protecting me from, Sapphire?”

Ruby, to her credit, doesn’t pressure her for an answer right away. She lets Sapphire get through the worst of her reaction before drawing back. Even then, though, she cups Sapphire’s cheek with her right hand and brushes her bangs out of the way with soft touches. “You saw something. What didn’t you want me to see?”

Sapphire purses her lips and shakes her head, but nonetheless holds that strong, broad hand against her cheek, presses in. Tears well up and spill over her chin. It was just a vision; it wasn’t real. It just could be.

“It had to have been bad if it made you leave Garnet,” Ruby continues. “I know that, but I don’t want to be protected, Sapphire. I thought the whole point of Garnet was full disclosure. Have you changed your mind? Do you not trust me with this?”

They stare at each other for one long minute, one earnest and searching, the other tender and shaken. Sapphire doesn’t want to relive that vision, but they agreed to take part in a rebellion against their home world. As much as she doesn’t like to think about it, the chances of getting more like it—or of getting the opposite scenario, of Sapphire being destroyed and Ruby remaining—are high. Inevitable, really. Is she just going to rip herself away from Ruby every time? That’s not practical, she knows it, but feeling the agony of that loss even once is more than enough. She doesn’t want to commit Ruby to feeling it even a single time, much less as often as they’re guaranteed to feel it as Garnet.

Finally, she whispers, “If I lost you, I’d fall apart. That’s what I saw. I don’t want you seeing that, or feeling guilty over that.”

“But you experienced that alone,” Ruby says. “How do you think that makes me feel? Would you have wanted me to see something like that without you?”

“No, of course not—”

“Well?”

Burning under Ruby’s expectant gaze, Sapphire eventually submits to the reality of what she’s saying. She softens as her arms go around Ruby’s ribs, holding on, bringing her in close. “I’ve never had a vision like that before,” she confesses. “Not of the aftermath, anyway. I mean, I always knew I’d be upset if I lost you, but that… it makes me wonder if I can stand being apart from you much longer than this anymore.”

“I know what you mean,” Ruby says quietly. “I don’t think I’d react much differently. Well, maybe with more fire.” She offers a tiny grin at Sapphire’s rusty little laugh, and reaches out with her free hand to gently wipe the rest of the tears away. “Did you destroy the enemy in my name, at least?”

Sapphire shoots her a dry look. “Do you even have to ask? Of course I was hell in a blue dress.”

“That’s all a gem can ask for, really.”

It’s really, really not funny, but they share a laugh anyway. Ruby nudges forward, and their eyes meet as their foreheads bump. “When we fuse again, is it okay if I look? Because I want to. I mean it, Sapph: I want to be a part of everything. I’m not afraid.”

Sapphire lets out a small, shaky breath before she nods. “You deserve to know. I just—wish I hadn’t seen it to begin with.”

Ruby offers a small smile, and even though they’re a lot farther away than they’re used to being with each other, Sapphire can feel all of Ruby’s emotions overlying and contradicting each other as acutely as if they were her own. “Yeah, I know.”

Sapphire is good at distinguishing what is from what could be, and she has the mental fortitudes to keep herself, Garnet and Ruby from being damaged by what they see.

Well, maybe that’s not entirely true. After all, she isn’t alone anymore, so it’s only fair that she takes her turn being the protected, as well.

Chapter Text

One

The first time Garnet Sees Steven, he is one of eight possible outcomes. One of two boys. She doesn’t think highly of him—though, to be fair, she doesn’t think lowly of him either. When Rose Quartz asks her to divulge the visions dictating the results of her family-building experiment, Garnet’s description of Steven is as carefully toneless as all of the others. When Rose excitedly inquires which possibility is her favorite, Garnet sidesteps neatly and honestly.

“It isn’t wise to become invested in any of them,” she says. “They’re all just as likely to happen, and only one will actually manage it.”

Rose counters immediately, “Or we should become invested in every single one of them, so they know the moment they join us in this life that they are loved.”

Two

The second time Garnet Sees Steven, he’s managed to survive the first culling of possibilities. The Crystal Gems and Greg Universe are learning as they go along, and the ways Garnet Saw Rose losing the baby has helped them develop ways to avoid it. It’s just like a mission, only with a much longer, shakier timeline.

When Pearl finally talks about it, she only says that she hopes the smartest of the four survive. What she doesn’t say is that she hopes the smartest one is intelligent enough to understand what a disappointment they will be, in comparison to Rose Quartz.

The reason she doesn’t say this aloud is because she doesn’t have to.

Three

The third time Garnet Sees Steven, he is closer to reality than he is to vague probability. Oh, the smile and the shape of his nose are the same, but he has a voice now. It’s little, but it’s hearty enough to fill the antechamber of the temple. His eyes come into focus, and they are alight with wonder as he takes in the world—his world—for the first time.

These days, Steven is one of two drastically different outcomes. Rose has finally learned to stop asking Garnet if she has a preference, but in comparison to what he has a fifty percent chance of becoming, Garnet will choose a kid who appreciates this planet she’s killed to save every time.

Four

The fourth time Garnet sees Steven, he is a tangible, tiny lump of wrinkled pink skin in swaddling cloth. She recognizes him by his smile and the tuft of dark hair on his tiny skull, and lets out a long, slow breath.

 Steven is not the strongest, or the smartest, or indeed the most talented of possible outcomes. He won’t pick up new skills on the first try. He’s going to require quantities of patience and change that she can’t readily guarantee.

He will become the cheeriest, most social, most uplifting person in the room. His compassion will grow exponentially with his years, and he will love without fear. By his very nature, he will save someone. He might even save them all.

A powerful emotion stirs in her chest. She doesn’t know what it is.

Five

The fifth time Garnet sees Steven, it’s been years. The Crystal Gems scarcely noticed the rapid passage of time, and if it hadn’t been for Greg Universe paying a visit out of the blue they would probably still be oblivious. Still, Rose would have wanted them to be a part of her child’s life.

At this point, they have only just begun negotiating with Greg about training Steven to use his gem. Steven’s room has not been built yet; it’s not even a twinkle in an architect’s eye.

The idea of Steven moving in with the gems is still new to everyone. Greg is already feeling the separation anxiety, Pearl is stolidly turning her nose up at the whole idea, and Amethyst is fascinated by the concept but wary of commitment. For herself, Garnet knows they will all eventually see that this is what Steven needs and what Rose would have wanted.

Steven himself is quiet and wide eyed, standing a foot or so behind Greg’s left leg. He’s enraptured by the Crystal Gems, and Garnet can see him grasping at his own and comparing it to theirs. The question—can I really be one of them?—doesn’t need vocalization. Truthfully, they’re all wondering the same thing.

He’s so big now. He can talk and stand on his own two feet. He has a little ukulele strapped across his back, and Greg assures them that he plays it well.

He has that same expression of wonder that he did the day he was born.

Experimentally, he waves at Garnet. Or maybe that’s just the reflection of himself in her glasses.

Just in case, Garnet waves back. Ruby’s gem glints in the midmorning sun.

Suddenly, Steven is grinning and bouncing on the balls of his feet. He’s waving much more forcefully now. That one instance of recognition excites him beyond reason, and it’s as flattering as it is amusing.

It’s also pretty adorable, if Garnet is being honest.

She feels the emotion from before return, swelling warmly within her chest cavity. She recognizes it, at first as hope, and then as something much greater.

It’s love. She’s only seen this boy five times in her entire long life, and she already loves him. It’s more than simply affection for his mother rolling over—Garnet loves this child for his own merit. She appreciates his overflowing enthusiasm. She admires that’s he’s so obviously not afraid to try and try again, to be something different. She loves everything he already is and everything he will become, and all of the things he will never be aren’t necessarily sources of disappointment.

Steven is going to be a good addition to the Crystal Gems—the team, and their lives. He’s already saved them, simply by being himself. How can Garnet not love him?

Out of everything Rose and Greg’s child could have been, every single one of those eight outcomes, Garnet is so glad that Steven is the possibility who won out.

Chapter Text

Fighting Sapphire is the worst.

Ruby’s not talking about sparring or defeating corrupted gems, either. Those activities are fun, and she and Sapphire can do them together. No, she’s talking about a contest of wills. Whenever she and Sapphire butt heads over an ethical or moral (or personal) issue, Ruby is painfully reminded of Sapphire’s obstinacy. She’s utterly indomitable, and that can get seriously irritating at times, because Ruby always loses.

Even when Sapphire is right, and they both know that Ruby knows she’s right, it still doesn’t make losing to her any easier to swallow.

It’s probably a bit obvious, but Sapphire can just be so cold sometimes. When Ruby’s lips are trembling, and her hand is outstretched, supplicating, seeing Sapphire’s back turned to her and hearing her voice so easily funneled into such a chilly, unwavering monotone is the ultimate shut down. It’s like Ruby’s not worth reacting to—hell, she’s not even worth looking at! It wounds, initially, but then Ruby becomes so infuriated that she burns her own tears away. If Sapphire doesn’t want to try, then screw it. Neither does Ruby.

Fighting inevitability is pretty useless. Even before they decided to be Garnet all the time, Ruby had an intellectual understanding of this. Nevertheless, it is the principle of the thing! Sometimes she convinces herself that the inevitable will only happen if she’s weak enough to give in to it. The universe will inevitably stop expanding and self-destruct, but that’s a long, long ways away. Ruby’s defiance can work like that, she thinks. Sure, maybe she will inevitably fall to Sapphire’s pitiless face, her generically icy factoids, her eternal smugness at always being right, eventually, but Sapphire’s going to have to work for it first.

When she’s really boiling over, thinking about how Sapphire is always right because she’s freakin’ psychic and she literally can’t be wrong only makes it worse. The fact that Sapphire talks like that’s supposed to cool Ruby down just adds insult to injury. It’s like she thinks Ruby has forgotten. She hasn’t forgotten, okay? She just doesn’t want to think about it right now—is that so bad? Sometimes a gem just has to be livid. Why can’t Sapphire let her have this? Why does Sapphire always have to be so hard on her? Ruby doesn’t have her self control, and she certainly doesn’t have her patience. Sapphire knows that—so why does she treat Ruby like none of that matters, like she has the moral high ground anyway? How is it even possible?

Ruby is the one who apologizes first, every time. A part of her hates it, but it’s true. Inevitable, some might say.

To be fair, the apology never comes out until Sapphire starts emoting. Seeing her vulnerable breaks Ruby down, makes her want to give something—anything, everything—to make the show of trust worthwhile. To make her smile again, or hear her laugh.

Ruby loves Sapphire’s laugh more than anything. It took her so long to hear it the first time that there’s no way she can take it for granted now, and the fact that she can inspire it so effortlessly is something of a personal victory for her.

Sapphire doesn’t understand how amazing she is. Ruby doesn’t know anyone else who has two elemental connections, the power of levitation, and ESP—who could she have been, were she symmetrical? Even as she is, Sapphire has been able to get away with so much more than your average gem. Certainly, no one else could have driven two different Containment Units into violence and chaos with only a minor slap on the wrist and a transfer for discipline.

Truth be told, Ruby thinks Sapphire is probably more powerful than her. Her innate talents are certainly greater, anyway. Without her own elemental connection being such a convenient foil for Sapphire’s ice, Ruby wouldn’t have been assigned as her handler. Brute force—her only other defining characteristic—is pretty easy to come by, after all.

Sometimes, in her lowest moments, Ruby can’t understand what Sapphire sees in her. She’s uncultured and argumentative, and she feels things altogether too hard; she flies in the face of logic and inevitability when she’s mad, simply to get a reaction. Who does that?

Nevertheless, in the grass outside of that generic pink diner in Keystone, Ruby sees Sapphire crying and can feel herself breaking in response. Her fury is suddenly gone, and the raw, stinging cavity that it leaves behind is quickly filled with culpability. Everything she knows she’s been doing, all of the responses she knows she should have said before, come tumbling out in an earnest, inadvertent plea. “No, no, no! This is all my fault! I didn’t want to look for a solution, I-I just wanted to be mad. You’re right! You’re always right! I was being stupid—”

“I don’t think you’re stupid!”

Ruby jumps, stunned. Sapphire’s voice is jagged with emotion, and the tears are still spilling over her lips. She’s miserable, and barely contained—but she agrees with Ruby, as she has this entire time. Why couldn’t she have just said that from the start? Wouldn’t that have made things easier for everyone?

Somehow, though validation is all Ruby wanted, this feels like too steep a price to pay for it. Abruptly, she feels like a fool for pushing this hard, for taking all of the blame onto herself, for not trying to understand the way Sapphire has been working to keep the peace amongst the Crystal Gems this entire time. (She’s terrible at it, but that’s not the point.) The point is that Ruby hasn’t been trying to be anything but self-righteously hurt and angry, and while those emotions are justified she also knows that keeping it up forever isn’t practical. It certainly hasn’t helped them.

“I’m sorry…” Just like always, she’s the first to apologize. She doesn’t mind, though. At least, not this time. Please don’t let me make you feel like this anymore.

Sapphire doesn’t flinch when Ruby reaches for her, gently parting her bangs so they can make direct eye contact.

“You honestly think I’m not upset about what happened?” asks Sapphire softly. Her entire being seems to radiate sadness and guilt and I can’t believe you thought that of me, but all Ruby can do is helplessly wipe the tears away. “I was just—trying to do the right thing.”

“I know.” Ruby’s voice is so small, because—oh, hell, she always knew. They’re both trying to do the right thing, by their team and by themselves, which is why this whole thing hurts so much. If she had maybe brought this up earlier…

Sapphire holds Ruby’s hand against her cheek and lets out a breath into her palm. She appreciates the contact, is taking comfort from it, but she’s listless. What are we going to do now?

You dedicate an eternity to someone, and you start picking up on the things they want to say, even if it never actually comes out. They separate so infrequently these days that Ruby forgets she can do that.

Sapphire is the loveliest gem Ruby’s ever known. Even now, she knows she’s so lucky they have this connection.

Ruby can feel her expression softening as her fingers flex against Sapphire’s cheek, and Sapphire’s hold on them tightens. When was the last time Ruby took the time to appreciate her?

“You know what’s nice about being split up?”

“What?”

The concern emanating from Sapphire, barefaced and coated in dread—oh no, what now?—prods Ruby to be even cheesier than she originally intended. Sapphire doesn’t know it yet, but she’s asked for it.

“I get to look at you.”

Once the first surprised laugh bubbles out, such a beautiful thing (“Be serious!”), Ruby knows things will be okay. She can’t help dropping the laughy Sapphy line after that; the moment is just too perfect, and Sapphire’s partially embarrassed, mostly pleased flush never, ever gets old. Ruby grins and holds her close, peppers her with kisses—we’re in this together, no matter what; I know you care, I always did; I love you, I adore you—without much concern for Steven’s young gaze. He’s seen worse on TV, and besides, Sapphire closed eye and continued giggling means that she doesn’t really mind. Right now, Ruby can’t be convinced that much else matters.

This issue is far from solved. The hurt is still there, and still mostly unaddressed. But Sapphire is her partner, her whole world, and just knowing that she’s on Ruby’s side is the first step towards the kind of reconciliation that can only make them all stronger in the end. She doesn’t need dumb old future vision in order to see that coming.

Fighting with Sapphire is the worst, but maybe giving in to the inevitable—that she loves Sapphire far more than she loves being angry, and Sapphire will never give up on her—isn’t always a bad thing.

Chapter Text

Maybe it’s her. Maybe she’s the problem.

After all, what else do Sardonyx and Sugilite have in common? The fact that these instances of fusion have both become disastrous for the wellbeing of the team and its members is something that Garnet’s been thinking a lot about recently.

Things weren’t like this, before Rose left. Perhaps that’s the catalyst, the spark, but it’s starting to feel as if Garnet herself is fanning the flames somehow.

How can Amethyst and Pearl be terrified of her disapproval, and yet so unreasonably excited about fusing with her? How does that even work?

Garnet wasn’t lying when she told Pearl she’s not as strong as everyone thinks. While it’s true that Sapphire and Ruby are a great support system, there are times when even they are not enough (particularly when they, too, are upset). When that happens—and it’s been happening with alarming frequency these days—Garnet doesn’t know where to turn.

She’s a leader. Leaders can’t show weaknesses—at least, not weaknesses like this. When everyone else is falling apart, it’s up to Garnet to stay composed and calm. She doesn’t have Rose’s talent of showing overflowing empathy while also retaining her image as a strong and capable warrior. Maybe she hadn’t wanted to lead at first, but allowing the power vacuum that Rose left behind to destroy her team any more than strictly necessary hadn’t felt like an option, either. Garnet has grown into the role now, but in so many ways it still feels like their first year without Rose, where Garnet seems to be the only one who is capable of functioning, despite everything.

And now these fusion disasters.

Maybe she’s not strong enough for this.

She has to be, though. If Garnet can’t do this, then who will?

Fusing while angry was a mistake. Yes, the communication hub needed to come down, but not like that. She’s still trying to wrap her mind around Amethyst’s enigmatic silence as Sugilite watched the jerry-rigged tower fall for good. Garnet had been too raw and betrayed and angry to notice at the time, but in hindsight it’s obvious. Acute.

Is Garnet really that intimidating?

Sure, she knows that her silences can unnerve strangers sometimes, but Amethyst and Pearl aren’t strangers. They know her better than anyone.

That makes their fear more powerful and meaningful, doesn’t it?

Steven isn’t afraid of her. Doesn’t that count for something?

Well, maybe not. Steven doesn’t seem to find Lapis or Peridot the least bit threatening, either.

We’re so much weaker than you.

It puts the pre-fusion giddiness into perspective, doesn’t it? Maybe she noticed before Amethyst brought it up, and maybe she didn’t. It seems so obvious now, though.

This was never a problem while Rose was still here. As far as Garnet knows, it hasn’t been a problem until just this recently. Has something changed? Has she changed?

Can this be fixed?

If it can, then Garnet can’t think of how, and her future vision is being frustratingly vague about the whole thing.

Fusing with you is our one chance to be stronger.

Garnet herself doesn’t really understand that sentiment, but Ruby and Sapphire do. Even with their Mohs and elemental advantages, on their own they’re actually less powerful than you’d think; it’s the whole asymmetry thing working against them. Even so, while combined they’re nearly twice as strong as the average. They’ve grown so used to Garnet’s standard, and to having control that level of power over the centuries, that they barely think about it anymore. Being separated on that Homeworld ship should have reminded them, but they were so absorbed with finding each other again that they scarcely noticed anything else.

Garnet’s power had once been intoxicating, remember?

So is it simply a matter of self-control? Responsibility?

Why now?

Garnet lets out a heavy breath. Sometimes, she really wishes she could talk to someone other than—well, herself. Good leaders don’t do that, though. Rose certainly didn’t, and she was fine right up until the end.

She’s not Rose Quartz (obviously), and she knows that. Still, Rose is the only example of good, solid leadership that Garnet knows, and even if she has no real hope of matching it she can’t help trying.

Maybe the problem really is her. Maybe the reason she’s become so scary to her friends is because she’s gone opaque trying not to worry everyone. She’s built up a legend of impenetrability that has made her appear steady and reliable, yes, but also utterly unapproachable. Pearl and Amethyst would have confided in her before, but maybe the reason they don’t know is because they don’t feel like Garnet cares anymore.

Maybe the problem is that she’s trying to be something other than herself.

Chapter Text

Meeting Amethyst was… an experience, and that’s not a phrase Garnet uses lightly.

Naturally, Rose Quartz was the one to find her. Stars only knew what their leader was doing in the Kindergarten that day, but it’s not Garnet’s place to ask questions like that, either. According to Pearl, Rose had simply wanted to go off on her own. Had she been looking for something? Even seven-hundred years after the rebellion, they’re still finding and bubbling the shattered and/or corrupted remains of friend and foe alike. It’s possible Rose was simply doing that on her own, as Garnet liked to do.

No matter her reasons for being in the Kindergarten that day, she came back with Amethyst all the same.

“Oh my.” Pearl covers her mouth. Her eyes are big, nearly teary. They haven’t seen another gem in centuries, and it’s as much that as the obvious youth of the newcomer that has her this way. She rushes over to the warp pad, where Rose is holding the small purple gem on her hip like a child. Her gem is embedded into her chest, the lucky symmetrical thing. “Who is this? Where did she come from? I’ve never seen her before.”

“This is Amethyst,” Rose explains with a gentle smile. “We met at the Kindergarten.”

Both Pearl and Garnet have to hide their grimaces at the reference.

“I thought the Kindergarten had been emptied,” Pearl says. She’s looking at Amethyst like she’s a miracle—and, in a way, she is. “How is this possible?”

Garnet is far more curious than cautious. She steps closer.

There is an utterly feral growl before Amethyst, in a surprising show of agility, flips out of Rose’s hold and over her shoulder. She shapeshifts into a bird and flaps up to one of the outcroppings in the temple’s antechamber.

She’s smaller than the other amethysts that Garnet has met. Downright puny, really—no good, since amethysts are a warrior caste (it’s their hardness; a seven Mohs is nothing to turn your nose up at). A symmetrical gem like her shouldn’t be this undersized. But if she emerged late, long after all of the others from the Kindergarten were gone…

“Wha…? Is it something I said?” For once, Pearl doesn’t seem to know what to do. She keeps looking from Rose to Amethyst, who is doing her darndest to continue hissing and growling threateningly despite maintaining her avian form.

“I’m a person, you know!” barks Amethyst from her perch. “I didn’t leave all of my friends behind just so you can talk about me like I’m not here!”

“Friends?” Pearl asks Rose.

Rose gives a small, morose shake of her head. “When I found her, she was playing on a boulder all alone. There was no one else around for miles.”

Garnet, still looking up at the young gem—and oh, she is so young, less than two millennia if she is a day—takes another step closer. She says, “We’re sorry if we offended you.”

As Amethyst informed her much, much later, Garnet’s characteristic monotone can sometimes come across as bitingly sarcastic. In hindsight, that explains a lot of Amethyst’s initial reaction to her.

“Oh,” scoffs Amethyst. “Like I believe that!”

Then, just like that, Amethyst has regained her bipedal form and leapt down from her perch. She doesn’t produce a weapon (does she know how?), but she does make a mad dash for the sunlight and sparkling ocean she can see outside of the temple.

“No!” cries Rose, staying Pearl’s hand as she moves to retrieve her spear from her gem. “She’s just scared. I don’t think she’s ever met another gem before.”

Well, in that case, someone should head her off. Garnet moves, and there is a bit of a scuffle as Amethyst strikes out, untrained and sloppy, but worse things have happened. Soon a squirming, shrieking ball of fury is dangling from Garnet’s right hand. She holds Amethyst at arms’ length and doesn’t allow herself to wince or loosen her grip as Amethyst twists around and bites down hard on her hand (which is harder than it sounds, since it feels like Amethyst has her beat in the Mohs department, if only barely). Garnet’s lucky this one doesn’t seem to know how to summon a weapon yet, otherwise keeping Sapphire’s gem this close to such a destructive source would be making her very uncomfortable.

“Let me go, you square-haired, two-gemmed—”

“Hey.” Rose talks softly, but she may as well have shouted. “Garnet is my friend. Please don’t speak to her like that.”

“Then tell her to let me go, damnit!”

“You were trying to run away. You’re in an unfamiliar place with a lot of unfamiliar geography. We don’t want you to get lost and hurt yourself.”

Amethyst softens somewhat, though she does still give a halfhearted swing at Garnet’s leg. She misses, so no harm done. “Can you put me down,” she mutters grudgingly. “Please. I won’t run.”

Garnet glances at Rose, who nods, and then slowly lowers Amethyst to the floor of the temple.

Immediately, Amethyst lunges for her. Her hands have become claws, and her teeth are much sharper than they were a second ago. Utterly feral. “This is for treating me like—”

Garnet swats her away, but not hard enough for it to hurt, necessarily. The young gem bounces harmlessly off of her gauntlet and lands right into Rose’s arms.

“I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t try and attack my friends, either,” Rose says softly. “We’re only trying to help you.”

“She isn’t!” A fierce and indignant gesture in Garnet’s direction, but Garnet knows better than to be offended. She can already See Amethyst becoming an integral part of the Crystal Gems.

“Garnet doesn’t say much, but she would never try to hurt you,” Rose promises. “None of us would. We are the Crystal Gems.”

“That’s right!” Pearl chimes in. She’s only slightly hesitant about marching up to stand at Rose’s elbow and look at the young gem with her mussed up white hair. “We’re not Homeworld.”

Amethyst frowns. “What’s Homeworld?”

“Oh.” Pearl clearly hadn’t expected that reference to go over Amethyst’s head. “Well, Homeworld is…” She makes a small sound of discomfort. “How would you describe Homeworld in only a few words?”

“A dictatorship at the apex of a harmful caste system based upon superficial and inherent physical properties,” Garnet replies.

“Okay, now she’s just making up words to make me look dumb,” says Amethyst, gesturing to Garnet again.

“Actually, it’s not a bad description,” Rose Quartz admits. “If you visit with us for a while, we could tell you all about it and you can make the decision of whether or not you’d like to stay after that.”

“Well, okay,” Amethyst mutters somewhat bashfully. She digs her pinky finger into her ear. “Not like I got anything better to do, I guess.”

Garnet smiles as Rose puts the young gem down, and this time she doesn’t try to run or attack anyone. Famous last words.

Chapter Text

Seven different dance styles. He’s too young and unfamiliar with his body to be sensual. He doesn’t have the delicacy required to be graceful. He’s too impulsive to appreciate the overly-choreographed. Too short to lead. Too giggly to be serious. Too childish to focus. He’s trying, he really is, but he can’t seem to remember all of the steps, let alone feel that the steps aren’t actually the point.

Steven has an innate understanding for music. All of the chords and rhythms come to him as easy as breathing. He has a deeply ingrained, if informal, understanding of the difference between four-time and six-four-time and the like. Music makes sense to him.

Dancing, however, doesn’t seem to—well, strike the same chord. Dancing is the easiest way to access fusion, but he doesn’t seem to see it as a means to an end so much as the end product itself.

It isn’t until they let Steven go to the beach to play with his friend Connie that the Crystal Gems have a serious and better-informed discussion about Steven and fusion.

“Man, I dunno,” Amethyst says. Still sitting on the breakfast bar, she puts her hands behind herself and leans back. “Isn’t it a little awkward to be fusing with Steven, anyway? I mean, he isn’t just little, he’s young.”

“Having access to fusions from Rose’s gem again will be useful,” Garnet reiterates. As cold and clinical as it sounds, it’s why they initiated the fusion lessons to begin with.

“Yes, but it didn’t feel like he was trying to match our wavelengths at all,” says Pearl, waving her hands in graceful semicircles. “Garnet, are we even sure he can sense them?”

“So neither of you think it would be weird to fuse with Steven,” Amethyst says flatly. “At all.”

“Of course it would be weird!” snaps Pearl. “Would we become the same person as with Rose? What differences will there be, if there are any at all?” Her pale hands clap against her cheeks, and she lets out a squeak of horror. “Would we start to feel human urges, like hunger? What if—”

“You know, P, believe it or not, that’s not actually what I’m talking about.”

“Yes, Amethyst, it would feel strange,” Garnet says. Her arms are crossed, and she’s still leaning on the counter next to the refrigerator. “But no stranger than the first time you fuse with anyone.”

“Steven isn’t just a friend or teammate, though, he’s…” Amethyst falters, either unsure about saying it aloud or lost for words entirely. “He’s…”

Their son.

Fusion can lend a huge tactical advantage, but the intimacy it requires, with someone they all consider a son…

It leaves an odd taste in your mouth, to put it lightly. They all love Steven, deeply and unconditionally, but something like that…

“There may come a time where we won’t have the luxury of allowing those feelings to guide us,” Garnet says softly. “Any of us. If we’re not prepared for that—”

“Okay, Queen of Fusion. Then you do it.”

Garnet doesn’t say anything. She presses her lips into a firm line. Steven doesn’t know about Sapphire and Ruby yet. She’s going to tell him who and what she is when he’s ready (when she’s ready), but neither of them are ready right now. Fusing with Steven would only overwhelm him—not to mention what might happen if he is exposed to the relentless, unadulterated streams of future vision. If her power transfers, Sapphire’s influence on her fusions can be tough to handle for the first time. Sardonyx doesn’t have to worry, but Sugilite Sees quite clearly (of course, she’s always too caught up in her own glory to pay it much attention, but that’s not the point).

Though her presence was an incredible rarity, Garnet’s fusion with Rose Quartz could See too. Considering that Steven has the same gem, it’s more than likely that the trend would continue.

“You know why Garnet can’t do that, Amethyst,” says Pearl witheringly. “If it could be that easy, don’t you think it would have happened already? Out of the three of us, you’re the best candidate for fusion with Steven.”

Pearl’s candidacy was dismissed so quickly there hadn’t even been a discussion about it, actually. She’s still too raw from Rose leaving. None of them want Steven feeling the brunt of that.

“Yeah, well, it’s awkward, okay? I know I agreed when you pressured me or whatever, but that’s what I think now.” Amethyst straightens and brings her foot up on the breakfast bar. She holds onto her own ankle with one purple hand. “He’s just a little kid. I have a great time playing around with him and stuff, but that’s just it: playing around. I don’t want to drag him into my psyche.”

That’s the moment in which a being with Steven’s unmistakable nose and Connie’s characteristic long hair comes marching into Steven’s room, seven feet tall and as proud as a peacock.

The most extraordinary part is that there are no extra… anything. Two arms, two legs, two eyes—it’s magnificent! They are magnificent.

Garnet has never been more proud of her little boy.

Pearl is simultaneously baffled and aghast. “He fused… with his friend Connie?”

Amethyst cackles, then hisses, “Pearl, look at Garnet!”

Garnet has never been more ecstatic about anything. Steven is finally going to understand when he meets Ruby and Sapphire! How many questions has this incident helped her avoid? Oh, who cares, this is fantastic!

I knew he could do it.

Don’t act so smug; we were bluffing before and you know it.

Steven’s fusion lessons were monumental enough that Sapphire and Ruby have not only been awake, but avidly watching, for most of it. They haven’t felt the need to take over (they rarely do—they implicitly trust that Garnet knows what she’s doing at this point, and besides, this whole situation is kind of her forte), but they’ve certainly had a running commentary.

“This is unprecedented! A gem fusing with a human being…” mutters Pearl as she inspects the fusion for any imperfections. “It’s impossible! Or at the very least inappropriate.”

How did Garnet not see this coming, anyway? She should have known to use her future vision to look for alternative solutions.

“Wow! You two look great together!” Amethyst puts her hands on the fusion’s lean, bared stomach. She has to tilt her head back to see their face. “How does it feel, Steven—Connie?—Stevonnie!”

But how was she supposed to know that Steven could fuse with Connie? No gem has ever, in their long history on this planet, fused with a human before, and stars know that Rose and Greg tried their best.

“It feels amazing!” gushes Stevonnie.

If Steven can do this with a human on his first time, just imagine what he can do with a gem!

“Yes, well, I’m glad you’re enjoying yourselves, but you two should unfuse this instant.”

How did they manage it, anyway? What dance were they doing? Is this a sign that Steven is more comfortable with Connie than with the Crystal Gems?

Stevonnie is indignant. “Wait, what? Pearl, you were so worried Steven wouldn’t be able to do this. Aren’t you proud of him?”

Oh, the details can wait! Steven is finally going to understand!

“Oh course I am! I…” Pearl says, wincing. “Garnet, help me out here!”

She knows what must be done.

“Stevonnie, listen to me.” Garnet is serious approaches the young fusion. She touches Stevonnie’s cheek with her right hand—and the gesture is so quintessentially Ruby, which is ironic given the current subject matter, but that’s not the point. “You are not two people, and you are not one person. You are an experience. Make sure you are a good experience.”

There are some things that can only be understood by another fusion. While you may feel whole, you knowingly carry your components with you at all times—they are yours to protect, always. They are at their most vulnerable within you, just as outwardly you are so much more powerful than they are alone. The choices you make don’t just affect you, they affect them. A good fusion can’t forget that, and Garnet certainly doesn’t want Steven’s first to taint his memories with rash, unhealthy decisions.

Stevonnie seems like a good thing, though. As they gaze at her, a bit mystified, Garnet can see that they have Steven’s wonder-filled eyes. Stevonnie cherishes Steven and Connie and the bond that created them, already; they wouldn’t do anything they think might hurt them.

Oh, she can’t help it! Garnet’s too giddy not to grin. Out of all his possible first fusions, she already knows that this is the one that will suit Steven best.

“Now go have fun!”

Chapter Text

Garnet admires steadfast loyalty when she sees it. Mostly, though, she admires determination.

That’s immediately what comes to mind when she meets Pearl for the first time. Loyalty and determination. They are, she thinks, Pearl’s most defining characteristics.

She wasn’t there when Rose met Pearl—rescued her from mandated destruction due to a superficial defect, rather—but ever since, Pearl has always been with Rose.

She starts off demure, always biting her tongue. When Rose asks Pearl for an opinion, Pearl nearly chokes on air. “Ma’am, pearls don’t have opinions,” she used to reply, voice faint. “We just do what we’re told.”

Pearls have a Mohs of four at the very highest. Sapphire and Ruby, both nines, took a reduction in hardness to become Garnet’s seven, but even old Containment Unit inmates like them will never know what it’s like to be a caste that low. What must it be like, to have your individuality systematically leeched from you like that?

“Of course you have opinions,” Rose would say crisply. “You’re just really good at hiding them. Now, my Pearl, tell me what you think.”

With Rose’s constant and systematic encouragement, Pearl sheds her pallid demeanor. She can plug into all of their tech, which Rose finds useful when she needs to flick through records in a hurry. When Pearl reveals her talent for organization and fact keeping, Rose immediately asks for her help with administrative tasks. Her remarkable memory and attention to detail inspires Rose to bring her to every important meeting, just in case she herself misses something. Pearl’s interactive holograms of people and places inspire Rose to build an entire room of pink clouds that can do much the same thing—just to test out the possibilities.

Rose shows Pearl how to conjure her spear out of abstractions of light and pure energy, and for the first time Pearl’s ballet—a programmable feature that allows pearls to provide entertainment for their masters—realizes its full potential. It’s hard work, but Pearl plods on with bovine determination to conquer her own fear of herself. Sword fighting is yet to come, but they aren’t in a war against their own people yet, either, so that’s only to be expected.

Soon, Pearl is always with Rose for another reason entirely, and ‘my Pearl’ takes on a whole new timbre. With her newfound voice and confidence, Pearl proclaims that she doesn’t give a damn who was Rose’s friend first, or who was close to her before—you either needed to adjust to Pearl, or Pearl would find some way to phase you out. It isn’t a secret from anyone, except maybe Rose.

What’s more, is Pearl’s good at it. She has been unlocked—unleashed—and only her own imagination can hold her back now. For someone who didn’t know they could be powerful or influential, this is downright intoxicating.

Rose Quartz has taught Pearl to be strong, and Pearl’s loyalty to Rose bids her show off her strength with the wholehearted determination that is born from wanting to please, always.

Garnet watches all of this without saying a word. Pearl will calm down eventually, though it may take Rose lashing out to make it happen. Still, she can’t help but admire Pearl’s drive. She doesn’t think she has ever met a gem quite like this.

“You never take off those mirrored glasses,” Pearl says to her one day. Rose is still around, albeit just out of earshot. “What are you looking at? What are you hiding? I don’t think I trust you.”

“Pity,” Garnet replies.

 “Rose doesn’t see like I do. I see everything.”

“Well, that’s a coincidence,” Garnet says. She moves her glasses just enough for Pearl to see her third eye blink. “So do I.”

She’s being a little snarky, she knows—but there again, Pearl’s being a little annoying.

Pearl actually pales. It seems Rose neglected to mention the fact that Garnet is a fusion to her pearl—either that, or the implication actually does intimidate her.

“I, uh—has that always…?” No, it seems that Pearl really hadn’t known about the third eye. As Garnet’s pretty sure that means Rose left that little factoid out for Garnet herself to reveal when she was ready. Classic Rose, that. It’s one of those nice touches that makes Garnet glad they're friends.

“Maybe you should talk to someone before you decide you don’t like them,” Garnet tells Pearl before pushing her glasses back up her nose and taking her leave.

Pearl is far more polite to her after that (and less obvious about pushing others away from Rose, if she does it at all). A little intimidated by Garnet’s size and aura, perhaps, but nonetheless polite. She’s driven to be so, and it’s obvious because everything she says and does is plainly forced, but over time it gets easier because Garnet makes a point of not picking on her, either.

Loyalty and friendship are not one way streets. Garnet can’t forget that.

The first time Pearl makes Garnet laugh—her remark about a particular human is just so unexpectedly sarcastic, Garnet can’t help it—she flushes bright blue, but she’s smiling like this is something she’s proud of.

“You don’t laugh very often,” Pearl observes.

“No,” Garnet admits. “But you don’t joke very often, either.”

Truth be told, levity is probably something they can both work on.

“Actually, I didn’t mean for what I just said to be a joke.”

“I know. That’s why it was funny.”

Pearl is confused, but she shakes it off anyway. Her demeanor changes, becomes more solemn. “Listen, Garnet, I’ve been pretty rude to you in the past, and—that wasn’t right. I know it wasn’t. Just because I’m no longer required to be polite to anyone doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it anyway. I’m still trying to strike the right balance between courtesy and independence. I-I’m sorry you got caught in the crossfire.”

“It’s all right. A lot has been changing for you recently.” Garnet smiles and puts a companionable hand on Pearl’s shoulder. “But you’ll figure it out. I know it.”

Pearl’s jaw goes slack, but only for a moment. “Thank you,” she says, and while Garnet can tell she means it her voice is stunned and faint. She lets out a small laugh. “It’s funny, I—I don’t really know what to do, when it’s not Rose believing in me.”

Garnet squeezes the other gem’s skinny shoulder before letting her hand fall. “Well, you had better figure something out, because I’m not the only one,” she says.

Pearl blinks, starts to laugh it off, but then she realizes that Garnet is not joking. “Really? You think so?”

“Know so,” says Garnet. “Look for it next time, and you’ll see it too.”

Pearl smiles, and for the first time, it actually starts to feel like they’re friends.

Pearl will always be Rose’s before anything else. Garnet was sure of that five thousand years ago, and she’s even more convinced of it now. Rose, whether she realized it or not, was an integral part of helping Pearl reinvent herself. Pearl’s most defining traits will forever be tainted pink, but that does not make her dedication to her friends and family any less real. Once Pearl decides you are worthy of her devotion, she will stay her course with the kind of resolve that Garnet can’t help but respect. Sometimes her belief in you is all there is left for you to grasp on to, and that’s far more powerful than it sounds. All truth told, she’s glad they’re on the same side.

Chapter Text

“I don’t know how you do it,” Amethyst says when she meets Sapphire and Ruby for the first time—well, after she gets over her initial excitement, anyway.

The two exchange a look, and even Sapphire seems puzzled. Amethyst has performed fusion herself at this point—she’s been with the Crystal Gems some 200 years now—so that can’t be what she’s referring to, right?

“Do what?”

“Share everything!” says Amethyst, waving her arms as if the fact they just don’t get it is yet another source of frustration for her. “When you fuse with other people, it just looks like two gems because you two are still using the same eyes and arms. Even when you’re apart like this, people still call you RubyandSapphire like there aren’t any spaces between your names. Don’t you ever want anything just for you? Don’t you ever wish you had your own space?”

It’s an oddly flooring question. At this point, Garnet has been in existence for nearly three thousand years—a stretch of time that has been interrupted less than a handful of occasions, and primarily just for official introductions like this (they’re getting really good at them, if they say so themselves). Nowadays they hardly recognize themselves as two individuals long enough to define something as abstract as mine and yours. Even when Garnet fuses with someone else, she tends to function as a single mind that just happens to have two gems. Back in the rebellion, Garnet was a popular component of three-gem fusions for exactly that reason. If Sapphire and Ruby ever appeared as individuals, it only ever resulted in fusion tutorials or being bombarded by gems who were impressed at their incredible adaptability in the realm of fusion.

Yet in all of that time, no one has asked them a question like this. How is that possible?

Do they ever want something to just be theirs, and not also their partner’s?

While Sapphire sifts through different responses and their outcomes (including a scenario in which she owns a small trinket that she does not share with Ruby—a possibility she immediately rejects for making her uncomfortable; Ruby ends up stealing the stupid trinket anyway), Ruby just out and says it best.

“We already did that. It worked for like two thousand years, but this fits us better now.”

Amethyst begins to reply, but then stops as a thought hits her. “Wait a second—you’ve been together how long?” she says incredulously.

“Over five millennia, at this point,” says Sapphire. “I could give you the exact count, but I don’t think you care about the specifics.”

“Nah, not really—wow, five thousand years, though…” Amethyst scratches behind her ear as it hits her that that’s nearly twice her own age. “Yup,” she eventually decides.

Ruby can’t resist. “ ‘Yup’ what?”

“I’d definitely go crazy if I had to stay mushed up with someone that long,” Amethyst says simply. “Go crazy, and maybe punch them.”

 While it could be interpreted as the naïveté of not being able to imagine another being interesting enough to coax you to settle down, it’s also entirely indicative of Amethyst’s own unique mindset. Amethyst is herself above all else, unapologetically. She does not bow down or give in to anyone or anything, even a derivative of her own personality, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that—in fact, her bold assertion of it is positively beautiful.

 Truth be told, Sapphire and Ruby can’t help the way they howl in mirth before embracing the vibrant young gem in front of them. Amethyst reciprocates the hug well enough, but she is also not shy about speaking up.

“Um, what just happened? Did I miss something?”

“You’ll understand when you’re older,” Ruby assures her.

“Maybe.” Frankly, the probability of Amethyst understanding is very small.

About ten minutes later, when they are fused again, Garnet is thoughtful enough to explain their reaction for them. “They both imagined a scene in which you were punching your fusion partner for being ‘mushed up’ with you too long, and it brought back memories from when they were young themselves. They also have a great respect for your assertion to remain yourself, and were impressed by your ability to challenge them with your perspective.”

Amethyst stares for a moment, but the only thing that really sinks in is, “I impressed Ruby and Sapphire! Hey, Pearl!” Immediately, Amethyst dashes off. “Pearl! Did you hear what Garnet just said? Pearl? Hey, P, where you at!” As Amethyst’s search for Pearl leads her into the temple, her rambunctious voice fades.

Garnet smiles to herself. She’s glad they kept Amethyst.

Chapter Text

‘Fun’, the way that Steven or Amethyst would define it, is not something that comes to Garnet organically. Not really. There are things that she enjoys, of course. She likes the adrenaline that comes from fighting monsters. She feels satisfaction at seeing corrupted gems safely bubbled in the temple where they can’t hurt themselves or others. Taking on missions and completing them, one by one—that’s enjoyable too. However, none of that is ‘fun’ the way that Steven thinks games are fun. When Garnet engages in his or someone else’s silliness, she must deliberately choose to do so. If anyone finds something she says amusing, then it’s in their interpretation of Garnet’s dialogue, not the result of any direct effort to be funny on her part.

That’s probably why she and Amethyst have such a hard time seeing eye to eye.

Well, actually, there are a lot of reasons.

Amethyst is made almost purely of impulse. She moves first, and then retroactively wonders if moving was actually the best thing to do. Her lifestyle is reactionary, fully dependent upon whatever the world has decided to throw at her that day. She feels instead of thinks. Perhaps it’s only natural that Garnet, with her future insights, can’t fully relate to that. She’s typically too even tempered to let her emotions get the best of her, and her knowledge of what might come next is a tool that she uses to guide her actions, perhaps more often than she should.

She just—she doesn’t understand why Amethyst gets so upset with her during the Slinker incident. They have a job to do (find and poof the Slinker, bubble the gem, keep it from getting out again) and Garnet is trying to do it, because that is what has to be done. Keeping corrupted gems under control is one of their responsibilities as Crystal Gems. Amethyst has to know that that should be one of their top priorities; she’s been doing this for over four thousand years now.

While it’s certainly not Garnet’s place to tell Amethyst how she should shape herself, all of her caricatures and literal interpretations of offhand comments are disrespectful and shortsighted. Try telling Amethyst that, though. She takes it like Garnet is insulting her personally. Where is all of this coming from?

And then there’s Steven, encouraging her to do more than Pearl impressions. Steven’s a child, and he doesn’t know any better. At least he has an excuse.

“You wanted me to be stronger. I’m doing it! I’m being what you want!” shouts Amethyst as she slowly loses to the strangling strength of the Slinker.

“I don’t want this!” Not for Amethyst to mutilate the way she presents herself like it’s not something to be proud of, and certainly not to weaken her form to the point where the Slinker has an ever easier time of poofing her.

“Well, what do you want? Just tell me, and I’ll do that.”

“I can’t tell you, Amethyst. You have to figure this out for yourself!”

It isn’t until after Amethyst’s grating sound of frustration and Steven’s epiphany (“She can’t. She doesn’t want to think about herself!”) that Garnet begins to understand why her advice about regeneration is being taken so poorly. By then, Amethyst has been poofed once again, but she stays within her gem this time. Thinking, maybe. Brooding might be more like it, though.

If Amethyst doesn’t want to think about herself, all she has left is what others tell her to be. No wonder she was being so literal about being like Pearl, or being stronger.

Which is why, when Garnet sees Amethyst in a form she has chosen by herself, for herself—using a body that makes her happy and feel at home—she can only smile and say, “It’s perfect.”

“Garnet, master of comedy,” she will say to a chortling Amethyst sometime in the near future. She will be a little incredulous (since when has she ever been funny?) but nonetheless amused by the idea of it being true.

Garnet doesn’t really know how to do ‘fun’ in the traditional sense, and Amethyst doesn’t really understand what it means to own herself and love how that feels, but they’re both working on it. They have a lot of differences, Amethyst and Garnet, but the desire for self-improvement is not one of them, and maybe that’s all the foundation they need to start seeing eye to eye after all.

Chapter Text

Garnet doesn’t use her future vision for everything. It’s not just because Ruby influences her to be “in the now”. It’s because there is fundamentally no difference between what it feels like to live in the present as the future. All of the sensory details filter in the same. Her mind is as clear as ever. Even Sapphire, usually so adept at traversing this world of might be’s, can’t point out the differences when prompted.

Garnet’s initial thought is that it must be a matter of familiarity. She’s doesn’t have thousands of years of experience to draw upon—not as herself, anyway. However, with Sapphire’s memories readily available, Garnet should be able to figure this ability out in no time. These visions can’t be so consuming as to indefinitely fool her over which reality is real, right?

The ridiculous, low-probability futures weed themselves out as a general rule. It’s taken a couple of centuries, but Garnet has finally managed to figure out how to side-step them entirely, with merely a passing glance of acknowledgement. But the futures with similar probabilities, the ones statistically most likely to come to pass—sometimes, Garnet experiences them and honestly doesn’t know whether or not she comes out.

Sapphire, precise and detached, can dismiss the ridiculous and see through similar probabilities almost instantly. Her predictions are almost always right, even when the probabilities make it look like a crapshoot.

Of course, even Sapphire occasionally gets caught up in visions, but that’s when she allows her emotions to take over. As long as she’s clinical with her observations, she’s fine. But that’s just it: Sapphire observes. She doesn’t have to live it in order to find out what might happen. For better or worse, that’s Ruby’s influence. Even when she sees the future, Garnet is still fully immersed in the moment.

The tradeoff? Garnet sees much, much farther ahead than Sapphire can. Her long term predictions are not mere extrapolations, she knows because she’s already been there. In addition, no matter how long Garnet thinks she’s been gone, nothing more than a few seconds ever passes in the present. That’s a useful feature, if one is pressed for time.

It isn’t a matter of familiarity, Garnet realizes one day. Her future vision feels so much more different than Sapphire’s memories because her future vision is different. Sapphire has her emotional detachment, but Garnet needs to come up with her own ways of telling the difference between When and Now.

It’s a simple trick, but bracing her fingers on her temples is a surprisingly reliable tell. Well, she has yet to be stranded in a vision like that, anyway. Asking the answer to a specific question also limits the time she spends exploring the future, because of course there are only so many answers.

Garnet has been around for 7,000 years now, give or take a few centuries. But if you factor in every time she’s been destroyed and Ruby and Sapphire have been crushed or shattered; how many times she’s lost the same handful of close friends; the wars she has and hasn’t won—all together, that’s substantially longer than 7,000 years. Garnet has lived like a cat with far more than nine lives, and no matter how many times she dives into the spectrum of maybes, or how often the fingers-on-the-temples trick saves her, she’s never entirely certain she comes back out.

All of which is to say, there is a reason that Garnet doesn’t use her future vision for everything. She’s gotten good at closing her third eye and shunting the ability to the side, though she can always feel its presence, a never ending movie of fast forwards, whiplash pauses and sudden reversals. Let the chips fall where they may in nonthreatening situations; it’s not statistically likely that the world will end in disaster from such things.

She goes to Funland Arcade for Steven’s sake. Garnet wants to humor and support him, encourage the kind of bonding that would bring the Crystal Gems—all of them—together. It hadn’t seemed like a poor choice at the time.

Meat Beat Mania, though.

Garnet figures there will be an easily predictable end to the game, and she’s pretty eager to get there (she loves Steven, but let’s be honest, arcades aren’t really her style), so she peeks into the future for the right possibilities.

The problem is, she doesn’t come out. She thinks she does. Several times Garnet is conned into thinking she’s finally reached the end of the labyrinth of blue, green, green, pink, orange-pink combo, blue, yellow, and she mentally wrenches away—only to find herself dropped right back into the loop. She doesn’t know how long it lasts, all she knows is orange, blue, green, pink, pink, yellow-blue combo followed by a green-blue combo…

There’s an algorithm to Meat Beat Mania, you know. Even the most advanced levels all follow the same endlessly repeating patterns.

The next thing Garnet knows, Steven is smashing the game with one of its own fake grills. The little drill parasites are reaping havoc on Beach City, and she honestly has no way of knowing how much time she’s lost.

Her head is hazy like it’s packed to the forehead with fog—is this what it’s like to be woozy and hungover?—but Garnet still fist pumps for Steven. Supportive, just be supportive. “You won!” she says, though in truth that little boy has no idea just how he’s saved her.

Nevertheless, she can sense the little corrupted gem drills just outside of the arcade, and she flips out onto the boardwalk to begin taking care of them, as she should have from the start. Defeating monsters never fails to put Garnet in good spirits—and the fast pace and quick thinking required for combat has the added bonus of grounding her here in reality, for sure this time.

Chapter Text

Sapphire and Ruby have been paying much closer attention these days. It’s sort of odd, after so many years of carrying them in the back of her mind, tangled up together and happily dormant, but between Malachite and Homeworld and Peridot and trying to patch things up with Pearl again Garnet can’t bring herself to mind how crowded it sometimes feels. Ruby and Sapphire are sometimes her only company; they’re certainly the only company with whom she enjoys complete disclosure. It’s not like they’re trying to take control, either; they’re just watching. Garnet can’t blame them. These last couple decades have been more exciting than the last few thousand years put together; the reason they went dormant to begin with was more or less out of boredom. Garnet simply cannot get bored of how incredible it feels to be alive, but Sapphire and Ruby have been around long enough that the simple act of living isn’t as interesting as it used to be.

All of which is to say, Garnet is grateful for the extra perspective right now. Sapphire and Ruby’s opinions are often two sides of the same coin, but it is in watching it flip end over end that Garnet comes to the best conclusions.

And for someone who dislikes unfusing, this conclusion is a pretty potent one.

Maybe Ruby and Sapphire saw the flinch when someone mentioned them in front of Steven. It’s possible they did, since they’ve been awake and watching. They don’t know Steven well enough as themselves to understand his body language like that, though.

Garnet knows. Garnet sees his flinch acutely, and that’s why she’s bringing this up.

“You’ve spent one hour with him in which things weren’t going wrong and you weren’t upset,” she tells them. “It’s not enough. He’s begun associating you with negative situations.”

It’s funny. As the centuries have passed, their relationship with Garnet has… well, actually become a relationship. Initially, Garnet as a unique personality did not exist. But as she continued to thrive her memories and style and will became entirely her own, and the conversations she would have with Sapphire and Ruby became increasingly opinionated and complex. She still possesses traits that are obviously the result of their contributions to her, of course—Garnet is always a fusion first—but the way she expresses them and conducts herself has gone beyond the sphere of their influence at this point.

It’s not a bad thing. At least, not in their eyes. Ruby and Sapphire enjoy the person Garnet has become; they love her, love being her. She’s the closeness they crave and the powerful and compassionate person they’ve always wanted to become; the fact that Garnet wears them so well is a point in her favor, not theirs.

Garnet is a good thing; she’s better than they could ever be alone. The way she cherishes and finds ways to protect them at all costs is only shadowed by their dedication to always, always put her and her existence first. They don’t mind giving her themselves because it’s such a joy and a pleasure to be her—and seeing what she does with the source material they provide is nothing short of amazing. Ruby and Sapphire never would have thought to take such interpretations of themselves, but that’s why Garnet is here.

Still, for all of her independence, it’s rare for Garnet to impress her opinions on them like this—especially opinions regarding her own separation.

She makes a good point, though. What’s one good hour of bonding with Steven compared to several tense and stressful ones, in the grand scheme of things? Maybe they didn’t see the significance of Steven’s flinch at the mention of their names, but if Garnet says it’s significant then that’s what it is. Sapphire and Ruby don’t want Steven growing to resent them any more than Garnet does.

While they’re usually dormant, Sapphire and Ruby are never truly gone. They’ve been here with Steven and Pearl and Amethyst this whole time (technically). Still, their distance from their friends has taken its toll. Garnet is the leader of the Crystal Gems, not Ruby and Sapphire. Amethyst and Pearl don’t look up to them in any sense of the term. And Steven…

“Steven doesn’t know you,” Garnet continues. “But he should, and he wants to. This is important.”

It says a lot that she’s pushing for this, it really does. It’s more than the fact that Steven is precious to her and she doesn’t wish to inadvertently be the cause of any distress for him, though that does play a part. She wants him to know and understand her better, and to do that you have to know Ruby and Sapphire. Of course, Ruby and Sapphire are precious to her too, and Garnet thinks that this—that Steven—will be good for them on an individual level.

They’ve all been under a lot of stress recently. There’s no denying it. Garnet isn’t the only one taking comfort from their company—Sapphire and Ruby are drawing reassurance from her perpetual confidence and serenity as well. Maybe taking a day off really would do them some good; Garnet certainly thinks so, and at this point they trust her judgement more than their own.

After all, what’s one day in the grand scheme of things? If you think about it, it’s not really that big of a sacrifice. Considering how much fun they might have, it might not be a sacrifice at all.

Chapter Text

Today they’re not likely to run into any corrupted gems. They aren’t likely to catch Peridot or receive contact from Homeworld. Malachite is likely to stay at the bottom of the ocean. There will not likely be a better day for something like this.

“Are you sure?” asks Pearl anyway. She’s a little more apprehensive than she should be, but perhaps that’s understandable, given the givens.

“Pearl. Garnet says everything’s gonna be fine, and Steven’s going to love it. Why are you trying to knock this?” says Amethyst. She doesn’t bother to keep her voice down. They’re in the temple, and Steven isn’t awake yet, so even if the temple weren’t sound-proofed he would still snooze right through this conversation, sound sleeper that he is.

“I’m not! It’s just…” Pearl wrings her long, delicate hands together like she doesn’t think this is her place, but she still believes it needs to be said. “Are you two sure you’ll be okay for a whole day?”

Well, admittedly, that part is going to be interesting. It’s been a long, long time since they were separated for an entire day (formal introductions don’t generally take that long, after all). Are they a little apprehensive about it? Yes. Still, Garnet insists that it be the whole day, and they have both agreed, so it’s going to happen, come what may. Actually, if they’re receptive to it this could actually be beneficial for Garnet and themselves in the end.

Ruby scoffs in agreement and crosses her arms in front of her chest. “I’ve been myself for thousands of years. One more day isn’t going to kill me.”

“We’ll be fine,” Sapphire translates.

“Isn’t that what I just said?”

“They needed to hear it in those words.”

“Oh. Okay, then.” Ruby shrugs and allows her arms to fall to her sides, clearly assuming that this insistence has something to do with Sapphire’s prescience.

“Ruby and Sapphire are both, like, way older than us, P,” Amethyst says. “I think they have a good idea of what they can handle.”

Pearl holds up her hands. She’s still clearly awkward about bringing this up after the Sardonyx incident, but she’s more or less placated. “Alright, if you’re both sure.”

“Actually, he’ll be up in fifteen minutes,” says Sapphire.

“Sapph,” Ruby tells her. “Nobody’s said anything about Steven yet.”

Amethyst and Pearl exchange looks of amusement and befuddlement, respectively. They would not have pieced together the contextual clues that Sapphire had been referring to Steven, let alone a segment of a conversation that had not (and now, will not) happen, even half as quickly. It’s really no wonder that Ruby can, though; she is an old hand at conversations with Sapphire, and she also has intimate firsthand experience with how future vision works.

“Oh.” Sapphire’s blue cheeks darken slightly under her bangs, but her voice continues to be cool and collected, as if the embarrassment is not there. “So we haven’t. Well, Pearl, Steven will be awake in a quarter of an hour, not just any minute. Now you know.”

“Err, thanks Sapphire,” says Pearl. She clears her throat. Both Ruby and Amethyst laugh a little at her expression.

“You’re welcome.” Sapphire’s flush has also officially receded.

Amethyst cackles in delight before pouncing forward and slinging around Sapphire and Ruby’s shoulders. They’re both shorter than her (though in Sapphire’s case, not by much), so she has the leverage to really lock her hold on them. “Aw man, having you guys around all day is gonna be great!” she exclaims.

Ruby grins, and even Sapphire cracks a smile.

“You’ve obviously got to surprise him!” says Amethyst enthusiastically. “Have you thought about that? Let’s plan it out!”

“Oh, now you like plans,” Pearl grumbles. Nevertheless, when she activates the temple door they all follow her out into Steven’s room.

So it was that when Steven awoke some fifteen minutes later, one of the first things he saw was Ruby and Sapphire sitting on the edge of his bed, smiling and waving at him (“Say something funny!” calls Amethyst from the kitchen). According to Sapphire, this greeting will be received best out of all of them, because Steven is less likely to startle and either A) roll off the loft in his bubble, or B) smack someone in the nose with his shield.

“Wha—?” The boy blinks and rubs at his eyes, disbelieving. Then he takes a second look at them.

Ruby’s smile freezes in place when she sees Steven starts to smile, and then falters. A heavy air settles about him as he looks around for any sign of danger or instability amongst the Crystal Gems. Upon finding nothing out of the ordinary except for the two individuals on his bed, he rubs at his neck in confusion. It’s obvious that he wants to be happy, but also that he knows happiness isn’t the appropriate response to this situation.

“Ruby, Sapphire, I…” Steven’s hand drops to his lap. Finally, he looks up, and the primary emotion in his face is concern. “What happened this time?”

Something drops in Ruby’s gut. She can’t believe it. How has she missed seeing this before? No wonder Garnet pushed so hard for this. What had they done to him?

Sapphire is the first to recover. “Nothing happened, Steven,” she says with a reassuring smile. “We just thought that, if you were okay with it, we could spend today with you.”

Steven blinks. Hope and excitement begin tugging at the edges of his demeanor. “Really? Y-you just want to have fun?”

“Yeah, unless you don’t think you can deliver,” Ruby says with a mild gesture. She’s goading him, but she’s grinning through her own guilt in the hopes that he won’t have to be upset by their presence for much longer.

Steven’s melancholy expression cracks as his jaw drops in surprise. Then he scrambles to his feet and stands on the mattress in front of them, his arms spread wide. “I am the warp master and a funk master in training!” he declares, jabbing his thumb at himself. “If anyone can deliver on fun, it’s Steven Quartz Universe!”

“I don’t know about this guy,” Ruby hums. “What do you think, Sapphire?”

Steven’s sound of faux-indignation is utterly priceless, and it only grows when Sapphire makes a noise of consideration pretends to use her future vision. “Well, the path of fate—”

“No, don’t tell me! I want our awesome day to happen naturally, Sapphire!”

“It will happen naturally regardless.”

“Sapphire,” he whines. “I don’t want spoilers!”

“He has the right to be surprised,” Ruby says, in the interest of fairness. Then she realizes, “Actually, so do I! Don’t tell me, either! I’m gonna be surprised, for once!”

Steven, opportunistic young lad that he is, seizes the moment to hold up his palm. “Surprise buddies!”

Ruby gives Steven the high five, though inwardly she vows to work on their team name later. ‘Surprise buddies’ just doesn’t meet its jazzy potential.

Sapphire lets out a breath of either defeat or resignation. Same difference. “It would have turned out the same either way.”

“Says you.”

“Does that count as a spoiler?” asks Steven.

“No,” Sapphire says at the same moment that Ruby says “Yes.” They exchange a look, at once somewhat disgruntled and also on the cusp of laughter. How often does that happen anymore?

“Well, whatever that counts as, the deed is done,” Steven says as he hops off the bed and onto the wooden floor. “And now Steven needs breakfast.” That’s when he notices that the three of them aren’t the only ones in his room right now.

“Pearl, Amethyst! Ruby and Sapphire are spending the day with us!” he says as he races down the stairs and comes to an ecstatic, bouncing halt in front of Pearl, who is inadvertently guarding the fridge.

Pearl smiles. “So we’ve heard.”

“It’s so great! We’re gonna—oh, wait.” He suddenly stops, and a look of horror crosses his face. “I have no idea what we’re gonna do! Amethyst—you’re always fun! Help me brainstorm over breakfast!” Steven whirls around and points at Sapphire and Ruby, still up in the loft. “You guys stay there while I figure this out!”

Amethyst, who is sitting on the kitchen counter, stretches her arms above her head and pretends to yawn. “Come into my office when you’re ready, little dude,” she says amiably.

Steven is quick to get himself a bowl of cereal and plunk down at the breakfast bar. “Okay, Amethyst,” he says, trying to sound business like through a mouthful of cereal. “Let’s do this.”

“Does he realize we can hear everything?” Ruby asks as she and Sapphire continue to sit at the foot of Steven’s bed. She’s not looking for any particular sort of response; she’s just thinking aloud

“No, he doesn’t,” Sapphire replies anyway.

“There’s really no point in staying up here.”

“No, there isn’t.”

“Remember, Amethyst, we have to warp out soon,” says Pearl.

“What, you’re leaving?” It’s hard to say whether or not Steven is jealous of their mission or aghast that Amethyst and Pearl will not be joining them on their Most Fun Day Ever.

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Amethyst says just before she eats the empty milk carton. “Just give us a few more minutes of brainstorming, P. We’re really getting somewhere with this.”

So far their ideas included Freeze Steven tag (in which Sapphire would also be able to freeze someone on the spot, and this allegedly made the game more enjoyable); sneaking into Funland Arcade and/or Amusement Part to spite the fact that Steven is banned from both; and going on their own three-person mission—but only a little one! It just had to dangerous enough for Steven to see how Sapphire and Ruby fought on their own.

“Yes, Steven,” Pearl says, ignoring Amethyst. “Garnet gave us a mission to do while she, uh, takes the day off.”

“That’s a fun way to phrase it,” Sapphire says, and her tone is just so dry that Ruby can’t help laughing.

“We can hear everything you’re saying, you know!” calls Ruby—because hey, isn’t it obvious at this point?

Pearl flushes light blue, which only makes her laugh harder.

“Aw, really?” says Steven. He waves his spoon-free hand to illustrate his disappointment.

“Sorry, buddy.” Still, now that the unfortunate truth is out there’s no reason for them to stay up in the loft. Ruby jumps to the lower level with a loud thud, while Sapphire levitates off the edge and lands daintily on her toes.

“Ruby, this is Steven’s room, not a playground!” says Pearl in exasperation.

Ruby glances down, just to make sure, before crossing her arms and retorting, “I didn’t dent or burn anything—what more do you want from me?”

“I thought it looked cool.”

“Thank you, Amethyst.”

Steven has stars in his eyes. “Ruby, can you teach me to jump like that, so I don’t have to use the stairs anymore?”

“Huh?” That’s when Ruby takes in his expression and really understands what she’s just inspired. Steven hardly weighs anything, though, so even if he does figure out how to leaping around Ruby doubts this will end badly. She grins. “Yeah, sure, why not?”

“Ruby, Steven’s not…” It’s no particular reason that Ruby can see that stops Pearl from talking, she just trails off and lets out a breath. “We should really get going, Amethyst. It’s going to take all day to find and bubble that gem.”

She’s not wrong.

Amethyst hops off the counter. “Yeah, probably.”

“Aw, you’re leaving already?” says Steven.

“It’s cool, guy. We’ll be back by bedtime—save dinner for me!”

“We’ll bring you back something,” Pearl promises as she and Amethyst go to the warp pad. “Have fun, you three! Try not to get into too much trouble.”

Sapphire waves, but they’re gone before anyone can verbally reply.

“An all day mission sounds so tough and cool,” Steven says somewhat wistfully.

“They’ll spend most of their day searching for the corrupted gem,” says Sapphire. “It stays reliably in one geographic area, but it’s frustratingly evasive.”

“Oh. That suddenly sounds far less cool.”

“Don’t worry, it is,” Ruby assures him as she climbs up onto the barstool next to his. “We wouldn’t send Pearl and Amethyst on any cool missions without us!”

Steven laughs. “So, since you both heard all of our brainstorming, did you hear anything that interested you?”

Chapter Text

Ruby speaks up first. “Actually, it could be pretty fun to try Freeze Steven tag—”

“How about less dangerous activities?” suggests Sapphire.

Ruby harrumphs, but there’s no real anger in it. Sapphire’s just a spoilsport, that’s all.

Steven takes Sapphire’s suggestion to heart and really thinks about safe activities as he slurps up the rest of his cereal. Then an idea hits him. “Garnet can play the keytar!” he cries as he slams the bowl down on the breakfast bar.

Sapphire and Ruby look at each other. Finally Sapphire just out and says it, albeit gently. “Garnet’s not here, Steven.”

“No, but a keytar is basically a combination between a keyboard and a guitar, right? Can you play the piano and the guitar when you’re separate?”

“Maybe?”

Steven blinks at the uncertain response. “Have you… not tried it?”

“We don’t really do alone time, remember?” Ruby reminds him. She shrugs. “Greg wanted to start a band with us back when he first met your mom, and he gave Garnet a list of instruments that would work with what everyone else was playing. The keytar is just the one that felt right.”

“Well, that doesn’t mean we can’t see if you like the piano and guitar now!” says Steven. He scurries to grab his ukulele and, because she’s closest, shoves it into Sapphire’s hands. “I know this isn’t the same as the guitar, but it’s the best we have for now. Go on, try it!”

Sapphire hesitates for only one bemused moment before plucking experimentally at the strings.

“Oh, wait, sorry! It’s out of tune.” Steven snatches it back, does a couple of quick adjustments to the string tension, and then hands the ukulele back to her. “Try it now.”

As one might imagine, chords on a keytar don’t necessarily translate to ukuleles. Sapphire has Garnet’s memories of human instruments and how they work, but that doesn’t necessarily translate either. Just because she is half of Garnet doesn’t mean she has any of Garnet’s muscle memory. After mindlessly strumming for about a minute or so she passes the lightweight instrument off to Ruby. “I don’t think strings are for me. You try it.”

Ruby, who had been watching with increasing interest as Sapphire played, looks to Steven now. “Hey, show me a couple of chords?”

Steven is more than happy to oblige, and within thirty minutes Ruby is laboriously playing through a simple four-chord song.

“Ruby, you’re a natural!” cries Steven with delight. “We should go to the music store in town and see if Sapphire likes keyboards or pianos.”

“We could check Amethyst’s room, too; I swear Garnet’s seen a keyboard or two in there before,” Ruby mutters, her head down and focus still on the ukulele. Practicing is uncomfortable and awkward because she’s never had to place her fingers in these positions on anything before, and you have to press harder than you think in order to get proper resonance from the ukulele, but she thinks she’s finally getting the hang of it.

“I know where to find one,” Sapphire says of the keyboard. “It’s still in good condition, too.”

“You should give it a try, Sapphy,” Ruby tells her, only briefly glancing up. However, doing that makes her lose her concentration, and the A chord she’s trying for rings sour. “It wouldn’t surprise me at all if you ended up liking pianos and stuff.”

“Do you need help?” asks Steven.

Sapphire smiles. “With my speed, I’ll be back before you know it.”

She isn’t joking, either. As soon as the temple door is open wide enough, Sapphire is gone. Ruby hasn’t stumbled through the first half of her four-chord song before the door opens again and suddenly Sapphire is back and securing the metal stand for a pretty impressive looking keyboard. It only looks to be about ten years old—quite new, considering the age of some of Amethyst’s junk.

Steven frowns at something Sapphire pulls from a pocket she apparently has in the folds of her skirts. “What is—oh, batteries.” Of course Sapphire would know that the thing needed new batteries. Steven watches with interest as Sapphire turns it on and experiments with its basic sound settings.

“That makes two of us,” Sapphire says as she adlibs an off-sounding version of chopsticks on the keyboard. She probably didn’t start in the right spot.

“Huh?” is Steven’s entirely confused reply.

“You were going to say you didn’t know anything about pianos or something like that, right?” says Ruby after a quick glance at the situation.

“He was,” Sapphire agrees.

“Oh, that! Yes, that’s true,” Steven realizes. His cheeks color slightly, and he flashes a sheepish grin. “Sorry, Sapphire. I guess I’m not used to having something heard before I’ve said it! I bet that can be pretty useful when time is of the essence, huh?”

“I suppose,” Sapphire says, but Ruby can hear the soft smile in her voice. “Nobody’s phrased it quite like that before.”

Ruby doesn’t look up from the song she’s still doggedly strumming her way through, but she can feel herself smiling as well. Of course Steven would look at it that way. Of course he would. He’s Steven.

“That’s right! Sapphire, you need music sheets.” Steven screws his mouth up and crosses his arms, clearly taking this conundrum seriously. “Maybe there’s some online…?”

There is a small pause before Sapphire breaks it to him, “Even if you found them, Steven, I wouldn’t know how to read them.”

“…Oh.”

Ruby can’t help the way she giggles. The way that Steven acts, you’d think that this revelation is nothing short of a tragedy. How is Sapphire supposed to explore playing the piano if she can’t read the sheet music?

Sapphire, also realizing Steven’s deflated demeanor, compromises, “Why don’t you find a video of a piano piece, and I can try playing it by ear.”

It’s probably going to work well enough to make Steven happy. Sapphire doesn’t suggest things that don’t work.

Sure enough, Steven is all over it. The search engine (Moogle) has never worked so fast, Ruby’s sure. “Okay, we need absolute silence so Sapphire can figure this out,” he says solemnly.

He’s talking to her, isn’t he?

Ruby obligingly stalls the vibrating ukulele strings with her hand just as lilting piano music fills the kitchen from the tiny speaker on Steven’s phone. The song is way more complex than anything Ruby would be able to follow—too many subtle differences in tones, she gets bored and begins to gloss over the details—but the angle of Sapphire’s plump lips betrays only careful consternation as she watches the tiny piano player in the video. She flexes her slender gloved fingers as if she can’t wait to get started, or perhaps to prepare them for the exercises they will soon be experiencing.

“One more time, please?” she says when the 1:35 minute long video is over.

Steven waits with bated breath the second time around. “This is going to be cool, isn’t it?” he says as Sapphire settles behind the keyboard.

Ruby just plucks at the ukulele, casually strumming a D chord. There’s something about the way the instrument seems to come alive in her hands that she already loves. No wonder Steven loves this thing.

As one might expect, Sapphire isn’t a piano playing genius her first time around, but it doesn’t sound awful, either. She’s jerry rigging the chords so that, when she’s at her best, it almost sounds right, but only formal training would be able to fix it.

Steven waits with bated breath until the song is over. “What did you think, Sapphire?” he asks, his hands curled up by his chin, barely containing his excitement. “Is it true? Do you like piano while Ruby likes guitar?”

Sapphire pauses—for dramatic effect, Ruby can tell—and then says, “Yes.”

“That’s so cool! You’re actually really good at piano for someone who’s never played before. I mean, I know I couldn’t play that good.”

“That well, Steven.”

“What’s well, Sapphire?”

“She’s correcting you on your grammar,” Ruby informs him.

“What was wrong with it?”

Ruby laughs as the corners of Sapphire’s mouth tighten. Still, Sapphire is the one to say, “Steven, why don’t we play something else?”

“Okay, let’s go outside!” He glances out the window by the screen door, taking in the streaks of sunshine with a serene smile. “It’s a beautiful day, don’t you think?”

Really, he’s so much like Rose sometimes that it almost hurts.

Ruby smiles. She sets the ukulele down and hops from the barstool. “Hey Steven, I’ll race ya to the ocean!”

It’s actually a pretty fair game, all things considered. Ruby’s still shorter than Steven, and even though she’s a pureblooded gem she doesn’t have Sapphire’s speed. Still, she’s a gem, so of course she wins.

Steven gives her an honest run for her money, though. No pun intended. The kid may be chubby, but he can run through sand like nobody’s business. It’s a skill, let Ruby tell you.

“You were really giving it your all, buddy,” Ruby says, leaning over the boy as he falls back into the sand, panting. “Nice hustle! I’m impressed!”

“Thanks,” Steven huffs, though he does have the presence of mind to high five her when she offers her gem-free palm.

“Oh, nice of you to finally join us,” remarks Ruby, her arms playfully akimbo as Sapphire (who didn’t even bother to run, much less run fast) floats onto the sand on Steven’s other side in a gentle billowing of her petticoats.

“I was getting a water bottle for Steven.” Steven is quite grateful for the gesture, though, so Ruby can’t tease much more than this. If Sapphire had been trying, nobody else would have won the race, and that’s a fact.

 “Okay!” Suddenly recharged, Steven sits up. He hammers one fist into the other in a distinctly business-like manner. “That was fun, but we need to have more of it! Let’s go down to the boardwalk!”

“And do what?” asks Ruby as her curiosity gets the better of her.

“I don’t know yet, but at the very least I can introduce you guys to everyone there!”

“What happened to being surprise buddies, Ruby?” asks Sapphire.

Her tone is perfectly innocent, but Ruby frowns and narrows her eyes over at her anyway. “I’m going to have this, whether you like it or not,” she says with a wag of her index finger.

“Of course you are. I’ve never said anything to the contrary.”

“You’re thinking it. You don’t think I can go a whole day without finding out what will happen next.”

“You can’t prove that right now.”

Steven’s head pops up between them. He waggles his eyebrows. “Is this a friendly wager I hear?” He pauses. “This is all for fun, right?”

“Yes, Steven,” says Sapphire with a soft smile. “We’re not being serious.”

Steven is instantly placated. “Oh, good! So, what does Ruby get if she wins?”

“Bragging rights.”

“It’s all I need, really,” Ruby agrees with an amiable shrug. “Being right is its own reward.”

“Well, okay!” One of the best things about Steven is his lack of follow up questions. It’s ever even occurred to him to wonder why wielding bragging rights towards your prescient partner are so important (though perhaps, Ruby thinks now, it may also be self-evident).

“So Sapphire, what do you want if you win?” asks Steven.

“Hm.” Sapphire makes a show of considering this. Ruby crosses her arms, and Steven gets antsier for the wait. Eventually, though, Sapphire just says, “Ruby already knows.”

Ruby jolts. “Knows what?”

“But Steven wants to know, too!”

“Oh, you’ll find out in good time, Steven. Just be patient.”

Is she being cryptic on purpose? “Are you trying to imply that I’m going to lose?” she asks Sapphire.

“Considering the nature of this wager, are you sure you want to be asking questions like that, Ruby?”

That’s when it dawns on her. Sapphire is doing this on purpose to get a rise out of Ruby so she’ll win. Ruby furrows her brows and shakes a finger at the blue gem standing oh-so-innocently in front of her. I’m on to you. “Why, you little—”

“I’m taller than you. Not exactly what you’d call ‘little’.”

That is so relative it’s not even funny!

What’s worse is that Ruby can tell from the tension at the corner of Sapphire’s lips that she is absolutely loving this. Ruby doesn’t know whether to be happy that Sapphire is happy, or aggravated for being the potential—eventual? She really wasn’t clear on that—butt of the joke. It’s a very conflicting way to feel.

“I think I’m missing something,” Steven decides. “Anyway—come on, Ruby and Sapphire! Let’s go to the boardwalk!”

They walk on either side of him. After a couple yards, Steven reaches out and holds their hands. They both smile. He’s too big for them to pick him up and swing him by the arms, but judging from the happy little swings he’s doing anyway he acknowledges this as well, and doesn’t mind.

It’s midmorning, which means that all of the businesses along the boardwalk are open. As such, Steven has race up to enthusiastically introduce them to every person he knows (and at this point he’s got quite a rolodex of Beach City contacts, all of whom apparently hang out on the boardwalk).

“Onion! Hey, Onion! Good morning, how are you?”

Onion, true to form, only stares.

“Onion, I want to introduce you to Ruby and Sapphire!” Steven steps to the side and gestures gallantly. You can practically hear the show tunes playing in his head.

Onion doesn’t speak.

“Err, hiya,” Ruby tries for the sake of keeping Steven happy. She waves, but keeps her gem-hand clenched protectively at her side. There’s something about this kid that’s always given her the willies.

“Nice to meet you,” Sapphire inclines her head politely.

Still, Onion says nothing. Onion emotes nothing. Onion simply is.

Not even corrupted gems are this unnerving.

“Well, okay,” says Steven slowly. His tone betrays the fact that he knew this would happen, but he had been hoping for a better result anyway. “We’re going to keep going now. Nice seeing you, Onion!”

When they move on, so does Onion. It is, Ruby thinks, better for everyone that this happen.

“Oh, there’s The Big Donut! Come on, I’ll introduce you to Lars and Sadie—they’re crazy for each other, too!” Steven laughs as he races on ahead.

“How much more of this are we going to have to do?” mutters Ruby. At this point it’s downright automatic for Sapphire and herself to drift in to fill the space that Steven has vacated to fall into step with each other in the bright morning sunshine.

“Did you just ask for spoilers?” wonders Sapphire. “You, a surprise buddy?”

“Okay, 1) we’re changing that name as soon as Steven stops dragging us around long enough for me to think of it, and 2) No, Sapphire, I didn’t just ask for spoilers. In fact, I wasn’t talking to you at all, I was talking to myself!”

“If you say so,” she hums in singsong. “But it seems to me like this is going to be a lot harder than you thought.”

Is that a challenge?

“Trust me, babe,” says Ruby resolutely. “It won’t be. I went for thousands of years without knowing what came next, and I can do it again just as easily!”

Sapphire makes a doubtful noise, but Ruby can tell she’s only doing it to inspire a reaction. She is having way too much fun with this.

“There you are! Sorry, I didn’t mean to leave you behind,” says Steven as he opens the door to The Big Donut for them. “Okay, so Lars and Sadie: This is Ruby and Sapphire!” He gestures grandly once more. He’s actually managed to strike a different pose for every person they’ve spoken to this morning. Frankly, Ruby’s impressed.

“Oh no,” Lars says, instantly going pale. “You didn’t tell me they were magical friends.”

“I said they were Crystal Gems. What part of that doesn’t imply magic?”

“The part where Lars wasn’t listening,” says Sadie frankly. She waves and smiles at the pair in the shops doorway. “Nice to meet you both! I really like your headband, Ruby!”

“My—?” Ruby reaches up to her forehead, and when she feels the ribbon there she realizes what Sadie has been referring to. “Oh, thanks!” She hasn’t had this form for so long that sometimes she forgets what it looks like.

“Isn’t it really hot in that dress, though?” Sadie says of Sapphire’s outfit. She displays a sympathetic wince. “I mean, we are on a beach.”

“I have ways of regulating heat,” Sapphire replies.

Ruby can’t help herself. The double entendres littering this conversation are just too much! She bursts out laughing. “Yeah, she does!” cackles Ruby, slapping her thigh. “I would know!”

“Was that…?” asks Lars, disbelieving. What, he’s never heard a gem make a joke before?

Well, to be fair, Garnet and Pearl and Amethyst want exactly nothing to do with him—Garnet finds the skinny human boy with the odd stretched out ears annoying, to be honest—so it’s actually possible that Ruby caring so little about his presence that she makes a joke anyway is something new to him.

“Ha, element joke!” bursts out Steven. It’s not what Ruby’s talking about, but it’s a solid interpretation nonetheless. It’s also PG, which is important.

“I, uh, think I’m missing something,” says Sadie. She is trying to smile, but it’s faltering in her bafflement. “Element joke?”

“Yeah! Ruby and Sapphire can make things hot and cold!” Steven informs her. “It’s really easy for them. They do it without even trying!”

That’s a… generous way to refer to the Keystone Motel.

Lars scoffs and crosses his skinny arms. “Well, I don’t believe it!”

“Would it be terrible if I did a demonstration?” wonders Ruby.

“I don’t know, are you asking me or are you still talking to yourself?” says Sapphire idly.

“Myself, obviously,” Ruby growls under her breath. Stupid wager.

“I talk to myself sometimes too!” says Steven supportively. “Mostly when I’m cleaning up my room, though.”

“See?” Lars snorts derisively. “I knew it was all a bunch of hot air.”

How does Steven call this kid his BFF? Is he being ironic?

Lars tries to go around Sadie and into the back room, but instead of taking a step as he obviously planned he instead topples over. “What the…?” floats up from behind the counter.

“Your shoes.” Sadie is either fascinated or terrified. “They’ve been frozen to the floor!”

Ruby looks over at Sapphire. Her expression isn’t betraying a damn thing, but there is literally no one else who could have done that.

“You know what?” Ruby decides, unable to wipe the big ol’ grin off of her face. “I’m glad I didn’t see that coming. The surprise only made it funnier!”

“Yeah, surprise buddies!” Steven holds out a hand for the obligatory high five.

Ruby does oblige. However, she can’t keep it in any longer, “Steven, we really need to change that name.”

Chapter Text

“Change ‘surprise buddies’?” says Steven. “Well, I admit it’s not very punny or clever… how about Future Free Friends?”

“Um.”

“Sorry, you’re right, that sounded way better in my head. Let’s see…” Steven puts a hand on his chin and hums thoughtfully. “I want there to be alliteration, because alliteration is always classy, you know? What about Friends Forgoing Fantastic Future Figments in Favor of Freelance Frivolity?”

“Steven, what are you coming up with names for?” asks a baffled and mildly concerned Sadie.

“Oh, Ruby and I told Sapphire to stop giving us spoilers, and we’re trying to come up with a decent team name,” says Steven brightly.

“Okay,” Sadie says slowly. If her frown is indicative of anything, then this hasn’t actually cleared up any of her confusion.

Steven doesn’t take the cue to elaborate, and neither do Sapphire or Ruby, but that’s also when Lars barks out, “Hey, some of us are still frozen to the floor, remember? Sadie, help me up!”

“Oh, right. Sorry, Lars.”

After Sadie hauls him to his feet, Lars stoops down and rips his sneaker from the tile with a loud crack. He stomps back into it and finally finishes his retreat into the breakroom, grumbling incoherently to himself all the while.

Some people just cannot take a joke, you know?

Steven is not paying the least bit of attention through any of this. “Okay, I’m thinking we should go with a different angle here—surprises add to your funky flow, right? How about Funky Fresh and Future Free? No, no, that sounds like a band name… hey Sapphire, what’s so funny?”

Sapphire has her hand over her mouth, and her shoulders are quaking violently as she tries to keep in her giggling. She’s laughing too hard for them to hear the entirety of her response, but Ruby still catches her gasping “Funky Fresh—would that be you, or Steven? And if there were costumes…!”

“There’s a reason her nickname is Laughy Sapphy,” is all Ruby says.

“Well, if you say so,” says Steven a bit dubiously. “What do you think, Ruby? Did any of those team names sound good?”

Honestly? “What about trying… uh…”

Sapphire, either hearing Ruby faltering or coming up with more Funky Fresh jokes, just laughs harder. Once she gets going, it’s hard to stop her.

“Oh, I know!” Steven clicks his fingers. “Present Pals! Because every moment is supposed to be a gift we don’t want spoiled by spoilers, and today is kind of like Garnet’s present to us! Eh, what about that?” He waggles his eyebrows, clearly expecting a slew of cheery accolades for the cleverly layered meanings.

Sapphire stops laughing.

Ruby doesn’t know what to say.

“Oh, Steven.” Sadie puts a hand over her heart, touched. “I don’t really know what you’re talking about, and even I think that’s beautiful!”

“What?” asks Steven blankly. “What did I say?”

As lost as he is, Steven is still really good about rolling with the proverbial punches. When Ruby lets out a “Come here, squirt!” and launches forward and traps him in a playfully affectionate noogie (“That one. We’ll call it that one”) he just giggles out a “No, not a noogie! Anything but that!” and tries to squirm out of her grip.

When Steven finally disentangles himself, it seems to be without any sort of awareness of the conversation that has just transpired. Ruby knows that can’t be right, but he still waves adieu to Sadie and moves on.

“What are—” Ruby starts to say as they stroll down the sunny boardwalk, but then she catches herself and promptly shuts down that line of questioning.

“What are what, Ruby?” asks Steven with interest.

“She almost asked what we were going to do next,” says Sapphire. “But then she remembered that she’s a Present Pal.”

“Oh—hey, yeah, I don’t know! I kind of started walking thinking that we’d run into—Jamie!”

“Hey Steven!” cried the mailman with honest delight. Steven ran up and they did the oddest high five-and-sound-effects combination about “Ahh—ooh!—acting!”

That reminds Ruby of something. Why does that remind Ruby of something?

“Jamie, meet Ruby and Sapphire!” says Steven with yet another novel grand gesture (honestly, how does he keep thinking them up?).

This is driving Ruby crazy. When the hell has she ever given a damn about human thespianism?

“Hey Sapphy, why do I—no. No, no, no, no! Stop it!” This wager is going to spell the end of her sanity, isn’t it?

“I haven’t done anything,” Sapphire deadpans, though Ruby can see from the angle of her lips that she is on the verge of bursting into hysterics.

“Well, I—” Truthfully, though, Ruby can’t think of a decent comeback right now. She’s just so used to having frames upon frames of perspective and future vision to rely upon that her own narrow worldview has begun feeling increasingly restrictive, like only being able to see the world through the eye of a telescope.

Ruby loves bantering with Sapphire like this—loves interacting with her on any level, really, and this one is so underutilized that it’s almost novel; Ruby appreciates it for that—and she is honestly having a fun time today. Becoming your old, less efficient self almost exclusively in times of danger and unease had brought about a stigma about her own individuality that Ruby didn’t notice she’d internalized. Having this, the hours of memories with a person as outgoing and friendly and unconditionally accepting as Steven, is doing her just as much good as Garnet said it would. Still, Ruby knew that being apart for an entire day wouldn’t be easy, and knowing this is good for her doesn’t really stop her from already wanting to be Garnet again.

Nevertheless, they’re here for the entire day, just as they promised, and the conversation must continue. Ruby crosses her arms and adjusts her weight distribution to sixty-forty, away from Sapphire. “I blame you anyway.”

“I knew you would.”

“Okay, I know you’re just saying that to get a rise out of me.”

The corner of Sapphire’s mouth quirks up, just a little. “Is it working?”

“…cousins?” says Jamie.

“Cousins?” Steven looks thoroughly baffled. “They’re Crystal Gems!”

“But I thought you only had three Crystal… caregivers?”

“Crystal gems, Jamie. They’re here to protect humanity! And yeah, I guess it looks like it’s only Garnet, Pearl and Amethyst, but that’s just because Ruby and Sapphire are—” then Steven seems to realize precisely who he is launching into this explanation with, and abruptly segues into “—usually away on missions! Yes, they’re usually away.”

“Another fun way to phrase it,” remarks Sapphire. “Everyone has one today.”

Ruby’s stance relaxes as she chortles over her partner’s tone.

“Missions?” repeats Jamie. “Oh, the thing with all of the light that comes out of the windows at your house, right?”

“Exactly!”

For some reason, that’s the line of conversation that triggers Ruby’s memory. “Oh, I remember now!” She gives Sapphire a pointed look. “See? I knew you shouldn’t have meddled.”

Sapphire offers a wry smile. “I’ll keep my urges in check next time.”

Ruby affects a noise of vehement agreement, and that’s when they both start laughing. This wager over bragging rights is just too ridiculous to keep it up much longer.

“Steven, are you sure they’re the ultra-serious mission scouts that you say they are?” asks Jamie. “They seem like a couple of goofballs to me.”

That only makes them laugh harder, because oh, the things this poor man just doesn’t know.

Chapter Text

It’s been so long since the war that Garnet can’t tell which corrupted gems fought with the rebels anymore. The realization sinks in her gut like a heavy stone—separatists, unionists, they all look the same to her now. Corrupted. Dangerous. In need of containment. In truth, she thinks she’s stopped caring about who they used to be a long time ago, and that’s why she’s forgotten. After all, it’s not like the past identities of these gems are doing anything to save or redeem them now

All things considered, it’s really no surprise that Amethyst is the one to bring it up, standing at the edge of the burning room with Pearl and gazing up at the bubbled gems suspended above her head.

“How many more are out there?”

Pearl makes a small sound that is supposed to be disapproval, but in actuality betrays her own interest in the subject. Ever since the rebellion was won, they have been finding and collecting corrupted gems. It’s become their entire existence, up until recently.

Garnet, standing next to the lava pit, adjusts her visor and shifts her weight subtly. “Enough to keep us busy for a while.” In truth, she can only see corrupted gems as they become a problem for humans—it’s what she looks for when she scours the future. She doesn’t have any way of knowing how many are left for them to capture. They don’t even know what percentage of troops took to the corruption to begin with, or why. They don’t understand anything about it, other than the fact that it was Homeworld’s last desperate tactic, and by the end Homeworld hadn’t cared about preserving their own troops as much as crushing the rebel forces once and for all.

Amethyst doesn’t look at Garnet. Her eyes are still on the hovering spheres. There are a lot of them—one-hundred-and-sixty-one, to be precise. “Unless gem armies are smaller than I think, this doesn’t look like enough for us to be even close to done,” she says.

“Amethyst—” Pearl begins, chiding.

“You’re right,” says Garnet, glancing at the one-hundred-and-sixty-one spheres herself. “It’s not.”

Amethyst has been with them for so long that sometimes it’s easy to assume she was also there with them during the war. She wasn’t, though, and her experiences come into sharp contrast with their own when she says, “They’re all so messed up that we can’t tell the difference between who fought for our side or not anymore. Do you think they’ll remember, if we ever fix them?”

It’s a rare day when Amethyst sheds her devil-may-care demeanor enough to talk like this. Garnet has noticed that she’s more apt to ask these kinds of questions now, since her last regeneration. The threat of Homeworld coming back seems to affect her more than she is willing to admit in most moments.

“We’ve tried everything, Amethyst,” says Pearl with a sigh. “Rose tried everything. If Rose couldn’t even save these gems, I don’t think there is much hope for them. Maybe if we could break into Homeworld’s data bases we could find records of some kind of vaccination or cure for this corruption, but even then… Homeworld is so ruthless they might not have even made one.”

“Yeah, but didn’t Steven get farther than Rose ever could when he trained the centipeetle?” Amethyst gestures to the bubbled gem in question. The bag of Chaaaaps! is still floating next to it. “And that was before he had much control over his powers. What if he can do even better now?”

The brilliant thing about Amethyst is the youth of her perspective. She thinks of possibilities that Garnet and Pearl are too jaded for. The more she comes into her own and takes pride and ownership of herself, the more apparent that becomes.

With Steven, the possibilities are endless. He’s like nothing they’ve ever seen before, and likely the only gem-human hybrid that there ever will be.

“Steven’s half human,” says Pearl, gesticulating with splayed fingers. “There’s no way he can accomplish something that Rose failed to do.”

“We don’t know that,” Garnet says. “We can’t assume that being half human will make his powers weaker than they would have been otherwise. There is no precedence for that.”

“But humans are weaker. They aren’t as strong as gems, they get hurt so easily, they need to eat and sleep in order to live, their organic forms get sick and die—”

“P may have a point, G,” says Amethyst with a small grimace.

“We still don’t know that,” Garnet maintains. “Steven is very young. We see him improving daily, which means that he has yet to reach his full potential.”

Pearl begins to say something, but then stops. Finally, after two more false starts, she says, “What makes you so sure, Garnet?”

“I’m not. We simply don’t have enough evidence to conclude with certainty that Steven’s status as a gem-human hybrid makes him inherently weaker than a pure gem. We haven’t seen everything he is capable of, and we might not for a while yet.”

“But you can’t really think it’s possible for him to end up stronger than a pure gem, realistically.”

“He has surprised us before,” says Amethyst, glancing at the centipeedle’s bubble again. “And if Steven can fix all of these guys, we’d have a much bigger advantage against Peridot and Homeworld.”

Pearl rounds on her, hands on her lean hips. “Whose side are you on, anyway?”

“I’m not on anyone’s side, I’m just saying!”

“There are no sides,” Garnet says firmly. She adjusts her visor again. “We are all on the same team—we are all Crystal Gems—and we need to do our part to believe in Steven.”

This statement gives Pearl pause. “You think there’s something only he can do, don’t you?” she says, a hybrid of concern and skepticism rising in her voice. “Have you Seen something?”

“Nothing certain.” Garnet’s tone is resolute. She will not divulge any more than this.

Pearl knows her well enough to pick up on that, and she sighs. “Well, anyway. Amethyst, what has you so curious about how many corrupted gems are left to begin with?”

“I was just wondering.” Amethyst scuffs the bottom of her white boot against the ruddy stone floor.

“But why? It’s not like you to worry about something like this.”

Amethyst flashes Pearl a sharp look, prickling at what she obviously perceives as an insult (that hadn’t been Pearl’s intent, though, Garnet can tell). Nevertheless, she gestures expansively and says, “Finding and fighting and bubbling these things is, like, all we do. What happens when we run out of corrupted gems? Is that even possible?”

“Oh.” Pearl is stunned, as that thought has clearly never occurred to her. “Well, it would be realistic to assume that there is a finite amount of corrupted gems out there…” She looks to Garnet somewhat anxiously. “Is it possible for us to find them all?”

The Crystal Gems have been collecting and bubbling corrupted gems, as well as reversing their destructive phenomena, for millennia now. Until recently, that’s all they’ve done since winning the rebellion. It’s partially out of obligation—gems made this mess, and it follows that gems should be the ones cleaning it up—and also partially a way of working off the debt they owe the Earth for doing what they have to it (as if something like that could ever truly be repaid). All the same, the process has come to define them, and that’s just as well. After all, what else are three quasi-immortal gems trapped on a single planet going to do with their time?

But who are the Crystal Gems if there are no more corrupted gems to find and fight? What could they possibly do with themselves?

Would finally finishing the five-thousand-year long cleanup project mean that their debt to the Earth has been repaid?

Honestly, Garnet doesn’t know. She can’t decide how to feel about any of it, either.

“Statistically, yes,” Garnet replies.

“Statistically, anything is possible.”

“I don’t like thinking about it,” Amethyst says. “Is that wrong?”

“No,” Garnet says. “You have a right to feel the way you feel, Amethyst.”

“Well, you said we’d still be busy for a while, right Garnet?” Pearl’s voice has gotten tight, like it does whenever she is trying her darndest not to freak out over something. She keeps clasping her fingers together, searching for some kind of comfort. “We haven’t run out of corrupted gems yet, and we probably won’t any time soon. That’s good, right? We still have plenty to do!”

“In the foreseeable future, yes,” Garnet says—and it’s true, as far as that goes, but she can’t shake the unsettled feeling in the pit of her stomach. Amethyst’s musings have shaken them all, even if they won’t all explicitly say so.

“Yeah,” says Amethyst, but her voice is dull and her gaze is on the bubbled gems again. If her expression is anything to go by, then she doesn’t know how to feel. “Great.”

Chapter Text

Garnet has her suspicions, of course, but it isn’t until a six-months-pregnant Rose mentions something about her child having a foot in both worlds that she realizes they are not unfounded.

During the later stages of the rebellion, when her room of pink clouds had finally become operational, Rose would often call upon Garnet to run simulations with her. Garnet’s job had been to prophesize implications and enemy retaliation in real time. They would replay all angles and possibilities of the most promising simulations until they had determined with certainty which ones would result in the least casualties for the most gain. During that time, Garnet came to understand the way Rose acted and sounded when she strategized. Even if she never told Garnet her endgame, Garnet could always understand the gist of it. Well, she could tell when Rose was planning for long term or short term, at any rate.

That’s what Rose’s talk about her eminent child so often reminds Garnet of. It positively reeks of long term strategy—and the concept of this child inherently having a foot planted in both worlds, so glibly mentioned, easily brings to mind the idea of a bridge connecting the two.

It’s not her place to bring this up—not really—but Garnet was under the impression that Rose had very different motivations for having a child with Greg Universe, and she can’t help herself.

She takes Rose off to the side before confronting her about it, as is only polite, but Garnet can’t control the wavering of her voice as she asks, “What is this fusion actually for, Rose?”

Rose only smiles. “My room predicted you’d do this. It knows you well, Garnet.”

Garnet is not particularly interested in the gem powered partial sentience of Rose’s room at the moment. She crosses her arms in front of her chest and says, “Rose. Is this child the product of any sort of sentiment, or is it simply a pawn in your long range scheme to topple Homeworld’s empire once and for all?”

The smile fades. Rose lets out a breath and passes a hand over her rounded midsection. She looks down at it for a moment, and then back up to Garnet. “Must the two be mutually exclusive?”

“That’s up to you.”

“I love Greg. That is not a lie.”

“And this?” Garnet gestures to the hand she has on her swollen abdomen.

“And this,” Rose says, gently patting her belly. “Will be the first gem born with the freedom to choose their destiny, without ever having to know that their perspective could have been dictated to them by beings they have and will never meet. They were created in love, incubated in love, and they will be born into love. This is the closest I will ever get to truly having a human experience, and I do not view this child’s existence as anything less than my gift to them.”

“So which is the primary motivator, making Homeworld uncomfortable or this creation itself?”

Garnet can see Rose knows she isn’t trying to be malicious, per se; she’s just trying to understand. This is true, as far as that goes. Garnet is trying to understand whether or not she has been lied to by the Queen of Secrets, but she is also trying to understand if the approval she gave when Rose first announced her intentions to have a baby was too hasty. When they talked about it, Rose claimed to view this as a type of fusion, and Garnet simply cannot abide by any abuse of fusion.

After a long pause in which Rose seriously debates being frank, she finally says, “I want to do this. I would have wanted to do this even if there weren’t strategic advantages to it. The fact that there are is convenient, yes, and I am taking advantage of it because I want there to be a contingency plan if Homeworld ever returns to Earth, but Garnet, I wanted this first.”

As good as she is at changing the subject, omitting things and evading those who pester her about her secrets, Rose is actually a terrible liar. She can’t look someone in the eye and tell them a blatant untruth. Garnet knows this about her. It is, in fact, sometimes the only comfort one can have around someone who keeps so many plans and details to themselves.

Garnet doesn’t ask why Rose believes that having a living bridge between gem and human culture is so pivotal in toppling Homeworld. She doesn’t ask why Rose seems to think that Homeworld will be looking at Earth again. She can understand the symbolism of a gem being born outside of Homeworld’s influence, but she doesn’t think that the rest is something to worry about. She doesn’t ask any of these things because they don’t matter. At least, they don’t matter as much as the fact that Rose isn’t lying about her motivations.

Garnet reaches up and lowers her mirrored glasses so that Rose can see all three of her eyes. “If that is the case, then I am sorry for doubting you.”

She should have seen the hug coming, Garnet reflects as the pink gem grips her in a flurry of white skirts and bouncing pink curls. Rose is nothing if not an affectionate friend. Nevertheless, Garnet hugs back, and it’s only after her arms have settled that Rose says, “I understand why you did it. You were just trying to protect them.”

Maybe so, Garnet thinks as the hug ends and Rose smiles brightly and changes the subject to something far less serious. That isn’t what it feels like, though.

Chapter Text

 “Garnet?”

Garnet is sitting and leaning against one of the few pillars in the sky arena that are still standing. Her arms rest on her drawn up knees. It’s quiet here, the air cold and devoid of the high strung emotion and energy that rampages through the war camp. Nobody’s been to the sky arena since that fateful altercation, Garnet figures, because the rebellion was officially declared here eight months ago, and nobody wants to be reminded of how damaging just that was. Garnet doesn’t mind how empty it feels here, though. She’s in need of solace and time to recoup—there was a skirmish over control of the lunar sea spire today, and she along with fusions Ametrine and Moonstone had been at the forefront for most of it. That was their job, of course, and they did it well, but for a gem who was birthed in love instead of artificially accelerated geological processes there is some level of dissociation that needs to be done, slowly and methodically, in the aftermath of each battle.

And, apparently, Garnet has underestimated other gems’ determination to find her.

Garnet glances over, but it’s only Pearl. All of her eyes close from behind her reflective visor, and she tilts her head back against the cool, steady stone of the pillar.

“Where is Rose?” she asks without moving. “Usually you would be with her.”

“She’s… fraternizing with humans again.” Pearl lets out a breath and sinks to a kneel beside Garnet. For whatever reason, she seems to be aiming to stay. “I don’t follow her there. I don’t see what she sees.”

“Ah,” is all Garnet says.

They sit in silence for a minute or so, but Garnet is just waiting. She knows from the slight tension surrounding Pearl that there is something on her mind.

“Garnet, may I ask you something?”

“Not like you to be so polite towards me,” Garnet remarks, though a part of her is teasing. By now they’re friends, long past the days when Pearl would shoot suspicious glares at Garnet’s glasses when she didn’t think anyone was looking.

“Nonsense,” Pearl huffs. “I show you plenty of politeness and respect!”

Garnet’s shoulders bounce with a small chuckle as she remembers a time where making other gems indignant used to be something Ruby and Sapphire did for sport. “What is it, Pearl? Just ask.”

“Do you… not feel safe?”

This question gives Garnet pause. She doesn’t move or open her eyes, but her entire body is stiff now. “How do you mean?” she wonders.

“Camp is less than a mile away. There are hundreds of gems there that would willingly go into battle to protect one of their own, even in between battles like this—and you are unequivocally one of our own. Do you not realize that?”

“I realize,” says Garnet slowly, but nothing can shake the feeling of dread that is coiling in her gut.

Garnet can feel Pearl staring hard, and finally she opens her eyes and turns her head to meet the pastel gem’s gaze.

“Do you, though?” asks Pearl with a furrowed brow of concern. “Because I think, if you actually felt safe, you would both be here.”

Garnet looks away and lets out a long, slow breath. She shifts her arms until the backs of her hands are resting on her knees, looks to the glinting jewels that make her. Most gems’ first exposure to fusion being its wartime application has left a peculiar, if somewhat predictable, impact. To these rebels fusion is, first and foremost, a way for outnumbered and outgunned battalions to turn the tides. Garnet’s own prowess on the battlefield—her tireless strength combined with her elemental affinities—is simply more proof of the same. Fusions are strong and useful. They are sentient war machines, and all the more formidable for that, but they’re still just that: machines. Tools.

And the fact that stoic, business-oriented Garnet never unfuses must mean that Sapphire and Ruby feel constant danger and persecution, otherwise why else would they maintain this form?

Garnet has always chalked her relatively small handful of friends up to the fact that she’s not very talkative or sociable. In hindsight, this explains a lot of gems’ reacting to her as if she struts around to flaunt the simple threat of her own existence.

“You’re not the only one who’s wondering this, are you?” she says it, but it’s not really a question.

“Rose says you two have always been this way,” Pearl confesses. “And while I certainly haven’t known you for the last two-thousand years like she has—it’s scarcely been four-hundred-and-ninety-nine—I still figure that you have to miss being yourselves sometimes, right? And then there’s the issue of gems losing themselves to their fusions if they stay fused too long… I suppose.” She pauses and shifts her weight awkwardly, trying to find the right words. Her hands, resting over her knees, grip them now in nerves. Then she says, “I suppose the rest of us are just wondering what you think is so important that you’d risk losing yourselves for it, and if you’re this scared then how much more worried should we be?”

Fledgling fusions are closer to being tools, Garnet supposes. They are new and powerful bodies to pilot, explicitly controlled by their counterparts, and Garnet knows from her own three- and four-gem fusions what that feels like. But Garnet has been around for nearly 2,000 years now, with only a handful of interruptions, and by this point her identity is as unique and complex as Pearl’s. Ruby and Sapphire are mostly dormant these days; Garnet has been autonomous for centuries.

She knows she’s an anomaly, but that doesn’t invalidate her personhood, does it?

“Pearl,” says Garnet quietly, not looking up from her palms. “If there was something that terrifying always lurking around the next corner, don’t you think I would have said something by now? When have I ever not passed on a warning?”

“I—” Pearl stops. Garnet can hear the problem in that one syllable: she comprehends intellectually, but she doesn’t understand. And if Pearl—one of her friends—doesn’t understand, then Garnet can only imagine what the rest of Rose’s troops are feeling.

It was her mistake to introduce the combative advantages of fusion before anything else, so perhaps Garnet has even more of a reason to stay herself, to prove that there are other applications for the technique—entirely new people to be discovered through it.

“Ruby and Sapphire are both here, Pearl. They’ve always been here,” says Garnet. She curls her fingers over her palms, and takes comfort from the two unique pulses of life that thrum against them. “I’m not afraid of anything more or less than anyone else, and neither are they. This is just who we are—this is who I am.” She looks to the smaller gem. “It has nothing to do with the power—that is incidental, but admittedly useful. I wish I knew how to make you understand the love that goes into keeping me whole.”

“Love?” Pearl is either incredulous or beside herself. Right now, Garnet isn’t sure that there is a difference between the two.

She gives the young gem a flat look. “What else did you think this level of constant intimacy stems from?”

Pearl, who has experienced fusion herself at this point, flushes blue. The conversation pinches off. Perhaps Garnet has convinced her, but she doesn’t think so.

Of course, even if she did manage to win Pearl over it wouldn’t make much of a difference, because there is still the rest of the rebel army, and this point their opinions cannot be changed wholesale. Not even by Rose.

It isn’t until Pearl’s own relationship with Rose deepens and the war is nearly won that she finally understands—and even then, it still takes decades of carefully worded questions for her to fully wrap her mind around the concept that becoming half of a whole is not an issue for Sapphire and Ruby. In Garnet they are not lost, they are found, and the mutuality of their relationship with their fusion has very little to do with their combined fighting power.

Nevertheless, the acceptance is hard won, and perhaps after having it so many centuries Garnet has come to take it for granted. After all, just because her closest friends understand and welcome her doesn’t mean the rest of gemkind can or will. It’s hard to see someone as ‘made of love’ when the raw power of the new fangled concept called fusion is what helped to win the war.

So it happens that when Peridot so glibly spits out the term “filthy war machine” through Steven’s bathroom door, a part of Garnet snaps like a cable that’s been pulled altogether too taut. Her gauntlets are out before she can blink, and she finds herself concluding “Okay, let’s kick her butt” with a level of gung-ho aggression that does no favors for the argument that she is so much more than a weapon.

She’s glad that Steven stops her, in the end. While Peridot is annoying as all get out, and Garnet doesn’t like her, that doesn’t mean Garnet should imitate the same brutal system she fought against five thousand years ago to prove her point. That would be flying in the face of everything she claims to believe in—everything she has become.

Garnet is more than just a useful tool that wins wars. She is her own person. A lot has been happening this last year—more than usually happens in five hundred—and perhaps she’s internalized more of Homeworld’s harmful dogma than she should, but as soon as she loses sight of who she is everything she’s worked so hard to prove becomes utterly moot. She can’t let that happen. She and the two gems she carries with her are worth so much more than that.

Being an anomaly doesn’t invalidate your personhood.

With the unbidden interjection comes a somewhat dusty memory of how Homeworld invalidates personhood regardless of whether or not you’re a fusion. It’s just what Homeworld does.

You’ve got something extra to share. You just have to show them.

That’s right. Garnet knows that, has for millennia, and Peridot doesn’t seem to—but how could she? She hasn’t been out from under Homeworld’s thumb for even a year, much less Garnet’s seven-thousand.

The old stigma of war machine caught Garnet off guard, it’s true, but she’s ready for it now. Peridot can’t shake her. Homeworld can’t shake her. And if she ever falters—well, she’s already been stopped from doing something she would regret once. Garnet supposes that that’s just was families are for.

Chapter Text

Steven is the exception.

The word defines everything about him, it seems. Everyone makes exceptions for Steven. Rose gives up everything to be him. Amethyst shows him where she was made. Pearl learns that humans aren't so bad after all. Garnet shares her future vision with him.

Lapis Lazuli traps herself on a planet she detests, with a gem she detests. Voluntarily.

Peridot tells him what she knows about The Cluster.

Being the exception is not something Steven actively aspires to do; this is not a technique he practices. He simply just has to be. Steven is the exception because of everything he is (thoughtful, charming, half-magic on his mother's side) and everything he isn't (dangerous, mean, hard to be around). It's easy to trust him, or to see him as less of a threat than he really is.

Did the Crystal gems leave Steven alone with Peridot so that he could inadvertently soften her into giving them the information they need? Well, the thought certainly crossed Garnet's mind as they were warping out. She doesn't bank on it, but she can admit that it would certainly be nicer than trying to get at the information in the roundabout way the Crystal Gems usually have to do things.

Besides, she trusts Steven. He is intuitive and compassionate, and he knows as much as they do about the gravity of the situation. He will make the right decision.

Somehow, though, she just doesn't expect to See a potential future in which Steven and Peridot are attacked and ultimately hurt by rogue fusion experiments. Steven is a smart kid, but what in the world was he thinking? If she and Pearl and Amethyst hadn't gotten there when they did…

He's become so much bolder these days. When he first came to live with them, Steven never would have argued with Pearl about the warp stream, or outright defied the Crystal Gems by waltzing into the burning room and releasing Peridot from the bubble Garnet put her in. And now he's making executive decisions about field trips to the Kindergarten with a gem that literally kidnapped and held him hostage just the other day—a gem that, up until recently, would have killed him without a second thought.

Everyone makes exceptions for Steven, and Garnet knows she should trust his intuition—it hasn't failed him yet, and considering all they've been through this last year that's really saying something. He's growing older and more mature all the time, it's true, but Garnet still can't quite unsee the child with the missing tooth and the band-aid on his pudgy little cheek, singing to the Crystal Gems for the first time from the back of his father's van.

She knows all of this, but Steven doesn't seem to know how dangerous his increasingly long leaps of faith are becoming. He doesn't look, doesn't weigh his options, he just does it, and he doesn't seem to have much regard for how all of this will affect him in the end. Sometimes, protecting those who are important to you involves protecting them from themselves. When Garnet looks at Steven, she can know intellectually that he's so much stronger now than before and still be unable to quell the urge to defend and shelter him. It all happens in the same unnecessary breath.

Garnet doesn't lose. She doesn't lose games, or wars, or family members. Not anymore. Not again. She swore she would protect this child, but Steven is making it very hard to protect him when he does things like take Peridot to her base at the Kindergarten. That level of insubordination is—

No.

This isn't the rebellion. Steven isn't a subordinate, he is her son. He is a Crystal Gem. Garnet has no doubts that he understands how serious their situation is. She knows that he is trying to help—and also, that they wouldn't have ever figured out the true nature of the Cluster on their own. That Steven was able to befriend Peridot and access this information so quickly might actually be what saves them all. Giving him the space to do that was why they left him alone with Peridot to begin with, so why is she so conflicted about this? She gave him a task, however inadvertently, and he accomplished it—it was unorthodox, but it worked. That should all that matters.

Except it isn't, because what if Garnet and Amethyst and Pearl hadn't gotten there in time to poof the fusion experiments attacking him? What if Peridot had turned on him as soon as she had access to the control room in the Kindergarten? What if…

Garnet is proud of everything Steven is and everything he will become. She has faith in his intuition. She knows he's strong and capable. He is a Crystal Gem. But he's still her little boy, and it's scary when he acts like he doesn't realize anyone would grieve if something were to happen to him. Is wanting him to make choices that keep him safe so bad?


 

A/N: During the next couple of days I'm going to be going back and putting links in to individual chapters that have fanart dedicated to them specifically, but until that point please check out this master link of fanart that has been done for United I Stand as well as my Containment Unit 6 storyline. All of these artists are ridiculously talented, and they all deserve some love!!! 

Chapter Text

Three of them—well, two right now, since Opal is here.

Two of them, with their five-thousand year old knowledge and their outdated technology, facing off against… whatever is in that giant hand-shaped spaceship.

Two gems against what may very well be a battalion. Does Homeworld have the gems to spare on issues like this now? Earth wasn’t the only Kindergarten in the galaxy, back when the war started, so it’s very possible.

Two gems against the unknown, against what very well might be the impossible.

Outlook? Not good, last time Garnet checked. She can’t spare the precious seconds it would take to look again, can’t leave Opal alone that long—but it’s just as well, because she doubts anything will have changed.

Loathe as Garnet is to admit it, the most probable outcome is that they will lose. Badly. They can’t not try, though. This is what they’re here for. This is precisely why the Crystal Gems are still active.

So here they are. Two fusions bracing themselves on a chilly beach for whatever Homeworld has decided to throw at them. The light emanating from Peridot’s ship has painted everything a shade of luminescent green, dismissing small details and brushing over the rest with broad strokes.

The light canons didn’t work.

Opal’s strongest arrows aren’t working either.

Neither attack had a high probability of success, but they’ve literally thrown their very best at this thing, and they haven’t so much as scratched it. It’s frustrating. For the first time in a long, long while, Garnet feels very small. Helpless. What else is there left to give, when you’ve already given your all?

Is this a lost cause?

Perhaps, but there’s no way they are going down without a fight. If the humans on Earth don’t stand a chance against three Crystal Gems, then the callous might of Homeworld will surely destroy them within the next decade.

They didn’t dedicate everything to this planet just to step aside and let the likes of Peridot take over. Not even if they don’t understand her. Not even if they’re terrified of everything she is and represents.

And oh, they’re all terrified.

Realistically, Homeworld will dispose of them as soon as they’re defeated, anyway. If they’re going to fall, the least they can do is fall fighting for what they believe in. If nothing else, they need to defend the sanctity of their own existence—because Homeworld will tell them they were never meant to survive, or become anything useful, or exist at all, and if these last five millennia have taught them anything, it’s that Homeworld is wrong, and it always has been.

These are hopeless circumstances. Perhaps Peridot hasn’t brought enough reinforcements to outnumber them, but they are undoubtedly outgunned. Garnet knows it. She can see on Opal’s face that she knows it, too. Still, as the ship sails closer and closer, glowing with the friction of its own descent, its enormous index infer pointed at them like an accusation or some kind of death sentence, neither of them move.

In that moment, Garnet says what they’re all thinking, “At least Steven is safe.”

Even if they fall today, they will fall knowing they have accomplished that much. Homeworld can do what it wants with Garnet and Opal—as long as Steven remains tucked out of sight, undiscovered and unbroken, then the Crystal Gems haven’t really lost. Steven is their best kept secret, their only real contribution to this world. If Homeworld never finds him, then Garnet and Opal will have done right by him.

Garnet’s lips twitch. That’s kind of like a victory, isn’t it?

Chapter Text

It's not as if they don't understand what Peridot is saying. (Well, Amethyst doesn't have any personal experience, but at this point she knows enough to get the gist of it.) Homeworld's indoctrination is thorough, to say the least. Challenging it is hard. It's not difficult to spot Peridot's cognitive dissonance hard at work as she and Pearl compete. Proving that she is better at building and maneuvering her giant robot is the same as justifying the worldview she's always known. It's clear to see that losing, in Peridot's mind, will the same as finding out that she herself is defective, because of course a pearl could never be competitive—or, at least, she couldn't ever be good at it. The fault, in the end, will have to be Peridot's; anything less will be incompatible with everything she's always known to be true, no matter what.

The very fact that Pearl is so hard to best never really dawns on Peridot—just luck, Garnet can see her telling herself. Lucky shot, lucky move, the luck can't hold forever.

Let Garnet tell you, luck has absolutely nothing to do with Pearl's performance. It never does.

Garnet can see that, for Pearl, this competition is for her own dignity. She's singlehandedly reinvented what it means to be a pearl, but that's not enough—if she can't win this, then what was all of that trying and reinventing for anyway?

This is also about proving to Peridot—who is as good of a stand-in for Homeworld as she can find—that pearls, as a caste, can be so much more. Look at this, look at what I can do, see how capable and strong I am when I'm on my own—you were wrong about me; you were wrong about all of us. This is deliberate and political and deeply, deeply personal.

By the time Garnet and Amethyst approach the barn, everything the two gems are fighting for has already been set. Putting a stop to it now would be easy, but entirely inappropriate. Peridot's cognitive dissonance was bound to rear its ugly head sooner or later—and Garnet doesn't need future vision to understand this won't be the last time—but since this is all going on under Steven's supervision, things shouldn't escalate too dramatically.

Still, Garnet and Amethyst keep close, just in case. The robolympics is so entertaining that it's not really a chore. Garnet can't remember the last time she saw Pearl so genuinely fired up about something; it's nice to see she's still capable of it.

The day-long competition that still ends in a tie isn't enough to change Peridot's mind; that much is obvious. Pearl is bound to get fed up with the slander she hasn't heard in millennia at some point (who wouldn't?). They all need to work together, but it's not going to be possible to work with Peridot until she learns to give a little. This isn't Homeworld, and the sooner she understands the implications of that the better off they will all be.

Garnet has to admit, watching Pearl scream out her defiance—scream her own name like a well-deserved war cry—while punching Peridot in the face was a shock. Pearl is a lot of things, but a scrapper who deals out sucker punches is not one of them. She's usually so much more elegant than that.

She will never admit to it for diplomatic reasons, but a part of her was also cheering with Amethyst in triumph.

Of course, that punch is what breaks open the floodgates on the tension and racism that's been building up all day. Things only get worse from there, and it is decidedly not satisfying to watch Peridot's rage unfold. Garnet knows that this is Pearl's fight, and that interfering will instantly disprove Pearl's insistence that she is her own gem, belonging to nobody, fighting for herself; but it's hard to watch her and her robot slammed mercilessly into the grass. Age old instincts stir in her to jump in and stop the bullying, to put Peridot in her place, but that would only validate Peridot's worldview. She doesn't move, and doesn't speak. She just flinches every time Pearl is smashed into the grass.

"Pearl!" they all shout when she lays, dazed and groaning, in the miniature crater Peridot has created with her.

Peridot cackles as she jumps from her mecha. "Victory is mine! Now I'm the one in charge—praise me! Praise me!" She stretches her arms and grins at the sunset-painted sky expectantly.

This is Pearl's fight, and she's lost. That doesn't change what Garnet thinks of her, though—just the fact that she worked so hard is enough. The compassion and pride that Amethyst and Steven lavish on her shows they feel the same.

Amethyst is so excited that she can't seem to figure out how to react. First she screams and crushes Pearl in an enthusiastic embrace. "Yeah, P!" Then she draws back, and her decidedly less-gentle expressions of affection reveal themselves. "Oh, that was awesome—you were hardcore!" And she punches Pearl in the arm.

"Oh," says Pearl, rubbing at her bicep. She glances to Garnet, uncertain of whether she should be proud of herself.

She's fought so hard for her own dignity all day that this validation should already exists within herself; she shouldn't need Garnet to give it to her. But she's just had the snot beaten out of her, and Garnet can see she already knows how unprofessional this whole thing was, so Garnet lets it go.

Smiling, she places an affectionate hand on Pearl's head. "Oh, yeah."

The tiny smile on Pearl's face makes neglecting to point out that Garnet's opinion shouldn't matter kind of worth it. She deserves to feel proud of herself, however she gets there.

Of course, none of this acceptance and approval in the face of failure sits right with Peridot, who is still very firmly under the thumb of Homeoworld's philosophies. Her indignation and confusion-inspired aggravation are understandable. Learning curves are never easy, and things here are backwards and strange. Adjusting to any new culture is hard, and it's especially difficult when that culture is pointedly at odds with your own.

"But I won!" Peridot is practically tearing out her hair in frustration. "What about the rules?"

Garnet turns. There are a lot of things that she could say to that—grand sweeping gestures about Rose's manifesto from the rebellion, long lectures about the driving force behind the Crystal Gems as a movement, rants details the holes in Homeworld's logic and its stagnation as a culture. Oh, she could say all of that and more, but it can all be summed up in a shrug and one simple, easy statement, "Welcome to Earth."

Peridot doesn't get it at first, but then she remembers her bruised cheek, and Garnet watches the first rays of understanding break through the haze of Homeworld's brainwashing. By the end of the day, she's apologizing to Pearl for her racism. It's obviously not something she's used to doing to someone who's supposed to be in a lower caste, but she's trying, and all in all it's not a bad attempt.

Peridot's cognitive dissonance isn't gone, but it's fracturing. For now, that's enough.

Chapter Text

"We only fuse in deadly situations," is the mantra of the Crystal Gems. "Fusion is serious and sacred magic, and it should never be abused."

Garnet supposes this is as much her fault as the misconceptions about her permanent presence during the war. She did, after all, introduce fusion as a battle tactic first. An intimate tactic, perhaps, but a tactic all the same.

She doesn't think she's ever going to stop regretting that. For a gem with the ability to see possible futures, you'd think she might have anticipated this.

Fusion is amazing. It makes you feel strong—and, when it's done right, you feel good and secure and well cared for, too. Small wonder there's a draw to experience it more often—but that's inadvertently become something of a taboo over the centuries. You can't crave the closeness of fusion without an excuse; you need something to fight. Apparently.

It's not as if Garnet doesn't understand. She is familiar with the fear of yielding the entirety of yourself to whomever you become with someone else. She experiences a very similar version of it just before she unfuses, even if she knows she always lives on in Ruby and Sapphire when they're individuals.

But Rose Quartz is the leader of the Crystal Gems. In the end, it's her call which fusion dogmas they should follow. She seems to have chosen the 'only for deadly situations' route. What Garnet feels about it doesn't matter, really, because she's chosen to follow Rose Quartz to the end. It would do no good to cause a philosophical rift in their friend group; they still have work to do rounding up corrupted gems, and that takes precedence over everything else.

Of course, Rose Quartz has been known to make exceptions to her own rules from time to time. Becoming Rainbow Quartz to impress and arouse Greg Universe, for example.

Pearl initiated the fusion to make the human male writhe in discomfort and feelings of inadequacy, that much is obvious (though perhaps not to Rose. She's never seen Pearl objectively, Garnet doesn't think). Nevertheless, a creature with Greg's enthusiasm for life and new experiences does not tend to default to envy. That was a severe miscalculation on Pearl's part.

"Hey Garnet," says Amethyst hours later, as they approach a Greg who is trying valiantly to imitate Pearl's dancing style by the rear bumper of his colorful van. They're still a ways off, so he can't hear them. "Do you think we're only supposed to fuse in deadly situations?"

Garnet glances at the young gem and gestures with both hands. "Obviously not."

"So you think what Pearl did during band practice was cool?"

"No."

"But you just said—"

"Using fusion as a means to rub your intimacy with another gem into someone's face is not something I condone. Fusion has more meaning than that; its worth is so much greater than petty acts of jealousy."

"Yeah, okay, you're the authority on fusion and all that—but has anyone said that to Pearl?"

Pearl's always been like this, always so easy to bristle at those who dare to get close to her Rose. Garnet vividly recalls their first few years of acquaintanceship. Pearl is overprotective and possessive, and the fact that Rose obviously delighted in giving Greg the show has only made it worse.

However, just because Garnet is familiar with Pearl's quirks does not, in fact, mean she can excuse the slender gem's choices.

"She knows," is all Garnet can say to Amethyst without going into the entire long backstory.

"Yeah, okay, if you say so," Amethyst is audibly doubtful (not that Garnet can blame her). "Just seems like the kind of disrespect you'd get angry about—actually, do you ever get angry?"

"Not usually," Garnet replies. "But I am capable of it, just like you."

"And you're not miffed about this. At all."

Garnet gives the youngest Crystal Gem a peculiar look. "Are you asking so you can see what happens if we get into a physical altercation?"

"It would be so cool!"

At least she's honest about it.

"Well, that's not going to happen," Garnet says, making a point of keeping her voice level. "Because I'm not angry."

Amethyst groans at how boring that sounds, but at this point they are within earshot of Greg Universe. At the moment, he is sprawled out on a large pink blanket and panting ("Geez! How'd she get her legs to do that?"). This new stimuli is readily accepted by Amethyst, and the purple gem takes this moment to peer over his prone body and ask bluntly, "Hey, are you dead?"

No, Garnet thinks as Greg sits up and replies. She's not angry with Pearl for acting on her own warped instincts. They've known each other too long for such a shallow emotion to be appropriate. She supposes, if she's anything, it's just disappointed.

Chapter Text

It isn’t until night has well and truly fallen, until Steven’s had his dinner and huddled down with his pillow and caterpillar sleeping bag on the couch in the barn’s loft, that he speaks up. “Garnet?” His voice is small, but certain.

Garnet doesn’t respond right away. She’s been scouring the myriad of futures for a good way to build and conduct this drill plan ever since Peridot told them about the cluster, but she always makes sure she hears his voice. Still, her mind is reeling a bit from being yanked from the future so quickly, and she has to take a moment to reestablish her equilibrium before replying, “Yes, Steven?”

Steven shifts, kneeling upright in his sleeping bag and facing her straight on. Garnet is standing at the top of the ladder leading into the loft, her arms crossed in front of her chest and her shoulders angled so she can look at Steven as well as the work Peridot, Pearl and Amethyst are doing on the drill on the hard-packed soil in front of the barn. Gems don’t need to sleep, so they will be working through the night. Even if they did need sleep, they would be working in shifts anyway; the Cluster is too big a threat for them to stand idly by even for a few hours.

“What Peridot said to you earlier today, about unfusing. Did that bother you?”

Garnet lets out a long, slow breath through her nose. Her arms unlock and drift to her sides. Of course Steven would ask about this with such concern in his voice—he’s Steven.

The gems will be fine without supervision for a couple of minutes. Garnet’s just here to haul equipment and crack her knuckles menacingly whenever it looks like Peridot is becoming insubordinate, anyway—she doesn’t have any proficiency in tech construction or operation. Not like Pearl does, at any rate.

When Garnet sits on the couch, the old springs creak under her weight. It’s all the invitation that Steven needs to shimmy out of his sleeping back and plop himself in her lap. There is no trepidation in his young eyes; to him, she isn’t a war machine or a shameless display. She’s just Garnet.

Times like these Garnet has to wonder why she was ever so afraid to tell him more about herself. Steven is his mother’s son—compassion and acceptance might as well be his middle names.

It doesn’t seem to bother Steven that she mulls her answer over first. Rather, he sits comfortably across her thighs, expression open and waiting as he watches her.

“It surprised me,” Garnet says at length. It really shouldn’t have, all things considered, but in the thousands of years the Crystal Gems have been alone on Earth she seems to have forgotten to anticipate the way that Homeworld thinks.

“I don’t think Peridot understands fusion,” he says. “I mean, I can tell she knows how it works, in theory, but I don’t think she’s ever done it before.”

“You’re probably right.”

Garnet doesn’t see the hug coming, but it’s all the sweeter for that. Steven has thrown his arms around her neck and pressed his nose into her cheek. She smiles softly as she holds him around his little torso. He feels so much sturdier these days. More gem, less human.

Steven doesn’t say anything. With the way he squeezes her—he’s a lot stronger than he was a year ago—he doesn’t have to.

Peridot must have said something while they were at the Kindergarten, because this sort of response feels like too much for the one remark she made in Garnet’s presence today. Come to think of it, Amethyst was acting off before the drill malfunctioned, too. She was back to her usual self after Peridot pulled her off to the side around sunset, but whatever Peridot said initially must have really been hurtful.

It’s really not hard to imagine what she was running her mouth about. Garnet wishes that Steven never heard it, but there’s no changing that now. As much as she hates to admit it, they can’t protect him from everything.

“I think you’re great, just the way you are,” Steven mumbles. The words aren’t muffled because he doesn’t want her to hear them, but rather because he is hasn’t let her go even a little bit, and so he is speaking into her skin.

Garnet has swum through lakes of lava, but nothing has made her feel quite so warm as the amount of love and acceptance that’s currently radiating from the child in her arms. She lets out a small chuckle as she strokes Ruby’s gem down his spine in a slow, rhythmic pattern. “Thank you, Steven,” she says.

Steven just nuzzles into her neck and hugs her a little tighter.

They don’t talk any more after that. Instead, Garnet holds him and rubs his back until his body slumps with relaxation and he falls asleep with his face smeared over her shoulder. It’s a quiet moment, one that doesn’t require her full attention, but she doesn’t use this opportunity to look into the future. Instead she stays here in the present, actively aware and fully engaged as Steven settles into a REM cycle. Only when she knows he’s sleeping too deeply to feel it does she zip him into his sleeping bag and climb down from the loft to get back to work.

Chapter Text

Greg Universe moves the needle over the vinyl record, and music projects out over the cool sand, weaves between the crashing of the waves on the shore. He takes Rose’s hands, and steps on an otherwise inconspicuous button. The rigid, sand-speckled floorboards the two are standing upon immediately wakes, streaks of pink and white illuminating them like tangible holograms.

Rose knows Amethyst and Pearl and Garnet are behind one of the hands that has long since fallen from the Crystal Temple. Of course, Amethyst isn’t even bothering to keep herself out of sight.

It’s just as well, though, because Garnet knows this doesn’t bother Rose. It never does. Over the last several thousand years at least one of them has always been with her. Gems are an extraterrestrial species, a spacefaring race. It doesn’t feel natural not to orbit something. The dormant Pink Diamond, the revered Rose Quartz—she is as good a star as any. Better, in some ways, than any entity they’ve orbited around thusfar. The only thing worth making the center of your circuit, if you asked Pearl.

Perhaps Greg would say otherwise—had said otherwise, actually—but to the three of them, this instance and this human are no different than any of the others that have come before.

Garnet has to admit, Rose is smiling and laughing and genuinely enjoying herself. Of course, she always enjoys her time with humans; she longs to be a part of their stories. A part of her longs to be like them, though Garnet knows she will likely never confess as much directly.

Rose is impressed by Greg Universe’s routine—particularly with the flair of the kiss; standing atop that speaker to dip her had clearly been a good choice—but only about as impressed as a gem can be with any human. He’s trying, really trying, but he’s still human.

Universe is despondent, even in the face of Rose’s starry eyed approval of the dance and the kiss. “We… we didn’t fuse.”

There is a pause, and then an incredulous “What?” cracks out over the beach.

Laughing, Rose extracts herself from his arms. “You can’t fuse. You’re a human!”

“I know! That’s the problem,” he says morosely. “I’m just a human.”

“That’s not a problem. I love humans—you’re all so funny!”

Garnet can feel the human’s grimace from here. “Look,” he says, tone becoming rather strained. “These last few months have been great—”

“Oh, yes,” Rose smirks.

He speaks a little more insistently, “But I’m getting a little worried about the future—”

“Oh! Just ask Garnet.”

“I’m starting to wonder if you… respect me?”

“Oh!” She laughs, a rich and feminine giggle. The kind of laugh that never fails to charm her human consorts into forgetting what they had been speaking about, though Garnet thinks she can detect a hint of genuine amusement as well. “Oh, you’re hilarious, Mr. Universe!”

“Rose, please!”

She laughs on. It will work eventually.

“Can you just—talk to me for one second—!”

She keeps laughing.

“Like a real person!”

Rose Quartz goes silent. She goes silent, and her façade of the perfect romantic human partner cracks. The music has stopped playing, the record spinning and scratching above even the sound of the waves. “I’m… not a real person,” she says. For the first time, she is beginning to look uncomfortable. Her equilibrium is destabilized; for once, she does not seem to know what to do. Her control over the human and this situation is slipping.

A human has never called her out before. Garnet scarcely calls her out. What sort of human is this Greg Universe, really?

From behind the stone, Pearl twitches, ready to leap to Rose’s defense. Garnet touches her arm.

“No. Let’s see how she handles this.”

“I thought—haven’t we…?” Rose falters, hard. Her voice becomes small. “Is this not how it works?”

Garnet’s known of Rose’s interest in ‘how it works’, but only from a recreational standpoint. How she sounds now defies that presumption utterly. She isn’t merely curious because humans are amusing and silly creatures with bizarre customs like mating, she wants to know.

“Oh,” Universe says. Garnet can hear that something fragile within him is beginning to shatter like so many gems on the battlefield. This conversation is rapidly evolving into something charged and serious. “Oh, this is so weird, you really are an alien!” He puts a hand to his forehead, tangles fingers in his mane of hair, begins laughing.

“Why are you laughing?” asks Rose.

The laughter fractures, becomes broken. Moisture leaks down his cheeks from his eyes.

“Why are you crying?”

Greg Universe looks at Rose directly. “How are we going to make this work?”

That’s a new one.

“Fusion?” asks Rose, skepticism warring with the incredulity in her demeanor.

“No, us!” He sniffles. “We’re really, really different.”

And Rose Quartz, revolutionary tactician, winner of wars with impossible odds—she looks lost. “What do we do now?”

“Let’s just—talk,” Universe says, and he holds out his arms.

Garnet supposes she could have checked to see what Rose would do. She supposes she could have shown up to the makeshift dancefloor tonight already knowing how the night would end. She did not check, though, and so she is just as interested as Pearl and Amethyst to see Rose take the wordless offer and step back into the human—her human’s—arms.

Rose Quartz has always wanted to be a part of the human’s legends. She has always wanted to understand what the humans refer to as romance, and play a part in one of their stories about it. Moments like this, holding someone and speaking honestly about a Homeworld they would never see, about your own existence as something other than human, are never chronicled, if they ever existed at all. This moment is entirely novel.

And Garnet wonders, is that what Rose has been looking for this whole time?