Chapter 1: Prologue: Closer
Garnet herself has been around for seven-thousand years, give or take a century. Her components have been around for much longer; both of them are well over ten-thousand now. They’re old, even by gem standards.
The first time Garnet happened… was an accident, sort of. At any rate, it happened before Sapphire or Ruby ever even heard of an Earth to call home.
Containment Unit 6 is located deep within Homeworld’s planetary crust. Where, specifically, it is hard to say. Every inmate is transferred in and out poofed in a bubble. The Containment Unit is a tangle of long, pentagonal metal halls stamped with only symbols of the Diamond Authority: yellow, blue, white, pink in endlessly repeating patterns. If you do not know where you are going, it is frighteningly easy to get lost in its labyrinth of branching paths. Of course, with four cohorts of two hundred gems each, and less-than-amiable relationships between them all, it’s really no wonder there are so many ways to get to the same place.
Ruby and Sapphire, walking together in an otherwise empty, sterile hall that really doesn’t look different from any of the others, know this only too well. Some days, the many ways around Unit 6 is their only saving grace.
Ruby knows that Sapphire will tell her if their current route becomes unsafe—or she will simply whisk Ruby out of harm’s way, if a warning will come too late. There was once a time where being protected by a gem in a flouncy dress would have insulted her, but these days Ruby has come to rely on Sapphire implicitly.
She knows all of this, but she still panics when Sapphire freezes beside her (no pun intended). The blue gem halts mid-step, her fingers tangled in her skirts and her petticoats swishing softly around her ankles. Her lips are parted slightly, as if she is about to speak, but no sound comes out.
Ruby’s boxing gloves are on her hands and she’s sinking into a wary stance before she can properly think; it’s just second nature by now, to be prepared to fight whenever something doesn’t feel right.
It isn’t until Ruby has done two paranoid and thorough sweeps of the indifferent steel walls around them that she realizes Sapphire is trapped in a vision. The all-consuming ones are rare these days, but they still happen. She’s just so tense—so used to being persecuted—that something as unusual as this is not the first thing that comes to mind anymore.
Sapphire is immobile in this state; utterly defenseless. The hallway is not the best place for something like this to happen, but Ruby makes do by pacing tight, anxious circles around the blue gem with her weapons bared, just in case.
Ironically, not having Sapphire’s usual stream-of-consciousness future vision to depend on makes Ruby feel exposed. Unprepared. Open for attack. At this point Ruby knows as much about Sapphire’s ability as the gem herself. She may not have known Sapphire her entire 6,500 years of existence (nearly a thousand more than Ruby’s own, she would tease in her more immature moments), but in the three millennia they have known each other Ruby has come to hear all of the visions that matter, and then some.
Ruby doesn’t think she’s ever realized just how heavily they’ve both come to rely on Sapphire’s prescience. To be without it is… hard to function, to say the least. They could be caught unawares at any moment—
—No, Sapphire would know, she’d do something about it—
—But she’s not looking at that right now, she can’t feel what’s happening on the outside—
—Ruby is not okay with being left alone.
Ruby hops from foot to foot, flexes her fists, tries to stop thinking morbid thoughts. It’s not so easy, though. Not these days.
Ruby is so relieved when she feels Sapphire’s trance break. Sapphire has an excellent poker face, especially with those bangs of hers, but Ruby knows her well enough to tell when she is mentally present again. As the rigidness of the blue gem’s body snaps and the fluidity of existing in the here and now takes its place, Sapphire sways. Ruby’s shoulder is right there for the taller gem to steady herself on.
“Sapphire, what happened?” she asks, her words stumbling over each other in their haste to leave her mouth. “What did you See?”
Sapphire shakes her head. “I don’t understand—I can’t.”
“What don’t you understand?” Ruby is practically beside herself. Is this supposed to be a joke? “What do you mean, you can’t?”
“I can’t, Ruby. I don’t…” She lets out a small noise of frustration, and the hand on Ruby’s shoulder squeezes. “It doesn’t make sense.”
“No, no, no, no, you can’t do this to me,” Ruby says, moving so that they are standing face to face and gripping the blue gem just under her poofy sleeves. “You can’t shut me out, Sapphire. You have to tell me what is going on.”
“I don’t have the words.”
Ruby stops, blinking. Her grip on Sapphire’s shoulders loosens as the statement percolates. “…What?” she says belatedly, her brows furrowing as confusion begins to overshadow the hurt in her demeanor. “Don’t have the words—what are you talking about?”
Sapphire doesn’t speak. She looks around, and while the hallway is still deserted she nonetheless breaks into a sprint that half drags, half carries Ruby to the tiny, seven-by-seven room with the communication station in the center of it. There is no other furniture—this room is a solitary confinement cell retrofitted for Sapphire to answer probing questions about the future for the Diamond Authority without interruption. The official reason Ruby stays with her is nothing short of a sham at this point—Sapphire doesn’t actually need a handler, though the Diamonds don’t necessarily need to know that—but despite the lack of stimulating anything in this tiny windowless cubicle, and despite how infuriatingly boring that can sometimes be, Ruby wouldn’t choose to be anywhere else. As long as she’s with Sapphire, she knows she’s where she needs to be.
Of course, none of that changes the fact that Ruby doesn’t know what the hell is going on right now.
Sapphire locks the door to the little room. It can be overridden from the outside, of course, but the fact that she knows this and does it anyway speaks volumes about how shaken she is. Ruby thinks she can see her hands quivering from here.
If Sapphire is this scared, then how is Ruby supposed to feel?
When Sapphire leans against the door and sinks onto the cold metal floor, it’s all Ruby can do to keep from letting the panic consume her. Instead she just kneels in front of her partner and grabs onto her wrists helplessly. She gives Sapphire a small shake. “Sapphire, you have to talk to me.” Ruby hears the way her voice is wavering, but she can’t stop it. “I need to know what’s going on. I want to help—I have to help. Please!”
Sapphire peers up at her through her veil of aquamarine hair and her lips part in a small, horrified ‘oh’. Ruby doesn’t realize there are tears in her eyes until Sapphire is gently touching her face, thumbing them away with the white fabric of her gloves.
“I’m making it seem like a bad thing, aren’t I?” she says quietly.
“Yes!” cries Ruby, gripping her partner’s elbows now. “You’ve never done this to me before, and you’re being so cryptic that I’m starting to freak out, and—”
“It wasn’t bad, Ruby,” she says, tracing soft lines over Ruby’s temples and down her cheeks. Her gem is radiating cold, as always, but Ruby doesn’t mind. “I wish I could show it to you. It would be so much easier.”
“Not enough context?” That happens sometimes, when Sapphire Sees an event that is too far removed from her current circumstances.
“No, there was plenty of that. I just—I don’t think it’s physically possible for something like that to happen, so how could I have Seen it anyway?”
That’s when it clicks. “There literally isn’t a word for it—whatever it is—in our language,” Ruby says.
“No, but we’ll find them one day.” But the little smile that’s now on Sapphire’s lips can’t be a bad thing. It’s almost—almost dreamy. What in the cosmos could she have seen? “But it was… oh, Ruby, it was beautiful.”
Whatever incredulity her partner felt before has faded into a strange kind of contentment. Ruby still doesn’t understand how that can be, but she finds herself relaxing anyway, just because Sapphire is. She stands and helps Sapphire to her feet. They rest against each other, comfortable in the way that only three-thousand years of working together and falling in love somewhere along the way makes you feel. Little by little, despite everything, Ruby thinks she is starting to vicariously experience the wonder that Sapphire is trying to convey.
“I apologize for being so cryptic,” Sapphire murmurs as they sway together. I should have known how much that would upset you.”
Ruby doesn’t say anything at first, but she just has to ask, “Are we going to be okay?”
“Oh, it has nothing to do with that,” says Sapphire, abruptly dismissive. “They were never going to find us in the halls—at least, not today.”
Well, that’s something of a relief, Ruby supposes. She offers a somewhat tentative smile, asking for just a little more reassurance, and when Sapphire smiles back she tells herself to let this go. If Sapphire says not to worry, then Ruby trusts her. She knows that she’ll be the first to hear an explanation as soon as Sapphire can find the words, and for now that is going to have to be enough.
Acting on an impulse, Ruby suddenly picks Sapphire up by the waist. Sapphire’s squeal of surprise shatters the melancholy mood, and it’s all of the encouragement that Ruby needs. She grins as they whirl about, and the laughter that bubbles out of Sapphire in response has her thrumming with the slow, gentle warmth Ruby has come to associate with being around her and making her happy. Yes, she thinks. As long as I’m with her, I’m where I need to be.
She scarcely notices the light swelling up around them, engulfing them, but she doesn’t miss the invitation to become closer, and it’s irresistible.
The next thing she knows, Garnet is crouched in a tiny metal cubicle, staring down in awe at the gems embedded in her palms. Such graceful, slender hands. Ruby’s are square and sturdy, just like the rest of her, but these hands… they clench, and she feels a level of sheer power that doesn’t look like it belongs there.
Garnet is not truly an individual yet, but she’s not exactly two people either. She’s steady, and clear headed, and—good great cosmos, she can feel the raw strength in her limbs already, waiting patiently for an opportunity to really let loose.
Sitting down is better than crouching, but Garnet misjudges just how long her legs are and accidentally kicks at the communication center. It immediately crumples and dents.
“How did…” She stops when she hears her own voice. Who has an accent like that? Certainly neither of them.
It’s pleasant to hear, though. She could get used to it.
“Is this what you were trying to describe?” asks Ruby. She reaches up with the hand that’s not really her hand—that’s her gem in the left palm, certainly, but can it really be her?—and feels the familiar curly texture of her own hair. Except it’s bigger, way bigger than she usually keeps it. Is it even proportional to her body?
Well, it has to be, right? She’s huge now.
There’s an interest that doesn’t quite belong to Ruby as she maps out the expanse of the curly mass. It’s academic, but it’s also childlike—so this is what it’s like! It’s so bouncy and fun!
“It didn’t happen like this,” Sapphire says when she remembers the question. “Not even close to like this, actually.”
Well, no wonder she hadn’t been able to describe it. As far as she can tell, the very concept of—whatever this is—doesn’t even have a description in Gem lore, much less a word in their language.
There is a pause as they take in this new form—this new identity. Is this how the bigger gems feel all the time? If anyone else did this, would they too experience this level of full disclosure, or is it unique to them? In the 3,000 years they’ve known each other, from co-workers to friends to lovers, Sapphire and Ruby have told each other everything there is to know about themselves, but somehow it feels like there’s even more to learn. There is no mistrust, no hiding, no fear. I would have told you anyway, if you said you wanted to know; but I never would have thought to ask.
Garnet lifts an elbow and flexes it, studies herself with scientific detachment and nearly explosive joy. Her graceful hand connects to a slim, feminine arm, but she somehow already knows that she could punch through the pathetic sheet metal she’s sitting on, if she so desired. She feels a little loose, as if she needs time to settle into herself and smooth out the cracks of this unexpected joining, but otherwise she is whole in a way that neither Sapphire nor Ruby can be on their own. It’s exhilarating—she is exhilarating. Each passing second is a process of definition and refinement, molecular bonds fitting and retrofitting as they adjust to each other; she is made of joyfully requited conclusions and a constant stream of yes, of course we’ll keep going, and each yes only seems to further solidify her existence as a singularity.
What is this, anyway? They’ve phased into each other, they share the same body now—is this permanent? Is it a problem if they wouldn’t mind the latter?—there are so many questions, so many things they don’t know.
There has to be a term for this.
Well, for now, ‘Garnet’ will just have to do.
Chapter 2: Sunlight
By Sapphire's count, she hasn’t seen sunlight for 2,565 years and… approximately 300 days.
Sapphire has just finished being transferred into Homeworld’s Containment Unit 6. By her count, she hasn’t seen sunlight for 2,565 years and… approximately 300 days.
She’s an asymmetrical gem who has visions of potential futures. She doesn’t need sunlight, she just needs to ask the right questions for the Diamond Authority, and deliver the results promptly through the communication system in the center of her new room.
Looking around her new quarters through her fringe of light blue bangs, Sapphire can’t help but wonder what the point of being transferred was. All of the Containment Units—and at this point she’s been to three of the six—look the same. Deep underground, walls made of sheet metal, no windows, and a door whose lock can be overridden from the outside. The recreation area she will be permitted to use for four hours of every day will always be bustling with activity. There will probably be rumors and suspicions about why exactly the tiny blue gem in the dress is being kept in isolation instead of in the general dormitories. Is she better than anyone else? Is she worse? What does she think she is? Let’s test it out.
Inevitably, Sapphire will get into a fight. She will reveal her spiked knuckledusters, dart in on swift, slippered feet, and deliver one hell of an electric shock to her opponent while simultaneously cracking a fist across their cheekbone, or slamming it into their midsection. She’ll avoid attacking her opponent’s gem, but only barely.
That’s when the fight will either become large scale, and Sapphire will be hard pressed not to use her control over ice against her opponents, or no one will want to talk to her again. If the situation is toxic enough (a guaranteed fight every time she enters the recreational facility, for example), then Sapphire will be transferred to her fourth Containment Unit.
It’s happened before. Sapphire doesn’t need to look through probable outcomes to understand that it will most likely happen again. There’s no reason for it not to.
Once she’s left alone in her quarters, Sapphire glances at the clock on her communication station. No sunlight in 2,565 years and 301 days now. When you’re only 3,100 years old, that’s an abominably long time.
She doesn’t understand why she’s so fixated on this sunlight thing, really. It’s not like she needs it to do her job.
Sapphire grazes gloved fingers over the edge of the central monitor as she admits to herself, “It just would have been nice to be asked.”
Chapter 3: First Words
Ruby claims she doesn’t remember the first words they ever said to each other, but Sapphire does.
Ruby claims she doesn’t remember the first words they ever said to each other, but Sapphire does. How can she forget, when it was the one thing that happened differently—and subsequently changed the course of everything.
Sapphire looks up from the novel she’s reading on the far side of the recreational facility. The Ruby before her stands a couple of inches shorter than Sapphire, but what she lacks in height she clearly makes up for in strength. Everything about her is squared off and stocky, constructed to stubbornly withstand… something. Whatever her reasons for her form, she looks stubborn. Not the type you want to get into an argument with over whether or not she actually saw Sapphire dart from one end of the room to the other and settle in with one of the rec center’s shabby, dog-eared novels as if she had been here the whole time (which, admittedly, Sapphire did just do).
“Thanks,” Sapphire replies, because that’s the response that’s least likely to be misconstrued.
“I mean, you’re really fast.” The Ruby pulls up a chair and sits in it backwards, her muscular arms resting across the backrest. “How do you do it?”
Sapphire blinks from behind her bangs. What kind of question is that? Why does she care? “It’s… not something that can be taught, I don’t think,” she says slowly.
The Ruby doesn’t seem to mind this. “I haven’t seen you around before. Are you a transfer?”
“Yes.” And Sapphire waits for it.
She doesn’t get what she’s expecting. Instead, she receives a friendly, if somewhat awkward smile and a formal introduction. Ruby doesn’t offer to shake, either, and that’s when Sapphire notices the gem set in her left palm. No wonder she’s is so much smaller than the other rubies she’s met. Everyone’s corporeal form is limited by a certain radius from the center of your gem; the radius is bigger for more powerful gems, which results in larger forms for no other reason than the fact that they can manage it. The radius still applies the same, even when you’re skewed, and that naturally manifests as more compact forms.
“Sapphire,” she says, because it’s only polite. This conversation feels deeply contrived, though, and she’s wondering what sort of endgame Ruby has planned, and whether or not it was actually her idea.
Still, Sapphire can’t help but be intrigued by finding someone else who has a gem set this way. Asymmetrical gems need to stick together, and she’s never found anyone else who holds the core of their being in the palm of their own hand. There is a kinmanship here, she thinks, if only because of that.
“What are you reading?” asks Ruby, pointing to her novel with her gem free hand. She keeps the other consciously closer to her body. Protective. Sapphire can’t blame her.
“You read for fun?” She hopes her tone comes across as curious and not outright incredulous, though privately she is that. The gem before her doesn’t exactly look like the reading type.
Ruby shrugs and offers a crooked sort of grin. “I’ve been known to do stranger things.”
Like this, perhaps?
“I guess we all have our quirks.”
Something about the way she says it causes Ruby to laugh. It’s the first genuine thing she’s done this entire conversation. “Did you intend for that to have two meanings?” she asks with a slight gesture to Containment Unit 6.
Oh. No wonder it was funny.
Sapphire finds herself smiling, just a little. “If I didn’t before, I think I do now.”
Chapter 4: The Probability of Friendship
So much for not getting into any fights.
It doesn’t take long to figure out why Ruby’s around. She possesses remarkable strength for her size, and the rapport she has with most of the inmates of Containment Unit 6—banter and somewhat crude jokes, mostly—makes it so that no one goes out of their way to test Sapphire’s resolve or character. Instead, they talk to her.
Sapphire has to admit, she doesn’t quite know what to do when she’s not expecting a fight every time she goes into the recreation center.
“You don’t have to walk me back to my room, you know,” she tells Ruby, though she does make a point of keeping her tone light. “I know the way.”
Ruby shrugs, which is what she does whenever Sapphire gets too close to the truth and she doesn’t know how to handle it. “We were having a good time. Didn’t want it to end.”
Didn’t want Sapphire getting herself into trouble on the walk back to her quarters, is more like it.
If Ruby thinks anything of her doubtful silence, then she doesn’t get the chance to remark upon it before they hear a sardonic “Well, isn’t this just the cutest thing.”
Of course, Ruby isn’t friends with everyone at Containment Unit 6. The probability of being friends with everyone is painfully small.
Ruby sets her jaw and turns around, exuding an air of annoyance. “Onyx. I knew I smelled you coming.”
Sapphire looks between her allegedly incognito handler and Onyx, and concludes that she has no idea what the hell Ruby is trying to do. Every gem here is either asymmetrical or otherwise dysfunctional, it’s true, but picking a fight with one that’s twice your size really doesn’t seem like a good idea.
Onyx, who is predictably dressed in dark tones, is not asymmetrical. Her gem is set in the space just under her collarbone. Her physical construct is not the most muscular, but she’s also a far cry from being built like a pearl (for example). Her lack of asymmetry means she possesses some other instability which makes her unfit to join the general populous, and that makes her all the more dangerous.
Onyx’s dark eyes narrow at the insult. “Is that the best you can do, little Ruby?” She gestures to Sapphire. “Trying to impress your girlfriend?”
“You’re speaking, but all I hear is your inferiority complex.”
Suddenly, apropos of nothing, Sapphire has a vision. This happens sometimes. Her future vision is fickle at best, only occasionally responding when she beckons for it, and taking over all of her senses in others.
It’s short and to the point, illustrating Ruby being caught by the abdomen and slammed into the metal wall in the hallway by Onyx’s large war hammer. She retreats into her gem to prevent further damage, but it’s already cracked. Considering who and where they are, there isn’t much hope for repairs. What happens next doesn’t even bear mentioning.
Sapphire returns to her senses a bit disoriented, as usual, but she’s just in time. Onyx officially has her hammer out, and Ruby has produced a pair of boxing gloves. She’s stubborn, unafraid, about to charge.
Sapphire moves without thinking, swiping Ruby out of the hammer’s trajectory and circling around Onyx. She deposits Ruby in the bigger gem’s blind spot before summoning her own knuckledusters. All it takes is a punch to the back of the leg and a nasty jolt of electricity, and Onyx, bewildered and insulted, crumples into a temporarily nonfunctional heap.
“Come on,” she says to Ruby, who is wearing entirely enigmatic expression. “It only lasts for a couple of seconds. We need to get out of here.”
“What the hell was that?” Ruby lets out a groan and starts clutching at her temples, but she moves out of the way when Sapphire moves to grab her arm and sprint out of Onyx’s range. Her expression is clearing now, becoming less ambiguous. She’s furious, for some reason.
“You were going to get clobbered,” Sapphire replies calmly. “And I stopped that from happening. We’re wasting time, we have to get—”
Ruby’s hands fall to her sides, ball up into fists. Her eyes narrow. “No, I don’t have to do anything you say. You don’t give me orders.”
Where is all of this hatred and volatility coming from?
“I’m just trying to help!”
“Yeah, well I don’t want your help! Did you hear me ask for it? No? That’s right, you didn’t, because I don’t need it. I can take care of myself, so just go to your room and leave me alone!”
What the hell just happened?
When Sapphire replies, she makes sure she doesn’t give an inch. Neither Ruby nor anyone else is going to have any idea of what’s going on under the frosty exterior she’s projecting. “That’s all I ever wanted to do.”
Off to the side, Onyx groans and begins to stir. It’s time to get out of here.
If Ruby has a comeback, then Sapphire doesn’t stay to hear it. She’s already locking herself in her room, feeling something that is either anger or disappointment licking at her insides like fire. It won’t be tamped down, but she has to douse it somehow. She has to get a grip on herself.
Sapphire starts humming, and when that’s not enough she starts singing. She doesn’t go to full volume, but she does make it loud enough to drown out the cacophony of indignation and hurt that’s going on in her head. It’s a song that has no words, but the melody is familiar and soothing. She sings until she feels calm again, and then she drops into the chair by her communication station and looks down at the gem in her right hand.
So much for not getting into any fights.
Chapter 5: Cathartic
"Do you want to spar?"
It’s hard to say whether Ruby’s orders take precedence, or if she’s simply the type to let things go once they blow over, but the next day she finds Sapphire in the recreation center and acts as if nothing happened. She also appears to be in good health, so Sapphire can only assume that she ran from Onyx while she still could, regardless of her opinions on the advice. Sapphire doesn’t ask for details, and Ruby doesn’t contribute any. They just pretend as if nothing happened.
Sapphire doesn’t know why she doesn’t bring any of it up right then and there. Maybe it’s because she really hopes she’s made a friend, and she wants to work to preserve whatever is left of that. Maybe it’s because being alone just doesn’t feel good right now. Either way, the point remains that she’s letting this happen, and she lets it happen after most every argument that follows. She lets it happen for years without ever saying a word about what she’s known almost from the start. She allows for it to go on so long that she doesn’t even notice the anger and hurt that’s piling up and up within her anymore.
Are we really friends, or are you just following orders?
The worst part is, the more time passes the less Sapphire can tell.
“Do you want to spar?”
At first Ruby laughs, but then she seems to notice Sapphire’s demeanor. The amusement fading from her, she says, “But… why would we do that?”
“Because we’re allowed to train here, and I know I haven’t done it in a while.” The occasional confrontations with Onyx and a handful of other inmates that Ruby doesn’t get along with—the fuel for most of their arguments—don’t count.
“And because I’m shorter than you—” it took at least six other gems all saying the same thing, but now Ruby is more or less resigned to this “—I’ll be the best sparring partner?”
“You act like there’s an error in my logic.”
Ruby grins despite her uncharacteristic reservations, understanding Sapphire’s dry inflection as a joke. She never backs down from a fight in typical circumstances, but because she’s supposed to be Sapphire’s handler this is a grey area for her.
“Yeah, well, I just don’t want to hurt you.” She gestures to Sapphire’s bangs. “Look at you. Can you even see? It’s bad luck to hit a person who can’t even see.”
Sapphire raises her eyebrows from behind said bangs. Maybe that remark would have made sense in the first year or two, but it’s been a few decades now. “You know I’m not blind.”
“Yeah, but what if you get a vision in the middle of the match? Am I just supposed to take a break until you come back to the land of the living?”
There is a pause before Sapphire says quietly, “I’ve never told you about having visions.”
To be fair, her constant excuse of getting lost in her own thoughts isn’t the most convincing. Nevertheless, even if Ruby had her suspicions there is no way she can know with certainty that Sapphire has spontaneous visions. Not through observation alone, and definitely not with enough conviction to use it as an excuse to avoid sparring with her.
“What? Of course you have. I wouldn’t have known any other way.” Ruby says it, but she’s visibly flustered. A noise of either distress or anger is building up in her throat.
“Who told you about me? Who’s making you watch me like this?” demands Sapphire. Her tone is far colder and sharper than she intends, but right now she just doesn’t have it in herself to feel sorry about that. “What authority are you answering to?”
A full-fledged growl rips out of Ruby’s throat. She springs to her feet and pushes Sapphire by the shoulders to get her out of her face. “That’s none of your business!”
“None of my business?” Sapphire lets out a cruel, incredulous laugh. “It is precisely my business to know who put a tail on me. Wouldn’t you say so, if it were you?”
Ruby’s silence—and her ruddy flush—are only too telling.
Sapphire doesn’t know why it makes her so livid—Ruby isn’t the one to get mad at, it’s whoever put her here that’s to blame—but damn if she doesn’t get into her alleged handler’s face and whisper coldly, “You think I’m weak? Spar me and find out.”
She doesn’t wait for a response before whirling about in a flurry of petticoats and stalking off to the corner of the recreation center that’s open for training. She keeps her eyes forward, ignoring the fact that they’ve drawn a crowd and that’s the last thing she wanted to do. Three out of five possible scenarios feature Ruby participating, and right now Sapphire’s willing to bet on those odds.
It isn’t until she reaches the far end of the exercise mat that Sapphire looks back. She holds her hands up, but doesn’t turn them into fists or summon her weapons. Not yet.
At this point, Ruby is receiving a lot of pressure from her friends to put the little blue gem in her place already. She’s rubbing at her face and barking at them all to shut up and let her think, but Sapphire can see that they’re wearing her down. Good. Let it happen, Ruby.
She knows the instant that Ruby gives in. The set of her shoulders completely changes, and then she’s marching to the edge of the mat. “You really want to do this?” She asks the question, but her tone is well and truly provoked and she’s already got her boxing gloves out, so there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind about what will happen next.
“Oh,” Sapphire lets out a small, humorless laugh as her knuckledusters replace the pretty, elbow-length gloves on her hands. “You know I do.”
She still has to make the first move. The crowd piles up at the edge of the mat as Ruby ducks Sapphire’s first punch, and interrupts the flow of the second with a roundhouse that sends her stumbling backwards.
“Oh no,” Sapphire growls, electricity sparking around her spiked knuckles. “You don’t get to hold back!”
Ruby’s preferred combat style is clearly kickboxing. She’s constantly bouncing on the balls of her feet, never in the same place long. She keeps her guard high, and doesn’t bother protecting anything below her ribcage, because that’s space her legs need. It’s a good system for her, and she wears it well.
That being said, Sapphire has found that even the most airtight guards become patchy if you move fast enough. Ruby’s is no different. Sapphire might not be as strong, but that point becomes moot when she can sneak three strikes in for every one of her opponent’s. And by the time Ruby’s hand or foot lands, Sapphire is already long gone.
“Do, not, hold, back, on, me!” she shouts as she darts in. Each pause is punctuated by a jab. Some are at pressure points, others at vulnerable joints, and most are electric. On ‘me’ she catches Ruby on the jaw. The red gem’s curly head snaps back from the force of it, and the next thing Sapphire knows she is facing a very different opponent.
One thing becomes clear as a near-miss knocks her bangs clear out of the way, and their eyes really meet for the first time since they met a century ago: Ruby is not holding back anymore. Her strikes are no longer reactionary, and they are certainly no longer thought through. She doesn’t bounce neatly on the balls of her feet anymore, but rather moves like she plans to barrel right through Sapphire without any thought to how it might hurt either of them.
When Ruby’s roundhouse catches her this time, Sapphire flies through the air and smashes into a wall. The sheet metal groans as it bends to form a Sapphire-shaped dent. She’s disoriented, to be sure, but she jumps to her feet anyway—only to be caught by the skirt and thrown into the wall adjacent to the first. She manages to zap Ruby just before her dress is released, and in the stunned split-second of aftermath Sapphire smashes her spiked fist into the red gem’s abdomen.
She realizes that the blunt force trauma has slowed her way down when Ruby grabs her by the wrist. In the part that has inadvertently formed in her sweaty, mussed up bangs, Sapphire peers into the smoldering eyes of a berserker. Whatever friend she’s managed to make in Ruby these last few decades is long gone, and in her place is only a writhing volcano of wrath and red.
This isn’t the catharsis she was hoping for.
Sapphire whispers “What have I done?” just before she is kicked clear across the room, towards the crowd. The other inmates are still cheering them on (and decidedly not calling for any sort of disciplinary action), and they part only to allow Sapphire to skid past them in a flurry of sparks and ruffled skirts.
That last kick hurt, and it’s not easy to get to her feet again, but Sapphire does it anyway. This time, she’s prepared for what’s coming, and blocks the blow that’s aiming for her torso. “Okay, I get it!” she cries, her arm trembling under the sheer strength Ruby is still feeding into the strike. Who knew it was possible for one gem to be this strong? Sapphire has only a few seconds left to hold out, if that. “I get it now, just stop it!”
This time, she strikes out in self-defense, her movements wild and her range wide. She needs to put some distance between them, because another blow like that last one might just be enough to send her into her gem.
The only problem is, she’s hurt and tired now. Her speed has been compromised, and to be honest at this point it’s her only advantage. She can only dance around Ruby for so much longer, and when she inevitably can’t do it anymore she blocks the fist that’s headed towards her face with both arms, and slides across the mat so hard that she cracks her head into the wall next to the second Sapphire-shaped dent anyway.
Sapphire slides to the floor in a heap, staring dazed and incredulous at the stars that seem to be orbiting her now. Just before she falls unconscious and retreats into her gem, Ruby squats and takes a fat fistful of Sapphire’s hair to haul her up to eye level. When she speaks, her voice is spikes and fire, sharp and heated, but her eyes are wet with tears.
“Don’t do this to me again.”
Chapter 6: Equilibrium
She’s managed to make one friend in this underground hellhole, and what does she do?
Of course Sapphire is back in her quarters when she comes to. It’s impossible to say how long she’s been recouping, but she’s willing to bet it’s been a couple of days. The Diamond Authority is not going to be happy with her, oh no. There again, Sapphire’s not very happy with herself. She prides herself on keeping her composure, but pushing Ruby to the point of seeing red (no pun intended) for the sake of maybe creating some kind of equilibrium in her own head was anything but. What had she been thinking, really? What is she trying to prove, and to whom?
And, surprise! It didn’t work. If anything, Sapphire feels even more tangled up now. Instead of being mad at Ruby and whoever’s giving her orders, Sapphire’s just furious with herself.
She’s managed to make one friend in this underground hellhole, and what does she do? She tries to mangle the poor gem, and in the process forces her into the kind of berserker rage that could have easily destroyed one or both of them. Brilliant, just brilliant! Way to use that future vision, huh? And she likes to call herself intelligent!
“Hey, give us corundums some credit. Our hardness is pretty high up there on the Mohs scale. It takes a lot more than a few kicks and punches to shatter us.”
Sapphire freezes, but a part of her honestly isn’t surprised to hear Ruby’s voice. “How long have you been here?” she asks, turning around to face her handler.
“Ever since I cooled down three days ago,” Ruby says. She’s sitting in the chair at Sapphire’s communication console, fiddling with the controls without turning them on. She scratches her cheek now. She isn’t meeting Sapphire’s eyes. “I have to hand it to you: I can’t remember the last time I lost it like that.”
“Because I put a couple decades into anger management a while back, and since then haven’t put much effort into mucking around in the past. The memories fade, once you stop looking at them so much.”
“No, that’s not what I mean.” Sapphire waits until her handler finally looks up to gesture to the fact that Ruby has obviously made herself comfortable. “Why have you been here the whole time?”
“You aren’t curious about why you haven’t already been transferred out?”
“Not as much, no.”
“Well, in case you’re never going to ask, I covered for you. Made something up about you getting lost in a vision and honestly mistaking me for an enemy, which I took personally before I realized what was actually going on and subdued you.” Ruby leans on her elbow and brings one foot up to the edge of the chair. The other she swings casually, just above the metal floor. “Of course, now I’ve been taken off of the regular work roster to watch you all day, every day, to make sure you’re subdued if a vision like that ever takes over again.”
“Orders, then,” Sapphire says, dropping to the floor and letting her skirts pillow up around her. She should have known. “I still don’t even know who you’re taking them from.”
“It’s a collaboration between the highest level Supervisors of Containment Unit 6 and one of the Diamonds. Blue, probably. If I show that I can do this job, then I’ll be allowed to join the general, symmetrical populous. The experiment is all about seeing whether or not unstable gems can be rehabilitated.” Ruby gives her a funny look, her leg pausing in its swinging. “I thought you figured that part out.”
She closes her eyes and leans her head against the wall. “I knew you were sent to be a handler, to keep me from turning another Containment Unit upside down. I didn’t know anything else.”
“Is that why you were so upset?” asks Ruby. “Because honestly, I’m still scratching my head over how this whole fight started. Usually, with us, it’s pretty easy to tell.”
“It’s not really the fact that I didn’t know about the experiment.”
“Then why were you so eager to spar?”
Sapphire doesn’t respond for a moment, and then she lets out a breath and sits up to look across the room at Ruby directly. “You already know so much about me. I can only assume that you were briefed on my history in the other Containment Units when you were put on this job.” Then, after Ruby’s somewhat apologetic hum of agreement, “After nearly a century, you’d think I would be able to tell, but I can never figure out whether we’re friends or just…”
“Well,” Ruby says after a heavy pause. Her foot falls from the chair. “You said we were friends earlier, before you realized I was here.”
“I know what I said. I just don’t know if it’s true.”
Ruby blinks. “It bothers you that much?”
“Would it be a problem if I said yes?”
Once more, Ruby takes a moment before speaking. Sapphire doesn’t think she’s ever seen the red gem so introspective. What is that supposed to mean?
“Honestly, I thought you already knew.” Ruby leaves the chair and squats down next to her. The violent counterpart to this moment flashes through Sapphire’s mind, but beyond their physical positions there is nothing else those two moments share. Ruby offers a small, crooked smile. “I’ve wanted to be your friend for years now, Sapphire. I always thought you tolerated me because it was better than being alone.”
Sapphire laughs. She laughs so hard that tears come streaming down her cheeks, laughs until Ruby braces her arms on her powerful thighs and shifts her weight uncomfortably.
“Um, what’s so funny?”
“This!” Sapphire gasps, swiping tears out from under her bangs. “This is hilarious! Don’t you see? We could have avoided this entire debacle if I had just asked where you stood. If I had talked to you about this, instead of bottling everything up, we wouldn’t be here!”
Sapphire laughs some more, but Ruby doesn’t look any more placated.
She waits until Sapphire has quieted down before finally sitting next to her. “I think this was worth it,” she says quietly.
“But you were crying.”
“Oh, you saw that?” Ruby looks down. It’s hard to say whether or not she is embarrassed. “Yeah, I was, but I still think it was worth it.”
“How? I forced you to do and become something you clearly didn’t want to be. How is that okay anyway?”
“Because there are things you can only learn about someone else when you spar with them. And,” she says when Sapphire starts to say that that isn’t a proper justification. “I don’t think we would be here, having a conversation like this, if that hadn’t happened.”
When you put it the way that Ruby does, Sapphire can almost start to agree.
“I’m still sorry. You didn’t deserve to be pushed that way. I shouldn’t have noticed that you didn’t want to spar and respected that.”
“Eh, who cares about that?” Ruby waves it off with her gem free hand. She is smiling. “It’s over now, and something good actually came of it. It was worth it.”
After a pause Sapphire gives in (for now), and asks, “Do you ever miss sunlight?”
Chapter 7: First Blush
“Oh, come on, Sapphire. If you’re going to make a joke at my expense, at least make sure it’s funny.”
“You,” Ruby says as they head to the recreation center at the end of their first full day of resumed future vision/revised guarding. “Have the most boring job I have ever seen. And I’ve done a lot of repetitive, menial hard labor in my time.”
“Funny, I was about to tell you the same thing.”
Sapphire is pretty sure her deadpan tone is what gets Ruby laughing, and not precisely her words themselves.
“Seriously, though. If that’s all you ever get to do, I can’t believe it took you this long to snap.”
Sapphire is a little uncomfortable with how casually Ruby can refer to the Sapphire-shaped dents that are still in the training area of the recreation center, but she doesn’t get the chance to express this because as soon as they’re officially in the center they hear “Ruby!”
One of Ruby’s better friends, an asymmetrical Citrine, immediately rushes over. “Where have you been? Nobody’s seen you for days!” Then Citrine notices Sapphire, and all of a sudden her expression changes. Her eyes dart between the two of them before she looks right at Ruby and says, “You didn’t. Not after a fight like that.”
“What?” squawks Ruby. She glances at Sapphire, who is completely bemused, and immediately flushes a deeper shade of red. Her hands cover her temples. “Of course not! Citrine, why would you even say that? That did not happen!”
Citrine does a double take. “Oh—wait. What?”
“I’m sorry, what are we discussing?” asks Sapphire.
For a moment Citrine just looks at her, unsure of whether or not the question was sarcastic. Before she can speak, however, Ruby interjects.
“Nothing! Citrine has no idea what she’s talking about!”
If her voice is cracking like this, then it probably isn’t nothing. Sapphire also doesn’t need future vision to know that she isn’t going to get any useful information out of Ruby right now.
“Okay,” she says slowly. “If you say so.”
Citrine seems to laugh despite herself. “Ruby, really?”
“Stop harassing me, Citrine!”
Then Citrine looks at Sapphire, of all people. “I hope you know what you’re getting into.”
“No, I really don’t.” Sapphire is utterly beside herself with confusion at this point.
“Citrine, go away!” barks Ruby.
Citrine just waves her hand as if to say ‘good luck’ and wanders casually back to her group of friends. When she reaches them, she says something, and they all laugh.
“Well, I am officially out of the loop,” Sapphire says to no one in particular. “That’s a new feeling, for me.”
At first Ruby tenses, and a small groan escapes her. Then she seems to realize what Sapphire has said and lets out a breath as she visibly forces herself to relax. “Yeah, I’ll bet it is.”
Sapphire waits until their four hours of recreation time are over and they are back in her quarters. Since Citrine can make Ruby this flustered, it stands to reason that others can as well, so it’s only polite to wait until there is no one around who can.
She sits in the chair at her communication console as Ruby sprawls out on the floor, already looking bored. “What was Citrine talking about, anyway?”
Ruby sits up fast, like she’s just been electrocuted, and then tries to collect herself. “W-what? I don’t know what you mean.”
“You clearly do.”
“Look, I’ve been here a long time, okay? These things happen!”
“What things happen, Ruby? You’re not making any sense.”
“Don’t you have a job to do? Just let it go and stop looking at me!” Ruby turns towards the wall. She sits with her knees up to her chin and her hands over her ears, the epitome of Not Listening Anymore.
Honestly, Sapphire doesn’t know what to make of this. All she can think to do is mutter, “If you didn’t want to talk about it, that’s all you had to say.”
Is she still curious? Yes. Now more than ever. But she has enough respect for her only friend to do as she’s asked and let it go.
Whatever it is, Ruby is teased about it on and off over the years. The efforts are almost always led by Citrine, just as nearly every antagonistic event is led by Onyx. Sapphire eventually comes to terms with the fact that she is never really going to understand what it’s about, and that’s okay.
As the decades begin to flick by, Sapphire becomes more comfortable with Containment Unit 6’s inhabitants. She only ever sees everyone else during her and Ruby’s four-hour break each day, but after enough time she begins to forge friendships with them that are wholly her own. Having someone other than Ruby laugh at her jokes is odd at first, but the longer she’s here the more she’s growing to like it.
“I like having friends,” she says one day, apropos of nothing, while she and Ruby are walking back to her quarters.
“They told me about it when I first accepted this job, but you really didn’t have any before you came here, did you?” asks Ruby. She sounds sad, for some reason.
“Not while I was in the other two Containment Units,” Sapphire replies. “But I think I remember having some before then? I was less than a thousand years old at the time, though, so the memories are a bit indistinct.”
“What?” She glances over, only to see that Ruby looks genuinely upset. It is never a good thing when Ruby gets too emotional. “Whoa, wait, what’s going on? Why are you so upset?”
“Because you didn’t have any friends for some two thousand years, Sapphire. That’s sad!” cries Ruby as they enter the communication room.
“Well, how long have you had friends?” she demands as the door shuts them in for the next twenty hours.
“I’ve always had friends. I’ve had more than friends, too. I don’t even know—”
“Hold on. What? More than friends?”
“Oh, come on, Sapphire. If you’re going to make a joke at my expense, at least make sure it’s funny.”
“I’m not joking. I literally do not understand what you mean by ‘more than friends’. Are they Supervisors you bantered with?”
At first Ruby really seems to think she’s perpetuating a joke that has fallen flat on its face. Admittedly, this has happened before, but in Sapphire’s defense she had thought those jokes were funny. Nevertheless, when Ruby realizes that Sapphire is decidedly not kidding around, she rubs her gem-free palm into her forehead and frowns in thought. “It’s like, uh—like Citrine!”
That… has not increased her understanding in the slightest. “What about Citrine?”
“She and I used to be more than friends.”
“Good for you?” says Sapphire dubiously.
“You’re so ignorant this isn’t even embarrassing anymore,” Ruby mutters, her hand falling from her forehead. “You haven’t noticed anything weird? At all?”
“I do think Citrine is weird—always have—but that’s just how she is.” Sapphire shrugs. “I’m weird—” She stops because the spontaneous vision demands it. She doesn’t see Ruby temporarily panicking, before finally realizing what is going on and relaxing again. Instead she sees herself, laughing and smiling, physically tangled up with a Ruby who is also laughing and smiling. There are also tears in her eyes, and the Sapphire in her vision only hesitates for a moment before she leans in and kisses them away. Ruby’s smile changes, becomes warm and bashful, as she touches Sapphire’s cheek.
“This is only going to work if you genuinely want it to,” she says in an uncharacteristically soft voice.
Vision-Sapphire’s response is dry but direct. “Do you think I’d be here if I didn’t?”
When she comes back to the present time, Sapphire covers her mouth with one gloved hand and sinks back into her chair for support. Were she standing, she probably would have dropped to her knees.
So that’s what Ruby means by ‘more than friends’.
“What the—are you blushing?” says Ruby incredulously. “What in the galaxy did you see?”
There is no way in a thousand years that Sapphire is going to divulge that particular vision. “Nothing even remotely probable,” she says as she activates the communication console to see just what the Diamond Authority will have her investigating today. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some work to do.”
“You can’t just leave it at that!” cries Ruby. “What is so embarrassing? Or horrifying? You can’t just leave me hanging like this, Sapphire!”
“Why not? You’ve done it to me,” Sapphire mutters as she selects the first message in her inbox.
At first she doesn’t think that Ruby’s heard her, but then she realizes that her words have hit harder than they should have. Ruby goes quiet and retreats to the edge of the room because she doesn’t know what to say, because she’s stung, and damn if she never brings it up again.
Chapter 8: Bizarre and Disturbing
Sapphire is used to seeing bizarre things, at this point.
Sapphire is used to seeing bizarre things, at this point. Disturbing things, too; over the centuries she’s become decidedly numb to seeing the many ways in which someone’s gem can be destroyed. Death for a gem is somewhat abstracted in most cases, due to their regenerative abilities, but at the end of the day it is nevertheless a part of the cycle of existence. The universe is constantly recycling itself, and a shattered gem just becomes another contribution to the pile.
Besides, ever since the Diamond Authority found and forcibly conscripted her to answer future oriented inquiries for them, lo those many years ago, Sapphire has seen a lot more death and destruction. The possibility of anarchy and planet-wide demise hardly fazes her anymore. All she does now is acknowledge the possibility, and then look for the way to skirt around it (there is always a way). Even her own death; she’s seen it hundreds of times, always different. She knows it will happen one day, but she’s too familiar with the concept to fear it anymore.
As such, Sapphire doesn’t expect the Diamond Authority’s tenth question of the day to be unique. It’s a fairly standard inquiry about procedures and possible policy changes. She already has four of the most likely possible outcomes typed out in reply, but she has the feeling that she is missing something important. Sapphire sits back in her communications chair and closes her eyes as she sinks into a meditative state; it’s the easiest way for her to engage her future vision.
What she gets doesn’t come in clearly, which happens pretty often. The vision presents itself as snippets of sight and flashes of emotion, jerking her to and fro between them, rarely coinciding. The vision grips her, clenching and clenching until she truly feels the agony of being ripped apart, and the raw gaping wound that’s left behind. The panic that grips her with icy claws. The urge to scream builds up in her throat.
When she slams back into the present, Sapphire yelps. She jerks so hard that she and her chair tumble to the metal ground.
Ruby, who had presumably been pacing off to the side out of boredom, startles and scrambles over. “Whoa—what happened? Are you okay?”
Sapphire smacks away the hand that offers to help her to her feet. She manages to keep her expression stoic as she places the chair upright. She’s forcing herself to breath normally, but that scream is slowly uncoiling itself in her throat. She’s not going to be able to keep this up much longer.
“Get out,” she says quietly. Her fingers are squeezing the back of the chair so hard she swears she’s denting it, and she’s not looking up. She can’t. Not right now.
Ruby is not terribly quick on the uptake. “What? Why? What’s going on? I’ve never seen you like this.”
“I’m not going to go insane or wreck anything,” Sapphire says, still keeping her eyes down. The careful control she usually has over her tone is wavering, she can hear it. “I just need you to leave this room.”
“I-I can’t do that. My orders are to—”
“I don’t care what your orders are. I have to be alone.” Even if Ruby reports this, it isn’t going to matter. As far as Sapphire knows, she is the only one with future vision; the Diamond Authority isn’t going to do anything harmful to their personal oracle because it would be self-destructive.
And if she’s wrong, and she’s killed anyway—well, it was going to happen eventually.
“Sapphire, you’re not stable right now. I can’t in good conscience—”
“I said get out!” Sapphire knocks the chair over because it feels like the only thing that’s still keeping her from utterly losing it. She’s not surprised when her knees buckle and she’s forced to crumple to the floor, clutching chunks of her own long hair because it’s distracting her from the fact she can still feel herself being wrenched apart. “Please,” she whispers. “Stand outside the door, for all I care. I’m not trying to escape. I just need to… to…” Sapphire doubles over and presses her face into her knees. She’s whole, she’s fine, there’s nothing wrong—except she’s shaking everywhere, and she is unstable and bloated like she’s about to burst at the seams.
What is wrong with her? It was just a vision.
For once, Ruby doesn’t say anything. Sapphire feels the pressure of her eyes for the longest time before finally—finally—the door closes, and she is alone.
In her head, that’s when she screams. She screams and screams and screams. She screams so hard that it almost begins to feel like she is being ripped apart after all, and it leaves her shaking harder than ever. The sensation of losing an integral part of her being still hasn’t left her, still makes her want to panic and sob and destroy something, all at the same time.
What kind of vision was that?
The feelings are real, but while she’s screaming on the inside the only sound that actually leaves Sapphire’s lips is that old, familiar melody. It’s her only way to talk sense into herself. If anyone hears her now, they won’t be able to say for certain that she feels this broken and jagged; all they are going to know is that she can sing, and that’s no real secret.
The sound is shaky and soft at first, warring with the desire to shout and shriek like a banshee, but as she settles into it her voice swells. In time that song calms her down, just like it always does.
The song fades away as Sapphire presses her forehead into her knees and hugs herself. She closes her eyes and tells herself to breathe. She’ll get back to work soon, but she just needs a minute. Just one more minute.
Chapter 9: Momentum and Inevitability
"The rest of the time, it just doesn't make sense to be bothered by something that feels so natural. You know?"
“Can I ask you something?” says Ruby as Sapphire is finishing up with typing a response to one of the Diamond Authority’s future related questions.
“What is it?”
Ruby shifts her weight, suddenly shy. “Well, it’s about your visions. I know you don’t like prying questions about them because it makes you uncomfortable, but I can’t help but wonder about this and if you don’t want to answer it, that’s okay, I just—”
“Ruby, just ask,” Sapphire says, but there is a small smile on her lips that she can’t help. Seeing Ruby flustered is… endearing? Is that the right word for it?
“Okay.” Ruby lets out a breath. “I know most of them are only a couple of days ahead, at best, but are all of them like that? I mean, have you ever gotten any about the—you know—far future?”
“It’s hard to tell,” Sapphire admits. “But yes, I think so.”
“What makes them so hard to pinpoint? Wouldn’t it be obvious?”
“Not always. For every reasonably probable outcome I see just as many, if not more, unlikely futures. They range from slightly improbable to the utterly preposterous, but they are still technically possibilities, which is why I see them. But sometimes I’ll see something that doesn’t make any sense, and it’s not because of how ridiculous it is; it’s because I’m so removed from the context of the situation that I don’t yet have the tools to understand it.” She gestures helplessly. “Often, having those visions that far in advance is about as good as having a highly improbable vision, because the pieces often don’t all fall into place until a couple of days before it actually happens anyway. If it happens at all.”
“That sounds pretty overwhelming,” says Ruby frankly. There is real sympathy in her demeanor, and Sapphire appreciates that. “Are you ever able to tell if these far-future visions are more likely to occur?”
“Some things seem to be more inevitable than others,” Sapphire says. “It’s like—there’s more momentum to them. Often, those are the things I’ll catch glimpses of. But like I said, I often can’t understand them well enough to do anything with the information, so the point is more or less moot.”
“Huh.” Ruby hums thoughtfully. “Sounds like more trouble than it’s worth.”
“Have you ever met another gem with future vision?”
Sapphire shakes her head. “As far as I know, I’m an anomaly. At least, I assume that’s why I work twenty hours a day, anyway.”
“Probably not an inaccurate assumption. I’ve never seen the Diamonds put so much effort into a defective gem before this.”
The word defective doesn’t hurt when it comes from someone else bearing the same label. As such, Sapphire doesn’t react to Ruby’s reference, except to say, “How long have you been here, anyway?”
“Well, let’s see. I’m nearly 2,300, and I’ve been here since…” Ruby frowns, visibly doing the calculations in her head.
Sapphire blinks, surprised. “You’re only in the two-thousands?”
“Are you not?”
“I’m a thousand years older than you, almost exactly.”
“What?” Ruby makes a noise that sounds a lot like indignation. “First you’re taller, and now you’re older…”
Sapphire laughs despite herself. “So young,” she tsks, keeping her tone serious. “You have so much to learn, little Ruby.”
“Okay, if that was an intentional reference to Onyx I might just have to punch you.”
“That’s right, she does call you that,” Sapphire realizes. “It wasn’t purposeful at all. Sorry?”
Ruby’s stern expression of warning gives way to a smile. “It’s fine. I was just messing with you.”
“Why don’t you two get along, anyway? Too similar?” That’s Sapphire’s theory, anyway.
Instantly, her companion’s expression sours. “You mean other than the fact that Onyx thinks she’s so special because she’s actually symmetrical, when really that makes the fact she’s stuck down here even more humiliating? Or the fact that she’s a bully?”
“Tell me what you really think, Ruby. Don’t hold back now.”
Ruby rolls her eyes. “Sass received, Sapphire. It was also unappreciated.”
At first Sapphire opens her mouth to return the banter, but then she thinks better of it. “This seems like a pretty sensitive subject. I can back off, if you want.”
Ruby shakes her head and lets out a breath. She’s sitting on the floor, and she crosses her legs and gestures with her arms. “It’s just—we used to get along, actually. We used to get along really well, and then…”
Sapphire waits, but after a pause she has to ask, “Is this the part where I let the subject go, or prod for more information, or…?”
“It’s not that.” Ruby scratches behind her ear awkwardly. “It’s just—then we broke up, and we’ve more or less been at odds ever since. At this point, it’s sort of developed into animosity for its own sake. But you have no idea what I mean by ‘break up’, so the rest of that story doesn’t really follow, does it?”
“Not really. Both of your gems look unbroken to me.”
“It’s breaking in a figurative sense. We used to be more than friends, and then we stopped, only it wasn’t like with Citrine where we could go back to just being friends afterwards, so it became adversarial instead.” She glances at Sapphire. “Am I making it worse by trying to explain it like this?”
“Actually, no,” Sapphire says. “This puts everything into perspective. Onyx resents you for having friends besides her, and then for having others who are, or have been, more than friends afterwards.”
Ruby groans and rubs at her face. “It sounds awful when you put it like that!”
“But isn’t that how things are?”
“Technically, I guess, yeah.” Ruby makes a sound of discomfort, and then one of indignation. She braces her hands on her temples. “But that all happened when I was new here! I had no idea what I was doing. Doesn’t that count for something?”
“Well, how long ago was it that you broke up?” If it’s been recent, then maybe that would explain it. Galaxy knows that Sapphire can hold onto a grudge for a couple of centuries, herself.
Ruby thinks about this for a minute or so, her hands falling from her temples to rest on her knees, which she’s drawn up to her chest. “Eighteen hundred years, give or take a couple of decades?”
So Ruby has been in Containment Unit 6 for about two millennia. That leaves only 300 years in the outside world prior to capture—or in another Containment Unit.
“Huh.” Sapphire frowns. “Seems like a long time to hold a grudge.”
The red gem lets out a breath. “Like I said, it’s become antagonistic for its own sake at this point. We could never go back to how things were. We’ve both changed a lot since then. Onyx used to be a lot nicer.”
“Well, I should hope you wouldn’t want to become more than friends with Onyx as she is now,” says Sapphire dryly.
At this point Sapphire can more or less tell why Ruby is laughing. In this case, it’s mostly because of her inflection, and the rest is out of discomfort at the thought of being more than friends with the current Onyx. To the latter Sapphire has to admit to concurring. Maybe Onyx was a lot nicer, once upon a time, but she certainly isn’t now.
“Trust me,” Ruby says. Her tone is partially joking, and also far more serious than one might think. “There is no way that’s happening again.”
Sapphire smiles, amused at her friend’s vehemence. The smile fades after a moment or two, as she asks the thing she’s been wondering for… oh, it’s been years now. “Is it normal?”
Ruby blinks, bemused. “Is what normal?”
“Being more than friends with another gem. I’ve never heard of it until I came here. Is this just something that defective gems do to pass the time in Containment Units, or does it happen up above as well? Do you know?”
Ruby doesn’t answer immediately, but when she does it feels honest. “I don’t think it is normal up above,” she admits softly, leaning her arms on her legs. “I mean, maybe it was present and I just didn’t know what signs to look for, or maybe it’s more subtle up there than down here, but I don’t remember seeing it, even in hindsight.” She gestures with open hands, uncertain, gazing at her own palms. “All I know is my own experience, which is that I don’t become more than friends simply to pass the time, and neither do the people I choose. It feels like that kind of bonding is supposed to happen, but maybe that’s just my defective nature talking. I don’t know.”
“Does it bother you? The not knowing?”
“What about the rest of the time?”
“The rest of the time…” Ruby looks at her hands a little longer before meeting Sapphire’s gaze. There is a small, helpless smile in her eyes. “The rest of the time, it just doesn’t make sense to be bothered by something that feels so natural. You know?”
Chapter 10: Laughter
So what if she’s never laughed like that before? It doesn’t mean anything. Well, it shouldn’t anyway. Right?
When Citrine asks Sapphire for a word in private, of course Sapphire thinks it’s weird. There again, she thinks most of Citrine’s antics are odd in some way or another, so she doesn’t think too much of it and obliges the request anyway.
“Okay, so I know you and Ruby have to work together, and it’s not something either of you has control over,” Citrine begins.
Is this why she’s been brought to a secluded corner of the recreation center? “Yes,” Sapphire says slowly.
“And I don’t resent you for that. You’re a nice person, Sapphire.”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, Citrine, but I feel like telling me what I already know isn’t the reason we’re standing here.”
“No offense taken.” Citrine waves it off, and then suddenly gets into Sapphire’s personal space with her hands clutched together at her chin. There is a shining look of hope in her eyes. “But you can tell me everything Ruby says about me, right?”
“Erm, I’m sorry, I think I might have missed something,” Sapphire says, taking a small step back.
Citrine lets out an exaggerated sigh. “You’re working with Ruby every day; you have to gossip at some point,” she says, clearly trying to tamp down her mild annoyance. “And Ruby has to talk about me, I just know it. All I’m asking is for you, Sapphire, to tell me what she said.” And Citrine looks to Sapphire expectantly.
This is going to be awkward. No sense in dancing around the subject, though.
“She doesn’t talk about you,” Sapphire says point-blank.
“What?” Citrine laughs, but it’s a fake sound; she’s clearly trying to cover up some other weird behavioral urge. “Of course she does. We used to be a thing, you know.”
“I know that. She still doesn’t talk about you.”
“If she was embarrassed at all, I’m used to it. You can say so.”
“I’m not trying to protect her, Citrine. She really just doesn’t mention you.”
At first Citrine looks like she wants to contest the subject some more—or maybe just cry—but then she screws up her face and sniffs. “Well, you haven’t known each other that long, anyway. She probably just doesn’t trust you enough to talk about me. That’s all. Thanks for trying anyway, Sapphire.”
Citrine leaves before Sapphire can speak, but that’s probably a good thing, all things considered. She flags down an asymmetrical tourmaline for a conversation that is decidedly more upbeat.
She’s changed her outfit recently, Sapphire notes. Instead of loose fitting pants and a form fitting blouse, she’s wearing a summer dress with a lot of ruffles and a hemline above the knee. It doesn’t quite feel like her, but it certainly doesn’t look bad. Good for her, changing things up.
More or less unbothered by the whole conversation (leave it to Citrine to be this weird), Sapphire shrugs to herself and rejoins the rest of her friend group, conveniently just as a particularly hilarious round of banter begins, and she doesn’t think about that conversation for the rest of the recreation time.
All the same, she feels it’s only fair to mention Citrine’s prodding to Ruby once they’re back in the relative privacy of what Sapphire is starting to think of as their office.
Ruby grimaces. “I thought she’d been acting strange recently, especially with that outfit change.” She rubs the back of her neck and sighs. “I should probably talk to her.”
“It sounds like you know what all this means,” Sapphire remarks. She has a hunch that she knows what this is all about, as well, but she’s also a little skeptical of her own conclusions. They’re just too obvious. There again, Occam’s razor would suggest that that is precisely why she is correct.
“Yeah. I just didn’t expect her to try and outdo you.”
Nope. Either Occam’s razor is defective, or Sapphire really doesn’t understand Citrine after all. Well, she supposes the latter is nothing to be ashamed of.
Nonetheless, she has to reply with a dumb, “Wait. What?”
Ruby gives her a funny look. “Um, yeah. Citrine’s new dress is almost exactly like yours, and when we’re in a group she does everything she can to one-up you in conversation. Have you not noticed any of that?”
“I noticed she changed her outfit; I just attributed the rest to… well,” Sapphire gestures with a shrug. “Citrine being her usual strange self, or maybe hoping to snag your attention again. I didn’t think too much of it after that.”
“Of course you didn’t,” Ruby mutters, rolling her eyes. “And, knowing Citrine, she’s taking that as a sign of condescension, like you think she’s beneath you.”
“How could I do that? I’m a defective gem that was removed from my typical caste to live out the rest of my existence in an underground prison, just like her.”
“You and I know that, but Citrine doesn’t think like that, Sapphire. She thinks we do more than work together.”
Sapphire pauses, thoughtful. Then she declares, “That’s absurd.”
“That’s why I should talk to her. Especially if she’s harassing you for gossip about me.”
After a quick moment of consideration, Sapphire finds the corners of her mouth tilting up. “You know, I think I’m starting to see a trend with all of these former—”
“Don’t finish that sentence.”
Her smile becomes a full on grin, toothy and teasing. “Oh, so you’ve noticed it too?”
“Sapphire, shut up. Seriously.” Ruby’s frown indicates that she’s not impressed, but her demeanor also doesn’t feel angry. Annoyed and a little flustered, sure, but also tolerant like she knows she deserves to be heckled, at least a little.
Sapphire can’t help the way she laughs. Ruby’s expression is priceless. This situation is funny. What’s there not to laugh at?
She stops when she notices that Ruby is no longer reluctantly playing along with her teasing. She’s staring instead, and her expression is entirely enigmatic. She doesn’t seem like she’s starting to get emotional, though, which is the really odd part.
“Too far?” guesses Sapphire with a small grimace.
Ruby’s gaze doesn’t change. It seems as if she’s trying to figure something out, but what that could be Sapphire can’t even begin to guess at. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you laugh like that,” she says with a trace of awe.
Honestly, Sapphire doesn’t know how to react. She clears her throat and tries to clear her mind in the same instance. “Well, anyway,” she says, swiveling around in her chair and opening up the first of the eight messages in her inbox. “I should probably get to work. I’m sure they’re wondering why I haven’t replied to anything by now.”
Truth is, they probably haven’t. Sapphire has taken up to several hours to answer complicated queries in the past, and the general rule is the answers will get there when they get there, and the more you pester her to hurry it up the less helpful her response will be. Ruby doesn’t know that, though, and therein lies the advantage.
So what if she’s never laughed like that before? It doesn’t mean anything. Well, it shouldn’t anyway. Right?
Chapter 11: Bullies
She probably perceives Containment Unit 6’s amiable atmosphere as one of weakness. Pity. Understandable, all things considered, but a pity.
“There haven’t been any schedule changes on the general roster recently, have there?” Sapphire asks Ruby when she spots an unfamiliar face in the recreation room. A plagioclase, by the look of those striations. She’s a big one, too, standing at least six feet tall.
No doubt about it, Sapphire has never seen her before.
“Not that I’ve heard,” Ruby replies, following her gaze while also simultaneously waving hello to their friends. “Besides, if there has, there would be a whole set of new faces here, not just the one.”
“Have either of you met the new gem yet?” asks Apatite conspiratorially as they join the group, who are sprawled out over some decidedly uncomfortable furniture along the east wall. She inclines her blue head towards the plagioclase. “Just transferred in. From Containment Unit 2, if you believe the rumors.”
“Didn’t you do time in 2, Sapphire?” says Watermelon Tourmaline. At this point, her friends have at least a rough idea of the Containment Units she’s toured through.
“Is it really as tough a place as the rumors say?”
Sapphire shrugs. “It was for me, but I always figured I was special.”
Ruby, next to her, snorts at the monumental understatement. Sapphire’s told her that recreation time in Containment Unit 2 was a lot like going to war. It’s where Sapphire perfected her fighting style. Compared to Unit 2, the violence that Unit 6 occasionally sees is nothing more than playful banter.
“Look at the way she holds herself,” Tourmaline says. “Waiting in an easily defensible corner with a stance like she’s waiting to be ambushed? I’d say it wasn’t just you who was special, Sapphire.”
Yes, but Tourmaline knows about easily defensible corners, so what does that say about her?
“It often isn’t,” Sapphire agrees amiably. “I’m just not very observant.”
“Gem in the left eye, though.” Citrine makes a sympathetic noise as she crosses her legs at the knee and adjusts her sundress’ short skirt. “So close to the centerline, yet just missing it. That’s worse than being way off, if you ask me.”
Sapphire doesn’t say so, but she is inclined to agree.
“Has anyone tried talking to her?” asks Ruby. That is an ironic question if there ever was one, seeing as Ruby never voluntarily goes out of her comfort zone to meet new people. The only reason she did with Sapphire is because those were her orders.
“Nah. Looks pretty feral to me,” Apatite says, casting a somewhat unsettled glance back at the plagioclase. “Besides, feldspars have a higher hardness than me. I wouldn’t want to risk it.”
“Oh yeah, you’re pretty soft aren’t you?”
“Tourmaline, shut up.”
Tourmaline laughs. “What? You started it.”
“Oh no,” Citrine moans with sympathy. “She’s going after Calcite.”
Either becoming bored at her post, or realizing Containment Unit 6 didn’t quite have the punishing military atmosphere of Unit 2, Plagioclase has left her corner in favor of stalking up to an asymmetrical Calcite that had the misfortune of glancing curiously over.
She grabs the smaller gem by the collar and easily hauls her up to eye level. “You got a staring problem?” she growls.
Calcite’s short legs kick, but she doesn’t struggle too hard. “No. No, of course not!” she manages. “It’s just—you’re new. I haven’t seen you around before…”
“Oh, so that makes it okay to give gems funny looks, huh?” Plagioclase shakes the smaller gem, and Sapphire can see the bruises forming from here. When gems of such drastically different hardness interact, that tends to happen. It’s less pronounced in the Containment Units, where gems are identified by their defects first, but even down here gems of similar hardness tend to stick together. On the surface, with the rest of the populace, it shapes the very structure of their culture; those of lower Mohs always cater to those above them.
For example: if her gem were symmetrical, as a corundum Sapphire would have been ranked just under the Diamonds. Go figure, right?
Calcite whimpers as Plagioclase leans in close and mutters, “I can shatter you, and no one would care. You might as well be as disposable as a pearl.”
“No, please, I just—”
“That’s enough.” Sapphire’s skirts are still billowing around her legs from the swiftness of her movement, and her spiked knuckledusters indicate that she’s already prepared to take this to the next level, though she can’t remember consciously doing any of this. She stares up at Plagioclase coldly, despite the fact the other can’t see her eyes. “Put her down.”
“Oh, ho!” Plagioclase shakes Calcite right in front of her face, causing the smaller gem to grunt and squeak in discomfort. Cracks of perfect cleavage begin to spiderweb over Calcite’s illusionary form. She isn’t going to last much longer, but maybe retreating into her gem isn’t the worst thing to do right now. “Does this bother you, runt?”
“I said,” Sapphire speaks quietly, but she raises the knuckledusters on her gem-free left hand. “Put her down. Now.”
“Ooh, lookit this! She wants to fight!” Abruptly disinterested, Plagioclase tosses the little Calcite away. Thankfully, Tourmaline is there to catch her and prevent further injury.
Plagioclase summons a sword. It’s just a straight blade, but it gleams menacing in the light of the recreation room. “Okay, runt. If it’s a fight you want, I’ll give you a fight.”
It isn’t until Sapphire darts wide and under Plagioclase’s guard, until the noise of injury and honest surprise greets her quick jab to the torso, that she finally realizes why the other gem is being so brash: she doesn’t realize what Sapphire is. Blue sapphires can potentially be mistaken for blue apatites if seen from a distance and with an uncaring eye. Plagioclase might have overheard their conversation from earlier and assumed it was Sapphire talking instead of the blue-hued Apatite, and they had more or less been in her blind spot.
Sapphire takes note of the furious growl and neatly dodges the next few swings of the sword. Her guard isn’t near as airtight as Ruby’s. For all that she’s a mid-ranking hardness, Plagioclase doesn’t seem to give a damn about much more than overwhelming her opponent with size and brute strength. With an attitude like that, how had she survived Containment Unit 2 at all?
She probably perceives Containment Unit 6’s amiable atmosphere as one of weakness. Pity. Understandable, all things considered, but a pity.
This time, Sapphire administers a shock to the back of her opponent’s leg before darting away. She’s dancing in and out of Plagioclase’s gem-induced blind spot, forcing her to keep turning, her sword arm to keep swinging.
“What the—would you just fight like a real gem?”
“I’m sorry, what was that?” she asks, pausing just long enough for Plagioclase to see her cup one gloved hand around her ear. “You’re too slow?”
Plagioclase swings wide and roars “I said fight me, you puny excuse for a mineral!”
Sapphire flits away again, making sure to giggle loud enough for everyone to hear.
Sapphire can be patient when she feels like it. She doesn’t mind zipping around two steps ahead of Plagioclase again and again, drawing the crowd in ever closer, waiting for the perfect moment. When it comes, Sapphire drops low and sweeps the larger gems legs out from under her. It shouldn’t be possible for someone her size to do it, but her hardness gives her the advantage she needs, because a feldspar will always give way to a corundum.
Plagioclase falls hard, and her sword shatters back into abstractions of light and energy. She’s panting and disoriented and groaning in pain as Sapphire uppercuts, and then stops just millimeters from her chin.
“You’re new here, so allow me to explain this to you.” When Plagioclase makes to snatch her ankle or the hem of her dress and drag her down, Sapphire kicks the hand back. She snatches Plagioclase’s jaw and squeezes hard enough that she can’t pull back, but not hard enough to bruise. “Maybe you could get away with torturing other gems where you’re from, but we don’t tolerate that here,” she hisses. “And in case you haven’t noticed, you aren’t the toughest gem around. You do something awful to them? I’ll find out, and then I’ll do it to you. Because that,” she punctuates her sentence with a clench to the softer gem’s jaw that’s just hard enough to leave a mark. A reminder. No sympathy enters her demeanor when she hears the tiny crack, or Plagioclase’s sharp intake of breath. “Is the kind of difference we’re talking about. Oh,” she says, noticing the fiery look of defiance in her opponent’s single eye. “You don’t think I’m going to find out, do you? Don’t worry, Plagioclase.” Sapphire jerks the bigger gem’s head to the side and moves her bangs just enough that Plagioclase’s can get a good, long look. For the first time, fear enters the other gem’s one working eye. Sapphire allows herself to smirk, just a little. Just enough to look like a nightmare. “I see everything.”
With that, she allows her hair to fall back into place and casually releases Plagioclase. She purposely turns her back on the other gem, just to prove how confident she is in her victory, but she keeps the knuckleduster on her left hand hidden in the folds of her skirt, just in case.
Ruby has been just out of range since Plagioclase summoned her sword, prepared to join the brawl, the entire time. She keeps to the right, away from the weapon and protectively close to the vulnerable gem on Sapphire’s right palm, as they fall wordlessly into step together. The crowd—far more interested in watching the fight than in stopping it, as usual—parts for them easily. There are a few rowdy congratulations for the defeat of this bully, as one might expect, but it’s all underlain by a thin, uneasy feeling about the side of Sapphire most of them have never seen. They’ve seen her fight Ruby, sure, but this was far too calculated to be of similar ilk.
“Well, I don’t think that one is going to be a problem anymore, that’s for sure,” says Tourmaline, trying to keep it jovial. “That was terrifying, Sapphire! Who knew you had it in you?”
“I didn’t,” Citrine says, though she looks and sounds a little like she wants to shrink away. Sapphire can hear the questions from here. Is that how she normally is? “Is that what you have to be like in Unit 2?”
Sapphire offers a small, rueful smile. She can’t help what came over her, just like she can’t change the fact that her friends have seen this side of her. “Unfortunate, isn’t it?”
“Well,” Apatite says, her arms akimbo. “It certainly makes me appreciate this dump a little better!”
“I think I’m going to head back early, before anything else dramatic happens,” says Sapphire. “See you all tomorrow?”
“Absolutely,” Tourmaline grins and offers a thumbs up. “Ruby, are you going too?”
“Yeah, I think so. If anything happens on the way, we’re going to need eye witnesses, right?”
Ruby’s casual joke and demeanor do wonders to soothe the tension in their little friend group, because if Ruby—who has to spend all day, every day with her—thinks Sapphire is still safe to be around, then she must be fine. As the doors to the recreation center clang shut behind them Sapphire can’t help thinking that her friend has saved her in a way she can’t quite articulate.
“You’ve gone soft, Sapphire,” Ruby says when they’re more than halfway back and Sapphire has finally allowed her knuckleduster to fade. Her voice is a thoughtful murmur.
Sapphire lets out an embittered laugh. “I singlehandedly bully a weaker gem into submission in front of a crowd, and I’ve gone soft?”
“All of those wounds were superficial. You just tired her out and bruised her a little. She’ll be good as new come tomorrow—well, I mean, her pride won’t be, but that needed to be bashed up some.” Ruby pauses, and then decides to say it aloud, “A corundum against a feldspar is no contest. You could have destroyed her.”
“The difference between Plagioclase and myself is nearly the same as the difference between her and Calcite. There is no logic in hypocrisy.”
Ruby doesn’t get the chance to reply, because then they hear, “Sapphire!”
She is quick to summon her weapon, entirely expecting Plagioclase to be barreling after her with revenge on the brain, but instead it’s only Calcite. She’s still bruised, which really isn’t helped by the fact that she seems to have sprinted the entire way here, but she doesn’t appear panicked.
Sapphire lets her weapons fade with a tiny frown of confusion. “Calcite. What’s going on? Is Plagioclase acting up again already?”
“No, nothing like that,” Calcite waves the subject off with surprising callousness. She’s still panting from the run, but she doesn’t wait until she’s got her breath back to keep going. “You just left before I could talk to you. You didn’t have to defend me. I—I’m used to stuff like that, you know?”
“I see,” Sapphire says, tangling her fingers up in her skirts. “Well, I meant no disrespect—”
“No, you’re misinterpreting me. I wanted to thank you!” Indeed, Calcite looks quite earnest. Or maybe that’s just her mussed up white hair. “You didn’t have to do it, but you did anyway. You don’t know how rare that is.”
“Oh.” Honestly, Sapphire doesn’t know what to say. Nobody’s ever gone out of their way to acknowledge something she’s done before, she doesn’t think.
“If there’s something I can do to help you,” Calcite begins.
“Oh, no! No, please, don’t feel obligated.”
“I don’t. I’d like to do something to help, to show you my thanks.”
“Please, I mean no disrespect when I say this,” says Sapphire gently. “But you don’t owe me anything, Calcite. Just the thanks is enough. I promise.”
Calcite isn’t convinced, and it takes a few more renditions of the same before she understands that Sapphire isn’t going to accept any kind of reward. She does, however, force Sapphire to promise to ask her for help first, should she need some in the future. Only then does she concede to smile and go on with the rest of her day.
Once they’re locked in her quarters again, the damned communications center an imposing reminder of what she will have to return to very soon, Sapphire asks Ruby quietly, without looking at her, “Why were you off to the side and at the ready? Didn’t think I could handle Plagioclase on my own?”
“No,” Ruby says. There is a degree of apology in her voice, but mostly Sapphire just hears the lack of regret. “That was in case you went too far.”
“I thought so.” Sapphire drops into the communications chair and props her cheek on one bitter, untrustworthy hand. “What was that about me going soft again?”
At first Ruby doesn’t say anything, but then Sapphire hears, “You’re a little rusty. She almost nicked you a couple of times.”
“Yeah, well I’ve fallen out of practice recently. No surprise there.”
“I seem to have found myself in the same situation,” Ruby remarks lightly. “Would you like to start sparring during recreation times? Without the thinly veiled rage this time?”
For the life of her, Sapphire cannot grasp where this change of heart is coming from. Is it an apology for thinking she would lose control with Plagioclase? Something she’s been wanting to bring up for a while? What? “You know,” she finds herself saying regardless. When she glances up, Ruby is looking right back, entirely unafraid, and Sapphire smiles wryly. “I’m not sure our fans would be able to handle it on a regular basis.”
Ruby laughs like Sapphire’s quip has well and truly caught her off guard. “I think,” she replies with a grin. “They’re just going to have to learn to deal with it.”
This chapter has fanart! Check out the fantabulous Spatial's depiction of Calcite!
Chapter 12: Elemental Bonding
Containment Unit 6 isn't a very exciting place. Well, until it is.
Containment Unit 6 isn’t a very exciting place. Things tend to follow a pretty formulaic day to day pattern.
That’s probably why word spreads so quickly when blabber-mouthed Tourmaline hears that Sapphire and Ruby are going to spar again.
“Do you think they’ll add to the dents?”
“Hey, yeah, I don’t know. Have you heard whether or not those things are ever going to be fixed, by the way?”
“I thought they were friends? Isn’t this—you know—a bad idea?”
“Who cares if it’s a bad idea! They’re good, and watching them fight is the most entertaining thing I’ve ever seen.”
Ruby mutters something under her breath about damned gossips, but Sapphire doesn’t catch it all. She doesn’t have to, to get the gist of it.
“Did you honestly expect this not to happen?” she wonders. The poorly muffled talk doesn’t bother her. In comparison to the whispers that used to follow her around in other Containment Units, this is downright flattering.
“I knew it would be something like this,” says Ruby, talking through gritted teeth. “Just didn’t think it would aggravate me this much.”
“We can call it off, if you want.”
“No. We’re doing this.”
Sapphire doesn’t quite understand the air of determination that has suddenly surrounded Ruby, but she acquiesces anyway. By now they’ve reached the exercise mat, and a solid two-thirds of the recreation center’s occupants have followed them, eager to see how this sparring match will turn out. Plagioclase is one of them, Sapphire notes. That might have some… interesting repercussions. She doesn’t have the time or the focus to consult her future vision on it, but she’s already preparing for the worst.
Ruby jumps up and down and shakes her arms and shoulders, visibly loosening up. She summons her boxing gloves with a new air of focus and smirks at Sapphire. “Are you sure you want to keep the skirt for this?”
“If I didn’t have this dress, you’d never be able to see me, much less catch up to me,” Sapphire replies, summoning her knuckledusters and sinking into a stance. “I’ve got to let you think you have a chance, don’t I?”
Ruby’s smirk becomes a grin. Clearly, she is enjoying the banter—which is good, because so is Sapphire. “Oh, we’ll see about that.” She brings her gloves up and starts bouncing on the balls of her feet—and just like that, the match has begun.
It already feels different from the first time they fought. This is far lighter, friendlier. Sapphire can already tell that this one won’t end with either of them losing control.
Ruby won’t be making the first move, that much is obvious. She knows better.
Sapphire darts in, only to be met with a kick that sweeps wide and has her backing off before she can make contact. She tries again, and is met with the same tactic. That’s when she understands: Ruby’s eyes are on the hem of her skirts. Ruby may not know exactly where she is aiming, specifically, but she doesn’t have to if she can defend the general area Sapphire seems to be honing in on. The kicks are preemptive, inspired not by Sapphire’s direct advance but by the swishes and sways of her petticoats as she tenses and prepares for a quick burst of movement.
Sapphire counters by what might be considered cheating. Levitation has the advantage of not only making her even faster, but also of creating constant skirt movement. She didn’t do this the last time they fought because she had been too provoked and incensed to think about it, but this time is completely different. That friendly atmosphere is still present, and Sapphire is calm and levelheaded. Besides, it’s not like she hasn’t used this ability in front of Ruby before; she’s usually just a little more subtle about it.
Ruby realizes what she’s doing a split second before Sapphire claims the first strike of the match. “Oh, come on! Are you kidding me?”
“I don’t recall there being any rules against this,” Sapphire replies as she hovers an inch or so off of the ground.
“Because I didn’t think there would have to be! Who does that?”
Sapphire doesn’t feel the need to answer. Instead she simply flashes in for another strike. It lands, but Ruby’s body is hot. She’s practically steaming. The heat transfers to the metal of Sapphire’s knuckledusters instantly, scalding her hands. She sucks in a breath and quickly cools them down with her own powers, but her knuckles are still tender.
Elemental connections are rare amongst gems—what are the odds that she and Ruby can both do it? That being said, there really isn’t any other element that suits Ruby better, so in that sense this isn’t terribly surprising. It’s also not surprising that it’s taken them this long to reveal this to each other. Gems with powers like this tend to be challenged for the simple sport of seeing them use their unique abilities, especially here in the Containment Units. Sapphire knows—it’s what happened to her in Unit 2.
Doesn’t make her knuckles any less raw, though.
Well, she started this. No sense complaining about it now.
Ruby sees her reaction, and smirks. The air ripples around her, and the exercise mat is melting a little bit more with every brief contact with her bouncing feet. “Can’t take the heat, huh?”
This sparring match has suddenly become much more interesting. Like hell Sapphire is going to lose.
“I think you need to cool down,” she replies—and yes, it’s an incredibly kitschy line, but all things considered it feels appropriate.
When Ruby bounces down this time, she does it on a thin sheet of ice. She slips, but quickly recovers and melts the water under her.
Sapphire fortifies her knuckledusters with ice when she glides in now. Her strikes are landing better with the buffer (well, they aren’t scalding her every time, anyway), but she knows that this is not nearly enough to take Ruby down.
Sapphire just dodges a smoking fist, but the scent of her singed hair is in the air now.
The inmates of Containment Unit 6 are absolutely loving this. Distantly, Sapphire can hear them whooping and chatting excitedly amongst themselves.
“This is even better than their first fight!”
“Did you know they had elemental powers? I certainly didn’t.”
“How are we going to explain the damage to the exercise mat?”
A boiling hot leg catches Sapphire in the gut, and her levitation works against her as she sails smoothly through the air and bumps hard into the wall next to one of her dents. She’s allowing herself to get distracted.
Even Ruby is shocked by the results of that kick. She hangs back, still hopping about and peering at Sapphire through her gloved fists, but she seems concerned.
Sapphire’s feet touch the ground as she regains her bearings. The front of her dress is singed and smoking, with tiny embers creeping up the bodice like hot, glowing embroidery; she promptly pats it out. Ice creeps over her fists, encapsulating them in hardened gloves of her own, reinforcing the spikes on her knuckledusters and soothing the burns on her hands. On an afterthought, she banishes her poor dress in favor of an outfit that is less likely to catch fire on a stray spark. It feels strange to be wearing a skintight bodysuit with a white diamond symbol again, but there is no point in dwelling on that now.
“Oh, I thought the dress was to even the odds?” taunts Ruby, albeit still good naturedly.
“That was before you started setting things on fire,” she says dryly. “Namely, me.”
Ruby laughs despite herself, but that doesn’t stop her from charging in. Sapphire’s ice glove immediately volatizes where she blocks the punch, but that’s easily fixed. For several tight minutes, they dodge, parry, and block each blow the other throws at them. Nobody manages to land anything, but the strain of keeping it that way quickly becomes evident in both of them. They are, after all, both out of shape. Nevertheless, while every move is spontaneous, their equally spontaneous responses are beginning to almost feel coordinated, as if they’re moving to a rhythm that they both implicitly know. Sapphire tries for an overhead strike, and Ruby counters her perfectly, and she can only marvel at how in sync she feels.
Steam is now billowing around them in thick, humid clouds, and it’s for that very reason that Sapphire manages to create a shin guard out of ice and duck out of sight to sweep Ruby off of her feet. She thinks she hears their synchronicity shatter as the shin guard hisses and melts, but they can’t keep this up forever. Inevitably, something has to change.
The red gem falls with a loud grunt, and the steam shields her inadvertent retaliation from view. Sapphire literally does not see Ruby kipping to her feet, and so cannot block or otherwise avoid the foot that smashes into her. Unfortunately, she is also levitating to keep Ruby from noticing where she is, so once again Sapphire finds herself sailing across the room. She bursts out of the mass of steam and drops to the ground so she can duck and roll upright instead of crash into the wall for a second time today.
Whew. Sapphire shudders at the sudden difference in temperature. It was a lot warmer in that steam than she realized.
“I can’t see!” that disappointed declaration sounds a lot like Tourmaline. “What happened? Where did Ruby go?”
No, not listening to the crowd again. Remember what happened last time?
Sapphire sinks into a stance and waits. Ruby will eventually figure out that her sparring partner is no longer in the steam—or the steam will dissipate, whichever comes first. Either way, Sapphire is ready for it.
She doesn’t even realize that she’s smiling. When was the last time she had this much fun during combat? Has she ever?
She doesn’t have time to mull it over any more than that, because that’s when Ruby reappears. Sapphire ducks her left hook and uppercuts her reinforced spikes into Ruby’s torso. The red gem stumbles backwards, apparently to find just enough space to crash one scorching foot into the back of Sapphire’s leg. She goes down, rolls up to one knee, and produces a sinister spike of ice like a sword. It stops just short of piercing Ruby through the chest, which is just as well because Ruby has one glove poised just short of cracking her across the jaw. They’re both breathing hard, and Sapphire is sweating profusely enough that she has hair plastered awkwardly across her face, but they’re both grinning. Truly, Sapphire can’t remember a time where she has felt so full of energy, so alive.
Why haven’t they done this sooner?
Ruby’s eyes flick to the icicle poised in front of her. The heat that’s radiating from her abruptly fades, and just as her glove disappears and her arm falls Sapphire allows her ice and weapons to fade as well. She grasps her friend’s hand and allows herself to be hauled to her feet. Ruby’s skin is still hot to the touch, and Sapphire knows that hers is still chilly, but together it all evens out.
“What, that’s it?”
“There’s going to be a round two, isn’t there?”
“Just as it was getting good!”
“I’m still one win ahead of you,” Ruby informs her with playful loftiness.
“Wait until next time,” Sapphire replies primly as she fixes her hair and brings her dress back—sans burns, of course. It takes some effort to keep from smiling. “You won’t be saying that then.”
Who knew fighting could be so much fun?
This chapter has fanart! Look at how beautifully AuraGemi has captured Ruby's incredulity!
Chapter 13: Improvements, All Around
“Nothing to thank me for,” Ruby mutters, looking away again. She turns and begins to pace briskly, like she will explode if she doesn’t get some energy out now. “You’re the one who did all the work.”
It all begins when Sapphire lets her guard down during a sparring match. She was laughing too hard to brace herself for Ruby’s kick (or to notice it was coming at all, really), and ended up getting herself poofed because of course a bitter Plagioclase took advantage of her being forced back, and simply held her sword out at the right angle.
Then Sapphire regenerates, and it’s sloppy. Naturally, she notices it too late to change anything.
“Not again,” she sighs.
“Tell me about it! Took you long enough to come back. Who actually needs three hours to regenerate, anyway?” is Ruby’s greeting. Judging by the footsteps that have literally been worn into the steel floor next to the communication center, she has been pacing rapidly the entire time. Was she really that bored?
“Can you kick me? Hard?”
Ruby stops in her tracks, dumbfounded. “That’s how we ended up in this position to begin with,” she says. “I don’t even know why I thought sparring during rec time was a good idea! This is the second time I’ve poofed you.”
“That was Plagioclase’s fault, not yours. Your kick would have been completely benign if she hadn’t impaled me with her sword. But that doesn’t matter—could you just poof me again, please?”
“What’s the matter with you?” Ruby bursts out, waving her arms. “Are you a glutton for punishment or something?”
“No, I just didn’t regenerate properly. I need to go back and do it again.”
“What do you mean, you didn’t do it properly? You look exactly like you always do. You didn’t even change your outfit!”
“We can change out outfits any time. Besides, I love this dress.” Sapphire shakes her head. “We’re getting off topic. Will you hit me or not?”
“What are you trying to change?” demands Ruby.
“What does it matter? I’m trying to change it, and I can’t very well poof myself.” Well, technically she can, it would just take a lot of—
“Err, Sapphire? What just happened?”
Ruby’s voice is distant and easily ignored. At this point, getting her to hit Sapphire would require making her angry, which would require insinuating that—
“It’s never been this clear before,” Sapphire says softly, in awe.
“Hey, hello? What the hell is going on with you?” Ruby waves a hand in front of Sapphire’s face. Then, upon getting no reaction, she mutters, “Maybe regenerating again wouldn’t be a bad idea.”
Another. What is the first message that she will open from the Diamonds today?
An inquiry about the likelihood of the Kindergarten construction next to the Whispering Nebula going well. It won’t take her long to answer the question, although it would have in the past. The highest probability of success would be to put a new contractor on the job, because the Olivine they’ve got slotted for it right now is terrible about thinking on her feet. Olivine will make a scene about it, but that problem is easily handled.
“It’s never been so immediate, so detailed.”
And all it took was allowing this to happen. All things considered, giving up one eye for improved and efficient future vision doesn’t feel like a terrible trade.
“What are you talking about?” shouts Ruby, audibly getting frustrated.
She’s always worn her bangs long, so it’s not like anyone else is going to notice the change, anyway.
“You know what?” she says abruptly, lifting her head. “I’m fine after all. Thank you for—” She sees Ruby’s realization the instant before Ruby does, and nimbly dodges the red hand that snaps out to move the hair from her face. It’s never been so easy to predict the most probable outcome—it’s downright effortless. How has she not done this before? Is this what she’s always been capable of, all these years?
She can get used to this.
“Sapphire, what is going on?” There’s something in Ruby’s voice that freezes her in place. It’s—softer, more vulnerable. Hurt? She already has implicit knowledge of what’s coming next, but Sapphire chooses to let it happen this time, chooses to allow Ruby a step closer. “There’s something different about you, and it’s…” Either she doesn’t have the words, or she isn’t willing to reveal the ones she already knows. What she ends up saying isn’t what she had been thinking of initially, Sapphire can tell. “I thought we trusted each other better than this.”
Well, there are a couple of things she can do at this point, but they all basically boil down to two choices. Either she tells Ruby, or she doesn’t—and, conveniently, she knows how each is going to work out this time around.
Nonetheless, it still feels like exposing something tender and vulnerable to say, “I found a way to improve my future vision” and brush her bangs to the side.
“Oh.” It doesn’t feel like Ruby when she’s this quiet. Sapphire watches, her lips pressed into a tense line, as her friend takes this change in. Then she lets her hair fall back into place.
“This happens when I don’t pay attention to my regenerations,” she admits—not because it will make the situation any better, necessarily, but because she just… wants to talk about it. “I’ve never kept it around long enough to understand why, but I like the improvement more than I like the change, so maybe I’ll keep it this time.”
“Why can’t it all be an improvement?” asks Ruby.
Isn’t it obvious? “Because gems typically have two eyes?”
“Yeah, but I’ve seen you with two eyes.” Ruby props a hand on her hip and points to Sapphire with the other. “This looks way better.”
Sapphire frowns. “I don’t need lip service, Ruby.”
“Well, that’s good, because you’re not getting any.” She lets her hands fall to her sides and shrugs. “There was just something… off about you having two eyes; I could never put my finger on it before, but the feeling is totally gone now. This feels so much more genuine.”
Sapphire hadn’t looked into the future before starting this facet of the conversation. That being said, this is probably the last reaction she expected. Something this abnormal—this defective—shouldn’t be greeted with approval. Ruby shouldn’t be so casual about this. This shouldn’t be such an easy change to adjust to.
And maybe her incredulity is really just her projecting her own insecurities on Ruby. There’s a reason she hasn’t kept the single eye long enough to notice the improvements to her future vision, after all. What if this is just—all her?
“I mean, not everyone is going to tell you this looks better,” says Ruby, grimacing. She shifts her weight and flexes her fists in discomfort—but why? Why is she uncomfortable? “For some, like our friends, it might take some getting used to, but that isn’t going to make them like or respect you any less.” Abruptly, her discomfort fades and her demeanor becomes strong and vehement. “You’re defective, anyway. The ones that are going to give you a hard time for having one eye would be doing it regardless, just because your gem’s not on your center line. There’s no pleasing gems like that, so why even try? Why even give their opinions of you the time of day? They don’t deserve it, Sapphire. Your time is worth so much more than that.”
Sapphire blinks. Her lips part so she can speak, but no sound leaves; she just gapes. It feels like she’s been punched in the gut so hard she can’t remember how to breathe. It’s not Ruby’s insight itself—although she does, undeniably, make a good point—but rather the passion in which she tells Sapphire her time and consideration are worth something that takes her breath away. They are friends, which belies a certain level of mutual respect; and they both have elemental connections, which is so rare that they would have bonded over it anyway; but Ruby thinks this highly of her?
Ruby’s color goes from crimson to a deep, ruddy maroon in a matter of seconds, and she averts her eyes. Her fists clench at her sides, quivering. “Th-that’s just what I think, anyway,” she concludes gruffly. “Just my opinion. I would’ve said that to anyone, just ask. Apatite’s gotten a lecture or two—”
“You really think it looks better this way?” asks Sapphire softly.
“Yes,” is the immediate reply. The flush doesn’t quite go away, but it fades some as Ruby meets her gaze. “I wouldn’t have said so if I didn’t.”
She knew that already. She did, and yet Sapphire is floored by it all the same. Truthfully, she doesn’t know anyone else who would take the time to speak to her like this. “Thank you, Ruby,” is all she can manage.
“Nothing to thank me for,” Ruby mutters, looking away again. She turns and begins to pace briskly, like she will explode if she doesn’t get some energy out now. “You’re the one who did all the work.”
Chapter 14: Inherent Rebels
In hindsight, it really isn’t any wonder that Garnet was so easily persuaded to join a revolution. Sapphire and Ruby had already been rebels, long before Rose Quartz ever came into their lives.
Some information you might find useful in this chapter:
Morganite has a Mohs of 7.8-8
Kunzite has a Mohs of 6.5-7
Both of these are considered 'love stones' in gemology.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sapphire’s never really noticed before, but it isn’t just symmetrical inmates like Onyx or gems of higher Mohs that can be bullies. Containment Unit Supervisors can be just as bad, if not worse.
Citrine may be weird, but there’s a difference between her usual idiosyncrasies and actual distress. They’ve known each other long enough for Sapphire to more or less be able to tell the difference. She also is familiar enough with Citrine to know that the fact she’s displaying her distress so blatantly means that something absolutely wretched has occurred. She’s not the most discreet gem in normal circumstances, but she also tends to go out of her way to make sure that no one worries about her, either.
Right now, Citrine hardly seems to care.
“Whoa, what happened to you?” Ruby asks when the orange gem, looking distinctly downtrodden, shuffles across the recreation center to join their friend group. She’s very late for her recreation period, and even her brightly colored, flouncy summer dress seems wilted with exhaustion and defeat.
Citrine lets out a breath, and says dully, “Supervisors. What else?”
Ruby scowls, and the air around her seems to flicker dangerously.
Apatite grimaces. “Which ones?”
“Kunzite and her pal Morganite, surprise surprise.”
Everyone except for Sapphire makes noises of empathy. Sapphire, for her part, only distantly remembers Kunzite’s violet and Morganite’s white and faintly peach color pallets. She’s passed them in the halls, she’s pretty sure.
“I am so sorry,” Apatite tells Citrine earnestly.
“They didn’t force you to regenerate, did they?” asks Tourmaline with a sympathetic grimace.
Citrine gives her a—well, a rather stony look. “Three times. Because if you just try hard enough, you’ll come out symmetrical, right?” She produces an uncharacteristically bitter laugh, and Apatite wraps an arm around her shoulders for a reassuring sideways hug.
“How did you get away?” asks Tourmaline.
What is it with Tourmaline and wanting all of the sordid details?
“I didn’t. They finally just ran out of laughs and wandered off from the boredom.” Citrine wobbles and leans into Apatite, seemingly to keep herself upright. “I’m not used to regenerating so much, so fast,” she admits.
Ruby’s jaw twitches. She’s grinding her teeth together, and her hands are in fists at her sides. “That’s not right,” she says in a soft growl.
Citrine is usually flattered and a little flustered if Ruby makes any move to defend her, but right now she’s too exhausted to do much more than flick her gaze at the red gem. “Yeah, well, if you can convince Kunzite of that I’d be much obliged,” she says in a voice that’s so defeated it almost lacks inflection entirely.
“Does this happen often?” Sapphire wonders.
Even Citrine has the energy to flash an incredulous look at that question.
“You’ve lived in Containment Unit 2,” Tourmaline says. “And you mean to say that no supervising gem has ever attacked you like that?”
Before Sapphire can reply with the obvious, Ruby cuts in, “Supervisors are given expressed orders not to interact with her. Otherwise, they would have.”
“Must be nice,” Citrine mutters bitterly.
“Oh, it’s because of your—you know,” says Apatite, tapping her temple with her free hand. At this point their friends all know about Sapphire’s future vision. A few too many poorly explained mid-sentence interruptions (those visions still happen every once in a while, even with her ability’s recent enhancement) had required either an explanation or an all-out fight about twenty years ago. Ironically, it had been the typically jovial, make-an-awkward-joke-and-laugh-it-off Tourmaline who had actually gotten fed up enough to confront her about it.
Sapphire almost admits to how little she’s thought about the Supervisors’ lack of interaction with her, but considering Citrine’s current state she refrains and simply nods. She doesn’t need future vision in order to see how badly a comment like that will blow over. Just the fact that the Supervisors aren’t allowed to interact with her is provocation enough.
Come to think of it, they don’t seem to bother Ruby, either. Maybe that falls under the same clause?
“The lack of oversight isn’t right,” Ruby declares vehemently. The air around her has also begun to shimmer unabashedly with heat. “We’re already buried so deep beneath the rest of society that most gems above don’t even know we exist, much less that we’re stuck doing menial labor day in and day out like mindless drones. Being tortured on top of that is worse than demeaning!”
She’s right, it is. Everyone here in Unit 6 thinks that way, and now that someone’s finally said it aloud Sapphire can feel it acutely. How often does someone point this out?
“You say this every time, Ruby, but there’s nothing we can do about it,” Apatite says, sad but ultimately resigned. “We don’t have any political pull here, and since most of us here in Unit 6 are asymmetrical, we’re also a lot smaller and weaker.”
These are all valid points as well. Sapphire can acknowledge this, and Tourmaline and even Citrine also seem resigned to it, but Ruby is still radiating heat like a volcano. She’s too upset to see logic, or to care if it’s even there. Small surprise.
“Citrine!” she barks, and the orange gem seems to regain a little of her quirky energy. “Where did you see Morganite and Kunzite go off to, after they left?”
“The west wing somewhere. I wasn’t putting a whole lot of effort into observing them at the time.”
“Good enough.” Ruby cracks her knuckles, and Sapphire notices a proverbial fire blazing in her eyes. “I’ll be back.”
With that, Ruby marches off. Sapphire watches her go with the faint realization that doing this means she’s abandoning her post as Sapphire’s handler, something she has never done. Even after Ruby tromps her way into the hall, though, Sapphire can’t stop staring at the last place she saw her friend’s broad red shoulders.
Protective to a fault, she thinks.
Well, Sapphire did the same stupid thing for Calcite, didn’t she?
Plagioclase was never a Supervisor, though, much less a pair of Supervisors.
If memory serves, Morganite and Kunzite are pretty big gems. Ruby is a great fighter, and powerful for her size and stature, but will that be enough?
“Two on one—especially with Kunzite being one of the two—is very poor odds, even if Ruby is a higher Mohs,” Tourmaline says. She shakes her head. “There’s no stopping her when she’s like this, though.”
“I’d be flattered, but she’d do that for any of us,” Citrine says as Apatite helps her into one of the least-uncomfortable seats in their general vicinity. It’s hard to say whether she’s disappointed or just weary.
“I know she’s done it for me at least six times now, over the years,” Apatite says, straightening up. “It never makes a difference, even when she wins. She stops one of them one time, and two more come back, twice as cruel as before.”
What a defeatist attitude. Have they really been beaten down so low? How has Sapphire not seen this before?
Ruby’s confrontation with Morganite and Kunzite will not go well. At best, she’ll get herself poofed. At worst, cracked and/or crushed.
“I’m going with her,” Sapphire decides.
“What good will that do? We just said you can’t stop her.”
“No, but I can help to even out the odds—or, at the very least, keep her from getting herself shattered,” says Sapphire. “If anyone asks, we’ve gone back early. See you all tomorrow.”
Sapphire doesn’t wait for her friends to respond before leaving the center herself. Honestly, she should have just gone with Ruby on the outset. She should have known she would be doing this—who was she kidding, letting Ruby walk out without her? When it comes to bigger, more powerful gems picking on those they feel are beneath them, Sapphire and Ruby feel exactly the same way.
With the help of her future vision, Sapphire knows exactly how to find Ruby, and if she runs she’ll catch up in plenty of time for them to come up with a workable strategy to make these Supervisors behave indefinitely. She’s already has an idea of what to do. After all, if these Supervisors aren’t afraid to abuse their authority, then Sapphire’s certainly shouldn’t be afraid to use the fact that Supervisors can’t abuse her to their advantage.
Maybe two gems with elemental affinities and insight into the future against two bully-Supervisors isn’t fair odds, either. There again, maybe that’s just the point Kunzite and Morganite need driven home.
Despite the heated anger that’s still rolling off of her in visible waves, Ruby finds it in herself to laugh as Sapphire zips into place beside her. “How did I know this would happen?”
As they fall into step, Sapphire notices Ruby’s temperature going down by several degrees. “You could have waited for me,” she says anyway.
Ruby ignores this and flashes the smirk of one who already knows that victory is assured. And is it just Sapphire, or is Ruby clearer headed now than when she stormed off less than five minutes ago?
“So, what’s the plan?” asks Ruby. “I know you already have one.”
In hindsight, it really isn’t any wonder that Garnet was so easily persuaded to join a revolution. Sapphire and Ruby had already been rebels, long before Rose Quartz ever came into their lives.
Spatial strikes again! She has made Citrine into a glorious reality!
Chapter 15: Poignancy Makes the Point
Ruby makes a sound that’s half exasperation and half laughter. “Yeah, okay. But just so you know, I’m surprised no one’s called you Princess Froufrou sooner.”
Some facts you might find useful in this chapter:
Morganite has a Mohs of 7.5-8
Kunzite has a Mohs of 6.5-7
Both of these are considered 'love stones' in gemology.
Hematite has a Mohs of 5-6
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sapphire already knows that they are going to be too late to stop Kunzite and Morganite from finding a new victim. She braces herself for the worst as she and Ruby run to the place where they will all converge.
“Hey, Morganite, here’s a question.”
“What’s that, Kunzite?”
“Is there anything sadder than a symmetrical gem stuck in a Containment Unit?”
“You know, that’s a good question.” Morganite hums, presumably putting thought into this, before pronouncing, “No. None whatsoever.”
“And what does it say about you, that you have nothing better to do than harass gems of lower Mohs?” came the retort, snarky and technical. “Have you ever thought that being assigned to this place is just as humiliating as being an inmate? It’s not like you get to see the surface either, right? That’s because no one wants to deal with you up there, so they make us do it instead.”
“I know that voice,” Ruby realizes as they run. “It’s Hematite.”
“I don’t see her fighting back,” Sapphire replies.
“She won’t. She’s all talk.”
Arguably, that’s even worse.
They see the trio at the end of the hall, and run faster. Hematite is midsized, with her gem set at the base of her throat like the pendant of a necklace. She is all shades of glossy, metallic greys and blacks, and wears goggles over her eyes like she’s about to eject herself from an aircraft at any moment. For all that she’s built rather thickly, Sapphire can tell the mass is not an expression of power as much as a form of self-validation and comfort. Hematite is not a fighter.
She’s also smaller and of softer Mohs than Kunzite and Morganite, though in Kunzite’s case it’s only barely.
“What did you just say?” Suddenly Kunzite’s weapon, a short, stout spear with a menacingly hooked edge, is poised just over Hematite’s gem. Hematite backs herself against the wall, but the spear follows her. “Go on, repeat yourself. It seems I wasn’t really listening.”
“Hey!” calls Ruby sharply, causing the Supervisors to startle and glance over. Immediately, something within them shifts. Kunzite doesn’t move her spear, but her focus is no longer on Hematite. The latter, seeing her chance, begins to edge slowly along the wall and out from under the gleaming metal.
“Lost, little ones?” It might have been compassionate, if Kunzite weren’t sneering.
“This is the west wing,” Morganite says, voice stiff with repressed distaste. “You two have no business being here.”
“Oh, I’d say we do,” Ruby replies, cracking her knuckles. A feral grin of assumed victory is already on her face. She’s going to enjoy this. “Where do you two get off, picking on softer gems like that? Aren’t there rules against the abuse of power?”
“We’re the Supervisors, we make the rules,” Kunzite replies. Her violet color pallet has not deepened with a flush of shame. There is no remorse in her demeanor. Still, she’s not paying the least bit of attention to Hematite, who has finally inched far enough away to break into a run.
The Supervisors both hear the pounding of the metallic gem’s footsteps, and whip their heads around to watch her sprint further and further from them.
“What the—when did she…?”
Kunzite gapes, stunned and bemused, at her weapon. It’s still in the exact place she’s been holding it the entire time. “I had her pinned! How is this possible?”
“Well, it looks like there won’t be any witnesses,” Morganite says, glancing at Sapphire and Ruby again with new eyes. “Let’s teach these two runts a lesson.”
“Whoa, hey.” Kunzite straightens, though it should be noted that her violet-hued spear still has yet to disappear. “Our orders are from Blue Diamond herself. I want to go there, too, believe me, but this isn’t just any pair of dissidents.”
“Look around, Kunzite!” Morganite throws out her arms. She’s the smaller of their two, but her hardness is greater. That, Sapphire suspects, influences their dynamic just enough to make it predictable. “There’s no one else here, and they clearly went out of their way to pick a fight with us. Are you just going to let these pipsqueaks get away with disrespect like that?”
“If we damage—”
“—Then it happened in the rec center in between check ins, and there was nothing we could do. Very sorry Blue Diamond, but we can’t always be there.”
Sapphire exchanges a look with Ruby. The orders from the Diamond Authority protecting their oracle and her handler are far stricter than either of them realized.
“And besides.” Here Morganite gestures to Ruby, who blinks dubiously. “That one has been a pain in my ass since I took over this surveillance route. If there’s no one else around, I’m going to take the opportunity to crush her.”
“Ha!” Ruby lets out a barking laugh. “You could try, maybe.”
“Look at you! I’m twice your size, and your only backup is Princess Froufrou over here. Please,” Morganite scoffs as she gestures to Sapphire, who remains unimpressed. Then she pulls a short sword from the gem set in her chest. “This will be easy.”
“You’re right,” Kunzite realizes. “No witnesses means it’s our word against theirs, and who would believe them?”
“Yes!” says Morganite. “Thank you for finally catching on, Kunzite. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to beat the gravel out of these twerps. You can join me if you want, but I honestly don’t think I’ll need the—”
Morganite lets out a wheezy sort of groan. Her shortsword falls to the metal floor with a loud clatter as she crumples from the nasty jolt of electricity that Sapphire’s uppercut has just delivered to her spine. It wasn’t a part of the plan, but it was far too satisfying for her to be sorry.
Sure, it won’t last more than a minute, but still.
“Posturing annoys me,” Sapphire says by way of explanation.
“Fair enough.” Ruby grins cruelly, sights already turning to the violet gem with her spear still drawn. “Hey Kunzite, remember that citrine you were torturing earlier?”
“Not really,” is Kunzite’s initial reply. Her gaze is still on Morganite’s prone form. She looks up to Sapphire, who appears as flouncy and harmless as ever. The need for her own revenge slowly enters her demeanor as she decides that yes, she is going to go through with this after all. “Oh wait, it’s coming back to me now,” she says with a slow spreading, provocative sneer. Since Ruby is bringing it up, it clearly bothers her. Why not rub it in? “The orange one in the dress, right? She begged us so prettily. So pathetic. Really, you defective gems are all the same.”
“That’s my friend, you monster!”
Kunzite doesn’t get the chance to reply, because that’s when Ruby moves in, gloves on, demeanor almost literally blazing. Unfortunately, Kunzite’s spear makes her a long-range fighter, and she knows how to use it. Ruby, as a close-range combatant, can’t break through her guard and so can’t do any damage. Sapphire is a short range fighter, as well, which doesn’t quite bode well for either of them.
“Oh, I’m so scared,” Kunzite jeers as she sidesteps and jabs Ruby back with her spear. “Do you think I’ve never been attacked for poofing inmates before? Maybe if you all weren’t so weak, this would actually be a challenge.”
Ruby is letting her emotions get out of hand. Sapphire can see the air around her beginning to shimmer with heat. They had a plan, but it’s rapidly falling apart as Ruby loses her temper.
Sapphire would have stepped in and offered to take over with Kunzite, but it’s highly unlikely that Ruby will allow that (things have gotten personal now, after all). Besides, Morganite is stirring, and she sounds furious.
This could be going better.
Sapphire whips around and catches Morganite’s sword with knuckledusters reinforced in ice. The ice shatters from the force of the larger gem’s blow, and Sapphire leaps back to avoid her tenacious follow through.
“Oh, so that’s how you want to play it, huh?” growls Morganite. Her peach-hued pallet hasn’t darkened with her mood, per se, but there’s just something off about such a cheerful color scheme backing such a hateful expression.
Sapphire whirls out of the way as Morganite’s sword sings through the air. She can’t say she’s not using her future vision to her advantage, because she definitely is. It’s just—oh, it’s so easy! Morganite is a softer gem (between seven and eight Mohs), and she’s losing her focus due to her rampant emotions, and Sapphire can see what she’s doing before she’s doing it; doesn’t Morganite understand that she stands no chance against Sapphire, even with her superior size and strength?
Well, probably not. Sapphire’s future vision is not widely known, after all.
This whole fight is as close to private as things get, too. A Supervisor will never admit to being beaten up by an inmate. Even if they do, they certainly wouldn’t talk about the inmates they have been explicitly forbidden from fighting. And even if Sapphire and Ruby lose, Kunzite and Morganite can’t gloat about it, because that would still be flying in the face of orders from Blue Diamond herself. Complaining about being roughed up by the Supervisors isn’t going to do any good, either. Nobody cares what happens to inmates in Containment Units, after all.
Is that how you want to play this?
Remember the objective, Sapphire tells herself. Ruby is has fallen into a rampage for retribution for Citrine and all of her friends that have been brutalized by these bullies over the centuries, but their whole purpose for doing this was to teach Kunzite and Morganite a lesson. They want the results of this altercation to be permanent.
Poignancy. That’s what they need to be aiming for.
Sapphire parries Morganite’s sword with an icy fist, and Morganite shouts, “Well? Are you going to answer me? Is this the game you want to play?”
“I,” Sapphire replies, seeing an opening in the peach gem’s guard and zipping right on in. “Am not playing a game.”
She’s a little too short to reach Morganite’s gem, much less her face, but that doesn’t matter. With a quick jab at a nerve center, and a shock of electricity for good measure, it’s easy to twist the sword from Morganite’s grip and turn it on its owner. With the shortsword’s help, Sapphire has no problem cutting the Supervisor with her own weapon. She’s dropped the sword into abstract fragments of light and scampered out of range before Morganite can recover.
As she stops, Sapphire’s future vision bids her create a thin layer of ice on the floor for Kunzite to back into. The Supervisor slips, her potentially destructive spear thrust knocked awry, and Ruby immediately presses the advantage. She knocks the pesky spear out of the way and delivers a smoking blow so powerful that Kunzite is literally sent flying. She becomes partially embedded in the wall, and Sapphire has to suppress the sympathetic wince that comes with her own personal experience of making dents in walls because of Ruby.
“Oh, now you’ve done it!” shouts Kunzite. “I’m going to poof you if it’s the last thing I do!”
“Oh, poof me, are you? I’d like to see you try, you pink bastard!”
Still, brute force isn’t poignancy. They need these results to be permanent.
“How dare you?” Morganite is back again, and she’s almost as emotionally compromised as Ruby. If this goes on any longer, the message will never sink in. The time for poetic justice seems to be well and truly over.
This time, Sapphire has to block Morganite’s sword with both arms. She skids back several feet from the impact, inadvertently sending fragments of ice bouncing every which way, but manages to keep herself upright.
The steel plates that make up the hallway are becoming red and hot, practically scalding. Sapphire has begun levitating to avoid it, but she can tell from how much footwork Kunzite and Morganite are suddenly doing that they feel it too.
Kunzite slices the head of her spear through the air, trying to keep Ruby at a distance with new purpose. It’s not going to do much good—the volcanic heat that Ruby’s radiating is only bouncing off of the other three steel walls, amplifying with each new heartbeat.
They need to end this quickly. It’s not really Morganite’s retention that Sapphire’s worried about at this point, it’s Ruby doing something she will ultimately regret.
When she spots the truly golden opportunity that’s just about to pass them by, Sapphire doesn’t hesitate.
Morganite isn’t stupid enough to fall for the same trick twice, so she will have to try something new. When Sapphire coats the floor in ice again, it only lasts for a brief moment before volatilizing. As she does this again, and again, steam starts to billow around them all.
Ruby lets out a cry of frustration. “Sapphire, what are you doing? Now no one can see!”
Sapphire uses the lack of visibility to slip past the peach gem’s guard and slam her spiked knuckles into Morganite’s lower back, briefly stunning her. She takes advantage of this by kicking Morganite’s sword free of her grip. The weapon hisses as it slides across the hot sheet metal, but Ruby isn’t so far gone that she can’t take the hint when the blade bumps into her booted foot. She doesn’t have much time before Morganite understands what’s going on and cuts the energy that’s powering the weapon’s existence, but a moment is all Ruby needs.
The sword flies true, and lodges itself firmly into Kunzite’s gut. Since Kunzite’s gem is actually embedded in her chin (a strange spot, to be sure, but hey, at least she’s symmetrical), this isn’t a fatal blow. Damaging enough to poof her, yes, but not fatal.
The glassy clatter of her fellow Supervisor’s gem falling is what alerts Morganite to the fact that she is alone, one on two. She draws two swords this time, and backs herself up against the increasingly warm metal wall as both Ruby and Sapphire appear out of the steam like specters.
“Say, Princess Froufrou,” says Ruby conversationally, her gloves on and her guard at mid level, ready to parry the shortsword aimed at her if need be. “What do you think we should do to this one?”
Sapphire pretends to hum in consideration, as if being trapped in this impromptu oven is not getting to her at all. Sweat is trickling down the side of her neck, and it’s all she can do to emanate enough cold to keep her own personal temperature palatable as she hovers above the heat. “Well, I am fond of cutting her with her own blade.”
“Too easy. This is most likely the one who lead the hunt against Citrine. She explicitly stated that she wanted to see me crushed, too.”
Sapphire hums again. “Well, there’s always the more personal approach.”
Ruby grins, almost entirely feral. “I was hoping that was a possibility.”
Due to their size and the height at which Morganite holds her twin swords, getting around the weapons is not easy. They have to weave and bob their way past the blades and into her guard without being harmed themselves. Sapphire darts in first, and sends electricity zipping through one of them, causing the Supervisor to suck in a sharp breath and drop the offending weapon. For the other she parries the strike and freezes Morganite’s arm all the way up to the shoulder, so she can’t swing it again. The ice is already weakening due to the Ruby-induced temperature, but Ruby doesn’t need more than an instant to deal the final, scalding blow.
The peach-hued gem falls to the hot floor and Ruby stands over it, panting, gloves still out. She looks about ready to punch it—in fact, she is about to punch it, to crush it remorselessly against the heated metal.
Sapphire steps in and kicks the gem out of harm’s way. It skitters harmlessly down the hall.
“They’re not going to forget us fighting back any time soon,” she says quietly. “That was the whole point of this, remember?”
Ruby is panting, though she doesn’t seem to feel much physical exertion. She can’t take her eyes off of her steaming gloves. “We didn’t follow the plan. Is that still going to happen?”
“At this point, that’s hard to say,” Sapphire admits. “I’ll know in an hour or so, I think. Do you think you could lower the temperature a little? It’s getting pretty stuffy in here.”
“Huh? Oh, you’re right.” Ruby’s boxing gloves disappear, and the heat that’s radiating from her ceases almost immediately. “I didn’t mean to get carried away,” she says, and while her voice is rough with reminiscent anger there is real remorse in her demeanor. “It’s just—they’re never sorry! They never see us as people. Even now!” She throws one powerful arm out towards the vulnerable gems that are slowly becoming more visible in the dissipating steam. “I bet if they regenerated right now, they would still just call us nuisances.”
Sapphire doesn’t say anything.
“I’m right, aren’t I?”
“It’s not likely that they’ll regenerate right now.”
“But if they did, Sapphire.” Then, when Sapphire chooses to remain silent, Ruby says in a much softer voice, “Was this was all for nothing? Have I messed it up so badly?”
For a time Sapphire doesn’t have anything worth saying, and so doesn’t try. Eventually, she Sees something. “It’s not ruined,” she says, for what it’s worth. “Although driving our point home is going to require future altercations. Altercations in which we probably shouldn’t get carried away. We can’t let them know the power they have over us. That’s what started this whole mess, and that’s what is going to perpetuate it.”
Ruby lets out a harsh laugh. “ ‘We’? Thanks for trying, Sapphire, but I know this is all my fault.”
“I saw that it had the potential of happening, and I didn’t move against it,” Sapphire says. “The fault is just as much mine.”
For a moment, Ruby just stares at her. Then she realizes, “You believe that.”
“Of course I do.” Sapphire takes a step towards her, touches her arm. It’s not boiling anymore, it’s just warm. “I think it’s time for us to start heading back.”
Ruby falls into step with her, somewhat listless. She materializes pockets so she can shove her hands into them, presumably for something to do. The silence between them isn’t uncomfortable, per se, but it is heavy.
“I think we can be a great team, if we practice,” Sapphire says after a while, when she knows that Ruby is more receptive to being spoken to. “We’re both so used to operating alone. Is it any wonder we’re discordant when we fight shoulder to shoulder?”
Ruby gives her a sidelong glance of disbelief. “You still think this vigilante justice thing is a good idea?”
“At this point, I think it may be the only option worth choosing.”
“You really didn’t just come along to watch over me,” Ruby says, half breathless with the realization. She’s looking at Sapphire with new eyes now. “You actually believe in this too.”
“Yes,” Sapphire says. “I really do.”
Ruby looks down. Her hands flex in her pockets. “I guess I owe you an apology, for thinking less of you,” she says, and while she’s muttering she’s still being sincere.
“Don’t worry about it. I know that’s the impression I give off.” Sapphire hesitates, checking to see if the outcome is desirable, and then adds, “I’ll even forgive you for the Princess Froufrou comment.”
Ruby surprises herself with her own sudden burst of laughter. “I did say that aloud, didn’t I?” Her hands come out of the pockets that are suddenly no longer there, and she tightens the knot on the bright red headband over her forehead and curly hair. “Believe it or not, I was trying to use their insults against them. You don’t look like you know what you’re doing, though at this point I’m seriously wondering if that’s purposeful.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. I wear this dress because I love it.”
Ruby, catching on to her dry tone, grins and presses, “Yeah, but why?”
Sapphire’s façade cracks a little as she smiles. “I have to keep some of my secrets.”
“Oh, so it’s a secret now.”
Ruby makes a sound that’s half exasperation and half laughter. “Yeah, okay. But just so you know, I’m surprised no one’s called you Princess Froufrou sooner.”
This chapter has fanart! This piece was created by the supremely talented Rhinocio :)
Chapter 16: Broaching the Subject
“Have they given you a timeline?” asks Sapphire one day.
“Have they given you a timeline?” asks Sapphire one day. She isn’t quite sure how Ruby will react to this, all truth told (it feels impolite to look into Ruby’s personal future, somehow, so she hasn’t), but she is trying really hard not to bottle things up again. She wants to prove that she’s learned from the worst fight she’s ever had with the best friend she’s ever had.
“Huh?” Ruby starts from her reverie. She’s been moving through sets and drills with her boxing gloves for the last several hours, mostly because it’s something to do. It’s pretty clear she doesn’t perceive Sapphire as a threat anymore. When this arrangement first began, she never would have allowed herself to be startled like this.
Sapphire almost doesn’t, but she forces herself to repeat the question anyway, adding with a gesture to Ruby’s relaxed posture, “You clearly don’t think I need this kind of supervision anymore, and I’m well acclimated with our fellow inmates at this point, so the threat of turning this Unit upside down is basically null and void. I can’t be the only one who sees this. So have the Unit 6 senior Supervisors or the Diamonds told you when you’ll be transferred out?”
“Oh.” Ruby’s expression becomes decidedly enigmatic, like it always does before she gets overly emotional. “I didn’t realize you were thinking about that.”
Sapphire doesn’t want to upset her friend, but she also doesn’t understand why Ruby is starting to feel upset to begin with. It takes a few somewhat frantic moments of trying out different responses before she finds one with the highest probability of being taken well.
“Aren’t you? If I had a chance to live on the surface I’d be pretty excited about it. I mean, you’d get to see sunlight again.”
Ruby’s demeanor softens. “There is that,” she admits.
“How is that not the only thing on your mind? Haven’t they been talking to you about this?”
The red gem shifts her weight somewhat uncomfortably. “Of course they have,” she murmurs. “Mostly while you’re meditating and not paying attention to what’s going on around you.”
And she hasn’t been telling Sapphire about it. It shouldn’t, but that hurts.
“I didn’t know how to broach the subject with you,” Ruby continues before Sapphire can think of something worth saying. She scuffs the soft sole of her ankle-high boot against the metal floor. “I didn’t know how you’d handle it.”
“I don’t understand. How does my reaction matter to your freedom? Unless—oh.” Sapphire pauses as potential reactions to being left alone occur to her. “I wouldn’t do anything to cause you to be called back,” she promises. “I’m defective, not unstable.”
Ruby flashes a smile at the unofficial catchphrase of Containment Unit 6. It fades rather quickly, something that Sapphire disappoints in. It doesn’t make much sense—well, it does if she recalls her vision from a while back—don’t think of such preposterous futures—but it’s true, and at this point Sapphire knows better than to lie to herself.
“I don’t think you’ve been pretending to make friends this entire time, if that’s what you’re implying,” Ruby says. “And I don’t think you’d try to sabotage my chances of getting to the surface, either.”
“Then why worry about me?”
“Because that’s what friends do, Sapphire.” Then, at Sapphire’s entirely unconvinced silence, she elaborates. “What if you get lonely being all by yourself again?”
“Why would that be something for you to worry about, though? It’s not like it affects you.”
“But it would be my fault. I don’t want to do that to you.”
“But…” Sapphire is at a loss. Her mind keeps flashing traitorously to that ridiculous vision, the one where they are, under no uncertain terms, agreeing to become more than friends. Is that scene more inevitable than others? Is it even what she wants? What does it matter what she thinks, if Ruby leaves Containment Unit 6 in favor of a life on the surface? Sapphire certainly can’t begrudge her for taking the opportunity.
“But I shouldn’t be factoring into it,” she finally murmurs.
Would she be okay going back to a life where she spends twenty hours of every day in complete isolation?
Sapphire fiercely shuts down that train of thought, and especially the visions of potential futures that it brings. There’s a reason she hasn’t allowed herself to think too much about this. About Ruby. She knew from the start that this was only a temporary arrangement, has known for nigh on three centuries that Ruby was working towards her freedom with this job. None of her opinions matter because they don’t change the circumstances under which she and Ruby interact. That’s why she’s tried so hard to keep from having any.
“Yeah, well.” Ruby gestures somewhat helplessly, like even she can’t quite explain it. “You’re factoring into it.”
“You shouldn’t let that happen. I’ll be fine. I always am.”
“You say that, and maybe you will be, but…”
Oh, she gets it now.
The cold that emanates from her—the frost that creeps over the floor like so many spreading fingers—is nothing if not immature. Uncalled for. Why is she letting her emotions get the better of her, now of all times? “You don’t have to worry about that,” she says, her voice carefully controlled. Her diction is perfect, too, which somehow matters a lot right now. She hides the fact that her fists are clenched in the folds of her skirt. “I’m not so lonely and pathetic that I need this. I was perfectly fine before this arrangement happened, and I’ll—”
“I don’t want to go!” Ruby shouts, causing Sapphire to stop dead in her proverbial tracks. Ruby’s fists are clenched too, only she’s holding them against her temples. Instead of meeting Sapphire’s cold, angry gaze she’s looking at the communications center and blinking rapidly. A sound of distress escapes her as she tangles her fingers into her curly hair, and she whispers, “I don’t want to leave.”
Sapphire feels a little like she’s just been slammed into a wall hard enough to make a dent. All of the rage and hurt and indignation drains swiftly out of her, causing her fists to become limp fingers and her mouth to hang slack. “Wha—but why?” she says in a voice that’s mostly all breath. “This is your freedom, Ruby. Nothing should be more important.”
She doesn’t know how to react when she sees the first tear track down Ruby’s cheek. “Nothing was, at first,” she confesses in a thin voice. The palm she uses to wipe her face clean is shaking. “Even when we first became friends, I still thought it was worth more than anything. I was so sick of being called defective and broken and unworthy. I was so sick of looking at myself like that, and I really thought that this was the best way of making all of it go away.”
“It didn’t?” Sapphire feels half numb. I wasn’t the only one who felt that way?
Ruby shakes her head and swipes her palm across her wet cheeks again. “I was hoping it would feel like a triumph, rubbing into the faces of the Diamond Authority themselves that they were wrong about me, and maybe they had always been, but instead. Instead it just… doesn’t matter.” She sniffs loudly, and lets out a small, humorless laugh. “It’s not that I’ve given them their comeuppance, it’s more that it no longer applies.” She looks at Sapphire. “They’re just not worth the effort anymore.”
“Ruby, do you hear yourself? How can you not care?” cries Sapphire, her voice rising for what feels like the first time. “You need to stick it in their faces for the both of us, because you actually have a chance to get out of here!”
“Yes, but at what cost?”
“None to you! Isn’t that enough?”
Ruby shakes her head. “It’s not. You’re the one who counts the days since you last saw the sky, not me.”
“I’m never going to see the sky again, Ruby,” she says, though she doesn’t mean for the words to come out as sharply as they do. Still, though, how has Ruby not figured this out yet? “Even if my usefulness somehow expires, I know far more than someone of my station should. I’ll be shattered and swept up before I can even think about seeing the sun again. But you,” she gestures with the hand that’s holding her gem. “You know nothing about that, other than the fact that I do it. When they offer freedom to you, Ruby, you’ll actually get it.” Her voice breaks then, and the calm logic she’s been trying so hard to wrestle herself into begins to fall apart. “Don’t you understand? You can have so much better than this.”
“And what if I don’t want it,” says Ruby quietly. One last wipe, and all of a sudden she is dry eyed as she regards Sapphire directly. Her gaze is powerful, too, as strong and unyielding as everything else about her. “If you can’t come with me?”
“Wha—I don’t…” Sapphire doesn’t remember the last time she was this inarticulate. It isn’t because she doesn’t have anything to articulate, that’s for sure. But what to say first?
Don’t talk like that. It will just make things harder when you go.
I’m not the only one?
Why would you do this?
You stupid, silly, endearing—no, I don’t mean that—argh! See what you do to me?
What does it mean that I don’t want to resent you for saying this?
Ruby is still watching her, waiting for the statement to percolate. She doesn’t look leery, per se, but she clearly understands that her remark is not being taken lightly.
Her red hands are still quivering; Sapphire can see it from here.
“We—we’ve never talked about this,” Sapphire says finally, her voice faint.
“I know.” Ruby glances away, but only for a moment. Are her cheeks rosier than usual? “There are a lot of things we haven’t discussed that probably should have come up a long time ago. I just thought that, if I’m going to go anyway, the least we could do is touch upon the greatest of it. I—I don’t know why, but I didn’t want you to find out from someone else, long after the fact.”
It’s really, really hard to keep herself in check right now. Perspective, remember? Doing anything now is only going to hurt worse later. They can’t possible get away with challenging the Diamond Authority over this.
Is this even what she wants? Sapphire’s entire knowledge of being more than friends both begins and ends with Ruby. Doesn’t that mean it’s all skewed towards her, too?
“I was hoping to bring it up in better circumstances,” Ruby confesses. She gestures again, as helpless as ever. “But there again, I never have the nerve until you push me.”
This isn’t a sudden revelation. Not really. The reason Sapphire can’t seem to talk is because the dam she has constructed against these thoughts and emotions and potential futures has officially come down, and she’s still trying to stay afloat in the proverbial deluge. Truth is, she’s known about this for a long time. She’s pretty sure she’s reciprocated for about as long, too.
“It’s hard to tell the difference between obligation and authentic trust, in these situations,” she murmurs to no one in particular. “We’re forced to spend every single day together. Are we just adapting so we don’t end up killing each other?”
“I don’t know. Is that what you think?”
“Not entirely. I… I’ve been trying not to think about it. The probability of something like this working…”
“So you have seen it. I’ve always wondered.” Ruby hesitates, and then visibly decides why the hell not. “That vision you blushed over, was that…?”
Sapphire can’t help the dry, flat look she shoots the other gem. “You actually have to ask?”
“Not much fazes you, I know,” says Ruby, holding up her hands. “I still had to make sure—like the one you really freaked out about. Are you ever going to confirm that?”
“Honestly, I still don’t understand that one. I haven’t experienced anything like it either before or since. The emotion from the vision—a nonsensical thing, from my current perspective—transferred, somehow. I don’t understand any more than that.”
“Is the reason you’ve never mentioned any of the details of your visions because you’re trying to protect me from knowing too much?”
“I want you to have the fresh start you deserve. It wouldn’t happen if you knew the dirty details about the question and answer game I play with the Diamonds.”
Sapphire doesn’t need future vision to know what Ruby will say next. Her choice—and her commitment to that choice—is all over her face. “And hearing about these visions would make it impossible for them to send me to the surface, right?”
It’s wrong. It’s awful that she is even considering this.
“You don’t know what you’re asking for, Ruby.”
“Because it’s that terrible?”
“How horrifying potential futures may or may not be isn’t the problem. You’re asking to hear about them all at the expense of your own fate. You have no idea if this would work, or even if I agree to it. Don’t you see how impulsive that is?”
For a moment Ruby just gives her this funny look. Then she becomes direct, “And will it work?”
“You know future vision doesn’t work like that. There are—” Sapphire stops herself. How hard, exactly, is she willing to fight this? Ruby’s stance, though it hasn’t been stated explicitly, is nonetheless obvious. That means the ball is in Sapphire’s court. That vision of them will only come true if she chooses to make it so.
She lets out a breath. “I’m not telling you the details of what I do for the Diamonds.” Then, just as Ruby begins to argue, “If you truly want to stay here longer, we’re going to have to come up with a way to stall. You have to prove I still need supervision, and you’re the only one who can do it, but I refuse to leave you without a way out. Not for something that’s so uncertain.”
“You’re talking like you want me to stay, too,” she says slowly. “But your demeanor is ambiguous.”
“I’m sure it is.”
“Do you not want to give this a try? Because if that’s the case—”
“I want you to stay.”
For all that Sapphire speaks quietly, the words hang in the air as if she’s shouted.
She holds up her hand when Ruby takes a step closer, and the red gem stops, watching her with eyes that aren’t certain, but aren’t malicious either. “I shouldn’t be telling you that,” Sapphire says.
“I started it.”
“That doesn’t make it okay for me to be holding you back.” She drops her hand and hides clenched fists in the folds of her petticoats. Her voice is staying level so far. Good. Hopefully she’ll be able to keep it up. “Just because there’s something I want doesn’t mean I have the right to trap you down here with me. This may be your only chance at freedom, Ruby; you have to take it. You can’t look back, not for anyone or anything.”
At first Ruby doesn’t say anything. Sapphire feels her limbs tense. An unexpected heat causes her eye to water under her bangs. She blinks hard, forcing it back. This is the right thing to do, she knows it. What she feels doesn’t matter. This is more important. Ruby is more important.
“What if there was another fight?” says Ruby suddenly.
Sapphire is wholly and truly thrown off by the question. When she blinks this time, there are suddenly no tears to be forced back. “Pardon?”
“You used to fight other gems all the time. That was one of the main reasons you were shuffled around Containment Units, right?”
“I don’t understand where you’re going with this, Ruby.”
She does once Ruby explains. The plan doesn’t involve revealing the dirty details from her future vision, and it guarantees Ruby at least ten or fifteen more years of work as a handler, which is more than enough to act as a decent probationary period. As for what happens afterwards…
“So, will it work?” asks Ruby with an expectant look, after they’ve hashed out most of the technical details. What she’s really asking is, are they going to find us out?
Sapphire takes a moment to consult the various possibilities. She still can’t quite get over how easy that is now. How had she ever functioned with such disjointed and unreliable future vision before? What a handicap that second eye had been.
“Eight out of nine potential futures show success,” Sapphire replies—which, honestly, are pretty excellent odds. “But are you sure you actually want to do this?”
“If nothing else works out, then it will be fifteen extra years spent in good company.” Ruby shrugs, and then smiles. “I could do a lot worse.”
Chapter 17: The Plan In Motion
As long as no one asks why they’re doing this, the plan is actually fairly straightforward.
As long as no one asks why they’re doing this, the plan is actually fairly straightforward. The likelihood of someone figuring out that they’re staging this to keep Ruby here in Unit 6 is low, mostly because no gem in their right mind would ever choose to stay in a Containment Unit.
Well, except for Ruby. Maybe.
“If you have any doubts about this,” says Sapphire as they are about to leave the office for their four hours of recreation time.
Ruby glances at her. “I don’t.”
“Because if you did, now would be your last opportunity to voice them.”
“Sapphire.” Somehow Ruby manages to meet her eye, even through her blue bangs. “Do you have any doubts?”
“Not for myself. I’m not the one who’s spurning a chance for freedom.”
“And I told you, it’s not like the consequences are dire. Everything is going to be fine, no matter how this turns out.” She pauses, and then snorts as she pushes out into the sterile metal hall. “How am I the one saying this, anyway? That’s a role reversal if there ever was one.”
Sapphire can’t help chuckling as they leave her room—and thus any and all potential changes to the plan—behind. Next to her, Ruby smiles.
“So,” Ruby says jokingly. “How aloof and aggravatingly deadpan are you planning on becoming, on a scale of one to ten?”
Assuming that ten was the worst? Sapphire hums as she tries on each scenario. “About a seven. Maybe an eight. About what point do you feel like trying to strangle me? You have comparable levels of patience.”
“I’m going to pretend that was not a backhanded compliment.”
“It wasn’t. It was an observation.”
“There.” Ruby points at her as they walk. “That, right there, is where I start getting irritated with you. Crank it up a couple of notches from there, and you won’t have anything to fear.”
Sapphire grins. It takes Ruby a moment to understand why, and then she’s groaning aloud. “I suppose you thought that was so very clever.”
“Don’t forget amusing.”
“Save the sass for the actual target, Sapph. We wouldn’t want you running out.”
Sapphire doesn’t say anything, mostly because she isn’t sure Ruby caught it. Nevertheless, her cheeks are warm and she can’t quite get the soft, happy smile off of her face. Nobody has ever referred to her with such casual intimacy before. If anyone else had done this, it would have been a bastardization of her name, but with Ruby it was really… really nice.
“Um. Hey, sorry if I went too—are you blushing? Why?”
It’s kind of impressive, how quickly Ruby’s mood changes gears.
“No reason,” Sapphire replies lightly.
“I don’t believe that for a second.”
“Calcite.” Sapphire’s smile becomes friendly and polite as the little white-toned gem jogs up to them. “Thanks again for helping with this. We owe you one.”
Calcite waves Sapphire’s dialogue off. “I’m happy to do it, even if I don’t really understand why this is so important.” She suddenly grins. “Besides, I could get used to leading clods like this on. That is its own reward.”
A more self-confident Calcite, Sapphire decides, is a scary, sociopathic thing.
“Do you know where she is right now?” asks Ruby.
“Of course.” Calcite verbally sketches the current layout of the rec center.
“This is almost too easy,” Ruby remarks, adjusting her bright red headband.
“She’s an easy target. Of course it feels like that,” Sapphire says. She looks to Calcite. “Nothing has changed. Remember to cause a scene.”
Calcite nods and grins. “You got it!”
“I’m a little worried about that one,” Ruby says after Calcite dashes away. “Is that enthusiasm because she’s helping you, or because of what is going to happen?”
“Honestly, I can’t tell either,” Sapphire confesses. “She has been more cheerful since I essentially declared that she was under my protection, though.”
Ruby grunts, clearly not convinced that’s all there is to Calcite right now. Nevertheless, she looks to Sapphire and says with a grimace, “Sorry, in advance.”
“Then you’re forgiven, in advance.”
Ruby takes a small breath as they enter the recreation center. “Let’s get this over with.”
If this is going to work, then timing and transparency are crucial. After an hour of Sapphire and Ruby establishing their friendly, well liked presences, conveniently just as Morganite and her patrol partner Kunzite are ducking in to check that the recreation center hasn’t fallen into chaos, Calcite has to be caught giving Plagioclase another funny look. In that same moment, or just before, Sapphire has to make sure that Plagioclase can’t spot her anywhere when she gives the center a wary once over.
Once Plagioclase determines that there isn’t anyone who cares enough about Calcite to defend her, she advances remorselessly.
“Well, well, look whose guardian is absent today,” she says in a soft growl. “You think you can get away with such disrespect when she’s not here?”
“Oh, no, what’s going on now?” come the murmurs. Other inmates are beginning to take notice.
Calcite is either an excellent actor or actually intimidated. She takes a step back, eyes wide and complexion paler than usual. “I—I didn’t mean…”
“Oh, of course not. That’s just how your face looks, isn’t it?”
“Actually—” Calcite screeches as Plagioclase advances, but that’s when Sapphire crashes into the bigger gem. There is a small, sharp cracking noise as Plagioclase falls.
“Didn’t I tell you,” Sapphire starts as Calcite scrambles away, her weapon drawn on her left hand.
“Hey, you, the sapphire! That’s an abuse of power!”
“Containment Unit rules strictly prohibit the use of brute force against a fellow gem. As you have blatantly broken that rule in front of two Supervisors—”
Sapphire doesn’t give Kunzite and Morganite a chance to finish their spiel. The next thing that either of them know, their feet have been frozen to the floor and Sapphire is all but flying past them, kicking up a wind and administering blows to pressure points and joints while Morganite and Kunzite both swing their weapons wildly, trying to catch her by chance.
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as chance when your opponent can see what you will do before you actually do it, and can be on the other side of the room in the blink of an eye. However, there are also only so many weak punches that a tiny, flouncy gem can make before one of them becomes fed up.
Kunzite, being the larger of the two Supervisors, is the first to break free of her frozen restraints. She does so with an aggravated roar, and uses the butt of her spear to smash Morganite free as well.
Conveniently, Plagioclase has only now regained her bearings. She is quick to spot an opportunity to join the fray. Her sword is drawn and held before her with both hands. A wide, bloodthirsty smirk spreads across her face. Sapphire see hear her thoughts from here. Oh, I’ve got you now, you little blue menace.
“Three against one, huh?” Sapphire chuckles darkly as they form a semi-circle around her. She brings out her second knuckleduster and sinks into a stance, ready for anything. “Maybe this will actually be—”
Ruby poofs her. All it takes is one mighty swing of her fist.
Chapter 18: Impulsivity
In hindsight, she probably should have used her foresight, but such is the nature of impulsivity.
When Sapphire recovers her form, she is of course back in her quarters. Her plan is to ask how everything went, even though the likelihood of success hadn’t changed when she poofed. She could look herself, but she’s too afraid of what she might see.
Sapphire opens her mouth, but finds herself being fiercely embraced instead.
“I’m so sorry. I know I apologized in advance, but I’m still sorry now.” Ruby draws back and snatches Sapphire’s face with broad, worried hands. Her gem is hot and pulsing uncertainly against Sapphire’s cheek. “You’re okay, right? Tell me you’re fine, because it’s been two hours and I didn’t think I hit you that hard but—”
“Ruby.” She means for her voice to come out calm and soothing, but standing stock-still like this, shocked and uncertain on how to proceed, her tone takes on a quavering, questioning quality. Nobody has ever touched her like this. Not once in nearly 4,000 years.
“Yes?” Ruby is still unreasonably frantic, eyes wide and fingers twitching like she wants to hold Sapphire’s face even more firmly. “You are okay, right?”
She isn’t going to stop asking until Sapphire replies, is she? “I’m fine. Did—” is it appropriate to ask, in this position? “Did it work?”
“Fifty year extension,” Ruby says, albeit somewhat dryly. “On the higher end of your predictions, but otherwise everything else went exactly like you said.”
Which means that the blatantly selective enforcement of Unit 6’s rules by Kunzite and Morganite had not gone unnoticed by the inmates. Sapphire jumping to Calcite’s defense, too, had also been noticed. The aim of their plan had been to cause such a commotion about the stilted and abusive power structure of Unit 6 that even the gems in administration wouldn’t be able to ignore it. It also had the added bonus of keeping the inevitable investigation from looking too closely into why an allegedly reformed inmate would suddenly snap back into her old habits.
Is Sapphire the only one who notices that Ruby’s hands are still cupping her cheeks?
Or that this means they now have fifty years to figure out whether or not this will work?
What is ‘this’, anyway?
“Sapphire?” Ruby’s brows furrow in confusion as she peers at her. Her gem hand peels off of Sapphire’s face and hovers just next to her bangs, debating whether or not to push them out of the way, or if that is even an option. “You feel a little warm, are you—” she gasps when she realizes, and then she is grinning from ear to ear. “You’re blushing! Why are you blushing? What did you see? What are you thinking about?”
Ruby doesn’t seem to mind being pushed away. In fact, she starts dancing around Sapphire, teasing and excited, trying to peer past her hair and get a better look at her expression.
“Was it something I said? Did I do something? Is this a good blush or a bad blush?”
At least, that’s what would have happened if Sapphire hadn’t decided to head it off with the most impulsive and distracting thing she could think of, just as Ruby gasps with realization.
If one wants another not to talk, and one is already in close proximity with said other, the perfectly rational course of action would be to use one’s lips…?
In hindsight, she probably should have used her foresight, but such is the nature of impulsivity.
Ruby blinks, utterly dumbfounded. Her lips part in a stunned gape. Slowly, a dark maroon color creeps up her neck and into the apples of her cheeks.
No. There is no way this is going to end well.
“Erm.” Frankly, Sapphire doesn’t know where to go from here. She’s also too flustered to check for the appropriate possibility to follow. She takes a hasty step back and tangles her fingers in her skirts. Her face will never, ever stop burning, she’s sure. “Err, I apologize if I’ve violated a boundary—”
Out of all the reactions she might have expected without the help of her future vision, being swept up in Ruby’s arms and kissed firmly on the mouth is decidedly not one of them.
Well, at least now they both have a reason to be flushed darker shades of their natural hues.
“I can’t believe you just did that!” exclaims Ruby. She is apparently so ecstatic that lifting Sapphire by the waist and swinging her around in a circle seems like the perfect thing to do.
The action is so sudden, so effortlessly strong, so carefree—so Ruby—that Sapphire can’t help the delighted sound that leaves her as she braces her hands on Ruby’s shoulders and whooshes through the air. She surprises herself with the giggles, rich and from the gut, but she doesn’t regret them. She should feel unstable and insecure to be tossed around like this, but she doesn’t. At this point they have been through enough for Sapphire to implicitly trust Ruby with herself in this way. They’ve saved each other’s lives. They’ve protected other gems. They’ve sparred to the point of physical exhaustion, and not hurt each other once.
“You,” Ruby, grinning from ear to ear, sets her gently onto her own two feet. “Have the best laugh I’ve ever heard. Have I ever told you that?”
And just like that, it clicks into place. She’s not afraid. Whatever ‘this’ is, however they figure it out in these next fifty years, Sapphire doesn’t fear what they are going to find. She can’t, because she’s going to be finding it all out with Ruby.
Sapphire smiles, flattered and flushed (compliments like this are new to her, too), and replies, “No, I can’t say you have.”
Nobody’s ever looked at her with eyes like this, either. Sparkling with levity and excitement, but also deep with understanding. Ruby’s hands are still on Sapphire’s waist, and Sapphire’s are still on her shoulders, and they both know what it means that they are still standing here. This is not happening by chance or arbitrary whimsy. This is intentional and fully informed, and right now they are both exactly on the same page.
“I guess this means we’ll have to break the news to the gang back at the rec center,” Ruby says. “What do you think would give the best impression, walking in holding hands or me marching in carrying you bridal style?”
Sapphire snorts and laughs despite herself, physically pushing Ruby and the ridiculous suggestion away as she does. Then it hits her, and she looks up with abrupt solemnity. Her fingers tighten on Ruby’s shoulder. “Wait. You’re not being serious, are you?”
After a tense minute, Ruby can’t hold her own mirth in any longer. As she roars—“You should have seen the look on your face!”—Sapphire reflects that this is the most comfortable they have ever been. She certainly can’t remember a time where she has smiled and laughed this much. Is this what they have always been capable of, or has this been made possible only just recently?
Well, that doesn’t matter now. The past is passed, and if this conversation is anything to go by then the next fifty years are going to be just as, if not more, entertaining.
Sapphire smiles. She can hardly wait.
Chapter 19: Chess and Rumors
Who says chess can't be a spectator sport?
“Hey, Ruby? Can, uh—can I talk to you?”
It’s obvious that Citrine doesn’t mean here, with the rest of their friends around.
Ruby blinks, bemused, but then shrugs. “Yeah, sure.” She hops up from the table they are all gathered around, trying to prove that Apatite and Tourmaline’s chess game can, indeed, be made into a spectator sport. “Oh, and Apatite? I wouldn’t go there if I were you.”
“You’re just saying that to shake my confidence, like the last three times!” Apatite lets out a grunt of frustration and clacks her bishop down with renewed zeal. “Get out of here and have your private conversation already!”
“Actually, you really shouldn’t have gone there,” Sapphire says, leaning on the knuckles of her gem holding hand.
“What—really?” Suddenly Tourmaline is all ears. Well, all eyes, anyway. She is now raking her gaze over the chessboard for the incredible opportunity she has so obviously missed. She mutters under her breath, “It’s got to be here…”
“Sapphire, would you stop cheating!” cries Apatite. She’s so frustrated that she is nearly beating her fist on the table—actually, she has already done so in an alternate timeline. “I thought we all agreed you weren’t allowed to do that!”
With a toothy grin, Ruby offers Sapphire her gem free hand, palm up.
Sapphire, still leaning on her right hand, nonetheless answers the wordless call to high five with her left.
“You’ve got Sapphire in on it now?” screeches Apatite. It’s hard to say whether she’s more indignant or impressed. “Ruby, I swear, this is the last time I play chess with you around—the very last!”
Indignant, Sapphire decides. It’s not as genuine as she might insist, either, which is fortunate. Getting a rise out of Apatite is not only easy, but immensely entertaining.
“Citrine?” asks Ruby, since Citrine still has yet to stand. “This whole talking thing was your idea, remember?”
Citrine finally stops staring at Sapphire (inwardly, a part of Sapphire sags in relief) and pushes herself to her feet. “Yes, right. Definitely my idea. Here—let’s go over there, okay?”
Sapphire already knows what is going to transpire, but she doesn’t allow herself to react as Citrine leads Ruby off.
Tourmaline casts them a funny sort of look, but then visibly shrugs it off and returns to more important matters. “So am I missing a way to win this game, or not?” she demands, rounding on Sapphire.
Sapphire doesn’t flinch. She is trying her very best to appear nonchalant as she continues to lean on her gem hand, but on the inside she is now cackling with laughter. Tourmaline is just as much fun to rile up as Apatite. “Who’s to say?” she speculates, flapping her free hand whimsically.
Oh, Citrine’s suspicions about Ruby’s relationship with Sapphire have officially been confirmed.
Tourmaline frowns, and even Apatite is distracted from her pouting. They both look over to where everyone can see Ruby shrugging. They can’t hear what she’s saying, but Sapphire’s already Seen it. “Yeah. Nobody’s all-in or anything, but we’re giving it a try. I thought everyone knew about that already?”
“What’s her problem?” Tourmaline asks Sapphire, jerking her pink-streaked bob towards Citrine, who has buried clenched fists into the ruffles of her flouncy, sunset-colored sundress.
Sapphire lets her hand fall to the tabletop and straightens her back and shoulders. Don’t blush, she tells herself. You blush, and you will never live it down. “Citrine didn’t know that Ruby and I were involved.”
“Wasn’t that the reason you two caused that big commotion with Kunzite and Morganite a while back?” says Apatite, puzzled.
“I thought everyone knew that,” says Tourmaline.
Once punishments were doled out by the senior staff, and Calcite had naturally gotten off scot-free for being a victim, the little white gem had turned into quite the gossip. It was mostly boasting about her involvement in the plan, but when asked why there had been a plan at all Calcite had needed very little encouragement before divulging her personal theories.
In a small place like Containment Unit 6, word spreads like flames in a vacuum. According to the last story Sapphire eavesdropped on, she—a gem tragically incapable of love—was supposed to be on death row over a crime so horrifying not even the senior Supervisors actually knew what it was. However, the hopelessly smitten Ruby was doing everything within her power to save her Ice Princess, including but not limited to challenging Yellow Diamond herself to a duel over the matter. The commotion with Morganite and Kunzite, the rumor speculated, was just the tip of the iceberg!
“Apparently, Citrine did not,” says Sapphire.
“Well, she has been focusing more on how you both now have a solid reputation for defending the weak and challenging authority on issues of systemic inequality,” Tourmaline says, half musing.
This is not a lie. The respect they have from Unit 6 inmates is downright palpable now. They have been generally well liked for their entertaining sparring matches these last couple decades, but now that they are outright manipulating Supervisors—a feat no other inmate has even dreamed of—Sapphire and Ruby are beginning to be heralded as heroes, of a sort. The romance thing is obviously just a clever way to get their names out there; it is not the endgame.
Frankly, the whole thing is as embarrassing as it is flattering.
“Yeah, I’m a little unclear on that part,” Apatite says. “Did you realize that would happen, or…?”
Sapphire’s cheeks are burning. She’s knows they are. “Why can’t both have been the objective?”
“Because that would mean—oh.” Tourmaline puts a hand to her frizzy, streaked bob as the realization strikes, and then she grins. “You two are good!”
Well, maybe her cheeks are not burning. Tourmaline would have said something, otherwise.
Sapphire offers a wry smile. “Thanks. We try.”
Apatite smiles at first, but it quickly fades. “Yes, but Citrine…” She glances back at their friends, still talking off to the side. Citrine is upset, borderline angry, and for once Ruby is the calm one (bewildered, actually—she hadn’t realized Citrine thought so highly of her).
“I know,” Sapphire says. “But this is a conversation that needed to happen.”
“I know you take your work seriously, Ruby, but you’re not obligated to save her,” Citrine says, her voice wavering. “You shouldn’t feel like you have to do this, or that this is your only option. Just because nobody else sees you for most of the day doesn’t mean you’re a lost cause.”
Ruby grunts and crosses her arms. “I know all of that!”
“Do you, though?” Citrine’s voice is soft, and her ocher eyes are prodding. Worried.
“Damn it, Citrine, don’t you think I’ve already thought of that? Do you think she—” Ruby throws her arm towards Sapphire “—hasn’t already forced me to think about that? Twice? I’ve had enough of people treating me like I don’t understand what I’m doing, okay. I know what I’m asking for.” When Citrine flinches, Ruby visibly softens. She lets out a short, hard breath and slowly uncurls the fists at her sides. This time, her voice is much gentler. “Okay? I know that you’re just looking out for me, Citrine, but Sapphire’s not like that. She…” Ruby trails off, shakes her head. “I just have this feeling that if I pass up on this opportunity to know her, I’m going to regret it.”
“You’ve always been like that, Ruby,” says Citrine with a sigh. “Always chasing after the same idea. What if it’s just an illusion?”
“Then I guess I’ll find out, won’t I?”
They stare at each other for one long moment, but eventually (inevitably) Citrine backs down. “As long as you know what you’re doing,” she says, her eyes downcast. Her hands flex almost imperceptibly within the dramatically colored folds of her summer dress. “We should probably go back to the others now. I’m sure they’re wondering why this is taking so long.”
Citrine starts trudging back to Tourmaline and Apatite’s semi-abandoned chess game, and after a clear, heavy moment of debate Ruby smiles and slings a companionable arm around her slender shoulders. “Come on, let’s see if they ever figured out that Apatite’s been two moves from winning for the last twenty minutes.”
Citrine grins. It’s a little hesitant, but it’s real. “I was wondering why you were—”
“I’ve been what?” squawks Apatite.
“No you haven’t!” Tourmaline snatches the chess board and rotates it this way and that, trying to see the golden opportunity that has allegedly been under Apatite’s nose the entire time. “There is just no, way, I’ve, been, that stupid!” Each pause is punctuated by a different angle.
“If I have, then it’s a really obscure way to win,” Apatite decides, crossing her arms. “Borderline illegal, I’ll bet. No, there’s no way I’ve missed something so obvious—no way!” She loses her conviction as quickly as it comes, and leans towards Sapphire for clarity. “Have I?”
“I thought I wasn’t allowed to cheat.”
“You’ve already been cheating!”
“There’s nothing here!” say Tourmaline, still rotating the board. “I have not been two moves from losing this entire time!”
“Are you sure?” asks Citrine as she ducks out from under Ruby’s arm and leans down to peer at the game. She hums and touches her chin: the picture of concern. “Doesn’t seem like things have changed much from earlier, Tourmaline.”
“I’m telling you, there’s nothing here!”
“Definitely nothing,” Apatite agrees vehemently.
“Well, if you’re sure…”
Ruby plops down next to Sapphire with a conspiratorial grin as the next round of paranoia rears its hilarious head. “When do you think they’re going to realize none of it was real?”
Sapphire just smiles.
Who says chess can’t be a spectator sport?
The monumentally awesome Spatial has brought Tourmaline to life!
Chapter 20: Break Time
“It’s pretty hard to surprise me, but you’re good at it,” she says, returning the smile.
“I’m not trying to tell you how to do your job or anything,” Ruby says as Sapphire’s chair swivels away from the communication station. “But you seem to be taking more breaks these days. Just sayin’. Just making an observation.”
“I have been,” Sapphire agrees, crossing her legs at the knee and bobbing her ankle in the air. She peers with interest at Ruby’s boxing gloves and sweat-stained headband. “What have you been working on?”
“Oh, just this new technique I thought I’d try out on Kunzite or one of the other Supervisors when they—wait a second, don’t change the subject on me!” Suddenly her gloves are gone and Ruby is giving her a thoroughly suspicious look. “What are you planning?”
Sapphire laughs and gestures the banality of her intentions. “Answering the Diamonds’ questions is much easier now than it used to be, but if I answer them all too fast then it might prod an investigation, or at the very least a heavier workload. I don’t want either, so I’ve been spacing things out.”
“That’s right, I didn’t even think about what your improved visions were doing to your work,” Ruby says. She scratches under her headband. “Do you think they’ll catch on to what you’re doing?”
“It’s unlikely. If they keep receiving my replies in the same timely manner they’ve become accustomed to all these years, what is there to question?”
“Good point,” Ruby nods along in agreement. “So how long do you have until you dive back in?”
“An hour before I should send the answer I’ve already complete for the first question, and then open the next one. Then an hour and a half or so after that to repeat the process.”
“Not that you’ve got it down to a science or anything.”
“I have no idea what you’re referring to.”
Ruby snorts and laughs. Then, casual as can be, she plops herself down on the floor next to the chair and folds her arms over Sapphire’s knees. “Okay, so I have a question.” She stops when Sapphire stiffens. “Hey, is everything okay? You suddenly just—oh.” That’s when Ruby gets it. “Um. I’m sorry—does this make you uncomfortable? I can move…”
“No!” Ruby starts at her tone, eyes wide, with arms half-removed from her lap, and Sapphire immediately feels like an abusive moron. “I—I don’t mind. Really. I just wasn’t expecting it,” she says, swallowing and bowing her head so that her bangs can obscure her warm cheeks. She plucks at the hem of her gloves. “That’s all. I’m just not used to it yet.”
Sapphire can feel Ruby’s gaze as her arms slowly relax over Sapphire’s lap again. Her eyes are heavy, and the silence that surrounds them makes Sapphire’s skin itch. She’s messed up, hasn’t she?
“I keep forgetting that you’ve never done this before,” Ruby confesses. “You’re always so calm; it makes me feel like nothing I do would surprise you. I don’t see it as a bad thing—but there again, it’s not true. I should probably be a little more forthcoming about this kind of stuff, huh?”
At Ruby’s wry, apologetic smile, Sapphire feels something shift within herself. She doesn’t quite have the tools to identify what it is, specifically, but she knows that she appreciates this level of openness and honesty.
“It’s pretty hard to surprise me, but you’re good at it,” she says, returning the smile. After a moment of hesitation, she lifts her hand. Then she stops, uncertain. “Can I…?”
Wordlessly, Ruby leans into her half curled fingers. She watches with soft eyes as Sapphire touches her gravity defying curls, traces the curve of her ear, smooths out a crease on her forehead. “Feels nice,” she mumbles, turning her head to press a kiss into Sapphire’s knuckles.
Sapphire’s breath catches in her throat. Her gem thrums in her right palm, and it feels like an ocean has been set into motion within her. A gesture so small shouldn’t be enough to move her so powerfully, and yet here they are.
“Asking permission for everything feels so suffocating,” she finds herself saying. “Besides, I think I like being surprised. It happens so rarely that the excitement is a nice change of pace.”
“Oh yeah?” Ruby grins, flattered and pleased and a little flushed. She holds Sapphire’s palm against her cheek and braces her other hand on the arm of the chair as she lifts herself up until her breath is ghosting against Sapphire’s lips. She’s so close that Sapphire’s bangs are no longer a barrier to eye contact, merely an aquamarine screen through which they view each other. It’s obvious that Ruby is only teasing, but were Sapphire anyone else, she might have started sweating anyway.
“And what about now?” asks Ruby.
“Nah,” Sapphire says, allowing herself to smile through the nervous pulsing of her gem and the heat in the apples of her cheeks. “I saw this coming.”
She thought that would be that, but it isn’t. The kiss that Ruby draws her into is tender, sweet, and altogether short lived.
So maybe she hadn’t been teasing after all.
“Still?” Ruby asks, watching carefully for any traces of negativity.
If it’s possible, Sapphire is even more certain than before. A little embarrassed and lacking in her own original ideas, but certain nonetheless. She could use more surprises like this in her life.
She smiles a little bigger. “Still.”
Chapter 21: Comforting Resonance
"You only sing when you're upset, right?"
“You only sing when you’re upset, right?”
That’s right, she’s not alone.
Sapphire cuts the melody that’s begun to trickle from her lips and snaps her head up. She blinks once, twice, and then reaches under her bangs to swipe the budding tears out of the way. How could she have forgotten that Ruby was here? Ruby’s always here.
“I’m fine,” Sapphire says, spinning in the chair to face her. Because facing Ruby means she isn’t afraid, or something like that.
“Doesn’t sound like it to me.” Ruby takes a step closer to her. “That’s the same song you were singing when that vision pushed you to a breakdown a while back. I’ve never heard you sing when you’re happy.”
“Just because you haven’t heard it doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.”
Ruby isn’t listening. “What did you see?”
“You know I can’t answer that.”
“Whatever it was, it’s obviously hit home. I don’t think it has anything to do with the Diamonds. You never even flinch at what they make you look at, much less sing.”
Sapphire pauses. Does Ruby pay that much attention to her, or is it just that obvious?
Regardless. “Ruby, please.”
Ruby lets out a noise of frustration and rips her arm through the air as if swiping something from a table top. “Fine. Don’t tell me the details. I don’t care about the details.” Without warning, she marches up to Sapphire and braces both hands on the armrests of her chair. She leans in close enough that there is no avoiding her, even when Sapphire leans back. Her jaw is set, and her expressive eyes are determined. “Whatever you saw, it bothers you. You can’t deny that.”
“Ruby, I appreciate your concern, but really, it’s fine. I’ve dealt with worse—”
“That’s not the point, Sapphire!” Ruby stares hard. Resolute. Something about the tilt of Sapphire’s mouth changes her mind, though, and she straightens up. Her hands fall to her sides in loose fists, and her expression loses its edge, practically wilts. “Do you want me to go outside for a while?” she asks gruffly.
Why does this feel like an argument?
“There’s no reason for that,” Sapphire says. “Thank you, but I’m fine.” She turns back to her work. Two more messages in her inbox today.
Of course, now that she’s peeking at them with her future vision she knows that neither of them will be particularly difficult inquiries, which means she actually has some free time right now. That would be her luck, wouldn’t it?
Sighing, Sapphire props her elbow on the desk and rests her chin in her gem-free palm.
“If you need to sing, you shouldn’t let me hold you back,” Ruby tells her hunched shoulders. Apparently, she can’t just let it go.
“I don’t need to sing.”
“You were literally just singing, until you remembered I was here.”
Sapphire props her other elbow up on the desk and rubs the sides of her face, not caring if she’s mussing up her own hair. She tries not to think about the thin film of ice that is now crawling over the keyboard. “I’m fine, Ruby.”
“I really don’t think you are.”
Why is she pushing this so hard?
“If I wasn’t okay, I would say so.” Sapphire pronounces each word with perfect, polite diction, but the ice creeps over the monitor anyway.
“Honestly, Sapphire? I’m not sure you would.”
“Will you just let it go?” she snaps, launching to her feet and knocking the damn chair over. The entire communication console is engulfed in ice now. It beeps and sparks weakly in protest.
“No,” Ruby replies fiercely. “What did you see?”
“I can’t tell you! I already said that—Ruby, you know that!”
Sapphire doesn’t know if she’s more riled up from being defied or touched that Ruby is trying so hard. As she tries to figure it out, the ice consuming the communication console slowly begins to recede. “Why is this so important to you?” she asks finally, her voice low with defeat.
“Because it’s important to you and you won’t let yourself do it, that’s why!” Ruby, who has been gesturing sharply, lets her hands fall to her sides now. “I know it’s something you usually do when no one else is around,” she says in something just above a mutter. “That’s why I offered to leave.”
It feels like they’re talking about something else now, something more than singing. Maybe they are. All Sapphire knows is that the singing itself is pivotal. If she chooses to trust Ruby with the ritual she’s never let anyone else be there for, it’s likely that they will become closer. If she doesn’t, they might become closer regardless, but it will take a lot longer because the status quo will not have changed. If she doesn’t sing at all, she will just be bottling things up again (and the Sapphire-shaped dents in the recreation center are a pretty blatant testament to how well that technique works). It all depends on what Sapphire wants to glean from this situation, and what she thinks Ruby wants.
With all of the facts on the table, the choice is easy.
“No.” Sapphire shakes her head. “I want you to stay.”
First things first, though. She reaches over to give the communication console a quick electric jump to make it come back to life (the last thing she needs is someone poking around wondering why her equipment is broken). That done, she sinks onto her knees—this doesn’t feel like a thing she should be standing for—and ignores the way her skirts briefly puff up in response.
Ruby, rightly sensing a change in atmosphere, drops down and crosses her ankles. She rests her palms on her thighs, and regards Sapphire with a touched sort of respect. When Sapphire begins to sing her eyes slip shut, and frankly Sapphire’s a little grateful because she doesn’t quite know what to do with that gaze just yet.
Sapphire’s voice is soft at first, vacillating from nerves. When she closes her own eye, her confidence rises. She doesn’t know what it sounds like—if no one’s ever heard you sing, you never hear if it’s any good—only that the melody feels right to her, just as it always has. Ruby’s presence isn’t threatening, though. In fact, the resonance of another being in the same room with her is downright comforting.
Well, maybe it’s just the resonance of Ruby.
All the same, when Sapphire’s had her fill of acapella catharsis some unidentified amount of time later, and her eye opens, she sees tears clinging to the corner of Ruby’s. She scarcely seems to notice, she’s just looking at Sapphire as if her very soul has been touched, and she doesn’t know whether to feel good or violated.
“What is that song?” she asks, and her voice has never been so vulnerable. “Where did you hear it?”
“As far as I can tell, I made it up,” Sapphire says. “Is it familiar to you?”
“No, but it just—” she sniffs and rubs at the single tear that rolls down her cheek “—I don’t know whether to love it or hate it. It’s doing something to me, though.”
Her future vision had not prepared her for this. Why was Sapphire not prepared? “I’m sorry. If I had known—”
“No, no, no, no!” Ruby waves her hands, tears still falling. “Not in a bad way, I don’t think. It…” but she can’t find the words, and her hands drop into her lap again.
Slowly, Sapphire rises and pads her way over to the red gem. She touches Ruby’s cheek, at first with the shy backs of her knuckles, and then with the gloved pads of her fingers. She kneels next to her, wordlessly traces around the socket of each wet eye. They look at each other, and then move at the same time. Ruby’s arm winds around her lower back as Sapphire slides one over her broad shoulders, softly kisses the moisture resting in the corner of her right eye.
“I don’t understand it, either,” Sapphire murmurs as Ruby tips into her, her cheek resting against Sapphire’s collarbone as her puffy hair tickles her chin. She is strangely subdued, but the arm around Sapphire is solid. Don’t let me go.
For once, Ruby doesn’t have anything to say. Sapphire wonders if she’s still numb inside, or if she’s ever felt this kind of closeness to anyone before. She wants to ask, but it doesn’t feel like the right time.
They stay like this, silently holding each other, until Sapphire’s workstation blings with the arrival of a third message, a reminder of the outside world’s continued need of them, and they have to separate once more.
Chapter 22: Rhodochrosite
The recreation center, usually full of hustle and bustle and laughter and loud conversation, is oddly hushed today.
The recreation center, usually full of hustle and bustle and laughter and loud conversation, is oddly hushed today. It has nothing to do with them, Sapphire doesn’t think. Nobody’s staring as they walk in, anyway, and nobody approaches them either.
“What happened?” Ruby asks when they find their friends. They are also all shrouded in melancholy—even Tourmaline, who usually does her darndest to make the best of any bad situation.
The pitch of Ruby’s voice is troubling. It’s like she already suspects what’s going on.
For her part, all Sapphire can see is everyone eventually going back to normal after a day or so.
“You know how Rhodochrosite got shuffled onto another roster a while back?” says Citrine. When Ruby nods, expression grave, Citrine glances at Sapphire’s expression and adds, “It happened right before you transferred in.”
Oh. Sapphire can fill in the blanks now. Unit 6 is not the most crowded of Containment Units, but it is small enough that shifts have to be carefully organized. In Unit 6, gems are placed in groups that share both work and recreation periods. Even when schedules are switched about to provide a change of pace, inmates still remain in their cohorts. While other gems are seen and occasionally interacted with in the halls during transitions between labor and recreation, by and large your associations are limited to those gems within your cohort. It wasn’t necessarily to give the inmates a sense of stability as it was a matter of tidiness and organization. Mixing up gems from different cohorts usually meant a slew of new interpersonal conflicts that the Supervisors would simply rather not deal with. If they all stayed in the same groupings, the Supervisors would know what problems to expect from whom, and even those tended to sort themselves out over time. It is unorthodox for a single gem to be singled out and transferred into a different cohort, to say the least.
That being said, Sapphire’s abilities have forced the administration to make unorthodox moves before. Rhodochrosite was a friend of theirs, but she had needed to move because Sapphire’s schedule needed to align with her handler’s, and Ruby couldn’t be moved because her amiable dynamic within her cohort was one of the reasons she had gotten the job to begin with.
It all makes sense, logically speaking, but Sapphire can see now that this little group of inmates missed their friend.
“What happened to Rhodochrosite?” asks Ruby, though Sapphire can hear that she already fears the worst.
“Nothing good,” Apatite says sadly. “She was a 4 Mohs gem in a new cohort, without a single friend anywhere.”
“We would see her in the halls during transitions,” says Citrine. “Never for long, of course—can’t have that—but Rho would always smile and joke with us like everything was okay. She kept assuring us she had made new friends, except we never saw them with her.”
“We were concerned when we didn’t see her yesterday,” Apatite says. “So we put out feelers for information, and that’s when it all came out.”
“The other inmates were torturing her; they didn’t even need the Supervisors to start it,” says Tourmaline bluntly. “Rhodochrosite wouldn’t tell us about it because she didn’t want us to worry.”
“And finally she just—refused to come back out of her gem. The Supervisors gave her the standard twenty-four hours.”
“But the inmates crushed her first,” says Citrine. Her fists are clenched, and her jaw is set. “She might have been too depressed to come out, anyway—who can blame her? She waited over three centuries for things to get better before finally giving up. We get enough grief for being what we are from the Supervisors, why would other inmates feel the need to add to it? What good can that possibly accomplish? I’d give up too, if I thought I had to face an eternity of that.”
Citrine is an emotional creature, but Sapphire doesn’t think she’s ever seen her so openly upset. Not even after being tortured by the Supervisors. Right now, she’s almost upset enough to go looking for a fight (actually, the Citrine from an alternate timeline already has; it doesn’t end well for her, which is why it’s good that this Citrine is staying put).
Well, this definitely explains why the entire recreation facility is lackluster. Sapphire can only guess at how long Rhodochrosite was in this cohort before her transfer. Perhaps this little group had been her closest friends, but it was fairly obvious that Rhodochrosite had at least been accepted here as one of their own.
“You don’t actually mean that, do you Citrine?” asks Apatite.
Sapphire can’t help but feel partially responsible for the situation. While she couldn’t have known something so wretched would happen to the gem her transfer inevitably displaced, it is her fault for disrupting the harmony of her last Containment Unit so thoroughly that a transfer was even necessary.
“Think about it, Apatite! What would you have done, if you were in Rho’s place?”
Her friends can’t possibly be blind to the fact that Rhodochrosite’s disappearance and her own appearance are linked, either. So why don’t they resent her? Why did they accept her as a friend to begin with? Were she in their position, Sapphire isn’t sure she would have done the same.
How much does she owe these gems for their sacrifice?
“I hate to say it,” says Tourmaline in an oddly subdued voice. She rubs her green hand through her pink-streaked hair, visibly shaken by the realization. “But I’m not sure I would have handled it much differently. Think about it: even if she had asked us for help, what could we have done?”
Next to Sapphire, Ruby stands very still. She doesn’t speak. Her temperature is normal—just a little bit warmer than average—and there is something deeply unsettling about that. Ruby is a creature of action, of movement! Where is her fire, her clenched fists, her air-shimmering heat, her desire for revenge? She can’t just hear news of her friend’s destruction and stand here like this.
“It’s not like she could have asked the Supervisors to stop it. They would have joined in.”
Of course, who would they retaliate against? This isn’t like going after Morganite and Kunzite, specific names and faces to rub into their past misdeeds with personalized care—this would be an entire cohort of some two hundred gems. Sapphire and Ruby are both strong, and they’re smoothing out the kinks on a truly exquisite tag team, but even they can’t take on two hundred gems alone. Proper retribution would require an army, a full on war between the two cohorts.
“I don’t know!” cries Apatite, throwing up her hands. “Maybe she could have—befriended gems of similar Mohs, or something. That’s what happened with us, isn’t it?”
Sapphire can See it now. The cohorts would tear each other apart, and the survivors would feel no better for it all. In fact, they would feel worse, because they would have lost more than just one friend. What’s more, is Sapphire would be transferred again and the unthinkable would happen to Ruby for allegedly allowing her reap havoc like the old days.
“Are you saying Rhodochrosite didn’t try that? You knew her as well as we did! Listen to yourself, Apatite.”
It’s selfish—oh, stars, she knows too well how selfish it is—but Sapphire absolutely cannot let that happen.
“I know, I know! I just, I don’t know how to deal with the fact that Rhodochrosite—our Rho—just… gave up.” Apatite’s hands fall into her lap. She swallows, looking close to tears. “How low must she have felt? How did we miss that?”
Gems are shattered in Containment Units for refusing to participate more often than one might think. For inmates, it’s the only way out, the only choice they can make that is wholly their own. Rhodochrosite’s isn’t a new story.
That doesn’t make her choice soften the blow to her friends, and it certainly doesn’t make Sapphire’s culpability any less real.
Ruby, still silent, glances over. Her face, usually so easy to read, is terrifyingly devoid of expression. However, Sapphire knows her enough to see the grief and the rage and helplessness writhing about like so many serpents just under her surface.
To be honest, it makes her want to slump in relief. At least the Ruby she knows is not gone.
Sapphire doesn’t recall calling forth her spiked knuckledusters or burying them in the folds of her petticoats as she clenches her fists hard enough for her fingers to go cold and numb, but apparently these things have been going on in the background all along. She reveals her weapon now, and gestures to the exercise mat with it.
“Ruby, fight me.”
Ruby blinks slowly, either uncomprehending or disbelieving, but Sapphire’s watching closely now and she can see the blank barrier has grown just that little bit thinner. Good, she thinks. Let it happen, Ruby.
“Sapphire, what the hell are you saying?” says Citrine sharply. “This is not the time for a sparring match!”
“Look, Sapphire, I know you didn’t know Rhodochrosite,” Apatite begins.
“No.” Ruby’s voice is rough like she hasn’t spoken in weeks, but her eyes are clear and her body language is certain. “It’s okay, I want to do it.”
Ruby summons her boxing gloves and walks, slowly and deliberately, to the exercise mat in the northwest corner. When she turns, Sapphire is already there with her.
All around them, the rec center is stirring. Affront battles with confusion, which in turn struggles to reconcile itself with interest. A few gems peek around their peers to watch without trying to hide their intentions.
Sapphire ignores them all. She dismisses her typical dress for the bodysuit with the white diamond she used to wear all the time, long before Unit 6 welcomed her. On an afterthought, she ties back her hair (all but the bangs, of course). She sinks into a low stance. “I won’t be holding back,” she says calmly. “I expect you will do the same.”
Sapphire knows what she’s asking for. Once she cracks through this barrier, Ruby isn’t going to be herself. She’s going to be terrifying and out of control and strong, and there is a chance that Sapphire may not win.
None of that matters. If anyone knows about the dangers of bottling up, it’s Sapphire. She can’t—she won’t—allow Ruby to experience the same fate. Out of all the possibilities for the near future, this is ironically the least destructive of them all. Ruby is a creature of movement and physical self-expression, and her fury is not a part of her she should deny or contain. It will only hurt her to be consumed by her own stillness.
It’s unlikely that Ruby is aware of the situational nuances right now, but the instant before she speaks she looks Sapphire in the eye, and Sapphire can see that she knows enough. Her demeanor dips into magma, molten and fiery and red, as she growls, “Oh, you don’t have to worry about that” and charges. The fight is on.
Sapphire is ready for the scorching clash of weapons that comes next, and she doesn’t flinch as she skids back several feet, the ice reinforcing her resistance of the strike hissing as it melts. She reforms it just in time for Ruby to charge again, and uses the stockier gem’s momentum to flip her over her shoulder and slam her into the exercise mat, hard.
Ruby grunts, disoriented by the air that has been temporarily knocked out of her, but then she’s kipping to her feet and clashing with Sapphire again. Punches and kicks flurry about her, and she’s clever enough to feint them and confuse Sapphire’s future vision, but while Sapphire does take a few knocks she doesn’t back down. Every time a blow lands, Sapphire makes sure that Ruby takes at least two from her. She’s not as strong as Ruby, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to back down.
There is an instant in which they clash again, ice and fire, arms trembling as each struggles to break through the other’s guard, and their eyes meet. Sapphire looks right into the smoldering eyes of a grieving berserker, and doesn’t fear. Ruby can’t hurt her, and she needs this catharsis so badly. It’s safe for her to funnel all of her helplessness and rage and grief at Sapphire, who isn’t going to allow herself to burn or hold it against Ruby even if she fails. It’s an odd thing to say, but this takes about as much trust as Sapphire’s singing had.
Maybe Sapphire can’t save anyone, and maybe retribution is an impossible dream, but at least she can do this.
Chapter 23: The Real Enemy
Being involved doesn't make you any weaker.
Being involved doesn’t make you any weaker. At least, it doesn’t in Ruby and Sapphire’s case. If anything, they’ve only made each other stronger. Even at Ruby’s most destructive and vulnerable moments—moments where she’s so overcome that it feels like she can’t even see—Sapphire did not shy away. She held her ground, and when Ruby came back into herself the first thing she felt were arms around her, steady and reassuring. Her recovery time was cut in half. No one’s ever been willing or able to do that before.
Gem romance, while debatably a natural phenomenon, is more or less something others turn their noses up at. Sharing your vulnerability with someone else is close to unthinkable—they will use it against you! Ruby’s never subscribed to that mentality, herself, but there again she doesn’t think she’s ever had a bond with someone that’s made her feel this strong either.
Naturally, the Supervisors and bigger gem bullies tend to follow the popular dogma, but ultimately Ruby’s not too bothered by their ignorance. If she has to knock a few Supervisors around to prove a point, then that’s all right with her.
Onyx in particular seems more than a little perturbed to come across them holding hands and laughing, seemingly without a care in the cosmos, on their way to the recreation facility. Ruby can see the way the dark gem tenses from here.
Why nobody’s ever changed their route through the sterile metal halls is a mystery to Ruby. Well, maybe not in Ruby’s case. She refuses to give Onyx the satisfaction of influencing anything she does anymore. Actually, how and why Onyx wonders around without her cohort has always been a bit of a mystery. Is she going out of her way to stumble upon Ruby and Sapphire? Why would she want to do that?
Well, it’s not like Ruby’s ever going to stop and ask. Best get comfortable with not knowing.
“That’s illogical,” Sapphire says, apropos of nothing.
“What?” says Onyx blankly.
Oh. Ruby gets it now.
Sapphire’s fingers squeeze around Ruby’s own, as if to prove a point. “You are going to say that Ruby’s affection has made her weak,” she says matter of factly. “That’s illogical. You’re trying to force two unrelated things together and infer a causal relationship.”
“You would know all about forcing incompatible things together, wouldn’t you?”
“Hey!” Ruby barks out. She takes a threatening step forward and starts to release Sapphire’s hand, only to be yanked sharply back.
“Well, there is a reason I’ve never tried to make friends with you, Onyx,” Sapphire says mildly.
At first the much bigger gem honestly doesn’t seem to know what to say. Her dark skin seems to deepen ever so slightly in color, and then she crosses her arms and scoffs. “As if I would have let you, anyway! Ha! Just the idea of it makes me laugh.”
“Then why do you go out of your way to find Ruby?” asks Sapphire.
Ruby stops tugging against the grip on her fingers and gapes. Really, she’s doing this now? Did she See something happen?
“Why?” Onyx cackles. “Because Ruby’s—”
“Right here, Onyx. I’m standing right here.”
Sapphire squeezes her hand—just let me do this; trust me—but while Ruby doesn’t wrench away and start a fight like she wants to (since when was Onyx this much of a pain in the ass, anyway? Sure, they haven’t had the misfortune of running into her in the last few years or so, but…), none of that says she can’t glower. And oh, Ruby has glowering down to an art, if she says so herself.
“You don’t bully any other gems,” Sapphire says as Onyx rears about to retort, her arms unfolding and hands grasping the air like she wishes she could strangle something. “In fact, you protect them. You’re honorable in what you do to anyone else—so why this? What makes Ruby the exception?”
Ruby grumbles. She can’t remember ever feeling more ostracized and awkward. “I’m still right—”
“Yes, Ruby, we both know you’re still here. Please stop burning my hand now.”
Oh. She is, isn’t she? “Sorry,” she mutters as she cuts the temperature. The gently billowing steam of the volatilizing ice that Sapphire had been using to protect herself also fades out. This is embarrassing—but so is having your current partner talking to your ex like this.
Onyx casts Ruby a funny look, either surprised at how quickly she’s backed down or struck by some other behavioral benchmark she’s not sure she recognizes.
“Aren’t you going to answer the question?” Sapphire’s voice is far more patient and gentle than the words themselves would lead you to believe.
Onyx’s gaze snaps back to Sapphire, and she scowls. Her huge arms are crossed again, closed off and defiant. “Don’t see why I should.”
“Doesn’t your cohort wonder where you go when you’re gone?”
“You may not understand what it’s like, but they don’t worry about me because they know I can defend myself.”
Sapphire’s lips are set in a stoic line, utterly unimpressed.
Onyx tosses her hair and scoffs. “That’s what I thought.”
Ruby can’t take it anymore. She knows Sapphire wants her to stand back and let this happen, but it’s not a lack of trust that has her wrenching her hand to herself and grinding out, “You know what, Onyx? You can just—”
Sapphire has moved Ruby before. She’s even done it using her speed before. Somehow, though, Ruby is shocked to find herself being set down in a different and completely empty hallway, Sapphire’s skirts still a flurry from their abrupt halt.
Ruby lets out a wordless shout. She can’t tell whether she’s more frustrated, baffled, or just plain disappointed that she didn’t get to beat the snot out of Onyx’s annoying damn face. Maybe it’s an even mix.
“Sapphire, what did you just do? I was gonna—”
“It wouldn’t have ended well.”
“What wouldn’t have ended well?”
“As antagonistic as she can be, Onyx is not someone we should be fighting,” says Sapphire calmly. “She defends gems who can’t defend themselves.”
“Yeah, well, just because we can defend ourselves doesn’t mean—”
“I’m not making excuses for her. Whatever she is trying to do when she seeks you out, she’s not doing it well. But she is not an enemy.”
“How do you know that, Sapphire?” demands Ruby hotly, hands on her hips. “Huh? How are you so sure?”
“Because I’ve been trying to understand her reasons for being so antagonistic, and whenever I See what she’ll do, it’s almost always in someone else’s defense.” Sapphire pauses, gaging Ruby’s expression as it changes, and Ruby’s hands slip from her hips. “Why are you surprised? Is this new behavior for her?”
“No,” says Ruby softly. She feels hollow. Sapphire said it to Onyx’s face, sure, but that had just felt like a bluff. Hearing it like this is different, somehow. “That’s exactly how she was before our cohort was split up.”
“I thought cohorts weren’t supposed to be split up.”
“It was either another one of Blue Diamond’s experiments or some upper administrative moron who thought that changing things up would be good for everyone—doesn’t matter which, though.” Ruby dismisses the semantics with a wave of her hand. “That whole fiasco is the reason cohorts aren’t split up anymore. I think we lost fifty gems, in total? Almost all of them were low Mohs.”
Sapphire doesn’t say anything, but the corner of her mouth twitches, and Ruby knows her well enough at this point to tell that it’s in distaste.
“Yeah, I know. I didn’t like it either. Some of them were my friends, gems that Onyx and I—” she stops as the realization dawns on her, and then looks at Sapphire with new eyes. “What would have happened, if you hadn’t taken us out of that situation?”
“I got that much on my own, thanks. What would have happened, Sapphire?”
Sapphire doesn’t reply at first. Her lips purse together, and Ruby can see her tangle her fingers in her skirts.
Ruby waits for it—patience isn’t her forte, but damn if the answer to this question isn’t important to her. Sapphire can’t hold back under an expectant gaze forever, right?
“Sapphire, I’m asking. I wouldn’t be asking if I wasn’t prepared to deal with a straight answer.”
She lets out a hard breath. “You would have cracked her. It would have been an accident, but…”
She doesn’t need to say anything more. Everyone knows what happens to damaged gems in Containment Units.
“Oh.” All of her self-righteous fire is gone now. Where did it go?
Onyx irks her to no end, but that doesn’t mean Ruby wants to see her damaged like that. She certainly doesn’t want to be the one responsible for it.
“I apologize for upsetting you, but I couldn’t let that happen.”
“No, I—I get it now.” Ruby looks at her, trying to meet her eye through the curtain of bangs. “Thank you.”
Whether it’s to comfort Ruby or herself, or simply to pick up where they left off, Sapphire’s hand slips into Ruby’s all the same. “Shall we go to the rec center now?”
“Yeah, that sounds good.” Ruby pauses, and looks around. She doesn’t recognize the placard posted on the metal wall that details the name of the hallway. “You do know how to get there from here, right? Because I actually don’t think I’ve been in this part of Unit 6 before.”
Chapter 24: The Broken and Ironic Kind
Rubies don't generally like other rubies.
It’s not the same for everyone, especially when gems of low Mohs almost always work in groups, but Ruby’s never met another ruby that she’s liked. Ever. The gut instinct to detest what a talc or pearl may call her sisters has always gone both ways; she’s never met another ruby who’s taken a liking to her, either.
Okay, so she’s only met two other rubies in her life (outside of the tiny moon near Vega where she and the other rubies were incubated, of course, but nobody counts their time in Kindergarten, anyway). Still, though. As a general rule, rubies tend to irritate the hell out of each other.
“I haven’t seen her before,” says Sapphire with a puzzled frown.
Only after Ruby has searched intently around the otherwise empty hallway they are strolling through on their way to the recreation center does she realize that Sapphire’s comment is preemptive.
“Who are we supposed to be meeting?” she asks. She doesn’t know if Sapphire’s making spontaneous remarks like this as a demonstration of trust, or if her future vision is that convincing these days, or if she’s just trying to make conversation, but it can admittedly be annoying to catch herself looking for things that haven’t happened yet. Ruby needs to work out a system for better understanding when Sapphire is being influenced by her ability.
“Well, she’s either a red beryl or another ruby, but either way she’s not a part of our cohort, or the Supervisors assigned to us.”
Ruby feels something within her shift and drop. “She was in a Supervisor’s uniform?”
“A fairly high ranking one, too. Have you heard of any inspections happening today?”
“I hear what you hear, Sapphire. We spend all day, every day together.”
“But you notice the patterns of this place more than I do.”
While that is true, Ruby’s pretty sure that Sapphire relies on it. She’s never outright said so, but her behavior makes it obvious.
Honestly, Ruby likes that she’s obviously being depended upon.
“There aren’t any scheduled inspections happening today, if that’s what you mean.”
Sapphire hums, and then cuts herself off. “Oh.”
“ ‘Oh’ what?”
“She’s another Ruby.” By her tone, Sapphire seems to have already seen the implications of that.
“Have you ever met another Sapphire?”
“No. We’re fairly rare, from what I gather.”
Rubies, unfortunately, are not rare enough. Containment Units usually make a point of keeping them separated, though—so how and why has this one squicked through?
“There is a way to avoid her,” Sapphire says. “If you’d prefer.”
“What would that entail?”
“Not turning left at the next fork in the hallway.” She gestures some hundred feet ahead of them. “The most reliable method will be to avoid the recreation center entirely for the next two days.”
That doesn’t sit right with Ruby. For starters, it feels like running away. She will also miss their friends. Lastly, “Can you tell why she’s here?”
“I don’t like it, Sapphire.” Especially when a foreign, high ranking Supervisor prowling amongst Containment Unit inmates is most likely due to the way that Sapphire and Ruby have been stirring up trouble amongst the regular staff. Ruby can’t think of another reason for a gem like that to be here.
“Neither do I,” Sapphire agrees.
She doesn’t want to talk to another ruby, but she also can’t stand the thought of her friends being harassed by some impulsive, stuck-up meathead in a Supervisor’s costume, either. Ruby asks, “She’s looking for us?”
“I can’t tell.”
Perhaps it would be easier to simply retreat to their room and let this ruby do her worst, but Ruby knew she would not be able to forgive herself for making a choice like that.
“This would be the fateful turn,” Sapphire says as they reach the fork and both stop walking. “It’s up to you.”
“We can’t just run off like we’re ashamed of ourselves.”
“I tend to agree.”
Ruby gives Sapphire a funny look. “It’s obviously not a huge altercation, then.”
“That depends entirely upon your response to her,” Sapphire replies calmly. “She tends to react the same no matter what, from what I can tell.”
Ruby can’t help the way she groans. “What kind of system depends on an inmate to be the civil one, I ask you.”
Sapphire flashes a small, wry smile. “Obviously, the broken and ironic kind. You have roughly thirty seconds to make your decision, by the way.”
“Well, I don’t really have a choice at this point, do I?” she grumbles, though a tiny and calmer part of her appreciates the fact that Sapphire is willing to stick with her, no matter which course of action she ultimately decides to take. Even the bad one.
Sapphire waits for a beat, clearly expecting there to be more to it, but then she nods. “Okay.”
True to prediction, as they start walking again a ruby twice her size tromps around the corner. Upon seeing two gems walking alone and unescorted, she frowns. She outright glowers when she sees Ruby.
For her part, Ruby can’t help detesting the big Supervisor for her size and the location of her gem, right smack-dab in the center of her torso.
“You there!” the ruby calls, breaking into a stomping jog to reach them faster. Sapphire halts, and because she does so does Ruby. “What are you two doing separated from your cohort? Where is your Supervisor?”
Ruby can’t help it. She thought she’d be able to control her annoyance, but this gem is just so damned full of herself. She can’t stand people who immediately jump to the wrong conclusions and then act like there’s absolutely no way they could ever be wrong.
“Oh, so you’re telling me that no one’s briefed you on this,” she says, crossing her arms and planting her feet shoulder-width apart. “Not a single memo from anyone.”
The other ruby’s red eyes narrow. “You need to watch what you say in front of your betters,” she growls warningly.
“You know, I would, but I don’t see anyone like that around here.”
At first the larger ruby looks about ready to blow a proverbial gasket, but then she cups her palm around her ear and sneers, “What was that? You’re so skewed you’re going to stumble out of my way just by trying to walk a straight line? And here I was, thinking defective gems all needed such heavy-handed guidance.” Here she gives Ruby’s left hand a pointed glance. “No pun intended. Of course.”
“Wow, if that’s the most insulting thing you can think of I’d hate to see the way you handle anything intellectually strenuous. I guess they’ll give Supervisory positions to anyone these days.”
“That’s rich, coming from a gem so useless and unstable it’s a wonder they haven’t recycled you already,” the Supervisor replies. “Who’d you have to suck up to so they’d take pity on you and let you keep living like this? Actually, I don’t want to know,” she says as Ruby opens her mouth. “If I were in your position, I would have begged to be crushed by now for being such a disgrace to corundums everywhere.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Ruby sees Sapphire’s full lips press into a thin line. She’s becoming angry herself.
Well, actually, Ruby doesn’t know that for sure. She’s so worked up at this point that the sheet metal beneath her boots is starting to turn red from her heat. At this point, everything looks like an expression of anger to her.
“Oh, have I upset you?” the other ruby affects a mocking tone of surprise as she places her hand on her cheek. “That was so easy! Maybe that’s why you obviously don’t have any friends who are kind enough to put you out of your misery.”
The next thing Ruby knows, her gloves are on and she’s falling into a stance, ready to fight.
“Ruby.” Sapphire’s even tone and steady hand on her elbow cut through her rage like a knife. She’s still enraged, but it’s been divided just enough for her to see through it. “We have more important things to do than listen to her try to insult you.”
“More important things to do?” the bigger ruby repeats furiously. “I am the closest either of you will ever get to your own wasted potential, you shameful waste of precious carbon! You should be worshipping me!”
“Sapphire, are you hearing this?” says Ruby, gesturing sharply to the Supervisor with her boxing glove. “Isn’t posturing one of your pet peeves? Let’s teach this clod what so-called defective gems can do!”
“Even if we do, it won’t help. She’s too stubbornly set in her ways.”
“Then let’s do it for the sake of making ourselves feel better!”
Ruby has to admit, seeing Sapphire seriously consider that as an option is nearly reward enough on its own.
Of course, Sapphire then has to ruin it by maintaining “There are better uses for our time” over the bigger ruby’s insulted and indignant exclamation of, “As if you’d be able to land anything on me, you pathetic runts! Neither of you are a match for a Supervisor like me!”
“Ruby, she’s obviously from Unit 3,” Sapphire continues, neatly ignoring the protests in the background. “Supervisors there beat inmates into submission as quickly as possible, and enjoy the brokenness of their spirits ever after. If intimidation and violence don’t work, then the inmate is usually shattered or cracked in a showy demonstration of power. Even if we engage with her, she will only—”
Sapphire doesn’t get the chance to finish her sentence, interrupted by the enraged “I’ll show you a demonstration of power!” The Supervisor, well and truly provoked, lunges with her weapon, a wickedly curved dagger, bared and ready to inflict fatal damage.
Well, Ruby figures, since she’s started it…
The red Supervisor is so focused on Sapphire that she doesn’t see Ruby’s kick coming, and her dagger breaks apart into fragments of light as it clatters to the metal floor. Immediately, Sapphire takes advantage of the bigger gem’s stunned pause and darts in. She’s out of range before the other ruby has finished doubling over from the stinging blow that’s been delivered to her torso, just under her gem. If the duration of the Supervisor’s pause is indicative of anything, then Sapphire hasn’t used any of her elemental abilities. Ruby’s temper has already gives hers away, though, so there’s no point in holding back as she moves into the space Sapphire has left behind and delivers a scorching roundhouse to the back of the taller gem’s knee.
The big ruby’s stance buckles, but while she stumbles she does not fall. Sapphire weakens her a little further by zipping by again, disorienting her. Ruby is yanked back when a sudden slashing lunge that is aimed at her. She hears the screech of metal on metal as Sapphire somehow finds a way to parry the dagger with her spiked knuckledusters, and then dashes in to sink her fist into a bundle of nerves on the bigger gem’s side.
For a gem that is apparently accustomed to beating weaker beings into submission, this ruby can take her lumps like a champ.
In fights like these, tagging in and out is the name of the game. The Supervisor’s power is greater than either of them, individually—Ruby is well aware of this—but can she outlast two defective corundums that never give her a chance to get her bearings?
As Ruby bounces on her feet and dodges a series of increasingly uncoordinated slices with the dagger, she has to wonder. The red Supervisor’s inherent durability and raw power might just be enough to win her this fight, if Ruby and Sapphire can’t break her will and/or mind first. It’s possible that they might exhaust her, but Ruby doesn’t think it’s likely. Not if she’s anything like Ruby herself.
And, unfortunately, with beings sharing your same gem that is true more often than it isn’t.
To be honest, Ruby’s glad that her teamwork with Sapphire is so airtight these days, or the other ruby might actually find an opening in which to properly retaliate.
As things are, Ruby doesn’t expect actual fire to suddenly flash into existence and fill the vacuum of the empty metal hallway. The flames don’t bother her—she’s a heat elemental herself, after all—but Sapphire is a completely different story.
“Sapphire!” she screams, batting harmless flames out of her line of vision as she searches frantically through them. She doesn’t see any steam. Oh, sweet stars above, she doesn’t see the volatilizing water of an icy defense anywhere. “Sapphire! Sapphire!”
She can’t have been caught off guard by this, right? Sapphire’s future vision would never fail her in a time like this, would it?
Laughter, cackling and mean, floats above the crackling flames that are still blazing all around them. The other ruby. “Sapphires can’t stand the heat. Such a pathetic weakness, even for the non-defective models.”
Insulting Ruby is one thing, but taking a crack at Sapphire?
Ruby doesn’t lose control. She knows exactly what she’s doing when she lunges at the source of the laughter. It doesn’t bother her when she is cut with the curved dagger—it doesn’t hurt; not really—all that matters is making sure that this monster goes down. She puts nearly of her strength into the blow she delivers.
The other ruby isn’t hurt by the mighty punch, but the inferno flickering and licking the smoothing metal walls dissipates as she loses her focus, too busy swatting Ruby away to keep it up.
Please, please be okay. Please still be here…
In the few quick seconds between ducking one of the Supervisor’s punches and kicking out herself, Ruby glances frantically about for a flash of blue. There isn’t any, not even a gem glinting on the floor.
What does this mean?
One of the most annoying things about sharing an element with someone: no matter how volcanic either of them gets, the other is impervious to the heat. This doesn’t bode well for Ruby, for whom her element is sometimes her only advantage. She enjoys a challenging fight, sure, but while she is much stronger than someone her size should be she still isn’t as strong as a symmetrical ruby. Her limbs are shorter, too, and when you’re both close-range combatants these few inches can make a big difference. Sure, sometimes she can get in so close that the other ruby’s larger limbs can’t maneuver anymore, but when her strikes do land Ruby nearly always ends up embedded into the nearest wall. And in those times when Ruby can’t get inside of her guard, she is uselessly bouncing on the balls of her feet just outside of the Supervisor’s striking radius, not able to do any damage at all.
At times like these she sorely wishes her weapon was something sharp that she could throw.
She isn’t angry anymore, she’s just trying to maintain. Ruby likes a good fight, but she knows when she’s been outmatched—and fighting this ruby alone will surely spell out the end of her, if she doesn’t either come up with something clever or get help soon.
“Come on, Sapph,” she mutters under her breath as she hops out of the way of the larger gem’s dagger slicing in from the left. “Now would be a great time to show up again.”
“What’s that?” The other ruby lets out another laugh; it’s brief, but it sounds distinctly unhinged. If this is how she truly is, then she must hide it well because Ruby knows there’s no way in hell an unstable gem would ever be given a Supervisor’s job. “Are you finally admitted defeat? Has destroying that Sapphire destroyed your will?”
That’s when Ruby sees it, and understands.
“Ha! You wish.” Ruby isn’t as quick-footed as Sapphire, but she’s got a few tricks that make it feel like she could be. It’s one of the things she’s been working on while Sapphire answers questions for the Diamonds.
It explains the Supervisor’s look of surprise when she finds Ruby in her face again. With a shout, Ruby leaps up and throws all of her strength, weight and density behind the gloved fist she smashes into the bigger gem’s face. She takes another slash from the dagger, but when the other ruby slips on the thin sheet of ice and receives a quick but violent electrical shock to the temples as she goes down Ruby finds that she just doesn’t care about that. She finishes the hulking red gem off with a brutal kick. The Supervisor doesn’t poof, but she is knocked unconscious after she slams skull-first into the wall.
“We’ve got a few minutes until she comes to,” says Sapphire helpfully.
Frankly, Ruby doesn’t give a damn about the Supervisor anymore. She rushes forward and hugs Sapphire tightly. She hugs back like she’s okay, and she doesn’t even smell singed. “Are you hurt? Please tell me you’re okay.”
“I saw the inferno coming and ran before it could incapacitate me. You did a great job of distracting her while I figured out a plan.” She pulls back and smiles, but it disappears almost instantly. “Ruby, you’re hurt.”
“What?” On instinct, she checks her gem. Not even a scratch. “No I’m not.”
“Ruby, look at yourself! She nearly cut you to ribbons!” Sapphire holds Ruby’s arm under her nose. It does, admittedly, look pretty gross from this angle.
“Who cares? We won, and it’ll regenerate,” she says of her own sliced skin.
“I know that, but that isn’t the point! This kind of recklessness isn’t like you, Ruby. What if it hadn’t just been your form?” The look that Sapphire gives her would have made her melt in any other circumstances. Right now the worry she sees just makes Ruby feel uncomfortable.
“You didn’t let what she said get to you, did you?” asks Sapphire softly. Her fingers are cooler than usual when they lightly pass over Ruby’s bruised cheek. Ruby tenses slightly in surprise, but the chill doesn’t actually feel bad, so she doesn’t move away.
“You’ve never met another sapphire,” she mutters. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“Is it because she makes you feel defective for not being tall and symmetrical like her?”
“I guess so.” But Ruby can’t look her in the eye. Sapphire waits, and at first Ruby resists, but she can’t outlast Sapphire’s patience. “You forget about it when you’re surrounded by different people all the time,” she mumbles at length. “But when you meet someone who has your gem like that, it just reminds you that you’re not everything you could be.”
“Can I ask you something?”
This gets Ruby’s attention. It’s the slight tone of hesitance that catches her, she thinks. “What?”
“Are all other rubies like her?” Sapphire inclines her head toward the bulky red heap still sprawled on the floor.
“More or less. Why?”
To say that Ruby is taken aback by the soft kiss she receives is something of an understatement. She can only cling to Sapphire and watch, befuddled and wordless, what happens next.
“I see why you can’t stand them,” Sapphire says frankly. “She didn’t have any sense of humility or justice. She abused her strength and power, instead of harnessing them as tools to help make life better for us all.” Sapphire’s gaze becomes that rare, special kind of tender as she grazes her cooling thumb over Ruby’s sore cheekbone. Ruby’s breath catches in her throat. “You say she reminds you of everything you never became. Why does that have to be a bad thing, when you’re this wonderful?”
Ruby doesn’t realize what’s happening until she hiccups, and something hot and wet rolls down her cheek. She’s never looked between herself and other rubies like that, and the realization that she can—that, in Sapphire’s opinion, she should—hurts, somehow. “Sapphire, I-I’m not—”
“You don’t get to tell me how to think about you, Ruby,” she says, gentle but firm. “Besides, I’ve already made up my mind.”
And stars know how hard it is to combat that.
Ruby starts to protest anyway, on principle, but she stops when she notices the odd look at Sapphire is giving her. It’s unlike any she’s ever received before. Almost… shy? Well, that’s not quite it either. “Sapph—”
She stops breathing entirely when arms pull her closer and she feels the softness of Sapphire’s lips press against her eyelids as she blinks, literally kissing away the tears. Ruby sucks in a sharp breath when Sapphire kisses her other eye, and there’s just something about the gesture that breaks her. The next thing Ruby knows she’s gripping Sapphire around the shoulders and sobbing for all she’s worth.
Sapphire doesn’t seem to mind. She doesn’t speak, but she holds on to Ruby just as tightly, and she only stops stroking her back is when she scoops Ruby up and tactfully sidesteps the soon-to-be-stirring Supervisor as she zips back to their room. There, in the safety of their own quarters, she sets Ruby on her own two feet, cups her face in her cool palms, and leaves a kiss on the corner of her mouth like an apology. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
Ruby shakes her head and sniffs. “No, no, you didn’t, I just…” She rubs her gem-free palm over her damp eyes. “No one’s handled it like this before. No one’s ever said that I…”
She doesn’t finish the sentence. She doesn’t have to.
“I meant it,” Sapphire tells her softly. “Ruby, you are so much more—so much better—than that. Your compassion, your integrity, your modesty—if other rubies are anything like the one we just fought, then they don’t even know what those words mean, much less how to embody them the way you do.” Sapphire reaches up to lightly trace the line her headband makes across her forehead with her fingertips. “You never cease to amaze me, Ruby. I admire you so much.”
Ruby hiccups. Swallows. Her lips tremble and her chest shudders as she struggles to think of something—anything—worth saying. Sapphire’s made it very clear that she wants to hear no form of self-deprecation right now, but there is also no amount of gratitude or adoration big enough to express everything else that’s on her mind.
Truly, Ruby can’t remember a time she’s ever felt this warm, this safe, this accepted.
No, it’s more than mere acceptance—it’s preference. For whatever reason, Sapphire prefers her to everyone else. Ruby doesn’t understand it, and she’s not convinced that she ever will, but at this point Sapphire’s making it very difficult to deny.
“You’ve never talked like this before,” Ruby says, her voice small from more than just the emotion that’s weighing her down.
“I’m starting to think I should have.” She lets out a little laugh that betrays exactly no humor at all, and then slumps against Ruby like all of this has really taken something out of her. She curls her arm around Ruby’s shoulder and presses her forehead into the side of Ruby’s neck. Her cheeks are hot from the blush that Ruby has been far too involved in herself to notice until now. “I’ve never been good at expressing myself.”
She can’t express herself, and Ruby expresses altogether too much. What a pair they make.
Suddenly, Ruby laughs. She picks Sapphire up and swings her around until she starts laughing too, and her flush is from the joy of being carried rather than her unfamiliarity with self-expression. When they’re both giggling freely and atmosphere between them is a little lighter, Ruby sets her down and cups her cheek with her right hand. She leans in and presses their foreheads together. Sapphire touches her wrist as her fingers flex around Ruby’s waist, holding her where she is. They’re both smiling, and all of the words that could and should be said are suddenly just not necessary anymore.
Really, Ruby thinks, if she hadn’t fought to stay, she would have regretted missing moments like this for the rest of her life.
Chapter 25: Suspicions and Probabilities
Sapphire glances at the concerned looks on her friends’ faces before turning to her partner. The thought of making the probability sound promising does admittedly occur to her, but in the end she just says, “About as likely as anything else.”
“Where have you two been?” asks Apatite the next day, glancing up from the chess game Citrine and Tourmaline are playing one on of the rec room’s larger benches. She sounds angry, which causes Tourmaline and Citrine to look up from their game, but Sapphire knows her well enough at this point to understand her tone is actually one of concern. “We didn’t see you at all yesterday!”
It’s Citrine who realizes first. “You ran into the Supervisor-ruby, didn’t you?” she says, but it’s not really a question. It’s also directed at Ruby, and not Sapphire.
Citrine’s changed her outfit, Sapphire notes. It’s much closer to what she was wearing when Sapphire first met her, a form fitting halter top and comfortable looking harem pants. It suits her better, Sapphire thinks. Feels more genuinely Citrine. Also, the gem set into the upper part of her right arm looks more like it’s being put on display than it used to. Good for her, changing things up again.
Sapphire glances at Ruby. How much of the incident is she going to talk about in front of their friends?
“She was tromping about like she owned the place,” says Ruby gruffly. “I found her face personally offensive.”
That’s not an inaccurate statement, technically.
Citrine sighs like she hadn’t wanted this to be the case, but suspected it would be anyway. “You would.”
“Please tell me you poofed her, and then tell me how you did it.” Of course Tourmaline would jump straight to the violence. One of these days, Sapphire would have to remember to ask Ruby just what Tourmaline’s preoccupation was about.
“She tossed Talc across the rec center to demonstrate how effortless it was, and then laughed when she poofed upon impact. It was disgusting,” says Apatite with a scowl and crossed arms. She glances with some concern at the small, round talc with big shining eyes halfway across the rec center. Talc is in a circle of her sisters, speaking animatedly. She doesn’t appear to have taken any long lasting damage.
“You did poof her, right?” says Tourmaline.
“We don’t know what kind of connections she has,” Sapphire says, taking a seat on the end of the bench next to Apatite. “So that didn’t seem prudent at the time. We did, however, knock her unconscious.”
“You know what? I think that’s good enough for me.”
“None of the regular Unit 6 Supervisors bother us in the recreation facility,” says Citrine. She twists around to get a better look at her. “Sapphire, could you tell which Containment Unit this one was from?”
“I… actually haven’t heard much about Unit 3,” Apatite admits. “Why is that?”
“Because even those who are fortunate enough to leave the Unit are still too scared to talk about it,” Sapphire replies. “Gems there are subjected to a deliberate and systematic suppression of will and spirit by the Supervisors. Those who resist are publically cracked and/or humiliated.”
Her friends grimace, but Sapphire cannot tell if it is from sympathy or the toneless way she’s relayed the information.
“That happened to you?” asks Tourmaline.
That is apparently the wrong thing to say, because Tourmaline is more intrigued than ever. She leans around Apatite, green face alight with interest. “Were they not allowed to bother you there either?”
“That depends on your definition of the term, something the Supervisors in Unit 3 are quite good about interpreting in their favor.”
Something about the way Sapphire says it causes even Tourmaline to shudder and let the subject go, which is fortunate because Sapphire’s time in Unit 3 is not something she likes to think about, much less talk about.
“It sounds like this Supervisor follows the Unit 3 standard everywhere she goes,” Citrine muses. “And she’s high enough in rank that she can probably influence the staff here, if she stays long enough.”
“She won’t, fortunately,” Sapphire says. “She will be leaving tomorrow.”
“That reminds me,” Ruby says. “Does anyone know why that stuck up meathead is here to begin with?”
Apatite shakes her head as her arms uncross and fall into her lap. “We were hoping you two had found out something, because nobody here has any clue.”
“Do you think it’s because…?” Citrine doesn’t finish her sentence, but she gives a meaningful look to Sapphire and Ruby, and then her eyes flick to the door to the rec center. No verbalization of her question is required.
“It’s possible,” Sapphire says.
“But she didn’t have any idea who we were,” Ruby points out. She begins to pace, and her hands make big gestures as she speaks. She’s becoming frustrated with the lack of obvious connections. “If the staff is going to whine about inmates, they’re not going to be ambiguous about it. If this were about us causing trouble, she would have found us straight out.”
“And we know there weren’t any scheduled inspections, either,” says Apatite. “So if not that, and not you two, then why is she here at all?”
“Have you noticed the way the other Supervisors act around her?” asks Sapphire.
Citrine raises an eyebrow. “Besides the usual rank-reverence, you mean?”
“What else would she mean?” says Ruby without pausing in her pacing.
Citrine flinches at Ruby’s tone, though it’s obviously not directed at her as much as the situation in general.
“If the Supervisors are scared of her, then it’s likely that she’s here because of something they did,” says Sapphire, ignoring Ruby’s snark. “If they only show the usual reverence they feel she is owed because of her rank, but are otherwise relaxed, then she’s likely here because of something the inmates have done. Ruby and I are less likely to see these things, but being on the general roster gives you three more exposure to them. Anything you’ve noticed could be useful.”
There is a pause as their friends think on it, raking through the events of the last two days for any details that could be useful.
Finally Apatite shakes her head. “I can’t think of anything that’s felt out of the ordinary.”
“Me neither,” Tourmaline says.
“That’s a sign it’s probably because of us, isn’t it?” says Citrine.
“Well, aside from her casual abuse of the inmates—something she would be doing anyway—there doesn’t seem to be anything in particular that this ruby is doing or looking for,” says Sapphire. “It could be that she has the rank to scope out Containment Units she’s thinking of transferring to.”
“Oh no!” exclaims Ruby. She stops and waves both arms as if to push clouds of smoke out of her face. “That is not happening. She can’t be transferred here if I’m already here, because rubies just don’t get along with each other. That’s a fact and everyone knows it!”
“If she does, it will probably be to a position and cohort that has very little to do with you or any other rubies in this Unit,” Sapphire says reasonably.
“That isn’t going to stop us from running into each other in the halls, though!”
“Err, Sapphire? Can’t you, uh, tell whether or not this is something we even need to be freaking out about?” asks Apatite somewhat hesitantly. She taps her temple for emphasis.
“Not yet,” Sapphire replies. “There is a pivotal event or decision that hasn’t happened yet, and because of that the probability of this particular Supervisor returning, and the circumstances in which she does it, are all the same. Because I don’t know enough about her motivations or the situation, I cannot presently predict which scenario is most likely to occur despite that.”
“Oh,” says Tourmaline faintly. She tucks some of her pink-streaked hair behind her ear. “You know, you make it sound so easy, but that’s way more complex than I always imagined.”
“So we don’t know anything more than we did at the beginning of this conversation,” Citrine says, leaning her elbow on the table and looking disappointed. The orange gem on her upper arm glints in the rec center lights.
“I really hope that she doesn’t transfer in,” Apatite says. She’s not trying to hide her distress. She curls in slightly and hugs at herself. “Can you imagine what this place might become if she decides the way things are run here needs to change? She’s got the rank to make it happen—that may even be why she’s scoping us out to begin with! Her aim could be to turn us into the next Unit 3.”
“It’s possible,” Sapphire says. “It’s also possible that we never see her again.”
“Oh yeah?” says Ruby, rounding on her. Her hands are on her hips and her voice still rough from the idea of having to deal with that ruby on a semi-regular basis—on having to see her again at all. “And what are the odds of that happening, Sapphire?”
Sapphire glances at the concerned looks on her friends’ faces before turning to her partner. The thought of making the probability sound promising does admittedly occur to her, but in the end she just says, “About as likely as anything else.”
Chapter 26: The Good Things Matter
Sapphire is coming to recognize that Ruby always starts her most serious inquiries with a ‘so’.
“So,” Ruby says after taking a long, slow breath. “How are you?”
This question is more complicated than it seems. Sapphire is coming to recognize that Ruby always starts her most serious inquiries with a ‘so’.
She blinks, swiveling around in her chair to face the red gem sitting cross-legged on the metal floor in front of her. Ruby’s elbows are resting on her powerful thighs, and the expression she has tilted up at Sapphire is prodding and, underneath it all, deeply apprehensive.
The problem is that, for all that she knows Ruby means business, Sapphire can’t figure out what in the cosmos she is being asked. “How am I about what?”
“Are you happy?”
“Ruby, I think I need some context.”
The tension within Ruby breaks, and she flushes maroon. “Just—you know.” She reaches up to tug at the hair by her temple with one hand and gestures with the other, abrupt and short. Her hand slaps her leg when it comes back down. “This. What we’re doing. I just—I want to make sure everything is still okay.”
Has Sapphire ever indicated otherwise?
“Ruby, if I thought there was something wrong I would have brought it up by now.”
“Well, honestly, I’m not sure you would.” Ruby tugs on her hair again, a little stronger this time. “You always put everybody else before your own safety and happiness, Sapphire. You don’t even think before you’re doing it! I’m just worried that—I mean, what if…” Unable to maintain eye contact, Ruby looks down and away. She props her elbows up on her knees and braces her palms on her temples like she’s just trying to hold herself together.
Sapphire’s eye widens. Her shoulders stiffen. She grips the armrests of her chair, hard. She breathes, but she can’t move. Ironically, she is frozen in place by the horror of Ruby’s half-spoken statement. “Ruby, do you honestly think I’m faking this?”
“No, not really.” Ruby rubs at her eyes with the heel of her gem-free palm. “We just haven’t talked about it at all since this started over ten years ago, and I know what I think you feel but I’m terrified that I’m just seeing what I want to see, because it’s not like I actually know, and I’ve been so scared to bring it up because what if I really have been missing all of these signs that you’re not happy and inadvertently forcing you to—”
“Ruby.” But simply interrupting isn’t enough. It wouldn’t have been even before noticing that her eyes have gone glassy, but now Sapphire feels a sense of culpability and urgency welling up inside her. How hadn’t she seen this coming? How could she have been able to prevent it?
You need to fix this, in no uncertain terms. You can’t let her feel like this anymore, or ever again.
But how? There are a lot of words swirling about in her mind, but right now Sapphire wouldn’t know how to string a sentence together if she tried. Even if she could manage that, who’s to say she won’t just be making things worse? She’s apparently already done that, and she hasn’t even been trying!
“I’m not very good at this, am I?” she says softly, looking down at her own hands, which are clasped in her lap.
“What?” Ruby glances up, and while one of her hands is still tangled in her curly hair, and her eyes are still wet her expression is entirely uncomprehending. “Why would you say that, Sapphire?”
“Because this is my fault.” She gestures to Ruby’s current state. “I assumed that the only things we would need to discuss were conflicts, and if nobody brought those up then we were fine, but you’ve spent all this time wondering if I was really on the same page as you, scared that I wasn’t because I’ve never said otherwise.” She’s not sure if coming closer is appropriate at a time like this, but she forces her frozen limbs to move and sinks to the floor in front of Ruby anyway. It’s encouraging when she touches Ruby’s elbow and the other doesn’t flinch away. Gently, she disentangles Ruby’s hand from her hair and winds their fingers together. This is okay, right? Sapphire hopes so, because she doesn’t think she would react well to a lack of contact right now.
“It’s not fair for you to blame yourself; I never brought up that it was bothering me,” says Ruby. She doesn’t pull her hand away, but she does wipe at her eyes again with the back of the other. “I should know better than to just let things sit like that. I’m the one who’s done this before.”
“I didn’t see this coming.” Sapphire traces Ruby’s broad, strong red knuckles with the tips of her gloved fingers. Her cheeks are burning with culpability as she gazes at their interconnected fingers from behind the aquamarine screen of hair over her eye. “Maybe I just didn’t want to because I wanted so badly to believe that everything was fine. I think the worst part is that I didn’t even notice you were upset—when I’ve never been this close to anyone, how self-centered must I be to have missed that? I’m sorry, Ruby. I never had any conflicts to bring up, but I didn’t realize that articulating the good things was important, too.” Now her cheeks are burning for a whole other reason, but she needs to do this. Even if she doesn’t really know how to put this into words, she needs to try. Ruby deserves to hear it.
“Sapphire…” Ruby’s voice is small and trembling. She either can’t believe her ears, or this just isn’t good enough.
“If I had known you needed to hear it, I would have told you,” Sapphire says quietly, glancing up and making eye contact again. “I would have talked about how much I appreciate your warmth and the way you laugh. I would have thanked you for how patient you are when I don’t know what to say or do. I…” She lets out a breath and swallows back the fear of figuratively laying herself bare. Sapphire’s not good at being vulnerable—she’s been through too many Containment Units, she knows better—and while Ruby has never betrayed the trust Sapphire’s placed in her, this is still hard to do. She wants to, though; she wants Ruby to hear and understand, to not feel as if she is the only one anymore.
Ruefully, she offers a small smile. “I would have said so many things if I had known, but it’s a little late for that now, isn’t it?”
At this point Ruby can’t scare Sapphire, no matter what she tries. Sapphire can still be startled, though, and Ruby proves it now as she lurches forward and throws her arms around Sapphire’s neck. Their cheeks press firmly together as Sapphire grabs on to Ruby’s strong shoulders in order to keep from toppling over.
Ruby doesn’t speak. She just bows her head into the embrace and holds on tight. Her arms are quivering, which certainly isn’t a good sign.
Even when she tries, she only makes things worse. What is wrong with her? Why didn’t she See where to stop talking?
Well, to be fair, the more stressed Sapphire is the more she has to focus on her future vision in order to make it work properly, and right now all of her focus is on Ruby, but a warning of some kind still would have been nice.
“I’m sorry,” says Sapphire, holding on helplessly. “I didn’t mean to upset you more.”
“Sapph, you didn’t,” Ruby says into the side of her neck. “Stop apologizing.”
She makes a little noise in her throat. It’s not that she minds the nickname (because, truthfully, it warms her right down to the toes), it’s just—how can Ruby use it at a time like this?
They hold each other in silence for a little while before Ruby’s fingers flex through Sapphire’s long hair. She mutters, “I don’t know why I was so scared to check in with you. I guess I just didn’t want to risk finding out that this wasn’t what you wanted after all; not when I’m not ready to let go.”
Sapphire feels the kiss that’s pressed into her cheek. Perhaps it’s inadvertent, just the result of the way Ruby’s tilting her head, but even though it’s small enough to be passed off as nothing it feels like it was done on purpose. This secret little kiss that Ruby doesn’t want her to find out about, but can’t resist giving anyway.
In lieu of this conversation, that one action is starting to feel like a metaphor for their entire relationship, Ruby giving something and Sapphire unsure of whether or not she’s supposed to even know about it, much less react. It usually ends with nothing new; the only time something changes is when something big happens and Sapphire understands that a responds is not only necessary, but encouraged. The incident with the Supervisor-ruby is case in point. For anything less than that, Sapphire needs a blatant request for action or Ruby has to seek the change herself.
That, Sapphire decides, must change. Today.
She doesn’t comment on the little kiss. Instead, she leans back and adjusts her grip on Ruby so that she is no longer clinging to her shoulders for balance, but actually holding her around the waist. Their eyes meet, and Sapphire’s uncertainty fades away. This relationship and these feelings are mutual, and it’s not fair that she’s the only one who knows it. Ruby can’t scare her, so it stands to reason that this can’t either. If she’s a little nervous, that’s okay; what’s not okay if she doesn’t act anyway.
Sapphire doesn’t comment on the little kiss that was planted on her cheek. No, instead she just leans in and returns it, right on the lips. “Good, because I’m not ready to let you go either.”
Okay, so there are two pieces of fanart for this chapter! The first is from the monumentally spectacular Spatial, and it pretty much solidified all of my mental visualizations of Unit 6's aesthetics.
And look out, because this chapter's last line was completely brought to life by the fabulous and talented Jen-iii!
Chapter 27: Contingency Plans
“Have you heard anything new on our Supervisor friend?”
The air in the recreation facility today is so thick and tense that you could have sliced it with a knife. It doesn’t feel like it did after Rhodochrosite was crushed. This isn’t sad—not really. It’s grim, and it’s scared, and it’s buried under layer upon layer of façades. Gems are still conversing, training, and playing games as per usual, but it just feels uneasy.
Dread coils in Sapphire’s abdomen like heavy cables. She can See nothing in the near future that deserves a reaction like this, but only one question keeps rolling through her mind.
“Have you heard anything new on our Supervisor friend?”
Citrine snorts, and it’s almost a genuine laugh. “Which one? You have quite a few.”
Sapphire presses her lips together, but she supposes Citrine makes a good point. She and Ruby have found ways to make the most abusive Supervisors’ lives miserable over the years, either overtly or covertly, and let it never be said that gem grudges are like candles in the wind.
“Well,” Apatite begins with flourish. “Calcite was telling me—”
“Well, that’s your first problem, Apatite,” says Tourmaline. She pops one curvy green hip out and props a hand on it, gesturing with the other. “You’re listening to Calcite. Do you even comprehend the level of hype that gem feeds into her gossip? It’s her hobby!”
“It’s true, it is,” Citrine has to admit.
“I’m surprised her hobbies aren’t more destructive,” says Ruby frankly. She doesn’t even bother to check if the little white gem is near their little huddle at the wall opposite the exercise mat (she isn’t, and in all honesty Sapphire probably would have interrupted if she were, to spare her feelings, but that isn’t the point). “Doesn’t Calcite just feel sort of off to any of you?”
“Eh, so she has macabre tastes. She’s young yet; all young gems do it, and then they grow out of it.”
“I think that’s just you, Tourmaline,” says Apatite.
“And you still haven’t grown out of it,” Sapphire adds.
“What do you even know, Sapphire?”
“I have ears. I can hear the ones who cheer the loudest whenever Ruby and I spar.” They still do it on a semi-regular basis, though recently they’ve needed a lookout posted at the rec center door. While some training is permitted in Containment Units, brawling is not, and a sparring match can so easily be labeled as brawling and insubordination by a Supervisor looking to be a dagger in your side. In Sapphire and Ruby’s case, an alleged fracas would be used as evidence that Ruby clearly can’t control her ward. At best, they would be separated as Ruby is shuffled back onto the general roster and Sapphire is assigned a new handler. At worst, the rehabilitation experiment that Ruby still represents would be considered a failure, and the disappointment would have to be taken care of in the worst way.
With the exception of Plagioclase and some of the friends she’s managed to make within the cohort, the other inmates don’t seem to mind helping out. Ruby and Sapphire’s sparring matches are lively entertainment, after all, some of the best in the Unit; they don’t want it to go away.
As a whole, Tourmaline is not terribly perturbed about being called out. She tucks some of her streaked, chin-length hair behind her ear and retorts, “It’s not like I want either of you to poof, okay? I just get caught up in the atmosphere!”
“I hear you too, Tourmaline,” says Ruby. “You get disappointed when it’s not dangerous enough.”
“If you two can hear me so loud and clear, then you’re obviously not giving the match your all. And you wonder why I complain.”
Sapphire places a hand on Ruby’s arm. As tempting as it is, there is no arguing with Tourmaline about this.
“Anyway, as I was saying.” Apatite casts a pointed look to the green gem, but Tourmaline remains unfazed. “There doesn’t seem to be any news of her return, which is fortunate. We aren’t the only ones she bothered. After she stomped about broadcasting her dogma of oppressed inmates being the key to a well behaved and easily controlled Containment Unit, I guess some Supervisors decided to give it a try.”
Ruby sucks in a breath, and Sapphire can feel in the tense muscles under her fingers how deeply Ruby deplores being cut off from the rest of the Unit 6 community for so much of each day. Sapphire buries her free hand into the folds of her skirt and squeezes her arm. I know.
“What happened?” asks Ruby.
“Well, it was a crackdown,” says Citrine. She lets out a shaky breath and rakes her fingers through her bright orange pixie cut. “It could have been worse—we’ve seen worse before—but it could have gone a lot better, too.”
Ruby’s arm falls out from under Sapphire’s hand as she looks around the rec center. She soundlessly mouth the names of the gems they’ve all known for decades and centuries as her eyes alight on each of them. She turns back to their friends with a frown.
“We’re not missing anyone.”
“We’re not,” says Apatite. “But the other cohorts are. The last count I heard was twenty-eight.”
No wonder Citrine is so distraught. A compassionate being like her wasn’t built to weather through the destruction of her fellow gems.
“There have been worse crackdowns?” asks Sapphire.
“Inmates call them cullings,” says Tourmaline helpfully. “We think it happens every thousand years or so to help with population control.”
Of course Tourmaline would be the one to bring that up.
Sapphire doesn’t know why she’s surprised. Containment Unit 6 may be a lax place, relatively speaking, but it’s still a Containment Unit.
“This wasn’t one of those, though,” says Sapphire. “From what Apatite says, this was a direct response to the Supervising ruby. Were the other Supervisors trying to emulate her? Try on the doctrine for themselves? Were they so stressed by the fact that she was here that they took it out on the inmates?”
“If they were trying to decompress, they wouldn’t have shattered anyone. The Supervisors here aren’t like that; they enjoy the game,” says Tourmaline.
“Please don’t call it that, Tourmaline,” Citrine hisses as an intimate and pained look crosses her face. She is obviously remembering the last time a pair of Supervisors got her alone.
Tourmaline notices that, and winces. “Right. Sorry, Citrine. Honest.”
Ruby’s fists are clenched at her sides as she begins to pace. Sapphire can hear her grinding her teeth from here. Her eyes are hard as she looks to Apatite, “Is the worst over?”
Apatite takes a breath as if suddenly overwhelmed by the gravity of the discussion. “It seems to be.”
“Why wasn’t our cohort affected?” asks Sapphire. “Or were others also spared?”
“The damaged seemed to vary largely depending upon the personality of the Supervisors that have primary charge over the cohort. Certain personalities seemed more willing to try the other ruby’s doctrine than others,” explains Apatite. “The reason ours wasn’t tormented at all…” Apatite shrugs, pushes some of her long, dark blue hair over one shoulder, and gestures somewhat helplessly. “Well, it’s probably because of you and Ruby. You’ve avenged enough bullied gems here that our Supervisors know it’s better to live and let live.”
“Which may not necessarily be a good thing, because if anything were to happen to you two…”
“Tourmaline, really?” says Citrine, her voice pitched high with incredulity and disapproval.
Sapphire blinks. Beside her, Ruby’s fists loosen.
“You mean to tell me that you’ve never wondered how things might change around here without them?” Tourmaline glances at Ruby and Sapphire, and finally seems to notice their expressions. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of the way you give the Supervisors a piece of their own medicine—but no one else here has your abilities. I’m not just talking about the elements, either, it’s your teamwork. Nobody else here can match that! With standards set so high, the Supervisors will just laugh at whoever tries to fill your shoes.”
“Tourmaline, what are you talking about?” asks Ruby. Her tone is sharp and hot like a fire poker. “Where would we go?”
This makes Tourmaline stop. Her pink eyes widen in her green face, and her mouth works soundlessly for a couple of seconds. She takes a small step back. “I-I just—”
“No, you’re right,” says Sapphire. She moves forward and rests her hand on Ruby’s shoulder. The red gem pauses and relaxes slightly under her pressure, but Sapphire can feel her gaze acutely, wondering where this conversation has just turned. “I understand your concern, Tourmaline. We can’t rely exclusively on the assumption that Ruby and I will always be here. This cohort needs a contingency plan, especially when we can all agree that Supervisors like Morganite and Kunzite are simply waiting for the right moment to strike. We coexist with them now, more or less, but it all hinges on the belief that Ruby and I will reap havoc on anyone who challenges that peace.”
Citrine makes a noise in her throat that is either from fear or skepticism. Right now, the two feel closer than they should. “Sapphire, what do you think is going to happen?”
“In the foreseeable future, nothing Ruby and I can’t handle,” says Sapphire. She squeezes Ruby’s shoulder once before letting her hand fall. I need to talk to you about this when we’re alone. “But my Sight is finite, and it’s always better to have a contingency plan and not need it than to need one and not have it.”
“That’s true…” Citrine trails off.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to say this entire time!” cries Tourmaline, throwing up her arms. She’s a little exasperated—but she’s also visibly relieved that Ruby isn’t looking at her like that anymore. Sapphire privately takes note of the reaction and files it away.
“A contingency plan seems a little paranoid to me, since you’re both trapped here just as much as we are,” says Apatite. “But having one certainly can’t hurt. Did you have something in mind, Sapphire?”
“Nothing specific. I had hoped this was something we could all plan out together. As a cohort, even.”
True to form, at this invitation Apatite perks right up. Networking and storing information about other gems is one of her specialties, after all. “Oh, and I know just the gems to start with!”
Spatial strikes again! This time to bring Apatite to life!
Chapter 28: Fifty Years
Sapphire learns from her mistakes. She does.
Does anyone remember that vision from First Blush?
Just wondering. No real reason for it.
Let it never be said that Sapphire doesn’t learn from her mistakes. It’s been seventeen years almost precisely since she realized Ruby needed her to be as up front and expressive about the positive aspects of their association as she is about potential conflicts. It’s what she has been striving for ever since, and expressing this more vulnerable portion of herself to Ruby is nearly effortless now.
‘Nearly’ being a key word.
It’s easiest when they’re alone. Sapphire doesn’t feel painfully exposed to be reaching for Ruby in the privacy of the tiny room with only the communications machine. In fact, it’s easy, because when it’s just Ruby and herself Sapphire always has a better grasp of the notion that Ruby won’t resent her for asking for affection, much less turn up her nose and reject it.
Still, some things are easier to ask for than others. There are some things that Sapphire knows she has and will never have the right to prod in to, and more and more she’s beginning to understand why it took Ruby ten years to work up the nerve to ask her if she was happy.
Sometimes, Sapphire is coming to realize, not knowing anything is actually more of a comfort than knowing you’re the only one. She hasn’t peeked into the future; she’s too scared of what she will find.
She hasn’t asked, either, though she knows that she should. She should have brought it up the moment she started to sweat about it. Sapphire learns from her mistakes, damn it; she knows she can’t let herself bottle things up, and she knows how important communicating with Ruby is. But she’s doing this anyway, and she’s frustrating herself with her lack of application. She can say she’s learned, but it’s not real until she’s actually proved it with her actions. She knows that.
The thing is, there are some things that Sapphire just has no claim to.
It’s been forty-seven years since they decided to explore more of whatever this is. It’s gone by so fast that, in hindsight, Sapphire feels like she’s missed chunks. To a gem fifty years isn’t a long time, but these last forty-seven have felt even shorter than usual. Sapphire doesn’t want to confront this now. She doesn’t want to ever confront this, because she wants this to…
Well, it doesn’t matter what she wants, does it?
Sapphire props her elbows on her desk and leans her temples into her palms, lets out a breath. It used to be easy to shunt these thoughts away—to the back of the mind with you, there’s still time to enjoy the moment. Now they plague her more often than not, a relentless hoard of creatures buzzing, buzzing around her eye and ears, so many in number that she can’t possibly capture and dismiss them all. All of her old coping techniques are falling short. Logic isn’t working. Distraction has also begun to falter and fail. She won’t look into the future for fear of what she might find. This is emotion, overwhelming and unreasonable, and it will not be stymied by her weak will or excuses. Frankly, Sapphire doesn’t know what to do with herself anymore.
She feels Ruby’s warmth, radiating and endless, standing next to her long before she hears, “I know you’re not working.”
“You’re right,” she mutters, closing her eye so she won’t have to stare at the keyboard from under her bangs anymore. “I’m not.”
Ruby braces one broad, red hand next to her elbow as she leans in, trying to crane her head down and around to make eye contact. “Well?”
The invitation to talk about it is plain. Sapphire has failed to meet her own goals for more up front and efficient communication, and Ruby has resorted to digging it out of her. It’s enough to make a gem nostalgic. Just like the old days.
“I’m fine,” says Sapphire, but she doesn’t need her future vision to know that Ruby won’t believe it.
She feels Ruby’s body language soften next to her. “Is there something I can do? Do you need to sing?”
Sapphire shakes her head. “I’ll be fine. Just give me a minute.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to talk about it?”
The little “I can’t” slips out before she can bite it back, and Sapphire’s eye snaps open as she goes stock still. Her gem is pulsing frantically against her temple, and she can’t breathe. Why did you say that?
Ruby doesn’t hesitate to spin her around and brace her stocky arms on the armrests of the chair after that. Their faces are mere inches apart, and Ruby’s expression is hardened with determination. “I won’t take that for an answer.”
She purses her lips together and shakes her head. No, this is not how this conversation is going to happen. She can’t be so hopeless as to completely revert to the person she used to be in times of distress.
Ruby is unrelenting. “What aren’t you saying, Sapphire?” The authoritative bark abruptly shatters to reveal the insecurity and unease underneath, and Sapphire’s gloved fingers clench around the armrests. “Please, Sapph, you’ve got to tell me. Is it my fault?”
Well, technically, yes. But not in the way that Ruby is so worried about.
Sapphire is a lot of things, but she refuses to be the monster that makes Ruby worry over whether or not she’s good enough. Not again. Not anymore. “We only have three years left,” she whispers.
“Three years left for—oh.” Ruby’s demeanor does a complete one-eighty. Her hands fall to her sides as she straightens up. “That’s what you’ve been thinking about?”
Sapphire nods. Her breaths are coming in short, and she doesn’t think she can meet Ruby’s eyes right now. This is really happening. Whether she likes it or not, she’s going to find the answer to the dreaded question very soon.
“You know.” Ruby lets out a small laugh that isn’t exactly what one would call humorous. Sapphire glances up just in time to see her rubbing at her neck. “I always imagined this happening differently. Mostly with you just one day out and telling me whether or not I should leave. You know, a ‘hey, this has been fun, but I literally do not see this working out, so you should probably just go away while you can’ sort of thing.”
Sapphire feels something invisible spear through her, but she nonetheless gathers enough of her wits to inquire, “Is that what you were hoping I’d say?”
“Well…” Ruby’s hand drops, and she gestures helplessly. “No.”
She’s doing it again. She’s making Ruby give something that she herself hasn’t already offered up. It’s like she can’t stop. Why can’t Sapphire stop doing this to her?
“But what about your freedom?” she asks softly. “Getting to the surface, seeing the sky?”
“Sapph, don’t you get it?” Ruby throws an arm out towards the door. “I don’t care about any of that!” Her voice lowers, becomes softer. “Not anymore.”
Sapphire shakes her head. On one hand, she can’t believe her ears—but on the other… “I can’t ask that of you,” she maintains. “I don’t have the right. This is your freedom, it isn’t right—”
“Yes, it is my freedom,” says Ruby with firm new conviction. “I can give it to whoever I want. And, if you’ll have me, Sapphire, I want to give it to you.”
She’s still shaking her head. “No. I won’t let you shut the door on that, not for me—”
“I’m not doing it for you.”
That gets her to stop. Slowly, Sapphire’s expression changes as she looks at Ruby.
“I want to be around you because I love the person I am when we’re together,” Ruby says. “I want to become someone I can be proud of, and I’ve never felt like it was possible until I met you. We’ve helped gems here, Sapphire!” She makes a sweeping gesture to indicate the entirety of Unit 6, or maybe just their cohort. It’s hard to tell. “As deep in the ground and isolated from the rest of society as we are, we found a way to make a positive difference. I’ve never been able to do that on my own.” Her hand slaps against her thigh as it falls, and Sapphire doesn’t think anyone has ever looked at her this way before. “I don’t want to say here just for your sake, Sapphire, I want to stay for myself. Even if things don’t continue as they have between us, I’ll find a way to stay and keep making a difference regardless. To me, freedom doesn’t matter as much as that.”
Sapphire is floored. She couldn’t have moved if she tried. She tries speaking anyway, but all that accomplishes is silently opening and closing her mouth. Finally, she releases a shuddering breath and puts her face in her hands. Her shoulders quake, but even she can’t tell what from. “I have never felt so utterly self-centered before,” she admits.
When Ruby approaches and gently tugs her hands from her face, Sapphire lets it happen. Likewise, she allows her head to be tilted back by the right hand on her cheek. Those eyes have never felt so warm before, she’s sure of it, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Ruby murmurs. “I have dozens of other reasons, too, and you probably won’t like hearing them. But that is one of them.”
Sapphire holds the hand on her cheek and turns her head so she can lean into the calloused red palm. Ruby’s breath catches when she plants a kiss directly into the center of it. “I don’t want to let you go,” she confesses, though a part of her is screaming why are you doing this, you have no right, how dare you force your feelings on her, you have no right. “I didn’t bring it up because I was so invested in the outcome being a certain way that I couldn’t bear the possibility of hearing something else. I couldn’t even Look for it.” She swallows and closes her eye and grips Ruby’s wrist tighter, with both hands now. Strong fingers flex against her forehead as she leans deeper into them. “I thought maybe I could be satisfied with fifty years, but I’m not, Ruby. I’m so selfish. I don’t want this to end.”
“Sapphire…” Her name is spoken in such a tiny voice, as if the very act of saying it is a miracle that requires too much breath.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be saying this. I shouldn’t be trying to influence you. What I want doesn’t matter. I told myself I wouldn’t talk about it. I don’t know what I’m doing anymore.” And yet she pitches forward to synch her arms around Ruby’s waist anyway. She presses her face into the strong warmth of Ruby’s chest, trying to bury herself there in hopes that maybe doing so will save them both from her egocentricity.
Ruby doesn’t react at first. She tenses at suddenly being seized, and it takes her a moment to wrap her head around what is actually happening. Then Sapphire feels the torso in her grip relax as an arm winds around her shoulders and the other hand strokes her hair back. “If that was what you wanted, all you had to do was say so.”
Ruby’s voice is thick with emotion, and Sapphire feels something inside of her seize up at the realization. She’s just made everything worse, hasn’t she?
Sapphire shakes her head into Ruby’s shirt, curling her fingers into the fabric. It’s hard to tell whether she is denying the plausibility of Ruby’s sentiment or rejecting the idea that she has ever been in a position to ask something like this of someone else. Perhaps, she thinks, the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Ruby lets out an incredulous sound that is either a laugh or a groan as her fingers slide through the soft fluff of Sapphire’s hair. “I can’t believe you were worried that I would feel obligated. I would have dedicated everything to you fifty years ago, if you had let me.”
That gets her.
“That doesn’t make sense,” Sapphire mutters into her torso. “You had no idea if this was going to work then.”
Ruby’s hand pauses in her hair as she leans back, and Sapphire can feel eyes boring down on the top of her head. “Are you questioning the legitimacy of my intuition?”
Sapphire lifts her head and doesn’t mind the way that her bangs are brushed out of the way by warm red fingers as she props her chin on Ruby’s chest. “Intuition, or impulsivity?” she asks.
“Sometimes it can be both,” Ruby huffs. She takes Sapphire’s resulting snort of laughter as an invitation to haul her to her feet and swing her around so high that her legs nearly go parallel with the floor. Sapphire can’t help the way she shrieks and laughs with delight, gripping Ruby’s shoulders for stability. It’s a weakness of hers, being handled in such a carefree way by such capable hands. It makes her feel light and happy and innocent, and the joy that Ruby clearly takes from seeing her like this only compounds it.
Her feet touch ground again, but they are still holding each other. Sapphire’s fingers flex around Ruby’s shoulders as she looks into the smiling face of her partner and wonders why she had ever been so afraid.
Ruby’s grin fades some as she looks back. She says, “So, I want to do this—for as long as you want me around.”
“And if I never stop?”
Ruby’s expression is instantly wiped clean. She jolts, stunned, but the serious look on Sapphire’s face—if anything is going to scare her off, it’s this, and what’s worse is that the question had been entirely heartfelt—but then she smiles. It’s a slow spreading of the lips, and the moisture that springs into her eyes makes her expression shiny and sincere. “Then I guess I’m not going anywhere after all.”
For some reason, Sapphire laughs. It’s a tender, ironic thing, but that’s still the best word for the sound that leaves her. Affection surges within her, so lively and warm she thinks that she could levitate off the notion alone.
Everything she knows about being more than friends begins and ends with Ruby, and while perhaps that skews her towards the red gem by default Sapphire can’t believe that she could feel this way about just anyone. It’s only Ruby, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
There are still tears in the corner of Ruby’s eyes. They aren’t sad, but they are still there. Sapphire only hesitates for a moment before she leans in and softly kisses them away.
Ruby’s smile changes, becomes warm and bashful. She touches Sapphire’s cheek with her right hand. “This is only going to work if you genuinely want it to,” she says in an uncharacteristically soft voice.
After all she’s just witnessed in the last twenty minutes, Ruby still feels the need to say this. To double check. That is so like her.
Sapphire reaches up and holds her hand in place. Her response is dry but direct, because isn’t it obvious? “Do you think I’d be here if I didn’t?”
Chapter 29: As Unit 6 Turns
Some jobs are easier than others.
It’s not as if Sapphire hasn’t noticed their friends’ oddly sluggish demeanors. She actually Saw it coming an hour or so ago, though she can’t for the life of her explain why they’re like this. Even Citrine, usually so lively, is slumped over the top of what is normally the chess table, her orange head pillowed on her bared arms. The entire recreation center is subdued today, all gems moving as if through thick paste. It isn’t the sort of lackluster behavior that indicates dejection or grief or fear; they’re all just… tired.
Sapphire’s never seen gems behave this way before.
So it isn’t that she hasn’t noticed; it’s more that she doesn’t know how to phrase her observation, or if it’s something she should be bringing attention to at all.
Ruby, being Ruby, marches right up and pokes at Apatite’s shoulder, which is hunched up from how she’s curled up her arms and buried her face in them. The navy blue gem doesn’t even lift her head, and that’s when Sapphire realizes she’s fast asleep.
“The cohort switched jobs today?” Ruby sounds disbelieving. “But it’s only been—wait. It has already been 500 years, hasn’t it?”
“It’s brutal. We went from the assembly lines to the forge,” Citrine groans. Her head lolls on her arms as she puts forth the minimum amount of effort to interact with the red gem. “Only you would have been happy about it.”
“We have to change into uniforms that won’t catch fire,” Tourmaline complains, though with notably less diction than usual. She’s managed to secure the entirety one of the nearby benches. With the way she is sprawled out in it, it almost looks comfortable. There again, Tourmaline has a way of making all of her body language appear enviably comfortable. It probably has something to do with her form’s luxurious curves. Sapphire would never have the confidence for a form like that. “My mermaid dresses don’t can’t fire, they’re skin tight—Sapphire’s poofy dress, sure, that’s a fire hazard, but my outfit isn’t going to catch fire unless I decide to stick all or part of myself into the hearth, and why the hell would I do that? Leave my choice of non-poofy clothing alone!”
Apatite, utterly impervious to the entire conversation, lets out a soft snore.
“What are you making in the forge?” asks Sapphire.
“The parts for the assembly line, obviously,” is Citrine’s response. Being worn out has made her quite snippy, it seems
“Mostly injector odds and ends,” Tourmaline translates. “Which parts you’re making, specifically, depends on which fire you’re stationed at.”
“You’re right,” Ruby realizes. “I probably would have liked this rotation. How big are the hammers?”
“About the size of your head, in some cases,” Tourmaline replies without irony. She maps out the approximate size for emphasis. “But the Supervisors keep you chained up and isolated if you’re on one of those, so you can’t get any funny ideas.”
“Why did your tasks change?” It’s probably obvious, but Sapphire honestly hasn’t heard of any Containment Unit switching up a labor force’s tasks. Why make them change jobs after they’ve spent the last half millennia perfecting their trade?
“Change of pace.” Citrine rolls her head to the other side, presumably so she can look at Sapphire a little better. Sapphire can’t see how Citrine can focus on anyone from the angle she’s at, though. “Some rotations are worse than others, so every 500 years cohorts switch out so no one is stuck doing the worst jobs for eternity.”
“It wasn’t always like that,” Tourmaline adds with a somewhat nostalgic expression. Sapphire anticipates something dark the instant before she hears, “But then the inmates on the worst jobs got fed up and a lot of them refused to come out of their gems, and of course we can’t lose valuable inmate productivity.”
“It’s been on a rotation ever since.”
Citrine lets out a hard sigh, and then groans from the effort just that requires. She allows her head to roll between her outstretched elbows, and she complains in a slightly muffled voice, “I can’t remember the last time I was this sore.”
“I can,” says Tourmaline. “It was 500 years and one day ago.” She groans and throws her arm over her pink eyes theatrically. As she leans back to add emphasis to this posture, her frizzy green hair shifts out of the way to reveal the watermelon tourmaline gem set into the skin just below her left ear like an earring. “Oh, I miss the assembly lines already!”
“Hear, hear.” Citrine briefly raises a loosely constructed fist in agreement. She does not lift her head.
“Did they have you on hammers, T?” Ruby says it, but it doesn’t really sound like a question.
“Of course they do!” Tourmaline huffs. “Just because I’m almost symmetrical doesn’t mean you need to assign the literal heavy lifting to me all the time! This happened on the assembly line, too—you were there, Ruby, you remember.”
Sapphire blinks, but maintains a stoic expression. It’s very hard to feel sympathy for someone who is trying to sound indignant through their thinly veiled bragging.
“Isn’t a hammer your weapon anyway?” says Sapphire. Next to her, Ruby snorts and starts to snicker. “And don’t you pride yourself on how tall and heavy it is?”
“That’s not the point!” exclaims Tourmaline as Ruby’s snickering bursts into full-out laughter. Suddenly, the curvy gem sits up fully, and rounds on Ruby. “Hey, would you stop that? I have been overworked today, and I deserve sympathy!”
“Tourmaline, stop shouting!” another one of the inmates hollers.
There is some grumble of agreement, as well as a fairly vocal mutter of, “I really can’t take any more of this today—where’s my sympathy?”
“I don’t know whether to be empathetic or happy for her,” is Citrine’s contribution to the conversation, although her head is still cradled in her arms. “It’s a pretty disorienting way to feel, and it probably has contributed to my exhaustion.”
To say that Tourmaline’s affronted gasp is theatrical would be an understatement, and even Sapphire can’t help giggling about it into Ruby’s shoulder.
Ruby says, “In other words, you love your new job.”
“I don’t like the mandatory uniforms. I should be able to hammer upon hot metal in whichever clothing I choose,” Tourmaline sniffs.
“Aside from the uniforms, then,” Sapphire says.
“Aside from the uniforms, I’m still sore and not used to the physical demands of the job, and it’s a lot harder to gossip now than it was on the assembly lines, but I think I’ll adjust.”
“Spoken like a true martyr, Tourmaline. I commend you,” Ruby says with a mock-solemn nod.
“Please don’t encourage her,” says Citrine’s muffled voice. “At least not until I can get through a day in the forge without wanting to collapse.”
Sapphire doesn’t say so aloud because she knows that doing it won’t get her anywhere, but she has to wonder just what do those two things have to do with each other, anyway. Even utterly exhausted, Citrine is still as strange as ever. She supposes that’s reassuring, in a way.
Both Ruby and Tourmaline open their mouths to reply to this, teasing and frowning respectively, but that’s when Apatite lets out an obscenely loud snore and buries her face deeper into her arms. She’s not faking it, the timing is just… strangely perfect.
Even Citrine has to laugh about that.
Chapter 30: What Partners Do
Memory is fallible, and Sapphire has a lot to hide, so making her answers to the Diamond Authority have to be perfect.
It takes some time for Sapphire to resurface from meditating on a particularly complex question from the Diamonds. Slowly but surely, the inquiries are becoming more nuanced. It’s almost as if someone has found out about the advancement of her power. That, in juxtaposition with the fact that the fifty year probationary period to assess the ‘newfound stability’ of Sapphire’s reformed behavior is nearly over, makes her leery. Every answer and reported movement over the last fifty years will come under scrutiny very soon now, and she does not want to inspire any more interest by giving up increasingly complex answers too quickly.
The problem is, she’s getting to the point where the future vision she has now is the only one she remembers. Sapphire has become so accustomed to these new standards in her day to day life that her memories of how finicky and schizophrenic her future vision used to be are now glazing over. She finds herself stalling increasingly often, wondering if she’s dumbed the answer down too much in the fear that she hasn’t dumbed it down enough. She wishes she had access to her previous messages, but her communications station doesn’t have long term internal storage. It receives questions and holds them until she answers. It also has the ability to save drafts of her current replies, but only one at a time.
This wouldn’t be a problem, if memory weren’t so fallible. Or if Sapphire had nothing to hide.
With this particularly inquiry, there are seven distinct and likely ways that it could go. Then there are the multiple, smaller variations of those seven distinct outcomes. Sapphire writes them all out, and then deletes the vast majority of the subtler variations. Bare bones answer, with a couple of surprisingly insightful nuggets on the most obvious outcomes. That’s it.
The fifth outcome is too particular, isn’t it? Her two-eyed self never would have been able to See that. The fine blend of events from outcomes four and six wouldn’t have registered as distinct, but rather as variations of the latter. Right?
But the fifth outcome is so obviously its own variable! Why wouldn’t her two-eyed self been able to notice that?
So, split the difference and mention it, but only vaguely?
Her two-eyed self never would have settled for anything less than a clearly defined possibility. Sapphire knows that as a certainty. She’s a detail oriented individual, and she’s been an oracle for the Diamonds long enough to know that nebulous answers are absolutely unacceptable. Being vague isn’t an option; not in the way she wants it to be, anyway.
The more Sapphire reviews her answer, the less certain she becomes that she is staying true to her past self.
Her future vision, as wonderfully explicit as it usually is, is being decidedly unhelpful at the moment. She’s so wound up that she can’t concentrate on which version of her response would be the least suspicious. She’s also so tense that she doesn’t trust her current judgment of the responses she Sees anyway.
Ruby, who is moving through drills with decidedly more vigor than usual, stops when Sapphire lets out a frustrated “Ugh!” and shoves herself back from the communication station.
“Um, are you okay, Sapphy?” she says as Sapphire rips her wheeled chair to the side and scrubs at her face with both gloved hands.
“Fine,” is Sapphire’s terse reply as she stalks sharply down the short length of the constrictive little prison. “I just need to get rid of some extra energy.”
“Isn’t that usually my job?” says Ruby as Sapphire whirls about in a flurry of petticoats and stamps back the way she came.
She knows Ruby means that as a joke, but she’s really not in the mood right now. There’s too much on the line for her to crack a smile at jokes. Sapphire has to do this right, but how can she do that, then she has lost any and all confidence in her own recollections of—
Ruby starts at the intensity with which she is suddenly being addressed. The fact that Sapphire is suddenly right in front of her might have also contributed to her reaction. “Yes?” is the baffled reply.
“Ruby, what do you remember of my future vision, back when I had two eyes?”
Ruby’s nose scrunches up, and she shakes her head in confusion. “Sapph, I don’t—”
“Please, just answer the question.”
“I-I just remember the basics! Sometimes it would take you off guard—”
Sapphire doesn’t wait to hear the rest in real time. “Do you still mean what you said before, about wanting to stay here? About my visions?”
It isn’t until two broad hands are firmly grasping her biceps and eyes narrowed in concern are peering at her through her bangs that Sapphire feels her mind stop racing so phenomenally fast. Now that she’s being grounded like this, everything is starting to slow back down. The pace is agonizingly lethargic, to start, but after a couple of moments she adjusts again. With a breath, Sapphire bows her head slightly.
Ruby’s fingers squeeze once around her arms. “I can’t keep up with you when you race ahead like that,” she says in a much softer tone. “You’re going to have to break this one down for me, Sapph.”
Sapphire nods, and the grip on her arms goes away. “Sorry,” she mutters, tangling her fingers into her skirts.
She waits, staring stubborn and persistent, until Sapphire looks back at her, in order to flash a little smile and say, “Don’t be. Just help me catch up.”
Sapphire does, albeit somewhat haltingly (faulty memory feels like a rookie mistake, and she can’t help how ashamed she is to admit to it). It doesn’t take more than a couple of sentences to get Ruby up to speed, so to speak.
“But then I thought, you wouldn’t have my problem of getting the details mixed up,” Sapphire says. “So if you looked my answers over it would help reestablish the right perspective—but then you’d be looking at the answers, and that would irrevocably trap you here, and I know we’ve talked about it, and talked about it, but I just…” She trails off with a small grimace and clenches big handfuls of her skirts to steady herself.
“I know.” When Ruby touches her wrist, it takes a moment for her to loosen her grip on her dress. Instead their fingers weave together as if to form a living tapestry, and Ruby offers a small smile as she cups Sapphire’s cheek in her right palm. “I’m not afraid of learning the things you see,” she says softly. “And I would be happy to look over what you have, but I honestly don’t know if I can make the difference you’re looking for.”
“At this point, any perspective is going to be better than mine,” Sapphire says frankly, holding that warm hand against her face.
“Maybe you just need to take a break,” Ruby suggests. “If this question really as nuanced as you say, then it’s not like taking a little longer than usual to answer is going to be suspicious.”
Sapphire looks at Ruby, the grip on the back of her knuckles twitching. “I didn’t mean to scare you. You really don’t have to look if you don’t want to.”
“Oh no, I want to and I will,” Ruby says simply. “I want to do everything I can to help—to start, let’s get away from the question for a little while. Sit with me.”
With that, Ruby drops to the metal floor with a thud. She crosses her ankles and gestures for Sapphire to do the same. Sapphire does, albeit more slowly.
It’s not until they’re both settled on the floor that Ruby gets the idea. Sapphire finds herself being pulled and prodded and adjusted until she is seated between Ruby’s legs with her arms propped up on Ruby’s knees and her head leaning against Ruby’s chest. It’s a little bit of an odd position to be having a conversation in, but other than that it’s admittedly comfortable, and when Ruby’s arms hug her around the waist and her chin rests on Sapphire’s shoulder the inquiry of why this arrangement was initiated fades from her lips. Being enveloped in Ruby’s warmth like this is… really, really nice. Sapphire feels secure here, and the small, traitorous part of her is still so scared of showing her vulnerability is implicitly soothed. This is Ruby. Of course there is nothing to fear.
“Okay,” Ruby says in a perfectly normal and companionable tone, as if this happens all the time (and, for the record, it decidedly doesn’t). “Tell me about your first vision. Don’t talk about the categories of information, tell me about the actual event you remember seeing.”
Just because Sapphire feels comfortable doesn’t mean she can’t also feel skeptical. “What does my first vision have to do with anything?”
“Because what you remember from your earliest visions, and all of the most important visions you can remember up until you switched to one eye, will give me insight on the kinds of details you were privy to then, so that when I read this answer that’s giving you so much trouble I’ll have a better idea of the sort of response you should be giving.”
“It’s so simple, but that could really work,” says Sapphire. She gestures from Ruby’s knee with her gem-holding hand. “Why didn’t I think of it sooner?”
“Because you’re getting yourself lost in the details.”
‘That was a rhetorical question, Ruby.”
The chest she’s leaning against quakes with poorly suppressed laughter, and Sapphire smiles despite herself.
“Thank you for helping me,” she says, tilting her head so that she can see the red gem’s face.
“There’s nothing to thank me for,” says Ruby with a smile that makes something inside of Sapphire stop and stutter. “We’re partners. Helping out is what partners do.”
Sapphire knows that her connection with Ruby is good, and she knows that she’s fortunate to have found it, but right now, looking into the smile of someone so wonderful, Sapphire has never felt so blessed.
I’m never letting you go.
Smiling herself, Sapphire presses a small, affectionate kiss to the corner of Ruby’s jaw. The smile fades as the memories of some of her most potent visions finally surface. “Not all visions are good,” she warns. “In fact, a lot of them aren’t.”
Ruby flashes her a reassuring grin. “That’s okay. After spending this much time in a Containment Unit, I don’t think that long-passed visions of what might have been are going to frighten me.”
Sapphire supposes that’s a good point. Nevertheless, the warning needed to be said, if only so she can placate herself. She lets out a breath and settles deeper into Ruby’s embrace, and starts talking. As she talks, interrupted occasionally by Ruby prodding for clarification, patterns begin to form.
Back when she had two eyes, Sapphire’s visions were dominated by disorienting snippets of loosely connected information, like a video feed with a poor connection. Their character was derived from the inductive and deductive reasoning she would employ to make sense of it all, and after a while she performed them without even thinking. Extrapolating information from her choppy visions based upon this or that premise became a process so automatic that it happened simultaneously with the visions themselves. No wonder it feels as though her future vision is more accurate now—having to assume what happened between snippets A and B would make anyone’s predictions inaccurate!
Of course, now that she doesn’t have to expend the energy to mentally fill in the gaps in short scenes, Sapphire has been able to push her visions further and better explore the implications of suggested courses of action. This, too, makes sense in juxtaposition with how taxing her future vision used to be.
Ruby is a surprisingly good listener for a gem who can never stay still. Oh, she fiddles with Sapphire’s fingers and braids small sections of her hair and all other odds and ends like that, but her concentration doesn’t break once. When Sapphire is finished with all of the visions she remembers best, Ruby disentangles herself without offering any theories of her own. Instead, she perches on the edge of the chair and reads the Diamonds’ question as well as Sapphire’s answer seriously and without comment. As she reads, she rests her chin in her right hand and hums, frowning at the screen.
Finally, she lets her hand fall next to the keyboard, turns to Sapphire, and says, “You should be presenting only a third of the detail from each scenario, because you shouldn’t be able to see that far. Considering the fact you’ve been giving more than you should recently, you’re probably going to have to give them half from now on. I’d cut out most of the smaller stuff, too, or at least rewrite it so that it looks like you’re just following the good arguments where they lead instead of actually seeing it. If I had to guess, judging from the quality of the questions here in your inbox, the Diamonds probably assume that you’ve either found a way to improve your ability, or your inductive reasoning has gotten a lot sharper over the years.”
Sapphire gets to her feet slowly, and braces her hand on Ruby’s shoulder as she reviews her response with these constructive criticisms in mind.
“You’re right,” she realizes. “And I was about ready to give it up and send this as-is!”
“Somehow, I doubt that would have gone over well for us.”
Sapphire becomes abruptly dry. “Is it that obvious?”
Ruby lets out a small laugh, but as she scrolls through the question again she can’t seem to help whistling, impressed. “You weren’t joking when you said you knew too much. They send these kinds of questions to you every day? I always thought the Diamonds did some thinking of their own.”
“I prefer to think that they handle the easiest questions without me, but yes. While this one is a little more sensitive than usual, this is typically the sort of thing I’m answering for them,” Sapphire replies.
“And you’re the only one who can do this.”
“As far as I know, yes.”
“No wonder they’ve always gone so easy on you! I’d never do something to maim or kill an asset who can do this for me, either.” Ruby turns away from the screen and looks up at Sapphire, causing the latter’s hand to fall from her broad shoulder. “And you use that against them all the time when we go after Supervisors.”
Ruby’s expression is far too enigmatic for Sapphire to tell whether or not that is supposed to be a compliment. “Yes…?”
The next thing she knows, she’s being swung around in an affectionate embrace as Ruby laughs. “Oh, you toe the line between nuisance and pawn so perfectly!” exclaims Ruby, still cackling at the Diamond’s expense. “That’s an art form, Sapphy—it’s beautiful!”
Sapphire braces her hands on her partner’s shoulders and grins as she is set back onto her own two feet. Ruby has yet to release her grip on her waist, but Sapphire doesn’t mind. “I thought you already knew that.”
“But I didn’t know the details! I don’t know how you aren’t laughing about the irony every time you reply to one of these things.”
“That would be an awful lot of laughing.”
Ruby snorts at her tone, but still has to ask, “So you know where to take your reply from here? You don’t need any more help?”
“Actually, if you wouldn’t mind.” Sapphire doesn’t know why asking for this makes her so bashful. Maybe it’s the fact that they still have their arms around each other. “I think I could use a proofreader from now on.”
At first Ruby looks surprised, but then she smiles as bright as Sapphire remembers the sun to be, and darts in to give her the sort of kiss that sings with warmth. “I thought you’d never ask.”
Chapter 31: Abstractions of Solitude
This is the longest Sapphire has been alone in centuries.
“It’s just a check-in meeting,” Sapphire says, her voice even and calm. “Everything will be fine.”
“Yes,” Ruby says.
“You’re just giving the report. You’ve done this before. This will all be over by the end of the day, and things will be fine.”
Sapphire presses her lips together and frowns. “How are you so confident?”
“Because if you say everything will turn out fine, then it will.” Ruby shrugs as if to say ‘can’t argue with that logic’.
“Yes, but you know that anything I predict is never certain. There are always possibilities—”
“Look, Sapph, if I’ve learned anything about your future vision in the last six months, it’s exactly how reliable it can be. And if I know anything about you, you scoured every possibility and probability for this meeting twice before you actually answered any of my questions about it.” Ruby smiles. “It’s hard to be scared when you already know what’s coming, right?”
She says it, and she sounds confident enough, but Sapphire can feel that her own anxiety is rubbing off on the red gem. Ruby’s smile is quirky, a little too toothy to be fully relaxed.
“Remember.” Sapphire has said it before, but she feels the need to say it again, for both their sakes. “The pivotal moment is the conclusion. Everything hinges on the way you phrase your final assessment of the situation.”
“And how I bring up the fact that, whoopsie, I’ve read all your most recent correspondences these last six months and can now never be sent to the surface.”
Sapphire knows that’s a joke fueled by nerves. She knows that, because that’s what Ruby does, and yet… “Just one instance is enough,” she says, gripping fat handfuls of her petticoats in her fists. “It was an accident. I slipped. If you blame me, then everything should go smoother for you.”
There is a very fine line for Ruby to toe during this conversation. She needs to be too tainted with forbidden knowledge to be set free on the surface, but also not so tainted that it would make tactical sense to dispose of her. She also needs to be seen as an invaluable asset for keeping Sapphire’s chaos-inducing tendencies contained and docile. If there is any indication that Sapphire could be fine without her, then there will be more severe consequences for Sapphire infecting her with the wrong knowledge.
“I know, Sapphire. How many times have we gone through this?” Ruby takes a hold of her hands and works her fingers out of their clenching hold on the fabric of her dress. “We know what to do, and you already know everything is going to work itself out. I’m just going to make it a reality.”
That conversation took place hours ago. Ruby has been gone for five hours. Nearly six, now. Sapphire spins her chair around so she can look at the rest of the room and brings her knees up to her chin without a care for all of the petticoats that poof up in between.
This is the longest Sapphire has been alone in centuries.
The concept isn’t something she’s put too much thought into, to be honest. Especially recently, when Ruby’s company has been voluntary as well as conveniently mandatory. But it’s true. Sapphire has her moments of meditation to answer the Diamonds’ questions, moments in which she ignores Ruby and vice versa; they have quiet moments too, moments in which they do not speak or truly interact with each other, but none of these are moments of true solitude. When you occupy forty-nine square feet with someone else twenty hours of each day, for decades on end, solitude becomes an abstraction that folds in on itself again and again until it warps and ultimately disappears. You try to find ways to redefine it so suit your situation until, eventually, it just stops mattering anymore.
If this is solitude, Sapphire thinks, then I don’t want it.
She can’t concentrate in the stillness of the little room. The silence is too loud. She needs Ruby’s shuffling footsteps, her soft grunts and whooshes of air as she practices with her boxing gloves, the bright spot of warmth that Sapphire can always feel just over her shoulder.
She used to be so contented with aloneness. It was, after all, how she used to spend most of her time. It used to be that she only interacted with Ruby and their friends four hours of every day. It used to be that Sapphire didn’t even notice the stagnant silence in this room.
Now there is a scream boiling like poison in the back of her throat. How had she ever tolerated such a miserable existence?
Because, until Ruby, she had never experienced the alternative. How do you recognize loneliness if you’ve never felt the fulfillment of companionship? It’s so easy to assume that the way you feel is normal when it’s the only thing you’ve ever known.
Sapphire can’t concentrate on any of the Diamonds’ ten questions in her inbox right now. That being said, it’s only too easy for her to watch what is happening to Ruby. She tries to curb her vision as close to what is presently happening as she can, so she can feel as if she is there with Ruby as much as for accuracy, but she will always be about forty-five seconds ahead. Such is the nature of the beast.
The formal director of Sapphire’s operation is White Diamond. As such, the gem herself is present. However, very high ranking representatives from the other diamonds are also present. Their function is mostly to demonstrate unanimity as a governing force—see, if all of us are seem to be here then it must mean that we can work together—but the representatives are permitted limited speech and veto power, particularly if White Diamond makes a decision that is not simpatico with their masters’ core objectives.
They are all gathered in room big enough to fit a large projection screen, slouching (or, in White Diamond’s case, sitting straight backed and dignified) in chairs that look suspiciously like they have been stolen from the recreation center. The metal walls and floor betray their location as somewhere in the Containment Unit, and the claustrophobia of being so deep underground seems to have spooked Yellow Diamond’s representative quite a bit. She keeps giving the metal roof suspicious, cringing glances, as if she expects it to cave in on her at any moment.
Ruby is not presenting in front of a panel, per se, but she is in possession of the tablet that controls the projection screen. The device is made for a gem about twice her size, and she looks comically small surrounded by such huge, symmetrical gems with it balanced on her legs.
“So, in light of all of this evidence, what are your conclusions as her handler?” asks White Diamond with a sweeping gesture to the projection. Her hand is long and slender, and seems to glow with ethereal white light, even in Sapphire’s future vision. The softness of the sight is contrasted with her sharply angled shoulders, abrupt hips and spiked, electric white hair. Even her facial features seem sharpened to a point, severe and unforgiving. Even her gem, set into the middle of her chest, is cut sharp and triangularly.
Upon hearing this question that White Diamond will inevitably ask, something in Sapphire winds up, and it winds tighter and tighter as the seconds pass. She’s not even there, and she can feel the tension in the room. Everything has gone more or less smoothly up until this point, but this point is so, so critical.
“Twofold.” Ruby is very good at sounding brisk, professional and authoritative when she wants to. It’s something Sapphire hadn’t known about her partner, until today. “The first is that the subject cannot be trusted on her own, as evidenced by the fight that almost broke out the one instance I permitted her to explore the recreation facility without me.”
“And you do not believe this is a tendency that will fade with time?”
“The last instance was fifty years ago, almost exactly,” says Ruby flatly. “This is a character trait you have been plagued by since her capture. Having come to understand her over the last millennia, it is my professional opinion that this is not a trait that will ever be fully eradicated. There is no logical foundation for assuming that the subject will be able to regulate herself without a handler present.”
Good, Sapphire thinks as her arms tighten around her shins. Playing this angle first is brilliant, Ruby. Keep pushing.
White Diamond hums enigmatically, considering. “And the second conclusion?”
“Considering the range and scope of her powers, and the resistance I myself encountered upon first being assigned to her, a rotating guard would not succeed. She would take advantage of the transitions, and would come to outsmart the handlers who haven’t had the time to properly understand how she thinks.”
Sapphire pauses. What? This isn’t a point they rehearsed. What is Ruby thinking?
“But wouldn’t the subject also miss that opportunity?” says White Diamond.
“Not necessarily. Remember that we’re speaking of a gem with the power of foresight. The longer the subject spends with you, the more scenarios that add up in her head. She only needs a fraction of the time the rest of us do to come to such an understanding.”
“You speak as if from experience, Ruby. Has this ever been a problem?”
Sapphire can’t breathe. Not that she needs to, per se, but stagnation of the air currently inside her matches her rapidly expanding dread far better than fresh air would have. Oh no. No, no—portraying yourself as an incompetent handler is not following the plan! Just follow the plan, Ruby!
“It might have been,” Ruby says. “But I can overpower her in any case. It doesn’t matter how much you understand someone if you know there is no scenario in which you can win. Once the subject realized that, she stopped challenging me. Her demeanor became quite cooperative. I was interacting with an entirely new gem.”
It feels as if she is talking in metaphor. Almost as if she knows that Sapphire herself is listening, and is trying to communicate something. But she can’t know that, and what’s the point of trying to communicate with Sapphire like this anyway? They’re going to see each other soon (well, who knows what will happen now, since Ruby has sidestepped their plan; Sapphire’s not about to stop watching this to find out—she’s too anxious to turn away).
“So overwhelming brute force is all it takes to subdue her,” says White Diamond.
“It’s a good tactic for opening a rapport, but the real reason I get cooperation is from mutual respect. I do not treat her like a prisoner. As long as she doesn’t disrupt the status quo, I leave her alone—but the moment she starts to, I put a stop to it. We coexist peacefully as long as that order is maintained, and it took years to establish this dynamic. I have no illusions that a rotating guard would never be able to do such a thing. There would be far too much mistrust.”
“If I understand this correctly,” White Diamond says, folding her arms over her neatly crossed knees. “You are saying that you’ve found a way to subdue her, but that you are the only gem who capable of it.”
“Empirically, yes. But my true point is, why move back to square one when it has taken one thousand years to reach this point? Where is the practicality in that?”
White Diamond is silent. Her sharp features form an inscrutable expression—not that she was ever easy to read anyway, but nevertheless. “You are a willing participant in Blue Diamond’s experiment for the rehabilitation of defective gems, are you not, Ruby?”
Sapphire watches Ruby stiffen, trying not to flinch at the term. Being called defective doesn’t hurt when another gem of the same class says it, but coming from White Diamond herself the term is callous and cruel, synonymous with garbage.
“That is true, sir,” says Blue Diamond’s representative before Ruby herself can reply.
“Excellent. Now that we’ve cleared that up,” White Diamond focuses the entirety of her sword-like attention upon Ruby. “Why do you seem to be arguing in favor of circumstances that would reduce your likelihood of joining gem society proper, as a rehabilitated gem?”
Sapphire lets out a small moan and buries her face into her skirt-covered kneecaps. No, this is precisely the sort of tone they were trying to avoid! A suspicious White Diamond is nobody’s friend, least of all theirs! What is Ruby trying to do, get herself thrown off the job faster?
If Ruby ever makes it back to this tiny little communications room, Sapphire is going to shock her until her curls stand on end for an hour for putting her through this hell. She won’t even feel sorry for all of the subsequent static shocks that will happen from contact with the walls and floor.
Ruby is surprisingly calm as she replies, “Normally I wouldn’t be, but just recently the subject has broken confidentiality and let slip a small detail about one of the questions she has answered for you and your fellow Diamonds.”
The tension in the room abruptly changes texture, Sapphire can feel it from the other side of the vision.
White Diamond’s voice is as thin and deadly as a razor as she asks, “What, precisely, did you hear?”
“That a kindergarten with an Olivine as a supervisor is having trouble again, sir.”
There is a very peculiar silence. Ruby, for all that she has done beautifully under the pressure of White Diamond and the representatives these last several hours—far better than anyone might have expected, for a gem so impulsive and emotionally inclined—finally begins to lose her composure. One leg begins to bounce and jiggle, and Sapphire can see her clenching and unclenching her gem-holding hand against the other thigh.
“And you have already come to the conclusion that you will never be able to leave this Containment Unit,” says White Diamond finally. It’s an oddly ambiguous statement. Is she impressed that she won’t have to break the news to Ruby fresh, or perhaps exasperated at the logical leap?
“Yes, sir. I know I was never meant to find out about the nature of your correspondence with the subject, and the fact that I have—through no fault of my own—does put my potential to be released to the surface in jeopardy. If I can no longer be of use as a rehabilitation subject, the least I can do is continue my usefulness as a handler.”
Oh, thank the stars, Sapphire thinks with an audible sigh. She’s gone back to what they rehearsed. Sapphire closes her eye as she relaxes into her knees. Her poor nerves are shot, just positively shot.
“We can still use—” begins Blue Diamond’s representative.
“No, you can’t. I will never let a gem who has breached into classified information go to the surface,” snaps White Diamond. Blue Diamond’s representative shrinks in her chair as the piercing gem briefly rounds on her. “The subject has effectively trapped you here, Ruby. Are you certain this is not a part of some malicious plot?”
At this, Ruby laughs. It’s a big, hearty laugh that severs her own tension, but only serves to befuddle those that have heard it. From her end Sapphire lets out a weak little giggle, too. All of the history, all of the conversations, all of the fear that came with finally talking about her future vision so openly—no. White Diamond, in all of her influence and wisdom, simply doesn’t know the half of it. Laughing is by far the most direct and simultaneously roundabout way of expressing that sentiment.
“Well, if it is,” Ruby says, snorting and wiping the tears from the corners of her eyes. “Then it isn’t anything I can’t handle. I’m not afraid of her, sir, and nothing she has stashed up those poofy sleeves of hers can change that.”
Sapphire shakes her head against her knees. There is no question in her mind that that last statement was made for her. Now is not the time to be showing off, Ruby. You can brag all you want that you knew I was watching later, after you get out of this with your assignment and gem intact.
“Excuse me, but what am I supposed to tell Blue Diamond—”
“Tell her I’ve taken control of her defective Ruby,” says White Diamond without sympathy or ceremony. “She’s ruined for that project, but not for mine.” Then, in what is nearly a mutter, “I didn’t want to go through the hassle of screening Supervisors who could fight a 9 Mohs gem with two elements and the power of foresight, anyway.”
All of Sapphire’s muscles go weak, and she loses her balance and falls from her chair in a kerfuffle of ruffled skirts and tangled hair. She hardly notices the impact on the cold metal floor as she stays where gravity has deposited her, taking shuddering breaths, tears of relief squeezing from her eye.
“If Blue Diamond doesn’t like it, then she can talk to me in person, but this operation is more important than her measly rehabilitation experiments.”
“Sir, this was one of our best candida—”
White Diamond waves one glowing graceful hand to physically swat the conversation away. Her severe gaze settles on Ruby. “Is that all you have to report?”
Ruby’s eyes are wide like she can’t believe her ears, and for the first time since she’s come into this room she stumbles over her words. “Y-yes, sir.”
“Excellent. You are dismissed. Keep submitting semi-annual reports if nothing goes amiss, but report to me immediately should the subject have another relapse.”
Ruby is so excited to get the hell out of there that she nearly knocks the tablet on her lap to the floor. She catches it at the last second, and deposits it on the chair she’s just leapt from with quaking fingers. She moves quickly, but her limbs are also comically stiff as she tries to maintain her formality. It’s then that Sapphire realizes just how much Ruby has funneled into this professional façade. It’s probably the best behavior anyone is going to get from her for the next five centuries.
Sapphire doesn’t miss the look that Blue Diamond’s representative gives Ruby as she takes her leave, but Ruby is far too focused on not breaking into an all-out sprint to give the looks she’s being given the time of day.
Meanwhile, Sapphire finally pushes herself to sit up. This isn’t how today was supposed to go. The possibility of Ruby taking those talking points and stringing them together in such a way that White Diamond believed her was supposed to be low, so low that Sapphire had dismissed this direction of conversation as a possibility in the early brainstorming phases.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to go, but Ruby had somehow pulled it off anyway. In hindsight, she hadn’t been reckless as much as brilliant. Sapphire needs to have more faith in the way that Ruby solves problems, she thinks, because it works. In fact, this arguably worked out better than the solution they had been rehearsing for. Sapphire never would have thought to use an unsolicited argument against her own replacements as fodder for convincing someone this is the best and only job she is suited for. Her style is so much more reactionary. Even when she acts preemptively, it is always a defensive response of what is to come. She never thinks to bring something up as both offense and defense.
Ruby, now that she’s out of the makeshift conference room, has broken into a run. Sapphire knows how much time it will take her to get back here, and it’s too long. She is on her feet and streaking down the hallway in an instant, her hair flying out behind her and the door to the little communications room left open, squeaking softly on its hinges.
It takes less than two minutes for Sapphire to meet up with Ruby and, with a cry of her name, snatch her into a powerful embrace. Everything she wants to say piles up on itself and clogs the back of her throat, and so she ends up saying nothing and instead just holding on tighter. Ruby doesn’t mind, because she’s hugging hard too.
It’s been centuries since Sapphire has been alone, so long that even the abstractions of solitude have faded into faulty memory. She never realized how much she hated solitude before, how lonely it could be.
Sapphire grasps Ruby’s cheeks and peppers her flushed and beautifully grinning red face with kisses. The sheer emotion surging within her is like a charging army, relentless and unstoppable. It spills from her lips and pushes its way from her pores, and while she should be overwhelmed she’s not. It’s natural, and it feels easy, and she doesn’t ever want it to go away.
And now, Sapphire thinks as Ruby scoops her up and swings her around like it’s nothing, and they laugh, simultaneously giddy and relieved and hysterical. Now she knows companionship, and happiness, and security, and she would use anything—everything—within her power to protect it.
I love you.
She doesn’t say it aloud, but in this moment the knowledge rings as true as the wavelength of her gem. It’s a Truth with a capital T, impervious to the influence of the ever changing future, an unavoidable fact a thousand years in the making, and it’s as much a part of her as her elemental abilities. Sapphire isn’t scared to let it become a part of her, just as she isn’t scared to look Ruby in the eyes through her discombobulated bangs and let her see it. They’re long past the point where being scared makes any sense, and who is Sapphire to argue with logic?
Ruby sets her down, and as they grip each other their foreheads press together in the sterile hallway of their eternal prison there is no need for the vocalization of her response.
I love you, too.
Chapter 32: The Big Picture
"There you are! Where have you been?"
Some facts you might find interesting:
Pollucite has a Mohs of 6.5-7. It was named after Pollux (half of the gemini constellation)
Pollucite is intentionally juxtaposed with Petalite (Mohs 6-6.5). Petalite, incidentally, is formerly known as Castorite (after Castor, the other half of Gemini)
The more you know~!
“There you are!” exclaims Apatite, rushing to meet Ruby and Sapphire as the door to the rec center clangs shut behind them. Her navy blue skin is a few shades paler than usual, and her dark eyes are bright with hysteria. “Where have you two been? We have—”
“Apatite, why are you so uptight?” says the olive green gem as she tromps into the facility behind Ruby. Her skin is streaked with darker green stripes, and she titters somewhat giddily at her own joke.
“Serpentine, where have you been?” asks Apatite, scandalized for a whole new reason. This might have been funny, if Apatite’s concern hadn’t so clearly been pointed in the direction of Supervisors. “Why would you go off on your own?”
“Calm down, would you? Look who I was with.” And she gestures one streaked hand to Sapphire and Ruby, who are each about a head shorter. Sapphire has a much more slender build than Serpentine, and while Ruby is of comparable stockiness Serpentine has visibly less definition. She is also on the lower end of the Mohs scale for her gem type—a 3.5 out of a potential 5.5—but she tends to posture as if she is much harder than she actually is, as a defense mechanism.
“Pollucite and her patrol partner Petalite got Serpentine off on her own,” Sapphire says by way of explanation. “So we escorted her back to the rest of her cohort, since the Supervisors clearly didn’t know the way.”
Ruby snorts at that monumental understatement. They had gone far out of their way to intercept Pollucite (who had had the presence of mind to steer conspicuously clear of their usual routes from the tiny communications room to the rec center). The dent Ruby punched in the floor of the hallway also probably still reeks of hot sheet metal.
When Sapphire pointed this out earlier, Ruby had only said, “They had a 7 Mohs dagger above a 3.5 Mohs gem. Who knows what would have happened if we hadn’t gotten there when we did. I didn’t overreact, and I’m not sorry.”
Sapphire hadn’t had anything to say to that, mostly because she agreed.
So far, today has been fairly exciting—and Apatite’s thinly veiled anxiety only promises more of the same.
Serpentine laughs loudly. Sapphire can still feel the way she’s shaking with reaction. “Yes, that’s exactly what happened.”
“Serpentine, there you are!” calls an amazonite as she jogs over. “We’ve been looking all over the rec center for you! Come on, we’re about to start a new sparring round on the exercise mat—you’ve got to get in on this.”
“Oh.” Serpentine laughs somewhat nervously now. She steps around Ruby with a new brand of hesitance, clearly still reliving the violence of twenty minutes ago in her head. “Y-yeah, of course.”
“Hey, ‘tine, are you okay?” asks Amazonite with concern as they walk away together.
Sapphire hopes that Serpentine tells the truth. She knows from personal experience just how much lying about something like this can damage all parties involved.
“You’ve clearly been through a lot today already, but you have to know,” Apatite says when the pair have gotten far enough way. Her panic is back now in full force, and her voice quavers as she tells Ruby and Sapphire, “She’s back.”
“Who she?” asks Ruby as Sapphire’s gut drops fast and hard to the ground.
It’s been years since their encounter with another ruby. Seven-hundred-and-seventy-three, to be precise. Sapphire has grown complacent, she’s stopped looking, and now she’s blindsiding them. Again.
“Which cohort?” Ruby’s voice is as rough as sandpaper, but at least she’s talking. Sapphire, though she follows Ruby when the latter starts walking with Apatite towards the rest of their friends, doesn’t have even that much awareness. She is too busy is she scouring the future for why. Why is she here, why now, why come back to a Containment Unit that doesn’t meet your ideals, why…
“Not ours, thankfully. She’s two shifts away,” says Apatite. “Management has finally learned better than to put two rubies anywhere near each other.”
“But she’s still here,” Ruby growls out. Her fingers are curling into powerful fists at her sides.
“We knew you’d be upset about it, which is why we wanted to warn you as soon as possible,” says Apatite.
By this point they’ve reached Citrine and Tourmaline, who are halfheartedly participating in a game that involves stacking rectangular wooden blocks upon each other. “Are you okay, Ruby?” Citrine immediately inquires, her voice filled with concern.
“Does it look like I’m okay, Citrine?” Then, upon seeing Citrine’s flinch (the tower of blocks collapses from the jerk of her elbow, though this goes more or less unnoticed by anyone else), Ruby immediately smooths out her tone. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have snapped.”
“We all think she’s bad news, Ruby,” says Tourmaline, brushing wooden blocks out of the way so she can rest her arms on the table top.
Inexplicably, that’s when all eyes turn to Sapphire, even Ruby’s.
“I don’t see her doing anything to us or our cohort,” she says, spreading her hands helplessly. “Not in the foreseeable future, anyway.”
“Her cohort is feeling it, though, aren’t they?” says Citrine quietly. She looks at Sapphire directly.
“Yes,” says Sapphire. There is no point in lying about it.
Apatite winces and looks down. Tourmaline looks away, her expression uncharacteristically subdued. They are all projecting the same vibe, but only Citrine has the gumption to look right at Sapphire and say, “Well, aren’t you going to do something about it?”
At least she says it.
Before Sapphire can reply, however, Ruby is interjecting, “You don’t know what you’re asking for, Citrine.”
“Don’t I?” Citrine throws her arm out toward the exercise mat, where Serpentine is indeed participating in a friendly sparring match with her friends. “You go out of your way to save people you don’t know all the time! You’re the strongest gems in this entire Containment Unit, and you’ve already beaten her once. How am I being unreasonable?”
“Because you’re expecting it,” says Sapphire.
Citrine gives her a hard look. Unless this is the result of dozens of small sentiments that have been building up for centuries, she isn’t acting like herself. Sapphire presses her lips together; her eye narrows from behind her bangs, brow furrowing as she tries to differentiate between the two.
“Sapphire, we’re all expecting it,” says Citrine. “Every time a Supervisor steps out of line, we all expect you and Ruby to avenge us, at the very least. Hell, we depend on it! Morale in his cohort has never been better, because we all expect vengeance by your hand! How do you not see this?” Citrine’s yellow-orange palm slaps the table top, and her scowl turns her typically friendly face into something nearly unrecognizable. “Damnit, one of my dearest friends was destroyed because of you! Nepotism doesn’t make you any better than the Supervisors you claim to oppose!”
“Citrine.” Ruby’s voice is very low, and frankly a little bit terrifying. Sapphire can feel the heat beginning to radiate from her. “You need to stop talking and walk away, right now.”
“Ruby, it’s fine.” Sapphire touches her partner’s arm and gives it a soft squeeze. “She’s right, and she was here first. I’ll just go back early.”
She doesn’t wait to hear a response as she turns on heel and removes herself from the recreation facility. It’s for the best.
Honestly, though, it’s not surprising when Ruby jogs into place beside her. “You could have stayed,” she says anyway. “I wouldn’t have held it against you.”
“I know that,” Ruby says gruffly. “But Citrine made me mad too, you know.”
“It makes sense, in a way.”
“No, it doesn’t. She is in no place demand that we fight anyone, for her sake or anyone else’s. What we do with our weapons is our own choice, not hers. It’s not fair for her to expect anyone else to fight her battles for her. That we happen to do it anyway is just happy coincidence. It isn’t a right.”
Sapphire’s façade of calm collectedness wanes somewhat as she glances at the gem beside her. How in the universe had an asymmetrical gem who has spent most of her life in a Containment Unit come to develop such a firm sense of justice and morality?
Ruby kicks her foot up a little harder than she needs to when she takes her next step. “It’s not like I don’t want to help other cohorts,” she mutters. “But we can’t do everything. We’d destroy ourselves trying. Why can’t Citrine see that we aren’t a permanent solution, but just a temporary reprieve?”
“Probably because it’s easier to pretend that you and I will slowly but surely fix everything,” says Sapphire. “It’s a tempting delusion, don’t you think? Just believe in us, and we’ll eventually save everyone.”
“It’s not realistic. It’s not fair.”
“No, it’s not,” Sapphire agrees. She debates for a moment, pursing her lips together with hesitance, and then she says, “She blames me for what happened to Rhodochrosite, and I can’t really blame her. I’ve felt guilty about your friend ever since I learned about her destruction. I didn’t think of the gem my arrival would displace before then, and I don’t know why. I suppose I was hoping there wouldn’t be one.”
“I’ve always wondered about that.” Ruby says it like the memory of Rhodochrosite still pains her, but Sapphire is surprised when she reaches for her gloved hand. She pushes her fingers in the spaces between Ruby’s strong red ones anyway, and yet… “You can’t blame yourself for what happened to Rho, Sapph,” she says. “It’s not your fault that you exist, and it’s not your fault Containment Units are so crowded. You never chose Unit 6; it was chosen for you.”
“What happened to Rho is symptomatic that this system is rotten from top to bottom, not of anything you ever did to her. Sapphire.” Ruby squeezes her hand and looks over at her. Some of that old grief is still in her expressive face—most likely, it will never leave—but there is empathy, too. And affection. Sapphire feels something in her chest clench at that last, and she presses her lips together to keep herself from doing something stupid. “If I knew Rhodochrosite at all—and I like to think I did—she would be very upset by your shortsightedness. Look at the bigger picture: the way you are treated is just as indicative of this system’s brokenness as Rho.
“You aren’t the enemy here, Sapphire,” Ruby says. “You never were. And the sooner we can get more gems to see the bigger picture like that, the sooner we can get them to start fighting for themselves instead of waiting for us to pick up their swords for them. And the sooner we can send these damn arbitrary lines dividing My Side from Your Side up in smoke and actually move forward. All inmates should be on the same side in this; there shouldn’t be any exceptions.”
It takes so long for Sapphire to recover her bearings that Ruby’s fingers become twitchy and hot with nerves. “Um, Sapph—”
“I needed to hear that,” she says. Then, when Ruby starts to say something, “No, I really did. Citrine’s just hurting. She’s always been empathetic, and she’s always wanted everyone to have a happy ending.” Whatever that is. Sapphire supposes it can be subjective. “If she sees us as a means to that end, I can understand why she became so frustrated.”
“That doesn’t mean she’s right, though.”
“No, it doesn’t. But.” Here Sapphire glances over and offers a small smile that Ruby returns somewhat belatedly, a little lost but supportive nonetheless. “Knowing that is helping me to see the bigger picture.”
Chapter 33: Onyx, Reprise
Sapphire mirrors her smile. It’s small, but it’s real. As long as they’re a team, they can do anything.
“If we just shuffle our routes to and from the recreation center, then it’s likely that we won’t ever see her dumb face, and we should be fine,” is Ruby’s first instinct.
“It’s been nearly 800 years since we last encountered that Supervisor,” is Sapphire’s reply. Use logic, that’s it. Just keep things logical. “We have been given no indication that she remembers us at all, much less that she is going after us. I won’t go out of my way to avoid something that I can’t See happening.”
“No indication that she remembers us—Sapphire, two defective gems nearly poofed her. I kicked her head into a wall, and you electrocuted her. As the leading authority on other rubies, just trust me when I say that she remembers us.”
“Remembering us isn’t irrefutable evidence that she is going to be prowling the halls looking for a fight during our recreation time—which is two shifts ahead of her cohort’s, might I add. The two things are not one and the same, Ruby.”
Ruby huffs, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “No, but they could be.”
“No, they can’t. While she can remember us and want to fight us simultaneously, that does not mean the first necessarily requires the second. The two notions are independent of each other.”
“I’m sorry, who’s the leading authority on rubies again?” Ruby unfolds one arm and cups a broad red palm around her ear expectantly.
“That’s right, it’s Ruby. And Ruby is telling you, Sapphire—maybe in a perfect world remembering us and wanting to fight us are not linked, but in this world they are. It’s a matter of when, and not if.”
“I don’t See anything like that happening,” Sapphire maintains. She keeps her voice even, but only barely. Why isn’t Ruby listening?
“Then it must happen further down the proverbial road than you can See,” says Ruby, folding her muscled arms together again. “But it will happen, one of these decades. I’d swear that on my gem itself. She’s a ruby, and we don’t forget being humiliated like that.”
“Okay,” says Sapphire, holding up her hands in defeat. “Let’s say she will inevitably come after us—”
“There is no ‘let’s say’ about it. If she is anywhere within the confines of this Containment Unit, she will find a way.”
“Fine.” Sapphire’s voice is getting tight as she loses her patience. It doesn’t help that Ruby’s vehemence is scaring her a little bit. “Inevitably, she will come for us. If you’re certain, I will accept this as fact. I will constantly be on the lookout for those possibilities, but until I See one of them in the near future I don’t comprehend the purpose of shuffling our route to the recreation center now. Unless you are trying to give anyone who happens to be scouting for her a change to learn our multiple routes, that is.”
This changes Ruby’s demeanor. Her hands drop to her sides like leaded weights and her red face becomes ruddy and maroon for an instant before the flush clears and she cries, “No, of course not!”
“Then why are we arguing about making this harder on ourselves than it strictly needs to be?”
Ruby starts to say something, but then her mouth shuts with a click of teeth and she turns away, grumbling under her breath. Sapphire catches something about “…makes me so mad.”
“I didn’t mean to upset you,” she says, daring to place her head on the stout gem’s shoulder.
“It’s not you, it’s her!” Ruby bursts out. Sapphire feels a small wave of heat roll under her palm as her partner emits a noise of frustration and steps away to gesture widely with her arms. “Other rubies ruin everything!”
“Not this time.”
Ruby pauses and glances over at her. “Huh?”
“She won’t ruin everything,” say Sapphire evenly. “Because this time we’ll be ready for her.”
It takes a moment for this statement to percolate, but then Ruby is offering a small smile. “Yeah, I guess you’re right,” she says. “We’ve already beaten her once; doing it again shouldn’t be any harder—and besides, this time we’ll be expecting her.”
Sapphire mirrors her smile. It’s small, but it’s real. As long as they’re a team, they can do anything. “My sentiments exactly.”
As the years pass, and pass, and pass, their paranoia fades. Time tends to do that. Sapphire still Looks for the other ruby, but after a few decades doing so no longer feels like simultaneously looking over her shoulder for something she’s missed. After 831 years of knowing that the other ruby is in Unit 6 with them, and neither seeing hide nor hair of her, she can feel Ruby and herself become complacent.
The logistics of being a Supervisor from two cohorts away is a nightmare if you wish to divagate from your typical patterns. First you’d have to find out where the other cohort is in their work cycle, and—more importantly—then you’d have to find Ruby and Sapphire’s base of operations. With the latter being highly classified information under the protection of White Diamond herself, Sapphire doesn’t see, either logically or with her future vision, how the other ruby is going to manage it. Perhaps if she tortured an inmate for information—but even then, the inmates don’t know where Sapphire and Ruby spend their time, either.
In truth, the closest the Supervisor would get to finding them would be to march through the halls the two defective gems had been seen in and try to trace her way back from there, and the halls of Unit 6, while not necessarily convoluted—they actually make sense, if you see a floor plan and keep in mind that cohorts are not encouraged to co-mingle—do have a labyrinth-like quality to them. Unless a gem were unreasonably obstinate, the mission would have been given up as a lost cause years ago.
Ruby insists that other rubies are that obstinate, though, and Sapphire believes her. Ruby wouldn’t fight to make her concede to something so unrealistic if she felt the threat wasn’t warranted. After knowing each other nearly 3,000 years now, Sapphire trusts Ruby and her judgement implicitly.
That doesn’t change the fact that Sapphire doesn’t See the other ruby finding them any time soon. Perhaps it is inevitable, but sometimes the inevitable is at the end of a very, very long timeline. Until then, they just need to go about their lives and wait.
Sapphire stops mid-step, frowning at what she’s Seeing. “Onyx?” They haven’t seen Onyx in…
Ruby does a double take. “Wait, Onyx? Sapphire, what are you—”
“She’s looking for us. It’s urgent.” With that, Sapphire grabs Ruby’s arm and pulls her along as she speeds down Diamond-insignia-decorated halls and whips around corners. When they come to a halt, it is without ceremony or flourish, and Onyx—whose outfit is different from the last time they saw her—stumbles in surprise.
“Warn me before you do that, would you?” says Ruby irritably. She grumbles under her breath as she rolls her shoulder from where it feels as though it’s been partially yanked from its socket.
Onyx’s dark eyes are wide with shock. She blinks at the much smaller pair of gems in front of her as if she can’t believe the data her ocular nerves are processing. “How did you…?” she begins, either fascinated or horrified. Then she shakes her head as if to clear it. “That doesn’t matter right now. Ruby, are you aware there is another ruby in Unit 6?”
Ruby’s red skin is too vibrant to blanch by much, but it does its best now. “Yes,” she says slowly, her arms falling to her sides. “What have you heard?”
“Oh, I’ve heard plenty, trust me,” Onyx says with a wave of her hand. In that brief moment of wry sass Sapphire thinks she catches a glimpse of the sort of gem Onyx truly is. Maybe, in a different lifetime, they really could have been friends.
Then, in an instant, that portion of Onyx’s personality is closed off. She becomes urgent and anxious once more. “Whatever it is exactly that you did, that ruby wants revenge. She wants to see you—both of you—” for what seems like the first time, Onyx actually looks at Sapphire directly “—crushed to powder.”
“We knew that already,” says Ruby.
“Yeah, well she’s bringing her friends into it now. She’s got a chrysoberyl on her side. There’s an emerald and a topaz, too. These gems are all 8 Mohs and above, Ruby, and they’re all huge. If they gang up on you—”
“We don’t stand a chance,” Sapphire whispers. Fighting that one ruby had been hard enough, but going up against her and three other high Mohs Supervisors simultaneously? Sapphire and Ruby are strong as individuals, and their teamwork is impeccable, but they’re not invincible.
“They don’t know where to find us, though,” says Ruby. She gestures to Onyx. “I mean, the only reason you do is because it was an accident that first time.”
Something flinches across Onyx’s face. Maybe it’s guilt. Maybe it’s a painful memory. Maybe it’s both—either way, her voice lowers as she says, “They know where to find you.”
This isn’t the sort of thing that any self-respecting gem would joke about, but a hysterical sliver of Sapphire’s mind is suggesting it must be so anyway. Onyx went out of her way to find them. She’s obviously afraid of something—or someone—and is speaking to them despite that. She’s a gruff gem, but her lingering affection for Ruby is clearly strong enough to prod her into action.
“Our location, or a route to our location?” asks Ruby.
“I don’t know the details. All I know is that they have enough information to make finding you possible.”
“Thank you, Onyx,” Sapphire says, cutting off Ruby before she can start. There is no time for extraneous conversation right now. Onyx is twice her size, so Sapphire has to tilt her head up to see her face. “There are no words to describe our gratitude for you taking this risk for us. I know it couldn’t have been easy.”
“Yeah—well.” Onyx scoffs, and her already dark features seem to darken a shade or two as she shifts her weight and crosses her arms in front of her chest. “Just don’t like the idea of Supervisors picking on the inmates, is all. It’s nothing personal.”
Except that it is, even if she will never say as much.
“No, she’s right,” says Ruby, her voice suddenly much softer and less commanding. “Onyx, we really owe you for warning us like this. Thank you.”
For a second, Sapphire could swear that Onyx was about to smile. Instead she scowls and makes a rough noise, turns on heel. “Well, I’ve got to get back before they notice I’m gone. I’ve got Hematite covering for me, but everyone knows how trustworthy hematites are under pressure.”
She leaves before Ruby or Sapphire can say anything else to her, but as the thuds of her jogging footsteps fade Sapphire can’t resist saying to Ruby, “I told you she was never our enemy.”
Ruby makes a noise of mostly superficial aggravation and throws up her arms. “You were right! You’re always right! Do you want an award or something?”
It’s not the right situation to laugh, not even close, but Sapphire does it anyway. Just a little. “No awards,” she says lightly. “Just knowing it’s true is enough for me.”
Ruby rolls her eyes, but they should have known that stilted levity wasn’t going to be enough to free them from the gravity of this situation. “Can you see what routes they’ll be taking?” she asks.
Sapphire nods. “If we continue on this one, we’ll make it to the rec center long before they get here. It should be safe there.”
“ ‘Should be’?” repeats Ruby skeptically.
Sapphire presses her lips into a line. “The probability that they’ll give up when they can’t find us in the halls is about fifty percent. There’s only a thirty percent chance that they will make a scene in the recreation facility.”
“Oh, goody,” says Ruby, heaving a breath. “The next few days are going to be fun, aren’t they?”
“Days?” says Sapphire. “You mean years—assuming we make it through today, of course.”
“Of course.” Ruby grabs her hand and starts to walk, but then realizes that she is in an entirely unfamiliar part of the Containment Unit and gestures for Sapphire to lead the way to the rec center instead. “Let’s see if we can’t get this over with.”
Check out Onyx's character sheet, as drawn by the gifted and fantasmagorical Spatial (incidentally, I consider all of those character sheets to be 100% canon). I would have posted it in the first chapter she was introduced, but there are spoilers in the description--and also my own tags ^^"
Chapter 34: Support System, Part I
“Well,” says Sapphire slowly, flicking through possibilities in her head. “How scary are you comfortable being, Tourmaline?”
“Don’t take this the wrong way,” Tourmaline says. “But you two look terrible. Who did you fight today?”
“How are they supposed to take something like that the ‘right way’?” asks Citrine.
“I haven’t heard anything about bully activity recently,” says Apatite, furrowing her brows and looking between the two small gems. She is either aghast that her gossip network has failed her or worried for their wellbeing. Or both, Sapphire supposes. “What happened?”
To be fair, as soon as they made it into the (tentative) safety of the rec center, Sapphire dropped into one of the uncomfortable chair with uncharacteristic lack of ceremony, and Ruby had flopped down on the floor and leaned against her shins. As this is not typically how they greet their friends, the uncertainty they’re being greeted with is understandable.
Ruby’s voice is oddly blasé as she says, “Oh, a decision we made about 1,600 years ago is coming back to haunt us.”
“The other ruby,” Sapphire translates.
“What?” Now Apatite really is aghast. “What happened? What did you hear?” Her thin sheet of hair whips through the air as she looks around the rec center, glowering. Her hands are in blue fists at her sides. “How didn’t I know about this?”
Let it never be said that Apatite doesn’t take her gossip seriously.
“Whoa, wait,” says Tourmaline, waving a green hand. “I thought you said you beat the snot out of her once.”
“We did,” says Sapphire. “That’s the problem.”
“How is that a problem? Usually you do that to Supervisors and they start behaving.”
“Well, this one rounded up a lynch mob of 8-plus Mohs gems, and they all want us dead,” says Ruby, drawing up a knee and resting her forearm on it.
Citrine blinks. “Y-you’re being sarcastic. Right, Ruby?”
“There’s about a thirty percent chance they’ll break down the rec center doors and force us to fight them in front of the entire cohort,” says Sapphire. “If that does happen, there’s a sixty-five-percent chance that we will be publically cracked or shattered.”
Even Tourmaline, normally an avid fan of the morbid, cannot seem to hide her mortification.
“W-well, what’s your plan?” asks Citrine. She looks to Sapphire. “You-you do have a plan, right?”
“Currently, no,” Sapphire replies, and while her voice remains calm and monotone her words settle heavy around them. She leans her elbow on the armrest of the chair and props her chin up with it. “If we’re lucky, they will become discouraged at not finding us in the halls and go back, and we will be better prepared to face them when they inevitably go searching for us tomorrow.”
“…And if you don’t get lucky?” asks Tourmaline, though it seems to Sapphire that she’s hesitant to actually hear the answer.
“If we’re not, we will be ambushed in the halls as soon as we leave this place,” says Sapphire. “It won’t end well.”
“That,” says Ruby, lifting her gem holding hand. “Is news to me, but to be honest I’m still not surprised.”
“I’ve Seen those possibilities for myself,” Sapphire says in response to Apatite’s question.
There is a small, immensely awkward pause, and then Ruby snaps her fingers and gestures to Apatite. “You were about to ask who we heard about all of this from, am I right?”
“Huh?” At first Apatite is thoroughly confused, but then she realizes, “Oh, o-oh! Actually, yes, I was, but how did you…?” She gazes at Sapphire with wonder before again having an epiphany. “You must have Seen it before I said it, of course! Sorry, Sapphire, you’ve never done that before. But to continue the conversation: you’re just seeing all of these possibilities without provocation?”
Sapphire’s cheeks are burning with embarrassment, she knows they are. She tries to reply as if they aren’t, though, “We were warned by another gem, initially, but I probably would have noticed regardless.”
That’s right, faces and names matter to Apatite.
“Onyx, A,” says Ruby. Then, as Apatite’s eyes fly open and her hand clenches in front of the necklace-shaped striations on her collarbone in a scandalized gesture, she adds sternly, “Don’t make a big deal out of that. That’s not the point of this, remember?”
“Right. Sorry, sorry,” Apatite says quickly, shaking her head and banishing the gesture. “I just didn’t know you two still—”
“Apatite, there are far more serious things to be discussing right now!” snaps Citrine.
“Though when things have calmed down, I would also be interested to hear how Onyx is doing these days,” says Tourmaline, delicately curling a finger under her round chin. “Her form is still taller than mine, right?”
“Tourmaline,” Apatite says, her voice abruptly dry. “Not only are you two cohorts apart, but—”
“There, is, a, lynch, mob,” Citrine growls out through clenched teeth, though each word is punctuated by a fierce gesture in Sapphire and Ruby’s direction. “Remember, gems? Remember that part?”
It is, Sapphire thinks, a very strange day when Citrine becomes the voice of the group’s focus and rationality.
“We’re tabling this discussion,” Apatite tells Tourmaline briskly, to which the voluptuous green gem nods. Then, to Citrine more than Ruby and Sapphire, “I don’t know what you expect us to do. Maybe if I knew who was part of the lynch mob, I could provide some kind of information on them, but if they’re from two cohorts or more away it’s very difficult to know anything for certain.” She glances at Sapphire. “Do you actually know who’s coming?”
Sapphire tells her, and Apatite lets out a heavy breath. “Well, the chrysoberyl is an inmate, I do know that. The problem is, she’s a symmetrical one.”
“Oh, great, so she’s unstable as all get out,” Ruby grumbles, picking at the hem of her mid-thigh shorts and leaning back a little more heavily against Sapphire’s shins.
“Yes,” says Apatite gravely. “And if my one source is to be believed, she’s teamed up with the Supervisors before. The rest, as far as I know, are all Supervisors themselves.”
“That is conducive with the uniforms I Saw,” says Sapphire.
Apatite gestures to her and looks at Citrine pointedly. “See? I can’t even help with that, because she’s already seen it.”
“How don’t you have a plan?” asks Tourmaline. “Especially you, Sapphire. If you can See how everything will turn out, can’t you see how to avoid it?”
“Just because I See possibilities doesn’t mean there is always one that works in my favor,” Sapphire replies. “Currently, it seems we are fated to be unlucky, and they will ambush us as soon as we are far enough from the rec center.”
“Because all routs from the office funnel into the main hallway,” Ruby mutters. She tilts her head back until her afro is braced against the angle of Sapphire’s knee. “Of course. If we had gotten past that one block we would have stood a chance, but they’ve already planned for that.”
Tourmaline’s demeanor wilts somewhat. “I hadn’t thought of it that way.”
“You really don’t know what to do, do you?” says Apatite softly.
Citrine doesn’t say anything, but the way she has been looking between everyone for the duration of this conversation speaks volumes for how she has already come to this conclusion herself. They wouldn’t have started talking about this if they already had a plan, after all.
After all of this time, their friends really had no concept of the limitations to their abilities, did they? They truly expected them to be able to take on any and everything.
Sapphire has to wonder how much of that she and Ruby have to take direct responsibility for. Helping others has never before felt like such an enabling maneuver.
Ruby isn’t saying it. She still has her head tilted back against Sapphire’s knees, and her eyes are closed. By process of elimination, Sapphire becomes the one who answers Apatite’s question. “No, we don’t know what to do. Our own brashness is the reason we’re in this position, and now we don’t know how to get out of it.”
Citrine takes a deep, slow breath. “Do you think my weapon would help?”
This gets Ruby’s attention. Suddenly, she is sitting up straight. “Citrine, you haven’t used your weapon since—”
“I know.” Citrine’s voice is tight. She swallows, her fists clenched at her sides. “But after centuries of helping everyone else without asking for a single thing in return, the least I can do is give you some cover while you run, right?”
“Oh,” Sapphire says belatedly, as she peeks into futures in which Citrine is a part of their escape from the rec center. “That could work.”
Apatite is anxious. “Citrine, are you sure? You know what will happen if—”
“You think I don’t realize that?” she snaps. “I’ve already made up my mind. I-if Sapphire says it’ll do some good, then I’m helping.”
“We could always arrange a cover scene for the cover,” says Tourmaline. “It might just be convoluted enough to work. Plagioclase’s face is always a good scapegoat, right?”
Thankfully, Plagioclase is on the other side of the rec center, and far out of earshot. She avoids Sapphire pretty pointedly these days (not that Sapphire minds).
“It needs to be a big scene,” Sapphire says. “The kind that would warrant the sort of commotion we’d be making.”
“In that case, Plagioclase is the perfect candidate,” Apatite says automatically. “Especially if we use a gem that’s softer than—oh.” Her face falls into a decidedly unimpressed expression. “I suppose that would be me, wouldn’t it?”
“Nobody’s forcing you into it, Apatite,” Ruby says. She’s standing now, nearly bouncing from foot to foot in either nerves or excitement (in this moment, it’s very hard to tell the difference between the two).
“I know,” she says, reaching over and rubbing her own elbow. “I’ve just—I’ve never thought of you and Sapphire as needing help from anyone before. What kind of friend does that make me?”
“The kind that believes in us,” says Sapphire. It’s a little awkward to be the only one sitting, so she pushes herself to her feet as well. “Typically, that’s all the support we need.”
“Except this time we’ve bitten off more than we can chew, and now we need a little more support than usual,” says Ruby, half-ironically.
After a wide-eyed second, Apatite flashes a little smirk. Her hand falls from her elbow. “You know I’m still helping, right? You don’t need to suck up to me.”
Ruby grins and shrugs. “If you say so.”
“Okay,” says Tourmaline in a sudden and oddly uncharacteristic business fashion. She points to each gem in turn. “So Apatite’s the bait, Plagioclase is the unwitting distraction, Citrine is our closer, and you two are going to be running like hell. What can I do?”
“Well,” says Sapphire slowly, flicking through possibilities in her head. “How scary are you comfortable being, Tourmaline?”
Chapter 35: Support System, Part II
“This is kind of exciting,” Apatite confesses. She’s sitting down, but she keeps folding and unfolding her arms. Her knees are crossed, and she keeps bouncing her ankle impatiently. She looks to Sapphire and Ruby. “Is this how you two feel all of the time?”
It takes an hour to put all of the pieces together. The rest is just waiting for recreation time to be over.
“This is kind of exciting,” Apatite confesses. She’s sitting down, but she keeps folding and unfolding her arms. Her knees are crossed, and she keeps bouncing her ankle impatiently. She looks to Sapphire and Ruby. “Is this how you two feel all of the time?”
“Not even close,” Ruby replies. She’s pacing, as she is wont to do in times of stress.
“This is a little more exciting than usual,” Sapphire translates. She is sitting on the bench next to Apatite with her hands tidily folded in her lap, as still as a sculpture.
“But it will work, right?” says Citrine anxiously, for the umpteenth time. “I’m not going to be doing all of this for nothing?”
“I’m surprised you were the first to volunteer, actually,” remarks Tourmaline. She has a seat all to herself, and she lounges upon it luxuriously, as if she feels no nerves at all. Somehow, Sapphire is not surprised. “You’re a pacifist, Citrine.”
“This isn’t fighting,” Citrine maintains. “I’m just inconveniencing everyone. That’s not a form of attack, it’s just an annoyance. I’m not fighting anything.”
That is a matter of opinion, but Sapphire is not about to bring that up.
With a loud, grating buzz and a conspicuous click, the recreation doors open. As the cohort begins to file complacently out into the hall, their little group stands and joins the crowd.
Typically, gems in Containment Units do not jostle each other during transitions like this. They’re never going anywhere exciting, after all, so what’s the point in rushing? But there are exceptions to this rule, of course. Like now.
“Apatite, would you stop it?” gripes Tourmaline, glaring at the shorter blue gem who has, indeed, started walking obnoxiously close to her, practically under her large green arm. “You have been in my shadow for days, I can’t take it anymore!”
Tourmaline shoves—not terribly hard, but hard enough that Apatite stumbles into Plagioclase, who is one and a half times her size and much burlier.
“Tourmaline!” Apatite is a little over the top about the ham-handed way she steadies herself on Plagioclase, but no one seems to notice that. “That was rude and uncalled for!”
“You know what else is rude and uncalled for?” growls Plagioclase. “Using someone else as a piece of furniture!”
Apatite doesn’t seem to have to fake the way she startles at the force of that voice. She immediately rips her hand back to herself and backs away, cowering. “Oh! Oh, my, P-Plagioclase, I didn’t mean…”
“See? There you go again, always in my personal space!” cries Tourmaline as Apatite bumps into her again. Apatite flinches. With her height and her bulk, seeing her made a scene is actually quite unnerving. “What’s a gem have to do to get some respect around here?”
“You said it,” agrees Plagioclase vehemently. She gets an idea, and she cracks her knuckles. “Shall we teach her a lesson?”
That’s when Citrine rushes in. She bodily places herself between the bigger gems and holds out both arms. “No, stop! This is against appropriate Containment Unit inmate protocol!”
If anyone were looking at this scene critically, they might have found Citrine’s dialogue a little stilted and out of character. ‘Appropriate Containment Unit inmate protocol’ is not a phrase she typically uses. However, judging by the intrigued and somewhat baffled mutterings of the crowd as it reshuffles itself to spectate, no one is thinking critically right now. The cohort is simply allowing itself to be swept up in the drama, as it always does.
Plagioclase scoffs. The interest and excitement from the crowd is feeding her reaction, causing her to blow it up, make it bigger. “Who’s going to stop us, the Supervisors? They love it when this happens—in fact, once they figure out what’s going on they will probably join in!”
“They’ve done it before,” someone mutters.
“Yes, Sapphire and Ruby are still here.” There is a slight pause as the individual looks around. “Aren’t they?”
“I haven’t seen them since the doors opened.”
“Tourmaline, Apatite is one of your best friends!” says Citrine, pleading. “I know you’re annoyed right now, but think about what you’re doing!”
“Well, she ain’t one of my best friends.” Plagioclase cracks her neck this time. “Let’s get her, Tourmaline.”
“I really didn’t mean…” Apatite stutters. Her arms are curled up against her torso as if in preemptive attempt at defense.
“She hasn’t been annoying the snot out of you, though—has she, Citrine?” bursts out Tourmaline viciously.
“That still doesn’t mean you should—”
“What is going on back there?”
The Supervisors in charge of overseeing this transition from rest back to labor are starting to get annoyed that not everything is going smoothly. Spectating gems are knocked unceremoniously to the side as the march to the back of the group.
“Oh, look,” Plagioclase croons with a grin. “Reinforcements.”
Considering the fact that it’s Kunzite and Morganite, this is not a poor assessment of the situation.
“No, we don’t have to do this!” Citrine tries again. Either she is a very good actress, or there is real desperation in her voice.
“Why didn’t you tell me if I was annoying you?” Apatite asks Tourmaline.
“What do you mean, I didn’t tell you? You couldn’t figure out I was miffed for yourself?” roars Tourmaline.
“Hey!” calls Morganite sharply. “What’s the holdup back here? We do the exact same thing every day, and you defective gems can’t even get this right?”
“Oh.” Kunzite has gotten the gist of the situation. She produces her spear in a flash of light and lowers it over Apatite’s nose. “You. Why are you disturbing the peace? Need a lesson in how to be cooperative?”
“No!” screams Citrine. It most certainly isn’t an act anymore; you can hear it in her voice. Like the rest of the cohort, she’s well and truly caught up in the situation.
“Probably,” Morganite mutters.
“I said stop it!”
The problem with using flash grenades in small metal spaces is all of the collateral damage. Not only do the gems you intend to stun get blinded, but everyone else does too. The shouts that rip out of gems’ throats—of fear, annoyance and anger, primarily—are a sudden cacophony that bounces chaotically back at them and rings incessantly in their ears.
“My eyes!” someone cries plaintively. “What’s wrong with my eyes?”
“Damnit!” shouts Morganite. The peach-hued gem staggers, covering her blinded eyes with one hand and groping blindly with the other, looking for all the world as if she wants to find someone to take her anger out on. “Why would you do that, you defective clod? Why would you ever let off a Homeworld-cursed flash grenade in a space like this?” She bumps into one of the rec center’s doors, growls out, “Get off of me!” and punches. She immediately regrets this action as one of her knuckles jams into the door hinges.
Knowing that the grenade was going to drop isn’t as big of a help as you might think. Closing her eye and even producing reflective eyewear helps some, but Sapphire still has lights dancing in her vision, ruining her already shaky depth perception as she grabs Ruby’s wrist and they take advantage of the quickly escalating chaos to run.
Ruby leads, to begin with—her vision is also compromised, and she’s not as fast, but she’s leagues better at navigating writhing crowds than Sapphire is. Since that’s the best they have to work with, it will have to be enough.
They don’t know where the other ruby and her friends are hiding, especially not now. Nobody has jumped out at them yet, though, which is a good sign.
They’re only stopped once, at the end of the block. It’s the precipice of the confusing, branching halls that they are guaranteed to lose their pursuers in, because once they’ve broken free of the cohort Sapphire and her future vision can take over. It won’t matter how uncertain and dazed her monocular vision is there, because she will be able to make all of the proper twists and turns regardless, and she will have the speed to get the distance they need as well.
Sapphire should have known that having long hair for this event wasn’t a good idea. That being said, a part of her is wholly unsurprised when someone takes a fat handful of it and yanks.
Her hand is forcibly ripped out of Ruby’s as her head snaps back, and the rest of her body has no choice but to follow.
She is immediately ensnared in a headlock, and the edge of a cruelly curved dagger peeks through her bangs and hovers just over her eye. Doing this without actually cutting her takes some skill, as they are all still swaying with disorientation.
Sapphire might have been able to identify her assailant from this alone, but the fact that the body holding her captive is practically scalding immediately brushes all doubt from her mind.
Of course the one gem they have trouble defeating would be the one to catch her. Of course that’s how this goes. Sapphire should have Seen this coming.
“Not so cocky now, are you?” The Supervisor’s voice in Sapphire’s ear is almost too low and grating to be heard over the cacophony of blinded gems smacking and running into each other just down the hall. Proximity makes up for it, and for once the cold that Sapphire feels shivering down her spine isn’t a welcome comfort.
Gems don’t need to breath, but that doesn’t make having your airway abruptly choked off any more comfortable. Sapphire is being held aloft by the neck, her slippered feet dangling a foot or so off the indifferent metal floors.
If she tries to flail or kick, the knife will sink into her eye. If that happens, she will probably poof. Ruby, who has a weaker version of all the same powers as the Supervisor choking her, won’t stand a chance after that. Even if Ruby does choose to opt out of combat and run, she won’t be fast enough. As things stand, there is nothing Ruby can do right now without inspiring the same stabbing result.
“Let her go,” Ruby says it, but she seems to know how futile a demand like that is to a gem who’s out for vengeance. Still, she doesn’t move. She and Sapphire seem to have come to identical conclusions.
Sapphire needs to find a way to get herself out this alive, and soon, before the other ruby establishes an upper hand that they can’t counter. Until then, Ruby needs to stall.
The other ruby’s barking laugh clangs and echoes in Sapphire’s skull the way the abrupt explosion of noise from Citrine’s flash grenade never did. Haunting.
“Make me,” the Supervisor says, and her massive bicep squeezes Sapphire’s throat a little tighter. Sapphire’s feet kick out limply in reaction. At this point she is more likely to die from a broken neck instead of a dagger to the eye.
Ruby cups a hand around her ear and leans in. She says loudly, “Sorry, what was that? I can’t hear you over all of that.” And she points behind the other ruby to the slowly but surely fading pandemonium by the rec center’s doors.
“I said,” the Supervisor shouts. “Ma—”
It’s hard to say whether it’s pure instinct or sheer force of will. Perhaps, in that moment, the two become one and the same. The result of their union—if it even exists—is unmistakable, and vehemently effective.
The other ruby lets out a wet grunt as six different icicles launch from Sapphire’s person and into her torso, ensnaring her where she stands. Of course, her temperature does melt the ice some, but they are all of them fat enough to withstand such treatment and still keep pushing onwards. Her dagger clatters to the floor, and as soon as her hold on Sapphire’s neck begins to stutter Sapphire sends a couple hundred volts coursing through her system, pauses, and then does it again for good measure as she drops neatly onto her feet.
The last icicle she produces stops just short of driving itself into the other ruby’s eye. Sapphire, lips set into a firm, emotionless line and her gaze cold enough to send a thin crust of ice crawling over the floor and defiantly over the heated Supervisor’s feet, grows it slowly onwards—but not too slowly, those icicles won’t hold her for much longer. She wants the Supervisor to know what’s coming, see it in slow motion just as she had. Who needs future vision when you have an imagination? It’s just like Unit 2: either them or you, and it sure as hell isn’t going to be you. It’s just like that, the world suddenly snapped back to how it always was—how could she ever think that mercy was possible? Such a foolish dream.
This Supervisor isn’t going to leave them alone until they scare her so badly that she never wants to try again. If Sapphire doesn’t do this, she’ll just keep hunting, and hunting—this won’t stop. It’s Sapphire’s fault this has happened to begin with, and now she needs to resolve this issue once and for all. If Sapphire can do that, if she can make that possible, then…
That’s when she feels warm fingers capture her own, and Sapphire realizes that she’s been levitating, skirts and her dratted long hair billowing up around her. Her knuckledusters are out, too—when did that happen?
The last icicle stops.
Ruby’s expression isn’t enigmatic, but Sapphire doesn’t know how to read what she’s seeing right now, either. Her feet touch the floor once more as the warmth spreads across her hand and up her arm, overcoming the chill that has taken her over. “We need to go,” Ruby says just loud enough to be heard, and she gives a little tug.
Sapphire doesn’t say anything, but she does glance back at the other ruby, still held irreverently in place by the six quickly melting icicles. You can’t see their cruel spikes sticking out of her back anymore, but Sapphire knows they’re there. Her vision doesn’t have dancing lights in front of it anymore, and there is no longer any ringing in her skull; she can perceive quite clearly.
“You’re right,” she says. She tightens her hold on Ruby’s hand—thank you. If you hadn’t been there…—and, with a burst of speed, they are gone.
This chapter has fanart! The magnificent Spatial has nearly killed me (in the good way) with her lovely and vivid drawing of Citrine's reaction to her own flash grenade!
Chapter 36: Facets Pressed Flush
The little grin on Ruby’s face fades as she tilts her had back to a more comfortable angle and says, “This isn’t, though: how has no one reported her yet?”
The independence that Sapphire and Ruby typically enjoy is beginning to feel like a curse. Normally having the freedom to laugh or train in between Sapphire’s answers for the Diamonds is nice, but now they spend the majority of these breaks speaking to each other in hushed tones like they think someone’s listening at the door, hashing out how they’re going to make it to the rec center unscathed today. They are relying heavily upon Sapphire’s future vision now. Avoiding confrontation with the other Ruby and her lynch mob is the name of the game.
“She doesn’t care what happens to her at this point,” Sapphire says of the Supervisor. Currently, she is kneeling on the floor with Ruby’s head resting on her legs. She lightly traces the shape of her partner’s forehead as she talks. “I can see it when I watch her. She doesn’t care about her duties as a Supervisor, or the Diamonds finding out, or even her own wellbeing at this point. She lives and breathes revenge for the way we’ve beaten and humiliated her.”
“I always knew she was crazy,” Ruby mutters. Her arms are folded over her abdomen, but she can’t seem to help flapping her hands as she gestures. “How does a gem with an unhinged personality like that get to be such a high ranking Supervisor anyway?”
“If I had to wager a guess, I’d say it’s because she pursued rank as single mindedly as she is hunting us.”
“That was a rhetorical question, Sapph,” she says, flashing a teasing little grin and tilting her head back to meet Sapphire’s eye from under her bangs.
Sapphire starts to say something, and then stops. Her gloved fingers pause where they have begun unconsciously trickling down the side of her partner’s face. “Oh.”
The little grin on Ruby’s face fades as she tilts her had back to a more comfortable angle and says, “This isn’t, though: how has no one reported her yet?”
“She’s strong, high ranking, and has high Mohs. Who would want to incite her wrath, besides us?” says Sapphire as she begins playing with the ends of Ruby’s hair, pinching and twirling a tight curl between her fingers. The texture is fascinating, so much more interesting than her own somewhat wavy locks.
Ruby stretches her legs and crosses them at the ankles, entirely unbothered by Sapphire’s exploration. “But she has to be afraid of being caught by someone with the gall to talk to upper management,” she says.
“Honestly, Ruby, she doesn’t act like she thinks she will get caught.”
“Oh, because she’s that sneaky,” Ruby scoffs. Her hand slaps against her stomach when it flaps down.
“Not necessarily. She’s just cocky.”
Clearly not appreciating Sapphire’s realism, Ruby lets out a loud groan and rubs at her face with her gem-free hand. Her ankles uncross and her feet kick lightly at nothing. “I wish we could just ambush and poof her one of these days. Can you imagine how great that would feel, after this level of harassment?”
“I wouldn’t be able to stop at just poofing her,” Sapphire says. She’s stopped playing with Ruby’s hair and gone unnaturally still.
Ruby’s partially joking tone fades, and when her hand lowers Sapphire can see that her expression has softened. She arches her neck so she can make eye contact again. “Sapphire, you shouldn’t feel guilty about what happened the last time we saw her,” she says. “You didn’t do anything that she hasn’t already recovered from. It’s just like when you put Plagioclase in her place.”
“It almost wasn’t.”
This makes Ruby sit up and turn around so that they’re face to face. She braces both hands on Sapphire’s legs and says, “Almosts don’t matter—you know that better than anyone. Besides, she really doesn’t deserve your compassion.”
“But she deserves yours? You were the one who stopped me from killing her.”
Ruby’s expression changes, becomes less soft and more resolute. “The only reason I stopped you is because I knew you would regret it if you shattered her. You’ve gone soft, remember?”
Sapphire lets out a little laugh despite herself. “Yes, I suppose I have.” When she touches Ruby’s sturdy wrists—just lightly, asking—she is rewarded when their fingers wind together. A small, nearly electric sensation zings up her arm when their gems clink together, facets pressed flush.
Chapter 37: Adaptation and Evolution
Of course, good things like Garnet are never permanent.
Adaptation is an amazing thing. It doesn’t take long before slinking through the halls to avoid the persistence of the other ruby becomes just another part of daily life. There have been close calls, of course—a couple of days ago the Supervisor had taken the least probable route and ended up spotting them. There had been a clamor of shouts and curses as Sapphire grabbed Ruby and swiftly dashed out of range. They were chased by a veritable inferno of enraged flames, and upon meeting up with their friends Tourmaline had smelt singed hair and promptly smirked, “Things get a little hot between you two? Eh, Ruby?”
The smirk dropped right off her round face when she heard what actually happened.
That was actually the closest to confrontation they had gotten with the Supervisor in nearly two-hundred years. The near-miss leaves them both shaky and paranoid like this is the first few months of avoiding the other ruby all over again, so much so that when Sapphire is struck with an all-consuming vision in the middle of the hall on their walk back from the rec center—the first she’s had in centuries—that Ruby panics. Being left without Sapphire’s future vision or calming voice makes her feel extremely vulnerable, and her boxing gloves are out as she checks every nook and cranny of the otherwise empty hall twice before she realizes that there is no eminent threat and forces herself to relax somewhat.
It explains why Ruby is so upset when Sapphire can’t find the words to explain her vision, after it releases her. Context in visions is important, and without the right context it is very difficult to relay all of the information properly—normally Ruby understands this, but she is scared witless that whatever Sapphire saw had something to do with the other ruby and the fact that it’s not realistic to think they can avoid this forever that her though process nearly grinds to a halt when Sapphire sighs, “It was… oh, Ruby, it was beautiful.”
It isn’t much longer before Ruby understands for herself when they form Garnet for the first time. It is at once exhilarating and comforting to be like this. Ruby has never felt so open before—and she’s certainly never felt so secure about doing it. She gives over as many memories as she receives, and all of the thoughts and emotions that used to be hers alone suddenly become a shared experience, and it is beautiful, just like Sapphire said.
Of course, good things like Garnet are never permanent.
Garnet’s fascination and self-exploration—her joy in her own existence—are violently interrupted by visions. They are fast moving, and vivid, and viciously overwhelming.
A gem with huge, soft pink curls and a flowing white gown standing with a shield and a sword, stance low and ready for battle as an imposing dark shadow approaches—
—Garnet herself delivering a stupendously powerful punch using glowing red gauntlets with spiked knuckles, right into the topaz of a fellow gem; the gem cracks like glass, and the topaz disappears—
—A large room filled to the ceiling with supplies, giant metal crates carrying enough parts to make hundreds of injectors for a Kindergarten—
—Artificial canyons pockmarked with hundreds upon thousands of emergence routes and, not five kilometers away, wilting green organic matter, and the gaunt faces of fleshy, humanoid—
The visions cease only when Garnet breaks into her complimentary halves. They are both panting, but Ruby collapses and puts her head between her knees. Her head is spinning, and her gem is quivering in her palm. She’s overwhelmed, and scared, and she already wants to go back to being Garnet, but she’s so small now, and all of those visions, those enigmatic scenes, what does it mean—
She lets out a low, wavering breath as Sapphire’s arms come around her, knees and all. She leans into the contact, and wraps an arm around her partner’s lower back as she rests her head in the crook of her blue shoulder.
“For the record,” Sapphire says, and her voice is shaky too. Ruby can feel the gem in her palm pulsing rapidly against her side. “I had no idea the future vision would start acting up like that. I’m so sorry.”
“Is—is that what you deal with all the time?” she has to ask. She thought she understood Sapphire’s future vision, but that… that…
“Nothing like that. Mine are much shorter flashes, and I never get so many at once.” Sapphire nuzzles against her comfortingly, plants a kiss on the corner of her eye. “You’re okay, right?”
Ruby ignores that. “Do you think that, with practice, they wouldn’t jump front-and-center like that?”
“Before I answer your question, please answer mine: Are you okay?”
“Who cares about that? What ab—”
“I care, Ruby,” she says pointedly, sitting back on her heels. Ruby’s still being held, though, so she’s probably not that mad.
It might be polite to finally answer the question, though.
“I’m okay. That’s not lip service!” she yelps when she spots the skeptical tilt of Sapphire’s mouth. “I mean, I’m not used to it, so there is that. But I’m not hurting. See?” She shows her gem and tries to grin despite the fact that she’s still shaky with reaction. “No breaks.”
Sapphire lets out a breath. She knows what Ruby’s doing, but she offers a smile anyway. “Good,” she says, and she threads their fingers together like the contact reminds her of Garnet. Something in her demeanor changes as she looks at their hands. “I’ve never heard of gems doing anything like this before,” she says softly. “I know we’ve talked more than others, but that was…”
“Talking about it is a lot different than feeling it for yourself,” Ruby agrees. She squeezes her partner’s hand. “It—I don’t know how to say it. I’ve never…”
“Been so close to someone before?”
Their eyes meet through the fringe of Sapphire’s bangs. “Exactly,” she whispers. It’s not an embarrassing thing to admit. Not to Sapphire, at least. “It was nice to feel as powerful as that too, don’t get me wrong, but that wasn’t…”
“Wasn’t why it was so great. I know. I felt it too.”
Ruby traces the back of Sapphire’s gloved knuckles with her free hand. “Do you think—err, that is to say, would you want to… try and figure out how to do it again?”
There is a small pause before Sapphire asks tentatively, “Visions and all?”
“You don’t think that’s something Garnet can learn how to control?”
They both take a moment as the name is said aloud. Garnet. Hearing her name feels so good it hurts. It also opens up a mighty cavern of longing. After being that close, sitting together like this, expressing themselves through words and facial orientation, is suddenly so shallow and inefficient.
Besides, Garnet clearly cannot exist without them. They are the only two individuals who can give her life, and it’s impossible for them to do it alone.
“I-I don’t know,” Sapphire says honestly. “Maybe? I don’t have the same control over them like I do when it’s just me. It’s totally different, and it could end up better, or worse. The probability of success is split right down the middle.”
“Are you scared of working on it?”
“Not really. Aren’t you?”
Ruby shakes her head and smiles, lifts their joined hands up in a small gesture. “Not as long as you’re with me.”
The smile that grows on Sapphire’s face is lovely to behold, it really is. “Then I say let’s do it.”
Chapter 38: Consequences and Utility
“Ruby, do you understand what this—what Garnet—means?”
It takes less than an hour for Sapphire to figure out the implications of their discovery.
“Ruby, do you understand what this—what Garnet—means?” She hasn’t even opened the messages in her inbox, but it sounds like that is the last thing on her mind right now. Her blue cheeks are slightly flushed, and there is excitement in her voice.
Ruby, usually so good with context clues, is fumbling with the uptake right now, because she says blankly, “No?”
Sapphire snatches at her stocky arms and shakes them. “If we figure out how to be Garnet again, this changes everything!”
That’s when it clicks. Ruby, gripping Sapphire’s elbows in sudden excitement, says, “We’re huge when we’re Garnet! In fact, we’re even taller than that dumb meathead—and I bet we’re stronger, too. Maybe, with a show of prowess—”
“Garnet isn’t going to change anything with that situation, unfortunately,” says Sapphire. “It’s not a matter of defeating her—we can do that as ourselves—it’s a matter of making her stay away, and that’s certainly not going to happen if we show up as an entirely new gem for her to fight. Well, perhaps she won’t fight us if she doesn’t recognize us…?” Sapphire trails off, her grip on Ruby’s arms becoming loose and superficial as she flicks through the possibilities. Her grip solidifies when she is fully immersed in the present again. “Actually, yes, the simple fact that we would be a different gem that she doesn’t have any grudge against—not to mention the fact that we would be a large and powerful gem—might be one of the best solutions to that situation. But that wasn’t what I was referring to at all.”
“Oh,” says Ruby, a little disoriented. It’s a rare day when she and Sapphire do not understand each other perfectly. “Then what were you talking about?”
“Two gems merging their projected bodies into an entirely new and powerful entity,” says Sapphire. “Just consider of the possibilities, Ruby. Think of how asymmetrical gems can use it to their advantage! If they’re rejected and sent to Containment Units because their asymmetry makes them weaker than their more symmetrical counterparts, then this—this fusing fixes that. There won’t be any more problems with gems like us not being useful on the surface!”
It takes a moment for the idea to percolate. When it does, it steals just about all of Ruby’s voice, “You think it could help abolish Containment Units entirely?”
The idea is fantastic. It literally feels like something out of a fantasy—what if Sapphire and Ruby and all of their friends don’t have to be inmates anymore? What if they can all go to the surface as free gems?
It’s such a tempting thought to give in to. Such an easy possibility to lose yourself in. Could it really work?
“Well, not entirely,” says Sapphire. She lets go of Ruby’s arms and gestures with her own, already brainstorming. “Unstable gems would be terrible fusion partners—they’re too volatile—but fusion would certainly help with overcrowding in Containment Units, especially if fusions can join the workforce on the surface.”
“I’ve never heard of anyone doing anything like this before, much less pitching it as a way to help defective gems have more utility,” Ruby admits. “Do you think the Diamonds even know it’s possible?”
“We won’t until we bring it up,” says Sapphire, and she smiles. It’s that which gets Ruby to give in to the hope and smile back—if Sapphire thinks it is worth a try, then that’s what they’ll do. After all, Sapphire doesn’t support things that don’t have a good chance of succeeding.
Chapter 39: Backfiring
Sapphire is always paying attention to Ruby, noting where she is and what she is doing, how close they are in proximity to each other, but now there is a new verve to her awareness.
It took some experimenting, but they know how to make Garnet come into being now. In hindsight, Sapphire can’t believe it’s taken them this long to figure it out—they’ve come so close to Garnet on so many occasions, if they had just allowed themselves to fall into each other earlier…
Well, none of that matters. What matters is that they finally know. Sapphire can feel Garnet in her every step now, a potential she’s always carried, a part of her she never thought to put a name to. A temptation that worries the edges of her will with a fierce consistency.
Sapphire is always paying attention to Ruby, noting where she is and what she is doing, how close they are in proximity to each other, but now there is a new verve to her awareness. After literally becoming a part of Ruby, this individuality feels so painfully superficial, their separation like a kind of punishment.
Garnet is safe and good, welcoming and strong. There is no reason to dislike being her, and so no reason to not want it. It’s hard to know all of that and tell yourself no anyway, but that is exactly what Sapphire does.
‘Go to the conference room for a demonstration. We will be there tomorrow at 1400 hours,’ said the reply to the news of what they had discovered. Her original message had been as descriptive as one could be without quite having the proper words to describe the process, or the results, but Sapphire thought she could read the skepticism in between the characters of the response. ‘Ruby knows the place.’
You’ll get to be close again very soon, Sapphire tells herself as they walk to the conference room. The time and their route are so different from the usual that they don’t even have to worry about the other ruby stalking them there, so their pace is efficient but unrushed. Nevertheless, when Ruby reaches for her hand and grips it, Sapphire holds on firmly. She’s grateful that she isn’t the only one who is feeling this way.
Nerves. That’s what this is. But what is there to be nervous about? It’s only the Diamonds. Sapphire talks to them every day—she knows the problems that plague them, and she intimately understands the way they think. Sure, they have power, but Sapphire has always known this about them. She writes her thoughts and opinions very plainly in their correspondences, and she never feels nerves or fear from that. Why should seeing them in person feel any different?
It does, though. There is no doubt about it. This feels different, and Sapphire feels nervous.
Maybe it’s not talking to them face to face that bothers her, per se, as much as what she will be talking about. After all, Garnet and Ruby are the beings she cherishes most, and putting them on display in front of gems that could very easily take them from her is a positively chilling notion.
Sapphire and Ruby don’t have to say anything to each other to stop just outside the door to the conference room. It’s just like any other door in the Containment Unit: thick, heavy, windowless, its room number stamped into the very metal that gives it shape. Nondescript.
Ruby is looking at her. Her broad fingers give Sapphire’s a squeeze, and she offers a tiny smile of nerves and apprehension—but, ultimately, of trust. “Well, here goes nothing.”
They let go of each other—only briefly, just for now—and Ruby turns the knob.
The setup in the conference room is very similar to the panel Ruby spoke to at the end of their fifty-year probationary period, a half circle of suspiciously familiar chairs and a projection screen. The tablet to control the latter is nowhere to be found, however, because there is no need for that today.
The room is smaller in person, Sapphire thinks. She keeps her head facing forward and her lips relaxed—don’t let them see that you’re nervous, they’ll think you have something to hide. There is nothing to hide. Not really. Not if their whole purpose for being here is to showcase Garnet.
They’re all here, all four of the Diamonds—no, wait, Pink Diamond sent a representative. That’s to be expected, though. Pink Diamond’s questions always have something to do with far flung planets and the health and establishment of various Kindergartens; she is in charge of the colonization aspect of their culture, and is rarely on-planet as a result.
Still, three out of four Diamonds in the same place at the same time. Sapphire doesn’t know it as a certainty, but she is willing to bet that this doesn’t happen often—least of all in Containment Units.
Sapphire has seen all of the Diamonds in visions before. She is familiar with all of their faces and forms. Nevertheless, they are all much larger in person (or maybe that’s just the small size of the room playing tricks on her eye). They did not stand up when Ruby and Sapphire walked in, and they’re still much taller than she expected.
“Right on time, excellent,” says Blue Diamond, checking a small device strapped to her wrist. Her legs are crossed primly at the knee, and her spiked hair—a shade of blue somewhere between Sapphire’s and Apatite’s—seems to be proudly winning the struggle against gravity. “I have to be topside again by 1500 hours, so let’s get this over with.”
White Diamond’s characteristically sharp gaze narrows at Sapphire. Her arms are crossed in front of her chest. “This had better be worth what we are losing in productivity,” she says witheringly.
“We wouldn’t have contacted you for anything less,” Sapphire replies, and she surprises herself with the coolness of her voice. Yes, she’s asymmetrical, but surely by now White Diamond knows she isn’t an idiot. The very fact that she is here in person is testament to the fact that she took the message seriously—so what is the practical purpose in being so condescending?
“Well, let’s see what’s so important, then,” says Pink Diamond’s representative. She makes a gesture with her wrist that is decidedly shooing.
“You said it makes you stronger?” says Yellow Diamond.
Sapphire doesn’t miss the intrigue in her tone. The Diamond is sitting straight-backed in her chair, posture rigid and with an edge that Sapphire can only describe as militaristic. Yellow Diamond is perpetually poised and ready to leap into action. She pays attention to every small detail, particularly the weaknesses. That is what her questions are often about—how best can I use my opponent’s weakness against her? Whenever Pink Diamond encounters resistance from the natives on a planet with promising Kindergarten minerals, Yellow Diamond is tagged to move in and exterminate the threat. Sapphire finds that their questions often intersect and complement each other like two sides of the same coin.
“Yes,” Sapphire replies, because this is a direct question from a Diamond, after all. Who is she to resist that?
Ruby, standing next to her, says, “Because our strength is compounded when we fuse.”
“I don’t understand.”
Whether it is the term fuse or the concept of it that is baffling her is not specified, but they are not given the opportunity to ask for clarification because Blue Diamond says impatiently, “Perhaps you will if we actually see it with our own eyes.”
White Diamond glances at the blue gem. Her expression is decidedly unimpressed, and also a little derisive, but ultimately she doesn’t remark upon her fellow Diamond’s tone. Instead she tells Ruby and Sapphire, “We are all here so you can make a demonstration.”
“Of course,” says Sapphire. Then she turns to Ruby, and shuts the Diamonds out. She holds out her hand, and upon looking into the familiar warmth of her partner’s eyes, she allows herself a small smile. “Shall we, Ruby?”
Ruby grins, and they both laugh despite themselves, despite the Diamonds and the other Ruby, despite everything, when she picks Sapphire up and swings her around like they are young and carefree. The wavelengths of their gems shift into synchronicity, and sinking in to the other’s light has never been so effortless. The relief of finally giving in to their desire for closeness makes itself plain in one drawn out, mutual breath.
Garnet’s three eyes open, and she breathes in deep. There is a serenity to be found in this form that her component parts just can’t manage alone, and it courses through her limbs as potent, unbridled energy. She isn’t as awkward as before, though her fascination with herself is still at the forefront of her mind. Her feet are planted firmly on the metal floor, and her shoulders are drawn proudly back. Her projection is as solid as any other gem’s here, and the sheer physicality of her own existence—a seemingly different medley of ever-exchanging lights and feelings that, slowly but surely, are birthing a perspective that is entirely her own—is emboldening.
From this height, the Diamonds aren’t that big after all.
Speaking of whom, their reactions are quite enlightening. White Diamond’s mouth is hanging open, agape and undignified. Pink Diamond’s representative has leapt from her chair and keeps hopping from foot to foot as she debates coming nearer or moving back, stifling small squeaking noise all the while. Blue Diamond has lost her lingering bitterness about losing one of her most promising research subjects; she keeps tilting her head to and fro to see Garnet from different angles, enraptured.
Yellow Diamond is also on her feet. While there is still an air about her like she expects to snap into combat, she moves slowly. Neither Garnet nor her components, watching warily from behind her eyes, can read the expression on the Diamond’s face as she approaches.
Whereas White Diamond’s form calls to mind unapologetically sharp and angular objects like daggers, Yellow Diamond’s is made of triangles. She’s sharp, but she’s methodical about it. She’s taller and more slender than White Diamond, but her shoulders are just broad enough to be intimidating. Her arms, left bare for ease of movement, have some but not too much definition. She is pretty, but only just. Her entire projection is stern and calculated, designed to win you over in some way or another.
“Can you understand what I’m saying?” she asks Garnet, though it seems she already knows the answer.
“Of course,” Garnet replies. She holds still as Yellow Diamond circles her, but she can feel the other’s eyes probing at her elbows and the backs of her knees, visually trying to gauge her power.
“And do you have a weapon?” the Diamond asks as she comes full circle and halts.
That’s actually a very good question. Does she? Both Ruby and Sapphire hold their weapons on their hands—will one get in the way of the other, or will one occupy the hand with its corresponding gem?
“I haven’t tried to summon it,” Garnet replies. She offers no other explanation than that.
Yellow eyes narrow, but only slightly. It doesn’t last long before she says, “Try to now.”
While Garnet herself has never summoned a weapon before, Ruby and Sapphire are happy to help her find the connection she’s looking for as she reaches into herself and pulls. With a flash of light that is a little more prolonged than a typical weapon retrieval, a weight settles over her hands and wrists. It’s heavy, but it’s comfortable. Nothing could feel more right.
“Gauntlets,” says Blue Diamond. She is on her feet now, and marches over to examine them with new confidence. “The ruby’s weapon is boxing gloves, and the sapphire’s is knuckledusters. Gauntlets are a perfect combination of the two.”
“The color of their gems has changed, too,” Pink Diamond’s representative points out. “They’re both a deep shade of red now.”
“The only odd thing about you is your third eye,” Yellow Diamond says. “Do you still have the sapphire’s power of foresight?”
“Yes,” says Garnet.
“And you’re stronger like this,” Yellow Diamond mutters. She looks to Garnet and holds up a hand, palm facing outwards. “Punch me as hard as you can.”
All three of Garnet’s eyes blink. She clenches and unclenches her fists within her gauntlets. “Punch your hand,” she says.
“Did I stutter?”
The stern and expectant look on Yellow Diamond’s face cannot be ignored for very long. Well, Garnet figures as she rolls her shoulders and hauls back her right fist, if she’s asking…
The blow causes Yellow Diamond to skid back several feet, and the sheet metal flooring to warp and dent dramatically. Yellow Diamond herself is entirely unharmed, and she straightens from the stance she had sunk into and steps away from the warping in an almost leisurely fashion.
“That is more than twice their strength as individuals,” says Blue Diamond as she peers at the damage done to the floor. She doesn’t look particularly concerned that it’s happened, but rather at the implications of it.
“Indeed,” Yellow Diamond says. Her expression is, once again, entirely unreadable.
“The possible applications for a technique like this are endless,” Pink Diamond’s representative mutters to herself excitedly. She is tapping rapid notes into a tablet. “We might even be able to use this to enhance Blue Diamond’s rehabilitation program…”
“How did you figure this out?” asks White Diamond. She has recovered from her gaping, but she still has yet to leave her seat. Arms and legs crossed, she looks to Garnet as if she has wanted to confront her about this from the start.
Garnet stalls. Her gauntlets fade. There are so many ways this question can be answered, and just as many ways in which this conversation can end. Sapphire and Ruby are both trying to help, offering advice and encouragement simultaneously, but Garnet’s not used to sorting through all of these possibilities—and the visions don’t feel the same, Sapphire says. It’s not the prescience she’s so used to, not quite.
Just like the first time, the sudden montage of potent future visions overwhelms her, and Garnet loses her grip on herself. Sapphire and Ruby fall apart with a flash and a thud, and they both groan as they pick themselves up off the floor. Sapphire shakes her head in an attempt to rid herself of the vertigo.
“What just happened?” asks Blue Diamond. She seems either irritated or intrigued, but it’s actually more likely that she’s both. “Why did you stop?”
“Are these fusions inherently unstable?” says Pink Diamond’s representative with a severely disappointed frown. “We don’t have use for a technique that won’t hold up under pressure.”
“Garnet isn’t used to my power,” says Sapphire. “She is still adjusting to future vision; it overwhelmed me when I was a new gem, too.”
“ ‘Garnet’?” repeats Pink Diamonds rep incredulously. “That was you in there—why would you come up with another name? You’re a sapphire, and that’s a ruby—” an obligatory gesture. Ruby’s lips twitch “—if anything, when you pile up on each other like that we can call you Rupphire, but think of the taxonomic nightmare you’d be participating in if every fusion got its own name! Garnet, honestly…” The representative taps in another note.
“But the color looks right to be a garnet—did your Mohs change when you did that? Do you actually become the gem you’re claiming that was?” asks Blue Diamond, looking to the pair of asymmetrical gems with increasing academic interest. Then she thinks of something and taps the device on her wrist. “Follow up question: that form changed your weapons, but did it do anything to alter your elemental abilities?”
“Don’t—” White Diamond makes a noise of supreme frustration “—You’re letting her avoid the question!”
Blue Diamond looks up. “Which one? They haven’t answered any of mine.”
“We can sort out the logistics of this technique later.” Then White Diamond turns the full force of her piercing gaze on Sapphire and Ruby. “How did you figure out you could do this?”
Ah, Sapphire thinks. So you don’t think I’m an idiot after all.
In hindsight, if she could figure out how the Diamonds’ minds worked through their correspondences, she should have understood that it could go the other way around as well. She always assumed she was too beneath their notice.
“Yes,” says Yellow Diamond. Her voice is quiet, but all the more intimidating for the volume. “I, too, am very interested in that story.”
“We’ve worked together every day for over two thousand years,” says Ruby. “Is it any wonder we can synchronize our wavelengths?”
“I’ve worked with them for thousands of years, too,” says White Diamond with a brisk gesture to her 10-Mohs brethren. “And we have never once merged our forms together like that.” She stops as a thought visibly crosses her face.
Sapphire, seeing half a dozen very, very bad futures suddenly crop up, ignores the sudden roiling of her gut and says, “You’ve never been bullied, either. You’re symmetrical, and have a Mohs of 10. Nothing and no one will challenge you. That’s not so, when you’re asymmetrical as we are.”
“You’re under protection,” says White Diamond with a dismissive wave of her glowing and oddly graceful hand. “All of the Supervisors know to enforce that, and that gets passed down to the inmates. That is how a Containment Unit functions, Sapphire.”
Her tone is so withering and condescending that, in that instant, Sapphire truly cannot understand how White Diamond ever thought she had been clever enough to redirect an uncomfortably probing inquiry.
“Oh yeah, in theory that’s how it works,” says Ruby scathingly. “And whenever you start walking around everyone snaps into their best behavior—but do you ever think about the insubordination that could be happening when you’re not here and not paying those of us trapped underground any attention?”
“That is no way to talk to a Diamond!” snaps Pink Diamond’s representative. “Who do you think you are, defective gem?”
“A reality check, apparently.”
“Ruby,” Sapphire starts. She reaches out to touch her elbow, but Ruby shrugs the contact off in favor of gesturing to the three Diamonds and the one representative.
“None of you has any concept of how things actually work down here, and you’re here so rarely and for such specific reasons that there’s no way in the cosmos that you’d ever get a chance to see it for yourself.”
“You also clearly don’t care to listen, even when someone is telling you about it—so of course you wouldn’t know the way that gems have to band together to protect themselves! Now you stand here telling us that our closeness—”
Sapphire’s tone is what finally manages to cut through Ruby’s rant, but it’s already too late—and if the expression that has suddenly settled over Ruby’s features is indicative of anything, then she is now realizing it too.
The air in the conference room is different now. It was never comfortable, but now every movement is like wading through shrapnel.
Pink Diamond’s representative has a hand clapped over her mouth in scandalized horror. She’s so caught up that she hasn’t even made a note about it yet.
“Closeness, huh,” says White Diamond. “Is that the secret, then? Romance?”
“Gems are a proud race of self-sufficient individuals,” says Blue Diamond, abruptly closed off and not interested at all. She gives the device on her wrist a tap of finality. “We did not evolve to require pair bonding of any sort. To do so is unnatural.”
“Co-dependency is a weakness of the mind; it clouds the judgement,” Yellow Diamond concludes. “No matter how physically strong the result, if this fusion technique uses something like that as a foundation, then it will always be inherently fragile and unstable. It is of no use to me.”
White Diamond waves her hand. “We’ve seen enough. You are dismissed.”
Sapphire, picking up her skirts and prodding a very stiff and mortified Ruby into motion, lets the heavy metal door shut behind them loudly. She had been hoping to avoid this outcome. Ruby is forever straying from their plans, but usually it is for the better. Not this time, though. This time… well, now that these events have begun to play out in real time there is very little she or Ruby can do to change it. Things are about to be turned upside down for them, and swiftly. They need to prepare for that—it’s all they can do now.
“Sapphire,” Ruby says. She’s not walking as quickly as usual. She’s moving like her limbs are hollow and devoid of sensation, and Sapphire aches to see her this way. “Was there ever any potential for using fusion to help the defective gems here?”
Sapphire doesn’t speak. She can’t bear to, partially for Ruby but also partially because she doesn’t want to say aloud that maybe, this one time, it would have been best for them to leave well enough alone.
Chapter 40: Awareness of Legacy
Are you sure this is what you want?
They go back and forth about it for hours, interrupted occasionally by Sapphire answering the questions that had been sent to her inbox from the day before, and a couple more from Blue Diamond about the nature of fusion itself.
“Are you sure?” Ruby keeps asking.
“If I thought something else had the potential to happen, Ruby, I would have brought it up by now.”
“I know that, I do. But if what you say is true, then that means…”
“I know,” says Sapphire quietly. “But I don’t See any other way.”
“Not even with—?”
“Not even then.”
Ruby heaves out a hard breath that sounds more like an apology than an indication of frustration and helplessness. She hasn’t mentioned it, but Sapphire can feel her culpability for their meeting with the Diamonds acutely. They’re going to have to talk about that later—but right now isn’t the time. Right now, they need to make sure there will be a later to talk in.
They hash out as many details as they can before they go to the recreation facility. There is only one palatable conclusion, but just because it’s the only available option doesn’t make them excited to choose it. It just makes this scenario the best of the worst.
Their friends aren’t precisely the most open minded.
“You’re going to what?” Citrine’s eyes are practically bugging out of her orange face.
Sapphire has already resigned herself to this, but Ruby winces.
“I knew you two liked being unorthodox, but isn’t this going a little far?” says Tourmaline skeptically. “I mean, if you’re caught you’ll probably be shattered—or at the very least poofed and separated.”
Apatite’s voice is very low. Her dark blue fingers brush over the dog-eared pages of the book that is open in her lap. “If anyone else heard what you just told us…”
“They didn’t,” Sapphire says. At the moment, they are huddled together amongst the uncomfortable chairs along the east wall. The other gems in their cohort are admittedly used to this behavior from them—while Ruby and Sapphire have potent reputations here in Unit 6, they don’t like to be flocked over, and the gems in their cohort have come to respect that.
“This is suicide regardless!” Citrine’s voice is much higher pitched than usual, and it cracks on ‘suicide’ as if she is already starting to mourn them. “Escape from a Containment Unit is impossible!”
“Actually, we’re not so convinced of that,” says Ruby. She looks at Apatite, who tenses in trepidation at what she might be asked to do. Or say. “What all do we actually know about Unit 6’s security?”
“Ruby, think about where we are,” says Apatite, her voice strained and thin. “Do you really want to have this conversation here?”
“Why do you want to have it at all?” Citrine is near hysteria. Her orange arms gesticulate wildly, and Tourmaline leans away to avoid being smacked in the nose. “Why am I the only one who’s seeing this?”
Ruby ignores her, and says to Apatite, “Because there is literally no other time and place we could have this conversation? Even if you were to come back with us, this cohort is back on the assembly lines, so your absence would be noticed. And out of the two of us—” she hooks her thumb towards Sapphire “—I’m the only one who can realistically get away with sneaking back with the rest of the cohort, but I’m not very good at blending in. Maybe this would have worked two rotations ago, back in the forge, but not at the assembly lines.”
“I can second that,” says Sapphire. “The Supervisors don’t come into the rec center, and the other gems will leave us be out of respect. The noise of their conversations will mask ours. There is no likelier location for this to successfully be discussed.”
Ruby gestures to her again. “See?”
“They make a good point,” Tourmaline says.
“What?” screeches Citrine.
Apatite, whom Ruby is still looking at, doesn’t speak. She flicks at the worn pages of the book in her lap as she debates with herself. Her dark blue eyes keep coming back to Sapphire, clearly wondering what might be possible. Her thoughts aren’t difficult to follow. If Sapphire is with Ruby on this, then is escaping Unit 6 really as impossible as she believes? But they are asking for more information because they don’t have enough, so does that mean Sapphire’s endorsement is faulty or incomplete?
“Why?” she asks finally, looking between them. “Why now? Why is this place suddenly so unbearable that you would risk everything to leave it?”
It’s a good question, admittedly. A fair price to pay. The only problem is…
“You wouldn’t believe us if we told you the details,” says Sapphire, thinking of her own inability to articulate just what her first vision of Garnet had been like. “But suffice it to say, we will not be safe here much longer. This risk, high though it is, is still better odds than certain destruction here.”
Ruby nods and makes a noise of agreement.
Sapphire can see that this statement, coming from individuals as strong as themselves, obviously carries some weight. Apatite doesn’t look sure whether or not pushing for a more comprehensive explanation is really in her best interest.
After a few more moments, Apatite lets out a sigh and shuts the book in her lap. “Because inmates are transferred between Containment Units poofed and in bubbles, a lot of this is hearsay. It’s passed through many hands, and a lot has probably been lost in translation.” She lifts the old book for emphasis.
“Anything you know will be helpful.”
“Besides, if anyone can separate fact from fiction, it would be you, Apatite,” says Ruby. “You’re an old hand at this.”
Apatite flashes a tight smile at the flattery, but continues as if it hasn’t happened. “That still doesn’t change the fact that nobody’s really seen any of this. Take what I tell you with that in mind.”
“We will,” promises Sapphire.
“Alright.” Apatite lets out a breath and leans forward. Her thin blue hair slips over her shoulder and obscures her expression from the rest of the cohort like a curtain. “From what I understand, Supervisors guard the entrances, and there are constant surveillance feeds.”
They wait. Then Ruby says, “That’s it?”
Apatite flashes her an annoyed frown—clearly, the pause had been for atmospheric reasons—but nonetheless continues, “There are only two ways in and out of the Containment Unit: the Supervisors’ service entrance, and the dock that receives the crates of parts we make here. We don’t manufacture everything, so the parts have to be shipped off for full injector assembly.”
“The crates,” says Sapphire. “Are they inspected?”
“Visually, but not thoroughly.”
“Oh no,” Citrine says. She sweeps her bared arms wide. “You’re not thinking what I think you are.”
“It’s kind of brilliant, actually,” says Tourmaline. Her legs are crossed at the knee, and she props her elbow on the armrest of her chair so she can lean on her wrist, listening with new intrigue.
“If your less-than-inconspicuous red and blue shapeshifted parts are spotted in that crate, a battalion of Supervisors would be on you in an instant!” Citrine says in a withering stage whisper.
“The only other option seems to be passing ourselves off as Supervisors,” says Sapphire. “They’re negligent, but they know who their coworkers are.”
“And let’s face it,” says Tourmaline. She gestures to them with the hand she is not leaning on. “You’re both so off-center you probably won’t be able to make yourselves big enough to ward off suspicion.”
It’s a good point.
“Which leaves the crates,” Sapphire continues. “Apatite, what do we know about where they go when they leave the Unit?”
Apatite shakes her head, sheet of elbow-length hair swaying. “Not much. From what’s been overheard from the Supervisors—” she taps the cover of the book in her lap “—The crates are transferred to a cargo bay where they meet up with the parts made in the other Containment Units. They’re loaded onto ships and injectors are properly assembled on-site.”
“Have we heard what security is like on the surface?”
“Even less. But we’re trapped here as forced labor, and gems topside have more freedom than we do, so I would think it’s less.”
“And what if everything we’ve heard is wrong?” says Citrine. “What if there are sophisticated scanners that search through every crate for your gems’ wavelength, and the crates aren’t just moved to a cargo bay to be loaded onto ships that go off-planet to be properly unloaded at their Kindergarten destinations? What if they’re assembled here on Homeworld? We’re dealing with abstractions of slivers of gossip here, gems. This is not the kind of information you want to base an escape plan off of—you’re going to get yourselves killed!”
“Not necessarily.” Sapphire taps her temple with one gloved finger. “Abstractions are all I need to get the proper context. As long as I know what to ask, no matter how vague, I can find the truth of it.”
“This place wasn’t designed to hold up under future vision,” says Ruby. Sapphire glances at her partner when she hears the slight boasting tone. Which one of them had been loathe to come to the decision to escape again?
“Nothing seems to,” remarks Tourmaline, still leaning on her wrist. Out of their three friends, she is being the most blasé right now. One would think that the potential for combat would have excited her. “And that’s in your favor, for the most part—but what about the things you see coming but have no foil for?”
“Well,” says Ruby, lifting herself onto the balls of her feet. “If needs be, we do have someone in mind who can disturb things until more options open up.”
“I’m not following,” says Tourmaline.
Apatite in particular is very blunt when she says, “And I know you’re acting like you don’t want us to understand, Ruby, but that’s also making it very hard to give you any information you might need.”
“We thought we’d made a discovery that could help everyone,” says Sapphire. “It backfired, but that very same discovery might just give us the extra power to fight through tougher things, if the need arises.”
“We won’t use her unless we have to,” says Ruby. “Because they already kind of know about it.”
“From where I’m sitting, that doesn’t make sense,” says Tourmaline. She is, however, no longer leaning on her arm. Instead she sits with her hands in her lap, glamorous and straight-backed, frowning slightly as she tries to understand.
“None of this makes any sense,” Citrine bursts out. “But I seem to be the only one who sees that!”
“Apatite,” says Sapphire. That facet of the conversation isn’t going to become useful any time soon, so best move on from it. “Has anyone tried something like this before?”
“We figure, if no one has, they aren’t going to see this coming,” says Ruby. “The security is going to be half-hearted because the Supervisors won’t see the point in it; it will be a pivotal advantage.”
Apatite is quiet for about a minute or so. She strokes the spine of the old book with the pad of her thumb. “I don’t think there have been any attempts,” she says finally. “Not in a very long time, anyway.”
“Excellent,” says Sapphire briskly. “In that case, we have just one more question.”
“Two, actually,” says Ruby.
Sapphire glances at her. “Two?”
“Yes,” says Ruby. “We thought we were going to be able to help everyone, but we only made it worse for ourselves. It shouldn’t affect you as long as we don’t tell you what it is, but because you’re our closest friends, there’s always a chance.”
“Ruby, what are you trying to say?” asks Citrine.
Oh, Sapphire understands now.
“Do any of you want to leave with us?” she translates. “One way or another, Ruby and I can protect three gems if the need arises. We can’t save everyone, but we can do this.”
Silence greets them. Suddenly, their friends can’t meet their eyes.
Ruby is the one to break it. “I thought you’d be jumping at the opportunity,” she says. “We’ve talked about what life might be like on the surface before.”
“That was a long, long time ago, Ruby, back when we were all new to the Containment Unit,” says Citrine. She shakes her head, expression a mixture of pain and resignation. “I don’t think I could handle being topside anymore. I know this life isn’t the greatest, but it’s not terrible. I understand what I can and cannot get away with, and I’m more or less content to exist within those limitations. At least here I’m seen for who I am by the inmates, and not everything I don’t have the ability to be.” She lifts her bare right arm and glances at the round-cut gem embedded in her shoulder. “Being a defective gem on the surface—from what I remember, it was even more brutal than life here. I can’t go back to that.”
“I’m already doing what I like best,” says Apatite. She lifts her book again. “I communicate with the other cohorts, and keep ours informed. I enjoy the process of decoding the intel the other informants leave in these books for me, and vice versa. This isn’t something you can do on the surface, so I don’t need feel a need to be there.”
“Well,” says Tourmaline with a look at her friends. “If they’re not going, I’m certainly not going to play third wheel to you two for the rest of my existence. Besides.” She shrugs. “I don’t really mind it here, now that you two have cleaned everything up.”
“And we already know how we’ll keep the peace going for when you two aren’t here,” says Apatite. “We haven’t forgotten the contingency plan.”
“To be honest, I’m not sure if that plan would work without us,” adds Tourmaline.
“It…” Citrine lets out a breath like she can’t believe she is saying this. “This place needs gems to pick up where you left off, otherwise it’s just going to fall back into the same old patterns. We can’t let that happen anymore.”
“It would be an insult to your legacy,” Apatite says matter-of-factly. Then she softens into a medley of resignation and sadness, and her long blue fingers splay over the cover of her book. “I still don’t really understand why you need to do this, but I’ve known you both long enough to trust your judgement. If you say this needs to happen, then it does. I’m nosy, and I’m concerned for you, but if I’m being honest I don’t need to know more than that.”
“Exactly,” says Tourmaline with a nod.
Sapphire glances out at the rest of their cohort, talking and interacting amongst themselves as if this is just any other day. Serpentine catches her eye, grins and waves, and she responds automatically.
She looks back to her friends. For all that she knows this must happen—that there is no other choice—the thought of leaving them hurts. No wonder they all want to stay together. “You don’t have to do this,” she says.
“That was the second question,” Ruby says. “This isn’t like anything we’ve ever asked you to do, and you have every right to say you don’t want to participate.”
“Don’t try to keep all of the excitement for yourself; it’s insulting,” says Tourmaline flatly—a response Sapphire can’t help flashing a small grin for.
Citrine looks right at Ruby, and says seriously, “Are you sure this is what you want?”
“Yes, Citrine, I am.”
Citrine slaps her hands down on her knees and straightens her shoulders. “Then I have no choice but to help.”
“And you already know I’m helping,” says Apatite. “However, I do think we’re going to need more than just the five of us to pull off a heist of this magnitude.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” says Tourmaline. “Especially when it comes to the aftermath—a bigger group is going to be harder to take pointed disciplinary action against. If we play it right, the whole thing might get thrown back on the Supervisors and their negligence.”
“Precisely,” says Apatite. “And, fortunately for us, I can think of several gems who would be good candidates.”
Chapter 41: A Flash and Some Longing
“You’re always helping us,” says Calcite, bouncing on the balls of her feet. Frankly, she’s a little too excited for Sapphire’s comfort. “Of course we want to help with the one thing you’ve ever asked in return.”
Some facts you might find useful:
Hessonite has a Mohs of 7-7.5. Hessonite is also a variety of garnet.
Also: Congratulations, you have made it to the final chapter of Containment Unit 6! You are all rock stars in my book, because this storyline is HUGE. Golds stars and virtual hugs all around! :D
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Apatite said she could think of several potentially helpful gems, to be fair, but somehow Sapphire didn’t expect half of the cohort to volunteer.
“You’re always helping us,” says Calcite, bouncing on the balls of her feet. Frankly, she’s a little too excited for Sapphire’s comfort. “Of course we want to help with the one thing you’ve ever asked in return.”
“But this one thing is hugely dangerous.” Do none of them understand that? She knows that Apatite made a point of warning them plainly, but if any of them are caught as being accomplices in this…
Calcite shrugs. “No more dangerous than it used to be with the Supervisors, in my case.”
“Honestly?” Serpentine, who is nearby, adds with a huge smirk. “Just knowing the reason for the Supervisor’s inevitable conniption fits when no one can find you already makes this worth it.”
“I know, right? I can’t wait to just shrug and say to their ugly faces ‘I don’t know, isn’t that your job?’ ” says Calcite excitedly. She and Serpentine high five, and they’re close enough in Mohs that one doesn’t hurt the other for doing it.
Sapphire really isn’t sure she feels comfortable letting Calcite be a part of this anymore. She no longer has a choice, at this point. Apatite has already assigned all of the volunteers their specific tasks. She works fast—it’s only been than two hours, and everybody is already well versed in their roles. The gems that aren’t a part of the plan, like Plagioclase, are also none the wiser because of Apatite’s subtle and complex network of gossipers.
Let it never be said that Apatite doesn’t take her job as resident informant of the cohort seriously.
Sapphire has known for millennia that Apatite is the central hub around which the cohort’s gossip revolves, but she doesn’t think it’s ever occurred to her just how much power that title carries until today. To be fair, she’s never seen Apatite actively put anything in motion before, either—the dark blue gem is more of an observer by trade, and understandably so.
Even Ruby is impressed. “I haven’t seen Apatite throw herself so deep into something since she worked to take over the job of informant in the first place,” she remarks from Sapphire’s right. Sapphire, as per Apatite’s oddly brisk instructions, is sitting placidly on one of the uncomfortable chairs along the east wall, and Ruby is perched on the armrest. Inmates bustle around them as if this is just another day, but if you know what to look for their seemingly casual movements carry a distinctly purposeful edge.
Has the cohort ever done something like this before?
“She’s good,” Ruby continues, her gaze roving over their comrades with admiration. “I’ve never seen someone whip the cohort into shape like this before. Where has this been hiding all these years?”
And of course Ruby is thinking the same thing, Sapphire realizes with a small smile. They really have fallen in sync.
“She’s never had a reason before now. We’ve always been there,” Sapphire murmurs. Her arm is resting along Ruby’s thigh, gloved fingers curled over her knee. She squeezes Ruby’s knee now, for no particular reason other than to reassure herself that she can. They’re close now, but this isn’t close enough. Soon and very soon, she promises the part of herself that’s straining, selfishly, to once more become half of a whole. To breathe life into Garnet again. The lack of full disclosure that is inherent in their separateness feels too much like lying and shutting Ruby out, and she told herself she would stop doing that.
Ruby, obviously noticing the squeeze, glances at her. It’s sort of odd to be the one looking up. Not that the inch or so of height that Sapphire has on her partner really means much in the grand scheme of things, least of all eye contact, but it’s a funny sensation all the same.
“Did you think of something?” asks Ruby. Her expression is open, prepared to listen.
Soon. Soon and very soon.
“No,” says Sapphire. She pats Ruby’s leg reassuringly. “Just nerves, I suppose.”
“I know what you mean,” she says softly. “I want her to be here, too.”
Sapphire doesn’t need any more context to know who Ruby is referring to. It actually makes her longing more poignant to know that it’s mutual, but this time their compact individual sizes might play out in their favor, and they want to maximize anything that gives them an advantage right now.
Nevertheless, Sapphire flashes a small smile and gives her leg another squeeze. She doesn’t have to speak, because Ruby already knows.
“This is really happening, isn’t it?” says Ruby, her voice still pitched low enough that you wouldn’t be able to hear it if you weren’t looking for it.
“Yes,” murmurs Sapphire. “It is.”
Ruby lets out a long breath. “I think I’m gonna miss this place. Just a little bit.”
“I’ll figure out how to feel if and when this plot succeeds.”
“You’re uncertain?” For the first time since this began, Ruby’s voice wavers. If Sapphire is uncertain, then so is Ruby. There doesn’t seem to be any avoiding that.
“The odds are forty-five and fifty-five percent,” she says. “Everything is uncertain.”
“That’s close enough to chance that we could get lucky anyway, though.”
Sapphire looks to her partner. She can’t be serious about that, can she?
Sapphire never does get the chance to know for sure because that’s when Apatite approaches them. “Everything is in place,” she says with a hint of pride.
“I’ve got to say, A,” says Ruby, impressed. “You’ve got to show this assertive side more often. We didn’t know you had it in you.”
Apatite’s lips twitch, torn between frowning and smiling. “Once this starts, how much time do we have before they realize you’re missing?” she asks Sapphire.
“An hour at the most.”
“That’s plenty of time. And you know you’re paired with me, while Ruby’s going with Hessonite?”
As if on cue, a gem whose color scheme is primarily deep reds and oranges approaches them. She’s a head and a half taller than Sapphire, with smooth and shiny hair and limbs that are built thick and sturdy like pillars. Her chest is broad, and her stance is wide. This is a gem made to weather the front lines of combat, and her Mohs of 7.5 only makes doing do easier. Her cushion-cut gem is set in her chest, but on the far left. She waves with a bulkily gloved hand, and upon sighting each other she and Ruby both grin.
“Never thought I’d have to impersonate someone so ugly,” Hessonite quips, as she is wont to do.
Ruby snorts. “You’re telling me—who would ever voluntarily use that shade of red in their projection?”
Nevertheless, Ruby hops down from the armrest of Sapphire’s chair. There are two discordant flashes of light, and then Ruby and Hessonite are looking at each’s interpretation of the other’s forms.
“You’re too short,” is the first thing Hessonite says.
“You’re too tall—my projection doesn’t look anything like that!”
There is another set of uncoordinated flashing as they make the proportional adjustments, and then Apatite is circling them critically. “Ruby, your hair still has too much of a cubed look to it. Hessonite is flowing lines, not angles. Okay—yes.” Apatite claps her hands. “This is good. A Supervisor who isn’t paying attention isn’t going to notice this. Heck, they might not know even if they do try to look—except for your gem placements, of course, but that can’t be helped. Okay, Sapphire, now you and me.”
Sapphire stands, and after the obligatory white flash Ruby makes a loud snort at Sapphire’s shapeshifting attempt. “Your eyes—”
Sapphire blinks them. It’s awkward, to be sure. She’s used to having to function around poor depth perception, and to suddenly not have to anymore is disorienting, to say the least. Apatite has it easy. She gets to keep her vision as-is—she just needs to cover it with hair.
She isn’t used to being this tall, either. Apatite is a head taller than her typical projection, and suddenly the ground seems very far away. Everything about this form feels wrong, like she’s tried to move into someone else’s home.
“Alright, Sapphire,” says Apatite, holding out her much shorter and now-gloved arms for inspection. “What do you think?”
“Can you lighten the hair?”
“The dress is all wrong,” Ruby-as-Hessonite says.
“The dress doesn’t matter,” says Sapphire. She feels as if she has to talk louder than usual in order for her words to reach Apatite from her current height. Somehow, the fact that their height difference is usually the other way around isn’t as a big of a deal. “The hair is better, Apatite, but is that as light as you can go?”
Flash. “This is.”
Ruby-as-Hessonite hums. “Still not right.”
“You can tell the difference?” Hessonite-as-Ruby says.
“It will have to do.” Sapphire holds up her own much longer arms now, looking for constructive criticism. “And this?”
Apatite moves her new bangs out of the way and squints up like she’s seeing a puzzle she can’t quite decode. “Your eyes look… off.”
“This is the best I can do, unfortunately. Always has been.”
Apatite makes a noise in her throat. “Otherwise, you do a great me—you even have my bracelet-striations down. Your color palette is more versatile than mind, I think, because those shades look about right too.”
“I don’t know how you stand looking up at everyone like this,” complains Hessonite-as-Ruby. “My neck already hurts.”
“Yeah, well your center of gravity is a nightmare,” Ruby retorts. “We both have to deal, Hessonite.”
“We’ll be in the center of the group,” Apatite says, ignoring their half-serious banter. “And we won’t talk; that’ll give us away.”
“I’ll say,” Hessonite agrees with a quirky grin that just doesn’t look right on Ruby’s likeness.
Apatite takes a step, but trips on the petticoats of the dress she is now wearing. Hessonite-as-Ruby, who is closest, steadies her.
“It helps if you pick the front up when you walk,” says Sapphire. “At least until you get used to them.”
For herself, Sapphire’s legs feel alarmingly exposed in Apatite’s style of leggings and a straight, knee-length skirt. They’re too long, as if she is teetering on stilts.
“I don’t even want to know how you learned to fight so well in something like this,” Apatite remarks as she practices stepping with lifted skirts. Fortunately, Sapphire can see that the technique is working. “I can manage for the walk to the assembly lines, though.” She shakes her head, and her not-quite-light-enough bangs fall into place. She lets out a groan. “Sapphire, how do you prefer this?”
Sapphire shrugs, and Ruby-as-Hessonite can’t seem to help the little laugh that comes out. Of course, her sense of bodily awareness is shot—she’s a lot bigger than she’s used to being, and she keeps bumping into gems and furniture as she experiments with her own altered form.
“You’re going to have to help me, Hessonite. I’m half-blind here,” says Apatite.
“Yeah, okay.” Hessonite-as-Ruby doesn’t appear the least bit surprised.
The buzzer sounds, and the recreation center’s doors snap open. Right on time.
The gems all file out in the same sedate and unrushed manner as they always do. Sapphire, pretending to be Apatite, walks alongside Citrine with at least two gems between her and the next Supervisor. If any of the Supervisors look at her or her doppelganger for too long, then one of the gems shifts herself inconspicuously into their line of sight.
Walking on Apatite’s long legs is an experience Sapphire is not likely to forget any time soon. Garnet is tall too, but her stance is much sturdier than Apatite’s skinny stilts. Each stride is just a shade too long, and while she’s sure it doesn’t look like it Sapphire can’t shake the notion that each step feels a little like she’s falling in the right direction.
Today Pollucite and Petalite are supervising the transfer, which is a stroke of good luck because Kunzite and Morganite would have probably noticed something was amiss—that their old enemies ‘Ruby’ and ‘Sapphire’ were present—immediately. They’ve simply fought each other too many times. Sapphire and Ruby have only fought Petalite and Pollucite the one occasion. She checks to see if they will eventually notice—
Checks to see if they will notice—
“What? What’s wrong?” murmurs Citrine out of the corner of her mouth. “You’ve gone tense.”
Sapphire should have known this would happen.
“Two eyes,” she mutters. “I have two eyes.”
“And?” Citrine clearly isn’t following, and Ruby-as-Hessonite is clear on the other side of the formation; there will be no translations of what that means coming from anyone else.
She can’t shapeshift her eye back now—the flash would absolutely draw unwanted attention from Petalite and Pollucite. But they’re going into a situation with a forty-five percent chance of success effectively blind, she has to do something…
“What is so wrong with that, besides your usual aesthetic?” asks Citrine quietly. “You’re making me nervous!”
Sapphire can’t See what will happen next. She can’t See it. She’s blind. This future vision is glitchy and unreliable, and this situation is too risky for that to be good enough. What can she do? She’s not supposed to be here. Pollucite and Petalite have seen Ruby and herself before, and even though they are in disguise right now the two Supervisors might take their lingering bitterness out on their doppelgangers before reporting their presence with the main cohort. What can Sapphire do if—when—if—that happens? She can’t tell. Her prescience isn’t effortless right now, it takes concentration and stillness and time she just doesn’t have. What if there is something she’s supposed to See, and because she doesn’t See it she gets them all killed because this future vision is no good? What if—
Sapphire startles at the hand that grips her by the elbow, strong and unrelenting. “You’re starting to hyperventilate,” hisses Citrine, her voice tight and controlled. “You need to calm down.”
Well, this is a role reversal if there ever was one.
She’s right, though. Having a panic attack in the middle of a transfer is a surefire way to get herself noticed. She doesn’t need future vision to understand that much. Sapphire forces herself to suck in a long breath and let it out just as slowly. “I’m fine now,” she whispers.
Citrine’s silence says she believes otherwise, but she does grudgingly let go of Sapphire’s elbow. Good.
Tourmaline, who is walking behind them, mutters, “Everything okay up there?”
“Yes,” Sapphire forces herself to say. It’s just a transfer. They’re just walking. If they remain as casual as possible, it isn’t likely that Pollucite and Petalite are going to notice anything is amiss. Even if she can’t See it working out, she has to trust in this plan they are all following.
She’s just… never felt so vulnerable before. Future vision is her constant, and Sapphire has gotten so accustomed to it being reliable and easily accessible over the millennia that she simply doesn’t know what to do—how to act—without it.
It’s actually a fairly short walk to the assembly lines from the recreation center, for Unit 6. While assembly rooms need a lot of space, they don’t need anything fancier than that, and so—unlike the forge—there is no reason to have them located deeper underground than strictly necessary. By this point they’re about halfway there, and so far without incident.
That’s when the vision hits.
A screen glowing in a brightly lit room. A gem is seated in front of it. She taps the glass, hums to herself, and reports, “She hasn’t even opened the first message yet.”
There is a shift of proudly spiked hair. “That is unusual.”
“What is she doing?”
A pause. Then, “Send someone to check on her. Now.”
“…moving—you just had your social hour!” Pollucite is barking out. “What the hell is going on over there?”
Sapphire feels Tourmaline’s hands push at her shoulders, sending her stumbling forward. “Don’t worry, we’ll keep her moving,” the green gem promises the Supervisor.
At first Pollucite doesn’t look convinced, but then she sees that the disruptive blue gem is indeed being forced forward by the gems around her, and moves on with only a small frown of annoyance.
“What is going on?” demands Citrine quietly, speaking through clenched teeth. She has a hold of Sapphire’s elbow again, and is hauling her onwards with surprising strength.
“They know,” gasps Sapphire, unable to keep the panic from her voice. “They already know!”
Citrine’s grip on her arm flexes, and from behind her Tourmaline sucks in a breath. “Are you sure?”
She’s blind. She’s blind, and they’re coming. How much longer do they have? She doesn’t know, she doesn’t know.
Sapphire has never felt so utterly useless before.
“Yes,” she says, for what it’s worth. “But I can’t See what happens next, I have two eyes—”
“Doesn’t matter.” Citrine holds onto Sapphire’s arm and sets her jaw with a new will. “T, we’re going to have to go to plan B.”
“Way ahead of you.”
If Sapphire didn’t have the ability to go so fast herself, she probably would have missed what happened next. Suddenly Tourmaline is gone, and Ruby-as-Hessonite is being bodily shoved towards Sapphire and Citrine.
“Hey, what are you—”
“Grab on, and close your eyes,” says Citrine briskly. She doesn’t wait for Ruby to obey before she is conjuring a round object from her gem storage.
“Wait—” Ruby’s hand clasps around Sapphire’s just as the flash bomb goes off. Citrine, who is apparently impervious to its affects, pulls them both forward as she breaks into a run. She forces them to push through their own stumbling, to find a way to sprint in these unfamiliar bodies and temporary blindness, because there is no mercy in her pace. Her weapon’s light has scarcely faded, but they’re already skidding around a corner and leaving the rest of the cohort behind.
“The repercussions of this—” Sapphire starts.
“Let us deal with that,” says Citrine without pausing or slowing down. “If they know you’re not where you’re supposed to be, then we need to put you where they’re not going to find you when they start looking, and we need to do it now.”
There are no footsteps behind them—and for good reason, because Sapphire knows their vision and equilibrium haven’t recovered yet. If Citrine weren’t leading the way Sapphire and Ruby certainly wouldn’t be running right now, much less going in the right direction. Still, despite their lack of pursuers, they do not slow down. Sapphire doesn’t need her faulty future vision to understand that they need time to make this work.
By the time they reach the assembly lines, Sapphire has just about blinked all of the floating spheres from her eyes. The equipment is humming along in a state of temporary restfulness, cooling down in between shifts, and the space is cavernous enough to echo all of their rapidly pounding footsteps back at them, tauntingly loud. Citrine weaves around conveyor belts and stools like she was made to do this, and they come to an abrupt and disorienting halt in front of a massive metal crate half full of identical injector parts.
Citrine doesn’t hesitate. She picks up two parts and shoves them into Ruby and Sapphire’s hands. “Shapeshift into these, and I’ll bury you at the bottom. This crate will be the first that’s sealed up and shipped off today; they shouldn’t find you there.”
Sapphire is not mechanically inclined. She knows the basic functions and movements that injectors have and do from her visions, but as she turns the heavy metal object over in her already shapeshifted hands she can’t figure out which part of the injector it is supposed to go to. That doesn’t matter, she supposes, because she doesn’t need to know its function in order to form a likeness of it.
Citrine catches both Sapphire and the reference part before they hit the metal floor. She tosses the latter back into the crate and waits for Ruby to follow suit. Resting in her orange hand as a blue version of the inanimate object, Sapphire can feel the trembling of her fingers. She’s just as scared as they are.
Just before the flash of her own transformation, Sapphire hears Ruby place her reference part in the crate and say softly, “Thank you, Citrine.”
“You’re welcome,” Citrine murmurs as she catches her. The tone of her voice makes Sapphire think there is more she wants to say, but instead all she tells them is, “This will probably be uncomfortable. Sorry about that.”
It takes some grunting and shuffling around, but eventually Sapphire and Ruby find themselves plunked at the bottom of the crate and buried. The weight of all the heavy metal parts is, indeed, uncomfortable—all sharp angles and gravity doing its best to bruise her—but Sapphire knows better than to complain.
At first things are quiet, waiting. Then she hears is muffled voices. There are a couple of different timbres, but none of which she can identify with certainty. All of the noise is warped and dulled by the metal walls of the crate and the various parts above her.
There are two occasions in which someone digs through the crate—and if the way they are digging is indicative of anything, then they are certainly searching for something out of the ordinary—but they never go deep enough. Nevertheless, the tension that seizes her in those instances is almost enough to shatter her completely—at least, that’s how it feels. Each time when the rummager stops, fruitless and frustrated, she thinks about the great heaving breath of relief she would be releasing, if she had a mouth.
When the machinery starts up, all groaning mechanical limbs and hissing conveyor belts, her shapeshifted form shivers and nearly breaks. The same happens when the first completed injector part of the day drops on top of the pile, but then it becomes a rhythm, and Sapphire tolerates the weight that’s being slowly built up over her without as much as a flinch.
Sapphire still cannot See—apparently, the fact that she had two eyes when she shapeshifted into an injector part still holds. The anxiety of not knowing what will happen next gnaws at her, cranks her internal tension so taut she feels as if she might snap at any moment. If they’re caught now, if anything were to happen to Ruby…
Ruby is nearby—Sapphire can feel the anxious heat radiating from her, always—but they are not touching. She comforts herself by focusing on her partner’s heat signature and thinking about Garnet. It helps to soothe her frantic thoughts about not knowing the future. Maybe, if they’re lucky—
No. Don’t think like that. Once you start thinking about luck, you will only ever be disappointed.
Perhaps it’s been minutes or hours. When you’re impersonating an inanimate object, time tends to become abstracted. All the same, the sudden slam-and-seal of the crate’s heavy steel lid jars the entirety of Sapphire’s being. She is equally startled when the crate shudders and begins to roll down a conveyor belt. Her stomach, if she had one, would have dropped with the crate as it switched conveyor belts as well as directions. Feeling it come to a stop, and hearing muffled voices speaking to each other once more through the crate’s walls, is equally disturbing. She doesn’t know what they’re saying, she doesn’t know what’s going to happen—
Sapphire almost abandons her shapeshifted form again when the crate is unceremoniously dropped, causing parts to clank and shift jarringly. This is it, Sapphire thinks. They know we’re in here, and there is nothing more vulnerable than being caught shapeshifted as an injector part.
In that moment, though, she can’t bring herself to wish that things had happened differently. She is scared, and vulnerable, and this is the biggest risk she has ever taken, but she doesn’t regret this. For even the smallest chance that Ruby—that Garnet—could avoid certain destructions at the hands of the Diamonds, she would have done this all over again.
After a long, long moment of stillness, the ground moves under her. Lifting. The crate’s seal is not broken, and there are no hands plunging amongst injector parts looking for her. They are simply being transferred again. This time, it feels as if they might be on a transport. Sapphire can’t say for sure, though, and while she can still feel Ruby here with her she knows better than to shapeshift a mouth and ask for her opinion.
For all that they are doing this for the chance to stay together, to protect the all-enveloping closeness they have discovered it’s possible to maintain, it is ironic that Sapphire feels so isolated right now. It’s torturous, becoming reacquainted with solitude all over again. How was she ever happy to be so alone before?
When—if—when—I get out of this crate, I am never, ever going to let you go.
She still doesn’t know that as a certainty—she still can’t See well enough to be sure—but maybe, if she believes it enough, it will happen anyway.
Time passes, Sapphire is sure of it. She keeps prodding her future vision for the right moment to resume her normal projection, but it is being as frustratingly vague as it always is when she has two eyes. She’s not used to having to decipher it anymore, and so the more she pushes the more frustrated she becomes.
It’s possible that someone figured out they are in here a long time ago, and this crate is being delivered to the Diamonds’ front door.
It’s possible they could have escaped by now, and now they’ve already missed their chance and will be discovered when someone dumps out the parts to properly assemble an injector. Whether it’s on Homeworld or on-site won’t matter, then, because they will have been found either way.
It’s possible that a gem scanner has picked up on their presence here—such things exist, right?—and they’re being circled back around to the Containment Unit. Sapphire knows that, while the Diamonds may not like her, they do want their oracle alive and serving. Ruby, on the other hand…
It’s possible they could make her watch Ruby’s destruction as a form of disciplinary action before they send her back to the same lonely work she’s always done.
Sapphire can’t bear the thought of how she might react to something like that. She doesn’t allow herself to think about it.
Time passes on and on. How much, Sapphire can’t be sure, but by the time she feels the lurch of a second transport she glimpses something that gives her a tiny spark of hope. She searches for it again—the more scenarios she can see it in, the more likely it is—and yes, there it is!
Destinations. That’s what they look like. Two distinct destinations.
Neither of which belong to the Diamonds.
Neither of which are anywhere near Homeworld at all.
There are two destinations, and they are going to be landing on one of them. Sapphire is sure of it.
She wishes there is a way to let Apatite know that the rumors are true, and injectors are fully assembled on-site after all.
There is no graceful way to shapeshift into your usual form while at the bottom of a crate full of injector parts. There is no way to do it that isn’t uncomfortable, either. Truthfully, Sapphire doesn’t care about any of that right now—she’s suddenly very claustrophobic, and she needs to get out of this box, right now.
As soon as her light flashes, Ruby follows suit. Sapphire glimpses her partner’s familiar form through strands of her own aquamarine bangs and around the bulky corners of injector parts, and they both share a hysterical fit of giggles. They giggle as they push their way to the top of the crate, and they laugh as they punch the top off together.
Sapphire’s newly reformed legs are weak with hysteria and laughter and relief, and as soon as she lands outside of the crate her knees buckle and she collapses. She’s back to having one eye again, and the return of the future vision she has come to depend on is enough to make her weep.
There is no danger coming for them. The Diamonds don’t know where they disappeared to. Their cohort made such a boisterous scene in the assembly room that Pollucite and Petalite were blamed for their lack of control, and their friends are fine, they’re okay—
Oh, stars above, it worked.
“I can’t believe it,” Sapphire whispers as Ruby squats down next to her. They hold on to each other tightly, and Sapphire closes her teary eye and shakes her head into Ruby’s shoulder.
“Can’t believe what?”
“They’re okay. We’re okay. It worked, Ruby—it actually worked!”
The laughter bubbles up again in both of them, and when Sapphire looks up she can see that Ruby is crying too. They grip each other, possessive and relieved and comforting simultaneously, and laugh and sob until it feels as though there is nothing left.
Ruby looks up. Her eyes are puffy and red, and her expression is fragile and tender, mirroring Sapphire’s own, but she’s listening.
“I want her to be here with us.”
It takes a moment for Ruby to understand, and then her tear-streaked face breaks into a slow spreading smile. “Well, then what are we waiting for?”
While they have only managed it three times now, the process of fusing becomes easier with each repetition. When Sapphire falls into Ruby, it doesn’t feel like another shapeshifting attempt, it feels like they’re finally becoming what they have always been meant to be.
It feels like home.
Garnet does not have sore, puffy eyes from crying. The future vision that flows behind her third eye like an endless river isn’t the same as the prescience Sapphire has come to know, but that is a proficiency that will come with time. Her jeweled palms tremble, but not from the kind of fear that had been paralyzing her two halves for so long. Her hands, long fingered and deceptively slender, clench into fists that comfort with their strength. Her big hair doesn’t brush the ceiling of the cargo hold, but it comes close. Her legs, curvy and strong, hold her up without awkwardness or stumbling. Truly, being this tall has never felt so natural before.
Garnet doesn’t cry, but she does let out a little laugh. There is a joy flowing through her, a sensation of completeness that she can’t shake, and no other mode of expression feels appropriate.
Thank you, says a voice that is neither Ruby nor Sapphire’s, but rather entirely Garnet’s own. A personality that they have both contributed to is budding between them—strong but patient, commanding but compassionate, both singularity and unity at once. I won’t let you down.
Of course you won’t, Sapphire says, and though she has become intangible a part of her still knows how to smile.
You couldn’t, even if you tried, Ruby assures her. And if you need help, you’re never alone. It’s just that simple.
She fumbles a bit with the future vision, it’s true, but Garnet still manages to See that the most probable destination for this cargo ship is a tiny planet called Earth. It’s a water planet, but also incredibly fertile. No wonder Pink Diamond marked it for a Kindergarten.
Speaking of which, finding a way to avoid getting killed upon arrival for having snuck onto Pink Diamond’s cargo ship is what she should work on next.
It’s not as daunting of a task as it should be. In fact, Garnet finds herself smiling as she conjures a pair of reflective glasses over her three eyes. She is solid, and powerful, and unequivocally made of love—she is a force to be reckoned with, and she is already fully aware.
Whatever surprises Earth has in store, Garnet is ready to take them on.
Spatial, bless her wonderful and endlessly creative soul, saw fit to make this pun about the final chapter
Okay, some parting words:
First of all, I'd like to thank you for reading this story. Containment Unit 6 was never something I explicitly set out to write, but it's been an utterly wild ride, and I'm so grateful that all of you have decided to ride it out with me :)
Because of Spatial and all of her amazing headcanons, I've realized that there's actually lot that goes on in Unit 6 without Rupphire's influence/notice--such as when Citrine first used her flash grenade, how Apatite's extensive gossip network even works, cohort-on-cohort rivalries, and whether or not Tourmaline ever does get a chance to hit on Onyx, just to name a few. For those of you who are interested in more Unit 6 shenanigans, you should roll on over to Tales From Unit 6 :)
Lastly, I am an absolute sucker for feedback. Did you like this story? I'd love to hear about it! Did you dislike this story? I'd love to hear about that, too! Do you have any constructive criticism about the story, the characters, my writing style, and/or anything else? Bring it on, baby--I'm not easily offended, so you can shoot straight with me. ;D
Here's a question I'd like to post at the re-readers from fanfiction.net, specifically: how did the Unit 6 storyline feel in this format, as compared to the giant United I Stand? Was it better? Worse? I feel like there is an overwhelming amount of tension and angst that isn't broken up by comedic relief of any sort, and I'm concerned about whether or not that does the story any favors. If you could drop me a line describing your opinions about that either here, on ff.net, or tumblr, I would be much obliged!
Once again, a profuse thank you for reading this story at all! It really means a lot to me :)