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Faded Blue

Chapter Text

“My Steven?”

“My Steven? You need to get up.”

Steven stirred in his bed. He felt a gentle hand on his shoulder. He opened his eyes and saw Pearl leaning over him, her eyes peaking just past her blue bangs. She smiled softly at him. “Good evening, my Steven.”

“Evening, Pearl,” Steven smiled sleepily as he stretched, shaking the remnants of sleep off of him. He sat up and Pearl stood up, giving him his space.

“You need to get ready quickly, my Steven,” Pearl said. “The person at the motel office has already come by once to try and force us to leave.”

Steven threw the covers off of him as he hopped off the bed, straightening his sleep shirt. “Why didn’t you wake me? We could have left before now.”

“You still needed more sleep. Your growing human body requires eight hours of sleep.”

Steven rubbed his eyes. After the day they had, he couldn’t really argue that he appreciated the sleep. Still, Pearl’s tendency to disregard other people had gotten them in trouble before.

“I've already laid out your clothes in the bathroom, my Steven,” Pearl said. “Hurry and dress so we may be off.”

“Okay, but are you going wear your dress?” Steven asked.

Pearl pursed her lips. “I’m not sure, my Steven. I don’t really like the feeling of clothes…”

“Pleeease, Pearl?” Steven pleaded, clasping his hands together and putting on his sweetest possible face. “Dad and I picked that dress out especially for you. And you look so pretty in it!”

Pearl sighed before smiling again. “Very well, my Steven. For you.”

Steven cheered, “Yes!”

“But you need to get dressed as well.”

“Right. I am, Pearl.” Steven quickly trotted off to the bathroom, closing the door behind him.

First thing first, he got onto the toilet and relieved his near-full bladder. That done, he began undressing, folding his sleep clothes and putting them into his cheeseburger backpack, which hung on a hook on the back to the door. After, he took the clothes Pearl had laid by the sink, a pair of jeans, a simple black shirt emblazoned with a bright yellow star, and his dark blue hoodie. Steven dressed, then grabbed a pair of socks out of his backpack and put them on, followed by his sturdy pair of walking shoes.

“One last thing,” Steven said to himself as he walked over to the sink and looked at himself in the mirror. He smiled at his reflection, who smiled back, and pulled down the neck of his shirt, revealing his blue, diamond shaped gem. He breathed onto the sleeve of his jacket and rubbed it, giving it a slight sheen.

“My Steven? Are you ready?”

“Yeah, I’m ready, Pearl.” Steven straightened his shirt and exited the bathroom. He grinned broadly at Pearl, delighted that she was wearing the faded blue sundress that Steven and his dad had gotten her. “See? You look great.”

Pearl smiled and nodded, “If you say so, my Steven. Let’s get going.” She opened the motel room’s door and Steven walked out. “If your pack gets too heavy for you, let me know and I can carry it.”

“Alright, Pearl. But I think I got it.”

Pearl closed the door behind them. The sun was already hanging low in the sky. They’d have to hurry if they wanted to make it to the last bus to town for the night. Sparing only a glance at the window into the front office (with the person on the other side sparing a long look back), Pearl put a hand on Steven’s back and led him towards the sidewalk and bus stop.


 

The sun had gone all the way down by the time they reached town. Pearl and Steven walked through the deserted streets, thankfully not running into anyone. Pearl did her best to keep her gaze leveled at the carwash ahead of them, rather than on the giant cliffside, on which the other side she tried her best not to think about.

The carwash was dark, but the beat up van out front was not. Its back doors were open and Pearl could see the bulky silhouette of a human sitting in the back.

“Dad!” Steven exclaimed as he burst into a run towards the van.

“Steven-” Pearl called after him, but he was already gone. She sped up after him.

Greg was indeed sitting in the back of the van, strumming on his guitar and waving at them as they approached.

“Hey, Shtoo-b-” Greg was cut off as Steven lept at him, knocking him onto his back and securing him tightly in a hug.

“Hey, Dad!” Steven greeted, squeezing a little tighter.

“Oof! Easy there, Steven,” Greg coughed and laughed at the same time. “You don’t want to break anything.”

“Oh! I’m sorry, Dad.” Steven climbed off his father and sat down next to him. Greg carefully got back up, setting his guitar aside. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?” Steven asked.

“Nah, you’re fine,” Greg said. “To be honest, I appreciate the enthusiasm. Not looking forward to when you’re less excited to see your old man.”

“That’ll never happen, Dad,” Steven said. “It’s always great seeing you.”

Greg chuckled and tousled Steven’s hair. “Hehe , well that’s reassuring.” By now Pearl had joined them. Greg waved a greeting at her, “Hey, Pearl.”

“Hello, Greg.” Pearl bowed slightly at him. “It’s good to see you again.”

“Yeah, same.” He clapped his hands together. “So. How have you two been doing?”

“Great!” Steven answered. “Pearl’s teaching me all about different places in the world! Like last week we learned about China!”

“Oh, that sounds interesting.”

“Yeah! And yesterday, Pearl and I went down to the town at the bottom of the mountain. They were having some sort of fair and I tried this food called- um, what was it called?”

“Hweori Gamja, my Steven,” Pearl replied.

“It was really good,” Steven said. “It was like a potato chip, only thicker and it was lots of them on a stick.”

“Man, that does sound good,” Greg said. “I really need to get back there. For the food, if nothing else.”

“Then we can spend all day together!” Steven said. “I can show you around town! And all my favorite places on the mountain.”

“We’re definitely going to do that, Steven,” Greg said, putting an arm around Steven’s shoulder. “Just, once the time's right.”

Ahh ,” Steven moaned. “The time’s never right.”

Greg glanced up at Pearl, though it was hard to tell if she was looking back through her long bangs. “It will be soon, Shtoo-ball.”

“Promise?”

“Yeah. I promise.”

Steven sighed. “Okay, Dad. Here.” He swung his backpack around to his front. “Let me show you some of my new drawings. Oh, and this one part in the geography text book Pearl’s been using.” He was digging through his backpack, pulling out books, folders, loose papers, and even a board game.

“I’m sorry, Greg. I asked him to pack more conservatively,” Pearl explained as she grabbed several sheets of paper that were in danger of blowing away in the breeze.

“It’s alright,” Greg said as he did his part to move the contents of Steven’s backpack further into the van and thus safe from the wind. “I’m just grateful for the visits.” He smiled softly down at his son.

“Okay,” Steven said as he flipped through the text book, looking for just the right page. “So, first thing’s first…”


Steven stopped only when his own body did. He had fallen asleep, resting his head in Greg’s lap, who rested a gentle hand on the child’s head.

Pearl had busied herself for a while packing the contents of Steven’s backpack up and securing said pack on her shoulders.

After a bit of silence, Greg asked, “So, have things been quiet on your end?”

“Yes,” Pearl nodded. “We’ve had no trouble. And as far as I can tell, the nearest warp pads haven’t been used by anyone but us.”

Greg sighed and sagged with relief. “Well, that’s good.”

“And… have you…?” Pearl trailed off.

Greg sighed again, this one heavier and much more weary. “Not really. Though, when I’m talking to Rose, it’s sometimes hard to tell what’s useful and what’s not. I try to ask questions, but I don’t want to seem suspicious. Plus, it’s especially hard when I have the other Pearl drilling holes in the back of my head.”

“Yes. I imagine not.” Pearl tipped her head in Greg’s direction, expression unreadable. “I thank you for your help, Greg.” She grabbed on of the straps of the backpack and squeezed it. “Were she still around, I’m sure my Diamond would be grateful as well.”

“Yeah. She would,” Greg said wistfully. He closed his eyes, leaning back, though not enough to disturb Steven. “I miss her, Pearl. I…” He sighed. “I wish she were here now.”

“I do as well,” Pearl replied. “But we have her request. And Steven.” She looked down at the young boy, still asleep in his father’s lap, a thin trail of drool trailing from his mouth. Pearl resisted the urge to wipe it off. She’d need to wake Steven soon so they could go. The sunrise would be here soon.

As if in response to Pearl’s wonderings, Steven stirred and yawned, stretching as he sleepily sat up.

“Good morning, my Steven,” Pearl said.

“Morning, Pearl. Mornin’, Dad.”

“Morning, Steven. You have a good nap?”

He nodded, before turning to Pearl. “I guess we need to leave now?”

“I believe so. It will be dawn soon. And we best not linger here during the day.”

“Right,” Steven sighed. “Okay.” He hugged his father. “Bye, Dad. We’ll see you later.”

“Yep. I’ll see you too,” Greg said, returning the hug. “Stay safe, be good for Pearl, keep up with your studies, three square meals a day, all that good stuff.”

Steven hopped down from the van. “Okay, Dad. I will.” He grabbed Pearl’s hand as the two started to walk off. He turned and waved, “I’ll see you soon, Dad. I promise!”

Greg smiled and waved back. “Yeah,” he said, probably too quiet for Steven to hear.

“I promise too, Steven.”


The bus ride back to the warp pad was… boring.

Bus rides pretty much always were. Nothing but sitting there, sitting, sitting, for hours . There wasn’t a lot of talking, because Pearl wasn’t very talkative in general, especially when around others. And she didn’t like him talking to strangers, especially this close to Beach City. He couldn’t read, because reading on buses made him feel sick, and he couldn’t draw for the same reasons. Normally he could listen to music, except that he hadn’t charged his phone properly last night, and now there was only thirty percent battery left, and he was supposed to save it for emergencies.

For a while, Steven let himself zone out to try and have Visions, but those were no good either. All he got was images of different people sitting on the same bus, just as silent and just as bored as the people in the present.

He sighed, and tried to think up synonyms for boring, because Pearl was probably going to give him a vocabulary test by the end of the week. Dull. Tedious. Monogamous. No, wait, that was something else. Monotonous. Lame. Banal. Insipid.

Heh. Insipid was a funny word.

He tried figuring out synonyms for other words too— first ‘funny’, then ‘scary’, then ‘purple’, just to try something different. He got tired of that, so he made up other games: counting the number of rivets and screws he could see, tracing the pattern of the seat cushion in front of him, noticing all the license plates on the cars that drove past, and revising the map of American states in his head…

It wasn’t super entertaining, but it did help the hour and a half ride pass quicker.

They got off at a bus station in the middle of the countryside. They stopped for a while at a diner, and Pearl let him eat anything he wanted, so Steven got the biggest veggie burger they had, with a big side of fries and coleslaw, and a yummy chocolate shake, and pumpkin pie for dessert! And Pearl even had a bite too! Steven helped her figure out the tip, while she complained under her breath about what a ridiculous system this country had about having an invisible extra price not listed anywhere.

After that, they had a half-hour wait for the next bus to take. They’d grabbed bread rolls from the diner for a snack, and Steven took one of them, crumbled it up and scattered it on the ground. It wasn’t long before a sparrow came to peck at it.

“Hello,” Steven said.

The sparrow chirped a greeting.

“Is it tasty?” he asked.

Good food, good food,” the sparrow said, in between bites. “Eat, eat, spring is here, eat.

“Yeah, but you should pace yourself,” said Steven. “Once I ate a whole bibimbap by myself in like, five minutes, and then I threw it all up cuz that was too fast.”

The bird said nothing, just stuffed its face with all the crumbs, not even leaving any for anybody else who might come by. Then it flew off without another word. Steven sighed.

“What is wrong?” Pearl asked.

Steven shook his head. “Nothing. It just wasn’t very polite.”

Pearl gave him a wan smile. “A shame. But I suppose that no one could have taught it proper manners yet.”

“Yeah,” Steven said, smiling a little. He couldn’t really blame the sparrow. Animals had very different manners than either humans or Gems, and those manners varied from species to species, so it wasn’t their fault if they seemed mean or distant.

Still, he couldn’t wait to get home, where all the animals already knew him, and were sure to come and say hello.


 

“Oh Mr. Universe! You look tired!”

“Hey Rose.” Greg stifled a yawn. “I am pretty beat, yeah.”

Rose floated down to stand besides him, her dress fluttering in the wind, face creased in concern. “Why?”

“Eh. Just didn’t sleep well last night,” Greg said, rubbing his neck. Which wasn’t a lie, really. But he hadn’t even attempted to sleep last night, not with his son there.

“Why don’t you just sleep now?” said another voice from behind him.

Greg nearly jumped in shock— but kept himself calm as Amethyst glided down in the form of a purple bird, only to turn into a person as she reached the ground. Her shape-shifting could be more than a little disorientating, and after two years, he still wasn’t completely used to it.

“It’s not that easy,” said Greg. “I just can’t sleep whenever I want.”

Amethyst cocked her head. “Why not? I do.”

“I’ve got a business to run,” Greg said, jerking his thumb in the direction of the car-wash.

“Uggggggghhh. Boring,” Amethyst moaned.

Greg grinned. “Is it? Then I guess I won’t be giving you any more of those used sponges for you to snack on…”

“What! No! C’mon, Greg!”

Rose and Greg laughed, while he wandered around the far-side of the van and pulled a bucket full of sudden water. He felt around in it for a few moments, then grabbed the sponge, tossing it at Amethyst, who snapped it out of the air with her mouth. She burped, bubbles floating up into the air.

“But she’s right,” Greg said. “You guys don’t want to hear about my dull ol’ day at the carwash. What’ve you been up to?”

They didn’t require much encouragement. The Crystal Gems had had a mission this past day, and Rose described in loving detail the place they’d gone to— a spire in the middle of the ocean, in an endless circular waterfall held out by magic, where fish could be see swimming and birds diving through the mist. She’d described the lovely statues, the art on the walls depicting Earth’s life, the elegant fountains, the viewing platform from the top where one could see all the stars in the night sky…

Amethyst, meanwhile, had been much more interested in describing how she’d single handedly defeated like, twenty crystal shrimp, and this thing Garnet had done where she’d punched a column to turn it into a bridge, and the light show when they’d returned the Sea Goddess Statue to its pedestal.

Greg listened, entranced. A single story like this could give him ideas for at least five full songs. But, of course, it was so much more important than just that.

Keep a watchful eye on the Crystal Gems.’ That had been one of Blue Diamond’s final wishes. So although it had been hard, when Steven had turned ten years old— big enough that he no longer needed his old man keeping a constant eye— Greg had set out to fulfil it. He’d left behind the home he’d made in Korea, returned to the US, and settled down in Beach City.

It had turned some heads— famous rock star Mr. Universe retires to peaceful boardwalk town! But the people here had been real friendly, accepting him with open arms, and not just because he brought in hundreds of fans every time he played at the annual Beach-a-Palooza. The folks who lived here were a friendly, comfortable sort. Greg had easily settled into day-to-day life. He’d picked up a job at the carwash, more for something to do than any real need for money. He’d struck up a friendship with some of the locals, like Barb, Harold, and Vidalia.

He had never expected to become friends with the Crystal Gems. The plan had been to keep his distance, casually bring them up in conversation with people, figure out what he could about them. Keep his head down, don’t attract their attention.

But the very first time he’d performed on the beach, Rose Quartz had been there. And when the show had ended, she’d come right up to him and started talking .

Rose Quartz. The traitorous Rose Quartz. Leader of the Rebel Army. The one who had shattered Pink Diamond. The one, Blue had warned him, would shatter their son, if given half a chance.

It had taken all of Greg’s willpower not to run away screaming.

But he’d somehow managed to keep his cool, and Rose Quartz had seemed to take his stuttering and shaking as endearing. He’d given her a free t-shirt and collector CD in the hope that it would satisfy her and get her to go away but it had just intrigued her more. She’d taken a shining to him. She’d thought his space gimmick was ‘cute’; that his music was ‘wonderful’; and that he himself was ‘adorable’.

It had been terrifying, and surprising, and more than a little overwhelming.

… It had also been really useful. After all, what better way to keep a watchful eye on the Crystal Gems than inviting their leader to come hang out at the carwash?

“— I think he fell asleep,” Amethyst said, poking him in the thigh.  

Greg shook his head, pulling himself back into the moment. “Whoops. Sorry. Got lost in thought.”

Amethyst rolled her eyes, while Rose Quartz smiled magnanimously at him. “And what were you thinking about?”

“Uhhhhh,” Greg said. “That I really got to buy a new set of car wash brushes. The old ones are getting pretty ragged.”

The lie felt dull on his tongue, but what could Greg do? However nice and friendly the Crystal Gems acted, they were still the single biggest threat to his family.

He could never let himself forget that.

Chapter Text

Steven stirred in his sleep, the morning light peeking through his eyelids. He smacked his lips together, his dry and parched mouth tasting uncomfortable. He sat up, rubbed his eyes, and saw that Pearl was laying out a bowl and spoon on the table.

She must have heard him getting up, as she turned to look at him. She gave a quick bow. “Good morning, my Steven.”

“Morning, Pearl. What’s for breakfast?”

“Cereal this morning. If that is alright.”

“Yeah, that’s fine,” Steven yawned as he walked over to the table and took his seat. The cereal was his favorite, the kind that crisped and popped when they got put in milk. And Pearl had even gone the extra step of putting banana slices into it. Steven smiled as he took his first bite. Pearl was always going the extra step. “So what’s on the schedule for today, Pearl?”

“Well, after you finish eating and changing, I thought we would continue our Geography lesson on China,” Pearl said. “And then you may pick which place we learn about next.”

Over Steven’s bed hung a map of the Earth, spotted all over with pins. Steven’s home of Korea was marked with a blue pin, as was Dad’s new home of Beach City. Everywhere else they’d studied so far had a pink pin. He studied the empty space of his map while he ate, considering.

“Ooh! Taiwan!” Steven said with a mouthful of cereal and milk. “When we went there, it was so pretty and awesome.”

“Alright, Steven,” Pearl said. “I will prepare the lesson when we finish our current subject.”

“What’s after lunch?”

“Then will be your Algebra lesson.”

Augh,” Steven moaned. “But Algebra’s boring. It’s just formulas and numbers. Can’t we skip to Trigonometry already?”

“Formulas and numbers are important.”

“I guess,” Steven said. He knew they were useful. You needed to know numbers so you had enough money to buy food and stuff. People used numbers to build inventions like cars and spaceships, to discover new things, to explore the universe. It was absolutely necessary.

But it wasn’t really interesting. Steven was really glad he wasn’t the son of a Peridot or a Morganite or something, because that would have been so dull.

“You needn’t fret, my Steven,” Pearl said. “You are very gifted with your Algebra lessons. With all your lessons, truly.”

I know,” Steven sighed, swirling the remnants of his cereal in its bowl. “It’s just so boring. I like learning about different places, and space stuff, and stuff.”

The corners of Pearls mouth tightened, before she nodded at him. “I suppose we can push your Algebra lesson until tomorrow.”

Steven leapt from his chair. “Yes! Thanks, Pearl!”

“But we will do it tomorrow.”

“I know, I know,” Steven said. “So what are we going to do instead?”

“Hm. Well, I suppose we could do your Astronomy lesson today.” Steven’s eyes widened in elation at the suggestion. “However… I may perhaps have something else in mind.”

“Really? What is it?” Steven asked, barely able to contain his excitement.

“Your father mentioned that, the other day, the Crystal Gems explored the Lunar Sea Spire,” Pearl said.

Steven’s brow crinkled. “The Crystal Gems? What were they doing there?”

“I cannot say, beyond destroying more monsters,” Pearl answered. “Greg did not specify.”

“Then we have to go!” Steven declared. “If the rebels are planning something there, then we need to stop them!”

“Ah, my Steven—”

“No way, Pearl!” Steven interrupted. “Mom said that one day I’d be able to stop the rebels.”

“She did,” Pearl conceded. “But only when you have mastered your powers. Which you have not.”

Steven crossed his arms, sulking, “I’ve gotten better with them…”

“Yes. But to try and take on a Crystal Gem now… That is beyond your skill level, I’m afraid.”

Steven continued sulking, hunching his head into his shoulders and gazing intently at the ground. “But it’s not fair…”

“Perhaps. However, if we bring the Scanner and do a thorough sweep of the Spire, then I believe it should be safe for us.”

“Yeah! And maybe we can figure out why the Crystal Gems were there,” Steven said. He grabbed his bowl of mostly milk and drank it. He laid the bowl back on the table. “Okay, Pearl! Let’s go!”

“First you need to get dressed. Then your Geography lesson. Then lunch, then afternoon break. Then we’ll go,” Pearl said.

Steven sighed, but smiled at his caretaker. “Right. Okay, Pearl.” He jogged to the dresser next to his bed and pulled out clothes to dress himself. He picked out one of his favorite shirts (black with a yellow star in the center), a pair of jeans, socks, and shoes. As he dressed and got ready, Steven heard Pearl behind him, placing the bowl and spoon in the wash basin for later, as well as readying a textbook and several sheets of paper.

Now out of his sleep clothes and dressed properly, there was only one last thing. Laying in the dresser was his blue hoodie. He grabbed it, taking a moment to press it against his face and feel the soft cotton against his skin.

Steven wore his hoodie most days. It had been a gift from Dad and Pearl, just before they moved out of the apartment and Dad went to Beach City and Steven and Pearl moved to the Palanquin. And while Steven did love living on the mountain in the Palanquin, when he was told two years ago that his father would be moving far away without him, it had upset Steven more than a little. So the night before his departure, Dad and Pearl gave Steven the hoodie. They said that when he wore it, especially with the hood up, he looked just like his mother. So all he would have to do is wear the hoodie and he could be big and brave like her.

He slipped the hoodie over his head, feeling instantly comforted by the snug pressure around his face. He dreaded the rising temperatures of the coming summer, when continuing to wear the jacket would become hugely uncomfortable, if not impossible.

“Alright, Pearl. I’m ready,” Steven said as he turned around. However he saw that Pearl was still flipping through the Geography textbook.

“Forgive me, my Steven,” she said, looking up from the book. “But our trip to Beach City left me a little… unprepared for your lesson today.” She stood up straight, only to bow at him. “I’ll need a little more time before I am ready.”

“Okay, Pearl,” Steven said. “I’m gonna wait outside until you’re ready.”

“Very well. But do not wander far. I will be done shortly.”

“I won’t,” Steven assured as he walked past her and the table. “I just wanna see if maybe Nari is out and about. Ooh, or Tim! Maybe he finally found that stream he was looking for!”

Steven pushed past the Palanquin’s curtain and stepped into the brisk mountain air. He inhaled deeply and took in the still rising sun in front of him. Dad had often said that he and Mom would lay on the mountain and watch the sunrise. Dad would play a song on the guitar and Mom would sing. They'd just lay there together and talk and enjoy each other’s company.

Just thinking about it made Steven’s cheeks shine bright red.

He began walking, nowhere in particular in mind, and whistled, high and sharp. He tried to call Nari, or to any bird who might know where she was… But he got no answers. Either no one knew or no one was around.

He continued going forward, past several hills of varying size, down slopes and up slopes, all while whistling for his friend. But still he received no response… Steven began to mentally go over spring food sources and the migrating seasons for the birds, when… he saw a tree.

It both was and wasn’t an ordinary tree. It was ordinary in the sense that it did only what most trees did, convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and look rather lovely. It was unordinary, however in the sense of what it marked, what laid after it.

Steven couldn’t see it , but he knew it was there, just past the tree and behind the hill, draped in foliage and painted in pink, her Palanquin.

He could begin to hear those familiar voices echoing in his mind:

“What are you doing here? I sent you off this planet.”

“I know. But I still have a duty here.”

Steven clamped his eyes shut and put his hands over his ears, though to no avail. “You’re not real. This isn’t happening now. It’s not.”

He heard the metallic edge of a sword being drawn from its scabbard, a cry, rapid running footsteps and—

“No!” Steven yelled as he stepped backwards. His voice echoed around him. And then, silence. Nothing but the gentle breeze and the rustling of the leaves in the tree. He opened his eyes and he was still on the mountain, still in today, the tree in front of him. With one last look, Steven turned and started back towards the Palanquin, first at a trot, then a jog, and finally a run.

He returned to the Palanquin, rushing past the curtain and nearly running into Pearl.

“Ah, my Steven. I was just about to call you.” She paused and looked at him, tilting her head at him. “Are you alright?”

“Y-yeah. I’m fine, Pearl,” Steven responded, trying to catch his breath

For a moment, it looked like Pearl was going to ask more questions, but instead she merely nodded at him and said, “Very well, my Steven. Come. Let’s go to the study corner and begin your lesson.”

“Alright, Pearl.” Steven followed her to the pillowed location in the far corner of the Palanquin, doing his best to put the vision he’d had out of his mind and to focus on his upcoming lesson.


It was a bit of a walk from the Palanquin to the nearest warp pad, and a tricky one too, over uneven ground, through thick brambles, and at one point, dangerously close to the edge of a steep slope. When he’d been little, Pearl had always been super scared at that part, and insisted she carry him, but now he was big enough to do it all on his own.

Once Steven had asked why the warp pad was so far away, since it was so inconvenient. Pearl had explained it wasn’t meant to be so isolated:, it’d had been intended to be in the centre foyer of a beautiful art gallery that had never gotten built. But it was also for safety, she’d said. It made sure none of their enemies could easily find them.

And the warp pad was really hard to find. Steven could, because he’d been to the place so many, many times, but it was really well hidden behind a bunch of bushes. Mom and Dad had planted them for that exact purpose, and they were super hard to get through unless you knew just the right angle. He could fit in really well, but Pearl could never get through without getting at least a few leaves or twigs stuck in her hair. Steven giggled while he helped her take them out.

“Thank you, my Steven,” she said, leading him up to the warp pad and activating it.

Warping was super fun; the chance to just float and spin around was the most wonderful feeling in the galaxy.

It was over too quickly, as always, and Steven nearly fell on his face. But for once, he didn’t really mind. They had arrived at what had the most beautiful of places.

They were standing on a rocky-outcropping near the bottom of an enormous, circular waterfall. Whereas in Korea the sky had been grey with overcast morning light, here it was the most brilliant of blue, the sunlight catching the endless stream of water and sending dazzling rainbows into the air. At the centre of a circle was a single, sheer tower, as perfect and pristine as if it had been built yesterday.

Wow,” Steven said, for lack of anything else to say.

“Indeed,” agreed Pearl.

With a twirl of her hands and a flare of light from the gemstone on her chest, Pearl withdrew a small sphere. It was a Scanner, a highly advanced piece of technology for assessing nearby areas for threats-- but Steven thought it kinda looked like a floating pink eye. The thing buzzed off to explore, and the two of them waited until it returned a few minutes later, beeping the all clear. Putting the Scanner away, Pearl nodded for Steven to go ahead.

There was a bridge leading over the water to the Spire, one without any walls or railings. Pearl warned him to be careful, but Steven couldn’t resist. He stuck his hand out—

— and immediately felt it being sucked down.

He jumped back, heart pounding. He could’ve been pulled in!

“Be careful,” Pearl repeated, voice mild as ever. Steven could still feel the quiet disapproval radiating from her, and drooped.

Still! It was cool! There had to be some kind of gravity sink at the bottom. Maybe to maintain the waterfall? But no, ordinary gravity would work just fine for that, so why would they have built something extra…?

Ah! It was a moat! A gravity moat! To keep enemies away!

So cool.  

They came to the Spire itself, and started up the long spiralling stairwell towards its top. It was a long walk, long even for Steven, who was used to hiking through the mountains, but they took lots of stops to look at stuff. There were all sorts of murals and alcoves and fountains and stuff. Plus, there were gulls that flew in and out of the mist, and Steven paused again and again to squawk ‘hi’s at them, and find out what kind of things they ate and stuff. They had to be the most super strongest birds ever, to be able to fly through the gravity field. Steven told them that, and they were all very flattered.

Steven liked history books quite a bit— liked to snuggle up under his covers with them, liked the feeling of paper beneath his fingers, liked it when Pearl would read aloud in her soft, soothing voice— but this was so much better. Getting out into the world, seeing where history had happened. Here he could feel the weight of his mother’s Empire, the things it stood for. This was his legacy. Gems, stretching across the universe, building beautiful places like this, sharing their greatness with the many worlds…

About half-way up the spire, they came across a circular room with a statue in the centre. Steven stopped to consider it. It was very pretty, carved out of a smooth, blue rock that shimmered faintly in the light, but… “Why does it have four arms?”

“It is a hybrid fusion.”

Steven took a step back, stomach roiling with sudden nausea. Why would they have art of something like that here?

Pearl laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Even things which are vile or unpleasant deserve depiction,” she said. “Perhaps even more so than those things which are beautiful and pleasing.”

It was a strange thought to consider, and Steven’s brow furrowed as he tried to understand. “You mean like… you need to show people what things are bad, so they’ll know not to do it?”

Pearl nodded.

Steven relaxed, although he still regarded the statue with discomfort. This was firmer ground. He recalled a quote from one of his human history textbooks, and recited, “‘Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.

Again, Pearl nodded.

They stood there for a few moments longer, and then the two of them continued up the stairs.

By the time they arrived at the very top of the spire, Steven was huffing and puffing, and his legs ached, but it was worth it. The view was amazing. Water seemed to stretch on forever, in every direction. He ran from side to side, unable to contain himself.

Pearl simply stood in the spire’s centre, twirling slowly as she took it all in. “I wish you could have seen how it used to be,” she said, voice wistful. “It was an oasis for Gems on Earth. Fine cuts from all the Courts would come— to share our stories, to sing our songs, to show their dedication to our Diamonds—”

To illustrate, the gemstone at Pearl’s breast grew bright, and from it bloomed a hologram. It superimposed itself in front of the world, a depiction of the same place, but how it had been thousands of years ago, Gems mingling among the fountains and art.

Steven stared at it, awestruck. And as he stared, the world shifted—

It was as though the projection had filled with colour and spread out to fill the entire world, encompassing him. Pearl had vanished, but there were so many other Gems instead, even other Pearls. He could see each of them in full detail: the vibrant colour of their clothes, their skin, their hair. He could hear them, too. Murmurs and laughter and a distant song…

Just as quickly as it came, it faded, and Steven was back in the present, staring at Pearl’s pale holographic imitation. But his smile didn’t fade.

“Pearl!” he cried. “I saw it, Pearl! So clearly!”

She placed a gentle hand on his head. “Excellent work, my Steven. Your Past Visions are coming along well.”

Her hologram snapped off and the picture vanished, leaving the Spire empty once more.

Steven felt an an ache of emptiness in his chest too.

“It was so beautiful. And now there’s no one left to see it. It isn’t right.” He asked, “Why?”

“The War,” Pearl said, simply.

Steven shook his head. “Yeah, I know. But… why did there have to be a war? Why did the Crystal Gems have to ruin all of it?”

Pearl shook her head. She had no answers that could explain the rebels’ treachery.

They stood their for a while, no sound but the roar of the waterfalls and the distant shrieks of gulls, desolate and abandoned.

Eventually, Pearl broke the silence. “We should return home, my Steven.”

“No.”

“Pardon?”

“No,” Steven repeated. “I don’t want to. If we leave, the Spire’ll be lonely.”

Pearl clasped her hands close to her chest. “The Spire is a building. It cannot be lonely.”

The boy jutted out his chin. “Yes, it can.”

“My Steven.” There was the slightest undercurrent of annoyance to Pearl’s voice. “You are not thinking sensibly. The Lunar Sea Spire will feel the same regardless if you are here or not. You, however, will get hungry.”

Steven pulled the hood tighter around his head and stood straighter in an attempt to look more Diamondly. “We have food.”

“Snacks,” said Pearl. “If we return to the Palanquin I can prepare you a proper meal—”

“I don’t want a proper meal, I wanna stay!”

“I highly recommend that we—”

“I WANT TO STAY!” Steven said, this time with such force that he felt lightning crackle across his skin, saw it sparking out of the corners of his eyes.

Pearl stepped backwards.

She didn’t like the lightning; it hurt her and it scared her, and the knowledge of that was enough to make Steven calm down a bit. The blue energy that encased his body faded slightly. But he was not going to budge.

“We’re staying,” he ordered.

Pearl bowed her head. “As you wish, my Steven.”

Chapter Text

As far as Steven was concerned, his and Pearl’s impromptu camping trip at the Lunar Sea Spire started off great.

There was more exploring to do, more poking his head into hidden crannies, more running up and down the stairs, more admiring the art, even a couple more visions of times long past. He kinda wanted Pearl to give more explanations, but he didn’t want to risk her telling him to leave again, so he didn’t ask for any.

When he started to get hungry, he ate a bag of chips. Pearl watched in silence.

He got his art book and pencils out, and started sketching. There was almost too much to focus on, too much to choose, but eventually he decided to draw a picture of the pretty little figurine that had been placed on a pedestal at the Spire’s very top.

He had it about ninety-percent done when the light began to fade. Maybe he could have finished, but with the sunlight going, so did the warmth. His fingers were shaking a little from the chill.

Putting his supplies away and slipping his hands into his sleeves, Steven went for another walk to warm up, Pearl trailing silently behind. He chatted with the birds for nearly a full hour, and one of them— he named her Seafoam— was so nice that she even caught him a fish for dinner.

The problem, of course, was that he didn’t have any way to cook it. He had a little box of matches in a safe pocket of his backpack, but nothing to burn it on. He looked through the Spire from top to bottom, but didn’t find any wood. He found some kelp or seaweed or something on one of the lower levels, but it stubbornly refused to burn.

I could eat it raw, he thought. Like sashimi. Except the scaly, moist, un-cut fish lying on the stone floor looked very different from the nicely arranged plates of salmon, rice and vegetables he’d had at Japanese restaurants.

“We can take it home and cook it there,” he said.

“Very well,” Pearl agreed, moving to pick it up and put it in her gem.

“Tomorrow,” Steven added. They still weren’t leaving. Pearl stored the fish, and said nothing.

He ate cherry tomatoes and carrot sticks out of a plastic bag, and was left feeling hungry.

He really wish he did have a fire, just for the warmth. The mists which had been so pleasantly cool during the day were now getting downright cold, and even his hoodie couldn’t completely keep the chill out.

Pearl could make her body warm, and cuddling with her sounded really nice just then, but that would have been paramount to accepting defeat, so he resolved to ignore it.

It was getting really dark now. Steven didn’t feel particularly sleepy, but he supposed they were in a time zone that was further ahead than Korea’s. Might as well go to bed.

Not that he had a bed, or even his sleeping bag, but that was what camping was about, right? He could use his backpack as a pillow and sleep on the floor.

The floor. Which was like, marble or something. And very hard. And very cold.

He laid there for hours, tossing and turning, trying to get comfortable, and not succeeding.

He could give up. Tell Pearl that she’d been right, that they should go home.

But no. He had wanted this.

And whatever a Diamond wanted, they got.


Pearl never slept, and so was well accustomed to keeping vigil over her half-human charge. That said, she could not remember a single night which seemed to last as long as that one did, not since Steven had still been an infant. It was deeply uncomfortable, almost painful, watching him turn this way and that the whole time, clearly getting almost no rest at all.

It was a relief when the planet’s sun began to peek over the horizon. Pearl crouched down and laid a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Let us go.”

Steven blinked at her with groggy, red eyes. Pearl was deeply relieved when he didn’t resist, simply giving her a mute nod.

They warped onto the pad, cleverly hidden as it was in the bushes. It was still night in this region of Earth and the darkness ensured that Pearl got several twigs and sticks in her hair. Steven did not help her get them out this time.

In fact, the only thing Steven did do was whine about Pearl carrying him back to the Palanquin. With it so dark and Steven so restless from a terrible night’s sleep, Pearl didn’t trust him getting so close to the slopes that they would have to pass by in order to get home.

“I’m fine, Pearl. You can put me down,” he said. He squirmed a little, but otherwise put up little resistance to her carrying her, numb complaints aside. She was thankful for that. If he had protested more, then… she probably would have put him down.

They turned around a tall hill and before them was the Palanquin. It was only now that Pearl placed Steven on the ground. He awkwardly lumbered through the Palanquin’s curtains, Pearl following after him.

Steven pressed a small button on the table and the Palanquin filled with brightness from the string of lights Pearl and Greg had hung from the walls.

“My Steven… what are you going to do now?” Pearl asked.

“I dunno,” Steven returned flatly.

“Perhaps you should bathe and then try to get some proper sleep.”

Steven grimaced at the light button. “I don’t want to bathe tonight.”

“But, my Steven, we were out late yesterday. The Spire was not the most sanitary of places and I believe that—”

“I’m not bathing!” Steven yelled. “I don’t wanna and I’m not going to!” Without another word, he stormed off, throwing the Palanquin’s curtain aside violently as he did.

Pearl ran her fingers through her hair, pulling as she did. Steven could be so trying sometimes. Usually he was so agreeable, but when he wanted to do something, or not do something as the case may be, nothing could deter him.

No. That’s not true. Greg is able to say ‘no’ to him and keep him from doing things that he otherwise shouldn’t.

Greg made it look so easy. Last time they were all together, Steven had wanted to order chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast with chocolate milk and Greg had said no. Steven had complained, argued a little, but ultimately, he’d gotten the cheesy egg breakfast instead.

Pearl knew that, had she told Steven no to the pancakes and milk, if he had then insisted, she would have given them to him. And most likely, it would have made him sick and even if it hadn’t, all that chocolate couldn’t be healthy for him. Humans had such strict dietary requirements.

It was so hard to just say ‘no’ to him. It felt… unnatural. Dangerous even. After all, she had never said no to Blue Diamond, and with good reason. Pearl served her Diamond, unquestionably. The same was to be expected of her when serving her son, the bearer of her gem.

Pearl let go of her hair and folded her hands in front of her.

She loved Steven, she knew that, even if the subtleties of the human term still felt beyond her grasp. She’d cared for him since he was born. And it had been her Diamond’s final order for Pearl to serve him as faithfully as Pearl had served her.

And that’s what she did. She loved him and cared for him. So she served him, just as she had her Diamond.

She squeezed her own hands tightly.

What else was she to do?

Serve him, of course. No matter what. Even when he—

A scream pierced through the air.

His scream

It yanked Pearl out of her own head. Her eyes raised and she looked around, but she was alone in the Palanquin still.

Another scream, this one louder with a plea on it, “ Please~! Don’t hurt her—”

In an instant, Pearl discerned where the scream was coming from and who the scream was coming from. Silently she leapt from where she stood and dashed out of the Palanquin, past the hill, down the slope, and behind the trees.

Past all that, was the other Palanquin, the ruined one, still painted in vivid pink even after all these millennia. And bowed, on his knees, was Steven. He held his head in his hands and was shaking, visibly shaking, all over. Pearl rushed to his side, wrapping her arms around him and hugging him close.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” she cooed softly into his ear. “You’re on the mountain. She can’t hurt you.”

“I-I saw her,” Steven whimpered as he pushed his face into Pearl’s shoulder, no doubt smearing it with tears and snot. “I saw her shatter Pink Diamond and then she looked at me and—”

“She did not,” Pearl responded gently, petting the back of his head. “It was merely a vision of the past. You were not there that day, my Steven.”

Slowly, Steven stopped trembling, his breathing levelled, and his sobbing stopped. He pulled away and looked up at her. His eyes were red and swollen and his face was still tear stained. There were a few sparks of lightning flickering around his fingers, enough to make Pearl wary, but she knew it was not aimed at her, knew that the boy wouldn’t try to harm her. Hesitantly, he spoke, “Why did she do it, Pearl? Why did Rose Quartz shatter Pink Diamond?”

“To sow chaos, my Steven. Beyond that, I cannot say.”

Steven looked down at the space on the ground between them before slowly getting to his feet, Pearl following suit. “That she gets to keep walking around, unpunished after shattering so many Gems… It’s unfair.”

“It is,” Pearl agreed. “And perhaps one day you will be able to mete out justice to the remnants of the Rebellion. But, until then…”

“Yeah…” Steven reached over and grabbed her hand. “Let’s go to the Palanquin.”

“And… perhaps get you cleaned up?”

Steven nodded. “Yeah. I could use it, I guess.”

Pearl smiled softly at him as she led him back towards home.

Love and care for him, serve him as she did Blue Diamond.

What else was there to do?


There was a human on the beach.

Amethyst wasn’t sure what to do about this.

For the last fifty odd years, the unofficial ‘rule’ had been “No humans near the Temple.” Well, maybe the rule had been going on for longer than that, on and off, but when new colonizers from Europe had showed up, they hadn’t had the same sense as the locals about how dangerous it was to set up camp right next to the Crystal Gem Temple. The place was a magical beacon, one of the only things that got through monsters’ corrupted minds, and it drew them like catnip. So the Crystal Gems put up a fence and signs to try to make sure no humans would wander in at a bad time and get themselves killed.

(And if the fence going up had coincided with the death of Rose’s then most recent human friend… well, probably just a coincidence.)

But not that long ago, Rose had adopted a new human friend. Pearl didn’t like him, of course— she really didn’t like any of Rose’s humans— and Garnet thought it was probably unwise, since the guy was fairly old for a human, so it’d have to end even sooner… but Amethyst thought he was pretty cool, old or not. He played fun music, and had rad long hair, and was always giving Amethyst lots of tasty snacks. She’d been the one who’d suggested putting a door in the fence so Greg could visit more often, and Rose had been more than happy to accept.

The door wasn’t locked, cuz it didn’t need to be. The locals all kept their distance, so Greg was the only one who ever used it.

Or normally, he did. Today, another human had. Amethyst stood a little down the beach, watching her.

It was a her , Amethyst was pretty sure. She was dressed like most human women— or girls, since she looked pretty young. Brown skin, brown hair, big glasses. Cute green dress with a neat bow and yellow boots. She was sitting under the cliff, reading the book.

She probably wasn’t meant to be there, all told. But Amethyst didn’t just want to tell her to just— go away. She should at least be able to have some fun first, right? The good old ‘talking animal trick’, maybe. That was always good for a few laughs.

With a flash of purple light (that the girl didn’t even notice), Amethyst transformed into a crab. It was a bit of a tricky shape— so many legs!— but a fun one, once you got the hang of it. She clicked her pincher experimentally, wiggled her eyestalks, and set off across the sand towards the human.

Amethyst wouldn’t actually hurt her, of course. Just startle her.

There was a cracking sound, and then, Amethyst saw it. A chunk of rock, coming loose, right above the girl

She didn’t think. Amethyst leapt, jumping out of her crab shape, springing at the human—

— Amethyst slammed into her, and the girl screamed at the impact, the two of them thrown across the sand. Amethyst screamed too, as she felt something heavy crash into her back. A moment of pain, of dust, of human blood, of the girl’s wide brown eyes beneath her—

— then blackness.


Greg’s plan for the afternoon had been nothing more complicated than washing the car with the help of Rose Quartz to try to get more details out of her, grabbing some dinner from the Fry Shack, then heading over to Vidalia’s place for Saturday night cards.

It was interrupted by a Garnet’s frantic cry from down the boardwalk: “Rose! Rose!”

Rose Quartz immediately spun around, dropping her bucket, and Greg turned too. Garnet never sounded frantic.

And here she was, charging up the boardwalk, like a monster was hot on her heels.

Except, there was no monster behind her. There was, however, something in her arms. Greg couldn’t recognise it at first, but as he got close, he saw it was some kid in red—

No. Not red. Green. But her dress was stained red, stained with blood.

Greg felt the stomach drop out from under him.

“The rebels are killers,” Blue had told him. Had— had Garnet, t-the fusion— had she done this?

But then, why would Garnet look so grim?

“Falling rocks,” Garnet explained, as Rose and Greg rushed to meet her. The girl in the fusion’s arms moaned in pain. She was still alive, still conscious, even! It was her hand that was bloody— so bloody, Greg couldn’t tell how bad it was. But there were already bruises all the way up her left arm, and he was afraid of how much worse it was under her clothes. Maybe she wouldn’t be alive for much longer.

“Give her to me,” Rose said, voice soft. Soft too, were her hands, as she took the girl into her arms. “Stay with me, child.”

Greg’s heart was beating fast, and he was already fishing around in his back pocket for his phone, barely paying attention to the scene playing out in front of him. Rose’s face was scrunched up, she was crying, the tears streaming down her face—

Aha! His phone! Greg grabbed it, and rapidly punched in the numbers 9-1-1.

Rose Quartz’s tears fell onto the girl’s body, which was suddenly encased in shimmering pink sparkles. The girl’s groaning subsided.

“911, what’s your emergency?” came a voice from the phone.

“There’s been an accident,” Greg stammered out. “At Beach City, near the boardwalk— It’s A Wash carwash—”

The girl was sitting up. She was rubbing her head with her right hand, blinking in confusion at her left. “What— what happened?”

The emergency dispatcher was asking the same question.

“A young girl— rocks fell on her?” Greg stammered. “On her left side— her hand looks really bad, there’s a lot of blood—”

“I feel fine,” the girl said, shaking her head, as if waking up from a sleep. She looked around at Garnet, then at Rose, who was still holding the girl in her lap. “What did you do?”

“I healed you,” Rose Quartz said, but she didn’t look very happy. Relieved, perhaps, but regretful, too. “Almost completely. You will be safe. But, I apologize, child— I could not save your finger.”

“How severe is the injury, sir? Sir?” the voice on the phone was saying, and from the tense nature of the tone, Greg realized they must have asked a few times already.

The girl was holding up her left hand, fingers spread out. Four of them. She was staring in horror at the giant gap where her index finger was meant to be.

“Uhhhhh.” Greg had no idea how to answer. “Bad. Really bad.”

An ambulance is on its way, sir. Should be there in the next eight minutes. For now, try not to move the body, and if she’s conscious, keep her that way. Try to stem the flow of blood…

And so the emergency operator continued, giving Greg advice that no longer seemed to apply. There wasn’t a blood flow to stem anymore. Instead, garnet had gotten the water bucket and was holding it out to the shell-shocked girl, who stared at it for a moment, then plunged her hand in and washed. When it came out, the hand looked perfectly normal, aside from the obvious missing finger. There should have been a jagged, red, open wound. Instead, the skin was sealed over like a scar that had healed years ago.

“Why— how—”

“I must have left the finger on the beach,” Garnet said. “Sorry. I didn’t realize.”

“It’s alright,” Rose Quartz said.

The girl stared at Garnet, opened her mouth, then closed it again. When she opened it again, the question she asked was, “Where’s the girl who saved me?”

“Girl?” Greg echoed, finally ending the 911 call. Then he noticed there was still one other thing in Garnet’s hands. A purple rock.

Amethyst .

Greg had known that Gems could be damaged enough that their bodies got destroyed, leaving nothing but the gemstones behind. But it was one thing to hear about it, quite another to actually see it.

The fusion didn’t explain any of that. She just said, “She’ll be here soon.”

The girl had almost been crushed by falling rocks, but then Amethyst had done something to save her. Something dangerous enough that she’d gotten crushed instead. And then Garnet had brought the still-injured girl to Rose Quartz, and Rose Quartz had healed her—

And the poor girl was looking overwhelmed.

Greg got it. Gems, however nice they may or may not have been, were pretty much always overwhelming.

So he crouched down next to the kid, who looked up at him with bloodshot eyes. “Hey,” he said gently. “What’s your name?”

“Connie,” the girl said, voice surprisingly level as she pulled out of Rose’s arms and stood up. “Thanks for helping me. What— who are you guys?”

Greg introduced the Gems first, then himself. “Mr. Universe. But you can call me Greg.”

He knew the ambulance was going to be there soon, but it seemed to him that Connie could do with some distraction, and it wasn’t right, keeping her sitting there in that bloody dress. He lead her to the car-wash toilet, along with a spare t-shirt from the merch box he kept around. It was one of the biggest sizes, so when she came out, she was wearing the red star t-shirt like a dress. Her actual clothes were placed in a plastic bag. Greg wondered if those were the kind of stains that could be removed.

“Thanks for the shirt,” Connie said. “My parents can pay you back…”

Greg shook his head. “Don’t even worry about it. On the house.”

Rose Quartz and Garnet were still waiting outside… along with Amethyst, no longer just an inert stone, apparently. “Hey!” she yelled, waving at Connie. “Nice to see you’re not dead!”

“Uh. Yeah,” said Connie. “You’re the one who pushed me out of the way of those rocks. You saved my life!”

“Eh, all in a day’s work!” Amethyst swept her long hair back in a dismissive gesture.

And it was long hair, Greg realized, with a start. Last he’d seen Amethyst, her hair hadn’t even reached past her shoulders, but now it was practically touching the ground.

Amethyst noticed him staring, and grinned. “Like it?” she asked. “I saw how you were rocking it, and thought, man, I gotta try that too.”

Greg nodded numbly. She’d changed her hair because of him?

Amethyst turned back to Connie. “And you! You gave me some great ideas for my new duds!”

Connie cocked her head, looking Amethyst over. “The bow,” she said, suddenly smiling when she saw it on the hem of Amethyst's purple sweater. “Like on my dress. And my boots! After saving me you went to grab a… a change of clothes like mine?”

“In a sense,” said Rose Quartz.

Amethyst grinned even more broadly. “Yep! So thanks!”

“Well, you’re welcome, I guess. Consider it repayment for saving me,” Connie said. She looked immensely confused, but confusion was probably better than panicking, so Greg would take it. Greg fished out a half-finished box of donuts from his van and handed it out to her, on the premise that there weren’t a lot of problems that a donut couldn’t help solve. A little hesitantly, she took one.

In a few minutes, an ambulance would arrive, looking for an injured girl, and finding one unharmed aside from a case of shock, a bag of bloody clothes, and a healed stump where a finger should be. There would be questions, he was certain: from the paramedics, and later, Connie’s family. Greg would do his best to answer them. Until then, he’d sit with Connie, and try to make sure she was as comfortable.

Chapter Text

Rose Quartz found it hard to put exactly what she loved so much about human beings into words.

There were so many things that attracted her to them. The way they looked so like Gems, yet exhibited a variety of appearances and personality that far exceeded anything within her own species. The way that every single one of them was unique, bound to have a completely different experience from anyone else. The way they grew and changed, from a baby to a child to an adult. The way they were able to accomplish so much in such short time. But perhaps the part she liked most was the ‘being’. Human being. Humans didn’t come into the world without any intended job or specific purpose. They just had to exist. To be.

What exactly did she love so much about Mr. Universe?

Well, there was his creativity. She’d always adored human artists, and Mr. Universe’s songs were so vibrant and energetic.

And he was kind! He’d been so gentle with Amethyst’s new human friend Connie. He’d never even met the child, but he’d still given her food and clothes, and sat with her until the (rather unnecessary) human medics had arrived.

He was humble, too. It had been so, well, cute, to see him perform in front of hundreds of humans, all screaming and cheering his name, and then the moment she’d come up to him, he’d gotten bashful and blushing.

Rose would have almost thought he was scared of her— which wouldn’t have been particularly unusual. It was a common reaction of humanity to Gems. That, or worship, which was almost worse. But if Greg Universe had been scared, he had pushed through that fear enough to give her gifts, and talk to her, and spend time with her.

And Rose was so glad of that. He was a very interesting human, who’d lived a very interesting life. He’d seen so much of the Earth. So had Rose, of course, but it was always lovely getting to hear about it from a human perspective. And he was curious about her life in turn— what the Crystal Gems did, how their magic worked, where their missions took them, where they had come from.

Some of the questions treaded on painful memories, and Rose could not help but avoid answering them. But others she answered as truthfully as she could, and the genuine interest than rang in his voice was more than enough to make up for any discomfort he may have inadvertently caused.

Rose Quartz was just telling Mr. Universe about what the sun looked like from space, outside from the shielding of the Earth’s atmosphere, and it was such a joy, seeing the way his eyes glittered like stars themselves.

“I wish I could see it,” he remarked.

“Well,” Rose mused, “maybe you can…”

Mr. Universe tilted her head at her in curiosity.

She could take him into her room, of course. Generating a model of the sun would be a bit difficult for it, but not impossible. However, her room had a tendency to do strange things when she was distracted… and she found Mr. Universe rather distracting.

Thankfully another solution occurred to her. She opened the door to her room, and called into the Temple, “Pearl? Could you come out?”

Coming !” said a voice from in the distance.

Rose closed her door, and a moment later, Pearl’s door re-opened. She stepped out, an eager smile on her face— one which faltered a bit when she saw Mr. Universe.

“Yes?” Pearl asked.

Rose smiled at her. “Didn’t you once pick up a mirror at the Galaxy Warp?” Pearl nodded. “Did you keep it?”

“Of course!” said Pearl. She fell into a stance and let a high pitched kiai shout, launching into one of the most elaborate and unnecessary summoning dances she’d ever choreographed, the one that never failed to put a ridiculous grin on Rose’s face. Out of Pearl’s gem floated a mirror, forged from silver and glass, a cracked tear-drop shape on its back. Rose plucked it easily from the air.

“What is it?” Mr. Universe asked.

“A mirror, obviously,” said Pearl. “But one most likely designed to record every place it’s ever seen, and allow the user to replay those events.”

“Woah,” breathed Mr. Universe.

“Isn’t it wonderful? Now you have the chance to see the sights of the universe for itself, Mr. Universe,” Rose Quartz trilled. She leaned over the human, tilting the mirror’s face so that the both of them were reflected in its surface. “Show us the the sun!”

Nothing happened.

Mr. Universe started in anticipation. Rose repeated the request, and still nothing happened, she drooped a bit in disappointment.

Pearl came over, shaking her head. “If it was made on planet, it’s probably never seen the sun.” She took the mirror from Rose and said, “Show me the galaxy warp!” Still nothing happened. “Show us the galaxy warp! Oh, come on, I know you’ve seen it!”

“It’s alright, guys, don’t worry about it…” Mr. Universe was saying.

“I suppose it’s damaged,” Rose said, taking the mirror back from Pearl. She turned it around, inspecting the lapis lazuli stone embedded there. Rose ran a finger down the jagged crack which had nearly split it in two. It was a shame, really. A Gem, a person , had been sacrificed to make this mirror… no doubt her consciousness was long gone by now, and now that it had been broken, that sacrifice had been for nothing. But… “Maybe I can fix it.”

Pearl laid a light hand on her arm, a slight warning there. She suspected that Rose’s tears wouldn’t do the job— not for a a gem so badly broken, not for a gem with its powers so constrained.

“I still think it’s awesome, even if it doesn’t work the way it’s meant to,” Mr. Universe said. “After all, if every porkchop were perfect, we wouldn’t have hot dogs.”

Rose and Pearl exchanged confused glances.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Pearl asked.

“It’s a metaphor,” Mr. Universe said, rubbing his arm and explaining about pigs, and pork chops, and processed meats, and it really was a lovely analogy— even if it did make Rose’s mouth water. (It made Pearl’s cheeks turn a little blue, but then, she’d never quite been able to tolerate the sensation of eating).

“So this mirror is a… hot dog?” Rose asked.

“Yep!” said Mr. Universe. “A very nice one, too.”

“Well then.” Rose grasped Mr. Universe’s hands, and pressed the mirror into them. “Why don’t you keep this as a gift?”

The human gaped. “What? Seriously, for me?”

Rose Quartz laughed. “That’s what I said!”

Pearl muttered something under her breath Rose didn’t quite catch. “What was that?”

“I— I was just saying, are you sure that’s a... wise idea, Rose?” said Pearl.

“Of course it is. That mirror deserves to be with someone who appreciates it!”

Mr. Universe was shaking his head, staring at the object in his hands. “I just— wow. I don’t even know what to say! Thanks!”

“You’re very welcome,” said Rose, patting him on the shoulder, taking care to be gentle.

He stumbled through a few more repeated apologies, which were delightful to watch, then excused himself, citing ‘paperwork’. Rose watched him go, a smile playing on her lips all the while.

As soon as he was gone, Pearl came up to her, mouth pursed. “I’m not sure that was a good idea. What if the mirror is dangerous?”

“Do you think it might be?” asked Rose.

“Not… really, no.”

“Then it’s silly to worry,” Rose said. “It made him happy. And this way, it won’t take up space in your gem. It’s a ‘win-win’ for everyone, as they say.”

“I suppose…” Pearl said.

She still didn’t look particularly happy, so Rose reached out, cupped her face in a gentle hand. Pearl looked up, eyes crinkling into a smile, as Rose bent down and pressed a light, sweet kiss onto her lips. Pearl leaned in, giving a little sigh as their bodies pressed together.

When the two were done, Rose straightened, and made her way to Temple. She had work to do in the burning room. Experiments. Another theory on how to heal the corruption… a bit of a long shot, perhaps, but it had promise. With any luck, it would work.

In Rose’s memory hung the menacing image of the Red Eye drawing towards Earth.

It had to work. It had to. Who knew how much time they had left for experimenting?


“Empire City! Let’s go to Empire City!” Steven sang, rather off-key, bouncing up and down on the hotel bed, thoroughly destroying its neatly folded sheets and perfectly arranged pillows.

“We’re already here,” Pearl pointed out, with a faint, amused smile.

Steven grinend. “Yeah, I know!”

“Doesn’t matter where you are,” Greg chuckled, setting his guitar case in the corner, “the music will still flow. And there aren’t many cities more musical than Empire City! Home of jazz! Birthplace of hip hop! Land of musical theatre!”

Pearl found herself smiling despite herself: the pair’s enthusiasm was infectious. She didn’t have much of an opinion on Empire City, herself— from what she’d seen of it so far, it seemed much like any other human settlement, albeit bigger than any of the others she’d visited. And noisier, and smellier, and more crowded…

It gave her pangs for Homeworld, and its cities— each of them a hundred times larger than anything on Earth, each of them built of shimmering stone, perfectly clean and perfectly organized, where no one would ever bump anyone else in the streets.

But it didn’t matter how she felt. What mattered was that this was the perfect place for Steven and his father to meet up. The trip between Beach City and the nearest (safe) warp pad was a long one, and by necessity, any visits there had to be short ones. But Empire City was a halfway between the two places, significantly reducing travel time. Furthermore, it was on neutral ground, far beyond the jurisdiction, as it was, of the Crystal Gems. This meant that Steven and Greg could spend a full ‘long weekend’ together. It would certainly be delightful.

Pearl helped the pair unpack their things, while Steven excitedly pored through the dozens of tourist pamphlets he’d spread out on the hotel room’s desk. “Where should we go first?” he asked. “Should we go to Stonegalla Centre? Or maybe a museum? Or walk through Middle Park? Or see Times Circle? Or, ooh, we could go on a river cruise!”

“Woooooah, slow down there bud,” said. Greg. “We can do whatever you like. But first, your old man’s got something for ya.”

Steven’s eyes filled with diamonds. “What is it?! What?!”

Pearl stifled an amused grin as Greg rifled around in his duffle bag, then pulled out something extensively wrapped in the shiny, coloured paper customary for human gift exchanges. Steven tore through it into a layer of bubble wrap beneath, which he immediately began popping. Pearl warned him against this, advising that if the object was fragile, it would probably require that protection during the trip back to Korea.

“Oh, right,” Steven said, pouting a little, but proceeding more carefully. Slowly he unwrapped something silver that glinted in the light. “A mirror!”

“That’s right!” Greg said. “Do you like it?”

“It’s so pretty!” Steven squealed.

Greg chuckled, exchanging a fond look with Pearl. “I’ll take that as a ‘yes’.”

Steven was peering delightedly at his reflection, and began to recite a passage Pearl recalled from one of his animated films. “ Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest one of all? ” When he saw his own reflection, he giggled. “Flatterer!”

What a lovely gift, Pearl thought, beginning to turn away—

— and then she saw the gemstone on the mirror’s back.

Something like an electric jolt shot through her core. She stood straighter. “Mister Gregory Universe,” she said, “may I discuss something with you in private?”

“Uhhhh… sure,” said Greg.

“With the mirror,” Pearl added.

Greg frowned, but nodded, and went to take the mirror back from Steven. The boy didn’t want to relinquish his gift. “But I only just got it!”

Steven ,” Greg warned.

That single word was all it took to make the boy let go and give a mumbled ‘sorry’. Pearl could have shook her head. How does he do that?

( By not being a Pearl. )

Pearl led Greg to the room’s bathroom, careful to close the door firmly behind them. Thankfully it was a large space which left them plenty of space. Pearl hesitated a moment, gathering herself, then said, “Where did you get that?”

“From the Crystal Gems.”

What? How?”

“Rose Quartz gave it to me as a gift.”

Pearl snatched the thing from Greg’s hands. “Why?”

He shrugged. “I dunno, really. I thought it was pretty, and she said I might as well have it. I think she’s kinda trying to pay me back for the merchandise I gave her, back at that concert.”

Pearl was torn between staring at the human, and the object he’d brought with him. “It could be dangerous.”

“I… don’t think so, Pearl,” said Greg. “It didn’t work for Rose Quartz or the other Pearl. They said it was broken. And when I took it home, I like, triple checked it myself. I mean, if you really think it’s a threat, obviously we’ll do something about it… but I just figured, it’s something from Steven’s heritage, y’know?”

She let out a small huff of air through her mouth, a human habit that Pearl was ashamed to admit she’d picked up. Greg was not wrong. Steven had precious little that had belonged to his mother. The stone on the mirror’s back was even a lapis lazuli, a gem which fell under the purview of Blue Diamond’s court. By all rights, it should belong to Steven.

But… “What if it is a trap?”

“That’s… a possibility, I guess.” Greg rubbed his arms. “But the Crystal Gems think I’m just a random guy. They wouldn’t have any reason to give me a trap. And...”

Pearl waited for him to finish the sentence, but he seemed to be struggling with the words. “Yes?” she prompted.

He sighed. “I just think… maybe… maybe the Crystal Gems might not be as bad as we thought?”

Pearl said nothing. She just stared.

“It’s just— look, I know what Rose Quartz did, and the war they started. But these guys, they really don’t act like soldiers. They’re… pretty nice, really, for the most part. They keep the town protected from monsters, and a few weeks ago they saved this kid’s life… Do you think Blue maybe got something wrong?”

For a moment, Pearl saw a flash of memory— the Rebel Pearl, face sharp, sword in one hand, the other open and extended towards her. “Come with us,” she said, “please.”—

Pearl blinked the image away.

“Blue Diamond was not mistaken,” she said.

Greg ran a hand through his hair. “Yeah,” he said. “I guess you’re right. It’s just… Maybe they’ve changed, you know?”

Pearl thought of Steven, hunched over on the ground, body sparkling with lightning as he was forced to live through the moment of Pink Diamond’s shattering, again and again.

“I am not willing to risk Steven’s life on that,” she said.

Greg flinched.

Pearl nearly flinched as well. That was not an insult she had intended to give. She knew how completely dedicated Gregory was to his son.

“My apologies—” she began.

“No, no, it’s alright,” Greg said, raising a hand. “You’re right. We need to be careful. We can just... get rid of the mirror. Not sure how, and I know Steven will be disappointed, but I should’ve talked to you before giving it to him.”

Pearl turned the mirror over and over in her hands, considering it. Aside from the cracked gemstone its back, it looked and felt like a completely ordinary mirror. There were no sparks of light, no signs of magical influence. Perhaps she had been hasty in her judgement. Panicked.

“I will look it over,” she suggested. “Check it myself for signs of danger. If I find none, we can return it to him.”

Greg smiled. “Really? Okay, that’s a great idea, Pearl. Thanks.”

And then he hugged her.

Pearl stiffened a little at the unexpected physical contact. It was a common experience with Greg. In the time that she’d known the human, it still hadn’t gotten any less strange. Pearl suspected that if she asked, he would stop, but Pearl never did. The hugs weren’t entirely unpleasant. Just a little overwhelming.

When he pulled out of the embrace, Pearl said, “I’ll get started on the analysis immediately.”

“No need to do that. It can wait. Come on, join us for a little sightseeing.”

Pearl gave him a faint smile. “It’s quite alright.”

“No, seriously, we’d love for you to come!”

Pearl pressed her hands (and the mirror) to her chest, bowing her head. “Very well.”

Greg paused, his enthusiasm fading a little. “Wait— Pearl. If you really don’t want to come, you don’t have to. I just don’t want you feeling left out.”

“... Are you certain?” Pearl asked, after a pause.

“Yeah!” said Greg.

“Then I believe I would prefer to stay here,” said Pearl.

“Okay then,” said Greg, smile returning to his face. “Whatever you want.”

Oh. If only it was that simple.

Chapter Text

“Two please,” Greg said, holding up two fingers to the man behind the cart. The guy nodded silently, reached into the heating box and removed two glorious, delicious looking slices of Empire City-Style pizza.

Greg paid the man, before grabbing a paper plate and laying one of the slices on it and handing it to Steven, who looked at it in wonderment.

“Wow…” he cooed as he carefully looked over the huge piece of dough, sauce, and cheese.

“Wow’s right,” Greg said, folding his slice and taking a bite out of it. The melty cheese and the thin layer of grease on the pizza was incredible. “A truth in life, son. All the best food comes from carts and trucks.”

Steven nodded as picked up his slice and tried to fish the tip of the drooping pizza into his mouth.

Greg chuckled, “Easy, bud. Fold it, like I did.” He nodded at the folded slice on his hand.

“Oooh. Right,” Steven said, folding the pizza as shown and taking a bite. His face brightened as he chewed and took in the authentic flavor. “It’s so good…”

“Yep. And don’t let anyone tell you that Chicago-style is better.”

“Better than this?” Steven asked taking another bite. “No way.”

They idly strolled to a bench in the park and sat down, eating their pizza and taking in the sights of people going about their business.

Greg took another bite, savoring it before he swallowed it. He let his hand fall to the bench and felt his fingers brush against something. At first he pulled his hand back, afraid that he had touched old bubblegum someone had stuck to the bench. But when he looked down, what he saw nearly made him choke on his pizza.

“Oh, man!” he coughed, pounding on his chest in an effort to help the pizza go down easier.

“What is it, Dad?” Steven asked, looking concerned.

“Nothing,” Greg reassured. “It’s just- well, come over here.”

Steven did so, putting what was left of his pizza on his plate and setting it on his seat. He walked over to Greg’s other side and bent down, looking to the side of the bench.

Steven squinted at the worn, weathered wood. “Umm… I don’t- Oh! Right here!” He pointed just a little to the side of where Greg had been pointing. “Is something… written here?”

Greg chuckled, “Not written, so much as carved. Can you see what it says?”

“Hmm… Yeah, it looks like three letters. ‘S’... ‘B’... ‘G’?” Steven looked up at Greg. “What does that mean?”

“Well, I’ll tell ya, sport,” Greg said. “I put those letters there. Almost… oh boy, almost sixteen years ago now.”

“Why’d you do that?” Steven asked. “Isn’t that against the law?”

Greg grinned, rubbing the back of his neck. “Technically, yeah. But… I was a dumb kid. A dumb kid in love,” Greg settled back, taking another bite of pizza.

“In love?” Steven asked, diamonds in his eyes. “Does that mean that…” his voice dropped to a squeaky whisper. “This has to do with Mom?”

Heh, yeah it does,” Greg conceded. He patted the bench next to Steven’s pizza. “Why don’t you sit here and I’ll tell you the story?”

Steven quickly scampered back to his seat, scooping the pizza back into his lap as he looked at Greg expectedly.

“Okay,” Greg began. “Well, this was… man, must of been only a year or two after I met your mom. Anyway, she spent most of her time with Pearl in the Palanquin. I went up to visit her whenever I could in between shows and stuff.”

“She never came down from the mountain?” Steven asked.

“Not that I knew of. She’d have caused a bit of a stir, after all, and I think she was kinda shy, if ya can believe it. So that’s why, one day, when I went up to the mountain and suggested she let me show her what else was out there.”

“Ohhh~” Steven cooed. “You wanted to take her out on a date~!”

Greg felt himself blushing a little. “Yeah, I guess I did.” He smiled at the warmth of the memory. “At first, I just wanted to take her down to the town at the foot of the mountain. But then I thought, ‘No. Blue deserves to see the best. You gotta take her to Empire City ’.”

Steven gasped in wonderment, before his expression promptly dropped. “Wait… Mom was a giant. And you said she didn’t want to cause a stir.”

Greg laughed. “Yeah, I did. But Blue was clever, and she had a plan.” He held his hand out flat and slowly began to lower it as he continued, “She just shapeshifted herself smaller.”

“And she didn’t hurt herself?”

“Nope. Blue knew what she was doing. Though…” Greg tapped his chin. “We did at one point have to duck into an alley so she could briefly grow big again. She said she just needed a quick break.”

“Ohh… So what did you and Mom do when you got here?” Steven asked.

“Basically what you and me are doing, shtoo-ball. We walked around, took in the sights. I even thought ahead and got us tickets to a show.”

“Just like you did with me, you, and Pearl this time!” Steven said.

“Yep. What can I say? I like a good musical.” Greg looked at the park proper and at all the people going about, but his mind was still in the past. He let his hand drift back towards the carved initials and felt the weathered inscription under his fingers. He sighed heavily. “Your mother, Steven… Like, before our trip, she was starting to really get into poetry.”

“Really?” Steven asked.

Greg nodded. “She’d always been interested in it, but had never been able to practice it because of all the stress and responsibilities she had. But when I met her…” He chuckled again. “She was such a natural talent. Her singing, then her poetry, then she started taking up painting… Your mother was… amazing.

“Mom sounds really talented,” Steven said.

“She had the gift, to be sure. The poetry especially became a… thing between us.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well…” Greg said, stroking his beard and wondering how he could put this for Steven. He began slowly, “What your mom went through, losing Pink Diamond and the lack of support she got… it weighed on her a lot. So… seeing her smile was a bit of a rarity at times.”

Steven nodded silently, enraptured by Greg's story.

“But when she was working on her latest bit of poetry, she was always smiling. Even when we came to Empire City, she'd stop in front of a trash can, or a squirrel, or tree and just start composing a short poem right there. And she'd be smiling the whole time,” Greg said. “So whenever she was… not feeling great, I'd point to something, anything, and ask ‘What do you think, Blue? You think you got a poem for that?’ And she'd just laugh and say, ‘Perhaps. Would you like to help me?’”

“Aww… you and Mom writing poetry together,” Steven said.

“Yep. She gave me a lot of inspiration for song lyrics. The time I spent with your mother was some of the best,” Greg said. “Our trip to Empire City just crystallized that for me. That's why, near the end of our trip, I carved those initials into this bench.”

“Ooh, then what does SBG mean?” Steven asked.

Greg laughed embarrassingly, “It was uh, my pet name for her. Sky Blue Goddess.”

“Like your song? Wait!” Steven stood up from his seat. “ ‘Sky Blue Goddess’ is about Mom?”

“It is,” Greg grinned. “I wrote it a few months after I met Blue.”

“Wow…” Steven said. “You really loved Mom, huh?”

“I did.”

“So you must miss her a lot too…”

Greg hesitated a moment, before smiling at Steven. “I do,” he admitted. “But we enjoyed our time together and I have you now, Steven. And that's exactly what we both wanted.”

“You sure?”

“Absolutely!” Greg responded. “I want nothing more in the world now than you to grow up happy and healthy, Steven.”

“Yeah. I know, Dad,” Steven said, getting back into his seat. He looked down sadly down at his pizza crust.

Still smiling, Greg reached over and put his arm around Steven, pulling him close. “Hey, why don't we go check out the Statue of Freedom next? We can take the ferry to Wellis Island.”

Steven smiled, rubbing the corners of his eyes. “Alright, Dad. Let's go.”


Pearl— much like any Pearl— valued her free time.

It was a rare commodity, and even now, Pearl found it in short supply. Raising Steven was a full time position, between teaching him, preparing his lessons, cooking, washing his clothes, tidying after him, and providing entertainment. They were enjoyable duties, to be sure, but duties nonetheless. And even in those hours that Steven slept, Pearl was always hard at work on the drill…

But this was a ‘vacation’. A time which meant cessation of work, even for Pearl.

And she was thoroughly enjoying it. She started with a shower, having rather forgotten how nice the sensation was. The baths she ran for Steven using heated water from mountain streams was nothing compared to the steaming jets that coursed over Pearl’s form then, washing away the grime and dirt, soaking into her hair and clothing. She relished the chance to use all the little bottles of cleaning supplies the hotel provided— shampoo and conditioner and body wash, all interesting scents like ‘jasmine’ and ‘citrus’ and ‘ocean breeze’. The sensation of producing the lather, and truly working it into her hair was like nothing else. And afterwards, she delighted in drying off with a soft, warm towel. Then she could sit on the edge of the bath, blow drying her hair and working some lotion into her skin.

When she was done, she practically felt like a different Gem.

She even looked like a different Gem, Pearl realized, as she considered her reflection in the bathroom mirror. With that white, fluffy bathrobe wrapped around her, and her bangs pulled to either side, showing her eyes… it almost felt like a stranger was staring back at her.

Mirrors are quite useful, Pearl thought, gaze flickering to the hand-held one which was lying face down next to the sink. Not strictly necessary, but nice to have around. She’d given the device a thorough lookover before indulging herself, and it really had seemed quite safe. It would be a shame to hide it away for no reason.

“I suppose I’ll give it to Steven after all,” Pearl said aloud, and it felt a little strange, speaking even though no one could hear.

Next, she put on a cup of coffee. It was a flavor she had absolutely relished ever since Greg had first introduced her, but she rarely indulged in it, since it wasn’t something which Steven’s child physiology could process safely. Then she turned on the TV and sat down on one of the room’s beds to watch. She began in quite a neat and proper sitting position, but as she scrolled through the channels she began to experiment a little, eventually even allowing herself to sprawl out on her belly, the way Steven did sometimes when he was drawing. It was quite nice, but a little awkward, so after a while she sat back up, if only to make drinking easier.

Human television was strange. There were nature documentaries, ridiculous movies about people fighting, a very strange ‘animated’ show about emotional foods, a good twenty channels dedicated to various sports, as well as three entirely about cooking, and one about which claimed to be about history that wasn’t accurate at all. (The presenter seemed to believe that a race of fish people had built the Communications Hub, which was just ludicrous). Pearl was about to settle on some news networks— she figured it was wise to keep up to date on the planet’s politics— but then she got sidetracked by the ‘Fashion Channel’.

Beautiful humans, many of whom looked rather like Pearls, moving gracefully and powerfully down aisles, dressed in all manner of skirts and capes and hats and suits

Just for a few minutes, Pearl thought.

Next thing she knew, the door burst open, Steven crying, “WE’RE BACK!”

Pearl jumped. Nearly three hours had passed.

She was mortified, having been caught lounging, but neither Greg nor Steven seemed to notice. Greg fell into a chair with a groan, while Steven excitedly reported everything they’d done.“—and then we got these cheesecakes, and we visited a dog park, and we took pictures in front of this cool statue, and we went to the very top of this building and got to see the whole city, and ooh, there was a gift shop there, and we got this for you—”

“We figured you deserved a present too,” Greg said with a chuckle.

Steven dug into a bag he was carrying, and held something out to Pearl in his palm. She stared at it for a moment, then took it. It was a bracelet. Made out of some sort of plastic, with little blue and purple beads. Most of them were plain, but four of them together spelled ‘ I <3 EC ’.

“Do you like it?” Steven asked, eyes huge.

Pearl took the gift— the gift, an actual gift, intended for her — and slipped it onto her wrist. “I love it.”

Yes, she knew it was just a trinket— a little thing, probably very cheap, and if she was being honest, not the most attractive of jewelry... ‘tacky’, she believed the term was— but that didn’t matter. The two of them had gone out, thought of her, and bought something just so she could have it.

She would never, ever get used to that.

“Yay!” Steven said, and he was already buzzing off to go to the toilet. But Greg was still sitting in the chair, watching. He looked between Pearl, sitting on the bed, still wrapped in the bathrobe, to the television, now muted, but still showing all those lovely outfits...

“Hey, Pearl,” he said. “Do you want to get some clothes?”

She blinked at him.

“Pearl?” he prompted, when she didn’t answer.

“That is hardly necessary,” she said. “You already purchased me that lovely dress. That’s more than enough.”

“One dress is not ‘more than enough’,” said Greg. “It’s nice to have some choices. Like jeans, or a sweater, or something.” He gave the television a meaningful look, waggling his eyebrows. “Or maybe a suit…?”

Pearl’s eyes were drawn back to the television screen. Some human was there, their mouth moving soundlessly, as they described the outfit hanging next to them: beautiful red fabric, cut in the sharp, angular shapes of a warrior’s uniform, but with all the delicacy of Court attire—

She managed to shake her head. “Hardly necessary,” she repeated. “If I want some choices, I can simply shapeshift myself a new outfit.”

“But shapeshifting is really tiring,” Steven said, emerging from the bathroom, shaking some of the water off his still-moist hands.

Pearl bowed her head, conceding the point. Steven knew first hand, after the incident where he’d attempted to shapeshift to a Diamond’s full size, and ended up bedridden for nearly a full five days as a result. Pearl was far more practiced, of course, but she wouldn’t pretend it didn’t take a fair bit of energy to sustain.

“If I want to make it permanent, I could simply reform,” Pearl suggested instead.

Steven frowned at that, and Greg practically jumped out of his chair. “Now that’s extreme,” he said. “You shouldn't have to— to destroy your body every time you want to try on a new look. You deserve to be comfortable, Pearl.”

Comfortable. A Pearl’s job wasn’t to be comfortable. It was to be beautiful.

New clothes would help her with that, though.

She couldn’t help the small smile that stole onto her face. She said, “Very well, then.”

“Great,” said Greg. “Let us just get cleaned up a bit, then we’ll go down to the concierge and ask them if there’s any good tailors nearby.”


It was their last night in Empire City, and the Universe family intended to go out with a bang.

After a long day of touring on Steven and Dad’s part, all of them went out for dinner at a really swanky restaurant, even Pearl. They got real dressed up for it. Honestly, the formal jacket and pants felt uncomfortably stiff, and the bowtie around his neck was an awkward pressure. At first, Steven couldn’t help but complain about it. Dad had pulled on his own suit, and told Steven to think of it like a costume.

“Like you’re going on stage,” he’d said. “Like you’re giving them a show.”

So Steven had imagined that— rocking out in front of a crowd with Dad, or going down the red carpet, or strutting through a Homeworld Court— and suddenly the formal clothes had been a lot more fun.

It was nothing compared to Pearl, though. For all her quiet protestations, her excitement had been clear the moment she’d stepped into the clothes store. She’d spent a long time looking at all the fabrics, stroking them, holding them up against her body. When she’d been fitted, the tailor had said she was the best customer he’d ever had, holding herself so perfectly still.

Steven had thought she’d get something in blue, or maybe purple or green. So had Dad. It had surprised them all when she’d chosen a different fabric entirely. The orange suit and red tie stood out vibrantly against her hair and skin. It was kinda weird, but kinda nice, Steven thought.

“Well, it sure is different,” Dad had said.

“Yes,” Pearl had answered, voice very soft. “It certainly is.”

(Steven thought he kept catching her looking at her reflection in the spoon.)

As they ate— delicious soups and salads and pastas— they shared with Pearl everything they’d seen that day, and she’d nodded along and added her quiet opinion. After they ordered dessert, Dad asked what Steven’s favourite part of the trip had been.

“Dunno. It was all cool,” he answered honestly. All the people wearing costumes in Times Circle had been really awesome, but he’d loved the art museum. Or, one of them, anyway. Some of the exhibits in the Modern Art Museum had been interesting, but a lot of them had just been weird, and he thought he preferred traditional painting and statues.

“Speaking of statues,” Dad had asked, “how about Femme Freedom?”

The Statue of Freedom had been really great, too— but honestly, it had been kind of busy, and maybe not worth all of the fuss, in Steven’s opinion. Dad said Mom had called it ‘quaint’ when she’d visited, and he could get why. They probably had statues four times as big in space. He admitted, “I liked Wellis Island more.”

It had been really interesting, learning about immigration and the thousands of thousands of people who’d come to Empire City for a new life. Some of the Visions Steven had gotten had been kind of overwhelming— so many people, the smell of sweat and dust, shoe polish and medicine, worried, anxious faces, children crying. But it had been more than worth it to get Dad’s story about his trip there with Mom. Blue Diamond had loved all the tales about people coming to seek a new life, a new home. Just like her.

They finished eating and paid for the meal. For dessert they’d grabbed ice cream from a street vendor. Then there’d been a musical: Papes! About street kids selling newspapers in the 1920s, and the romance between a streetwise young gal and a budding reporter facing sexism and the disapproval of her father… It had been amazing! Dance numbers, kissing, fight scenes, everything! By the end everyone had been screaming and clapping and whistling, even Pearl!

By the time they’d stumbled out of the theatre, it had been dark and late. Steven had found himself walking slower and slower. Eventually, Pearl had picked him up, fitting him snuggly in her arms. The cloth of the suit had been so, so soft. Her steady gait was soothing, and Dad had been singing one of the show’s songs under his breath, like a lullaby…

Steven’s last thought before he drifted to sleep was he wished it could be like this— the three of them— always.

Chapter Text

“Home again!” Steven declared as he threw the Palanquin’s curtains aside and tossed his backpack onto his bed. Pearl followed closely behind him, carrying the garment bag over her shoulder and a small suitcase in her other hand.

“Careful,” she said, setting the suitcase down on the floor. “You don’t want to damage the mirror.”

“Oh right.” Steven ran over to his backpack and started to dig through it, eventually emerging with the blue hand mirror in his grasp. He looked over it carefully, examining the glass and the gem on back. “It still looks okay. Well, except for the crack.”

“That is good,” Pearl said. She brought the garment bag to her front, considered it, before continuing, “I’m not sure where I can put this, however.”

“You can put it in the wardrobe,” Steven said, indicating towards the wardrobe tucked between the dresser and Blue Diamond’s throne.  “There’s lots of room there.”

“Ah, I couldn’t do that, Steven,” Pearl said. “That is your space. I couldn’t put anything of mine there.”

“It’s alright, Pearl. Put the bag in the wardrobe.”

She hesitated, before tilting her head at him. “Very well.” She stepped lightly over to the wardrobe and opened it. Pearl pushed the hung up clothes back and hung the garment bag from the rack. She closed the doors and looked back at Steven, who was lying on his bed, gazing at the mirror. “It is done, my Steven.”

“Great,” Steven responded. His eyes were still glued onto the mirror, on his own reflection. Steven had of course seen mirrors before, but there were none around the Palanquin. And while Pearl always made sure Steven was presentable, he never really got a chance to look at himself, save for when they went into town. But now he could, whenever he wanted.

“It seems—” Pearl said laying a hand on Steven’s shoulder. He looked up, realizing that Pearl must have been talking to him and he hadn’t heard her. “—that it is already after lunch, my Steven. If you have no objections, we will take the rest of the today off and resume your lessons tomorrow.”

“Yes, Pearl,” Steven said, sitting up on the bed. “I need to show the mirror around anyway.”

“The mirror?” Pearl asked. She paused a second before continuing, “Ah. Of course. I would only ask that you please don’t stray into town.”

“Alright, Pearl,” Steven nodded as he hopped off the bed. She looked into the mirror again and smiled at his own face. “So. I guess I need to give you the tour, huh?” He turned the mirror over in his hand and slowly let it reflect the Palanquin. “I live here with Pearl. Here being, a mountainside in Korea.” He pointed the mirror at Pearl, who was at Steven’s bed unpacking his backpack. “This is Pearl. Since Dad moved away, she’s the one who takes care of me most of the time.” He waved and Pearl smiled and waved back. “Pearl is really great. You’re going to love living at the Palanquin with her— I do!”

“Ah, my Steven, you are too kind.” She bowed slightly at him. “I love being here with you, as well.”

Steven smiled brighter before turning away and going elsewhere in the Palanquin. He went from place to place, starting with the throne where Steven and Pearl would often snuggle close and read stories with each other. Then he talked about the table where he ate his meals and about some of his favorite food. Next was the study corner, an area covered in pillows with a low table where Steven and Pearl had their lessons most days. And finally, Steven began pointing out the art that hung from the Palanquin’s walls. Pictures he had drawn, but also photos. Some of Steven, some of Dad, a few were of Pearl. But others were just of landscapes of places that Steven and Pearl (and sometimes Dad) had gone to.

He had gone over several of the pictures when he suddenly realized that his descriptions had devolved into: ‘And this is when we went to Egypt’ or ‘This was our trip to Hawaii’. He turned the mirror to face him. “Sorry. We’ve been to a lot of places.” He looked over at Pearl, who had finished with his bookbag and had moved to his suitcase. “I’m gonna go show the mirror around the mountainside.”

“Very well, my Steven,” Pearl replied. “Just, as I said, please do not wander into town.”

“I won’t,” Steven said as he trotted through the curtains and out into crisp mountain air. That would have been a pretty long trip, anyway.

Steven took a moment to consider what to do, before he began walking down the slope into the wooded area. He looked up into the trees and started whistling, trying to get the attention of Nari, or any of her fellows who might be able to tell him where she was. Unfortunately, he wasn’t having much luck. Again.

“Sorry about this,” he apologized into the mirror. “I mean, I’m pretty sure it’s not migrating season yet, but…” He sighed. “Maybe I should look it up on Pearl’s Blueberry Pi again… Oh!” Steven remembered. “It’s not like, a blueberry pie you eat. It’s a small a computer that Pearl can carry with her where she goes.”

He stopped next to a tree, the same one he had first met Nari and Tim at. But there was no one else around now. A quick whistle confirmed that. He sighed again. He was pretty sure this was the tree they had met at. Maybe it was further in—

“Steven?”

Steven looked up and around him, trying to find who had called his name. It had kinda sounded like Pearl, but he couldn’t see her. And she wasn’t the type to try and hide, at least not from him.

A few more moments of trying to see her and finally Steven shrugged to himself. “Maybe I was just imagining it.”

“Steven? Steven?”

It was Pearl’s voice again, Steven was sure of it. Except… she did sound a little weird. Distorted. Kinda like when Dad video chatted with him and the connection would start to worsen. Like speakers getting muffled. That’s what Pearl’s voice sounded like right now.

Or the voice that sounded like Pearl’s.

Steven had only taken a step forward when the voice started saying his name in a rapid fire fashion. “Steven? Steven? Steven? Steven—”

It was finally then that Steven realized where the voice was coming from. It was coming from right next to him, though lower on the ground.

From his hand.

Or not precisely, he thought. It wasn’t his hand that was speaking, it was… the mirror?

Steven raised the mirror to eye level— and nearly dropped it when he saw a Pearl’s face looking at him, before swirling away back into Steven’s own surprised and confused reflection.

He continued to inspect his increasingly perplexed (and just slightly frightened) expression reflected at him in the mirror. It made no sound, or altered its image. It just… reflected. He looked deeply into the mirror, turning it at various angles, waiting to see if it would speak again.

He didn’t have to wait long, as the mirror’s reflection swirled and shifted. But this time it didn’t show Pearl; it instead showed Dad. “Steven?” Dad’s face asked, hanging on the image for a second before again returning to showing Steven’s own reflection.

Steven felt his lips tremble. He was unsure what to do, so he did what he usually did when someone he didn’t know who was talking to him. He introduced himself.

“Hi. Um, my name is Steven. Though… I guess you know that already.” He bit his lip. “Do you have a name?”

His reflection twisted and swirled into… Steven’s reflection. Though now it moved and spoke independently of him. “A mirror!” it mimicked.

Steven giggled. “Yeah, I guess that’s right. So you can really understand me?”

The mirrored showed Steven’s face again, “Yes, Pearl.”

Steven’s eyes grew in wonder. “Cooool~”

Again, Steven’s reflection said, “Flatterer!”

Steven laughed again, first genuinely, then nervously. “I hope I haven’t been boring you with my tour.” No response from the mirror. Grimacing, he turned the mirror around, the glass facing the wooded area and the cracked gem facing Steven. “I like it here, but I know there’s not much to see.”

Steven heard his own voice coming from the mirror, “It’s so pretty!”

“Yeah! It is!” Steven agreed as he began walking vaguely forward. “I mean, down in town is nice and Empire City was really cool, but I like being up here in the mountain, just me, Pearl, and the animals. You know?”

Pearl’s voice responded, “I love being here with you, as well.”

“Aww, really?” Steven asked. “Well, even though we just met, I’m glad you do.” The mirror didn’t respond, so they walked in silence for a while, Steven closely examining the gem on the back of the mirror.

It, like the rest of the mirror, was blue and it was shaped like a drop of water. If it hadn’t been for the crack going down the center of the gem, it would have been near flawless. Steven idly wondered if there was any way to fix it.

“You’re… not really a mirror, huh?” Steven asked, still looking intently at the gem as he walked. “I mean, you’re not a mirror. You’re a Gem, right?” There was no answer. “So if you’re in the mirror… does that mean that you’re trapped?” Again, no answer. “If you’re trapped, then… maybe I— or Pearl and I can help you? You know, get out. I’m sure you’d be a better friend as a Gem then as a mir-”

“Steven. Dangerous. Trap.”

The words broke Steven’s train of thought, and just in time. He found himself at the edge of a steep cliff, a long fall waiting below.

“Woah!” Steven exclaimed, and scrambled backwards, away from the ledge. Once safely away, Steven hurried to his feet and looked the mirror over to make sure it hadn’t been damaged. Thankfully, it looked just as it had.

“Wow,” Steven breathed. “You saved me. If you hadn’t said anything, then I would have stepped right off the cliff!”

“We need to be careful,” the mirror said, this time in Dad’s voice. Steven turned the mirror around just in time to see Dad’s face replaced with Pearl’s, again saying, “I love being here with you, as well.”

“So… you like being here. With me. And Pearl,” Steven said slowly, making sure he had everything down in his head. “Okay. Then… do you want to be free? Because…” He pulled at the gem a little, feeling it it give a little. He remembered Pearl’s lessons about Gem physiology, and how it differed from organic biology. “Your gem is the power source. If I pull it free, you should be free… But I don’t want to do it if you think it might hurt you…”

Steven heard his father’s voice from the mirror, “No, no, it’s alright.”

Steven smiled a little before nodding. “Okay. Then… I’ll do it.” He grabbed the gem firmly and began pulling, first a little and then a lot, grunting a bit at the effort. He was doing his best to not pull too hard, in case he accidentally damaged the gem even more. But still, he had to to pull it off the-

Without expecting it, the gem came free with a pop!

In an instant, there was a bang as the mirror’s glass shattered. Steven flung his hand up to protect his eyes as the freed gem floated up in the the air, glowing brilliant blue.  

The gem hovered in front of him, glowing brighter and and brighter until a figure began to form from the light. First the basic shape of a person, then a top and dress, a long ribbon, disheveled hair. The light then receded, revealing the water drop gemstone on the figure’s back. She was entirely blue, from her gem, her skin, her dress, her hair.

The Gem fell to the ground, catching herself on her hands and knees. Dropping the now-broken mirror, Steven rushed over to her side, trying to ask if she was alright, to say something, but finding it hard to speak.

The Gem rose unsteadily, slowly, to her feet. “I— You freed me.” She faltered, almost falling back down, but Steven caught her. It was now that Steven noticed her eyes. They weren’t like his, or Pearl’s, or Dad’s, or anybody’s he’d ever seen They were featureless and reflective. Steven could see his own surprised and uncertain expression reflected back at him.

“You talked to me,” the Gem said, a small smile appearing on her lips. She carefully got out of Steven’s arms and stood up straight herself. “You saved me…” she breathed softly. Her smile broadened just a little as Steven looked at himself in her eyes. “Thank you, I… My name is Lapis. Lapis Lazuli. And- thank you, Steven. For saving me.”


For so long in Lapis Lazuli’s existence there had been… nothing.

There had been the dark, stone floor of the galaxy warp below her. Then the Pearl had came, and found her mirror, and there had been a brief glimmer of hope. But the Pearl had put the mirror inside her gem, and it had been nothing but a void of pure white for a seemingly endless amount of time.

At first, Lapis had tried to entertain herself. Painted pictures in her mind, of the places she’d been. Imagined what she’d do once she got out. Sang old songs to herself, and composed new ones. Wondered what was happening throughout the galaxy without her.

But it was hard. It was hard, and it hurt.

Slowly, Lapis let herself slip away. It was easier to drift, thoughtless. To become the inanimate object she was supposed to be.

Then things had started happening again.

The Pearl had brought her out, and all in a rush, Lapis had come back to herself. The Pearl was talking to a Rose Quartz— the Rose Quartz, certainly— who was talking, in turn, to a human. Lapis could have revealed herself then, but it had hurt, it hurt to do anything, and anyway, she’d been scared. These were Crystal Gems. Everyone had heard stories about what the Crystal Gems had done, and Lapis had known they were true. It was their fault she’d gotten stuck in the mirror in the first place.

So she’d stayed stubbornly silent.

Rose Quartz had passed the mirror on to the human, who’d passed it to another human, who’d then had to give it up to another Pearl. And Lapis had still stayed silent, still watching, still scared to speak up, still scared that she was going to end up spending yet another eternity in another Pearl’s gem.

But… this Pearl was different from the other one. Lapis had recognised her immediately. She was not a rebel. Far from it. She was a familiar face. The sheer blue skirts, the hidden eyes, the diamond insignia, the gem on the breast— this was Blue Diamond’s Pearl.

The Pearl had mentioned Blue Diamond by name, which had confirmed it. Lapis had almost revealed herself then, but held back. She still had so many questions. Why was Blue Diamond’s Pearl on Earth? Why was she in the company of humans? And what would she do, if she found that the mirror could talk? Lock Lapis away again, or begin interrogating her?

Lapis Lazuli had waited, and she’d been given to Steven.

Steven had not been what Lapis expected of a human. Or of anyone, really. He was friendly, and kind, and he had spoken to her. Not like an object, or a tool, but like a person.

And when Lapis talked back, he rescued her.

She was free. Free! She had a body. Arms and legs and eyes and a nose and a mouth. She could feel dirt and grass under her toes, feel wind blowing through her hair. It was dizzying, and overwhelming, and Lapis was grateful when Steven helped her stand.

“You’re welcome,” Steven said, after she’d thanked him. And then, “Um… uh…”

He wasn’t sure what to say next, what to do. Lapis felt the same.

For as long as she’d been in the mirror, Lapis Lazuli had wanted nothing more than to be free. But now that she had that freedom, she wasn’t sure what to do with it. To go home, certainly, but how? She had no wings. She tried and tried to summon them, but all that accomplished was a deep flash of pain which struck right to the core of her being.

So she couldn’t go home. Not yet. But she still had questions she needed answered.

“Can you take me to the Pearl?” Lapis asked.

“Pearl?” said Steven. There was a flash of something like worry or guilt on his face, quickly replaced by a bright smile. “Sure! I bet she’ll love to meet you!”

Hand in hand, Steven lead her back the way he came. As they walked, Lapis reached out, touching passing trees and rocks and leaves, just because she could, just to savour the texture beneath her fingers. Soon they crested the hill, and came to Blue Diamond’s Palanquin.

It was most certainly hers. It was too distinctive to be anything else. But the inside was so… strange. So much… stuff, cluttering up the place.

The Pearl was in the process of actively cleaning and organizing all that stuff. “Welcome back,” she said, turning away from a large storage area Lapis had heard them call ‘a wardrobe’. “That was rather fas—”

The Pearl froze.

“A Lapis Lazuli,” she said. Her mouth opened, then stopped. Her face remained perfectly blank and perfectly motionless for several long seconds. “The mirror.”

Lapis clenched her fists, and nodded.

“She was stuck in there, Pearl!” said Steven. “And she started talking to me, and she was really nice, and she saved me, and she let me out! I mean, I let her out!”

Blue Diamond’s Pearl took a small step towards them. Lapis could not see her eyes, but she could feel them on her. “Gems used to power objects should not be conscious. The process erases their sentience.”

Lapis shrugged, feeling her teeth grind together. “Well. Guess I was the exception. Lucky me.”

There was a taut silence in which nobody moved.

It occurred to Lapis that she wasn’t following any of the proper rules of Court etiquette. It was just— just so hard to focus, she felt like there were fissures running through her mind, making it difficult to remember the right things to say. She managed to bow her head, and said, “I apologize for the intrusion. I come seeking an audience with Blue Diamond.”

Another silence, shorter this time. Finally the Pearl answered, voice cool, “She is not here.”

Ah. That was— strange, wasn’t it? Blue Diamond wasn’t one to go without her personal Pearl.

Lapis shook her head. Didn’t matter. “Can you tell me where she is?”

“No.”

“I see,” Lapis said.

She wanted very, very much, to yell at the Pearl, to demand she tell her where Blue Diamond was. She had not waited stars-knew-how-long to be preventing from finding her home, her Court, and her Diamond. It took all her self-control not to lash out. The Pearl was probably just… following orders.

So Lapis would have to go find Blue Diamond herself. Go back to Homeworld. She didn’t have wings… but she could find water. This was Earth. The planet had a lot of it. She could stretch it and stretch it— make it to space—

Lapis turned on her heels, and said, “Fine. Then I’ll look elsewhere.”

“Wait!” cried Steven, grabbing her by the hand. It was enough to make Lapis stop, if only to thank him again, but then… “You won’t be able to find her!”

Steven,” said Pearl, a warning.

“Why not?” said Lapis.

“Because I’m Blue Diamond!”

What?”

Lapis stared. Stared at the human child. Because that’s obviously what he was. He was tiny, and soft, and warm, and nothing like the regal, dominating Blue Diamond.

The Pearl stepped in between Lapis and Steven, and there was something strange in her demeano, something never seen in a Pearl, something fierce, something protective.

It was enough to make Lapis begin to reconsider things.

“Are you… are you really Blue Diamond?” she asked Steven.

“Don’t answer—” said Pearl.

Steven had opened his mouth, but was now biting his lip. But the way Pearl was acting, that was almost enough. And when Lapis focused her attention on Steven’s chest— there, just poking out above the hem of Steven’s shirt, a tip of a blue triangle…

And she could feel it. Just barely. It was muted, and strange, distorted through her cracked gem, but Lapis could hear Blue Diamond’s Song, thrumming and clear and powerful, now following a strange new beat. Ba-dump. Ba-dump. Ba-dump.

It was coming from Steven.

Lapis raised her hands in the Diamond salute.

Awkwardly, stumbling a bit, Steven responded in kind. Then he stopped. “Uh… wait, I’m not the one who’s meant to do that, am I…?”

Pearl sighed. Lapis couldn’t help but giggle a little.

She stifled that laughter immediately. You didn’t laugh at a Diamond.

But Blue Diamond— or Steven?— just smiled at her. A genuine, warm smile.

“I’m— I’m sorry,” Lapis said. “I’m… confused.”

“That’s okay,” said Steven.

Pearl stood up straighter, holding up her head in a very un-pearl like fashion. “Do you still intend to leave, Lapis Lazuli?”

“I… intend to serve my Court.”

“Your Court,” repeated Pearl. “And your Diamond.”

“Yes.”

The Pearl’s voice was soft, but piercing. “And is your loyalty absolute?”

Lapis did not hesitate. “Yes.”

Pearl flashed the ghost of a smile, laying one hand on Steven’s shoulder. “Then you may stay. And we will explain everything.”

Chapter Text

“So… You just put it in your mouth, chew and swallow?”

Steven nodded as he put another spoonful of cereal into his mouth. “Yep. And that’s eating. Do you want to try some?”

Lapis looked at the bowls milky contents before shaking her head. “No, that’s alright, my Dia— I mean, Steven. Maybe next time?” she added with a small smile.

“It’s okay,” Steven said. “Pearl only eats occasionally.” He picked the bowl up and drained the remaining milk out of it before setting it back down, only for Pearl to come from behind and pick it and the spoon he had been using and placing them in the basin, already filled with soapy water.

“My Steven,” Pearl said as she began washing the bowl, “perhaps you can prepare the first lesson’s textbook?”

“Oh, sure Pearl,” Steven said leaping from his seat. He trotted over to the stack of books that sat next to bed. He ran a finger down the spines of the books, stopping at the one second from the bottom. He lifted all the thick, hardbound textbooks off the geography book he needed. He grabbed it, and let the others drop back down with a dull thud. Book tucked under his arm, Steven walked back to the table, where Lapis still sat. “Are you ready, Pearl?”

Pearl grabbed the nearby hand towel and dried her hands, before turning and nodding at him. “I am. Shall we, my Steven?”

He nodded back at her and the two began to walk over to the study area, before Steven stopped and said to Lapis, “You coming?”

“Coming?” Lapis asked. “Are we going somewhere?”

“Just to the study area,” Steven answered. “It’s time for today’s lessons.”

“Oh. I… didn’t know Diamonds needed lessons.”

“Steven does not share the mind or memories of our Diamond, Lapis Lazuli,” Pearl explained, a slight curt edge to her voice. “That is why he is Steven, rather than Blue Diamond.”

“Ah. Okay, then,” Lapis responded, sounding rather unsure of herself.

Steven reassured her, “It’s okay, Lapis. This is all new to you. You’ll get the hang of it. And we’ll help you. Right, Pearl?”

“Of course,” Pearl answered simply. “Lapis Lazuli is a member of your Court, my Steven.”

“Right! So— Oh! Pearl!” Steven turned excitedly to her. “We should let Lapis have lessons with me!”

“Oh, well, I’m not sure if—”

“But Pearl!” Steven protested, not even letting Pearl finish her response. “Lapis doesn’t know anything about the Earth. And if she’s going to live here, then she needs to know about it. Right?”

Pearl opened her mouth, only to close it and bow. “Very well, my Steven. Lapis Lazuli.” She turned and looked at Lapis. “If you wish to join us, you may.” Without another word, Pearl turned heel and walked towards the study area, Steven following after her.

“Um, okay,” Lapis responded, quickly getting up from her seat and following the two. “Is there really that much to know?”

“Humans make everything more complicated,” Pearl answered. “And there are a lot of humans on this planet.”

Steven, Pearl, and Lapis arrived at the study area, a corner of the Palanquin that featured pillows and a low standing desk covered in various folders and loose sheets of paper. Steven took a seat on one side of the table, Pearl crouching down across from him. Lapis hesitated a moment, then sat next to Steven and asked, “Is that what we’re learning about today? Humans?”

“Kind of,” Steven answered, laying the textbook on the table and opening it to the bookmarked page. “We’re learning about Manila.”

“What’s a ‘Manila’?”

“A city in the Philippines,” Steven answered.

“And a ‘Philippines’ is…?”

“A country,” Steven answered again.

“Oh. Right,” Lapis nodded. “And what’s a country?”

“A way humans divide themselves,” Pearl said. “Somewhat like the Diamonds and their Courts. Only, there are many more countries than just three.”

“One hundred and ninety-four!” recited Steven from memory.

“That seems… very convoluted.”

“It is,” Pearl sighed. “No leader on Earth seems to be able to match the luster of one of the Diamonds. As such human history is full of petty bickering and fighting.”

“But that’s for a history lesson,” Steven said. “Geography is about all the neat places there are on Earth. And we’re focusing on Manila, in the Philippines.” Steven pointed to a drawn picture of a collection of islands in the book.

“Hmm… It seems rather small,” Lapis said, considering the picture.

“It is rather on the small side,” Pearl agreed. “But there is still a considerable population there. Nearly thirteen million humans. Which is significant for a species confined to a single planet.”

“Wow. That’s a minor colony,” Lapis said. “And all those humans live on— is it an island?”

“Yep,” Steven nodded. “But Manila is just one city. There’s way more living on the whole archipelago.”

“Hm. Seems like they’d be cramped,” Lapis mused. “Though, I think I’d like to live on island. Near all that water. I mean, there’s already so much water on this planet but,” she smiled playfully at Steven. “Water is kind of my specialty.”

Steven, however, was unsure what she meant. “Water’s your specialty?”

Lapis blinked her glassy, reflective eyes at him. “Yeah… I’m a Lapis Lazuli. Water is what I do.”

“Ah, my Steven,” Pearl quickly piped in. “Forgive me. I should have briefed you when it became clear that Lapis was staying.” She tilted her head at him and continued, “Lapis Lazulis are part of the terraforming classes of Gems, specifically water.”

“Yeah. I can control the stuff,” Lapis added. “Make it do basically whatever I want. Though, with my gem like it is, I don’t quite have the handle on it I should.”

Lapis’s brow fell a bit, but Steven didn’t notice. Instead, his mind was racing with questions. “Terraforming? What’s that?”

“Broadly speaking, it’s shaping a planet or part of planet to be a certain way,” Pearl answered.

Lapis nodded. “Yeah. For example, I’d go to a planet and do whatever was needed with the water that was on it. Sometimes that meant redistributing it across the surface, sometimes it meant pushing it all to one area, and sometimes it meant getting it all off world completely.”

“Oooh~! So you’ve been to all kinds of different planets?” Steven asked.

“Well, yeah… Why? You haven’t?”

Steven shook his head. “No. Well, Pearl once took me to the Moon Base, but other than that, no.”

“Oh,” Lapis said. “That’s too bad. I mean, Earth seems… nice, but it’s pretty small. And if Manila is any indication, a bit crowded.”

“Yeah…” Steven sighed. “I love Earth. I want to explore every part of it!”  He threw his arm towards the map hanging from the wall, where there was a pin marking every single country Steven had ever gone to. So far there was only twenty three: he had a lot of travelling left. “And after I do, I’m going to go to every other planet and star in the universe!”

Lapis giggled at him. “Well, you’ve certainly got your work cut out for you. I’ve only ever been to a small number of Gem colonies. Learning about all of them and about every other uninhabited planet and star seems rather daunting.”

“But I have it all planned out already,” Steven retorted proudly.

“Oh?” Lapis asked, still grinning and raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah! Hold on!” Steven jumped from his seat and ran back over to his bed, getting on his knees and pulling out a rolled piece of laminated paper. He ran back over to the study area and unrolled his prize onto the table.

“It’s… a bunch of stars?” Lapis asked, looking at the poster.

“It’s all the constellations that can be seen from Earth,” Steven explained. “Once I know everything about Earth, then I’ll start learning all about ‘em.” Steven gazed at the map, diamonds in his eyes. “Isn’t that right, Pearl?”

“Yes. Of course, my Steven. Now, about the less—”

“Lapis, of all the planets you went to, which one was your very favorite?”

Lapis tapped her chin. “Hmm… Well, there was this one planet that was like five times the size of Earth, and water covered over ninety percent of its surface. But around the equator, when the sun would begin to set, you’d get this amazing coloring effect on the water. All sparkly and rainbow. And when I would lift it up, it would just twinkle in the light…”

As Lapis went on with her story, unbeknownst to Steven and Lapis, Pearl sighed quietly to herself, resigned to the fact that her carefully laid out lesson plan for the day probably wasn’t going to happen.


The seaside air was filled with festive sounds— tinny carnival music, the click-click of rides, the roar of screams from the rollercoaster, the sizzle of frying food, the laughter of children— all against a backdrop of seagull caws and ocean waves. Connie took it all in, eyes wide behind her glasses.

“Funland!” she cried. “Oh man, this is going to be great! I haven’t been to an amusement park in forever.”

“Yeah, and I ain’t ever been to one,” said Amethyst.

Connie looked at her sidelong. “You haven’t? You literally live, like, ten minutes away.”

Amethyst shrugged. “I get busy. Besides, technically, I’m not really meant to hang our around humans too much.”

There was an awkward moment as Connie figured out what she could say to that.

It was broken by Amethyst giving a bark of laughter. “Don’t worry!” she said. “You’re cool! ‘Sides, if Rose is allowed to spend time with Mr. Universe, I should be able to spend time with you, right? Fair’s fair.”

“I guess…” Connie said, and began to walk into Funland proper.

Only once she was inside to Connie remember why there was a reason it’d been so long since she’d last been to an amusement park— well, besides the business of schools, extracurriculars, and the near-impossibility of getting her parents to take her. Money.

Even putting aside food— Connie had been sure to pack a lot of nice, healthy snacks— every attraction had signs displaying the number of tokens needed to ride. And those tokens were expensive. Connie visualized her wallet, filled with weeks and weeks of saved allowances, and did some quick mental math. “I think we’ll be able to go on three rides each. Maybe four, if we choose the cheaper ones.”

“No way,” Amethyst said, digging around in her pants pockets. (Something else Connie had apparently inspired her to ‘regenerate’ with). She pulled out a brown burlap bags that jangled. “This is on me.”

“Woah! How much have you got in there?” Connie grabbed a bag from Amethyst’s hand and began digging through it…

… only to slow down considerably as she looked at the coins and realized she didn’t recognise most of the denominations. A few she could figure out— there was some toonies from the Great White North, and what looked like Euros— but others… well, they looked ancient, for starters, and did— were some of them written in Greek ? And here were a couple of small blue ones that were definitely from the Aqua Mexican Empire, which, Connie remembered very clearly from last week’s history lesson, had fallen 230 years ago.

Connie plucked out a coin which was a particularly bright yellow. It felt soft in her hand. “Is this… real gold?”

“Lemme see.” Amethyst took the coin and licked it. “Yep! Not pure though. Some copper mixed in, I think.”

Connie could just shake her head.

Thankfully, among Amethyst’s hodgepodge of archeological coins, there was still a fistful of actual modern American currency. All totalled, that was enough for both of them to get full ten rides each, plus some deliciously unhealthy carnival food.

“Still don’t see why we couldn’t use all of my money,” Amethyst said, tossing an entire thing of cotton candy (and the stick) in her mouth as she and Connie lined up for the Merry Go Round. Connie did her best to explain, which somehow got into a discussion of eCove, and how Amethyst could probably strike it rich if she tries selling her stuff online.

It was a ridiculous, dizzying, amazing day. Ride after ride— tilt-a-whirl, Space Drop, the Teacups— and more. They ran into a brief snag at the Thunder Bird, where it turned out that Amethyst was gonna be too short to ride, but after waving Connie ahead, she’d reappeared two minutes later in the body of a buff teenager. After that, Connie wanted to learn all about Amethyst’s shapeshifting, and they’d gone to the House of Mirrors to experiment with it. Amethyst could make herself tall, or short, or turn herself into an animal, or object, or even a mythical beast—

— she was amazing.

“We gotta do this again sometime,” Amethyst said, as the sun began to set and announcements about the park’s imminent closure.

“Y-yeah,” Connie agreed.

“Oh, I know!” Amethyst ripped a nearby poster off a wall as they passed. “We could go to this!”

“Wrestle-Mania?” Connie read, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah!”

Connie bit her lip as she considered the poster. She didn’t want to sound lame, but… “Isn’t that just a bunch of buff dudes screaming at each other and pretending to fight?”

“Yeah!” Amethyst repeated. “It’s AWESOME!”

As she spoke, Amethyst clenched her arm, its muscles bulging cartoonishly. Connie couldn’t help but giggle. “Okay,” she said, but then she looked more closely at the poster. “Ugh, but it starts at eight-thirty on Saturday nights. No way I’ll be allowed to go!”

Amethyst blinked at her. “Huh? Whaddya mean?”

“It’s late!” Connie exclaimed. “My curfew is like, nine, at the very latest, my parents will want me home…”

Connie had learned that Amethyst had a pretty… patchwork set of things she knew, and got the feeling she’d stumbled into another one of the Gem’s information blanks. Amethyst seemed to have realized that too, and took a moment figuring out her next question. “Why? Do ya have… that ‘school’ thing the next day?”

“No…” said Connie, slowly, as they passed through the gates out of Funland. “I’ve got tennis practice, but that’s not until ten thirty…”

“So… you don’t need to wake up really early?”

“No… But I know my Mom still won’t like it. But I guess if you asked her, or Rose Quartz did…”

Amethyst looked confused again as she fished something out of a nearby trashcan. “Huh?”

“They love you,” Connie explained. “I mean, you saved my life, of course they do. They think you’re responsible.”

“Heh,” Amethyst laughed, through a mouth full of empty-chip bags. “Responsible.”

Connie laughed too, though in a vague, absent sort of way. Maybe it would work. Her parents had always been… overprotective, yeah, and even more so since the accident. Which was only natural, she thought, feeling a flare of pain from her phantom finger. They didn’t like her going anywhere without supervision. But maybe if the invitation came from someone they liked, and respected, or Dad agreed to accompany her… maybe she could go.

Because she wanted to. She really did. Not because she cared about ‘The Lock Ness Blogster’ beating up the ‘Beautiful Builders’ or whoever, but because, well—

She caught sight of the Temple in the distance, a massive, magical statue of ancient stone, staring pensively across the water. That was where Amethyst lived. Amethyst was part of that. She was a Crystal Gem, an ancient, shape-shifting, protector of humanity.

And it was only a matter of time before Amethyst realized that Connie Maheswaran was just… Connie Maheswaran.  


The day, just as Pearl had predicted, did not go anything as she had planned. She supposed she couldn’t begrudge Steven— he always was so friendly with humans and animals, and this was this first Gem aside from herself that he had ever met in his life. And that meeting had gone far better than Pearl could have ever hoped.

Nonetheless, it was frustrating, how every single lesson got waylaid or distracted to explain something to the Lapis Lazuli, or because the Lapis Lazuli had some story of her own to share, or because Steven had wanted to play a game with the Lapis Lazuli—

Pearl made herself hold still, and let out a long sigh. A habit which Greg had taught her, to let out irritation. It was a surprisingly effective technique.

She was relieved when night began to fall, and bedtime preparations began. This too took longer than usual, but eventually Steven’s pajamas were on, his teeth were clean, he was under the covers, and the requested bedtime story read to him.

Steven fluttered his eyelashes up at her and asked, “Can I have a kiss?”

This wasn’t a true order. It was a bonding ritual he had partaken in with Greg, and which Pearl had gladly adopted in his absence. “Hmm,” she said, tapping her chin. “I don’t know…”

“Plllleeeeaaassseeee?”

Pearl smiled. “Very well, then.”

She planted her lips gently, carefully, on Steven’s forehead. When she straightened up, she noticed Lapis Lazuli’s eyes on her, saying nothing. It took all of Pearl’s self-control not to blush.

Lapis Lazuli had been informed of ‘sleep’, and Steven had invited her to join him. Lapis had told him “another time, maybe,” instead electing to explore the area surrounding the Palanquin. Pearl was more than happy to let her go, though not without warning her to be wary if she found any humans.

For a while, it was just her and Steven, in the Palanquin, as it had been for so long. The distant sound of organic wildlife… Steven’s breathing, slow and steady, getting ever slower…

When at last it transformed into a proper snore, Pearl silently got to her feet, grabbed her compact, Blueberry Pi computer, and slid out past the Palanquin’s curtains.

She tread lightly across the grass, through the trees, along the cliff edge, making not a sound as she walked. Soon she came to the grove of bushes, and was pushing them aside to—

“Where’re you going?”

Pearl nearly jumped at the Lazuli’s voice. “Nowhere?”

Lapis Lazuli stepped out from behind a nearby tree, her eyes reflecting strangely in the moonlight. “Then why are you going to a warp pad?” Lapis Lazuli came a little closer, and repeated again, “So where’re you going?”

She’d been caught out in the lie, but Pearls had their own ways of dealing with such situations. She clasped her hands to her chest and said demurely, “I am afraid you are not authorized for that information.”

“Really,” said Lapis Lazuli, voice dry.

Pearl simply bowed her head.

Well then,” said Lapis Lazuli, turning away, “I suppose I’ll just have to ask our Diamond for authorization.”

“N-no! Do not tell Steven!”

Lapis Lazuli turned slowly back. “Wait… even he doesn't know what you're doing?”

Pearl stayed very, very still.

“Okay. He definitely needs to know what's going on.” Lapis Lazuli started off again, quicker this time.

“Wait!” Pearl cried, loud as she dared. Again, Lapis stopped, and the expression she turned on Pearl was scrutinizing. “Please… If you promise not to tell Steven… then I will show my task.”

“I won't promise to keep a secret that might harm my Diamond.”

“It won't.”

“Fine,” Lapis Lazuli said, after a long moment. “Show me.”

The two went through the bushes, and stood in rigid silence on the warp pad as it carried them away. When the blue stream died, they found themselves in a place filled with harsh yellow light. An orange canyon, pock-marked with irregular holes,  stretching up above them, the sun still high and hot in the sky.

“A kindergarten?” said Lapis Lazuli.

Pearl didn’t bother answering such an obvious question.

Instead Pearl led her wordlessly off the warp pad, around the bend, to where the her construction project lay.

It didn’t look like much. For the most part, it was a blue roaming eye, or the remains of one. Huge chunks of its carapace had been removed. Around it was strewn all sort of detritus and debris; piles of human engineering texts, partially-disassembled Injectors, all manner of tools, from wrenches, hammers, screwdrivers, blow torches…

“What are you building?” asked Lapis Lazuli, picking up a piece of scrap metal and staring at it.

Pearl went to the nearest Injector, which she was working on removing its head as carefully as possible. “A drill.”

A what ?”

Pearl bent down, carefully connecting her Pi to a nearby monitor and keyboard. She considered grabbing the fine pair of scissors needed for the carefully work of cutting the Injector’s wiring, but instead, went for a laser knife. Depending on how the Lazuli reacted, it may be needed. She said, “You were imprisoned during the middle of the War, weren’t you?”

“I guess.”

“You would not have been aware of the political climate near the end,” Pearl said. She inspected the wiring as she spoke. “The Crystal Gem rebellion gained more and more ground. More and more momentum. It soon became clear that they would take the planet. The Diamonds were willing to accept the loss of a single colony, even one bountiful as Earth, but they could not risk the rebel movement spreading.”

Pearl felt Lapis move a little closer. “Okay…”

“The rebels’ greatest weapon were their hybrid fusions. So Homeworld decided to build one of their own, greater than any other.”

“‘Build’?”

Pearl nodded. “They took the shards of every fallen Gem they could find, and placed them deep within the planet’s mantle. There the heat and pressure is fusing them into a single being.”

“That’s…” Lapis trailed off. Finally, Pearl looked at her. Her expression was mingled disgust and horror.

The feeling was mutual. Pearl knew it wasn’t her place to question her superiors, but even at the time, she had thought the plan seemed highly… distasteful. If hybrid fusions were so terrible, stooping to the rebels’ level to create one for themselves seemed rather— hypocritical. Perhaps if it had only been traitors, it could have been justified, but loyal Gems’ shards too had been used, and…

Well. It wouldn’t do to dwell.

Pearl continued in her explanation. “It was estimated that the Cluster fusion would take approximately five thousand years to emerge. That leaves only a matter of time before it forms, destroying this planet.” Pearl carefully cut through a pair of wires. “I am building a drill to destroy it first.”

Lapis’s brow was creased. “And you’re doing this… against Blue Diamond’s orders?”

“No. I am doing this on them.”

Pearl explained further. Blue Diamond had always been reluctant on destroying Pink Diamond’s former colony, but when she had decided to stay on Earth and have a child there, she had turned against the idea completely. Before she had… passed, she had entreated Pearl with the duty of decommissioning the Cluster.

Blue Diamond had entreated this duty to a Pearl. A Pearl!

A Pearl who had not been made for engineering, or science, or mathematics, and had no training in it besides, who was now supposed to figure out how to build a drill capable of penetrating the planet’s crust and destroying the most powerful geoweapon ever engineered.

Pearl’s hand gripped the laser knife handle tighter.

“Alright,” said Lapis Lazuli, at length. “So… why are you hiding this from Steven?”

“I don’t want to scare him.”

Pearl sighed, and allowed herself to sit on the dusty ground. It took all her self restraint not to cup her face in her hands.

Lapis Lazuli looked surprised. She hovered, uncertain about what to say. “Well… I don’t think you need to worry too much. You’re working on this drill thing. And if the planet is destroyed, well, you can just take him to space.”

“It’s not that simple,” Pearl said. “Yes, I could take him to space… but what then, Lapis Lazuli? This is his home. He adores it. It would break his heart to lose it. And where would we go?”

“Homeworld,” said Lapis Lazuli. As if it was obvious.

Because it was obvious. Of course it was. That’s what Pearl had assumed. That’s why she had taught Steven so much about himself, about his mother, about his Homeworld and a Diamond’s duty to it, and its duty to their Diamonds. Why shouldn’t she? It was his right, his destiny.

“But he can’t go to Homeworld,” Pearl said, and she didn’t meant to say anything else, but the words just came spilling out, like a dam suddenly bursting. “Not now. Perhaps never. Steven is Blue Diamond’s son, but he is not Blue Diamond. I see that now. He is small, and naive, and so fragile, and his body is made of meat. Homeworld… the other Diamonds, they’ll say he’s defective, and you know what they do to defects!”

Pearl’s hand clenched and unclenched around the knife, as she cursed herself for not having realized sooner, for having told Steven about all these things which he could not have.

She rounded on Lapis. “Which is why I don’t appreciate you coming in here, and telling him stories about far off stars and planets which he’ll never be able to see!”

Lapis Lazuli flinched back.

It occurred to Pearl she was holding up the knife in an almost threatening way. She lowered it.

“Sorry,” said Lazuli.

Pearl bowed her head. “You could not have known.”

There was a silence.

Eventually, Lapis Lazuli bent down. Grabbed something off the ground. It was a screwdriver. “Guess we’ll just need to make sure this Cluster-thing never emerges, huh?”

“We,” echoed Pearl.

“Yeah.” Lapis smiled a little. “I’ll help.”

Pearl stared at her. “Do you know anything about mechanics?”

“Nope.”

“Me neither.” Pearl risked a small grin. “So you shall fit right in.”

Chapter Text

It had only been three Earth days since she had been freed, which was a short period no matter how you counted it, but to Lapis, it felt like so much more.

It was almost overwhelming, in fact, the constant barrage of things just happening. New things to see and hear all the time, with Lapis actively able to seek them out— and other senses, too. Touch, smell, even taste— which was a new, interesting one. Lapis wasn’t entirely convinced the whole ‘food’ thing, especially the part where you actually swallowed and digested, but she did think flavours were fun. Her favorite so far was ‘kkotgae snek’, which was a ‘chip’ that supposedly tasted like ‘crab’. Lapis wasn’t entirely certain what a crab was, but personally Lapis found the saltiness reminded her of the planet’s oceans.

Better, even, than the ability to move and sense things was how she could just… talk. Actually talk. Say whatever she wanted to say, how she wanted to say it, not just cobbling other people’s words together. To talk, and to have others listen.

And they did listen. That was the wonderful thing. Pearl did, and not just in that passive, quiet way expected from a Pearl. Her attention was razor sharp, and it was almost disquieting, how hard it was to tell what she was thinking, with her eyes so hidden and her face so blank. But she responded when you spoke, and asked questions, gave advice— orders, even.

And then there was Steven.

Steven was strange.

He listened too, with a genuine curiosity. But mostly, he talked. About all sorts of things. The subjects he learned in his books, random facts about the Earth, the stories he liked to read, his animal friends, what kinds of pencils worked best for what kind of drawings…

He was very different from the distant, regal figure who had presided over the Blue Court.

Just then, Steven was sprawled out on the grass, his art book in front of him, an array of coloured pencils spread out in front of him as he sketched the landscape before them. He kept chewing on the end of a green pencil idly as he considered his next stroke.

He’d given Lapis a notebook of her own to draw in, “if you want to”, and Lapis found she rather did. Problem was, she kept getting distracted. By the tickle of grass on her feet, or wind blowing hair in her face, or the occasional painful screech from the crack, bringing her mind to a halt—

Lapis bit her lip against the pain, and tried to find something to distract herself with until it faded. She caught herself staring up into the sky, where a bird lazily circled. It looked so tiny from here, so far from this planet. Lapis longed to be up there with it, or even further, stretching wings of her own…

Steven let out a chirp, saying something to the bird, and Lapis shook her head. She stared around for something else to focus on. She found a little creature crawling through the grass: tiny, black, with six legs, and two waving sticks at the top of its head.

“What’s this?” she asked.

“An ant,” Steven said, glancing at it, then returning to his art.

Lapis leaned down to get a closer look. The ant didn’t even seem to notice she was there. The difference in scale was just too immense. “Can you communicate with it too?”

“Nope.”

“Why not?” asked Lapis.

“Because it can’t talk,” said Steven. He selected a brown pencil and began to shade in a tree as he continued, “Least, not any way I can hear. I read that ants use these chemical thingies called pheromones to tell each other where food and stuff is. But birds, and deer, and frogs and stuff? They make noises. Understanding them is no different than understanding Gem, or English, or Korean.”

But it was different. Lapis had known that Diamonds had translation capabilities that far surpassed other Gems’ — but she’d always assumed that was for diplomacy among other sentient species. Not creatures like the deer Steven had introduced her to earlier, which didn’t seem to be particularly intelligent.

But then, maybe Lapis was being unfair. Just because something didn’t speak in a way that you could hear, didn’t mean it wasn’t thinking, after all.

Lapis was just about to ask what kind of things the bird was saying, when Pearl’s voice came from the Palanquin, interrupting them. “Steven! Your father is calling!”

Immediately Steven sprang to his feet, rushing over, leaving his sketchbook and pencils behind. Lapis considered for a moment, then picked them all up and carried them over. She liked being able to do stuff like that.

By the time she reached the Palanquin, Steven was already sitting at the low table, Pearl kneeling besides them, the two of them facing the monitor that Pearl had connected the Pi to. A voice was coming from the device, and as Lapis came closer, she could see a face to match. It sent a wave of unease rolling over her, one that she fought against. It wasn’t like the mirror, Steven had promised, when he’d shown her a TubeTube video yesterday. There wasn’t anyone trapped inside. It was just moving pictures, just a recording of someone far, far away.

“Oh! There she is!” Steven waved her over. “Come say hi to my Dad!”

After putting the art supplies down, Lapis came, but kept some distance— and not just because she was still adjusting to the easy physical contact Steven and Pearl exhibited. The human on the screen smiled at her. “Hey! Lapis, right? Steven’s been texting me all about you. Nice to meet ya!”

“We’ve already met,” Lapis said. She did not smile back.

“We… have?”

“In a sense, Mr. Universe.”

The human’s brow creased in confusion, and then his eyes widened in understanding. “Oh, right— you were the mirror, so you must’ve heard Rose talking to me.”

“Yes,” said Lapis.

“Aw, geez. I’m sorry. That must’ve sucked for you.”

“It did, yes.” Which was the understatement of the millennia. But Lapis could see the pity on the man’s face, not to mention anxiety on Steven’s, plus some sort of wordless judgement from Pearl. There would be no benefit in holding it against this human, who’d had no idea who or what she’d been. “But it’s not your fault.”

“But now Lapis is out, and everything’s great now!” said Steven, eagerly.

Lapis smiled. Not everything. But a lot.

The conversation carried on to lighter subjects. Lapis was content to listen as Steven and Mr. Universe talked about all manner of things, with Pearl occasionally interjecting. She was very talkative for a Pearl, but Lapis found she didn’t mind at all. Her comments were always so calm compared to the other two’s, and Lapis suspected that she was subtly rephrasing everything she said to make it a little easier for Lapis to grasp. Lapis appreciated that. Everything was confusing enough without having to work out exactly what a ‘car wash’ was, or why the fact it was closed on ‘Sundays’ was relevant.

“— so anyway, there’s this big boat festival coming in a couple of weeks, so I’m gonna perform at the opening ceremonies,” Mr. Universe was saying. (Or perhaps he was ‘Greg’— that’s what Pearl called him.)

“Aww, I wanna come,” said Steven.

“I know, stchoo-ball, but it’s just too dangerous,” said Greg. “Big event like that? Way too many people.”

“And Crystal Gems,” said Steven with a sigh. “I know. Still wanna come. I miss you.”

“Miss you too, son.”

“We’ll arrange another visit as soon as we can, my Steven,” said Pearl, squeezing his shoulder.

Steven grinned. “And when we do, we can bring Lapis! You’d love it,” he said, beaming at her. “You were saying how much you wanted to see the ocean, and this is right by the beach— maybe we could go swimming—”

“Sounds wonder-”

Pain sliced through her core, cutting Lapis off-mid word with a wince.

Immediately Steven’s face filled with anxiety. “Lapis? What’s wrong?”

“I— my gem —” Lapis said. She waved him away. “It’s okay, it’s fine, it just— hurts sometimes—”

“That doesn’t sound ‘fine’!” Steven said, his voice shot through with alarm.

Lapis could feel Pearl behind her, head bent close to her back— close, but not quite touching. “It does not appear to be getting any worse,” she said. “But the damage is quite… severe. I am impressed by how well you function despite it.”

“The damage is severe ?” Steven echoed, looking almost scared now.

Lapis ground her teeth. “I’m fine.”

She was. She could handle this. She was one of the finest Lazulis ever produced. Perfectly shaped, no pyrite impurities at all, able to move an entire planet’s water supply all by herself. She had dealt with that crack for thousands of years, and she could deal with it for thousands more—

“You’re hurt,” Greg was saying. “Is there anyway to help?”

“No,” said Lapis. Once a gem was damaged, that was it.

“None? Because Rose Quartz can heal— there must be somebody else who could—”

Pearl, who was always rather still, froze completely.

“Rose Quartz can heal,” Pearl repeated. “You’re correct, Greg. Rose Quartz can heal.”

Lapis unclenched her fist. The pain was fading now; she could better focus on what was going on. That had been a rumour, hadn’t it? That Rose Quartz’s healing powers were the only reason she could keep her small mess of an army alive against Homeworld’s superior forces—

— was the rumour true?

“—I saw her heal this kid, little girl, she was almost dead, but when Rose was done, she was practically good as new— Do you think it would work on a Gem, too?”

“I think it would, yes,” said Pearl. “I am almost certain, in fact.”

Lapis could feel something like hope bubbling up inside her— and popped it before it could get out of hand. “So what?” she said. “It’s not like I can just go up to the Crystal Gems and be like, ‘hi there, will you please heal me?”

“They’d attack you on sight,” Steven agreed.

On screen, Greg was rubbing his hairy chin. “Rose… she mentioned once that she has this fountain, filled with healing tears.”

“Really?” Steven asked. His dad nodded. Steven stood up suddenly, throwing his shoulders back, and for a moment, Lapis could see the Blue Diamond in him. “Then we’ll find that fountain and we’ll get Lapis healed!”

The confidence in Steven’s voice was so genuine, so certain that Lapis Lazuli allowed hope bubble up in her, after all.


Mr. Universe was up to something. Pearl was sure of it.

She’d never liked the human, and made no secret of the fact. Oh, there was nothing wrong about him, nothing obviously bad, but nothing about him stuck out as particularly impressive, either. That was what frustrated Pearl the most. She couldn’t see what made Rose gravitate towards him. Round and hairy, he didn’t seem very attractive, even by male human standards. His humor was strange and baffling. He acted so nervous and jumpy all the time. Whenever he did talk about himself, there was an impersonal quality to the stories he told, like he was keeping out huge chunks of detail.

He was successful, Pearl supposed, but then, the same could be said for a great many humans. And she could admit some of his music was… catchy, but surely, no great works of art when compared to pieces composed by the likes of Jin Hao or Sapphos?

(Now she was a human worthy of respect, Pearl thought, allowing herself a brief pang of nostalgia she she remembered that visit to Greece. When would that have been, two thousand years ago? Three?)

Pearl mentally shook herself, and refocused on the present. Here and now, she needed to keep herself on Greg Universe, who was currently trekking up the hilly landscape below.

He paused, stopping to take a swig of water and looking around. On the rocky ledge above, Pearl pressed herself onto the ground, out of sight, and waited. A few moments later, she poked her head back out. The human was continuing in his hike, still completely oblivious to her presence.

What is he doing?

Pearl had gotten very familiar with Mr. Universe’s habits. Aside from the occasional out of town trip, he spent all of his time in Beach City, and the bulk of that either at his carwash, his friends’ houses, or— Pearl’s lips pressed together— at the Temple. He liked to ‘hang out’, which as far as Pearl could tell, meant eating, drinking, talking about random things, and just generally wasting time.

He’d always been interested the Crystal Gems and their lives. Very interested. He asked all sorts of questions about them; their powers, their intentions, their histories. It had rubbed Pearl the wrong way, but she hadn’t been particularly surprised. Humanity was a curious species, and there had always been individuals among them fascinated by Gemkind.

But lately, his interest had gotten… narrower.

Mr. Universe was going away from the main road now, poking in among the bushes and behind rocks. Like he was looking for something. Searching.

Pearl suspected she knew what.

She followed from above, watching as he made his way farther and farther up into the hills, staying close to the road for the most part, but always taking little detours or bringing out a pair of binoculars to scout the land. Pearl followed easily, secure in the knowledge she wouldn’t be found. She was a veteran soldier. She had lead hundreds of raids against Homeworld troops, dozens of spy missions, trained almost every new recruit in the rebellion. She was quick; she was silent; she was the essence of stealth—

“Pearl.”

She nearly screamed and jumped five feet in the air.

Nearly. She didn’t, because she had control of herself.

Instead, she whipped around. “G-Garnet,” she said, voice low. “What are you doing here?”

“I could ask you the same thing,” Garnet said, stepping closer.

Pearl didn’t answer. She just glanced back down into the valley below, to double check Mr. Universe still hadn’t noticed her. He hadn’t.

Garnet came to watch with her as he continued up the slope. She said, “You’re following him.”

Pearl didn’t deny it.

“Rose wouldn’t like that.”

“This isn’t about Rose!”

“Hmm,” said Garnet, and Pearl could feel the doubt radiating off of her.

But it wasn’t. It really, really wasn’t, even if Rose was being completely illogical and stubborn

“You know he’s acting suspicious,” Pearl said aloud, starting up again to follow the human.

“Curiosity isn’t a crime,” Garnet said, following her. “And of all our abilities, it’s logical that healing would be the one he’s most interested in—”

“But why now?” said Pearl, in a fierce whisper. “Why start asking about the Fountain now ? He barely asked anything after that human child was harmed, and then out of the blue, it’s all he talks about!”

It was an exaggeration, but not much one. When the girl— what was her name? Canny? Conny?— had been injured, Mr. Universe had had a few questions about the healing performed on her, mostly for the sake of reassuring her parents that it was safe. Once that had been sorted out, things had carried on as normal. But then, against Pearl’s judgement, Rose had given Greg a gem-powered mirror. Non-functional, but still: not the type of trinket to just give away to humans willy nilly. And the the human had disappeared for some time, and not long after reappearing, the questions had started.

Can all Gems heal? No? Why not? Are there limits? You mentioned you have a fountain? Oh, it sounds great, I’d love to see it some day. Where is it, anyway?

And oh, Rose indulged some of the questions. Others she laughed off, even as they became more pressing, more constant. She treated it all like— like some game, like it was just flirting, like the human wasn’t trying to get at their greatest secrets—

That had to be it. That had to be. Mr. Universe had gotten a little taste of Gem kind’s powers, and was greedy for more.

Pearl had to briefly let Mr. Universe out of sight, since the slope by the roadside had flattened and the brush here was sparser, making the area more exposed. No matter. She was fairly confident she knew his final destination; she would loop around the long way and settle into a good hiding spot there.

“Pearl,” said Garnet, “Greg’s interest in the healing Fountain most likely isn’t malevolent. Most likely, he’s simply ill, or knows someone else who is.”

They came to the base an eighty-five degree cliff-face. “Perhaps,” Pearl said, as she found her first hand hold and began upwards. “But why not simply tell Rose that? She’d perform the healing. She likes him. Why be so cagey? Why go on secret expeditions to find the Fountains?”

Garnet didn’t give an answer, which meant she didn’t have one.

Of course, Pearl had brought all this up with Rose, just yesterday. At first, Rose had just giggled. Then Rose had said Pearl was just being overly suspicious. When Pearl had kept pressing, Rose had started getting… irritated. Irritated, than angry. “ Just because you don’t like him doesn’t mean you can slander him! I won’t fall for that, Pearl, and I’m not going to rewrite my entire life for your comfort!

Pearl ground her teeth and hoisted herself up.

The top of this cliff looked down on a circular pool of water below. Rose Quartz made regular visits to the place, but not for the reason Mr. Universe might expect. There was magic here, but not in the form of tears. Rather, it took the shape of a rather disgusting green moss that grew in the still, shaded water. There was quite a lot of it now, Pearl observed, seeing how it covered the majority of the pool’s surface, and many of the rocks. No doubt soon Rose would soon carry all of it up to the top of the nearby hill for its springtime blooming.

No sign of Mr. Universe yet. The aging human was probably catching his breath somewhere.

A hand rested on Pearl’s shoulder. Pearl turned to look at Garnet. Her mouth was turned down in a small, preoccupied frown.

“I agree that his behaviour has been odd,” Garnet said. “But put that aside for a moment. You need to talk with Rose, Pearl.”

“I did! You heard how it went!” Because how could Garnet not have? The yelling had reverberated through the entire Temple.

“Not about him,” Garnet said. “Pearl, this keeps happening. She finds a human, you get upset—”

“I’ve tried to stop her,” Pearl said, and she could feel burning behind her eyes. “But— but, she does what she wants—”

And of course she did, how could Pearl begrudge Rose that, it was what the rebellion had been about, the chance to do whatever one wanted—

“You need to tell her what you want,” said Garnet.

Pearl wanted Rose Quartz to love her. And Rose already did, surely? But there was always the fear— that nagging voice saying she wasn’t good enough, she was just a pearl, why would Rose want her? Pearl wanted to be certain, wanted to be her only… But how could she ask that of her, without coming across as cruel, or clingy, or controlling? And anyway, part of Pearl thought, I shouldn’t have to ask for that. After all we’ve been through, it should just be a given.

She stared at the ground, feeling Garnet’s gaze on her but unable to meet it, trying to find the right words to explain all of that—

— when there was a splash.

Pearl whipped around. Below, Mr. Universe had arrived, and had climbed over the boulders to the water, poking a hand in experimentally.

His brow furrowed. He took off his backpack, and started rummaging around in it. On the water nearby, there was movement. Like a ripple, or an ungulation— the moss, reaching up for him—

“Mr. Universe!” Garnet cried.

The human jumped, straighted, spun around, saw the Gems on the cliff above him, yelped—

And fell into the water, with a splash and a dull crack. Drawn by the disruption, the moss came faster, quickly beginning to engulf him.

Garnet and Pearl exchanged the briefest of glances. Then the two Crystal Gems jumped down to rescue him.

It wasn’t difficult to pull him out of the water, though it was considerably harder to remove the moss from his body. It regenerated quickly, and it required the Gems’ full speed to remove it before it could regrow, plus the occasional electric shock from Garnet to stun it—

Finally, Mr. Universe lay dripping on the shore, heaving for breath, but no longer in threat danger of being immediately suffocated. Pearl wondered if perhaps they should have left him, but it was an idle thought with no real intention behind it.

“Foolish,” she said, turning away from him.

“Y-yeah. I— sorry. You startled me,” he said. “T-thanks.”

“You’re hurt,” Garnet said.

Pearl looked, and saw that Garnet was correct. She hadn’t noticed, because there was no blood, the usual marker of human injury, but his leg was bent at a very odd angle. Probably quite painful, judging from the expression on his face.

Mr. Universe touched it gingerly, then winced. “I think I broke it on the rocks. Oh, geez, how am I gonna get back…?”

Pearl sighed. However tempting it may have been, they couldn’t just leave him there. “We’ll carry you back,” she said, then looked at Garnet. “Where’s Rose?”

“The Fountain,” she answered, after a moment.

“Of course,” said Pearl. For all that Mr. Universe had gone searching in completely the wrong location, it seemed that in the end, he was still going to find what he was looking for. But then, maybe it’d be for the best. If he really did have some human disease, then perhaps once he was healed he would get out of their hair.

Garnet bent down, and picked the human up in her arms. He looked like an overgrown infant. He managed a watery smile.

“Uh, thanks,” he said again.

Garnet nodded.

Pearl simply said, “Come on. Let’s go.”


“Uh, can you like, carry more gently?”

Garnet tightened the corners of her mouth before simply stating, “You could be hopping behind me.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s true,” Greg laughed nervously, unsure if the Gem was joking or not.

Luckily for Greg and his uncomfortably placed leg, after the trek all the way back to the Temple, they didn’t have to walk far from the warp pad to get to the Fountain. Just down a path through a rose garden, ('Of course there are roses”, Greg thought to himself) and soon they came to a what looked like an elegant brick wall with an archway in it. The stone was pink, because of course it was.

“The Fountain is through here,” Pearl informed as she walked perfectly next to Garnet and Greg, her eyes occasionally darting from in front of her over to helpless Greg in Garnet’s arms.

Even with a leg broken, this Pearl still didn’t like him.

Once through the archway, Greg saw the Fountain and, as promised by Garnet, Rose was there, sitting on the edge of the Fountain proper, staring down at something within.

She noticed the sound of them before they got too close, and looked up For a split second, she looked— upset, or frustrated maybe, or sad, her face crumpled, eyes red, her fists clenched—

And in an instant it cleared, and like the sun coming out from behind dark clouds, was replaced with a look first of delight, and then concern.

What was that about? Greg wondered.

“Mr. Universe! Oh, stars! Are you okay?” Rose quickly rose from her seat and rushed over to them.

“He fell,” Pearl stated simply.

Rose’s brow dropped. “And is that all?”

“And he may have broken something,” Garnet added. “If the snapping sound was any indication.”

“There wasn’t a snapping sound,” Greg protested. “Just… Maybe a bit of a cracking sound…”

Rose bent down and examined his hurt leg, looking it over and finally gently prodded it. Greg winced, doing his best not to yelp in pain.

“Hmm...” Rose murmured. “I do think it might be broken, Mr. Universe.”

“Great,” Greg groaned, trying to act natural. He was at the Fountain. He’d hoped that he could find the place by himself, fill a water bottle with the healing tears and leave with it with no one the wiser, but there was no way that was going to happen. Too many people around, too many eyes watching.

Now he just needed to know where exactly he was. “I don’t suppose you could do something about it Rose? Like you did for that girl Amethyst saved?”

“I’m quite certain, Rose answered, smile playing at her lips. “In fact, we can use the Fountain.”

“The healing fountain,” Greg said, playing dumb. “You mean this is the fountain?”

There wasn’t any mistaking it. The centerpiece was a life sized statue of Rose Quartz carved out of shimmering pink rock, tears endlessly flowing from the stone figure’s eyes into the basin below. It was more than a little self-aggrandizing, in Greg opinion. Blue had never felt the urge to erect statues to herself around the place.

(Well, maybe she had, back at home, but then, she was a space queen.)

Rose grinned sheepishly at him. “Sorry,” she said. “I forget that you’re not as informed as the rest of us.”

Greg heard Pearl huff behind him. Not for the first time, he wondered what had happened to her to make her so rude.

“But yes. This is the Fountain,” Rose went on. “You remember that it was my tears that healed the young girl, yes? Here, Garnet. Sit him on the edge here, so he can put his leg in. Not immediately. We need to ensure it sets correctly.”

Garnet did so, Greg wincing again as his leg bent into a sitting position. “Yeah, I remember that,” he said, trying not to make it sound like he was in pain.

Rose must have taken note regardless. “Pearl. Can you help keep his leg straight?”

For a moment it looked like Pearl was going to protest, but she instead silently knelt to her knees and jerked Greg’s leg straight, her grip perhaps a mite tighter than it needed to be.

“Thank you, Pearl,” Rose smiled. She turned around and was leaning into the Fountain.

Greg looked behind him into the Fountain to see what she was doing and saw... something in a pink bubble, partly submerged in the water. “What’s that?” He pointed at the bubbled object.

“Ah, that’s just... a project.”

“Rose.” It was Garnet. Greg turned his gaze to her and she had folded her arms across her chest. “You’re still at it.”

“Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”

Garnet didn’t answer. Instead, she pursed her lips and tilted her head. As if she were trying to tell Rose something without actually telling her.

They don’t want to talk about whatever it is while I’m around, Greg thought to himself. Suspicious.

But luckily for Greg, Rose either didn’t notice or just ignored Garnet’s attempt. “I told you, both of you, before. I’m not stopping until I have... a way to help them.”

“We know, Rose,” Garnet said simply.

There was a beat of silence before Greg chimed in, “Who are you helping exactly? Is someone else hurt who needs the Fountain?”

Rose smiled softly at him. It was a bittersweet expression. “In a way.”

“Who is it?”

As he asked that, the other Pearl jerked his leg suddenly and he cried out in pain. “Sorry. Slipped,” she offered, both points clearly not true.

“Just... some old friends,” Rose said. She reached into the fountain and pushed the bubble to the other side of the Fountain. “It’s nothing you should concern yourself with, Mr. Universe.”

“Nothing I can do to... I dunno, help or something?”

Rose giggled. “You’re sweet,” she said laying a gentle hand on his shoulder. “But this really isn’t something you should worry yourself over, Mr. Universe. Just Gem business.”

“Not that he could do much anyway...” Pearl muttered under her breath.

Greg wasn’t sure how much he bought this story. Sure, he wanted to believe that these Gems were helping someone… but they’d started a war. They’d killed Pink Diamond. They’d kept Lapis Lazuli prisoner for thousands of years. Traded her away like a trinket. And if they really had turned over a new leaf, and were trying to heal someone or other, they wouldn’t have have to keep it some big mystery.

Rose gave Pearl an aside look, but didn’t respond. Instead she sat down next to Greg. “Healing your leg should be a simple task. You’re not nearly as hurt as the young girl was, you should be able to keep you leg.”

“Well that’s a relief,” Greg replied. “I’m pretty fond of this leg.”

Rose giggled again. “I can imagine. After all, you can’t simply regenerate a new one.” She grew quiet as she tapped the corner of her mouth. “Hmm... I was going to have you dip your whole leg into the Fountain but...”

“But what?”

“It would probably be best if your leg is kept straight like that while it heals. So that it sets properly.”

“Yes,” Garnet cut in. “We wouldn’t want another incident like with that Greek soldier and his ankle.”

“My, he did not appreciate our help, did he?” Rose asked as she leaned into the Fountain and cupped her hands. “Certainty not like you, Mr. Universe.” She rose from the Fountain, water sitting in her cupped hands. “You’re so kind and sweet. And charming.” She grinned at him, in a way that made her intentions completely clear. And made Greg very uncomfortable. And guilty.

Blue, I’m sorry. Please forgive me for this, Greg thought.

He put his most charming smile on. “Well, you’re pretty sweet yourself.”

Rose chuckled as she held her cupped hands over his leg. “Are you holding his leg ready, Pearl?”

“I am,” Pearl replied wearily.

Rose nodded as she let a small trickle of water splash onto Greg’s broken leg. The water felt surprisingly warm for for just sitting in a heavily shaded grove. In fact, as the water hit his leg, it was like a wave of warmth swept through his whole body. Greg blinked, as sparkles began to dot over his vision.

Rose’s hands parted, as the last bits of water fell from them. “Okay, Pearl. You can put his leg down.”

Pearl didn’t so much as put his leg down as dropped it, but as it fell Greg didn’t feel any pain. Indeed, his leg felt great.

His whole body felt great, in fact. The soreness in his feet from the hike; the aches in his back; the crick in his neck he’d had for the last month… All of it had faded, almost completely.

“Wow,” he marveled. “That’s incredible.”

Hm. It’s certainly something,” Rose smiled. “I’m fortunate that I was gifted such a power. It has proven invaluable over my lifetime.”

“Yeah, I can imagine,” Greg answered. “Though... does that mean that the Fountain is full of your tears?”

Rose nodded. “It does.”

“Wow,” Greg said slowly, eyeing the huge basin. He could only imagine how much crying it had taken to fill the whole thing. “Well, I hope those tears don’t have a shelf life or anything.”

Rose laughed, which wasn’t the reaction Greg expected. Though maybe it should have been. “Mr. Universe, you always say the funniest things. ”

Greg’s brow furrowed as he looked down at his feet. “Um, yeah. Thanks.” He blinked, refocusing. He still had more to do. “So, um... Where are we exactly?” All three sets of eyes were on him. He suddenly felt very weighed down. “I mean... it’s hard to keep track sometimes, ya know? With warp pads and stuff.”

“We’re on Earth,” the other Pearl shot at him. “That’s all you need to know.”

“Pearl!” Rose chided. “What did I tell you about being civil?”

“Civility doesn’t extend to just telling people your most closely guarded secrets, Rose!” Pearl snapped back.

Rose frowned at her, but didn’t answer back directly. “I’m sorry, Mr. Universe,” she said, turning back to him. “I’m afraid I don’t really know where we are. At least, not by how humans chart the world.”

“So you don’t have any idea?” It was a statement more than a question. Greg did his best to hide the frustrated disappointment out of his face.

Rose shook her head. “I’m sorry, Mr. Universe. If we had a map, I could show you. But human countries and provinces change so much and so quickly, it’s hard to keep track of it all.”

Greg sighed. He came all this way, literally broke his leg doing so, and he couldn’t even find out the information he needed.

What was he going to tell Steven?

“I believe we are in France.” Greg turned, finding out it was Garnet of all people who had spoke.

“Garnet!” Pearl protested, before immediately folding her arms and clamming up.

“Is that where we are?” Rose asked, completely ignoring the fuming Pearl right next to her. “Thank you, Garnet. No doubt that will be useful to know.”

“Well, France is a pretty big place. Do you know what part we’re in, exactly? Like, Paris, or the south, or what?”

Garnet fixed him with a heavy look that instantly made him regret asking. For a split second, Greg was sure Garnet knew the truth.

“Not really,” she answered flatly, gaze unwavering. “Besides, if you’re hurt again, just come to one of us and we’ll bring you here.”

Greg gulped. “Heh, yeah. Right. No need... for that.”

“Yes, why don’t we just bring him here everyday,” Pearl said bitterly. “Stars, we should just invite that whole town! I’m sure they’d all love to come with you, Rose!”

“Pearl...”

Rose reached over to put a hand on other Pearl’s shoulder, but she shrugged it off.

“I’m going back to the Temple,” she said despondently. She marched off towards the archway without a second glance. Garnet glanced at Rose, nodded, and followed after her.

Rose sighed.

“Hey, look,” Greg quickly said. “I’m... sorry if me being here is causing any trouble.”

Rose smiled at him, tinged with just a note of sadness. “It’s not your fault, Mr. Universe. Pearl can simply be... unreasonable, at times.”

“Yeah... You’re telling me.”

“I still love her dearly,” Rose added. “But sometimes it feel like... like she doesn’t understand what I desire.”

“Uh, yeah...”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Rose said. “This must be boring to you.”

“No, no. It’s alright,” Greg assured. “You can tell me anything.”

“You’re so sweet. And cute,” Rose added with a grin. She got up from her seat, Greg doing the same, being careful not to put too much weight on his previously broken leg. But then, he really didn’t feel any pain there at all. “I’ll take you back to the Temple, Mr. Universe. Follow me.”

He did so. As they walked through the garden and Rose talked about the various different types of roses that were planted, a single thought kept repeating through Greg’s mind:

The Fountain is in France.

Chapter Text

The information Greg got out of the Crystal Gems was a solid starting place. It gave them their first lead yet.

France was, admittedly, a rather large area of the planet, and searching the entirety of it on foot would be a daunting, if not impossible task. Thankfully, it was not a task which would be required of them. They have the internet. She began with a broad search ‘France healing’. It brought up many non-relevant terms, as Pearl knew it would— mainly hospitals and clinics in the country. She refined her search terms, again and again, and soon got more promising results. Myths of miraculous healings. Stories of a spring of eternal youth. A local saint, ‘La Dame des Roses’, associated with agriculture and protection. The encyclopedia article was filled with analysis and speculation, pointing out the similarities the figure bears to many religious and mythological figures across human cultures.

Pearl ignored all of that. It wasn’t important.

Humans had finally advanced to the stage that they had orbital satellites monitoring their entire planet, and they’d used that technology to produce a comprehensive mapping system accessible by anyone with a computer. As rudimentary as it was, it served its purpose. Pearl pulled up that Gaggle Maps for that specific region of France, Steven and Lapis craning over her shoulders. The boy lost interest in less than an hour, and wandered off to practice his Korean vocabulary, but Lapis stayed. She was a solid presence at Pearl’s side, never faltering, never blinking.

Pearl caught herself distracted by those mirrored eyes, and wondered how they would look once healed.

It took an entire night of poring over the map, but at last, Pearl caught something. A grainy image taken from space. Tucked among the mountain ranges, with zero pathways leading to it, was what looked to be a well manicured garden. Structures built from stone which could have been walls or fountains. There was a single blue dot which could certainly be nothing but a warp pad.

“Found it,” Pearl said.

“You found it,” Lapis breathed, as if barely believing her own words. Fingers digging into Pearl’s shoulder, she leaned in closer to stare at the computer screen. “You found it!

Pearl smiled up at her, put a hand over Lapis’s, and squeezed back.

“I’m going to be healed,” Lapis said.

“Yes,” Pearl said, but there was a note of warning in her voice. “But first we need to get there.”

Warping directly wasn’t an option. A warp pad required the user to have a clear picture of the destination in their mind. Greg hadn’t been able to take pictures of the fountain, and Gaggle’s maps images were too low resolution. Regardless, teleporting directly into enemy territory, without any idea of who might have been there or what defenses they had would have been folly.

While Steven woke up and Lapis helped him get ready for the day, Pearl did yet more research. She compared her own map of the planet’s warp pads, and found there was one in the area currently called Belgium.

“Not far,” Steven said, drawing a line in pencil on his wall map between the two places. (He’d marked Rose Quartz’s fountain with a red pin.)

“I could fly there in just a few hours,” Lapis said, “If only I had my wings.”

Steven gave her a hug. Pearl bent down closer to her Pi’s keyboard, and did more research.

There were many trains running between France and Belgium. That leg of the trip would not be particularly difficult or time consuming. The issue would be getting to the fountain itself. It would take several different buses to the nearest town, and after that, it would be a trek through an unknown mountain to reach it.

But Pearl was certain they would get there, even if it would take a while. Her biggest concern was leaving Steven alone in the Palanquin. No doubt he would be able to take after himself for a couple of days, but what if the mission stretched on longer? Perhaps she should book him a motel room. Either here, or in the United States, where Greg could keep an eye on him…

“What? No, I’m coming with you!” Steven said, once Pearl brought the idea up.

Pearl frowned, and tried to channel Greg’s commanding tone. “Steven.”

He crossed his arms. “I gotta come.”

“You do not,” said Pearl. “This will not be a leisurely trip. It will be a long trek into enemy territory, and it will be dangerous. I will take you to France another time.”

"It's not about France," he said. "It’s because it’ll be dangerous! I’m not letting you go on a dangerous mission alone! A Diamond is meant to protect their subjects. What kind of leader... what kind of friend would I be if I let you do this without me?"

That wasn’t what being a leader was about. Or, at least, not what being a Diamond was about. A Diamond had to care for her subjects, yes, but not at the risk of herself. If she was lost, everyone else was lost with her.

But Steven’s declaration filled Pearl’s core with something… warm. Something she didn’t quite have a word for. She considered it as she ran her fingers absently across the beads of the bracelet Steve and Greg had gotten her in Empire City. Not happiness, precisely, because she still was not happy about the prospect of Steven being placed into danger, but…

Lapis, it seemed, was happy, if only judging by her smile. “Oh, let him come,” she said. “We’ll be in and out real quick. The Crystal Gems won’t even know we’re there. Besides,” she said, ruffling Steven’s hair affectionately. “What better protection could we have than a Diamond?”

And now Steven was smiling along with Lapis, and there really was no way Pearl could say no to their matching grins. She sighed, but smiled a little herself. “Very well, then. You may come.”


Garnet had forgotten just how boring stake outs could be.

It was a tedium which she hadn’t been exposed to since the War. There hadn’t been any need for it. Gem monsters weren’t particularly subtle or clever. After that initial, terrible round-up, the simplest method was to just wait until they were drawn to the power of the Temple and take care of them there.

But what Garnet was waiting for… it wasn’t a Gem monster.

Probably. There were rarely any absolutes with Future Vision, after all.

It had started with a casual glance at the future earlier that morning, just to See if there were upcoming catastrophes to prevent. Garnet had Seen nothing more eventful than a trip with Rose to the Fountain to check on how her most recent healing experiments were going. Only, when they’d gotten there, they’d found the Fountain destroyed. The statues defaced, the basin broken, and worst of all, the precious tears, meticulously collected over the millennia, all spilled.

It wasn’t a certain future. Garnet had peered down different pathways, and see timelines where the fountain itself was left in-tact, but the tears themselves still gone. Others still where it looked completely undisturbed.

Garnet wasn’t wholly surprised. There was a reason she’d told Mr. Universe the location of the Fountain. Though she hadn’t admitted it, she’d agreed with Pearl that there had been something suspicious in Mr. Universe’s behaviour. She thought this might be a suitable test to determine if there really was something there.

It appeared there was. The Fountain being destroyed so shortly after sharing the information with him couldn’t be a coincidence.

But things didn’t add up. Wanton destruction didn’t seem like Mr. Universe’s style. There had to be something else causing these strange futures.

Garnet wasn’t sure what that something was. But she intended to find out.

She had arrived at the garden late in this place’s afternoon, and now true twilight was falling, only the thinnest line of pink visible over the tall brambles. Garnet did one final loop of the garden, still not finding anything (or anyone) amiss. The place was very quiet.

She returned to the Fountain proper. In the pool, a single bubble floated. Garnet picked it up carefully. Inside there was a corrupted gem— Snowflake Obsidian— suspended in water, both in the bubble and out. Rose was investigating if constant exposure to the tears could heal it. It was an experiment Rose had tried very early after the Corruption, and it had failed, like all other techniques, but evidently Rose thought that some repeat trials were in order.

Garnet opened her third eye, and Looked.

The future was closer now. She could See things more clearly. And she Saw, in the darkness of the night, two figures stealing into the garden…

Pearl?

No. A Pearl, but not Pearl. Too dim to make out any great detail, besides the fact she bore the Diamond insignia. And with her, a Lapis Lazuli, wearing the same symbol. They had with them a device— a floating orb, a miniature Red Eye, floating out to scan the gardens—

Garnet’s eye snapped closed, and her fist clenched. Two uncorrupted, Homeworld Gems. On Earth.

This was not good.

She should not have come alone. She should have brought someone. But she hadn’t. Pearl had been so suspicious about Greg and his questions regarding the fountain; Garnet had feared she would have jumped to conclusions, could have seen things that weren’t there. Rose Quartz, meanwhile, was being willfully blind, annoyed at Pearl’s worrying and irritation towards her latest human attraction, and dismissing any similar concerns. Amethyst could have come… but she could be so distracted. Garnet had not thought she’d have the patience for this kind of mission.

(And, if Garnet was being completely honest… maybe she’d been hoping to complete this one by herself. To remind Rose why it was unwise to dismiss her.)

Too late to go get any of them now. Night proper had fallen. The intruders could arrive any moment. Garnet reached down, took the bubbled obsidian, and tapped it, sending it back to the Temple. Rose would be annoyed at Garnet for disrupting the experiment, but it would be no good if the monster got loose and caused yet more chaos.

Garnet went behind a nearby archway, hid, and waited.

She didn't have to wait long, all told. She had barely even settled into her place when she heard the distinct hum of a Homeworld Scanner. She saw the red glow of the eye first, followed by the scanner itself.

Garnet sunk deeper behind the archway and into a bunch of bushes. The Red Eye Scanner came closer, humming around the fountain and bathing the area in its red searchlight, bit by bit.

When the scanner grew close, Garnet ducked completely underneath the bushes, waiting until the red light had passed her by completely before poking her head back out. The scanner had now retreated fountain proper, going through an entranceway and moving out of sight.

Several more minutes of near complete silence followed, broken only by the wind rustling the foliage and the movement of the tears in the fountain. But eventually, Garnet heard voices. Quiet and off in the distance at first, the voices grew in volume as they got closer. There were three of them, one for each the three figures that came into view.

Three figures. Three. It was the third that made Garnet pause in consideration.

Two were Gems, that was for sure. A Pearl and a Lapis Lazuli, matching Garnet’s Vision. But the third was… different. At first Garnet thought maybe she was a Tourmaline or Aquamarine, but her size and shape didn’t match either gem type. But she had to be some sort of Gem. Not only to be accompanying two others, but Garnet could sense her Song, though the rhythm was unlike any she had felt before.

“This must be the fountain,” the Pearl spoke, approaching the edge of the basin  and peering over. “Hm. It looks just like normal water.”

“Doesn’t really matter what it looks like,” the Lazuli said. She raised her hand in the air, and and a orb of the Fountain’s healing tears rose with it. “Because if this is really all I need to heal myself…”

“Wait.” It was the small Gem talking now. Her voice was rather low-pitched and scratchy. “What if this is like a trap, or something? Like, poison in the water?”

Garnet slid back deeper into the bushes, trying to hide her presence even more.

“How could it be a trap?” the Lazuli asked. “No one knew we were coming.”

“Unless they suspected Greg,” the Pearl added.

Garnet felt her entire form tighten. So Greg was responsible for this. When Rose found out, she’d be—

No. That wasn’t right. At worst, Greg was simply a human being manipulated by these Gems. Even with that in mind, it meant the friendship Rose had thought she’d built with him was false.

Garnet did not look forward the time when she was going to have to tell Rose that.

“Look, I’m already cracked,” the Lazuli went on. Scanning her back, Garnet confirmed this. Her tear-shaped gem was between her shoulder blades and it had a noticeable gash down the back of it. In fact… in a way that seemed rather familiar…

“Yes,” the Pearl said. “But there are worse fates than being cracked.”

“Oh. I know,” the Lazuli said, her tone coated in ice. “And while I’m not eager to revisit that, at least I know what awaits me if things get worse.”

The smallest Gem, however, seemed unsure. “I dunno,” she said, kicking at the ground. “I mean… Your eyes are still mirror-y, but…”

“And I don’t have a full grasp of my powers,” the Lazuli added. “I can’t summon my wings.”

“Yeah, but we have warp pads! You don’t need wings.”

“Lapis being able to fly would be a distinct advantage, my Steven,” the Pearl said. “A Lapis Lazuli’s top speed when flying can be rather swift.”

‘My Steven'? Was ‘Steven’ some kind new gem type? Possible; Garnet had been away from Homeworld for a long time. But the fact that it sounded like a human name was… disquieting. What was Homeworld up to?

“I know…” the small Gem moaned. “But I don’t want—”

“This is about what I want,” the Lapis said, a slight warning to her voice. The Pearl shot her a silent look and even the smaller Gem seemed a little unhappy with the Lazuli’s declaration. But if it bothered her, the Lazuli certainly didn’t let on. “Okay,” she went on as the orb of water hovered over her. “I’m going to put it on, right now. You two might want to back away—”

“No. Drop it.”

Garnet finally revealed herself, jumping from the bush and into clearer view.

The Lazuli’s eyes flashed defiantly, and did not heed Garnet’s words. Her hand opened and in an instant the water fell, dowsing her and getting the other two Gems quite wet as well.

The tears had their effect on the Lazuli, filling the air with sparkles.

“Lapis!” the small Gem— ‘Steven’— cried. “Your eyes! They’re not mirrors anymore!”

Neither the Lazuli nor the Pearl paid any attention to her. They were focused entirely on Garnet. In fact, the Pearl even stepped in front of the Steven, laying a hand on her to keep her back

It was now, with the Pearl brought out of the shadows and into dwindling twilight, that Garnet could now pin down where she had seen the Pearl before. Or, more specifically, where Sapphire had seen her before. For that wasn’t any ordinary Pearl.

That was Blue Diamond’s personal Pearl.

And she was here. On Earth. At Rose’s Fountain.

Why? And where was Blue Diamond?

“We don’t want any trouble,” the Pearl said. “We merely needed the water in the Fountain. For healing purposes.”

“Really,” Garnet stated flatly. “That’s why you came here, at night, and in secret.”

The Pearl grimaced, but didn’t deny it. But the small Gem stepped from behind her and spoke forcefully, “It’s because you rebels can’t be trusted! You keep all the healing water to yourself when it could be helping Gems on Homeworld!”

“Steven—” the Pearl spoke, pushing the Gem back behind her. But the small Gem wasn’t so easily dissuaded. She kept trying to push past the Pearl, and might have done so, if the Lazuli hadn’t also gotten involved, holding her back. The Steven seemed to be getting worked up, if her scrunched up expression and reddening face were any indication.

Garnet hadn’t been prepared to go on the attack just yet. First, she was going to demand more answers. But… then she began to clearly hear the Song.

The Pearl’s and the Lapis Lazuli’s were the clearest. Elegant, lyrical, graceful, both different yet flowing together in harmony.

But it was the third, the small Gem, whose Song was so muted, that felt completely different from any that Garnet had ever felt. And yet at the same time, hauntingly familiar.

It was two rhythms really. The first was low and methodical; Ba-dump. Ba-dump. Ba-dump, over and over, a steady, near perfect beat.

But the other song, the one hidden just below the surface… It filled Garnet was a near-forgotten terror. It was deep and full and commanding, like a march that compelled to you to fall into step with it.

Sapphire was very familiar with that Song. It reminded her of entering Court, of the eyes of dozens of courtesans trained on her, awe and deference on their faces as she delivered her latest predictions. But also, she remembered: Gems writhing on the floor, screaming in agony, Sapphire merely standing to the side, watching, resigned, pretending that she wasn’t witnessing torture...

“Blue Diamond…” Garnet breathed. Her gauntlets were out. “What are you doing here?”

“He’s not Blue Diamond,” the Pearl said, voice sharp as a blade. Garnet could not see her eyes, but she could feel her glare. “He is Steven.”

“A Diamond would not send their Pearl without being present themselves,” Garnet returned. “You can call her whatever you want. I can sense her Song.”

“My… song?” Blue Diamond stammered. The look of confusion was passable, but Garnet knew the Diamond’s deceit. This was all just a game to them.

One that Garnet was determined to win.

“Look,” the Lazuli took a step forward. She looked… mad. Madder than either the Pearl or Blue Diamond, in fact. Garnet braced herself, unsure what the Lazuli’s plan was. “We just needed some quick healing,” she said. “Let us walk away and there won’t be any… complications.”

“When a Diamond comes to Earth, that's not really something I can just look away from.” Garnet began to walk in a circle around them, like a predator closing in on her prey.

Hmph! Mom was coming to Earth for years before she met Dad!” Blue Diamond yelled. “She was here all the time and you didn’t even know!”

“My Steven, please…” the Pearl pleaded.

“That’s not possible.” Garnet shook her head. “If you’ve been here longer then I would have Seen it.”

“Seen it?” Blue Diamond asked. “Are you trying to spy on us?”

“Future Vision,” the Pearl answered. “She’s part Sapphire.”

“She’s a… fusion?” Blue Diamond asked slowly. Garnet gritted her teeth. Blue Diamond’s machinations were starting to annoy. “If she’s a fusion, then we need to defeat her,” Blue Diamond said, straightening up, sounding more like herself now.

“I’m not sure, my Steven,” the Pearl timidly responded. “If we can get out of this without conflict…”

“I don’t know, Pearl,” the Lazuli said, her hand raising in the air. The water in the Fountain mirrored the movement, a giant fist rising with it. “If she is a fusion, she came here looking for a fight. I say we indulge her.”

The Pearl looked worried, frightened even. Blue Diamond nodded silently, a look of uncertain determination on her face.

Garnet readied herself, clenching her fists and falling into a battle stance. She opened her third eye, briefly Looking at all the various paths this encounter could go down. Some were good, some were bad. Some… were best not to dwell on. All the more reason to fight harder and give them everything she had.

“It’s over, Blue Diamond,” Garnet intoned. “I’m going to do what I couldn’t all those millennia ago. Bring you to justice.”

And with that, Garnet lunged forward, lunging with a blow aim directly at Blue Diamond

The blow never connected, however. Something hit Garnet first. Garnet was pushed back, almost knocked off her feet by a torrent of water. The Lazuli’s opening attack.

Garnet smirked. If the Lazuli really was suppose to be their heavy hitter, then Blue Diamond had sorely miscalculated this encounter.

Without missing a beat, Garnet charged again, dodging one watery blast, another, another— but one came from the side and sent her hurtling back. She was flung, hard, against the ground, but any pain quickly receded as the Fountain’s tears washed over her.

Garnet was back on her feet in an instant, bearing down this time on the Lazuli. The enemy’s weapon was healing tears. Garnet could take as many hits as Lazuli wanted to throw at her. But Garnet had to shut this down, and not just because she didn’t appreciate being juggled around like a toy. It had taken Rose thousands upon thousands of years to collect all those tears. It would be waste to let them simply be a Lazuli’s plaything.

Garnet was on top of the Lazuli, bearing down on her. The Pearl grabbed Blue Diamond and leapt to the side, and with just a second to save herself, the Lazuli managed to leap in the other direction.

In the second and a half it took Garnet to turn and face the Lazuli, she had kicked off from the ground, two watery wings sprouting from her back.

She flew over Garnet’s head, just barely out of reach, and reached out a hand to the Pearl and Blue Diamond. “Grab my hand!” she screamed. “We need to get out of here!”

It seemed the Lazuli had caught on.

The Lapis Lazuli flew in closer to the pair, trying to grab the Pearl’s outstretched hand.

Just a bit closer…

There.

Garnet leapt, gauntleted hand striking out and she grabbed tightly around the Lazuli’s ankle. The Lazuli’s glared over her shoulder and began trying to kick Garnet with her free foot.

With all her strength, Garnet pulled her. Lazuli’s wings fluttered, but she remained airborne. Again Garnet pulled, and the force was enough for the Lazuli to jerk downward, Garnet grabbing her arm.

The Lazuli was thrashing, trying to free herself, but it was no use. Garnet tightened her grip on the arm and and crushed.

“Steven—!” The Lazuli was cut off.

In an explosion of smoke, the Lazuli’s form was gone, Garnet’s hands now gripping nothing but empty air. With one swift movement, Garnet caught the Lazuli’s falling gem and in another, she bubbled it and sent it back to the Temple.

“Lapis!” Blue Diamond yelled. Garnet turned her attention towards her; she looked equal parts horrified and furious. The Pearl pushed Blue Diamond aside, throwing herself between her master and Garnet.

“Steven. Leave. Now.” The Pearl sounded like she was barely able to hold it together. And true, her normally smooth and precise movements were now jittery and unsure. But still, she stepped determinedly in front of Blue Diamond, holding her hand out backwards as if that could stop the monarch from moving to the front. “Run. Take the warp pad and go. Far away; from here and Beach City.”

“Neither of you are going anywhere,” Garnet said. “Except with me, to the Temple.”

“Go.” One last, almost pleading whisper and the Pearl was running at Garnet, her hand at her gem and her hair dishevelled to reveal a bright, piercing gaze. The Pearl’s gem was burning with light. Garnet readied herself for whatever the Pearl’s attack was going to be. She braced—

And felt something wet and scaly slap her across her face, knocking her shades off.

Garnet stared at the sunglasses, lying on the ground for a moment poofing into nothingness. Then she refocused her gaze on the Pearl who was holding, of all things, a fish in her hands. She looked nearly as surprised as Garnet.

Whether an intentional move on the Pearl’s part or not, she used the opening well, throwing the fish aside and pulling a new object from her gem.

A thin, slim weapon, its blade glowing electric blue in the darkness. A laser knife. Much more dangerous.

The Pearl yelled and lunged at Garnet, stabbing and swiping the knife every which way. Most of the attacks missed, but a few made their mark. Garnet winced in pain every time the knife's glowing blade struck her form.

But it was never enough to do lasting harm and soon, the Pearl swung too wide and left herself completely open.

She was far from the warrior Pearl Garnet knew.

Garnet grabbed the Pearl’s wrist, wresting the knife from her grasp. It fell, deactivating and clattering loudly against the ground.

The Pearl tried to pull away, putting on as brave a face as possible. But much like the Lazuli, she was unable to match Garnet’s strength. Garnet grabbed the Pearl’s other arm and prepared to deliver the finishing strike.

“No! Let Pearl go!”

Garnet felt a blow land against her thigh and suddenly the Pearl was out of her grasp and Garnet was flying back, landing painfully against one of the Fountain’s walls.

Blue Diamond hadn’t fled, after all. Now she was at the Pearl’s side, both on their knees.

“Are you alright, Pearl?” she asked.

The Pearl said something in response, too low for Garnet to hear. Didn’t matter. Garnet climbed swiftly back to her feet, raised her fists and aimed her gauntlets at the pair. With luck, one blast would be all she needed.

She fired her rocket gauntlets and they flew at their targets. In the instant before impact, the Pearl turned, eyes wide in shock and horror.

“Steven!” she yelled. She threw herself around Blue Diamond, wrapping her tightly in her arms.

The rocket gauntlets struck the Pearl in the back and exploded.

“PEARL!” Through the smoke clearing debris, Blue Diamond’s voice cracked against Garnet.

When she was able to see clearly again, Garnet saw that Blue Diamond was on her knees, crying and cradling the Pearl’s gem.

“Pearl… Pearl, please… Don’t leave me…”

Garnet’s gauntlets grew back as she strode over to Blue Diamond. She could have used another rocket blast, but Garnet didn’t want to hurt the Pearl’s gem. Or Blue Diamond, even if she did deserve it. That would be needlessly cruel, and anyway, Garnet wanted answers.

“Give her to me,” Garnet commanded, holding her hand out.

Blue Diamond knocked it aside, scampering to her feet and back several steps. “No! I won’t let you hurt Pearl! I won’t let you!” Her voice was raw and ragged, and despite the tear stains that ran down her face, her teeth were sharp and pointed, bared at Garnet like a wild animal’s.

Garnet grimaced, before stepping closer and reaching for the gem. Blue Diamond tried to get away, but Garnet grabbed a hold of the Pearl and, when Blue Diamond refused to let go, pushed the Diamond aside, making her lose her grip. Garnet quickly bubbled the gem, sending it away to the Temple.

All that was left now was Blue Diamond.

Though, at the moment, Blue Diamond was on her hands and knees, her form shaking and… crying? Why was she crying?

No matter. Garnet picked the tiny Diamond up, and tore her body in half—

— and instead of a poofing sound, there was an ugly rip, and instead of smoke, there was blood, blood and other foul liquids. The air turned thick with the funk of it, scent like iron and sewage, all of it pouring out of the body’s guts, onto Garnet’s hands, onto the floor, Blue Diamond screaming in pain until her face went slack, mouth gaping—

Garnet slammed her third eye closed, recoiling from the Future Vision. In the present, Blue Diamond was still trembling on the floor, her strange flesh body whole and unharmed.

What had that been?

“Get up,” Garnet commanded, trying not to let her horror show. “It’s over. You’ve lost. I’m taking you prisoner.”

Blue Diamond said nothing.

“I said, get up.”

“... How could you hurt Pearl and Lapis?” Blue Diamond asked, her voice shaking. “We just wanted some of the healing tears from the fountain. Why couldn’t you just leave us alone?”

Her voice was growing in volume. And strength.

“‘Leave you alone’?” Garnet repeated, unable to fully believe what she was hearing. “ Heh. It takes a Diamond to have the gall to accuse me of not leaving her alone.”

“We just needed the tears!” Blue Diamond yelled at her. “We just needed to heal Lapis! We weren’t going to hurt anyone!”

“Don’t,” Garnet cut in, a deadly sharp edge to her voice. “After all that you and the other Diamonds have done, do not claim you never meant to hurt anyone.”

Blue Diamond got to her feet, giving Garnet a dark and cold look. “I hate you,” she said, first a whisper but then louder. “I hate you. Crystal Gems, fusions, fountains… I hate all of you.”

Garnet noticed sparks of bright blue electricity arcing off of and around Blue Diamond. Garnet prepared herself.

“Give me back Pearl and Lapis,” Blue Diamond demanded, her eyes shining in the darkness, blue light spilling out from beneath her shirt. “Give them back to me.”

Garnet said nothing, only readying herself. Sparks were forming around Blue Diamond. The air smelled of ozone. It was about to happen…

“Give them to me NOW!”

All at once, as a whole wave, the building electricity arched off of Blue Diamond and launched itself at Garnet. There was no room and no time for her to dodge. She put her arms up, covering her face, even though she knew it would do no good.

The wave washed over her and Garnet felt her knees buckle beneath her, barely able to catch herself before hitting the ground.

Garnet gritted her teeth and shut her eyes.

She hurt, all over. But not physical pain. This was a deep, hurtful, cutting pain that didn’t attack her body, but her soul.

I͢ to҉o̵k͡ Sa̧pphir͠e a̸ẁay̡ fro͏m̢ he̕r͝ ̢s̴afe ̢l͡ife͜ o͡n̸ Hǫm͡e̴w̨o̢r̨ld.́ ̢She’͟s g͞oi͡ng ̴to̶ ̧be͜ ̀c͜r҉a̡c͠ḱed or ͝sh̸a̛t͠te̢r̵ed҉ o͟r͜ w͢o҉rs̷e͜ ͞a̡nd̴ ͠i̵t ̡will all͏ b͟e m̶y̸ ̡f́a̢ul̛t͡.

If̀ onl̀y ́mỳ͞ F̵ùtu͟ŕĕ V҉i̸sḭoṅ ͜h͢aḑ ̸b͠ëěn͠ b̢e̵ţt͟ër.̵ I c͡oů͞ld ̸hav̶e͞ ś́e̴ȩṉ̷ the͏ ̡Cor̕ȑ̢uptḯo̴ņ Bō͜mb ̵ańd t̸rî͢ed tó s̢a̢vê͢ ̀ėv́ȩ́r̢y̵ỏñ̨e, ͟raț̴hẹr҉ t͏h͟ěṉ͝ ̕let͞ ̸ṯhë͡ṁ͏ ̡ẗu͠r͏n ̕ỉnto ̢mon͝stēr̨s͘.̧

Garnet gripped her head, gripped her palms, gripped onto anything she could. She tried to ignore or block out the what she was feeling, but it was true. It was all true. She had failed, completely and utterly.

Į'm̡ ǰüsṫ ̕a ͢ṃ̕öns̕ẗ̛eŕ, ̵an̕d̶ ͞a̷b͢o͏ṃ̕iņat̷ioń.͘ ͡Ì sh̨öú͢ld ḩ̈àv͏e̢ ͝le͠ẗ́ Ḃ͜ḻ̵ue Dia̸mon͏d͝ ̵s̕h̀a͘tt̡eṛ̕ m͝è ̕an͝d j̕ùst̴ ͟lẻt̀ ̀ḯṭ̷ en̵d̵ ̶ther̴e

‘No. That’s not true. And you know that.’

‘Yeah. We’ve fought with all we had, always to protect others.’

Ǐt's ̸t̀rū̡é̴-̡-͞ jų͟st̵ à̛ ̨mon̕śtë̷r̶, ͘j̕ůst̢ a ҉frę̕ak͏.̵ ͡I̵ g͟ȍt ̛ḛv̸er͞ỵò͝ne͜ ȅlşë̴ ̴sĥatṯȩrėd̶ ̀õr҉ ̶córr҉u̸p̕t҉e̛ḑ-͡- ̶mô͠ṅ͜ste͞ȑ̀ş,̸ j̨ųs̕t ҉liķè͟ më͟

‘You are not a monster. You’re my hero, Ruby. I love you. Completely.’

‘And I love my Laughy-Sapphy with everything I’ve got.’

‘And… Garnet— you are that love.’

‘You’re not a freak, or a monster or an abomination. You’re made of love. And you’re stronger then this.’

‘So get up, Garnet. And finish this.’

“No!” Garnet shouted, slamming her fist on the ground and expelling a small energy wave from either of her gems. She had an electricity all of her own, and it burned around her, burning the blue lighting away. And all at once, she was out of her own mind and back at the Fountain, Blue Diamond beginning to cower as she got up.

“It’s over,” Garnet spoke heavily.

She lunged and grabbed Blue Diamond’s arm. Blue Diamond pulled and flailed, trying to get away, but it was for nothing. Blue Diamond was weak, surprisingly weak. She tried to punch and push Garnet, and it did hurt, but compared to what she had just gone through, the punches were nothing.

In response, Garnet punched the flailing Diamond in the abdomen, causing her the keel over. The moment’s vulnerability was all Garnet needed. The proud fusion picked the Diamond up, and, body and all, captured her in a red bubble.

Garnet didn’t know why Blue Diamond was here. Didn’t know why she’d had such a small guard, didn’t know why she’d been so easily defeated, didn’t know why she wore such a small form, didn’t know why this body bled. But she intended to find out.

“Let me go, fusion! Let me go!”

Garnet held up the captured Diamond, screaming, banging ineffectively at the sides of the bubble, and smirked. “Got you.”

Chapter Text

Steven’s hands slammed against the side of the bubble, hitting them with all his might, and blue electricity fizzled around them, but neither did anything, they both bounced harmlessly off. Once or twice he thought he was getting somewhere— his nails were digging in, like he’d be able to rip it open— but then there’d be a pressure, and he’d lose his grip. 

He stared up at the fusion’s cold, impassive face. The two Gems that made them up weren’t reacting at all.

Steven curled up around himself, struggling against the burn of tears. He couldn’t escape this. And even if he could, what would he do? They’d taken Lapis, they’d taken Pearl—

“I hate you,” Steven muttered, one more time. The fusion gave no indication they’d heard him. At least they were wearing those glasses again, so he didn’t have to see their freakish three eyes anymore.

They were taking him to a warp pad. They’d bring him to the Crystal Gem base and then they’d— they’d— they’d kill him— just like they did to Pink— 

The warp stream looked red through the filter of the bubble, and all too quickly it disappeared. It was replaced with a cave of stone and crystal, and standing in the middle of it was Rose Quartz. He’d recognise her anywhere. Her sharp, burning eyes, this twist of her scowl, the glint of her sword—

She didn’t have her sword, not now. She was— she was just standing there, smiling and chatting, chatting with—

Dad.

He almost called out to him automatically, but clamped down at the last second. He couldn’t. If the Crystal Gems found out Dad was connected to him, they’d just kill him too.

Steven saw recognition flash on Dad’s face as he turned; shock and incomprehension and horror, one after the other. “Holy sh—”

“Garnet,” said Rose Quartz, tilting her head. “Why do you have a human child?”

“Not a human child,” said the fusion.

“I don’t understand,” Rose Quartz said.

The fusion carried him towards her; Steven’s heart thudded faster in his chest. They said, “Listen.”

And Rose Quartz came, bending down close, so close that she could have touched him, and pressed her ear against the bubble, and Steven’s blood was ice. He saw her eyes widen and felt at least some sliver of satisfaction at the fear on her face. She whispered, “Blue Diamond.”

“I’m-” Steven’s voice came out squeaky, so he tried again. “I’m not Blue Diamond. My name’s Steven. I’m a human.”

The fusion shook her head. “It’s her. She has her Song, she had her lightning, she had her Pearl—”

“Her Pearl?” asked Rose Quartz. “Where is—”

“Now wait a minute,” said Dad, pushing Rose Quartz aside. “Just what is going on here? Let that kid go!”

“This is not a child,” said Rose Quartz.

“Yeah, he is! Look at him! You can’t just keep him locked up!”

“Yes, I can,” the fusion said, her voice monotone and dangerous. She was staring right down at Dad. “You’ve been working for her. You told her and her entourage where the healing Fountain was.”

Rose Quartz’s eyes went large. “What?”

Dad had gone very, very still.

“I’m sorry, Rose,” said the fusion. “Blue Diamond came to the Fountain with a Pearl and a Lapis Lazuli. I had visions of them destroying it. They mentioned him by name.”

“Is this true, Mr. Universe?” asked Rose Quartz, quiet.

"I…” Dad was staring at the floor. “Rose— I— I’m sorry-”

And then he leapt forward, right up to the bubble, reaching out to Steven—

The fusion smacked him to the ground. Steven winced, kicked out automatically, but hit nothing.

“Mr. Universe!” Rose Quartz yelled. 

She picked Dad up by the back of the shirt. His eyes were wild and frantic, he was kicking and flailing, and he was in her hands—

“Dad!” Steven cried, “Dad, Dad, no!”

“Dad?” Rose Quartz repeated.

Everything was happening at once. Dad was shaking his head, saying, “Steven, no,” and there was a bright light and the Crystal Gem base opened, and out spilled the other rebels— the little Amethyst and the other Pearl— and everyone was talking, and shouting, and Steven felt sick, his whole body hurt, they already had Pearl and they were gonna get Dad too—

He sobbed, and there was a wave of blue light.

It rolled out from him, filling the entire cave, washing over Dad and the rebels. Instantly, everyone froze. Steven managed to get a hold of himself enough to see their faces transform into what had to be mirrors of his own, huge tears overflowing from their eyes. The Amethyst even wailed.

Steven took a breath, and the light faded.

Everyone shook themselves.

“Stop that,” the fusion said. Steven glared at them.

The other Pearl was there now. She had a spear out, and was pointing it at him, her expression sharp and cruel. “Is that really—?”

“That was certainly her powers,” said Rose Quartz, still holding Dad as he struggled. “I’m sorry. Pearl, Garnet, I’m sorry, I should have listened to you.”

“It’s alright,” the fusion said.

The Pearl just nodded. All her attention was fixed on the captive. Steven couldn’t tear his eyes away. She looked so similar to Pearl, especially through the bubble’s filter— but Pearl’s eyes, whenever they were seen, could never be full of such detest—

“I thought a Diamond would be bigger,” said a voice from below, and it was the Amethyst, staring up at him.

“She should be,” said the Pearl. “Why on Earth has she taken such a small form? Why is she even on Earth in the first place?”

“I don’t know,” the fusion said.

“THAT’S BECAUSE HE’S NOT BLUE DIAMOND!” Dad yelled.

The attention shifted off of Steven as all four sets of eyes came to rest on Dad instead.

“Then what is he?” said the Amethyst.

“He’s—” Dad gulped. “He’s human.”

“You’ve been tricked,” said the Pearl, scornfully.

“I have not. He’s my son.”

Another one of those horrible, ugly silence. Steven wanted to fill it with, to say something, anything, but no words would come.

Slowly, deliberately, Rose Quartz turned Dad around in her arms so that he was facing her. From this angle, Steven couldn’t see his Dad’s face, but he could see the rebel leader’s. It was unexpectedly soft. Like a cherub, almost, from a renaissance painting. She said, “She called you ‘Dad’.”

Dad gave a jerky nod.

“How is that possible?” asked Rose Quartz.

“It’s not, obviously,” said Pearl. “She’s just shapeshifted. Maybe this human is lying, or has been tricked, some way or another, but this is most certainly Blue Diamond, we can all feel it—”

“It’s not a trick,” said Dad. “He’s my son. Mine and Blue Diamond’s.”

The Amethyst laughed. “That’s stupid. Gems don’t have kids.”

“I know they don’t usually,” said Dad. “But Blue Diamond did. That’s our child. His name is Steven Universe, and he is not her. Please— I know, I know you guys had your— issues, but please, whatever you do, don’t kill him—”

For moment, nobody spoke. Then Rose Quartz said, “We won’t.”

Steven couldn’t believe his ears, couldn’t stop the rush of unexpected relief flooding through his veins.

Slowly, Rose Quartz put Dad down. She did not release him— did not take her hands off his shoulders— but did let him stand on his own two feet. For a second, he and Steven exchanged a single look, filled with a dozen things they both wanted to say but couldn’t. 

“The body is meat,” said the fusion.

“What?” said Rose Quartz, the Pearl and the Amethyst, in unison.

“This body is not a hologram. It is made of meat.” The fusion lifted the bubble to inspect Steven more closely. He struggled not to squirm under her hidden gaze. “I had a vision where I attempted to destroy her physical form, but she didn’t retreat into her gem. Instead there was a lot of blood.” 

Steven jerked back in horror, heard his Dad wince in pain.

“That sounds…” The Pearl trailed off, shaking her head. “Could she be interfering with your future vision?”

“No,” said the fusion.

The Amethyst blinked up at him. “I think it sounds cool. Can we test it?”

“No!” said Steven.

“Enough.” Rose Quartz’s voice rang with authority. “We need answers. Blue Diamond or not, you will give them to us.”

Steven’s hands clenched. He didn’t want to tell her anything.

But that wasn’t an option anymore, was it?

“I’ll tell you whatever, but—” He paused to lick his lips.

The Pearl jabbed her spear near the bubble. “You’re in no position to make demands.”

Steven’s mouth went even drier, but he managed to say, “I’ll tell you anything, as long as you let them go. My Dad, Lapis, Pearl. All of them.”

He was very satisfied to see the Pearl look surprised.

She recovered quickly, however. “So they can return to Homeworld and report your capture? Please.”

“No! It’s not like that— please—” 

“Here. I have let Mr. Universe go.” Rose Quartz’s voice cut through the air. Steven looked over, and true to her word, she had let go of his Dad. Now she strode over to Steven. The fusion still held onto the bubble, but the other two Crystal Gems made way for their commander. Dad stood where he’d been left, looking at a loss.

Run, Dad! Steven thought, but his father did not.

Up close, Rose Quartz looked very big indeed. “We shall allow Pearl and Lapis Lazuli their freedom, on the condition that we have established they pose minimal threat to us, and that you swear to answer our questions completely and honestly.”

“O-okay,” said Steven.

Rose Quartz nodded, a small action that still sent ripples through her hair. “First question: What are you doing on Earth?”

“I live here!”

“Since when?” said the Amethyst.

“My whole life!” 

The Pearl groaned. “This is useless…”

Dad stepped forward. “Steven’s twelve. He was born on Earth. It’s his home.”

Another one of those terrible silences.

“Alright,” said Rose Quartz, at length. “Let us assume, for a moment, that the story is true, and you are Blue Diamond’s child. Do you have any of her memories?”

Steven said, “No.”

“And why did Blue Diamond come to Earth in the first place?”

Dad was the one who answered that one, stammering through an explanation of how Blue Diamond had come to Earth to grieve (giving Rose Quartz a fierce glare at that point), but then she’d met Dad, been intrigued, and decided to stay.

The following interrogation was simultaneously terrifying and boring, which Steven didn’t even know was possible. He and Dad kept answering the same questions, again and again, in different ways, as his captives tried to pick holes in their story. The Crystal Gems were stupid, and suspicious, and didn’t want to believe anything they told them. They didn’t even believe Steven was a boy!

Finally, though— finally, the Crystal Gems were convinced enough to give some some leniency, in exchange with more physical proof.

The fusion poked the bubble: it disappeared with a small poof, and Steven fell to the ground, landing right on his butt. It hurt. Just another pain on top of the bone-deep ache from where the fusion had punched him.

Almost immediately he was being ordered to stand. Somebody pulled his shirt and hoodie off, but Steven didn’t even have the chance to feel cold before somebody was grabbing his hands, holding him down. Rose Quartz leaned over him, staring down at his bare torso, hesitated-

— then touched his gem.

Steven was used to things touching it. His clothes, obviously, and water when bathed. But the only other people who’d ever touched it was Dad and Pearl. That felt strange, but nice. This felt... weird. Uncomfortable. Invasive. Like another mind brushing against his, making him shiver.

Rose Quartz’s face was impossible to read. But seemingly satisfied, she backed away.

Still being held down, they tied Steven up in a whip summoned by the Amethyst. He forced himself not to struggle, not to wince, even though the whip was covered in thorny-barbs that dug uncomfortably into his skin. It didn’t help that his balance felt off from so long floating in that bubble, or that his entire abdomen was still a mass of pain.

They’d let Dad go. He could have left, could have gone into Beach City, could have gotten into his van and drove away and been safe. But he refused to leave. So the enemy Pearl got a rope out of her gem and bound Dad’s arms.

“Just a precaution,” said Rose Quartz. “We can’t have you attacking us again, Mr. Universe.” 

“You’d just get hurt,” said the fusion.

“Don’t threaten him, fusion,” Steven snapped.

“My name,” they said, “is Garnet.”

“And mine,” he responded, “is Steven.”

They stared at each other for several long moments. 

The fusion— Garnet— was the first one to back down. “Very well,” they said, and looked at Dad. “It wasn’t a threat. Just fact. I don’t want to hurt you.”

Steven snorted. The Crystal Gems ignored him.

For a given value of ‘ignore’. Even tied up, the rebels were afraid of him. They were always watching, and all of them had their weapons out.

If Mom had been there, she would have been strong enough to take them all on, even with her arms tied up. She’d just shoot them all with lightning so strong it would poof ‘em in a single blast.

But Steven couldn’t do anything.

But he could get his friends their freedom. The door to the Temple opened in a flash of pink, and Rose Quartz disappeared inside of it to complete her end of the bargain. A few minutes she reappeared. On her arm, her pink shield shimmered. From a belt around her waist hung a scabbard, carrying the sword which had killed Pink Diamond. In her hands were two red bubbles—

“Pearl! Lapis!” Steven cried. 

They let Pearl out. She reformed in a brilliant shimmer of blue, and Steven could have cried for joy.

“Steven,” she gasped, once she had got her bearings. “My Steven—”

She tried to run to him, to hug him, to help him, but was held back by the other Pearl. She warned, “No closer.”

“No,” Pearl whispered, shaking her head. “No, no— I’m sorry, my Steven, I’m so sorry—”

“It’s okay,” Steven said, trying to sound reassuring, and not succeeding. “It’s okay, Pearl. They’re— they’re going to let you go, they promised…”

Pearl said nothing, just gave one last tiny shake of her head, and went still. She allowed the Amethyst to tie her up in a whip just like Steven’s.

“Now Lapis,” Steven demanded.

“Not yet,” Rose Quartz said. “First, you will take us to your Palanquin. We will let her go once your claims are verified.”

“That wasn’t the deal!” Steven yelled.

Rose Quartz passed Lapis’s bubble to Garnet, who took it without a word. Then she swept towards him, one hand resting on the hilt of her sword. Steven gulped. “The agreement was that we would let them go once we have proven they pose minimal threat, and if you gave us complete honesty. I cannot be sure of either of those things until we have have seen your Palanquin, where you claim to live.

“So, Steven Universe,” Rose Quartz continued, a sardonic smile on her face. She tilted her head towards the warp pad. “Lead the way.”


Pearl ducked her head underneath a branch as the group moved forward through the wooded area. She felt a tug on the rope she was holding, and tugged back.

“Hey! Watch it!” Mr. Universe— Greg, protested. “You’re going to make me fall over.” He chafed at the ropes that bound around him.

Pearl chose not to mention that, were that to happen, she would consider it a happy bonus.

Instead, she directed a question to The Diamond: “When are we going to get there?”

The other Pearl— the one in Blue Diamond’s service— answered for him, “Shortly. It is past this wooded area and through a hilly clearing. Even you could not miss it,” she added softly.

Pearl was going to respond to the comment, but it seemed Amethyst had her covered. She gave a light tug at the whip in her hand that tied the other Pearl up. “Hey! No giving Pearl lip. That’s my job.”

Pearl gave a tight grin at her, “Thank you, Amethyst. What would I do without you?”

“Die of boredom, probably,” said Amethyst.

The Diamond snorted (or perhaps just huffed as he tripped over a root) and Pearl shot her a look. “Something you want to say?”

The Diamond didn’t respond.

Pearl’s every sense was on edge. She took in everything— the lay of the land, the shapes in the trees, the distant sound of animals. So far, everything appeared to be a regular Earth forest, but she wasn’t going to trust that. They were being lead into enemy territory, and there was a very good possibility for an ambush. There could be an Aquamarine or an Agate behind any corner. And if there was, Pearl was determined to be ready.

“Which way?” Rose asked from the front of the group, Garnet next to her, holding the Lapis Lazuli’s bubble.

“Left. Past the hill,” the other Pearl answered.

“But that’s the slow way,” The Diamond finally spoke. “It’s faster if we go right.”

“Yes, but if we go that way, then we would need to cross the narrow footing along the cliffside,” the Pearl calmly answered. “And tired as you are, my Steven, I do not think it would be safe for you.” The slightest pause. “And I am in no state to carry you.”

Pearl frowned, not bothering to hide her disgust. Now the Diamonds expected to be carried by Pearls? What was next?

They continued on in silence, the only sound being their shuffling feet in the underbrush. The Diamond began whistling, of all things. Pearl knew the danger a Diamond’s song pose, and went immediately on guard, as did Rose and Garnet.

But the whistle was short. Once finished, the Diamond looked up, scanning the foliage above.

“My Steven…” the other Pearl said, a tone of slight disapproval in her voice.

“It’s alright. Nari’s not around anyway,” The Diamond replied.

“Who’s Nari?” Rose asked, but it was Garnet who answered.

“A bird. Hawk, more specifically.”

“She’s not just a hawk,” The Diamond protested. “She’s a northern harrier! And she’s my friend.”

“Uh huh,” Amethyst said. “You trying to call her with those whistles or something?”

The Diamond sunk his head into his shoulders. “I’m telling her to get away. I don’t want her to get hurt.”

“Why? What are you planning?” Pearl asked.

The Diamond shot her a sharp look. “I’m not planning anything. But you Crystal Gems tend to destroy everything around you.”

“Destruction is what Homeworld does,” Pearl responded. “We protect.”

For a moment it looked like the Diamond was going to say something else, but seemed to reconsider it and instead simply looked down as they continued to walking.

Silence descended on them again. Its thick heaviness made Pearl feel just a little uncomfortable. Just as she was about to ask how much farther, just to fill the silence, the other Pearl began to sing. It started softly, almost a whisper, but grew in volume as she continued. Even Greg joined in after a bit, his raspy voice sounding surprisingly pleasant in harmony with the Pearl’s.

 

I don't even know what did I do

To deserve a beauty like you

You've seen what the stars have to offer

But here on Earth, your heart grows fonder

You're a Sky Blue Goddess

Bestowing a life of solace

 

You came down here from your home in the stars

Falling right into my arms

You're my Sky Blue Goddess

And our love is pure and endless

You have brought so much color to my life

If you'd like, would you be my wife?

 

The song continued for several more verses, Pearl’s expression tightening with each word. After all, she didn’t need to be told who the song was about. She kept her eyes on Greg and the Diamond.

Thankfully, the pair’s singing was cut off by a blue steeple poking over the crest of a hill.

They’d arrived.

Rose stopped in her tracks, Pearl, Amethyst, and Garnet coming to a clean stop as she did. The Diamond, Greg, and the other Pearl stumbled a little with the suddenness. Pearl wondered how much of the Diamond’s clumsiness was genuine, how much was an act.

“Wait here,” Rose said over her shoulder. “I’m going to investigate.”

“No, Rose,” Pearl quickly protested. “I’ll go. You stay here.”

“Pearl…”

“No, Rose. I’m not budging on this,” Pearl said firmly. “We don’t know what’s waiting for us in that Palanquin. It could be a trap.” 

“And so you’re saying it’s better you get hurt by the trap rather than me?” Rose asked.

“I’m saying,” Pearl answered carefully, “that of the four of us, I’m the one who would most likely be able to spot any wayward traps.”

“Pearl is very adept at it,” Garnet said, and Pearl felt a wave of gratitude towards her.

Rose seemed to mull this point over for a moment before speaking, “Alright. But when you go, take Pearl with you.” She nodded at the blue Pearl.

Pearl was taken aback by the suggestion, and the other Pearl seemed to be too.

“Why would I take her with me?” Pearl asked. “Couldn’t that be… dangerous?” Rose shook her head. “I don’t believe so. She can answer any questions you have about what you find.” Her voice became lighter. “And, if as you suspect, there are any traps, she might feel it wise to enlighten you about them.”

Pearl grimaced, but relented. “Alright, Rose.” She dispelled her spear and held out her hand to Amethyst, who handed her the handle of the whip which restrained the other Pearl, exchanging it for the one holding Mr. Universe. 

Once the handle of the whip had changed holders, the other Pearl began to squirm where she stood. “I… I cannot leave Steven’s side.”

“You’re not really in a position to defy us,” Garnet said.

The other Pearl seemed to shrink before their eyes. She looked down at the ground and shuffled her feet. “I… I can’t leave his side…”

Pearl frowned at the other Pearl. She couldn’t help but pity her. She had been cowed by Homeworld, beaten and brainwashed, and she most likely didn’t even know it.

“He won’t come to any harm.” It was Rose who spoke, her voice filled with a familiar reassuring confidence. “I promise you that.”

The other Pearl’s lips trembled as she looked at Rose and then at The Diamond.

“I’ll be okay, Pearl,” The Diamond said. “Just… do what they say. It’s the only way we can help Lapis.”

“I’ll be with him,” Greg promised. Not that he’d actually be able to help if the Crystal Gems decided to move against their captive, but luckily for them, Rose Quartz was a Gem of her word.

The Pearl’s eyes moved to the bubble that Garnet held and stayed there for a moment, before she nodded slowly. “Yes. Alright.” She turned towards Pearl and bowed lightly. “When you are ready.”

Pearl grimaced as she began walking past the group and up the hill. “Don’t bow to me.” 

“Of course. I am sorry.”

The two came to the top of the hill and the Palanquin was in complete view. It resembled the other three, the only major difference being, of course, its color.

As they began walking down towards it, Pearl said sarcastically, “I suppose there’s no point in asking if there are any traps or security measures waiting inside?”

“No. Nothing of the kind,” the other Pearl answered. “The isolated location was meant to serve as the only protective means.”

Pearl didn’t respond. They came to the Palanquin’s entrance, covered as it was by two massive curtains. She threw one of the curtains aside and looked within. Everything seemed to be in place, following the traditional design, but it was so cluttered. A table with two chairs at it, a bed with a smattering of human toys constructed from fabric, a wardrobe, a dresser, a corner dedicated to pillows and a low sitting table and— Are those pillows and blankets at the seat of the throne? 

“What is all this stuff?” Pearl asked.

“What Steven needs to live comfortably,” the Pearl answered simply.

Pearl summoned her spear. She walked to the table, and prodded the objects covering it with the tip of her weapon. When there were no strange noises, no explosions, she came to expect the cans and boxes more closely. She recognized them as non-perishable food. “Are these for Greg?”

“No. They are for Steven.”

Pearl shot her a look. “Gems don’t eat.”

“Yes. But Steven does.”

Well. Garnet had said the Diamond had a meat body now. Presumably it required sustenance as all meat bodies did.

She set the box of nauseating looking cereal back on the table. “And I suppose you cook for him too, then?”

“To an extent,” the other Pearl answered. “Most of the food here doesn’t require much in the way of preparation. When Steven desires something fresher, we go into town. The food trucks are his favorite.”

“Noted.” Pearl slowly made her way around the Palanquin, taking in everything she could. There was a map of the planet Earth hung above the bed, marked with pins. Perhaps some method of noting potential colonization sites. The bed was neatly made, four stuffed animals sitting in a row on it, two anthropomorphized bears, a cat with an oversized head, and… a bird of sorts.

“Nari?” Pearl asked.

The other Pearl shook her head. “No. Though Steven got that one because it reminded him of her.” The Pearl tilted her head. “I do not see the resemblance, however.”

Next were the dresser and wardrobe, though there wasn’t much to note. Just various pieces of clothes. After that was the throne. Pearl had to temporarily let go of her charge in order to jump to the seat of throne. Thankfully, she remained obediently still and made no trouble. Pearl had once offered this Gem freedom, a chance to join the rebellion. She hadn’t taken it, but Pearl still felt no desire to harm her unless absolutely necessary.

“I’m surprised she let you put all these blankets and pillows up here,” Pearl said as she kicked through it all.

“It was Steven’s idea,” the Pearl said. “He enjoys it when I read stories to him.”

Pearl moaned in disgust. Cooking, dressing, tidying up after, and reading to her? This poor Pearl probably had no idea how bad she had it. Such a sad state of affairs.

Pushing a blanket away, Pearl found the large handprint that was the Palanquin’s control. She pressed her hand to it, hoping she could steer the vehicle to the Warp Pad, but nothing happened.

“You cannot move it,” said the other Pearl. “It has been locked to Blue Diamond’s gem signature.”

In response, Pearl made a frustrated little grunt. Possibly she could force the Diamond to move the Palanquin for them, but she did not want him having control of such a device and attempting an escape.

Pearl jumped back down and picked back up the whips handle and led the other Pearl to the last point of interest.

The pillow corner.

And, sure enough, there were pillows scattered all around a low standing table, on which was a binder and a few loose sheets of paper. But more interesting then that were the pictures. All over the corner were various different photographs. Some looked relatively old, and showed Blue Diamond— in her proper form, tall and imposing. Most showed the Diamond in her current form, some had Greg and a number had the other Pearl. And one in particular had The Diamond, the Pearl, and the Lapis Lazuli in it. The Pearl’s arm was outstretched out of frame. She must have been holding the camera. All three of them were smiling brightly and The Diamond even had an arm around either of them, drawing them close.

“Please don’t touch the pictures,” the other Pearl said softly. “Please.”

Pearl hesitated, before rising back to her full standing height. “You know,” she began, “while I’m not sure what’s going to happen specifically, we do have the Diamond captured.”

The other Pearl said nothing. 

“So, you don’t have to live like this anymore,” Pearl continued. “Living alone in this Palanquin with her, I mean. You don’t need to fear any punishment. You can come with us, live free at the Temple. You don’t have to be under the Diamond’s thumb anymore.”

“I am not. My Diamond has not been here for almost thirteen years now,” the other Pearl said.

Pearl raised an eyebrow. “Then what about… him.” She pointed at one of the pictures.

“That is Steven.”

“And he has a Diamond gem.”

“Yes.”

“So he’s a Diamond.”

“No. He is Steven.”

Pearl shook her head, beginning to get frustrated. “How can you just say that? You admit he has a Diamond gem. How is he not a Diamond?”

“He does not share any of the memories or experiences of My Diamond. He is his own person,” the other Pearl said.

“‘Steven’.”

“Yes.”

Pearl scoffed. “Incredible. He has you completely wrapped around his thumb and you don’t even see it.”

“You claim to believe in freedom,” the other Pearl said, a sudden edge to her voice. “Then allow me to live my life as I see fit, here with Steven and Lapis.”

Pearl was about to protest, to say how deluded and confused and hopeless the other Pearl was…

But she didn’t. There would be no point. They had reached an impasse. And it seemed like this Pearl might be a truly lost cause.

It was such a pathetically sad picture.

Pearl tugged on the rope as she headed for the Palanquin’s exit. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s go meet up with the others. And return you to your precious Steven.”

“Thank you,” the other Pearl said, completely sincerely.

Pearl grimaced and bit her tongue, but otherwise said nothing else.


The Crystal Gems were not going to let Steven go. 

Pearl had known that, of course, from the moment she’d taken the blow for the fusion’s gauntlets. Known that they would take him prisoner. Even thought, perhaps, that they would shatter him, just as they had done to Pink Diamond so long ago.

They hadn’t. But that did little to reassure her.

The Crystal Gems released Lapis Lazuli. She spun around, furious, when she formed, when she saw where she was and realized what had happened. But there was nothing she could do. The nearest river was a five minute walk away, and the air wasn’t even particularly humid. Without water, Lapis was weaponless.

The whip tied around Pearl vanished. The Amethyst had let her go. A weaponless Pearl was no threat either.

“You’re free,” Rose Quartz said. “Go well.”

“I will stay with my Steven,” said Pearl.

“No!” Steven said. “No, Pearl, you gotta go.”

All the Crystal Gem eyes were on her. Pearl didn’t argue the point further. It was a direct order. And besides, there was little she could do to assist Steven while in custody.

Greg would stay with him, though. For that, Pearl was immensely grateful. Someone would be watching over Steven, at least.

Before the Crystal Gems went away, Pearl did make one simple request: that he could bring a bag of supplies with him. The rebels were wary, of course, expecting weapons or some other danger.

But Pearl was insistent, and Greg and Lapis backed her up. Eventually, the Crystal Gems related, watching over Pearl’s shoulders as she stuffed a backpack until it almost burst at the seams. Two changes of clothes, with many pairs of underwear. A water bottle. Two apples and several granola bars. His drawing pad and pencil case. His favorite toy.

Hopefully it would offer a little comfort.

“One last thing,” Pearl said, as she handed the fusion the backpack to carry.

“That was your last thing,” said Amethyst.

Rose Quartz still let Pearl speak.

“Let me say goodbye.”

A pause.

“Very well,” said Rose Quartz.

Pearl went to Steven. His eyes shone with unshed tears, but his chin was held out in determination. Good. She bent down on her knees, and wrapped Steven in a tight hug.

In his ear, she whispered the advice all Pearls knew. “Do not let them see how much they hurt you.”

They parted and Steven nodded.

Pearl nodded back at him

Steven still looked brave and determined, but the tears had begun now. Pearl wanted to wipe them away with some of the tissue she kept in her gem, but before she could, Steven was taken away, led by the whip that held him away from the Palanquin, from Lapis, from Pearl.

Lapis stood there in stunned silence, her mouth moving and quivering trying to form words, but seemingly coming up short every time. Pearl wanted to put a reassuring hand on Lapis’s shoulder, to tell her it would be alright, that Steven would be fine.

But it would be improper for a Pearl to lie.

Instead, Pearl folded her hands in front of her and hoped, in a barely audible whisper:

Please be safe, my Steven.”

She felt the tears begin to sting her own eyes as she pushed her hair away to wipe her eyes.

Please…

Chapter Text

Lapis had started pacing around the Palanquin shortly after the Crystal Gems had left with Steven and a day later still hadn’t stopped. She traced her path around the Palanquin, trying to avoid things that reminded her of Steven, but failing because everything reminded her of him.

She tugged at her hair, frustrated at the powerlessness she felt. Her gem was healed, she had her powers back in full. But that hadn’t been enough to help Steven in the end. The person who had freed her from her prison.

Lapis closed her eyes tightly shut, biting back the tears.

“Lapis, please. Try to calm yourself.”

Lapis shot a sharp look at Pearl. “Calm myself? How can you say that?” She resumed pacing. “We don’t know what they’re doing to him, or even if we’re even see him again!”

“Yes, I know.”

“They could be doing terrible experiments to him! Or just cracking his gem in half!”

“Yes, I know.”

“They could be torturing him, trying to get what information they can out of him about Homeworld or the Diamonds!”

“Yes, I know.”

“Than why aren’t you more concerned!?” Lapis was finally screaming. “I thought you cared about Steven!”

Pearl turned so fast, it actually caught Lapis by surprise. “I care about Steven more than anything in the universe.”

“You’re not acting like it,” Lapis shot back. “We should be doing something! Their base is by the ocean, right? Than let’s go there and I can flood them out.”

Pearl tilted her head at Lapis. “I see. And how do you propose you do that without harming Steven?”

Lapis blinked.

“His body is human,” Pearl explained. “It requires oxygen. Submerge him in water, and he will drown. Unless you have some way to prevent that.”

Lapis Lazuli stared at her, huffed, but otherwise gave no response.

“Exactly,” Pearl responded. “We go in too strong, we could kill him. Go in too weak, and the Crystal Gems will do it for us, rather than risk letting a Diamond go free.”

“So what? We just abandon him?”

“No. We plan.”

Lapis grimaced and frowned. “Fine. Then I’m going to go do some thinking.” She summoned her wings and began towards the door. “Might as well get some use out of these…”

“Lapis.”

Lapis didn’t even turn around. “I’m not going to Beach City. Just going to fly around the countryside.”

“That’s not what I meant,” said Pearl. Lapis stopped and turned around to face her again, who suddenly seemed much more unsure of herself. She looked away and a faint blush seemed to appear on her cheeks. “You will be back?” she asked.

Lapis nodded slowly. “Yeah. I’ll be back.”

Pearl nodded back at her. “Alright. Take as much time as you need, Lapis. I’ll… I’ll be here when you return.”

“I know, Pearl,” Lapis responded.

She than pushed through the curtains of the Palanquin and took to the skies, trying her best to clear her mind.

And to think.


In the days immediately following the aftermath of the War, the remaining Crystal Gems had built a cage.

Rose had helped as much as she could, as had Garnet, but the majority of the construction had been Pearl. Scavenged from the remains of the same metal Bismuth had once used to forge Rose’s sword, and supplemented with regular steel, it had been built large enough to contain a Quartz’s corrupted form. The cage’s bars had generated a magical field designed to reflect and contain any energy attacks.

They’d kept a Zircon in there, at first. She’d been one of the main communications officers in the rebellion. Rose Quartz had known few Gems as sharp as her. No one else could decode messages as quickly, or perform mathematics so effortlessly, or prepare information briefings so efficiently. Such intelligence couldn’t have just been snuffed out, they’d all been sure. Whatever the Diamonds had done to her, Zircon was still in there. They just had to bring her out.

They’d kept Zircon in that cage for years and years. The Crystal Gems would try to talk to her, but she’d just growl in response. Growl or hiss or slash or shoot energy beams, which had reflected back and hit her instead. Then she’d cower and whimper. Nothing her old friends did or said seemed to spark any of her memories.

One was a small sample size. The approach hadn’t helped Zircon, but maybe it would work on someone else.

So they’d tried it on a Morganite. On a Topaz. On an Emerald. On a Ruby. On a Glass.

It hadn’t helped any of them.

Eventually all of them— even Rose— had to admit, it was hopeless. And it hurt, seeing these twisted reflections of their old friends and comrades. Old friends and comrades who couldn’t remember themselves, but were nonetheless still afraid, still in pain.

It was a mercy to keep them bubbled.

They’d kept that cage. For thousands of years it had been left, buried and forgotten, in the depths of Amethyst’s room. Amethyst had no trouble finding it. The device still worked perfectly.

There is something fitting, Rose Quartz thought, about Blue Diamond being kept prisoner in a cell designed to hold the monsters she herself helped create.

Or it would be, Rose thought, if that is actually Blue Diamond.

She was seriously having doubts.

Rose Quartz paced around the pool of lava in the Burning Room, her body’s frantic attempt to keep up with her mind.

She glanced at Garnet. “Still no visions of the Pearl and Lapis contacting Homeworld?”

“None,” said Garnet.

Rose nodded, and looked at Amethyst. “And the Galaxy Warp…?”

“All still down. I like, triple checked,” Amethyst replied excitedly.

“Good, good,” Rose said, absently.

Amethyst practically vibrated at the praise. She knew how serious the situation was, and was doing her best to act accordingly, but Rose could tell she was excited by the whole thing. How couldn’t she be? She’d spent her whole life hearing stories about the rebellion, but had never actually participated. This was the closest she’d ever gotten to a proper war meeting.

Rose hoped she’d never get any closer.

Pearl wasn’t present for the meeting. She was outside the Temple proper, standing guard on their Diamond captive and Mr. Universe. Rose wanted her opinion on things, but that would have to wait. They couldn’t be certain how well the cage would stand up to a Diamond’s powers, and if Amethyst got struck by Blue Diamond’s emotional manipulation, her inexperience might make her very vulnerable. If something went wrong, Pearl would have a better chance of standing her own.

“So,” Rose said, at length. “What do you think of him?”

“I think he’s small,” said Amethyst. “He doesn’t look like any pictures of the Diamonds you showed me. He just looks like a human kid.”

“Humans think you look like a human kid,” pointed out Garnet.

Amethyst shrugged. “Fair.”

“It’s possible to create quite elaborate organic structures using shape shifting,” said Rose. “We could be looking at that.”

“I don’t think so,” said Garnet.

“Me neither,” said Amethyst. “This doesn’t feel like shape-shifting, y’know? I’m not even sure if I could make blood.”

Amethyst’s expression turned thoughtful at that, and despite everything, Rose smiled. She suspected Amethyst would be trying that out, very soon.

Rose was glad of her friends’ insights. Garnet so far was the only one of them who’d had any direct experience with “Steven Universe’s” odd anatomy, and Amethyst was, quite frankly, the most talented shapeshifter Rose had ever met. She would know the limits of the power better than anyone. “If you succeed in making blood, do tell me. Perhaps try to see how completely you can mimic his physical form.”

Amethyst grinned, showing sharp teeth. “Will do.”

“But first, I have another mission for you.”

Amethyst’s eyes went wide. “What?”

“We still don’t know how culpable Mr. Universe is. I need you to go through his things— his van, his car wash, his storage locker. See if he has any other artifacts of Gem origin in his possession, or any evidence of communication with the Diamond and his entourage.”

Amethyst stood up very straight, and snapped a human salute. “Yes ma’am!”

A door appeared in the Temple wall, and Amethyst rushed out of it. Rose followed, waving for Garnet to follow.

Outside, sitting just past the warp pad, was the cage. It was large enough to fill almost the entire cave. Inside it was the bearer of the blue diamond gem, Steven Universe. He was sitting cross-legged on the floor, next to the human who claimed to be his father. The two of them were holding hands through the cage bars, though Steven Universe quickly snatched the hand away when he noticed their arrival.

Rose Quartz took a moment to look him over once more. He truly did resemble a human child, with his small stature and pudgy body. He was about a head taller than Amethyst, and a bit slimmer than her. At first glance, his skin was a tan very akin to Mr. Universe’s, except there was an almost blue-grey undertone to it, which made him appear faintly ill. His hair was wispy, came down to his ears, and was brown in color. Rose found that particularly odd. Neither of his purported parents had brown hair— Blue Diamond’s was white, Mr. Universe’s was grey. But then, many humans’ hair chaged shades as they aged, didn’t they?

But there were echoes of Blue Diamond’s physical form in him, though too subtle to immediately notice. His eyes were the same as Blue Diamond’s, wide and drooping, though the skin around them was red, as if he’d been trying very hard not to cry. His nose was long and striking, his cheeks angular, his chin sharp.

If Blue Diamond was shapeshifting to fool them, wouldn’t she have striven to make her disguise as unlike herself as possible? And if this was shapeshifting, surely she could not have changed the colour of her hair or skin.

Rose tore her gaze away to look at Mr. Universe. The human would not meet her in the eyes.

Next she looked to Pearl, who was standing a short distance from cage, back straight, spear in hand. While she was clearly striving to keep a professional air, Pearl couldn’t entirely hide the air of disgust that hung about her. It faded for a moment when she exchanged a look with Rose, nodding to indicate there had been no trouble.

Rose nodded back. “Garnet and I are going to the Fountain,” she announced, in case there was trouble and Pearl needed to find them.

It was only a short warp to the fountain, and once they arrived, the complex and its surrounding gardens looked much as it always had— albeit far messier than usual. There were cracks in some of the walls and archways, and the tear level in the basins was much lower than usual. Something in Rose clenched at the sight of it, but it was no concern. She could replenish the supply easily enough. Perhaps this was even a sign she should make a backup cache in another location, just in case.

The two of them worked their way systematically around the garden, Garnet explaining how the confrontation had occurred in detail. When they arrived at the place where she had destroyed the Pearl’s physical form, there were three things lying on the ground:

The first was a fish. It had gone slightly rancid, and was surrounded by a small cloud of flies.  

Second was a simple silver hilt. When one held it properly, it produced a blade of bright blue light.

Not far away was the third object, small and circular. A bracelet, in fact, constructed from elastic and simple plastic beads.

“The Pearl was wearing it,” Garnet said.

“Odd,” said Rose Quartz. But then, this whole thing was odd. She read the inscription on the beads. “‘I heart EC’. What does that mean?”

Garnet shrugged.

Rose considered for a moment, and slipped the bracelet onto her wrist. It seemed harmless. Perhaps she could return it to the Pearl.

Gems didn’t wear physical clothes, Homeworld Gems especially. But then, Homeworld Gems didn’t have Palanquins filled with human food, clothing and entertainment. Homeworld Gems didn’t take on the physical form of a human child, and call themselves by human names. Homeworld Gems didn’t claim to have parents.

Diamonds didn’t go around on abandoned planets practically undefended. Diamonds didn’t let themselves get defeated. Diamonds didn’t trade themselves in for their ‘underlings’. Diamonds didn’t hug their Pearls like they actually loved them.

But then, apparently, one did.

A Gem-Human hybrid. On the surface, it sounded ludicrous, but…

Raising a hand up, a few brambles from nearby bush reached out to Rose, twining around her fingers.

The boundary between organic and Gem life was thinner than one might assume. Over the millennia, she’d seen many examples. Her own sentient plants. The moss that grew near the Temple. Crystal shrimp. Magical lizards. Her dear lion, imbued with her own life force. If all these things could be affected by alien power, why not humans as well?

Theoretically, it was quite sound. The only question was— why a Diamond?

Rose shook her head, and the brambles around her fingers retreated.

“Garnet,” she started, “do you think this is a trick?”

“If it is,” Garnet said, “I do not see what Blue Diamond gains from it.”

Rose Quartz didn’t either.

She had another question to ask, as well. “Garnet— if you knew Blue Diamond was coming here, why didn’t you tell us? We could have helped you at the Fountain.”

Garnet looked at her, touching her visor briefly. “In some futures, I requested your help. In most, you ignored my warning.”

“Oh,” said Rose, as understanding dawned. “Because of… Mr. Universe…?”

“It seemed like he would be a likely culprit, yes. You didn’t want to hear that.”

“Oh dear. Garnet. I’m sorry.” Rose rubbed her face, weary and hurt. She liked Mr. Universe. She had thought she could trust him. “I suppose I owe Pearl an apology as well, don’t I?”

“Yes,” agreed Garnet.

They walked in silence back to the warp pad. Garnet paused. “I didn’t See Blue Diamond— or Steven— however.”

“You didn’t?”

“No. That was a complete surprise to me. Even now, she— he remains a blind spot in my vision. He’s too strange. Too unpredictable.”

“Hmm,” said Rose Quartz, for lack of anything else to say.

They had a lot to think about.


“Whatchu drawing there, Shtoo-ball?” Greg asked, even though it was fairly plain even to him what Steven was drawing.

“Mom,” Steven answered, not taking his eyes off his sketchpad. “Sitting on her throne in the Palanquin.”

Greg nodded silently as he watched Steven work his artistic magic. He’d been trying to nurture Steven’s creativity for most of his childhood... mostly by trying to find an instrument he’d like playing, at least early on. But the ukulele he’d got the boy had just ended up gathering dust in a corner, as had any other musical instrument Greg introduced to him. Steven loved listening to music, but seemed mostly uninterested in making it.

So while that had stung, Greg had still done everything he could to support Steven when he’d found his own creative outlet. And Greg had to admit, the boy had a knack for it. Even his simple sketch of Blue managed to capture her so well— her majestic poise, her elegant figure, her piercing eyes...

Still… Given the current situation, drawing Blue probably wasn’t the best idea.

Greg sighed and Steven perked up from his drawing. “Dad? Is something wrong?”

Greg began to answer, but was interrupted by a yawn, no doubt the result of being basically awake for over twenty-four hours. “Nah, I’m good, bud,” he answered, doing his best to stifle the weary yawn.

“You don’t have to stay here,” Steven said, for probably the twentieth time. “You can go back to the van and get some sleep.”

“I’m okay, Steven,” Greg said, chuckling in a very forced way. “After all, if I go, who’ll keep you company?” Greg flicked his eyes over to the other Pearl, who stood just a few feet away, her back facing them, but no doubt listening closely to everything they said.

Steven pursed his lips, but said nothing in return. Instead he refocused on his drawing. He straightened the photograph of Blue that was clipped to the corner of the page.

Greg smiled, his eyes lingering on the photo. Maybe it wasn’t wise to discuss this here, but...

“Ya know, I still remember when I took that picture of Blue.”

Steven looked up from his drawing again. “You do?”

Greg nodded. “It was actually just a few days before we… er, well…” He awkwardly cleared his throat. “Before we ‘tried’ for you.”

Greg could feel his face blushing as Steven snickered behind his hand at his father’s embarrassment. And perhaps he imagined it, but Greg could have sworn he heard the other Pearl groan.

“You see, Steven,” Greg continued, doing his best to latch down on his embarrassment, “Blue was still kind of unsure about, ya know, pregnancy and stuff. So when I told her that she would, uh...  probably gain a lot of weight while carrying you, she didn’t really know what to expect. So she wanted me to take a picture of her before she was pregnant so she could compare it to when she was pregnant with you.”

“Ohh,” Steven cooed, diamonds in his eyes. “And what did she think?”

Greg laughed. “Let’s just say she was unimpressed with the results.” He smiled down at his son, resisting the urge to tousle his hair. “Still. Even at the height of her pregnancy woes, she always thought it was worth it to have you.”

Steven smiled back at him and had begun to say something, only for the other Pearl to rudely cut him off. “Oh please, if you truly expect me to believe that Blue Diamond did any of that…”

Greg frowned at her, but Steven was the one who actually spoke: “You never met Mom. So what do you know?”

“If your story is to be believed, then neither did you.” Other Pearl whipped around and leveled a sharp gaze at Steven. He didn’t flinch from it at all. “I know more about your ‘mother’ than either of you two do. I experienced first hand what she was capable of.”

“Mom was one of the best Gems ever!” Steven shot back. “You’re all just jealous that you’re not as great as she was!”

Other Pearl looked like she had been physically assaulted by Steven’s words. “Jealous!?”

“Yeah! Jealous! You’re the worst Pearl ever and you know it so you ran away!”

“How dare you, you little—”

“Enough.” The three of them turned their attention towards the Temple door and saw Rose Quartz striding out towards them. Greg gulped. It was very difficult to see any remains of the goofy, flirty, airy persona she had so often shown around him. She turned her gaze, one by one, onto Greg, Pearl, and Steven. “If we are going to be… living together, we must attempt to be civil.”

Steven opened his mouth to say something, but Greg quickly reached out and squeezed his knee in warning.

Other Pearl, however, had no such restraint. “Civil? How can you expect me to be civil, Rose?” she spat. “He was— he was the one who started it.”

Something like sympathy softened Rose’s face for a moment, but then she shifted her gaze to Greg.

“Mr. Universe, did Steven speak to Pearl first? Or did Pearl talk to him first?”

Greg blinked nervously. “Um, well… Steven and I were talking and then Pearl started talking to us, so…”

Rose sighed.

The Pearl had drawn herself very tall. “You’re not actually going to take his word over mine, are you?”

Rose Quartz seemed to consider her words carefully before she spoke. “I don’t believe that anything will be accomplished by pointing fingers. Mr. Universe is our guest, and although Steven Universe is our prisoner, we will not treat him poorly. That means we shall avoid insults and… what did Amethyst call it? Snart?”

“...snark?” suggested Steven, hesitantly.

Rose nodded. “Snark.”

Other Pearl’s brow grew so heavy, Greg idly wondered if she could actually crack her own gem that way.

“Fine,” she said resentfully, before pointing to Steven. “But tell him not to talk about things he knows nothing about.”

“Fair enough. Steven Universe,” Rose looked over at him. “I expect you to treat us all with respect and courtesy.”

“Of course,” Greg said quickly.

Steven crossed his arms, huffing, and this time Greg’s hand wasn’t there to hold him back. “She was the one insulting Mom.”

“I think,” Rose Quartz said, slowly, as if fighting to keep her personal opinions from showing, “it would be best if we all refrained from talking about Blue Diamond at present.”

Steven slowly nodded at her. “Okay. Fine.”

Rose tipped her head at him. “Thank you.”

Greg let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.

She walked closer to them, examining Greg quite closely. “Mr. Universe, you look rather tired. Perhaps you should go try and get some sleep.”

“I’m fine,” Greg repeated. “Need to stay with Steven, after all.”

Rose gave him a small smile. “He will be fine for a while without you. I promise. I’ll be here keeping watch with Pearl.”

This was not at all the reassurance Rose Quartz seemed to think it was.

That said, they hadn’t tried to kill Steven. If they hadn’t done it yet, it seemed unlikely they’d change their minds. As long as Steven didn’t say something that upset them.

And, well... All Steven had was some snacks. He needed to eat— and as Greg’s stomach growled, he remembered that so did he. He could make a quick run into town, grab some food, blankets and pillows...

Greg hesitated, looking back at Steven, who raised his eyebrows at him but otherwise stayed silent. Finally, Greg sighed, relenting.

“Alright. I’m going to find stuff to make us more comfortable.” Greg pulled his hand out from the cage and got up from where he had been sitting, his knees popping uncomfortably as he did. “I should only be gone an hour, bud. Tops.”

“It’s alright, Dad. Take as long as you need,” Steven replied. “I’ll uh… I’ll still be here when you get back.”

Greg laughed, a bittersweet note in his voice. “Yeah, I guess you will be.” He sighed again. “I’ll be back in a bit, Shtoo-ball.”

“‘kay. Bye Dad.”

Steven waved and Greg waved back, doing so until he rounded the corner of the cliff and the Temple was out of sight.

Greg immediately felt his shoulders slump as he trudged back to the carwash and to the van, taking all his effort to not start crying then and there.

How were they gonna get out of this?

Chapter Text

Pearl had forgotten how utterly boring standing guard was.

It reminded her, in some ways, of her duties back when she had served Homeworld. Long, monotonous cycles of standing at attention, her expression never faltering, never letting anyone see how her mind wandered.

In other ways, it was completely different. This was important. Here, she stood as a free Gem, standing against a tyrant, weapon in hand. Here, she could not allow her mind to wander: her entire focus was on the Diamond, searching for any signs of deceit or danger.

And of course, she wasn’t alone. She had Rose at her side.

As in all things, Rose had a rather unorthodox approach to guard duty. Rather, she sat down, stretching casually before resting her back against the cave wall.

The little Diamond stared at them.

Pearl stared back at the little Diamond.

Rose Quartz stared at her own fingers, as if inspecting them for dirt. Out of the corner of her eye, Pearl noticed something around Rose’s wrist.

The little Diamond noticed too.

“Hey!” he cried out. “That’s Pearl’s bracelet!”

“No it’s not,” said Pearl.

“Not you Pearl,” Steven said. “My Pearl.”

Pearl was very proud of the self-restraint she exhibited just then, tightening her grip on her spear and trying not to think about how much she’d like to use it.

Rose gave Pearl the briefest of glances, but otherwise, pretended not to notice the comment. “Ah, yes,” she said, voice light, “we found it at the Fountain. It must have fallen off.”

“Give it back to her!” the Diamond demanded.

“Of course,” said Rose. “Just wanted to make sure I knew who it belonged to.”

“It’s Pearl’s. She got it in Empire City and you’d better give it back to her or—”

He had no way of finishing that sentence, and the Diamond knew it.

Rose smiled as if she hadn’t basically just been threatened, and began to stand up. “Of course. I’ll take it to her right away.”

“Wait,” Pearl said, falling into the familiar routine. “We promised to let the Pearl and the Lapis go free. If we go to their territory, that might be seen as violation of our truce.”

Rose put a hand to her mouth. “My, do you think so?”

“We might be attacked,” said Pearl.

“Oh no. I wouldn’t want to scare her…” said Rose.

The Diamond had stood up in the cage. “Look! Wait,” he said, and Pearl waited, listening very carefully to what he had to say. “Just— just leave it near the warp pad by the Palanquin, okay?”

Pearl blinked. “What?”

“Pearl’s sure to use the warp pad eventually. If you put the bracelet there, she’ll be bound to see it.”

Rose nodded, then hesitated. “Oh, dear. What if some animal takes it?”

The Diamond bit his lip. “You could… put it under a rock. And, um, wait— let me write a message, so she’ll see it and know it’s from me?”

“I don’t think we should allow for communication—” Pearl began.

The Diamond glared at her. “You can read my message over, okay?”

He grabbed at his human note book, wrote something in it, then tore out the page. He poked it through the energy field of the cage. Pearl grabbed the page carefully by the corner, and read it.

Hi Pearl. The Crystal Gems have returned your bracelet. I’m doing okay. Love you, and Lapis too.

— Steven

Pearl scanned the words for any sign of code. None immediately jumped out at her, but she knew how subtle the Diamonds could be in this regard.

She was finishing her inspection when the Temple door opened and Garnet stepped out. She said, “I’ll take next watch.”

“Wonderful timing,” said Rose Quartz. Garnet’s timing was always wonderful. She settled into position, allowing Rose and Pearl to go to the warp pad. Neither of them spoke in the duration of the warp. When the light of the warp stream dissipated, Pearl was not surprised to see they hadn’t arrived at the forest where Blue Diamond’s Palanquin was hidden, but rather they were in a familiar battlefield strewn with strawberries.

Here, they would be free to talk.

“Well,” said Rose, slipping the bracelet off of her hand and considering it. “That went well.”

“I’ll admit… he appears to be treating the Pearl with more civility than I expected.” Pearl banished her spear, and looked again at the message she still held in her hands. Love you, it said. Was it a lie? A code? “But I’m still not convinced.”

It was an old routine they’d used during the rebellion, or a variation of it. As the Crystal Gem message had spread, their numbers had began to swell. While new recruits were welcomed, they also brought risk. It would have been very easy for Homeworld to slip spies among their ranks, something they’d attempted multiple times. There had been systems in place to minimize the chances of betrayal, and one of those systems had been covert ways of testing recruits’ reactions. Would they be kind to all Gems, regardless of caste? Would they share resources? Would they stand up for others?

And the Diamond who called himself Steven Universe had done very well. He hadn’t tried to take the Pearl’s bracelet for himself. He had insisted the Crystal Gems return it to its rightful owner. He had, apparently, even written a letter to reassure the Pearl.

But still. This whole setup was suspicious.

“I know,” Rose said, when Pearl voiced her concerns. “But… I am beginning to believe Steven Universe might be genuine. If he really was Blue Diamond, she could have destroyed us so easily. I can’t see why he would allow us to lock him up, unless what he’s saying is true.” Rose looked out across the field, weapons of a brutal battle still lying where they had fallen five thousand years ago. “Just… just think, Pearl. This could be… something entirely new. A chance to fix the mistakes of the past. To create something better.”

The hope in Rose’s voice… it was inspiring, alluring. The image it conjured was beautiful.

But when Pearl stared across the battlefield, for a moment, all she could see were the Gems who’d been shattered there. All she could hear were their screams as they’d transformed.

The risk was too great.

“A few shows of kindness don’t mean anything,” Pearl said. “He was still keeping a Pearl enslaved. That Lapis Lazuli as well, most likely. He attacked Garnet, and believes the same shale about fusions as all of Homeworld. And I don’t want to hear what he has to say about Amethyst. Perhaps he is not Blue Diamond, but he is still a Diamond.”

Rose sighed. “Perhaps,” she said. “We’ll need to keep watching.” Rose tore her gaze away from the horizon, and turned her eyes on Pearl. “But… there’s something else I want to talk about.”

“Yes?” said Pearl.

“I’m sorry.”

Pearl blinked. “Pardon?”

“I’m sorry.” Rose laid her hands, warm and heavy, on Pearl’s shoulder. “You tried to warn me about Mr. Universe. I didn’t listen. And I…” Rose shook her head, causing a cascade of pink curls to tumble around them both. She seemed to be at a loss for words. “And I should have… I was… I’m sorry.”

Victory flared in Pearl’s core, hot and fierce.

I told you so. The words would have felt so good to say. But Pearl saw the unshed tears shining in Rose’s eyes, and held back. Instead, she leaned into Rose, hugging her tightly, offering what comfort she could.

The stayed like that for a long time. The two of them, together.

Then Rose said, “I’ll need to be more careful, next time.”

Next time?

“Rose—” Pearl began, as her lover pulled out of the embrace and started towards the warp pad.

“Yes?” said Rose.

“Nothing,” said Pearl, looking away.

Rose tilted her head in mild confusion, then smiled. “Well. Let’s go, then. We have a bracelet to return.”


Steven shifted where he sat as his stomach growled in hunger. He glanced at the fusion, Garnet, who made no indication that they heard his restless belly.

Steven turned his attention back to his drawing. It was starting to really come together now. The basic sketch was done and now he was adding finer details. He didn’t have his outlining pen, unfortunately, so he was having to make do with what few tools he did have.

He was working on the shading of Mom’s robe when his stomach rumbled again. He frowned as he put his pad and pencil to the side. He looked over at the fusion.

“Hey. When is Dad getting back with dinner?” he asked.

Garnet was silent for a moment before answering simply, “When he gets back.”

Steven grimaced at her. “You’re supposed to have future vision. Can’t you see when he’ll get back?”

“Yes.”

“And? When will he?”

“When he returns.”

Steven huffed and was about to say something angrier to the fusion when Dad rounded the Temple’s corner, one hand carrying a heavy-looking duffle bag, a wonderful smelling pizza box balanced in his other.

Steven stood up and ran over to the far side of the cage. “Dad! You’re back!”

“Course I am,” Dad responded. “Took a bit longer than I thought it would. Pizza place lost my order so they had redo it while I waited.”

Normally, Steven would probably be a bit annoyed by this, but he was so hungry now and all he wanted to do was take the largest bite out of that pizza that he could.

“I… kinda forgot what you said you wanted on it originally, bud. So I just got mushroom and onion.”

Dad sat the pizza down on the floor next to the cage and opened the lid, revealing what just then looked to be the most beautiful, cheesy, greasy pizza in existence.  Steven had never been so glad to see food in his whole life.

“It looks so good…” Steven said, licking his lips.

Dad chuckled. “Yeah. It’s no Empire City, but Fish Stew does good work.” He peeled a piece of the pizza off the box and carefully handed it to Steven through the bars of his cell. Steven took it, mindful not to touch the cage’s bars, and with barely a moment's hesitation, devoured it, licking his fingers clean after he did.

“Easy, bud,” Dad said as he prepared another slice. “Don’t want to make yourself sick or anything.”

“I won’t be cleaning that up,” Garnet intoned.

Steven shot them a look, but Dad was right. No need to make himself sick. Especially not in front of the rebels. Before the next slice, Dad handed him a water bottle from the duffle bag, a large chunk of ice in the center keeping it cool. Steven unscrewed the cap and drank a little, followed by drinking a lot. Because of his more pressing hunger, Steven hadn’t realized how thirsty he had been.

Dinner went uneventfully after that. Steven ate three more slices of pizza and drained the water bottle, swallowing a pain pill Dad had brought with it. Satisfied, Steven leaned back where he sat.

“Pretty good, huh?” Dad asked as he closed the pizza box lid.

“Yeah, pretty good,” Steven agreed. “Thanks, Dad.”

“Hey, no problem. That’s what Dads are for, right?” Dad’s tone was one of forced upbeatness and it contrasted uncomfortably with the grim atmosphere around them.

Still, Steven had to go along. After all, Pearl’s words still rung in his ears:

“Never let them see how much they hurt you.”

“Man, it’s getting late,” Dad said. Steven wasn’t exactly sure how late it was, but he was inclined to agree. The sun had fully set awhile ago and the only light in the Temple’s cave came from a camping lamp Dad had brought, as well as the dim pink glow from the cage’s bars.

“You should probably be getting to bed,” Dad said. Steven was going to protest, as he often did around bedtime, but a powerful yawn welled up inside of him and it took all his strength not to let it out.

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Steven said. “It’s been a long day.”

“Yeah…” Dad responded, his eyes quickly darting over to Garnet and back again. “Why don’t we get ready?”

Dad had been really smart and picked up some extra things for him when he’d grabbed food, with pillows, blankets and a sleeping bag. There was only one of the latter, clearly sized for a child; when Steven asked Dad where he was gonna sleep he just waved the concern off. Steven bit his lip, but didn’t want to make a fuss. So he nodded, got up, and dragged the sleeping stuff into the corner of the cell.

That was when he suddenly noticed something.

He had to pee. Badly.

He dropped his things, as he saw Dad was readying his own blankets. “Dad?” Steven tried to keep his voice down, even though he knew it only made him look suspicious. “Dad? I have to go to the bathroom.”

Dad seemed to be taken a little off guard by this. “Oh! Right… Hey, Garnet.” He looked over at the Gem, who shifted her gaze to him. “Steven has to… you know.”

The said said nothing.

“Uh, take care of some business?”

Still silent.

“Answer a call of nature?”

Silence.

“I have to pee!” Steven blurted out.

“Ah. Okay.” Garnet pushed off the side of the wall they’d been leaning against. “I can take you.”

“Take me? Take me where?”

“To the ocean,” Garnet answered plainly. “You can… answer your call there.”

“The ocean?” Steven sputtered.

“Yeah, Garnet. Isn’t that a little… harsh?” Dad asked. “I can take him to the car wash and he can use the bathroom there.”

Garnet however shook their head. “You can’t be wandering that far away from the Temple.” She folded her arms across her chest. “It’s either the ocean… or I can fetch a bucket.”

Steven grimaced before sighing. “Fine. I’ll take the ocean. Get a chance to stretch my legs at least…”

Garnet placed their hand on the top of the cell and all at once, the energy bars disappeared. Steven cautiously stepped past the cell’s threshold, as if afraid that the bars would suddenly re-appear as he did, cutting through his body. Thankfully, they did not.

Steven was out of the cell and he looked at his dad, and then past him. The mouth of the cave was just there, the sound of the ocean echoing invitingly.

In an instant, Steven realized that he could just run. Grab Dad and just race out of there. He could be out of the Temple before the fusion even knew what was going on. Just run and run and run.

But… Steven knew what a bad idea that was. Even if they were fast enough, where would they go? The rebels knew where the Palanquin was now and no doubt that’s where they would check first. Maybe they’d attack Pearl and Lapis again— and this time, they wouldn’t let them go…

“Let’s go.” Garnet adjusted their glasses.

“Fine,” Steven responded.

Dad got up to follow them, but Steven stopped him. “Um, that’s alright, Dad. I can handle this.”

“Oh. Um, okay, bud,” Dad replied slowly, as he pointedly didn’t look at Garnet. “If you’re sure.”

“Yeah, I am.”

Garnet and Steven left the Temple’s entrance and walked towards the ocean, small waves breaking against the shore. He stared at it dubiously. He was used to going in the woods, but somehow going into the water seemed completely different and immensely unappealing. Steven walked to the edge of the water and hesitated.

“Can you like, turn around while I go?”

Though it was next to impossible to tell, Steven was fairly certain that one of Garnet’s eyebrows had just just shot up.

Steven felt his face redden in embarrassment. “I… I can’t go if someone’s watching me…”

The corners of Garnet’s mouth tightened, before they nodded. “But you better not try anything.”

They turned, turning their back to Steven.

“Not like I have much choice…” Steven mumbled to himself.

He fumbled with the fly and zipper of his jeans before finally being able to relieve himself. He sighed with well-earned relief. Finished, Steven zipped back up and simply said, “Done.”

Without even looking at him, Garnet turned and began walking back towards the Temple, beckoning him to follow, like some kind of trained dog.

Steven grimaced and followed after them.

When they returned to the rebel base, Steven was hurried back into his cell. As soon as he crossed the threshold, it powered back on, bathing everything in a pink glow.

That wasn’t going to make it any easier to sleep. But he needed to try. He knew if Pearl were here, she’d insist.

As he slid into his sleeping bag, pulling MC Bear Bear close, Steven smiled…

… before letting that smile fall right away.

He wished Pearl was here.

No, that wasn’t true. He wished himself, Pearl, and Dad were back in the apartment. The Crystal Gems had been defeated so Dad never had to leave. It was just the three of them— and Lapis, couldn’t forget her— just the four of them living in the apartment together. Cooking meals, cleaning up, singing songs, doing puzzles, playing video-games...

Like a family.

“You need a story, Schtoo-ball?” Dad asked.

Steven yawned, not bothering to try and hide it this time. “No, thanks Dad. I’m just—” Another yawn. “I’m just gonna go to sleep.” He was tired, at least. Maybe he would get some sleep tonight.

“Alright, Steven… Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Dad.”

They both lied down in their respective sleeping spaces and rolled over, Steven doing his best to face away from the glowing bars, even if it meant not seeing his dad.

He closed his eyes, but sleep was stubborn. Part of it was the ache through his entire body, which not even the painkillers could dull completely. Part of that was the never-ending glow  from the cage, like the most irritating night-light in existence. But even burying deeper under the blankets to block it out did little to help. He guessed he shouldn’t be surprised. He had warp lag. In Korea it was morning; and he’d just been adjusting to France’s time, and there it had to be about noon. Despite the darkness outside, as far as his body was concerned, it was time to be awake.

But warp lag or not, his body was also exhausted. Steven felt sleep come for him gradually, slowly draping over him before he was finally engulfed.

Steven’s dreams were wild, yet predictable that night. He dreamt of life at the Palanquin, of Pearl waking him up and the two of them heading to town for some breakfast. He dreamt of roaming the streets of Empire City with Dad; of walking through the mountains and showing Lapis all the landmarks, which morphed and twisted in the manner of dreams.

As he drifted, occasionally something would pull him back towards consciousness for a brief enough moment to remind him where he was, before pulling back down into the depths of sleep.

“Go find Rose,” the fusion’s voice was saying. “You don’t need to be here.”

Go where I want.”

At first Steven thought the voices were part of yet another dream, until he drifted close to awakeness, and he realized that truly was Garnet’s voice. At first he thought the second speaker might have been Dad— but no, the voice was too low, too smooth—

Garnet grunted, “Go. Get.”

Stop pushing. I will steal your glasses again.”

Steven sat up, bleary eyed, and for a moment wondered if what he thought he was seeing was in fact what was actually happening.

Because it looked like the fusion was trying to push away a giant pink fur ball.

“What— Is that a… a lion?” Steven asked as he rubbed his eyes. There, not five feet away from where his Dad slept, was a cat, its back arched, its tail pricked, batting at the fusions with massive paws.

“It is,” Garnet answered slowly. “He’s Rose’s.”

Not anyone’s,” the lion refuted. “Rose is pride.”

“Don’t growl at me,” Garnet snapped at the Lion. It gave a small growl back.

“I know what you mean,” Steven said to the lion. “Treating people like animals seems to be a thing for them.”

Garnet fixed him with a heavy glare, but before she could say anything, the lion broke in, “I wondered why this cage was here.” He walked up to bars. His eyes shone amber in the light. He was close enough that Steven heard him sniff, could feel the warmth radiating off of him. “You smell sort of like them. You a Gem?”

“Sort of,” Steven answered.

Hmph.” The lion gave a dismissive sniff. Just then, Dad let out a snore. He ears twitched a the noise, and turned to investigate.

“Don’t eat him!” Steven squeaked.

Not hungry.” The animal sat down on its haunches and licked his paws, displaying its massive white teeth in the process. Steven couldn’t tell if that was coincidental or a deliberate act of intimidation.

“Oh. Good,” Steven said.

The fusion took a step forward. They said, “You are communicating with him.”

Steven didn’t bother replying with words, just nodded stiffly.

The lion was now grooming its hindlegs. He paused to ask Steven, “Scared?”

This didn’t sound so much a threat as genuine curiosity.

Not really,” Steven answered honestly, through a yawn. The lion had been startling, but not scary, really. He reminded Steven of most other cats he’d met in life— a little prickly, but quite nice once you got to know them. Certainly nicer than the Crystal Gems. “My name’s Steven,” he told him. “What’s yours?”

No name,” the lion said between licks.

Steven shook his head. He shouldn’t have been surprised. “Can I give you one?”

The lion lashed his tail in what was probably the feline-version of a shrug. Finishing his grooming, he got to his feet, stepped over Dad, and began towards the exit. He stopped and looked over his shoulder. “I hope they let you out of your cage, Gem cub,” said the unnamed lion. “Let me know if they do. Would like proper conversation.

And without another word, Lion began sprinting away from the Temple, towards the ocean… and over the ocean. It was hard to tell from this distance, but it looked like the he was running on top of the water.

Steven blinked sleepily, still not sure if what he saw was real or if he was dreaming. “I didn’t know Rose Quartz had a Lion.”

“You don’t worry about him,” Garnet spoke sharply. “He’s Rose’s responsibility.” She settled back into her spot and nodded curtly at him. “Go back to sleep.”

Steven didn’t have the energy to put up any kind of an argument. So he slid back into his sleeping bag, his mind still idly going over the fact that a giant, talking pink Lion was also part of the Crystal Gems.

“I wonder if Mom knew…” Steven mumbled to himself before closing his eyes and falling back asleep.

Chapter Text

Lapis moved swiftly, her hydrokinesis propelling her neatly through the ocean's waves. She passed fish and kelp and other hallmarks of the Earth’s oceans, before beginning to slow. She moved to the surface and as predicted, the shore was in view now. And on that shore was the unmistakable structure that the Crystal Gems made their base in.

Lapis had come in order to scope out the area and maybe see what they were doing to Steven. Pearl had feared there would be little hope; that the Crystal Gems would be keeping him locked inside their base, far beyond their reach. But luck seemed to be on her side, for there were two figures at the edge of the water; Steven and the Pearl.

The other Pearl, Lapis scowled. She wasn’t anything like the Pearl that Lapis had come to know. The way she spoke so kindly or knew when to offer a reassuring hand on her shoulder, or the way her hair fell just so and it looked so lovely…

Lapis shook her head, pushing that line of thought away. She needed to keep focused. She ducked back under the waves and swam closer, peeking only enough to see over the waves.

Both Steven and the other Pearl were there. Steven was doing… something, though Lapis wasn’t sure what exactly. Though it must have been important, with the look of concentration on Steven’s face. Which made the look of impatience clearly plastered on the Pearl’s all the more frustrating.

Lapis gritted her teeth as she felt energy begin to gather in her gem. She wanted to summon her wings. They had been a hard won victory and now she could put them to use, swooping over and grabbing Steven before Other Pearl could do anything about it.

But…

Lapis knew that was a stupid plan, even without Pearl telling her so. The Crystal Gems knew where the Palanquin was now. And if she snatched Steven, they would probably be at the Palanquin before Lapis could be back with Steven. And Pearl would be there, defenseless…

And there was Greg, of course. The Crystal Gems would surely exact retaliation on him as well. Granted, Lapis was fairly indifferent to the human, but Steven cared for him. Plus he had helped them track down the Fountain to heal her gem, even if that trip was the source of all this.

A physical wave hit Lapis just as a very familiar one of guilt washed over her. Steven seemed to be finishing whatever he was doing and after a moment, Pearl beckoned him to follow her back towards the rebel base.

To his prison.

It would have been so easy, to just crush the Pearl then and there.

Grimacing, Lapis flicked her wrist and sent a wave to shore, but this one was perfectly aimed and sized, hitting the other Pearl and making her stumble, but keeping Steven completely dry.

Lapis found herself smirking with devilish delight as the other Pearl began fuming at her now soaked form. Lapis had to resist the urge to move forward and try to get an earful of her rage.

Instead, she ducked back beneath the waves and began swimming away. There didn’t seem to be much in the way of defenses around the rebel’s base, save for a chainlink fence. And that would hardly stop their plans.

Lapis found herself smirking to herself again.

She and Pearl had planning to do.


It had been nearly two days since he’d been captured by the Crystal Gems, and Steven was not a fan.

At least I’m not dead, Steven reflected, as played idly with the strings of his hoodie. Or being tortured.

Or maybe he was being tortured. Of boredom.

In between runs for food, Dad had done what he could to keep Steven entertained. They’d gotten out a pack of cards and played with those, although there weren’t many good games that could only be done with two. They’d told each other jokes and riddles, and played Eye Spy, and Twenty Questions, and Never Would I Ever. Dad had gotten out his guitar, and Steven had sung along, even if he did get embarrassed about how he sounded in comparison to his awesome, rock-star father.

It reminded Steven of the days when they’d been lived in the apartment, and been able to just hang out together. It all would’ve been really nice, actually, if there hadn’t always been at least one Crystal Gem standing there, silently judging.

But there were way more things to do in an apartment than a cage. Especially when you could leave the apartment to go places. Already it felt like they were running out of activities, and Steven would have to spend the rest of his life like this.

No, I’m not. I’m gonna find a way out of here. Somehow.

Steven looked up from his sketchbook, to where Dad was splayed out on the blankets, napping. Steven considered joining him— the warp lag pulled at his eyes, tempting him to sleep. Except he was working on his drawing, and he didn’t want to waste the daylight, because he wouldn’t be able to see well enough to finish it if he woke up in the middle of the night.

That was the idea, at least, but Steven found he didn’t have much enthusiasm for drawing, after all. He kept starting a sketch, then stopping, not sure how he wanted it to continue. Or... no, he knew exactly how. He just, well... He’d already filled three full pages of the book, and ripped one out for the letter he’d written Pearl and Lapis (he sure hoped that Rose Quartz wasn’t lying about having delivered it). There were only another twenty-six pages left. If he filled them all out, then…

Steven squeezed his eyes shut, pretending it was just because of exhaustion. Maybe he should sleep after all.

He laid down, and tried to let his mind go blank.

He was just beginning to succeed, when the sound of laughter pierced through the air, disturbing him.

“Oh, come on,” he grumbled, opening his eyes.

He immediately could tell something was wrong. Just minutes before, the cave had been filled with rich, afternoon sunlight. Now the quality of the light was completely different. Paler, greyer. The wind that blew from the entrance felt chillier, too. And both Dad and the cage had vanished completely.

Steven recognised the signs. This was a Vision.

He sat up, instantly alert, and the laughter came again, clearer this time. He recognised it as belonging to Amethyst. Her voice echoed up from the beach as she approached. “And did ya see my splash?”

“I did!” That was Rose Quartz’s voice, bubbling up with laughter. “It was astounding.”

“It was certainly very large,” said the final voice, the other Pearl’s, as the three Crystal Gems appeared in the cave’s entrance. They were all dripping wet.

They were still immediately recognisable as their modern counterparts. However, aside from Rose Quartz, who still wore that same simple white dress, the other two looked quite different. The Pearl’s outfit looked antiquated, in a general sense— Steven couldn’t pin the historical period or culture down precisely, but the way her shirt hung like a toga felt vaguely mediterranean. The Amethyst, in comparison, looked oddly stiff and formal. Her hair was cropped short, and it looked like she was wearing some sort of military uniform. There was even a diamond insignia on her chest.

This must be right after she first deserted, Steven thought. He stepped forward to get a closer look, but was mindful not to go too far. His body was still in the present, and if he walked into the cage, that would probably be enough to knock him out of the vision.

“Pearl, what were those animals again?” Amethyst asked, as she walked right past Steven. “The ones who see with sounds?”

“Those were whales. Although they don’t see with sound, precisely— that’s just a metaphor. It’s called ‘echolocation’. Some Gems are capable of the same thing. They send off sound waves, and when the waves hit a physical object, they bounce back, which…”

The Pearl trailed off. She seemed to be staring at Rose Quartz, for some reason. Steven wasn’t sure why. The fearsome warrior wasn’t doing anything but wringing out her hair.

“Pearl?” Amethyst tugged on her shirt. “What’cha looking at, Pearl?”

“Ah, well...” The Pearl’s face turned blue. “Just at Rose.”

Amethyst looked from Pearl, to Rose Quartz, and tilted her yeah. “Yeah. Rose’s hair looks pretty funny.”

It did look pretty funny, Steven had to agree. When it was dry, her curls looked like something out of a fairy tale, but when wet, it was just like a giant pink mop.

If possible, the Pearl’s face went even bluer.

Rose Quartz giggled, and gave the Pearl a wink. It was weird, seeing the murderer acting so playful. In response, the Pearl smiled, and that was weird too, how the expression made her face seem so much softer.

The moment passed when Amethyst tugged on the Pearl’s shirt again, and then climbed up at her. The Pearl’s eyes went wide in surprise— then her smiled shifted, as she allowed Amethyst to come and rest in her arms. Amethyst said, “Can you finish telling me the thing about the whales?”

“Of course,” the Pearl began, coughing to clear her throat. “As I was saying…”

She barely got two sentences into her lecture before she stopped again, this time by the warp pad activating. Steven spun to see the fusion having arrived, some sort of golden artifact under her arm—

“Garnet! Garnet!” Amethyst cried, springing from the Pearl’s arms. “You’re back! I went swimming, Garnet! You shoulda seen me—”

Steven Universe,” Rose Quartz said, and Steven jumped.

But it wasn’t the Rose Quartz from the vision, of course. It was the Rose Quartz of the present. She’d called out to him, and his body had heard, and now the Vision had faded. He scowled.

“What?” he asked the rebel leader.

Rose Quartz just smiled, as if she didn’t even notice his annoyance. “You had simply been looking around quite oddly. I wanted to make sure you were alright.”

“Oh, yeah. I’m doing just great,” Steven drawled.

“Ah, I am glad.”

Steven turned away, so that she wouldn’t see him roll his eyes. He might be her prisoner, but that didn’t mean he wanted to small talk with a killer.

He didn’t really want to see Visions of that killer, either. Especially not ones where she went on beach trips, and joked with fellow traitors, and acted so happy, as if she’d never done anything wrong. It made his stomach flip. Still. Maybe if he got more of those Visions, he’d See something. Something that he could use against the Crystal Gems.

Steven laid back down, closed his eyes, and tried again.


“Ah, man! This is gonna rock!”

Amethyst walked towards the warehouse, Connie right beside her. It had been longer than Amethyst could remember when she’d last been this excited. Wrestle-Mania was already such a riot, but now she was here with Connie. This was going to be a great night.

Connie smirked at her, “Was that a pun?”

Amethyst blinked. “A pun? Whaddya mean?”

“You said this is going to rock,” Connie explained. “And you’re, ya know. A magic space rock.”

Ohhh,” Amethyst laughed. “Yeah, exactly. We’re really gonna rock now!”

“Easy, you two. Wait up for me.”

Connie sighed as her dad, Doug, straddled up to them, straightening his glasses as he did. According to Connie, the only way that her parents would let her out after her curfew was if she had one of them accompanying them. Though it was pretty obvious to Amethyst that Connie wasn’t happy about it, Amethyst herself didn’t really care. Besides, the more the merrier. Amethyst honestly just wanted to get away from the Temple for a while. And hanging with Connie was a great way to that, even with her dad in tow.

“So, Amethyst,” Doug said as they walked through the warehouse doors, greeted by the excited cheering and chatter of humans. The ring was already set up, although nobody was out there yet. That was good. Meant that the show was just about to start. “Have you been to many of these events before?”

“Oh, yeah,” Amethyst answered, leading them over to the front row seats. These were perfect. Maybe Amethyst could get another tooth. “These are great. Lotsa fun.”

“Well that’s good,” Doug said, clapping his hands together as he took his seat next to Connie. “Are you excited, dear?”

Yes, Dad. ” Connie leaned over to Amethyst and whispered, “I’m sorry, Amethyst. I was holding out hope it would just be the two of us.”

“Connie,” Doug said, his face instantly dropping into a hurt grimace. “I can’t believe you wouldn’t want me to share this with my only daughter. I am hurt.”

Connie’s eyes grew wide in surprise. “N-no! That’s not what I meant, Dad! I just—”

Doug began laughing as he got up, “It’s okay, sweetie. Calm down. Here, that popcorn’s calling my name.” He pointed the manned cart near the entrance. “You two want anything?”

“No, I’m okay, Dad.”

“Sure, I’ll go for some, dude!”

“Cool,” Doug said, pointing a pair of finger guns at Amethyst. “I’ll be right back.”

Connie looked behind them at Doug, before turning towards Amethyst. “Dad really seems to like you, Amethyst.”

“Yeah?”

Connie nodded. “Sure. I mean, Dad’s always kinda like this, but still. He was really eager to come. Mom could barely protest.”

Heh, well, who wouldn’t want to come out with us?” Amethyst shrugged nonchalantly. “We’re just two cool gals out on the town.”

Connie smiled brightly. “Yeah, we are. Just the two of us. And my dad.”

“Every group needs a straight man,” Amethyst said. “For me and the Gems, it’s Pearl. And for us, it can be your dad.”

Honestly, Amethyst had wanted Pearl to come. She’d invited her— she was sure that wrestling would be right up her alley, if only she’d give it a try. Fighting, ridiculous costumes, over-the-top drama... It just oozed Pearl.

But nooooo. Pearl had all been like, “I’ve got to watch the Diamond.” That was all she and the others talked about these days. It had been fun at first, finally getting to see a Diamond up close and personal, but now Amethyst was getting really sick of the whole thing. Guard duty was boring, and it was… worrying, the way Rose and Garnet and Pearl kept having these talks when they thought Amethyst wasn’t around.

Connie smiled, before looking away. She looked directly at the ring as she spoke, “Have you ever come to Wrestle-Mania with one of the other Gems?”

“Once,” Amethyst said. “Wasn’t much fun, though. Pearl didn’t ‘get it’, Rose kept trying to climb into the ring to heal everyone after every match, and Garnet always knew who was going to win.” Amethyst blew a raspberry through her lips. “Just… bleh.”

Before Connie could respond, Doug returned with two bags of popcorn in tow. “I didn’t miss anything, did I?” He took his seat and passed one of the bags to Amethyst and placed the other in his lap.

“Nah, you’re good,” Amethyst responded, eating a fistful of the popcorn. “I’m excited. Things are gonna be starting soon.”

“Well, hi excited. I’m Doug.”

There was a pause, as if everything around them grew quiet. Connie buried her rapidly reddening face in her hands and let out a muffled moan. “Daaaad.”

However Amethyst just let out a thunderous roar of laughter. “Oh man, that’s perfect. ‘I’m excited’, that’s hilarious.” Amethyst doubled over in her seat, nearly dropping her popcorn as she laughed so hard, others around them began to look over and make sure everything was okay.

“Well, now. It’s good to know you have only the highest quality sense of humor, Amethyst,” Doug said, looking more than a little proud of himself.

Connie only continued to look at Amethyst, a lopsided grin on her face. “I think Dad may have found his ideal audience.”

Amethyst was about to say that she’d be willing to listen to any jokes he had, if they were as good as that one, but she was cut off by the sound of a tinny jingle. At first Amethyst didn’t know where it was coming from and was about to ask as much, but then she remembered her escapades a few days before. She reached down the neck of her shirt and removed the cellphone hidden there. “I thought you didn’t have a cellphone, Amethyst?” Connie asked.

“I don’t,” Amethyst answered, pressing her finger down on the screen of Mr. Universe’s phone. She then put the phone near her mouth and yelled, “ We won’t tell ya nothin’, Homeworld scum! ” and then promptly hung up, sticking the phone back in place.

“Uh, who was that?” Doug asked.

“I dunno. No one good, though.”

The lights started to dim around them and focus on the stage. Wrestle-Mania’s host got up to the center and roared into the mic:

“Allllrright, folks! Are all of you ready to get this show on the road?!”

The crowd roared in response. Amethyst got to her feet to cheer, Connie getting up after her to join in.

“Then let’s starting getting out first fighters for the night hyped up! Give it up for Shark-O-Mania and Concrete Heat!”


“...and then the way he jumped off the ropes and landed right on him!” Amethyst slapped the palms of her hands together for emphasis.

Connie nodded, still grinning. “Yeah! And then when Sea Wasp grabbed Concrete Heat and dragged him out the ring, I thought it was all over!”

Doug sighed, before laughing wearily. “It was certainly an event,” he said, rubbing his forehead. “Though I think I might have gotten hit with a tooth…”

“I know! That’s the best part!” Amethyst declared. “Shoulda tried to keep it.”

“Right.” They came to the road, packed as it was with people and cars trying to leave. “You two stay here and I’ll go get the car and bring it around.” Doug pushed his way through the crowd and soon disappeared from sight. Amethyst shifted in place for a while before she sat down on the grass at the edge of the road. Connie sat down next to her.

“Man,” Amethyst sighed. “Tonight was great, dude. Really nice to take a load off, ya know?”

Connie nodded. “Anything… you wanna talk about?”

Amethyst chuckled. “Why? Wanting to know more cool Gem secrets?”

“Sort of,” Connie admitted, also chuckling. “I was sorta wondering why you wouldn’t let me come up on the beach tonight. But if you need to get some things off your mind…”

Amethyst was silent for a moment. “Eh, it’s nothing big. Just Crystal Gem stuff.” She started absentmindedly picking at the grass in front of her. “We got a prisoner at the Temple, but they’re no ordinary prisoner. They’re a Diamond. One of the leaders of Homeworld.”

“Really?” Connie gasped. “So, you’ve basically got like a space queen locked up at your Temple right now?”

“Basically,” Amethyst responded. “She thought she was hot stuff. But we smacked her back down into place though, and she ain’t ever gonna hurt anyone ever again.” Amethyst grinned broadly.

“Wow. That’s pretty impressive.”

“I guess,” Amethyst shrugged. “After all, I’m here. Not much a Diamond can do to me. Cause I’m so awesome.

Connie grinned slyly. “Is that so?”

“Well duh. I mean, I wasn’t with Garnet when she captured Blue Diamond,” Amethyst said. “But I made sure to look really big and imposing when she was brought back.”

Connie let out an amused snort, but quickly stopped when she saw how Amethyst was avoiding her gaze.. “And… that’s all?”

“What else is there?”

“You have talked to the other Gems, right?” Connie asked.

Amethyst shrugged again. “Yeah. I mean… I guess.” She brushed all the bits of picked grass from in front of her. “I did my thing. Not really much else for me to do.”

Connie however seemed upset by Amethyst’s answer. “That’s not true! You’re a Crystal Gem too! You have just as much say as they do.”

“Well, yeah. But—”

“But nothing. You have your opinions, you should make sure they hear them!” Connie said. “Trust me. Fading into the background can be… disheartening after a while.”

Amethyst blinked at her, as she mulled over what Connie had said. It made sense, and Amethyst did have opinions, at the very least. Like how she still didn’t think this Diamond was anything like what the others had told her about. And Connie was super smart and hadn’t steered her wrong yet.

“Alright, dude. I’ll… talk it over with them. When I get a chance.”

Connie smiled and nodded. “Good. I’m glad.”

“Ya know, Connie? You’re pretty cool.”

Connie’s face began to flush as she looked down at her hands. “Oh, well… Um, thanks, Amethyst…”

Doug pulled up in his car, the front window rolled down. “Get in, you two. We’re heading out.”

Amethyst and Connie did so, sliding into the backseat and buckling their seatbelts. The car began to drive off and Amethyst glanced over at Connie, who was idly tracing over the area where her finger had been. Amethyst smiled, a little bittersweetly.

“Seriously, dude,” she said, putting a hand on Connie’s shoulder. “You are, like, one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. Definitely the coolest human. I’m super glad I saved your life and stuff.”

Connie smiled back at her. “Yeah. Me too, Amethyst. I’m glad you saved my life too.”

The two laughed together all the way back to the Temple.

Chapter Text

Rose didn’t want to do this.

She’d been putting it off and putting it off. Garnet had even offered to do it for her, and the offer had been tempting. But no. This was something Rose felt she had to do for herself.

“Mr. Universe?” she said lightly, interrupting the music he was playing. “Could we talk?”

The human put down his guitar and gave her that careful, guarded look he’d been wearing for days now. “Uh. Sure.”

He didn’t get up.

“Outside, perhaps?” Rose asked, tilting her head towards the cave mouth.

The two Universe’s turned to each other, a silent conversation passing between them. Finally, Mr. Universe sighed and stood up. Steven Universe fixed Rose Quartz with a piercing blue stare.

“You’ll be okay on your own, bud?” Mr. Universe asked.

“I won’t be alone,” Steven Universe said dully, jutting a thumb towards Amethyst. She gave him a sharp smile in response.

Rose hoped the two would get along okay.

Rose Quartz led the way out of the cave and down the slope to the beach. Neither of them spoke. Once they were out of the Temple’s immediate range, Mr. Universe picked up the pace, just enough for him to draw ahead of her. Rose Quartz let him do so. If it was a delay tactic, it was one she would allow herself to indulge in as well.

They came to a stop nearly five minutes later, and Rose understood why. He had taken her to his car wash. His place. Somewhere familiar, to provide him with extra confidence.

He stood next to his van, and turned to face her, expression weary, resigned, and defiant. “So?”

Rose had turned this conversation over in her mind many times, looking for a delicate way to handle it, something to make it softer, easier. She hadn’t found one.

So she simply stated: “You spied on us.”

Mr. Universe winced, but didn’t deny it.

“You used us,” Rose Quartz continued, voice trembling a little. “You used me.”

“I had to,” he said.

Rose’s eye narrowed. “Did you.”

“Yes!” Mr. Universe drew himself up, something fierce burning in his eyes. “I know about you, Rose Quartz, and the things you’ve done. How you killed Pink Diamond. I could never let you do that to my son.” His fists clenched. “Everything I did, I did for him.”

A distant, detached part of Rose Quartz observed that passion, and approved of it. He truly does believe what he is saying.

It lessened the pain, a little.

“So Steven truly is your son?”

“Yes!” Mr. Universe yelled. “For the hundredth time, yes! I know you Gems don’t reproduce like we do, but I was there for his birth, I’ve raised Steven since he was in diapers. I know it must be hard for you to believe a Gem could have a kid, but I swear that’s what happened.”

“It’s not so much hard to believe that a Gem would have a child, as it is Blue Diamond would.”

Mr. Universe’s face was hard. “Well, clearly you didn’t know Blue very well, did you?”

You’re the one who did not know her.

That’s what Rose Quartz wanted to say, more than anything, but she stopped herself at the last moment. That would do nothing but antagonize him.

And perhaps he had a point. If Blue Diamond had sacrificed her existence to bring a human life into the world, then Rose Quartz truly did not know her as well as she'd thought.

Rose rubbed her eyes. “You should have just told me,” she said. “We would never knowingly harm a human. If you’d been upfront and honest, we could have avoided all of this.”

The anger on Mr. Universe’s face faded, but some still remained. “Really?” he said. “So you’re saying that if I’d come to you, two years ago and gone, ‘Here’s my son, he has the gemstone of a person you waged a war against’, you wouldn’t have thrown him in a cage?”

Rose Quartz said nothing.

The human gave a humorless bark of a laugh. “Thought so.”

He doesn’t understand, Rose Quartz said. And she wanted him to understand. She wanted to tell him everything. About what the Diamonds had done, and were surely still doing, elsewhere in the galaxies. Destroying planets, subjugating Gems, using everyone around them to expand, expand, expand

She wanted him to realize what a threat Blue Diamond posed. That if any of her original self remained in the being calling himself Steven Universe, he needed to be locked away. That it was necessary to protect the planet, and every living thing on it.

She was just figuring out a way to begin, when Mr. Universe spoke first.

“For what it’s worth,” Mr. Universe said. “I… really did come to respect you, Rose. And like you. Hanging out with you was… nice.”

Something deep within Rose’s core clenched and shuddered, and anything she may have said died on her lips.

Wordlessly, Rose Quartz turned around, and walked away.


Amethyst exhaled loudly as she fell against the Temple’s wall.

After all these stories about war and rebellion, about keeping dangerous Gems under control, about protecting the Earth, she’d been eager to do whatever she could to help out. But now she was being forced to confront a reality no one had ever bothered to tell her: Guard duty sucked.

How had she allowed Pearl to actually convince her that it would fun to sit in the Temple’s entrance and just watch the squishy Diamond sit there and stare at his hand?

Amethyst sighed, bored and frustrated. Of course Pearl would find this enjoyable. Pearl would think that paint drying was a thrilling. Amethyst laughed at the image, Pearl standing in front of wall, looking so closely at it that the tip of her nose almost scraped against it—

There was a grunt from the cage, turning Amethyst’s attention towards their captive, ‘Steven’. He always had been kind of a weird one. Interesting, but weird. But now he was just staring at his hand and groaning. Amethyst pushed against the wall and walked over to the cell.

“Hey! Whatcha doing in there?”

Steven glanced briefly up from his hand. “I’m practicing my shapeshifting.”

“Really?” Amethyst asked. “I didn’t think you could shapeshift.”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“Cause you’ve got a meat body,” Amethyst answered, since it was the most obvious thing ever. “I mean if ya had a hard light body like a normal Gem, then sure.”

“Well, I can shapeshift,” Steven said. “Just… not very well.”

“Huh. Well, can I see?”

“Why?” Steven asked, narrowing his eyes.

Amethyst shrugged. “Not like we have a whole lot to do otherwise.”

“That’s… true, I guess,” Steven admitted. “Okay. But just remember I’m not really that good. Pearl wasn’t able to teach me much about shapeshifting.”

Amethyst laughed. “Yeah. Our Pearl doesn’t really like shapeshifting that much either. Doesn’t know what she’s missing.”

“Yeah, shapeshifting is cool,” Steven agreed, before turning his attention back to his hand. He stared at it, his expression growing more and more intense as he did. Amethyst was just about to ask if he was going to actually do anything when she saw the tips of his fingers begin to grow and stretch. They grew for about two inches before quickly reverting back to their original length. Steven let go of his breath and turned back towards her. “So? What did you think?”

Amethyst blinked. “That’s it? Ya can’t do anything else?”

Steven grimaced at her before saying quietly, “I told you I wasn’t that good…”

“Hey, woah! That’s alright,” Amethyst quickly said. “I mean, everyone’s gotta start somewhere, right? Even I wasn’t a master of shapeshifting right away, ya know?”

“You’re really good at shapeshifting?” Steven asked.

Amethyst grinned proudly. “Heck yeah. I might even be better than Rose.”

That seemed to catch his attention. His eyes grew wide with surprise and wonder. “Really? Can you show me?”

“Sure,” Amethyst chuckled. “Ya got any requests?”

“Um…” Steven tapped his chin. “I don’t know. Something really cool?”

Wasn’t the best bit of guidance ever, but Amethyst always had liked the chance to be creative.

“Hmm… Alright, I think I gotcha,” Amethyst said. She turned her back to him and flashed as she felt her body begin to morph and take a new shape. Slimmed her body, redistributed her mass into a little extra height; lengthened her nose, sharpened her chin, pulled in her hair…

It was done quickly (Amethyst’s claim as a master hadn’t been all bluster), and without even stopping to inspect herself, Amethyst turned back to face the very surprised Steven.

“Woah…” Steven cooed as he looked her up and down.

“Yeah. Pretty cool, huh?” Amethyst asked grinning, flicking some strands of hair off her ears. “How’d I look?”

“You look just like me!”

Amethyst couldn’t help but grin even broader. She hadn’t been one-hundred percent sure how it was going to turn out, but if Steven’s reaction had been any indication, she must have done a fairly good job. She turned in place, letting Steven get a good look.

“Woah,” Steven repeated. “How long did it take you to be able to shapeshift like that?”

“How long did it take you to be able to shapeshift like that?” Amethyst mimicked, pitching her voice lower.

Steven giggled. Amethyst copied him.

“I dunno,” Amethyst shrugged, once the laughter had subsided. “I was doing it before Rose found me.”

“Found you?” Steven asked. “Like, when you joined the Rebellion?”

“Well,” Amethyst started as she sat down and let her form return to normal. “I guess I’m technically a Crystal Gem. But by the time Rose found me, the war was way over.”

“Really?” Steven sat down as well, crossing his legs “Huh. I just kind of assumed all three of you had fought during the Rebellion.”

“Nah. Not me. Just Rose, Pearl, and Garnet.”

“So then… what were doing before Rose Quartz found you?”

“Chilling, mostly,” Amethyst answered. “Hanging around my hole, exploring, talking to Pebble.”

Steven tilted his head. “Pebble?”

“Yeah, Pebble was my best friend before Rose found me.” Amethyst laughed. “We talked about all kinds of things.”

“With a pebble?”

“Not a pebble. Pebble,” Amethyst sharply corrected. “Pebble was great. You could talk to them about anything.”

“Oh, okay,” Steven nodded. “So… where’s Pebble now?”

Amethyst felt her face glow as she looked down at her lap. “I dunno. I set them down when Rose was gonna take me to the rebel base for the first time, but…” She shrugged. “Came back and I couldn’t find Pebble anywhere.” Amethyst frowned at her hands. She remembered being excited to show Pebble the base, only to return to the Kindergarten and not be able to find them. Probably some rain had come in and washed them way down the cavern, or something.

It had devastated her. And it had almost made her not want to return to the base, to just live in the Kindergarten forever. If Rose hadn’t been so… Rose-like, encouraging and reassuring, then she might never have left her hole in the Kindergarten again.

“Well, maybe Pebble left too,” Steven suggested, drawing Amethyst’s attention back in the present. He was looking directly at her and it might have been her imagination, but the corners of his eyes seemed to glisten. “Maybe someone found them and they left together. Just like you did with Rose Quartz.”

Amethyst blinked and wiped her eyes. “Ya think?”

Steven smiled and nodded. “Yeah. You’ll meet Pebble again someday.”

Amethyst laughed. She knew it was stupid to think she’d run into a single specific pebble again, almost as stupid to actually treat one like a friend.

Still… it was a nice thought.

“Okay, okay. Enough, sap,” Amethyst said, smiling at him. “Let’s do some more shapeshifting practice. Is that hand trick the only one you can do?”

“I can make myself bigger.”

“Oooh. Alright. Let’s see that.” She paused. “But not too big. Pearl will probably think you’re trying to break out or something.”

He nodded. As Steven closed his eyes and began to focus, Amethyst leaned in a little closer, deciding that maybe guard duty wasn’t as bad as she had thought.


After Rose Quartz left, Greg just… stood there, for a while.

Eventually, he made himself get up, start walking down the boardwalk. It’d be dinner soon. Seven would need food.

He went to Fish Stew Pizza. He’d been going there a lot, lately. Couldn’t be healthy. Not for him, and definitely not for a growing boy. Still, wasn’t like he had a lot of options. The Crystal Gem Temple hardly had a fully stocked kitchen he could use to make proper, home cooked meals.

Oh. He never should have moved out of their apartment in Korea. Never should have left his son behind. Never should have come to Beach City. What had he been thinking, that he could play spy on a group of alien soldiers?

The betrayal on Rose Quartz’s face hovered in his mind.

He pushed it away. It didn’t matter. Why should he care about the ‘feelings’ of some murderous war criminal? Someone who’d locked Lapis Lazuli for thousands of years, and was going to do the same to his son? She was the one who who should be apologizing to him

“Greg! There you are!”

He nearly jumped out of his skin.

“Geez, man, didn’t mean to give you a heart attack,” Vidalia said, clapping him on the shoulder. She must’ve come in behind him.

“Sorry,” Greg muttered. “Didn’t see you there.”

“Yeah, and I haven’t seen you anywhere. Where have you been? You completely bailed on cards night, and when Barb tried to call you, she said some random lady picked up and screamed nonsense at her before hanging up.”

“Oh,” said Greg. “Sorry.”

Vi peered at him, annoyance and mock anger fading into concern. “Dude— is everything alright?”

“...No. I’ve got some— family stuff going on right now. Keeping me busy.”

Vidalia’s frown deepened. Greg had never told her anything about his family; far as Beach City was concerned, he didn’t have one. She must’ve been curious, but she didn’t act on that curiosity. She just said, “Man, I’m sorry. Any way I can help?”

“No. Not really.”

Which was true enough. But after Vi ordered her pizza, she sat there and waited with him. She didn’t ask him any questions, which Greg was grateful for. She could tell he needed a distraction, and she gave it to him, talking about how Onion was settling in well at his new school, and the plans they had for when Yellowtail got back from his fishing trip next week, and how her online art store was really starting to take off.

“Order up for Greg Universe!” called one of the Pizza twins from the counter. He stood up to go grab it.

“Greg,” said Vi, making him pause. “Take care of yourself, okay?”

He gave her a wan smile, and said nothing.

He left the restaurant, and carried the hot box up the boardwalk and up the beach to the Crystal Gem Temple, trying his best not to drag his feet.

When he arrived, he was met by the strange sight of a purple cat rolling on the floor with laughter, as Steven walked the length of his cage, hands tucked into his armpits as he flapped his arms like wings, bobbing his head. A loud clucking sound came from his mouth, now stretched out into the long yellow shape of a beak.

“Look at me, Dad!” he cried. “I’m a chicken.”

Greg couldn’t help it. He burst out laughing.

It wasn’t even really that funny. It was just— sometimes, you had to laugh.

Greg spent the meal tossing pizza crusts into the cage, for Steven to catch in his constantly shifting mouth, trying on everything from an elephant’s trunk to a frog’s tongue. Most of the crust landed on the floor. Steven gave them to Amethyst to eat. Greg hesitated a little, and let her eat the box, too.

Chapter Text

Time passed and Steven found himself adjusting to his life of imprisonment.

Dad was always there with him, making sure he was okay. He was good company, but there were only so many times they could play hangman, and Steven felt guilty for keeping his Dad trapped with him in the boring cave under the ever-watchful eyes of the Crystal Gems.

“The people of Beach City still need clean vehicles,” Steven told his Dad after three days. It took some urging and some not-quite-arguing, but Dad eventually agreed to spend a couple hours at the car wash per day.

Steven sought out more ways to fill his time. Amethyst’s guard duties quickly became his favourite— they could fill the hours talking. She turned out to be pretty funny, actually. She reminded Steven of some of the kids he’d used to play with down at the park in Korea, before he had moved up to the Palanquin. He often had to remind himself that Amethyst wasn’t a kid, however much she might look like one. She was an ancient warrior, and he couldn’t let his guard down.

But still. He liked talking with her.

He practiced his shapeshifting a lot, both with her guidance and by himself. He could change his hand into any shape, make his nose longer or shorter, even start growing fur. It was exhausting, but he didn’t mind. Anything to help him sleep better.

Sleeping remained tricky. Partly because of the now-fading warp lag, partly because of the constant surveillance, and partly because of the Visions.

It wasn’t that he disliked the Visions, per se. He still felt they were essential in gaining intel on the Crystal Gems. It was just that they came most often when he was on the edge of sleep, inevitably jerking him back into consciousness. He wished they’d come when he wanted them to, not when he’d finally gotten cozy in his sleeping bag.

This time, when the Vision came, it was just after lunch. Steven’s stomach had been comfortably full, and the sound of the rain outside the cavern had been easing him into a nap…

“I’ve got to get out of here,” grumbled a stranger’s voice.

Steven snapped to attention, his eyes flying open. It was twilight in his Vision, making it difficult to make out the two figures in front of him. The one was short, even shorter than himself. Not a kid like him, though. A Gem. He recognized the type from one of Pearl’s many lessons— red coloration, short and stocky form, the heavy and measured gait befitting a soldier...

A Ruby.

Suddenly, the air was very, very hot.

Just as he thought it, he was blasted from behind by a wave of cold. He turned just in time to see the other figure to step through him, intangible.

He shivered.

“Wait!” the second Gem cried. She, too, Steven could recognize, by the vivid blue of her colors and the finery of her outfit: a Sapphire. “Where are you going?”

Ruby stomped her foot. “Don’t know!”

“Where are you going?” Sapphire demanded again, running up and grabbing Ruby by the shoulder.

“I don’t know!” the Ruby cried again. “Out of here! Off this planet!

“Wait,” Sapphire pleaded. “Please, Ruby... You can’t go...”

Ruby turned abruptly, and Steven could now see her face: an emotional mess covered in tears, which evaporated as soon as they fell from her eyes.

“I know. I know! But Sapphire— I can’t stay here— alone, on this planet, for the rest of my life with all these— these monsters—”

“You won’t be alone,” said Sapphire. “You have me, and Pearl and Rose.”

“Three Gems,” Ruby muttered, “Three other Gems. That’s it. That’s all.”

Steven wrapped his arms around the chest. He felt certain that he shouldn’t be watching this. That this was something deeply private.

But he couldn’t make himself look away or break the Vision. He had too many questions. Why were these Gems fighting? They were clearly Crystal Gems, but then how come Steven had never seen them before—

— Oh.

A Sapphire. And a Ruby. That meant they were—

These were the fusion’s components.

Steven felt kind of embarrassed at being so slow on the uptake, but in all fairness, he had been falling asleep earlier.

“I just can’t bear to look at them,” the Ruby was mumbling.

Sapphire took her hand, held it close. “It won’t be forever. We’ll find a way to heal them.”

Heal them? Steven wondered. Heal who?

“That’s not a prediction,” Ruby said, voice slightly accusing.

“No,” Sapphire agreed. “It’s a hope.”

Quite suddenly, Ruby flung herself forward and buried her head in Sapphire’s chest, sobbing. Sapphire clutched, making soft, soothing noises that were very nearly sobs themselves.

Steven stared, scarcely believing that these could be the Gems that made up the violent, stoic Garnet.

“You’re right,” Ruby said. “You’re right. We’ll find a way. We’ll help them.”

“Help who?” Steven couldn’t help but ask, even though he knew they could not hear or answer.

“Together,” said Sapphire.

“Together,” Ruby agreed.

Steven could only see Ruby’s face now, smiling despite the tears still rolling down her face. And then he couldn’t even see that. Ruby was being consumed by a red light, Sapphire by blue, so bright that it obscured all their features. Steven pushed himself backwards as it got brighter and brighter and brighter, lights merging into purple— a figure forming from it—

Garnet appeared, and Steven yelped.

The vision ended.


There was a reason Sapphires generally formed with their eyes covered. When they first come out of the ground, they could easily get lost in their visions, responding and reacting to them as if they were happening in the present. As they learned to control their visions, such overt reactions faded, but it was impossible to suppress how their eyes would dart to and fro, looking at things that weren’t there. Other Gems found that disquieting, at the very least.

Garnet’s initial reaction to her strange, new Future Vision had been similar. While Sapphire’s experience had been invaluable, even she had been unprepared for the initial rush of dozens and dozens of potential futures. Her first few years as a fusion had been an awkward adjustment period.

She was, therefore, very adept at noticing the signs in Steven Universe.

The tendency to stare off into space. The way his eyes would dart backwards and forwards. How he would say things out of the blue. How he would react to seemingly nothing.

Garnet could recognise the exact moment his current vision ended. The way his expression switched from mingled amazement, curiosity, and horror into just plain surprise when he noticed Amethyst was standing right in front of him.  

He yelled.

Amethyst laughed at him. “Nightmare?”

“No!” he groused.

“Suuuuuurrre,” Amethyst said.

“It wasn’t,” Steven said. “It was a Vision…”

“Of what?”

From her position on the wall, Garnet leaned forward a fraction. The movement caught Steven’s attention, and his gaze snapped to her.

“Of them,” he said.

Garnet grimaced at the plural pronoun, but said nothing. Just tilted her head a little.

“Whaddya mean?” Amethyst asked.

“Uhhh...” Conflict flashed across Steven’s face. It probably had occurred to him that he might not want to share what he had experienced. He looked directly at Garnet. “It was you, but it wasn’t you. It was Ruby and Sapphire.”

Garnet said nothing.

“They were fighting.”

She considered this. She felt no conflict within herself. It was possible that she might unfuse in the near future because of a fight, but that seemed very, very unlikely.

Not a Vision of the future, then.

A Vision of the past.

She’d suspected as much, but she wanted confirmation.

“Tell me what you Saw,” said Garnet.

Steven still looked uncertain about speaking to her, but evidently, curiosity won out. “We were here, in this cave. I didn’t catch the beginning of the conversation, but you two were alone and Ruby was… angry. About something. She wanted to leave, but Sapphire stopped her. She said— you were going to heal someone? And then you two hugged, and…”

“I fused,” said Garnet.

Steven nodded, looking down at his feet. His cheeks had taken a reddish tone.

Squirming a little, he managed to ask, “What’s it… like?”

When Garnet didn’t immediately answer, Amethyst jumped in instead. “Fusion? Oh, man, it is awesome! It’s like, you just get bigger. Not just your body, your mind too, and you’ve got all these cool new thoughts!”

Steven was startled. “You’ve fused?”

“Yeah, sure, tons of times!” Amethyst agreed, grinning. “Me and Pearl make Opal, and me and Garnet make Sugilite, and me ‘n Rose make—”

“Ahem,” Garnet said, raising a hand and cutting her off.

The Diamond— the boy— seemed relieved.

Garnet considered her words carefully. Just describing fusion to him wouldn’t help. It wasn’t something words could do justice to. Especially if you were already biased against it.

Help who?’ Steven had asked to the cave when he’d been lost in his Vision. Now that she had context, Garnet could give him the answer: the corrupted Gems. The question was whether he’d accept her answer. Mother or not, he appeared to have a nearly worshipful attitude towards Blue Diamond. Even if he knew about the monsters, knew they had once been sentient beings, would he believe her if she told him who was responsible?

No.

If Steven Universe was going to be convinced, he was going to need evidence. Evidence he could see with his own two eyes.

“You have Visions,” Garnet said. “They come to you without warning or control. They are distracting.”

He blinked at the change of topic, but nodded.

“I can teach you to control them,” said Garnet.

Woah,” said Amethyst.

Steven was far less excited. He regarded her with frank suspicion. “Why’d you want to do that?”

“Because there is something that you should see.”

“...What sort of thing?” he asked.

“You’ll have to find out.”

He stared at her with those very blue eyes. Garnet met them easily.

“Fine,” he said, at last. “Uh… so should I sit down or…?”

“No,” said Garnet. She made her way to the cage, and dissipated a few of the bars with a wave of her hand. “We’re going on a trip.”


Steven had to admit that he had no idea where they were. As the warp stream disappeared, the first thing he saw was the clear blue sky above, with only a few lonely clouds floating along. But when Steven stepped off the warp pad, he realized that the sky wasn't just above them. It was all around them.

They were on a platform floating in the sky!

Over the nearest ledge, Steven could make out the distant landscape below— jagged mountains and a robust field of greenery. It was a beautiful view, almost picturesque. However, Garnet and Amethyst didn't react to this at all, instead they simply stepped off the warp pad and began to walk in the opposite direction.

Steven briefly considered taking advantage of their lapse in attention, to warp away and never look back, but instead he scampered after them. Besides knowing that he had no place to run, Steven also actually wanted to see what Garnet was going to show him through his Visions.

Walking up some stairs led them to a wider, more open area, kind of like a sports arena. Rows and rows of seats rose around them, overlooking the flat stone expanse in the center. There were a few ruined columns at the borders of the arena, the crumbling architecture and the jagged edges of the floor only showed that this was once a much grander place.

Destroyed by the civil war, just like all the other Gem buildings on Earth.

“Where are we?” Steven finally asked, still gazing all around him. He wanted to reach out and touch some of the carvings, but his hands were bound by Amethyst’s whip.

“The Cloud Arena,” Garnet answered simply. “This is… a very important place.”

“Why?”

“During the early days of the War, this was where Blue Diamond’s court was held,” Garnet explained. “She had come to tour the newest colony, the first colony for Pink Diamond. And to receive the wisdom from one of her Sapphires.”

“Mom was here?” Steven gasped. “When she was still ruling Homeworld?”

Garnet nodded curtly, but Amethyst said, “Ya wanna see her like that, dontcha?”

“Well… yeah. I do,” Steven said. He had seen Visions of his mother, of course. From her towering figure at the Palanquin, to her and Dad curled up together on the couch at the apartment. Once, he’d even had a Vision of them making out, and he’d gotten out of that one fast.

But he had never seen her when she was still a ruler. And while he had asked Pearl what Blue Diamond had been like back then, her descriptions had always been annoyingly vague.

If he could have a Vision, he could finally see for himself.

“Is that why you brought me here?” Steven asked. “To show me this place and tell me Mom was here once?”

Garnet shook their head. “You said you wanted to see Blue Diamond while she was still ruling over Homeworld. Now is your chance.”

“Really?” Steven was astonished. They were just… going to let him sit there and have a Vision?

“Yes,” Garnet said. “I want you to see her.”

Steven felt his brow lower and the corners of his mouth tighten. “Why?”

Garnet silently looked at him for a moment, before saying, “Blue Diamond is a part of you. You deserve to have the fullest picture of her as possible.”

Steven wasn’t sure what to think about this. He would be glad to get a Vision of his mother before she had come to live on Earth, but there had to be some sort of catch.

“If you don’t need any kind of special circumstances to have a Vision,” Garnet said, “then you should get started right away.”

“I should be fine,” Steven said. “I just need to…” He closed his eyes and begun to focus his thoughts. He scrunched up his face, doing his best to only think about the Arena around him, and nothing else.

It was hard. Wind kept blowing hair in his face, and the whip bit uncomfortably into his wrists.

“Uh, ya okay, dude?” Amethyst asked. “You look like you’re about to pass out or something.”

Steven frowned. “No, I’m fine. I’m just… focusing.”

Amethyst didn’t say anything else. Or maybe she did and Steven just didn’t hear her.

He felt a familiar tingle in his torso as the energy in his gem emerged and gathered. Then, he began to use that energy. The exact process was hard to describe. Whenever he tried to tell Pearl about it, all he could really say was that it felt natural, like everything was just how it was supposed to be.

The world started to feel fuzzy around him, and he felt just a touch lightheaded. When Steven opened his eyes again, everything was different.

Garnet and Amethyst were gone, as was most of the arena. In fact, all that remained of it was a single giant rock. Or— no, that was too small a word. This was like the whole top of a mountain had been lifted into the sky.

Gems were working on it, dozens of them. They were huge and bulky, their hair like tangled rainbows. The stone under his feet thundered as they dug away at it with pick-axes.

Except they weren’t pick-axes, he realized. They were part of the Gems’ bodies. They’d shapeshifted their arms into tools, to cut away at the stone.

“Mom?” Steven spun around, trying to get a glimpse of her, but everywhere he looked, he could only see these builders, chipping away—

He blinked, and suddenly he was back in the present, the Crystal Gems staring at him.

“So?” asked Amethyst.

“It didn’t work,” Steven grumbled, and explained what he saw.

“Bismuths,” commented Garnet, and Steven vaguely recalled the name from some of Pearl’s lessons. “Must have been from when they were constructing the Arena. You went too far back. Try again.”

Steven didn’t appreciate being ordered around by a Crystal Gem, but she was right. Dad had always told him, you didn’t get anywhere by giving up.

So he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and tried to focus.

It came quicker this time. The sound of wind cut out suddenly, and all he could hear was screaming.

Screams, and explosions, and a horn high and loud—

His eyes flew open. It was pitch black. Lights flared at a distance. Fire, or cannons, or lasers... He couldn’t tell, there was too much. All around him, people were stampeding for the nearest warp pad, or else charging in the other direction, towards the battle—

A battle.

He was in the middle of a battle.

There was a yelp and a burst of smoke. The Gem beside him was poofed by a sword through their neck.

Something flashed, heading right towards him— an arrow. He tried to dodge, but he was too slow. It went right through his head—

He screamed.

There was no arrow, no battle, no fighting. It was daytime, and he wasn’t dead.

The fusion was crouching on the ground in front of him. He could see his own reflection in her visor, pale faced and wide-eyed. He looked so scared, and he hated it.

“Tell me what you Saw,” Garnet ordered.

“Fighting. Lots of it.” He shuddered. “Everyone was running…”

“What you saw cannot harm you. It is merely a vision, immaterial. Damage will only come if you ignore what you See.”

Biting his lips, Steven pondered this. He could see how this would be important for the fusion. They could see the future. That had to be super helpful for all sorts of stuff.

But the past was the past. You couldn’t change it.

Then again, he remembered his history lessons. The textbooks talked about how people made the same mistakes, again and again. It was only by understanding what had happened before that you could do better now.

“But how do I See what I want to see, instead of just random junk?!” he groused.

“What’s wrong with random junk?” said Amethyst, tracing some shapes into the dust on the stone.

“It’s annoying.” And scary, Steven added to himself, recalling the visions of battles and Pink Diamond’s death.

The fusion stroked their chin. “For me, Seeing what I want is a simple matter. I simply Look to the immediate future, and things flow from there. But you have the entire past behind you. It is easy to get lost in it.” Garnet focused on Steven again. “Stop clearing your mind. Instead, you need to focus on what you want, specifically.”

“But I don’t know what I want!”

“You do. You want to see Blue Diamond. Picture her in your mind.”

Steven did— that was easy, he’d drawn so many pictures of her. But that was Blue Diamond as Mom, not Blue Diamond as queen.

“Her Pearl was with her,” Garnet said, their voice sounding very far away, and Steven imagined that too. He could feel the power beginning to bubble up inside of him. “And Sapphire…”

He opened his eyes.

Garnet and Amethyst were gone, replaced instead by dozens of Gems, some types Steven recognized and some he didn’t. They all seemed to be generally gathered around some kind of large structure—

“The Palanquin!”

Steven didn’t bother trying to go around the Gems, instead he just ran straight through the phantoms. He emerged at the front of the crowd and was greeted by a very familiar face.

“Pearl?” He spoke softly, even though he knew she, nor anyone else, couldn’t hear him. He could feel his heart racing as he slowly approached her.

He’d missed her so much.

At first glance, she seemed exactly as Steven knew her. Same thick hair covering her eyes, same leotard and frilly dress. And yet, this version of Pearl still seemed different.

In the present, Pearl always seemed to be moving around and doing something, whether that was making lunch, or cleaning up a mess, or doing any other number of chores. But now, she was just standing there, head tilted down and her hands folded carefully in front of her.

She didn’t seem to be moving at all, not even the slightest sway.

It was all more than a little unnerving, seeing her stand there like a statue. Steven had slowly begun to circle around Pearl when when a voice rang out above him:

“Sapphire, tell me what will happen here.”

Steven quickly swiveled around and saw, to his amazement, his mother sitting in the Palanquin’s throne. He wasn’t sure how he’d missed her, even in his excitement to see Pearl again. She towered over everyone, her expression hidden by the hood of her robe. The tone she spoke with was perfectly calm and level.

Blue Diamond was gazing downwards, past Steven. He turned again, and this time saw another Gem. It took him a moment to recognize her. She was the small blue Sapphire Steven had seen in his earlier Vision, the one who’d argued with the Ruby who made up Garnet’s other half.

Steven looked behind the Sapphire and saw three Rubies all standing at attention. Was one of them the Ruby?

“My Diamond,” Sapphire bowed before Blue Diamond. “The events have been foreseen. The rebels will attack the Cloud Arena and before they are cornered, they will destroy the physical forms of seven gems, including two of my Ruby guards, and myself. Immediately after my form is destroyed, the rebels will be captured. The rebellion ends here.”

“Thank you, Sapphire,” Blue Diamond said, her tone seeming to loosen just a touch. “That is all I needed to know.”

“I look forward to speaking to you again when I reform on Homeworld.” Sapphire curtsied before returning to her Ruby guards.

Steven blinked in confusion. That… obviously wasn’t what had happened. Had the Sapphire been deliberately deceiving Blue Diamond? Or maybe her Future Vision just wasn’t very good.

Steven watched them for a moment, seeing Sapphire briefly converse with one of the Rubies, before he turned back to focus on his mother.

Much like Pearl, she was very unlike what he knew of her. Far from the romantic in Dad’s stories or the distant tales Pearl had told him (Or indeed from the Visions he had seen of her weeping in front of the abandoned pink Palanquin…).

Instead, Blue Diamond was tall and authoritative. It was clear that she was in charge and every Gem there knew it. Steven couldn’t help but smile. He hoped he could be as good a Diamond as she was.

“Blue Diamond, leave this planet! This colony will not be completed!”

A voice rang out over the crowd. Panicked murmurs swept over the crowd as everyone tried to look in every direction at once. Steven stepped out of the Palanquin and joined the crowd, trying to pinpoint where the voice had come from… and soon getting his answer.

Landing in front of the Palanquin was none other than Rose Quartz and her Pearl, looking ready to attack. Steven took an instinctive step back, even as he remembered that he was in no danger. Still, the fire that both of them had flaring in their eyes was more than a little intimidating.

“We are the Crystal Gems!” both of them recited, perfectly in sync.

Gems— Quartzes, by the looks of them— immediately rushed the pair, but they stood no chance against the rebels. White Pearl charged, nimbly dodging an attack then destroying the form of her opponent with a single slash of her sword. Rose Quartz was doing even better, were that possible. She seemed to only dash past her attackers, before their forms disappeared in a plume of smoke behind her.

And it was like neither of them were really trying. Even when the giant three-Ruby fusion rushed them, Rose leapt forward and forced the Rubies apart with a single, well-placed attack.

White Pearl, meanwhile, was closing in on the Sapphire, who wasn’t moving from her spot. In fact, she seemed completely undisturbed by the fate awaiting her. But the same could not be said of her single remaining Ruby guard.

The Ruby came screaming at them, drawing White Pearl’s attention for the split second needed for the Ruby to tackle Sapphire away from White Pearl’s attack. But then something happened that neither Steven nor anyone else in the Vision expected. Ruby collided with Sapphire.There was a flash of light—

— and then Ruby and Sapphire were gone.

Standing there instead was Garnet.

The same three eyes, the same cube-shaped hair, the same gems two gems embedded in their hands... Even though they— no, she — looked wildly different, Steven knew it was her.

But she was… pretty, Steven noticed, with some degree of alarm. She shouldn’t have been, since she looked she’d been unfortunately splattered by pink and blue paint, but she was. Her hair especially looked like cotton candy.

Steven walked through the crowd to get a better look at her. The current Garnet was always serious and unflappable, but this one was clearly panicked and confused. The awe and surprise faded from her face as she looked wildly at the Gems closing in around her, and down at the two gems in the palms of her hands.

“Wha… What? What is this…? Is this…?”

It seemed all this was too much, even for her. There was another flash and Ruby and Sapphire were thrown apart, tumbling onto the ground. It was then that the gathered crowd’s mood turned from confusion to anger. There were murmurs at first, but they soon grew in volume and intensity.

“Unbelievable!”

“Disgusting!”

“This is unheard of!”

The crowd wasn’t simply angry; they were furious. And for what? Ruby was trying to save Sapphire. Surely that was good? The fusion had clearly been an accident. But nobody seemed to care, as they continued to scream and jeer.

Blue Diamond’s voice cut through the din.

“The rebels have fled. Sapphire, this is not what you predicted!”

Sapphire spoke, but her calm, collected tone was now jittery and unsure. Steven saw her eye sweeping across everything in front of her. “This was… not what I Saw. I don’t know what happened, I…”

“No! It was me!” Ruby had stepped, presenting herself to Blue Diamond.

“Clearly.” Blue Diamond’s voice was heavy with disdain and anger. “How dare you fuse with a member of my Court?”

Ruby flinched at her words. “I-I’m sorry… Please, forgive me…”

“You will be broken for this!”

Steven felt his throat tighten and his heart skip a beat. What was Mom doing? The fusion was an accident! Ruby had only been trying to protect Sapphire, an important member of her Court! Why was she acting like this?

The crowd began to converge on the pair. But before they could do anything, Sapphire grabbed Ruby by the wrist and ran, darting through the crowd and disappearing off the edge of the Arena.

Steven ran after them, through the ghosts of Gems long gone, and watched them fall, fall, fall until they passed through the clouds below. He spun around, breathing heavily, and the world began to shift and change once more. His surroundings grew brighter, and the once flawless architecture began to crumble. Gems disappeared— Blue Diamond disappearing last— until Steven was back in reality, standing dangerously close to the edge of the arena.

Thankfully, Amethyst was holding him by the back of his shirt. Steven didn’t really like the Crystal Gems touching him, but Amethyst seemed pretty cool, and he couldn’t be annoyed if she’d stopped him from falling to his death.  

Garnet had remained further away, but now approached him. “You saw it.”

It wasn’t a question.

Steven felt his mouth tremble a little before any words came out. “Why did Mom— Why did Blue Diamond order that?”

“Want to shatter Ruby?” Amethyst shrugged. “‘Cause that’s just who she was, dude.”

“But Diamonds protect Homeworld! And all Gems!” Steven protested. “Wanting to shatter a Gem for what was an accident…”

“The Diamonds protect themselves,” Garnet replied simply. “Anything that threatens their hold on power, they will try to eliminate.”

“But that’s not what Pearl told me.”

“She has a very… skewed view of Homeworld.”

“Yeah. If by ‘skewed’ ya mean ‘completely messed up’,” Amethyst added under her breath.

Steven didn’t respond. He folded his arms across his chest and turned away, thinking very hard. There had to be something he was missing, something that must have made his mother act like that.

Maybe she knew… somehow, that Ruby and Sapphire would rebel? But… they had both seemed rather loyal. Even Sapphire herself had seemed resigned to her fate at the hands of White Pearl, and completely surprised by her fusion with Ruby.

Not very rebel-like.

Maybe… Maybe his Vision had been wrong, or he’d misheard something.

(But Pearl had told him his Visions were always completely accurate. Always.)

But still. It was fusion. Fusion was— it was horrid. So maybe... maybe Ruby had deserved punishment, even for just a small mistake.

But… shattering?

Steven shook his head.

“Let’s head back,” Garnet said as she walked up behind Steven. “Back to the Temple.”

“Yeah. Ya can mull over the Diamonds’ terribleness there,” Amethyst added, giving him a light shove in the direction of the stands.

Steven slowly began to walk towards the warp pad, still deep in thought and ruminating on what he had just seen, Garnet and Amethyst following silently behind him.

Unlike with most of his Visions, he had just gotten many more questions, rather than answers.

Chapter Text

Amethyst still hated guard duty.

She also had something stuck up her nose, which didn’t help. She didn’t know what it was, just that is was stubbornly stuck in place and refused to budge no matter how much Amethyst picked.

She was attempting her latest dig when she noticed Greg was watching her from his place next to the cage.

Truth be told, she was still sore over the whole spying-and-lying thing he’d done. But she had already aired her feelings to Rose, who had said that would have to wait until they had decided what to with Steven.

Not what Amethyst had wanted to hear, by any stretch.

“Ya need somethin’?” Amethyst asked in the most neutral tone she could muster.

“Just wondering if you’re digging for buried gold,” Greg answered, laughing weakly. “Or are you doing brain surgery?”

Amethyst did her best to resist laughing. “Just something stuck up there,” she answered. “Happens something when I really get into a shapeshifting session. Sometimes things get caught where they shouldn’t.”

“Well, why don’t you just shapeshift to get it out?”

Amethyst blinked. “‘Cause this is more fun,” she said. “More of a challenge.”

But even as she said that, she found that she was quickly growing frustrated with her latest challenge and just wanted whatever it was out. So using some strategic shapeshifting, including shrinking her hand into a precision tool, Amethyst reached up her nose and easily grabbed hold of the unwanted item.

With a quick application of force, she pulled out what ended up being a very shiny, very smooth rock.

“Aw, yeah! Got something cool this time!” Amethyst jumped up from her seat and trotted over to the front of the cage. “Hey, Steven! Take a look.”

But as she got around to the front of the cage, she saw that Steven was sitting in a far corner of the cage and staring at the blank wall. He’d been like that ever since they’d brought him back from the Sky Arena.

With a glance over at Greg, Amethyst asked, “Yo, dude. You okay?”

Steven shrugged silently.

“You sure bud?” Greg asked. “Nothing you wanna… talk about?”

For a moment it looked like Steven wasn’t going to say anything, but he slowly turned to look at them and asked in a very solemn voice, “Dad? Can I ask you something?”

“Sure, Shtoo-ball. Anything you need.”

Steven nodded slowly. “Do you think Mom ever… hurt or… killed anyone?”

Greg seemed rather taken aback by the question. Amethyst sighed, but didn’t say anything yet, wanting to see how the human would respond.

“There was… some stuff your Mom never liked to talk about. I never pressed her for details.”

“Why not?” Steven asked.

Greg sighed heavily. “Blue and I talked about tons of important stuff. Music, comic books, grass between your toes, y'know, feelings. We both made a lot of mistakes when we were young. I thought disco was coming back, she commanded a war... I think she felt like she needed to confess everything to me, but I told her, 'The past is the past. All that matters to me is who you are now.' And who she was, was an incredible, loving bei—”

“Oh, come on,” Amethyst snorted.

Steven shot her a sharp look. “I just want to know what was going on.”

“Garnet and I told ya what was going on,” Amethyst retorted. “Blue Diamond was gonna have Ruby shattered caused she and Sapphire fused. Pretty simple.”

“But it’s not,” Steven said. “Why did Mom want to shatter Ruby?”

Amethyst couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Steven seemed to be a lot denser than she had originally thought. “‘Cause they fused. It’s pretty straight forward.”

But Steven just shook his head. “No! There’s– there has to be more! Mom would never shatter someone for that was clearly an accident.” He looked over at Greg. “Right, Dad?”

Greg audibly gulped as he rubbed the back of his head. “Uh, well… Blue and I didn’t really talk that much about her life on Homeworld.”

“Yeah, cause if she'd told ya all the stuff she did do, ya wouldn’t have stuck around,” Amethyst said.

“Mom doesn’t shatter Gems!” Steven yelled. “She protected them, like a good ruler!”

“You need to get a clue,” Amethyst shot back.

“No, you do! You never even met her!”

“Yeah, neither have you!” Amethyst shouted back. “At least I know people who have met her!”

“Now,” said Greg, “I did know Blue, and—”

Amethyst threw up her hands in frustration. “No you didn’t! You act like she was some sweet, sugary human, but all she really wanted was to control everyone and shatter ‘em and drive ‘em insane!”

“YOU’RE LYING!” Steven screamed. “THE CRYSTAL GEMS LIED TO YOU AND NOW YOU’RE LYING TO ME!”

“Wow,” Amethyst said, tossing the rock near the cage, and watching with some satisfaction as Steven flinched when it bounced away. “You’re a lot dumber than I thought you were.”

“You’re dum—”

“Hey, that’s enough! Both of you!”

It was Greg, who had stepped in between the two of them. He gave Amethyst a hard look before turning back to Steven. “Being a ruler might have meant that Blue had to do things that… she might not have wanted to. But none of us were there. None of us can know for sure, and none of us can know how she felt about it.”

“Garnet was…” Amethyst muttered under breath.

Greg ignored her. “But I did know Blue. And know that she was a sweet and gentle soul during her time on Earth. And that’s the person she was when she had you.”

Steven nodded slowly. “Yeah… Okay, Dad. Thanks.”

Amethyst however, rolled her eyes. “Whatever. You two can keep deluding yourselves about the truth if you want.” She turned her back and began slouching off.

“Just you wait,” Steven said evenly. “You’re wrong about Mom. And once I can use all my powers, and access Mom’s records, I’ll be able to show all of you the truth.”

“Yeah, whatever dude,” Amethyst muttered under her breath. “Maybe you’ll find a list of her victims.”

She sighed heavily, and the Temple door opened. She stomped through it without a backwards glance.

She was done with this. She hated guard duty, and she didn’t want to be stuck with two stupid, ignorant humans.


Under a dome of an enchanted roof colored like the night sky, stood an array of fountains. The endless rush of eternal waterfalls, ever shifting, ever moving. Elegance and serenity, a place of peace in the chaos of Earth. Pearl let it all rush over her, putting her mind at ease as she fell into the meditative rhythm of sharpening her blades.

And then came a loud splash, splash, splash, splash-!

Pearl paused in her sharpening, annoyance flashing across her face—

—and immediately dropping everything when she saw Amethyst stomping across the water towards her, the picture of anger and dejection.

“Amethyst? Are you alright?” she asked. “Did one of my swords fall down into your room again?”

Noooo,” Amethyst moaned, flopping down dramatically onto her belly.

Pearl fought back on the urge to tell her to mind her gem. It was just water, after all.

“What’s wrong?” Pearl asked.

In answer, she received a long bubbly gurgle.

There was another, much softer splashing noise, and Pearl looked up to see Garnet approaching across the water platform. Her appearance just then might have been a coincidence, but Pearl thought it was most likely not. If Garnet was using her Future Vision to help comfort Amethyst at the appropriate time, then it was probably quite serious.

As Garnet came, sat down, and crossed her legs, Pearl reached out and laid a gentle hand on Amethyst’s shoulder. “Amethyst, what happened?”

Amethyst rolled over on her, spat out a mouthful of water, and glared resolutely at the false sky. “Steven.”

Pearl’s free hand clenched. “Did he do something to you? If he did, I swear that I’ll—”

“No, no,” Amethyst groaned. “Ugh— It’s not— He’s just so— so STUPID!”

“Stupid?” Pearl echoed.

She had to admit, she hadn’t considered Steven Universe in those terms. Whatever his true identity, he was a Diamond, and Pearl had been viewing him with the wariness that deserved. Diamonds had maintained their order for millennia with many tools, not the least of which was their keen intelligence.

“Yeah. Stupid,” Amethyst muttered.

“Tell us what happened,” Garnet said.

Amethyst still stared up at the dark black ceiling. Pearl stroked her forehead in gentle encouragement.

“I dunno,” Amethyst said. “Steven and Greg were talking— about Blue Diamond. So I told him what she was really like, and he started yelling at me, and said I didn’t know what I was talking about, and that you’d just lied to me and—”

Pearl was trying to remain calm, but couldn’t stop the indignant, “We have not!”

“I know, I know.” Amethyst sighed again, sounding thoroughly put-out. Pearl ran her hand through her friend’s hair, and Amethyst’s face relaxed a bit.

Pearl smiled, and continued combing, feeling the softness against her fingers. Pearl had been somewhat displeased when she’d discovered that Amethyst had copied Mr. Universe’s hairstyle. Since discovering the human’s betrayal, Amethyst herself had complained about how it was ‘lame’. But now Pearl had to admit, a quartz’s traditional mane suited her rather well.

Eventually Amethyst calmed down enough to continue, “I know you guys wouldn’t lie to me. And I’ve seen the murals and the monsters and junk. But I tried to explain it to Steven, and he just wouldn’t believe any of it. I don’t get it. He Saw what Blue Diamond tried to do to Garnet... Why is he acting like it’s so impossible that she was bad?”

“It’s a painful truth. That makes it hard to accept.” At Garnet’s words, Amethyst made a scoffing noise at the back of her throat. Garnet was not perturbed. “We saw a lot of it, during the war. Even among those who joined us, there were many who could not accept how cruelly Homeworld treated its own people.” One of her fists clenched. “Ruby… Even after Blue Diamond ordered her executed, she still wanted to go back…”

Garnet was staring down at the water, her expression stony, and Pearl ached on her behalf.

But as much as she wanted to lean forward and offer Garnet comfort, Pearl held herself back, turning over her friend’s words. “You… really believe Steven Universe’s story?”

A moment’s pause.

Garnet nodded.

“Nobody’s that good an actor,” Amethyst said.

Pearl stopped her stroking. It was easy enough for Amethyst to say. She hadn’t encountered some of the spies which had infiltrated the rebellion.

But Garnet… Garnet was far more experienced than Amethyst. She was also more of a realist than Rose. If she thought Steven Universe was telling the truth—

Pearl shook her head. She just didn’t understand why someone like Blue Diamond would transform herself into an amnesiac human.

Then again, she also didn’t understand why Blue Diamond would go to such lengths to trick a handful of rebels, when she could simply order her soldiers to overwhelm and shatter them outright.

Pearl pressed her eyes shut.

Even if they were right— even if Steven Universe wasn’t the same being as Blue Diamond— they were in terrible danger. The threat had been looming over them every since the Red Eye’s mysterious appearance, and the little Diamond turning up was just another confirmation. If Blue Diamond had been missing from Homeworld for twelve years (or even more, if she’d required time to have… relations with a human), then no doubt people were wondering where she was. They’d be looking, searching. And if that search brought them to Earth…

They’d fought for this planet for so long. They’d fought so hard. They’d lost nearly everything.

Pearl refused to lose what little they had left.

“Rose thinks we should let Steven out,” Amethyst said, and Pearl’s eyes flew open. “She says that it’s wrong to keep an innocent human child locked up in a cage.”

“Rose was the one who told us to put him in the cage in the first place!” Pearl cried.

Garnet crossed her arms. “Her understanding of the situation has changed.” She added, “Also, Rose’s lion seems to like him.”

“The lion is a lion,” said Pearl. “He likes vomiting up hairballs!” But there was no real weight to her words, and everyone knew it.

Pearl stared down at the water beneath her.

There was a soft fluttering sound from above, and Pearl didn’t have to look to know it was Rose. “I hope you don’t mind me dropping in,” she said, “but I heard my name.”

“We’re discussing Steven,” said Garnet.

“Oh?”

A splashing noise as Amethyst sat up. “We think he’s telling the truth about not being Blue Diamond,” she said. “Even if he’s being really annoying about it.”

“Ah.” Rose’s voice was deceptively light. “And you’re all in agreement here?”

Pearl could practically feel the attention shift towards her. She lifted her chin a fraction. “...Yes.”

Nobody said anything. They could all predict Pearl’s coming ‘but’. She let them stew for a moment, before obliging them.

“However, even if he does not possess his… mother’s memories, that does not mean we should drop our guard.” Now Pearl looked up, stood, and straightened, channeling the energy she’d once used for war councils. “He still possesses her powers, though they appear to be underdeveloped as of yet. He still subscribes to at least some of her beliefs.”

“Those can be changed,” said Garnet.

“Yes!” cooed Rose. “He’s a human. That’s so exciting! Humans— they’re all about changing, adapting, being—”

“Yes. But not predictably,” said Pearl. “We have no guarantee that he’ll be…” She groped around for the right word, and ended up just trailing off.

“We can still try,” Rose said, her eyes glittering. “We can still teach him. Give him the chance to be something extraordinary.”

Pearl felt a rush of something then, and was reminded all over, why she loved Rose Quartz so much.

Her hope. Her optimism. Her passion. Her spark.

…which, admittedly, had the danger of lighting a fire and burning out of control. Mindful of that, Pearl said, “There’s something else to consider.”

“What?” said Amethyst, cocking her head.

“Perhaps Blue Diamond still is present,” said Pearl, “but simply… trapped. Stuck inside the human body. Perhaps conscious, perhaps not. But if that body were ever destroyed…”

There was an uncomfortable silence filled only with the rushing of water.

Garnet was the first to break it. “Good thing I didn’t actually rip him in half.”

Amethyst chuckled. Pearl gave a wan smile.

Rose Quartz just sighed. “Good thing indeed. Nonetheless, they are valid points. We should not rush and put anyone in undue danger. Still, there is no harm in apologizing, and… and seeing if we can perhaps arrange for more comfortable living arrangements.”

Pearl considered this, then nodded. “That seems… fair.”

“Agreed.” Garnet stood. Amethyst shot a thumbs up, and followed her lead.

There was a little more discussion about how to go about this. They would wait for morning, when Steven Universe would wake. Rose and Pearl would come to discuss terms. Since they did not want to have everyone present at once and intimidate him, it was decided those two would offer the best balance of opinions.

Pearl found herself smiling, despite herself. It had taken over five thousand years, but they were finally going to have peace negotiations with a Diamond.


The day outside was new and pink, and Rose felt light enough to float up among the clouds as if she were one of them.

As tempting a prospect as that was, she held herself down. The humans had a saying after all— something like ‘don’t count your eggs before they’re laid’. Or perhaps it was about keeping chickens in a basket. Regardless of the exact phrasing, the meaning was clear. They should make sure the peace agreement was completed before getting giddy about it.

(But oh, was it hard.)

“Good morning!” Rose greeted, as she and Pearl stepped out the Temple.

Steven Universe, who had been drinking from a water bottle, stopped and blinked them. “Uh… hey.”

“Where’s Mr. Universe?” asked Pearl.

The half-human paused a moment before answering, as he almost always did when addressing Pearl. “Getting breakfast.”

“We were hoping to speak with you both,” said Rose. “Perhaps we should wait for him to return…?”

“Anything you want to say to him, you can say to me.”

Pearl looked at her, and Rose had known her long enough to read her expression: she wanted them to go ahead. Rose herself wasn’t so sure. If Steven was a human, he was a young and immature one, and his guardian would most likely want to be in a position to advise him.

But ignoring Steven Universe’s desires would been a poor way to begin a peace accords. He had a right to make his own decisions. 

(Besides. If Rose Quartz was being honest with herself, she had to admit, rather selfishly, that she didn’t want to be around Mr. Universe any more than she had to.)

Rose nodded. “Very well. We’ll begin.”

She sat down on the cool stone floor, crossing her legs. A moment later, Pearl followed her lead, though remained in a squat, balanced on the balls of her feet. They gave Steven a moment to put away his water bottle and compose himself. He seemed quite taken aback by how quickly this discussion had come upon him.

“Okay,” he said, frowning a little. “What’s this about?”

Rose took a deep breath, and said, “We want to apologize.”

Steven Universe’s mouth dropped open, all surprise and suspicion. “Huh?”

“We wanted to say that we are sorry,” Pearl clarified.

Rose was very proud of her. She knew how hard those words must have been to say. But Pearl said them, and kept her face perfectly blank as she did. Any of her distaste was carefully hidden.

“I…” Steven Universe said, his mouth opening and closing.

“We apologize for hurting you and your friends,” said Rose. “Our treatment of you has been poor, and we wish to begin fixing our mistakes.”

Steven shook his head. “Wait… you did all that stuff, and now you’re saying… sorry?”

Clearly,” Pearl said, not quite able to stop the sarcasm slipping into her voice.

“We did not understand the situation,” said Rose. “We truly thought you were Blue Diamond, and feared what you would do to us, and to the Earth. This isn’t an excuse; it is an explanation. But from our observations, we can see that you have been honest, Steven Universe.”

“Oh.” The boy looked down, and for several long moments the only sound was the surf as he seemed to turn these words over in his mind. Then he looked up. When he spoke, his words had a slightly rigid quality to them, like a phrase rehearsed. “Then I accept your apology.”

Rose smiled.

“So… you’re gonna let me out now, right?”

“Not quite yet,” said Pearl.

Steven Universe scowled, and opened his mouth to say something.

Rose raised a hand. “We will soon. We just want to ensure that we… understand you fully. In the meantime, we’ll strive to make things more comfortable. Let you relieve yourself at the car wash, make sure you have access to more clothing and comforts. Help you reach out to your friends, so they can visit you. Even stay with you, if you’re all in agreement.” Steven Universe’s eyes widened with joy, and Rose knew their offer was on the right track. “Additionally, Garnet suggested that we begin going on excursions together. To various Gem temples. A chance for you to stretch your legs, and learn a little more about Gem history.”

“...Your version of Gem history,” said Steven Universe, carefully.

“Yes,” said Pearl, and there was a challenge in her voice.

A few days ago— or even just the day before— that would have sparked an argument. But now, Steven Universe restrained himself. He leaned back a little, his brow furrowed. The sky outside darkened as a cloud passed overhead.

“O-kay,” he said at last. “That seems… fair, I guess. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with just… hearing you guys out.”

Then Steven Universe stuck his hand out between the bars and through the pink energy field.

The Crystal Gems blinked at it.

“What?” said Pearl. “But— The field is supposed to prevent Gems from— That— How long have you been able to do that?”

Steven shrugged. “I figured it out the first night, actually. I just didn’t want you guys seeing.”

Pearl stared at him with a mixture of astonishment, frustration and— yes, curiosity.

“Steven isn’t a Gem,” declared Rose. “He is half human.”

And then, in deference to the traditional human custom, she reached out, grasped his hand, and shook it.

It did not last long, and the little Diamond pulled his hand back relatively quickly. But it had been done.

“So,” said Steven. “Uh… what now?”

Rose said, “I think it’s best we wait for your father to return. Then we can begin—”

“Wait,” Pearl interrupted, lifting a finger. “Do you hear that?”

Rose paused. She did indeed. It was faint but…

Music.

“It’s pretty,” Steven said, cocking his head to listen.

“Yes,” murmured Pearl.

It was indeed. In fact, more than pretty. It was exquisite. Light and pure and delicate, the notes filling Rose with a cool contentment. She blinked slowly. As the music grew louder, a part of her wanted nothing more than to sprawl out onto the ground and let it wash over her.

Another part of her was screaming that something was wrong.

The music was coming from the mouth of the cave. With momentous effort, Rose Quartz stood and turned towards it, and discovered the source.

Standing there, framed by stone, was a Pearl and a Lapis Lazuli. The Pearl held a flute to her lips. The Lapis’s fists were balled, a dark mass of water hanging around her.

Neither of them looked happy.

Chapter Text

Pearl knew that they would have only one chance at this, and she was determined not to waste it.

As they had planned, she and Lapis waited out from the coast for what felt like an eternity, but certainly couldn’t have been more than an hour, judging from how the sun crept up the horizon behind them. From their position, they were hidden beneath the waves, but were still provided a good view of the Crystal Gem base.

And the cage that held Steven.

Lying next to Steven was Greg. The two woke up, and Pearl watched them go through some crude pantomime of a morning routine, with changing and Steven brushing his teeth by spitting into a bucket. The urge to come and rescue them right away was nearly overwhelming.

Pearl fought the desire. Even if they escaped unnoticed, the first place the Crystal Gems would check was the Palanquin, which Steven still could not activate. They could abandon it, and go on the run, but it would only be a matter of time before they were rediscovered.

They waited.

Eventually Greg ambled down the beach, presumably to get breakfast. He was so close Pearl could have called out him. But it was better that he would be out of the way for this.

So they waited.

Eventually, the Temple door opened, and Rose Quartz and her Pearl came out.

Lapis shifted, clenching her fist. Pearl squeezed her hand, silent restraint and reassurance both. It would be cleaner to take all the Crystal Gems out at once.

So they waited.

… but no one else came out.

Pearl grew concerned. Rose Quartz was simply sitting on the floor, the Pearl at her side, the two in apparent conversation with Steven. Pearl had no idea why, or how long they would do so. It was possible that the other Crystal Gems would come join them eventually; it was equally possible that the two rebels already there would leave before that could happen, and Pearl and Lapis would be left waiting a very long time indeed. Taking out the Crystal Gem leader and her second-in-command would be better than nothing.

Pearl nodded. Under the cover of a wave, Lapis brought them up on the beach. They moved quickly, pressing themselves up against the cliff face where they were less likely to be spotted. Lapis flew, and Pearl walked with the lightness only a Pearl could muster, and so the two of them made almost no noise on the shifting sand.

There came a slope which lead up to the Crystal Gem base, and the pair stopped at the bottom of it. Pearl tapped the side of her head, indicating that it was time. Then she closed her eyes and concentrated.

With a mental push, she felt her physical form shift, her ears sealing themselves off and vanishing. Instantly, all the beach sounds— the crash of the waves, the call of gulls, the distant murmur of conversation from the cave— died. Lapis’s brow furrowed as she too cut off all hearing.

Pearl took a moment to center herself.

She did not want to attack the Crystal Gems. Not really. It was true that their rebellion had sown much strife, but despite what Pearl had taught Steven in Homeworld’s name, she did not believe they were evil. Simply misguided. She much would have preferred to leave them alone.

Her hand touched the hairclip which was keeping the bangs out of her eyes for the mission. It was shaped like a little gold star. Greg had bought it for her years ago. On her wrist was another gift. The plastic bracelet that, even when locked away, Steven had ensured was returned to her, along with a message: “love you.”

If it was a choice between the Crystal Gems and Steven, then it was no choice at all.

Pearl closed her eyes, and summoned an object from her gem. Lapis raised her hand, and pulled a giant globe of water from the ocean, casting a dark shadow across the beach.

Long, slender, and finely carved, the object Pearl held was a flute. She raised it to her lips, and began to play. She could not hear the music, but she could feel the vibration in her lips and fingers, thrumming through her form.

So armed, Pearl began up the hill, Lapis following in her wake.

They reached the cave’s mouth.

The second they noticed, all three of the cave’s occupants were on their feet. Steven, his face equal parts surprise, joy, and confusion. Rose Quartz and the Pearl, instantly wary. Everyone was talking, their mouths opening and closing, but Pearl could hear nothing of what they said.

Lapis stepped forward, and the water streamed through the air around her, rushing at the Crystal Gems.

The rebels dodged out of the way, but just barely. Their movements were sluggish, their expressions vague.

If Pearl’s mouth hadn’t been otherwise occupied, she would have allowed herself a small smile. The flute had been designed as an aid to relaxation. Long ago, back when Blue Diamond had still held celebrations and balls for her Court, Pearl had often been instructed to play it for the guests’ amusement, which left all who heard it amicable and content. A reward for new colonies founded and battles won.

These were no revellers looking for a chance to unwind. They were warriors, defending themselves, and they would not fall under the music’s sway so easily. But they couldn’t resist it completely either.

The Pearl lunged at Lapis, but she was slow. She came close to stabbing Lapis in the abdomen with her summoned spear, but she was not alert enough to predict Lapis flying out of the way. The Pearl made a few jabs, but they were all off. Lapis easily shoved her away with a jet of water, slamming her into a wall.

Out of the corner of her eyes, Pearl saw Steven on his feet, swaying a little as he fought the music’s effects. He waved his arms, mouth moving as he called out to her. Pearl knew he must be so scared. For now, the only reassurance she could offer was a nod.

As she was distracted, Rose Quartz snatched the flute away.

Or nearly did. Pearl’s reactions were sharp, and she twirled on one foot, twisting the instrument out of Rose Quartz’s grasp. The Quartz jumped into the air, floating easily above Pearl’s head as she tried to grab it from above, but Pearl ducked out of reach.

The other Pearl came to her Master’s aid, bearing down on Pearl with her spear. It grazed Pearl’s shoulder, pain striking up through her arm, nearly making her lose her grip. She gasped, and the music stopped.

The other Pearl shook herself, and grabbed the flute.

Water smacked into both Pearls, sending them tumbling. It was a bit of a surprise, but Lapis had judged the force well. While it slammed the renegade to the floor it didn’t hurt Pearl at all, giving her a chance to readjust her grip and resume playing.

The renegade had been struggling to get up. But at the music, she stopped bothering, her expression melting into a contented smile.

Water collected into the air, and Lapis froze it into a blade of ice.

Lapis sent it flying right at the renegade.

The renegade blinked at it, not bothering to move.

Rose Quartz jumped in front of her Pearl, raising a shield just in time.

There was a shock-wave as the ice hit, sending shards flying in every direction. Pearl felt a few stab into her skin, but ignored the pain. She had to keep playing.

Rose Quartz staggered back. Her shield was gone, and she hadn’t summoned another one. She looked dazed.

She didn’t even flinch when the second blade of ice plunged into her chest.

She exploded into pink smoke, her gemstone falling to the stone floor.

Even without hearing, the scream was plain on the Pearl’s face. Horror cut through the music’s euphoric effects, and she pulled herself to her feet, rushing to grab her comrade’s gem— only to be buffeted away by a wave. Lapis pinned her to the wall, and this time left her there, frozen in ice.

Two enemies down. Pearl itched to release Steven.

She had barely had the thought when the Temple door opened, and out rushed reinforcements. The fusion and the Amethyst.

It became immediately apparent that they weren’t dazed by the music. Their eyes were too sharp, their movements too fast, their attentions completely focused. The sapphire-fusion must have predicted the tactic, and so both she and the Amethyst had removed their ears before attacking, just as Lapis and Pearl had.

That hardly mattered.

Amethyst lunged at Pearl with her whip, but the cave was filled with water. Lapis easily picked the runt up in a massive liquid fist, and any threat the Amethyst posed was gone. The fusion lasted a little longer, but Lapis clearly had her in hand as well.

Pearl stopped playing. The music was unnecessary now. She stored the flute away, and pulled out a laser knife from her gem.

As Lapis set herself to squeezing the Amethyst until her physical form was destroyed, Pearl waded to Steven’s cage, and got to work cutting through the bars.

She was so focused on her task that she’d cut through two of them when she realized Steven was waving at her, trying to get her attention, mouth moving, his expression panicked.

Pearl released her shape shifting, and let out a sigh of relief.

“— ARE YOU DOING?” Steven was yelling, and that relief evaporated.

“Rescuing you, my Steven,” Pearl said. She readjusted her grip, and began cutting through the third bar. “Do not worry, I shall have you out soon.”

Steven said something else, but his voice was drowned out by the crash of waves. A repetitive thud, thud, thud, thud, as Lapis slammed the fusion into the wall, again and again and again.

“Stop!” the renegade Pearl was screaming. “Please! Let her go!”

For a moment, Lapis stopped.

She said, “Like how you let me go?

She slammed the fusion against the wall.

“Like how you let Steven go!?”

She slammed the fusion even harder, cracks spreading across the wall from the impact point.

Pearl cut through another bar. Almost there. Soon Steven would have enough room to escape.

There was a flash of light from behind her. A double scream, from a Ruby and a Sapphire, a wave of heat and cold.

The fusion must’ve broken apart.

“Stop!” Steven cried, and he was on the brink of tears.

Another bar clattered to the floor. Pearl smiled. Her Steven was free.

He barreled past her.

Pearl spun, and the image which greeted her was unpleasant.

The Ruby stood on unsteady feet, only a few steps away from the warp pad, but refusing to flee, despite the rebel Pearl yelling at her to run. She was clutching a blue stone to her chest. Her face was a mask of fury. The air around her was thick with steam, and the water at her feet was boiling.

Left unchecked, Lapis’s weapon would evaporate.

The cool expression on Lapis’s face made it clear she had no intent of letting that happen.

She pulled up a long, thin strand of water into the air, twisting it and twisting it, faster, and faster, until it formed a drill.

She raised an arm, and brought it down towards the Ruby—

— and Steven jumped in front of it, a living shield.

“STOP!”

Lapis just barely managed to stop the water from drilling through his head. She recoiled, wings flapping furiously. “Steven! What are you doing?!”

“What are you doing?”

“Saving you!”

Lapis looked equal parts angry and confused, but Pearl was neither. She should have expected something like this. Steven was not an experienced Diamond, accustomed to battle. How many times had he brought injured animals home to the Palanquin, everything from baby birds to wild lynxes, begging Pearl to help heal them?

But surely even he had to realize that was different from actively protecting the Gems who’d attacked and imprisoned him.

“Look,” Steven said, glancing at the Ruby, who was staring wide-eyed at this turn of events. “This is all unnecessary.”

Unnecessary,” Lapis repeated, the water in the cave roiling white. “They locked you up!”

“I know,” Steven said, “I know—”

Her Steven was kind-natured and sentimental, but not willfully foolish, Pearl knew. If he was defending the Crystal Gems, he surely had a reason. She came to his side, and asked him to explain.

“It’s just— Well, I’ve been talking with the Crystal Gems, and they’re actually… kinda… nice. I know they’ve made mistakes—”

(“Oh, please,” the other Pearl began.

“Quiet,” snapped the Ruby.)

“— but they actually apologized for what they did to me, and they were talking about letting me go when you came in here and I don’t think you should hurt them!”

There was silence.

Then Lapis said, “I can’t believe this.”

“Lapis,” Pearl said, quiet.

Lapis didn’t even glance at her. The water drill began to spin again, this time twisting around Steven to come at the Ruby from the side.

“I said stop!” Steven cried.

“Sorry, Steven,” Lapis said.

Steven drew himself to his full height. “Lapis Lazuli! Am I your Diamond?”

And again the water stopped, this time less than an inch from the Ruby’s face. She didn’t dare move.

Lapis opened her mouth. “Yes, but—”

“Am I your Diamond?”

“Yes.”

“Then stop.”

Lapis sagged. The water dropped to the floor with a splash.

The Ruby took a step towards Steven. Very softly she said, “Thank you.”

The other Pearl was still frozen to the wall. Pearl tapped Steven on the shoulder, and silently pointed this out.

“Her too,” Steven said.

Lapis scowled, doing nothing.

“Lapis!”

Lapis glanced at the ice and it began to melt, dropping the Pearl to her feet.

“Thank you,” Steven breathed.

“Of course,” Lapis replied, an icy edge to her voice. “My Diamond.”

The Pearl didn’t say thank you, however. Instantly, she set to finding her fallen comrades, Ruby joining her. With all the water now streaming out of the cave’s mouth, it was not an easy task, but they managed it. Eventually the Pearl came up, clutching a pink stone in one hand, and a purple in the other, horror and grief etched across her face.

She said, “They’re cracked.”

Steven's eyes opened wide in horror, as Pearl herself tightly pursed her lips. Her intent hadn't been for any of the Crystal Gems to get cracked.

"No!" The Ruby cried as she ran over to the Pearl. "Rose! Amethyst!" She gritted her teeth as her grip on her fusion partner's gem tightened. "Can they be healed?!"

The other Pearl ran her thumbs across both gems. "Yes, I believe so. The cracks don’t look too bad."

"Then what are we waiting for?!" The Ruby yelled as she ran towards the warp pad. "Let's go! What's the hold up?"

The Pearl didn't answer directly, only letting her gaze slip from the gems in her hands to Steven and back again.

"I'll go with you," Steven said firmly. "You won't have to take your eyes off of me."

The Pearl still didn't say anything, her eyes now darting between Steven, Lapis, and Pearl herself.

"We'll all go," Steven added, sensing the Pearl's unasked question. "We won't try anything." He turned to face the two of them. "Right?"

"Of course, my Steven," Pearl answered, even though she wasn't sure about this. If the three of them were to leave now, it was unlikely the Pearl or Ruby would try to chase after them. And the time needed to heal and let their companions regenerate their forms meant that they would have an advantage in time as well.

But regardless, she followed Steven’s lead, as she always did.

Steven looked over at Lapis who said nothing, only returning his steady gaze, before finally nodding curtly. Pearl was glad. She didn't want Lapis to try anything... rash.

"Okay. Let's go," Steven said to the two remaining Crystal Gems.

Ruby practically leapt to the warp pad, tapping her foot impatiently and stroking the sapphire she still held to her chest. The Pearl's brow furrowed as she hesitated before moving. She clearly didn't like this arrangement. She knew just as well as Pearl did that they had the advantage. That Lapis could, at any moment, choose to resume her attack, and defeat them even more thoroughly. But she must have known how limited her options were, as she slowly nodded before carefully walking back to the warp pad.

Steven, Lapis, and Pearl followed her. When all of them were in place, the Pearl activated the warp pad and they were swept away in the stream.


It felt weird being back at the Fountain. As soon as the warp stream disappeared, Steven could see the grey walls and the star-shaped archway. His stomach began to twist and turn.

This was where all this had really started. And now they were back.

The five of them tread silently down the short path through the garden. The sweet smell of flowers in bloom followed them into the Fountain, creating an odd disconnect between the pleasant smell and the dire reason they were there.

The other Pearl walked over to the Fountain, Steven stopping a few feet behind her. Lapis and Pearl remained even further back, near the archway. The Ruby stood next to the Pearl, half her attention on the three of them and the other half on Amethyst and Rose Quartz’s gems.

The Pearl leaned over into the Fountain and submerged the two cracked gems before drawing them back out. She visibly relaxed looking at them, before hugging them close and muttering something under her breath.

"They're healed." Her voice wavered as she spoke, wiping the corner of one of her eyes. "They're going to be okay..."

"Good, good," the Ruby breathed, her form slacking against the Fountain. She buried her head in the Pearl’s waist, and the Pearl responded by stroking her hair, a surprisingly tender touch. "We just gotta wait for them to regenerate."

"So... They're going to be okay?" Steven asked, taking a few cautious steps forward.

The other Pearl and the Ruby turned, looking surprised, as if they had forgotten Steven was there. The Ruby nodded curtly. "Yeah. They are."

Steven let go of a breath he hadn't even been aware he was holding.

They were going to be okay. That was good. While his opinions on the Crystal Gems were still rather mixed, he had been afraid Pearl and Lapis's attack had done—

He stopped, his train of thought instantly derailing. He hurriedly turned around, almost tripping over himself in the process.

Pearl and Lapis had come to rescue him. They were here.

Now.

With barely another thought acknowledged, Steven rushed over to the archway, over to them. His arms were outstretched when he broke into a run. He tripped on his way up the stairs and fell into Pearl’s embrace, crying uncontrollably.

"Y-you came— You came for me..." he sobbed, futilely rubbing at his eyes to try and clear his vision.

"Shh, shh... It's okay, it's okay," Pearl cooed softly into his ear. He could feel her gently kiss the top of his head. "I am here now, my Steven." Her voice began to quake and tremble. Steven could feel the gentle drops of her tears landing on the top of his head. ”I am here,” she repeated softly. “Everything is going to be okay now.”

They pulled away from each other, though Pearl kept her arms around him. She was smiling, bigger and wider than Steven had ever seen before. He also noticed her eyes were red, and that tears were still rolling down her cheeks. But he also noticed something else.

Steven smiled. "You look really nice with that hair clip."

"Of course," she replied, her smile seeming to grow even larger. "I needed to look my best for when we were reunited."

He laughed, and then felt one of Pearl's hands move to rest on his shoulder. Realizing what she was asking, Steven nodded at her. Pearl carefully pulled down the neck of Steven's shirt and examined his gem. She gently ran her fingers over it, checking for any cracks or other imperfections.

It felt a little odd, as it always did, when someone touched his gem. But it also felt comforting, the easy press against his facets, the gentleness when her fingers occasionally slipped off and touched his bare skin. It reminded him of when he was younger, when he would fall from the monkey bars at the park or lose his balance on a freshly mopped floor in the apartment. Pearl would rush over and check over every inch of his gem, to make sure it was alright.

When she was done, Pearl removed her hand and put it back around Steven, before hugging him close once again.

"Oh, my Steven..." she said softly. "I am so glad you are safe. We both are."

Steven pulled away again, this time looking at Lapis, who was noticeably not looking at him. Instead she was just staring off into the distance, lips thinly pressed together, her eyes narrowed and focused.

A little unsure what to do, Steven said, "Hey, Lapis." Her eyes flicked over to him, but her expression did not change. He gulped before continuing, "Thanks for coming for me."

She continued to look at him, before her expression softened. She didn't smile, but she did put a gentle hand on Steven's head and tussled his hair. "Yeah. It's good to have you back, Steven."

"You have been eating well, yes?" Pearl said, drawing Steven's attention away from the perturbed Lapis. "And you have been sleeping regularly?" She paused a moment, before adding, “You have not been bathing. I can smell that.”

Steven chuckled, unable to really believe that Pearl was bringing this up now, of all times. "Yeah, I didn’t really have much of a chance to do that lately."

Pearl nodded and smiled, wiping the corners of her eyes. "Of course. Then when we return to the Palanquin, I shall draw a bath for you. I think that would be rather nice, yes?"

Before Steven could respond however, another voice broke in.

"You're not going anywhere. Any of you."

It was the other Pearl. Steven saw that she had placed Amethyst’s and Rose Quartz's gems on the edge of the Fountain. She was striding towards them with with fiery determination in her eyes.

Steven felt Pearl's arms tighten around him with every step the other Pearl took towards them.

"Pearl..." It was the Ruby, who was still holding onto her fusion partner’s gem. Her eyes kept moving from the other Pearl over to the three of them. "Don't do anything rash."

"I'm not," she replied simply, her eyes never leaving them. "I'm just telling them that they're not going anywhere. Not before Rose reforms."

"You cannot keep us here," Pearl said. "We are leaving."

The Pearl waved her hand in front of her gem and her spear was back in her hand.

Lapis stepped forward, watery wings sprouting from her back. "Don't make me regret letting you go," she intoned.

"You don't have any weapons here," the other Pearl said. She smirked, "Unless you want to try using the healing water again."

"I could bring an ocean here in a matter of minutes."

"I'd love to see you try and get off the ground before I got you."

"Pearl!" the Ruby shouted.

"Lapis!" Pearl hissed sharply.

Before any of them could say anything else, bright light flashed behind the other Pearl. She turned around and Steven saw what— or rather who it was: Rose Quartz’s gem had risen into the air, glowing. She was reforming. First her towering figure. Then her mane of giant pink curls, now tied into a loose braid. Finally her dress, hugging around her form then flaring at the hips. It seemed to have a lower cut on her now visible back, compared to her old form.

The light faded, and the newly regenerated Rose Quartz floated gently to the ground.

Slowly, she opened her eyes and turned to look at all of them. First Steven, Pearl, and Lapis, her expression unreadable. Then, at the Crystal Gems, relief washing over her. She strode over to the other Pearl before laying a hand on her shoulder.

“Hi,” said Steven, struck by a sudden shyness and unease. He gave a small wave.

"What's going on?" Rose simply asked

“Steven let us go,” the Ruby said. “Then we brought you here for healing.”

"I'm making sure they're not leaving," the Pearl answered. "Not until you’d reformed."

"And she's reformed," Lapis said. "So we're leaving."

However, none of them moved.

No one at the Fountain did. They just looked at each, all equally unsure what came next.

Finally Rose took a few steps closer to them. Pearl hugged Steven tighter, but Rose didn't summon her shield. She just kept her gaze focused on them. It made Steven feel more than a little uncomfortable.

"You've risked a lot," Rose Quartz said. "All to rescue him."

"Of course," Pearl said simply.

"Why wouldn't we?" Lapis retorted. “We don’t abandon our own.”

Rose nodded shortly, before turning her gaze completely on Pearl. "You care about him deeply."

"I care about him more then anything," she said firmly. "He is... my Steven. My family. "

A full minute of silence followed as they all just watched each other. Again, it was Rose that broke the silence.

"Let's go back to the Temple. All of us." She nodded at them again. "I think it's time we all talk."

Chapter Text

Even though he knew it was selfish, Greg took his time grabbing breakfast that morning. He walked slowly along the beach, stretching out the aches he’d gotten from days of sleeping on a hard stone floor with only blankets to soften it. He chatted with Fryman’s kid, Peedee, for a bit, who was stuck in that creepy fry costume and looked like he could use some cheering up. When at last he wandered into the Big Donut, Greg didn’t order immediately, but let himself hang out with the employees a bit. If ‘hang out’ was the right term for a forty-something guy talking to a couple of teenagers.

But Sadie and Lars were a good sort, always super helpful and cheerful. Well, Sadie was, at least. Just then she was telling him about the hassle she’d gotten from the delivery guy that morning. Greg nodded along, making sympathetic noises in all the right places. It was nice, being able to focus on someone else’s worries.

“But you got it all sorted out in the end, huh?” Greg said.

“Yeah, I guess,” Sadie said with a shrug, as she refilled the napkin dispenser.

“And you helped her carry the stuff in, right Lars?”

Instantly the boy snapped to attention— and immediately tried to hide that, slumping back against the counter. “Huh? Oh yeah.” He flexed his arms. “Me and my guns, always here to help out someone in need.”

Sadie snorted. “Yeah. That’s why you and your guns handled one box, while I took three—

“My box was heavier!”

Greg smiled a little to himself. He knew Lars’ type well— had seen a lot of them on tour. Younger kids, desperate to look cool, trying to play things off. Tended to get all nervous in the presence of a rock star, and doing their best to make sure absolutely no one realized.

In reality, he was actually super transparent, but Greg had no intention of mortifying the kid. He’d figure it out eventually. For now, Greg pretended to ignore it, and tried to give Lars as much gentle encouragement as he could.

“So what’ll you be having today?” Sadie asked, once the verbal sparring was finished.

“Oh? Huh.” Greg shook his head, and tried to focus on the task at hand. He’d been grabbing something different every day, to help give Steven some variety. “What haven’t I got yet?”

“Well, let’s see. I love the strawberry cream filling, and the peanut butter glaze is delicious, or we’ve got some new cinnamon rolls. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, the dog-nut’s an option.”

Nobody’s adventurous enough for the dog-nut,” muttered Lars.

Greg considered himself an experimenter when it came to food, but even as a big fan of both hot dogs and donuts, even he had to agree that putting them together was perhaps a culinary Frankenstein's monster.

… probably still worth a try, though.

Greg mulled over his options, selecting a couple of both the strawberry and the peanut butter, with a coffee for himself and an apple juice for Steven. As Lars got to work preparing his order, and Greg began fishing money out of his wallet, there was a chime as the door behind him opened. Sadie chirped, “Welcome to the Big Donut!”

Out of the corner of his eye, Greg caught a flash of blue and turned towards it. “Oh, hi Pearl, Steven—”

He dropped his coins.

Steven! Pearl!

“Dad!” Steven cried, throwing himself at Greg. Greg picked the boy up, holding him to his chest, giving him the first proper hug they’d been able to have in weeks.

“Hello Greg,” said Pearl, a small smile playing at her lips.

“Hey,” said a third figure, waving a hand. Now that he’d noticed her, Greg recognised her from their video call as Lapis Lazuli.

He put Steven down— partly because his back couldn’t carry weight like it used to, partly because he was feeling dizzy. “I— how— What are you three doing here?”

“We broke Steven out,” said Lapis, while at the same time Steven said, “The Crystal Gems let me go!”

“It’s complicated,” Pearl added, after a moment.

Greg stared at them.

Then he pulled his son and Pearl alike into the most bone-crushing hug he could manage.

Steven laughed, hugging back, and even Pearl gave a little squeeze in return. Lapis didn’t join in, but Greg saw her smiling at them. Greg felt like he could have cried with relief.

“Uhhhh,” came Sadie’s voice from behind them.

“‘Dad’?” said Lars. “Mr. Universe has a kid?!”

Greg shook his head. There’d be time for explanations of all sorts, later. Right now, his family was safe, and that was all that mattered.


Garnet came back into existence only moments after Sapphire reformed, from a kiss born of relief and desperation and joy, arms wrapped around herself in a hug, and tears burning her eyes.

The crying would’ve been a bit embarrassing, what with everyone watching her, but that was why Garnet wore glasses.

A fresh fusion always left Garnet feeling all... tingly, full of electricity and energy, wanting to run and laugh and dance. It was no different this time, and while the joy of it was a relief after the earlier terror, it was also a bit distracting. With peace accords to begin shortly, Garnet was going to need to be calm and even-keeled.

Thankfully, she had some time to get ready. Steven had suggested they have a ‘together breakfast’, which as far as the Crystal Gems could discern, was just a regular breakfast, but one meant to symbolize coming together in the name of friendship.

Garnet didn’t really care much for eating, and making food required what seemed like an annoying amount of preparation. However, she didn’t begrudge this ritual. It certainly was more pleasant than the many Homeworld rituals surrounding treaties and peace-making, and far shorter besides. Sapphire had attended such events which had lasted years. An hour or so was nothing.

The Crystal Gems let Steven Universe and his… entourage go and prepare. Pearl was a little uncomfortable letting them be unsupervised, but it was important step towards cooperation, and Garnet could See no treachery on their part.

Besides, if Steven still intended them harm, he could have simply let Lapis Lazuli shatter them all.

But he hadn’t. That deserved some trust.

The Crystal Gems sat their on the sand, none of them quite sure how to fill the wait.

“You changed your hair,” said Pearl to Rose, picking up the end of her thick braid.

“Yes. And I gave myself stockings.” In demonstration, she pulled back her dress and wiggled her toes, now covered in a sheer grey fabric. “I thought it was time for… a little change.”

Behind her glasses, Garnet raised an eyebrow. Rose hadn’t felt the need for a change of this particular kind for five thousand years. There was a distinct pink tinge to her cheeks, and Garnet realized she was self-conscious.

“Do you like it?” asked Rose.

“It’s swell!” said Amethyst.

Garnet gave her a thumbs up.

Pearl turned the braid of hair over in her hands. “I love it,” she decided after a moment, and pressed her lips to it.

Rose’s face turned positively scarlet.

Garnet smirked, and decided to take pity on her. She said, “And yet not a single one of you has commented on my outfit change.”

Amethyst looked her up and down. “You… changed the direction your lightning bolt is pointing?”

“Yes,” said Garnet. “And my pants are a slightly darker shade of purple.”

“Big whoop,” said Amethyst, Pearl snickering beside her. “And what about me, huh?”

“You moved your bow to your belt,” Garnet said.

And changed my hair.”

“And changed your hair.”

Rose ruffled said hair. “Well, I think you both look wonderful.”

“Yes,” agreed Pearl, pressing herself into Rose’s side. “And I’m just glad you’re all alright.”

They talked a bit more after that, but not much. For the most part, they were happy just to sit there on the sand, arms wrapped around each other, lost in their own thoughts, grateful they were all still alive and well.

Eventually Mr. Universe’s vehicle came rolling up to them, its tires throwing up sand. They all got to their feet as it came to a stop.

“No, no, don’t get up,” said Steven, as he threw open the doors and jumped down onto the beach. “We’re just going to sit down again anyways.”

One by one, the others filed out of the van. Greg Universe, looking exceedingly awkward, but hopeful despite it. Lapis Lazuli, glaring daggers at everyone. And the Blue Pearl, wearing some blue human dress, expression unreadable, working busily to get things set up.

The others helped a bit— but by far, the Pearl did the majority of the work, laying out beach towels, setting out plates and cups and cutlery, bringing out dishes of food, brushing some sand away…

Pearl’s eyes followed her the entire time. Rose reached out and gave one of her hands a comforting squeeze, one that Pearl didn’t even seem to notice.

Garnet didn’t need Future Vision to tell this would lead nowhere good. She said, “Let’s get started.”

“Yeah, okay,” Steven said, snatching a donut.

“Fruit first, kiddo,” advised Greg.

Steven pouted.

“Fine,” he said, grabbing some carefully peeled and arranged orange slices. He popped one into his mouth. “Help yourselves.”

Garnet took a single piece of toast and laid it on the plate before her, more as a gesture than anything. Rose took a sampling of a number of different foodstuffs, while Amethyst took an entire bunch of grapes and stuffed it into her mouth, stem and all. Pearl didn’t move.

“This is lovely,” said Rose, after she had carefully chewed and swallowed a ‘waffle’ covered in some brown liquid.

“Thanks,” said Greg with a chuckle. “I slaved over it all morning!”

Steven smiled, and even the Lapis Lazuli gave a small smirk, but the Crystal Gems were all silent.

“Uh, that was a joke,” Greg said. “I just whipped up the bacon and eggs. Most of the rest we either picked up from the store, or Pearl made.”

The Blue Pearl nodded.

“Of course,” muttered Pearl.

“I helped too!” protested Steven.

“That you did, bud.” Greg ruffled the boy’s hair.

There was an awkward pause in the conversation, one which Garnet used to open her third eye and Look.

She could see so many ways of this conversation going wrong. Tilting to one extreme or another. Of no one saying anything, and just making their way through awkward platitude to awkward platitude, and no resolution coming at all. Of the Diamond or one of his people saying the wrong thing after another, until it went so far there was no coming back from it. Of one of the Crystal Gems speaking the truth, but at the wrong time and in the wrong way, so that these people just covered their ears and refused to listen. Of fighting erupting again, all lightning and water and lasers and fusions, and a battle from which there were no real winners.

Garnet would not let that happen.

“May I serve drinks?” the Blue Pearl asked, voice soft, picking up a carton of orange juice.

Steven nodded, as if this was to be expected, and she began to fill up a glass for him, quick as could be.

“Oh, yes, yes!” Amethyst said, practically bouncing. Pearl glared at her, and she caught herself.

Greg asked, “What do you say, Steven?”

“Thank you, Pearl,” Steven mumbled, after he’d finished a long swig of his drink.

The Blue Pearl was coming around the towel to each person in turn, although she did not even bother to pause at Pearl’s spot, going right onto Rose’s. “Shall I?”

“If you would like to,” Rose said.

The Blue Pearl froze, unsure. The moment stretched.

“It’s all right then,” Rose Quartz said.

Next the Pearl came to Garnet, the two watching each other carefully. Garnet could feel herself coming to a tributary in the river of time, the current pulling them all inexorably forward. As Blue the Pearl motioned silently with the juice cartoon, Garnet made her choice. She raised her hand and said, “Just because we’re at a sand bar, doesn’t mean we need to drink.”

After a moment, the Blue Pearl’s blank face broke into a small smile.

“Very clever,” she said, bowing her head slightly.

“That pun was terrible,” Steven groaned, but he was smiling.

“That pun was great ,” corrected Amethyst, who had snorted some juice out her nose.

With an air of ageless wisdom, Greg said, “A pun is supposed to be both.”

Even Pearl was smiling, albeit very faintly. Rose Quartz caught Garnet’s eyes and gave a quick wink, and Garnet considered her intervention a success.

Conversation flowed a bit more naturally after that, filled with the sounds of eating by those who chose to partake in the food. It was not long, however, until the interruption Garnet had been expecting came. The sound of soft paws on the sand and then Greg Universe exclaiming, “What the— is that a lion?!”

“He is indeed,” Rose said, as the animal in question bounded up the beach and came to a skidding stop in the sand, gulping what remained of the eggs in a single lick.

“Oh!” Steven exclaimed. And then he started making those same noises he’d made that first night he’d slept at the Temple. Not quite meows, nor purrs, nor hisses, but something akin to all three, spoken at what was far below the normal range of human speak.

Garnet had informed Rose about this display, and now seeing it in person, her eyes lit up like stars. “You can truly speak to him?”

“Yep,” Steven said, reaching out and scratching the giant feline behind his ears. The lion opened its mouth in a slow, contented yawn. As he had never shown himself to be an overly affectionate creature, such a gesture was odd.

There was some warnings from the boy’s father and the Blue Pearl, telling him to be careful, to which he responded with a faintly annoyed, “I know, I know. Besides, this guy wouldn’t hurt anybody, I can tell.”

“Except for magical lizards,” pointed out Pearl.

Steven waved a dismissive hand. “Yeah, sure. But that kinda stuff doesn’t count. Lions are predators, of course they have to eat. It’s how it works. Circle of life.” Then Steven slapped his forehead, and made some utterance in Cat.

“What’s up?” asked Amethyst.

“I promised him I’d come up with a name, and I totally forgot all about it!”

There were blinks all around.

“Does the lion even need a name?” asked the Lapis Lazuli, eyebrow raised.

“Well, he doesn’t need one,” said Steven. “But it would be nice. Especially if you need to tell him apart from any other lions.”

The Gems, regardless of affiliation, exchanged looks. Names were, admittedly, something of a foreign concept for their species. Gems were named for what they were, and nothing else was truly needed.

It was different for humans. Perhaps it was different for animals as well. Garnet couldn’t know, but she didn’t think the lion looked particularly bothered either way. He was snuffling around the picnic blanket, sniffing hopefully at a plate of bacon.

It was perhaps the only dish that Steven hadn’t touched for the entire meal. Now he gave a little meow, and tossed a few slices of it at the lion, who caught it easily in his mouth.

“There we go,” Steven said. “His name is Bacon now.”

“Well,” said Rose Quartz after a beat, “I think that’s lovely.”

“Yeah, nice choice,” said Greg. The Blue Pearl nodded.

Amethyst grinned, and tossed the newly dubbed Bacon another of his namesake. It seemed evident that whatever else, the cat did enjoy eating it.

“So…” said Steven, as he went back to eating a donut. “Uh. Rose Quartz. Bacon told me that you’re his pride?”

Rose let out of a soft peal of laughter and came to sit next to the lion, who pressed his head into her thigh and let out a soft pur. “Is that how he phrases it? Yes, I suppose I am. I looked after him when we had no one else left…” Her smile clouded over momentarily; Garnet could only guess at what she was thinking. Then she brightened again. “But tell me— is, ah, Bacon, the only animal you’ve ever spoken to?”

“Huh? Oh, no, I can talk to loads,” said Steven.

“Like what?” said Amethyst, sitting forward eagerly.

“Any animal that communicates vocally,” said the Lapis Lazuli, and Steven nodded. In demonstration, he cocked an ear to listen to the gulls flying overhead, and informed everyone that mostly they were discussing how they could steal the group’s food.

Rose was overawed and filled with questions— ones that for once, Steven Universe seemed quite happy to answer. While Garnet did not quite share Rose’s enthusiasm, or even Amethyst’s, she did have to confess some interest. Earth’s myriad of creatures have been one of the things Ruby and Sapphire had been most excited to discover in their initial explorations of Earth, and it was amazing to know that even after all these years, there was still something more that could be learned about them.

Garnet found herself speculating about the lion— Bacon— in particular. When Rose had first introduced him to them all, it had become immediately apparent that his intelligence had seemed beyond others of his kind. Garnet had assumed it was something to do with how Rose had reshaped his nature. Or perhaps the greater understanding of language and such was something all beasts could learn, if only given a long enough lifespan to do so. Or perhaps, if so many animals were capable of communication among themselves, such intelligence was in fact quite common, and she had simply never looked close enough to see…

“This power is unique to you, I assume,” Garnet said. “An effect of your hybrid nature.”

Greg spoke up. “Ah, actually, Steven’s Mom had it too. Discovered it a couple years into our relationship. She found it a real challenge, though.”

“Steven exhibits a true talent for it,” the Blue Pearl said.

Steven smiled, puffing his chest out a little in pride.

“I see,” said Pearl, and added nothing else.

Garnet glanced at her. She was sitting even stiffer than usual. Her eyes were narrowed, and her fist clenched so tightly shut that her knuckles had turned blue.

It took a moment of consideration, and then Garnet understood why.

Blue Diamond had always been capable of understanding Earth’s animals, but never once noticed in the centuries and centuries of warfare pitched on this planet.

Garnet frowned. Much could have been avoided, if only the Diamonds had bothered to look and listen at the things they were so intent on destroying.

By then, the conversation had moved on, however. Rose had confessed how she wished she could communicate with animals too… but also had a power related to this planet’s life.

Intrigued, Steven had of course asked to see. His companions, too, watched with varying degrees of curiosity as Rose Quartz selected one of the remaining orange slices. She buried it some ways away in the sand, then poured a little bit of water from a bottle over it.

She closed her eyes. Pure pink light spilled from her gemstone— and up from the sand came a little green shoot. Soon that shoot was a sapling, that sapling growing branches and leaves and flowers— flowers which rapidly turned into green bulbs, which within the space of a minute became larger and larger, brighter and brighter—

“Oranges!” exclaimed Steven, jumping to his feet. He stared at them. “Can I… are they safe to eat?”

“Perfectly,” said Rose Quartz.

Steven still looked unsure— an effect exacerbated by how the Blue Pearl placed a single hand on his shoulder, as if holding him back.

In the spirit of alliance, Garnet got to her feet, strode to the new tree and grabbed a fruit from it. She peeled it in a few deft motions, and popped a couple slices into her mouth. While eating had never truly been her thing, the flavor was fresh and sharp and tangy, and in that moment, she could understand why humans enjoyed it so much.

(Amethyst, by now, had climbed up the tree and already eaten three whole fruits, peel included).

Garnet grabbed one more orange, and tossed it lightly at Steven. Surprised, he just barely managed to catch it.

Everyone sat back down while Rose chatted more about her abilities, and how she would have to move the orange tree. A beach wouldn’t be able to support it long term without constant maintenance, and the Delmarva climate simply wasn’t suited to its tropical nature. Steven ate the orange as he listened, shyly asking if maybe he’d be allowed to go with her and watch when she re-planted it somewhere warmer.

The meal was winding down, and despite a rocky start, it seemed to have been a complete success.

That was when the Blue Pearl got up, and began to clean. Picking up the plates and stacking them, gathering the fallen orange peels, picking up stray wrappers.

Steven Universe didn’t even look her way.

“Hey, need any help?” asked Greg.

“No,” the Blue Pearl whispered. “I need no assistance in my duty.”

And that was the breaking point.

“It’s not your ‘duty’ to clean up everyone else’s messes!” Pearl snapped.

The Blue Pearl said nothing, keeping her head bowed.

The Lapis Lazuli came to her side. “Yeah, it is. Don’t get mad because someone actually knows how to do her job properly.”

Every Crystal Gem recoiled. Even Amethyst, who knew nothing but the stories.

Pearl got to her feet. Her spear was not out, but her gem was glowing.

Greg was asking everyone to calm down, and so was Steven. “Yeah. Relax, guys— no big deal.” He addressed Rose. “Your Pearl might not like cleaning, but it’s one of my Pearl’s favourite things!”

“That is it!” Pearl raised her head high. “I am not going to just sit here and watch you— use her and parade her around!”

Garnet could have changed this outcome. Could have altered the flow of conversation; could have called out to Pearl; could have said something to calm her. But she didn’t. Pearl had a right to be affronted. And this, Garnet felt, was something that perhaps Steven Universe needed to see.

The boy was staring off after Pearl as she jumped high into the air, leaping up towards the Temple in a single bound and vanishing out of sight.

“Rude,” said Lapis Lazuli.

“What was that about?” said Steven.

“You called her ‘my’ Pearl,” said Rose. “She is not. She belongs to no one but herself.”

He crossed his arms. “I just meant, like, she’s your guys’ friends, like how Pearl’s my friend.”

Garnet looked at said Pearl, staring her down. The Blue Pearl said nothing, and met her gaze, unflinching.

“Oh?” said Rose.

“You’re gonna have to tell Pearl that,” said Amethyst, in between chomps on a paper bag. “‘Cuz she really didn’t get that.”

“Well, I don’t see why she assumed—” began Steven.

“Pearl fought hard for her freedom,” said Garnet. “That is the underlying tenant of Crystal Gem philosophy. The freedom to be yourself, and to make your own decisions.”

Greg smiled. “Oh. Well, that sounds really nice!”

“Too bad it’s a lie,” hissed Lapis Lazuli.

Everyone’s attention shifted to her. She smiled at that, though it was not a happy expression. “Your Pearl didn’t seem so concerned with freedom for those hundreds of years she kept me trapped in a mirror.”

Greg’s smile faltered. Steven shifted, his expression darkening. “Yeah, that’s a good point.”

“I believe there has been a misunderstanding,” began Rose.

Garnet nodded. “We did not trap Lapis Lazuli in the mirror. Pearl simply found it abandoned at the galaxy warp.”

The Lazuli’s wings snapped out. “Oh, yeah, and after finding me, you guys sure did your best to set me free.”

“We did not know you were conscious in there,” said Garnet.

Sure you didn’t.”

Blue Pearl placed down her collection of garbage, and came to stand next to the Lazuli. “Lapis,” she said, “Gems who are placed into items are supposed to have their sentience erased.”

Lapis Lazuli turned to her, eyes flashing with anger and betrayal.

“Uh… Pearl did say that after I let you out…” said Steven, voice small.

Lapis Lazuli stared at him from one long moment, then looked away, her gaze focusing back on the Crystal Gems.

“Fine,” she said, in a tone which was not fine at all. The ocean sounded much louder all of a sudden, the waves crashing angrily against the shore. Garnet had to restrain the urge to summon her gauntlets. “Fine. You didn’t put me in the mirror, and you didn’t know I was actually alive in there— not that you ever bothered to try and figure that out— but it’s still y our fault I was put in there in the first place!”

By now, the situation was so tense that even Bacon had noticed. He was sitting up, his fur puffed out to make himself seem larger and more threatening.

Even Lapis Lazuli’s own companions seemed on edge, Greg Universe especially. But Rose Quartz acted as though she was only mildly concerned.

She asked, “What do you mean?”

“‘What do I mean?’” Lapis said, voice low. “I mean it’s your fault for starting a war over this tiny planet! For getting me caught up in it. It was one of your Gems— one of your Bismuths— who attacked me—”

Only then did Rose flinch.

Amethyst was the one who stepped in instead, standing up and balling her fists. “Yeah, well, c’mon. ‘Course she did, you’re a super powerful fighter!”

“I’m a terraformer ! I’m not meant to fight! But that’s what you Crystal Gems do! All so quick to do whatever you want, to let anybody charge into battle, that you completely forgot civilians exist! So you attacked me, and I never got the chance to regenerate! I came back in a mirror, branded a traitor—”

“I am sorry,” Rose said, and she meant it. That much was obvious. Her face was filled with genuine sorrow, her eyes shone with unspilled tears. “You should not have been hurt so. Not by us, not by Homeworld.”

Lapis Lazuli flinched, taken aback. Even the wind that had started up seemed to falter a little. “I— what? Homeworld didn’t hurt me—”

“They did,” said Rose.

Lapis Lazuli shook her head, looking desperately at Steven, whose face was just confused. “No. It’s all your fault—”

“We are not the one who imprisoned you without trial, Lapis Lazuli,” said Garnet. She could See other futures splayed out before her, and she brought what she had learned from them to bear. “We are not the ones who refused to listen to your pleas, who condemned you to a voiceless existence—”

Lapis Lazuli’s nostrils flared. Her wings spread out out ever further, and the ocean was roaring, and it seemed certain that a wave would come bearing down, unstoppable, upon all of them—

— but it didn’t. Lapis just jumped up into the air and flew away. High, high up— but not so high that she was out of sight. She was a dark blue speck against a light blue sky, circling and circling, refusing to leave her Diamond.

Steven stared up at her, biting his lip. He asked Blue Pearl, “Is she… gonna be okay?”

The Pearl did not answer immediately. “I believe she needs… time to clear her head, my Steven. She will come back in time, I’m sure.”

“O… kay…” he said.

“Sheesh,” Amethyst muttered under his breath, kicking at the sand. “Drama queen.”

“No more than your Pearl,” snapped Steven.

Rose Quartz stood up. “I think that might be all for today, perhaps.”

Looking around at everyone’s faces— Greg’s grimace, Steven’s sudden glumness, the Pearl’s completely blank expression— Garnet couldn’t help but agree. Besides, for a meal which was supposed to have been breakfast, it was growing quite late. Already the sun was beginning to move back down towards the west horizon.

Garnet nodded, and got to her feet as well. With the solemnity that befitted the occasion, she said, “Thank you for the meal.”

“Yeah. Real tasty,” Amethyst said, already scrambling to follow her friends’ lead.

“Don’t… even mention it,” replied Greg, after a moment.

Rose pulled her gaze back down from the sky, where she’d got caught watching Lazuli, and refocused on the young Diamond. “This isn’t going to be easy, I think. For any of us. But I believe we have a lot to learn from each other.” She glanced at Greg. “Will you stay with your father tonight?”

“Uh, yeah. I guess.”

“Good. I hope you enjoy your evening together. And I hope we can meet again tomorrow.”

It wasn’t an order. Not at all. Yet something in its cadence made it feel like one. Made it feel impossible to decline.

“Yeah,” said Greg Universe, resting a hand on his son’s shoulder. “Yeah. I guess we’ll… see you then, Rose. Garnet. Amethyst.”

“Okay. Tomorrow,” agreed Steven.

Steven nodded. The Pearl bowed. Then she finished cleaning up— Greg helping, and after a moment, the boy and the Lazuli as well.

The Crystal Gems watched as they filed into the human vehicle, and drove away.

Garnet knew without looking that the future was going to be very interesting indeed.

Chapter Text

Pearl hadn’t retreated into her room, no matter how much she had wanted to, no matter how much she had wanted to stand in a place that was hers, entirely hers, and hold onto the hilts of blades she had earned, and swing them around with perfect form and imagine burying them into the bodies of tyrants.

Instead she had remained in the cavern outside the Temple proper, keeping eyes and ears on the proceedings below, prepared to fight if she was needed.

But she hadn’t been. The breakfast had ended, and the little Diamond’s entourage had left, and Pearl had banished her spear, and found herself standing there, strange and shivery and uncertain.

The others had come up, and she had not been able to bear to look at them. Felt hot and embarrassed at Amethyst’s curious glances, and unworthy of the hand that Garnet had briefly pressed onto her shoulder.

The worst was when Rose Quartz asked, “Pearl, would you come into my room, please?”

Numbly, Pearl nodded, and stepped into the pink light, trying very hard to press back on memories of her life on Homeworld, of her old Master calling out to her when she made a mistake, taking her somewhere private, where no one else could see, and—

The door to the room closed, and Pearl spoke.

“I overreacted.” Her voice did not tremble. A Pearl’s voice should always be steady and sure. “I stand by what I said, but that does not matter. Outbursts like that aren’t going to help us achieve peace. I promise that from now on I’ll restrain myself, or else ensure I am not in a position where I might jeopardize our—”

“Pearl,” Rose Quartz said.

Pearl stopped.

“It’s okay,” she said, and Pearl finally looked up. Rose’s face was not angry or disappointed. Her voice was not sharp or reprimanding. “I understand. What they said was out of line, and you have a right to be upset.”

“I— yes, of course,” said Pearl, “but that doesn’t mean I should have—”

“Spoken your mind?” Rose’s voice was gentle, but now there was perhaps the faintest hint of amusement. “Of course it does. That’s what I love about you, Pearl. How you always say exactly what you’re feeling.”

Rose opened her arms in an invitation, and after a breath, Pearl fell into them, letting them wrap around her, strong and soft.

There were tears burning in her eyes, and she hated them, hated them. She always had. Hated the ways her emotions betrayed her, always plain on her face for everyone to see, impossible to hide. But she didn’t have to hide from Rose. They’d seen each other at their best and at their worst. They could tell each other anything.

“I know— I know it’s not the same,” Pearl stammered into Rose’s chest. “I know it’s not. I— whatever it is— I saw it on the Blue Pearl’s face, when Steven Universe hugged her. It’s not— that wasn’t the look of a Diamond and her property but--” She shook her head. “She says she’s happy, but how can she be sure, if she’s never known anything else? And that Lapis and that— that Steven, acting like it’s ridiculous to think she could ever even try something else!” Pearl pulled away, just a little bit. “When I see her, I feel like I’m looking into a mirror.”

“She’s not you,” Rose Quartz said. “Pearl, you’re not her.”

But she could have been, so easily. That was what made it so unbearable.

Rose stroked Pearl’s hair. “That Pearl’s not the one who’s spent nearly six thousand years by my side. She’s not the one who fought a war and won. She’s not the one in my arms now.”

Then Rose leaned in, and very carefully, kissed Pearl’s gem.

The touch was soft, but Pearl swore she could feel every tiny detail of her lover’s lips radiating through her. It sent shivers through her body, her mind. Not just the contact itself, but knowledge of it— the certainty that she could trust the most delicate part of herself, her very soul, and know that it was completely safe in Rose’s hands.

Pearl rose up on her toes, a silent invitation for Rose to put more pressure on it, and she complied.

There was some more kissing then, some more cuddling, and a few minutes later Pearl found herself practically wrapped in Rose’s hair, the two of them splayed out against the cloud floor. Except the floor was no longer clouds, but cool, lush grasses; and the sky above them was a beautiful sunset, an exact replica of the first one the two of them had shared together on this planet, magnificent red and purples and pinks, just a few shy stars peeking out of the blackness at the room’s very top.

Rose reached out and gave Pearl’s hand a gentle squeeze. “I think they can learn. They’ll need someone to teach them.”

“And you think that someone is me,” said Pearl. It made sense, after all. She’d helped other Pearls during the rebellion, helped them find their way. It hadn’t always been easy, but she’d done it.

“Not if it’s going to hurt you like this,” Rose said.

Pearl didn’t mind if it hurt. She was no stranger to pain. Pain was what had made her what she was.

She made up her mind there, tightening her grip on Rose’s hand. She had a job to do, and she would not shy away from it.


“Just dial the number and press the call button.”

Amethyst stuck out her tongue as she brought to mind what Connie’s phone number was. The girl had told her before, but Amethyst hadn’t really focused on remembering it, because she hadn’t had a phone at the time, and honestly, hadn’t been entirely clear on what one was. Still, the digits were kicking around somewhere in her mind. Amethyst  punched them in and then pressed the green call button. “Like that?”

Greg nodded at her. “Yeah, just like that.”

Amethyst put the phone up to her ear. It was ringing. “Cool,” she said before adding, “Uh, thanks for letting me use your phone, dude.”

“Yeah, no problem. I can’t believe you you all have gotten this far along without one,” Greg said. He was smiling, but Amethyst still wondered if he was upset about the whole ‘going through his belongings and taking his phone’ thing.

She shrugged internally. Oh well. Maybe he should have thought about that before he lied to all of them.

Amethyst took a few steps away from Greg and his oversized van. She wanted to be out of earshot. Luckily, shortly thereafter, Greg pushed off and headed inside the car wash.

Good. She wouldn’t have to watch her language now.

The phone rung for a few more seconds before it was stopped mid-ring. There was a pause and then Connie’s voice on the other end. “Hello? Maheswaran residence.”

“Hey, Connie!” Amethyst greeted. “Wassup?”

“Oh, hey Amethyst!” Connie replied more enthusiastically. “I didn’t recognize the number. Where are you calling from? That one cell phone?”

“Yeah. Though I’m gonna need to return it soon,” Amethyst answered.

“Return it? You’re borrowing it?”

“Er, sort of. Long story,” Amethyst chuckled. “But yeah. Right now I’m borrowing it.”

“Hmm… Well when I check our bids on ECove, maybe we can use some of the money we’re getting from those coins to get you a phone of your own.”

“Ooh, yeah, dude,” Amethyst said. “Then I could call you anytime I wanted!”

“Yeah! You could!” Connie exclaimed in return. “I could even call you from- Oh, that’s right! I didn’t tell you that yet.”

Amethyst blinked. “Tell me what, dude? What’s up?”

“Well, it’s something I’m doing for school,” Connie began. There was a sound like crinkled paper through the receiver. “We’re taking an extended field trip this weekend.”

Amethyst scratched the corner of her mouth. “You’re taking a trip to a field? Is that what you do in ‘school’?” She shrugged. “Sounds kinda dull.”

Connie laughed on the other end of the phone. “No, it’s not a trip to a field,” she said. “It’s just a term used for when a class goes outside the school for something. Into the field.”

“Ahh, okay okay,” Amethyst slowly nodded. “I gotcha. So where are ya going?”

“We’re going camping!” Connie answered excitedly. “We’re going to Beveridge National Park and we’re camping over the weekend!” There was a pause and Amethyst smirked to herself. Just by the tone of her voice, Amethyst knew that Connie had to be practically bouncing up and down with excitement. “I can’t wait. There’s a waterfall and a nature trail and we’re going to go canoeing Amethyst! Can you believe it?”

“It certainly sounds like a time,” Amethyst answered. Honestly, though, it didn’t seem all that special. Amethyst could take Connie to a waterfall whenever she wanted. And they had the Gem sloop, which was better than some lame canoe anyway. It had sails and everything!

Amethyst frowned at herself. She was being kinda petty, and she knew it. It was already hard enough to get to see Connie, who apparently had to do human stuff five days out of every seven, and had been hoping that she’d be able to come over this weekend.  

Still. Maybe she’d be able to spin this in her favor. She put on a lilting tone as she continues,  “Maybe when ya get back, I might have a surpriiiiise for you.”

“A surprise? What kind of surprise?”

“Well, I can’t tell ya, can I, or it wouldn’t be a surprise, would it?”

“Amethyst!”

She broke into laughter over Connie’s protests, desperately trying to get it out of her.

“Okay, okay,” Amethyst said, “try and guess.”

“Oh come on,” Connie moaned.

Guuueesss.”

“Fine. Um… does it have to do with… uh… a monster?”

“Nope.”

“How about that space queen?”

Amethyst scowled into the phone. “Okay, yeah.”

“Score!” Amethyst could practically see Connie pumping her hand in the air. “Okay, now you gotta spill.”

“Okay. Um, well, I guess I technically shouldn’t, cuz Pearl might be mad at me— but okay, so we had this incident…”

“Wait, an incident? Amethyst, are you okay?”

“Oh, yeah. I’m fine.”

“Amethyst...”

“Seriously! I reformed, and everything’s cool now—”

“...reformed?”

“Yeah. The thing I did the day we met. Y’know, body destroyed, poof, then I come back, good as new—”

Waitwaitwaitwaitwait, back up.” Now Connie sounded freaked. “The Diamond destroyed your body?”

“Well— not exactly—

“Then what, exactly?”

Amethyst rubbed her neck. It was a long story, and honestly, there were a couple details she was vague on herself, from when she was in her gem.  “Well, okay. So, Rose and Pearl were talking with the Diamond, trying to like negotiate—”

From the phone there came the sound of a voice raised in the distance. “Wait one sec,” Connie said, and then, muffled, “Two more minutes, please?”

No, we have to leave now

“Sorry, Amethyst. I gotta go. It’s time for tennis practice.” There was another short pause, and Amethyst could imagine Connie grimacing at the thought. “Then after, I’m going to tell Mom about the camping field trip. I can’t wait.”

“Good luck!” Amethyst said.

“Yeah. And you have good luck with your evil queen situation. I expect the full story later.”

“Definitely.”

Amethyst heard the distant sound of more voices.

“Okay, I gotta go, Amethyst. Talk to you later.”

“Alright. See ya ‘round, Crushed.” Amethyst tapped the screen, ending the call.

She was glad to hear that Connie was excited about something. Even Amethyst could see that she was still adjusting to loss of her finger. And if what some of what Connie had told her was true, so were her parents. They seemed like major control freaks in Amethyst’s book.

And Amethyst had begun to feel a little bad on her behalf. She didn’t really know how to offer comfort and stuff, especially about something like this. It just seemed so weird, Amethyst thought, that you could lose a body part forever. Amethyst made her own finger wink in and out of existence; she’d done that for her whole body just hours ago.

But it was good that Connie was hyped about something, even if it was just something like camping with her school. Give her something good to look forward to. Life can go on even after tragedy, and all that junk.

Pfft, pretty poetic,” Amethyst shrugged to herself. “Aw, well. She got the camping thing and when she gets back, she can meet Steven. That should help inject a little something-something into her life.”

Amethyst began walking to the car wash’s office, idly wondering what Connie’s reaction would be when she got the full story. Maybe it was best she hadn’t finished now; it was the kind of story that was better to tell in person

Rapping her knuckles against the doorframe, Amethyst stole Greg’s attention from the computer, and held the phone aloft. “Yo. I’m done. Here ya go.”

“Oh, hey Amethyst. Look, actually, why don’t you just keep that?”

“What?”

“Yeah. Go ahead. I can just get myself a new one. Consider that one… an olive branch.”

Amethyst looked at the hunk of metal and plastic in her hand, then back at Greg. “It’s a phone.”

“A metaphorical one, I meant. Like… a gift,” Greg said, with a slightly nervous chuckle. “I mean, we’re all friends now, right? Friends give each other gifts.”

“Huh. Well, all right. Thanks dude!”

Amethyst wandered off, feeling happier than she had… in well, a long time.

The Crystal Gems were friends with a Diamond. Rose and Garnet and Pearl wouldn’t have to keep worrying all the time. None of them were going to get saddled with guard duty anymore. Amethyst could hang out with Steven like he was just another Gem. And she had a phone, so she could call Connie whenever she wanted.

And play Bedazzled. She was getting pretty close to beating the high score.  She couldn’t wait to hear Pearl screeching about how distasteful the whole thing was.


Waiting outside the car wash bathroom, Pearl listened as Greg called, “Are you almost ready in there, sport?”

Pearl sat off to the side, in one of the waiting area chairs. Even though she kept her expression in her usual neutral manner, she was very glad to be able to go through Steven’s evening ritual. Even if they were having to do to it at the car wash, rather than the Palanquin or the apartment.

She was also glad the boy would finally be getting the chance to clean himself. She had not been able to ignore that he had come to smell rather… strongly.

“Yeah, Dad. I’m almost ready.” Steven’s voice came out muffled there the door. A moment later, the doorknob began to rattle and Pearl rose from her seat and joined Greg next to the door. The door opened and he exited from the bathroom, smiling at either of them and gave a quick twirl, showing of his new teal pajamas. “How do I look?”

“Very striking, my Steven,” Pearl answered. “And did you brush your teeth?”

Steven rolled his eyes, though never misplaced his smile. “Yes, Pearl.”

“And you used some of that waterless shampoo I gave ya?” Greg asked.

Steven nodded. “Yep! Wanna smell?”

Greg leaned over and put his face close to the top of Steven’s head and sniffed. “Yep,” he said, standing back up. “Very fruity.”

“Though… He still needs to take a proper shower sometime,” Pearl said.

“Yeah, he does,” Greg agreed. “I’ll work on that tomorrow… Hm, maybe Vidalia or Barb would let us use their showers. Since now the whole town knows I have a son.”

Steven quietly shifted where he stood and looked down at his bare feet.

Greg noticed this immediately. “Hey, it’s not your fault, bud,” he said, tussling Steven’s hair. “I was probably gonna tell everyone about you sometime.” He chuckled, “And I certainly can’t fault ya for wanting to see your old man again first thing.”

Steven smiled sheepishly as the three of them exited the car wash, Pearl holding onto Steven’s hand as they did. They walked to Greg’s van, moved from the beach and now back to its usual position next to the car wash.

Greg referred to it as a van, but Pearl’s research into human vehicles suggested this was not accurate. It could be more correctly classified as a ‘trailer’— longer than a van, possessing, among other things, a bed built into a wall, a table with couch, and a small kitchen-ette. Steven had once inquired about his father’s insistent incorrect terminology, and he had said it was out of respect to a van he had once owned. “Bought it in college, with my own money… Did my first tour on that thing, back before I was famous,” he’d said, eyes going distant with nostalgia. “Had to sell it when I moved to Korea, of course, but never forgot it. Even gave this one the same paint job in its memory.”

Now Greg motioned Steven into the trailer, revealing the blankets and pillows that had, until very recently, been in the cage in the Crystal Gem’s base. Now they were back on the bed where they belonged, and beckoned invitingly. Steven made a beeline to it, hopping happily onto the mattress.

But he didn’t get under the covers, or even lie down.

“I’m not really that tired,” Steven said, noticeably trying to suppress a yawn.

Pearl smiled lightly as she sat down next to him, Greg taking a place his other side. “I see. Well, then what do you want to do, my Steven?”

Steven shrugged lazily. “I dunno. Just sit here with you?” He grabbed Pearl’s hand and laid his head against Greg. “I really missed you guys.”

“Well, to be fair,” Greg chuckled, “I was always there. Except when I had to get food.”

“You know what I mean,” Steven said. Greg nodded.

Pearl understood as well. The time they had been apart, Pearl constantly worried about his safety and well being… It had almost been too much to handle. But she wouldn’t allow it to happen again. She couldn’t allow another such failing of her duties.

Not when Steven’s safety and well-being were at stake.

“Do not worry, my Steven,” Pearl said softly. “You will never be taken away from us against your will again. I promise.”

Steven blinked wearily at her. “You took your hair clip out,” he said.

“Yes,” Pearl answered. “But I have it with me, for when I need it again.”

Steven nodded silently, his head still resting in the crook of Greg’s arm. “I love you guys. You’re the best dad and the best guardian ever.”

Greg only smiled as Steven’s breathing slowed and his mouth hung open just slightly. He was sound asleep. Greg nodded at Pearl, who took her cue and carefully lifted Steven off of his father. He slid off of the bed and retreated, and together they rearranged Steven so his head was on the pillow, a cover draped over him.

With one last look, to make sure he was settled, Pearl left the trailer, Greg carefully shutting the door behind him.

Several moments of silence passed between them as Greg and Pearl stood outside on the tarmac, neither saying anything.

It was finally Greg that broke the silence, “Well. I guess my spying days are behind me, huh?”

Pearl gave him a thin smile. “I believe your spying days have been over for a little while now.”

Heh, yeah okay. Fair point.” Silence again, and then, “So, what did you think about the breakfast? Honestly.”

Pearl considered a moment. “The Pearl’s reaction did not surprise me. And neither did Lapis’s.”

Her gaze flicked upward and she saw Lapis, still slowly circling above them, guarding them. Lapis still did not trust the Crystal Gems, a sentiment that Pearl could understand. And with that in mind, she could also understand Lapis’s desire to keep watch through the night.

“Do you think that's… necessary?” Greg asked, also looking at the circling Lapis.

“It helps puts Lapis at ease,” Pearl said. “After feeling like she couldn’t do anything to help Steven, I do not begrudge her desire to do whatever she can now.”

Greg slowly nodded as he looked back at Pearl. “And… do you think the Crystal Gems are going to try anything?”

Again, Pearl was silent as she considered the question. “I think,” she said evenly, “if they are going to try and attack us, we will have the advantage, being so close to the ocean.”

Greg sighed heavily. “That doesn’t really do much to put my mind at rest.”

Pearl bowed her head at him. “I am sorry, Greg.”

“No, no. It’s alright Pearl,” Greg said. He sighed again. “This whole… thing has made me so tired.”

“Then perhaps you need some rest, just as Steven does.”

As if on cue, Greg yawned, putting his hand over his mouth to cover it. “Yeah. You’re probably right. Hopefully the van couch is more comfortable than a rock floor.”

Pearl realized that Greg had slept by Steven’s side every night during his captivity, forgoing the comforts of his trailer. This did not surprise her. Greg was a human, but in some ways, he had a commitment to loyalty that matched any Homeworld Gem’s.

“Hopefully,” she said.

He laid a firm hand on Pearl’s shoulder. “Good night, Pearl. If you need me, you know you can wake me up.”

“I know. Good night, Greg. Sleep well.”

Greg turned back to the van door, opened it as quietly as he could, and closed it silently behind him.

And Pearl was alone.

Before she could even begin considering what to do next, she heard the soft beat of wings above. She glanced up as Lapis landed behind her. “Hey,” Lapis greeted.

“Hello, Lapis,” Pearl returned.

Lapis did not immediately respond. Instead she floated up briefly to look through the window, from where Pearl knew the bed— and Steven— was visible. A satisfied look crossed her face. Only then did she look back at Pearl and ask, “So what are you doing?”

“Since we are away from the Palanquin and I have no other chores to attend to, I was going to continue work on the drill.”

“I can’t come with you,” Lapis said.

“I know. But with our planning to rescue Steven, I lost many nights of work on it.” Pearl shook her head. “It is not something that can be put off.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought you were going to say,” Lapis replied. “Sorry, but no.”

Pearl tilted her head to the side. “No?”

“Yeah, no. You’re going to stay here, get in that van and rest. At least for tonight.”

“I do not require any rest,” Pearl countered.

“You do,” Lapis shot back. “You haven’t had a resting period since before Steven was taken.”

“A resting period is not required—

“A Gem can start to get screwy if they’re not given resting periods,” Lapis cut Pearl off. Lapis looked like she was going to continue, but instead she opened her mouth, closed it, and then started again, “Look, Pearl. You don’t want to be like the other Pearl, wound so tight you’re never happy.”

“I don’t see how—”

“If you’re not going to do it for yourself, then do it for Steven, or Greg, or… or me.” Her cheeks flared with color as she looked away. “Just, you know. You deserve a break.”

Pearl pursed her lips silently, before finally bowing her head at Lapis. “Very well, Lapis. I will take a rest tonight.”

“Good,” Lapis said.

Part of her wanted to say, ‘You deserve a rest too’. Because it was true. Because Lapis Lazuli was tired as well. She had seen it in the days and days of restless planning. Even when Pearl had practiced her skills with the flute on her, never once had she been able to fully banish that fear and anxiety from Lapis’s form.

But it was not a question of deserve. It was a question of duty.

Lapis stepped closer and after a second of hesitation brought her arms around Pearl and hugged her. The gesture took Pearl by surprise, but she reciprocated easily, squeezing Lapis in the same manner Steven always did to her.

They parted and after one more silent nod, Lapis summoned her wings and took to the sky above the car wash again, returning to her vigil. Pearl watched for a moment before finally, she too, returned to the trailer.

She waited for a moment in the darkness, filled only by the sound of Greg’s snores and Steven’s breathing. Quiet, peaceful sounds. Pearl could have just stood there at attention, as was expected of a Pearl— except it wasn’t expected here. She could have sat down, in the driver’s seat or at the table, which would have been quite a comfortable way to spend the next eight hours.

Instead, she padded over to the bed, and nestled in next to Steven. She listened for any change in his breathing, fearful of waking him. She watched him, and found that he was still sound asleep. She watched as his chest slowly and steadily rose; watched as his eyes darted behind closed lids. He must have been dreaming.

Pearl hoped it was a pleasant one.

She leaned closed to him and kissed him lightly on the forehead.

“Good-night, my Steven. Rest well.”

Pearl leaned against the side of the bed alcove wall, her eyes never wavering off of Steven.

She blinked. And again. And again.

Her head tilted down and her eyes shut and she did not wake until morning.

Chapter Text

Steven woke up comfy and confused, initially not sure where he was. And when he registered it as his Dad’s van, he nearly panicked, wondering how he’d gotten there and where were the Crystal Gems and what if—

But then Pearl was been there, stroking the back his hair, telling him everything was fine. He sighed the biggest sigh of relief he could manage.

It turned out to be a rather nice morning. The nicest they’d had together— just the three of them— in a while. Since Empire City, actually. Music blasted from the radio, Dad and Pearl singing along, Steven occasionally humming quietly under his breath. He got to put on fresh, clean clothes, and sit at a proper table. There was a fresh breakfast, and while it was nothing like the previous day’s feast, it was still really good. Pearl was fine with cooking as long as she had a recipe to follow, and having Dad there was a great help, ‘cuz he could always just tell when the food needed a little dash of extra spice or cheese or something.

The only sour note was that Lapis wasn’t there. When Steven asked about her, Pearl just said that she was outside, and not ready to come in.

Steven grimaced into his plate. He had half a mind to go out there and order her in. He’d been fantasizing about getting to have everyone together in one place, and he didn’t want to waste the opportunity.

But this… wasn’t going to be a limited time thing, he soon realized. Nobody had outwardly voiced anything about returning to Korea and the Palanquin, probably because they all sort of figured that the Crystal Gems probably wouldn’t like that. So there was no hurry for these things. If Lapis wanted to blow off some steam after yesterday, well, maybe it was best to just let her.

Still, Lapis or not, it was a wonderful morning.

He really didn’t want to ruin it by going to the Crystal Gems. But as both Pearl and his Dad had pointed out, he’d promised to meet with them, and it wasn’t right to go back on a promise.

They both offered to go with him, but Steven declined. Pearl had seemed to upset the Crystal Gems yesterday for some reason, and he didn’t really want Dad in any danger, especially since he was now free to spend the day however he wanted. After a brief debate, they agreed he could go unescorted, though not before Pearl gave him a thorough look over to make sure there were still no ill effects from his extended imprisonment. When he passed inspection, they both allowed him to leave.

But he didn’t make it that far from the RV before Lapis appeared over his shoulder.

“Good morning,” Lapis said, and used the greeting she’d learned from Pearl. “Sleep well?”

“Yeah, I did.” He grinned. “You should try it sometime. I think you’d like it.”

“Just lying there, thinking about nothing?”

“Or everything,” added Steven.

Lapis shook her head. “Why would I want to spend all my time just lying somewhere, when I could be out there, doing stuff?”

Steven shrugged. He’d tried to explain why sleeping was so nice to Lapis before, and she hadn’t really gotten it then either. Maybe eventually he’d be able to convince her, but just not now. “So, what stuff did you get up to last night, then?”

“Oh, well.” Lapis flicked her hand. “Just flew around. Kept watch. Made sure nothing… happened.”

“You’re… afraid of the Crystal Gems?”

I’m not. I can drop an ocean on them if I wanted. But you, on the other hand….”

Steven looked down at the sand beneath his feet. He was afraid, honestly. But he was trying not to be. “I don’t think you need to do that.”

“I disagree.”

“They’re not going to attack us now,” he said.

“If you’d let me restrain them, they definitely wouldn’t.”

Steven stopped, gaze focusing intently on Lapis. “ You weren’t showing much ‘restraint’ yesterday.”

“Yeah. Well.” She lept into the air and gave to quick flaps of her watery wings, putting some distance between them. “I had to protect you.”

“You cracked three of them! You could’ve shattered all of them!”

“So what? They’re traitors! Rose Quartz is a Diamond-shatterer, you said it yourself!”

“Yeah, well, the others aren’t!”

Lapis scowled. “Do you know that for sure?”

“I— well—” Steven stammered, because he didn’t. Then he rallied. “Amethyst isn’t. She didn’t even fight in the war! She came out late!”

“Oh. So that’s why she’s so small…” Lapis muttered.

“She didn’t fight,” Steven repeated. “The only reason she even really joined the Crystal Gems is because she didn’t have anywhere else to go! I know she helped lock me up but…” He gulped. “She can be annoying, but also really nice, and she hung out with me when I was stuck in there, and… When I saw her cracked, I was so scared that she’d—”

There was a soft rush of wind as Lapis landed, her shoulders and wings drooping. Her voice was quiet when she admitted,  “I… didn’t mean to. I just got… carried away…”

In his mind, the memory flashed— a sword, a scream, pink shards falling to the ground—

“Yeah, well,” Steven snapped, “don’t let it happen again.”

“Yes, my Diamond,” Lapis said, soft, mullish.

It irked him, the way she said that. It was respectful, but… it was also kind of annoying, like she was only listening to him because he’d ordered it, not because she agreed.

He nearly snapped at her about it, but she already looked upset. Instead, he gently took her hand. “Look… Lapis, it’s okay. I know you were just protecting me. That means a lot.” He stepped a little closer and squeezed her hand firmly in his own. “Thanks.”

After a moment, she squeezed his hand back, and said, “Yeah. Of course.”

A moment later, Amethyst’s voice rang out across the beach, yelling, “Yo, Steven! Steven, come over here!”, and Lapis pulled her hand free of his.

“I don’t want to talk to them,” she said.

Steven just nodded in silent understanding. She gave him a tight smile, and took off in a flash of blue, going off to perch on the head of that weird giant fusion statue-thingy built over the Crystal Gem base. Steven carried on towards Amethyst, and despite what he’d said, felt reassured to know that Lapis was watching out for him.

Amethyst met him on the other side of the chain-link fence, near the water. She was grinning practically from ear to ear. “Ta~da!” she announced. “Look what I made!”

Wow,” Steven said, as he stared at what had to be the most impressive sandcastle he’d ever seen in his life. The thing was huge, bigger even than he was, with turrets and spires and a moat filled with actual sea-water. “Wow.”

“Yeah,” Amethyst said, flipping her hair over her shoulder. It looked different now, Steven noticed— kinda poofier. “I am pretty amazing.”

Steven glanced around and noticed there weren’t any buckets or anything like that in sight. He asked, “How did you make this?”

Amethyst just grinned, and in demonstration, shapeshifted both of her hands into shovels. Then with a wave, she invited him to help. Steven really didn’t need much encouragement.

He wasn’t anywhere as good as Amethyst with shapeshifting, however. His hand-buckets and hand-trowels weren’t as big as hers, and if he tried to hold them too long, he got all shaky and felt a headache begin to pound at the back of his head. Sometimes it was just easier— and better— to use regular, non-shapeshifted palms. But together they built a whole new extension to the sandcastle, one with an archway and little shells pressed into the sides.

Unfortunately, it was not to last. Water began to lap at the outside of the moat, and Steven had to shuffle away to keep from getting wet. “Tide’s coming in,” he moaned. “It’s gonna all get ruined…”

“You kidding? This is the best part.” Amethyst cackled as the waves began to wash away the sand foundations, and Steven had to admit, as sad as it was to see their hard work collapse, it was kind of cool too.

They were enjoying the destruction of the tallest spire when there was a splash, and out of the ocean came Garnet.

Steven felt every muscle in his body stiffen as she slowly drew closer to them.

She was wrestling with some weird jelly animal creature. Some kind of monster, the same type he and Pearl always avoided when they explored Gem locations. She easily crushed it in a single squeeze, and it exploded into a puff of smoke. With a wave of her hand, she bubbled the gem and sent it off with a tap.

“Hello,” she said, completely casual.

“Heya, G!” said Amethyst.

“Uh, hi,” said Steven cautiously.

Garnet spared a glance at their crumbling creation. “Nice castle.” She looked at Steven, and adjusted her glasses. “Let’s talk.”

Steven rubbed his arms. “Um, okay.”

She walked a safe distance away from the encroaching tide, and sat down, Steven and Amethyst following in her wake.

“I have questions for you,” said Garnet.

Amethyst laughed. “Questions? You? Ya feelin’ alright, Garnet?”

“Yes. These are important.”

Steven wasn’t sure why Amethyst found that so funny, but it didn’t matter. He just wanted to get this over with. “Okay. Shoot.”

Garnet said, “Do you intend to return to Homeworld and rule in Blue Diamond’s place?”

Steven blinked, the question hitting him unexpectedly.

“Um…. I guess? Pearl has always said I can do that, but like, definitely not yet, ‘cause cuz I don’t know how to use all my powers and I still need to learn a lot about Homeworld and stuff. And besides, there’s so much I want to do here! I’m gonna see every country on Earth, to start, and…” Steven squirmed, not really sure how to continue. He’d always assumed that one day he’d go and be a proper Diamond like his Mom, but to be asked so… bluntly was kinda scary. “I dunno,” he finished finally. “Not for a while.”

With how the Crystal Gems had made their distaste for Homeworld and the Diamonds all too clear, Steven was expecting an unpleasant reaction. But Garnet didn’t even frown. She just nodded, and said simply, “Sensible.” A beat, and she continued, “What do you intend to do with Earth in the meantime?”

“... do?” Steven asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Like, you’re not planning on janking it up, or anything right?” asked Amethyst, still poking idly at the sand.

“Uh, no,” said Steven, a little offended. He tried his best to take care of his planet, as much as he could anyway. He was always recycling and picking up litter that could hurt his animal friends.

“Then what is your stance on kindergartens?” asked Garnet.

“Uh… well that they’re pretty good?”

Now Garnet frowned. Amethyst even flinched a little at Steven’s answer.

“I mean, they’re important, right?” Steven elaborated. “I never went to one, but they sound really fun, and little kids need places to learn, so…”

“What?” asked Amethyst, confused.

“What?” asked Steven, equally so.

Garnet adjusted her glasses and said, “I believe we may be talking about different things.”

It turned out they were. The Crystal Gems didn’t mean pre-school; they meant the places where new Gems were created and incubated before coming out of the ground. The whole idea filled Steven with excitement, and he immediately wanted to go see one. Garnet agreed, saying it would be a good experience for him.

Amethyst, however, seemed much more reluctant. “What? C’mon, G. That’d be— boring. How about somewhere else, huh? Maybe that sweet spire thingy where we fought the giant bird? Now that would be cool.”

“What, a giant bird?” cooed Steven in wonder. “No way.”

“Yes way, dude. This thing had like, five hundred gems in its belly, and I took it down. You shoulda seen it.” She grinned, and wiggled her eyebrows. “And you cooooullllldddd~

“Okay, yeah, Kindergarten later. I wanna see that.”

“So, whaddya say, Garnet?” Amethyst gave the other Crystal Gem the biggest, most pleading eyes she could, and after a moment, Steven joined in.

The fusion stared back at them, impenetrable behind her reflective gaze. “Okay,” she answered simply.

And Steven suddenly felt nervous.

The last time Garnet had taken him somewhere to have a Vision, it hadn’t exactly been… fun. He was kind of scared about what he might see this time.

“But I should… go ask my Dad or Pearl to see if I’m allowed to go,” Steven said quickly. Amethyst scoffed and rolled her eyes, but Garnet touched her glasses, and then waved him along. He added, “Or see if they want to come with.”

It wasn’t that he hoped they’d say ‘no’; he did really want to see Amethyst fighting a giant bird monster. It was just that he hoped that if they there too, they could tell him if the Crystal Gems were lying, or trying to trick him.

He took off down the beach, and it wasn’t long before he heard Pearl’s voice. He changed his course and made a beeline for it. As he got closer, he slowed. There were two voices; two Pearls’, coming from behind the sandy slope that led up to the Crystal Gem cave.

“—n’t see why you continue to serve him,” said the White Pearl, her voice sharp.

“I do not expect you to understand,” answered his own Pearl, her voice its usual soft tone.

It didn’t sound like an argument. Not exactly. But nonetheless, Steven crept carefully over the sand and didn’t dare peek around the slope, in fear of interrupting anything.

But maybe he should interrupt, if the White Pearl was being rude again.

He could had done that, or just left, except he kinda wanted to hear what they were talking about. It’d be good to to hear that rebel finally get put in her place by a proper Pearl.

“Of course I understand.” White Pearl’s voice had softened, just a touch. “I know how hard it is, to be a Pearl. To feel small, afraid, powerless… But you’re not. We’re strong, we’re intelligent, we can achieve anything we put our minds to!”

“And I put my mind to caring for my Steven.”

Steven smirked. If the rebel Pearl was trying to turn his friends against him, she really was barking up the wrong tree.

White Pearl gave a grunt of frustration. “Don’t you see how— illogical you’re being? You’ve said— in your words— he’s not Blue Diamond. Your ‘owner’ is gone! So why do you enslave yourself to him?!”

“The same reason you have enslaved yourself to your new owner.”

Enslaved? thought Steven.

“I—! Rose is not my owner!’

“Of course.” Pearl said the words in that soft, sweet way that nonetheless seemed to have an edge of sarcasm hidden somewhere within them.

“She is not!” And now White Pearl sounded truly angry, enough that Steven pressed himself against the sand dune and did not breath, for fear of her hearing him.  “We are equals.”

“Is it so hard for you to believe that I may be my Steven’s… equal as well?”

The sound of footsteps across the sand. “Is he? I won’t deny that he seems to care for you. But being true equals is… more than that. It’s listening to you, listening to your advice, looking out for you…”

“My Steven does that.”

“And does he give you orders? Does he expect you to follow them, without question?” There was a moment of silence. When White Pearl spoke again her voice was low and pointed, “Do you ever fear that he’ll hurt you, if you do not... if you fail?”

Steven seethed with anger at the implication that he’d hurt Pearl. What did this traitor even think she was implying, anyway?

But the moment stretched on, and Steven felt his anger drain away, replaced with a creeping cold that grew deeper and deeper, the longer his Pearl made no response.

Now the rebel Pearl’s voice was soft, sorrowful. “You deserve better, Pearl. That’s what Rose and I fought for. And I hope, someday, you realize that there’s more to life then shackling yourself, like you have.”

There was the crunch of feet on sand, coming quickly towards him. Steven stifled a yelp as he  threw himself back, but was nowhere near fast enough to hide before White Pearl came up onto the path. Her eyes widened a fraction when she saw him, then narrowed again.

“Steven Universe,” she said, by way of acknowledgement, and then stalked silently up towards the Crystal Gem base.

Steven glared after her and waited until she was out of sight before clambering over the other side of the sand path to see Pearl was just standing there, completely still, not even moving when he came into sight. It reminded him of how she’d been in his Vision, standing next to his mother’s throne.

“Pearl?” he said. “Are… you okay?”

“Of course, my Steven.”

Still, she did not move.

“It’s just, the way you two were talking, you sounded…” He shook his head. Sounded what, exactly?

“You heard that.”

Steven rubbed his arms, trying to rub away that cold feeling that had settled inside his chest. “Uh. Yeah. Um. Sorry for eavesdropping, I guess.”

“Ah. It is no matter, my Steven.”

“Uh… Pearl… what exactly was she talking about? All that stuff about— owners and orders and stuff?”

A pause. And then, “It is as I have told you, my Steven. All Gems are made to serve their purposes, for their Diamonds.”

“Well yeah, but what she was talking about, it sounded…” Steven shifted his weight from foot to foot. “Different. She called Mom your owner.”

“Yes. It is as I’ve said. All Gems are made for their Diamonds.”

She said it like she had a hundred times before. And, like a hundred times before, Steven was ready to believe her.  Wanted to, even. But the other Pearl hadn’t made it sound like that. She could’ve been lying. She probably was lying.  Trying to divide them.  But Steven was pretty sure that the White Pearl hadn’t known Steven was listening to her. To them. And Pearl would know the truth, so it wouldn’t make sense for the White Pearl to lie straight to her face.

Pearl had always told him that a Diamond had to be ready to accept difficult truths.

“No, I mean-”

“I simply belo— served my Diamond more directly than most Gems, as I now serve you.”

It felt like ice, crawling up Steven throat. “Wait— wait. You’re not saying that… you don’t think that I own you, right?”

She finally looked directly at him. “Of course. It is as it’s always been, my Steven.”

In Steven’s mind, one of his history textbooks opened up, filled with drawings of huge ships, decks filled with people in chains; those same people laboring in fields of cotton, underneath a burning sun; images of whips, of families being torn apart, of people trying to escape in the dark of night… He felt his throat tighten as bile rose. “Like a… Like a slave?”

“Oh, no. Nothing like that, my Steven.”

The churning fear in his stomach settled a little. Pearl continued. “It is quite different than humanity’s practice of slavery, which forces free people into unnatural and cruel systems. I was created specifically to serve my Diamond, and provide her with every request.”

“What do you mean, ‘her every request’?” Steven asked.  The churning feeling was back, and growing worse. “I thought you were her… friend, and her secretary and stuff.”

“If she desired something, I provided it.”

“What if it was something you didn’t want to?”

The look Pearl gave him was uncomprehending.

“Why would I not want what my Diamond wants?”

“That… that still sounds like slavery!”

“It is not the same, my Steven, I assure you—”

But he couldn’t just be assured. Memories were rushing past Steven’s eyes; all the times that Steven had told Pearl to do something, or asked her to do something for him, and she’d clearly disagreed, but…

“Pearl— is that— is that why you always do what I say? Because you— you think that you—  have to?”

“I don’t think that, my Steven. I know it. A Pearl must obey her Owner’s orders.”

Owner.

“Is that— is that all I am to you? Your— your Owner?”

“No, my Steven, of course not—”

She reached out to him, but Steven staggered back, feeling like he was going to throw up. “I thought— you’re my Guardian, Pearl! I thought that you.. You stayed with me cuz… you you love me, not because you—”

“I do love you, of course. You are my Diamond, my Steven—”

Another memory snapped into Steven’s head, something dim and vague. Of waiting by the streetside, and asking Pearl why she called him that: ‘It is a term filled with the respect a Diamond is deserved.’

‘Do you call anyone else that?’

‘No. I am no one else's, but yours.’

Steven recoiled in horror.

It suddenly all made sense. The other Pearl’s cold demeanor, the way she glared at him, the reason she’d got so mad when Pearl had started cleaning up, or when Steven had—

“The other Pearl,” Steven asked, slowly. “Why did… why did she rebel?”

“The renegade is exactly that,” Pearl said, after a moment. “A traitor. She ran away from her owner.”

Garnet’s voice from yesterday morning echoed: ‘ Pearl fought hard for her freedom. That is the underlying tenant of Crystal Gem philosophy. The freedom to be yourself, and to make your own decisions.

He shook his head. He… he didn’t want to believe it.

But he’d already seen— seen his Mother wanting to execute Ruby, just… just for a simple mistake. Why was it so hard to believe that— that she’d keep slaves, that—

Because that had been a long, long time ago. Ages ago! Maybe she’d been like that once, but she’d changed! She had to have changed! Because Mom— Mom had been a wonderful person. Dad had told him all sorts of stories. About the poems she’d written, and how she’s started to learn to draw, the first time she’d eaten food and she’d been startled by the taste she’d burst out laughing, and how shocked she’d been the first time she heard a bird talking— How they’d spent long nights holding hands, Mom telling Dad all about the stars...

Dad had loved her. And Dad was the nicest person ever. He’d never keep a slave.

Right?

“My Steven,” Pearl said, pained.

“Don’t call me that! ” Steven snapped. Pearl froze in her steps.

He was shaking. His brain felt cold and fuzzy and— already static was already gathering on his skin, snapping and sparking against his clothes.

One grew particularly large; exploded with a large crack. Pearl flinched backwards.

Do you ever fear that he’ll hurt you?’ The other Pearl’s words boomed in his head.

And Steven… Steven had hurt Pearl. Never— never on purpose, at least, not in years, not since he’d gotten mad as a little kid. But even more recently, there’d been times he’d gotten— angry, and he hadn’t been able to stop himself, and the lightning had just sort of— burst out of him, and hit her—

Later, usually, when he’d calmed down, he’d go say sorry. Ask Pearl if she was okay. And her answers were always the same kind of thing: I am fine, my Steven. Do not worry about me, my Steven. How are you, my Steven?

That lightning had brought Garnet to her knees with pain, left her sobbing on the stone ground of the garden.

Pearl was scared.

She was scared of him.

His vision was blurry now, but he could see that, the way she was holding her hands to her chest, the way she was backed away from him.

And still she said, “Please, my Steven—”

Stop!” Steven cried. “I told you to stop calling me that!”

“Of course.” She was bowing her head, shaking, holding her hands out placatingly. “My apologies—”

But she was just— she was just listening to his orders.

Because he’d just given her an order. Without even thinking about it. Like he always did.

Steven shook his head, turned around, and tears streaming down his face, began to run.

He didn’t know where he was going. His first instinct was the van— but no, that would be the first place Pearl would check, and Dad would be there, and he’d want to know what was wrong. He wanted to go back to the Palanquin, to the forest, find a quiet spot in the trees, where Nari and his other friends could come and comfort them in their quiet, animal ways— but the warp pads were in the Temple, and he couldn’t go there, couldn’t let one of the Crystal Gems see him like this--

So he just ran, ran and ran, down the beach, past the fence, down the boardwalk— some people, strangers, saw him and called out, but he didn’t slow, didn’t stop--

He needed somewhere quiet, somewhere he could be alone, somewhere he could think—

Wiping his eyes on the sleeve of his hoodie, he saw some docks. Under there. In the darkness. He hurried underneath the dock, its cool shadows feeling good as the sun fell away from him. He came to one of the dock’s legs and leaned against it for support, gasping for breath in between heavy sobs.

Steven let out a heavy breath and was about to truly cry in earnest… when he realized he wasn’t alone under the docks. Leaning against a different leg of the dock was another person. Dark hair poofed out in a cloud like Amethyst’s new style. Their face was hidden, but judging by how their shoulders were shaking, it looked like they were crying as well.

Steven thought about leaving, giving the person some privacy. But… what if something was really wrong? What if they needed help?

So, after a moment of internal debate, Steven began to creep forward and said in a small voice, “Um, hello? Are you alright?”

The person sniffled before wiping their face and looking up at him. Eyes widening with surprise and embarrassment.

It was a girl, Steven now saw. She looked about his age, maybe a year older. The area around her eyes were red. She’d obviously been crying for a while.

The girl wiped her eyes again before shaking her head. “Oh, no. I’m fine. I… I just needed… a place alone.”

Steven sniffed, and despite everything, chuckled.

“I guess it’s one of those days, huh?”

The girl smiled weakly, “Yeah. I suppose.”

A moment of silence passed between them, before Steven asked uncertainly, “So… are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” the girl said. “Just… my parents being… unreasonable. Not letting me go on my school trip.” She shrugged, before continuing, “How about you? Are you okay?”

Steven nodded. “Yeah, just… well not my parents, but my Guardian. Got into an… argument with her.”

“Oh. Yeah, arguments with parents, or guardians, are never fun,” the girl said. She smiled again, though this one a bit more full. “Guess it feels a little better knowing I’m not the only one having troubles like that today.”

Steven returned her smile and said, “Yeah. Same.” He walked over to the girl and after a moment, sat down next to her. “So… Um, my name is Steven.”

“Connie,” the girl returned. “It’s good to meet you, Steven.”

“Yeah. It’s good to meet you too, Connie.”

Chapter Text

“So you don't live in Beach City?"

Connie shook her head. "No, my parents and I live just out of town," she said. "I started coming because my Dad sometimes has security positions here. It’s quiet, and there’s a bus that runs here frequently, so…" She chuckled nervously. Talking to new people, especially people around her age was never that easy, which was why she spent most of her time with books, rather than other kids.

Oh. And a four-and-a-half-thousand-year-old rock-person who just looked like a kid her age. That too.

Still. Steven seemed friendly enough, especially once they'd both managed to calm down a little.

"What about you?" Connie asked. "Do you live in Beach City?"

Steven shook his head. "No. My dad was staying here for a while, but I think we're going to be going back home soon."

"And where is home?"

"Damyang," Steven answered.  

Connie tilted her to the side. That sounded like an Asian name, but she had no idea where it was. "Huh. And where is—” she struggled to get her mouth around the unfamiliar syllables- “Da-ma-yang?"

"Oh, sorry," Steven said quickly. "It's in Korea."

"Korea!?" Connie sputtered. She was not expecting that. "You've been all the way to Korea?"

"Well, yeah," Steven said easily. "I was born in Seoul, and about two years ago I moved to Damyang with my guardian, while my dad moved here to Beach City."

"Wow..." Connie trailed off. "If your dad moved out here, why’d you stay behind?”

Steven grimaced, and Connie quickly regretted her question. She could think of only one reason why a father would move so far away from his child and leave him in the care of a ‘guardian’.

“Hey, I’m sorry, Steven,” Connie hastily said. “I- You don’t have to answer that. I shouldn’t have asked.”

“No, it’s alright,” Steven replied, but he didn’t meet her eyes.

Connie was about to say something, but for just a moment, she could have sworn she saw a quick flash of blue out of the corner of her eye. She looked down and didn’t see anything glowing, but did see Steven digging his hands into the pockets of his hoodie. She felt a burst of guilt push through her. She really had crossed a line.

“No really, Steven,” she said. “Don’t answer that. That’s your business and I- I shouldn’t have been prying. I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s really okay,” Steven said, putting on a small smile. “Dad moved here for some business and… and I just really missed him.”

“Okay,” Connie said. “But you said that all of you were going to be going back home to Korea soon?”

“I think so,” Steven said. “But… Dad might still have some stuff to finish up first.”

Connie nodded along with Steven’s explanation. Even though he was trying his best to sound light and casual, Connie could tell that the boy didn’t really want to talk about what was going on with his family. She couldn’t blame him. She didn’t really want to talk about her family right now either.

So, she needed a subject change, and she said the first thing that came to mind.

“So what’s going to school like in Korea?”

Steven paused a moment before answering, “I don’t go to school. Pearl, my guardian, she home schools me.”

“Oh.”

Homeschooling. Geez, he’s lucky, Connie thought. Then she considered having to stay at home all the time, with only her parents, and started revising her opinion.

“Do you go to school?” Steven asked.

Connie nodded. “Yeah.”

“Is it… fun?”

Connie shrugged. “I guess? I like the classes, even if sometimes they can be boring, and…” None of the other students like sitting with me or partnering with me. “We get to do cool discussions and experiments and posters and field trips and stuff.”

“Field trips? Like what?”

“Museums, mostly, but sometimes we can go to like, sewage treatment plants or camping…”

“You get to go camping in school?

“Yeah. Assuming your parents let you,” Connie answered, bitter. Her mind drifted briefly to an image of her hand, missing just one finger, and how that missing finger ruined everything. “Field trips with your class are pretty commonplace,” she said.

“That’s cool,” Steven said. His hands were still in his pockets, but his posture had loosened a little, and his expression didn’t seem quite as focused. “I guess Pearl and I went on field trips every now and then,” he said. “We even went camping once… Sort of.”

“Sort of?”

“It wasn’t really planned,” Steven said. “But we ended up staying the night at these ruins.”

“Ruins?” Connie’s eyes grew wide. “What kind of ruins?”

“Oh, I’m not sure,” Steven said, shifting his posture a little in his rock. “Pearl just took us there so we could explore it a little.”

“And you camped there overnight?”

Steven nodded.

“Wow…” Connie cooed. “That sounds so cool. Camping in ancient ruins, huddled around a fire surround by all that history.”

“It was… alright,” Steven said. “It probably would have been better with a whole class. With like, friends and stuff.”

“Oh. Yeah, probably,” Connie replied. “Not that it really would have helped me,” she shrugged. “I don’t… really know a whole lot of people my age.”

“You don’t?” Steven asked. “But aren’t classes in school filled with people your own age?”

“Well yeah,” Connie conceded. “It’s… not that I don’t know anyone my own age. I just… don’t really have many friends, is all. Not that it bothers me,” Connie quickly added. “I’m fine just reading a book or something.”

“Yeah, I don’t really have a lot of friends either,” Steven said slowly. “I mean, I know Nari and Tom and… others. But they’re not humans.” He looked down at his lap. “So I usually just draw.”

A heavy silence descended over them as Connie silently berated herself for being so stupid. Talking about having no friends. Yes, that was the perfect subject to unload on someone you’d just met. Brilliant strategy as always, Connie.

“So, um,” Connie stammered as she reached for her bookbag. “I sorta have some homework I need to do. I was going to do it on the beach like I sometimes do, but then I… well, yeah. You know…” She felt her face burning as she reached into her bookbag, withdrawing a binder and a thick textbook. “So if you need to go, you can.”

Steven chewed his lower lip. “Do you want me to go?”

“W-well only if you want to!” Connie quickly said. “But, you know, I’m just going to be doing homework, so…”

Steven sat there silently for a moment before he began saying, “I could help you with your homework, if you want. Pearl always says I do really well in our lessons.”

Connie nodded, even though she was unsure how much help Steven could be. Beyond being taught by, presumably, Korean standards (which Connie was unsure how or if they differed from Delmarva standards), she wasn’t one hundred percent sure on the homeschooling. Granted, most of that was just stereotype, a stereotype from her Mom nonetheless, but it was still a little hard to shake.

But it wouldn’t hurt to let him help. If she had to, she could always redo whatever parts she needed to when she got home later.

“Okay,” she said as she opened her textbook to the bookmarked page. She pointed at a group of several algebra problems. “I need to solve these but, to be honest, math isn’t really my strong suit.”

Steven scooted closer to her and looked at the open textbook. “Yeah, I don’t really like algebra. It’s pretty boring. I like it better when Pearl teaches me about things like history and geography.”

“I know, right?” Connie said, looking over at him. “Math is important and everything, but I’d rather be learning about history or literature.”

Steven nodded, “Yeah. Though these don’t look too difficult.” He pointed at the first problem. “For this one, ‘x’ is three.”

Connie blinked unbelieving at him. She looked at him, then the multi-step problem and then back at him. “You did all that in your head?”

“Yeah. Like I said, these aren’t too difficult.”

Connie looked back down at the textbook before opening her binder to a blank sheet of paper and began copying down the problems.

It seems she had either misjudged the veracity of homeschooling or Korean standards of education were just that much more demanding.

“Okay, so for that first problem, ‘x’ is three, right?”

Steven nodded in response.

Connie tapped the page and continued, “So if we’re writing out the process to solve the problem, we start with the part in parentheses, then move on to exponents…”


In its first full day of being completely re-opened, It’s A Wash got a lot of customers, and it was pretty clear that this wasn’t because the entire population of Beach City had just been that desperate to get their vehicles cleaned. Part of it was just natural curiosity; everyone knew that the car wash had been mysteriously closed due to ‘personal reasons’ for about a week, and while no one openly pried, it was clear that folks wanted to know why.

But that was only part of the reason for the crowds today.. The real thing everybody wanted to know was—

“What’s this I heard about you having a kid, Greg?” Barb roared, socking Greg playfully in the shoulder.

It was a friendly gesture, so Greg laughed even as he rubbed at the spot which would most certainly bruise over the next day. “Well, exactly that.”

She shook her head dramatically. “How could ya keep something like that from us, eh?”

“I didn’t mean to keep it from you,” Greg lied. “It just… never came up. He’s been living overseas until now, so it was just— easier not to talk about it.”

As expected, Barb’s face softened. “Ah, geez. That’s rough. Kid stuff can be hard sometimes…”

Greg nodded sympathetically. Barb would talk about her daughter Sadie at every opportunity— mostly heaping on praise for what a good worker she was, how great she was at baseball, and swimming, and a dozen other assorted hobbies. Sometimes, though, a sort of undercurrent of uncertainty became clear— the same kind of worries most parents had for their kids, about friends and dating and future jobs…

Greg supposed it was something most parents thought about. It was something he had thought about. But, compared to current times, that seemed much more simple and straightforward.

“I’m guessing Sadie’s the one who told ya about Steven?” Greg asked.

“Sure did. Sounds like a real cute kid. When am I gonna meet him?”

“Probably soon,” Greg promised. He still felt guilty about having to hide Steven from his Beach City friends. “He’ll be sticking around for a while. I can bring him along to our next cards night. It’s at Vi’s, right?”

“Sure is! That’d be great. Steven could meet Onion— they’re ‘bout the same age, yeah?”

“Steven’s a few years older, but yeah,” Greg agreed. The thought hadn’t even occurred to him, but it filled him with a warm glow. It’d be good for Steven to make some friends, aside from the animals that lived around the Palanquin.

They chatted for a little longer, Greg occasionally spraying whatever car drove up, but the lunchtime rush was well and truly dying down now. He was just laughing at Barb’s post-office politics story when a new voice cut through the air: “Oh, Mr Universe~!”

Greg’s stomach dropped at the sound of his own name.

Still, he made himself paint a smile onto a face as he turned towards Rose Quartz. The smile did grow a bit more genuine when he saw Amethyst in tow behind her. “Hey guys,” he said. “What’s up? You didn’t break that phone already, did ya?”

“Huh? Oh, no,” said Amethyst. “Just wondering if you’ve seen Steven around?”

“Not since this morning. He told me he was going off to go see you guys.”

“Oh come on,” said Barb. “Your magical friends got to meet your kid before me?”

“Yep!” said Amethyst, unabashed.

Rose smiled. “Hopefully you’ll get the chance soon. He’s such a truly fascinating being.”

Barb blinked at the odd phrasing, and Greg decided to intervene before things started getting out of hand. “Uh— so, did Steven never show up, or what?”

“Nah, he showed up,” said Amethyst. “But then he went off to go find you to see if you’d let him come with us to the Sky Spire.”

“Uh… well, nope, he definitely hasn’t asked me about that.”

“Dang.” Amethyst kicked the asphalt. “Well, you’re his dad, right? Where’d ya think he could be?”

Greg scratched his head. It wasn’t like Steven had any ‘haunts’ in Beach City. And on top of that, it was overcast now and threatening to rain. So hopefully wherever he was, it was somewhere inside. “Maybe try the arcade?”

“Oooh! Good idea!” Amethyst bounded off, running on all fours down the boardwalk.

“It’s good to see them getting along, isn’t it?” Rose Quartz asked, taking a few steps closer to Greg.

“It is,” Greg agreed.

Barb caught his gaze, raised an eyebrow, gave a huge smile. “Well, can’t stand here yammering my mouth off all day. I got packages to deliver.” She waved a hand. “See ya guys around.”

Right before she turned, she gave Greg a wink.

Greg bit the inside of his cheek.

Barb’s done her fair share of teasing about him and Rose. Vidalia too, for that matter, and even a few others from around the town. It was hardly a secret how much time the famous Mr. Universe spent with the mysterious magic lady. And Rose Quartz was hardly subtle in expressing her feelings. If Greg ever made stumbling protests to them that it was really nothing, they were just friends, well, that just made it all the more obvious, didn’t it?

Rose was standing very close to him now. Very close.

“I’m so glad all that… unpleasantness is over with,” she said. She ran a hand through her bright pink curls. “Hopefully we can all move on now. Make a fresh start.”

“R-right,” Greg stammered. “We can all just be... friends.”

Friends,” Rose Quartz repeated.

Sweat rolled down the back of Greg’s neck.

Was she really doing this? Now? When less than forty eight hours ago she’d been keeping his son locked up in a cell?

She really was an alien.

Greg had never intended to get close to Rose Quartz. He’d just wanted to observe the Crystal Gems from a distance. The fact his plans had so quickly become waylaid had felt equal parts lucky and terrifying. And he’d felt guilty about how easy it had all been. It had been easy, to just have them hang around at the car wash or to wander over to their Temple. To sing songs, to ask questions, to joke, to… flirt.

After all, Rose Quartz was… attractive. Not just physically, with that soft face and luscious hair and striking stature. Her personality was magnetic. Likeable and charismatic. Greg could understand perfectly well how she had become the face of a rebellion.

But every time the guilt of his deceit had roiled in his stomach, he’d pushed it down. He had to keep Steven safe, no matter what. Had to keep Rose Quartz close. Had to learn all he could.

But that wasn’t a concern anymore. He couldn’t go on like this.

“Look, Rose…” he sighed, taking a step back. “I appreciate the interest, really. But I’m really not…  looking for a relationship.”

Rose blinked, surprised.

“Oh,” she said, and Greg couldn’t tell if she felt hurt or just confused.

“It’s not that you’re not nice,” Greg assured quickly (for a given value of ‘nice’.). “It’s just, well, I’m not looking for a romance right now, and after everything that’s happened… I just want to focus on Steven.”

Rose blinked again, then smiled. Hardly the brightest smile he’d ever gotten from her, but a gentle one, nonetheless. Maybe even a little amused. “I see. Yes, of course, Mr. Universe. I understand.”

“Thanks.” Greg sighed again, this time with relief. “It’s just…. Hard, y’know? Moving on, after losing her…”

And all amusement dropped from her face. "Blue Diamond."

Greg didn’t appreciate her tone.

"Yes, Blue Diamond."

“You… miss her,” Rose Quartz said, tone oddly flat.

"Yeah, I do," Greg said, the barest of an edge sharpening his voice. "I spent six years with her, and she's the mother to my son. Of course I miss her."

Rose's lips pressed together before she spoke, "You miss her. A Diamond."

"Yeah, a real Diamond. She was one of a kind."

Rose Quartz chuckled humorlessly. "Oh, you have no idea how right you are there."

Greg took a deep breath.

He was done with this.

He’d played nice, again and again and again. But he couldn’t stand around and keep listening to all these insults and taunts making it out that Blue Diamond was some sort of irredeemable monster.

“Stop,” he said. “I don’t know what exactly your beef with Homeworld and the Diamonds is, but Blue was my partner. She was— she was a wonderful person. She sang songs, and wrote poetry, and she got into art— she'd never done it before, never been allowed, but she was getting really good at drawing—"

"Oh. She'd never been allowed to draw. I see."

Rose's voice was bitter with sarcasm. It was not a tone Greg had ever heard her use before.

Greg narrowed his eyes at Rose. "Her position as a Diamond really weighed on her, you know. Being one of the leaders of an entire species wasn't easy."

"I know the weight of being a leader—" Rose began, but Greg wasn't finished—

"She worked and worked, but there was always so much to do, and you know what? She was tired of it. And I can't blame her! She was an emotional wreck for thousands of years after Pink Diamond's death— a death you caused. How do you justify causing that kind of pain, Rose Quartz?!"

There was a moment of terse silence, as Rose Quartz reared up to her full height. Her gemstone glowed menacingly, hinting at the power Greg might have just foolishly unleashed. It cast her face in strange pink shadows.

"How do I justify causing that kind of pain?" she asked, voice low, and dangerous. "I justify it on the backs of all the Pearls who were forced into servitude. On the backs of the Bismuths, the Rubies, the Topazes, and Flints, and hundreds of others. I justify it by the barren planets that can no longer support life. I justify it among the fields of shattered Gems who failed to make themselves useful. I justify it by saving your planet and your species."

She leaned in close, so close that if she were human, Greg would have been able to feel her breath against his face.

"I shattered one, so I could save everyone. That is how I ‘justify’ it." Her voice grew yet more cold, more quiet. "You are many things, Greg Universe, but do not presume to judge me or my actions."

And then, without another word, she left, leaving behind nothing but the sound of her dress rustling in the wind.

And Greg stared after her, with no idea what to say.


Connie bent over her book, clicking her pen in and out as she worked on her essay on the French Revolution. Steven was sitting nearby, textbook spread out in his lap, helping her. Or, well, theoretically helping her. While he knew the basics of the French Revolution, he hadn’t been able to offer much in the way of perspective on why the revolution had happened, or the positive and negative consequences of it. Instead he was mostly assisting in checking dates, names and the like.

In between asking her about pop culture, anyway. Not that she was complaining.

“So you’ve never seen Small Sorcerer Shin?” Steven asked as he turned the page of history textbook in his lap.

Connie dotted the end of her sentence before responding, “No. Are you sure it’s been shown outside Korea? Or Asian markets?” It wouldn’t be the first time Connie would have missed a show or game because of restricted releases.

“Why would they keep it just in Korea?” Steven asked earnestly. “It’s really good. Everyone should see it. It’s got magic, adventure, and a wise, magically enchanted, talking hat as a mentor!”

“Well,” Connie said, turning to another fresh page in her binder. “You have no idea about the Spirit Morph Saga. It just never really got released where you live.”

Steven pursed his lips before saying, “Well that’s dumb. Spirit Morph Saga sounds really cool.”

“Oh, it is!” Connie enthused. She had just finished the penultimate book in the series, so her hype was at fever pitch. “Lisa Widicker is one of my favorite characters of all time. She’s smart, brave, and always willing to help out others. And she’s got this wicked sword!”

Steven smiled. “She does sound really cool. Maybe when I get back to Korea, I can—”

He stopped suddenly and at first Connie wasn’t sure why, until a single rain drop landed on the page of her binder. And then one landed on the top of her head. Then her hand, and then-

“Great, it’s starting to rain,” Connie moaned as she snapped her binder shut and hastily put it away in her bookbag. The shadows of the dock, combined with her conversation with Steven had made her completely miss the rapidly clouding sky. But now the pitter-patter was impossible to ignore, quickly transforming into something heavier, as water began to drip through the gaps in the wooden planks above.

Steven handed her the textbook and she put it in her bookbag right before zipping it shut. “So, I guess you’re going home?”

“Yeah. If it’s raining, my parents are going to want me home.” She sighed. “And now I get to run to the bus stop in the rain.”

“Oh, well you don’t have to do that,” Steven said. “I bet my dad would be willing to take you home.”

“That’s alright. I don’t want to impose.”

“No, really. I don’t think he’d mind. Come on, he’s not far.”

They both stepped to the edge of the dock and stopped. It was raining rather hard now. Even if they made a run for it, they were sure to get soaked. Connie looked over at Steven, who also seemed to be mulling over their options, when suddenly they heard someone call out his name.

“Steven!”

Connie looked around, but didn’t see anyone. However, Steven pointed his gaze to the sky as a smile grew on his face. “Hey, Lapis!”

Connie looked up and saw a bright vivid blue person land gently from the sky in front of them, joining them under the dock. She was noticeably dry.

“Stars, Steven. We’ve been looking for ages.” The person, Lapis, had her hands on his shoulders. “When you just disappeared, we were worried. We had no idea where you were or-” She looked over at Connie, giving her a look that was one part curiosity and two parts annoyance. “Who’s this?”

“This is Connie! I’ve been hanging out with her all afternoon.”

“Huh. Okay.” Lapis stood back up. Connie noticed how the water just didn’t touch her skin, rolling off as if there was a forcefield around her. “Come on. Let’s get you back to the car wash.”

“Alright. Connie and I were just about to try and get back there anyway.”

Lapis’s brow furrowed as she glanced over at Connie. “Why is she coming?”

Connie grimaced at her, but otherwise gave no response.

“Cause we’re going to see if dad will take her home. Since it’s raining.”

“Oh. Alright then.” She shrugged as she turned around and raised an outstretched hand into the air. “Stay close if you want to stay dry.” She stepped out into the rain, Steven and Connie following close behind her, and as she said, they were staying completely dry, despite the rain continuing to fall. Looking up, it was like being surrounded by an invisible dome.

Connie thought it was amazing and odd, until she got an answer to her unspoken wonder. Between Lapis’s shoulderblades was a bright, water drop shaped gemstone.

She was Gem, just like Amethyst.

She looked at Steven, who was still following silently behind Lapis.

“Excuse me? Lapis?” Connie said. The woman looked back at her. “Are you a Crystal Gem?”

No,” she snapped, and started walking faster.

Connie shrank back, not sure what she’d done to offend. Steven gave her an apologetic grimace, but offered no explanation.

It seems, Connie thought to herself as she hurried to keep up, that there’s more to this Korean kid than being able to do Algebra in his head.


Of all the days it had to rain, it had to be the one where Greg’s family would go missing.

He’d been looking all over for them. The van, the car wash, the restaurants, the arcade, Funland— nowhere to be found. To make matters worse, the rain made it all the harder to see anything.

Before, it had mostly been annoyance, frustration— after his conversation with Rose Quartz, all he’d wanted to do was find Pearl and get some proper answers. But now, she was gone too, and Greg was beginning to genuinely worry. If the Crystal Gems themselves hadn’t been the ones who’d alerted him that Steven was missing, he might have suspected that they were the ones responsible. Could the pair have gone somewhere? Warped back to Korea, maybe? Surely they wouldn’t have done that without telling him...

“Dad! Dad!”

Relief surged through his chest.

“Steven!”

There he was, his little boy coming through the rain in some sort of magical water bubble, not kidnapped or mauled by some monster or otherwise hurt.

“Thank goodness you’re okay!” cried Greg.

“Geez, Dad, I’m fine,” said Steven, stuffing his hands deeper into his pocket.

“He was under the docks,” Lapis said.

“...Mr. Universe?” said a third voice. “He’s your Dad?”

“Connie?” Greg said, noticing the girl for the first time. “Nice to see you again. And, yeah, Steven’s my son.” He rubbed his neck. “Been getting a lot of that the past few hours…”

“Wait? You guys know each other?” asked Steven, looking between Greg and Connie.

“Yeah. Mr. Universe— er, your Dad— he helped me when I got in an… accident, a few months back.” She shuffled her feet, and Greg noticed how she curled her left hand up. “Sorry if we worried you.”

“Yeah. Sorry. We were just hanging out,” said Steven.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Greg assured, letting out a huge breath. He had to admit, this past week had left him more than a little high-strung. “I don’t suppose Pearl was hiding under the dock with ya by any chance.”

“No,” said Steven, shortly.

“I didn’t see her,” said Lapis. “I’m going to go back to looking.” And without another word, she lept up and took off into the sky. Connie stared up in wonder. Both kids would’ve gotten soaked if Greg hadn’t offered them his umbrella.

He also offered Connie a ride home— which she accepted, after a little bit of stammering ‘oh no really’ and ‘I can catch a bus no problem’. But Greg was insistent that it was no problem on his part either… especially since Steven seemed equally eager to give her a lift.

It put a smile on an old man’s face.

(And if it occurred to him that it was still early on a Friday afternoon, and that Connie should probably be in school… he didn’t mention it. Connie seemed like a good kid. Not his place to go poking his nose into her business.)

Greg asked a couple questions, following up on Connie, asking how she was doing, but for the most part didn’t pry. It was nice, being able to put on some quiet tunes, stare at the road, and listen as the two kids chatted in the back of the car. Hardly any time seemed to pass at all before they pulled up outside the Maheswarans’ townhouse.

Even though they’d hardly met under the most ideal of circumstances— the two parents understandably panicking about Connie’s severe injury and miraculous healing— Greg liked Doug and Priyanka Maheswaran. Priyanka was… intense, admittedly, but Greg respected her. Doug seemed like a nice guy— and Greg didn’t just think that cuz he owned every single one of the Mr. Universe albums. After the day he’d had, he sure wouldn’t have minded a chance to catch up with them.

But when they pulled up, Connie didn’t invite them in. She just said. “Thank you so much for the drive, Mr. Universe. And it was great meeting you, Steven.”

“Yeah, you too,” Steven replied— and did Greg catch him blushing in the rearview mirror? “Uhhh— Are you gonna be back in Beach City anytime soon, or…?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I should be. We should meet up! If you’re not flying back to Korea, that is…”

“No! I-I mean, I can definitely be around! I don’t know when though, so, uh, maybe... um, just come by the car wash? Or we could meet up at the docks...”

“Sure! The sounds awesome!”

“Okay, great! See you soon, Connie!”

“Yeah! Bye, Steven! Thanks for the lift, Mr. Universe!”

Steven was grinning like a goon as Connie jumped out of the car and hurried up the steps, the two of them taking one last chance to wave at each other.

Unfortunately, that smile died shortly thereafter, with Steven retreating into a sullen sort of silence. And without the children chattering, there was nothing to distract Greg from his own restless thoughts.

So he took his son on a shopping trip.

First, they swung by an electronics store. Greg needed a new phone and, especially after today’s disappearance, he realized it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to make sure Steven had one too. The kid had a lot of fun testing out different phone models and checking out any cool accessories he might like to have. He eventually settled on a smartphone a bit on the higher end, with a wide, highres touchscreen. He also picked out a phone cover with faux-ink calligraphy art of a bird of prey on it.

They stopped by a shoe store next. The hiking boots Steven usually wore in Korea weren’t practical for the beach, so they got him some sandals, a couple of flip flops, a pair of aqua shoes for when he wanted to go into the water... Greg was starting to eye the G8tor brand aisle when Steven pulled him away to the counter.

They also went grocery shopping. Now that Steven was out and about again, it was time to get his diet back to something resembling normal. They bought enough food to fully stock the van’s cupboards and mini-fridge— lots of fresh vegetables, some canned and dried fruits, several packs of tofu, a carton of eggs, and a small sack of rice. They also got a few treats for dessert, like chocolate chip cookies and a gallon tub of rich chocolate ice cream.

By the time they arrived at the carwash, it was five PM— and thankfully, Pearl was back.

Greg let out a sigh of relief he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. Sure, he had known that she was almost certainly fine— Pearl was a Gem after all; she could take care of herself and had probably just needed some alone time— nonetheless, he was glad to know nothing bad had happened to her.

But it didn’t take Greg long to realize that something still seemed wrong.

“Wanna help with dinner?” Greg asked her, as he waved her into the van. “I was thinking bibimbap or stir fry or something.”

“Of course,” Pearl said, bowing her head and making a beeline for the fridge.

“No! I can do it!” Steven said. He rushed ahead of her, practically blocking her. “You just sit down— if you want to.”

Greg raised his eyebrow, but didn’t say anything. He just got to work chopping onions.

It was like that for the rest of the evening. Pearl would start to do something— clean the vegetables, set the table, or even just pour some water— and Steven would be there, hurrying to beat her. Once or twice he snapped, “No,” or “Stop,” and she would freeze, and then he would freeze, looking horrified. Greg caught him taking a moment to do his breathing exercise up to ten, something he only ever did when he was feeling on the verge of an emotional outburst. Pearl, for her part, ended up pressed up in the corner of the van, hands clasped over her breast.

When dinner was ready, Steven took his seat at the table. He kept glancing at Pearl, but neither said anything.

Noticing this, Greg urged Pearl, “Come on. Join us.”

Without looking up, she padded silently to the table and sat down next to Greg.  

Neither she or Steven spoke. Greg tried to prod a conversation into existence, but it kept fizzling out before it could even start, so eventually he gave up and just ate his food.

It was baffling. Just this morning, the two of them had been getting along perfectly, singing and cuddling and working together… Now, it was like this wall of ice had built up between them.

What was going on?

Steven took his own sweet time with his meal, pushing his rice and vegetables around the bowl for the most part. When he had finally finished eating, Greg decided to put his son’s apparent newfound love for chores to good use. “Can you clean up, buddy?”

“Sure,” Steven muttered, and began carrying the dishes to the sink.

Greg looked to Pearl and said in a low voice, “Hey, could I talk with you? Outside?”

She nodded. The two of them slipped out of the van.

Greg hemmed and hawed a bit before asking, “Hey, is everything alright? With you and Steven?”

“I… do not know,” Pearl confessed. “He is upset with me.”

“Oh jeez,” said Greg, rubbing his neck. “Wanna talk with me about it? Maybe I can help out or something.”

“No,” said Pearl.

“Oh.” Greg heaved out a sigh. He didn’t want to push this. He knew that Pearl could be sensitive… and he also had to admit, that in some ways, she was closer to Steven than he was. She was the one who’d been living with Steven full time for the past two years, who’d been caring for him day to day. If she didn’t want to talk about this, he wouldn’t force it. “Okay. But if you ever need some help… I’m all ears. And anyway there’s, uh, something else I wanted to ask you about…”

Pearl shook her head. “No, that is not what I meant. I do not want to tell you about it. But I believe I should. You may be able to help.”

“Oh. Okay. Um well. Shoot.”

A long quiet moment, the kind Pearl fell into when she was seriously considering what to say. At last, she softly started, “You never understood the relationship between Blue Diamond and myself.”

Prickles ran up Greg’s arms.

Somehow, he knew this was going to be it.

“What… do you mean? I mean… you were her lady-in-waiting, but like… you were still friends though.”

“Gregory, ‘friendship’ is not a concept Gems traditionally have.”

This was a problem Greg had run into again and again in his time with Blue. Gems were aliens, and for them, so many words to describe relationships just didn’t exist. “I know, but that doesn’t mean it… wasn’t there. You… you stayed together for thousands of years, you helped each other… I’d call that friendship.”

“That was not friendship. That was my duty.”

Greg licked his lips, Rose Quartz’s words from that morning echoing through his head. “What— what’re you saying?”

“Please, Greg,” Pearl said. “This is where Steven got upset. I want you to understand that this is simply a difference in our species. All Gems are created to fulfill a specific purpose, a specific duty. Blue Diamond’s was to lead and rule us. My purpose was to serve at her side and do as she commanded.”

Greg shook his head. “But it wasn’t just that, right? You— you wanted to be with her. You were happy with her.”

Another one of those silences.

“Those questions do not matter,” said Pearl. “My happiness and desires are irrelevant.”

“Don’t— don’t say that!”

“But it is true.”

Greg took a staggering step backwards, bumping into the hood of the van. He stared at Pearl, all quiet and polite and demure.

I justify it on the backs of all the Pearls who were forced in servitude.

“Pearl— Pearl, are you saying you had no— no choice but to be with Blue?”

Pearl paused at the question. "I was her Pearl. I did as she commanded."

Greg braced himself against the van. “What if you didn’t?”

She went very, very still. So still that she looked like marble.

Pearl,” said Greg.

Her voice was barely audible when she said, “That would be unthinkable.”

It was a good thing the van was there, because Greg could feel his knees start to shake beneath him.

“No,” Pearl said. “No, that is a lie. Such things are thinkable. But the punishments for such behaviour is steep, and rightly so. To disobey your Owner is to create chaos.”

Chaos.

Greg had heard Blue use that word before. About the war. ‘All those Gems shattered… buildings left in ruin… Nobody sure who they could trust, who was loyal… It was all utter chaos, all the worse when Pink was gone, and her people didn’t know who to turn to—

Now he was wondering.

"The Crystal Gems..." Greg said. "They went to war against the Diamonds. Why?"

"They disagreed with the order."

"The order," Greg echoed. "What ‘order’? Why?"

"They did not abide by the Laws."

"... what kind of laws?"

"The Laws," Pearl said, again. She was very, very still, and took her time before answering. "The Laws that built the Empire. Each Gem, a Duty; each Duty, a Gem. The rebels did not want to abide by this most sacred tenet. It began with Rose Quartz, she who refused to fight in her Diamond's name. Who valued this planet over her purpose."

"... wait," said Greg. "You mean Earth? She fought for Earth?"

"Partially." Pearl's face was like porcelain. "Our Empire needed this planet for a colony, to make new Gems. But the process would have destroyed it. Stopping its colonization was part of Rose Quartz's motives."

Greg stared. "But... Blue loved Earth."

“She came to love it.” Pearl brushed the hair out of her face, so that Greg could see her eyes for the first time that evening. “The transformation she underwent after meeting you was remarkable. You taught her so much. Opened her eyes to the beauty of this planet. You gave her peace and solace like she never found on Homeworld.”

Now, Pearl was smiling at him, one of those rare, bright, genuine smiles that Greg so cherished. But just then, it made him feel almost... nauseous, like looking at an otherwise delicious cake when you had food poisoning.

“But… before she met me… Blue wanted the Earth destroyed?”

“The Earth was property of Pink Diamond. She wanted it to be a colony, and Blue Diamond was prepared to do anything to fulfill that desire.”

“So— Just... just let me get this straight. The whole war started because the Crystal Gems wanted to protect Earth and humans?”

“No,” said Pearl, and Greg was given the tiniest flicker of hope. “It started when Rose Quartz stole Pink Diamond’s Pearl.”

That flicker of hope was doused in ice. “What.”

“Gregory. Please—”

“No, no, Pearl. What do you mean? You can’t steal a person! Do you mean— she ‘kidnapped’ her, or what—?”

“She stole Pink Diamond’s Pearl,” she repeated. “This Pearl belonged to Pink Diamond, and Rose Quartz spirited her away, corrupting her with propaganda, making her act in ways no Pearl should.”

Greg was speechless. Stole a Pearl. Like you could steal a chocolate bar or a phone or a wallet.

“The other Pearl— the Crystal Gem one— she —”

“Yes.”

The other Pearl. Head held high, all pride and sharp edges and fury.

Not stolen. Definitely not stolen.

Free.

“She is a traitor,” said Pearl. “All the Crystal Gems are traitors, Greg. Remember, Rose Quartz shattered Pink Diamond.”

And now Greg was beginning to understand why.

“Pink Diamond… Pink Diamond owned her. And Blue... owned you.” Greg felt bile burn in his throat. “And you don’t think— you don’t think that Steven —”

“That was the nature of our disagreement, yes. I am his Pearl. I belong to him. But he is having trouble understanding.”

“Damn right he is! Nobody owns you, Pearl! Not Steven, not anyone!”

“Please do not be angry, Greg.”

“I’m not angry!”

But he was angry. He was furious. Maybe more than he’d ever been in his entire life.

And more than that— he was horrified. At Blue. At himself.

Pearl... Pearl had been a slave for all these years, and he’d never even noticed.

And hadn’t the signs been there? The way Pearl was so quiet. How she always walked behind Blue Diamond. How she’d never speak without being spoken to. How she’d do her best to fulfill Steven’s every request, no matter how childish or impractical it was.

But no. He’d ignored it all. Told himself Pearl was just shy, just anxious, just eccentric. She was an alien, and so was Blue. Any oddness in their relationship could be chalked up to that—

He put his face in his hands. Fuck.

Fuck!

He was so stupid.

He felt a light hand brush against his shoulder, and looked up to see Pearl. Her eyes were shining with unshed tears, and that blade of guilt just stabbed deeper into his stomach.

“Do not be upset,” she told him. “This is not your fault.”

“Yes it is! Holy crap, Pearl, I’ve been keeping you as a slave—”

“You have not,” she said, voice patient, like she was talking to a young child or startled animal. “And regardless, Greg, you gave me a choice.”

“... what?”

“The day Steven was born. You told me I could leave if I wanted. I chose to stay.”

Greg blinked at her.

He did remember that, even though it was blurry— that whole day had taken on a dreamlike quality, Blue’s death and Steven’s birth all blending together into something strange and surreal. He had told Pearl that, had given her the option of leaving.

But he hadn’t meant it like that. He’d just meant that Pearl shouldn’t feel obligated to become a substitute parent.

“I chose to pledge myself to Steven. To be his, until I am no longer of any use.”

“That’s— that’s not something you get to chose, Pearl,” Greg said. “That’s not— that’s certainly not fair on you, and— it’s not fair on Steven. He’s just a kid. He can’t understand this stuff.”

Pearl was just staring at him, eyes huge and horrified.

Greg made himself meet those eyes. Made himself stand up straight. Made himself say, “Steven’s my son. And I am not letting him have a slave. I refuse.”

Now Pearl was far from still. She was shaking, shaking all over.

“But he is my Diamond. I am his Pearl.”

“You’re not his.”

“I…” Pearl stared around, looking dizzy and dazed. She stared at Greg, then at the van, then at nothing at all. In a hoarse whisper she said, “Very well. Then I shall go.”

She turned, and with that strange Gem speed, took off, too fast to follow, even if Greg had tried.

Chapter Text

Greg didn’t know what to do.

He’d escaped the van and locked himself in the car wash toilet, holding himself over the sink, certain that he was going to vomit, but nothing came. He tried to sit down, but he was too skittish. He walked down the boardwalk, but people kept waving at him— Barb and Kofi and that nice Peedee kid, and he just— couldn't talk to them—

Somehow, he ended up at the Temple. It was a place he had been actively avoiding, ever since they'd set his son free. Why would he have wanted to be near the place Steven had been held captive, to where his captors lived?

But there he was, in front of that massive stone door, fist raised, preparing to knock.

It opened. A wave of dry heat hit him, knocking most of the breath out of him. Garnet stood there, framed in red light.

"You want to talk," she said.

It was so unnerving when she did that. But Greg nodded.

"Speak," she said.

"Slave," he gasped, and then tried again, because the words were coming out in the wrong order. "Did— Did Blue— did she keep Pearl as a slave?"

Garnet regarded him. "Yes. She kept everyone as slaves." Another pause. "She kept me as a slave."

Greg was shaking, shaking, shaking. He felt a steadying hand on his shoulder, and nearly flinched away. When he looked up, Garnet's glasses were gone. Her three mismatched eyes seemed to stare into the heart of Greg’s being.

"If you wish, I can give you a list of every cruelty I know Blue Diamond had committed. Every slave she kept. Every person she had tortured or executed. Every Gem she drove to madness." Her third eye closed, and her expression softened. "But I don’t think you deserve that."

Greg did not answer. His mouth was dry.

"She never told you any of this," Garnet said.

He mutely shook his head.

"And you did not teach Steven her ideals."

Another shake.

"Then there is hope for him yet."


Lapis had been doing a lot of watching and searching that day, and it looked like she was about to do some more.

Her area of focus had been primarily on the Crystal Gems, looking out for any signs of duplicity on their part. However, it seemed that her focus had been misplaced. While there had apparently been a fair amount of turmoil that day, almost all of it had come from within her Court, small as it was.

She had only caught the tail end of the discussion between Steven and Pearl, and even then, she had been so high up, she hadn’t heard anything that had transgressed. She had seen Steven run off in one direction, tears running down his face. After a moment, she’d watched Pearl head off in the opposite direction, not crying, but clearly upset, in a subtler, more restrained way.

And Lapis had hesitated. She hadn’t known who to go after.

Which was ridiculous, of course. A Gem’s first concern should always, always be for her Diamond.

But… perhaps her Diamond wanted to be alone just then. It had seemed so. And in any matter, it wasn’t her place to inquire what had passed between him and his Pearl.

So Lapis had stayed up high, trying to stay on guard, but wholly unable to focus on her duty.

Eventually she’d given up, and sought both Steven and Pearl out. Instead she’d found a distressed Greg, desperately asking if she knew where they were.

Lapis wasn’t sure what to make of the human. He existed entirely outside the order of the Courts, so there were no protocols for how to act around him. As an organic, he should have been ranked below even Chalks. But Steven clearly respected him and looked up to him— and he was her Diamond, so that had to mean something.

Besides, as far as she could tell, Greg’s protective streak towards Steven rivalled even the most loyal, most elite members of any Court. Of course she’d help him look.

She’d found Steven hiding under a dock with some random human. For a moment, she’d been tempted to ask what was wrong. But she’d let the moment pass and simply returned him to the van which had become the Court’s base of operations in Beach City.

She’d set off to look for Pearl.

Lapis had found her in a human shop, staring at a display of human clothing but making no move to acquire it. She’d been oddly hesitant to return to her Diamond, and Lapis could only assume that she had been reprimanded for something (although she couldn’t imagine what; from all she’d seen, Pearl’s service had been exemplary). But Lapis had encouraged her to return to her duty, and Pearl had listened.

Now Lapis was wishing she hadn’t.

There had been another discussion— or perhaps an argument, judging from the raised voices. Not between Pearl and Steven, but rather with Greg.

And whatever Greg had said, it had sent Pearl fleeing.

This worried Lapis. Even when Steven had been captured, even when they had no certainty that he wouldn’t be shattered, Pearl had remained calm. What could have the human had said to disturb her so?

Lapis shook her head. That wasn’t important right now. With a furious flash of wings, she set off in Pearl’s wake.

She had gone in the direction of the Crystal Gem Temple, but by the time Lapis had arrived, there was no sign of Pearl. She could have kept running down the beach, but Lapis doubted it. She rushed to the warp pad and arrived in the forests of Korea.

What am I even doing?

Proper Gems didn’t concern themselves with Pearls that didn’t belong to them. Proper Gems had no business worrying after Pearls— after all, they were just pretty little things that existed in the background, silently and diligently doing their duties.

And Lapis was supposed to be a proper Gem.

Or she had been, back on Homeworld. But five thousand years had passed and she was a long way from home.

Right now, she was on Earth— where Pearls spoke their minds, turned harmless objects into weapons, and were forces to be reckoned with. Right now, she was looking for one such Pearl, and she couldn’t help wondering if all the other Pearls back home could be the same...

She pushed the thought aside. There were more pressing matters at hand.

“Pearl!” Lapis cried.

No response.

She flew directly to Blue Diamond’s Palanquin, but there was no sign of Pearl there either. Lapis watched the sheer curtains billow in the light breeze, and allowed herself to pause for a breath.

It had always seemed peaceful here. She wished they could come back to this place and go back to those quiet days. She wished they’d never left...

She shook those thoughts out of her head. Then she was off again.

Lapis searched through the trees, near the river, by the destroyed Palanquin of Pink Diamond.

Still no sign of Pearl.

Well, she wouldn’t give up yet. One more place to try. Lapis would find Pearl, and whatever was wrong, she would make it better.


 

Soldering. The most secure methodology humanity had invented to forge a connection between two electrical wires. Twist the wires around one another. Cover them in molten solder. Heat shrink tube around the wires to secure the connection.

Simple. Precise. Straightforward.

But Pearl couldn’t do it.

She’d done it before, hundreds of times. It was one of the only parts of mechanics that she flattered herself as actually being good at, and that just showed what a trap vanity was, because today she couldn’t do it.

She glared ruefully at the globs of molten metal which now lay on the dusty orange ground. Splattered. Messy. Her Diamond would not have stood for this.

She readjusted her grip on the soldering gun, leaned in close to the wires within the drill, and tried again. But the heated tip was shaking and shaking and she kept missing—

And then she dropped the gun.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Couldn’t she do anything right? No wonder Steven had yelled at her, no wonder he didn’t want her anymore—

“Here,” said a voice.

Pearl did not yelp. She clamped her mouth shut and spun around

It was Lapis. Only Lapis.

The other Gem bent down and picked up the gun. She gently took the two twisted wires from Pearl’s still-shaking hand, and carefully applied the solder, followed by the shrink tube. She stared at it until it had gone solid, then slipped the wire into its correct place in the drill’s carapace.

Pearl stood there and watched, feeling completely helpless.

“So,” Lapis said, “what happened?”

Pearl said nothing.

“C’mon, you can tell me. I saw the whole thing.”

“Then surely you already know,” Pearl snapped.

Lapis patiently folded her arms. “I said I saw, not that I heard. I was watching Steven from a distance.”

Pearl turned back towards the exposed guts of the drill. “Then I believe it is best that you go back to watching him.”

“He… told me this morning that’s probably not necessary. That the Crystal Gems aren’t gonna hurt him. They haven't made their move yet, so he’s probably right.” She paused. “Right now, I’m more worried about you.”

“You do not need to worry about me,” Pearl said, bowing her head.

“I’ll be the judge of that,” Lapis asserted. Just from her tone, Pearl didn’t need to look up to know that Lapis had one hand on her hip and cocked her head to the side. What surprised Pearl, however, was the gentle hand warm on her shoulder, thumb lightly brushing her skin. “Look, I’m not going to force you or anything, but I’m sure I could help you figure things out.”

Pearl stood there for several long moments, hands clasped at her breast.

Then she took a deep breath and told her.

Lapis didn’t interrupt or interject. She just listened. Her brow furrowed, her mouth dipped into a frown, and she just listened. Once Pearl had finally finished, she went, “And they got mad at you for that?”

“Yes,” said Pearl.

“That makes no sense.” Lapis flopped down onto the ground. “I mean, that’s just how Gems work. Steven knows that, right?”

“Yes,” said Pearl, but it felt like a lie on her lips.

Lapis watched her closely, then patted a patch of ground in front of her, a silent invitation.

Pearl considered. She shouldn’t be sitting, or talking for that matter. She had work to do, and a Pearl did not rest while she was on duty.

Steven, backing away, lightning sparking from his skin. Greg supporting himself on the hood of the car, looking like he’d been punched in the gut.

Maybe she wasn’t on duty anymore. Maybe she’d been dismissed.

The very thought sent a cold chill through her entire being.

Pearl sat next to Lapis.

Off duty or not, proper presentation was still important. She folded her legs carefully beneath her and arranged her skirts. It gave her a moment to collect herself, to collect the correct words.

“I always strove to teach Steven about our culture,” said Pearl. “But I had to be… careful about it. Steven was so unlike any Gem I had ever known. I did not want to confuse him.”

She paused a moment, considering the past. Steven had always been so fascinated and curious about life on Homeworld and the colonies. But his perspective and mindset were not that of a Gem. His was entirely human, despite the diamond on his chest.

Telling him about the harsher aspects of Gem culture had proven harder than she had thought it would have been.

“I told him about many different Gems,” she continued. “I told him that Pearls… that we serve many purposes. Dancers, singers, cleaners, attendants, secretaries…” At Lapis’s confused look, Pearl explained, “A human job. Someone who sorts a superior’s correspondence, filters calls, arranges meetings, and the like.”

Lapis nodded.

The sun was very hot against Pearl’s skin. She stared up at it, letting the hair fall out of her face and her eyes fill with the light, so she did not have to look at the other Gem.

“But never once did I explain to him how it truly works. That a Pearl must be that and nothing more. That she is assigned to one Master until the Master grows bored, or nothing remains of her but shards. That we are but simple servants, inconsquestial in the grand order.” She closed her eyes. If they burned, surely it was only from the intensity of the sun. “I should have been truthful. It was my duty. But I didn’t… I didn’t want to. He… looked up to me, respected me, and I was afraid that if I told him the truth… then he...”

He would have stopped.

She should have just been honest with him. Let him know. Perhaps that ill-earned respect would have evaporated, but at least he would have understood. But now he and Greg hated her, hated what she was, and probably hated Blue Diamond too.

“Pearl…” Lapis said slowly, “you’re not inconsequential.”

She blinked. “Pardon?”

“You’re not inconsequential. I mean, look at what you’ve been doing. You’ve served your Diamond beyond that of any other Gem. Been the only one there for him. The one who’s been teaching him what it is to be a Diamond. And I’m not gonna say you did it perfectly.” Lapis shrugged. “But I mean, well, what Gem could, under the circumstances?”

There was truth there. Diamonds were perfection. It was impossible for something imperfect to be a model for that.

“So… Steven might be angry with you, but from the sounds of it, I don’t think he’s dismissing you. I think he’s angry on your behalf or something. I don’t get it, but whatever. Point is, he and Greg just want you to be happy.”

“My happiness doesn’t matter-- only my Steven’s--”

“Yeah, and he wants you to be happy. So it does matter.”

That left Pearl silent.

Lapis stretched out, rubbing her arm. “I don’t know… I guess I’ve just been… thinking about stuff. The Crystal Gems.” Her expression turned stormy. “I will never forget what they did, the chaos they caused. But--” Her nostrils flared. “I think I might be starting to get why they did all that shale.”

Pearl said nothing, waiting.

Lapis looked at her, and said slowly, quietly, “Did you like your position? With Blue Diamond.”

“Of course.”

Lapis’s gaze was very sharp.

“...though, not as much as my position with Steven,” Pearl confessed, before shaking her head. “But it hardly matters. I had my duties, and I performed them well.”

“I know. I saw you, whenever I visited Court. Standing there, mostly. But look at you now.” She smiled, a flash of white. “You’re building a drill to the center of a planet.”

“Not very well,” said Pearl.

“Yeah, but you’re still doing it. I’ve never heard of a Pearl learning mechanics. Or running into battle against an enraged fusion. Or rescuing a Diamond from a rebel base. That’s impressive.”

The warmth that spread from Pearl’s core was so fierce that she thought her gem might be glowing itself.

You’re impressive,” said Lapis. “Pearls aren’t made for these things, but you’re doing pretty well, considering. The more I think about you just standing around back then... seems like a waste. As much of a waste as I was in that fracking mirror.”

Pearl shifted a little. “Lapis…”

Her eyes had changed. Changed to the way they’d been before. Shiny, white, reflective.

“...Do you know how I got trapped in there, Pearl?”

“I… do not.”

Wings had unfurled from Lapis’s back. She hadn’t flown away, hadn’t even gotten up, but they were beating wildly. “It was Pink Diamond’s Court. They did it. They didn’t even stop to think that maybe I wasn’t—” Another fierce wing beat. “I was a loyal member of Blue Diamond’s Court! I should have been entitled to a trial, to a Zircon!”

“I know,” Pearl murmured.

Lapis stood. “Why wasn’t I given one?!

“I… do not know,” said Pearl, getting up as well. “Resources were scarce… the Diamonds—”

“—had other things to worry about. I know.” The white glow faded. “I know. They were fighting a war. They didn’t have time to worry about a single Lapis Lazuli. That’s their job, to look at the big picture.” Lapis sighed. Her wings dissipated. “Maybe this is wrong of me to say, but... I think I like it better this way.”

“Better… which way?”

Lapis shrugged. “I don’t know. Earth is hardly my favourite planet, but it’s starting to grow on me. We stop this geoweapon, and then we can just… stay here. With Steven. Doing whatever we want.”

“... if Steven will have me.”

“Hey.” Lapis stepped closer. “I wasn’t joking, what I said earlier. He’s… what’s that word you used, when Rose Quartz approached us after we rescued him? ‘Family?’”

Pearl felt her gaze focus firmly at the ground. “It was foolish of me to consider myself that.”

“Our Diamond doesn’t seem to think so,” Lapis countered. “The way he reacted when you two reunited… That’s not how an owner reunites with any regular Pearl.” Lapis paused for a beat, before continuing, “You’re special to him. And however exactly he thinks of you, you’re still his. Of course he’s going to want you back. He just… needs some space first.”

Pearl closed her fists, feeling her nails dig into her palm. She hoped, and hoped, but— “Are you sure?”

“Absolutely positive.”

Pearl hesitated a moment, then leaned forward, pressing her forehead into Lapis’s. Lapis pressed back, reaching out to twine her arms around Pearl’s waist.

“Thank you,” whispered Pearl.

“Don’t mention it.”


 

Greg trudged his way back home on shaky legs. The sky had already grown dark; he hadn’t expected to be gone for so long. When he reached the van, none of the lights were on. At first, he thought Steven had gone to bed early— today had been quite eventful after all— but as Greg drew close enough to grasp the door handle, he heard the faint sounds of one of his own songs coming from the inside.

never free
just drifting—

The music paused, followed by the screeching of a tape being rewound, and then the click of resuming play.

Without your love, I’m lost at sea
Bound to none but never free
Just drifting throughout life without purpose—

Another pause, another rewind.

Greg pushed the door open, only to find Steven sitting in the dark in the dining area. He was hugging the gallon tub of ice cream they’d bought that afternoon, and seemed to have made a sizeable dent in its contents. On the table was the portable TV with a built-in VCR that Greg kept around for his tape collections. It was playing a music video of Sky Blue Goddess at the moment. Not the official promotional video for the record label, but the personal one he had made by editing together a bunch of home videos of him and Blue.

The particular clip Steven kept rewinding was of Greg and Blue on a yacht, giggling and smooching cutely for the camera. Greg’s heart ached at the sight, and despite all the things he’d learned about Blue recently, he couldn’t help sighing out of nostalgia and wistfulness.

It was only then that Steven had noticed him standing there.

“Oh. Hey, Dad,” he said glumly, before turning his attention back to the video almost immediately. He looked way too serious for someone who was eating ice cream while watching his parents being silly lovebirds on screen.

“I see you found my secret tapes.” Greg forced a smile, trying to lighten the mood. He stepped closer and sunk down in the seat beside Steven. “I remember when we shot that. Funny story,” he chuckled, but it sounded hollow to his ears, “you remember my old manager, Preston? Anyway, he was holding the camera that time, and I don’t know if it was a school of flying fish or a big wave or something, but suddenly there was this huge SPLASH! and poor Preston got soaked all over cuz he was trying to save the camera. He handed it off to me, and then I got splashed out of nowhere too! But somehow, the camera was still safe, so I tried to pass it to Blue. And then Blue, she was eyeing the camera cautiously as if it was the source of all the splashing going on. She was like, ‘No, Greg! Give it to Pearl!’ and ‘Pearl, hold it for me!’ and ‘Pearl, take that nefarious thing away!’ as if the camera was gonna bite her fingers off, and... uhh...”

He trailed off, partially because reliving that funny moment only made his heart feel heavier, and partially because Steven wasn’t paying attention to him anyway. The boy was too focused on rewinding the tape for the nth time.

Eyes glued to the repeating clip, Greg chewed his lower lip thoughtfully. “Come to think of it now, maybe that story wasn’t that funny.”

“What do you mean?” Steven asked, finally turning around for more than a quick glance at his surroundings and noticing who was missing. “Dad, where’s Pearl?”

Greg looked at his son and even in the dimmest lighting, he could see all the worry and concern reflected in his little boy’s eyes.

“Pearl... left.”

What?!” Steven jumped to his feet, the tub of ice cream almost slipping from his arms. “What do you mean she left? Why? Where did she go? Did you two have a fight? When is she coming back?”

“Whoa. Slow down, Shtoo-ball. I don’t know where she went or when she’ll be back. And it wasn’t exactly a fight...” Sighing, Greg ruefully rubbed the back of his head. “We had a talk about why you two were acting so weird at dinner and... she told me.”

“Oh.”

Steven sat back down, deflating like a leaky balloon. He looked away in shame, and Greg really couldn’t blame him. Greg knew too well where that was coming from, because he felt the same way. Under normal circumstances, he wouldn’t hesitate to talk things out to clear the air, but right now...

How do you even talk about this? About how someone who’s been living with you for years, who has helped raise your son, who you’ve come to see as family... is only staying with you out of some twisted sense of obligation and duty because she’s a slave— your slave— this whole time and you never even noticed?

How do you even start that conversation?

“...Dad, did you know?” Steven asked, hugging the ice cream tub close to his chest. He hadn’t taken a single spoonful of it since Greg had walked in on him. There was no way that clinging to the ice-cold container could be pleasant, especially if it was pressing against Steven’s gem, but then Greg also couldn’t help wondering if doing so gave his son some comfort. “Did you know that Mom... that we... that Pearl is— was— that Pearl is a slave?”

Greg shook his head.

“No. I thought she and Blue were friends. Best friends, even. The alien queen and her most trusted lady-in-waiting, her sole confidante.” He sighed, meeting his son’s earnest eyes. “I thought Pearl stayed with her, and with us, because she cared, not because she was... property.”

He could taste the bile rising up his throat as he almost spat out that last word. Just saying it like that disgusted him so much, about the situation, about his own ignorance. How could anyone do that to other another person? And how could he be so blind to it, when it was happening right under his nose?

They both fell into a silence so heavy, it was almost tangible. Except the TV was still on, still showing two lovebirds having the time of their lives, and Greg could hear his own voice belting out:

You're a Sky Blue Goddess
Bestowing a life of solace
You came down here from your home in the stars
Falling—

The video abruptly shut off.

“Uh, sorry. Were you still watching that?” Steven sheepishly asked, turning the remote over in his hands.

“Nah, it’s fine.” Greg tried to give his son a reassuring smile, but he wasn’t sure if Steven could see it in the sudden darkness. With the TV off, their only light came from a street lamp outside, spilling in through the tinted window.

Steven put the ice cream tub on the table and seemed about to clean up, when he suddenly paused to ask, “Dad? Can I ask you a question?”

The last time Steven had opened with that line, he had asked if Blue ever killed anyone— a question which had totally caught Greg off guard. And maybe, in retrospect, he should have followed up on that and asked what exactly had prompted Steven to ask something so horrible. But considering what they’d been talking about this evening, Greg figured he knew what to expect. He took in a deep, steadying breath, and answered, “Sure, Steven. Anything.”

“Do you think Mom was... a bad person?”

No.’ —that should have been his immediate answer. But he couldn’t say it, not after everything he’d learned today, from Rose Quartz, from Garnet, from Pearl...

Especially from Pearl.

Greg let out a heavy sigh.

“Y’know, your mother, she... She really was wonderful, and gentle, and kindhearted, and all those good things I’ve told you about... To me. She was all of those things to me. But I’m starting to realize that she... wasn’t anything like that to everyone else.”

“Not even to Pearl.”

“Not even to Pearl. No.” Another sigh. Greg wondered if it was becoming a new habit. “But whether someone’s good or bad can be subjective, kiddo. Things aren’t always as clear cut as heroes and villains like in those cartoon shows you really like. Sometimes good people can do a few bad things and still be good people—”

But some things were objectively bad, weren’t they? Unbidden, Garnet’s words echoed in his mind:

‘She kept everyone as slaves.’

“—and sometimes bad people can do a few good things and still be bad,” Greg finished belatedly. He sighed again, tugging at his beard while he tried to figure out how to word his thoughts and feelings on the matter. “Thing is, there’s a lot we don’t know about Blue. I mean, I’d known her for years but she was thousands and thousands of years old when we met. Our time together was probably just a blink of an eye to her. Even if she had changed during her stay here... Man, I don’t know.” He massaged the growing crease between his brows. “Sorry, son. I just... I don’t even know what to think right now.”

“It’s okay, Dad. It’s... It’s a lot to take in for me, too.” Steven’s hand felt ice cold and slightly sticky on Greg’s arm, but Greg appreciated the warmth of the gesture nonetheless.

He pulled his son into a hug.

Steven squeaked in surprise, but wrapped his arms around his dad’s torso the best he could. His arms still weren’t long enough to go all the way around, but Greg noticed that the hands clutching at his shirt seemed bigger than he remembered. His little boy wasn’t so little anymore.

“But what are we going to do now?” Steven asked, slightly muffled against his dad’s chest. “A-about Pearl, I mean. I don’t think she wants to leave us forever, but I don’t want her to stay with us if it’s just... following orders, o-or like she has no other choice.” His voice turned into the tiniest, most vulnerable whisper. “I don’t want her to keep being a slave.”

“We could probably give her something,” said Greg, giving his son a reassuring squeeze. “You know, as payment for everything she’s done for us.”

“Like a salary?”

“Yeah, but more like decades worth of back pay. It’s the least we could do.”

“Yeah...” Steven nodded, slowly at first, but soon growing so enthusiastic that he had to pull away from the hug. "Yeah, let’s do that, Dad. We could get her her own apartment. No, her own house! She could have a huge TV or... or her own home theater system! And a walk-in closet! And one of those adjustable beds! And a roomba so she'd never have to do another chore again!"

“That all sounds great, kiddo.” Greg chuckled, and it wasn’t forced this time. He lovingly ruffled his boy’s hair. “But we should probably ask Pearl what she wants.”

They should have been doing that a long time ago, really.

“Yeah, you’re right.” Steven chuckled too, which probably meant he was gonna be okay, at least for now. He grabbed the ice cream tub from the table and dug in with the spoon, only to suddenly groan.

“What’s wrong?” Greg asked.

“The ice cream’s all melted.” Steven sounded so disappointed.

“Well we can go get some more, if you like. I think there’s a store down the street that’ll still be open at this time.”

“No, it’s okay, Dad.” Steven got to his feet to put the ice cream back in the freezer, yawning as he went. “I think I’ll just head to bed.”

“Good idea. I probably should too. I’m beat after everything today,” said Greg. He felt… tired. Exhausted in a way that had nothing to do with the body, that left his limbs dragging. “And don’t forget to brush your teeth, Shtoo-ball. Especially after all that ice cream.”

“I won’t.”

They worked through their nightly routines robotically, without talking. Soon, Greg tucked Steven into his bunk and then climbed up into his own.

He stared up at the ceiling. Even with the covers pulled to his chin, he felt cold and exposed. He couldn’t help remembering all those nights he’d fallen asleep with Blue, wrapped up in her hair like a hammock, as safe as could be.

He closed his eyes. It did nothing.

Below, he heard the sounds of Steven tossing and turning. He was having no more luck than him, it seemed.

After an unknown amount of time— could have been minutes, could have been hours— Greg heard a quiet whisper.

“Dad?”

Greg peeked over the edge of his bed. On the bunk below, Steven was clutching his blanket to his chest, his eyes shining in the dim light.

Well, sleeping alone didn’t seem right for either of them. Not tonight.

“C’mon up here, kiddo,” said Greg. He scooched closer to the wall and patted the space next to him. Steven climbed up, gratefully burying himself in the blankets and his dad’s comforting embrace.

And for the first time in a long while, the father and son Universe duo slept snug in each other’s arms.

Chapter Text

Greg woke up with a start, cold sweat soaking his shirt. Bad dream. Probably a really bad one if it had woken him up like that, but for the life of him he couldn’t remember what it’d been about. Any details had fled his mind as soon as he’d opened his eyes. Maybe it was better that way.

He rolled over onto his side, his back towards Steven, who had somehow wedged himself between his dad and the van’s wall in his sleep. It was still dark out. Greg closed his eyes and tried to relax, hoping to drift back to sleep, but he was too uncomfortable, too riled up to manage it.

In the end, he decided to get out of bed as quietly as he could (he didn’t want to wake Steven), grab the nearest musical instrument he could find (a concert ukulele), and head out of the van into the cold, early morning air.

For as long as he could remember, music had always helped him sort through his feelings, especially when the emotions churning inside him were more intense than usual. That was how he’d written a good number of his songs, actually. There was just something there, in the feel of strings under his fingertips, in the release of emotional energy through his voice, in the weaving of sounds and rhythm and musical harmony. Different chords had always held certain meanings for him, especially when they were grouped together in a song’s context— much like how a poet would utilize words, or a painter would colors.

At the moment, he was idly strumming the chords to Sky Blue Goddess, probably because he’d heard it on repeat the night before and it got stuck in his head. He could feel the tension in his shoulders melt a little each time his fingernails hit the strings. It started with a simple rhythm: down, down-up, up-down-up; down, down-up, up-down-up. D always had a down-to-earth feeling, A gave a sense of adventure, B minor heralded something important, G was steady and somehow romantic...

But soon, the chords he played changed into something much more melancholic, the rhythm into a slow and somber pace. Even the lyrics he sang were different from the original, until it became an entirely new song:

I don't even know if I really knew
What kind of person was the real you
You've taken all what the stars have to offer
And even the Earth was just part of your coffer

You’re a Sky Blue Goddess
But that doesn’t mean you’re made of kindness
I don’t really know what to think anymore
Learning the truth shook me... at my very core...

Eyes tightly shut, he sustained that last note for as long as he could. His voice reverberated from his chest, to his throat and into the air— his mixed feelings resounding from deep within his heart, turning into words from his mouth and spilling out in the open.

He held on for as long as he could until it was physically painful to keep doing so.

So he let it go.

When he was done, he silently wiped away the tears streaming down his cheeks and slowly opened his eyes.

Out of the corner of his sight, he spotted Pearl. She was just peeking out from the corner of the car wash building, and seemed to be waffling over whether or not she should head towards the van. When she noticed him watching her, she tensed up.

Greg tried to give her a reassuring smile, but his cheeks felt too stiff. Instead, he gave her a little wave, not quite beckoning for her to come closer but still hoping she would.

“Hey, Pearl,” Greg greeted as Pearl approached him.

“Gregory.” She bowed low from the waist, her head almost touching the ground as her arms swept outward to the sides.

Startled, Greg almost stepped on his ukulele in his rush over to her. “No, Pearl, you don’t have to—” he cried. Just a few days ago, Pearl’s courtly bows had seemed so innocent, so normal. Just another social quirk of an alien. But now, knowing what he did, he finally saw the gesture for what it really was— she was prostrating herself before him. “Please stand up, Pearl. Please...

She straightened up, but her head remained lowered. “But I must apologize for yesterday.”

“W-what?” Greg asked. “Why? What are you even apologizing for?”

“Because I have upset Steven,” she said. “And I have made you angry.”

“I wasn’t angry.” The words came out louder than he meant, and he struggled to keep his voice under control. “I-I mean— kay, I was, but I wasn’t angry at you. I was just—” Breathe in, breathe out. Just like they’d taught Steven. “ I’m the one who should be apologizing to you, Pearl. All this time, I had no idea you were— That your relationship with Blue was— I was angry at myself for not realizing.”

Pearl stood there, face unreadable under her hair, leaving Greg flustered and floundering.

“A-Anyway, things don’t have to stay that way with me and Steven. If there’s anything you want to have or do— anything at all— we’ll do everything in our power to give it to you. As our way to make it up to you.”

“...Make it up to me?” That got Pearl to finally raise her head, her expression flummoxed.

“Yeah. Like reparations or back pay or...” Greg recalled one of Steven’s suggestions from the previous night, and latched onto it. “I dunno, do you want your own apartment? I know it’s not enough to make up for all the years you’ve been with us, but if you want, I’m sure we can work something out...”

“I do not understand what you are asking of me, Greg. I do not require payment for merely performing my duties.”

“Yeah, about that... you don’t really need to do any duties or chores or whatever. Uhh, if you don’t want to, I mean. Just, umm...”

“Oh.” Pearl’s voice was even quieter than usual. “I see… I should not have come back.”

She turned to leave, and panic rose up within him.

“No!” he cried, flailing out on instinct, grabbing her by the shoulder before she could run off again. She froze under the touch, and Greg flinched, quickly pulling back his hand. “Sorry, I didn’t mean— I don’t— I’m not kicking you out or anything.” Out of his throat came a strangled noise which could have been a laugh. “It’s fine, if... if you wanna leave. What I’m saying is… Just do what you feel like doing, I guess?”

“I... will try.”

It was hardly the most reassuring thing she could have said.

But what could he expect? He didn’t know how old Pearl was, but if Blue was any indication, she could be thousands of years old as well. This had to be so… sudden for her. Change wouldn’t happen overnight.

“I guess that’s a start.” He sighed, realizing it would take more than that. He couldn’t just… tell Pearl to do what she wanted. That would make it too easy for all of them to fall back into old habits. “And I’ll be sure to try harder to check in on what you want to do or how you feel about stuff. Okay?”

“I understand.” Pearl nodded, before turning her head towards the van. “Is Steven still asleep?”

Greg startled a little, suddenly noticing how bright it was. Dawn had snuck up on him. “Yeah, still tuckered out last I checked.”

Pearl nodded again, but said nothing else.

They stood there in awkward silence, looking everywhere but each other’s eyes. Greg noticed his ukulele was still on the ground after he’d haphazardly dropped it in his rush earlier. He slowly picked it up as he cast around for some topic of conversation to cut through the stiffness.

“So, uh, I’ve been thinking… If you really don’t want to live in your own place...” He glanced at Pearl, who gave the slightest of nods. “Well, since the situation has changed with the Crystal Gems, maybe it’s about time that we all live together again? I haven’t brought it up with Steven yet, but I was thinking that moving as soon as possible would be for the best. What do you think?”

“He would greatly appreciate being around you more often.”

“Yeah, but what do you think about it?”

“I... I think it will be a good thing.” Pearl opened her mouth as if to say something more, but simply closed it again. Greg said nothing, waiting for her to collect her thoughts and voice them. Finally she continued, “Should I accompany him in gathering his belongings?”

“Do you want to accompany him?”

“I...” She clasped her hands to her breast, which was a usual gesture for her. What wasn’t usual, however, was the slight way she wrung them. “Yes, I do.”

“Then you probably should.”

Another silence settled over, this one more comfortable somehow. It gave Greg a moment to appreciate the morning light, painting the ocean in pinks and yellows.

“Thank you for telling me your thoughts, Pearl.” He gave her a smile, small but genuine. That was when he noticed the way Pearl had been holding herself. Her posture was perfect as always, but the way she relaxed when he smiled... It reminded him of some nature documentaries he’d watched, how gazelle relaxed once they knew the lions were gone.

“...You are welcome, Gregory,” said Pearl, and now that Greg was paying closer attention to her subtler cues, she seemed to sound so... relieved.

He hated to take that relief away from her, but...

“There’s one thing I need to know right now though, before anything else... If you’re okay with answering, that is. But I... I really need to know, and I need your honest answer. Is that okay?”

“Of course. What would you like to know?”

“...Did Blue ever hurt you?”

“No, of course not. My Diamond was very kind,” she answered without any hesitation, and Greg felt momentarily relieved. “And in turn, I did my best to be the Pearl she deserved. I had rarely given her a reason to chasten me. But even when I had and she had to take action, it was only because I deserved to be disciplined for my mistakes.”

And just like that, any inkling of relief Greg had felt was replaced with renewed horror. Pearl had always been very deliberate with her choice of words, always a shade too specific than what any other person would use in a casual conversation. And what she had just said was setting off alarm bells in his head.

Oh gods... And what about me, did I hurt her without realizing? Did Steven?

But before he could ask, before he could even get a hold of his mouth enough to start shaping the words, the van’s door swung open. Steven stepping out, rubbing his eyes.

“Dad, where did you put the... eggs...” he trailed off, taking in the scene before him. “...Pearl.”

“My Steven,” said Pearl.

Steven frowned. “Did I interrupt something? ‘Cause I can just go back to making breakfast...”

“No.”

Greg cast a quick glance between his son and Pearl, who subtly started to tense up again. He stepped forward, giving her a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder. “I was just talking to Pearl about you two moving here with me.”

Steven blinked. “Here in Beach City?”

“Well…” Greg started. “At least for a while. I mean, the three of us can’t really live in the van forever.” He laughed, but it sounded stiff and forced, even to him. “Maybe until things settle down a bit…”

“And then we can go home?” Steven asked. “Back to the apartment?”

“Yeah, bud. But until then, we can just move some stuff from the Palanquin to the van.”

Steven stared at them, still frowning, and Greg could practically see the gears turning in his head. Then he relaxed, a bright smile spreading across his face. “Okay. That’ll be great, Dad! When are we doing this?”

“Uhh, today? If you’re cool with it.”

“It’s totally cool! ...I mean, I’m totally cool with it, but I don’t know if... I can move the Palanquin just yet.”

Greg scratched the back of his neck. “That’s... not exactly what I meant.”

“Oh. I just thought, when you said moving here... you meant moving here.”

“Nah. No pressure on getting that old thing to move, son.” He knew the many attempts Steven had made at activating whatever psychic connection Blue had had with her Palanquin, and he knew the frustrations those failures had given him. “I just meant that... After everything that’s happened lately, I’m not really comfortable with you and Pearl being out there on your own.” Steven glanced down at the ground. Greg pushed on, determined to keep the tone light. “Maybe for now, you and Pearl could grab some essentials from the Palanquin, I’ll move some stuff around in the van, and then we’ll discuss about a bigger move later on. Sound good?”

“Yeah...” He turned to go back inside, then paused. “Does Pearl have to come with me? I mean, I can warp on my own and I know the way.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Greg saw Pearl’s already rigid posture stiffen even more. Her shoulders pushed back and the corners of her mouth twitched.

“Steven, after being captured and everything, I’d really appreciate if you had someone looking after you.”

His son looked at Pearl, then back at Greg. “But Dad, the Crystal Gems aren’t going to attack me again—”

Please, Steven.”

For a moment, Steven looked like he was going to argue some more, but something in Greg’s tone stopped him. He glanced at Pearl again before nodding mulishly and going back into the van to grab his backpack.

Breakfast was forgotten about, which was fine by Greg. He wasn’t hungry anyway.


Steven hurried around the Palanquin, placing another armful of clothing into the one of the cardboard boxes, regarding it for a moment, before deciding that he could probably fit a bit more into it. He walked back to his dresser and opened another drawer, considering what he should bring back to Beach City. He couldn't bring all of it, so he would need to chose carefully. And besides, he wouldn’t be staying forever, so he didn’t need to bring every single one—

He looked up from the drawer of clothes at the sound of soft, padding footsteps. He looked over to the table where the box was and saw Pearl placing something within.

"No, It's okay, Pearl," Steven said. "I can handle it."

For a moment it looked like Pearl was going to protest, but instead she merely nodded and stepped aside, hands folded over her gem. "Of course, my Steven."

Her title for him pricked at his heart, but he said nothing. Not for a lack of wanting to, but more for not knowing where to even begin. This morning, when Pearl had returned to the RV, he hadn't even managed to organize his thoughts into a coherent idea, let alone anything like bullet points to discuss.

How do you even discuss something like that anyway? That you had a slave your entire life and didn't even realize it?

Steven pursed his lips as he returned to the dresser. After a few moments of consideration, he picked out a few shirts, another two pairs of pants, and several pairs of underwear. He returned to the cardboard box and placed them inside before closing the lid.

"Okay," Steven said as he moved the now full box to the floor, replacing it with a new empty box. He moved towards the ‘kitchen’ area of the Palanquin. "Let me just grab  what food we want to keep. We can donate the rest to that shelter in town. Then we can head back to the RV."

Pearl titled her head at him. "Perhaps I can begin taking boxes over to the warp pad in preparation of our—"

"No! You- I mean, you can just…hang out while I do this," Steven quickly said. "It's alright. I'm almost done."

He turned, not waiting for her response, and walked over to the small cupboard that stood next to the washing basin and the Palanquin’s throne. There wasn’t much inside— just some cereal, several packages of instant noodles, and various sweet cakes that Steven really liked. He tightened the corners of his mouth. They should probably just take all of this. After all, it was nonperishable, so they don't really have to worry about it going bad soon or anything like that.

Steven nodded to himself and had just laid his hand on the box of cereal, when he heard another sound behind him. For a split second, he thought it was Pearl again, trying to help. But another second passed and he realized that the sharp, jagged sound he was hearing wasn't footsteps.

It was crying.

He turned back around and saw that Pearl had left her place next to the table and had moved over to the study area. Kneeling on one of the pillows and had…something, maybe a book, in her hand.

But what still kept drawing him was the sound of her crying.

Did Pearl cry? Steven couldn't remember any other time he had ever heard her crying before. Sometimes he’d seen her, when he’d gotten over emotional and overwhelmed her, but those tears had always been small and silent.

Hearing her sobs and seeing her shoulders quake with each gasp was…strange. And unnerving.

Bracing himself, Steven hurried over to her and saw over her shoulder that she did indeed have a book in her hand. A story book to be exact; "Isabella and the Tower of Zenith". It had been one of his favorite stories when he was younger. Why was she crying over it?

"Pearl?" Steven asked cautiously. "Is... Is everything okay?"

Pearl let out a ragged sob before looking up. But she didn't turn to look at him.

"My Steven," she said in a breathy whisper. "Please. If I can no longer be of service, simply tell me. And I will go and no longer bother you or Greg."

Steven's mouth suddenly felt very dry and he could feel his heart began to race in his chest. "Is that what you want? To leave?"

She turned where she knelt and faced him. Her face was tear-stricken and her hair disheveled, revealing hints of her bright eyes. "I only want to make you happy," she said earnestly. "That is my purpose."

"What I want doesn't matter!" Steven shot back. "You shouldn't be doing things just because I want you to."

"But I must," Pearl replied, the book dropping from her hand. "I am a Pearl. This is my duty, my only purpose."

"No! You're a person!" Steven cried. "You should do what you want to do! Even if— Even if that means leaving..."

Silence crept over them. Pearl bowed her head and Steven could hear the soft sound of tears falling to the ground.

"My Steven," Pearl began softly. "Is that what you wish? For me to leave?"

"Pearl..."

"If that is what you want then simply tell me." She looked back at him, her cheeks glistening with freshly shed tears. "I do not wish to cause you, or Greg, any unease or discomfort."

Steven could feel his lips begin to tremble and his eyes flutter at the threat of tears. Because he knew what his answer to that question was. And he knew, just knew he was going to be selfish, but—

"Of course I don't want you to leave, Pearl," he said, his voice trembling at the effort of the words. "You're my Guardian. I don't want you to go anywhere."

"Then allow me to serve you as I have," Pearl said grabbing Steven's hand. "Allow me to be your Pearl, my Steve—"

"Stop calling me that!" Steven yelled, yanking his arm free from Pearl's grasp. "Stop calling me that! I'm not my mom!"

Pearl seemed to recoil from him, as Steven felt the familiar tingling that started in his chest and began spread throughout his body. He gritted his teeth and closed his eyes, taking deep, practiced breaths and mentally counting off in his head.

10

9

8

7

Breathe in...

6

5

4

3

Breathe out...

2

1

He opened his eyes again and Pearl was still sitting there, still looking at him with her barely hidden eyes. He opened and closed his mouth several times, trying to speak, before finally words did emerge from his mouth.

"I'm not Blue Diamond." His voice was quiet and shaky. "I don't... I don't want a slave. And I don't want you to be a slave, Pearl."

"I am not a slave," Pearl responded. "I am a Pearl. I was created to serve."

"And that's not right!" Steven cried back, his vision starting to blur with tears. "You're Pearl, not a Pearl."

"There is no difference, my Steven." She either didn't notice or ignored Steven wincing at her words. She instead gestured around them. "The Palanquin was created as a Palanquin. That is what it is, what its purpose is. It would be foolish to try and make it anything else."

"The Palanquin is a thing," Steven said. "You're a person."

"I am a Pearl."

Steven exhaled sharply, letting his shoulders slump and his gaze to fall to the floor. He clamped his mouth shut, biting as hard as he could manage to try and stem the sobs that pushed to get out. It was not made any easier when her felt Pearl's arms wrap around him and pull him close.

"Oh, my Steven. You needn't worry," Pearl whispered easily into his ear. "This is my fault, for keeping all this from you until now. I should have told you this sooner."

"No, Pearl," Steven said, doing his best to keep his voice calm and even. He pulled away from her, and settled a steady gaze on her. "This... This isn't how it's going to be. You're not a thing. You're Pearl; you are your own person."

"My Stev—"

"No, stop calling me that," Steven interrupted. "I'm... I'm just Steven."

Pearl said nothing in return, only continuing to regard him in silence.

"I don't want you to- to serve me," Steven went on. "I just... I just want our family back. With you in it, Pearl."

For a moment, it looked as if Pearl was going to speak, but instead, her gaze fell and she turned away.

"No," she said softly. "I never should have— Gems don’t have family. I am a Pearl and I know my place." She paused a moment. "I am merely a Pearl. A delicate, fragile thing that doesn't deserve to be regarded as... as family." Her voice cracked and Steven felt his own throat tighten as the tears threatened to resume.

"That's not true," he said.

“It is!" Pearl’s voice cut like a knife. "I am worthless... a Pearl who has failed in her duties..." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "I am not the Renegade. I am... merely a Pearl..."

Steven sniffled and wiped his nose. "Well..." He scooted closer to her, before wrapping his arms around her in a snug hug. " I think you're pretty great."

Pearl was stiff in his embrace before relaxing, her body shaking with sobs.

"I love you, Pearl," Steven choked out before his own sobs made it impossible for him to speak anymore.

"Yes..." Pearl's voice was nearly unintelligible through her own crying. "I- I love you too...

"Steven..."


 

They both now sat across from each other on pillows in the corner, both still reeling from the onslaught of emotions that had overtaken them. They looked at each other in silence for a long time, neither saying anything, until Pearl finally spoke.

"You do not wish for me to call you 'my Steven'?"

Steven shook his head. "That's what you called mom. And... you were her slave. I'm not my mom. And you're not my slave."

Pearl was silent for a moment, before saying, "I'll admit. At first, that is why I referred to you as that. You were... I believed you were my Diamond. But... you are not."

"Then why did you keep using it?"

"Because... you are my Steven." She folded her hands in lap and considered them. "Watching you grow, taking care of you over the years..." She smiled softly. "Waking you up in the morning and making you breakfast as you ran around the apartment, taking you to the park, reading you stories..." She looked up at him, smile still in place. "As hard as it may be for the Crystal Gems to believe, I do enjoy my life with you and Greg, and now Lapis. It is... immeasurably better than the life I had on Homeworld."

Steven nodded slowly. "Okay. I... get that. But... Mom's not here. And this isn't Homeworld. And... it feels uncomfortable now. To me, and definitely to the Crystal Gems."

"I see..." Pearl said. "But I cannot refer to you simply as 'Steven'."

“Why not?”

She held her own hands. She didn’t know how to put these things into words. She took a long time to even attempt to phrase it correctly. “It is too plain. I wish to convey how important you are to me.”

“Oh,” said Steven, his cheeks turning pink.

There was a moment of silence, and then Pearl said, “I suppose there are other terms of endearment I could use. Like… honey, I think?”

“You could,” Steven said, slowly. Dad used stuff like that all the time, after all. It just sounded… weird, coming from Pearl’s mouth.

Pearl was quiet for a moment before saying, “Well, I will try different ones out. Perhaps I can find a few that feel… right.”

Steven smiled. "Okay.. It'll be a start... A start of whole new part of our lives."

"Perhaps," Pearl smiled back at him. "Though, I believe we may have already started that on that evening at the Fountain."

"Yeah," Steven chuckled.

"Still though..." Pearl raised her hand, letting it hover over her gem, before her gem began to glow. Something was clasped in her hand and she raised it to her face, pulling aside her bangs and revealing the bright yellow star hairclip stuck in her hair. "How do I look?"

Her eyes blinked out at him, large, blue, and hopeful.

"Like a whole new part of our lives."

Pearl's smile widened. "Then it is fitting." She rose from her seat, Steven doing the same. "Come. No doubt the others are wondering what is taking us so long."

She walked over to the table, Steven following after her, and with just a moment's pause, bent over and picked up one of the tightly packed boxes. Steven quickly picked up the other.

"Come, dear," she said gently. "Let us return to Beach City. No doubt Greg will wish to know... what we have talked about."


 

After being alone in the van for nearly two hours, Greg couldn’t stop the worry stewing in his stomach. The relief when Steven and Pearl arrived was palpable. Their eyes were red, but there was a comfortable air around them. Conversation flowed relatively lightly while they helped get Steven properly settled in.

Even that didn’t take long. And once they were finished, Greg encouraged Steven to go explore the town.

“Will you guys come with me?’

Greg gave the briefest of glances towards Pearl, then said, “You don’t want us old farts trailing you all day, do ya? Go on, see the sights, meet the folks. They’re nice.”

He’d hesitated a little, but Greg had slipped him a ten dollar bill, and off he’d went.

After that, he’d gently encouraged Pearl to go have some free time of her own. It had only taken a little reassurance on his part that no, really, the van was perfectly neat… and also, Lapis was looking a little lonely out there.

And he was left, alone, in his van.

Greg sat by the kitchen table, feeling kinda at a loss.

Finally, he fished out his phone, scrolled down to near the bottom of his contact list. There was a ringing; one, two three…

“Yo, what up?” came a voice.

“Hey Vi,” said Greg. “Are we having cards night this week?”


 

After nearly three years working at the Big Donut, Sadie had learned to latch onto anything that spiced up the monotony of a normal day. Which including the stunning excitement of having a brand new customer.

Specifically, Steven Universe.

Sadie remain professional, greeting him with the official, “Welcome to the Big Donut, can I take your order?”

The boy smiled shyly up at her, while he took the time to go over the menu. Sadie chatted with him a bit, directing him to some stuff he might like. When he finally chose a hot chocolate and jelly-filled donut, she helped him sort through his money.

“It’s confusing that the bills are all green,” he mumbled. Apparently he was visiting from Korea, where they all came in different colors.

“So, like monopoly money?” Lars muttered.

“Pardon?” said Steven.

Lars blanched and said, “Nothing!”

Sadie looked at him sidelong. It was the only thing he’d said since the boy had entered the shop. That wasn’t weird in of itself— Lars usually tended to wear earphones and ignore all customers— but there was something different this time. He was obviously very much aware of Steven, watching him closely… but doing his best to make it seem like he wasn’t.

She caught his eye, raising an eyebrow, and he pretended to ignore her too.

Sadie heaved out sigh. Whatever. It wouldn’t be the first time that Lars had utterly baffled her.

Steven took his food and sat at a seat near the window. Sadie considered talking a bit more with him. He seemed kinda lonely. And she knew her Mom was desperate for more info, but then he pulled out a sketch pad, and she decided to leave him to it. Besides, she needed to restock the display anyway.

(Lars didn’t help. He was busy reading something on his phone.)

Sadie lost herself like that for a while, and when the door chimed in the background, she assumed it was just Steven heading off. It was only when she heard the voices that her heart sank.

“So, like, what exactly do we wanna get then?” said the voice of Jenny Pizza.

“Anything. Or everything,” said Buck Dewey.

“Everything sounds good to me,” said Ronaldo Fryman.

Quickly, Sadie shoved the last of the ice cream sandwiches into the freezer, and spun around.

It wasn’t that she disliked the so-called ‘Cool Kids’. She barely knew anything about them, besides the fact they were still in high school, they were supposed really cool, and Lars— well—

“Welcome to the Big Donut,” he said in monotone, crossing his arms, “what can I get you?”

“I don’t know,” said Ronaldo, and as always, there was something about his tone that Sadie could not place. “What would you suggest?”

Lars very pointedly looked away from Ronaldo to the other two teens. “I mean, most of it kinda sucks…”

Sadie rolled her eyes.

“That blows, man,” said Buck. “I don’t want sucky food.”

“My jelly donut was pretty good,” came a quiet voice from near the window. The Cool Kids turned to Steven.

Jenny snapped and pointed at him. “Hey! You’re new in town, right? Mr. Universe’s kid?”

The boy’s bluish face took on a purple blush. “Is that how… everyone knows me?”

“Pretty much.” Buck shoved his hands into his pockets. “But don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll be able to forge an identity independent of your father.”

“Uh… thanks…”

Sadie let out a small sigh of relief as she hurried to her position behind the cash register. She was glad that something had distracted from the weird tension— or mostly had. Lars was grinding his teeth together, and his knuckles were white.

“So the jelly donuts’re good?” asked Ronaldo. Mutely, Steven nodded. “Sweet. How’s a half-dozen of those sound, guys?”

“Sounds good, Ron,” said Jenny. Buck gave a thumbs up.

“Got it!” said Sadie quickly, already loading up a cardboard box.

As the Cool Kids rummaged around for payment, Ronaldo wandered over to Steven’s table. Sadie overheard him say, “Cool drawing, man. Is that some sort of chicken-person?”

“Yeah…”

“Did you see one for real?”

“Uh— yeah, I did, but—”

“Oh. Em. Gee. That is awesome. You have definitely gotta tell us more about it sometime.” Sadie hurried to shut the box. “We catalogue all the strange and supernatural phenomenon around Beach City. We run a blog all about it, Beach City Explorers! We’re always looking for new tips!”

He runs it really,” said Jenny. “I mostly just take pictures and stuff.” She waved her phone in demonstration.

“And I help with merch. Here. Have a button.” Buck tossed one to Steven, which he just barely caught.

Steven turned it over in his hands, then pinned it on his hoodie. “Hey, wow, cool. Thanks!”

“No problemo,” said Buck.

Sadie quickly grabbed the payment from Jenny, pushing the change and donuts towards her. “Thank you for coming to the Big Donut!”

“Seriously,” Ronaldo was saying to Steven, “Get in touch!”

“Yeah. We can show you the sights,” said Jenny.

“Oh, okay. Thanks!” said Steven, waving back at the teenagers as they departed. The bell rang as they left, leaving a hollow silence in their wake.

Sadie snuck a glance at Lars. He looked, predictably, furious.

“We can show you around too y’know!” Lars blurted out.

Steven blinked at him. “Huh?”

“We can show you around town! Show you everything you need to know!”

“Oh. Well, thanks. What um… what kinda stuff is there?”

“Uh….” Lars stammered.

Sadie stepped in to save him. “Well, there’s the arcade and Funland, if you have some extra quarters to spare…”

“Yeah. I’ve beaten all the games in there,” said Lars, “I could definitely help you out. And there’s other stuff, too. Wrestling on Saturday nights… The cinema… The park… uh, the library?”

“The library,” said Sadie flatly.

“Yes, the library!”

“When have you ever read books?”

“All the time!”

“I’ve never seen you.”

Lars crossed his arms. “Well, there’s a lot you don’t know about me!”

“A library sounds cool!” said Steven. “I’ve been wanting to try some new books. How do you get there?”

“Well, it’s on… hmm, Budwick Road, isn’t it? There’s a bus that stops right by it, I think…” said Sadie, scratching her head.

“I can take you!” Lars announced.

Steven smiled. “Wow, really? Thanks!”

“Lars,” said Sadie. “We’re working!

He waved a hand. “Oh, come on. Our shift ends in like, half an hour.”

Forty six minutes, Sadie thought, but didn’t say aloud.

“Um— it’s okay— you can always show me some oth—”

“Come on,” Lars urged. “Help a guy out, player two.”

He gave her the biggest, sweetest eyes, and Sadie felt something inside her melt. And he had a point. It wasn’t like she couldn’t handle the end of her shift alone, and if he stayed, he’d probably just mooch around anyway. This wouldn’t be goofing off— he’d helping a little kid, making sure he didn’t get lost, taking him to somewhere educational like a library—

“Oh, okay,” Sadie relented. “You two go have fun.”


Lars had nearly made it to the bus stop, when a sudden realization struck him:

He didn’t know which bus actually went to the library.

He’d used to know. When he’d been a kid, he’d spent a lot of rainy afternoons there, hiding among the tall shelves, breathing in the warm, musty smells. But he’d stopped going there years ago, and the recited bus number had faded from his brain.

Panic flashed through him. What was he supposed to do?! He could Gaggle it, but his phone was so slow, and anyway, he’d told Steven he knew how to get there— he’d look like a total idiot if he had to search it up. Maybe he could just… guess? He could probably remember. But what if they grabbed the wrong bus? He’d look like an even bigger idiot then—

Lars looked up, and was met with a giant mouth filled with sharp, white teeth.

He screamed.

“Woah, woah, it’s okay,” Steven said, grabbing his arm before he could bolt away down the boardwalk. “This is just Bacon.”

Lars stared at the giant wall of pink fur, giant claws and terrible teeth, standing less than a foot away. “Bacon?! That thing’s a monster!”

“No. He’s a lion,” Steven said, and to Lars’ horror, he wrapped an arm around the creature’s neck.

The creature gave him a long, slow blink, and nuzzled the boy back.

“Is he like— s-some kind of pet or something?”

“No, not a pet. Just a friend. He’s in pride with Rose Quartz— she lives on the beach—”

“Rose?” said Lars, calming down a little. Just a little.

“You know her?” asked Steven.

“Uh… sort of…”

Caught up in thought, Lars didn’t immediately notice the weird meowing-like exchange the boy and the lion shared. What he did notice was when Steven started climbing up onto the lion’s back.

“What are you doing?!”

“Bacon says he can take us to the library.” Steven smiled, gave a wave, and said, “Come on up.”

Lars stared.

He was being asked. To get on the back. Of a magical pink lion.

No freakin’ way.

But if he didn’t, he’d look like a huge coward.

Sweat dripping down his neck, Lars awkwardly hauled himself onto the creature’s back. Its fur was thick, its body hot, moving beneath him with every breath in and out, and when the lion looked back at them, it was all Lars could do not to grab onto Steven waist and scream.

That’s when the lion started running.

Running, Lars could handle. Running was fine. He could just grab onto to the fur and wait until the animal got tired, because it wasn’t like the thing could actually bring them to the library right, it was just—

And then Bacon roared.

A giant portal of glimmering lights manifested in the air in front of them. The lion dove in, and everywhere was blues and yellows and pinks, dazzling, dizzying, sparkling everywhere. Bile crept up Lars’ throat and held on for dear life.

I should’ve stayed at work I should’ve stayed at work I should’ve stayed at work I should’ve—

Just like that, it was over. Lars half-scrambled, half-fell off the lion’s back, and he had never been so glad to have nice, solid asphalt beneath him.

As Lars managed to get back onto wobbly feet, Steven just chattered on, in a combination of English and cat-noises. “Oh gosh, that was the coolest thing ever wasn’t it? Meow-meow, hiss, Bacon says he can bring us back later, mreow, he’s just gonna go catch some lizards, so—”

“No, no, it’s okay! We can— we can just take the bus back. Tell— tell ‘Bacon’ to take his time with the lizards or whatever—”

And if Lars still had any suspicions that this kid wasn’t just making the whole ‘I can talk to this pink lion’ stuff up, the fact that he patiently translated this back into meows, and then the cat just bounded away, basically confirmed it.

Even once they’d made it into the relative safety of the library, Lars had trouble focusing. He kept thinking about what an idiot he’d been, jumping on the back of carnivorous beast because a strange twelve-year-old told him to, even if the said twelve-year-old was some super-cool kid of a rockstar. He tried to focus on books, but he didn’t have much interest in them, and whenever he noticed something that did look interesting (the baking section caught his eye), he told himself he could just look anything he wanted up online. There were racks filled with DVDs and videogames—  Since when do libraries have video-games?—  and those looked cool, but Lars didn’t even have a valid library card, and he felt weird going to sign up for one. Instead he ended up just covertly checking the right bus to get home on his phone.

After about forty minutes, Steven ended up carrying an entire stack of books to the check-out. Lars stared at it all dubiously. Judging by the covers, they were a bunch of cheesy looking kids’ books.

“You read those?” Lars asked, barely able to keep the sneer out of his voice.

Some of it must have slipped through, though, because Steven ducked his head a little. “Not yet. But a— a girl I met said they’re really good, so I wanna try them.”

“Oh,” said Lars, and nothing else, even though he still thought they looked kinda stupid.

The librarian behind the desk lit up when she saw them, however. “Oh, goodness, The Unfamiliar Familiar! These are wonderful. I’m sure you’ll love them!” She helped Steven through the process of making a library card (Lars could have gotten one too, it would’ve been so easy, but— But what, he wasn’t sure, he just didn’t want to.) Once she’d finished she said, “By the way, we have a contest running you might be interested in.”

“What kind of contest?”

“An art competition!” she chirped.

“What?” said Steven. “So cool!”

“Yes. All participants will get their art displayed here in the library, and the prize is a full hard-cover set of the Spirit Morph Saga. Would you like to sign up?”

The kid’s eyes were practically sparkling with diamonds when he said, ‘Would I?”

“Me too!” Lars quickly added.

“Woah, Lars? You’re an artist?”

“Uh…. Yeah. I sure am!”

“Awesome! We get to sign up together! This is gonna be fun!”

That was how Lars Barriga ended up signing his name on the entrance list next to Steven Diamond Universe’s, despite not having the slightest clue how to draw, paint or do anything remotely artistic.

He wished the lion would come back to eat him, after all.

 

Chapter Text

“And you’ve confirmed the location?” Rose tightened the belt that held her scabbard at her side. She looked over at Garnet, who curtly nodded at her. “But you don’t know what it is exactly?”

“No,” Garnet answered. “Though it looked as if it was a secure facility.”

“So it’s most likely dangerous.”

“Most likely,” Garnet said. “But I didn’t See any corrupted Gems.”

“That’s good. Then as soon as Amethyst gets back—”

“Yo! I got ‘im!”

Rose looked over her shoulder and saw Amethyst enter the Temple’s entrance hall. Steven was there as requested, trailing just behind. Accompanying him was Blue Pearl, and not-- Rose noted with an odd sense of relief and regret-- Mr. Universe.

As she turned to greet them, Rose noticed that Blue Pearl’s appearance seemed to have changed, although not in the way that suggested a regeneration. She was wearing a bracelet-- the same one Rose had returned to her a few weeks prior-- as well as a star hairclip that kept her thick bangs out of her eyes.

Rose couldn’t help but smile: Garnet had been right after all. The new look suited Blue Pearl, although Rose knew better than to draw attention to that fact. In her experience, Pearls could be funny about other Gems complementing their appearance; and the truce between them all was fragile enough as it was.

“Steven. Pearl. Thank you both for coming,” Rose greeted lightly.

“I tried to get him by himself,” Amethyst shrugged. “But Pearl— that Pearl— insisted on coming too.”

“That’s okay,” Rose said. “She is welcome here, as is Steven. We have nothing to hide.”

“So… why did you want us to come?” Steven asked.

Rose glanced over at Garnet, who took her cue. “A Gem artifact has become active.”

“An artifact?” Blue Pearl spoke up. “What kind?”

“We don’t know,” Garnet responded. “All we know is its location.”

“How did it become active?” Steven asked. “Do Gem things just... do that?”

“They can,” Garnet said. “The most powerful artifacts of Homeworld tended to put function over stability.”

“They can be unpredictable,” Rose clarified. “And not always built to last.

Steven turned and looked up at Blue Pearl for confirmation. “That is true, Steven,” she said. “Especially during the war, results were valued much more than sustainability.”

“Okay,” Steven said slowly as he looked back at Rose. “Why are you telling us this?”

There was a moment’s pause, before Rose answered, “We want you to come on our mission with us.”

Steven’s eyes grew wide with surprise. “Me? Why?”

Again, Rose glanced over at Garnet.

“You possess a Sight,” Garnet said. “A very rare gift.”

“You mean my past vision,” Steven said, just a hair tensely. He was uneasy being here, in the Temple with all of them around, wasn’t he? Rose could hardly blame him, though. After all, he spent so long— too long, really— imprisoned here. Having had spent time in prison cells, for one reason or another, Rose wouldn’t be eager to come back if it were her.

“Yes,” Garnet said. “It is a powerful ability, more precise than trying to parse out a possibility amongst a sea of chances.”

“And from what Garnet has told me,” Rose said, “these visions tend to engulf you.”

Steven shifted where he stood, but before he could say anything, Amethyst spoke up, “Yeah. He almost walked off the Sky Arena.” She grinned self-assuredly. “Good thing I was there.”

Steven gave an uneasy, lopsided smile. “Yeah, good thing. I can, uh… sort of forget where I really am during them, sometimes.”

“That is why you need training,” Rose said, smiling over at Garnet.

“Training I can help you with,” Garnet said. “Your Sight is a tool, and you need to be able to use it properly.”

A moment of silence passed, before Blue Pearl asked softly, “And why do you want him trained?”

“For his own safety,” Garnet answered without missing a beat.

“I see,” Blue Pearl responded. “And if that is your reason, then I thank you.” She tipped her head just slightly at them. “But you will not train him simply so he can become your tool.”

A knot of uncertainty tightened in Rose’s chest. “That is not our intention,” she said. “Please. We only want to help. As a sign of good faith.”

“Steven has had no trouble with his visions,” Blue Pearl responded, though with the quickly-masked look of surprise Steven gave her, Rose suspected even she knew this was false.

Maybe we should ask Steven what he thinks,” Amethyst said in a faux whisper.

Steven bit his lip as he looked between Blue Pearl and the Crystal Gems.

“What would I have to do?” he asked.

“Come with us on the mission,” Rose explained. “Once there, you can practice your past vision in a safe, contained environment.”

“What’s so special about… wherever this mission is taking place? Can’t we just practice here?”

It had been an option, initially. But, again, their truce was a fragile one, and Pearl had argued that allowing Steven to see into the past of the Crystal Gems more than was absolutely necessary could give him too many insights if they ever did find themselves on opposing sides again. And Rose hadn’t been able to mount a convincing argument against her, not with the ignored warnings about Mr. Universe hanging between them. Apology or not, Pearl still seemed on edge about the whole thing - but Pearl had always been overly protective of her, and Rose knew it would fade with time.

“It was a research and development lab,” she said, ignoring his second question. “Experimenting with more efficient forms of energy. Just Gems standing over research terminals and cobbling together prototype machinery.”

“No surprises,” Garnet added. “Very calm, very quiet. Compared to what you’ve Seen in the past.”

“And that’s all I’d have to do?” Steven asked. “Practice my visions?”

“You don’t have to do anything,” Rose said, taking care to smile down at him. “But, honestly, we expect it to be a very routine mission.There shouldn’t be anything else for you to do.”

Shouldn’t be,” Blue Pearl intoned.

“I’ve used my Future Vision extensively,” Garnet said. “And Pearl— our Pearl-- is already on the site scouting. If there’s anything dangerous, she’ll find it.”

The corners of Blue Pearl’s lips tightened, but she said nothing. But Steven, on the other hand…

“What were they working on at the lab?” he asked, eyes gleaming with wonder. “Is any of their research left? Are you going to try and retrieve it?”

“We don’t know what the artifact exactly is,” Rose said. “All we know is that’s it’s potentially dangerous if left alone.”

Steven was quiet as he contemplated what they had said. After a while, he glanced up at Blue Pearl before turning back to Rose, saying. “Okay. I’ll go.”

“Steven,” Blue Pearl said, laying a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “I am not sure if this is a good idea.”

“Why not?” Steven asked. “It’s just like when you and I explore Gem ruins.”

“Yes, dear. But…” She trailed off as she looked over at Garnet, then at Amethyst, and finally at Rose, who felt quite pleased by her success in keeping her surprise from showing. ‘Dear’? That was new. What wasn’t new was Blue Pearl’s expression, a subtler version of one she’d seen on Pearl’s face quite regularly when discussing Steven and his little court: suspicion.

“Pearl,” Rose said in her most diplomatic voice. “For whatever it is worth, I offer my deepest assurance that we shall allow no harm to come to Steven while he is in our care.”

Blue Pearl said nothing in response, only keeping her eyes trained on Steven.

“Pearl,” Steven said. “This… this could be important. If I can get better control over my visions then… maybe I can walk around the--” He stopped, as if catching himself before saying something he shouldn’t. “So I can walk around the mountainside without… any problems.”

Is he talking about the Sky Arena? Or…

Rose felt her posture stiffen as she did her best to act like she didn’t know what Steven was referring to. But even Garnet seemed to tense up after Steven spoke.

“Yes, Steven. But… Very well,” Blue Pearl said.

“So can I go?” Steven asked, his face brightening.

We will go, yes,” Blue Pearl said. “I will accompany you.”

Rose nodded, before smiling at the two. “Of course you are welcome to come, Pearl. As I said, we have nothing to hide. Assuming Steven is okay with you coming, of course.”

“Well, if you want to come, then I don’t mind, Pearl,” Steven smiled up at her. She smiled back at him.

Rose stepped forward. “Okay. If we’re all ready…?”

Garnet nodded silently as she began walking towards the warp pad. Amethyst gave a fleeting look at Steven and Blue Pearl before following after Garnet.

“Do you need a moment to gather anything?” Rose asked.

“Do I need to bring anything?” Steven said.

“We could return to the RV and pack some things,” Blue Pearl suggested. “I could retrieve some items from the medicine chest. And I think we may still have that defibrillator.”

Judging by the boy’s crinkled brow, Steven didn’t seem to think that was necessary. Rose jumped to his aid, “If there is an accident, I will happily offer healing.”

Steven gave her a sideways look, but Blue Pearl was undeterred. “At the very least, I am going to return and get a snack and some water for him.”

Pearl…

“Some water might be a good idea.” It was Garnet that spoke, still waiting on the warp pad behind Rose. “Where we’re going, it can get rather warm.”

Blue Pearl bowed lightly at Garnet. “Thank you.” She turned and began walking back towards the beach. “I shall return shortly.”

“Wait, Pearl!” Steven quickly jogged after her.

Now by themselves in the entrance hall, Rose joined Garnet and Amethyst near the warp pad.

“Well, Garnet,” she said. “Do you See any major changes with letting Blue Pearl come with us?”

Garnet was silent as she searched through her visions. Amethyst scoffed, “Man, she’s insistent when she wants to be. She’s almost as bad as our Pearl. No wonder she won’t stop scowling for half a second whenever Blue Pearl is around.”

Rose smiled softly down at Amethyst, laying a fond hand on the top of her head. “This is a very unique case for Pearl. Give her time to come around.”

Hmph. Ya think she’d be happy. I know I would be if we found another Amethyst.”

The smile faltered slightly as Rose patted her on the head before drawing her close to her leg. “We know, Amethyst. Perhaps someday.”

“No. I don’t See an major differences,” Garnet said, before looking over at Rose. “Although… Blue Pearl will be a little clingy.”

“I assumed as much,” Rose said. “Her devotion to Steven is rather… interesting.”

Garnet nodded. “It is.”

“Pearl believes that devotion is merely residual devotion to Blue Diamond,” Rose added.

“She’s told me,” Garnet responded, then paused meaningfully. “Multiple times.”

“Do you have an opinion on the matter, Garnet?”

“Yes.”

“And?”

Garnet was silent for beat before answering, “When we fought at the Fountain, she shielded him from my attack with her body. That’s something I’ve never seen a Pearl do for her ‘master’, Diamond or otherwise.”

“Yes,” Rose said. It was strange, to be sure. Whatever relationship Steven and Blue Pearl shared, it wasn’t a “normal” Pearl and master relationship. And it had undergone a radical transformation in the past few days - right around the time Garnet said Mr. Universe had come to see her, crying. ‘Dear’. Not ‘My Steven’, or ‘My Diamond’, but ‘dear’. A human word.

“And at the Fountain,” Amethyst added, “after everything was over, she called Steven her ‘family’.” She shrugged. “That’s a human thing.”

Rose nodded, pulling Amethyst closer into a half-hug. “And no thoughts on that, Garnet?”

Garnet gave her a small smirk. “I’m hoping that today’s training session will help me crystallize my opinions on the boy.”

Rose smiled back. “Ah, so that’s why you suggested to bring him along.”

“I can multitask.”

Rose laughed. “Well, I would hope so.”

A few minutes passed before Steven and Blue Pearl returned, a bag hanging off of Steven’s shoulder. A bag shaped like a fish, of all things.

“It’s a bungeo-ppang,” Steven said, when Amethyst laughed at it. “You get them in Korea! They’re really tasty.”

“Oh I am sure,” Rose said as casually as she could. She waited until Steven and Blue Pearl had stepped onto the warp pad before stepping onto to it herself. She noted that Blue Pearl stood behind Steven, her hands placed firmly on his shoulders.

A moment of tense silence passed as they all stood on the warp pad.

“Garnet, would you like to do the honors?” Rose asked.

“Sure.”

The warp pad glowed as light shot up around them, lifting them off their feet and taking them to their destination.


 

The ground rematerialized under Rose’s bare feet. The warp stream disappeared, and warmer, drier air washed over her. They were luckily in an area that was hidden from sight, a walled off alley, if Rose had to guess off hand. That was good. They didn’t need more humans seeing them warp in again.

“Where are we?” Steven asked as he stepped off the warp pad.

“Lagos.” Garnet answered. “In Nigeria.”

We’re in Africa?!” Steven gasped. “Are we going to see elephants? I’ve always wanted to see an elephant.”

His enthusiasm was certainly infectious. Rose gave him a genuine smile. “Oh, I love elephants! They’re so intelligent, and it’s so clever how they can manipulate things with their noses! But I’m afraid we won’t see any today. The ruins are located within the city.”

“Aww…” Steven sounded rather dejected.

“Hey, cheer up, dude. I gotcha covered.” Amethyst turned around, revealing her nose had been replaced by a long trunk and two large, floppy elephant ears stuck out from under her hair.

Steven laughed at Amethyst’s antics, but Blue Pearl stepped closer to Rose, considering her with deep, blue eyes. “Why did humans build their city so close to ruins?”

“I can’t say,” Rose answered. “They might not have know what they were. But humans, brave and curious as they are, would hardly let a little uncertainty stop them!”

“But you could have stopped them,” Blue Pearl said. “Surely it’s dangerous for humans to build their homes so close to Homeworld ruins.”

Rose laughed at the notion and began moving forward, the group following behind her. They weren’t sure, exactly, how long Blue Diamond had been secretly coming to Earth, but it didn’t seem to have been long enough for Blue Pearl to fully comprehend humanity’s pure, unadulterated and utterly delightful stubbornness..

“In my experience, once a human has their mind set on something, they’re not easily dissuaded.”

“Yeah, just look at Beach City,” said Amethyst, pushing her trunk out of the way so she could talk more clearly. “We had to save their boat from a giant monster and they still wanted to live there.”

“Yes. We give them warnings,” Garnet added, “but they never listen.”

“But you could have stopped them,” Blue Pearl pressed. “You are a Gem, not of Homeworld but still. You could claim ownership of the ruins.”

“We have never wanted to claim ownership of this planet,” Rose said, perhaps a bit more firmly than she intended. “And even if we did, Earth is their home. Humans should be allowed to move wherever they desire.”

“I see,” Blue Pearl answered simply before turning to Steven, whose arm was wrapped in Amethyst’s trunk. “Sweetheart, perhaps you should take your hoodie off?”

Once again, Rose managed to keep her surprise from her face, as did Garnet, who caught her eye and nodded, just enough for her to notice. But Amethyst was rather less discreet with her snort of amusement.

Sweetheart?”

Steven freed his arm as Amethyst let her features return to normal. “Yeah. It‘s pretty hot here,” he said evenly. Rose made a mental note to have another word to Amethyst about tact in delicate situations.

He pulled his arms through the hoodie’s sleeves and then pulled it over his head. Underneath the hoodie he was wearing a simple black shirt, adorned with a large bright yellow star, similar to the one that was on Blue Pearl’s hair clip.

Blue Pearl held out her hand. “I can store it in my gem.”

“No, it’s okay, Pearl,” Steven said as he brought his bag to his front. He unzipped it and folded the hoodie and placed it inside. “See? I got it.”

“Ah. Okay then,” Blue Pearl said simply.

Rose watched the pair in silence. She offered her ‘services’, but he declined them. The change is going both ways…

A voice broke Rose out of her train of thought. “There you are.”

She turned and saw Pearl jumping down from the top of one of the concrete walls surrounding them. She landed without a sound, graceful as always, and quickly strode over to them.

Pearl’s looked over at Steven and Blue Pearl, with that carefully neutral expression she used when she was displeased and not willng to show it. “You were able to convince him to come, I see.”

Steven stepped forward and looked steadily at Pearl. “Hello, Pearl-ssi.”

Pearl was visibly taken aback at the way he addressed her, and so was Rose. It took a moment for her mind to process the translation:

ssi: honorific, designating respect and equality.

“Oh,” Pearl blinked at him. “Uh, yes. Hello, Steven Universe. Pearl,” she said in acknowledgement as she moved past them.

Rose noted, with delighted curiosity, how Steven looked up and beamed at Blue Pearl, and how Blue Pearl nodded gently and smiled back at him. Rose wasn’t sure what had changed, but something clearly had, even beyond what Garnet had told her about Mr. Universe.“Were ya able to get in, P?” Amethyst asked.

Pearl sighed. “As best I could. I found no sign of intrusion.”

“My visions were correct,” said Garnet.

Pearl gave her a wry smile. “Yes, yes, they were.”

“Good. I knew you’d both be able to do it.” Rose said. “Then if we’re all ready, I suggest we move out. Pearl?”

Pearl lead the way, sticking to alleys and backstreets to avoid onlookers. While humans had an amazing propensity to ignore oddness, the Gems’ inhuman appearances could occasionally attract attention, which was the last thing they wanted that day. More than once their roundabout route lead them over walls or balconies. Most of the Gems had no trouble climbing these, and Pearl could not resist showing her skills off with dramatic leaps and twirls. It left Rose beaming at her, giddy at such delightful displays, even after all this time.

The walls posed more difficulty for Steven, who struggled on his own until Blue Pearl hesitantly offered some assistance. The boy took such assistance equally hesitantly, but let Blue Pearl carry him with a jump that may not have been as showy as Pearl’s, but was equally graceful.

They carried on through the city. Once or twice, Rose caught sight of a tower or a spire, and was tempted to lead the group up to the top of one for some sightseeing. She had to resist the temptation, though. They had a mission, and no doubt the others would be frustrated by the distraction. She buried a sigh and floated over the most recent wall, landing lightly on the ground.

Pearl put on a half smile, “Nice jump.”

“You weren’t bad yourself,” Rose beamed back.

“You know…” she said, and the half-smile became the smirk that Rose did so love, “this all reminds me of that raid we ran on the western Sun Shrine. Not the first one, the second.”

Rose could see it at once, and grinned back.

“Leaping from pillar to pillar, racing towards the heart of the shrine, dodging Red Eye blasts and artillery fire. And then the look on that Emerald's face when you told her-”

“-you can fly, but you can’t run!” they finished in unison, and burst out laughing.

Amethyst groaned in impatience. “Can you two save it ‘till later? I wanna get to the ruins.”

It took Rose a few moments to get a handle on her laughter before they could carry on. The glare Blue Pearl shot their way, and the uncertain look on Steven’s face helped, though, and certainly helped her remember her private promise to herself for today:

Don’t talk about the war.


 

Rose wasn’t the only with a tendency to become distracted, however. Steven often stopped to admire the posters or signs hanging from walls, or strained his neck to catch glimpses through windows or storefronts. More than once, Blue Pearl had to call him over as he fell behind.

“Sorry,” he apologized as he hurried back to them.

“It’s alright, Steven,” Rose said. “I understand that this is a new place. And you want to take it all in.”

“Yeah,” Steven responded, adjusting the bag on his shoulder. “I’ve never been to Africa. We haven’t even gotten to it in our lessons before.”

“Lessons?” Rose asked. “What sort of lessons?”

“About all kinds of things,” Steven answered. “Science, math, history, geography.”

“Oh my,” Rose said, “that sounds very interesting.”

They chatted for a bit on the topic, Rose privately marvelling at how fascinating it was, that Steven had to learn so much from scratch. Ahead of them, Pearl let out a quiet groan. Rose ignored it, having long since accepted that Pearl did not quite share her fascination with humanity.

“So… do you have a lot of experience interacting with humans?” Steven asked Rose.

“Oh yes.” Rose laughed. “You can hardly be on Earth as long as I have and not do so.” They passed by another road, down which Rose could see a busy main street. People walked down the sidewalk and cars noisily drove down the street. “Humans are incredible,” she said, not really talking to anyone in particular. “There’s so much to you, and each and every one of you are different.” She looked back at Steven. “And that’s why you’re incredible, Steven. You’re a crossroad between humans and Gems.”

Steven said nothing in return, only staring down at concrete ground beneath them. As he walked, Rose noticed the very tip of his blue gem poking from the neck of his shirt.

Rose felt a surprising surge of pity for the boy. Of all the Gems in the cosmos, Steven had to inherit Blue Diamond’s gem. It was an unfair fate, one Steven had no control over. And the helplessness that came with the supposedly predetermined nature of a Gem’s life... That was something Rose was quite familiar with. For the longest time, she had numbly accepted the fate she had been given and simply did what she was told; but only until someone helped her realize that creating her own path in life was possible.

Rose was just about to say as much to Steven when Pearl spoke up, bringing Rose’s attention back to the present.

“We’re here."

In a small clearing of the modern-day concrete jungle, were some ancient stone pillars marked with Gem characters. They were barely standing, having been damaged through the years, but even now the very air surrounding them thrummed with powerful energy.

But what surprised Rose the most was what she saw beyond those crumbling ruins: Beds of flowers, neatly trimmed grass, newly paved paths dotted with benches. Humans and various domesticated pets strolled around with a stark casualness, hardly paying attention to their surroundings.

The Gems came to a stop, staring.

“It’s a… park?” said Steven.

“It seems so,” said Blue Pearl.

“They turned the laboratories… into a park,” said Pearl slowly, shaking her head. “I hardly believed it when I first saw it…”

“I did not See this,” Garnet simply stated.

Barely able to restrain her delight, Rose practically skipped to the fallen pillar which marked the park’s entrance. Embedded into it was a plaque that read:

Dedicated to our forebears:
The ever elusive Fish People”

Rose read it several more times. “Humans are quite strange,” she said finally, smiling.

“That they are,” Pearl responded, frowning.

“Well. It makes no difference.” Rose walked back over to the group. “Our mission remains the same. Pearl, Amethyst.” She looked over at the two. “You two begin searching the area. The artifact is still here, somewhere. This was most likely only the entrance hall for the lab. There must be way into its deeper levels somewhere.”

“Gotcha,” Amethyst said.

“We’ll see what we can find,” Pearl added.

The two headed off to investigate parts of the ruins-slash-park.

Rose turned to Garnet. “Given that this location isn’t as secluded as we thought, are you still going to go through with the training?"

In response, Garnet looked down at Steven, who jumped when he realized all eyes were on him.

“Oh. Well, I mean...” Steven started. “I’ve had visions in public places before. Like buses and parks and stuff. So… If you’re still willing to help me…”

Garnet nodded, and lead the group away from the entrance of the park to somewhere a little more private. All of her attention on was on Steven. “Your first goal: try and trigger a vision of us arriving."

Blue Pearl shifted where she stood, and Garnet was quick to notice.

“He needs greater control,” Garnet explained. “Not just to trigger a vision, but to trigger when that vision takes place.”

“Ah. Of course. Forgive me.” It was hard to tell, given the calm and leveled way Blue Pearl spoke, but Rose thought she could hear the barest hint of sarcasm in her voice.

Steven closed his eyes. “I sometimes have trouble trying to get a specific time.”

“I know,” Garnet responded. “It took you a few tries at the Arena.”

“Yeah…” Steven’s eyes fluttered before closing again. Rose noted that his cheeks had taken on a slight blue coloring.

“So,” Garnet said, “bring a vision of us arriving.”

“Remember your breathing, Steven. Like we practiced.” Blue Pearl said.

Steven didn’t say anything in return. He just breathed in deeply, held it for a moment, before slowly releasing it.

For several seconds, he just stood there, eyes closed, expression blank, his arms hanging at his side. Until Rose noticed his mouth twitch. And not just that, but she could Steven’s eyes moving from behind his eyelids.

He was having a vision.

“Be careful, dear,” Blue Pearl said. “I’ll tell you if you’re about to run into anything.”

Though his eyes remained closed, Steven’s head jerked towards her, and his brow creased in a frown.

Rose herself made no commentary. She found the whole thing fascinating. She had seen Garnet have visions before, of course, but Garnet grew almost unnaturally still whenever she was exploring a vision. Steven on the other hand, squirmed around, moving from foot to foot, before he began to move in tight circle around them. He opened his eyes, but he didn’t seem to be looking at anything in front of him, instead staring into the far distance.

As she was observing him, Rose suddenly felt something brush and push against her leg. She looked down and saw the most adorable dog. All splotchy brown black, with pointed ears and a drooling tongue, tail lashing backwards and forwards in excitement as it bounded towards the group—

Rose couldn’t hold back her squeal.

“Zena! Zena!” the dog’s child cried, pulling back on the leash, but it was no use. The leash flew out of their hand as the dog threw itself at Rose, doing its best to cover her face in slobber, and only reaching her chest. “Oh— no, I’m sorry, stop—!”

“Oh, it’s no trouble, no trouble,” Rose assured, enthusiastically scratching the creature behind its magnificent ears. “This is an Alsatian, isn’t it?”

“Yeah!” said the young child, trying to pull it back.

“Oh, I remember when they were first bred!”

“Uh...” the child said. “How?’

“Oh, I’m thousands of years old,” said Rose. “But never mind that! How did you get Zena here?”

And the child was off, happily telling the story of their seventh birthday and wheedling and pleading, and how they’d finally convinced their parents to let them visit the shelter, and how Zena had been one of the sickest dogs there and—

“Can you be quiet!” Steven snapped, stomping his foot. There was lightning sizzling over his skin.

The blue glow sizzled out of the corner of Rose’s vision, and before she even realized what she was doing, she’d pushed the child behind her, placing herself as a shield between them and Steven. The child flinched, and Zena’s ears went back, tail between its legs.

Rose held her gaze steady on Steven Universe as the familiar power surged through her, prepared to summon her shield in a second.

The park around them felt silent.

The lightning around Steven faded a bit. He blanched.

“Sorry,” he muttered, immediately apologetic. He made a small bark, and the dog relaxed a little, although the child still looked shocked.

“Maybe a little quiet would assist in concentration,” Garnet suggested, with a pointed look at Rose. Warmth flooded her form.

The child was not so easily convinced. He were clutching Zena’s leash. “You’re sparking,” they said accusingly to Steven.

“Sorry,” he repeated, the last of his blue lightning vanishing.

“And why are you blue?” the child asked, pointing at an increasingly flustered Blue Pearl.

“Ah, little one,” Rose said, coming to Blue Pearl’s rescue. “Why don’t you run off with Zena? My friend and I have something we must do.”

“Oh! Right. Sorry, Ma.” He tapped Zena on the head. “Come on. Let’s go.” The dog barked and both of them ran off, and Rose watch them go with some disappointment.

WIth the pair gone, Rose then placed a firm, but gentle hand on Blue Pearl’s shoulder. She didn’t shirk away at all, which was a little surprising. Though, maybe it shouldn’t have been…

“I believe we can trust Garnet to handle it from here,” Rose said. Steven was taking in another breath, eyes closed, while Garnet watched passively. “Shall we leave them to it?”

“I can not leave,” Blue Pearl said simply.

“We’re not leaving,” Rose responded easily. “We are merely giving them some space so that Steven can practice efficiently.” Blue Pearl remained where she stood. “Steven will be within plain view throughout,” Rose gently assured. A pause. “Surely you do want Steven to be able to focus on his lesson?”

That seemed to snag her. Blue Pearl looked over at Steven again, who had now laid his fish shaped bag on the ground as he stared intently at the ground. Finally, she moved, though over to Garnet rather than away with Rose. Blue Pearl looked directly at Garnet, her reflection looked back at her in Garnet’s sunglasses.

“Ensure that he stays hydrated,” Blue Pearl said. Steven cheeks deepened into a purple blush. “And if he gets tired, take a break. And make sure he doesn’t run into anything. He can sometimes get carried away with his visions.”

Garnet looked at her evenly. She didn’t smile, but her expression did seem to soften. “Alright. He will be safe with me.”

Blue Pearl continued to glare before nodding curtly. “I’ll be watching,” she said. Blue Pearl then swiftly turned, sparing a fleeting glance at Steven whose attention was still focused on the ground, before looking back at Rose. “I’m not going too far,” she said. “Just enough to give him space.”

“Of course,” Rose responded. She waved an arm and let Blue Pearl lead.

They did not go far— just to a playground hidden in the shade of one of the remaining pillars, out of earshot. As they walked there, Blue Pearl looked over her shoulder constantly. Rose took a seat on a piece of rubble and invited her companion to join her, but Blue Pearl declined with a “No, thank you,” and continued her vigil of Steven and Garnet.

Over the laughter, chatter and barking of the park’s visitors, the sounds of Pearl and Amethyst’s search could just barely be heard, if Rose focused. It seemed that Amethyst was trying to get Pearl to dare her to carry as many ruined pillars as possible. She wasn’t making much headway, from the sounds of it.

Rose listened to the fond bickering for some time, then turned her attention back to Blue Pearl. She wanted to find something they hopefully break some of the ice between them. “Steven is certainly a talented individual. I’ve never met anyone quite like him.”

“Of course not.” Blue Pearl didn’t take her eyes off Steven and Garnet.

“I look forward to getting to know him better,” Rose went on.

Blue Pearl said nothing.

“I understand you helped Mr. Universe raise him. That is certainly a feat.” Rose chuckled. “At least, I assume it is. I’ll admit, my own knowledge of raising children is rather limited, so—”

Please.” Blue Pearl said only one word, but it was enough; sharp and pointed as it was.

Still, Rose pushed, wanting to get to the root of this. It might be her only chance for a while. “Pearl, is something wrong?”

Blue Pearl looked down at the ground, before slowly turning to face Rose. “Is… Garnet qualified for this?”

“Qualified? I’m not sure I understand what you mean, Pearl.”

A silent beat and Blue Pearl said, “Has she ever taught before?”

“Oh yes. Of course,” Rose answered. “She had more than her own fair share of students during the Rebellion.”

Blue Pearl said, ”She taught them how to fight.”

Ah. Rose understood the issue here.

“Oh, no. Far from it,” Rose said, deliberately keeping her voice light. “Combat training was Pearl’s or my own area of expertise. Garnet helped new recruits with… the more emotional side of things… Staying calm in panicked situations, not letting despair or anger overtake you, understanding one another. Things of that nature.”

“I see,” Blue Pearl responded.

“Garnet was easily one of the best among us,” Rose said. “Slow to anger, but quick to care.” She looked over at Garnet, still carefully watching Steven as he slowly walked around in the midst of a vision. “I may be the face of the Rebellion, but in so many ways, Garnet is its heart.”

Blue Pearl nodded silently at her. “Very well,” she said.

“I know Garnet can seem intimidating,” Rose said. “But rarely have I met someone as loving and accepting as she is. Sometimes, appearances can be deceiving.”

Blue Pearl was silent, only for a moment, before she quietly said, “And that is a lesson you have learned recently then?”

“I suppose if there is one thing Earth has taught me…” Rose said carefully, “it’s that you can never stop learning.”

“Of course,” Blue Pearl said. “And never mind who gets hurt during that lesson.”

Rose slid off the rubble she had been on, landing softly as the grass brushed against her bare feet. She had prepared, and now was her chance.

“In hindsight,” she said, “what we did to Steven is more than regrettable. But at the time, we knew nothing about him. Not even Garnet’s future vision could offer us any guidance.”

“So you judged him. By his appearance,” Blue Pearl said. “Assumed he was his mother, solely by his gem.”

“We did,” Rose said heavily. “We opted for caution when we were dealing with the unknown. Would you have done anything different in our place?”

“You treated him like a beast,” Blue Pearl shot back, ignoring the question. “Kept him in a cage until it suited you.”

“Yes, we imprisoned him until we knew he was safe. We caught him leading two gems of the Blue Court on a raid of one of our most precious resources, after spying on us for months. And he bore a Diamond’s gem.”

“He's not Blue Diamond!” Blue Pearl was almost yelling now, her gaze was sharp and pointed and aimed completely at Rose. “He is Steven Universe. He is not his mother.”

Rose looked calmly at Pearl. “No, he's not Blue Diamond. But-”

“But you didn't care! Steven told you he wasn't, Greg told you he wasn't, I told you he wasn’t, but you didn't care!”

Rose bit back her initial reply after those last few words registered. Oh, she’d been stupid not to see it earlier. This wasn’t an argument about right or wrong, or what was logical or reasonable or even fair. It was about love. And about someone too often left voiceless needing to be heard.

“It's not that we didn't care,” Rose said carefully. “We had never seen anyone like Steven before. A human with a gem… it was something completely different. And we drew the wrong conclusions, and didn’t listen when you told us that. I’m sorry. I want to do better. But I need your help.”

Pearl said nothing. In that single gaze, Rose felt reflected the same scrutiny of the Crystal Gem troops on the eve before battle.

And before a battle, you needed a speech.

“Do you know how long it took me, to realize humans and babies were the same thing?” Hair fell into Rose’s face as she shook her head, laughing at her own folly. “You have to admit, it’s a little confusing. One’s big and can talk, the other’s small and can’t… How was I supposed to know they were the same species?” She smiled. “But then I noticed— they grow. That’s always fascinated me. They’re meant to change, to become something different… you’ve witnessed that, up close. You saw Steven grow. You helped shape him. And from what I can see… that shape’s a good one. Creative, curious, thoughtful… Loving.”

Blue Pearl was still staring back at her, unblinking. But there was the slightest tremor in her hand.

Rose had seen that tremor in her own dear Pearl, many times. A sign of deep, deep emotion, she was fighting so desperately to keep hidden.

“Loving, yes,” the Pearl said. “We love each other. And we will do anything for each other.”

Rose nodded. “Then will you do this for me?”

“I do not know what ‘this’ is.”

Rose shifted, her dress rustling over the grass. “I’m not asking you to be my friend, Pearl. I’m merely asking that we set aside animosities so we may all help Steven. So that we don’t hurt him unintentionally. He’s… very special.”

“He is one of a kind.”

“That he is. But… it’s a heavy burden that’s been laid at his feet. All the things he’s inherited...”

“Yes,” Blue Pearl said softly. “I know.”

“So please, Pearl,” Rose went on. “We want to help Steven, but not without you. You can be there every step of the way.” She smiled. “I don’t think Steven would want it any other way.”

Silence settled between them. The background was filled with sounds of people enjoying their day, of birds singing and children playing with their pets, but for the two of them it was silent.

Until finally, Blue Pearl spoke, “I will try. For Steven’s sake.”

Rose nodded.

It was a start, at least.

Chapter Text

“What am I gonna do?!”

“Well, I don’t know,” said Sadie. “Draw something?”

“I can’t!” Lars moaned.

Sadie continued wiping down the counter. “Well, have you tried?”

“No. I don’t need to. I already know I’m terrible.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Well, that doesn’t seem like a very helpful attitude.”

“But it’s the truth.”

Sadie sighed. She grabbed her purse, rummaged around for a pen, placing it and a napkin on a dry patch of counter. She pointed at it. “Come on, Lars. Just try.”

He glared, and huffed, but stomped over to the napkin and tried. Ten minutes later, he awkwardly pushed the napkin back towards her. Sadie picked it up, and looked it over.

“So?” he asked.

“It’s nice!” said Sadie, staring down at the squiggles. “Um… really nice, bold lines, very creative—”

“What’s it supposed to be?”

“Uh… a… dog?” she hazarded.

He slammed his palm into his face. “It’s supposed to be a horse!”

“Oh. Well, it’s not that bad— just, make the ears more pointed, and change the legs a little…” Sadie trailed off, realizing that Lars wasn’t even listening. He was staring off at nothing. She bit her lip, hesitated for a moment, then stepped closer, risking the chance to wrap an arm around his waist. “Look, it’s no big deal. Just submit whatever, who cares if you win?”

“I do! And Steven Universe does! If he submits some super awesome cool picture, and I give in some— doodle fart— I’m gonna look like a total buffoon!”

She squeezed him. “You will not.”

“I will!” He pulled his hair. “He’s probably working on making something really awesome, right now…”


One moment Steven was looking over at the park, empty, sky clear, the moon shining brightly above him. But then he blinked and rubbed his eyes and it was daytime again. The park was filled with people and the sun shone overhead.

He turned and looked at Garnet. “That… felt closer. It was at night, but it felt like it was closer to present day.”

Garnet nodded shortly. “Then you’re making progress.”

“Yeah, but I still can’t pull the vision of us all arriving.” Steven kicked a nearby rock a few feet away.

“You will get there in time,” Garnet replied evenly. “For now, all you need is more—”

Yooo! Rose! We got it!”

Steven turned around and saw Amethyst and Pearl-ssi rushing over to Rose and Pearl. Amethyst had something clutched into her hands. He turned back around at Garnet.

“Let’s see what they’ve got,” Garnet said.

Steven grabbed his bag and pulled it over his shoulder as together they joined the four, Pearl-ssi already in the middle of an explanation.

“...and the entrance proper was just beyond those trees. It was small, well hidden by growth, and unless you knew how to slice into a control panel-”

“Like you do, of course,” Garnet said as she and Steven approached.

Pearl-ssi smiled assuredly. “Of course.”

Rose chuckled. “How in the stars did I end up with someone as amazing as you, Pearl?”

“Well, I do believe you stole me,” said Pearl-ssi, a knowing grin crossing her lips. Steven looked away, trying to focus on a nearby flower bed, suddenly feeling deeply uncomfortable.  Pearl-ssi’s face flushed with color. “Thought, maybe we can do this later… when we have some privacy?”

Amethyst let out a long groan.

Rose laughed good naturedly, and Steven felt his own cheeks beginning to warm as a hand was laid on his shoulder. He looked up and saw Pearl next to him, a small smile resting on her lips. “How did your training go, honey?” she asked.

“Pretty good,” he answered. “I wasn’t able to bring the vision up, but I got close a couple of times.”

“He has a lot of natural skill,” Garnet said. “And he already a lot of the basics down.”

Steven beamed with pride, before noticing the artifact in Amethyst’s hand. He leaned in to get a better look, and she grinned at him. “Ya see it, dude? Pretty cool, huh?” She held out the object for him to get a closer look. It was spherical, or maybe had been once, for now it was covered in all sorts of nicks and imperfections. Its exact color was impossible to discern, swirling and shifting, but it was somehow dark yet glowing with an inner light.

“What is it?” Steven asked. He tentatively reached out to touch it, and felt a strange cold-warmth roll up his arm. He quickly retracted his hand.

“We believe it’s a sort of energy source,” Pearl-ssi said. “To what level and extent we won’t know until we’re able to test it in a controlled environment.”

“Ohhh,” Steven cooed in wonder. “That’s cool. Are you going to do anything with it?”

“We have no plans for it in the immediate future,” Rose answered. “We retrieve artifacts mainly to secure them.”

“Yeah, you said they’re not stable,” Steven said, still looking at the odd device. “Is it… like, at risk of blowing up?”

“No. Its core is stable and its main containment chamber is still holding together well,” Pearl-ssi said.

“Main reason we’re nicking it is so that it doesn’t attract anything,” Amethyst added.

“Like a corrupted Gem,” Garnet answered Steven’s unspoken question.

“Corrupted? What’s a corrupted—”

Before Steven could finish his question, he was interrupted by the sounds of people screaming. They all turned and saw people and families running towards away from…

“A monster!” Steven yelled.

It was impossible not to notice, the way it was charging through the park. Huge and blue, with a giant horn jutting out of its head. In fact, Steven immediately recognised what the monster looked like.

“A giant beetle,” he said taking an involuntary step forward, only to be pulled back by Pearl’s tight grasp. A giant dung beetle, to be be precise. He had to stifle an almost-hysterical giggle at the image of it rolling the little sphere around like a ball of dung.

“You freed a monster,” Garnet said to Amethyst and Pearl-ssi, her imposing gauntlets flashing over her hands.

“Hey, we didn’t free nothin’,” Amethyst said, summoning her whip and snapping it in the air.

“Enough.” It was Rose, who was speaking calmly, but quickly. “Engage the enemy. I’ll sweep the area and ensure all humans get to safety. And then I’ll rejoin you.”

“Alright, Rose,” Pearl-ssi said. “Crystal Gems: Move!”

All at once, the three of them moved in perfect unison, dashing at the beetle monster with their weapons drawn. Again, Steven tried to move closer. He never had a chance to get such a good look at a monster like this before, but Rose was quick to stop him.

“Both of you stay back. I don’t want anything to happen to either of you.”

Before Steven could say anything in response, Rose leapt into the air, out sight.

“It’s conducting electricity!” Steven heard Pearl-ssi yell. The three Crystal Gems leapt out of the way as a lightening bolt arced from the beetle’s horn and struck the ground with a loud crack, causing the ground to shake under Steven’s feet.

There was barely a second before the beetle reared back and Garnet yelled, “Move!” Again, all three of them moved as if one entity, spreading out but still keeping the beetle surrounded. The beetle, for its part, charged forward, missing all of the Gems but still striking a slab of ruined wall, causing it to topple.

Pearl said something, but Steven didn’t hear it. Instead, he heard another voice calling out.

“Help. Find boy. Find Pack.”

In the distance, on the other side of the of the battle, Steven could see a dog, its ears pushed back and head lowered in fear, its side glistening red with blood. The dog looked like a German Shepard and in an instant Steven recognized it. The one who’d been playing with Rose Quartz earlier, who’d been distracting him—

Without a moment’s hesitation, Steven darted off towards the dog. Pearl was yelling after him, but he ignored her. She’d be angry with him, he knew that. But that didn’t matter. The Gems weren’t paying attention to the dog, and if it stayed there, it was going to get hurt. Or worse.

He ran behind the monster, dodging a misplaced chunk of ruin that Amethyst threw at the beast. He slowed as he approached the dog, not wanting to startle them.

Hey,” he said gently. “Are you alright?

The dog looked straight at him, its eyes filled with fear. “Hurt. Where’s boy?”

I don’t know,” Steven answered. “But you’re not going to find him staying here.

There was another crash, another crack, but the dog stayed where it stood. “I can’t leave without boy.

He’s already gone home,” Steven said. “You need to as well.” His eyes moved to the dog's wound. It looked deep. “And quickly. You need to get that looked at.

The dog was silent for a moment before responding, “Elder boy did say to boy to return home in times of fear.”

“Exactly,” Steven said. “So I’m sure that’s where he is now.”

“Okay.” And without another word, the dog bounded off into the distance, leaving the chaos of the park behind them.

Steven had only a second to feel relieved before he heard voices screaming out his name. He tried to turn, but saw only a blur of blue as something rammed into him, sending him flying backwards. There was a sharp pain in his arm as hit the ground with his opposite shoulder, tumbling to a stop. Dazed, he tried to stand, but couldn’t. There was something warm trickling down his arm.

His vision was blurry. He saw only vague shapes; something big and blue, and fuzzy figures moving at dizzying speeds. He blinked several times and it became clearer. One of the shapes, a slim blue one, was rushing a large, darker blue shape, some sort of weapon brandished in their hand.

“Pearl! Stay back!” It was a Pearl’s voice, but he couldn’t tell where the voice was coming from.

What he did see was Pearl rushing in front of him, standing between him and the beetle.

“No. I won’t let this monster hurt him!” Pearl was defiant, something he wasn’t quite sure he’d ever heard in her voice.

No, no! She didn’t know how to fight, she was gonna get hurt!

He tried to call out to her, tell her to let the Crystal Gems handle this, but all that came out of his throat was a hacking cough.

Pearl’s defiance didn’t save her from the monster’s next attack. Steven saw the tip of its horn glow before it shot out another bolt of lightning, one that hit Pearl squarely in the gut and sent her flying back. She hit the ground and skidded to a stop, just a few inches away from Steven. She didn’t move.

Steven’s chest tightened, and his senses seemed to dull as the world around him faded away. He heard sounds, yells and crashes and felt more rumbling beneath him. There were shapes and colors flashing in the distance… darkness encroaching on his vision… the world around him ebbing away…

—only to be brought back in a rush, all at once, as something cool washed over his forehead.

His eyes shot open and he saw Rose Quartz leaning over him, the corners of her eyes shining and a smile spreading across her face.

“You’re with us again, Steven,” she said easily.

“Pearl!” Steven cried as he shot up. “Where’s Pearl?!”

Thankfully, his question was answered immediately. She was sitting right next to him, hair a little disheveled, but otherwise looking completely unharmed.

“Steven,” she said softly. “Are you alright?”

But Steven didn’t answer, instead he leapt from where he sat and into her lap, wrapping his arms tightly around her and burying his face into her chest. As soon as he felt his face press against her, Steven felt a knot of tension and worry that he hadn’t even been aware of dissolve into a sense of relief. He hugged her tighter, wanting to ask if she was alright, but the words refused to come.

Shh, shh. It’s okay, it’s okay. I am here…”

Steven wasn’t crying, not really. And he might have tried to tell Pearl that, but… hearing her voice and feeling her gentle stroke on his back made him feel better about what she’d done. And what he thought had happened to her..

“Pearl acted very bravely,” Garnet said. “She fought to protect you.”

“Yeah,” Amethyst chimed in. “Dunno if it’s the smartest thing to rush a corrupted Gem with a broken branch. But it was brave, I guess.”

Steven let go of Pearl, though he remained seated in her lap with her arms snugly around him.

He rubbed his head. It was amazing how the pain was completely gone. He mumbled thanks to Rose Quartz for the healing, and the Crystal Gems for protecting him. He looked slowly around the park. It was in terrible state. The ruins were even more ruined, the grass was all torn up, benches had been thrown haphazardly, and the slide in the playground had been crushed. Thankfully, there were no signs of bodies anywhere.

“Where’s the monster?” he asked.

“Sent it off with a bubble,” said Amethyst.

“To the Temple,” Garnet clarified, when he saw Steven’s frown. “Along with the power source we came here to collect.”

“Did… the power source do that to it?” said Steven, slowly.

The Crystal Gems looked at each other.

“Do what to what?” asked Amethyst.

“To the beetle,” said Steven. He wiggled his fingers to indicate magic. “Like… magical radiation… changing them… Turning all these animals into monsters?”

There was a beat of silence. Steven felt Pearl lay a hand on his shoulder and squeeze.

“He doesn’t know,” Pearl-ssi said, shooting at glare at Pearl. The other Crystal Gems all looked solemn, except for Amethyst, who just looked uncomfortable.

“Know… what?” asked Steven, a now very familiar discomfort settling in his stomach.

Rose was the one who answered. “The monsters are corrupted, yes. But they are not corrupted animals.” She took a deep breath. “They are Gems, who have had their body and mind twisted and changed. Left with only a shadow of their former intelligence, filled with uncontrollable fear and rage, and… are now only a danger to all other beings around them.”

Steven was silent, letting this knowledge settle around him.

He’d never thought much about the monsters. They’d only come poking around the Palanquin once or twice; those had been scary times, with him huddling inside, listening to Pearl scaring them off. Whenever he asked questions about them, Pearl’s explanations had been brief: that they were an artifact of Homeworld’s attempted colonization and the War.

He’d just sort of filled in the blanks himself. He’d always assumed...

“All… all those monsters… they used to be Gems?”

There were nods all around. Steven looked at Pearl. She was still for a moment, and then she nodded as well.

“After the war,” Rose began, “our main goal was to tend to them, try to heal them. So far though… we haven’t had any positive results. All we can do is destroy their form and bubble their gem, for their safety and others.”

Steven grimaced down at his feet. Speaking to no one in particular, he asked, “I thought those were just… mutant animals or something… How’d that even happen?’”

Amethyst scoffed. “What do ya think, dude? Homeworld.”

Steven looked up. “They- why would they do that?”

“It was their last, defiant blow against us,” Pearl-ssi said evenly. “We’d won the war, freed the planet… but the Diamonds simply couldn’t stand that.”

“They unleashed an attack that affected every single Gem on the planet,” Rose Quartz continued. “Loyal Homeworld soldiers and Crystal Gems alike. It didn’t matter.” Her expression fell as she looked away. “They punished everyone.”

Pearl-ssi walked over to Rose, wrapping an arm around her waist and resting her head against her arm. But Steven only looked down at his lap, at the blue hands that were wrapped gently around his own waist.

“Geez, dude,” Amethyst said. “You really were kept in the dark, huh?”

Both Steven and Pearl were silent in return.


It was night in Beach City by the time Steven and Pearl returned to the RV. Lapis was off flying, and after inquiring how it went, Dad went off to Fish Stew Pizza to get a quick dinner.

Only Steven and Pearl were left alone in the van.

After what seemed like hours of heavy, oppressive silence, Steven spoke, asking in an almost whisper, “Why didn’t you tell me the monsters were corrupted Gems?”

“Because you weren’t ready.”

“I’m twelve now.”

“Yes, but you weren’t always, darling,” Pearl responded. “When you were young, you were not ready for such truths. So I kept them from you, waiting until I thought you could understand them.”

“Like you being a slave.”

Pearl’s face twitched, but she didn’t look away from him. “In a similar manner, yes.”

“Okay,” Steven said as he slid off the table’s seat and walked over to where Pearl stood. He grabbed her hand and squeezed it. “No more secrets, okay? We’re honest with each other from now on.”

Pearl’s lips pressed together, but she remained silent.

Pearl,” Steven insisted. “We- we’re a family, right? You, me, and Dad. And Lapis. And families don’t lie to each other.” His gaze fell to the floor. “Or at least our family shouldn’t…”

A beat of silence passed, before Pearl spoke, “Alright, Steven. I will… I will do my best.”

“Okay,” Steven said, feeling a heavy weight lift off his chest. Smiling and his tone lifting, he continued, “Why don't we get plates and stuff out for when Dad gets back with the pizza?”

Pearl smiled back at him. “A very good idea, dear. You can grab the napkins and I will get the plates.”


Pearl waited until it was dark and the humans had begun preparing for sleep— if they were not unconscious already— to approach their van. She hesitated outside of it, uncertain of the protocol for this kind of situation, and not wishing to draw the attention of either Universe.

She was preparing to attempt a knock on the vehicle’s door when Blue Pearl stepped out...

...and froze— the typical Pearl response to being startled.

Pearl slowly raised an open hand and flashed a smile to reassure her. “Ah! Hello, Pearl. I was hoping to speak with you.”

“Hello.” Blue Pearl took a cautious step forward, and eased the RV door close behind her. “May I ask what about?”

“About what you did today. How you fought that monster.”

“Attempted to fight,” Blue Pearl corrected.

“Fought,” Pearl repeated. “Whether you were successful or not, you still did what you could, to protect yourself and others.” She paused a moment, to see if Blue Pearl would say something. When she did not, Pearl added, “You were very brave.”

The other Pearl gave the slightest of shrugs.

“My bravery should have not have been necessary. We were reassured that there would be no danger on that mission,” she said.

“Ah,” said Pearl, hemming a little, “yes, well, we were mistaken. Garnet’s future vision can occasionally be—”

“Wrong.”

“—Faulty,” Pearl said. “She’s not infallible, I’m afraid. This universe is filled with unexpected dangers.”

The other Pearl said nothing. Just stared at her. Pearl could feel her silent judgement, right down to her core.

“I could teach you self defense, if you want,” Pearl said, and now she couldn’t help her hands from twisting around each other. “The spear is my forte, obviously, but I’m also extremely experienced with a sword. I’ve noticed you favour that knife, and I could help you with that as well.”

Blue Pearl clasped her hands to her chest. “I see. Thank you very much for the offer, but I do not know if this would be advisable.”

Pearl felt a flash of disappointment and frustration, but pushed against it. This had been expected, and she wasn’t going to give up that easily. “I know what you’re thinking— it’s hardly appropriate for a Pearl to be fighting. But you’ve already fought, and it is more than likely you will have to again. Next time, we may not be there to help you.”

Blue Pearl raised her head, but said nothing.

“It would help you protect Steven,” Pearl made herself add, after a moment.

A small exhale a breath, almost a sigh, and Pearl thought she had her. But then she said,  “Again, thank you, Pearl. But I am currently too busy to pursue combat training.”

Pearl put her hands on her hips. “Too busy with what, exactly? Surely Steven doesn’t require constant attention.”

“I have my duties.”

“What duties could you possibly have in the middle of the night, while he’s asleep?”

Blue Pearl drew herself up to her full height, face flashing in a frown, opening her mouth to say something— and then pausing as if to reconsider. “It is something you should know,” she said. “I will show you.”

Blinking, Pearl said, “What?”

Blue Pearl was already walking at a brisk pace down the beach, waving at her to follow. “My duties. It will be easier to show you than to explain.” Pearl hurried to follow, suspicion and curiosity burning in her core. The other Pearl seemed to sense that suspicion, and said, “You may bring the rest of your team, if you wish. They should also see this.”

Now this is interesting, Pearl thought.

She followed the other Pearl’s request, and gathered the rest of the Crystal Gems. Blue Pearl requested they all follow her onto the warp pad, which was met with some resistance. “Not until we know where you’re taking us,” Pearl said.

“The Kindergarten.”

Immediately they all stiffened.

“What duties could you possibly have there?” said Rose Quartz, frowning.

“I am not re-activating it, if that is your concern,” said Blue Pearl. “Please. What I am doing is for the protection of this planet and its inhabitants.”

They could hardly not go. One by one they all stepped onto the warp pad— Amethyst last of all, her eyes fixed stubbornly on the ground, forcing Pearl to ask her to come along.

It was dark in the Kindergarten. Darker even than it had been in Beach City. The cavern walls loomed over them, blocking what little light the night sky offered. Pearl illuminated the way with a bright beam of white light from her gem, Rose and Garnet following suit.

Amethyst stared around, and took a step closer to Rose. “This… this isn’t my Kindergarten.”

“No. This is Beta,” said Blue Pearl. She did not even need a light, navigating completely from memory, setting off into the darkness.

“The second Kindergarten,” breathed Rose.

This is where it was,” said Garnet, holding up another hand to give more light.

There had been rumors of it, during the War. Seemed to be the only way Homeworld could be getting so many new soldiers onto the planet so quickly. But the place’s location had been fiercely guarded. Pearl had been part of many scouting parties to fertile areas, as well as spy missions to gather intel from key Authority Management Posts; they’d all turned up nothing. Every one the Crystal Gems had captured had either known nothing, or claimed so, committed to hiding the truth.

And here it was.

How could the rebellion have turned out, if they’d known about it back when it had mattered?

Just as her mind was threatening to get lost in a dark maze of what-ifs, out of the darkness loomed a dark thing. Pearl stepped closer and turned her head to it, bathing it in light, and could only say, “What is that?”

“A drill,” said Blue Pearl.

She explained. About the Cluster, buried deep under the planet’s surface, set to emerge in the next year, its body growing and growing and growing until the Earth cracked like a shell around it.

“Ugh,” said Amethyst. “That’s just sick.”

Pearl burned with rage. “It wasn’t enough for them, was it? Wasn’t enough for them to drive every Gem on this planet mad. Couldn’t leave them alone, even after that. No, they had to make sure Earth was reduced to dust—”

Garnet was just standing there, shaking— shaking enough that her very form seemed to be warbling. “All those Gems,” she whispered, “forced together like that…”

Rose came over, wrapped an arm around Garnet’s shoulders to steady her. Garnet’s glasses had vanished, and she was staring at the other Pearl with tear-filled eyes.

The other Pearl stared impassively back.

Pearl stepped forward, wrapped her fingers around Garnet’s left hand, gave a gentle squeeze. She thought, Don’t blame her, Garnet. She had no control over this. No blame.

“Blue Diamond never approved of this plan, not wholly,” said Pearl. “After coming to Earth, she turned against it completely. This is her attempt to set things right.”

Rose’s voice was very soft when she said, “She changed her mind.”

Pearl glanced at her. How much? Pearl wondered. How much did she change, really?

Blue Pearl bent down to open what appeared to be a primitive human tool box, pulling out a wrench. “I’ve been working for years on this project, and Lapis began helping me recently. I understand that none of you are mechanics, but nonetheless, if we pool our resources, I believe that we’ll—”

“Show me your blueprints,” said Pearl.

“—be able to— uh. Yes. Of course.” Momentarily thrown by the interruption, Blue Pearl turned away, rifled for a bit, then returned with a neatly stapled stack of paper. She handed it silently to Pearl.

Pearl flipped through it. The designs were well drawn and clearly labelled with the precision of someone whose life depended on keeping accurate notes. They were hardly the most elegant designs ever. Crude attempts at joining human and Homeworld technology, odd engineering choices that were often overly complex, the occasional calculation error which would be devastating if implemented…

But the essential plan was sound.

Pearl cast her eye to the half-completed carapace of the drill. “Yes,” she said. “I can work with this.”

She reached into the tool box, plucked out a screwdriver, tossed it ten feet in the air, and caught it easily.

“Show off,” Amethyst muttered.

Pearl smirked. “Let’s get started, shall we?”

Chapter Text

It was a bright, sunny morning as Amethyst soared above the beach. It was empty, aside from a small green-brown speck moving towards the Temple’s fence. She peered down curiously; then all her feathers fluffed when she recognised the speck as Connie.

What’s she doing here? It’s not the right day... Is it?

Amethyst flapped her wings in a shrug. Wasn’t like human time schedules made much sense to her anyhow.

Connie had laced her fingers through the fence’s chains, pressing her face right up to it, and calling out, “Amethyst? Ameeeeeethyst! Are you here?”

If Amethyst had had lips right then, she would’ve smirked.

Instead, she let out a high pitched screech, and dived.

Connie had only a second to look up, her eyes widening behind her glasses. She screamed as Amethyst’s claws reached down to her—

— and the screams broke into choking giggles as Amethyst dug into her hair, wings flapping wildly.

“What’re you doing?!” Connie cried, trying to stifle her laughter.

“Making a nest!” Amethyst wiggled herself into a cozy resting position. “Yep. Nice and soft. Perfect for eggs. And other bird stuff.”

“Amethyst!” Connie snorted, trying ineffectively to bat her away. When that didn’t work, she tried shaking her head, harder and harder. It took her literally rolling around in the sand to dislodge Amethyst. By then, Connie had dissolved into a helpless barrage of giggles, so the Gem considered this a victory.

“That’s what’cha get for sneaking up on me!” Amethyst told the girl, returning to her normal shape.

“snuck up on you?!” Connie exclaimed.

“Yeah! It’s Two-days, you’re supposed to be stuck at school.”

Tuesday,” Connie corrected, standing up and brushing sand from her clothes. “But there’s no school today— Oh, right. I guess you don’t know. It’s summer vacation now. No more school.”

Amethyst grinned in delight. “Finally! Now we can hang out all the time!”

“Er, well, not all the time. But a lot more for the next three months.” Connie nodded her head and smiled back. “Yeah, a lot more!”

Amethyst didn’t really understand school. It seemed kinda pointless to her. Sitting in a room for a full eight hours a day, learning stuff that seemed pretty useless— in over four thousand years, she’d never once had to write an essay, or use chemistry, or whatever ‘algebra’ was.

But Connie swore up and down that school was important, and it could be fun, even though the only thing Amethyst had ever seen her really get excited about was that camping trip. But when she asked her how that had went, Connie’s expression dropped and she stared down at her feet.

“I didn’t get to go.”

“What?! Why not?”

Connie closed her eyes and spoke in a very stiff manner. “My parents said it was too dangerous. That they couldn’t trust the teachers to ‘adequately monitor a group of two-hundred students and ensure my safety’.”

Amethyst rolled her eyes. “Pfft, like you need some ‘teacher’ looking out for ya.”

Connie didn’t respond. She just stood there, eyes still closed, opening and closing her left fist.

A big part of Amethyst wanted to run up to Connie’s parents and knock some sense into them. For being her parents, they didn’t seem to realize how awesome Connie was...

Amethyst shook her head. She grinned and picked Connie up, crying, “Well, who cares, huh?! I can take ya camping right now! It’ll be a hundred times cooler than anything ya woulda done at school!

It startled a laugh out of Connie, even if the girl was quick to say she couldn’t go camping now. She didn’t have food or clothing, and her parents would be so upset. None of those were major concerns to Amethyst. What made her stop was Connie saying, “And besides, there’s— uh, actually something else I wanna do.”

“What’s that?”

“I just wanna check the docks, really quickly.”

“The docks?” Amethyst sorta half-shrugged. “What’s so great about the docks?”

“Nothing, just—” Connie ducked her head. “I just met someone there and— It’s kinda stupid, he probably won’t even be there, but— Just quickly, please?”

“Fine,” Amethyst said, but only because Connie really seemed to need some cheering up. “But let’s be quick, okay? I have a surprise of my own, remember?”

“Oh, yeah, right—” Connie was cut off with a shriek when, still holding the human above her head, Amethyst took off at a run towards the docks. The shriek dissolved into laughter as Amethyst went faster and faster, truly showing off what Gem speed could do. It was nothing really. It wasn’t even as fast as Amethyst could go.

The hard part was stopping.

The dock was approaching quickly, the ocean rearing up behind it, a few humans yelping as they dove out of the way. Connie was yelling too, pulling at Amethyst's hair, so Amethyst dug in her heels and just barely managed to avoid plunging both of them into the water.

“Ha! How was that?” Amethyst demanded, placing her friend gently down on the dock. There were skid-marks on the wood, and a few places looked like they were close to catching fire. But other than that, a successful trip.

Connie’s eyes were wide, but she was smiling when she said, “I think I’m gonna barf.”

From behind them, came a third voice. “Amethyst? Connie?”

“Steven?” said Connie, spinning around. “Steven! You’re here!”

“Yeah, I am,” he said, holding his art-book to his chest, and looking between the two of them. “And you nearly went swimming.”

“Wait, wait, wait. Hold up.” Amethyst threw up her hands. “You two know each other?”

“Um… yeah?” said Steven.

“He’s the person I wanted to meet,” said Connie.

“Ah, crud!” Amethyst said, stamping her foot. “I wanted to introduce you!”

The two of them blinked, and in unison said, “You did?”

“Yeah!” Amethyst stood up straighter, clearer her throat, and with a dramatic wave of her arms announced, “Presenting Steven Diamond Universe!”

“Steven… Diamond… Universe…?” Connie said. “Like, a Gem?”

Rubbing his neck, Steven said, “Uh… yeah…” Then he smiled, puffed out his chest and pulled down his collar, putting his shiny gemstone on display. “Tada!”

Connie did not look as impressed at this as she should have been. Brow furrowed she said, “Wait, as in ‘Blue Diamond’?”

“Yep!” Amethyst crowed.

“The ‘evil space queen’ you’ve kept locked up in the Temple?” Connie asked skeptically. “He’s Blue Diamond?”

Yep!” said Amethyst.

“Uh, well actually, I’m not Blue Diamond, my Mom—”

“So you’ve been keeping his Mom locked up?” demanded Connie.

“No,” said Amethyst. “We were keeping him locked up. Because we thought he was Blue Diamond.”

Him,” repeated Connie, gesturing at Steven.

Steven gave a slightly forced smile.

“And… did he do all that stuff you said he did?” Connie asked, taking a slightly nervous step away from him, and closer to Amethyst. “Was he... Was he was the one who made you... regenerate?”

Steven threw up his hands. “Woah! No, I didn’t!”

“Yeeeeah, no.” Amethyst fiddled with the ribbon on her waist. “That was his friend Lapis.”

Connie’s eyes widened at that. Between the two of them, Amethyst and Steven managed to fill Connie in on the the attempt to break Steven out of his prison cell. But the story made her face take on a weirdly pale color, so Amethyst was quick to add, “But don’t worry, this kinda stuff is totally normal for us!”

Connie bit her lip. “Still... It sounds really painful…”

Steven was looking really uncomfortable by where the conversation had gone, too. He was staring down at the wood planks beneath them.

“Psssh, no pain, no gain. ‘Sides, look what I got out of it.” Amethyst dramatically swept her hair back.

Connie stared at her, clearly not getting it. Amethyst felt something inside her clench.

It was Steven who got it, glancing backwards and forwards to the two of them. “Oh! Your hair looks just like Connie’s! Or, well, not just like it— it’s white, hers is brown, but—”

“I— what—” Connie stared at Amethyst, then clutched at her own hair. For a moment she just stared in confusion; then a slow, shocked smile spread across her face. “I… Wow. You... chose to do that?”

“I… yeah.” Amethyst’s Core felt weirdly warm, but did her best to at casual. “You look really awesome, Crushed! I wanna look awesome too!”

“Uh-huh. Well...” Connie ran a hand through her own hair. “Thanks!”

Nobody said anything for a few moments. They all just looked at each other.

“So. Um...” Amethyst coughed. “How d’you two know each other, anyhows?”

“Uhhhhh…” said Steven.

Connie intervened. “We ended up hanging out last time I was in Beach City, and then his Dad drove me home.”

“Last time? You mean when we went to wrestling?” asked Amethyst.

“No. Four days ago...”

Amethyst frowned. “You came around four days ago? Why didn’t ya come find me?”

“Well, uh…” Connie wouldn’t meet her eyes. “I did come to see you! But I got to the fence, and you weren’t around, and Mom doesn’t like me going near the Temple unattended anymore, and you said I shouldn’t either, because ‘the Diamond might zap you with lightning'—”

“Hey!” said Steven.

Amethyst gave him an unapologetic shrug, then refocused back on Connie. “Well, why didn’t ya call me then?” She pulled the phone out of her pocket and waved it. “Why do we even have these things if you ain’t gonna use ‘em?”

“I’m sorry Amethyst… I just… wasn’t thinking straight…”

Connie trailed off, rubbing her arms. Amethyst narrowed her eyes at her. Something was wrong. She was upset.

But about what? Amethyst wanted to ask, but… Well, Connie kept glancing to Steven. Nope, couldn’t ask with him there. Heck, maybe he was even the reason she was upset! Maybe he’d used his crazy crying powers and—

— Nah. That made no sense. There’d been no blue light or nothing. And Connie wouldn’t have been oh-so-eager to find the guy if he was the reason she was sad.

Still. Something fishy there.

“Uh, well,” said Connie, straightening up and forcing some cheeriness into her voice, “What do we wanna do now?”

Steven was putting his art-book and pencils away in his bag. “I was just thinking about going to go grab something to eat… Maybe at that fry place?”

“Oh, I’m not allowed to have fries. They’re too salty—”

“Ugh,” said Amethyst, by now thoroughly done with all of Connie’s parents’ stupid rules. She grabbed Connie by the arm and began dragging her towards the boardwalk. “Live a little, Crushed! C’mon. Let’s get you some fries!”


It wasn’t long before Steven found himself burdened with a tray filled with a feast for a fast-food -inclined king. French fries, onion rings, deep fried fish, soda, and a token bowl of tossed salad. On his right was Connie with a tray on her own, lighter on the fries, heavier with the salad. To his left, Amethyst’s was heavier on everything, including mustard packets, napkins, and plastic cutlery.

All that was left was the question of where to sit.

The inside of the Fry Shack was pretty busy and cramped. Though to be honest, Steven wasn’t overly keen on eating outside. Partly because of the stiff ocean breeze, which he was afraid might steal their napkins. Partly because of the weird mascot out there.

“What? That’s the best part!” said Amethyst, when he admitted as much. “C’mon, you gotta watch, it’s great.”

“Watch what?” said Connie.

You’ll see~!” Amethyst sang.

Steven glanced at Connie, who just shrugged. The pair of them followed Amethyst outside, taking a seat on one of the tables to watch the show, whatever it would be.

He popped the first fry into his mouth— warm and crispy on the outside, starchily soft on the inside, with the perfect balance of salt and ketchup— as he spied on the mascot standing a little ways down the boardwalk, waving its arms. He knew it was stupid, since it was just somebody in a suit, but... the thing kinda... creeped him out. Its eyes were so big and glassy, and its smile was just a little too wide that it almost seemed sinister.

What’s even the point of it? Steven wondered, as he munched on his fish and listened to the gulls cawing overhead. The boardwalk was practically empty, and the few people who wandered down didn’t look like tourists. Having an actual person out there advertising just seemed like a waste.

Maybe the thing scared everyone away, Steven thought, and chuckled to himself.

“I know, right?” Amethyst asked, smirking. “It’s pretty goofy. But watch this.” She gathered a huge handful of fries in her hand.

“Ame,” Connie said, “What’re you gonna—”

Amethyst flung the french fries at the mascot’s back. The person inside didn’t even notice through the thick fabric of their costume.

But the seagulls certainly did.

They descended in a chorus of hungry shrieks: “ FOOD! FOOD! EAT! FOOD!

The fries that Amethyst had thrown were gone in seconds, but the gulls were far, far from satisfied. With no real food left, they turned onto the next best thing: the ‘hair’ of the mascot, shaped like thick, yellow fries, and reeking of grease.

“Nonononono! No, not again!” screamed the person stuck inside the suit, waving their arms and running in a circle. “GO AWAY, YOU STUPID BIRDS!”

Amethyst was practically doubled over with laughter, Connie scolding her. Steven, on the other hand, jumped to his feet and ran towards the poor besieged soul in the suit.

Stop!” he told the birds. “ Stop, that’s not food!

Beady yellow eyes turned to stare at him as the gulls began to chant, “ What? What? Whatwhatwhatwhat?

Not food,” Steven repeated.

“What— what are you doing?” asked the person in the suit. He was just a kid, Steven noticed, probably about his age, eyes wide and desperate.

“I’m explaining things to them,” said Steven. “Don’t worry, it should only take a couple of minutes, and then they’ll never bother you again.”


Connie spent the next half-hour eating her salad and watching Steven shriek at birds.

For the first five minutes, she was pretty much breathless with wonder as Amethyst casually explained, “Oh yeah, he can talk to like, all sorts of stuff,” and Connie’s mind ran through the endless possibilities this new discovery provided.

But her excitement quickly turned into boredom as Steven’s attempts to explain to the gulls that, while the Frybo costume looked like fries, it was not actually fries, dragged on. It turned out that whether they could talk or not, seagulls were not particularly bright.

After a large amount of food had been offered up as bribes, the birds flew away in a large squawking cloud. The kid in the suit— Peedee, as he introduced himself— was so grateful that he wrapped Steven in a hug, one that Steven didn’t seem to particularly enjoy.

Connie waited until the mascot kid had wandered off, and Steven had returned to his now-cold meal to tell him just how impressive it was that he could literally talk to animals, and ask him if he had any other powers.

“Um… well, a few. I can shapeshift, and see the past, and…”

“See the past? What do you mean?”

“Well,” Steven said. “It’s like a vision. A vision of the past.”

“Wow,” Connie cooed. “That is so cool.”

Connie wasn’t sure why she was so surprised to discover Steven had powers. After all, she’d seen the big honking gemstone in his chest, just like Amethyst’s, and she knew that he’d apparently been locked up because the Crystal Gems thought he was dangerous, somehow. It was just… he looked so normal, at least compared to any of the other Gems Connie had met.

Not that Steven didn’t have his own interesting features. While his bluish tinted skin and oval, crestfallen eyes gave him the appearance that he was unwell, there were other features that worked to his advantage. The color of his eyes, for one. Bright blue and they almost seemed to sparkle in the afternoon sun. It was very lovely, so much that Connie didn’t notice that both Steven and Amethyst were giving her weird looks.

“Are you okay, Connie?” Steven asked, bringing her attention back to the present.

Connie blinked as her face heated up. “Oh! I was just— just thinking that you don’t really look like any Gem I’ve seen.” She paused a moment, gathering herself before continuing. “I mean, Amethyst is shades of purple and that Gem who escorted us to the car wash, Lapis? She was blue.” She shrugged. “You just look a lot more human comparatively.”

“Pearl’s told me that before,” Steven replied. “It’s because most Gems’ bodies are ‘hard-light holographic projections’, but I have real skin and organs and stuff.”

“Yeah, Crushed,” Amethyst spoke up as she casually considered the salty, greasy plate her food had been on, before easily popping it in her mouth and swallowing. “That’s why me and all the other Gems can lose our bodies and still come back so easily.” She thumped her chest. “It’s just a holo-watsit.”

“But I’m different,” Steven said. “I’ve got a regular body.” He pinched some skin on his arm, to emphasize the humanness of his body.

“I see,” Connie said slowly. “So you really are like, half human and half Gem, huh?”

Steven nodded. “Yep. I am.”

They were quiet for for a few minutes as they watched people walk down the boardwalk, going about their day. Finally, it was Amethyst who spoke.

“So… what do ya guys wanna do now?”

“Well…” Steven said, pulling his bag around onto his lap. “I was going around town and sketching some landmarks earlier, if you want to see.”

“Oh, you’re an artist?” Connie asked, before answering her own question, “You were putting up your sketchbook when Amethyst and I came.”

Steven nodded, a small smile spreading on his face. “Yeah. I mean, I wouldn’t call myself an artist,” he quickly added. “But since I can’t play an instrument like my dad, I just draw instead.”

He chuckled good-naturedly. Connie chuckled with him, and was about to ask if she could see some of his drawings when Amethyst spoke up again.

“That’s cool, dude. Buuuut… How ‘bout I pitch another suggestion?”

Steven shared a look with Connie before Connie asked, “Alright. What do suggest, Ame?”

Amethyst stood up in her seat so that she was taller than the both of them. “Glad ya asked, Crushed. How would the two of ya like to see the inside of the Temple?”

Connie felt her brow raise at the suggestion. She’d seen the Temple, of course. Once or twice she’d walked Amethyst back to it after a day of hanging out. But she’d only ever seen the entranceway. Her parents had taught her to never come into someone else's home unless invited, though she wasn’t really sure how that worked with ancient temples…

But she still wanted to see what was inside, what it was like. No doubt it was filled with all kinds a magic and wonder; things that nobody had ever seen before. Just like when Lisa was trapped in the Wizard Wilds…

But if Connie was feeling a little excited by the prospect, Steven seemed a bit more hesitant.

In the Temple?” he asked Amethyst. “And… we’d be allowed?”

Amethyst shrugged. “Well I haven’t exactly asked anyone else. But if I show you my room, what can they do? It’s my room?”

“Well, yeah but… I dunno…” Steven trailed off, fiddling with the spiral edge of his sketchbook.

At first, Connie was unsure why Steven seemed so reluctant, but then she remembered what Amethyst had told her. That they had, not so long ago, had a space queen captured in the Temple. And that space queen had turned out to be Steven. No wonder he was reluctant.

Connie was about to suggest some other activity (even though she hadn’t quite figured out what exactly), when Steven spoke up again, “Alright. I want to see inside the Temple.”

That wasn’t exactly what Connie was expecting to hear. “Are you sure, Steven?”

He put on a noticeably forced smile. “Sure. I mean, it’s just an ancient alien Temple, right? What’s the worst that could happen?” He chuckled, though that seemed more genuine, which made Connie feel a little better about still wanting to go. “Alright, Amethyst. You want to lead us?”

Amethyst grinned as she jumped down from her seat. “Thought you’d never ask,” she said, pointing away from the fry shack and towards the Temple in the distance. “Let’s go, you two. We’ll have a lot to cover when we get to my room.”

Without another word, Amethyst took off.

With just a glance and a smile shared between them, Steven and Connie ran after her.


Steven was surprised that no one was around when they got to the Temple. From his experience, even after he had been freed from the cage, there was almost always someone milling around in the entrance area of the Temple, usually either Rose Quartz or Amethyst. But now, no one was around, save for the three of them.

Connie was staring around in wide-eyed wonder, which seemed kinda weird to him. There wasn’t much to look at, just grey stone, a warp pad, and a door.

Steven had come to resent that door. From a distance, it mostly just looked like a turquoise slab with five stones set to a five-point star. But during his time in the cage, it only served as a reminder of his captivity while his captors could come and go as they pleased.

He hesitated approaching it.

Connie, on the other hand, ran up excitedly, saying, “Oh, this is so cool! How do you open it?”

Heh, that’s the trick, dude,” Amethyst answered. She turned around to face them, pulling the neck of her shirt down to better display her gem. “The door’ll only open for me, Garnet, Pearl, or Rose.”

“Oh, so it’s like… linked to you?” Connie asked.

“Yeah. Or something like that. Pearl always yammers about the Temple being ‘an extension of our magical essence’ or something.” She shrugged. “I don’t really know the specifics.”

Steven had noticed how the Temple door always seemed to open to something different, depending on who used it. He had to admit that was kind of cool.

Amethyst turned back around and, after a moment’s pause, light began shining from Amethyst’s gem into the gemstone of similar color on the door. The one on the door began glowing too, and soon the door split down a curved line, the two halves receding into either side of the wall, revealing inky blackness in the doorway.

“Tada!” Amethyst flared out her fingers. “One open Temple door.”

“Wow!” Connie exclaimed. She took a hesitant step forward, doing her best to peer in without actually going inside. “This is awesome. Even if it is really dark.”

“Yeah, it’s always like that,” Amethyst said. “Don’t worry. It’s perfectly safe. Mostly. Come on.” She grabbed Connie by the hand, pulling her in, leaving Steven to follow.

As he walked into the darkness, for just a moment he truly didn’t see anything, until all at once his vision came back.

They were in a cave of some sort. A way, way bigger cave. Giant crystals jutted out of the ground and walls in clusters, casting imposing shadows all over them. He couldn’t even see the ceiling from where he stood, and he thought heard the sound of running water and smelled the distinct scent of petrichor from a distance. But the most striking feature of the cave was the number of heaps of what Steven would generously describe as junk looming over them.

Amethyst turned, a large, proud grin across her face. “So? Whaddaya guys think?”

“It’s very… unique,” Steven answered evenly.

Amethyst seemed to accept this, turning her attention to Connie who, like before, was seemingly trying to look in all directions at once. “Crushed?”

“How is it so big?” she asked. “Are we… still in the cliffside?”

“Sorta?” Amethyst shrugged the question off. “Pearl said it was somethin’ like a ‘pocket dimension maintained by my gem’ or something. I dunno.” She chuckled, “When Pearl gets real technical, I kinda zone out.”

Steven couldn’t believe he was thinking this, but he kind of wished he could track Pearl-ssi down and get a full lecture from her about how it all worked, right then and there.

“Right…” Connie replied slowly. Her brow fell and she pursed her lips together. She must be starting to feel nervous.

“It’s alright, Connie,” Steven said. “I’ve been to lots of Gem places. And nothing bad has ever happened at them.” He smiled softly at her. “And if Amethyst thinks it’s safe, then it probably is.”

She smiled nervously back at him. “Right, yeah. I mean, I figured, but…”

“Aw, don’t worry, Crushed.” Amethyst came between the pair and wrapped and arm around each of their waists. “When you’re with me, nothin’ bad will ever happen to ya.”

Connie laughed good-naturedly, her smile growing in size. “Yeah, I guess I shouldn't doubt you, Ame.”

“Heck nah, you shouldn’t. Now come on.” She grabbed both of their hands and pulled them along. “Let’s try and find something cool to do!”

Connie was laughing and Steven soon found himself joining her. He had to admit, this was not where he’d expected his day to go.

Amethyst led them through the cave, weaving around towering piles of unknowable contents, before finally skidding to a halt next to a particularly large pile. The sound of running water was much louder there. Steven looked past another pile and saw a waterfall, of all things, flowing into a small lake. He briefly wondered how it got there and where exactly all that water was going.

Amethyst looked at the pile they had stopped at closely, examining it up and down before releasing both of their hands. “Alright,” she said. “This one looks promising. It’s an older pile.”

Steven certainly couldn’t judge its age, or know exactly what that had to do with anything, but the pile certainly did look noticeably larger than any of the others. Its contents was a hodgepodge of random items: random chunks of rocks, garbage can lids, boxes of magazines, hubcaps, scraps of a strangely colored metal, a satellite dish, a cracked figurine of a clown, and, sticking out at the very top, a bowling pin, of all things.

“Where did you get all this stuff?” Connie asked, getting a closer look at at the pile.

“Just around,” Amethyst answered. “I see something that looks cool and I grab it.”

He idly wondered if petty larceny was a common problem in town. Not that everything in the pile looked to be human in origin. The aforementioned strangely-colored metal reminded him of decorations he’d seen in some Gem ruins, and at the base of the pile was a chunk of rock that seemed to have once been part of a larger image depicting several figures gathered around… something. It looked like one of the murals from the Lunar Sea Spire. He bent down to examine it more closely.

“Alright you two. I’m gonna go spelunking to see if I can find anything cool.” Before any questions could be asked, Amethyst leapt into the air and dived into the pile, scattering bits of its contents everywhere.

“Okay, Ame!” Connie called into the pile. “Um, be careful, I guess.”

Relative silence descended upon them, save for the waterfall and the sound of Connie padding around the pile. Steven continued to inspect the mural. The figures were almost definitely Gems, though what they were gathered around eluded him. Still, it did look rather cool. And maybe if he sketched it and showed it to Pearl, she could offer some insight.

He reached for the sketchpad, tucked under his arm, but before he could open it, Connie knelt down beside him.

“Hey,” she greeted lightly.

“Hi,” Steven offered back, not knowing where to go from there. “Um, did you see this?” He pointed at the chunk of rock.

“Ohhh,” Connie cooed. “It’s… a picture of some kind? A mural maybe? Or part of one.”

Steven nodded. “Yep, that’s it.”

“Who are the people in it?”

Steven looked back at the mural chunk. The design of each figure was fairly simple, in traditional Gem artistic-style, each one slender, holding a single arm out. The only thing that really differentiated them was the circle, or square, or triangle that marked each of them.

“They’re Gems, I think,” Steven answered. “See the shapes on each of them? I think that’s meant to be their gems.”

“Oh, right,” Connie said. “Yeah, that makes sense.” She scooted a little closer. “What’s that they’re all gathered around?”

Steven frowned. “Um, I don’t know. I was going sketch a quick picture so I could show Pearl and see what she thinks.”

“That’s a good idea,” Connie said. She considered the mural for another moment before asking, “So… Do you know who they are?”

Steven shook his head.

“How about where the mural came from?”

“No…” Steven forced himself to respond through the rising wave of frustration. “Not really…”

Steven felt his teeth grit together, followed by Connie saying, “Are you alright?”

He took a few seconds, mentally counting down in his head before letting go of a breath and answering, directing his gaze down to his lap, “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?”

Steven hesitated. “Yeah, it’s just…” He sighed heavily. “I’ve got a gem, but I don’t really know that much about Gems… Like I know about holographic bodies and regeneration and stuff. But important stuff, like what life is like on the Gem homeworld or Gem culture or… anything like that...” He ended with a shrug.

Connie silently considered him for a moment before asking evenly, “You’ve never been? Off Earth, I mean.”

Steven shrugged again. “I went to the moon base with Pearl once, but we didn’t stay long. She just said she needed something out of the database.”

“Well… that’s still really cool,” Connie said. “And impressive. I mean, you’ve got to be the youngest person to have ever gone off-planet.”

“I guess…”

“And, you know,” Connie continued. “I don’t really know anything about Gems. I mean, I’ve been friends with Amethyst for a couple months now, but… she doesn’t really want to talk about stuff like that.”

This didn’t surprise Steven. She’d been made on Earth, and didn’t seem to care about space or where they’d come from. And even if she did, there was no reason she’d talk to Connie about this stuff. Humans didn’t need to know about Gems.

“But this is different,” Steven said. “Pearl lived on Homeworld. She knows all about it. And I’m supposed to lead Homeworld one day, and she still acts like I’m a little kid or something…”

Steven trailed off, and when he glanced back up, found Connie looking thoughtfully at him from behind her round glasses.

“Yeah,” she said. Her voice was soft, but weighted. As if she knew exactly what Steven was referring to. “Grown ups can be like that.” She shrugged before continuing, “Always thinking you need their help, never really asking you what you want to do or if you even like tennis!” She finished strongly, throwing her hands up in the air before seeming to realize that Steven was still there. “Sorry,” she mumbled. “Kinda got personal there.”

But Steven didn’t mind. Just like at the dock, it felt reassuring that he wasn’t the only person dealing with problems like this.

“It’s okay, Connie,” he said. “I guess, whether Gem or human, parents are just kinda… like that sometimes.”

Connie giggled. “Yeah, that’s true I guess. A universal constant.”

Steven nodded, smiling now. “Truly universal. Since it’s like— across the whole universe. In every single species, in every galaxy. ”

“Well, let’s not get too carried away,” Connie said. “I’d like to think there’s some kind of intelligent life out there that has been spared this fate.”

They laughed together, their voices carrying around the cavern and echoing around them. But soon, their laughter died down, and Steven found himself fiddling with the spiral edge of his sketchbook again.

“Thanks, Connie,” he said.

“For what?”

“Just… for talking with me.” He shrugged. “It’s not easy making friends, you know? Not with—” He pulled down the hem of his shirt, revealing the tip of his gem. “—with this.”

“Oh,” Connie said. “Steven, it’s— You’re great to talk to, Steven. And just hang out with. And, well, just remember this...” She smiled again. “No matter what problems you’re facing, there’s always someone who can help you with them,” she said, before adding, “My Dad tells me that whenever I’m having trouble with some kind of problem. And it’s usually true.”

“Your Dad sounds like a smart guy,” Steven smiled back at her.

“Don’t let him hear you say that.”

They laughed together again, the lump of frustration that had settled into Steven’s chest dissolved, leaving behind only a warm feeling. Just like last time, talking to Connie had really done a lot to help.

She was… kind of amazing.

Steven opened his mouth to say… something, but he was cut off by the clanking sound of metal on metal.

Look out dude!”

Steven looked up and fell to his left, dodging the bowling pin that had been tumbling right towards him.

“Sorry, Steven.” He looked up to find Amethyst sticking partway out of the junk pile. “Things can be a little unstable at times.”

Connie helped Steven to his feet, before looking up at Amethyst and asking, “Did you find anything?”

“Found lotsa things,” Amethyst said. “Gonna come down and show ya, but…” She began squirming and pushing against the pile.

“What’s wrong?” Steven asked.

“I’m er… Well, I’m kinda stuck,” Amethyst admitted.

“Stuck? But I’ve seen you lift cars before,” Connie said.

Pssh, I can get out no problem. But if I move the wrong way, the whole pile could come tumbling down.”

“Oh,” Steven said. “Well, then let Connie and I get away so you can—”

But Amethyst just scoffed. “Dude, I’m not gonna cause the pile to fall. All my stuff will get mixed up.”

Steven looked at the messy and seemingly randomly put together pile, before glancing at the other similarly arranged piles around them. “Really?”

Yeah. Just like I tell Pearl, I got a system.”

“Then, what are you going to do?” Connie asked.

Amethyst didn’t answer right away, instead still pulling and pushing against the pile. “I think… if I shapeshift in just the right way, maybe I can get out without causing the whole thing to collapse.”

Connie nodded. “Is there anything we can do to help?”

“Just… ugh.” She gave one final pull before finally relenting. “Just go to the other side. That’s where I’m gonna come out.”

“Alright, Amethyst. Let’s go, Steven.” Without waiting for him to respond, Connie took off around the pile, Steven hastily following after her.

The other side of the pile looked much like the side they had come from, just a random cacophony of items and objects mashed together. The biggest difference was that the small pond and waterfall were now positioned behind their backs as they intently watched the pile, wanting to see Amethyst as soon as she popped back out. But several minutes passed and Amethyst still hadn’t come out.

“Amethyst?” Connie called, tentatively putting her mouth closer to the junk, “Are you still okay?”

There was a pause, before Amethyst answered, “Yeah. I’m good.” Her voice was muffled by the pile and even sounded strained as she kept trying to free herself and preserve the pile.

“Are you sure?” Steven asked cautiously. “We can go get one of the other Crystal Gems if you need help.”

“No way.” Amethyst voice was stronger as well as a little sharper. “I don’t need any help. Just… need… to- uh oh.”

Before either Steven or Connie could ask what was wrong, the pile shifted. Steven took an involuntary step back before he heard a low rumbling sound. And before he could react to that, the pile began collapse, its contents spilling all over. Including at Steven and Connie.

Steven tried to adjust, but before he could even begin, the junk wave caught his feet and began to carry him away. He hugged his sketchbook tightly, not wanting to lose it. If he could just find the right footing, then he could—

— Gravity caught him. He tilted, hitting something cold and wet.

He had just enough time to grab a breath, but there was a current in the water. It seized him, his hoodie and pants and shoes growing heavy, pulling him down. till he clutched at his sketchbook. Trying to swim up with just one arm was a futile effort.

The dim light from the surface was fading. Pain flared in his chest, and he kicked and kicked and kicked— but he couldn’t even tell where the surface was anymore. He was going to drown here and—

Suddenly, he could breathe again.

He gasped, breathing in hot, hot air.

He hit something hard. 

The impact was unexpected, and knocked what little air he had out of his lungs. For several long moments all he could do was lie on what seemed to be a floor, recovering, heaving in as much of the precious, beautiful oxygen as he could.

He sat up, blinking blearily. The light here was a low, ominous orange, and his eyes had some trouble adjusting. He felt around for his sketchbook, but the floor was warm, almost unpleasantly so. The air itself was oppressively hot, already evaporating the water from his hair and clothes.

Steven’s eyesight recovered just in time to see his sketchbook teetering on a ledge some feet away, just about to fall into what had to be the source of the heat.

“No! Don’t—” Steven yelped, jumping towards it, but it was too late. The book sank into a pool of thick, bubbling red liquid, dark smoke trailing up.

Lava. He’d lost all his art to a pond of lava.

All the frustration and outrage Steven felt was quickly put on hold by his mind replaying everything that had just happened.

He had fallen into the pond in Amethyst’s room, had been pulled under water, and was now... here. Wherever ‘here’ was, exactly.

There was a wet ‘thwap’ from behind him. “Ow.”

Turning, Steven found Connie shakily picking herself off the ground, her glasses clutched tightly in her hand.

“Connie,” Steven called as he ran over to her, making sure to go over the lava lanes. “Connie, are you okay?”

“Steven?” Connie turned towards him, squinting her eyes before putting her glasses back on. “Steven!” she said, this time with more energy. “You’re alright!. I saw you fall into the pond and… well, I fell in after you. I tried to find you, and when I couldn’t I was afraid you…” She trailed off before shaking her head. “You are alright, right?”

“Yeah, I think I am,” Steven answered. But of course he was. After all, he had super Gem strength, and she was just a human. “How about you?”

She nodded. “Just a little shaken up, I guess. But I think I’m mostly fine.”

“That’s good,” Steven said. “Though… now we need to figure out where we are.”

The chamber around them wasn’t anywhere near as big as Amethyst’s room, but it didn’t need to be. It felt big. The strange lava pit, the bare, curving stone walls, the mysterious curving tubes that reminded Steven uncomfortably of the cardiac system diagrams from his biology textbook. There didn’t seem to be any doors.

“Is that real lava?” Connie breathed.

“Yeah, it is. Careful, I lost my sketchbook in it.”

Connie nodded, and took a step back.

“So we’re in a room, with no apparent exits, with lava in it.”

“That seems to be about it,” Steven said.

“It’s just like the secret dungeon in Lord Courirfin’s lair,” Connie said, as she began to pace around the area. “In that book, Perdita figured out that she could escape by touching different floor tiles in the right sequence…”

Steven stared at the many, many floor tiles surrounding them. “I hope that’s not it…”

“I know, it’s probably something different in reality,” Connie agreed. “But there has to be a way out. After all, there was a way in.”

Steven didn’t mention that this wasn’t an ordinary place. They had to be still inside the Temple, and Steven could only guess at what rules might be in play here. “Let’s look around and see what we find.”

“Good idea,” Connie said as she began to slowly look around and scan the whole room. “Maybe if we can— woah.”

Steven had already been working against one of the wall-veins, pushing against it with all of his might. “What?”

“What are those things floating up there?”

Connie was pointing towards the ceiling. Following her gaze upwards, Steven was initially just as confused as she was— and then his stomach flipped as understanding dawned on him.

Floating above them were hundreds of bubbles of various colors. They looked almost like... party balloons. But inside each and every one of them was a gem. An actual gem. A person. It was hard to see from such a distance, but the way each stone caught the light of the lava, gleaming and glittering, was impossible to mistake.

Bile burned up his throat. This was some sort of prison.

“They’re so pretty,” Connie breathed, standing on tiptoes now to get a closer look. “Have you ever seen anything like them? What do you think they do?”

Before he could answer, something purple appeared from overhead. It screamed with Amethyst’s voice, falling through the sea of bubbles, before landing on the floor with a wet slap.

“Amethyst!” Connie cried, running over to her.

There you two are,” Amethyst said, getting up and brushing herself off. She was soaking wet, just as himself and Connie had been just minutes before. “Why’d you two run off like that?”

“We didn’t mean to,” said Steven. “I fell into your weird pond thing and ended up here somehow.”

“And I tried to rescue him!” added Connie.

“Yeah… well,” Amethyst shook her head. “You both okay?”

“I’m fine,” Connie answered. There was a beat of silence, before she looked over. “Steven?”

Steven blinked at her, before shaking his head. “Yeah, I’m okay too.”

Amethyst explained how the puddles in her room were some sort of portal network, which lead to all sorts of different parts of the Temple— which would have been nice to know before leaving them alone next to one. “Good thing you didn’t fall into one of the others,” she said, pointing out a few circles of water almost completely obscured by the collection of bubbled gems. “Pearl woulda been so mad if you’d popped ‘em—”

“And why’s that, huh?” Steven asked, crossing his arms.

Amethyst blinked. “Cuz then they’d all get out?”

“So you admit it!” Steven accused. “You’re— capturing gems in here! This is where you keep your prisoners!”

“Wait,” said Connie, “What—?”

“Uh, yeah, duh.” Amethyst crossed her arms right back at him. “We already toldja, dude. Those are the corrupted monsters. We gotta keep them here so they don’t, like, eat humans’ heads or something.”

“... Oh,” said Steven, feeling very stupid.

“Yeah. ‘Oh’,” Amethyst mimicked.

Steven felt his mouth hang open gazed back at the mass of bubbles. There were so many of them, all clustered around, they all couldn’t even begin to fit in Steven’s view all at once. He’d just assumed they were captive Homeworld soldiers, like in Pearl’s stories, but... “They’re… all corrupted?” he asked slowly.

“Yeah. Rose wasn’t lying when she said all Gems on Earth, dude,” Amethyst answered. “The only reason she, Pearl, and Garnet were able to survive was cuz Rose was able to protect them.” She shrugged. “And the only reason I survived was cuz I hadn’t popped out of the ground yet.”

Steven was silent in response.

All Gems on Earth.

He hadn’t really questioned the idea when Rose had explained it to him, but… to see them all here now… And this wouldn’t even be all of them. If the monster from the mission was any sign, there were still plenty of corrupted Gems running around the world.

“Um, what’s going on?” It was Connie who spoke, bringing Steven back to the present. “What do you guys mean by ‘corrupted’?”

Amethyst began explaining things. Steven didn’t bother listening. He just kept staring up.

“So they’re like zombies?” he half-heard Connie ask.

“What’s a zombie?”

“It’s this sort of movie monster. We could watch it! Mom doesn’t really let me, since they’re so gorey, but—”

There was a whooshing noise. Steven wasn’t going to pay much attention to that, either, but—

“Uh! Hey Garnet!” Amethyst’s voice came out as a panicked squeak.

There, the fusion was. Standing in a door that had just magically appeared, staring at them seriously, from behind her impenetrable glasses.

Sweat trickled down the back of his neck that had nothing to do with the room’s heat, and Steven stood a little straighter. Besides him, Connie did the same.

“Amethyst,” said Garnet. She adjusted her glasses. “Steven. Connie.”

“Hello ma’am!” said Connie.

“Hey,” said Steven, risking a little wave.

“We were just… I was just…” Amethyst fidgeted. “They didn’t break anything and I was keeping them safe, so— And anyway, we were just about to leave—”

Garnet nodded.

“Come on guys,” Amethyst said, giving them a significant look, and Steven didn’t have to be told twice.

They hurried out of the magical door, into the blessedly cool and dark out-cave of the Temple. Steven let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.

Amethyst turned around before the door closed behind them. “Hey, Garnet, do you think you could—”

“I won’t tell Pearl,” Garnet said.

“Okay. Um, thanks—”

The portal closed, replaced with the plain turquoise-grey stone of the outer Temple door.

The three of them stood there.

“Well,” Amethyst said. “That didn’t go too badly. What y’all wanna do next?”

Steven didn’t answer. Instead, he felt a lightness in his head and felt a churning in his stomach. He closed his eyes, trying to calm his faculties.

“Maybe we could go explore some tidepools or something?” suggested Connie. “Steven?”

“I think I’ll... probably just head home.” He reopened his eyes and saw that Connie was looking at him softly.

“Are you sure?” Connie asked, sounding a touch concerned.

Steven nodded. “Dad and Pearl are probably expecting me back by now.”

“Alright then,” Connie said. “Um, it was fun hanging out with you.”

And it had been. It had been fun.

But then they’d gone into the stupid temple and he’d nearly drowned and he’d lost his sketchbook, and he really just wanted to go back to the van and sleep.

Connie’s smile faltered.

“I had fun too,” Steven said quickly, with as much enthusiasm he could muster. Which wasn’t much, but it seemed to cheer her up a little.

“Maybe you guys can actually trade phone numbers this time, so I don’t gotta carry Connie around the town searching for you?” suggested Amethyst.

“Oh! Good idea!” Connie pulled her phone out of her pocket. It was some really old-fashioned, brick-looking thing, which was probably the only reason it hadn’t died from their impromptu swim.

Steven had luckily forgotten his own back at the van, so his wasn’t broken either. He entered  his number into Connie’s phone from memory, as well as Amethyst’s (stolen) one. He handed it back. An awkward silence passed between them.

“Well… I’ll see you guys later,” Steven said. He waved before he started walking away and out of the entranceway.

“Bye, Steven,” Connie waved.

“Yeah, see ya, dude. Now, come on, Crushed. Forget ‘tide pools’. I got something awesome in mind for us…”

Steven didn’t hear what Amethyst’s plan was. He just walked away, back towards the van, his head hung low and a miserable, uncomfortable feeling resting in the pit of his stomach.


“Alright. Enjoy your donuts, guys.” Sadie placed the several boxes of donuts on the counter and slid them across to the Cool Kids.

“Thanks,” Buck said simply, taking a couple of the boxes.

“Yeah, thanks, girl,” Jenny added, doing the same.

“These will help keep us motivated as we plan our next session,” Ronaldo said, taking the remaining boxes.

“Well, you all go have fun,” Saide said, forcing a weary smile. “And thanks for the business!”

“Supporting local businesses is a cornerstone of our economy,” Buck said. “Or at least, that’s what my Dad always says.”

“Well, he keeps getting reelected for a reason,” Saide said, not adding that was largely because he ran mostly unopposed. Instead, she just really wanted them to leave so she could collapse and get off her feet for a few minutes.

“I suppose so,” Buck replied neutrally. There was a pause, before he nodded and turned to leave, Jenny and Ronaldo following.

The glass door had barely shut before Sadie sighed and collapsed against the counter. She rested there for a few moments before taking a deep breath and steeling herself. Taking a quick look to make sure no customers were heading towards the store, she left the counter and went through the ‘Employees Only’ door.

As soon as she stepped into the back room, she heard the rustling sound of her stepping on several sheets of paper. She looked down and saw various doodles, scribbles, and angry scrawls.

She sighed frustratedly as she kicked the papers aside and walked over to the table and chairs set in a corner of the room, to the source of all the loose papers.

“Lars! What are you doing? We’re working!” Sadie said.

He didn’t even look up from his current attempt. “You can cover the store for a bit, right?”

“I have been,” Sadie shot back sharply. “You can’t just sit back here all day and let me handle the shop.”

Lars didn’t respond right away. Instead, he finished up his drawing, considered it for a moment, before tossing it over his shoulder to join the dozens other scrapped drawings on the floor. Then he just grabbed another sheet and began again.

“I’ll be out there in a minute,” he said, still not looking at her. “Just cover for me a little longer.”

Sadie was about to argue, but she heard the bell from the door out front, signaling that a customer had come in the store. She bit her lip, before sighing and letting her shoulders droop with resignation.

“Fine,” she said. “Just hurry up.”

Lars said nothing in return, only keeping his focus on his drawing.

Sadie frowned at him, before sighing again and returning to the front of the shop.


Pearl was not sure what she had expected to happen after introducing the Renegade to the Drill.

Perhaps, at best, complete indifference from White Pearl as she took over the project with the complete self-certainty in which she approached all things. At worst, a constant litany of snide words and sharp criticism as White Pearl continued in her attempts to prove how much better she was to her counterpart.

And indeed, there was the occasional criticism, though it was aimed almost entirely at Pearl’s engineering and technique, and was always accompanied with advice on how to improve it. Pearl, well-aware of her faults in this area and ever-striving to improve her performance, took this all in stride.

It was the rest of the Renegade’s attitude that she had trouble adjusting to.

There were none (or, at least, very few) of the snide remarks and general posturing White Pearl delighted in. When at work, her attention seemed entirely focused on the issue at hand.

Furthermore, she was quite willing to let Pearl share in the work. To ask for clarification on some design element or other. To request help when she needed another pair of knowledgeable hands. To even request Pearl’s help when she struggled with some aspect of the highly-advanced Homeworld technology that was far beyond the Renegade’s own knowledge.

The most disarming incident, however, happened just over a day into the two of them working together. White Pearl was standing there, absently screwing two planes of metal together, when she said, off-hand, “It really is quite impressive, it has to be said. I don’t think I could have accomplished anything like this with only fourteen Earth years of study.”

Pearl looked at White Pearl with no idea how to respond.

So she simply decided not to. She continued with her own task of integrating electronic systems, and was relieved when White Pearl said nothing more.