It is nearing dark before Pearl can't stand it anymore, worry an itch that writhes beneath her skin and sets all of her nerves on fire, and she turns to Garnet at last, hands spread wide pre-emptively as she begs. "They've been gone for hours! I know Amethyst never plans for anything, but they should be back by now, don't you think?"
She whirls about, then again, then again, and paces in a circle so precise it could be used to measure time. "I mean, we have to put Steven to bed soon! He has to have his story." She stops to look at Garnet and her eyes are too soulful, too wide, fingers creeping to curl at her mouth in worry. "Oh no. It might be too late for his story."
Stone silent, Garnet lounges on the couch as always, arms crossed, legs crossed, expression closed, immutable and inscrutable both. The angle of her head might put her gaze out the window, relaxed as anything, but there seems to be too much tension in her for that, too; it lurks in the set of her shoulders, the lock of her knees. That is a worry, and unthinkable, so perhaps Pearl is imagining it, taut to bowstring-snapping as she is, thought fraying about in all directions.
There is a beat of bitten fingertips, but no response. She changes tack, wheeling to walk in triangles as if to force a new angle, to make her metaphor club blunt. "And Amethyst, too... I don't know what she's thinking! She just left, when we have all this work with Peridot? What could she be doing?"
(she doesn't like to worry about Amethyst -- it feels like it takes millennia off her life -- but Steven is off with her, and that can sting)
One-two-three steps, one-two-three steps, one-two-three back to the start. She pivots her heel sharp at the turn of every corner, looking only down. Every pace is the exact same length as the one that came before it, the angles all perfect, as automatic as thought.
She stamps her path out long enough that the floorboards are starting to crack about the points before she stops, hands cast up to the ceiling, and swings back to Garnet once more. "Can you... can you at least see where they are?"
There's another pause, and far too long, before Garnet answers, and there's something slow and thick in her voice, like doubt: "Yes."
Pearl nearly snaps with the force of sweeping forward, hands clapping together hard enough to sting. "Well! Why didn't you say so? Are they in danger? Should we go?" She's spun already for the warp pad without waiting for the response, pirouette forgotten and feet flat to floor in her haste, and she's more than halfway there before she realises that Garnet is not following after her. There's urgency in it as she turns, beckons, fingers crackling against the air, elbows tucked in sharp as swords against her sides.
"Aren't you coming?" she asks, and she isn't ready for it, how Garnet doesn't look at her, how Garnet just shakes her head. Her body still lists towards the window, and her arms are still crossed crossed crossed.
"Not this time, Pearl." It is only now that she unfolds a bit, back straightening. "I'm not certain we should go."
Pearl starts at that, going too taut. Her fingers knit together, come apart, knit together, come apart, weaving and twisting about in ways that would make a human's hands break. "What do you mean? Of course we should! Steven--"
"It might make things worse!" Garnet snaps it out, head swinging back to look at Pearl head-on. It is moments like these that make her shades look awfully, utterly, terribly dark. "I know you're worried about Steven, but I don't know if we can help them right now."
There's too much in that, weighing heavy with all these extra details that Garnet never says. "Help them?" Pearl sounds lost, and Garnet doesn't give her time to ask more questions before she continues.
"It might be best to let them come back on their own. But, if we do go..." She breathes out, heavily. "It has to be you."
"What? Me?" Pearl straightens nervously to hear that, fingers flying up to her face, and she has to catch herself from stumbling back. "...Alone?"
"Yes." Very emphatic, very sure. Her arms uncross and she leans into one palm almost too casually, fingers covering her mouth as she looks out the window again, looks away. "It has to be you, Pearl."
At any other time, words like that from Garnet would have her glowing from the inside out, flushed to radiance, singing bright. She almost doesn't hear them now; her whole heart is drowning in worry, drowning in weight. She doesn't like to see Garnet like this, as if the rug has been pulled out from beneath all the world and everything is falling down, hesitance where there should be nothing but surety, and strength. She doesn't like to think about what could be waiting for her, if the chance of it should lead to this.
But fear wins, the memory of Steven's tiny, smiling face. She leaps to the pad again, breathes deep with these lungs that do not need air. "Where are they, then?"
It sounds like it's being dragged up from somewhere deep down within, when Garnet answers her, at last. "The Kindergarten," she says, and it's so heavy, as if she still does not think that she should.
And that is all the time Pearl has for worry before she is choking on the heart she doesn't have, gone in an instant, flashing through space, her whole body a spear of anger and fright and nausea, striking forward, striking too close to what is not and should never be a home.
She doesn't mean to come out yelling. She doesn't mean to come out yelling like that, or at all, but she can't help herself, to see how loudly Amethyst is laughing, to see how Steven only looks scared, lost in the shadows of all the looming and shattered injectors. It's wrong wrong wrong and wild fear makes knives to stab her from the inside out, so that she goes stiff and taut all over, snarling all her words through the guilt this place brings, the pain.
Would things have gone better if she'd been more patient? That's always the question, isn't it.
Maybe Garnet was right, Pearl thinks, staring at the hole in the cliff-side as if it goes on forever, and they haven't a chance of getting Amethyst back out. Maybe coming here really did only make it worse.
It is a few moments long before Steven emerges from within, and for all that his face looks so little here, in a place this empty and big, the set of his mouth is very, very sure. "You talk to her," he tells her, and she can only hear Rose in his voice, somehow, so that she's moving to obey before she even knows it, or remembers what was said to make her come here at all.
Amethyst looks even smaller than Steven when she's hunched in like that and pressed to the rock as if it might absorb her back up again, returning her unto only the nutrients from which she was made. If she wished for that, could they let her? Should they?
It hurts, it hurts, it hurts the heart. How do you even begin with a guilt that deep?
"I know it's laaate," Steven drawls, tripping over the warp pad with exhaustion as they land; "but you'll still read me a story, right? Pearl?"
She catches his balance before he falls too far; an awkward thing to do, with Amethyst still holding on to her hand like that, as if she has no plans of letting go. The way she cringes on automatic says enough that he already looks a bit like he might cry, but she spells it out anyway, tone wavering hard between gentle with love and firm with discipline because she doesn't know what to do with it: "I don't know, Steven, it's awfully--"
"Me! Me!" Amethyst shouts, explosive as a rocket, leaping into the scant space between them, arms outstretched so that they all go bowling about. "I'll read it!"
She looks between them, much too fast, and steps away, just a tiny bit. It's almost sheepish. She settles herself back and they've all formed a circle now, in spite of their reeling; even and easy, hands linked to hands linked to hands.
It really is quite late. The only one with ever any sense here, Pearl's tongue clicks out the beginning of a reprimand, but for all her will unyielding, she doesn't make it very far. Steven's face is glowing so visibly it's like a second moon has risen in the room, his eyes filling up with stars. "A bedtime story from Amethyst? No way! You never read to me!"
He lets go of Amethyst for the first time since they've left the Kindergarten, and latches on to Pearl with both hands. "Pleeeease? Pretty please?"
His fingers curl at her arm, his eyes go wide. Truly, it is difficult to say no to a look like that. He's so cute, even as he fights against yawning, but that's not the whole of it, not for once. He's not the only one here with her, under moonlight, in the silence of this house. Amethyst fidgets, tilting and listing, and for all her smiling, something about her face is still too raw, the bruises from crying still smudging tracks against her skin. Her hand still rests within Pearl's, and it clenches a bit.
Perhaps it wouldn't be so late if she'd gone after them earlier, Pearl thinks. Perhaps it isn't their fault. Besides, time is just a human concept, isn't it? And none of them are very human.
"I suppose..." she sighs, rolling her eyes so that she doesn't have to watch the way they're silently cheering to see her give in to chaos, just this once. She resists another reprimand, again. "But just a short one."
"Alllright!" Amethyst releases Pearl's hand, and immediately claps her on the shoulder. "Pearl, you help too."
She stiffens at the hit, both from pain and indignation, but she can't help her expression as it slips towards puzzled, utterly caught off-guard. "Whaaat...?"
Amethyst is laughing again, as if nothing of today has happened and her eyes aren't still dark with tears, and ribs Pearl in the side, a hard enough gesture that it makes her stumble. "Oh, c'mon. Having two people makes it easier to do the voices."
Pearl doesn't even have time to catch her balance before Amethyst scoops her up with one hand, then Steven in the other, and with the two of them hoisted up over her head, takes the steps to the loft three at a time. When she sets them down upon his bed, it is uncharacteristically gentle. Resigned to the momentum of it all, Pearl goes to the shelf to fetch the book they've been reading through these past few weeks, while behind her Amethyst shushes Steven's questions about how he hasn't brushed his teeth yet, and pulls the sheets up over his head with a tremendous whomp.
(she rolls her eyes behind the cover of a back turned, and pretends that she doesn't hear any of their barely-muffled giggling)
For all that it's Steven's bed and Steven's story, Amethyst scrambles to sit in the middle after snatching up the book, Steven snug to one side and Pearl to the other, a jostle and tangle of limbs that only just fits without any of them falling off. Their shoulders click together, each and each. Amethyst eats the bookmark, clears her throat-- and begins.
Steven is asleep before they finish, of course, but that doesn't stop Amethyst from reading the whole thing through to the end, tone pitching up and falling down with drama, breathless with such artistry and life that Pearl didn't even know she had it in her. She catches the voices so perfectly that Pearl's part in the telling grows smaller with every page, until it is only Amethyst who is singing, and gesturing with both her hands to shape the mood. She spells out every shadow, and it's a wonder. She paints up every brilliance, and it is light itself.
She rests her hand upon the cover for a time after finishing, tracing the embossing of the letters with an idle touch, and she puts the whole book back on the shelf when she's done with it, which is another unexpected thing. She even fixes Steven's blankets when she's done with that, tucking them snug to his chin, and tip-toes down the stairs hand in hand with Pearl, grinning to hide her giggles, finger to her mouth and eyes screwed merrily shut.
Tripping on the steps as she's pulled along like that, Pearl stares. This day feels like it has gone on for far longer than a single Earth rotation, and she doesn't know what's happening anymore, or what Amethyst is doing, or any of the thoughts inside her head. Amethyst's smile doesn't feel fake, but it surely isn't real, either. And there's that hand in hers again, still, fingers gripping neither too loose nor too tight, and Pearl doesn't know what to make of that, either.
They end up in front of the temple door, as they always do after seeing Steven off to sleep. Amethyst still has her, and so Pearl stands in place for a bit, fidgets. Looks all about the room. She has no idea what to say.
"Well!" she begins, because she can think of nothing else: " He won't let me watch him sleep anymore, so I guess this is where we--"
There's a tug on her arm to silence her, and draw her gaze back down down down, and that's when she sees that no one is smiling anymore, and that the room is very quiet, very big, and very dark. "Amethyst...?"
"Hey." Her voice is a small thing, and it does not fit someone like Amethyst at all. "Can I. Talk to you?"
She looks up to the shadow of Steven, asleep in his loft, and down to Amethyst, solemn and sick, and wordlessly, Pearl turns to release the door to her room. She holds it open to let Amethyst enter first, and finds herself glad for the soothing rustle of water falling from within as she steps through after.
She has no idea where Garnet is, as the two of them leap from one rising pool unto another to land in the centre of the room. It is a strange thought, considering the circumstances, but Pearl can't shake it. Perhaps it is the fear that they might be overheard -- which is a strange thought, it's strange, because who ever said they needed secrecy, besides this worm of intuition caught fast in Pearl's gut -- but the water will cover all of that, surely?
They settle. Amethyst's face is still pale, and she hasn't said a word yet. Amethyst's face is still pale, and her hand clasps Pearl's tightly, and she won't look Pearl in the eye now, she won't. Silence draws out thin into a torturous forever. It's like agony for both of them, when at last she speaks.
"Fuse with me," Amethyst says, mumbled and soft, no preamble but still turned all the way down as if she had to force it out between her teeth: "I don't... wanna feel alone right now."
It's a deluge, all that sudden comprehension.
Fingers at her wrist. Amethyst, book in hand, sitting between Pearl and Steven, their shoulders all touching, leaning in together. Amethyst, staying to read for Steven for the first time in too many years. It clicks together now, like understanding, how intense her face had gone with the telling, even as Steven had slept. All those voices, rising and falling, each one perfect, one after another. All that effort when it didn't mean a thing.
Fingers at her wrist. It's been such a long day that it only comes back to her now that it was Garnet who sent her here, at the very start. It brings a chill to the air, slipped under the skin, like memory; it has to be you. Deeper than that, those ancient, Homeworld words: to fuse is surely a most dire thing. You must not fuse but for a dire thing.
Fingers at her wrist. The reality of here, now, the clear lightness of this room, surrounded by rushing water. There are tears in Amethyst's eyelashes still, lost in her bangs, her down-turned face.
Grounding, through all of this, these whirlpool thoughts, are the fingers at her wrist, clenching down.
She could nearly be sighing at the weight of all of it, everything, but it isn't really something to which she need give much thought. It is easy, sometimes, to do the right thing. Garnet is going to kill them, of course. But isn't that always what brings them together best?
Amethyst hates condescension enough that Pearl doesn't know where to put her other hand, so she settles on pushing hair away, resists the easy lure of drying tears. "If that is what you want," she says. She tries to keep her voice only gentle, because this isn't the time for mockery, or teasing, or laughs. (She tries to keep her voice only gentle, because it hurts everyone when she always says too much.)
There's less in it of a victory dance than the acting of before when Amethyst nods and closes her eyes and lets go to flare her hands up and ready the angle of her legs. And there's almost too much gravity in it when she nods again, too serious.
That hits harder than the words, in some ways. Pearl sets her own expression, shakes out her limbs and takes her paces back and lowers her stance, prepares. She knows how Amethyst dances, after all -- she always needs her space.
Hers is the centrepoint of the balance, always the cue, and so she closes her eyes to find the peace of concentration, the beat imagined and the rhythm of the music she will need beneath the crash of the waterfall crowding up the air. Something slow, something careful. It is a moment like breath caught or a heartbeat steadied before she opens her eyes and begins to unfurl, ready to fit with anything that Amethyst might throw at her this time, ready to make this work.
But as she enters the first turn with all her limbs flaring there is no need, because Amethyst is there with her, flowing water-smooth beneath the rise of her leg, twisting to catch Pearl's arm as it extends, and it is not a collision, but a harmony of parts in motion, as their palms glide together, their fingers clasp. Amethyst spins on feet that leap to follow Pearl through the grace of her twirl, and that is all that is needed. Amethyst takes lead like it's effortless, and it is astonishing, how Pearl finds she has matched with the gesture and fallen into waiting arms to find her role as naturally as if they'd planned this from the start.
Amethyst sends her spinning out, draws her in, sweeps her down in dainty dips. Pearl's hands move of their own accord to catch in all of the proper places, to brow, to lips, fingers limp with masterful artistry no matter how distracting it is to see Amethyst with her face so serene, moving this elegant and clockwork-smooth. She's flushing at the sight, caught and spellbound; it ought to make her nervous, it ought to make her tense. It doesn't. It's a feeling like home, or comfort, or beauty, or art, or grace.
She has always liked to dance like this; with hands that will support and cradle her, and someone else to guide the steps. A partner taller than she is, like Rose, or even Garnet. Amethyst rises only to her elbows but has it all right anyway, sweet as a move rehearsed, and maybe that's why it's so easy, as the outlines of their bodies begin to blur.
Pearl looks down to Amethyst beneath her, and is amazed. I didn't know she could do this, comes the thought, barely still her own. The hand at her waist carries her through the final turn, lifting her even as fingers melt in the fabric of her dress, and it is perfect, all at once.
She knows how I dance, and then: doing this, her eyes are closed? and that is all the time she has before Amethyst dips her, not too low, and forehead touches to breast and they are one.
The water all about her glistens like something holy when bathed in the radiance of a fusion's light. She descends and it has never been like this before, to open her eyes into power like a thing that fits, with steady bones and skin that does not warp and stretch, muscles that neither separate nor twitch. It is easy, this time, to simply become.
Opal stretches out all twenty of her fingers and sits herself upon the water's surface, legs crossed, and wraps all of her arms about her knees. Her elbows make a neat enough nest if she positions them just right, and she settles her chin into it, mouth pressed to skin. Her hair is a smooth, cool weight as it falls down her back.
"Thank you," she whispers, too soft for ears but just right to vibrate through bone, find its home in any heart. She can say this, and nothing will break, because she knows that it is so. "This was needed."
Nothing more was planned than this, but it does not matter; she knows where she belongs. Their need is her need, low and slow, sinking, sinking, sinking, falling down. Eyes closed as if in slumber, she near to meditates. The night passes long in nothing more than breathing and it is a comfort, one that cannot be painted in words, to simply be here, in the dim wash of this crystal light with the sounds of the water all about. There is nothing more glorious than to exist.
Opal holds for hours before she breaks, and it is with a peace she has never before known that she comes undone. One heartbeat twins into two but it holds steady for a moment, then another, and a long, long time after that before starting to drift apart.
They do not collapse so much as melt, shrinking down muted in a starlight glow. The brilliance fades into Pearl sitting with her legs outstretched and Amethyst curled up snug against her chest, head tucked under chin and arms wrapped gentle about each other. Long hair snarls at her elbows, tickles against her nose. She opens her eyes, blinking as if waking, and startles at the closeness and the warmth, nearly yelps -- but does nothing, because Amethyst isn't reacting to this, isn't moving, only breathes.
She's asleep. Amethyst snores against her, bodies tight together, and it is the softest sound she has ever heard. That is why Opal dissipated on them, she thinks; because Amethyst found such calm within their union that it brought her down all the way into slumber.
Even after a day like today, even with only a scant few hours between their fight and their fusion, she was able to find something here enough to let her sleep. It's strange near to incomprehensible, but there's something about it that makes Pearl feel so warm inside it's almost like they haven't unfused at all.
Just how badly did you need this? she thinks. Desperate as a dance. Amethyst's face is so peaceful that it is a very lonely thought.
She can't help it, the instinct, to run her fingers slowly through Amethyst hair. It's more of silk than she might have thought, more smooth, less tangled and much cleaner than Amethyst has ever let on. It reminds her of how they'd done ballet for fusion, profoundly inexplicable -- or that beneath the veneer of careless laughter Amethyst can cry with guilt at the sight of the Kindergarten, and truly understand the weight of what it means. There is a lot more to Amethyst than she'd ever known, she realises. Four thousand years together, and still it is possible to sell someone this dear so short.
They're going to have to talk about this eventually, she thinks; they're going to have to talk about a lot of things she doesn't want to, hundreds and hundreds of matters set aside for another of their infinite days, and it is probably going to hurt.
But that is not a truth to be realised today, with all of its broken edges and the things it has left too raw. For now she settles herself down into this, cheek resting on a fluff of hair against the crown of Amethyst's head, arms all about each other, knees drawing up a bit to hold them both in place, and she exhales. It's like hugging again, but somehow closer, even if Amethyst is still fast asleep, and snoring face-first against her breast with the valiance of someone who has no intention of soon waking.
They're going to be here a long, long time. It could be an annoyance, that, but it isn't. There's nothing here to mind. Time doesn't mean anything if you're one to live forever, and Garnet knows where they are, surely. And if Pearl is good at anything, she's terribly good at sitting still.
There's no hardship in it. Amethyst is squishy, and warm, and her hair is very soft. And besides, the arms tucked about her make it feel, strangely, like she too is being held, being given back just as much as is taken, and it is a most wonderful thing. It's rare between them all, these days, but she always has liked very much to feel this loved.
That strikes a chord, somewhere. Resonates in her chest.
"Do you feel...?" she quietly asks the air, but she hasn't heart enough to finish, voice fading out low and breathless. She's thinking of Amethyst dancing again, her feet en pointe so perfectly, movements too natural, too smooth. It's a weighty guilt in her stomach, this answer she already knows.
She tightens the hug a bit, as if that will somehow convey something, anything, but this room is only quiet, and the only thing that's moving is the water as it falls. Her guilt can sit with her in silence, as Amethyst lies against her and merely snores, merely sleeps, merely breathes.