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Every Time We Open Up Our Eyes

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“She shouldn’t have called you that,” Pearl blurted out, unprompted, a few days after the memorable kidnapping incident, elbows-deep in soapy sink water and a rapidly shrinking pile of plates and cutlery. “It’s wrong, and it’s not what you are.”

Garnet was the one on bathroom door watching duty for the moment, leaning against the wall in a deceptively casual-looking manner. All futures where an angry green projectile suddenly darted out of the bathroom and attempted escape were extremely improbable, but it was good to be prepared. “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”

And it was true. There was no way Peridot had ever seen actual war, so what did she know of war machines, or betrayal, or anything at all?

“Still, I don’t appreciate her attitude in general, and her attitude towards fusion in particular, and really, Garnet, that’s no excuse - and you shouldn’t have to listen to that garbage, especially after…” Pearl faltered, cheeks still flushed an angry blue. After what I did, is what she very obviously couldn’t quite manage to say, no future glimpses required.

It didn’t lead to happy musings. A lot of the sting still left over from the Sardonyx incident was there because, for the longest while, Garnet had thought Pearl understood. The only person left on Earth who had the perspective of having known her, known them, before, and the only one who’d been there to see it happen. And, in the end, it hadn’t meant much in the face of her own private grief and struggles. It was, in a way, a brand of selfishness Garnet could no longer afford for herself, not with the way they all depended on her. There were always more pressing issues, too - occasionally, like now, taking the form of impending planetary destruction - and they didn’t exactly care for fairness or if Garnet felt the demands of leadership were getting a bit much or if she maybe just wanted a break.

In any case, Pearl had promised to try, and Garnet was holding her to it, and that was the end of that.

“It’s fine, Pearl. I’m done reacting to her name-calling. She’ll learn, or she won’t. Either way, she makes her own choices now.”

Pearl frowned and gave a thoughtful hum, then went back to scrubbing at the burnt remains of something unidentifiable stuck to a ceramic bowl. “Yes, I suppose I’ve grown to truly appreciate the concept of learning from one’s mistakes.”

“Actually,” Garnet shot back, giving up the watch and assuming her usual position by the sink, waiting for Pearl to hand her plates that needed rinsing, “I thought you’d appreciate the concept of getting a choice.”

Pearl stopped her dishwashing efforts and stared off into the distance, eyebrows knitted together. “Fair point,” she very simply conceded after a brief contemplation.

Her gaze, Garnet noted, hadn’t once strayed towards the portrait hanging above the door.

-

“She shouldn’t have called you that,” Garnet echoed back to Pearl days later, as they both busied themselves with cleaning up the mess left in the wake of Steven’s ill-fated competition.

“What, a pearl? Well, it’s true. That’s exactly what I am. And- nonono, no, don’t worry, Garnet, it’s nothing like that. I’m not… I mean, I’m fine. Excellent, really.”

Pearl seemed to have more to say, so Garnet bit down on her own growing doubt and waited for her to continue, moving to pick up and put away the blackboard-turned-scoreboard in the meantime.

“Do you know, she asked me- she said… when I insisted I didn’t belong to anyone, she sounded so confused. Then what are you for? Those were her exact words.”

Garnet thought she could finally see where this was going, even without trying to see, and decided that she liked it. “You didn’t answer.”

“I didn’t! It was so… I haven’t thought that way in ages. It’s like I just forgot to!”

Pearl looked a very endearing mixture of glad, surprised, and accomplished, and Garnet couldn’t help but smile. “Good. Rose would be proud.”

She didn’t like peeking during conversations - it felt too much like cheating, and long pauses while she sorted through a variety of futures made her even more quiet and distant-seeming than she already was. She didn’t want that. But this had just felt like the right thing to say, then, and like something Pearl would want to hear.

“Are you?”

She wasn’t sure she’d been prepared for that answer. Garnet found her thoughts straying towards a dark, slowly shrinking box, not so long ago, and wide, teary eyes staring up at her with the beginnings of desperate determination and the dredges of a burning thirst for approval. This strange, shy little thing between a plea and a challenge was nothing like that.

“Yeah,” Garnet decided, after a moment. “Yeah, I am.”

-

“So were you planning on ever telling me?”

Amethyst’s dour voice made Garnet stop in her tracks and drop the armful of axles she’d been carrying out of the barn. Well, Amethyst had clearly not joined Pearl and Steven and a protesting Peridot on their lunchtime pizza run, and it was rapidly becoming fairly obvious which possible outcome of the drill-fetching expedition they were locked in now. She was starting to really resent Peridot and her digging up of well-buried issues in new ways each day. The bigger Gem, the bigger Gem, the bigger Gem, kept going through Garnet’s mind in a steady, focusing pulse, as it had done for what felt like ages now. The leash was one thing - and really, she could throw Peridot much further than she trusted her alone with technological equipment, so the personal satisfaction was almost beside the point - but she refused to react to any of her more childish provocations. Especially in front of Steven.

She strolled over to where Amethyst was sitting, back propped up against the barn wall, and sat down beside her. “It wouldn’t have done any good.”

“Well, maybe you and Pearl could work on your Not Keeping Amethyst In The Dark routine, maybe that would have done some good! Boy, it’s gotten pretty shabby lately, let me tell you - or, wait,” Amethyst gasped and lowered her voice to a mock-whisper, “is this considered fancy limited knowledge for fancy Gems who came from space and didn’t pop out of cruddy Earth rocks all wrong?”

Garnet grit her teeth. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, Amethyst.”

“That’s exactly it, Garnet! I don’t know what I’m talking about, and I sure as heck didn’t know what Peridot was talking about, either! It’s literally about my life, about me, about who I am! And you kept it from me, just like that!” Amethyst’s volume was rising along with her agitation, and Garnet was grateful that nobody was around to hear and inevitably get involved.

“It’s not who you are. You’re exactly who you’re supposed to be, and Homeworld has nothing to do with it. That’s the whole point. We fought an entire war for this to even be an option.”

“Stop talking about me like I’m Rose’s favourite nature versus nurture experiment!”

Few things were as difficult as getting through to an upset Amethyst, and Garnet tried to put together a response while staying calm in the face of her often contagious frustration. “We never wanted you to feel this way. You’ve never been to Homeworld, and you’ve never had to experience what that truly means. We have, and look what it’s done to us. Nobody deserves that. We’ve worked so hard to get rid of the traces-”

“But you can’t really do it, can you? I mean, Pearl always tells all those stories, but they make everything sound so- I don’t know. Like it was this big, fun adventure, fighting the bad guys, saving the planet. But every time she goes on, I just… I don’t know! I don’t…” Amethyst’s chin sank down against her knees, and everything about her seemed to suddenly deflate, more miserable than angry. “I don’t want to be the bad guys. But I guess it turns out I don’t even need to worry about that, because they wouldn’t want me anyway.”

Garnet opted for placing a hand on her shoulder, and Amethyst allowed the gesture. “You’re not one of them, Amethyst, no matter how you came to exist, because you don’t want to be. And they can only wish they had you on their side. As for the rest, well. Pearl… oversells it.”

Garnet understood, though, she really did. Pearl had been forged in battle and war in a way Garnet never could have been, and yet should have been, according to everything any of them had ever been taught about fusion. Pearl was going against everything she was supposed to be by fighting, while Garnet was doing it merely by existing for more than battle, and to say reconciling their views on things was often hard was a spectacular understatement - and more often than not Amethyst and Steven were the ones left in the dark and confused because of this. Garnet sighed, and took off her glasses, rubbing the bridge of her nose. “I don’t know exactly what Peridot told you-”

“It’s not about Peridot. You can’t pin everything on her - it’s not her fault this garbage is all she’s ever known, either.”

Garnet remembered, with a start, the last time she’d seen Chrysoprase, and Apatite - some tiny parts of them, at least. And… Carnelian had been in there, too, particularly noticeable in the garbled screaming. There were a lot of things she wanted Peridot to answer for, no matter the actual degree of her involvement, because it felt so very personal, and because Homeworld suddenly had a convenient face. But she forced herself to focus on the Crystal Gem who wasn’t little more than shards at the moment, and who was sitting right by her side, brushing against her thigh on occasion, very real, and obviously upset. This was where she could do good, right now, and this was where she needed to be.

“Steven’s right,” Garnet offered at last, thinking back to the serious family meeting the boy had called together upon their return from the ancient colony ship, seating them all around the kitchen table with Peridot’s still-smoking foot as the centrepiece. “We should all work on that honesty policy thing.”

They sat in silence for a little while, but for the first time that day it wasn’t an uncomfortable one.

“So did you… fight many amethysts during the war?”

“Yeah. Hundreds, maybe thousands. Stopped counting after a while.” Garnet looked down only to see Amethyst still gazing at her, full of barely restrained questions. “The freshly made Kindergarten forces came close to overwhelming us a few times, back near the beginning of the whole thing. It was a mess.”

Amethyst tried to hide a small wince and Garnet felt brief anger flare up in her - this was exactly what they’d been trying to avoid, and she hated that she’d failed in sparing Amethyst this, just as much as she hated the fact that Amethyst had gotten hurt in the ultimately ill-advised attempt.

“Did they all look like me?” Amethyst piped up, after another small pause. “Except, you know - bigger and stronger and junk?”

Garnet took in the soft lines of the face looking up at her both expectantly and fearfully from under the protective shade of eternally messy white hair, and tried to reconcile the sight with her perfectly clear memories of battlefields overrun with seas of hulking purple. “No,” she answered, finally. “They weren’t stronger than you.”

“Pshaw. You don’t have to pretend to make me feel better, come on, cut it out.” Amethyst followed up her protest with a small punch to Garnet’s arm. She was smiling, though, so Garnet smiled back.

“I’m not lying to you, Amethyst. Even though I do want you to feel better.”

“I don’t know how I feel - so, you know, just my usual,” Amethyst answered with a shrug and a blatant frankness Garnet wasn’t used to seeing from her.  “But… thanks for telling me, I guess.”

“Hey. Honesty policy applies to you as much as any of us,” she looked down at Amethyst, and gave her another small but hopefully encouraging smile, and a shoulder nudge. “We’re all Crystal Gems, after all.”

“So, like, is being a giant mess some sort of membership requirement? ‘Cause we might want to warn Steven-”

The rest of the would-be sentence was lost as Garnet attacked with a one-armed hug and some aggressive hair ruffling, enjoying the comfortable and casual physicality that had always been a part of her and Amethyst’s relationship. She was close to grudgingly admitting that burying things may not have been the best solution. Even beyond her knowledge of the Cluster, Peridot could prove a help to all of them, after all - as a catalyst, if nothing else.

-

It was always so refreshing, with Steven, and scary in a way Amethyst hadn’t been. For so long, right in the back of her mind - where she was used to hearing their voices when they felt like piping up individually - what if he didn’t understand? What if he started looking at her- differently? Maybe it wouldn’t even really be a bad different, but it could never be the same, and that was, frankly, terrifying.

She remembered just walking up to Amethyst one day and telling her. It had, admittedly, not been the most well thought out of her plans.

“A fusion? Like Rainbow?”

Amethyst liked Rainbow Quartz, and loved playing with - and in - her hair. Garnet took this as a good sign. “Yes.”

“So you’re… you’re like that, but all the time? Woah.”

She nodded, glad that the reaction was generally positive, at least.

“So who are you?”

“Garnet.”

“No, I mean… who’re you really?”

“Garnet.”

“Come onnnnn, you know what I mean!”

Garnet decided to relent, and hoped her point had been made. “Their names are Ruby and Sapphire.”

“Can I meet them?” Amethyst was bouncing at the prospect, and it was certainly endearing - as, frankly, Garnet found most things about their unexpected Kindergarten acquisition and the most refreshing thing to happen to them in a long while.

“Mmm,” she hummed, as if in thought, “not right now. Maybe some day.”

“Aw, Garnet-”

“They don’t like being apart, and neither do I.”

That had been the end of it - Rose warping in and starting to regale them with tales of the nearest new human settlement had provided a thorough distraction, and although Amethyst had kept shooting her curious glances for the rest of the day, their conversation seemed to have been put on hold.

She’d wished, later, that she’d had the foresight (a private joke, and Garnet snickered to herself, glad that no one was around to ask her what was so funny) to wait until after Amethyst had actually experienced fusion for herself. Opal never stayed for very long, but that memorable first time she’d stuck around for the better part of a day, and left both Pearl and Amethyst an uncharacteristically lethargic, peaceful, restful pile.

“So you’re… like this, but all the time,” Amethyst echoed her own words, slowly and syrupy. “Woah.

“Every fusion is a unique experience, Amethyst,” Pearl piped up from somewhere underneath her, words slightly muffled, in a rather dazed-sounding take on her normal lecturing tone. “It would be incorrect to assume Ruby and Sapphire ever felt anything ‘like this’.”

Even in an almost amusingly peaceful post-fusion haze, Pearl could make the air quotes audible in her voice. Garnet couldn’t help a small smile and a surge of affection and what had become a very fond memory.

-

It’s strange, being this tall. The vantage point is all wrong and the angles are all different and it is all very, very disorientating.

Well, it’s only one of a million confusing and strange - though not unpleasant - things, but it’s the simplest, most obvious, most easily processable one, so you choose to focus on that.

You hear their voices, when stability drops - or, you become them, for a moment - or, you’ve always been them and they’re you, but things slip in and out of focus, like shifting sets of lenses. But they’re both trying really hard and the rough patches are becoming increasingly rare and all three of you are getting the hang of this together.

Ruby feels… Sapphire feels… you can still pinpoint both easily enough, but how does Garnet feel?

-

Garnet completed her evening patrol around the barn perimeter, satisfied that everything was calm, that everyone was safe, and that everything was in place for Steven’s impending birthday surprise. He was already asleep, tired out after a long day of intense drill building and growing excitement for the following morning.

It was strange - a year would mean nothing to a Gem, normally. As a measure of passing time it wasn’t completely arbitrary, at least, but it was so very brief it hardly seemed worth noticing, let alone celebrating. But, as with a lot of things, it was important to Steven, and so it had become important to all of them.

Garnet found she had no complaints. She also found herself struck by a sudden but reassuringly certain and simple sense of general yes. I can handle this. and we’re going to be fine - out of nowhere, and in spite of all looming doom. It wasn’t future vision, or something she could entirely explain, but she decided she didn’t need to, embraced the feeling wholeheartedly, and strolled over to where she could watch Steven peacefully snore away in the back of the pickup truck.

-

“I’d like to tell him. I think. About the two of you, and about us, and how it all started.”

He took it more than well last time. So caring and understanding - and so genuinely excited! -

“I didn’t get the luxury of a choice, last time. I don’t want that to happen again.”

The future that hung before them all was littered with hatefully familiar yellow shapes, cruel and exact and sharp.

Yes, of course.

“I just want to be honest with him, that’s all. While I have the chance to.”

Of course. It’s important to all of us that he understands.

Besides, it’s Steven. He adores love stories. Which is only right - after all, he is one.

Garnet chuckled at the observation, and so the matter was settled.