For all of Pearl’s and Greg’s and even her own fussing before the big event, it goes surprisingly well. It’s chaotic, of course, but she expected that, and even then most of it is less her doing her job – she has read the books and taken the classes and knows perfectly well what her role in this is – and more the others doing theirs around her. Greg and Pearl and Garnet and Amethyst also read the books and took the classes. Most of the books were Pearl’s idea, actually. It seemed to calm her in the days before – well, before the end.
When Rose convinced Pearl that she knew what she was doing and what it would entail and that it was really, truly what she wanted, Pearl flung herself into making sure that they would be Prepared For The Baby and that it would go perfectly and Rose would leave her physical form without a single worry for how Steven would be cared for. “There won’t even be a second he’s not entirely handled!” she assured Rose.
When the moment comes, she’s surprised how true that is. Not the Steven being handled – she doesn’t see that, as her form poofs in the moments before and then she feels something different from all the other reformations, something stopping. But she’s not worried. Her Crystal Gems and her Greg were all by her side when it happened, Greg and Pearl each squeezing one of her hands. Steven has been born, and she knows that he will be okay, and that they will love him.
She’s surprised how easy it was in the end, to just cease being. She’s sad to leave them behind, but in the way she used to be saddened by watching a fish flop on the beach before it finally died. Not the way it was watching her soldiers fall because of her mistakes, or even the way she’d be sad when a relationship with a favored human ended, from death or moving apart. She feels so distant from it all now.
She remembers the voice, lurking in the corners of her mind in every battle, on every ruined field and wretched Kindergarten and every time after, when they looked for the pieces to bury and never found enough, as if there could even be enough. She doesn’t hold that against him, though. It was his job to be there, just like it was hers.
She nods, pleased that he doesn’t add facet or cut. “That’s me. Thank you for coming.”
I AM HERE, he says, FOR EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING THAT IS. AND I ALWAYS TAKE TIME TO SEE A GREAT LEADER’S PASSING IN PERSON. SO TO SPEAK.
“I appreciate that I count, then.” She wondered about it, sometimes. Gems aren’t like humans, or birds, or trees or insects or any of the wonderful things she has seen in the world. Life propagates. Life aids in the creation of more life. Life is potential, and Gems rip everything that could be from the ground and make more of them, more beings of light and mineral.
Perhaps that’s part of why she wanted this so badly. To prove that she was alive, by making something new. To let the part that was her end, so that its absence could be felt.
I HAVE COME FOR FAR STRANGER BEINGS THAN YOU, ROSE QUARTZ, AND FAR MORE DESTRUCTIVE THAN YOUR KIND COULD EVER BE. I WAS THERE FOR THE BEING UNITY, AFTER SHE REALIZED WHAT IT MEANT TO LIVE. I AM THERE FOR THOSE WHO DO NOTHING BUT EXIST. I WAS THERE ON THE BATTLEFIELDS WITH YOUR SOLDIERS, AND I WAS THERE FOR THOSE WHO FOUGHT FOR THE DIAMONDS AS WELL. I AM THERE FOR THE DEATH OF GODS AND FOR THE BEING HEX WHO DOES NOT LIVE BUT STILL CAN THINK. AND WHEN ALL IS OVER AND THERE IS NOTHING LEFT TO BE, I WILL BE THERE TO WATCH ITS END. AND NOW I AM HERE FOR YOU, ROSE QUARTZ, FOR IT IS TIME FOR US TO WALK TOGETHER.
She smiles. “I am ready to walk with you, then. Though I wish I could see some of the other beings you come for. They sound amazing.”
LIFE IS AMAZING. IT IS A SHAME THAT HUMANS DO NOT RECOGNIZE HOW EXTRAORDINARY THEY ARE.
Rose beams. “I know! They can – they don’t have any one purpose. A soldier can decide to become a farmer, or a doctor or something different, and they aren’t made to only be good at one thing. They can decide to stop being what they’re told to be.”
AND THEY GO ABOUT THEIR LIVES THINKING IT IS ALL SO MUNDANE, THAT IT IS BORING TO WALK DOWN A STREET AND BUY BREAD AND HAVE A ROUTINE. MUNDANE!
“As though life itself is something to be expected! I had seen so many planets before Earth, and they were all just- rocks. Big floating rocks we cracked open and emptied out. But they think organic life is normal.” She laughed. “They think anything is normal, really! It’s so strange, and interesting, and beautiful.”
IT REALLY IS. Death pauses. WOULD YOU CARE TO ACCOMPANY ME FOR A WHILE? TO WATCH THE STRANGENESS OF LIFE AND ITS ENDINGS?
“I would love that.”
They see a lot of creatures that day. Death comes for pigeons in a park, for a horse that was wounded in a hunt and the boar the hunters were chasing, for trees being cut down for lumber and fish that get eaten by bigger fish. Rose sees a spider lay eggs in her web and die, and feels a certain kinship with it as they move on. She sees crops harvested in the fields, and old dogs going to sleep for the last time at their master’s feet. Death picks up a mewling sack from out of a river at one point, and that’s the only time Rose sees him take any real emotion in his work. They see things that live at the bottom of the ocean and have no eyes or mouths or thoughts, and they see goats that live on mountain peaks and birds that soar through the sky. It’s all so different, and so amazingly beautiful.
He comes for humans, too, gives them a quick chat and sends them on their way through the door. Only one takes longer than a minute or so of non-existent time.
The first woman they see there is not dead. She is very young-looking, with brown hair and a sensible dress that is currently very dirty, and a black pointed hat. She is sitting next to the other woman, who is sleeping now, after. And she is holding a very small baby.
“Hello, Death,” she says. There’s an empty chair facing hers.
HELLO, TIFFANY ACHING. Death sits down, and they look at each other for a moment.
“Who’s she?” Tiffany asks, giving Rose a Look.
“Just an observer, today,” Rose says. “I had a baby, too.” Tiffany nods at her.
“I’d ask you for chess, but we don’t have a set here. I do have some cards, though, and Granny said sometimes you liked the change.”
I DOUBT YOU ARE AS GOOD AT CRIPPLE MR. ONION AS SHE WAS, Death says.
“I do, too.” She looks at Death, then at Rose, and puts the baby down gently next to the mother and takes the cards. “But I’m good enough to teach your friend, I think.”
YOU PROBABLY ARE. ROSE QUARTZ, WOULD YOU JOIN US?
Rose only has a vague understanding of what’s going on, but she understands enough that she won’t refuse. Tiffany deals out the cards, and shows her a few hands until she thinks she understands, and then they play.
After, Tiffany picks up the baby again and swaddles it before she brings it to the father, and Death comes with Rose trailing behind him for an old sheep in the family’s flock.
“Thank you for letting me accompany you,” Rose says finally, as they ride out on Binky, Death’s horse. “I was glad to see it.”
I WAS GLAD TO SEE ANOTHER BEING WHO UNDERSTANDS WHAT I DO, Death says. IT IS IMPORTANT, TO WATCH THINGS CEASE. FOR ALL THINGS.
“It was a privilege to watch them.”
I UNDERSTAND IT IS TRADITIONAL TO HAVE AN ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE AFTER A BIRTH, AND GIVE A TOAST.
“I’ve heard of that too, yes,” Rose says, confused.
BEFORE YOU GO ON YOUR WAY… MY BUTLER, ALBERT, KEEPS SHERRY. IT IS MADE OF FERMENTED GRAPES.
“Oh! I’ve never really done one of those before.”
I HAVE, ONCE. AT MY DAUGHTER’S WEDDING.
“How was it?”
ODD. THERE WAS NOT ANY WARMED BREAD, ACTUALLY.
“That is strange.”
HUMANS OFTEN ARE.
By this point they had long since left the previous world. The one now was all black, as befitting a realm belonging to Death, except for a field of grain in front of the house and stable. They dismount from Binky.
“You’re not adopting another one, are you?” Albert asks Death when he sees Rose.
NO, ALBERT. I SIMPLY MADE A FRIEND TODAY. SHE WILL LEAVE, BUT FIRST WE WISH TO HAVE A TOAST.
“Er… all right then, Master.” Albert goes to the pantry and retrieves his sherry, and three glasses. “But you don’t drink.”
NO. I WILL GIVE IT TO YOU. Albert’s face brightens considerably at this.
“And… I suppose I could, but there doesn’t seem to be a point in making a digestive system if I don’t have a real body anymore, does there?” Rose asks.
Albert looks her over. “You don’t have one?”
ROSE QUARTZ WAS NOT ORGANIC LIFE, Death says simply.
“Well, okay then, I suppose. More sherry for me.” He pours the glasses and hands one each to Death and Rose. “So what are you toasting to, anyway?”
“To life, I suppose,” Rose says. “To all the beautiful things that are despite all probability saying otherwise.”
TO THE TINY YESES IN THE NIGHT, AND TO WATCHING THEM TO MARK THEY WERE HERE, Death says.
“I think I’ll just be toasting to getting three glasses of sherry,” Albert says. “Why did you even want to have one anyway?”
“I had a baby, just before… this,” Rose says. “His name is Steven.”
Albert smiles. “Now that sounds like a much better reason for a toast. All right. To Steven.”
They raise their glasses together, and they clink, and Albert takes their glasses. And then Death shows Rose the door out, which is different from the door in, and they thank each other for the company.
And then Rose Quartz walks into the desert, without fear or regrets. Life really is beautiful, after all. Even in its passing.