Illustrations by Alias-Pseudonym.
Do you know what it’s like to be a mirror?
I don’t either.
Mirrors exist to show you reflections. You’re supposed to forget that the mirror itself is even there. And after awhile, I forgot I was there.
Sometimes, I wish I could go back. Because every time I realize what I’m like … when Peridot stops rambling at me, and I walk outside and try not to look up at the night sky … every single time, I end up hating myself.
Not because I held Jasper down, at the bottom of the ocean, for months. Not because I toyed with Gems who couldn’t hurt me. And not because I almost strangled Steven and his friend.
Because I liked it.
I try to forget. I try to tell myself that I’m past that now; that I stood up to Jasper and told her off, and that I get along with Steven and Peridot now without wanting to hurt or restrain them. Usually.
But every now and then, something happens that reminds me how terrible I really am.
* * *
It was a few days after the mess at the Beta Kindergarten. Steven wanted to show Pearl and Garnet what we’d been working on, in the barn.
He and Peridot did all the talking. I just stood back and folded my arms, and tried not to glare at Pearl. Because of all my memories of being stuck in that mirror, her face was the worst. She didn’t just use me to look up things from Gem history; she used to practice lecturing at me, in that snobby voice of hers, winning every argument she’d ever had with her friends. I’d spent thousands of years watching her be smug and condescending towards me, and it hurt so much.
That’s why I made myself forget I was there. It was easier not to take it personally if I wasn’t a person.
They got around to looking at the morps that I’d made, and Steven gave them my sarcastic explanations for them. I really wasn’t sure what I’d been thinking when I made the ones with the leaf and the baseball bat. But then they got to the one with the mirrors and TV screen, and Percy saying he feels trapped. And Pearl didn’t give Steven time to explain it.
“Oh, Lapis. This is an … interesting piece.” She put one hand to her chin as she squinted at it.
“It seems very personal,” Garnet said, from behind her. “It was brave of you to show us this.”
I wrinkled my brow at her, not sure if that was a compliment or a threat. “Thanks.”
“It really was!” Peridot said, stepping up next to me and grinning at them. “At first, she would only watch Camp Pining Hearts with me from the barn entrance, and would go away when I noticed her. But this one time, I pretended I didn’t notice her all day, and she watched a whole season with me! Then later I asked her ‘Hey Lapis, wasn’t the episode with the pancake shortage hilarious?’ And she said yes! Now we talk about it all the time. I’m so glad she admitted she likes it.” She waved her hands in the air the entire time she was explaining this.
Pearl just cringed, and then tsked at Peridot once she was finished. “Yes, this work is definitely about Camp Pining Hearts … on a superficial level. But making art is all about communication! A piece of art is a conversation. Every choice you make is a statement.”
Peridot’s face fell.
I just looked at Pearl blankly, while she stepped in front of the display and explained my own morp to me and Peridot. “These mirrors, for instance, clearly represent the time Lapis spent in that mirror. Meanwhile, the television stuck on an endless loop captures the helplessness of … ”
“I just feel trapped,” Percy repeated.
“ … of being trapped!” Pearl finished, gesturing at the screen.
“It actually represents the years I spent listening to you say the same things to me, over and over again.”
I kept my face blank, but inside I was seething as I went on. “Did you think that I wouldn’t remember? That I was just an object back then, but now I’m a person so everything is okay? Everything’s not okay. I’m not okay. I don’t want to hear your lectures, and I especially don’t want to see your face.”
Pearl took a step back, her hands to her face. “I … I’m sorry, Lapis. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for-”
“Then let me show you.”
I raised one arm towards Peridot’s toilet morp, bringing a fountain of water up out of it and then crashing it down on the floor, as a wall of ice that cut me and Pearl off from the rest. Steven, Garnet, and Peridot had just enough time to jump back before I sent a torrent of water crashing into Pearl with my other arm, slamming her into the wall.
The helpless look on her face was priceless.
“Lapis, don’t hurt her!” Steven cried. I heard Garnet summon her weapons.
I ignored them, and glared at Pearl as I walked towards her slowly. The water surrounding her turned into shackles and chains. “Do you like being helpless?” I asked her. “Not being able to move? Not being able to stop listening to that grating voice?”
“I just feel trapped,” Percy repeated.
I stopped right in front of Pearl, and put my arms to the wall on either side of her head. “This was my life, for thousands of years. How do you like it?”
Only then, with my face up close to hers, did I realize that she was blushing. And that my cheeks, in her forehead Gem’s reflection, were a deep shade of blue.
I turned on my heel and let go of her suddenly, the water crashing back down to the floor and the ice wall crumbling to bits.
Garnet desummoned her weapon. “Pearl, are you okay?” she and Steven asked at the same time.
“Lapis, are you okay?” Peridot asked.
“I’m fine,” I lied, staring straight ahead at the barn entrance. “I’ll be back later.”
Before anyone could respond, I summoned my wings and flew off.
* * *
SHE’S the one you should be afraid of.
Jasper’s words taunted me, in my mind.
I thought I was a brute, but YOU … you’re a monster.
I had flown all the way to the Galaxy Warp, trying to escape her. Trying to escape myself. But I couldn’t. I knew that no matter what I did, this was who I was. A terrible, bullying Gem, who liked to hold people down and then watch them squirm.
“I should’ve just stayed in that mirror,” I whispered to myself. It was nighttime by now, and I was leaning forward with my arms around my knees, and my lower back to one of the pylons. I couldn’t sit upright or my Gem would scratch against it.
I thought about what it’d felt like to be cracked. Knowing that something was wrong, but unable to do anything about it. Lashing out at the world and the people around me, and hurting them. Trying to get back to Homeworld without any wings.
Had I really changed that much? Had Steven actually healed me? Or was I still cracked on the inside, somehow? Corrupted, like those monsters the Crystal Gems fought? And if I ended up fighting again … would anyone be able to stop me?
I started shaking and tearing up, the water inside my Gem leaking out through my eyes. I squeezed them shut, and clutched my knees even tighter. I don’t know how long I stayed like that.
The one thing that made me feel better was the thought that at least I knew this was wrong. That even if I enjoyed hurting and restraining others, I could remember what it was like being trapped in the mirror, and how bad it had felt.
Of course, that got blown away as soon as I got back “home.”
* * *
I took the warp to get back and then walked the rest of the way slowly, trying to calm down. Trying to think about what I would do for the rest of the night. I wasn’t in the mood for Peridot’s ranting about Earth stuff, and I especially didn’t want to hear her attempts at sympathy. I almost just wanted to hide for a week, or a year. Or a few hundred years.
Unfortunately, Pearl was waiting for me right next to the barn.
I sighed, when I was still far enough away that she couldn’t hear me, and started walking even more slowly. I wasn’t going to hurry for her.
Light came out of the inside of the barn, around the corner from the side I was on, and I could hear the TV inside as I got closer. I wasn’t about to acknowledge Pearl, and I guessed that she was afraid of me, because it wasn’t until I’d just about rounded the corner that she spoke.
“Lapis?” She gave me an anxious look. “I … I think we should talk.”
I heard people laughing, on the TV inside the barn.
“About what?” I said, without looking at her. Hoping it showed on my face how little I wanted to do with her.
“I wanted to properly tell you I’m sorry.” She was looking away. “I guess what I mean is … I really came to think of you as an object. I believed that this was the best we could do for you. I can see now that I was wrong, and how demeaning this must have been. I … I wish that I’d let you out sooner.”
I slumped my shoulders, and sighed. Then I walked over to where she was, and where the TV noise was quieter.
“Okay,” I said, once I could hear myself think. “I forgive you. Now go away.”
I didn’t really forgive her, for neglecting the cracked Gem that had powered her mirror for thousands of years. For keeping me inside her Gem, and just forgetting about me. But nothing she could do could ever make up for that. And I knew that if I had to listen to her again, I would do something I’d regret. So I just turned around after I said that, and started heading back to the entrance.
“W-wait,” Pearl added, as soon as I’d turned my back. “There was something else that I wanted to tell you!”
“What?” I clenched my hands into fists, not moving or looking at her but feeling the water in the nearby pool.
Pearl rushed on, embarrassed. “I was just going to say … if restraining me helped you feel better, I wouldn’t mind letting you do it again. After I kept you in that mirror all this time, I owe you!”
I literally froze in my tracks, as the dew on the grass turned into ice. “What.”
“So if you ever want to take out your feelings on me … to taunt and restrain me, and tell me how awful I’ve been to you … then I would accept that. I-if it helped you feel better, I mean.”
I turned around to stare at her, icicles breaking off of my feet. As soon as I did she dropped her gaze again, blushing.
“Well, I guess I’ll be going now … ” She smiled, nervously. “You know where to find me!” And with that, she was off, in the direction of the Warp pad.
I started to shake, and to thaw inside. But I waited until I heard her Warp out, before screaming.
Something clattered inside of the barn, before Peridot ran out looking startled. “Lapis! What happened?”
“Nothing!” I lied. “I’m fine. Everything is fine!”
“Are you sure?” she asked. “Because Pearl stopped by earlier and said she wanted to talk to you, and it sounded like you two were-”
“Yes, Peridot, I’m sure. Now let’s go watch TV together.” I had to walk past her and into the barn before she got the hint.
The “truck” that she’d had the TV plugged into earlier was spread out across the grass, the walls, the piles of junk, and the barn floor. She had its seats set up in front of the television, which was plugged into its guts. I took a seat and folded my arms to keep them from shaking, and then waited for Peridot to come in and sit down in the other one before speaking.
" … this isn’t Camp Pining Hearts." I squinted at the TV.
“It’s a series that Amethyst showed me!” Peridot sounded proud of herself. “It’s called ‘Li’l Butler.’” I saw her make air quotes with her hands, out of the corner of my eye.
“You people have too much money!” a tiny human on the screen said. I heard people laughing again.
“Why can’t I see the people who are laughing?” I asked.
“My theory is that this is the ‘live studio audience’ that they mentioned. It’s only a theory, though.”
Something else was bothering me about this show. “Do they make tiny humans with facial hair?” I asked Peridot.
“No. That’s why he’s funny! Nyeh heh heh heh!” She doubled over laughing, and I gave her a bemused look. Peridot was too easy to distract sometimes.
We watched it in silence for a little while. Or relative silence, anyway. I was used to tuning out Peridot’s rants, but at one point I realized that she was explaining why it wasn’t as good as Camp Pining Hearts. “Nothing that happens to them ever lasts beyond a single episode! And to compare the Money family to the campers? Ha. None of them even come close to the synergy displayed by Pierre and Patricia. Paulette would fit in better with them, since she has no talent anyway!”
“You people have too much money!” the character exclaimed again.
“Also, they have too much money,” Peridot finished.
I glanced at her. “What is ‘money?’”
“Well … it’s the humans in the Money family, obviously! There are simply too many of them.”
“I see.” I resumed squinting at the TV. Something seemed off, again.
“Sometimes they say they have money in ‘stocks,’ so clearly those are their version of a-”
“Wait.” I held up a hand to interrupt her, since I’d just realized what it was. “I thought you saw Pierre and Percy as the strongest couple.”
Peridot fidgeted with her hands, and looked away. “I did … but that was before Percy spent all of season five moping about Paulette.”
I made a face. “Season five was garbage.”
“Exactly! Only a fool would think Percy was good for Pierre after watching that.”
We watched the show for another few seconds, before I sighed and looked down at the floor. “Peridot?”
“If you like something that’s bad, does it make you a bad person?”
She gave me a look like I’d asked her to clean up her trash. “How bad are we talking, here?”
There was no way I was telling her what this was really about. Not just yet. “Thinking Pierre and Percy are right for each other,” I said.
Peridot laughed. “No one could possibly think that!”
I gave her an annoyed look. "You did."
“That’s because I was missing out on essential information!” Peridot started making the hand gestures that she does when she’s explaining something. "Without seeing how Percy ruined Pierre’s plan to defeat Blue Team, I would’ve thought that his lung capacity gave him the advantage in swimming. But it turns out that if he’s not trying to save his precious Paulette’s friendship bracelet, he can barely even paddle! Unless he’s in a canoe, which only happened in one episode."
“I’ve seen the entire series. What if I still thought they were right for each other? What then?”
Peridot looked uncomfortable with this. “Well … I guess there are other things to consider besides their effectiveness in the Colour War … ” She started mumbling something to herself.
“Spit it out, Peridot.” I was gripping my arms tightly now, and trying not to shake. “Does liking something bad make you a bad person?”
“N-no, of course not!” Peridot put one hand behind her head and started scratching her hair with it. “I mean, it makes you wrong, but it’s not like it hurts anyone or makes them feel bad.”
I pulled my knees up to my face again, and watched the TV with half-lidded eyes. “What if I like hurting people and making them feel bad.”
It took her a couple of seconds to respond. Long enough for me to regret having said that.
“Then … I guess … you wouldn’t be a bad person if you only hurt people who deserved it? Or wanted it.” Peridot frowned, and put a hand to her chin. “‘Wow, Thanks!’ makes me feel bad when I look at it, so I only look at it when I want to feel bad.” She looked up at the morp that she’d made out of the tape recorder I’d smashed, and smiled. “And it works!”
“You don’t look like you feel bad right now.”
“Of course I do! I’m happy because it still works.” She beamed at me.
“ … whatever.” I stood up.
“Lapis, where are you going?” Peridot got up too. “Did I make you feel bad?” Her eyes glistened.
I couldn’t help but smile at her earnestness. “No, Peridot. I’m okay,” I said. “I just need to talk to someone.”