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“Tell me a story,” Steven asks, as he shuts his eyes. Garnet, as far as she has the capacity for it, is surprised; Steven is seventeen, and while he still has a tendency towards whimsy, he hasn’t asked for this particular indulgence for years. Not since he was a lot smaller.

Garnet feels a little angry at herself for not having noticed that earlier; she feels regretful, too, that she can never seem to see any part of Steven’s adulthood coming in advance.

“Okay,” she says, and thinks about it.

She feels the paths laid out in front of her, all the stories she could tell Steven, all the reactions he would likely have to each of them. True stories and false ones, comforting stories and painful ones. The world outside the Temple’s inner space is roiling with war, largely hidden from the human population but war all the same, and Garnet finds herself hesitating for the barest second, unsure that there’s any story that can help them through the night when another battle with Homeworld gems faces them tomorrow.

She takes a breath, and then takes a risk.

“A long time ago, Ruby and Sapphire came apart,” she says. At this, Steven’s eyes open in shock, maybe remembering the emotional turmoil that had led to their last involuntary split. She smiles and continues: “Not for a bad reason. There was a mission to carry out.”

Steven sighs in acknowledgement. His face relaxes, and Garnet is moved, as she often is, by her knowledge of the brevity of his lifespan so far.

“This story takes place many human lifetimes before you were born,” Garnet says, and she strokes his hair.

“How many?” Steven asks, eyes closing again.

“Depends on the human. It was near the time of that explorer you like.”

“Buddy Buddwick?!” Steven exclaims. He doesn’t open his eyes, but he smiles. “So were you and Pearl wearing awesome old-timey clothes and stuff?”

“I miss that hat,” Garnet confirms. “Humans used to be better at hats.”

“But, that means it was long after the first Gem War,” Steven says, slowly. “No more big battles going on. What could’ve been so desperate that you’d have to split up?”

“There was a corrupted gem,” Garnet replies. “Or gems, depending on how you see it. Different from any we had faced before.”

*

Rose shook her head. “I just don’t see any other option. This gem – these gems – don’t respond to traditional methods.”

“Rose did manage to destroy one of their physical forms with the light cannon,” Pearl put in. “But the power from its partner made it regenerate before we could catch it. If we could somehow destroy them both simultaneously – ”

“Rose would have to fire the light cannons in two places at once,” Garnet said, adjusting her round glasses and sighing. “It won’t work. We know how this conversation ends.”

“Maybe you know,” Pearl muttered. “I, for one, would like to explore all the options.”

Rose held up her hand, and the others quieted. “The gem is split into two halves, and decorporializing one of them at a time doesn’t work. They’re maintaining their forms at a great distance apart from one another, so we’ll have to . . . split up the team anyway, in order to have any hope of stopping them.” Rose frowned at Garnet, sympathy and compassion layered over firm resolve. “And Ruby and Sapphire’s powers would be helpful here.”

“But it’s not – Garnet shouldn’t have to,” Pearl said. Her voice had risen to become louder and angrier. She bit her lip. “She shouldn’t have to,” she repeated, more quietly.

Garnet held Pearl’s shoulder gently. “It won’t be like you’re thinking, Pearl. It won’t be Homeworld forcing me to be something I’m not.”

“No, it’ll be us forcing you to be something you’re not.” Pearl looked up at her and Garnet saw fierce protectiveness in her eyes. “We all swore we would never do that to each other. Treat each other that way, like we’re just soldiers or servants or, or interchangeable parts – ”

“It’s just a mission,” Garnet said.

“Do you see how it ends?” Rose asked, carefully.

“Not clearly,” Garnet replied. “But I believe I can do this. I believe we can do this.”

“Then we should proceed,” Rose said. “The northern half of the gem is terrorizing several remote human settlements, and the southern half is attacking their water vessels. There’s no time to lose.”

“Do we know where Amethyst is? Could we get her help?” Pearl asked. Garnet shook her head, even though Pearl already knew the answer to that question. Amethyst was still wandering the world, and only visited them occasionally. Regardless, she never cared much for going on missions.

“Pearl,” Garnet said, “we should begin.”

Pearl nodded and stepped back. A moment later, Garnet ceased to be.

Rose glanced from one of them to the other, and hesitated before clearing her throat and speaking. “Pearl will go with you, Ruby. I’ll go with Sapphire. The first mission is to protect the humans, and then to pin down the corrupted gems so that Ruby and Sapphire can decorporialize them simultaneously.”

“Understood,” Ruby replied.

“I am prepared,” Sapphire said.

They were still holding hands; as they all walked towards the warp pad, they let go.

*

Steven opens his eyes and looks at Garnet carefully. More and more, she sees him developing into a leader, not quite like the leader his mother was, but a leader nonetheless. Garnet knows he’s thinking about the effect that telling this story might have on her ability to fight tomorrow.

“How long had it been, since you unfused?”

“A long time. Thousands of years. After we found each other, we no longer wanted to spend time apart, so we didn’t. Being together was too special.”

Steven nods and purses his lips. “I know it’s not the same, because we’re not a permanent fusion, but I feel like that a little, sometimes, with Connie.”

“Stevonnie is very special.” Garnet touches Steven’s face. When he’s part of Stevonnie, it’s a little bit different, but still recognizable.

There’s a long silence, which Garnet knows to wait through.

“We were thinking of coming up with a new name, actually.” Steven’s voice is unsure and a little defiant, as if he expects Garnet to argue against this. “I mean, because Amethyst gave us that name originally, the first time we fused, and it’s nice because it’s both our names, but . . .”

Garnet picks up where Steven trailed off. “But it doesn’t quite describe what you are together.”

Steven nods anxiously. “Not anymore. No. But we can’t really pick a gem name, since we still just have a Rose Quartz, and Connie doesn’t want to lose the Maheswaran part, so it’s kind of hard. We might just look for a name we like.”

“Like Janice,” Garnet says, with finality. Steven laughs in relief.

“Not like Janice!” he objects. “But, sort of like that.”

“You’ll figure it out,” Garnet says. She waits a moment, then adds, “I know you miss her.”

“Connie and Pearl’s mission is really important for helping to save the planet,” Steven says, firmly, like a speech he’s given himself many times already. “I just have to be patient and trust them.”

“I hope they come back soon, though,” Garnet says, and Steven nods.

“So why were Sapphire and Ruby so important to the mission? Why couldn’t you go as Garnet?”

“As Garnet, I exist in perfect balance,” Garnet says. Steven rolls his eyes at the familiar phrase, then furrows his brow. His habit is to think tactically, now, evaluating the benefits and drawbacks of different fusions to different battle strategies. He knows that Alexandrite’s fire breath means the loss of Pearl’s hologram powers, and that Sugalite has impressive strength but lacks Garnet’s future vision. It doesn’t take him long to puzzle it out.

“Wait – you don’t just mean emotionally, do you? You mean – Ruby’s heat powers and Sapphire’s ice powers are cancelled out.”

“Yes. And they were precisely the powers we needed to defeat this corrupted gem.”

*

The warp pad nearest to the northern gem took them into a vast snowy wilderness, dotted with only a few small human settlements. The corrupted gem had been seen in many of them, which meant that its range was going to be a problem. Pearl and Ruby began their search, walking for days across the frozen landscape in search of any sign of the gem. Ruby cut through the snow and ice, turning it to steam, revealing the hidden ground beneath her as she went.

“We should be careful,” Pearl gasped, from a short distance behind her, trying not to slip on the re-freezing water that Ruby left in her wake. “Don’t melt any footprints or clues!”

“I’m being careful,” Ruby said, not even looking back at Pearl.

They trudged on in silence for a while.

“Not very talkative, are you? I guess I see where Garnet gets it from.” At this, Ruby looked back at Pearl for a moment, pausing before walking on.

“I don’t want to talk about Garnet.”

“Oh . . . kay,” Pearl said. “Well, we should talk about something. It’s funny, we’ve worked together for millennia but I still feel as though I barely know you.”

Ruby struggled to answer. It had been so long since any reaction she had was completely her own, since she had been entirely responsible for thinking of something to say in a conversation. It had been so long since there had been this much silence in her mind, empty like the flat, snowy landscape.

“You know me,” she said, eventually. “I know you.”

Pearl sighed. “What I mean is, it’s difficult to get used to.”

“Yeah,” Ruby agreed.

*

Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, Rose and Sapphire were floating their way across the water, feet skimming a few inches above its surface.

“I see the humans,” Rose said, pointing out the little dots in the distance. When Sapphire looked, she saw twenty or thirty humans on a beach, pushing their water vessels out over the waves. Sapphire examined the thought, and concluded that they were doing the morning fishing, but that their expedition was likely to be cut short by the corrupted gem.

“Ruby and Pearl have not reached their gem half yet,” Sapphire said. “We must bide our time and protect the humans while we wait for them to get into position.”

Rose glanced at her sidelong, her gaze as curious as it was when she looked at the humans on the beach. “Can you still see Ruby, or tell what she’s doing?”

Sapphire frowned. “No. But I can see that, if we were to destroy the gem today, it would not last. Therefore, the others are not yet in position.”

“I see,” Rose said. She floated a little higher in the air, bare feet shimmering with droplets of water that dripped from her toes. “But you can see that we would be capable of destroying the gem today.”

“It would not be . . . a desirable battle,” Sapphire said.

Rose didn’t ask any more questions. Sapphire – or, Garnet – Garnet had found that Rose would stop demanding answers from her future vision if she described a failure scenario. Rose thrived on hope, Sapphire thought. She never really wanted the future vision clarity that she claimed to desire.

*

“Do you not feel hope?” Steven interrupts. “Is it just . . . possibilities, for you? Probabilities, potential, other p words like that?” He smiles at the end, as if to deflect the seriousness of the question. Garnet pushes his hair back from his forehead, though it springs back immediately. His eyes are open now, and he’s not even pretending to try to sleep.

“No. That’s what Ruby taught Sapphire. Hope always exists, even when none of the possible scenarios make it seem likely.”

“So, without Ruby, Sapphire doesn’t have hope?”

Garnet grimaces. She remembers Sapphire’s memories from the time of the story she’s telling, how hard it had been to remember the bright, fiery feeling of hope – of desire that Ruby always lit inside her. Ruby wants things, and Sapphire sees things, and together they can always see a better world. But in that time, long ago, Sapphire had struggled to do it, for the first time, on her own.

“It’s harder,” Garnet manages, and isn’t sure if she’s speaking as Garnet or as Sapphire. “Without Ruby, it’s a lot harder. Or, it used to be.”

*

After ten days in the frozen wilderness, Ruby was hot enough to melt a twenty-foot circle of snow in all directions.

“Save some for the battle,” Pearl said, laughing lightly to cover up her nervousness. “You’ll burn out.”

In response to that, Ruby flared up hotter, startling a rabbit out of a now-disappearing snowbank. She and Pearl both jumped at the sudden motion, moving instinctively into battle positions, then deflated when they saw the white tail hopping away.

Ruby chuckled. “I guess I am a little on edge,” she admitted. Pearl’s eyes widened in surprise.

“Maybe a little,” she conceded. “Do you – oh, I don’t know if it’s all right to ask.”

“Go ahead,” Ruby said, waving her hand. She flopped down on the sodden ground and didn’t even steam when she landed, which she thought of as progress.

“Do you and Sapphire ever split up? I’ve never seen you, but I thought – is this the first time?”

Ruby closed her eyes, and a little cloud of steam did hiss up from her skin, now, where it was in contact with the wet earth. She took a deep breath and tried to remember what it was like before Sapphire, when she had kept herself steady and cool all the time. Back then, of course, she’d had all the other Rubies.

“We don’t unfuse,” Ruby said, spitting out the words.

“Oh,” Pearl said. “I see.” She knelt down delicately next to Ruby. Ruby cracked open an eye, surprised that Pearl would consent to getting her knees dirty.

“It’s been so long,” Ruby went on. Pearl didn’t say anything, and it was all Ruby needed to open her mouth and spill it all out. “It doesn’t feel like it used to, like coming back to myself. It’s been so long that it feels like . . . I’m only half of myself. Like part of myself is missing.”

“I suppose that’s true, if you think about it,” Pearl said slowly. “I mean, I found it odd to see Garnet as two people. I think of her as one.”

“She is.” Ruby scrubbed her hands over her face and groaned. “Okay, I’m fine. We need to get going. Sapphire’s probably wondering why her probability vision isn’t showing us finding the corrupted gem yet. Probably thinks I’m messing around.” She stood up, grimaced, and looked out at the horizon. There was no more sign of a corrupted gem than there had been before, and no clues to tell them where it might be.

“I’m sure she doesn’t think that,” Pearl said, rising to her feet.

Ruby barked out a laugh. “You’re worried about me reacting badly, but trust me, she’s going to be the one who really gets . . . weird. While we’re apart. I need to get back to her.”

“Then let’s do what we came here to do,” Pearl said. Ruby tried not to see the worry on her face.

*

“Any idea yet when we’ll be able to decorporialize this gem?” Rose asked, politely, as she manifested her shield and stepped between a fireball and an elderly human who had been weaving on the beach. The fireball dissipated harmlessly.

“My apologies,” Rose said to the human. “I would suggest getting everyone away from the water.”

The human made a gesture of slightly panicked agreement and gathered her work in her arms before rushing up the sand to warn the others.

“I cannot yet see that outcome,” Sapphire replied. Floating out over the water, she formed an ice wall around the gem, forcing it further out to sea. The gem’s physical form was shaped almost like a snake, but with huge paddling fins and, of course, the fire it shot from its mouth. Sapphire thought it had once been an agate of some kind. She wished she could see into the past, as well as the future, to see the shape of this gem’s life. She might have been part of the rebellion, or a Homeworld gem caught in the cataclysm, or a soldier who hadn’t even known what she was fighting for. Sapphire paused, considering those possibilities, all the ones she couldn’t see.

“Well, please keep me updated,” Rose sighed. Sapphire startled out of her reverie and nodded.

Working together, they ushered the gem further and further from the human communities. When it had finally returned to its nest – a cave on an island not much bigger than it was – they flew back to one of the human-inhabited islands and rested.

The humans were kind to them, offering food as thanks for their protection, and Rose fell into talking with them. Before long they were all exchanging stories of great victories in battle. Sapphire found herself on the edge of the circle, and then found that it pleased her to push further away from the group, retreating from the flicker of firelight.

“So I guess you’re not the social one, huh,” a voice said, from the darkness. Sapphire turned, surprised, and saw Amethyst emerging from the shadows. She was wearing the same kind of clothes as the humans who lived here, wrapped woven cloth in intricate patterns that caught the eye.

“I . . . did not know you were coming,” Sapphire said, blinking her eye. She had been so focused on the corrupted gems that she had not thought to consider other possibilities, or to contemplate Amethyst’s futures.

“Went to the Temple, no one was there, got bored,” Amethyst said. “Came to find you, but you did not make it easy.” She cocked her head, then held out her hand in the fashion of some humans. “I’m Amethyst, by the way, nice to meet you.”

“I know who you are,” Sapphire said, but smiled, and took her hand; Amethyst was a little like Ruby. Unpredictable. Interesting.

“Some kind of serious peril must be going on for you and the other one to have split up,” Amethyst said, holding up Sapphire’s hand and looking at the gem on her palm. Sapphire’s other hand was bare. She thought of it as Ruby’s hand, in a way; strangely, she found that it was harder to use that hand since she had been on her own.

“Dual gem,” Sapphire explained. “Here and in the far north. You can’t decorporialize one without decorporializing the other at the same time.”

“Neat!” Amethyst said. “All right. Guess I’ll go, then. Just wanted to make sure you all hadn’t gone back to Homeworld or whatever without me.”

“We wouldn’t do that,” Sapphire said, softly. Amethyst laughed.

“Course not.” Amethyst waved her hand dismissively as she turned to go.

“Amethyst, wait,” Sapphire said. Amethyst turned.

“Would you – could I ask you to also check in on Ruby and Pearl? I wonder . . . I am unable to see the progress of their mission and wonder how close they are to finding their objective.”

“Uh-huh,” Amethyst said. She looked at Sapphire for a long time. “Okay, I guess.”

Sapphire took Amethyst back towards the fire, and the humans, and the food, and the conversation, and to Rose Quartz, there in the middle of it all. She was talking to the human who had been on the beach earlier, who had gotten the others to safety.

“This is Toakase,” Rose said, gesturing between them. “Toakase, this is Sapphire and Amethyst. Nice to see you, Amethyst. Care to join us?”

“Sure,” Amethyst said, eyeing the stack of fish bones. “You gonna eat those?”

Toakase gestured no very slowly. “We have more fish with the flesh still on them, youngster,” she said chidingly.

“Eh,” Amethyst said, and dove in.

Sapphire ignored the exchange. “We have an idea that may help the mission,” she said.

When Sapphire explained her idea, Rose nodded.

“It would be good to have more coordination between our teams. Thank you, Amethyst, for your help.”

“It’s nothing,” Amethyst muttered, from around a mouthful of fishbones. “Any message you want me to take them?”

“Just that we have located our half of the gem and have it contained for now,” Rose replied. “Also, any message that Sapphire might want you to take to Ruby.”

Sapphire looked up at her, brushing her hair away from her eye to get a better view. “I have no message for Ruby,” she protested.

Rose shrugged. “Maybe you should think of one.”

Sapphire thought about it for a few hours, while Amethyst joined Rose and the humans in eating and drinking, while Rose made her usual attempts to be kind to Amethyst, and while Amethyst made her usual attempts to seem hard and sharp as diamond while she felt soft as gypsum inside. If she were part of Garnet, Sapphire would have joined with them, perhaps tried to make Amethyst feel comfortable among them. She would have learned the humans’ names, would have enjoyed their stories and their food. Without Ruby, Sapphire wasn’t sure how to do any of that, and couldn’t see the possibility thread that would lead her there; instead, she pondered her message for Ruby.

“Well? Got anything to tell your lady?” Amethyst crossed her arms and tapped her foot. “Cuz I should really get going.”

“Please tell Ruby,” Sapphire said, slowly, “that I miss her greatly.”

Amethyst’s eyebrows went up. “Huh,” she said. “All right. I’ll – I’ll tell her that.”

“Amethyst,” Sapphire said, putting out her hand and touching Amethyst on her arm. It was the first time they had ever touched, but Sapphire remembered doing it many times before. Remembered fusing with her, even, back when Amethyst was first learning to fuse.

“Yeah?” Amethyst’s eyes were wide.

“Thank you. It means a lot to me, that you would do this for us.”

Amethyst hugged her impulsively. It was both a new and an old experience.

*

“Oh my goshhhhhhhh,” Steven says, grinning up at her. “Sapphire loves Ruby so muuuuuuuch.”

“It was one sentence,” Garnet replies, smiling. “Ruby was very put out.”

“What? But it took Sapphire so long to decide to send it! And it was so heartfelt!”

“I had – Ruby had a hard time understanding that when Sapphire was so far away.”

Steven makes a little pouty face. “So, what did she send back? Was it a huge long letter full of lots of feelings? Was she mad in it? Did she sign it with kisses?”

“I didn’t say she sent anything back at all.”

Steven rolls his eyes. “I think I know a little bit about Ruby. I know for sure that she doesn’t let things go, and that she doesn’t let anyone else have the last word.”

Garnet takes this in; it’s a strange thing to realize, but Steven knows both Ruby and Sapphire much better than any of the Crystal Gems did, back then.

“Mind you,” Steven continues, “Sapphire is kind of the same.”

“It is hard to get a word in edgewise when they’re both around,” Garnet agrees. She feels the urge to argue with herself over which part of herself is more argumentative, and quashes it.

“Maybe that’s why they’re such a good match,” Steven ponders. “I always thought – there must be something really special about them, for you to decide to be yourself all the time, when Pearl and Amethyst and Peridot and Lapis and everyone else doesn’t.”

Garnet shrugs. “I don’t really think it’s anything special. It’s just a decision we made.”

Steven flushes a little, then ducks his head and nods agreement.

“That’s really sweet,” he says, before clearing his throat. “So? Are you going to tell me what message Ruby sent back to Sapphire?”

*

“Dear Sapphire, I miss you too.”

Amethyst looked bored while she recited the message.

“I see that this is all she said,” Sapphire proclaimed. As predictions went, it wasn’t her best.

Amethyst snorted. “Yeah. Took her a whole day and she melted a whole lot of ice in the process, though.”

Sapphire smiled.

*

“She wrote it down this time,” Amethyst said, handing over a piece of paper covered in splotches of ink. “She said I kept reciting it wrong, so she made me go get her all this stuff for writing with.”

Ruby took the paper in her hands and looked down at it for a long time before opening it. It had her name, written in the Gem language, scrawled on the outside. She had never seen her name in Sapphire’s handwriting before.

Pearl sat on the ground beside her, watching her, waiting for her to finish.

Dear Ruby, the letter read, I find it difficult to know what to say. It has been so long since we have had to rely on such imprecise methods of communication. If you were here, you would feel these feelings with me, or we would feel them together, differently. I feel strange when I use my left hand. I feel cold. I feel like half of a gem; at the same time, however, I feel like too much of one, too much of myself. I do not even know why I am sending this message with Amethyst; when we fuse again you will remember these feelings and understand them in a way you never could via crude symbolic language systems. Perhaps I should wait until that happens, so your understanding can be perfect.

There are many kind humans here, and Rose has made many friends, though I have myself found it difficult to talk with them. Human life paths are much more complicated than our own, which is something I never would have known had we not joined the rebellion. No diamond ever asked me to examine a human life path, but each time I do so I find myself more committed than ever to protecting them, and their planet.

I hope you are having success in your mission. I wish I could see your face and hear your voice.

Sapphire

“Well?” Pearl asked, after a lot of time had passed. “What did she say?”

“Same thing as before,” Ruby said, eventually. She wiped a tear away from the corner of her eye. “Just longer.” She folded up the paper carefully and tucked it into the shoulder strap of her uniform. It was the same old Ruby uniform she had worn ever since she came out of the ground. Garnet’s light-form manifestation changed over time, but Ruby and Sapphire had never seen the need.

“You want me to take something back?” Amethyst asked. Ruby looked up at her, surprised by the offer.

“That – that’d be really nice of you.”

Amethyst nodded and handed her some supplies: paper, ink, and a quill. Ruby ran her finger against the inkpot to warm it up.

“Yes, you’ve been very helpful, Amethyst,” Pearl agreed.

“Usually you don’t even want to come on missions with us,” Ruby said. It was almost a question; she was getting used to asking questions again.

“Yeah, well. You never really seem to need me much.” Amethyst ducked her head under the fur hood of her parka.

Ruby frowned. “But we like you,” she protested. “We like when you’re around. I do. Garnet does.”

“Me too,” Pearl added, softly.

Amethyst looked down, breaking eye contact. “Save the sentiment for your letter,” she said.

Ruby tried her hardest to do just that.

*

Dear Sapphire,

I loved your letter. Who cares if it’ll all be fine in the future? I miss you right now. I know you miss me too.

Lately I’ve been thinking about what happens if one of us gets shattered on this mission. And trying not to think about that.

Pearl and I have finally found some tracks and we hope it’s the corrupted gem. We’re trying to figure out where its lair is, and once we know that, we can strike.

My right hand feels strange too. Like it can’t adjust to gravity anymore. It’s too light, like it’s empty. My feet are too heavy on the ground. I want to feel the way I feel when we’re together, lighter and fuller and louder and quieter.

You’ll know when we’ve found the corrupted gem. After the mission, I will run back to the Temple as fast as I can to find you and hold you again.

Ruby

Sapphire frowned, reading the letter. She hadn’t thought much about it when she wrote her own letter, but it was disquieting to see how different Ruby’s handwriting was from her own. Garnet had little occasion to write letters; none of them did, though they had all been taught to write and read the Gem language from a young age.

Involuntarily, her eye fixed on the phrase if one of us gets shattered on this mission, and her probability vision veered off into timelines before she could stop herself. There were always timelines where someone got shattered; where the worst happened, again and again; where everyone made the most devastating possible choices; where luck turned against them. They were rarely probable, but they were always possible, and after reading Ruby’s letter, Sapphire couldn’t stop thinking about them.

If Ruby were to be shattered, her memories and experiences since they had been apart would never become part of Sapphire’s consciousness. In those scenarios, Sapphire’s life after Ruby’s shattering never went well. She could see the proof of it; without Ruby, her existence would falter.

“What’s the matter?” Amethyst asked. “I mean, Ruby’s no poet, but I know she really wants to see you.”

Sapphire folded the letter again, taking the words away from her sight. “She knew that I would react this way. But she wrote it anyway.”

“Whoa, what?” Amethyst said.

“It is nothing.”

Amethyst hesitated, but eventually backed up, making an appeasing gesture.

“So, you wanna send one back?”

Sapphire thought a long time before she spoke. “Perhaps.”

*

“Ugh, why couldn’t they just talk to each other?” Steven complains.

“That was the problem. They were talking to each other. For the first time in thousands of years, they couldn’t communicate by sharing one mind and one body.”

“But it’s . . . it doesn’t make sense. I don’t get how we can share all that together and then still not understand one another when we’re apart.”

Garnet considers this. “You’re thinking about the time after the battle last month. When you and Connie wouldn’t talk to each other. You never told me what happened.”

“It’s not important,” Steven says. “Or, I mean, it was, but we worked it out. But we’ve been through that before! Bottling up our feelings, and then it comes out in the battle, and we mess up . . . it’s happened so many times, and every time we fix it, and then it breaks in some new way.”

Before Garnet can respond to this, Steven barrels on. “And Sapphire and Ruby had so many years of experience together! They should be better at it than Connie and me! Ruby should’ve known that Sapphire would freak out about that shattering thing! And Sapphire should’ve known that Ruby was just trying to deal with her fear but didn’t know how to do it without Sapphire around! And she was reaching out because . . . because Sapphire was the one she was used to sharing her feelings with.” Steven frowns.

“They didn’t know,” Garnet says. She feels herself getting choked up, and it’s odd, after so many years, that she could still feel this way: uncertain and guilty, from two directions at once. “Neither of them knew.”

“Fusion should work better than that.” He sighs, meeting Garnet’s eyes. “I used to think that, for Ruby and Sapphire, it did.”

“They thought that, too.”

*

It was several days before Amethyst came back with Sapphire’s next letter. In that time, Ruby had thrown herself into the mission, tracking all kinds of animals and humans and human machines, trying to find the gem. It hadn’t gone well, and they were no closer to finding it than they had been a week before, even though they had circled the outer perimeter of what they believed to be the gem’s territory.

When Amethyst appeared, Ruby ran to her.

“Relax, I have your message,” Amethyst said, fending off Ruby’s questions and her hands grabbing for the letter. “Don’t know if you’re going to like it, though.”

Ruby looked worried as she opened the piece of paper.

“It is highly unlikely that any of us will be shattered,” she read aloud. When she looked up, she saw that Pearl was wincing.

“That’s it?” Pearl asked.

“Amethyst, isn’t there any more?” Ruby demanded. “There has to be more, right?”

“That’s it. Sorry.” Amethyst frowned, as if she wanted to say something else, but didn’t.

“How can she think that this would make me feel better?” Ruby asked, voice rising with every word. “How can she think that this would help? I know it’s unlikely! I know that! I don’t need any special vision to tell me that!”

“Maybe what she meant was – ” Pearl began, before being cut off by Ruby, who had started pacing.

“What she meant was that I need to stop being ridiculous and listen to her because she knows best and I’m just some dumb grunt who doesn’t have any special powers – ”

“You have the power to scorch the earth, there,” Amethyst pointed out. Ruby looked down, and cried out in frustration at the smoke rising from her feet.

“I can’t believe this!” she yelled, before collapsing to sit on the ground. A moment later, she looked up at Amethyst, and in a much more controlled voice, said, “I need some paper and ink.”

“Oh, uh,” Amethyst began, glancing at Pearl. “Well . . .”

“Maybe this isn’t the best time,” Pearl tried.

“If she can write one when she’s at her coldest, then she can put up with me at my hottest,” Ruby said, her eyes darkening. She was no longer burning the things she touched; she had turned her fire inward.

Eventually, Amethyst gave up the writing supplies.

*

After Sapphire read the letter, she dropped it into the fire.

“Was it . . . not good?” Rose asked, gently.

“I’m surprised she didn’t already burn it herself while she was writing it,” Sapphire said.

“Uh-huh,” Rose agreed. “So what did she say in it?”

“It was honestly hard to read with all the ink spots and the things crossed out,” Sapphire replied. “I really only saw a few words.”

“But they were enough, huh.” Rose nudged her with her shoulder. “Want to come and eat some fish? Or listen to a story? Toakase tells some wonderful stories.”

Sapphire rose up off the ground, her skirts swirling around her as she levitated. “I believe I will instead contemplate the universe in solitude. The way one does when one needs to maturely handle emotions.”

Rose watched her go, but didn’t stop her.

*

Steven buries his face in his pillow and groans. “This is the worst story ever! Why is everyone so awful!”

Garnet shrugs. “They’re just being themselves.”

“Well, they should stop it, and be you instead.” Turning over, Steven looks up at her. “Is that how it feels inside, to you? Bickering and arguments and bringing out the worst in each other?”

Shrugging, Garnet considers how to best reply. “Sometimes. It’s easier mind to mind. But that’s why you have to do it the other way now and again.”

“It’s just really hard to believe that you could be this petty to yourself, Garnet,” Steven sighs. “Not over something so unimportant as this, anyway. I thought you . . . y’know. Had it all together.”

“Every relationship is work,” Garnet says. “Even when you’re a fused form of lightform manifestations.”

Steven nods at this; he’s heard Garnet say it many times. He bites his lip, then speaks.

“What if you’re not supposed to even be a fused form of lightform manifestations?” he asks. “I mean . . . I think it’s even worse when you have a fleshy human body,” Steven says, poking himself in the arm to illustrate his fleshiness. “Sometimes I think, with Connie, it’s just . . . too hard. Our thoughts get in the way, our fusion becomes unstable, and even after years of practice we can’t always keep it steady. I wonder if fusion is for me. Or for us. Humans. Maybe it’s not meant to be.”

Garnet shakes her head. “Then you haven’t been paying attention to the story of Ruby and Sapphire. Nothing is ever meant to be.”

*

Sapphire came back to the human settlement two days later, frost still following in her wake.

“I am beginning to see visions of us successfully decorporalizing the corrupted gem,” she announced. “Ruby and Pearl must be close to finding the northern gem. There is now the possibility of success.”

“That’s great news,” Rose said. “When should we head into battle?”

“It is hard to say. The others have a lot of choices to make between now and when they will find the gem, and those choices alter the timeline. Eventually, as the choices narrow down to inevitability, I will know with greater certainty.”

“So, we should head out to sea and bide our time,” Rose translated. “All right.” She cocked her head at Sapphire. “Did you want to say goodbye to any of the humans? They have been so generous, hosting us this entire time.”

“It is not necessary,” Sapphire replied, gliding over ocean water that shivered with her passing.

*

Ruby had no trouble at all building up enough fire to defeat the corrupted gem. The hard work had been finding it; the battle itself was relatively short.

It blasted its cold breath at them, shards of frozen ice crackling around them, but that was nothing next to the heat veined through Ruby’s body.

“Wow,” Pearl said, waving her hand to clear the smoke and ash in front of her. “That was . . . impressive.”

Ruby grunted in agreement.

They walked forward together, and there, nestled among the ashes, was the gem they had been hunting. Ruby picked it up gingerly and looked at it for a moment.

“You were somewhere you didn’t belong,” she said to it, quietly. “Somewhere you could never belong. You don’t have to try anymore.” She surrounded it with a Ruby bubble, then sent it back to the Temple.

“Are you all right?” Pearl asked. Ruby shook her head no, and Pearl squeezed her shoulder, awkward but sincere.

*

Between Sapphire’s ice and Rose’s shield, the battle ended quickly, all of the gem’s fire neutralized harmlessly by the sand and the water.

Sapphire lifted the gem and looked at it for a long moment.

“I hope we can heal her, one day,” Rose sighed. A Sapphire bubble appeared around the gem.

“I do not see her healing in the near future,” Sapphire said. “Not everything can be healed. Not even by you.”

Before Rose could reply, Sapphire turned to look at the bubble floating in her left hand. “You were somewhere you did not belong,” she told it. “You will meet your destiny.” Then she allowed it to find the Temple.

*

It was days before Ruby and Pearl finally made it back to the Temple. Rose and Sapphire had gotten back early, but the time since then, waiting for the others to return, had not moved easily for Sapphire.

“Let’s get out of here,” Rose muttered to Pearl, as soon as they got back. Pearl looked back over her shoulder, but allowed Rose to take her arm and guide her away.

“I suppose you want to fuse,” Ruby said, stepping down off the warp pad.

“That is the most likely outcome of our reunion,” Sapphire agreed.

Ruby nodded. They both stepped forward, and touched hands, and they fell into the same rhythm they’d had since the first day they met. They spun together in place, their bodies shifted into light, and the light began to merge. Then, just as they were about to become Garnet, the light failed: they fell apart, embodied again, more separated than they had ever been.

With ten feet of space between them, Sapphire and Ruby stared at each other in shock.

*

“Holy crap,” Steven says.

Garnet nods. “I know, right?”

*

It was probably only a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity to Ruby and Sapphire: they sat on the floor, two separate gems, unable to fuse even though they had done so for millennia. Ruby tried to keep herself from crying, but when she saw tears slipping down Sapphire’s face from under her hair, she couldn’t do it. They cried together, in complete shock, feeling the same loss and unable to fix it.

That was when Amethyst came in.

“Hey, you two,” she said, before she noticed them crying. “I thought you’d be all fused up again by now – oh wow.” She looked between them in alarm. “What’s going on?”

“We can’t,” Ruby said, her fists clenching at her sides. “We can’t fuse.”

“I didn’t see this,” Sapphire said, breathless with surprise and grief. “I never saw this happening. I don’t – I don’t know how to fix it.”

“I thought when we fused, that would fix it,” Ruby yelled. “I thought we’d – and you’d – and it would be better.”

“I thought so too,” Sapphire agreed.

“Um,” Amethyst said, “well, I don’t know as much about fusion as you two, but I remember when Rose taught me. She said you have to be in harmony to begin with, for it to work.”

Sapphire and Ruby both looked up at her, confused and angry, and she shrugged in self-defense.

“I’m just saying, fusion doesn’t bring the harmony! You gotta bring it yourself. That was, you know, fusion day one.”

“Then how do we – ” Ruby put her hand to her mouth, suddenly worried that they would never be able to fuse again. The silence between them stretched out.

Amethyst coughed gently. “I have an idea,” she said. “If – if you want to try it.”

When they nodded, Amethyst puffed up her chest a little and stepped up to the warp pad. “Okay. I’ll be right back. Don’t go anywhere.”

*

Amethyst came back, a little while later, with quills, ink, and paper.

“Fix it the same way you broke it,” she said, dropping the stuff in front of them. Ruby and Sapphire looked at the supplies in shock, then picked them up.

“Oh, I – this is not going to work,” Sapphire said.

“Why can’t you just try it, Sapphire, it’s not as if – ” Ruby looked over, and stopped talking when she realized that Sapphire was holding an inkpot in her hand, and that it had covered over with frost.

“I meant this,” Sapphire said, softly.

“Oh,” Ruby said, blushing. Then her face hardened with resolve, and she reached over to gently take the inkpot from Sapphire’s hands. “Let me warm that up for you.”

“Thank you,” Sapphire said, and touched Ruby’s warm fingers.

Sapphire had not felt warm in a long time.

They wrote, side by side, and when they had finished writing they gave their words to each other to read.

*

Dear Sapphire,

I love you. I’m sorry I wrote all that stuff about you not respecting me, and for calling you condescending and for saying that you don’t care about me enough. I know, deep in every part of my body, because it’s been part of your body, that none of that is true. I’m sorry I exploded at you like I did. I still don’t understand why you sent me that message, or what you meant by it. It felt terrible to receive it, like I was worthless to you, or ridiculous. I know that feeling isn’t the truth but it was how I felt.

Please tell me what you’re thinking. Please don’t freeze me out. I know you don’t want to. You’re so much more than what they made you. I remember being with you, being you, and I know you don’t want to be drifting above the world, cut off from it. I can’t imagine my life, not being Garnet anymore. I figured we could just fix it all by fusing, but Amethyst is right, we can’t. We have to talk about this.

Ruby

*

Dear Ruby,

Amethyst is right, and we have to talk about this. I realize now that we had a terrible misunderstanding, but the more I think about it the more I believe that our misunderstanding was born of the fears we carry inside of us, and that clearing up the misunderstanding will address only the consequence of our fears, not our fears themselves. But I could never be happy in a world where you were unhappy. I know you think I look down on you, but it’s the opposite: I look up to you. You changed my life so much that I can never express it in words. If you want me to, though, I can try.

I know that I hurt you when I sent you that message. You hurt me when you sent yours. I am sorry. I am so deeply, completely sorry. I wish I could take it all back, but the past is immutable. The future, however, is not. I love you.

Sapphire

*

“And then they fused?” Steven asks, wiping away a tear.

“And then they talked a lot, and walked together, and talked some more, for days. Then they fused.” Garnet’s voice shakes as she remembers it; she had never felt such despair as Ruby and Sapphire did when their fusion failed, and she had never felt such completion as they did when they finally came back together.

She looks down at her hands, left and then right.

Steven’s next question interrupts her train of thought. “Do you ever, just, unfuse? Just to be Ruby and Sapphire for a while?”

Garnet smiles and wipes her tears away. “I did, for a while. Got to know all the gems as my singular selves. Got a lot better at communicating.”

It had been a wonderful time. Sapphire’s laugh, the way Ruby felt joy, the way they saw the Earth . . . it was all different from the way Garnet experienced things. It had been like discovering their lives all over again.

“Plus,” Garnet adds, “two people can pull some amazing pranks. I got your mom so good.”

“What?” Steven laughs. “How?”

“That’s another story for another time,” Garnet says. Steven chuckles and waves his hand in agreement.

“Your bedtime story didn’t really help me to sleep, Garnet,” he says.

She smiles. “There was no story I could have told that would have.”

Steven cuddles down under the covers, and for a moment Garnet can believe that he’s thirteen again, an innocent child, instead of a general leading an army against Homeworld’s sixth invasion force.

“There’s something I want to tell you,” Steven says, “but I don’t know how to say it.”

“I could get you a pencil,” Garnet offers. Steven smiles, but his face is still sad.

“Connie and I have been talking about – about being like you. Like Ruby and Sapphire. Talking about becoming a fusion all the time. Or, or most of the time.”

Garnet blinks. She can never, however hard she tries, see any part of Steven’s adulthood coming in advance.

Pearl and Amethyst, Rose, back when she was alive, even Peridot and Lapis . . . they fuse out of necessity, and they enjoy it, and they never make Garnet feel like a freak for loving being herself so much. But none of them ever wanted to take it on permanently.

The idea is almost too much for her to wrap her mind around.

Steven bites his lip. “I know it’s a big decision, and we don’t have to make a decision forever, and of course Connie would still want to unfuse to see her parents, but . . . I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s really who we are. But every day that she’s gone, off on that mission with Pearl, I miss her more and more. And it’s not just her, like, missing a friend. I miss . . . being us. Being one person.”

Garnet cries, from all three of her eyes, and opens her mouth to speak.

Before the words can escape, she comes undone.

“You – you would really want to be like us?” Ruby asks.

Sapphire steps forward, brushing her hair away from her eye. She’s still crying. “You and Connie both?”

Steven sits straight up in bed, looking between them in alarm. “Uh,” he says. “You unfused.”

“Because you gave us a shock, ya big goof,” Ruby says, punching Steven in the shoulder.

“Because you made us happier than we’ve been in a long, long time,” Sapphire adds. “We never – I remember the first time you fused with Connie, and – ”

“Yes, and they were so beautiful and brand new, trying to balance on their new legs – ”

“Just like us, when we first fused,” Sapphire finishes, nodding. Ruby takes her hand.

“We’ll help you figure it out, Steven,” Ruby says softly, reaching out to touch his cheek. “We’ll be here for you and for Connie. I swear.”

“Thanks,” Steven says. “We have a lot of figuring out to do.”

“If all else fails, and you and Connie want to know what it’s like to be a permanent fusion,” Sapphire begins,

“Really know, from the inside, what it feels like,” Ruby continues,

“Then you and Connie could always fuse with us,” Sapphire finishes, grinning.

Steven’s eyes go wide. “Really? Do you think – but what would we be, you and me and Connie? Would we be a new gem? Oh my gosh. Can Connie even fuse with you guys?”

“I don’t know,” Sapphire laughs.

“We’d love to find out,” Ruby says.

Steven grabs them both up and hugs them in his arms, squeezing them tight. Ruby meets Sapphire’s gaze, over Steven’s shoulders, and nods. Sapphire nods back.

She knows just what she means.