Actions

Work Header

Points of Pain

Chapter Text

^^^^^^

Pearl finds herself trapped in a world of gems and strict rules.

^^^^^^

 

            Light blue eyes slowly opened to a dim room.  The fuzzy outlines gradually sharpened as a few moments passed.  The petite figure gingerly sat up, one hand pressed to the side of her head.  Fingers tenderly searched through short strawberry blonde hair for the source of unfamiliar pain.  A soft “ow” escaped her thin lips as the fingers found the wound.  The hand was brought down and light blue eyes widened at the sight of dark red flecks sprinkled across three of the finger tips accompanied by the smell of dried blood.  She wrapped her lanky arms around her midsection as she took a second look around the room.

            The only source of light for the room came from the pale yellow light seeping under the thin crack between the bottom of the door and the hard concrete floor.  The only furniture in the room was the simple bed she was sitting on.  Bed was a generous term.  It was a steel frame holding up a mattress with a thin sheet and mattress cover on it.  The color didn’t stand out; she assumed that the sheets were probably a dull grey just like the rest of the room.  As she turned her head to look at the closed door, an unfamiliar weight shifted around her neck.  A hand timidly went to her neck to pick up and inspect what felt like a metal necklace.  Where a normal chain would be, thick chain links were instead, about ¼ inches in diameter.  The chain met in the middle just a couple of inches below her throat, joined together by a metal bar 2 inches long, ¾ inches wide, and ¼ inches thick.  On the flat piece of metal she could barely make out the engraved letters,

“PEARL 01079

YD 0001”

            She quickly spun the strange necklace around trying to find a clasp to take it off.  However, no matter how many times she turned it around she couldn’t find a clasp, not even a single link that looked like it had been fastened differently than the others.  The light eyed young woman tried to then pull the necklace over her head, but it didn’t matter what angle she tried, it couldn’t come off due to its size relative to her head.  After a few minutes of trying, she eventually gave up and decided to study it.  The necklace was light despite the bulk, and shone in the darkness.  It was aluminum; that she was certain of, but how it got on her neck was beyond her.

            Her heart rate slowly began to pick up the pace as her mind began to put all of the pieces together.  The head injury, strange room, and odd, new piece of jewelry.  She glanced down at herself to only screech out in shock.  Different clothes were on her body.  The thin young woman jumped to her feet and patted herself down.  Everything was different, from the black slacks and form fitting simple blue long sleeved shirt, to the black flats and black socks, to the underwear that now resided next to her skin.  She looked frantically around the small room for a sign of anything she had in her possession.  Her wallet, her clothes, her cell phone, anything.

            Several minutes passed, even though she searched the barren room multiple times over, nothing was there.  Her narrow back hit one of the concrete walls with a soft thud; then slid down until she was sitting on the cold floor curled into a tiny ball.  Tears pricked at the side of her eyes as she gave into the reality.  She had been kidnapped, taken, stolen, and then made into something new.  What they, whoever “they” were, were going to do to her, she could only sit there and wait.  A whimper escaped her lips as the tears made their way out of her eyes and into the fabric of her pants.

 

            It wasn’t too long before the sound of metal scraping against metal alerted her to the presence of someone making their way into the room.  The door opened and the pale yellow light poured into the room like water gushing from a broken dam.  A figure stood in the doorway, the thin woman tried to curl even tighter into a ball and disappear from sight.  Maybe, just maybe, they wouldn’t notice her.  A disgusted scoff came from the figure in the doorway.  A click was heard and harsh white light snapped on in the room.

            “There you are,” their nasally voice grumbled.

            The figure was a female, no taller than 5 feet 4 inches, small build, square glasses, short blonde hair, green eyes, and a scowl on her face.  She wore a simple pair of black slacks and shoes, with a green button up shirt.  One hand was placed on the wall outside of the room, while the other held a medium-sized tablet close to her side.  She appeared to be not much older, if not the same age as the lean figure curled into a ball.  Light blue eyes caught a similar style of necklace on the intruder’s neck, though it was of a different color.

            “Stand up,” she ordered as they walked over.

            The thin young woman slowly stood up, rubbing the last of her tears out of her eyes.

            “What is your name?”

            “Em-”

            A hand struck her across the cheek.  The taller of the two brought a hand up to her now red cheek, confused as to why she was hit.

            “What is your name?” the shorter demanded, arm raised and ready to strike her again.

            The pale young woman opened her mouth, but closed as she tried to think of what she should say.  Light blue eyes wandered back down to the necklace.

            “Pearl,” she slowly answered.

            “Pearl….” The green eyed woman motioned for her to continue.

            “Pearl 01079.”

            “Good, it would do you well to never forget that, you are a pearl and you are tracked by your gem and number combination.  This is the only time you’ll get a warning,” she stated as she looked Pearl over.  “You’re already a mess, been crying no doubt.”

            “Well I-”

            The sharp slap echoed through the room.  Pearl recoiled from the smaller woman.

            “Don’t speak unless spoken to, stand up straight, and never question an order.  You will be given your assignment soon, as a pearl you will most likely be a personal assistant to another of a higher ranking.  Running errands, delivering messages, and performing any requested tasks.  If you behave and don’t give us any trouble, we will have fewer reasons to hurt or dispose of you, understand?”

            “Y-yes,” Pearl stuttered.

            The other raised an eyebrow at her.

            “I mean, yes ma’am,” she quickly corrected as her hands snapped to her sides and she straightened her posture.

            “Good, always address those higher up respectfully, otherwise you’ll face the consequences.” The short haired blonde glanced down at her wrist watch.

            “My name is Peridot 00231, I am in charge of making sure you make it to your assignment in one piece.  If at any time I feel that you are going to be more trouble than you’re worth I will have you terminated.  Do you understand?”

            “Yes ma’am.”

            The shorter woman turned and began to walk out of the room.  “Follow me.”

            They walked out into a narrow concrete hallway with a series of doors on one side with an eight foot ceiling.  Pale yellow and white lights lit up the bare place.  Pearl followed behind Peridot 00231 as they weaved through a series of hallways; the only changes in scenery were colors of paint for different hallways or doors.  At times the small hallway they were in opened up to a much larger one that usually had wider sets of doors and areas by it, but also connected to and branched off into many smaller ones.  The ceiling height would change as well, the most common being around ten feet tall.  Pearl caught the scent of food as they passed a series of double doors; the smell was much like that of cafeteria food she had smelled all throughout her elementary, middle, and high school years.  A few turns later led to a long stretch of walls that had large glass windows.  The windows allowed for one to look in and see all sorts training equipment, from boxing/mma rings and mats, to weights, to gymnastic set ups.  People were scattered all throughout the well furnished training center in all stages of exercise.  A strong wave of chlorine hit Pearl’s nose indicating the location of an indoor pool.

            As they continued their silent march, her gut became more and more uneasy.  Nothing was labeled.  There were no exit signs, no windows to the outside world, just the eerie off-white color that lit up the endless concrete corridors.  What time was it?  Was it day or night?  What day was it?  Her hands came forward and clenched her stomach through the blue shirt.  Her even breathing slowly began to pick up pace as panic began to race through her veins yet again.  With each step it became harder and harder to move.  Peridot 00231 kept on walking forward with her steady pace as Pearl found herself rooted to the floor, unable to coax her legs to move.  Cold sweat trickled down her back, short gasps for air came from her mouth as her stomach attempted to reject whatever might be still in there.  Several people passed her, some glancing briefly at her, others paying her no mind.  Peridot 00231 was almost out of sight, if she lost her there was no telling what would happen.

            Pearl’s practical brain screamed at her protesting limbs, forcing them to move.  She took off in a sprint, ripping her long feet from the ground and weaving gracefully through the steady passing of people.  Once she had caught up with Peridot 00231, she resumed matching the shorter woman’s pace; her breaths were now even and deep.  The steadying effects of the adrenaline slowly eased through her body.  Pearl steeled her nerves, she couldn’t mess up, she needed to survive whatever they were going to do to her.

            The pair came to a stop at a particular metal door that was painted dark blue.  Peridot 00231 opened the door and walked in.  Pearl glanced around the room.  It was a small area that came up to a counter.  Behind the counter was a vast area lined with rows and rows of shelves.  One lonely figure sat behind the counter.  The stocky man stopped the drumming of his fingers as Peridot 00231 and Pearl walked over to him.  He had short, curly, dark brown hair that was slightly longer on the top and a slowly growing, well managed, goatee framed his mouth.  The type of shirt he wore was a light blue with the sleeves pushed up to the elbows.  Around his neck was the same type of necklace Pearl had seen on everyone there.

            “Larimar 00746,” Peridot greeted the man and handed him a sheet of paper.  “I need the standard issue for a pearl in these sizes.”

            “Peridot 00231,” he nodded in greeting towards her.  “Eh?  Pearl equipment?  Alright, give me one sec.”  He stood up and began walking down the rows.  “What color of pearl?”

            “Blue.”

            “Okey dokey.”

            Peridot 00231 grumbled.  Pearl could only assume it was Larimar’s lack of formality that was causing this.  The man came back with a small, blue duffle bag.

            “Alright, seven outfits, scheduler, toiletries, underwear, pajamas, socks, extra pair of shoes, watch, tags, laundry bag, notebook, pens, and of course a bag.”  Larimar glanced behind Peridot 00231 to take a look at Pearl.  “She looks young, this one is fresh?  Not some trade pearl?”

            “Yes a fresh pearl, she will require more training, but at least the number of bad habits should be minimal,” Peridot conversed.  “Pearl 01079, come pick up the bag, these are your belongings now.  Don’t lose them, as they will not be replaced without a price.”

            Pearl walked up to the counter.

            “Write your name on this,” Larimar instructed has he handed her a pen and gestured to the name tag on the duffle bag.

            She almost wrote down her real name, but stopped just in time to write down who she was now.  In one fluid movement she slung the pack over her shoulder.

            “Thank you, sir,” Pearl slightly bowed towards him.

            “So polite,” he chuckled.  “She hasn’t figured out the ranking yet has she?” Larimar directed towards Peridot 00231.

            “Enjoy it while you can Larimar,” Peridot growled 00231.  “Let’s go.”

            Once back in the concrete hallways Peridot began to speak as she walked to their unknown destination.

            “You will be given a schedule, you cannot change it, if you miss a designated meal time you don’t eat, if you miss your time slot for personal hygiene you don’t get to clean up.  Any changes to your schedule will be updated to your device, it will give you one alert, if you don’t notice then that’s your fault.  This is where you will sleep and store your belongings.”  Peridot opened a blue door in a large grey hallway.

            They walked into a large room with three rows of bunk beds.  Dozens of other women of varying skin tones and relatively similar body composition were in the room mingling about and getting ready for bed.  As far as Pearl could tell there were at least twenty bunk beds in each row.  A number of the women stopped their conversations to turn and look at the two walking down the left-hand isle.  Peridot stopped at a bottom bed with blue sheets in middle row towards the back of the room.

            “This is your bed, store your belongings underneath.”

            “Thank you ma’am.” Pearl nodded.

            “Where is Pearl 00251?” she shouted into the room.

            “I’m right here Peridot 00231.”

            A lanky woman about Pearl’s height walked up to the two of them.  Her auburn hair was pulled back into a low bun.  Arms were crossed over the light pink shirt she wore.

            “Right, make sure the new pearl knows the rules and procedures of the living quarters.  Answer as many of her questions as you want.”  Peridot turned to Pearl once again.  “Tomorrow I will meet with you after breakfast to take you to your assignment.  Do you understand?”

            “Yes ma’am.”

            “Good.”

            Peridot 00231 turned and then left.  Pearl glanced around, she was now surrounded by at least a dozen other women.  After stealing glances at several of the necklaces worn by those nearby, she concluded that they all were pearls, just like her.

            “Is everyone in here a pearl?” she couldn’t help but ask.

            The answer was a swift slap by Pearl 00251.  Pearl’s tender cheek flared back up with pain.

            “Don’t speak unless spoken to; especially for you newbie,” the older woman narrowed her eyes.  “Yes, we all are pearls here, but you will soon learn that even amongst the lowest we have a hierarchy.  I am the pearl in charge of this segment and this is because I have been the most successful and have been here the longest of all of the pearls in here.  On the left wall is an opening that leads to the bathroom stalls, showers, and sinks.  Every week you will put your dirty laundry bag in your designated bin.  Once a month you will be required to strip your bed and have your sheets washed.  Lights go out exactly at 21:30 hours and turn on at 05:00 hours.  Your scheduler will have your time slots for eating and personal hygiene.  Any issues you have such as missing items or replacements for toiletries will be processed through me.  I am the line of communication between all of the pearls here and the overseeing aquamarine.”

            “Understood ma’am.”

            Pearl 00251 raised an eyebrow at her. “I didn’t ask you if you understood or not,” she stated, her voice dangerously low.

            Pearl raised her arms to block the anticipated strike.  It never came.  Instead Pearl 00251 took a closer step to her, their eyes level.

            “Rule number one: Do not speak unless you are asked a direct question.  Rule number two: You are to obey all orders given to you by either the one in charge of you, or any gem ranked higher, without hesitation. If there is a conflict in commands, you must obey the higher ranked gem.  Rule number three: Any unnecessary movements such as flinching, fidgeting, jerking, pacing, etc are forbidden.  You are to stand straight and tall and as still as possible unless you are in the middle of a task.  Failure to obey these rules will result in punishment.  From the looks of it, you have trouble keeping quiet,” she stated as her eyes flickered briefly to Pearl’s cheek.

            Pearl 00251 took a step back and gave one last look over the fresh pearl.

            “All of you get back to your business, lights will be off soon.”

            The gathering of pearls dispersed and the noise level in the room returned to the level it was when Pearl first walked in.  Pearl glanced around before walking over and setting her bag on her bed.  A few whispers reached her ears as she took out the items and looked them over.

            “She’s tall.”

            “And very skinny.”

            “Doesn’t look very strong either.”

            “How long do you think she will last?”

            “Two weeks, she doesn’t look like she could last here, she’s too frail.”

            “Yeah no backbone, did you see how she flinched?”

            “Probably lived a cushy life before ending up here.”

            Pearl tried to ignore their words as she put on the digital wrist watch.  It displayed the time, the date, and the day of the week.  A sigh of relief escaped her lips.  Now she knew what day it was and the time.  It had only been one day; maybe her family would be able to find her before too long.  They had to be searching for her.  A small smile formed on her lips at the hope blossoming in her chest.  Yes, they would come and she would be taken away from this awful place.  Pearl picked up the scheduler, it was a smart phone that had been stripped of all functionality except for the ability to access a few apps, such as the calculator, note pad, and the schedule.  She opened up her calendar to see what she had planned for the coming day.

            “05:00- 05:30: Shower and preparation for the day: Grey Blue 20083.”

            “05:45-06:15: Breakfast: Blue Light Blue 00054.”

            “06:30-12:00: Assist Carnelian 000023: Grey Red 01537”

            “12:15-12:45: Lunch: Blue Light Blue 00054.”

            “13:00-18:00: Assist Carnelian 000023: Grey Red 01537”

            “18:15-18:45: Dinner: Blue Light Blue 00054.”

            “19:00-20:30: Assist Carnelian 000023: Grey Red 01537”

            “20:30-21:00: Personal time: Grey Blue 20083”

            “21:00-21:30: Shower and preparation for bed: Grey Blue 20083.”

            “21:30: Bed time: Grey Blue 20083”

            Thin lips were pressed into a line as she looked it over and began committing it to memory.  There wasn’t a minute of her day that wasn’t blocked out.  What was with all of the colors and numbers?  Worry began to eat away at her hope.  Her family would come and get her right?  She’d make it out of here before too long right?  Pearl glanced around at the dozens of other pearls in the room.  How many of them were kidnapped just like she was?  How many of them have tried to escape, but have yet to succeed?  Maybe they all are still here because the police had yet to succeed in finding them.

            The large room was doused in darkness as all the lights suddenly snapped off.  Pearl visibly jumped, but quickly regained her composure.  A few snickers drifted into her ears.  She pulled out her scheduler and used its light so she could pack her items back into her bag and change into her pajamas.  She wished she could have taken a shower, but she would just have to do it tomorrow.  With her belongings now stashed away under her bed, Pearl crawled into her bed and pulled the blanket tightly around her.  They would find her, right?  Her family wouldn’t just leave her in a place like this, right?  The weight of her necklace shifted as she turned onto her side.  Who was YD 0001?  A soft sob escaped her lips as salty tears began to run down her face.  It was pointless to try and stop, the tears just kept on coming.

            “Hear that?”

            “Yeah.  She won’t last past two weeks.”

Chapter Text

^^^^^^

Adjusting to her new life proves to be difficult for Pearl.  With a few wrong steps forward and some helpful information, she is able to get on the right path.

^^^^^^

 

            Harsh white light forced its way into her vision and jerked Pearl awake.  She sat up and looked around wildly.  Pearls were shuffling about in various stages of dress, while some were still in their beds, refusing to get up just yet.  Pearl wiped away the sleep in her eyes.

            “Ow,” she gasped.

            It hurt to touch her cheek.  She made a mental note to not get slapped today.  Light blue eyes glanced down at her watch.

            [05:05]

            Quickly she moved out of her bed and pulled out the next set of clothes and the bag of toiletries before heading for the community bathroom.  The bathroom had two large sections divided by a thick concrete wall that held sinks and a mirror that stretched the full distance on both sides.  On the right side, across from the line of sinks, was an equally long line of toilets with the usual privacy accommodations found in any public restroom.  On the left side, across from the second row of sinks, was a wall of showers.  Each shower was separated with a tiled wall and closed off with a fabric curtain.  In total, there were forty sinks, twenty toilets, and twenty showers.  Pearl headed for the first open shower she saw, but just before she stepped in another pearl walked in right before her.  She went for the next one, but that one was taken before she could get there as well.  A quick glance revealed that all other showers were occupied.  The pale woman decided to wait to see if one would open up.  However, it soon became apparent that the showers would not be opening in time for her to take one.

            [05:20]

            Pearl turned and went to one of the empty sinks.  There she did her best to wash her face, hair, and parts of her body.  By the time 05:30 came around she had changed into fresh clothes and looked mostly put together.  Her eyes were still red from crying the previous day, but she figured it would fade away as the day went on.  Pearls were heading out the door en masse, the light eyed young woman fussed around with her scheduler as she began to push it into one of her unusually large pant's pocket.

            “It sticks to the side of your pants,” a whisper came from behind her.

            Light blue eyes glanced back to see another pearl around her same age motion to where hers was resting as she walked past.  The pearl gave her a brief smile before disappearing into the throng.  Pearl held her scheduler off to the side and it stuck to the fabric with a firm magnetic pull.  The mass of pearls marched down the various hallways all heading in the same general direction.  Pearl saw more and more people joining the crowd as they progressed towards the cafeteria.  They passed by a series of metal, light blue double doors that were on a white wall before coming to another even larger set of metal, light blue double doors on a blue wall.  The doors opened up to a packed cafeteria.  Groups of similar people all sat together at various tables.  There were different lines along the back as they waited for to receive their food.  Pearl had no idea where she should go, so she stuck with the pearls in front of her.  As she progressed through the line and came to where she would receive her tray she noticed that all of the discernable necklaces of the cafeteria workers listed them as ambers.

            “Gem,” one of the ambers directed to her.

            “I uhh, pearl,” she said after a moment of hesitation.

            A tray with food on it was shoved in front of her.  Steady hands grabbed it.  She turned and looked around to see where she should go next.  Rows and rows of crowded tables with all shapes, sizes, and colors of people sitting down and eating reminded her of the busy cafeterias in her elementary and middle school years.  Picking a seat back then without any known friends or a claimed spot was a dangerous.  Here it could be fatal.  A familiar face caught her eye; it was the pearl that gave her the tip earlier.  The blonde pearl made a quick motion for her to come over.  Pearl quickly made her way over and sat in the unoccupied spot across from her.

            “You always sit with your color,” the other pearl said in a low voice.  “Every gem sits with their same type.  There are few exceptions, those who don’t follow that, well they can because they are ranked higher and are less likely to get in trouble.”

            Pearl looked around and understood.  She was sitting at a section of a table occupied by only pearls that wore blue shirts.

            “What are you doing?” a green eyed pearl harshly whispered as she nudged the blonde.

            “Trying to help the newbie, ok?!” she shot back quietly.

            “That could put you in a bad spot you know.”

            “I know, but someone helped me out so I’m just passing it forward.”

            “It’s your funeral,” the green eyed pearl shrugged.

            “Anyway, pay attention, there’s a pattern to everything.  If you can figure out the pattern everything becomes less confusing,” the blonde directed towards Pearl again.

            Pearl nodded, not wanting to risk getting slapped if she spoke.

            “Good, now this conversation didn’t happen ok?”

            Pearl nodded once again.  With that the other pearl dug into her food.  The thin woman looked down at what was on her tray; a medium-sized bowl of oatmeal, several orange slices, one small scoop of scrambled eggs, and a large glass of water.  She quickly ate, it had been too long since she had last eaten or drank anything.  The flavors of the various pieces of food did not stand out, yet they were not horribly bland either.  Food was food, and Pearl was glad to finally have some.

            At exactly 06:15 Peridot 00231 appeared behind Pearl.

            “Get up Pearl 01079,” came the familiar annoying voice.  “Leave the tray, the ambers clean up after everyone leaves.”

            The thin woman felt odd just leaving the tray, but she did as she was instructed and followed after Peridot 00231 who was already on her way out of the cafeteria.

            “I hope you looked at your schedule and noticed that you will be assigned to Carnelian 00023.  I will take you to her office.  She will then give you tasks to keep you plenty busy for the rest of the day.  If she is unsatisfied with your performance you will either be transferred or terminated.  Do you understand?”

            “Yes ma’am.”

            The rest of the walk was done in relative silence; the only noise around them came from others as they walked and talked amongst themselves.  Pearl made a note that they had gone up a flight of stairs and taken a number of rights and lefts.  They eventually came to a red door in another grey hallway.  Peridot 00231 opened it and walked in.

            “I don’t care what you think about the designs, those were the ones that were approved, all others were thrown out.  Just get the team working on them already and stop complaining!” a stout woman yelled at another over a phone.  She wore a red, loose-fitting, knit sweater and had brown, curly hair that fell just below her jaw line.  Oval glasses framed her hazel eyes.

            “Ah, Peridot, what news have you brought me this time?” the woman sighed.

            “Carnelian 00023, I have been instructed to bring you Pearl 01079.  She is to help out with any task you need assistance on or see fit to assign to her,” Peridot said as she stepped aside to give Carnelian a clear view of her.

            “My own pearl!?” Carnelian gasped.  “Oh my stars, Yellow Diamond is too kind,” she gushed as she ran over and began circling Pearl, looking over every inch of her.

            “Since your area of work has been struggling with the work load, Yellow Diamond saw it fit to help with productivity for you to have your own pearl,” Peridot explained.

            “Hmm, yes, you may send my many thanks to Yellow Diamond,” Carnelian said, barely looking at Peridot 00231.

            “Yes ma’am,” Peridot 00231 lightly bowed before turning and exiting the room.

            “Oh just look at you, tall, a little too skinny, very pretty-” the older woman’s face twisted in disgust.  “We will have to do something about that!”

            Pearl almost asked what, but was able to catch her tongue in time.

            “No pearl of mine will have such obvious bruises.  We will need to get you something to cover that up.”  Carnelian walked over to her desk and wrote something down on a piece of paper.  “Here, take this to Blue Dark Blue 00026.”

            Pearl took the piece of paper and read it carefully.  It was a form for the “Individual Gem Supply Station”.  She didn’t know exactly what or where the Blue Dark Blue 00026 was, but she had an idea what it might be based off the form title.

            “Now I expect you to be back by 10:30 and to have that horrid thing covered up, do you understand?” the curly haired woman stated as she walked back to her desk.

            “Yes ma’am,” Pearl lightly bowed before walking out the door.

            “By the time you get back I’ll have plenty planned for you to do.”

            Once outside she took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.  It was likely the place she was taken to yesterday to get her things was the supply station Carnelian 00023 was referring to.  There was no proof to it, but it was the best bet she had.  A glance at her watch told her she had just under four hours to complete the task.

            Nearly a half an hour later Pearl felt like curling up into a ball and crying all over again.  Nothing looked familiar from yesterday; she had no idea where she was and no clue of how to get wherever the supply station was.  It didn’t make sense, she had been paying as best of attention as she could to where she was going, but it didn’t matter, she still ended up getting lost.  Pearl took another turn towards a larger grey hallway and found herself looking at the wall of windows opening up into the athletic facility.  This was familiar.  A smile almost appeared on her lips.  If only she could remember what direction she passed by this area she might be able to find more recognizable markers.  As she stood there trying to figure out her bearings, a large, well-built man wearing a short sleeved purple muscle shirt walked up to her.

            “What are you doing standing there?” he harshly questioned.

            “Sir, I am trying to remember what direction to go to find the supply station for individuals.”

            The man scowled and folded his arms across his burly chest.  “How the hell do you not know where that is?”

            “I am new here, sir.”

            “Well that’s not my problem is it?”

            “No, sir.”

            “But it is my problem if you continue to stand there, now get the hell out of here,” he said as he pointed off to his right.

            “Yes, sir.” Pearl bowed lightly before practically running away.

            As soon as she was a good distance away from the intimidating man she slowed down her walk.  The scent of chlorine invaded her nose.  She must be heading the right direction.  Slowly a few of the corridors began to look familiar to her.  After wandering around for another half an hour, she spotted a similar dark blue door on a blue wall to the one she was taken to yesterday.  Pearl took a deep breath as she turned the handle and opened the door.  A wave of relief washed over her body as she was greeted with the same room and Larimar sitting behind the counter.  He was currently inserting a fresh roll of tape into his tape dispenser.  Pearl walked forward to the counter.

            “You’re still in one piece,” he smirked.  “What can I get for you?”

            “Carnelian 00023, sent me to acquire these items, sir” Pearl said as she handed him the piece of paper.

            “Hmmm, ok, so these will be added onto your personal inventory, just so you know.  I can understand why, many like to have their pearls looking nice, well at least the ones that like to take care of them.”  He paused as if he was waiting for some sort of response from her; then he sighed.  “Ok, so I know it’s a rule for pearls to not talk unless they are spoken to, but you can drop that formality when it’s just me here, I find the constant silence and rigidity unnerving.”

            “Thank you.” Pearl visibly relaxed.

            He just shrugged.  “So I’m sure you have lots of questions, I’ll be willing to answer a couple of them while I collect these items.”

            Dozens of questions burned through her mind as she tried to sort through them and pick the important ones.

            “What is this place?” she finally spoke.

            “This is the Underground, well…at least part of it.”

            “Is it like a company or organized crime or something?”

            “What made you think this is like organized crime?” he joked.

            “Well just me being kidnapped and pushed around a lot…”

            “Ah, well, the best way to put it is that it’s a combination of both a company and organized crime.  It’s a community, a huge mafia community that has thousands of slaves.  And in case you haven’t already figured it out, we are the slaves.  These wonderful tags,” he picked up his for an emphasis on the point as he set down a small cloth bag on the counter, “are how they show ownership of their slaves.”

            Pearl looked down at her necklace, hating it still the same.

            “How did they get this on?”

            “I hear it’s a very dangerous process of taking metal that is heated up to the point that it is moldable and creating the final link to finish the chain on the person.  That’s why they like to do it while the person is unconscious.  Less likely for them to jerk around and get burned.”

            “Why the different types of metal?”

            “Some metals are harder to break or cut, which would be placed around more valuable gems.”

            “Gems?”

            “That’s the general term used for us; I guess they have some fascination with rocks or something.  Either way we are their bitches to order around and do whatever pleases them.”

            Pearl winced at his blunt statement.  As she looked at her necklace again, she wondered what would have happened had she woken up during the attachment process.  A shiver ran down her spine, she decided she didn’t really want to know.

            “Any last questions before you need to go?” Larimar interrupted her train of thought.

            “Who is YD 0001?”

            He pulled back in a grimace at the question.  “You’ll meet her soon enough.”

            With that he handed her the small bag and went back to his previous task.

            “Thank you for your help.”

            “Don’t mention it,” he said.  “Seriously though, don’t tell anyone.”

            “I won’t,” she lightly bowed before leaving the room.

            Once outside she opened up the bag and discovered that it was a basic make-up kit.  Foundation, blush, eye shadow, mascara, cover up.  She understood now.  This was her key to keeping all of her bruises out of sight.  Now she just needed to find a mirror to apply this.

            [08:03]

            There was enough time to find a place with a mirror.  Maybe if she could find a small bathroom.  However, Pearl had no idea of how to find a bathroom outside of the ones located back at her sleeping area.  The lack of identification for the doors was really becoming a problem.

            “There’s a pattern, you just need to figure it out.”

            In the next two hours she was going to find a bathroom and possibly a pattern to this madness.

            The following hour and a half was a nightmare.  Pearl simply resorted to opening up random doors and peeking in to see what was in there.  Most of the time this went by unnoticed by the individuals in the rooms, however there were plenty of instances when curses and shouts came flying at her; thus causing her to take off in a sprint.  If they couldn’t catch her, they couldn’t hit her.  Eventually she did find a bathroom and quickly applied the make-up to her face.  She kept it simple, she didn’t want to waste anything or make herself stand out.  There was no telling if she would get a replacement supplies easily.  With the makeup on, Pearl began the agonizing trip of finding Carnelian 00023's office.  By 10:23 Pearl found herself walking into the gem’s office, the small bag still in her hand.  Carnelian looked up from her desk and beamed.

            “Now that is much better!  And you made it back before 10:30, delightful.  Now set that bag over here, you can take it back to your personal area after the last shift of the day.  I have a few errands for you to run.”

            Pearl smiled weakly before walking over and placed her small bag in one of Carnelian’s drawers.  This was going to be a long day.

 

            A lean figure collapsed onto a bed, feet praising the opportunity to be off the ground.  Pearl just wanted to melt into her bed and fall straight to sleep.  She had only been able to successfully run three of the errands lined up for her by Carnelian.  Her anxiety levels were through the roof from having to try and find new places without any directions.  Needless to say she opened a lot of wrong doors.

            “Well, well, well, looks like she’s still alive,” a voice came from above her.

            Pearl turned her head so she could see the few pearls hovering over her.

            “What’s in that little bag?” another asked.

            “Make-up, Carnelian 00023 had it issued to me,” Pearl explained as she sat up.

            “A two digit huh?  Wow that’s lucky,” the first looked slightly jealous.

            “Or unlucky,” the second corrected.  “Two digits are very demanding and are easily frustrated with poor performance.”

            Pearl looked down.

            “Well, good luck newbie, you’re going to need it,” the first chuckled as the two pearls walked off.

            Pearl’s gut sank.  As the time came for personal hygiene, the strawberry blonde was able to secure a shower.  As the lukewarm water washed over her tired body, Pearl rested her head against the tile and took several deep breaths.  She won’t be here forever, her family will come for her, she just had to survive until then.

            The next day went similarly to the last.  Carnelian would send Pearl off to deliver or acquire various objects and pieces of information.  She stumbled around the levels of the vast concrete maze, still opening many wrong doors while searching for the correct ones.  Half of the time no one yelled or even noticed her intrusion, but some did notice and either ignored or pursued her.  Pearl was quick on her feet so they usually didn’t catch her, however the ones that did either gave her an ear full or hit her, sometimes both.  Yet, she was finally starting to understand how each of the places were marked based off of the complex pattern slowly unfolding.  She kept notes on her scheduler of what she had figured out.  Red doors meant the rooms were for entertainment and media purposes, blue doors were for individual care/supplies, yellow doors were for communication, she had yet to figure out what exactly were behind the green doors, but she assumed it probably had to deal with drugs and alcohol based off of the scents that came out when she opened those doors.  Brown doors were for the janitorial services, purple for security guards and surveillance, white for anything related to athletics/fighting.  The shade of the color was still a mystery as well as hallway colors, the numbers listed randomly on walls, and heights.  Though she figured the latter was just determined by the amount of traffic expected through that specific hallway at one time.  By the time she was heading to bed once again Pearl was exhausted.

 

            As Pearl ate her breakfast in silence, her scheduler made a soft ding.  Curious, she picked it up and looked at it.  Her usual schedule had a slight adjustment to it.  At 19:00 she was to report to Blue Light Yellow 02089.  It must be one of the communication rooms for a meeting.  A small frown formed on her lips, “Meeting” was the entire description, nothing else.  She shrugged it off and made a mental note to go there after her dinner.  It was a Saturday, however, Pearl got the impression that weekends didn’t really mean time off from work here.  Before long she was making her way to the location.  Luckily it was easy to find, it also appeared that she wasn’t the only one invited to this meeting.  A couple of amethysts, a few ambers, one peridot, a topaz, and a few others she didn’t see the name tags for.  When they all walked through the door they were instructed by Peridot 00231 to line up in rows of five with five feet between them and the person in front of them.  They were to face towards the front of the room.  A thin woman in a pearl’s attire with a yellow colored shirt sat at the front typing away on laptop.  For a moment Pearl brightened up at seeing another pearl, but then she noticed her number.

“PEARL 00010

YD 0001”

            Pearl swallowed, she hadn’t seen a number this low before.  By the look on her stern face it was evident that even though she was a pearl, she obviously held some leverage, Pearl doubted if Carnelian could even issue her an order.  Pearl 00010 had short blonde hair that was styled up in a soft spike and curled around her jaw line.  Her light hazel eyes held a certain level of contempt and smugness; lips drawn in a thin line.  Pearl found herself in the front row and at the right end.  She didn’t know what to expect of the “meeting”.  Peridot 00231 muttered as she walked around correcting some of the other gems’ posture.  After a few minutes Pearl 00010 stood up and folded the laptop into a tablet format.  She stood completely still and slightly off center from the middle of the room.

            The door was swiftly opened right at 19:00 causing Peridot 00231 to stop her pacing around and immediately snap to attention just to the side of Pearl 00010.   An imposing figure strode powerfully to into the room.  This woman had bright blonde hair that barely reached her jaw and was styled up in a similar peak that Pearl 00010’s was. Her eyes appeared to be almost as yellow as her hair and had intense, black eyeliner accenting them.  She wore a light grey blazer and dress pants with a pale yellow dress shirt underneath that had the top button undone.  Black boots with 3” heels clicked against the hard floor.  There was no chain necklace around her neck; instead there was a single yellow gem pendant hung on a simple gold chain.  The gem was cut like a rhombus and was probably two karats.  The woman walked around looking at each person, as if inspecting them.  She made no comments, no facial expressions except for the stern expression she came in with.  Pearl didn’t dare look up or make eye contact with the woman when she paused in front of her.  After the inspection the woman walked to the front of the room and faced all of them.

            “I am Yellow Diamond,” her commanding voice rang through the silent room.  “I am the YD 0001 that is on all of your tags.  I own you.”

            Pearl’s mind couldn’t help but to bring up the words Larimar had said.

            “You’ll meet her soon enough.”

            So this was YD 0001.  Pearl concluded that she was already terrified of this woman.

            “You are all here for a variety of reasons, unpaid debts, choice, recruitment, trade, etc.  All of your basic needs have been provided for.  I take great pride in managing my assets well.  It is in your best interest to perform as expected otherwise there will be swift consequences.  If at any time it is deemed that you are more trouble than you are worth, then your contract will be terminated.”  She paused for a moment as she walked to a different position to stare down one of the amethysts.  “My word is law.  Anyone from another diamond is not allowed to issue an order to any of you and you are not allowed to issue an order to anyone from another diamond.  You all are now part of the Underground that is mainly controlled by the four diamonds.  White, Blue, Pink, and myself.  There are a variety of industries that we participate in and provide services for.  As new additions you all will be watched carefully until we feel that you have adjusted adequately.  Successes will be noted, failures will be punished, incompetence recorded, abnormal behaviors will be tracked and dealt with accordingly.  Your performance, especially when interacting with gems from another diamond, will reflect on me as your owner.  Peridot 00231 will be informing me of your progress or ineptitude.”  Yellow Diamond stopped in front of Pearl and stared her down.  “Pearl 01079, look at me.”

            Pearl slowly tilted her face upward to look Yellow Diamond in the eyes.  Her hands twitched with the desire to intertwine and fidget under the intense weight of the woman towering over her.  Without the heels Yellow Diamond had to be at least five inches taller than her.

            “Peridot 00231 read the report on this pearl.”

            “Yes ma’am,” Peridot replied as she swiped her hands on her tablet.  “Pearl 01079 has been seen walking aimlessly around the corridors and opening doors all over the place disturbing the working areas of many gems for the past couple of days.  Pearl 01079 usually flees from any doors that she opens and tries to outrun any that pursue her.  However, she will stop when issued a direct order to do so.  Pearl 01079 tends to speak when not asked a question of and also fidgets.  There is a note that she has been improving on that though,” Peridot finished looking up at Yellow Diamond.

            Yellow Diamond turned her gaze back to Pearl.  “What were you doing opening up all of those doors?”

            “Ma’am, I was trying to find the places that Carnelian 00023 had sent me to for errands.  I don’t know this place very well,” she added quietly.

            “And?”

            Pearl swallowed nervously.  “And I was also trying to figure out the pattern for the location labeling system, ma’am.”

            “Did you figure it out?”

            “Only part of it so far, ma’am.”

            “An interesting way to do so,” a small, cold smile flickered briefly onto her face.  “However, you still disrupted a number of gems and that is not acceptable.  You will report to White Black 10147 immediately following this meeting for reeducation.  Ten with number five.”  The last sentence she spoke turned towards Pearl 00010.

            Yellow Diamond walked down the line of people, away from Pearl.  “You may address me as ma’am or Yellow Diamond.  No other forms are acceptable.”  She went to the front once again.  “That is all, follow the next item on your schedule.”

            A soft ping alerted Pearl to a change in her schedule.  She picked it up with trembling hands and read the addition “19:30: Reeducation, Ten with Five: White Black 10147”.  As everyone began filing out Yellow Diamond’s voice came once again.

            “Pearl.”

            Pearl almost turned, but stopped when she heard the other woman’s higher pitched voice.

            “Yes, Yellow Diamond?”

            “Escort Pearl 01079 to her next destination, I don’t want her wastefully wandering around.”

            “Of course,” Pearl 00010 bowed.  She then walked up to Pearl.  “Follow me.”

            They walked briskly through the vast corridors, branching off into areas Pearl had never seen.  All of the doors in the white hallway they were walking through were painted black.  By the spacing of the doors, the rooms couldn’t be very big.  Pearl could feel her stomach churn and grumble.  No good could come of this “reeducation”.  Pearl 00010 stopped and opened one of the doors.

            The room was no larger than 10’x 10’.  Large bricks showed through the white washed walls instead of the usual concrete.  A hook with a geared lever was set into the wall facing across from the door.  An axinite stood in the room.  He wore a light brown long sleeved muscle shirt, black jeans, and black combat boots.

            “What is it?” his gruff voice directed towards Pearl 00010.

            “Ten with number five,” she answered.

            He nodded and then left the room.  Pearl stood awkwardly in the middle of the room, trying her best not to grab her shirt and start wringing it with her hands.  Pearl 00010 stood next the door, face pointed upwards, eyes straight forward, laptop tucked away under her arm.  Axinite returned with a thin, black, leather cord in his hands and a pair of handcuffs.

            “Remove your top,” he ordered Pearl.

            “What?” it slipped out before Pearl could even stop herself.

            Axinite backhanded her across the face.  “I said remove your top!”

            Pearl removed her shirt with shaking hands.  A couple of drops of red landed on the white floor.  She stared at it with confusion for a moment before realizing that it was the blood that was now trickling from her nose.  Axinite grabbed her shirt and threw it into the corner.

            “Your bra as well.”

            She hesitated only for a second before removing that as well.  That piece of cloth soon joined the crumpled shirt in the corner.  The room felt extremely cold, Pearl wrapped her arms around her small chest to try and ward off the chill and keep some of her modesty.  Her arms were yanked away from herself and the handcuffs were latched tightly onto her wrists.  Axinite proceeded to lower the hook and put the handcuff chain in it so Pearl was facing the wall.  A second half of the hook was latched in place overtop to complete a full circle.  He then raised the hook by turning the geared lever so that Pearl’s arms were pulled high over her head with her feet barely touching the ground.

            “Ten with number five,” Axinite gruffly stated from behind Pearl.

            “That is correct.” She heard Pearl 00010 confirm.

            A sharp whistle sang through the air accompanied by a burning explosion across Pearl’s back.  A cry of pain shot out of Pearl’s lips as her whole body tensed up.  She barely had a moment to completely register exactly was happening before another fire was lit across her back.  Tears streamed down her face and her voice cried out with each sting.  Her long fingers grasped at the metal hook holding her in place, trying to find something to hold onto.  Something… anything…anything to brace against for the next collision of leather cord against bare flesh.  Black spots danced in front of her eyes as yet another angry welt was made on her back.  The whistle of the whip stopped after only a little bit of time.  Her mind hadn’t even thought of counting the strokes.  As the axinite lowered her arms back Pearl slumped forward until her forehead rested against the cool, whitewashed, brick wall.  Handcuffs were removed; arms fell uselessly to her side.

            “Get dressed,” Pearl heard the axinite say as her clothes were thrown at her, hitting her softly in the chest.

            Her mind barely processed the meaning of the words.  The flesh on her back was wailing at her; occupying every piece of her attention and blocking out all other senses.

            “GET DRESSED!”

            Pearl jumped and flinched, clutching her clothes close to her chest.  She slowly moved to put on the bra.  Every movement was met with a string of protests from her back.  Tears mixed with blood ran down her face.  After several agonizing attempts, the bra was finally on.  The shirt slipped on a little easier than the bra.  She hissed in pain from the pressure the shirt and bra put on her back.  By the time she was finished and had turned around, only she and Pearl 00010 were in the room; the axinite was nowhere to be seen.

            “Yellow Diamond demands optimum efficiency of all of her gems.  Preforming poorly or disrupting other gems from their work detracts from that.  We will keep a closer eye on you to ensure that you do not continue this disruptive behavior.  If so, the punishment will be more severe.  Do you understand?”

            “Y-yes ma’am,” Pearl spoke through quivering lips.

            “You will return to your assignment with Carnelian now,” Pearl 00010 spoke evenly before turning and walking out the door.

            Pearl wordlessly followed the higher ranked pearl through the hallways.  As they entered Carnelian’s office, Carnelian looked up and exchanged a glance with Pearl 00010.  The blonde turned and left without a word.  Pearl was still trying to get her tears to stop; thankfully her nose had stopped bleeding, though not without making a noticeable mess on her shirt.  Carnelian walked over and held out a tissue to her.

            “Try to keep it down, I am trying to focus,” was all Carnelian said.

            The older woman’s eyes looked mostly annoyed, but there was a slight hint of sympathy in them.  Pearl nodded and took the tissue.  As Carnelian walked back to her desk Pearl had to clamp a hand over her mouth as a cry of despair tried to escape her trembling frame.  She stood in the corner for the next half hour or so until it was time for her to head back to her resting place.  By that time she had successfully stopped crying.  Casual conversations turned to whispers as she passed the other pearls on her way to her bed.  Pearl crumpled onto her bed not bothering to change or anything.  A small whimper escaped her lips as the tears returned.  She curled into a ball as she tried to shut out the pain of the burning fire on her back and the whispers out so she could sleep.

            “Yeah she’ll be lucky if she makes it a week.”

 

            The morning lights snapped on disturbing Pearl from her barely restful sleep.  Every inch of her back protested as she sat up and tried moving around.  It took some effort but she was able to get up and gather her toiletries.  The pain wasn’t as bad as last night, but the constant throbbing fire on her back told her that it would take more than a nights’ rest to recover.  She looked forward to a nice shower.  Whispers followed her as she moved about.  The light eyed young woman was able to secure a shower, but had a difficult time removing her shirt, it seemed to be stuck to her slightly.  A pained gasp escaped her lips as she removed it.  Pearl turned it around to find out what caused the stick.  Her stomach churned as lines of dark red blood decorated the back of the shirt.  They were small and sometimes broken up, but distinct.  No wonder why all of the pearls were whispering, they could see.  Pearl shook her head and set the shirt aside before turning on the water.  The lukewarm stream was both soothing and agonizing as it ran over the large welts on her back.

            A few minutes later another pearl shouted at her to get out of the shower and just dress in the general area if she was finally done taking up the shower.  Pearl wrapped a towel around her body and walked out with her clothes.  The other pearl’s eyes grew wide as she realized it was her that was in there.  The pearl stared for a moment before taking the shower.  Pearl looked around at all of the other pearls that were now openly staring at her back.  She held her head up high and gave them all a look of contempt as she dressed herself.  One by one they turned away and resumed their morning routines.  As the throng of pearls made their way to breakfast, Pearl kept up her straight posture and expression.  This would not break her, she would make it through this and be reunited with her family.  It had only been four days, they could still find her.

            Carnelian looked up when Pearl walked into her office right on-time.  The stouter woman stood up and walked over to her.

            “Remove your shirt,” she said gently.

            Pearl did without too much trouble.

            “Let me see your back.”

            The light eyed woman turned around.  She shivered slightly when she felt Carnelian’s dry hands ghost over one of the welts.

            “Have a seat in this chair with your back facing out,” Carnelian said as she pulled up one of the chairs from the side of the wall.

            Pearl took a seat as directed.  She heard Carnelian shuffle through her desk for a moment before walking back to her, standing behind her.

            “This will help you heal,” Carnelian explained as she began to apply a light coating of medicinal salve on her wounds.  “I don’t want my pearl getting infected.”

            Silence wrapped around them as Carnelian worked on her back.  When she was done she instructed her to put her shirt back on after ten minutes.  Once Pearl was fully dressed, she resumed her usual posture and spot by the door.  Carnelian had begun working at her desk once again.

            “Why did Yellow Diamond have you whipped?” the older woman asked a moment later.

            “I was causing a disturbance by opening up a number of wrong doors as I tried to accomplish my errands and figure out how this place is organized, ma’am.”

            “You don’t know how to navigate this place?” there was genuine surprise in her voice.

            “No I don’t, ma’am,” Pearl looked down.

            “How long have you been here?”

            “Four days, ma’am.”

            “Four days?!  You are a new pearl?”

            Pearl nodded.

            Carnelian stood up and rushed over to her.  “I thought…I thought you had already been through a couple of assignments and were familiar with the place.  That would explain why it took you so long to run the errands.  Here, let me explain the pattern to you.  This way you cannot get lost again.  No doubt Yellow Diamond will have someone keeping an eye on you making sure you don’t do that again.  No we can’t have that,” Carnelian rambled.  “Sit down,” she gestured to the chair on the other side of her desk as she sat down in her chair.  “Pull out your scheduler and show me what you have figured out so far.”

            Pearl didn’t know what to think of the situation.  First Carnelian takes care of her back, but then she didn’t exactly apologize either for essentially causing the wounds in the first place by sending her out without any knowledge of the place.  Had Carnelian not been informed at any time that she was new?  It was a very glaring oversight, but Pearl found it hard to be explicitly mad at the plump woman.  She took a seat and pulled out the note she had been keeping the pattern on.

            “Well, you figured out a few things, some of these are incorrect, but overall very good for not knowing the place at all.  Now here is the list of door colors and what they are tied to.”

            Pearl typed in the list.

            [Blue- Individual Gem Resource]

            [Purple- Security]

            [White- Athletics/Combat]

            [Green- Food and Drink]

            [Yellow- Communication]

            [Orange- Records]

            [Brown- Maintenance/Janitorial]

            [Black- Reeducation/Containment]

            [Grey- Transportation]

            [Red- Entertainment/Media]

            [Tan-Technology/Research]

            [Pink- Medical]

            “Next is the wall colors; the color designates what level of gem is allowed to pass through freely.  Gems of lower status can pass through higher colored areas only if they are accompanied by someone who is allowed to go there.  Of course there are exceptions like Pearl 00010, she can go almost anywhere even though she is a pearl.”

            [Blue- All gems]

            [Grey- Pearls and above]

            [Green- Peridots and above]

            [White- Amethysts and above]

            [Yellow- Yellow Diamond]

            “Hallway colors are always listed first, followed by the door color.  And if the door color has a ‘light’ or ‘dark’ in front of it, that’s is a designation of a different subcategory within the main door color.”

            Pearl made a speedy note of the color order and shades.

            "Lastly is the numbering system.  The first digit corresponds to the number of building it is in.  0 is the largest building with the bulk of everything contained here.  The second number denotes the floor level starting with zero being the lowest floor into the ground of that building.  Not all building’s level 0 are at the same height.  For example building 2 has two floors underground while building 5 has only one underground.  The third and fourth digits state the number of door from the beginning of the hallway.  The beginning of the hallway is marked by a painted yellow diamond symbol at around 5 feet off the ground on the wall.  The last digit, if odd means it is on the right side, if even the door is on the left.  If you are standing at the beginning of a hallway and the yellow diamond symbol is to your right, then you are facing the correct way to begin counting.”  Carnelian waited as Pearl typed in the remaining information.  “I’m sure you’ve noticed that these tunnels seem to run forever, that’s because each building is connected at level 0 and some at level 1, so you can end up in a different building if you’re not paying attention.  At levels 2 and above is where the buildings generally separate.  Building 0 is located in the center so you can access any building from here.  Below each yellow diamond symbol at the hallway beginnings is the first two digits, so you can always know what building and level you are on.  Does it make sense?”

            “Yes ma’am, thank you for all of this information it will really help me.”

            Carnelian nodded.  “Good, and it will help me as well for you to know where you are going.  At first I was worried about your performance since it was taking you so long to complete the tasks.  This way both of us will benefit from this information trade.”  Carnelian paused for a moment thinking about something.  “One last thing, avoid any gold or maroon doors unless you are accompanied by either Yellow Diamond herself or her champion.  If you find yourself by one of those, get away from them as fast as possible.  Granted those doors are normally found in white or yellow hallways, so you shouldn’t run into them on accident.”

            Pearl gave Carnelian a confused look.  “Champion?” her question slipped out.

            The older woman was lightly surprised by her question, but didn’t reprimand her.  “Yes Yellow Diamond’s champion, Garnet 0001; a highly valued gem and nothing short of a monster if you ask me.  Since I design the outfits for the all gems here, I interact with Garnet on occasion.”

            “May I ask why you call her a monster, ma’am?”

            Carnelian considered her question for a moment.  “There are many facets to this place, you will learn the longer you are here just how each gem helps this place run.  Each diamond has only one champion and the gem that holds the title of champion is that for a good reason.”

            The younger of the two processed the information that had been presented to her.  While she was given the information to understand the locations her mind was suddenly burdened with what really went on behind all of those color-coded doors.

            “Now!”

            Carnelian’s voice brought Pearl back to the present.

            “I have a few errands for you to run,” she grinned.

Chapter Text

^^^^^^

Pearl experiences firsthand what the Underground runs and the various services and goods they provide to their patrons.  Another meeting with Yellow Diamond leaves her worried about her own physical well-being.

^^^^^^

 

            The next few days went smoother.  Pearl’s back healed up slowly and Carnelian was very happy with her increased productivity.  For the most part the young adult was becoming used to the routine of the place.  After surviving her first two weeks in the Underground more of the pearls began to start talking to her and treating her like one of their own.  It made her both happy and sad.  Happy that she was being accepted, but sad that she was still here having to forge alliances with others trapped in this place.  Larimar was always good for random pieces of information and friendly conversations.  Luckily she had yet to see either Yellow Diamond or Pearl 00010 again.  Peridot 00231 would come and speak with her at the end of each week to check up on her and give her a report on her performance.

            “You are doing well.  Carnelian’s personal productivity has increased by 17.2% since she has acquired you and Yellow Diamond is pleased with that.”

            Pearl couldn’t help but feel a bit of pride swelling in her chest at the rare praise.  By the fourth week Carnelian had announced to her that Pearl was ready to accompany her to the Friday events and help her out in that area.  She had no idea what these Friday events were, but apparently they were a big deal.

            “Oh well these events are what pull in a large amount of money for Yellow Diamond.  First there are the bars where the alcohol and drugs are sold, then there are the private performances that people pay to see or the general dancers that people throw money at, and then there are the fights that bring in most of the crowd.  If you ask me half of them come for the performers and half come for the fights.  It’s a huge production; the fights bring in the most money with the bets made on each of the fighters and match-up outcomes.  Then there is the concession area where all sorts of food are sold.  It’s not just the standard football game menu, there are nicer options too.  There are plenty of nights where the drugs and alcohol make just as much as the fights.  Well and the bids to spend some quality time with one of Yellow Diamond’s gems, that is another part of these events.  A pretty thing like you might have to watch out; someone might just want to gobble you up!” Carnelian rambled on as they walked towards building 3, the transportation hub, to be taken to the events location.  “Most of the night you will run errands for me and any of Rainbow Quartz’s dancers, we need to make sure everything goes smoothly.”

            Pearl nodded to let Carnelian know she understood.  Several amethysts directed them towards a large black bus.  Carnelian took the seat closest to the driver while Pearl took her spot right beside her.  The bus was full of Rainbow Quartz 00009’s dancers: sunstones, moonstones, fire opals, just to name a few.  She had met a number of them before through interactions with Carnelian.  They talked and chatted excitedly throwing random dance moves as they sat there waiting for the bus to leave.  Rainbow Quartz 00009 was the last one to step on the bus; accompanied by her pearl Pearl 00687.  Rainbow Quartz was in charge of all of the dance choreography and training all of the dancers in the various routines.  The tall, flexible, well defined woman with flowing, long hair dyed with a variety of pastel colors was a good friend of Carnelian’s, their friendship growing over the years they worked together.  All in all the two were responsible for over fifty dancers.

            For two hours the bus traveled before reaching the location of the venue.  Once there it was a mad rush to help get everyone ready.  One sunstone forgot her small personal bag on the bus and Pearl had to go get it, a moonstone needed help with his outfit as it needed some last minute repairs that Carnelian needed to be brought in for.  By the time all of the dancers had performed a few of their dances Pearl felt dizzy.  Fire Opal 00102 needs another patch of moleskin, Lapis Lazuli 00095 can’t find her shoes; it was a never ending stream of requests.  Pearl 00687 was experienced with this and was a great help.  She would also help Pearl whenever she was struggling with a task.

            At 22:20 Pearl found herself making a trip to the bar to pick up an order of drinks that Carnelian had requested for her, Rainbow Quartz, and some of their top performers.  Pearl was not familiar with too many alcoholic drinks so she made sure that the bartending amber explained to her which drink was which.

            “Hey there cutie,” a confident voice slurred in her direction.

            Pearl turned to see one of the customers at the bar giving her a sultry expression.

            “I haven’t seen you around before, you must be new,” he smiled.

            Pearl didn’t say anything.  General instructions said that she was to treat all customers nicely, but that she didn’t have to put up with any unwanted advances or uncalled for rudeness.

            “Do you think she is on the list?” he leaned to the side to ask his friend as he looked her up and down.

            What list?  The light eyed young woman was confused.

            “I’d check, all of the pearls usually are,” his friend smiled, giving the first a harmless nudge with his elbow.  “Careful, if she is I just might outbid you for her.”

            The conversation was not going anywhere Pearl wanted it to.  They were mostly just talking about her and not to her.  The tray of drinks in her hands was getting heavy.

            “Come here,” the first beckoned her over.

            “I apologize, sir” Pearl bowed lightly, “I need to deliver these to those who ordered them,” she made a motion towards her full tray.

            “Ah go on a head, I’ll keep my eye out for you sweetheart, maybe we’ll be able to become better acquainted later on tonight,” he said as he winked at her.

            Pearl fought the flush of embarrassment flooding to her cheeks.  Just what was this man insinuating?  She turned and left, hopefully not too noticeably fast.  With the drinks safely delivered to Carnelian and the others, Pearl was allowed a moment to rest before the next wave was sure to come.

            Over the next couple of hours she would make several trips to the bar for various drinks.  Usually the man from the bar would notice her and try to flirt with her, but thankfully she always had the excuse of a tray of beverages and snacks to help her escape.  As Carnelian and company enjoyed the drinks and food, Pearl looked out over the venue.  Loud electronic beats poured over the sound system that had been set up as their DJ weaved sounds and beats together.  The center focus was an octagon where the fights took place.  Parts of the octagon floor were smeared with blood from a number of the matches.  At the moment two dark figures fought each other ruthlessly.  The crowds cheered and hollered whenever a new splash of color joined the floor as one beat the other senseless.  The match ended and more drinks and food were ordered from those in the stands.  Pearl’s stomach grumbled; there had been no time for dinner that day.  Fighters left the stage while a portion of Rainbow Quartz’s dancers strode on the floor and the outside perimeter of the ring to do a short seductive routine as the next fight was set up.  Their bright, colorful costumes gleamed and danced beautifully in the light.  More wolf-whistles followed.  The loud booming of the announcer’s voice provided commentary and information about the upcoming events that were not to be missed.  Pearl’s observations were interrupted by someone entering the ring-level, private booth they were stationed in to watching over the events and manage the dancers.

            Pearl 00010 walked over to Carnelian.  Carnelian stopped her conversation and turned to the blonde woman.

            “What can I do for you Pearl 00010?” she said cheerily her faced flushed from the number of drinks she had consumed.

            “Pearl 01079 is needed elsewhere for the moment and I am here to retrieve her,” she briskly stated.

            Carnelian sent a worried glance over to Pearl.

            “I will return her once she is no longer needed.”

            The plump woman nodded.  “Pearl,” she directed to her.  “Do as Pearl 00010 says, Pearl 00687 will be able to handle everything until you get back.”

            Pearl nodded and then followed Pearl 00010 out the door.  They walked around the perimeter towards the announcer’s box.  They went up a couple of flights of stairs and entered a room just behind the announcer’s box that was filled with screens and all types of technical equipment.  Several peridots worked efficiently, monitoring and controlling more than Pearl could probably imagine.  Yellow Diamond stood behind one of the peridots who was managing one portion of the control panel.  Two Jaspers stood at either side of the medium-sized room, body guards for Yellow Diamond.  Yellow Diamond wore a black suit with a gold, silk, dress shirt.  Her yellow diamond pendant hung loosely around her neck.  She turned and fixed Pearl with her piercing gaze.

            “Yellow Diamond, I have brought Pearl 01079 per your request,” Pearl 00010 lightly bowed.

            “Thank you Pearl.  Peridot 00059 what was the bid for this pearl and when was it made?”

            The peridot brought up a different screen and began typing away.  “It says the bid is for $100 and was made at 23:35, ma’am.”

            Yellow Diamond nodded.  “Give me the health report on Pearl 01079.”

            Peridot 00059 brought up another screen, Pearl could see a full body picture of herself there along with a bunch of data.

            “Pearl 01079 is over 18 years old, height: 5 feet 11 inches, weight: 130lbs, no known allergies, blood type AB+, shows signs of immunity to smallpox, whooping cough, and several others, no sexually transmitted diseases, and has good cholesterol and blood pressure levels, ma’am.”

            Pearl was slightly disturbed that they had all this information on her, when did they acquire such information?  It took only a moment, but she concluded they must have collected a blood sample and other measurements from her while she was unconscious from being brought to this place.

            “Pearl 01079 what experience do you have with sex?” Yellow Diamond asked her.

            A blush rose quickly to her cheeks.

            “I…I uh, I’ve never had sex, ma’am” she stammered out.

            “And that’s including oral and anal, not just vaginal?”

            “I’ve never done nor had any of those done to me, ma’am.”

            “What about kissing?  Have you ever been kissed?”

            “Yes, though only a couple of times, ma’am.”

            “$100 is far too low for what someone that could be sold as a ‘virgin’, reject the bid,” Yellow Diamond instructed Peridot 00059 with a wave of her hand.

            “Yes ma’am.”

            A few clicks of the keys later and Pearl felt a wave of relief pass over her.  She concluded that this “bid” was a request to have sex with her in exchange for money, just like a prostitute.  Her stomach turned over at the idea.  So this was another venue the Underground serviced.

            “Yellow Diamond, another bid came in from the same individual, this time for $200,” the peridot announced.

            Panic rose up from her feet.  No!  She didn’t want that!

            Yellow Diamond regarded her with an amused expression.  “Someone wants your company tonight.”  She took a seat next to Peridot 00059 and crossed one leg over the other.  “Reject the bid.  It’s still too low.  Tell me, what is your sexual preference?” she turned to Pearl.

            Another blush came across her cheeks, she was hesitant to say.

            “I prefer women,” she said at barely above a whisper.

            “What?  Speak up.” Yellow Diamond gave her a hard look.

            “I prefer women, Yellow Diamond,” Pearl stated a little louder than intended.

            “Another bid has come in from the same person, this time at $300, ma’am,” Peridot 00059 updated.

            “Interesting,” Yellow Diamond mused as she gave Pearl a long pensive look.  “Reject the bid and remove her from the list.  I have different plans for her.”

            “Yes, Yellow Diamond.”

            In a few clicks and keyboard strokes the peridot informed Yellow Diamond that Pearl 01079 had been removed from the list.

            “Pearl, please return Pearl 01079 back to her post, she is no longer needed here.”

            “As you wish, Yellow Diamond,” Pearl 00010 stated before turning and leading Pearl out of the room.

            Pearl could feel Yellow Diamond’s eyes on her until the door closed and cut off her line of sight.  What could she mean by “different plans for her”?  Whatever it was at least she was spared from the potential of having to spend the night with some stranger who wanted to do who knows what to her.  As she walked back her eyes caught two figures disappearing into a dark room, one of which she could tell by their outfit was a pearl.  Another piece of the puzzle fell into place.  They all were ultimately, a commodity, an item to be used and bartered with.  It didn’t matter what they wanted or desired, whatever happened to them was determined by those above them.  The thought sent shivers down her spine and made her stomach churn.

 

            By the time Pearl got back to her bed it was 01:47 of the next day.  One glance at her schedule told her that she was still expected to wake up at 05:00.  However, there was one change, she was not to report and assist Carnelian until after lunch.  She was to report to Blue Brown 01064 for “Clean up”.  A sigh slipped past her lips as she changed into her pajamas.  She’d worry about it later.

            05:00 came far too quickly for the light eyed young woman.  Her body went through the motions and soon enough she found herself with a bunch of other pearls at Blue Brown 01064.  They were given instructions to work on cleaning all of the various pieces of equipment that had been transported to the event last night.  Though most of it had already been cleaned, this was another deeper clean and necessary maintenance.  Peridots, ambers, and pearls worked side by side with each of their different tasks.  The ambers were set to sanitize the fighting equipment while the peridots did the maintenance on the electronic equipment that the pearls were assigned to clean.  Pearl scrubbed away on one of the large speakers, while a few other pearls engaged in idle chatter as they washed a set of lights nearby.  Pearl 00687 was one of the ones nearby working on another speaker.

            “Pearl 01079, what did Pearl 00010 take you away for?” Pearl 00687 asked her.

            Pearl paused.  “She took me to Yellow Diamond where they discussed some bids that were being made for me and my experience with sex.”

            Pearl 00687 looked alarmed.  “Was the bid accepted?”

            The younger of the two pearls understood the real question, was she sold for sex last night?  A couple of other pearls were now listening in on the conversation and looking in her direction as they worked.

            “No, it was rejected.”

            “Wow, you’re lucky,” the one wearing a light green shirt spoke up.

            “How much was the bid for?” a third asked; she wore a blue shirt.

            Pearl 00687 shot her a glare for asking what Pearl assumed was an inappropriate question.

            “$300 was the final bid.”

            “What?!  And it was rejected?  Why?”

            “Well, Yellow Diamond asked if had ever had sex before, I said no, then she decided that she had other plans for me and had my name taken off the list, whatever the list is,” Pearl added the last part with a mutter.

            “Wait you’re a ‘virgin’?” the one in the green shirt asked, raising her hands up to do finger quotes.

            “That makes sense though, people who have never had sex before are rare and are saved for some high roller to make a bunch of money off of,” the second explained.

            “The list is a database that shows all of the gems available for purchase for some alone time with them.  There is basic information like size, hair color, etc.  Basically, a menu, and the customers bid for the time they get,” Pearl 00687 explained.  “Most of the time all bids are accepted, it’s rare that one is rejected, especially for pearls.”

            “It sounds like I’m being saved for something.  So someone else can have the pleasure of my first time?”

            The three other pearls nodded.

            “It’ll probably be some old rich dude,” the one in green stated.

            “Don’t say that!” the one in blue protested.

            “Hey, I’m only being honest here, we all know those are the type who would ask for it or would be able to afford it.”

            Pearl grimaced, she didn’t like the sound of that.

            “Have any of you had bids accepted?” she timidly asked.

            They all nodded.

            “A few times actually.  It all depends on the person on how the time goes.  Either way it’s not pleasant and I want to take a good shower afterwards,” the one in green stated.

            “I dread it whenever there’s a bid accepted for me, and it’s no better if it’s another gem either from Yellow Diamond or one of the others,” Pearl 00687 contributed.

            “Either way enjoy the time you have until Yellow Diamond decides what to do with you.  It probably won’t last long,” the one in blue finished.

            Pearl nodded.  “Thank you, for answering my questions.”

            They all nodded in return and turned their full attention back to their tasks.

 

            Several hours later Pearl found herself walking into Carnelian’s office only to find the gem in an unusually good mood.

            “Pearl!” The woman exclaimed as she walked in.  “You did very well last night, I was really impressed.  I know Rainbow Quartz’s dancers can be a little demanding, but that’s why they can put on such a good show.  Yellow Diamond was really happy as well, we outperformed the fights, and that is something.”

            Pearl gave the woman a smile. “Well you work really hard Carnelian, I’m glad all of it showed through,” she said.

            Carnelian paused at the unusualness of Pearl talking without being asked a question, but only smiled in return.

            “Yes I did!”  She walked back over to her desk.  “I have something for you as well, seeing as you have been working for me for nearly a month, I think it’s fitting that you receive something for all of your hard work.”

            Pearl was handed a slip of paper.  It was a type of one-time-use redeemable credit worth 50 units.  She looked up at Carnelian, slightly confused.

            “Every once and a while I will get some of these from Yellow Diamond as a reward for doing a great job.  I spent most of them last night on the drinks and a new bracelet, but I wanted to save this for you.  If you take this to Blue Dark Blue 00026 you can redeem it for something that belongs to just you.”

            Surprise took over Pearl’s face as her hands trembled holding the now extremely valuable piece of paper.

            “Now I won’t need you for the next hour or so, so I suggest you make a stop there and make a purchase in the meantime,” Carnelian said with a smile.

            “Thank you,” Pearl whispered as tears threatened to spill from her eyes.  “Thank you, Carnelian,” Pearl repeated as she bowed low to her.

            The plump woman just smiled and shooed her towards the door.  Pearl almost ran to the Individual Gem Supply Station.  She was so excited she hadn’t felt like this in a long time.  When she entered the room Larimar was sitting in his usual spot making a paper clip chain.  He glanced up when the door closed behind her.

            “Well you look like you’ve won the lottery,” he joked.  “What did you get Pearl 01079?”

            “50 units.  I came to exchange them for something,” she said as she handed him the paper.

            “A gift from Carnelian 00023 no doubt.”

            Pearl nodded.  “What can I exchange it for?”

            “Well there’s all sort of things, an extra pillow, blanket, shirt, make-up, candy, vibrators…”

            Pearl made a face.

            “Hey, some people really need that and can’t always get it; you’d be surprised how fast those go.”

            “What else?”

            “Hmm, small gadgets, flashlights, we even have some books.  What would you like?”

            “What kind of books?”  It had been a long time since Pearl had gotten to read anything for enjoyment.

            “Mostly trashy romance stuff, something about teenage vampires and werewolves, a few ‘Great classics’, some random textbooks… I honestly have no idea where these come from or how we get them,” Larimar listed off as he read the computer monitor.

            “What textbooks do you have?”

            “Textbooks?  You can’t be serious, right?  Out of everything else you want a boring educational book?”

            Pearl shrugged.  “Just tell me what you have.”

            “Ok, ok, looks like something on Geometry, English basics, Physics, Astronomy, another English book, a few books on coding, but wait those are out of your range.  Aaand so is the Physics one.  So it looks like Geometry, English, Astronomy, or trashy romance novels, what will it be?”

            She thought for a moment.  “I’ll take the Astronomy one.”

            “All right, here we go,” he said as he walked back, pulled out the heavy book, and set it in front of her.

            The book was worn and looked like it had been dropped one time too many, but it was several hundred pages long, full of exciting information.  Pearl picked it up, flipped through some of the pages, and then held it close to her body smiling happily.

            “You still have 6 units left, what do you want with those?”

            “What is available with that?”

            “Mostly food items, granola bars, candy, cheap jewelry,” he looked at her expectantly.

            “Can I just get the 6 units back and save it for later?”

            “Not with this card, it can’t be divided up.  So use it or lose it.”

            “What is your favorite candy?”

            “Me?” Larimar seemed surprised by the question.  “Well these right here, Snickers.”

            “How many units is a Snickers?”

            “3.”

            “Ok, then I’ll take two of those.”

            He handed them out to her but she held up her hand.

            “You can have them.”

            “Really?  You’re not just fucking with me are you?”

            She shook her head.  “Just think of it as a thank you for helping me out.”

            “Heh, alright then,” Larimar smirked as he placed them in a drawer and filed away the purchase on the computer.  “Anything else I can do for you?”

            “That’s it, thank you,” Pearl smiled and then left.

            Larimar watched her leave.  It was unusual for someone to stay as upbeat for as long as Pearl 01079 had so far.  However, time would tell.  He secretly hoped that maybe this godforsaken place wouldn’t claim her soul.

            It was hard for Pearl to leave her precious book in Carnelian’s desk while she ran errands and assisted the gem in her tasks for the rest of the day.  Yet, the promise of being able to take it back with her and read something made it bearable to wait.

            Back in the resting room for the pearls, many of them expressed open jealously of Pearl’s book, others thought it was silly that she bought a textbook instead of something else, some thought it was neat.  Despite all of the various comments, none of them dampened Pearl's enthusiasm for her purchase.  During her half of an hour of personal time she eagerly dove into the book reading about things she had barely seen in the past month.

Chapter Text

^^^^^^

Things take a sharp turn for the worse for Pearl as she is assigned to a new task.  Sound advice is given from an unexpected source.

^^^^^^

 

            The days flew by for Pearl, Carnelian was busy with another big project on getting ready for the end of year recap activities and for a head-to-head event co-hosted with White Diamond.  Both were months away, but old costumes with the new routines Rainbow Quartz was working on was not acceptable.  There was another Friday event that Pearl attended four weeks later that was hosted at a smaller location.  It wasn’t nearly as stressful as her first one, but there was still plenty to do in making sure all of the dancers were taken care of.  Each night during her personal time Pearl would continue to read her book, enjoying every page of it.  Before she knew it she had been in the Underground for more than two months, her back only showed faint scars from her first week, it had been a long time since she had been hit, and she knew most of the 0 and 1 levels by heart.

 

            One Thursday morning during breakfast Pearl heard her scheduler ring out; indicating a change in her routine.

            “18:00-22:00: Regulation: Grey Light Red 24134.”

            Pearl frowned, not only had it blocked out her dinner time, but also covered some valuable time helping Carnelian.  Tomorrow was another Friday event and her help was always needed most around then.  Her appetite slowly disappeared; she had no idea what “Regulation” meant.  Pearl took one swift exhale, steadied her nerves, and resumed eating; if she was going to miss dinner then she needed to ensure she ate all of her breakfast.  The missing food part was not new for Pearl, there had been a few times with Carnelian’s load that Pearl was not allowed to leave for dinner or lunch until she had completed a list of tasks.  However, this was the first time she was being pulled from her normal duties; and that made her nervous.

            “Now today we have a long list of things that need to be completed before tomorrow, I sure hope you’re up for it,” Carnelian spoke as soon as Pearl entered the office.

            Pearl nodded, but then began to fidget with her fingers; she didn’t know how to bring up the schedule change to her.  Luckily Carnelian had become pretty good at interpreting her body language.

            “What is it that you wish to say?” she asked, her brows furrowing.

            “Ma’am, there has been a schedule change for me that will remove me from your services from 19:00-20:30.  I am being called to Regulation in Grey Light Red 24134,” she politely spoke.

            “Light Red?”

            “Yes, ma’am.”

            Carnelian looked troubled.  “What is the color of the event in your schedule?”

            “Yellow, ma’am.”

            Carnelian’s expression did not change.  “Well that means we will need to be extra fast today then if I won’t be able to have you for that hour and a half!” she immediately switched faces.

            “Yes ma’am.”

            Pearl wanted to ask why the color of the event was important, but her brain told her she already knew.  All of her events with Carnelian were red, all events that were for her were blue, any time she was meeting with Peridot 00231 it was green; yellow could only mean one gem that she knew of.

            True to Carnelian’s word, Pearl was rushing all over the place attempting to get as many errands completed as possible.  She was for the most part successful.  However, before she knew it her long feet were carrying her up several flights of stairs towards an unknown area of building two.  As she found the grey hallway with the light red doors she walked evenly to count to the correct number.  Before her stood a door just like all of the others in the buildings, just a different color.  A measured breath slipped through thin lips before she opened the door.

            The first thing the pale woman noticed when she walked in was that both Yellow Diamond and Pearl 00010 were in there.  Yellow Diamond was looking at one of the four screens set into the wall.  Pearl 00010 was wearing a headset and doing something with the control panel.  To Pearl it looked like an audio set and video feed from different cameras.  Yellow Diamond turned to look at her once the door had closed.  She was wearing her grey suit today.

            “Pearl 01079, good you are right on time.  Leave your scheduler and watch with Pearl, she will keep them until your task is complete.  Head on through this door, the other will instruct you on what you will be doing.”

            “Yes ma’am.” Pearl set her items in the small box Pearl 00010 pointed to with trembling hands.

            She stood up straight and walked to the door that had been behind Yellow Diamond.  It was maroon.  Pearl hesitated for a second; but then reached out for the door handle.

            “It is in your own interest to perform your best,” Yellow Diamond advised as she gave Pearl a look void of any hints at what was ahead of the young woman.

            Pearl nodded and then walked into the dark room.  The door closed behind her and she heard a firm click of a lock sliding into place.  It took a few moments for her vision to adjust to the dim lighting.  The only source of light came from a window that was covered with thick blinds.  In the room was a queen-sized bed fully made up with a comforter, pillows, and sheets, in a wooden bed frame with both a footboard and headboard.  On the wall opposite of the door Pearl came in from was another door.  Through the faint lighting, the other door looked to be the same shade as the one she had opened.  The thin woman’s gut sank, and her legs gave out.  A soft thud sounded as her back hit the wall and she slid to the floor.  She pulled her legs up to her chest and hugged them as she stared at the bed.

            “I have different plans for her.”

            Yellow Diamond’s words from that night so long ago came back in full force.  She wasn’t ready for this.  No.  No.  No, she couldn’t do this, she was too young, she wanted to experience this with someone she loved, someone who would treat her kindly and do all of those cheesy romantic things she had heard about or seen in movies.  Pearl glanced at the bed once again; it sure looked comfortable, much more than the worn mattress she slept on each night.  If she was in a different situation she sure would have loved to just lay down on it and feel its softness.  A heavy sigh escaped her thin lips; her stomach doing summersaults with every passing second.  Light eyes wandered over to the door on her left.  Pearl sat there waiting for the door to open and seal her fate.

            Several minutes later the door opened and someone was shoved into the room.  Pearl’s eyes widened.  Tall, lean, muscular frame, wide hips with massive thighs, a narrow waist with cut abdominals, broad shoulders with round breasts, powerful arms with hands clenched into fists, and a large mass of dark curls that poofed out in a cube-like afro framed her chiseled face.  Only a black chain necklace adorned the woman’s dark sepia skin tone.  The woman took one look at her, eyes widening in surprise.  She then jumped after the swiftly closing door; slamming against it in frustration as it was shut just before she reached it.  Large hands grabbed at the door handle trying to force it open, but the others from the opposite side kept it closed.  A couple of bolt locks could be heard sliding into place.

            “I’m not doing this!” boomed her deep, rich voice doused in fury as she continued to slam her fist against the door.  “I will not do this again!” she exclaimed.

            Pearl couldn’t tear her eyes away for the moment, the scene was nothing like she was expecting.  Here she was expecting someone coming in and ravishing her for the next four hours to only have someone thrown in who evidently didn’t want to be there just as much as she did.  The dark woman was surely a sight to behold.  Her back rippled with powerful, defined muscles as she tried yet again to force the door open.  Every inch of her body looked like it had been carved out by a master and skillfully molded and hardened over years of rigorous training.  She was tall, probably as tall if not taller than Yellow Diamond without her heeled boots on.  Pearl looked away, a blush dusting her cheeks; she shouldn’t be staring at someone who didn’t have anything on.  After a couple more minutes the other woman in the room gave up on escaping the way she came and sat down on the floor with her back against the unyielding door.  Long, thick legs were brought up to her chest as she curled up in a similar fashion to Pearl.

            “I will not do this,” she angrily spat.

            They looked at each other for a split second before abruptly looking away.  Relative silence engulfed the room; the only thing that could be heard was their breathing.  No attempts at conversation were made, no movements, no explanation, no introductions, nothing.  Pearl stared ahead at the bed once again, this time contemplating her current situation.  Would they just sit here for the whole time?  Would she eventually become bored and decide she did want to do things with Pearl?  Was Yellow Diamond watching?  If so, was this what she wanted?  The minutes stretched on and the pale woman became apathetic about the situation.  No one was making any movements, nothing was going to change.  The smaller of the two breathed out a sigh of relief, she was spared; nothing was going to happen.

            Everything snapped back into focus as the locks behind the dark woman were released and the door was being shoved open.  Someone was trying to get in.  The muscular woman was on her feet in an instant forcing the door closed and growling angrily.

            “Make sure they don’t come in from the other side,” she directed towards Pearl over her shoulder.

            Pearl looked up at the dark woman confused at first, and then connected the dots as she heard the lock on her door release.  She got to her feet and rushed to the door to only have Yellow Diamond walk into the room holding a device in her hand that looked to be the size of a whiteboard eraser.  Pearl froze in place before backing out of the woman’s way.  In six long strides Yellow Diamond crossed the room and thrust the device against the dark woman’s bare lower back.  The sound of electricity snapped through the room and the woman fell to the ground convulsing lightly.

            “You’re such a child,” Yellow Diamond sneered with distaste.

            She casually adjusted a dial on the device as the woman on the floor recovered.  Yellow Diamond bent down and shocked the dark woman once again making her body involuntarily jerk up and spasm.  A strangled grunt of pain escaped full lips.  The individuals on the other side of the door stopped trying to gain access.  Pearl heard both doors shut and lock up.

            “Get up.”

            The curly haired woman on the floor refused to move.

            “I said GET UP!” Yellow Diamond yelled as she electrocuted her once again.

            After recovering from the bulk of the shock the dark woman slowly got to her shaky feet.

            “Get on the bed,” Yellow Diamond continued as she grabbed the dark necklace, dragged the athletic woman over to the bed, and shoved her down onto her back.

            The woman now lay parallel with the headboard with her legs stubbornly pressed together; feet just barely reaching the ground from where the bed ended at her knees.

            “Spread your legs,” the order came sharply.

            After the woman didn’t immediately obey she was zapped once again.  Her back arched up as her body tensed from the stronger charge; head thrown back and strewn with pain as a silent cry slipped past gritted teeth.  Yellow Diamond grabbed one of the muscular legs and tossed it over the end of the bed so the footboard would keep it there.  With one of her legs she used it to push open the athletic woman’s other leg and pin it to the side of the mattress, thus exposing her soft center.  Yellow Diamond held the device inches away from the dark woman’s abdomen.

            “Don’t make me use this again,” came the low warning.  “Pearl 01079, get over here,” the terrifying woman firmly commanded.

            Pearl bowed her head and quickly walked over so that she was standing next to Yellow Diamond.

            “Do you have any idea of how to do this?” she motioned to the woman’s center.

            “No ma’am,” Pearl responded.

            “Get on your knees, I will teach you.”

            Pearl kneeled down and waited for the next instruction.

            “Start with long wide stokes with your tongue running from the base to the top of her outer lips.”

            Pearl nodded and then scooted closer to the woman’s intimate area, her face burning with embarrassment and her hands itching to fidget.  Her body suddenly froze as her mind caught up with what she was about to do.  She didn't want to do this.

            "Go on," came the firm order, the patience in Yellow Diamond's voice wearing thin.

            The trembling woman forced herself to move even closer; swallowing nervously before opening her mouth and running her tongue along the velvet folds.  A light hiss was silenced as the dark woman clamped her hand over her mouth.

            “Continue to do that to get her wet and aroused; then move to experimenting with concentrated licks to her clitoris and vaginal opening.  Feel free to explore what makes her respond with biting, sucking, and various patterns of tongue movements, speed, and pressure.  Don’t be afraid to thrust your tongue in and pleasure her that way as well.”

            Pearl fearfully continued, slowly figuring out exactly where everything was located in the woman’s center and how to move her tongue and lips to perform the various movements.  It didn’t take long to figure out what Yellow Diamond meant by respond.  As she tried different licks or even hesitant sucking, she could tell which ones affected the curly haired woman more by how her hips would buck and legs flex.  Whenever Pearl sucked or licked certain spots the athletic woman’s foot would push against the floor and her legs would strain against the things spreading them apart.  She didn’t make many sounds, but Pearl could hear the occasional muffled moan that escaped her covered lips.  The taste wasn’t what the pale woman imagined or anticipated, but it was unexpectedly pleasing.  Pearl’s heart raced.  Whether it was from the terror of not performing well, the unknowns of the whole arrangement, or excitement, she could not tell.  Pearl sat back to catch a breath of fresh air and briefly rest her tongue, she wasn’t good at this at all.

            “Get back in, the longer and more often you pause the longer it will take to work her up to an orgasm,” Yellow Diamond sharply stated.

            The thin woman bowed her head and quickly leaned back in, trying to redouble her efforts.  After a few moments, Yellow Diamond instructed her to do a specific movement that had a considerable effect on the dark woman.  Several more patterns and combinations were provided by the woman towering above them, each one, when done correctly, caused the dark woman to strain in order to remain silent.  After a while the woman tensed up and let out a stifled cry as her center became noticeably wetter.  Pearl concluded that the dark woman had effectively reached an orgasm and that it was nothing how movies and such portrayed it.  The thin woman sat back on her heels and made to stand up but received a nasty shock to her shoulder.  A cry of pain jumped past her thin lips as the muscles on and around that area violently contracted and burned.  Stars dancing in front of her eyes.  It had only lasted for a second yet Pearl’s entire shoulder was tingling from the after affects.  Yellow Diamond looked down at her with the device poised dangerously close to her shoulder.

            “Again,” the terrifying woman evenly ordered.

            Pearl nodded obediently, her breath coming out in shaky gasps.  She didn’t dare rub her shoulder but just leaned forward and resumed the task of working the athletic woman up and bringing her over the edge.  Gone was any curiosity of the intimate act as her frame was filled with disgust.   Adrenaline ran through her veins in response to the pain and the panic of needing to do well in order to avoid getting hurt again.  She touched the other woman as little as possible as she continued.  It was cruel, whatever this was.  Completely void of any intimacy, just an act to force someone to orgasm against their will.  Pearl truly hated it.  And yet here she was doing it simply because she was ordered to do so and feared the woman who owned both of them.  After the second time Yellow Diamond stood back and told them that they could leave.  Pearl sat back on her heels and rubbed her tired jaw, her mouth and face felt all sticky from the juices she had been lapping up for who knows how long.  The dark woman swung a leg over her head so she could close her legs.  She made no effort to look at Pearl as she tilted her torso forward to stand up.  Pearl could see anger and shame mixed into her facial expression.  One ice blue eye shone in the dim light.  A frustrated grunt escaped the dark woman’s lips as her strong legs briefly gave out on her, forcing her to brace herself against the nightstand next to the bed to get up and walk out.  The door violently closed with a bang that would have jostled picture frames enough to fall out of alignment had there been any on the walls.  Pearl stood up and rubbed the feeling back into her lower legs and knees.  She used the end of her sleeve to try and clean off her face as much as possible.  A few steps later the thin woman was in the room where Yellow Diamond and Pearl 00010 waited.  Pearl 00010 only took one glance at her before motioning to her items and refocusing on whatever was on those screens.  Pearl put on her watch and reattached her scheduler.

            “You performed well Pearl 01079,” Yellow Diamond praised with a smile that held no warmth.

            “Thank you, Yellow Diamond,” Pearl looked at the floor.

            “Resume whatever is next on your schedule, you are no longer needed here,” she said as she turned to focus towards the screens.

            Pearl wasted no time in leaving the room and walking as quickly back to her sleeping quarters as fast as possible.  It was 20:48, time for her to get ready for bed and forget about all of this.  As she entered the bustling room several heads stirred from where they were standing and conversing to watch her walk towards her bed.  Pearl hugged herself as she walked, trying to ignore the stares.  Fingers found the sore spot on her shoulder and gently massaged it.

            “Where were you?” one of the pearls that slept across from the foot of her bed asked.

            The thin woman didn’t want to respond.

            “She wasn’t at dinner either,” another voice added as the pearl walked over to stand by the first.

            “That’s odd.  Where were you?”

            “I had a schedule change for regulation,” was all she managed, the horrid scene replaying in her mind’s eye.

            “Oh,” there was a slight hint of sympathy in her voice.

            “Who did you regulate?”

            “I-I don’t know, she never said her name.”

            “Really?  What did her tag say?”

            “I couldn’t see, it was too dark to read.”

            Light blue eyes watched as a few more pearls moved to gather around her, curious about what was being discussed.

            “Did she hurt you?  You’re the one with no experience, right?”

            Pearl internally scoffed, that was no longer true.  She had exactly two times to her name after tonight, both probably only because Yellow Diamond had been right there instructing her each step of the way.

            “Well she probably doesn’t have to wonder what it’s like anymore,” another added as she folded her arms across her chest.

            “No, she didn’t touch me at all!” Pearl quietly protested.  She had no idea why she felt like she needed to defend the dark woman.  It was all Yellow Diamond’s fault, not the muscular woman’s.

            “She didn’t touch you?” a hint of disbelief and suspicion carried the question.

            “No she didn’t, she didn’t want to.”

            The pearls all looked at each other engaging in a silent conversation that she was excluded from.  Slowly their concerned expressions fell away and were replaced with confusion and anger?  The main one that had been talking to her, Pearl 00824, was fixing her with a piercing gaze.  Pearl 00824 turned and shouted across the room.

            “Pearl 00739, did you have regulation today?  I saw you at dinner, usually you’re not here on the nights before a fight.”

            “No I didn’t, my schedule was changed this morning.”

            All of the pearls focused their faces on Pearl once again.  She didn’t like the way this seemed to be going.

            “What is going on?” Pearl 00251 spoke up as she moved through the crowd.  “You all should be getting ready for bed.”  Her gaze fell on Pearl, the center of the gathering of pearls.  “What disturbance are you causing this time?”

            “Nothing!  I-I just got back from my last scheduled task, ma’am.”

            “And what was the task?”

            “Regulation, ma’am.”

            “Who were you regulating?”

            “I don’t know ma’am.”

            “Pearl 00739 was here all the time, she’s usually gone, do you think this newbie replaced her?” a pearl in the crowd murmured.

            “She doesn’t deserve the opportunity to regulate Her.”

            “She’s barely been here!”

            Pearl 00251 held up her hand to silence all of the whispers coming from everywhere.  Pearl 00739 was now standing next to the highest ranking pearl looking at Pearl as if she was trying to decipher something.

            “Describe the person you were regulating.  Female, correct?”

            “Yes ma’am, female.  Tall, very muscular, dark skin, thick curly hair.”

            Angry protests and gasps erupted from several pearls.

            “No way!”

            “Why would they put a newbie with Her?!”

            “She hasn’t earned that, she should be stuck with someone else.”

            “Silence, or I will have you all up cleaning this place until 05:00!” Pearl 00251 quickly regained control of the situation.  “Pearl 00739, you usually regulate Garnet on these days, did you attend to that?”

            “No ma’am, my schedule was changed.”

            “Was Yellow Diamond or Pearl 00010 there, Pearl 01079?”

            “Yes, both of them were there, ma’am.”

            “And you said she didn’t touch you right?”

            “Yes, ma’am.”

            “Evidence points to Pearl 01079 having been the one to regulate Garnet this time instead of her usual, Pearl 00739,” Pearl 00251 announced.

            “What?” Pearl 00824 exclaimed.  “Why would she be chosen for that out of all of us!  She’s barely been here, she hasn’t earned it.”

            “This is only the first instance,” Pearl 00251 tersely stated as she faced the pearls gathered around them, “there is no saying that it will remain her task, for all we know she may have just been tested out.  We will wait and see if she keeps it or not.”

            There were a number of grumbles rumbling from the crowd.

            “Now all of you are to get ready for bed, this matter is closed for the time being,” the highest ranking pearl finalized.

            The pearls quickly dispersed.  Pearl 00739 gave Pearl once last glance before turning and heading back to her bed.  Once Pearl was alone she pulled out her pajamas and toiletries, instinctively glancing over her shoulder every few seconds.  She didn’t feel safe.

 

            The next morning was rough.  The other pearls made it so she didn’t get a shower and was pushed to the sink that didn’t work very well.  Once at breakfast she sat all by herself as none of them wanted to be anywhere near her.  The light eyed young woman did her best to block out their looks and whispered remarks.  Strangely enough, Pearl 00739 regarded her neutrally even though it was apparently her job Pearl had “stolen”.  Why all of the other pearls were so put off by this was a mystery to her.  Pearl 00251 had concluded that the person she regulated last night was a gem called Garnet.  Pearl frowned, she didn’t know much about Garnet, she had heard the name off and on, but never a number listed.  How many garnets where there?  As she walked to Carnelian’s office she remembered the advice the older woman had given her about staying away from any maroon doors and that she had gone through a maroon door for regulation.  Could this garnet be the one that was Yellow Diamond’s champion?  Pearl shook her head, she needed to clear her head and focus, she missed valuable time with Carnelian yesterday and would need to work extra hard to make up for it.

            “My Pearl!  I’m glad you are here!” Carnelian exclaimed as the younger of the two came into the office.  “Last night I was able to get the alterations on these outfits finished for Moonstone 00067, Sunstone 00083, and a few others.  If you would please deliver all of these to them before they finish packing at 07:00.  It’ll be soon, so hurry!  The location is on the piece of paper.”

            “Yes, ma’am,” Pearl automatically nodded as she picked up the outfits and went out the door as quickly as possible.

            Carnelian didn’t say a word about her missing the previous night, she just kept lining up the next thing for Pearl to run and deliver.  Before she knew it she was on the bus sitting beside Carnelian as they drove to that night’s location.  It was odd for Pearl how easy it was for her to smile and stand still, be polite while dealing with unreasonable individuals, her body just knew how to behave now.  Do as you’re told, be perfect and you won’t get hurt.  Perform well and we’ll have no reason to dispose of you.  Be productive, we don’t keep wasteful people.  As she stared out watching another one of the fights she wondered if it was the same for everyone else.  Did Carnelian and Rainbow Quartz get punished if their dancers don’t perform well or if the costumes were not finished in time?  What pressure are they constantly put under to perform?  Light blue eyes scanned the crowd, pausing briefly at each of the gems in their various duties.  What happens to an amethyst if someone gets in without paying or if a customer gets in a fight and it’s not stopped soon enough?  Do ambers get whipped if the food is not prepared in enough time or if the drinks don’t have enough kick?

            “Now introducing the main event of the evening!” the announcer shouted.  “We will be having an exciting fight!  Heralding from Facet 33 is Rutile Topaz, he will be facing off with none other than GARNET!”

            The stands went crazy at the last name shouted.  Pearl watched carefully as the first person came out, he was tall and built like a wrestler.  His arms could easily snap Pearl in two.  The second fighter jogged up into the ring.  Familiar dark legs and body entered the light and faced off against her opponent.  There was no mistaking this person, it was she same person the pale woman had been with last night.  Garnet.  Garnet raised her fists, covered in the usual MMA fingerless gloves, and launched into the fight.  While the one had a definite size advantage, Garnet was quick and agile, she knew where to hit and when she did Pearl could see the ripples in the man’s body from the impact.  When the other would score a hit or two on Garnet it was taken without much of a problem.  Two rounds later and new splattering of blood on the floor ended with Garnet’s hand being raised in the air in victory as the other tried to pick himself off the floor.

            Pearl watched as the man’s corner yelled at him and punched the already beaten man.  Eyes traveled back to Garnet who was leaving the ring, the only gems accompanying her were a couple of amethysts.  What about the fighters?  What happened to them if they won or lost?  What pressure are they under to constantly perform?  Are there any benefits to being a champion?  Is it safer the closer one is to Yellow Diamond?  Pearl’s name being called by Carnelian interrupted her train of thought, she didn’t have time to worry about others; it was challenging enough keeping herself out of trouble.

 

            Over the next couple of days the other pearls seemed to have let her alone on the whole ordeal of her regulating Garnet.  Pearl supposed because they figured it was probably a fluke and she wouldn’t be called back in.  Still her mind had plenty of questions, and luckily she was with the one gem that should be able to provide some answers.

            “Larimar,” Pearl began.

            “Hm?” he turned to look at her as he gathered the list of items Carnelian needed.

            “How many are garnets are there?”

            “Ah…Garnet,” he paused as he grabbed another item and set it on the desk where the pile was slowly growing.  “There is only one Garnet, Garnet 0001, Yellow Diamond’s beloved champion.”

            “Oh.”

            When Pearl didn’t say anything else he spoke again.

            “I heard quite a bit of chatter from a number of pearls not too long ago about some new pearl getting to regulate Garnet instead of her usual pearl.  Could that be related to why you’re all the sudden curious about her?”

            Pearl blushed lightly.  “It was me that Yellow Diamond had regulate Garnet last week.  I hate that term it’s so, so-”

            “Callous for a supposedly intimate act?”

            “Yes!  It was like a routine, just like taking your vitamins or washing your sheets.”

            “Sexual regulation is very common here, especially amongst the fighters and other higher ranked gems, I guess Yellow Diamond’s thoughts were that people perform better if they can get the release they need and at the right times.  It can also double as either a reward or a punishment depending on what side of the regulation you are on and who you’re with.  If there’s one person’s life who is managed the most by Yellow Diamond it is Garnet.  Garnet isn’t a successful fighter or Yellow Diamond’s champion by luck or accident.  Sure she has her natural abilities, but from what I hear she trains her ass off every day and then Yellow Diamond makes sure she is nice and relaxed before any of her fights.”

            “Oh.”  Pearl took a moment to process the information.

            Garnet didn’t seem particularly relaxed after that night’s events.  Of her three interactions with Yellow Diamond it certainly didn’t leave her with the desire to see any more of her.  The thin woman shivered at the idea of being constantly monitored and interacting with Yellow Diamond.  Pearl then asked the next question that had been burning in her mind.

            “When the other pearls found out that I had been the one picked for regulating Garnet, they acted very strange, angry, even jealous.  Do you know why?”

            Larimar chuckled.  “Garnet is probably the safest person to regulate.”

            “What do you mean by that?”

            “She won’t touch you,” he paused for emphasis; then continued, “She never has and probably never will.  Of all the pearls I’ve spoken with who have regulated Garnet, each one has expressed relief or frustration on the fact that Garnet never touches them or asks them to do anything more than what they are in there for.”

            “Frustration?  Why would some be frustrated?”

            “Well, you’ve seen her, hell if I ever got the chance to be with her I’d take it in a heartbeat.  Some of the pearls wanted her to reciprocate, some really badly,” he added quietly through the side of his mouth, “but no matter what she never did.  That’s why she’s safe, if you get assigned to her not only are you removed from the list, because Yellow Diamond keeps a close eye on whoever touches her champion, but you are also guaranteed to not get fucked up.  Literally.  Most of the other gems who have pearls, or other gems, assigned to regulate them are not so nice, some are even just downright cruel.”

            “In that sense, I can see why some of the other pearls would get jealous.  From the sounds of it, usually an older more experienced pearl is assigned to Garnet, is that true?”

            Larimar shrugged.  “I don’t know, I’ve been here a little longer than Garnet has been the champion, but so far the only thing in common is that they are all picked by Yellow Diamond.”

            “How long has Garnet been the champion?”

            “Five years,” he said after a moment of recollection.

            “Is that a long time?”

            The burly man shrugged again.  “It’s hard to know.  Some champions are hard to replace and others get replaced quickly.  As far as I know Garnet is the youngest of the four champions and is the only female.”

            Pearl silently regarded the information.  Five years, she would have been 13 when Garnet first became the Champion.  How old was Garnet when she became Yellow Diamond’s champion?  More questions began popping up in her head.

            Larimar packed up all of the items into the backpack Pearl had brought.  It was nearing time for her to leave.

            “One thing for sure though, if you get assigned to Garnet you can expect your life to get harder and easier.”

            His statement captured Pearl’s full attention.

            “How so?”

            “Harder in that the other pearls will probably be very mean to you since you are the newest and don’t deserve that privilege.  Your workload will most likely increase due to added tasks related to Garnet, while being expected to perform the same amount as before.  Also, other gems might turn on you too, plus being under Yellow Diamond’s eye is never a good thing.”

            “What about easier?” Pearl hopefully asked as she put on the backpack.

            “Well,” he paused, “that all depends on Garnet.”  He gave her a somber expression.

            Pearl frowned.  “How does it depend on Garnet?”

            He shrugged it off.  “Get going before you’re late.”

            She nodded. “Thank you for answering my questions Larimar.”  The thin woman then rushed off.

 

            As the days flew by thoughts on Garnet were pushed out of Pearl’s mind.  There was no way she would be called in for regulation again.  Things appeared to be returning to normal, the other pearls were being friendly to her once again and she had been able to keep up with Carnelian’s work load.

 

            It was a Thursday, the day before another fight, when Pearl’s scheduler went off in the middle of breakfast.  All of the pearls that heard it turned their heads towards her.  Her throat bobbed as she slowly swallowed the bite of oatmeal in her mouth before pulling out the device.  Another ring went off and Pearl 00739 pulled out hers as well.  Long fingers reflexively undid the lock and opened up the calendar.  A new rounded rectangle had appeared, floating where the yellow one had been a few weeks ago.

            “18:00-22:00: Regulation: Grey Light Red 24134.”

            The only difference was that the box was maroon instead of yellow.  Her face visibly paled.  Light blue eyes looked up to meet Pearl 00739’s expressionless gaze.

            “What does it say?” one of the pearls demanded.

            “My regulation has been cancelled, I’m to return to my normal duties,” Pearl 00739 answered first.

            They all turned on Pearl, wordlessly demanding she answer as well.

            Thin lips were parted to speak but nothing came out.  The idea of spending another evening with Garnet didn’t sound half as bad as how all of the other pearls were going to react.  What good could possibly come of this?

            “I’m being called to regulation, the same place as last time,” she finally provided in a small voice.  Pearl braced herself for the explosion.

            “Seriously?!”

            “This is not fair, she probably is horrible too since she has little experience.”

            “What are they thinking?”

            “I don’t think it’s a good idea openly express dislike on Yellow Diamond’s decisions,” Pearl 00739 said in a subdued voice.

            The other pearls’ complaints settled down to a quiet murmur before disappearing altogether.  A few last dirty looks were thrown in Pearl’s direction as they resumed their breakfast.  Pearl was internally grateful that for the most part she wouldn’t be interacting with any of them for the rest of the day; Carnelian was going to be keeping her very busy.  The older gem made no obvious show on how she felt about Pearl being off again for regulation.

            Pearl looked once again at the door she had been at just four weeks prior.  It felt just like yesterday.  An involuntary shiver went up her spine.  Maybe Yellow Diamond won’t be there; maybe they can just get it done without any unnecessary complications.  As the door opened and the intimidating figure came into view; Pearl’s gut rapidly sank.  Yellow Diamond was sitting slightly reclined in a chair looking at what was pulled up on one of the screens.  Pearl 00010 was busy adjusting several knobs and settings on the control panel.

            “Pearl 01079, head right on in, Garnet will be more cooperative this time,” was all Yellow Diamond said.

            Pearl nodded.  The two devices were placed in the small box before the thin woman passed through the maroon door.  Her feet carried her to the same place she was last time and then shifted as she sat down.  Now to wait.

            Once again the tall, dark figure was pushed into the room as bare as the day she was born.  Metallic clicks from the locks sliding in place could be heard before the athletic woman could even attempt to escape.  Garnet straightened up and gave one long look at Pearl before resuming her spot in front of the door.  Pearl sighed, this was going to get all complicated again…  A couple of minutes passed before a voice entered the room through a hidden speaker and grabbed their attention.

            “Don’t make me come in there,” came the low warning in Yellow Diamond’s voice.

            Garnet flinched ever so slightly.  The curly haired woman stood up and muttered,

            “Let’s just get this over with,” before plopping down on the bed, one leg draped over the footboard.

            Pearl obediently followed the curly haired woman over and took her spot between the other’s legs.  Fingers ghosted over the woman’s inner thighs.  Had this been taking place in her old life by their choosing, Pearl wouldn’t have minded being between the legs of the athletic woman.  She took a deep breath, leaned in, and began her ministrations.  Even though she now had some experience, Pearl found that it took longer for her to get Garnet worked up.  Her mind didn’t recall all of the tips Yellow Diamond had given her last time and her lips and tongue were not used to performing the stimulating actions.  The thick scent of the woman slowly spread as her muffled gasps and moans pushed away the silence.  Pearl was glad that Garnet had put one leg over the footboard, because on her first orgasm the loose thigh came crashing against the smaller woman’s head; at least she wasn’t crushed between both of them.  Pearl put one hand out to brace against that thigh, she wanted at least a warning before that happened again.

            After the second time both of the doors unlocked.  Garnet once again awkwardly stood up and walked away without another word.  Pearl straightened herself up and exited the room as well.  Pearl 00010 was the only one present when she came into the other, smaller room.  She handed Pearl her belongings before turning back to the screens.  The light eyed woman moved her tongue about inside her mouth; she really needed a drink of water.

            Pearls turned and watched her as she made her way to her bed.  The strawberry blonde tried to keep her head down and get ready for bed as quickly as possible.  Pearl 00824 stood right next to her bed, a scowl evident on her face.

            “How was it?”

            “About as awkward as last time.”

            The other pearl leaned forward and sniffed Pearl’s face.  Pearl backed away quickly from the unexpected closeness.

            “Smells like she enjoyed it,” she sneered as she stepped away from Pearl’s bed.

            Pearl ignored the comment and just crouched down to pull out her bag.

            “You’re not any better than the rest of us,” the other pearl finished, giving Pearl a hard look.

            Pearl just lifted the bag and set it on the mattress cover.  One by one the staring pairs of eyes drifted away as all of the pearls resumed getting ready for bed.

 

            The following morning was a different type of miserable, not only did she not get a shower again, but several of the pearls stole small bits of her breakfast stating that she must not be that hungry since she ate so much last night.  Her stomach grumbled in protest as the opposite was quite true.  Despite her best efforts, she was unable to fend off the multiple hands that grabbed a piece here and a slice there.  She resorted to downing the remains of her breakfast as quickly as possible before rushing out of the cafeteria.

            Carnelian was happy as usual to have the pale woman’s help during the hectic morning.  Since the event was farther away this time, their departure time was only an hour away and they still had yet to start loading up all of the dancer’s gear.  Pearl was sent on ahead to organize all of the belongings in the large buses under storage area.  Several times she was sent sprinting down the concrete halls in search of a forgotten piece of jewelry or a makeup kit.  As they were loading onto the bus, Pearl’s scheduler gave off a short ping.  The app was quickly opened it up and Pearl discovered that a new yellow event had been added that would start in just five minutes.  The location was another area in the transportation building.  Pearl looked up at Carnelian who had been watching her expression.

            “Show me,” Carnelian motioned with her hands.  Sharp eyes took in the information quickly.  “Well you better get going if you’re going to make it in time,” was all she said.

            “I’m sorry,” Pearl slipped out.

            “What Yellow Diamond gives she can take away,” Carnelian said indifferently as she stepped onto the bus.

            The stout woman made a motion with her hands and the bus doors closed.  The large machine grumbled and hissed as the wheels began to turn and pull away from the sidewalk.

            Pearl turned on the balls of her feet and ran.

            “07:30: Transportation: White Dark Grey 30125”

            The pale woman had never been to that location before and it was in a white hall; one that she was not technically supposed to be in.  As the doors flew past she hoped that luck would be on her side and she would find the correct door before she ran into anyone higher ranked than her.  Pearl counted down the doors in the white hallway; a groan making it past her lips when she saw that the door she needed to get through was guarded by an amethyst.  Fists were clenched as the thin woman steeled her nerves and walked up to the burly woman.

            “Halt, what is your name and why are you down here?” the amethyst demanded as Pearl neared.

            “Ma’am, I am Pearl 01079, and was directed to come here based off my schedule,” she said as she showed the item to her.

            A scowl formed on thick lips as the woman turned to speak into her earpiece.

            “I have Pearl 01079 here for transportation at the request of Yellow Diamond is that correct?”  She nodded as the reply came in; then turned to Pearl.  “You are late, follow me.”

            “Yes, ma’am.”

            The muscular woman took her into an underground parking garage where dozens of vehicles were kept; all sorts of cars, trucks, and SUVs; there were even a few motorcycles.  A black SUV with completely tinted windows sat by the exit, poised to spring to life and leave at a moment’s notice.  Two more similar SUVs could be seen next to the black one they were walking towards, one in front and behind.  The amethyst opened a rear door and motioned for her to get in.  Pearl quickly obeyed and the door was closed behind her.  The interior of the SUV was black leather with grey carpeting and silver accents.  Two rows of seats, fitting three people each, faced each other while the front was blocked off by a black divider.  On the same row as Pearl sitting next to the other door was Garnet.  It was odd to see her up close with clothes on.  Garnet wore a maroon, short-sleeved, dry-fit, muscle shirt, black jeans, a studded leather belt, a pair of completely back converse high-tops, and a set of reflective sunglasses with pink and blue hues that covered almost half of her face.  She sat straight up with her arms folded and legs crossed.  It looked like she was having a staring contest with the seat across from her.  Garnet’s black metal tag hung closely to her neck; Pearl could now see what was written on it.

“GARNET 0001

YD 0001”

            Pearl made to sit down but then hesitated.  Was she supposed to get Garnet off on the ride over?  She made the slightest of movements towards Garnet.

            “Sit down,” Garnet’s deep voice ordered; not even bothering to turn and look at her.  “The only time you are required to touch me is during regulation.”

            The younger gem took a seat awkwardly, folding her hands in front of her.  A slight wave of relief passed over her.  Maybe this ride wouldn’t be too bad.

            Just then Yellow Diamond entered the SUV and took the middle seat of the row facing towards Pearl and Garnet; close behind her was Pearl 00010.  The pale woman internally sighed, she had spoken too soon.  Yellow Diamond tapped the divider twice before turning her focus to her phone and typing away.  Pearl 00010 sat across from Pearl 01079 equally busy with whatever was on her laptop.  The vehicle rumbled softly as the engines sprang to life.  Soon the SUV was on the move.  After a couple of minutes Yellow Diamond spoke up,

            “Pearl 01079 get Garnet off,” eyes not leaving her screen for a second.

            Pearl snapped to attention.  “Ye-” Pearl began.

            “No.  Stay where you are,” Garnet overruled; head snapping to look directly at Pearl.

            Yellow Diamond’s eyes flicked up for a moment giving Pearl a stern look.  “Pearl 01079, go get Garnet off.”

            “Stay where you are,” Garnet rebutted through gritted teeth as Pearl made a movement towards her.

            The thin woman began to back off.

            “Pearl 01079, do as you have been instructed,” Yellow Diamond continued, eyes not leaving Pearl.

            The smaller young woman made another movement towards Garnet.  Garnet scooted closer to the door.

            “I said, stay where you are!”

            Pearl paused once again; she didn’t know what to do.  She knew she was supposed to obey Yellow Diamond’s command because she was the highest ranking gem, but Garnet would be very uncooperative in the task.  The fact that she was actually dressed this time would also make it a lot more complicated.

            “Are you overriding my orders?”

            The light eyed woman turned to face Yellow Diamond, panic seeping into her system, only to see that the terrifying woman was looking directly at Garnet and not her.  The woman’s golden hazel eyes narrowed dangerously.

            “I don’t need it, I’m perfectly relaxed,” Garnet argued.

            “You are obviously tensed up and need a release.”

            “No I don’t!”

            A hand shot out and grabbed Garnet’s necklace, yanking her off the seat and pulling her face within inches of Yellow Diamond’s.  The chain was expertly twisted around the bar part making the short necklace press deeply into Garnet’s neck.  The dark woman grunted and gritted her teeth as she forced herself to take deep measured breaths.

            “When I give an order to you or anyone else it is to be carried out, or there will be severe consequences.  Don’t you dare override me again,” her voice dangerously low.

            Garnet’s breathing was slowly becoming more labored.  Her left arm began to rise up and form a fist as the other was braced against the back of the seat.

            “You dare to raise your fist against me?” Yellow Diamond challenged, a manicured eyebrow twitching up ever so slightly, her hand twisted the necklace around again.

            The fist hovered in the air for a few seconds before it was braced against the other side of the commanding woman’s spot.  A look of triumph made its way onto Yellow Diamond’s face.  Garnet’s face was becoming darker shades of brown as her breaths for air deepened once again.  Yellow Diamond showed no indication of letting go of the necklace that was slowly cutting off the blood supply to the fighter’s brain, yet Garnet kept her head high, refusing to look away from her master.  After thirty more seconds Garnet’s large frame fell limply to the floor of the SUV.  A trail of saliva running down her chin.  Pearl noticed a satisfied smirk forming on Pearl 00010’s face as she continued to type away.  Pearl sat completely still, not wanting to draw any attention to herself or to accidentally bump the unconscious person at her feet.  Garnet suddenly snapped awake, hands and feet shooting out to brace against the bottoms of both rows of seats, one kicking the black duffel bag sitting on the floor in the process.  Covered eyes looked around quickly, her chest rising and falling with rapid breaths.

            “Go sit down,” Yellow Diamond ordered as she worked on her phone again.

            “Yes, ma’am,” Garnet obeyed; returning to her previous spot.

            “I guess you were right about not needing it, you seemed pretty relaxed there on the floor,” Yellow Diamond cruelly commented.

            Garnet only turned and looked out the window in response; folding her arms and legs once again.

            The rest of the five-hour drive was bathed in an uncomfortable silence.  Only occasionally would Yellow Diamond talk on the phone with someone or converse with Pearl 00010.  Garnet moved occasionally to shift in her position, but for the most part acted as if no one else was in the vehicle with her.  Pearl remained rooted to her seat, afraid to really do anything and encounter the wrath of any one of the three other occupants.  Her eyes drifted to the window.  It was hard to see anything out of the heavily tinted windows.  She wondered how the drive was going for Carnelian.  The thin woman missed the enthusiasm of the dancers and the craziness of their conversations.  What was going to happen once they arrived?  Would she be allowed to resume her duties to Carnelian or would she be stuck in this awkward situation between Garnet and Yellow Diamond?  At one point during the ride, she must have fallen asleep because there was a blank spot in her memory before her head was jostled by the movements of the car, effectively jerking her awake.  Light blue eyes were met with Pearl 00010’s disapproving look.

            Soon the SUV stopped and everyone stepped out of the vehicle, Pearl coming out last.  Garnet was already walking off with the large duffel bag slung over her shoulder and two amethysts diagonally behind her.  Four jaspers silently formed a wide protective formation around Yellow Diamond with Pearl 00010 trailing two steps behind her.  The venue already looked alive even though it was only 12:45.  All sorts of gems were traveling in and out of the building carrying supplies and equipment from the 18-wheelers.  Several large buses were already parked as three more were pulling into the service parking lot.  Light blue eyes immediately recognized one of the parked buses as the one that Carnelian was on.  The same amethyst from before walked up to her.

            “Follow me,” was all the burly woman said before turning and marching off.

            It was easy to follow the woman as they weaved through the throng of gems and individuals belonging to the other people who were going to be performing at the fights.  Before long she was taken to the large room that all of the dancers were using as a dressing room.  Pearl smiled as she saw Carnelian, Rainbow Quartz, and other familiar faces.  Pearl 00687 was already helping to sort through the mass of bags for all of the dancers.  The amethyst left and Pearl rushed over to help sort through and pass out the bags.

            “Pearl 01079 is here!” a fire opal excitedly informed over the noise of the dancers.

            “Ah! Where is she?” Pearl heard Carnelian’s voice say in response.

            “Over here by the bags,” fire opal said.

            “There you are my precious pearl,” Carnelian smiled as she saw Pearl.  “And you’re already hard at work, I assume you just arrived?”

            “Yes ma’am.”

            “Well good, you weren’t too much later than us.  Once you’re done with handing those out, do your rounds to make sure all of the dancers have everything they will need.  In two hours they will need to start getting dressed and made up.  The first set of performers need to be ready before 19:00.”

            “Get loosened up from the drive and get hydrated, the last thing I want is for someone to pull a muscle like an amateur!”  Rainbow Quartz shouted as she walked through the dancers.  “We will be going over a couple of the routines in an hour.”

            A collective “Yes, Madame Rainbow Quartz,” resounded through the throng of dancers.

            After all of the bags had been distributed, both of the pearls were tasked with helping any of the performers roll out tight muscles and problem areas.  Rainbow Quartz walked over to them.

            “I just received a notification that our food and drink supplies for the night are ready to be picked up at the main kitchen located on the south end of the first floor.  Pearl 01079, accompany Pearl 00687 to acquire the items,” she instructed.

            “Yes ma’am,” the two pearls said in unison.

            They left quickly, making their way up to the main kitchen.  Pearl 00687 turned to Pearl.

            “I heard that you got a regulation assignment.  Are you doing ok?”

            Pearl was surprised at the sudden question, but quickly figured that the news traveled fast in the Underground just as it did in her old life.

            “Yes.  It’s ok, not as bad as I’ve heard some are, just tiring.”

            “Who are you regulating?  If I may ask.”

            Pearl hesitated, though Pearl 00687 had become friends with her she still worried if she would turn on her as well if she knew.

            “Garnet 0001,” she eventually said.

            “Oh.”

            They walked in silence for a little while before Pearl 00687 spoke up.

            “Are the rumors about her true?”

            “Which ones?”

            “How she doesn’t make you do anything aside from what’s required and doesn’t touch you.”

            “Yes, that is true; so far at least.”

            Pearl 00687 breathed out a sigh of relief.  “I’m glad, when I found out that you had been given a gem to regulate I was worried about what they would do to you, especially since you didn’t have any experience.”

            Pearl was surprised by this confession from Pearl 00687.  A warm smile appeared on her face.  Pearl 00687 could be called her friend without a doubt.  It was unfortunate that she wore a yellow shirt and slept in a different dormitory than her.  Their interactions were thus limited to whenever Carnelian and Rainbow Quartz were together and neither of them were off running errands.

            “Thank you,” Pearl said facing her.

            Pearl 00687 smiled.  “Maybe if you’re lucky your first time will be with someone of your choosing.  Gems have snuck off with each other before to do things.  It’s mostly common for those who don’t have someone to regulate them.”

            “Maybe,” Pearl mused.  There wasn’t a gem she could think of that she would willingly have sex with.

            They arrived at the main kitchen and waited in line as the ambers rushed about taking orders from a tourmaline.  When they got to the front of the line they identified which group of gems they were picking supplies up for.  Two large flatbed trolleys were loaded with several 5 gallon water jugs, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.  They were told that if they needed more water throughout the night that they were to bring back the jugs and have them filled up.  Both pearls thanked the amber and pushed their heavy load back to the dressing room.  Many of the dancers were quite excited at the arrival of the food and water.  The flatbeds were mobbed by the hungry gems until Rainbow Quartz called for order.  It wasn’t long before Pearl was busy helping various gems into their outfits and assisting with any hair and makeup.  The night sped by.  Performers left; then returned; then would leave sometime later and return again.  She had to be constantly on the alert for any calling out to her wanting help or to let her know another jug was empty.  Pearl made several trips to the kitchen to fill up the jugs.  It was a tiring task, even with the flatbed trolleys carrying most of the weight, and Pearl was running low on energy.  Thankfully Pearl 00687 had secured some food for the both of them to count as their lunch/dinner.

            Around 22:00 the slim young woman found herself up in a room that overlooked the fighting ring.  The announcer’s voice permeated the entire building.  Several turquoises quickly cleaned up the octagon after Garnet’s victorious match.  Garnet paced around the ring, her breaths slowly evening out from the intense fight.  Her victory had come from a submission move that would have broken the other’s arm had they not tapped out.  Pearl watched, currently she was on standby.  Why was Garnet not leaving the ring?  Wasn’t the match over?

            “Now ladies and gentlemen, we have a little opportunity for you to win some serious cash if you are willing to fight for it.  The rules are simple, for every minute you last against Garnet here; you will get one thousand dollars in cash.”  The announcer paused to let all of the customers cheer at the opportunity.  “Now do we have any brave takers?  For every minute you last in the octagon against Garnet you get one thousand dollars!”

            A few hands flew in the air as a spotlight panned across the large crowd.  It landed on a bulky man who was standing on his chair waving both arms.

            “There! You sir, what is your name?”

            A peridot had appeared next to him and gave him a microphone.

            “Chuck Whitman!”

            “Well then Chuck, come on down to the ring!  We will ask that you remove anything from your pockets and any watches or jewelry.  Those items will be kept for you just outside of the ring to pick up right after the fight.  However, feel free to keep your shoes on.”

            The man excitedly walked down and did as he was told, removing the items from his pockets and wrist.  He was escorted into the ring with the peridot that held the microphone.

            “Any last words before we begin?”

            The man grabbed the presented microphone and said,

            “I’m going beat you into the ground and then buy you with my earnings and pound your large ass!” he finished pointing a broad finger directly at Garnet.

            Pearl grimaced at the unsavory comment.  The crowd responded with equal amounts of cheers and boos.  Garnet’s face showed no reaction to the comment.  Pearl wondered if the man had been drinking just a little too much and if he had watched her fight at all.

            “Well, well, we sure do have a confident competitor here.  Let’s clear the ring and begin the match!”

            The peridot exited the octagon and the referee called for the match to begin.  A large clock appeared on half of the LED screens and began to count up.  The two danced around each other for a moment, the man slowly moving closer to Garnet.  He lunged to tackle her to the ground but she sprawled just as quickly stopping his attempt.  In an instant she shifted her feet and brought one knee crashing into his face.  He fell to his hands and knees, but quickly regained his feet and jumped away from her.  Blood oozed from an obviously broken nose.  Chuck brought up his fists and worked to close the distance again.  Garnet effortlessly dogged his punches and blocked his kicks.  A left hand came around sharply and socked him in the liver; the right fist came and swiftly punched him square in the jaw before he could recover from the first hit.  The large man staggered for a moment on his feet.  Garnet spun and delivered a decisive elbow to his temple.  Chuck crumpled to the ground completely unconscious.  The clock read 00:42.  The other half of the LED screens that had been showing the fight zoomed into a shot of Garnet’s face.  Her face was expressionless except for a slight crease in her brow and a light brown eye ablaze with fire.  Pearl couldn’t help the satisfied smirk that came to her lips.  Serves him right.

            Chuck was helped out of the ring and had his belongings returned to him with a handful of paper towels for his nose that was dripping blood all over his front.  He walked back up to his seat with his head down.

            “Chuck lasted only 42 seconds, personally I think insulting Garnet right before fighting her was not a good idea.  Alright, who is next to have a go at winning a thousand dollars per minute?!”

            The next contestant’s name was Alvin and had a leaner build.  He wasn’t as tall as Garnet, but when the match started he held out his fist for Garnet to bump, a traditional action between two competitors to show sportsmanship.  The match began right after they bumped fists.  Once again the two danced around getting a feel for each other’s fighting style.  Punches were thrown and avoided, others were blocked or scored.  The man was quick on his feet and presented a much different match than the previous one.  He would dart in and throw a quick combo that Garnet would block, before jumping out of her range.  She connected a couple times with some kicks to his legs.  The clock passed the minute mark and the crowd began to cheer the man’s name on.  Garnet worked the man into the side of the octagon before securing a hold and taking him down to the ground with a loud thump.  As he tried to break free of her control, Garnet methodically maneuvered until she had control of his back.  In a couple seconds she had her arms around his neck in a choke hold, and in a couple more seconds the man quickly tapped out.  The second match ended at 1:47.  The crowd cheered as the man raised his fists into the air.  An aquamarine entered the ring and counted out a bundle of 100’s into the man’s hand.  He ran back up to his seat enthusiastically sporting only a few bumps and bruises.

            Two more individuals had the opportunity to fight Garnet to win money.  The next match went past two minutes with her facing off another individual would keep his distance but still constantly engage her on combat.  The fourth tried to just keep his distance from Garnet and would run away whenever she got close.  The crowd booed at his cowardice.  Garnet was able to corner and knock him out before one minute had passed.  Carnelian’s cheery voice pulled her away from the view of the ring to help her get one last round of drinks before they had to pack up and leave for the night.

            By 00:48 the next morning everyone had been loaded up into the bus for the ride home.  Pearl was about to step on the bus when she noticed the amethyst from earlier walking up to her.

            “Pearl 01079 come with me, I will take you to your transportation for the ride back,” she informed the light-eyed woman.

            Pearl nodded and gave her farewell to Carnelian.  As she followed the woman towards the same SUV as before, her mind grumbled at getting stuck between Yellow Diamond and Garnet once again.  Light blue eyes rolled around in their sockets as she folded her arms across her chest.  It was going to be a long ride home.  When the pale woman stepped in she found Garnet sitting on the seat across from where she had sat on the drive yesterday.  Pearl took her same spot and waited for the other two occupants to enter.  The door closed and the vehicle began driving away.  At first she panicked thinking that they were leaving Yellow Diamond behind, but then she breathed a sigh of relief realizing that she was probably in a different vehicle.

            Garnet sat quietly in her previous attire, sunglasses and all.  Fresh shampoo and other clean scents wafted from the silent woman.  Her face only sported a couple of small lumps and a partially cut lip.  Pearl suddenly became very self-conscious about how she smelled.  She had spent the entire night running around, sweating, getting alcohol spilled on her from a few patrons, and she hadn’t had the opportunity to properly shower since Thursday morning.  Whether or not she smelled, Garnet gave no indication whatsoever.  About an hour into the drive Pearl was close to dozing off when she heard the deep voice break through her mind.

            “What is your name?”

             “Pearl 01079,” she sat up straight and responded without even thinking.

            “No, what is your real name?” Garnet’s covered gaze turned to look at her.

            “My real name?” Pearl looked at the dark woman with confusion.

            Wasn’t her name Pearl 01079?  Was this a trick question?  What other name was there for her?

            “The name you were born with,” the fighter specified.

            The name I was born with?  Pearl wracked her brain.  What was her name?  Why was it so hard to remember?  Every time she thought of her name Pearl 01079 kept on popping up.  It was there though, slowly rising from the grey matter of her brain; her real name, the one given to her by her parents.

            “Emily.  Emily Arvokas.” She raised her chin up as she said it.  “Ma’am,” she quickly added.  For that brief moment she recovered a part of her former self.

            “Don’t ever forget it,” Garnet simply stated.  “Repeat it to yourself every night along with the names of any loved ones left behind and where you are from.”

            Pearl’s eyes widened as the names and faces of her parents and siblings came rushing back to her.  How could she have forgotten?!  She was enduring all of this just so that they could find her and take her back home.  How could she forget her own family?  As her despair and longing for home hit her hard, the sobs and tears came in full force shaking her narrow frame.  Pearl tried to stop or stifle it as best as she could, but was completely unsuccessful.  The athletic woman turned her head away to look out the black window.  After the thin woman had eventually calmed down, Garnet spoke to her again, her face still looking out the tinted glass.

            “Try not to cry every time you remind yourself, crying never helps you here.”

            It wasn’t a mean comment, but more of a sympathetic one.  It carried a tone that Garnet knew what it was like or at least knew that crying didn’t help.  The dark, muscular, woman was in a small way offering her some advice.

            “Thank you, ma’am.”

            Garnet winced a little.  “And don’t call me ‘ma’am’, Garnet, that’s all.”

            “Yes, Garnet.”

            “Go to sleep, I will wake you when we arrive.”

            Pearl raised an eyebrow at this.  She’s going to let me sleep?  The soft leather never looked as welcoming as it did now, but still she hesitated for a moment.

            “Go to sleep, that’s an order,” Garnet stated in a slightly firmer tone.

            Pearl nodded and then laid down on the seat.  As her eyes drifted close she heard Garnet say in a gentler voice,

             “I will wake you up when we arrive.”

 

            It seemed like only a matter of minutes later that Pearl awoke to Garnet nearly shouting her name.

            “Pearl!” came the loud voice.

            The thin woman pushed herself into a sitting position, bleary eyes looking around the cabin of the car.

            “You’re finally awake.” Garnet sat back in her seat as the SUV came to a stop.  “We have arrived,” she said as she opened up the door and stepped out; grabbing her duffel bag along the way.

            The pale woman followed quickly behind her.  She trailed behind Garnet as she walked through the door that led out into the white hallway.  Pearl glanced at her watch and noticed that it was 06:02.  Breakfast was almost over.  Garnet stopped walking after they left the white hallway.

            “Continue on to your next scheduled task,” was all the fighter said before walking off.

            Pearl glanced down at her scheduler and noticed that she was to report to Blue Brown 01064 for clean up once again.  A sigh slipped past her lips before she headed for the room; at least she would be able to eat at lunch time.

            Surviving until lunchtime was hard; several times she dozed off in the middle of her task and was reprimanded harshly with a swift slap across her face.  Eventually she found herself with a full pearl’s portion of hot food that she devoured in only a couple of minutes.  The other pearls didn’t really even get a chance to try and take any from her.  Carnelian was glad to see her, but pulled a face at her lack of hygiene.  The dirty pearl was ordered to go back to her sleeping quarters, take a shower, and put on a fresh set of clothes within 30 minutes.  Pearl reveled in the silence of the nearly empty sleeping quarters and the fresh water washing away the grime of the past two days.  It was a brief moment of peace, a respite from the hard labor she had been doing.

            Freshly showered, Pearl was more warmly welcomed by Carnelian into her office.  However, it wasn’t long until she was sent running all over the place delivering concept sketches and picking up clothing samples.  By the time she was back in her bed for personal time she was ready to sleep.  Light blue eyes caught sight of her astronomy book.  A smile slipped onto her face as she picked it up and began to read where she left off.  Before she went to sleep she recited in her head her real name, the name of her parents and siblings, and where she was from.  A few tears threatened to fall, but she was able to hold them off until sleep claimed her exhausted body.

Chapter Text

^^^^^^

Pearl struggles under the changes to her life in the Underground due to her assignment with Garnet.  She discovers who she can rely on and who she cannot.

^^^^^^

 

            Pearl made a rough transition to the new routine of her daily life.  It was different from the first couple of months in that the other pearls picked on her instead of befriending her, with the exception of Pearl 00687.  Almost every meal the same five or so pearls would quickly steal pieces of her food.  Sometimes she would be left with only half of her meal by the time she was able to touch it.  She had a feeling that Pearl 00824 was the one spearheading this bullying, due to the fact that antagonizing woman always stole food from Pearl and made most of the snide comments towards her.  One time she had tried to bring the issue of others taking her food to Pearl 00251, but the older pearl acted with indifference saying that, “It wasn’t her problem”, due to it happening in the cafeteria and not in the sleeping quarters.  After that Pearl resolved there really wasn’t a way to address this.  The idea of bringing it up to Carnelian was out of the question; not only did she not want the other pearls thinking she ratted them out, but she wasn’t sure if Carnelian would or could do anything about it.  Her body adjusted though, at first she was hungry all the time, but then it slowly subsided after a couple of weeks.  However, she was starting to lose weight, enough that it was making it a little harder for her pants to stay up.

            The bullying affected her time for personal hygiene as well.  Often times she would be unable to get a shower and get stuck with the sink that didn’t work very well.  Pearl would get pushed and shoved around, never hit, but it kept her on edge.  It was becoming hard to relax in the sleeping quarters.  Her dreamless sleeps were becoming infected with nightmares.  One time she dreamed that all of the pearls stole all of her clothes and she was forced to run errands naked; the pearls would laugh at her and take turns hitting her; covering her body in black and blue bruises.  Another time Yellow Diamond appeared and demanded that she fight a ring full of jaspers and win.  When she failed to do so she was strapped up and whipped while Pearl 00010 grinned in the background.  Many times she would be woken from her sleep drenched in sweat and breathing heavily.

            Pearl would check her schedule every day to see if magically the maroon regulation box had disappeared.  It was her only hope to get this to stop.  If she was assigned to someone else the other pearls would back off.  Yet day after day the maroon box sat in its anticipated place and laughed in her face.  The third regulation was robotic.  Garnet didn’t say anything except for the sounds that escaped her lips as Pearl worked her over the two required times.  When she came back the other pearls stared at her with eyes bathed in green.  Whispers of “You’re no better than the rest of us” echoed around the room.  The thin woman curled up into her bed trying to shut everything out, muttering quietly to herself her name and the name of her family members.

            Like the most recent Friday event, Pearl traveled with Garnet instead of Carnelian and all of the dancers.  For the drive there it was just the two of them bathed in silence.  On the way back Garnet once again told her to rest.  Pearl happily obliged; trying to not resent the woman who was inadvertently causing her so much pain.  However, it was hard not to.

            By the time it was getting close to the fourth regulation Pearl had an embarrassing moment in Carnelian’s office where her pants fell down as she was returning with an armful of material.  Carnelian was most displeased at the unprofessional display and sent her off to Larimar to acquire a smaller set of pants.  Larimar asked only a couple of questions regarding how she was doing, but overall Pearl had no energy to talk with him.

            The fourth regulation went poorly.  Pearl couldn’t stand all of the thoughts of the things the other pearls would do to her once she got back and the trapped feeling she had of this very act being the cause of it all.  After Garnet’s first orgasm she couldn’t bring herself to touch the woman any more.  The fighter didn’t say anything when she noticed Pearl’s lack of continuation.  She simply stood up and banged on the door demanding that they be let out and that she was satisfied.  Eventually one of the doors opened up and Yellow Diamond walked in.  Golden yellow eyes drifted over Pearl once before telling her to leave and to close the door behind her.  Pearl gave no thought to the implication of that order, or to Garnet’s suddenly very tense posture.  The pale woman left as fast as she could, happy that maybe she would be deemed unfit for this role and would be reassigned.

            Unfortunately, she found herself riding yet again with Yellow Diamond, Pearl 00010, and Garnet to the Friday event.  Pearl breathed easy though once she was with Pearl 00687 and the dancers.  For that brief period of time she was in a relatively safe place.  As Pearl 00687 and she walked to the kitchen their conversation took a path leading to the shorter pearl asking about how regulation was going for her.

            “It isn’t too bad is it?  I know she doesn’t touch you, but she is a woman, and that’s probably a little awkward for you isn’t it?”

            Pearl regarded the shorter woman with a confused look.

            Pearl 00687 stared back.  “You know since you’d probably rather do it with a man.  Like if there was someone who was like Garnet in actions but you know, male?”

            “I never said I wanted to do it with a man,” Pearl simply stated.

            “Oh! Well I just…” the other pearl’s faced flushed furiously.  “I’m so sorry I just assumed you were into men instead of asking first.”

            “No, it’s ok,” Pearl looked ahead.

            After a couple of moments Pearl 00687 asked, “So what is your preference?”

            “Women.”  After a small pause she added.  “Yellow Diamond actually asked me what my preference was when I was taken in for questioning due to a bid.”  She laughed lightly.  “It’s an oddly considerate thing to ask and arrange.  Though I didn’t choose Garnet, at least I’m getting some good practice, right?”

            “Yeah,” Pearl 00687 laughed awkwardly.  “But so then it’s going ok then, nothing bad has happened?”

            “No, nothing has changed, Garnet doesn’t do much more than get thrown into a room and open up for me,” Pearl weakly laughed.  The crassness of her speech slightly surprised her, but at the moment she didn’t really care.  “When I say it like that it almost sounds like I’m the one who is raping her instead of the other way around.”

            “Yeah,” Pearl 00687 chuckled along hesitantly, “I guess rape fits, but then again at the same time it doesn’t fit…”

            “How so?” Pearl raised an eyebrow.

            “Well, you say she doesn’t like to do it, or that’s how she acts, but simply goes along to avoid getting punished by Yellow Diamond, right?”

            “Yes.”

            “And she doesn’t like put her crotch in your face or pull you in and make you do it, right?”

            “Yes, she just waits for me to come over.” 

            “And then you do it, even though you don’t like it, because you want to avoid any potential negative consequences for not doing it, right?” Pearl 00687 finished.

            Pearl thought on the other’s logic.  “So how would you define it then?”

            “I don’t know, maybe you’re both raping each other?” she tried with a stretch.

            “Is that even possible?” Pearl skeptically asked.

            Pearl 00687 shrugged.  “A complicated situation then?”

            “Maybe,” Pearl mused.  “It would be easier to define it if I knew exactly how and why I was assigned to Garnet.  But I doubt I’ll ever be told that.”

            “I personally would put the blame on Yellow Diamond, if anything she’s the one who set it all up.  She is the one is authorizes all regulations,” Pearl 00687 finished with a shrug.

            “That is true.”

            Their conversation was stopped as they had arrived and were soon busy with the tasks of transporting the sustenance to the dancers and taking care of them for the rest of the night.  Before long, Pearl was in the black SUV with Garnet as the only other occupant.

            “You look thinner.”

            Pearl turned to look at the other woman.  It was a statement, not a question.

            “Have you been eating well?” the dark woman continued.

            “Yes,” was all Pearl wanted to say on that topic.

            Garnet stared at her for a moment; her lips were pulled down in a frown for a brief second.  A few minutes passed.

            “Tell me about the world above.”

            Pearl looked at the fighter confused as to what she was referring to.

            “You know; the place you where you lived before you were brought here to the Underground.  Since this is the Underground, the other place is like the land above, right?” Garnet tried to explain her wording.

            “Oh, you mean the place where all of us came from and where our customers live?  The normal world?”

            “Yes, what is it like?  What are some of the things people do?”

            Pearl was confused.  How did Garnet not know about regular life?  Wasn’t she a captive just like everyone else?

            “Well,” Pearl began.  “People usually live in houses with their family members.”

            “A mother is a family member right?”

            “Yes, and so are fathers, siblings, uncles, aunts, grandparents, et cetera.”

            “Siblings are other people in a similar age range that share DNA from at least one of your biological parents, right?”

            “Yes, but they can also be adopted into the family.  So they become a sibling through a bunch of complicated paperwork.  But what really matters is that family members love and care about each other no matter what brought them into the family; whether it be DNA or paperwork.”

            Garnet hummed thoughtfully for a moment before asking her next question.

            “What do people do with their time?  Adults have jobs that earn money that is then used to provide for the house, food, essentials, et cetera.  What do the young adults do?  Or the children?  How do they earn their keep?”

            “Well normally they help out around the house doing chores, but mostly from the ages of 5-18 you’re expected to attend school so you can become educated and be a productive member of society.  Many go to college to further their education in hopes of finding a job that suits them well and pays better, or many go just to keep learning.”

            “What exactly is school?”

            Pearl almost asked if she was joking, but the tone Garnet used indicated that it was a legitimate question.

            “It’s a place where you learn, there are teachers that instruct you on topics like math, chemistry, English, history, art, all sorts of topics.  You get assignments; there are lots of other kids your age in the same class.  You go for most of the day; you get breaks for lunch and to stretch out your legs and play during recess.”

            The muscular woman took a moment to process the information.  “Thank you for answering my questions.  You can rest now, I’ll wake you when we arrive.”

            Pearl laid down and closed her eyes.  It took a moment for her to fall asleep as her mind was bothered by Garnet’s questions about common things in the normal world.

 

            It was strange how much Garnet started to occupy her thoughts.  Pearl blamed it mostly on her always checking to see if the next regulation had been cancelled.  Any time her scheduler went off she silently hoped it was that horrid maroon box disappearing.  However, like before it was always there.  There were times even when she swore she saw the tall dark figure in the concrete corridors; always moving silently with that face that never showed any emotion.  Maybe it was just her paranoia getting to her.  The bullying from the other pearls was just as bad, but fortunately hadn’t gotten any worse.  As she put her watch on and had to use a tighter hole than before, a frown made its way onto her face.  How long would she be able to keep this up?  She figured she had already lost about twenty pounds or so.  Were the other pearls really going to try and starve her to death?

            It had only been a week since her fourth regulation when she was blessed with the opportunity to run a few errands with Pearl 00687.  They talked as they carried the bolts of fabric towards Carnelian’s office for inspection before they were sent to the seamstresses.

            “Wait up,” Pearl desperately called out to her friend.  “I need to catch my breath.”

            Pearl 00687 stopped and looked back as Pearl set down the fabric and leaned against the wall breathing hard.

            “Are you ok?”

            “Yeah, just a little tired that’s all.”

            “No seriously, you don’t look well.”

            “I’m in the Underground how well can I be?” she sardonically laughed.

            “Well, before, you had a more positive attitude, and well didn’t get tired as easily,” Pearl 00687 glanced to the side for a moment.  “I’ve seen you carry much more before and not have any trouble with it.  Please tell me what’s going on.”

            Pearl looked up at her, trying to make up her mind on telling her about how the other pearls were treating her.

            “Remember when I hesitated to tell you who I was assigned to regulate?”

            “Yeah…”

            “Well, that was mostly because all other pearls who have found out have started to resent me for it.”  The pale woman paused to breathe out heavily.  “They think that just because I’m regulating Garnet that I don’t need all of my food, or need to take showers, or be able to go to the bathroom, or walk around my sleeping quarters without someone trying to trip me or shove me into something.”

            “Is that what is really happening?”

            Pearl nodded.  Now she’d done it, she’d opened her mouth.  But what could Pearl 00687 do about it?

            “Have you tried talking to the pearl in charge of your quarters?”

            “Yes,” Pearl laughed again, “She’s not going to do anything, if anything I think she has decided that I deserve it.”

            “So your food, how do they take it?  I mean you get in trouble if you have more than what was issued to you.  Couldn’t you just report them?”

            Pearl shook her head.  “There are several of them who do it, they all-” Pearl stopped to look at her friend in confusion.  Pearl 00687’s eyes had suddenly widened in terror as her mouth opened to let out a silent scream.  “Are you ok?”

            Pearl 00687 just weakly pointed to behind Pearl.  Pearl turned to see a tall figure with a mass of curls standing just two feet behind her.

            “Garnet!” Pearl exclaimed, jumping back and making a quick bow to the fighter.

            The fighter wore her usual maroon muscle shirt, but her jeans were replaced with a pair of spandex shorts that ran down to mid-thigh.  Worn athletic shoes with mid-calf socks adorned her feet.  She was covered in sweat, yet for some reason she still had those pastel pink and light blue, reflective sunglasses on.

            “Continue,” Garnet said holding up her calloused hand.

            “Well I-we were just talking about the upcoming event and what Carnelian needed for the costumes,” Pearl easily lied.

            Garnet stared at them silently for a moment.  The covered gaze turned to Pearl 00687.

            “Pearl 00687, please excuse Pearl and I for a moment.”  Sunglasses then faced Pearl.  “Follow me.”

            They walked down one hall and took a turn so that they were in a white hallway.  Garnet didn’t stop until they were several feet in and were not near any doors.

            “I’m going to ask you a couple questions, you don’t need to list any names, just answer me yes or no.  Will you do that?”

            “Yes, Garnet.”

            She leaned in a little closer to her. “And will you be completely honest with me?”

            “Y-yes, Garnet.” Pearl looked away and began to fidget with her shirt before noticing it and stopping quickly.

            “Do you eat all of the food that is given to you at each meal?”

            “No.”

            “The food that is not eaten by you; is it because you are too full to finish?”

            “No.”

            “Do any others eat your food?”

            Pearl swallowed thickly.  She looked away from Garnet, trying to think of how she should answer the question.  Garnet waited for her response, her face betraying none of her thoughts.

            “Y-yes,” the pale woman breathed out quietly.

            “Do you give the others your food to eat?”

            There! That was it, she could say yes to this and Garnet would leave the topic alone.  But was that really what Pearl wanted?  If she said no, what could Garnet do?  What couldn’t Garnet do?!  The intimidating woman was probably second to Yellow Diamond in influence and control in this place.  What did Pearl have to lose?

            “No.”

            Garnet stood up straight and took a step back from Pearl.  “Thank you for answering my questions Pearl.  I will take you back to Pearl 00687 so you can finish your conversation about Carnelian 00023’s designs.”

            In that instant Pearl got the feeling that the dark fighter didn’t believe for a second that the two of them had been talking about Carnelian’s designs.  Her stomach jumped and churned as her mind made a mental note that Garnet wasn’t a meat head like most fighters tended to be.  They walked back to find an amethyst questioning Pearl 00687.

            “Is there an issue here?” Garnet addressed the amethyst.

            “This pearl has just been standing here for the past couple of minutes not doing anything; I was going to have her reported for her lack of productivity.”

            “That was my doing, I told her to wait here while I had a private moment with Pearl.  These two are supposed to be delivering this fabric together.”

            “I apologize, Garnet 0001, I will not bother any of you any further,” she bowed to the higher ranked gem before turning and walking off.

            Garnet turned to the two pearls.  “Carry on with your task.”  With that she walked swiftly down the hall.

            Pearl 00687 looked at Pearl.

            “What did she want?”

            “She just asked me a couple of odd questions that’s all.”  Pearl watched the tall figure disappear.  “I just hope I gave the right answers.”

            “What you do mean by that?”

            “Don’t worry about it, I’m feeling all rested now, so we should be able to get these to Carnelian without having to make another stop,” Pearl put on a smile.

            Pearl 00687 didn’t look satisfied with the answer, but she didn’t press the issue further.

 

            The next morning Pearl stood in line to receive breakfast.

            “Gem,” the amber said without looking up.

            “Pearl.”

            The tray was loaded and pushed towards her.  Two pieces of whole grain toast, eight orange slices, a half a cup of scrambled eggs, a tall glass of water, and two pieces of questionable looking sausage.  As she walked over and took her seat she could hear the other pearls before they all sat down.  It took only seconds before half of a piece of toast was gone; three of the orange slices, half of her eggs, and both sausages were gone.  Each part snagged by one of the usual suspects.  Pearl didn’t even try to stop them this time.  They chatted away cheerily, thanking Pearl in a mock tone for sharing her breakfast with them.  Pearl gritted her teeth and said nothing, she just put her head down; her hands still clasped to the edges of the tray.  The idle chatter of the pearls died away as a large shadow fell over them.

            “What do we have here?” came a familiar voice.  “Several pearls with more than their share of food.”

            They all looked up to the imposing figure of Garnet standing right behind the three pearls across from Pearl.

            “Care to explain what is going on?”

            All of the thieves looked at each other.

            “Well, it was Pearl 01079 who gave us her food; she said she wasn’t feeling very hungry,” Pearl 00824 lied easily.

            “Really?” the deep voice sounded amused for a split second.

            Pearl noticed for the first time that Garnet had an accent; an English accent.

            “Pearl, show me your hands.”

            “Yes, Garnet,” Pearl said as she raised her hands towards her, palms up.  Garnet leaned forward and inspected them, her breath brushing against Pearl’s fingers for a brief second.

            “How could she have given you the food when there are no traces of handling the food on her fingers or utensils?”

            “Well that’s because-” Pearl 00824 began.

            “Because you took it from her,” Garnet firmly cut her off.

            The pearl tried to keep her poker face.  “No, she said we could take it from-” she tried to counter.

            “Do not talk back to me!” Garnet’s commanding tone echoed throughout the room.  “I watched all five of you take the various items that are now on your trays,” her voice dangerously low.

            The cafeteria had gone quiet, all other gems listening in discretely.

            “Yellow Diamond has each gem’s meal plan calculated based on what they need to perform optimally.  There are also strict rules that gems are not to have more than what is assigned to them.  I don’t care if you claim she ‘gave’ it to you or not, I see five gems here with more food than they need and one gem with not enough.”  Garnet straightened back up and waited.

            Each pearl slowly returned the stolen portions of Pearl’s food.

            “The penalty for this is reeducation.  For a bunch of pearls who think they know better than Yellow Diamond, it would be fifteen with number four.” She let that sentence hang in the air for a moment.

            All of the thieving pearls swallowed nervously and tried not to squirm under the pressure of Garnet’s shielded gaze.  A few gems in the cafeteria whispered to each other.

            “Lucky for you five, I am in a charitable mood today and will let this one pass with just a warning.  However, if it happens again, no such mercy will be available.  And trust me I will know if it happens again.”  Covered eyes turned to looked squarely at Pearl.  “Pearl, you are not to ‘give’ your food out again.  The rest of you are to not take that which is not yours.  Have I made myself clear?” a flash of white teeth appeared for a split second as Garnet’s last statement was finished with a snarl.

            “Yes, ma’am,” they all submissively said in unison.

            “Good.”  The fighter turned to walk away, but spoke one last parting word over her shoulder. “Before any of you start pointing fingers, I was investigating the reasons behind Pearl’s reduced productivity and discovered this.” 

            Once the gem had left the cafeteria the chatter amongst the other gems returned.  The guilty pearls scooted away from Pearl and mumbled amongst themselves; casting dirty glares her way.  Pearl looked down at her now complete breakfast and let a small smile of relief enter her face.  She quickly dug into the food.

            “She can’t protect you from everything,” Pearl 00824 sneered at Pearl.

            Pearl straightened up and looked her in the eye.  “I don’t expect her to protect me from anything.”

 

            For the next few days Pearl enjoyed full meals.  It didn’t take long for her body to start having more energy and for the weight loss to stop.  Hopefully, in time she would be able to put back on some of the weight.  However, Pearl 00824 did steal half of Pearl’s sandwich one day smugly stating that there was no way Garnet would ever know.  When Pearl returned later that day from her work with Carnelian she noticed a few pearls huddled around a bed.  Upon walking closer she recognized Pearl 00824 laying on her stomach with many angry bleeding welts across her back.  A few of her friends were layering cool damp towels across her back to ease the pain.  Pearl grimaced at the gory sight.

            “Gone and told your precious fuck didn’t you?” Pearl 00824 spat at her when she saw Pearl.

            Pearl vehemently shook her head.  “I-I haven’t seen or spoken to her since that breakfast.”

            “Quit trying to blame someone else Pearl 00824,” Pearl 00739 spoke up. “You were warned and yet you did it anyway.”

            “What would you know!”

            “I do know Garnet to a certain extent and one thing I know about her is that you don’t dare to disobey her or mock any generosity she shows towards you.  You deserved that, and you know it.”

            Pearl 00824 clamped her mouth shut.  Everyone resumed their previous tasks noting the end of the confrontation.  Pearl tried to send a thankful glance towards Pearl 00739, but the pearl had turned and walked away without a look in the light eyed woman’s direction.  Pearl approached her bed, pulled out her astronomy book, and began reading.

            “Well it all depends on Garnet.”

            Larimar’s words once again echoed in her mind.  Maybe, just maybe things could get better.

 

            The following morning Pearl listened to Carnelian as she spoke with one of her seamstresses on the phone.

            “Yes, yes, good to know the costumes for the head-to-head with White Diamond are mostly done.  What about the ones for the End of the Year Celebration?  Only three quarters?  Tell them to pick up the pace, we need those completed in a month so that we can do any last minute alterations and so the dancers can practice with them.  No I don’t want to hear any excuses.  Well if one of your sewing machines is down why don’t you let someone know so they can send a peridot over to fix it?!  Next week I better get an acceptable report from you,” Carnelian finished sternly.  “Ugh!  It’s only the end of the year event, the one we use to show all of the other diamonds how well our year has gone!” she turned towards Pearl.  “Why don’t they understand that?”

            “I don’t know, Carnelian, it seems pretty important to me,” Pearl validated.

            “Yes it is! Heads will be rolling if things don’t go smoothly.  Literally.  But you must be excited for that event, right?”

            “I am not sure why exactly I should be excited for it, ma’am.”

            “Well of course you don’t, what am I thinking?” the plump woman waved her hand. “For each gem’s first End of the Year Celebration they get to sit and watch all of the events.  They are not required to work; they get a certain number of units to spend on concessions or to be saved for later.  Well, all gems get a number of units at the end of the year based off of your performance and get some time to enjoy the festivities, but when it’s your first one you can relax and enjoy the whole event without having to work!”

            “That does sound nice, I look forward to it,” Pearl smiled.

            “Yes, there will be dancing, entertainers, games, food, drink, and there are the fights of course,” Carnelian’s face became more pensive.

            “Who will we be fighting this year?” Pearl cautiously asked,

            “Oh, that is always a surprise; you never know who will be in the cage.”

            Pearl raised an eyebrow at the tone of voice Carnelian used.  It was ever so slightly unsettling.

            “But, we won’t get to that fabulous event by just sitting here and chatting away now will we?  I have a few things for you to organize for me, and some things to return as well.  Start with all of those bolts of cloth in the reject pile, I don’t need them cluttering up my office.”

            “Yes, ma’am,” Pearl responded as she walked over and gathered up an armful of the cloth before heading off.

            Her feet carried her quickly through the well-known route.  As Pearl passed other gems in the halls she would watch them for a brief moment trying to decipher what each of them were doing.  What errands were they running?  How long had they been here?  How did they get here?  A disgruntled noise escaped her mouth as she became aware of her hair brushing against the lower area of her neck.  It was getting far too long for her liking.  How did a gem get a haircut in this place?  There had to be a way, many of the men she saw here sported shorter hair, and well Yellow Diamond certainly had her hair cut, it never seemed to change an inch.  Pearl glanced down at her arms, they were very pale.  Pearl was naturally light skinned, but in the summer she would get a little of a tan, well after getting burned a couple of times.  But here, the only times she had actually been out in the sunlight was when they were loading up vehicles or walking to the venue for an event.  At most she had maybe been in the sun for about five hours in the past five and a half months.  She missed that feeling; the sun’s rays kissing her skin and warming her body, the feel of the wind pressed against her and running its fingers through her hair.  Maybe one day she will get a chance to feel those things again for more than just a few minutes.

            After delivering the load, Pearl dropped by the transportation building to pick up a flatbed trolley to help her quickly transport the rest of the material.  Upon finishing that task she was once again in Larimar’s item check room, however, so were many other gems so they were not able to have their usual Q&A session.  It was disappointing for Pearl, she wanted to ask him how to get a haircut and maybe about a way to get outside more.

            During breakfast on the last Thursday of November, Pearl glanced at her schedule out of habit.  It was Thanksgiving.  Pearl frowned; there had been no mention of the holiday or anything.  Maybe they would have a slightly nicer dinner?  Were holidays even celebrated down here?  Now that she thought about it she hadn’t celebrated anything since she had been here.  No Halloween or 4th of July.  The thin woman sighed as she looked at the maroon box covering her dinner slot; if there was, she wasn’t going to find out.  Carnelian’s behavior was normal for a day before a Friday event, crazy and peppy.  The lack of decorations or any special greeting led Pearl to conclude that they wouldn’t be celebrating the holiday.  Her shoulders dropped a little.  She would rather spend Thanksgiving surrounded with her family anyway.

            It wasn’t long before Pearl found herself walking into Grey Light Red 24134.  Yellow Diamond and Pearl 00010 were there as usual.  Neither of them said anything to her as she walked in and placed her items in the box and headed into the dark room.  The pale woman took her usual seat on the floor and waited for Garnet to get shoved into the room.

            Garnet stumbled into the room a couple minutes later.  Pearl watched as she sat down across from her instead of just laying down on the bed.

            “Whenever you’re ready,” the fighter simply stated.

            Pearl looked at her with a confused expression.  Why did it matter if she was ready or not?  She had to do it either way.  Well technically she could wait until Yellow Diamond came in and did something unpleasant to both of them.  Pearl waited for a few minutes before standing up; Garnet stood up with her; then turned and took her position on the bed.

            Maybe Garnet was trying in whatever small way to make this a little less awkward?  Or at least let Pearl choose when to begin?  No matter how minute the gesture was, it was slightly nice.  Before she began her usual routine, she placed a few light kisses along Garnet’s inner thigh.  Powerful muscles contracted under her fingertips.  Pearl glanced up to see Garnet staring at her with a slightly puzzled expression.  A blush danced across her cheeks and she put her head down muttering a quick apology before getting to work.

            Pearl’s tongue ran soft circles around Garnet’s swollen, sensitive clitoris as she worked Garnet towards her second orgasm.  She sucked the nub between her teeth where she bit down lightly and scrapped it as she moved away.

            “Ah!

            A jolt ran up Pearl’s spine and she sat straight up, eyes wide staring directly at the source of the sound.  It was breathy, deep, and unrestrained.  A simple sound that completely escaped Garnet’s defenses.  It made Pearl want to hear it again.  She leaned back in and repeated the motion.  No sound escaped, Garnet was ready this time, but her body spoke volumes; trembling thighs flexing and pushing upward as her back arched and hands grasped the comforter tightly.  Pearl did it again, this time adding more pressure to the bite.  Garnet’s body responded in turn to the increased stimulation.  The smaller woman chuckled inwardly as she ran soothing strokes over the nub before biting and scraping once again.  It didn’t take long before Garnet came crashing down the second time.

            Once Pearl’s task had been complete, Garnet laid there for a few extra moments as she recovered.  Pearl took the opportunity to stand up and give the fighter some space.  Garnet eventually sat up, their eyes meeting briefly before Garnet looked away.  The tall woman exited the room, using the nightstand as support.  Pearl couldn’t help the small feeling of satisfaction that crept up inside her after seeing Garnet struggle to walk.

            As Pearl walked back to her bed her stomach lightly grumbled.  A sigh drifted past thin lips as her mind pulled up memories of past Thanksgiving feasts.  It would have been nice to at least have something similar to it, even if it was just a piece of processed turkey with some instant gravy on it.  As she turned down the next hall, one thought came into her mind.  Even though she didn’t partake in any sort of feast, she had things to be grateful for.  For Carnelian pushing her to do her best, yet being fairly kind, for the dancers who treated her well, for Pearl 00687 being a constant friend, for Larimar being a mostly reliable source of information and good conversation.  She was grateful for a bed to sleep in, food to eat, and clothes to wear.  Another gem popped into her mind.  And maybe for Garnet as well, who stepped in and reclaimed Pearl’s food rations from the thieving pearls.  Another light mumble from her stomach brought her thoughts back to the present.  The strawberry blonde was grateful, but she still longed for her home.  The comfort and security of sleeping in a place she knew was safe, where the worst thing she had to worry about was one of her siblings playing a small prank on her.  Pearl missed their lively dinner conversations and the heart-to-heart moments with her parents when something wasn’t going well.  Light blue eyes stared off into the darkness encompassing her and the other pearls.  She was alive and maybe, just maybe would sit with them once again at dinner.  One silent tear ran down her cheek as she repeated their names in her head; lips moving along.

Chapter Text

^^^^^^

In a time of stress and weakness Pearl finds comfort from an unexpected source.

^^^^^^

 

            “A haircut?  Well yeah, you can get one of those, but you need units first.”

            “What?  Units?”  Pearl frowned as she looked up at the bleak ceiling.

            Larimar simply nodded as he fiddled with a paperclip.  “There are a few gems here who are allowed to do hair and stuff, obsidians are the ones, I recommend Obsidian 00081 if you ever get the units to get a haircut.”

            “How much is a haircut?”

            “Hmm, about 10 units if you want styling and 5 units if you just get a buzz or trim.”

            “Where am I to get those?”

            “You usually only get them as gifts, or at the End of the Year Celebration.  I’m guessing Carnelian hasn’t given you any more?  Or Garnet?” he said the last sentence with a suggestive wiggle of his eyebrows.

            “How could you even-!” Pearl balked, not knowing how to even fully reply to the comment.

            Larimar laughed loudly.  “I’m just teasing.  However, just so you know, it’s not impossible to get some units for doing an exceptionally good job during regulation.  It’s not common, but it’s happened enough.”

            Pearl just glared at him.

            “Or you can just wait for the end of the year, it’s only a couple of weeks away and you’ll get a number of units that you can then use to get a haircut,” he surrendered as he placed the last item on the counter.

            Carnelian had needed a few personal items that she had been running low on; lotion, breath mints, bobby pins, and safety pins.

            “Then again you could sneak some scissors away from Carnelian and cut your own hair,” Larimar blurted out.

            “And make Carnelian mad at me when she noticed they were missing?  I’d prefer not to get reeducated again.”

            Pearl paused and frowned.  She wasn’t entirely sure if Carnelian would send her to reeducation for something like that.  Either way, it wasn’t a risk she wanted to take.  Her mind brought up another possible outcome for her if she were to temporarily borrow a pair of scissors.

            “Or even better have one of the pearls that hate me get a hold of them?”

            The curly haired man grimaced.  “Yeah, best to just ignore that idea of mine.”

            “I’ll just wait for the party, it won’t be long.  Thank you for your hairstylist recommendation though.  How do I schedule a time for a haircut?”

            “To do that you’ll need to either ask permission to leave Carnelian for a little bit or whoever is in charge of your sleeping arrangements.  You then have to go to Blue Light Blue 05111 and make an appointment with one of the obsidians.”

            Pearl made a quick note of the location.  She mentally checked off Pearl 00251 as a non-option to ask for time to go get a haircut.  The woman had not proven to be a reliable ally over the past few months. 

            “Thank you Larimar,” she waved and then left.

            As she walked down the halls her mind turned to the notion that she could also get units from Garnet.  It was an absurd idea; there was no way that would happen.  Pearl recalled the last car trip with Garnet after the Friday event on the day after Thanksgiving.

            Their conversation had been an exchange of Garnet asking her about school and her experiences there.  It was odd as to why the stoic woman was interested in her school life or what PE, elective courses, grades, and standardized testing were.  Wouldn’t Garnet have had some experience with school?  Pearl had concluded that Garnet must have been kidnapped fairly young, but just how young was she?  Their conversation came to an abrupt halt when Pearl dared to ask Garnet a certain, seemingly harmless, question.

            “What is your name?” Pearl had said after a couple of minutes of silence.

            Garnet had shown no issue with her asking a couple small questions before.  Pearl had previously found out that Garnet was 21 and had in fact been Yellow Diamond’s champion for five years.

            “Garnet,” the fighter turned to look at her.

            “No, you know your real name?  You know my real name is Emily.”

            “It’s Garnet,” she repeated firmly.

            When Pearl opened her mouth to speak again the curly haired woman cut her off.

            “My name is Garnet, it is the only name I’ve ever had or will have.”

            Needless to say the conversation had ended after that.  The thin woman had been ordered to rest as usual and was woken up once they had arrived.

            Pearl shook her head, getting units from Garnet was definitely not going to happen, she was just going to wait the two weeks until the end of the year.

            Regulation came in its usual four week time period even though there was no Friday event the following day.  The light eyed woman just shrugged it off figuring that’s why they called it regulation.  Maybe Garnet wasn’t one of the fighters lined up for the End of the Year Celebration.

 

            It could have been the lack of sleep, or the lack of sunlight, or the jeers and rudeness from the other pearls, but Pearl found herself struggling more as the days crept on.  Maybe it was the fact that it was Christmas Eve and she was still trapped in the Underground instead of enjoying sweets and carols with her family.  Light blue eyes stared at the floor as the pale woman waited for the next command to come from Carnelian as the gem was making a few adjustments to a lapis lazuli’s outfit.  The costumes for the End of the Year Celebration had all been finished in time, the last thing was to check all measurements and fittings, and adjust accordingly.  The dancers would then be able to practice their routines in uniform.  There was no room for error, already whispers of all three other diamonds showing up, or at least someone to directly represent them, had been buzzing around.  No regular patrons were allowed into this event, only those who were part of the Underground were allowed in.  It had been confirmed that ten other smaller facets would be attending in addition to the diamonds.  Pearl was sick of all this talk about the End of the Year Celebration.  Maybe it was because she wanted someone to at least acknowledge the fact that it was Christmas tomorrow or any of the other big holidays that also happened around this time of year like Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, etc.  Was it too much to ask for a simple “Merry Christmas” or just a “Happy Holidays”?  Long, thin hands robotically handed Carnelian the requested scissors and took the pin cushion away.  As Pearl went to sleep later on that night, she wished that maybe tomorrow she would wake up in her own bed and this would have been just a really long and horrid nightmare.

            When the lights snapped on, effectively disrupting any sort of sleep, Pearl looked around at the familiar scene; pearls waking up and milling about in various stages of preparedness.  Narrow shoulders hunched forward a bit as Pearl rubbed the sleep from her eyes.  No, she was still in the nightmare.

            “Merry Christmas 01079!” A voice to her left shouted out.

            Pearl excitedly turned to return the gesture when her eyes fell on Pearl 00824.  Her excitement drained out of her like a pot of noodles poured into a strainer.  Pearl 00824 grinned, her eyes filled with satisfaction.  Pearl turned away and allowed a tiny growl escape her throat.

            “What no ‘Merry Christmas’ in return?  You homesick or something?  Did you wish that you were home all safe and sound?”

            Pearl wasn’t going to give her any of her attention; if she ignored her; then she would eventually go away.

            “Too bad, it looks like you’re stuck here just like the rest of us.  Your ‘family’ is never going to find you, and you are never going to see them again.”

            “How would you know?” Pearl retorted quietly.

            Pearl 00824 was slightly taken aback at Pearl actually responding.  “Simple, the only way people get out of this place is to die.  No police have ever rescued anyone, no one’s ever escaped and lived to tell the tale.”  She stood up and began to walk away.  “Just give up, no one’s going to rescue you.”

            Pearl closed her eyes and fought back the tears threatening to spill.  No, she couldn’t give up, she could do it; she will escape. 

            How will you escape?  You’ve never even thought of a plan to do so.

            “Merry Christmas to you too,” Pearl muttered under her breath.

            The day was busy enough that Pearl didn’t have time to dwell on her increasing hopelessness; she was in a way grateful for that.  It was t-minus one week and a day before the End of the Year Celebration, the whole place was in a commotion.  In one hallway Pearl passed Peridot 00231 who was currently screaming at an amber for spilling several crates worth of apples in the middle of the corridor.

            “You incompetent clod!  Can’t you drive a little cart without dumping everything everywhere?!”

            Pearl nimbly danced around the stray apples as she continued on her way.  Tensions were high, people shouting and snapping at each other at the slightest offense.  Was the End of the Year Celebration that big of a deal?

            By the time Pearl was back in her sleeping quarters, she just wanted to curl up with her book and drown out her loneliness with the fascinating aspects of space.  As she was picking up her book a hand reached out and tried to grab it away from her.

            “Thank you for the wonderful gift!  You’re far too generous,” Pearl 00824 mocked as she tried to take the astronomy book.

            “No!  This is mine!” Pearl shouted back.

            “Aww, c’mon, where is your festive spirit?  I have something to give you too, don’t you want it?”

            “I don’t want any gifts from you,” the pale woman lowly muttered

            Pearl 00824 abruptly stopped trying to take the book and shoved the light eyed woman harshly against the square metal bed post.  Pearl grimaced as her head and back connected with the cold metal.

            “What?  You don’t like my gift to you?” Pearl 00824 sounded hurt as she shoved Pearl again, and again; slowly closing in.

            Pearl held her book close to her chest and spun to avoid the next shove.

            “Hey!” the other shouted out.

            Pearl 00824 came after her again and made an attempt to grab her, but once again Pearl was able to escape with a light hop and twirl.  One of the other usual tormentors tried to grab her from behind.  The light eyed woman turned, bent backwards, and slipped under her arms.  Pearl realized what she was doing, it was her dance moves from when she practiced ballet in the world above; she was using them as a sort of self-defense.  The other pearls were not pleased with her resisting them.  Pearl quickly made her way to the exit, pirouetting past a couple of attempts to harm her.  Once she was out of the door she took off in a sprint.

            “After her!”  came the angry voices from behind her.

            Pearl weaved through the basically deserted corridors doing her best to try and lose her pursuers.  She lost track of where she was and what hallway she was in.  Ahead the thin woman noticed a door color that was often used for bathrooms.  Without a second thought Pearl charged in, ran to the farthest corner of the room, sat down, and curled into a ball.  It took a couple moments for her to realize that she was in a fairly large, yet thankfully empty, locker room.  The familiar smells of old sweat, deodorant, and strong cleaning products drifted into her nostrils.  Cold metal and tile pressed up against her.  Pearl took deep calming breaths; the sooner she got it under control the quieter she could be.  Her body shivered lightly as the adrenaline slowly left her veins.

            A faint sound from the door opening and closing set her nerves on fire.  No!  She curled up even more, holding her breath, listening for any indicators on the type of intruder.  Steady, almost silent, footsteps approached the end of the locker room she was trying to hide in.  Pearl stared straight ahead, waiting to find out who would be sealing her fate.  A long, dark, muscular leg appeared followed by a mass of black curls.  The light eyed woman inwardly jumped as Garnet walked into her line of vision, turned and then walked over to where she was pressed into the junction of the two rows of lockers.

            “What are you doing here?” came the rich accented voice.

            “I-I was,” Pearl paused trying to think of some explanation.

            “You are in a white hallway.”

            “I am?”

            Garnet wordlessly nodded.

            Panic started to rise in her belly; she was going to get into a lot of trouble.

            “What are you doing here?” Garnet repeated.

            “I-I,” her mind wasn’t thinking properly, her loneliness and stress from being bullied was muddling her thoughts. “I was just trying to get away from them, they’re always so mean,” Pearl softly sobbed.

            Light eyes looked away trying to escape Garnet’s covered gaze.  Pearl nearly leaped out of her skin when a large hand was placed gently on her shoulder.  She looked up to see Garnet crouched in front of her.  Garnet pulled her hand back and turned it up towards Pearl; an offer to help her stand.  The smaller woman took the calloused hand and she was effortlessly pulled to her feet.  Pearl still tried to curl into her book, the dam holding back all of her tears, pain, and sorrow was breaking and there was nothing she could do to stop it.  It had been nearly seven months, seven months of this hell.  She missed her family, she missed her privacy, she missed kind and loving gestures, she missed the ability to have a choice, she missed everything not related to this horrid place.

            Thin arms released the book and shot out to wrap around the nearby figure; Pearl’s face crashing into the area just below Garnet’s neck as she held onto her tightly.  Garnet’s body immediately tensed up at the sudden intrusion of her personal space.  It took only a split second for Pearl to realize what she had done.  She stilled and was about to quickly back away when warm arms wrapped around her.  Pearl’s eyes widened in surprise; she was being hugged.  How long had it been since she last felt this?  It had been far too long.  There was no stopping the dam from breaking now; salty tears ran down her face as she pressed it into the crook of Garnet’s neck.  Arms tightened around the muscular figure, hands grabbing bunches of the dry-fit shirt.  Strangled sobs escaped her body; each one causing her thin frame to shake.  Between sobs she lamented on how much she missed her family, the normality of day-to-day life, walks out in nature, her home, and much more.  Garnet’s hold tightened ever so slightly as she pressed the side of her face against Pearl’s, her mouth just above the smaller woman’s ear.  Through her tears Pearl could hear a low melody being hummed.  It was a simple, calming, tune.  The astronomy book lay on the floor completely forgotten.

            It took a while, but Pearl began to calm down, tears eased into hiccups, which then eventually became steady breaths.  Fingers relaxed their hold a little as Pearl pulled her head back.  The front of Garnet’s shirt was now soaked with her tears.  The pale woman leaned back in and sighed.  It was odd, here in Garnet’s arms she felt a peace, a safety she hadn’t felt since she was brought here.

            “Does it ever go away?  Does it even become easier?” she quietly wondered.

            Garnet seemed to ponder her question for a moment, her expressionless face straight forward looking at the wall behind her.

            “No.”

            Pearl pushed her face once again against Garnet’s collarbone, fresh tears beginning to stream down.

            “It hurts.  It hurts so much, some days I can hardly stand it.”

            “I know.”

            After a little longer, Pearl looked up at Garnet; who in turn gazed down at her through the reflective glasses.  Trails of Pearl’s last remaining tears ran down her face.

            “It’s not easy, but eventually your body will become numb to it and it won’t affect you physically.”  Garnet moved a hand from Pearl’s back up to her face.  With surprising tenderness, the fighter wiped away one of Pearl’s tears with her thumb.  “Everyone comes to a crossroads where they decide whether or not to become consumed by their grief or to push on trying to make the best of the situation they have been forced into.  For some it’s all they can do to keep on surviving with the hope of something better in the future.  That choice is yours.”

            Pearl nodded after processing Garnet’s words for a moment.  She leaned ever so slightly into the warm, rough hand cupping her cheek.

            “Thank you, Garnet.”

            They slowly released each other from the comforting embrace.  Garnet crouched down and picked up Pearl’s book, handing it to her.

            “You should head back to your sleeping quarters; I will stay with you until you are out of the white hallway,” Garnet turned and headed towards the door.  “Also, don’t make a habit of running into places like this, you were lucky it was me who saw you and not anyone else.”

            “Yes, Garnet.  I won’t do it again.”

            Garnet made an affirmative grunt before opening the door and stepping out.  Pearl followed closely behind the tall woman.  Once they were out of the white hallway, the two went their separate ways.  Pearl made it back to her bed without trouble from any gems.  A few pearls stared at her as she walked into the room clutching her book, but none made any other movements towards her.  As Pearl was falling asleep it suddenly hit her.  Garnet had touched her.

Chapter Text

^^^^^^

Games will be played, food will be consumed, and blood will be shed.

^^^^^^

 

            It was a noticeable craving; a hole now gaping inside of her.  Ever since that night on Christmas when Garnet had held her, Pearl missed the feeling.  The security and warmth that came from Garnet’s strong arms wrapped around her smaller body.  The soft melody hummed in her ear while she could feel the tight curls pushing against her thin, straight hair.  The comfort and closeness of being pressed against the taller woman.  It invaded her mind at the slightest opportunity; calling, begging to be satisfied.  Pearl tried to brush off the fixation on Garnet simply due to her lack of physical contact in general.  It had made her susceptible to latching onto anyone who displayed any sort of affection towards her.  She reasoned that if it had been anyone else that she would have the same problem with that individual.  It had nothing to do with it being Garnet.  Yet, she found herself recalling the memory in her mind’s eye more than she dare admit; doing her best to remember exactly how it felt.  For a moment the craving would be happy with the memory, but it would soon come back desiring more.

            She was questioned by the other pearls that next morning on where she had gone, but she simply stated that she had found somewhere to read her book in peace.  They left her alone after throwing a few last insulting jabs at her sensitivity.

            It had been a week; tomorrow was the big celebration that she had been helping Carnelian prepare for nonstop for the past couple of months.  It was the first day of the year today. Pearl weakly laughed at where she was in comparison to where she thought she would have been a year ago.  She was to have already finished her first semester of college and been preparing to start her second.  She would have made new friends and lived in the college dorms experiencing all sorts of new things and learning new skills.  Well, at least she did make some new friends and skills regardless of the different environment it happened in.

            Carnelian was emoting about the many days and hours put into creating the special outfit they were delivering as she paced around her office.  She grabbed supplies and placed them in Pearl’s arms as they prepared to meet with the gem it was made for.  Carnelian carried the mentioned clothing in her hands.  They walked briskly through a series of hallways, Pearl recognized most of them until they went up several levels and began passing through several white hallways.  Carnelian knocked on a yellow door and waited for a moment before Pearl 00010 opened it and permitted their entry.  It was a large office.  Along two of the walls it was covered in various control panels and screens displaying all sorts of information or video feeds.  On the third wall was a large black, sleek, desk.  Neat stacks of papers, binders, all sorts of information and standard office type of supplies.  Three synched monitors were arranged in the middle of the desk, connected to a personal desktop that was currently running a screen saver.  A large chair was located on the left side of the desk, once the door closed in the dim room, it rotated to reveal Yellow Diamond herself.

            “Carnelian, good to see you,” the intimidating woman stood up and walked towards them.

            “Always a pleasure, Yellow Diamond.” Carnelian greeted with a tiny curtsey.  “I have your outfit as requested, the final alterations have been finished and I wanted to make sure it fit just right.”

            The plump woman held out the clothing covered in its plastic protective coating.  Yellow Diamond picked it up and walked through a door next to her desk.  With a soft click, the door closed.  The three of them stood silently there for a few minutes until the door reopened and Yellow Diamond strode out in her new outfit.  It was a striking yellow suit with a black dress shirt that had gold accents.  Along the edges and opening of the suit top was a golden embellishment made of patterned diamonds, with gold buttons on the cuffs and middle.  Yellow Diamond did a few paces around the room testing the length, functionality, and size of the outfit.

            “I like the fit, I have the mobility I want and nothing hangs too long or too short.”

            “There are also several secret pockets sewn into the inside of the blazer, three specific ones that are extra durable and can handle heavier metal objects.  Also up here near the left arm pit is the larger protected pocket that will keep any oil stains from getting on your blazer or shirt.  Is it the right size?”

            Yellow Diamond walked over to her desk, pulled out a handgun and placed it into the mentioned pocket.  She then proceeded to button up the blazer and test out the fit once again.  Pearl was surprised at how hard it was to tell there was a gun now on Yellow Diamond even though she had seen her put it in the blazer.  Just how often did Yellow Diamond carry a gun around?

            “And the other three pockets don’t show as well?” Yellow Diamond directed to Carnelian.

            “Yes, ten round clips with 45 ACP won’t show unless you push directly against the pocket.  They are placed in the locations you desired, even though it might put you slightly off balance once some rounds are used up versus being fully loaded and concealed.”

            “It is perfect.  This is one of your best works yet Carnelian,” Yellow Diamond smiled as she raised her arms out wide and did a short pivot on her feet.

            “You are too kind to me, Yellow Diamond, you certainly complete the look.  No one could wear it better.”

            “That is also true, but don’t sell yourself short Carnelian,” she admonished over her shoulder.  “This will be a fitting outfit for tomorrow’s events and many more yet to come.  Pearl, have two thousand units transferred over to Carnelian’s name.”

            “What?!” Carnelian let out a surprised gasp.

            “Yes, I reward great work and performance, and this certainly merits rewarding.  I’ve also seen the outfits prepared for all of the dancers and am equally pleased with those as well.”

            “Th-Thank you, Yellow Diamond,” Carnelian bowed deeply in gratitude.

            “Your pearl has been performing well also,” Yellow Diamond turned to face Pearl.  “She had a bit of a rough patch with some decreased productivity, but it’s good that has faded away.”

            Yellow Diamond walked over, placed a hand on Pearl’s shoulder while her other hand raised Pearl’s chin up so she was looking up into those intense, golden brown, eyes.  The younger woman suppressed a shiver that tried to run up her spine.  The businesswoman’s hands were cold.  Yellow Diamond stared down at her for a minute, a smirk gracing her lips as her mind processed thoughts unknown to everyone else.

            “Pearl, what is Garnet’s stability rated at currently?” the blonde woman asked without looking away from Pearl.

            “Level 1, ma’am.”

            “Tomorrow is your first End of the Year Celebration; I hope you enjoy the festivities, Pearl 01079.”

            “Thank you, ma’am.” Pearl bowed to her.

            “Carnelian, you are excused; I will have Pearl put the outfit in my closet.  Once again, great work, and I hope to see you a little bit during the festivities.”

            “That may happen,” Carnelian cheerfully replied.  “Let’s go Pearl; we still have a few more things to take care of before the big day tomorrow.”

            “Yes, ma’am.”

            Pearl followed Carnelian out of Yellow Diamond’s office and back to Carnelian’s.  In all the times that Pearl had seen Yellow Diamond she had never seen any sort of weapon on her.  It was just another piece of evidence to her to never upset her owner.

            As they walked Pearl’s mind slipped back to thinking of Garnet.  The fighter had touched her.  It was the one thing that was always said about Garnet, that she never touched the pearls that regulated her.  Maybe they just meant in a sexual way, there had to be other times in which she initiated contact with another pearl.  There wasn’t anything special about her to Garnet.  Still though, she wanted it to happen again, she wanted that wholeness to spread through her and envelop her.  Maybe she would get to see Garnet at the festivities and they could maybe have another conversation.  Pearl shook her head, now she was being simply ridiculous.

 

            It wasn’t long until Pearl was surrounded by all of the commotion of the End of the Year Celebration.  In her hand were one hundred units, her gift to spend as she wanted.  Pearl felt like a kid in a candy store who was just handed one hundred dollars and told to spend it all.  There were games to play, dance floors, food, drink, items to buy.  She spent the first hour just walking around all open levels of building 4 soaking in the sights and choices available to her.  Different varieties of music pulsed through the floors, changing depending on wherever she was.  In some ways it reminded her of the extravagant parties she would see depicted in TV shows, yet with even more variety.  Truly, no expense was spared.   The event was kicked off by Yellow Diamond inviting all of her gems and her guests to come sit around the octagon platform that was set up on floor level 0 of building 4, a room just as grand as a basketball stadium.  She stood in the middle of the platform in her new yellow suit with her bodyguards standing on the perimeter.  Bright light shined down on the terrifying woman surrounding her in a powerful glow.  Yellow Diamond’s clear voice magnified by the hidden microphone, resonating through everyone in attendance.  There was no question who ruled here.  Congratulations were given to everyone on the job well done for the year.  She listed off several highlights and successes, along with the increase of numbers and the five most profitable events they had that year.  Yellow Diamond mentioned their guests for the evening; including Blue Diamond, White Diamond, and Pink Diamond’s representative Watermelon Tourmaline 00003.  At the end of her speech, she told them all to enjoy themselves all over levels 2 through 5 and to come down to level 0 at 21:00 for the mandatory final show.

            Pearl tried out several of the games and activities on the 4/5th floor.  She went up and down the rock climbing wall at least three times, had foam sword fights with several other gems and guests, and danced with a new pearl and a lapis lazuli on the 3rd level.  It took a couple of songs for her to loosen up, but before long she was adding bits of her ballet into the improv dancing everyone was doing around them.  The lapis lazuli cheered her on and then showed off a few of her own moves in turn.  Applause rang out from the Pearl and the other new pearl.  Eyes glanced around the dance floor.  The thin woman wondered for a moment if Garnet enjoyed dancing and if the fighter might be among the crowd.  All she saw were other gems and visiting gems, but no Garnet.  The lapis lazuli suddenly grabbed her hands and began to spin around with her, pulling her focus back to the enjoyable party.  Pearl spent a good hour with them laughing, dancing, and talking loudly over the music.  Afterwards, the strawberry blonde woman walked down to the 2nd level where all of the free food was available.  She acquired a large, fantastic fruit salad.  Not only did the dish have strawberries, but also kiwis, mangos, and blueberries, in it along with the usual apples, grapes, watermelon, and cantaloupe.  It had been so long since she had something this decadent, it tasted like ambrosia.  Light blue eyes glanced over the section of food, drinks, and drugs that could be bought with units.  While it may have been tempting to try some of the fancier foods or maybe a drink, Pearl didn’t want to spend any of her precious units on them when there were so many other things she wanted to buy.  The pale gem made her way back up to the 4/5th floor and took a few opportunities to try and hit the target on a dunk tank to send a particularly disliked jasper down for a swim.  After a handful of attempts, the thin woman cheered along with those beside her as the grumpy jasper was suddenly submerged.  As she milled about, she scanned the crowds once again; still no sign of the telltale afro or sunglasses accompanying the tall muscular woman.  Pearl pushed her disappointment away at not being able to spot Garnet.  Why would the dark woman want to spend any time with her anyway?  Was she even among those in building 4?  A frown temporarily crossed the pale woman’s face.  Around 20:45 Pearl left a concession stand with a full plate; vegetables, fruits, a roll, and a whole smoked turkey leg.  Of the one hundred units, she had spent half on games and a few small puzzle books.  The other half was stored in the case of her scheduler.  It would be saved for haircuts or emergencies.  She moved with the crowds as all of the gems filed down to level 0.  The seats around the octagon were still fairly open since most of the gems had yet to arrive.  Pearl decided she wanted to get a good seat for once instead of having to watch from up in the nosebleeds.  A spot eight rows from the platform was claimed by the thin woman.

            “01079?”

            Pearl turned to see Pearl 00687 standing off to her right side.

            “00687!  How are you?”

            “Doing well, a little tired, is anyone sitting here?” she motioned to the seat next to her.

            “No, please sit,” Pearl smiled.

            Pearl 00687 smiled wearily and took a seat.  “This is your first End of the Year Event, right?”

            Pearl nodded, her mouth full of expertly smoked turkey.

            “Oh, well I hope you got to enjoy yourself.”

            “I did!  I sunk a jasper in the dunk tank and defeated several other gems in sword fights.  I lost a few matches as well, but it was enjoyable.”

            “That must have been great.  I remember my first one as well.  It was just like a huge fantastic party, until…well you’ll see.”

            Pearl looked at her friend slightly confused as she munched on a carrot.

            “Where’s your food?  Are you not hungry?”

            Pearl 00687 shook her head.  “I don’t have much of an appetite around this time.”

            Pearl was about to ask why when all of the lights dimmed and the octagon was lit up.

            “Welcome Ladies, Gents, and Gems!” the female announcer’s voice enthusiastically boomed over the speakers.  “Another year gone and another to look forward to.  Now it’s time for what you all have been waiting for, The Cage!”

            The crowd cheered wildly.  Pearl looked up as a large barred frame consisting of an octagonal top and eight sides was lowered down with thick metal cables towards the ring.  Each side was about twenty feet long and made of one inch in diameter metal rods spaced one foot apart horizontally and vertically.

            “Tonight in The Cage we have none other than Yellow Diamond’s Champion, GAARRNEEET!”

            Garnet jogged into the ring wearing her usual fighting attire minus the mouth guard and mma gloves.  When she got into the ring she threw her arms serval times into the air, causing the crowd to cheer and chant her name.  A thin sheen of sweat glistened on her rich, dark sepia skin.  The cage was completely lowered down and locked in four places at each corner joint by a number of amethysts expertly scaling the sides.  There was only one door into the newly formed cage.  Pearl now understood why there was just a platform and not the standard fencing around the octagonal fighting ring.

            “Just a reminder on the rules of The Cage, two or more go in, only one can come out.  Who comes out is determined by those in The Cage.”

            Pearl stopped mid chew of the piece of the roll that was in her mouth.  She turned to look at Pearl 00687 to ask if they really meant what they just said, but her friend didn’t look like she wanted to talk at all.  Pearl 00687 was hugging herself and looking straight down at her feet.

            “Now before I announce our first competitor I want to introduce Idocrase 00008 who will be joining me in commenting on the matches tonight.”

            “Thank you, Beryl 00012.  Greetings fellow gems and congratulations Yellow Diamond on another successful year,” Idocrase replied.  “So who is our first competitor?”

            “Well, it is none other than Joseph Walters, who was found trying to be someone that he was not.  And there he is!”

            A tall, slightly stocky man who looked to be in his late thirties with short thinning hair was forced into the ring with Garnet.  The gated door was closed and locked behind him.

            “And who was he trying to impersonate?” Idocrase asked.

            “He was walking around with a poorly fashioned tag that said ‘Amethyst 01552’.”

            The crowd booed and threw a number of insults towards the man.

            “Really?  Wow, now I hope in his case that looks are deceiving, he sure doesn’t look like an amethyst or look like he could put up a fight like one.  If not, this match is going to be awfully short.”

            “Very true, now for the rules for you newbies out there, anything goes.  You can bite, gouge, body slam, anything.  You can use any tools you can find, clothing, the cage, no holds barred.  The only rule is that only one of the two of you is allowed to leave the ring alive.  If Joseph manages to kill Garnet, he gets to leave with his life.  If Garnet wins, well, Joseph doesn’t get to leave.”

            Pearl’s mouth hung open in shock.  They did mean it.  Eyes darted to Garnet who was facing the man in the ring.  The dark fighter didn’t seem fazed at all by the announcement, while Joseph was sweating profusely, eyes wide.  Beryl 00012 announced the beginning of the fight and the two sprang into action.  It was clear that Joseph had some knowledge of combat, but very little experience.  Garnet fluidly avoided any of his attacks and retaliated with several kicks to his body and legs.  She didn’t even look like she was trying.  Joseph’s attempts met only air while Garnet’s kicks and punches shook every inch of his frame.  Several times he fell to his knees.  Whenever this did happen, Garnet would take a step back and let him scramble back to his feet before immediately launching into another fast combo.  In only a few minutes the man was bleeding profusely all over his face and was having trouble staying on his feet for more than a few seconds.  Garnet on the other hand was basically unharmed.

            “It doesn’t look like he’s going to last much longer.  Any moment now Garnet should be moving in to finish him off,” Beryl 00012 commented.  “And there she goes!”

            Garnet sprang forward with speed Pearl had never seen her use before.  The curly haired fighter delivered a sharp roundhouse to Joseph’s knee, spun around him, and then kicked the other knee in from behind.  As he was falling down she grabbed a hold of his face and viciously twisted it a full 180 degrees with a sickening crack.  Joseph Walters fell lifelessly to the ground, his face staring blankly up at the ceiling.  The crowd went wild cheering and chanting Garnet’s name.

            Pearl covered her mouth as she tried to keep herself from screaming.  She figured this type of thing happened here, but so publicly?  And Garnet, Garnet did it like it was nothing!  The thin woman turned to face Pearl 00687.  Her friend had her eyes closed and looked like she was offering a type of prayer.  Light blue eyes looked back at the ring.  Garnet paced around watching the two amethysts as they cleared away the dead body, the gated door left wide open.  Pearl’s mind was having a hard time processing this sudden revelation.  Garnet just killed someone.  Garnet just killed someone with her bare hands.

            “Well, that was a nice warm up, don’t you think?”

            “Yes, quite so,” Idocrase agreed.  “Who is next?”

            The pale woman’s mind screamed at her.  Another?!  There would be more?!

            “Well this person actually made a large number of purchases at a number of events, but has yet to pay off any of his debts.  He was given plenty of time and chances, but he simply didn’t make any efforts.  Let’s welcome Matthew King!”

            “If he wins this match, maybe Yellow Diamond will forgive his debts.”

            “It is possible, but then again, he is facing off against Garnet.”

            At the start of the second match Matthew undid his belt and tried to use it as a whip on Garnet.  The fighter avoided it, dancing around him carefully, and caught it after a few tries.  Matthew tried to yank it out of Garnet’s hands, but instead she tugged him into her range.  The balls of her foot struck the middle of his chest, sending him flying backwards.  A dull thud resounded from the octagon’s floor as Matthew’s head came in contact with it.  Garnet was on top of him in an instant, controlling and twisting his body around, using his own belt to tie the opposite arm and leg together behind him.  He flailed and struck out with his free arm and leg, missing the fighter each time.  Effortlessly, Garnet pulled him up and forced him to balance on one foot.  The cheers from the crowd turned into a chant,

            “Blood.  Blood.  Blood.”

            Garnet grabbed the belt with one hand and placed the other at the base of Matthew’s head.  With total control over his body, she charged forward and proceeded to slam the top of his skull against the steel bars of the cage with a jarring clang.  Pearl jumped back in her seat.  Matthew’s body went limp, the impact had knocked him out instantly.  But Garnet didn’t stop there.  Strong arms pulled back only to ram his head against the cage again and again and again.  Blood, and eventually grey matter, spewed out of the growing indent in the top of the man’s skull.  The crowd’s demand for blood only grew louder and louder as more coated the bars and the two individuals in the ring.  By the time the corpse was thrown to the ground, the head had a U-like shape to it.  Pearl looked away trying the best she could to not throw up as the sounds of bone and flesh hitting steel continued to reverberate inside of her head.  Once again Garnet raised her bloodied hands to the air and the crowd praised her work.

            The next two matches went similarly.  Another man who was pretending to be a gem, another who was a supplier that consistently under delivered on the promised goods.  Pearl’s food lay off to the side completely abandoned.  Four lives, four lives snuffed out in a matter of minutes all for show.  Now she understood why Pearl 00687 seemed less than thrilled to be there.  Pearl now had a better understanding of why other gems were so afraid of Garnet, she was indeed terrifying.  Garnet’s face had yet to show any sort of major emotion, she simply went about her task as if she was just in another sparring match.  The way she broke arms, snapped necks, and crushed throats like it was nothing new chilled Pearl to the bone.  She looked up to see if maybe she could leave, but seeing amethysts and jaspers posted by each closed door leading out told her that she was to stay and watch until the show was over.

            “Some of you may know this next competitor.  It is Pearl 00745.”

            Light blue eyes shot to the cage as a pearl was indeed pushed and locked in.  Pearl 00745 pounded on the door begging them to let her out.

            Another gem?!  Why would they want to kill one of their own?

            “Now, Pearl 00745 has shown poor levels of productivity over the past couple of years, along with several attempts to escape, and numerous costly mistakes in her tasks.  I’m sure we all can agree that this pearl is no longer of use and needs to be replaced,” Beryl 00012 casually informed the bystanders.

            A roar of approval met the statement.  Pearl’s mouth fell open, shocked at the mass response.  The bell rung once again.  Garnet walked over to the woman who was still trying to get out via the locked, gated door.  The champion grabbed the back of her shirt and threw her into the middle of the ring.

            “Please don’t hurt me!  I don’t want to die!”  The woman shrank away from Garnet as she approached.

            Garnet slapped her hard across the cheek.

            “Stand up and fight!” Garnet shouted at her.

            That voice didn’t sound at all like the Garnet Pearl knew.  Garnet’s voice was never this rough, angry, and callous.

            “Please have mercy!” Pearl 00745 sobbed.  “I don’t want to die!”

            “Then fight!” the champion yelled.

            The woman just shook her head and continued to beg for her life, bowing low to the bloodied floor.  Garnet paced back and forth in front of Pearl 00745, hands curled into tight fists.  When the woman refused to do anything except plead for mercy, the fighter’s patience wore out.  Garnet grabbed Pearl 00745 by the front of her shirt and lifted her off the ground.

            “I said stand up and fight!” her harsh voice rang through the crowds.

            “Sapphire didn’t fight back!”

            Garnet immediately shoved the pearl away like she had been burned.  The entire room went still. 

            “Oh…” Beryl 00012’s surprised voice slipped from the speakers, “Now that was not a smart thing to say…”

            Fury flowed off of Garnet’s body as her face became twisted with rage.  White teeth were bared as she shot forward.  In a second she was on top of the pearl bashing her face in with a rapid combination of bone crushing elbow strikes and punches.  Drops of blood splashed onto the floor adding to the existing splatters and smears of the sticky substance.  Garnet stood up after a minute and pulled Pearl 00745 partially to her feet before shoving her face towards the floor of the octagon.  The fighter stepped behind her as her limp body fell slowly forward.  Blood coated forearms were placed on either side of Pearl 00745’s neck with the hands intertwining in front.  Garnet let out a furious exclamation as she violently yanked the pearl high into the air by her neck, and then sharply flung it back down.  A sickening crack rang through the silent crowds.  This movement was repeated two more times before the body was thrown to the side; the bloody and disfigured head lolling off at an unnatural angle.  The crowd exclaimed and celebrated the death of the pearl.

            “Oh snap.” Idocrase spoke.  “That most certainly is a dead body now.”

            “Indeed, it may have been hard to tell if Pearl 00745 had survived the beating, but leave to Garnet to make sure that they are finished off.”

            “Do you think that might have been a bit excessive?  I mean after the first twist we all knew she was dead.”

            “Not at all, that was a foul thing to mention Sapphire.  She deserved Garnet’s rage.”

            The mentioned gem was pacing back and forth in the ring; her usually straight posture was slightly hunched over.  The large LED screens showed a close-up of Garnet’s blood spattered face.  Teeth still slightly bared; her heterochromia eyes ablaze with an icy fire.

            The next match was another gem; an amber who kept on stealing food and spitting in the dishes they were asked to prepare.  They didn’t last long, in a matter of minutes their neck had been snapped as well.  The last match was against an axinite who failed to perform his tasks up to par, and was caught several times interfering with the productivity of lower ranked gems.  The axinite was able to put up more of a fight than the others.  However, he was still nowhere near Garnet’s skill level.  Soon his cries of pain from having two of his arms broken and all of the ligaments and tendons torn in one of his knees soon filled the air.  Each cry fueled the crowd as they ate up each horrible thing Garnet would do to the man.  The dark fighter then moved to finish off the axinite by locking in a blood choke around his neck.  For the first few seconds he flailed about with his useless broken limbs trying to escape until he lost consciousness; then Garnet continued to hold the choke for several minutes until it was certain that he was dead.

            “Well that concludes the matches for the night!” Beryl called out as the last body was removed from the octagon through the open gated door.  “I hope you all enjoyed them like we did.  You can always leave it to Garnet to put on a good show.  Yellow Diamond wishes all of us a good night and says to be ready to perform your best in this new year.  We extend our thanks for those visiting, especially Blue Diamond, White Diamond, and Watermelon Tourmaline 00003.”

            “Yes, thanks also are extended to all of the gems that worked tirelessly to make this event the success it was.  And thank you Beryl 00012 for letting me join you on commenting for this spectacular event!”

            “Maybe we will get to do this again.  Good night all gems, tomorrow is bound to be another busy day!”

            With that the amethysts and jaspers opened the doors and the gems and guests began filling out.  Pearl looked back up at the cage.  Garnet was crouched down on the balls of her feet with her back pressed against the metal bars.  The two amethysts who normally escorted her about entered the cage, checked to make sure the gate remained open, and cautiously approached her.  The champion remained in her spot until she was roughly pulled to her feet with her arms forced behind her back.  Garnet tried to pull away from them, but they held fast.  After handcuffing her they escorted her out of the cage.  One amethyst held her left arm and had a grip on the back of her neck, while to other held onto her right arm and kept the other hand on the handcuff’s chain. 

            Pearl took her cold food and dropped it into the nearest trash bin.  Her stomach and mind were reeling from the sights and sounds of the night’s events.

            “…nothing short of a monster if you ask me.”

            Images of the violent deaths flashed by in her mind’s eye as Carnelian’s words from so long ago came back to her.  Everything made sense.  Pearl 00687’s reaction to Garnet appearing, Carnelian’s general distaste for the fighter, and how quick the bullying pearls were to obey Garnet when caught in the act.  As Pearl walked back alongside her friend, she wanted so badly to just talk to her, to say anything.

            “…a monster…”

            The thin woman stole a glance back at the ring before she exited the underground stadium.  Steel bars had already been unlocked and raised up to the ceiling.  Gems moved about, cleaning up the gore and breaking down the platform.  Pearl sincerely wished she could have been warned.  Pearl 00687 continued on her way to her sleeping quarters as Pearl turned and walked into hers.  All of the pearls talked in hushed whispers, she caught several snippets of conversations that were about Pearl 00745.  Pearl heavily sat down on her bed; staring off at nothing.  Garnet.  The very same Garnet that held her just killed seven people.  The same hand that was used to tenderly wipe away her tears had mercilessly snuffed out seven lives.  The hands that had touched her were covered in blood.  Just how many people had Garnet killed?!  Pearl involuntarily shivered, her stomach threatening to empty its contents.

            “Well, well, well,” a familiar voice came around to face her.  “Finally realized what your precious fuck really is?”  Pearl 00824 leaned against a bed post and sneered at her.

            Pearl looked down.  She did not want to deal with her right now.

            “She’s nothing more than a sadistic murderer, I mean look at what she did to that one guy; his face was all separated into almost two complete halves.  She didn’t have to fight them; she could have just choked them all out until they died.”

            “And yet you’re the one who’s given me the most shit for being the one to regulate her,” Pearl angrily whispered.

            Pearl 00824 stopped talking and raised an eyebrow at her.  “The ONLY reason why I would want to regulate Garnet is so that my ass would finally get a break from being pounded every time I had to report to regulation.  That and all of the other horrible things I’m forced to do.  She doesn’t touch you and I never would want her to.  Aside from her inactivity on the bed, she has no redeeming qualities.  Garnet beats the shit out of people in the ring and in training, kills people, has no emotions, and probably has the intelligence of a fifth grader.  The reason why I hate that you regulate her is because you are new and didn’t have to go through the years of rape and abuse before getting a break with her.”

            “So all this time it was just about getting a break and not actually wanting to be with her?”

            “Who would actually want to?” she scoffed.  “If there was any other gem who was like that we’d all be begging to regulate them as well.  But there aren’t, at least none that are as consistent.”  Pearl 00824 paused as a thought clicked in her head.  “Wait…you actually want to be around her?”

            Several of the other pearls began to murmur to each other, trading glances.

            “I-I don’t know,” Pearl stammered.

            “Oh please, don’t lie.”

            “I don’t know!  Up until now the Garnet I knew was a whole lot nicer than most of you!”

            “Nice?  How is she nice?  Is she polite when she asks you to eat her pussy?”

            “What?  No, she-she asks me questions, she stood up for me when you all were trying to starve me; she lets me rest during the rides from events.”  The thin woman didn’t dare mention the moment she had with Garnet in the locker room.  Pearl turned to Pearl 00739.  “Right?  She did those things with you?”

            Pearl 00739 stiffened and looked directly back at Pearl.

            “Garnet would let me rest on the rides and wouldn’t require anything of me outside of regulation, but she was never a conversationalist and she never made any special efforts to help me out.  Well, there was one time she stepped in when I was in trouble, but she made it clear that she wouldn’t do it again.”

            Pearl was confused now, so then everything was different?  Garnet talking to her, Garnet protecting her, Garnet touching her, that was all unique to her?

            “I thought…”

            “Well you thought wrong,” Pearl 00739 sharply cut her off.  “I’ll give you my advice for working with her.  Keep your distance; the closer you are to her, the more likely she’ll end up killing you.”

            Pearl just sat there, her mind buzzing with even more information.  It almost felt like there had to be two Garnets running around, there was the one she talked with and who helped her, and there was the other Garnet, the one who killed people and was indifferent towards everyone.

            The other pearls seemed to have gotten bored with the conversation and dispersed.  Pearl 00824 and 00739 were the last and first ones to leave.  The light eyed woman turned onto her side and went to sleep.  Maybe she could wake up and it would have been just another bad dream.

            “…nothing but a monster…”

Chapter Text

^^^^^^

Pearl struggles with her conflicting opinions of Garnet as she begins to learn more about the role of a Champion.

^^^^^^

 

            Garnet softly stroked her cheek with her thumb; the other dark hand was holding her close as they stood together.  Covered eyes looked down at Pearl through reflective sunglasses.  Pearl gently played with the front of Garnet’s dry-fit shirt.

            “It’s too bad,” the taller woman mused.

            “What’s too bad?” Pearl looked up at her confused.

            “That you’ve become useless,” she stated evenly.

            “What?!  When?”

            “Useless, unprofitable, pearl,” Garnet continued as if not hearing her.

            “Please tell me what I did wrong?  Please Garnet!”

            The champion’s face did not change in the slightest from its stoic mask.  Her powerful hands moved to wrap around Pearl’s throat.  She forced Pearl against the wall and with each passing second the pressure against her throat increased.

            “Please, Garnet, tell me, I’ll fix it, I’ll be-” Pearl gasped out, fingers desperately trying to pry away the ones wrapped around her neck.  As Garnet’s grip tightened Pearl was unable to say anything except for a few weak gurgles.  The cartilage in her throat began to collapse and the bones in her neck cracked under the force.

 

            “AH!” Pearl screamed out as she sat straight up in her bed.

            She quickly put a hand to her throat.  It was just in her dreams; a nightmare.  Pearl breathed out slowly trying to calm her racing heart.  Cold sweat ran over skin raised with goosebumps.  Shaky hands fumbled around for the backlight button on her watch to check the date and time.  It was barely the next day.  Her mind became flooded with the scenes and sounds from The Cage.  No wonder why she had the nightmare.  Pearl laid back down on her bed, doing her best to shut out the images and noises.  She repeated her birth name and her family members’ names until she could fall asleep again.

 

            It wasn’t long until Pearl jolted upright screaming once again from another nightmare of Garnet killing her.  Hands checked each of her limbs, ensuring that all of them were there and working as they should.

            “Shut the fuck up…” a sleepy pearl muttered at her commotion.

            Pearl stared at the time again.  It had barely been an hour.  It was only 03:56, in just over an hour she would be waking up anyway.  The thin woman scooted back and rested against one of the metal poles holding up the bed above her.  She didn’t feel like trying to sleep again, most likely she would just have another nightmare.  Pearl stared out into the darkness and tried to look back and remember some of the good memories from her life before this.  None came.

 

            “Hey, you got a haircut!” Larimar noticed when Pearl walked into his item check one afternoon a few days after the End of the Year Celebration.  “Looks nice, similar to the style you had when I first saw you.”

            “Thanks, I actually got in right when I was given the time off by Carnelian.”  She looked up at Larimar.  “You remember my original hair cut?”  Pearl said as she ran her fingers through her thankfully shorter hair.

            He nodded.  “Yup, I got pretty good memory.  What can I get for you today?”

            “Carnelian sent me off while she had a meeting with Yellow Diamond about the upcoming match against White Diamond.  Apparently it’s some big meeting with a lot of the other heads of service and products that I didn’t need to be around for.”

            “Ah yes, the big head-to-head against White Diamond.  That’s like two months away?”

            Pearl nodded.

            “Those are spectacular events, both diamonds do their best to one-up each other, and the fights, the top five fighters each face off, with the final match being between the two champions.  You won’t want to miss those.”

            Pearl lightly grimaced at the inferred mention of Garnet.  Larimar noticed her face turned a little more serious.

            “Still pretty shaken up about the fights from the End of the Year Celebration?”

            “Still?  It’s barely been a week.  I watched seven people get murdered by the same person I regularly spend time alone with.  How do you think I should feel?”

            “True, it’s probably even harder since you had to watch another pearl get killed,” the curly haired man shrugged.

            “Does this not affect you at all?!  How do they all cheer for this?”

            Larimar stared at her evenly.  “Look, the types of people who survive or who want to be in a place like this aren’t the most compassionate bunch.  We like the show, we like the violence.”

            Pearl’s brow furrowed at the use of the word “we” instead of “they”.  “How did you become part of the Underground, Larimar?”

            “Me?”  Thick eyebrows jumped up towards his hairline.  “I was a washed up drunk who had no home and couldn’t keep a job.  I frequented the fights of the Underground because I enjoyed them.  They were a good distraction from my shitty life.  My favorite to watch at the time was Ruby.  Eventually I gathered the courage to ask one of the security guards I had kinda gotten to know how he got his job.  I told him I would like to work for whoever ran this place.  He questioned my seriousness, but eventually I was brought here where they gave me a necklace and a job to do.  At first I was kinda pissed at the whole arrangement, I felt like my life had been stolen from me.  But then I had my orientation with Yellow Diamond, she basically pointed out that I was going nowhere and was going to die soon with my current habits.  She told me that here I had the opportunity to make myself useful and in exchange I get a place to sleep, food to eat, and clothes to wear.  I demanded that I be allowed to watch all the fights.  Yellow Diamond just smirked at me and said that I just had to give up who I was and do exactly as I was told and that would be part of my contract.  If I misbehaved, that privilege and others would be revoked.  I accepted.  I don’t regret my decision.  Was I shocked at my first End of the Year Celebration?  Yes.  But I admitted to myself in time that I was just the type of scum who enjoyed this kind of atmosphere.”  Larimar shrugged.  “I’m here because I want to be.  If I wasn’t here, I’d probably be dead.  Because of this place I sobered up.  Sure I still drink when the rare chance to comes along, but at least my head is more on my shoulders than it was before.”

            “Oh…I thought you had been kidnapped as well or something.”

            “You’d be surprised at how many people are here because they want to be or chose it over some other life option.”

            “Really?”  Pearl pulled away from the desk at that revelation.  The idea of wanting to be here was flabbergasting.  “I never really considered that, I guess that’s another thing I still need to learn,” Pearl mused as she leaned back on the counter. 

            “Most of the higher ranked gems are here because they want to be, though you can still find people who chose to be here in the lower ranks, like me.  However, at the same time there are higher ranked gems that were forced to be here or owed a debt or something.  It’s best not to assume and to ask if ever given the opportunity.”

            “Thanks for the advice, Larimar.”

            The gem simply nodded.

            “Who was Ruby?” Pearl changed the direction of the conversation.

            “She was Yellow Diamond’s champion before Garnet took her place.”

            “Really?”

            “Yup, she was also one of the people who helped to train Garnet.  So I guess you could say that the student eventually surpassed the teacher.”

            Pearl hummed as she pondered the information.  She hadn’t seen or heard of any Ruby around the hallways.  Another unfamiliar gem name popped into her mind.

            “Who was Sapphire?”

            Larimar went still; then shifted uncomfortably.  “Why do you want to know?”

            “Pearl 00745 said ‘Sapphire didn’t fight back’ during her time in The Cage before Garnet went completely berserk on her.”

            “No gem wants to talk about that.  And you best not ever ask Garnet about Sapphire unless you want her to kill you.”

            “What happened t-”

            Larimar put his hand up.  “Just drop it.  Don’t bring up Sapphire or Ruby.  Let sleeping dogs lie.”

            Pearl deflated a little, clearly disappointed.  The two gems stood in silence for a minute.

            “Is that part of Garnet’s job?  To kill people?” the thin woman breathed out as she rested her chin in her hand that was propped up on the counter.

            “There are many roles that champions fill, but yes, being an executioner is one of them.”

            “What other roles do they have?”

            “Champions are the best fighters of the group; they carry a lot of responsibility in that realm and others depending on the diamond.  They have some freedoms other gems or even other higher ranked gems do not.  Diamonds never bet against their champions, so it’s also a big deal when one of them loses.  They can also be bodyguards to their diamond and are expected obey any orders without hesitation.  Champions are usually one of the most loyal and devoted individuals to their owners.  If a diamond needs to make an example out of someone to convey a message, the champion does it.  Champions, especially seasoned, successful ones like Garnet, are extremely valuable and are integral to a diamond maintaining a good portion of their status within the hierarchy.”

            “So they are fighters, executioners, and moneymakers, basically.”

            Larimar nodded.  “And some have a few other roles they fill, but that changes from diamond to diamond.”

            “Like what?”

            “Well, of the four diamonds, Yellow Diamond is the more combat oriented than the others.  She has no problems making an offensive move.  The other three diamonds, not so much, so their champions are kept out of combat situations except for their fights and yearly executions.  Garnet on the other hand, as you’ve now seen, is well trained in lethal combat.  Not just hand to hand, but weapons too.  I’ve heard rumors from other combat gems of Yellow Diamond sending her in to take care of problems when the usual jaspers and amethysts fail.”

            Pearl looked off to the side trying not to let the images from The Cage pop up yet again.  Her imagination began to work to spin scenes of a weapon wielding Garnet killing everything that came near her.

            “And there’s other stuff Garnet does,” Larimar’s voice broke through.  “Like re-”

            “Do the other facets have champions?” the pale gem quickly changed the direction of the conversation so it wasn’t about Garnet.  “You know the ones that aren’t considered diamonds?”

            “They do, they’re just not as good.  Normally the other fighters Garnet is going against are the other facet’s ‘champion’, but we don’t officially consider them a champion unless they are under a diamond.”

            “Oh, that makes sense.”  Pearl glanced at her watch and frowned, so many questions had popped into her head throughout the course of the conversation.  “I need to go now; the meeting will be over soon.  Thank you for all the information you provided.  I appreciate it.”

            “No problem.  And don’t worry, you’ll get used to it sooner or later.”

            “Thanks…”  Pearl left the item check area hoping she never got used to seeing people get killed.

 

            Feet rocked back and forth as Pearl stood in front of the familiar maroon door hesitating as long as she could without Pearl 00010 noticing.  It would be the first time she would face Garnet since the End of the Year Celebration.  Memories tried to resurface, but Pearl forced them down yet again.  It wouldn’t help her get through this.  She exhaled and then walked into the dim room.  Her legs carried her to her spot and then pulled her into the usual sitting position.  It was much longer than typical before Garnet was thrown into the room.  The fighter turned and snarled at the individuals behind the closing door, her body tensed ready to spring and attack if given the opportunity.  As the door was locked Garnet slowly relaxed and stood up straight.  Several breaths were inhaled and exhaled.  Her completely visible heterochromia eyes turned to look down at Pearl.  Pearl stiffened, flinching slightly.  They looked at each other for a minute before Pearl looked away.

            “We shouldn’t stall,” Garnet’s rich voice disturbed the silence.

            Pearl looked up to see Garnet extending a hand towards her.  The last thing Pearl wanted to do was touch those hands that were soaked in blood.  She deliberately stood up without taking the offer.  Garnet pulled her hand back.  It slowly curled into a fist before it was dropped to her side.  She abruptly turned and flopped onto the bed assuming her usual position.  Pearl walked over and kneeled down.  She glared at the soft center in front of her; she had no desire to touch Garnet whatsoever.  After considerable effort, she steeled herself and moved in.

            It’s possible that she was being a little rougher than usual on Garnet.  The pale woman felt betrayed.  Betrayed in the fact that this gem who had been kind to her was a sick murderer, and the hurt from that brutal realization was seeping out in her sharp actions.  Pearl hadn’t even made Garnet orgasm once when the gem said out loud,

            “Stop.”

            The command didn’t fully register in her head, only when Garnet’s center moved away from her as the woman sat up did Pearl stop.

            “I said stop.”

            Pearl looked up to see Garnet glaring down at her.

            “You’re hurting me.”

            “Oh I’m sorry,” Pearl said; thick with sarcasm.

            Garnet’s eyes narrowed dangerously.  She leaned down closer to Pearl, forearms resting on her massive thighs.

            “Do you think I want any of this?  Do you think I chose this?” she said in a quiet, yet firm voice.

            Pearl looked away from the heavy gaze.  Fear began to creep up her spine, she wasn’t used to being on the receiving end of that tone of voice.  The thin gem quickly squashed it, she wasn’t going to shrink and cower.

            “I hate it.  I hate making you do this, but we both know what will happen if we don’t cooperate.”  Garnet paused.  “It’s because you know now, right?  What the other gems say about me, it all makes sense now right?”

            “Well you chose to become her champion, if you really didn’t want to you wouldn’t have become who you are,” Pearl fiercely retorted in the same quiet manner as she forced herself to look back up and hold the fighter’s gaze.

            “You don’t know the first thing about that,” Garnet snarled, eyes burning.  “You don’t know the things I’ve been forced to do or the things done to me as I was turned into her champion.”

            When Pearl didn’t say anything in response the fighter stepped over her and strode over to her door.  She made several attempts to open it from turning and yanking the handle to trying to kick and beat the reinforced door down.  Garnet eventually just slammed her fist against the door in frustration and rested her forehead against it.  Pearl watched the whole time from where she was still sitting on her heels.  Slowly she stood up and faced the naked woman’s back.  Any minute Yellow Diamond was going to arrive once Pearl 00010 informed her of their uncooperative behavior.

            Just focus on getting her off, don’t think about anything else.  Just get her off.

            “You’re right,” Pearl finally said to Garnet’s back.  “We both know what will happen if we don’t cooperate, so let’s just get this over with.”

            Garnet growled and slammed her fist against the door one more time before turning and walking towards the bed.  She didn’t bother to spare a glance towards Pearl, opting to just stare straight ahead.  The fighter laid back down on the comforter and spread her legs.  Pearl kneeled down, taking a deep breath in the process.  Her nose crinkled in distaste before she moved in to work Garnet over.  It took considerable effort to even get one of the fighter’s muffled responses let alone push her over the edge.  Pearl at least made sure to be less rough than she was previously while touching the dark woman as little as possible.

 

            Riding in the same car as Garnet to and from Friday events was suffocating.  The tension could be cut with a knife.  Garnet sat in her usual area of the car and Pearl would sit in the farthest possible spot from her.  The darker gem would tell her to go to sleep, but she would refuse to.  Not only did she no longer trust Garnet, but she didn’t want to wake up from another nightmare of Garnet killing her while they were in the same area.  Pearl couldn’t tell if Yellow Diamond or Pearl 00010 noticed the shift in her behavior towards the champion, either way they didn’t say anything.

            On the ride back from the second fight since the End of the Year Celebration, the tension snapped.

            “Go to sleep Pearl,” Garnet routinely ordered after the SUV had started moving.

            “No thank you,” Pearl sharply replied, sitting straight up.

            Garnet turned to look at her.  “Why not?  You look tired.”

            “I don’t want to.”

            “Why?  You’ve always slept before, except for last time.”

            “I prefer to keep my wits about me.”

            Garnet exhaled sharply through her nose.  “What did I ever do to you?”

            Pearl didn’t say anything.

            “What you can’t sleep now that you know I’m a murderer?  Despite how I’ve never hurt you or intentionally done anything to make you feel uncomfortable?”

            The thin woman swallowed and held Garnet’s covered gaze, letting the images of The Cage fights strengthen her resolve to not ever let her guard down.

            “How could you kill them so easily?  Even Pearl 00745, she was begging for mercy.”

            “There is no mercy in The Cage.”

            “Why not?  Why couldn’t you both just agree to not fight each other?”

            “Have you ever had to fight for your life?”

            Pearl was surprised by the question instead of an anticipated excuse or justification for the fighter’s actions.  The pale gem thought back on the past few months.

            “No, not specifically.  Though being here feels like I’m fighting to stay alive.”

            “It’s different when you’re pitted against someone, you’re both told only one person can leave alive.  If you hesitate, they sense it, and if you turn your back you can be sure they will be on it in a second trying to rip your throat out.  People will always fight until their last breath.”

            “Well probably not all, like a suicidal person would probably thank you,” Pearl quickly countered.

            Garnet grimaced.  “Those aren’t the types that get put in The Cage, it’s not as entertaining.”

            “Entertaining?” came the scoff.  “So you enjoy it just as much as everyone else.  You really are a monster,” she finished quietly.

            If Garnet wasn’t wearing her sunglasses, Pearl could have confirmed that the larger gem was shooting daggers at her.

            “I have two choices in The Cage.  To live or to die.  If I’m a monster for fighting for my life then so be it,” Garnet snapped.  “Go ahead and judge me, call me whatever names you like, make all the assumptions you want, view me just like everyone else does, but you will never understand the role I carry and what comes with it.”

            Pearl huffed and looked away.  Garnet turned to stare out the car window.  A couple of times Pearl felt herself drifting off throughout the long and boring car ride.  She shook herself and tried her best to stay awake.  Her eyes drifted closed.  Maybe just a minute, in a minute she’ll wake up, Garnet will never notice.

 

            “GET UP!”

            Pearl’s eyes snapped open as loud sound invaded her dreamless sleep.  A couple of feet away was Garnet’s frowning face.  The car was no longer moving and one of the doors was already open.  Upon seeing that Pearl was conscious Garnet turned and promptly hopped out of the vehicle, grabbing her duffle bag along the way.  Pearl quickly scrambled out after the fighter.  The cold brisk air made the hair on her arms stand up.  She shivered and wrapped her arms around her body, trying to keep some of her body’s warmth with her.  Garnet was already halfway across the underground parking lot; Pearl had to run to catch up with her so she could use her as an escort out of the white hallway.  The silent walk ended as the two went their separate ways.

 

            “One week!  That’s all we have,” Carnelian exclaimed as she ran around her office gathering supplies for that day’s alterations.  She paused for a moment.  “Well not even that!  It’ll take almost two days to drive to White Diamond’s place, and you can only do so much sewing on a bus.”  The older woman placed another portable sewing kit in Pearl’s arms.  “And they couldn’t come here to do the alterations and fittings?!  What was Rainbow Quartz thinking?  Sometimes I just want to strangle that woman.”  She sighed and stopped in front of Pearl.  “Well that doesn’t matter now, all that matters is that we get over to their studio as soon as possible.  Come now Pearl.”

            “Yes, ma’am.”

            They walked through the endless concrete catacombs to the dance studio on the second level of building zero.  As they entered, each of the dancers were in various stages of trying on their new outfits.  Some were openly complaining about the fit, while others seem quite pleased.  Pearl by now had learned several sewing techniques, especially with pinning up areas so they could be altered later.  However, this time Carnelian was not going to have her do any of that, she was going to handle it herself.  An outfit getting accidentally messed up due to inexperience was out of the question.  Pearl did make notes of each outfit and what needed to be altered and which gem it belonged to.

            The days flew by as she helped Carnelian as she finished all of the alterations.  It was Tuesday night when her scheduler chimed out.  Pearl knew that everyone who was needed for the competition against White Diamond would be leaving early tomorrow.  She opened her scheduler with hopes that they had assigned her to ride with Carnelian this time and not Garnet.

            “06:00: Transportation: White Dark Grey 30125”

            Pearl audibly groaned.  Why?  She was doomed to spending two whole days on the road with Garnet and most likely Yellow Diamond and Pearl 00010.  She locked up her scheduler and picked up her book.  Information on constellations and their origins pushed the dread of tomorrow out of her mind.

Chapter Text

^^^^^^

Pearl has a number of conflicting experiences with Garnet as they drive towards White Diamond’s event center.

^^^^^^

 

            Pearl ate her breakfast quickly before running off to the transportation building.  As she was escorted to the familiar SUV, she noticed that several more differently colored SUVs were accompanying them than usual.  She gripped one of the shoulder straps of her newly issued black backpack, her personal supplies for the rest of the week; she didn’t feel ready for this.  Pearl was the last one to get into the SUV.  Yellow Diamond causally sipped on what smelled like a dark roasted coffee while Pearl 00010 was staring at her computer, eyebrows furrowed in concentration.  Garnet sat silently in her spot, having her usual staring contest with the leather across from her.  The SUV started and drove off.

            “Pearl, take a break, there will be plenty of time to finish that,” Yellow Diamond casually spoke up.

            “Yes, ma’am,” Pearl 00010 automatically replied; then closed her laptop.

            A couple of minutes later, Yellow Diamond held out her coffee to Pearl 00010, who with no hesitation took a long sip from the offered drink, and handed it back.  The intimidating woman proceeded to take a sip.  Pearl’s eyes nearly bulged out of her sockets.  The exchange was done so fluidly it made Pearl do a double take on the two.  Even Garnet didn’t react to it.  Just what exactly was Pearl 00010’s relationship to Yellow Diamond?  Oddly casual conversation was exchanged between the two as they continued their journey while the cup of coffee was traded back and forth.  Sip by sip the dark liquid was diminished until Pearl 00010 was the one who finished it off at Yellow Diamond’s insistence.  The pale gem’s head hurt, she was not used to this kind of behavior from Yellow Diamond at all.  Her tongue burned with the desire at ask questions, but she forced them down.

            Pearl stared out of the window as she tried to catch another road sign to maybe decipher where she was.  Four hours of nonstop driving was making her nuts.  That and she really needed to use the bathroom, but had yet to figure out a way or gather the courage to ask them to stop.  A half of an hour later the line of SUVs stopped and everyone was let out to stretch their legs.  Several amethysts, Yellow Diamond’s jaspers, the drivers, and a few gems Pearl had never seen before milled about.  The busses were not there, just the train of five SUVs.  Pearl’s line of vision picked up a roadside restroom just a hundred feet from where all of the vehicles were parked.

            “Go relieve yourself if needed.  All necklaces are to be concealed under your shirt while we are here,” came Yellow Diamond’s orders.

            Pearl quickly stuffed her necklace inside of her shirt and made a beeline for the restrooms along with several other gems.  The line ratios were much more in her favor than when she traveled with her dance team back in high school.  Thankfully she was only behind 3 other amethysts and one jasper for the women’s bathroom.  The bathroom reeked of human waste, flies buzzed about, and wet toilet paper bits lay randomly on the floor along with puddles of questionable liquid.  Pearl slipped into the second stall after the amethyst was done.  Hands tugged the loose bolt closed several times.  Silently she prayed the partially broken door would stay shut while she did her business.  A grimace formed as she pulled back from the sight of the poorly maintained toilet.  There was no sign of a seat protector so she layered toilet paper on it before sitting down to do her business.

            Warm sun felt great on her pale skin as she walked out of the standard unpleasant roadside bathroom.  Soft wind played through her short hair and pulled her shirt this way and that.  They were stopped in a flat desert-like area.  Yellows, browns, oranges, with the occasional dull green were all laid out for her.  She reveled in the glorious sight.  No walls, no doors, just the never-ending landscape.  Pearl took one step away from the vehicles and one step closer to potential freedom.  Maybe if she ran she could escape.  But where was she?  Would she even be able to get back to civilization before she died of thirst?  What if she did run?  Would they chase her?  Another tentative step was taken.

            A firm hand gripped her shoulder and spun her around.

            “Hey, don’t get any ideas you pearl, you’ll be dead in twenty feet if you run.”

            Light blue eyes looked up at the amethyst; then turned to look at the inviting landscape one last time.

            “Yes, ma’am,” she sighed, hanging her head slightly.

            They both walked back to the group of loosely huddled gems just off to the side of the gleaming vehicles.

            “Faster!” an unfamiliar voice shouted. “Down, up, down, up.  What are you lethargic from the drive or something?”

            Pearl squeezed her way through several bigger gems to see what was going on.  In the middle of all the gems was Garnet performing burpees on command.  Whenever “down” was shouted she would drop to her stomach.  At the command of “up” she would snap back onto her feet and jump high into the air clapping her hands together.  The fair skinned woman was familiar with the exercise, though it wasn’t something she did regularly in dance, there were plenty of other movements they did instead. 

            “Down!”

            It was mesmerizing to watch.  As Garnet dropped down, her arms would ease the impact of the ground.  Fingers splayed wide and forearms flexing as they helped to control her body’s smooth descent to the ground.  The feet were the last body parts to touch the ground.  The instant the command “up” was shouted, muscular arms would push up at the same time taut abdominals and powerful legs worked together to pull themselves underneath the torso.  As soon as Garnet’s feet were under her, the powerful legs would launch her into the air.  The final movement was large calloused hands making a light clap at the peak of her ascent.  It was hard for Pearl to look away.

            “Higher!  What kind of half-hearted shit is this?!” the gem shouted.

            He was well-built but considerably smaller in stature than Garnet.

            “Down, up, down, up, down, up.”

            He threw a punch at Garnet as she was jumping up.  She easily blocked it and returned with a quick combo.  The two sparred for a few seconds.  Just as Garnet was about to crash through the gem’s defenses he shouted “down”.  Garnet immediately dropped to the ground; dust rising from the impact of her body.  The gem walked around Garnet throwing more “motivating” words at her.  A bead of sweat ran down the side of the champion’s face before leaping off her hot skin and landing in the dry dirt.

            “Up!”

            Right after Garnet landed he threw a roundhouse kick at her.  She blocked it and then they were engaged in another sparring mini match.  Garnet deflected another kick; then spun to deliver a fast back kick right in the middle of the gem’s chest.  He flew back a couple of feet, his back hitting the firm dirt with a dull thud; a tan footprint of Garnet’s converse shoes standing out on his bright purple muscle shirt.

            “Down and hold!” he shouted as he picked himself off the ground.

            The dark woman dropped down to hold the bottom of a push-up position.  Several droplets of salty sweat were swallowed by the thirsty dirt.

            “Stand up,” Yellow Diamond ordered after a minute.  “You have three minutes to use the restroom if needed.” She tossed a maroon hand towel at Garnet.

            The fighter nodded as she caught the piece of fabric, and then sprinted towards the restrooms.

            “Everyone is accounted for, Yellow Diamond,” Pearl 00010 informed.

            “Everyone load up!  We are leaving in three minutes.  No delays will be tolerated.”

            Pearl got into the SUV behind Yellow Diamond and Pearl 00010.  A paper bag with her name on it along with a large water bottle sat on her seat.  There were three other bags in the car as well, one for each of them.  After taking a quick sip of water, Pearl glanced at the restrooms.  No sign of Garnet.  The vehicle started up.   Light eyes darted back to the restrooms to see the tall figure sprinting towards the line of differently colored cars.  The dusty, sweaty figure leaped into the car just as it began to move; chest heaving up and down.

            “You have fifteen seconds to get your breathing under control,” Yellow Diamond ordered as the door was shut and the SUV picked up speed.

            Garnet took several deep breaths and evened out her breathing.

            “You may drink now.”

            The fighter picked up her water bottle and took several small sips, savoring the water.  The air conditioning slowly pushed the dusty, sweaty smell from Garnet out of the cabin.  Out of the corner of Pearl’s eyes she watched Garnet remove her sunglasses for a moment to wipe her brow with the maroon towel.  Silence settled on the occupants.

            Each lunch was devoured over the next couple hours as they drove through the deserted landscapes.  Somehow the bleak landscape was more entertaining than what was happening inside the car.  The silence was getting to the pale woman.  Couldn’t they at least put on some music?  Pearl glanced over to Garnet when she noticed the fighter moving.  The stoic gem was pulling something out of her duffel bag.  She turned to face Pearl, a single deck of cards in her hand.

            “Want to play a game?”

            Pearl blinked.  Was she serious?

            Garnet shrugged at Pearl’s lack of response.  “To help the drive go faster, unless you’re doing something else…”

            It was obvious that she wasn’t doing anything else, but it was a question and not an order.  She could decline.  The pale woman glanced out at the boring scenery for a quick moment.  Interacting with the violent woman was not something she really wanted to do.  Who knew what would happen if they played a card game and Garnet lost?  Would she lash out and get angry?  It wasn’t a risk Pearl wanted to take.  A shiver crawled up her spine as her mind inadvertently made up a few scenes of what Garnet could do to her in anger from losing.  Pearl glanced back at the fighter who was still waiting for her response, Garnet’s mostly covered face void of any emotion.

            “No, thank you,” Pearl stated as she focused on the scenery, renewing her search for any passing sign she could catch a glimpse of through the heavily tinted windows.

            Garnet then turned to Yellow Diamond.

            “Not this time, you just have your fun, Garnet,” their owner declined.

            Pearl was surprised at the tone of voice Yellow Diamond used, it was oddly gentle, almost motherly.  Nothing like how she normally talked.  The fighter faced Pearl 00010 who just glared at her from behind her laptop.  Silently Garnet accepted the rejection and began to shuffle the cards before laying them out to set up a game of solitaire.  Pearl momentarily paused as her mind stored away the interesting interaction and responses.  Arms were crossed in front of her chest as she stared out the window again.  A sign passed that read 27 miles to Elko and 77 miles to Wells.  Light blue eyes rolled as a disappointed sigh was breathed out.  She had no idea where Elko or Wells were, but at least they were names she could try to remember.

            The miles crawled by and Pearl’s need to do something was driving her insane.  Internally she cursed herself for not bringing her puzzle books with her so she would have something to do.  A shift in the car caused one of Garnet’s cards to slide off the seat in front of her.  Quick hands caught it before it landed on the floor and set it back in place.  The fighter continued her game of solitaire as if nothing had happened.  Light blue eyes looked back out the window just in time to see that she had missed another sign.  What if she did join Garnet for a game or two?  Would it be the end of the world?

            It might be better than this…

            Pearl rotated so she was partially facing Garnet.  The curly haired woman was close to finishing her current game.  Thin lips were parted, before they were immediately pressed back together.  Pearl was only allowed to speak if spoken to.  Here she sat in front of the woman that made the rule and her executioner.  Pearl’s stomach lurched, her mind starting to reel at the prospect of intentionally breaking that rule in such a volatile situation.  But it was just a request to take back her previous decision.  Dark hands moved the last couple of cards to the completed suits.  It was now or never.  The pale woman swallowed.

            “May I join you for a game Garnet?”

            The words broke the still atmosphere.  Pearl could feel everyone’s eyes on her.  She forced herself not to shrink away when Garnet turned to face her, hands expertly shuffling the cards.  Covered eyes examined her for a couple of long seconds.

            “What games do you know?” the dark woman’s low voice returned.

            The pale gem breathed out an internal sigh of relief.  No lashing out, no punishment, only acceptance of her offer to play.

            “Blackjack, Speed, War, Slapjack, and a few other poker variations,” Pearl answered.

            “How does a few rounds of Blackjack sound?”

            “Sure.”

              Garnet nodded and then dealt them both their hands.  Pearl looked down at the cards as she tried to keep her attention away from Yellow Diamond’s lingering intense gaze.  The pieces of glossy, firm paper were worn and well used.  The pale gem relaxed a little when she no longer could feel the others watching them.

            “Stand or hit?”

            She had a two and a seven.  Eyes then traveled to Garnet’s one card, an eight, with the second hidden underneath.

            “Hit.”

            The next card was placed down, an ace.

            “Stay.”

            Garnet silently nodded and then flipped her hidden card over revealing a seven.  Hands drew another and placed it down.  A ten.  Pearl had won the round.  The pale gem didn’t dare say anything as she carefully watched Garnet’s reaction to losing.  Part of her mind screamed out that she was going to get hurt and that it was a foolish decision to engage in this.  Garnet reached out, Pearl pulled away flinching slightly.  Reflective sunglasses blankly stared at her as the dark gem simply grabbed her cards and reshuffled them into the deck.  Embarrassment flooded her veins.  Of course Garnet wouldn’t get mad about losing this kind of a game.  Two more cards were set in front of the strawberry blonde.

            “Stand or hit?” the curly haired gem repeated.

            “Hit.”

            It was a nice change of pace to staring out at the landscape and listening to nothing.  Garnet sure had a good poker face, though having those sunglasses definitely helped.  Fortunately for Pearl, they weren’t placing bets on the rounds.  She didn’t want to lose any of her precious units.  After a while, the game became a bit boring and redundant.  It was much more interesting when there were more players involved.

            “Would you like to play a different game?” Pearl suggested as the fighter shuffled the deck once again.

            Her expressionless face looked up at her.

            “What did you have in mind?”

            “How about Speed?”

            “Speed?”

            “Yes.”

            Garnet stared at her for a moment.  “How do you play Speed?”

            “It’s simple, each player has five cards in their hand, and fifteen in a draw pile.  The point of the game is to get rid of all of your cards in your hand and draw pile before the other person does.  Two cards are placed between us face down, with five cards on the sides that are also face down.  Once the game begins you try to get rid of your cards by setting down a card that is either one higher or lower than one of the two cards in the middle.  If the game gets stuck, one card from each side is flipped over at the same time to get the play moving again.”

            Pearl gave a simple demonstration.  Garnet nodded eventually and they tried one round out.  The smaller of the two attempted to go slower than usual to give the fighter time to learn the game, but her mind reacted quickly to the numbers on the cards.  In barely a minute the game was over and Garnet was left with almost all of her cards still in her hand.  The dark woman frowned for a second.  Pearl braced herself for the potential lashing out at losing.  This was a direct loss to her, a pearl, and not a loss at a game of chance.  White teeth were ground together, her frame trembling ever so slightly.

            “Again,” was all Garnet said.

            Relief washed over Pearl.  She inconspicuously let out the breath she had been holding as she gathered the cards.  A new game was set up and then a short time later Pearl had emptied her hand and draw pile.

            “Again.”

            It became a guilty pleasure, soundly defeating Garnet turn after turn.  The other gem’s demeanor was a carefully controlled fury.  Each loss pushed just a little more anger from her.  However, she never threw a fit or made any movement to hurt the one who kept on beating her.  If there was one thing Pearl was learning it was that Garnet did not like to lose, yet had an equal amount of determination to learn the game and win.  The thin woman’s mind buzzed from the mental exercise, it felt good.

            Their game was interrupted by another rest stop.  Pearl got back from the restroom to watch Garnet perform more exercises and have several sparring matches with the same gem as last time.  Pearl was able to catch the name on his tag, Agate 00016; she assumed this gem was one of Garnet’s trainers.  Once they were back on the road, the champion demanded another round of Speed; another round that Pearl would once again win.

            A dark hand quickly placed a three over the four Pearl was about to put a five down on.

            “Done!” came Garnet’s voice.

            Pearl looked up at the other’s empty hand and depleted draw pile; then back down at the final three cards left in her hand.  Garnet sat cross legged, leaning forward with her hands braced on her knees, waiting for Pearl’s response.

            “Well, well, you won Garnet,” the smaller of the two smiled as she showed off her remaining cards.

            A toothy grin spread across Garnet’s face.

            “Yessss!” she triumphantly sat back as she punched the air above her with both of her fists.

            Pearl blinked.  She had never seen Garnet smile before.  Her own smile grew a little at the new sight.  This reminded her of the old Garnet she knew.  The Garnet she liked being around.

            “Would you like to play again?” came the thin gem’s casual offer.

            The dark woman considered her proposition, a finger tapping on her thick lips a couple of times before saying, “Yes.”

            Once again Pearl won several more rounds of Speed before Garnet finally won a second time.  By that time the both of them agreed it was a good place to stop.  Pearl internally shook her head as they moved back to their usual spots in the car; she had just played Speed for several hours in a row, a first for her.

            There was one last stop for the day.  Yellow Diamond instructed Garnet that she was to get her eight hours of sleep as they kept on driving.  Both Yellow Diamond and Pearl 00010 went to a different vehicle to sleep for the night.  Garnet laid down on one row of seats while Pearl got the other.  Despite the enjoyable time the two of them had playing card games, Pearl’s fear of Garnet began to creep into her mind.  She stared at the fighter’s prone form while the darkness of the night enveloped them.  As light blue eyes drifted closed, the thin woman hoped in vain that she wouldn’t have any nightmares tonight.

 

            Pearl was suddenly brought to consciousness as the vehicle’s speed abruptly and rapidly declined, thus throwing her body off the seat and making her fall onto the floor of the cabin.  A sigh drifted out of her lungs, she didn’t mind her nightmare getting interrupted, but she didn’t really appreciate getting thrown around in the car.  The pale gem grumbled and began to sit up, rubbing the back of her head, when the vehicle quickly reaccelerated causing the other occupant in the cabin to roll off her seat and fall on top of her.  The air was forced out of her lungs from the impact of the heavy body.  Pearl now lay there trapped under the deadweight of Garnet.  She let out a huff and rolled her eyes.  This was just great.  She began to push against the other to hopefully open up some space for her to wiggle out and escape.  Suddenly the fighter’s limp body became tense.  Before Pearl could do anything her right wrist was seized, yanked across her body, and pinned against the floor.  A fist slammed against the floor of the car just to the side of her face, her hips and legs rendered powerless as she was straddled by powerful thighs.  One foot away from her face was Garnet’s mass of curls, the gem’s face contorted in anger, open eyes dark, a snarl ripping her mouth open.  Pearl was terrified.

            “G-Garnet?” she sputtered out.

            The only response was a deep growl crawling out from the back of the woman’s throat.

            “Garnet?  It-it’s me, Pearl.”

            Garnet exhaled harshly, her hot breath ruffling Pearl’s curved bangs.  The grip on her wrist tightened as the muscular woman’s other hand was raised from the carpet and pulled back to Garnet’s shoulder.  The fist hovered over Pearl’s face like a bullet locked and loaded in a gun, ready to fire.

            “Garnet?  Please, it’s me Pearl 01079,” she tried.

            No response.

            “Please don’t hurt me, Garnet,” her voice trembled.

            The grip on her wrist slowly lessened as Garnet breathed out deeply.  She released her grip on Pearl’s wrist; eyes still watching her closely.  When Pearl didn’t make any threatening movements, the champion sat back on her heels and blinked a couple of times.

            “Pearl?” came Garnet’s confused voice.

            “Yes, Garnet, I’m right here.”

            Realization spread across the larger gem’s face.  Garnet backed off hurriedly muttering a quick “sorry”.  She crawled back onto her seat and laid down facing away from Pearl.  The thin gem took a few calming breaths to try and help her racing heart slow down.  What had just happened?  One glance at her watch told her it was only 02:13.  She climbed onto her side and used a couple of the seat belts to secure herself.  Falling off and getting trapped under Garnet was not going to happen again.  Light blue eyes stared at the still figure of the other occupant.  She had no doubt that she had been mere seconds away from either being beaten or killed.  A shiver ran up her spine.  It was bad enough seeing that type of look from Garnet in her dreams.  But to experience it for real?  Pearl tried to close her eyes; her body refused.  How could she when a threat to her life was just a few feet away?

            “That wasn’t Garnet, Garnet wouldn’t hurt you.  Garnet’s never hurt you,” she tried quietly telling herself.

            Except for just then.  Her wrist pulsed from the bruising grip of the fighter’s hand and her body vividly felt the pressure and control used on her.  Pearl pushed herself into the leather cushions as much as possible.   Light blue eyes were forced shut. 

            I need to sleep.

            Sleep only came once her fatigue won out and Pearl fell into a nightmare riddled slumber.

 

            Strawberry blonde hair stuck up at odd angles as Pearl tried in vain to smooth it down with some water from the rusty bathroom sink.  They were all given a little longer time to do light personal maintenance at the next rest stop.  Currently she was surrounded by three amethysts as they brushed their teeth and thick hair.

            “Rough night with Garnet?” one of them suggestively smirked at her as she tried once again to get her hair to cooperate.

            “You’ll need more than water to get that in line,” another added.

            “N-not in that way!” Pearl exclaimed.

            “Riiiight, we all know that, why else would you two be left alone in there?” she finished laughing.

            “It’s not her night, regulation isn’t until tonight,” Pearl stated.

            She glared at her hair and gave up on trying to tame it.  Hands grabbed her toothbrush and quickly began to clean her teeth.

            “M-hm, and we all know that everyone keeps to regulation,” another agreed sarcastically.

            “Don’t worry little pearl we won’t tell on you, your secret is safe with us,” the first winked.

            They all laughed as they began to walk out.  Pearl’s sharp hearing caught two last statements.

            “You’ve all seen the way Garnet looks at her, there’s no way she’s kept her hands to herself.”

            “Hell if I were her I wouldn’t have!”

            She paused and furrowed her brow.  What did that mean?  After spitting out the toothpaste and gathering her toiletries, she walked back out towards the SUVs.  The early morning sun glittered through the peaks of tall trees.  Pearl inhaled deeply, reveling in the scent of pine.  A light puff escaped her mouth as she breathed out.  It was cold.  Large pine trees crowded around the highway they had been traveling on and the rest stop.  A small grey squirrel jumped from one branch to the next followed closely by its companion.  If there was one thing she enjoyed about this travel it was the opportunity to be outside and enjoy the fresh air.  Pearl reached her arms high into the sky and stretched, letting herself take up as much space as possible.

            By the time she rejoined the gathering of gems Garnet had already finished her mini workout and was jogging off to the restrooms.  Yellow Diamond was addressing the group.

            “Once at White Diamond’s facility we will split up to our various assignments.  All of your schedulers should be updated in the next few minutes.  Make sure to stick to main routes, she doesn’t like it when other gems wander through her place.  I don’t anticipate any underhanded moves, but it doesn’t hurt to keep your wits about you.  Tonight we will do basic preparations with tomorrow being the main time to set everything up.  As soon as Garnet is back we will leave.”

            The group dispersed and the ringing of multiple schedulers chimed out for the next few seconds.

            “Only eight more hours of driving,” one jasper grumbled to the other standing next to him as he stretched out.  “I hate these long drives.  My legs get all stiff.”

            “I feel ya man, I’d rather we flew or something.”

            “Can you imagine how hectic that would be?  Plus we couldn’t take well over half the people in an airport.”

            “Oh yeah, ID’s and shit.  That would be hell.”

            Pearl took one last longing glance at the green scenery before turning and getting into the black SUV.  The other three occupants had yet to step in.  Light eyes caught an irregularity on her right wrist.  She pulled back the blue sleeve to reveal light bruises.  Pearl slowly wrapped her other hand around the wrist mimicking the placement of the marks.  Brief scenes from last night flickered in her mind’s eye.  Garnet really did hurt her.  She breathed out trying to calm her frayed nerves.  Pearl felt like she was getting whiplash from the dark gem’s behavior.  One instant she was kind and caring, the next she’s killing people, then she’s fun and interactive; and then she’s staring her down like she was going to beat her.  Movement caught her eyes as Yellow Diamond and Pearl 00010 stepped into the vehicle.  Golden yellow eyes darted to Pearl’s wrist.  Pearl quickly pulled her sleeve down and set her arms in her lap.  A moment later Garnet got in and took the seat next to Yellow Diamond.  It took all of Pearl’s strength not to flinch when she caught Garnet briefly staring at her through her peripherals.

            “You’re tense,” Yellow Diamond offhandedly stated to Garnet as they continued their journey.

            “I fell out of my seat during the ride,” the champion grumbled.

            “Hmmm, yes that, my driver said there was a dead animal in the middle of the road.”

            Something clicked in Pearl’s mind.  It was no coincidence that Yellow Diamond slept in a different vehicle than Garnet.  Their owner knew just how dangerous Garnet could be and didn’t want to risk getting attacked by her.  The thin gem would have appreciated some sort of warning.  “Hey Pearl just so you know Garnet attacks people if disturbed in her sleep!”  The light eyed woman internally scoffed and looked out at the mountainous landscape.

            During the ride Garnet didn’t make any attempts to interact with Pearl to help pass the time.  Personally, Pearl was grateful for that; she didn’t want anything to do with the fighter.  Her dreams after the incident had just been a continuous movie of Garnet killing her or beating her.  Multiple times she had woken up and had to muffle her terrified cries.  It never helped that the one who she saw each time after waking up was the dark gem’s sleeping form.

            By the time they were driving through a particularly large city all of the gems had been ordered to stay in the cars except for the ones responsible to refueling.  No one was allowed out for a bathroom break unless it was an emergency and they were accompanied by an amethyst.  Pearl also noticed that the SUVs used a more separated formation inside of this city to draw less attention to them.  Needless to say that by the time they arrived at the location a short while later, the thin gem was very excited to be out of the car.  Yellow Diamond was greeted by two jaspers bearing White Diamond’s name and was escorted by them down into the diamond’s domain.  At that same time Pearl, accompanied by the usual amethyst that walked with her, was taken to where Carnelian, Rainbow Quartz, Pearl 00687, and the dancers were unloading.

 

            Laughter roared from the dancers circled around Pearl as she was helping to roll out a fire opal’s calves.  Pearl’s face was covered in a furious blush.

            “You’re not joking are you?”

            “You beat her, multiple times?”

            “W-well she didn’t know the game, so it wasn’t that hard to,” Pearl explained.

            “Oh man, I would pay to see Garnet lose at something,” one lapis lazuli wiped away a tear.

            “And she didn’t punch you or anything?”

            “No, not at all, she was just frustrated and determined to win.  She eventually won twice.”

            They all laughed again.

            “Wait, I want to play you in Speed,” Sunstone 00162 said.  “Let me go get my deck of cards really quick!” the dancer jumped up and hopped over to her bag.  A minute later she came back with a deck of cards and began to set up a game.

            “You can take a break for a minute to play,” the fire opal painfully groaned.  “Plus my calves need a break.”

            “Ok.”

            Pearl sat across from Sunstone 00162.  The cards were dealt and the game was begun.  Both gems’ hands were working fast as they tried to finish off their stacks.

            “What?!” Sunstone 00162 exclaimed as Pearl finished before she had got through half of her draw pile.  “Well, you’re probably all warmed up from all those matches.  Let’s do best two out of three.”

            “Alright,” Pearl confidently smirked.

            A short two minutes later ended with Pearl soundly defeating Sunstone 00162 in all three rounds.  The other dancers cheered and challenged her to matches in Speed.  The commotion drew quite a gathering of the dancers.  Pearl was a little concerned with the attention at first, but soon enjoyed all of the positive reactions she got every time she won.  Only a couple of the dancers were able to win a match against her.

            “What is going on over here!” Rainbow Quartz stormed over.  “What the hell are all of you doing with Pearl 01079?” she added as she looked down at Pearl and a moonstone who had stopped their game upon hearing the gem.

            “Pearl! Where are you-Ah! There you are, where have you been?” Carnelian joined the group.

            Pearl shrunk away from Carnelian’s disappointed gaze.

            “Carnelian, ma’am, your Pearl is really smart!”

            “Yeah, barely any of us can beat her, she’s really good.”

            Pearl blushed at the praise.

            “At what?” Carnelian asked.

            “Speed!”

            “Speed?” both Rainbow Quartz and Carnelian exchanged confused expressions.

            “We’ll show you,” Sunstone 00162 turned to the two on the floor.  “Reshuffle and do a quick game to show them.”

            The moonstone expertly shuffled the cards and set up the game.  The two cards in the middle were turned over and the two sprang into action.  Forty seconds later Pearl emerged triumphant from the game.  Carnelian didn’t look terribly impressed.

            “Very nice, she can do a little card game well.  Pearl you have a half an hour before you need to report to regulation, before then I need your help in setting up and inspecting all of the outfits.”

            “Yes, ma’am,” Pearl bowed as she got up.  “Thank you all, that was fun.”

            As the light eyed gem walked away she could hear Rainbow Quartz giving all of the involved dancers an earful on their disruption and lack of preparation for the next day.  Her smile from earlier returned.  Playing more games of Speed had reminded her of yesterday’s successes against Garnet and the fun the two had.  She didn’t understand why Garnet attacked her, but the fighter did stop, and that counted for something.  There was a lot she still didn’t know about Garnet; there could be a lot of factors affecting her erratic behavior.  As she helped Carnelian inspect the outfits, Pearl replayed the compliments in her head; her smile growing as a result.

 

            “I’m not getting undressed!  So fuck off!”

            Pearl cautiously approached the area she was supposed to meet Garnet at.

            “What is going on?”

            Yellow Diamond’s voice silenced the argument between Garnet and another gem.  Pearl peered around the corner to see the two amethysts, Garnet, Yellow Diamond, and Pearl 00010 standing in the hall outside of the designated door.

            “I’m not doing it in there,” the champion firmly stated, crossing her arms across her chest.

            “And why not?” The older woman questioned her.

            “That room is bugged and you know it.”

            “So is your usual room.”

            Pearl’s eyes widened at Yellow Diamond’s statement.  Of course, what else was Pearl 00010 monitoring on those screens every time?  How else would Yellow Diamond know whenever they weren’t doing anything or stalling?  The revelation made her internally grateful that she was never undressed during any of those times.  However, she still cringed at the fact that there was now plenty of video of her going down on Garnet.  What about Garnet?  How did she feel about this?  The gem’s accented voice cut off Pearl’s thoughts.

            “Well, I was under the impression that you didn’t want to give White free porn of me.”

            Yellow Diamond looked contemplative.

            “You’re right, I don’t want to.  I would hate for her to try and undercut me again.  Take Garnet and Pearl 01079 to the SUVs have them do it in there,” she directed to the two amethysts.  “Now where is that pearl?”

            Pearl took that as her cue to step out and walk over.

            “There you are, you’re late,” the imposing woman glared at her.  She grabbed Pearl’s shoulder and shoved her towards Garnet.  “Make sure to work her over well tonight, I don’t want any funny business from either of you this time.”

            “Yes, ma’am,” Pearl bowed.

            They were escorted to the SUV and locked inside.  Garnet looked around the cabin and promptly folded her arms and legs.  Pearl sighed, she already didn’t like where this was going with Garnet’s closed off body language and her own reluctance to want to do this act.

            “Make sure to work her over well tonight, I don’t want any funny business from either of you this time.”

            Just focus on getting her off, you know how to now, it won’t take long.

            “Look let’s-” Pearl began.

            “I’m not going to make you.  As long as I make some noise and shake it around a little bit they’ll think we did,” Garnet cut her off.

            Pearl stared at her in confusion.  “What about your match tomorrow?  You need to be ready for it.”

            “I’ll perform just as well with or without this,” the dark gem stated.  “I’m giving you a choice, Pearl.”

            The pale gem frowned as she considered the option.  If their previous room was bugged and this vehicle was always used for Garnet and Yellow Diamond liked to keep a close watch on her champion, it was highly likely that this car would have some sort of bugging done to it as well.

            “Are you certain that will work?  Couldn’t this place be bugged?” Pearl countered.

            “Shit,” Garnet grumbled as she pinched the bridge of her nose.  “I hadn’t…that was very stupid of me.”

            The cabin lights went off and the pair was enveloped in darkness.  Pearl waited for her eyes to adjust.  It was too risky; the consequences for not getting Garnet off would be severe.  The thin gem breathed out evenly and prepared herself.  Despite the fun they had playing card games together, Pearl’s desire to go down on the woman was minimal at best.  She dutifully moved closer to Garnet.  In the light seeping into the car from a nearby parking light, Pearl had to admit that Garnet’s features were beautifully accented.  From her thick lips and angular jaw, to her muscular frame softened slightly by the gentle swell of her breasts and the generous curves around her hips.  Before finding out that Garnet brutally murdered people on a regular basis, going down on her wasn’t so bad.  Maybe, this could be a lot easier if she pushed aside her conflicting opinions of the champion and just focused on pleasuring the physically attractive woman.  Initially her mind pushed back on this, but after reminding herself that she had to do this or face Yellow Diamond’s wrath and that Garnet had for the most part been fairly kind to her, a few of her reservations towards the idea were broken down.  If she was going to do this, she might as well enjoy it.

            “I’ll place my bets on that this place is bugged,” Pearl whispered as she placed her hands on Garnet’s belt; tugging it ever so slightly towards her.

            Garnet tensed at the bold movement, took a deep breath, and swallowed.  “It’s the kind of thing she would do,” she whispered back.

            Pearl undid the champion’s belt and pants.  “Are you going to make this easy on me or not?” she stared at the reflective sunglasses.

            Garnet made no comment on her bolder attitude and lifted her hips up so Pearl could pull her pants off and let the fabric collect at her ankles.  This was a first, having to actually remove the gem’s clothing.  It gave her a more intimate look into how Garnet preferred to dress.

            “Boxer briefs?  I’m not surprised.”

            She curled her fingers around the waistband and pulled those down to join the pants.  Garnet grabbed one of the seat belts and wrapped her hand in it.  Pearl kneeled down and pushed muscular legs apart.  She could already smell the fighter’s arousal.

            “You could at least have the decency to take off those sunglasses while I do this,” Pearl offhandedly mentioned as she glanced up at the woman’s face.

            The dark woman reached up and immediately removed them.  With a final steadying breath, Pearl leaned down and ran her tongue over the woman’s wet lips.  She pushed the thick thighs apart even more to open Garnet up.  The better access she had the quicker she could get this over with.

            There was a distinct difference between this time and all the others.  It came in the form of the pants and moans that made it past Garnet’s lips unhindered.  A deep breathy groan rumbled from Garnet’s chest as Pearl did a movement she knew unhinged the dark gem.  Pearl’s face heated up at the sound and took her time on the next movement unconsciously trying to push another similar sound from the fighter.  This was much more tolerable than the monitored and restricted sessions in Garnet’s room.  It was open, raw, and…sensual.  She could directly hear and feel the affect she had on the powerful fighter.  While opponent after opponent in the ring would fail to make Garnet stumble or fall; Pearl could do it to her with one regulation.  Light eyes looked up at the arched form above her as her tongue ran circles around the swollen sensitive nub.  Garnet’s hands were clinging desperately to the seat belts and the leather as her chest rose and fell rapidly.  Her head was thrown back displaying her sharp jaw and throat.  She was close.  Pearl hadn’t failed to notice how much quicker Garnet had gotten worked up this time than the previous two times.  She was going to finish Garnet off how she wanted to and perhaps push a little more enjoyable responsiveness from the fighter at the same time.  Skilled lips and tongue jumped around, mixing up pressures and speed, making it hard to determine what she was going to do next.

            “Ah!” Garnet gasped.  “Pearl!

            A shock of electricity went up Pearl’s spine at the sound of her name rolling off of Garnet’s tongue as she crashed through her first orgasm.  Pearl stared at the other woman in shock.  It ignited something inside her, something she couldn’t quite place her finger on, she definitely wouldn’t mind if Garnet said her name like that again.  The thin gem’s reaction was cut short as she noticed the juices making a mess on the leather.  She quickly went down and began to clean up Garnet.  Experienced tongue, lips, and teeth relentlessly attacked the swollen clitoris.  Part of her wanted badly to make the larger woman cry out even more while the other half was disgusted at how low she had fallen to accept and enjoy this.  The strawberry blonde forced those thoughts to the side.

            “Fuck, Pearl,” Garnet groaned as her body arched.

            The smaller woman ran her tongue around the other’s vaginal opening a few times letting the sensitive nub get a brief break.  Pearl pushed herself closer to Garnet’s center as she thrust her tongue into Garnet’s opening as far as she could go.  Hips bucked in time to the in and out movement of her slick muscle.  Before long Pearl repositioned herself and was working on the fighter’s clitoris again, biting, sucking; driving the woman over the edge again in a matter of minutes.  Garnet exclaimed her name again as her second orgasm rocked her body.  Pearl slowly eased off the intensity and cleaned Garnet up as the dark woman recovered.  Pearl sat back on her heels and looked up at Garnet’s dazed expression.

            “Fuck,” Garnet repeated breathing out.  “That was…shit…”

Garnet rested her forehead in the palms of her hands as her elbows were propped against her bare sweaty thighs.  The fighter took a deep breath and exhaled several times.

            Pearl smirked.  “I’ll let you put your pants back on.”

            The taller weakly laughed.  “First Speed, now this, shit, Pearl.”  She reached down, pulled her pants up, and buckled the belt.

            That sound was new, laughter.  Pearl logged it away in her brain with the two smiles she had seen Garnet make.

            “You’ve never been this vocal before, I guess I let it get to my head,” Pearl shrugged, not at all trying to hide the tiny feeling of pride she got from working Garnet over so well.

            Mismatched irises looked up at her.  Garnet laughed again.

            Pearl felt her face heat up slightly.

            “Just don’t brag about it, especially when Yellow Diamond is around.  For both of our sakes, OK?”

            “I won’t,” Pearl smiled with understanding.

            Garnet pursed her lips for a moment; she looked like she wanted to say something.  She would open her mouth, only to close it.  After a couple of moments, she looked away from Pearl and put on her sunglasses.  Garnet rapped her knuckles against the window.  The door was opened seconds later.  The fighter gingerly stepped out followed by Pearl.  Whether or not the two guards could smell her scent or had heard anything, they gave no indication either way.  Garnet slowly walked in between the amethysts, Pearl kept pace at her side.  They eventually came to a fork in the road where Pearl was to head down one hallway while Garnet took the other.  The smaller gem turned and began walking, not bothering to look back.  All of the corridors were dark, minimal lighting was spread throughout from an occasional overhead light.  A figure sneaked up next to her and Pearl jumped to see the champion following her.

            “Garnet!  What are you doing?”  She shot out through her surprise.  “Shouldn’t you be heading back to your room?”  Light blue eyes looked backwards to see the two amethysts following a few steps behind them. 

            Garnet didn’t say anything she just held out an unopened water bottle to the pale gem.  Pearl blushed but took the offered drink and downed a couple gulps.  They continued their walk in silence.  A few turns away from where the dancers and Pearl were staying two figures stepped out from another hallway and strode towards them.

            “Halt!  No gems are to be out past curfew, list your names and reason for being out immediately,” the tall jasper commanded.

            Pearl noticed right away that they belonged to White Diamond; their appearance was different from their jaspers.  They must be nighttime security.

            “Garnet 0001, just getting to the designated sleeping arrangements,” Garnet took a slight defensive step in front of Pearl.

            The jasper looked across at Garnet, examining her necklace.  “Hmpf, so you’re Yellow Diamond’s little bitch.  You’re stationed back the way you’re coming from.  Head back that way, as for the pearl we’ll take her to her sleeping arrangement.  And take your lackeys with you; they are stationed back there as well.”

            “I am the one escorting Pearl back to her room, not any gem from White Diamond,” Garnet growled.

            “The pearl is coming with us and you will go back to your room.”  The jasper made a move to grab Pearl’s arm, but Garnet grabbed his wrist first.

            “You will not touch her.  I will be the one who ensures she gets to her room safely.”

            “You have no authority here, you’re in our domain,” he snarled.

            “You aren’t allowed to order around a gem of a higher rank.  And you sure as hell are not allowed to do anything to another diamond’s gem without permission.”

            The jasper yanked his arm out of Garnet’s grip.  “Go ahead and throw around your weight while you can.  Imperial Topaz is going to beat the shit out of you tomorrow.”

            “We’ll see about that,” Garnet retorted.

            White Diamond’s jaspers stepped to the side and allowed them to pass through.  Garnet’s tense posture slowly relaxed the farther away they got from the two guards.  When they arrived at the door, Pearl peeked in at the sleeping forms on futons.

            “Thank you,” she whispered to the dark gem.

            “You’re welcome.”

            She looked up to see that the fighter was smiling ever so slightly.

            “Good luck, not that you’ll need it,” Pearl added before she went inside.

            “I’ll take it anyway,” Garnet chuckled.

            Pearl watched the tall gem turn and walk away with her two guards trailing behind her before shutting the door.  She maneuvered her way through the sleeping figures, trying to find where her stuff was placed.  A scheduler lit up and Pearl 00687’s voice quietly called out to her.

            “01079!  You’re over by me.  I got your bed and stuff all put together.”

            Pearl smiled in relief.  “00687, thank you, I appreciate you doing that for me.”

            Pearl 00687 just smiled.  The light eyed gem used her scheduler to find her bag and pull out her toothbrush.

            “Are there any bathrooms nearby?  Possibly to take a shower?”

            “No, but tomorrow morning we have a time slot to do so.”

            “OK, good, because I really need to take one.”

            “I bet you do,” came the suggestive comment as another scheduler lit up an amused face.  A couple more appeared as several of the dancers focused their attention on Pearl.

            “So, how was it?” the first dancer asked.

            “How was what?” Pearl tried to be oblivious to what they were referring to.

            “Regulating Garnet of course, it’s no secret that you’re the one who does.”

            Pearl could feel her blush enveloping her face.  “I am under no obligation to disclose any of that information,” Pearl hissed.

            “Aww c’mon,” another dancer sighed.  “We want to know.”

            “Does she scream when she comes?”

            “How do her breasts feel?”

            “Do you mostly use your hand or mouth?”

            A light came on from the far side of room and began to make its way towards them.

            “Shit it’s Rainbow Quartz!” one quietly shouted.  “Quick go to sleep!”

            Pearl shoved her toothbrush in her mouth and began to brush furiously.  Sure enough the other light was held by Rainbow Quartz, who didn’t seem very pleased.

            “What’s all this commotion I’m seeing here?” she demanded.

            “Pearl 01079 just got back from regulation and had a couple of questions about tomorrow that’s all,” Pearl 00687 covered.

            “I see,” the older gem mused.  “Thank you Pearl, and just so you know any gems caught staying up will be in for serious reprimanding and possible reeducation.”  Rainbow Quartz said the last part a little louder.

            “Understood ma’am.”

            “Let me know if there are any more disturbances.”

            “I will, ma’am.”

            “Good.  Now get some rest.”

            “Thank you; you have a good rest Rainbow Quartz.”

            The dancing choreographer walked back to her sleeping area.  Pearl 00687 threw Pearl a worried expression.  The younger gem just shrugged and finished brushing her teeth.  In a matter of minutes, she was curled up in the futon ready to fall asleep.  As she stared up at the dark ceiling, her mind reflected on the past two days she had spent with Garnet.  From playing card games, to almost getting badly hurt, to her bolder attitude in regulation.  A huff escaped her lips.  On one hand she was still betrayed, disgusted, and scared of the terrifying champion.  While on the other Garnet was physically attractive, considerate, and OK to be around.  Pearl rolled onto her side.  Thin lips were pulled down into a frown as her tongue rolled around in her now clean mouth.  A large part of her felt filthy, she hated how much she had lost herself in regulation.  She was becoming accustomed to it, she was starting to enjoy it.  Pearl tossed over onto her other side.  Now wasn’t the time for deep internal reflection on her choices and feelings towards Garnet, she needed all the rest she could get for the huge event tomorrow.

Chapter Text

^^^^^^

Failure is not an option in the Underground.  Pearl meets another diamond and wonders if ignorance truly is bliss.

^^^^^^

 

            When a Diamond’s good name and reputation are put in contest with another, no holds are barred.  If there was one phrase to describe the event, it was “all out”.  Apparently the patrons knew as well that it was an event hosted by two of the four diamonds, it was not an event to miss.  Dancers were out performing by 17:00, drinks and food had already been flowing freely for a couple of hours, and in a couple more the fights would be starting.  Pearl got the chance to see the weigh-ins for the various fighters.  They started with the lowest ranking fighters, presenting Yellow Diamond’s representative first.  Each of the four sets of fighters were matched up weight wise.

            “Next up we have the two Champions!  Let’s begin with Yellow Diamond’s champion, GARNET!”

            Garnet stepped out and onto the scale wearing mid-thigh, skin tight, black, fighting shorts, a maroon sports bra, and her sunglasses.  She crossed her arms and flexed as the numbers were read.  Wolf-whistles and catcalls came from every direction.

            “Garnet is 21 years old, a young fighter holding an impressive Underground fighting record of 57-6.  She stands at 6 feet, 6 inches tall and weighs in at 220 pounds of solid muscle!” the main announcer spoke up.

            “Wow, she sure has gained some weight since the last time she was here,” one of the other announcers commented.

            “Whatever they’ve been feeding her must have all gone straight to her thighs,” the first announcer rolled on the jab.

            The crowd roared with laughter.  Pearl grimaced; they certainly didn’t have the home court advantage here.

            “Now for White Diamond’s champion, please welcome IMPERIAL TOPAZ!”

            Imperial Topaz stepped out into the spotlight.  He stood a couple inches taller than Garnet and reminded Pearl of the statues carved of the Greek Gods.  Each muscle was defined and bulging with power.  He wore a pair of white fighting shorts like Garnet, but no shirt; his steel necklace standing out against his tan skin.  As he stood on the scale he raised his arms up to flex in the typical pose.  Pearl couldn’t help but roll her eyes.

            “Imperial Topaz is a seasoned fighter at the age of 30!  He holds an unprecedented Underground fighting record of 187-2!  Standing at 6 feet, 9 inches tall, Imperial Topaz is 273 pounds of pure power!”

            The crowd roared for White Diamond’s champion.  The thin gem scoffed.  Apparently weight was not a factor in champion matches; Imperial Topaz had over fifty pounds on Garnet.  The light eyed woman mentally recalled a number of Garnet’s matches, the gem was used to fighting outside of her weight class; this wasn’t anything she wouldn’t be able to handle.  Imperial Topaz stepped off the scale and walked right over to Garnet; standing close enough that their noses were touching as he looked down at her.  Garnet didn’t move an inch.  A couple of jaspers stepped in between them after a few moments and directed the two off to their sides of the stage.  Pearl was called off soon afterward to get more water for the dancers.

 

            “The winner for the fourth match of the evening is Jasper of the yellow team!”

            “Now that makes the two teams tied, White Diamond and Yellow Diamond both have two victories apiece.  It will be down to the champions to see who will win the head-to-head competition!”

            “Before we call out the fighters let’s just go over some history here.  So far Garnet and Imperial Topaz have faced off three times,” the first announcer sidetracked.

            “And Imperial Topaz has been the winner all three times; it won’t be much of a contest no matter how much Garnet has been talked up.”

            “Well to be somewhat fair to Garnet one of those matches was when she was just barely named Yellow Diamond’s champion and another happened only a few months after that in the 2nd Diamond Tournament.  She’s grown a lot since that time.”

            “Yes, but the match a year and a half ago is a clear indicator, that even with more experience, she is just no match for Imperial Topaz.  He’s got years of experience, strength, reach, and skill on his side,” the second countered.

            “True, but Garnet is extremely fast and has both a deadly standing and ground game.  Not to mention she hasn’t lost a match since her last face off with Imperial Topaz; including a match against Pink Diamond’s champion and several other notable fighters.”

            “Well either way it’s going to be decided tonight in just a few minutes.  We just got word that it’s time to bring out the champions.”

            The crowd roared in anticipation, sections chanting for their favored fighter.  Pearl turned to look down at the ring as Garnet’s entry music began to flow from the speakers.  In a minute Garnet was lightly hopping from foot to foot on her side of the ring, a sheen of sweat glistening on her skin.

            “I can tell you want to watch the match,” Carnelian said off to the side of Pearl.

            Pearl jumped slightly.  Did she want to watch the match?  Should she want to watch the match?  Her lingering eyes on the ring and pausing whenever Yellow Diamond’s champion’s name was said out loud spoke volumes.  Why would she want to watch a violent sport?  Was she becoming used to it?  A light huff escaped her lips.  The thin woman couldn’t deny her desire to watch Garnet’s match.

            “Yes, ma’am,” she timidly admitted.

            “Pearl 00687 offered to take care of things while the match is going, but if we need your help we will call you.”

            “Thank you very much, ma’am.”

            “Just be sure to thank Pearl 00687 properly as well.”

            “I will; thank you, ma’am.”

            Carnelian nodded and walked back to her seat.  Relief washed over at the same time another feeling of disgust crept up.  Pearl pushed it away again, she was going to enjoy the small break she got and watch the highly anticipated match.  Luckily with fights going on, no dance performances were happening, thus giving their group overall a small bit of a break.

            “Just a reminder to all of you, champion matches will go for five rounds of five minutes each.  If there is no stop of the match before then by our referee, then it will go to the judges to decide on who won the match,” the announcer’s voice boomed over the commotion.

            “Now turn your attention to the ring, the fight you’ve all been waiting for is about to begin!”

            The referee called the two fighters to the middle.  He gave a short reminder of the rules, had them bump gloves; and then dismissed them to their sides before starting the match.  At the sound of the bell, the two fighters moved to meet in the middle.  Imperial Topaz pushed forward taking the center, forcing Garnet to dance around in the perimeter.  For the first thirty seconds or so the two champions carefully stepped around each other, throwing a few punches and kicks here and there getting a feel for each other.  Garnet suddenly lunged in for a double-leg take-down, her powerful legs enabled her to clear the few feet between them in an instant and wrap her arms around his knees, but Imperial Topaz reacted in just enough time to skillfully sprawl, breaking the dark fighter’s hold and rendering the advance useless.  Gloved fists struck Garnet’s exposed sides repeatedly until Garnet was able to work up to a standing clench.  From there the two traded close-range punches and elbows.  Multiple attempts were made to take the other down.  The larger fighter would try to bear down on Garnet, attempting to force her to the ground and she would shift her hips and body just so that she maintained her balance in the clench.  Frustrated, Imperial Topaz shoved Garnet away and came after her with his usual striking range, bombarding her with combos as he drove her towards the fence.  Cheers from the crowd increased from the exciting change in pace.  The darker champion blocked and avoided most of the punches, expertly sneaking in a couple of retaliating taps that didn’t even faze the larger fighter.  Garnet took a step diagonally backwards, dangerously close to the fence.  Imperial Topaz drove after her, powerful fists sailing through the air.  The curly haired fighter slipped through each one as she cut a corner and hit him in the side several more times with her fast fists.  Those also seemed to not have any affect.  Several tense moments passed as the two worked their respective ranges, trying to find a good opening.  Lightning fast feet pushed off the floor as Garnet went for another double leg take down.  At first it looked like Imperial Topaz was just going to break out again, but Garnet immediately switched it to a single leg and threw him off balance enough that she could bring him down.  The spectators jumped to their feet. 

            Pearl silently cheered along with them, hands almost jumping up into the air but she kept them at her side.

            Garnet methodically worked to claim Imperial Topaz’s side, but he was able to shrimp away and regain his feet with a risky scramble.  She pushed after him, hoping to keep him off balance.  Fists only met air until a retaliating one crashed into Garnet’s nose.  The smaller fighter quickly back-pedaled, lips pulled south into a deeper frown, blood starting to run down her face.  More cheers as the first sight of blood was celebrated.  Imperial Topaz chased the opportunity and let loose a barrage of attacks.  Dangerous strike after dangerous strike was narrowly avoided by Garnet.  A distinct clapping sounded, signaling to the two champions that they had ten seconds left.  Garnet struck out, her fists connecting a couple of times at the cost of getting hit in the body and face a handful more times.  At the bell the ref stepped between them and told them to back off.  As they rested and regrouped for the next round, Imperial Topaz looked fine while Garnet dabbed at her bloody nose trying to get it to stop.

            With the clang of the bell the second round had begun and the two fighters were at each other again.  This time Garnet took the center and forced Imperial Topaz to dance on the perimeter.  She would lunge forward, slip through his defenses, smash her fists into his body and face; then reclaim her spot in the center before he could grab or hit her.  On one of these swift attacks, a portion of Imperial Topaz’s skin around his eye burst open.  Red stained his glistening sweaty skin.  Garnet went after that spot, trying to aggravate that area as much as possible, forcing him to be more defensive of it so she would have other openings.  The seasoned fighter was no fool, after baiting Garnet with what she was going for he caught her with a solid hit to the gut.  Another gloved fist struck, restarting the blood flow from the dark fighter’s nose. 

            Pearl clenched her teeth, hands curling into fists.  Cheers from the crowd grew.

            Garnet lost control of the ring as she was back on the defensive.  Sweat dripped like rain from their bodies.  Slowly and steadily the younger fighter recovered from her loss.  Several solid kicks landing to Imperial Topaz’s legs accompanied by a front kick to his sternum forced him back.  Using his backward momentum, Garnet was able to corner the other champion against the fence and take him down.  Excitement jumped from the crowd at the sound of the large bodies hitting the floor.  The second round was close to ending.  Garnet quickly gained control of his side and delivered several vicious elbows to the face and cringe inducing knees to his ribcage.  More blood joined the previous splatters on the floor.  Her advantage was short lived as Imperial Topaz was able to get his guard up and keep Garnet’s strikes at bay.  They were locked in a power struggle with Imperial Topaz trying to flip Garnet over to have a mount position, while Garnet was trying to break through his guard or use it to her advantage.  It was a physical game of chess as movements were careful and calculated.  Garnet would fake a movement in hopes of gaining a split-second advantage in her true aim.  Several times she got really close to breaking out of the guard and changing things up, but Imperial Topaz was able to supplement his lack of skill with his brute strength.  Even with Garnet elbowing and punching as much as she safely could it had little to no affect.  When the buzzer sounded the two were stood up and sent to their respective corners.

            In the third round Imperial Topaz came out with vigor.  He had been able to recover somewhat during the standoff on the ground in the second round while Garnet had been worn down from trying to break free and preventing him from reversing their positions.  Powerful punches were more blocked and absorbed than avoided.  Crimson leaked onto the floor from the female fighter’s face.  Garnet got a number of good hits in, but it still didn’t seem to faze the hulking figure of Imperial Topaz.  It became more evident as the round went on the toll of all those hits on her body.  She was wearing down.  Welts from kicks could be seen forming on both of the fighter’s thighs, bruises and reddened areas appeared on their skin, chests heaved up and down as they breathed heavily, movements were less fluid, and favored types of kicks and punches were used instead of daring techniques.  Imperial Topaz launched at Garnet with a fast flurry of his fists.  The smaller fighter weaved back and forth, barely slipping past each dangerous strike.  Cheers rang out along with boos as Garnet quickly danced away and regained some distance between them. 

            Pearl became conscious of the fact she had been holding her breath and immediately corrected it.

            Mismatched eyes narrowed in concentration as Garnet redirected another punch before she retaliated in kind, hitting the split in Imperial Topaz’s skin.  He pulled back into defense, lips pressed together into a thin line.  Garnet didn’t miss a beat; she saw the opportunity and landed two more consecutive hits to his face.  However, the massive fighter only seemed to stumble for a moment before the hits were shaken off.  Imperial Topaz dropped low in an attempt to tackle the smaller fighter.  Garnet sprawled, temporarily stopping him.  Feet quickly drove against the floor propelling the larger fighter forward; shoving the dark fighter back with his brute strength.  Mismatched eyes went wide.  She had to hop backwards towards the fence in order to prevent herself from losing her balance and getting forced to the ground.  Garnet grimaced as she was shoved up against the fence.  For the few seconds she could, she rained down strikes on the side of Imperial Topaz’s exposed face.  The larger fighter expertly moved up into a standing clench.  He made several movements to take Garnet down, but her defensive measures helped her last until the bell rang signaling the end of the third round.  Both fighters breathed heavily as they prepared for the fourth round.

            Garnet took control of the fourth round; she came out with a solid double-leg take-down that Imperial topaz was unable to avoid.  The younger fighter was on top of him in an instant as she took the mount position.  Powerful fists and elbows crashed against his face and arms.  Crimson jumped onto the floor.  Unfortunately, it didn’t last long enough and despite her best efforts to remain on top, Imperial Topaz was able to use his size and raw strength to shove Garnet up and over.  He rolled her hoping to get mount position, but she locked her legs around his torso, trapping him in her guard.  They worked from there, trading punches and attempts to change the position to one that was more favorable for two minutes.  As Imperial Topaz made another movement, Garnet saw an opening and snapped on an almost complete triangle choke around his neck.  Realizing the potential danger he was in, Imperial Topaz braced his arm and pushed up against the muscular leg across his upper back.  Garnet reached up and tried to lock in the choke even tighter, but was having trouble once again fighting his brute strength.  One minute remained in the round.  A few more punches were delivered by Garnet to hopefully soften him up.  Twenty seconds remained.  Imperial Topaz stood up to try and bear his weight down on Garnet and break free.  The smaller champion seized the opportunity and took a hold of the back of his ankles, driving her hips forward causing the larger gem to fall onto his butt.  Garnet launched herself up onto his chest, successfully locking in the triangle choke.  Ten seconds remained.  She squeezed with all her might, compressing the space between her legs to almost nothing.  Imperial Topaz’s face was turning a dark shade of red, but he still was not tapping out.  5 seconds.  Garnet unleashed a flurry of punches on his bloodied face.  2 seconds.  1 second.  The referee jumped in and forced Garnet off.  She stormed off to her corner, breathing heavily, and legs shaking.  Imperial Topaz slowly got to his feet, blood dripping from his badly cut face onto the floor.  His corners were shouting at him and wiping away the thick red substance.  Garnet stood in her corner alone, only drinking a little water as she waited for the final round to begin.

            As the clocked counted down to the fifth and final round, the crowd chanted their favored champion’s name over and over again.  Everything seemed to have come to a stop as everyone was watching the fight unfold its last chapter.  Sweat and blood dripped off Garnet’s form as she came after Imperial Topaz once again.  The larger champion sluggishly countered and blocked, letting his resilient body absorb the number of hits Garnet landed.  An angry cry burst from the dark fighter’s lips as she punched him in the side.  Imperial Topaz stumbled back.  Garnet latched onto it, pushing forward, beating the ribs and the side of his face until he was hiding behind his arms and backing away.  All seemed to be going in Garnet’s favor until Imperial Topaz weaved and shot out one hit that got her right in the nose once again.  As her head was snapped back, eyes strewn shut in pain, Imperial Topaz stood tall.  His thick legs scored a particularly hard kick to Garnet’s quadriceps of her leading leg.  The leg momentarily gave out causing her to drop her fists ever so slightly.  Imperial Topaz followed with a punch that shot Garnet’s mouth guard straight out of her mouth.  Sweat and spit spraying out like a wet towel being spun around.  Dazed, with blood leaking from her mouth, Garnet tried to revert to a defensive stance; bobbing and weaving while keeping her face covered.  Imperial Topaz sloppily trapped her against the fence and was not letting up for a second.  Body hit, elbow, body, face, body, face, elbow, stomach, face.  He then quickly took her down and claimed the mount position.

            Pearl clenched her fists as she watched Garnet try to endure the onslaught.

            Garnet’s dark arms shot out and wrapped tightly around Imperial Topaz’s torso, cutting off his space to punch.  Mismatched eyes were closed as blood seeped out from both nostrils, her mouth, and several cuts on her face.  She tried in vain to reverse the position, only to be shoved back to the ground.  The crowd went wild as Imperial Topaz reclaimed the needed space to deliver dangerous punches and lethal elbows.

            Pearl could hardly see Garnet’s face as the champion tried to block the never-ending blows.  Garnet was losing.  The light gem’s stomach sank as a dark arm fell limply to the side.  Two hits to the face later and the referee was shoving Imperial Topaz off of Garnet’s unconscious form.  The older champion stood up and yelled, throwing his bloodied arms in the air to egg on the cheers he was getting.  Pearl involuntarily put a hand to her mouth.

            Garnet had lost.

            Imperial Topaz paraded around the ring, the left side of his face badly swollen and leaking blood everywhere with his torso a bright red from all the hits he took.  Slowly, Garnet’s motionless form began to show signs of life.  Carefully Garnet rolled onto her stomach and got onto her knees and hands; forehead resting against the mat.  The dark champion rose to her feet, stumbling once, almost twice.  The referee grabbed her gloved wrist and pulled her still dazed self towards the center of the ring.  In the referee’s other hand was Imperial Topaz’s wrist.  The referee raised Imperial Topaz’s arm into the air as the announcers yelled.

            “With a win in the fifth round by knock-out, White Diamond’s Champion, IMPERIAL TOPAZ!”

            The victorious champion stepped over to Garnet and pulled her in for what looked like a one-armed hug with a friendly pat on the back.  Garnet returned the gesture for a second before her hands fell to hang limply at her side.  Imperial Topaz turned to once again make a round around the ring as Garnet walked away to collect her mouth guard.  Her two amethyst guards escorted her out of the ring.  They made no move to help her as she stumbled down the steps and staggered on unsure feet back to where she came from.

            Pearl was suddenly very nervous for Garnet.

            “Wow, what a match!  That was anyone’s fight until the end.  I’m really impressed with how Garnet came out tonight.  I almost believed she was going to win in the end of the fourth with that triangle choke on.”

            “Yes it sure was a close one, a definite match to go down in the history books.  Though, I honestly think Imperial Topaz had control the whole time.  Garnet may have gotten some lucky shots in, but she was just unable to finish.”

            “You’re right, and with a fighter like Imperial Topaz, you need to be able to finish.  You can’t give him one second to recover and that was Garnet’s mistake.”

            With the fights now over, the dancers were flooding the stages enticing all of the patrons to come and watch them.  Pearl was called away from the window and into action; they were due for their nutrition supplies for a late dinner.  As Pearl and Pearl 00687 made their way to the kitchens, the patrons and gems were abuzz with the excitement of the fights.  Pearl 00687 turned to Pearl as they pushed the food and drink supplies back to their base of operations.

            “Are you ok?  You look a little pale.”

            Pearl looked at her friend.  “I’m a little surprised,” she breathed out, “Garnet always wins.”

            “I know it seems like that, but the other champions are no joke.  Imperial Topaz is rated the top champion right now out of the four of them.”

            “Still though, Garnet has faced other opponents of similar size and come out victorious.”

            Pearl 00687 shrugged.  “Imperial Topaz is White Diamond’s champion for a reason.  And with White Diamond being the oldest diamond, it would make sense that her champion always wins.”

            “I guess so…” Pearl frowned.  “Wait; there are ages to the diamonds?”

            “Yes, the order goes White, Blue, Yellow, and then Pink.  I haven’t been here since before Yellow Diamond was well…Yellow Diamond.  Only the older gems know of that time.  Like Carnelian, she was a part of this before there was Yellow Diamond.  Rumor has it she even knows what Yellow Diamond’s real name is.”

            Pearl’s eyebrows jumped up towards her hairline at this revelation.

            “But it would be pointless to know that,” Pearl 00687 continued, “if you were to call her by her real name I’m sure she’d kill you on the spot.”

            “Wow…I didn’t know that.  I just assumed that Yellow Diamond was always that.”  Light blue eyes focused on the flatbed she was pushing.

            “In all honesty, the more I learn about this place, the more secrets I find.  It’s a never-ending twisted puzzle,” Pearl 00687 lightly complained.

            “Based off of what I’ve seen so far, I’m not sure if I want to know everything.”

            Pearl 00687 laughed.  “True, so I guess ignorance is bliss?”

            “Maybe…” Pearl mused.

            When the pearls arrived with the rations, they were mobbed by the famished dancers.  It didn’t take long for several of the five-gallon jugs to be completely drained.  The calls for more water pulled the two pearls away from what minor tasks they were helping with.

            “I’ll go get it,” Pearl stepped up.  “00687, take a break this time, as part of a thank you for covering for me during the fight,” she finished with a smile.

            “Nonsense, I’m coming with you,” she brushed off as she stood up and joined Pearl.  “Plus, fire opal needs some time to recover before I work on their calves again.”

            “That I do,” they painfully agreed from where they were lying face down on the ground.

            “What can I do to pay you back for taking my work for the half hour?  I have some units left, I can do extra work, or something…” Pearl said as she pushed the empty jugs towards the main kitchen area.

            “Don’t worry about it, just keep it in mind if there’s ever a time that I need a break or help with something, ok?”

            “Of course.” Pearl nodded. “Just be sure to actually let me know when you do need help, deal?” the pale gem playfully nudged her friend.

            “Deal,” Pearl 00687 smiled.

            It took a while to work through the line at the kitchen and get all of the jugs filled up.  Pearl could swear the gems under White Diamond were purposefully taking their time when it came to filling orders for gems from Yellow Diamond.  She wished there were a few of their ambers there to even out the playing field.  As she understood, they had their ambers working the stands they were allowed to set up, but access to necessities such as the freezer, storage space, water, heated water, etc., was all processed through White Diamond’s gems.  Though it was their food and water in there, they could only have it as quickly as White Diamond’s ambers handed it out.

            The two pearls walked side by side through the corridor that was on the shortest route back to the dancers.

            “You two pearls, halt right there!”

            They jumped, turned, and anxiously looked back.  A gem was advancing on them.  As he got closer, Pearl recognized him as one of the amethysts that usually guarded Garnet.

            “One of you is to come with me,” his eyes fell on Pearl and lit with recognition.  “You,” he grabbed her by the arm.  “You’re coming with me, Yellow Diamond’s orders.”

            “Wait, what?” Pearl shouted out as she was dragged down the hallway.

            One dangerous look from the amethyst shut her mouth.  Pearl looked back at Pearl 00687 with a panicked expression.

            “It’s ok! I’ll take the water back and explain to Carnelian!” Pearl 00687 shouted back at her.

            The amethyst didn’t let go of her arm until they had weaved through a couple of hallways and headed straight for a nondescript door.  Pearl did her best to remember the path they had taken for she knew she would have to find her way back out.  One large hand yanked open the door while the pale gem was shoved in with the other.  Four large amethysts lumbered past them, exiting through the door they had just entered from.  It shut behind the four amethysts and was promptly locked by the amethyst that had dragged Pearl there.  Light blue eyes darted around to take in her surroundings as her heart pounded in her ribcage; her mind quickly trying to figure out what was going to happen to her.  It was a medium-sized room, 20 feet by 20 feet, white walls with a concrete floor.  Yellow Diamond was pacing back and forth in her yellow suit.  Pearl 00010 stood still, looking straight ahead.  The other amethyst who typically guarded Garnet was in the room along with Yellow Diamond’s jasper bodyguards.  Pearl’s hands jerked towards her face as her eyes fell upon Garnet’s figure lying sprawled out and face down on the floor.  The champion’s fighting uniform was stained with more blood than had been on it from the match and there was a thick smear of it on the floor beneath Garnet’s head.  Yellow Diamond finally noticed them.

            “Took you long enough.  You brought a pearl?” she asked the amethyst.  “You didn’t have to bring a pearl, any low ranked gem that could help Spinel 00046 would have worked,” Yellow Diamond directed towards the amethyst standing behind Pearl.

            “She was the first gem of ours that I ran into on my search, ma’am.”

            Yellow Diamond’s eyes narrowed when she took a second glance at Pearl, recognizing her this time.  “You…”  She turned to the amethyst again.  “Well at least this one is familiar with Garnet.”

            Yellow Diamond paced back towards the still figure lying on the ground.

            “Get up!” she shouted.

            No response came from the prone figure.

            “I said GET UP you worthless piece of shit!”

            Arms slowly moved to push the dark woman’s torso up.  They were successful in getting her a couple of inches off the ground, but the quaking limbs gave out and Garnet fell back to the ground.

            “GET UP!” Yellow Diamond exclaimed as she violently kicked the fighter in the side below her ribcage.

            Pearl flinched.  A second attempt was eventually made but Garnet had even less success that time.  The enraged woman paced around for a few moments, pausing a couple of times to glance at her champion.  She looked ready to physically lash out at any instant.  Eventually the pacing stopped.  Yellow Diamond breathed out sharply and pinched the bridge of her nose.

            “I didn’t think I would need those amethysts around any longer, but you’ve proved otherwise,” she snarled at Garnet.  “It’s disgusting how pathetic you are and you’re supposed to be my best.”  The terrifying woman turned to face Pearl and the amethyst standing behind her.  “You pearl, pick this piece of shit up,” she ordered Pearl as her face sharply gestured to Garnet’s motionless body.

            “Yes ma’am,” Pearl thankfully replied without any hesitation.

            Moving closer to the dangerous woman in order to approach Garnet made her frame shake and her breathing increase.  The pale gem let out a shaky breath and tried to calm herself as much as possible.  Pearl crouched in front of Garnet’s mass of curls.  If she focused on the task and didn’t mess up, she would be okay.  She leaned slightly forward and assessed which method of gripping the large body would yield success.  The champion’s back was rising and falling ever so slightly, Garnet was breathing.  Pearl grabbed a hold of the fighter under the armpits, squatted down, and then began to stand up.  She made sure to keep her back tight and straight so her legs would bear the bulk of the dead weight.  Hands nearly slipped on the slick, sweat soaked clothing.  Pearl quickly adjusted her grip, straining to get the woman off the floor.  By leaning back with her weight onto her heels and driving up with her legs, she began to succeed.  It was a laborious task of repeatedly pulling up, readjusting her grip, and pulling again with more leverage.  Pearl almost gagged at the stench of sweat, blood, and vomit coming from the champion.   As she hefted Garnet up the woman’s face brushed against the upper half of her torso.

            “Stand up! Stop making the pearl do all the work!” Yellow Diamond shouted at Garnet.

            Through Garnet’s shallow breathing she heard a weak groan as Garnet dragged her feet under her and attempted to stand.  Gloved hands pushed on Pearl’s shoulders for a moment as the champion regained her footing.  Feet stumbled forward two steps and the pale gem got a face full of the sweaty, bloody rash guard as she pushed back to keep Garnet on her feet, arms now wrapped around the woman’s waist.  Once their collective balance was gained, Pearl carefully took one step away.  The darker woman stood on her own for a second without any help, but then her left leg gave out and she stumbled sideways.  Pearl rushed to Garnet’s side to catch her.  Teeth were gritted as she strained to keep Garnet from falling even more and pulling her back to a stable position.  With one arm slung around Pearl and leaning heavily on her, Garnet was able to stay on her feet.  The smaller woman wrapped one arm around Garnet’s lower back and side, while the other rested against the front of Garnet’s abdomen, ready to push back if the larger woman were to fall forward again.  Garnet’s head hung, facing limply towards the ground.  Pearl looked to the side and almost let a gasp slip out.  The side of the fighter’s face was covered in blood. A long, crescent split in the skin ran from the middle of her eyebrow to just past the center of her eye; additional trails of the red fluid ran from her busted lips, broken nose, and several cuts in her skin.  The champion’s light brown eye was barely open and was staring out into the void while the blue eye was swollen shut.  Pearl glanced down at the section of the floor Garnet had been covering earlier.  Blood was splattered everywhere along with gory vomit.  Her light blue eyes looked back up and noticed a wide brush of the substance, along with other spots, was on her shirt wherever Garnet had made contact with her.  Pearl’s mouth hung open in horror; these were not just injuries from the match.  Garnet was able to walk before, now she could barely stand.  Just what had been done to her?  She looked around as much as she could trying to figure out what happened.  The amethysts leaving right after she arrived, the blood all over the place, and even the specks of it on Yellow Diamond’s suit.  That along with Yellow Diamond’s sharp words and violent actions clued Pearl in.  This is what happens when Garnet loses.

            “Look at me,” Yellow Diamond demanded.

            Garnet weakly raised her head so she was looking at her master.  Yellow Diamond pulled out her gun and pushed it between Garnet’s eyes.  Pearl nearly cried out in shock.

            “This?  This is what I get after all that I have done for you?  The years I put into you and this is how you repay me?  With a shitty performance like that?”

            In one fluid motion the gun was flipped around and whipped across the other side of Garnet’s face.  Light flecks of blood jumped all over the three of them.  A new trail of red fluid joined the others from the fresh cut on Garnet’s cheek.

            “Do you have any idea how much money we lost?!”  Yellow Diamond wound up again and slammed the butt of the gun against the darker woman’s side; a mere couple of inches above where Pearl’s hand was.  “But no, your head was too far up your ass to even care!”  Another hit.  “Did you even want to win?”  Another.  “You couldn’t even finish him while you had him right there!”  Another dull thud of metal striking flesh.  “What use is all of your training and care for if you’re just going to waste it like this!”  The next impact forced Garnet to gasp out in pain, drops of blood spraying out from her mouth.

            Pearl’s mind was reeling.  She could feel how Garnet’s body would tense and shake before and after each strike.  She could feel the shallow breaths and the loss of strength with each hit.  Garnet had already been badly hurt from the match!  This was only making it worse!

            “Please stop!  You’re severely hurting her!” Pearl cried out.

            Pearl realized her mistake the instant those words jumped out of her mouth.  The entire room went still.  Yellow Diamond exhaled and rounded on Pearl; her eyes ablaze with wrath.  The side of the handgun’s handle crashed against the right side of the lower ranked gem’s cheek.  Pearl saw black spots dance in front of her vision for a moment.  Cold metal was pressed in between her eyebrows.  Light blue eyes were suddenly filled with terror as she stared up at the gun.  Golden yellow eyes bored down into her own as Yellow Diamond breathed out heavily.  A finger moved to rest on the trigger.  This was it.  Pearl was going to die.  The weapon was swiftly jerked away only to painfully return and strike the left side of her mouth and jaw.  For a moment Pearl’s mind went fuzzy and her legs threatened to give out, but the adrenaline rushing through her body miraculously prevented it.

            “You think I don’t know what I’m doing?!”  Yellow Diamond seethed.

            Pearl looked down at the floor, frame quaking, her fresh blood joining with Garnet’s on the concrete.  She dare not open her mouth again.  Yellow Diamond continued to stare down the pearl as she decided her fate.

            “You will be reeducated upon your arrival back home.  Twenty with number four.”  The diamond turned to the two amethysts.  “Go get Spinel 00046, have her come and do a full diagnosis on Garnet.”

            One of the amethysts left with a curt, “Yes, ma’am.”

            “Ah, it appears I am too late,” an unfamiliar voice rippled through the room.

            Pearl timidly looked up to see a tall woman with rich sepia skin wearing a dark blue shawl that covered her eyes walk towards them with the assistance of a stainless-steel cane.  To her side was a slim woman with fair russet complexion and a laptop clasped between her small hands; her long, blue bangs obscuring her eyes.

            “Blue…” Yellow Diamond let out.  “Why are you here?”

            “I see you have already let Garnet know of your disappointment,” she stated as she walked up to the badly beaten figure.

            “Yes, I am letting her know.”

            “Let me show you something.”  The woman turned to Pearl.  “Take off Garnet’s gloves.”

            The pale woman glanced to Yellow Diamond for approval of the action.

            “Do it,” Yellow Diamond spat venomously.

            “You might want to set her down while you do it,” the other woman evenly spoke.

            With a bit of a work, Pearl was able to get Garnet to sit down with an ungraceful plop.  Since the fighter had yet to change after the match, the gloves were wrapped with the usual amounts of athletic tape.  Pearl worked to remove the bloodstained tape around the base of the right glove; then removed the glove.  Red peeked through the wrappings under the gloves.  The pale woman carefully took those off as well.  Garnet hissed as her knuckles were exposed to the air.  The knuckles for the pointer and middle finger were busted open.  Through the inch long split in the skin, Pearl could almost see the bones underneath.

            “Hmmm, just what I thought,” the woman in blue smiled.

            “What?” Yellow Diamond sharply questioned.

            “I just got back from watching White give Imperial Topaz an earful.  Apparently he will be taking a mandatory break for a few weeks, something about a few fractured ribs, a cheek bone, and an orbital cavity.”

            “And why would I care about that?”

            “Unwrap the other hand,” Blue directed to Pearl.  She turned to face Yellow Diamond.  “Your girl hits hard, hard enough the break the skin underneath all of that protection, hard enough to break Imperial Topaz’s face.  You think she didn’t perform her best?  I say otherwise.  When was the last time you saw Imperial Topaz have to fight in five rounds?”

            Yellow Diamond didn’t respond.  The dark woman reached out and lifted Garnet’s chin up.  The champion’s light brown eye looked up at the woman in blue.  Pearl had finished removing the other glove to reveal another instance of the two split knuckles.

            “Your champion performed phenomenally tonight.”

            “I disagree.”

            Blue smirked.  “It looks bad, much worse than after the fight.  If I were you, I wouldn’t blow the 21 years I’ve invested in her by beating her into a vegetable.”

            Yellow Diamond glared at the woman.  “I’ve invested almost 22 years.”

            “Imperial Topaz has nine years on Garnet, nine years of champion and fighting experience.”

            “If Garnet can break his face, then why was he the one conscious at the end of the match while she was taking a little nap?” Yellow Diamond snapped.

            “We all know Imperial Topaz has a chin of iron, he can get hit in the head as many times as he wants and he’ll never go out.  His skull is as thick as his arms.”  The woman faced Yellow Diamond.  “Garnet’s advantage lies in her ability to think and problem solve quickly in the ring.  Try not to beat that advantage out of her.”

            “What I do with my champion is not your concern, Blue.”

            “No, it isn’t,” Blue admitted.  “But don’t forget that one of the main reasons why I vouched for you is because of her and your plans for her.  You were committed to raising your own champion and I saw great potential in the child.  Don’t forget that, Yellow.”  She looked over at the woman who came in with her.  “Come now Pearl, it’s time to leave.”

            The woman silently nodded and followed Blue out.  Light blue eyes caught the woman’s silver tag.

“PEARL 00002

BD 0001”

            Pearl swallowed; there was no doubt in her mind that she had just seen Blue Diamond and her pearl.  Yellow Diamond stared at the door for a moment.  Off to Pearl’s side, Garnet painfully shifted from her sitting position to folding her legs underneath her.  Garnet bent forward and bowed her head to the ground, palms pressed to the floor.

            “Yellow Diamond,” Garnet spoke, her voice laced with pain, “I fought my hardest.”

            Yellow Diamond slowly turned and looked down at Garnet’s submissive posture.  She took a couple steps towards Garnet.

            “Look up at me,” Yellow Diamond gently ordered.

            The champion raised her head and looked up at her owner.  They stared at each other for a few seconds.  A sharp slap echoed through the room as Yellow Diamond back handed Garnet.

            “If you really had we wouldn’t be here,” Yellow Diamond coldly stated.

            Garnet looked at the ground as her hands balled into fists.  Drops of red continued to steadily collect on the concrete.

            “Spinel 00046 is here, ma’am,” the returning amethyst said as a middle-aged woman with short black hair and fair yellow-brown skin, walked briskly up to them.

            Draped around her shoulders was a standard white lab coat with dark blue scrubs underneath.  Black, wire rimmed glasses were positioned in front of emerald green eyes.

            “Up, up,” Spinel motioned at Garnet.  “I’m not bending down to check you over.”

            Pearl helped Garnet to her feet once again.

            “Arms out,” Spinel commanded while demonstrating.

            The dark-skinned woman complied, wincing at the effort.  The doctor poked, prodded, and asked Garnet to perform several actions.  Pearl would have to help out occasionally.  Lastly, she asked Garnet several questions and took a long look at her face.

            “Well?” Yellow Diamond demanded after some time.

            “Considering that she’s just been through a long rough match and has dealt with your disappointment, she’s doing pretty well.” Spinel fixed Yellow Diamond with a stern gaze.  “But, she is going to need to take it easy for at least three weeks.  She has a bad concussion. Any work over mildly strenuous will have to be avoided for that time.”

            “We’ll see about that.”

            “That’s not negotiable, if she goes back to training before she can properly heal you risk her being susceptible to compounding concussions and lasting brain damage.  I should be telling you to give her a month, but we both know that will never happen.”

            Yellow Diamond looked away.  “What about the rest?”

            “I’m going to have to stitch up a few areas; she’s got some bruising on her ribs, potentially fractures.  I would have to do an x-ray to know for sure.  Oh and the broken nose, I’ll just fix that right now.”  She said the last sentence more to herself.

            Spinel reached up and placed her hands on either side of Garnet’s crooked nose.  A crack and a brief exclamation of pain from Garnet yielded a nose that looked more or less how it did in the past.

            “In two hours White Diamond will have the recap, have Garnet cleaned up and presentable by then.  I will not be embarrassed by this waste of space any more tonight.  You can use the pearl to help you in this.”  With that final word, Yellow Diamond briskly left the room with the jaspers, and Pearl 00010.

            Spinel turned to Pearl.  “Make sure she doesn’t fall over.  Our medical station isn’t too far away.”

            The doctor didn’t waste any time.  Pearl supported Garnet as they weaved through the people in the various hallways, the two amethysts trailing behind them as usual.  Patrons and gems alike would often recognize Garnet.  Some wouldn’t say anything, while others were not so kind.  The smaller gem grimaced whenever rude comments, jokes, and gestures were thrown at Garnet.  As if the champion hadn’t been through enough already.  There was a moment when Garnet’s legs temporarily gave out and Pearl had to strain once again to hold her up and regain their balance.  Barely audible words of encouragement slipped past Pearl’s lips.  One swollen eye was turned to look at her, mild surprise written on the dark woman’s features.  Feet pressed on together.  Thankfully the locker room they ended up in was void of patrons and White Diamond’s gems.  A reclining medical chair with rolling metal trays and medical supplies were set up off to the side.  The other four of Yellow Diamond’s fighting gems were in the large room.  Pearl recognized the two fighter gems that had won their matches, and the other two that had lost.  While the victorious gems were nursing drinks, freshly bandaged wounds, and good food, the gems that lost were nursing additional wounds with no such food or drink.  The two amethyst guards posted themselves nearby the door.

            “First we need to clean her off.  She reeks.  Take her into the shower and help her with that.  Afterwards get her into some clean underwear.  Be quick, we don’t have much time,” Spinel instructed as she handed Pearl Garnet’s duffel bag.

            The two walked to the adjoining room where there were a series of lockers and a row of showers.  Thankfully there was one shower that was closed off for privacy.  Pearl set the duffle bag on a nearby bench and dug around for a towel and toiletries.  With the items in hand she turned to see Garnet struggling to take off her rash guard tank top.

            “Let me help you with that,” Pearl softly offered.

            Garnet stilled and let Pearl pull off the sweat and blood soaked article of clothing.  The pale woman raised an eyebrow at what she saw wrapped around the taller woman’s chest.

            “It helps keep them immobile while I fight,” Garnet gruffly explained as she noticed Pearl staring at the duct tape wrapped around the two compression sports bras she wore.

“Oh,” was all Pearl awkwardly said before she began searching for the end of the tape to pull it off.

            It didn’t take too much longer to help Garnet fully undress.  Pearl handed Garnet the towel and toiletries.  The fighter turned and limped into the shower; pulling the drape closed behind her.

            “You better not be letting her in that shower alone!” Spinel shouted from the doorway.  “If she falls I’m holding you responsible!  And hurry up!”

            Pearl quickly stepped into the shower, keeping her eyes on the floor.  Her mind laughed at her behavior.  She had seen Garnet naked plenty of times, why did she look down?  It wasn’t anything she hadn’t seen before.  The light woman looked up to see Garnet’s long arms braced out on either side of the shower stall, rivers of warm water flowed down her muscular back, rear, and legs.  Pearl quickly looked away, swallowing hard.  The champion just stood there for a full minute just letting the water wash over her.  Eventually she began to lather up with shampoo and soap.  Pearl kept to the edge of the shower, trying to stay out of the spray as much as possible.  A frustrated grunt drew Pearl’s attention back to the other person in the shower.

            “Pearl…”

            Pearl noticed that Garnet was trying to reach her back, but her tired and beaten arms were not successful.

            “Would you like me to help you?”

            “Yes…please, I can’t effectively reach my back.”

            “Yes, Garnet,” Pearl stepped forward, grabbed the washcloth and soap, and began to gently scrub away.

            Overspray slowly dampened Pearl’s clothing, hair, and skin.  Once Garnet’s back had been cleaned, she turned around to let the water rinse her.  Pearl leaned back at the sudden closeness of their bodies, but didn’t dare take a step back.

            “Thank you,” Garnet said as she rang out the wash cloth.

            The fighter rubbed more soap on the cloth and held it out to Pearl.  The lighter woman furrowed her brow in confusion.  Garnet’s other hand motioned to her nose, cheek, and mouth.  Realization spread over Pearl’s face.  She took the offered cloth and used it to clean off the blood on her face.  The side where the gun had hit her was already swollen and tender to the touch with a small split of skin on her cheek near her eye.  On the other side, both of her lips had been cut close to the corner of her mouth.  Pearl doubted any bandages would be offered to her.  Fortunately, the breaks in her skin didn’t seem to big that they wouldn’t heal properly over time.  Once the washcloth had been returned, Garnet reached backwards and turned off the shower.

            “You’re welcome,” Pearl replied with a small voice as she rang out the cloth.

            Garnet simply nodded.  The fighter began to dry herself off.  However, she momentarily lost her balance as her one leg gave out on her again while she was trying to dry her lower body.  The pale woman rushed to Garnet’s side preventing her from potentially slipping on the wet tile.  In the end Garnet braced against the shower stall with her arms while Pearl quickly dried her off the rest of the way.  Pearl tried to fight the blush threatening to form on her cheeks. She was just drying her off.  She had touched Garnet numerous times without clothes on, this was no different.  The smaller woman’s help was needed once again to get Garnet into her underwear; a simple, black sports bra and a pair of black boxer briefs.

            “Finally!” Spinel exclaimed as they walked side by side back into the medical area of the room, Pearl hovering by Garnet’s slightly hunched form.

            Garnet smelled fresh and clean, while Pearl was slightly damp and had a mixed scent of sweat, blood, alcohol, and shampoo.  The fighter tossed her duffel bag under a nearby bench.

            “Took you two long enough.  Get in the chair Garnet; we’re going to stitch up your face first.”

            The dark woman silently sat down and laid back in the reclined chair while Spinel took a position behind her head; a tray of medical tools and supplies rolled up next to her.  Spinel looked up at Pearl.

            “I’m going to need you to keep her face still while I do this.  It’s much harder when they move around.”

            Pearl nodded and moved to Garnet’s side.  She leaned over and lightly braced her hands on both sides of the dark woman’s face.  Spinel began working on the large split in Garnet’s skin around her eye.  Garnet involuntarily jerked away when the doctor began to clean out the wound.

            “Hold her still,” Spinel tensely restated.

            Pearl swallowed and firmly gripped Garnet’s face. 

            “What about an anesthetic?”  Pearl questioned.

            Spinel glanced up at her giving her an incredulous look.

            “We don’t normally use that, it’s unnecessary.  Plus,” she continued as she motioned to Garnet, “do you honestly think it would be wasted on someone who lost?”

            Pearl didn’t say anything, she just looked away.  Truly this place was twisted and spared no one.  As the large cut was cleaned out, Garnet did her best to stay put, but her body would still try to turn away from the pain.  Spinel threaded the hooked needle and began the long process of stitching up the wound around her eye and the many other cuts on her face that needed stitches.  Pearl breathed out heavily, her arms were getting tired.  Light eyes drifted down for a moment.  They made contact with a light brown eye.  Pearl quickly shifted her eyes away.  After another moment, she risked another look down.  Once again they made eye contact.  Garnet was staring at her.  Pearl did her best to ignore that.  A few strands of strawberry blonde hair fell into her face.  She breathed out sharply to hopefully blow them back.  It was a successful tactic for the first couple of tries, but the strands of hair came back with reinforcements.  Pearl sighed heavily as the offending hairs once again fell in her face.  There was a shift off to her left side; a dark toned arm came within her line of vision.  Garnet’s hand hovered by her face for just a few moments.  When Pearl made no movement away from the appendage, the hand gently pushed the rebellious strawberry blonde strands behind Pearl’s ear.  Pearl looked down at Garnet, holding her gaze as she felt warm fingers lightly trace her uninjured cheek.  She leaned into the touch without even thinking about it.

            “Alright,” Spinel’s voice cut through.  “Lean forward Garnet, we’ll get those hands fixed up and then we’ll be done.”

            The woman pushed the chair into a sitting position and rolled her tray of tools in front of them.  Pearl stood up and discretely shook out her arms and hands.

            “Make sure to keep her hands still,” Spinel directed towards Pearl.

            “Yes, ma’am.”

            Pearl reached down and held onto the areas of the hand below the thumb and pinky.  Garnet let out a low grunt of discomfort as her split knuckles were cleaned and then stitched up.  Thankfully it didn’t take too much longer for Spinel to finish her work.  The doctor cleaned up her supplies and walked away from the two of them.  Garnet let out several heavy breaths.  She got out of the chair and sat down on the bench her duffel bag was sitting under.

            “Get dressed; Yellow Diamond will be here soon.  And this is for your eye and nose, and here is one for your ribs.” She said as she tossed two icepacks at Garnet.

            Garnet almost caught one of the icepacks; it slapped her left shoulder before flopping into her lap.  The other landed anticlimactically on the floor.  She placed the icepack from her lap against her eye and hissed softly.  Pearl glanced at the one on the floor.  After Garnet made no movement to retrieve it, the pale gem leaned down and picked it up.

            “May I?” Pearl asked as she held it close to Garnet’s side.

            Garnet regarded her with an odd expression, but eventually nodded.  Pearl put the icepack against the dark gem’s ribs.  They sat like that for a few minutes.  The fighter’s breathing slowly evened out; her one open eye fixed on a random tile on the floor.  It was different seeing her like this, Garnet genuinely seemed down.  Pearl looked at the floor.  Maybe Garnet was just as upset as Yellow Diamond was for losing.  The lithe woman had no idea how many hours or how much preparation had gone into this fight, but if it was anything like preparing for a dance recital, it must have been a lot.  And despite Garnet’s best efforts, she had lost and then was beaten for it all while having insults thrown at her right and left.

            “…you will never understand the role I carry and what comes with it.”

            So this is what happens when a champion loses.

            This was one of the weights Garnet carried.  The knowledge that if she ever lost a fight she would be treated like the worst of them.

            “I should get dressed,” Garnet broke the silence.

            Pearl nodded, set the icepack down, and placed Garnet’s duffel bag on part of the wooden bench.  The fighter rummaged through the bag and pulled out her usual outfit.  The lighter gem didn’t even ask or wait to be asked before she helped Garnet get into her clothes.  A small “thank you” made it past Garnet’s lips as she pulled on a black leather jacket with a white fleece lining.

            The door burst open just as Garnet was putting on her sunglasses.  Yellow Diamond strode into the room closely followed by her jasper bodyguards and Pearl 00010.  She stopped a foot away from Garnet, looking her up and down.  The champion rolled her shoulders back and stood tall.

            “It will have to do.  Come now,” Yellow Diamond said as she turned and began to walk out accompanied by her jasper guards. 

            Garnet took one limping step forward; she breathed out and steeled herself.  She walked out with an ever so slight limp to her stride and her hands balled into lose fists at her side.  Pearl was impressed, if someone looked at Garnet right now, they would have never guessed that just two hours prior the same person could barely stand and hold consciousness.  Garnet’s amethysts moved from their post and followed behind the champion.  Pearl 00010 turned to address the thin gem.

            “Pearl 01079, you are to report back to your original assignment.  Relay the message that once the ending ceremony has been finished Yellow Diamond will want all gems loaded and ready to leave in four hours.”

            “Yes, ma’am.”

            Pearl 00010 turned and followed after Yellow Diamond’s fading figure.  Pearl let out a breath that she didn’t know she had been holding.  She glanced down at her watch.  00:31.  A chime from her scheduler caught her attention.  Pearl pulled out the device.  In the spot after the arrival time back at Yellow Diamond’s domain was a tan box.

            “20:00: Reeducation: White Black 10142: Twenty with number 4.”

            Her stomach churned and the color drained from her face.  She robotically put away the device and hugged herself.  It was foolish of her to speak out against Yellow Diamond and she was going to pay dearly for it.  Her mind recalled the terror that had filled her frame when the handgun had been pressed between her eyes only instants away from killing her.

            “Hey!  What are you still doing here?”

            Pearl turned to see the victorious jasper walking up to her.

            “Pearl 00010 told you to go, now get out of here!”

            “Y-yes, sir!” Pearl quickly bowed and scurried out of the room.

            “Fucking pearls…” the jasper muttered as he walked back to his chair.

            The young woman entered the main room for all of the dancers.  They were all over the place gathering their things together and cleaning up the mess.  Numbly she watched them until one moonstone noticed her.

            “Pearl 01079!” he exclaimed.  “You’re back!”  His face pulled back.  “What happened to you?”

            Pearl looked at him confused for a moment; then she remembered that she had a large mess of blood on her shirt and her face probably didn’t look too good.  She opened up her mouth to reply but nothing really came out.

            “Wow! Ow!  Your face!” one lapis lazuli also exclaimed.  “What happened?  Both of you left for water a while ago, but only Pearl 00687 came back.”

            For a moment Pearl was losing control of her composure, everything from the past few hours rushed at her.  Watching Garnet get beat, getting disciplined herself, nearly being killed by Yellow Diamond, and helping Garnet through her shower and stitches.  Seeing Yellow Diamond’s wrath, meeting another diamond, the cruel manner in which gems are treated when they fail to perform as expected.  Tears pricked at the corners of her eyes.

            “Crying never helps you here,” Garnet’s accented voice echoed in her mind.

            Pearl straightened up and took a deep breath.

            “I’m fine.  Thank you for your concern,” came her eerily even voice.

            The dancers didn’t look convinced, but they didn’t push the issue.  Pearl made her way through the crowd and found Carnelian working to pack up the various outfits.  She fell in line with her and began to help.

            “There you are!” Carnelian turned to face her.  She frowned when she noticed Pearl’s appearance.  “Pearl 00687 told me that you were pulled aside for something.  Whose blood is all over you?”

            “Garnet’s, ma’am.”

            “Ah.  And your wounds?  How did those happen?”

            “I spoke out of turn at Yellow Diamond, ma’am.”

            “You need to control that tongue of yours.”

            Pearl silently took Carnelian’s criticism.  They worked tirelessly for the next few hours getting everything packed and cleaned.  Soon all of the dancers were loaded onto the buses by 04:30.  Pearl waved good-bye to Carnelian and the others before being escorted by the usual female amethyst to the black SUV.  She stepped into the vehicle.  Garnet was slumped in her usual spot.  Head resting against the window and her arms folded around her torso.

            “Wake her up every three hours; she needs to be monitored for the first day.  If anything unusual happens, knock on the divider,” the amethyst said before shutting the door.

            The smaller woman sighed and looked over at the mentioned gem.  By the spacing of her breaths, it was safe to assume that Garnet was asleep.  Pearl was exhausted as well.  Her feet ached, her stomach grumbled, her eyes lids felt like lead, and she smelled.  Pearl pulled out her scheduler and set an alarm to go off in three hours.  She then laid down on the seat and fell asleep instantly.

Chapter Text

^^^^^^

As Garnet struggles with her injuries, Pearl learns more about the champion’s origin and treatment upon losing a match.

^^^^^^

 

            A firm buzzing on her side pulled Pearl out of her dreamless sleep.  The alarm was shut off and she glanced at the time.  07:48.  She rubbed the sleep out of her eyes, careful to avoid the right side of her right eye.

            “Ow,” she quietly muttered as she gently poked the swollen lump and traced the cut on her cheek.  It had opened up a little more before her body had formed the scab.  “Ow,” she muttered again at the pain coming from moving the scabbed over split in her lips.

            Light eyes looked over at Garnet’s form.  She was supposed to wake her up.  Memories from the trip there seeped into her mind.  In all honesty that was the last thing she wanted to do; trigger Garnet’s attack mode after the champion had an intense fight and brutal beating.  Garnet twitched and grabbed at the car door, fingers finding little purchase on the smooth contours.  The dark woman curled more into herself as she began to breathe rapidly.  Pearl carefully slid over and examined the larger woman.  Garnet was clutching one hand against her badly injured side as her face was strewn with pain.

            “Yellow…” the curly haired woman murmured.  “No……please…”

            Garnet jerked violently again.

            Pearl raised an eyebrow up.  This was new, did Garnet get nightmares too?

            “I’ve invested almost 22 years.”

            The statement jumped back into her mind.  It didn’t make sense, Garnet was 21.  Pearl swallowed hard.  No, it couldn’t really mean that?  But it made so much sense, her lack of knowledge of the world above and her complicated relationship with Yellow Diamond.

            Garnet’s head snapped back as she gritted her teeth.  Pearl tentatively reached forward.  How could she wake her without possibly getting attacked?

            “Garnet,” she spoke quietly.  “Garnet, wake up,” she tried a little louder.  Pearl moved to touch Garnet’s shoulder.  Before she could get too close Garnet’s hand grabbed her wrist.  Pearl winced at the fighter’s firm hold.  The darker woman’s breathing evened out and her face was turned towards Pearl.

            “Are you awake, Garnet?” Pearl tried.

            Garnet slowly nodded.

            “Good, they wanted me to wake you to make sure everything’s alright.”

            Garnet released her hand and curled into her corner, turning away from Pearl.

            “How is your head?” Pearl pressed.

            The champion didn’t respond.

            “Are you alright, Garnet?” she tried again.

            “Why are you asking me this question?”

            Pearl was surprised at the gruff reply.  “I-I just want to know if you’re OK.”

            “Everything hurts,” Garnet grunted.

            The smaller woman looked away.  Just what had she been expecting from Garnet?  The higher ranked gem just kept to her corner, and after some time Pearl could tell she had fallen asleep again.  Pearl set another alarm and went back to sleep herself.

            The next time she was woken up it was by the amethyst opening the door and demanding that both of them get out.  Pearl was given a chance to relieve herself at the rest stop along with the other gems in their caravan.  As she came back out she could hear Agate 00016 yelling at Garnet, letting her know full well how horrible she did in the match and how much of a disgrace and a waste of time she was.  Garnet just sat there enduring it all as she went through several stretches and mobility movements.  At least they weren’t hitting her.  In a few short minutes they were all back in the cars and driving again.  Pearl instantly perked up when she saw a brown bag and water bottle with her name on it by her backpack.  She began to dig through the food without hesitation to fill her aching stomach.  Halfway through Pearl looked up to see if Garnet was eating hers, then noticed that no such bag or bottle of water was in the vehicle.  The gem was just curled into her corner, most likely sleeping.  She looked back down at the remains of a bagel, some fruit, and her water.  A frown crossed her lips.  She knew what it was like to be starved.  Pearl scooted over so she was across from Garnet and moved to set the remainder of her food and water next to the fighter.

            “Don’t,” came the gem’s voice.

            Pearl looked up at her with confusion.

            “You already have reeducation; do you really want to make it worse?”

            “I-I don’t understand.  Where is your food?”

            “I lost,” Garnet simply stated.

            “That’s no reason to withhold food or water.  You need those to heal and recover,” Pearl protested.

            “It’s OK, it’s not the first time.”

            “No, that’s not OK!  Where does she get the idea that she can treat you like this?  Everyone loses at one point or another, no one is perfect-”

            “Look at your neck,” Garnet interrupted her.

            Pearl stopped her rant and looked down at the no longer noticeable weight around her neck.

“PEARL 01079

YD 0001”

            She grimaced at the loathed piece of jewelry.

            “Now look at my neck.”

            Pearl looked over at the familiar dark metal necklace.

“GARNET 0001

YD 0001”

            “That is why she can.  We belong to her and she can do whatever she wants to us.”

            The lighter woman swallowed the bitter truth.  They were mere possessions; tools, items, things to take orders and perform flawlessly.  And when they didn’t, when they put one toe out of line, they were harshly punished.  Pearl retreated to her spot and finished the rest of her food even though her appetite was no longer present.  With food in her belly, she fell asleep once again.

            After the second rest stop Garnet pulled out her deck of cards and faced Pearl.

            “Care for a game?”

            Pearl regarded the offer and shrugged.  “Why not?  Though we should probably not play Speed.  I’m a little burnt out on it.”

            “I was thinking Blackjack, but this time with a wager.”

            “I don’t feel like gambling away the few units I have,” Pearl voiced her dislike of the idea.

            “Not, units, but something you have that I want, and something that I have that you want.”

            “And what would that be?”

            “Information,” Garnet stated simply.

            “Information?”

            The curly haired woman nodded.  “The winner of each round gets to ask the other a question and the other will answer truthfully.  However, if a question is too sensitive, the other can decline to answer and another question has to be picked.”

            Pearl tossed the idea around in her head.  For every time she won she could find out an answer to the many questions she had from a gem who most likely knew almost everything there was about this place.  It was too tempting of an offer to refuse.

            “Ok, I’ll take your wager,” Pearl turned to face off with Garnet.

            Garnet smirked ever so slightly.

            The first few rounds were won by Garnet, who asked questions about Pearl’s hobbies and what things people would do for fun in the world above.  The concept of “spare time” really threw Garnet for a loop.  Before long Pearl was victorious in a round.  Her mind buzzed with all of the potential questions she had.  One stood out and she carefully exhaled before asking it.

            “How long have you been here in the Underground?”

            Garnet’s hands paused for a brief second as she shuffled the cards.

            “What do you mean?”

            “Like at what age were you brought here?  I was kidnapped when I was eighteen…I want to know when you came here.”

            The fighter considered Pearl’s question for a few seconds.

            “I was born in the Underground.”

            Pearl had been anticipating that potential response, but that didn’t prepare her enough for when it was confirmed.  It felt like a punch to the gut.  This was all Garnet knew.  This horrible, twisted life filled with abuse was what Garnet considered to be normal.

            “Oh.”

            They went through another quick round in which Pearl was victorious.

            “Who gave birth to you?”

            “Sapphire.  She was my mother.”

            “Not Yellow Diamond?” it slipped out before Pearl could stop herself.

            Garnet stared at her for a moment before chuckling.  “Do I look like I could have been a child from Yellow Diamond?”

            “No, sorry, that was a silly thing to say," the pale woman looked down, her cheeks burning.

            Garnet just chuckled again.  “She did raise me to a certain extent, but no, she is not my mother.  That was Sapphire.”

            “How did she have you?  I mean, this isn’t really a place for children, I haven’t seen a single one, and any gems who do get pregnant all have abortions.”

            Garnet motioned to the next game that was set up.  “You have to win to get to ask that question.”

            Pearl dramatically sighed.  Unfortunately for the pale woman, Garnet won the next round.

            “I saw you with an astronomy book; do you like to look at the stars?”

            “Yes, they are very fascinating to me, all of the planets and constellations.  When I was younger my family liked to go out to the fields to watch meteor showers.”

            “What is a meteor shower?”

            The thin gem was about to answer, but then she smirked lightly, motioning to the game being set between them.

            “You gotta win in order to ask.”

            The fighter paused before she chuckled at Pearl turning the tables.  Garnet won the next round as Blackjack was dealt out to her.

            “A meteor shower is a celestial event in which a number of meteors are observed to radiate, or originate, from one point in the night sky. These meteors are caused by streams of cosmic debris called meteoroids entering Earth's atmosphere at extremely high speeds on parallel trajectories,” the pale gem recited.  “It was always such a calm enjoyable time to stare up at the night sky and watch the lines shoot across the sky.”

            Garnet nodded.  Pearl finally won the next round and the dark gem gave the answer to her previous question without Pearl having to ask it.

            “When it was discovered that Sapphire was pregnant and she insisted on keeping me, Yellow Diamond looked into who the father was.  Apparently, it was some big time basketball player with great physical stats.  That combined with the equally pleasing information about Sapphire's family, Yellow Diamond decided that I would be born and raised to become her next champion.”

            Silence wrapped around the two as Pearl processed the information.

            “That’s why you don’t know anything about the world above.  You never got a chance, you never even got a choice.”

            “I did have a choice,” Garnet countered.

            “How so?”

            “I could die or I could live and become her champion.  I chose to live.  Though it feels like I’m already dead sometimes.”

            The younger woman was surprised at the brief and oddly personal look she was given into Garnet’s head.  The next round she was victorious as well.

            “Do you miss Sapphire?”

            “Don’t ever ask about Sapphire again,” came Garnet’s low warning, all of her previous friendliness and softness to her voice gone.

            “I’m sorry.”  Pearl looked away.  “How long has Yellow Diamond been Yellow Diamond?”

            “Sixteen years.”

            Garnet shuffled the cards once again.  Pearl was dealt Blackjack.

            “I saw Yellow Diamond and Pearl 00010 sharing a cup of coffee.”  Pearl paused, trying to find the best way to word it.  “What is Yellow Diamond’s relationship with Pearl 00010?”

            A frown pulled at thick lips.  “What do you mean?”

            “Like are they…partners?”

            “Yellow Diamond doesn’t consider anyone to be equal standing with her aside from the other three Diamonds.”

            “Not in that sense, I was meaning in a romantic sense,” the pale gem tried again her hands waving about as she spoke.  She noticed the movement and immediately stopped.

            “Romantic partners?  Meaning…”

            “Two people together, supporting each other, caring for each other, sleeping together…”

            “Oh, I see.  Yes Pearl 00010 is one of the gems that assists in Yellow Diamond’s regulation.  After all, she is Yellow Diamond’s pearl.”

            “I wasn’t just asking if they’ve had sex, I wanted to know if they, you know, like or even love each other?”

            Garnet stared blankly down at her cards as she shuffled them around.  “Love…”  Covered eyes looked back at light blue ones.  “I am not the one who could answer that.”

            “Oh…”

            They silently sat there for a couple of moments as the dark woman shuffled the cards in her hands.  Pearl absentmindedly picked at the stiff part of her shirt from the mess of dried blood on it.

            “You can change out of that, get into a fresh set of clothes.  I’ll respect your privacy,” Garnet spoke up.

            “Oh,” Pearl glanced down at her soiled attire.  “What about the potential bugs?” her hand gestured around the cabin of the car.

            “That’s your gamble.  Though I doubt Yellow Diamond will want to sell a short strip video.”

            Light eyes drifted over to her backpack where she knew she had one more fresh set of clothes in there.  It would be nice to be wearing something clean again.

            “No peeking?” she confirmed.

            “I’ll lay over here facing that into the corner.”

            “OK, I’ll let you know when I’m done.”

            Garnet nodded and gingerly laid down on the leather, head facing into the corner of the door and seat.  Once Pearl saw that, she quickly got out her clothes completely.  She took a minute to use some of her remaining water to wipe down her body with a wet wash cloth.  After that she put on the fresh set of clothes.

            “I’m done,” Pearl said as she turned back around.

            Garnet slowly got up from her position and sat across from her.  She gathered up the cards and put them away.  The SUV stopped once again before too long.  Pearl came back into the car with her food and drink rations sitting on her chair.  As the fighter got into the car two icepacks were thrown in after her.  While her face didn’t betray any emotion, the pale gem could tell Garnet was excited to get them.  For a few minutes the dark woman fumbled around with them as she tried to hold the icepacks against her larger injuries with her sore and beaten arms.  She was able to hold them in place for a minute or so, but then they would drop out of her exhausted hands and fall to the floor after that.  A lightly pained grumble would make it past thick lips every time she had to bend down to pick them back up.

            “I have an idea Garnet,” Pearl spoke up after watching the ice packs fall for the fourth time.”

            Covered eyes stared blankly at her.

            “If you lay your head in my lap, then I can easily help hold them in place.  This way we aren’t fighting gravity and you can lie down.”

            The taller woman seemed taken aback by the offer.  Nothing was said, but she slowly moved to Pearl’s side.  Hesitantly she rested her head on Pearl’s lap and extended her legs out as far as they would go in the car.  Pearl held one hand on Garnet’s side, keeping one icepack there.  Garnet removed her sunglasses.  The smaller woman grimaced.  Even though the champion could now open the blue eye a little bit, it was still badly swollen and dark with bruising.  Pearl carefully set the second one on the injured eye.  As everything settled, Garnet let out a deep breath and Pearl could feel her tense body steadily relaxing.

            Twenty minutes on, twenty minutes off.  Twenty minutes on, twenty minutes off.  They repeated the process until the icepacks lost their cool.  Somewhere along the line both figures fell asleep as nighttime enveloped the train of SUVs.

 

            Pearl groggily shifted as she began to wake up.  The morning light filtering in through the car’s window disturbing her sleep.  Her nose felt cold so she nuzzled it into her warm pillow.  Something felt different.  Leather or her sheets didn’t feel like the material she was sleeping on.  Pearl stilled her breathing for a moment.  Low breaths matched with the ever so slight moving of her body up and down.  Her hand searched for her blanket, but found none.  Pearl lightly moaned as she forced her eyes open.  Her pillow was not maroon.  Nor did it have a mass of curly hair.  Blood rushed to her face as she realized that she had been sleeping on top of Garnet.  She could feel Garnet’s arm draped across her back.  Immediately she jerked up into a sitting position, her face burning with embarrassment, and tried to get off Garnet as quickly as possible.  Firm hands grasped her forearms as she moved around.

            “Stop moving,” came Garnet’s pained gasp.

            Pearl stilled.  Garnet breathed out heavily.  The smaller gem tried to contain her blush; here she was sleeping on top of Garnet, and now currently straddling her abdomen with hands braced a little too close to the other’s chest.

            “Just slowly shift your weight onto your right knee and then swing your body off.”

            “I’m so sorry I did not intend to do that or to hurt you.  I’m sorry,” Pearl rambled as she followed the instructions.

            Garnet just controlled her breathing as she rested one hand against her side; opting to remain laying down for just a little while longer.

            “I’m so sorry,” Pearl said again.

            “Just don’t mention it to anyone,” came the even voice as the woman sat up.

            “I won’t,” she quickly promised.

            The rest of the car ride went without any incident.  Eventually Garnet was given a water bottle.  To say she was excited would have been an understatement.  However, she kept her cool and savored the water with small sips.  They played a few more rounds of Blackjack; this time Pearl kept the questions more general and not so personal for the other.  Before long the black SUV had pulled into the familiar underground parking lot.  As Pearl made her way to the room for reeducation, her good mood from the time she had spent with Garnet evaporated step by step.

            The thin woman did her best to stop the tears streaming down her face as she clamped a hand over her mouth to the muffle the cries of agony.  Her right side slumped against the wall, legs giving out, making her slide down until she was hugging her knees close to her chest.  Knuckles white from gripping her legs so hard, a futile attempt to distract her from the large, long bleeding welts covering her back.  Thin rivers of crimson fluid flowed down her back; seeping into the waistline of her pants.

            “For gems who think they know better than Yellow Diamond the punishment increases with every instance.  This was your first offense.  The supreme ruler is Yellow Diamond.  She makes all decisions or assigns adequate individuals to do so in her stead.  She rewards and she punishes as necessary to keep this place as productive and organized as it is.  Yellow Diamond is never to be questioned or disobeyed.  That was your offense,” the axinite recited to her, his voice seeming to revere their owner like she was a goddess of sorts.

            The axinite threw the top half of her clothing at her, ordered her to get dressed, and report to her next scheduled task.  For several minutes all she could do was cry in her spot, trembling and hiccupping.  As Pearl carefully put on her shirt she could feel the fabric soaking up the red fluid.  She didn’t even bother trying to put on her bra, it would be too painful.  By the time she was dressed her watch showed 21:04.  In all honesty she didn’t know if she should be grateful or dread the fact that she was to report back to her sleeping quarters.  On one had she would have time to rest and hopefully recover from reeducation before her next day.  Yet at the same time the other pearls were bound to say something to her once they noticed.

            Rude comments and sarcastic remarks came at her from all directions.  It ranged from her supposedly not performing well in regulation, which is why Garnet lost, to other guesses as to why she had been whipped.  She ignored all of them, grabbed her toiletries, a fresh set of clothes, and went to the showers.  While the spray of lukewarm water against her back was necessary, it only forced more tears and cries out.  Pearl gritted her teeth, she needed to clean the cuts.  Several minutes went by as she struggled to do so.  Once again she ignored any nasty remarks and returned to her bed.  As she laid down to sleep on her stomach she was able to lay several towels on her back to help shield her wounds from potential infection.  The names of her loved ones, her family’s location, and her original name repeated in her head as she reentered the dreamscape.  Only nine months has passed and yet it felt like she’d been there forever.

           

            Number four was nothing like number five.  Her back was on fire and any movement made her want to cry out in pain.  Carnelian offered no sympathy or help for her injuries.  She simply stated that Pearl needed to learn when she should speak and to be grateful that Yellow Diamond didn’t kill her right there.  Unlike Pearl 00824, Pearl didn’t have anyone in her sleeping quarters that would help her take care of the wounds.  Pearl 00687 was really the only one who would help, but there was no way to contact her during their working hours without a high risk of getting in trouble.  Not only that but she didn’t have much time other than her personal time and scheduled sleep hours to go find her and ask for help.  Another part of her was lost on how to ask.  Pearl 00687 had already done so much for her and she had yet to pay her back.

            Two days passed and Pearl could feel the heat from the unavoidable infection starting to settle into her back.  She had done the best she could with washing it with her flexible arms, however she wasn’t able to put any significant pressure on her back to effectively clean out the wounds like she had done with the two cuts on her face.  Those two spots would scar, but were healing well enough.  Without any sort of anti-bacterial to temper the infection on her back, it would be a long and painful healing process at best.  One time before bed she checked the number of remaining units she had.  38 Units.  Maybe it would be enough to buy a tube of anti-bacterial gel or something from Larimar’s supply area.

            While returning back from an errand Pearl took a fast detour to a door she knew very well.

            “Pearl 01079?” Larimar raised an eyebrow at her as she came in.

            Thankfully the place was empty except for the two of them.

            “Larimar, do you have any anti-bacterial or medical supplies that can be purchased?” she quickly shot out.

            He leaned back and regarded her thoughtfully.  “Why do you want to know?”

            “I would like to purchase some.  If possible,” she added the second sentence after a split second.

            “I do, however, you’re not going to be able to afford it.”

            “What does it cost?” Pearl asked with a hint of dread.

            Larimar left the counter and came back with a 1.0 oz tube of anti-bacterial salve.  “This little guy costs about 150 units.  The larger ones cost much more.  Bandages, even small ones run about 10 units per package of 10.  If you want any medical supplies, you need to have serious units.”

            “But why?  This stuff costs like three dollars in the world above!?” Pearl exclaimed.

            Larimar shrugged.  “Because they can.  I guess it’s their way of making it harder for those who get hurt to heal.  Let them remember their mistakes more vividly.  Hell my back has scars from the couple of times I had reeducation.”

            Pearl sighed in defeat.

            “You got reeducated?”

            “Yes.”

            Larimar grimaced.  “That’s rough, sorry, but there’s nothing I can do for you.  If you don’t have the units, you can’t buy it.  Sure you could buy some small bandages and that could help the cuts on your face, but it won’t do anything for a reeducation wound.  Though it’s probably for the best, someone would probably steal any medical stuff from you.”

            “Thanks, Larimar.  I’ll just save my units.  It’ll pass eventually,” Pearl tried to smile as she left, the last of her hope wilting.

            She sprinted back to Carnelian’s office; it wouldn’t bode well for her if Carnelian noticed a change in her errand times.

            The next day, Pearl headed off towards her sleeping quarters for her personal time.  Thankfully, her tasks had all been completed on time, thus allowing a full half hour for personal time instead of how it had been recently; rushing for a shower and getting to bed just before the lights went out.  As she passed an opening to another hallway, an arm wrapped around her upper torso and a dark hand clasped over her mouth.  Her body was effortlessly dragged down the hallway and through another door.  She struggled in vain to escape the solid hold; she kicked and punched what she could of her assailant, despite how much it hurt her back to do so.  Pearl was taken into a locker room.  They moved to the shower area and released her.  Pearl whirled around to face her attacker.  Her eyes widened as they landed on familiar sunglasses and thick curls.

            “Garnet!”  She looked around at her surroundings.  “What?  What is this?!”

            The other held up both of her hands and took a small step back.  Pearl paused as she took in the dark woman’s unusual attire.  Instead of training gear or casual clothing, Garnet was wearing a baggy, basic, white t-shirt with multiple light brown stains, a pair of faded, loose, well-worn blue jeans, and a pair of old, black sneakers.  Pulling the outfit together was a soiled, long, white apron that hung over the back of Garnet’s neck, was tied around her waist, and fell to her shins.  Garnet put her hands under the apron, took a step sideways so she was behind a bench, and began to pull out a few items and set them on it.  Pearl looked at the items with surprise.  A tube of anti-bacterial salve, several gauze pads, a large roll of cloth, a wash cloth, a couple of towels, and a new bar of soap.  Garnet motioned to the items laid out on the bench.

            “For your back.”

            Pearl was speechless.  Here was everything she needed.  But what price did she need to pay?

            “What do you want in return?” she said cautiously.

            “Nothing!” Garnet quickly responded.  “You got it from trying to stand up for me.”

            She looked over the tall woman.  The blue thread from the stitches could be seen on her hands and face; along with several slight discolorations of her dark skin that indicated bruising.  If her sunglasses were off Pearl was sure that Garnet’s eye would still be in pretty bad shape.  Her mind briefly recalled her protest against Yellow Diamond’s treatment of Garnet.  Pearl gave a tired smile.

            “Thank you for your thoughtful gesture, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to apply any of it properly.”

            “I know.”

            “What?  Then why would you…” Pearl’s voice trailed off as her mind connected the dots.

            “If you’re ok with it, I can,” Garnet offered.  “I’d only see your back, but I understand if you’re uncomfortable with it and it would hurt.  You would heal faster.”  She took another step back.

            Pearl took a moment to consider what had been presented to her.  “Will you please clean my back?” she softly asked.

            Garnet nodded.  Pearl turned and gingerly removed the clothing coving the top half of her body.  She heard one of the showers turn on for a moment.

            “You might want to bite onto something,” was the only warning she got before one hand firmly grasped her right shoulder while the other began to scrub furiously at her wounds.

            A sharp cry escaped thin lips before she bit down on a bunched up wad of her shirt.  Garnet would scrub for a little while before stepping away and briefly turning on a shower.  Once again the cloth would be rubbing against her back, properly cleaning it.  By the time the taller woman was done Pearl’s wounds felt worse than when she had initially received them.  The raw openings screamed at her demanding an explanation for disturbing their scabs.  Towels were placed against her back for a few minutes until the light bleeding eased off.  Salty tears streamed down Pearl’s face as she muffled her agony with her shirt.  Cold relief flooded her system as the salve was evenly applied to each of the stripes.  Garnet then placed a series of non-stick gauze pads all over her back.

            “Now, I was going to use this cloth to wrap you up and hold everything in place.  Is it ok if I do?  You’ll have to raise your arms for the first bit, but I won’t touch you anywhere but your back.”

            “Yes, you may,” Pearl consented as she moved her arms away from her chest.

            Dark, strong hands moved quickly to wrap up her entire torso.  It wasn’t done too loose or too tight.  Pearl felt like she was being enveloped by a cool, comforting, cotton sheet.

            “The end is right here,” Garnet informed as she pressed the end down with some athletic tape on her lower left-hand side of her back.  “Can you reach it?”

            Pearl tested it out, her hand briefly touching Garnet’s as she found the end.  “Yes.  Thank you.”  She turned around to face the fighter.

            “Leave this on for at least a day, but no more than two.  For a week or so after that, keep them covered and wrapped during the day with minimal salve and at night let them dry out so they can seal together.  Once they have, only use the salve if necessary.”

            “Thank you,” Pearl said once again quietly.  “You didn’t have to do this.”

            “Don’t tell anyone,” was all Garnet said.  She looked at her watch.  “We have to go, take these, hide them very well; don’t let anyone see them.”  Garnet held out the tube of anti-bacterial salve, the soap, and the stack of gauze pads to the smaller woman.

            Pearl looked up at her with disbelief.  “T-thank you,” she stammered as she carefully took the tube, soap, and pads.

            Without thinking she took a quick step forward, wrapped her arms around Garnet, and buried her face in the crook of her neck.  The fighter gently returned the hug after a second of hesitation.  Pearl let out a sigh of relief.  There it was again, that feeling.  It spread from her chest and radiated through her entire body.  Warmth, security, comfort, peace.  Her mind chuckled at her for her boldness regarding Garnet.  Eventually she was bound to cross a line.  Pearl pushed the train of thought away; she wanted to enjoy this moment.

            “If anyone asks, you were pulled aside for an unscheduled regulation under my orders.  Got it?” Garnet’s low voice rumbled in her ear.

            Pearl nodded as she released the other and took a step back.  Garnet quickly gathered the remaining supplies and stored them back under her apron as Pearl dressed herself and hid the three items.

            “I’ll check the coast, once I say go, you move as quickly as you can out of the white hallway and don’t look back.”

            Garnet didn’t wait for her response.  She carefully opened the exit and peered out.  Pearl stood closely behind the woman.  An odd scent reached her nose, Garnet smelled like potatoes.

            “Go right!” Garnet quietly hissed as she stepped out into the white hallway.

            Pearl took off in a sprint down the hall.  Once she was back in the main blue hallway that led to her sleeping quarters she slowed down to an inconspicuous walk.  She stepped into the large room.  For once she wasn’t bothered by the other pearls.  The thin woman gathered her clothes and changed in a bathroom stall, she didn’t want any of them seeing the wrap around her body.  Soon the lights were out.  After an hour Pearl quietly stored the salve and gauze pads deep in her duffel bag wrapped in a plastic bag and stuffed into underwear.  She lay on her stomach staring out into the darkness.  Her mind replayed the event with Garnet over and over until she fell asleep.

Chapter Text

^^^^^^

Pearl struggles with understanding her feelings toward Garnet as the two become more comfortable around each other.

^^^^^^

 

            The cleaning and salve did wonders for her back.  In nearly two weeks she was almost completely healed from it.  There were only two additional times that she needed to wrap the gauze pads onto her back.  Pearl frowned at how her ability to cover her wounds wasn’t nearly as good as Garnet’s, but it would do.  Light applications of the salve were done for about a week; the pale woman only using what was necessary since the 2 oz tube was like liquid gold.  Part of her wondered where Garnet had gotten a hold of something like that.  It was probably one of those perks for being Yellow Diamond’s Champion.

            A sigh slipped past lips as the thin woman examined her practically completely healed back.  Obvious scarring of the long narrow lines could be seen against her pale skin.  She rotated so she could see the right side of her back better in her dormitory’s bathroom mirrors.  Hopefully over time the raised, dark pink marks would fade away.  Perhaps in a couple of years.  Thankfully, she was the only pearl up at the moment since it was past lights out.  Pearl was grateful that whoever designed the bathrooms included the capability to turn on a small light near each of the sinks.  While mostly used to help someone see while doing their business, Pearl had taken the opportunity to check on her back on occasion while none of the other pearls were up and about.  This way she didn’t have to deal with their unkind words.  A light grimace pulled her mouth to the side as she poked one of the scars.  She couldn’t feel the touch of her finger, only the pressure.

            The nerves must be damaged.  Maybe in time they will grow back…

            Just as she was about to slip her nightshirt back on, she caught sight of a figure in the corner of her eye.  Pearl turned to face Pearl 00739 as the gem silently walked over to her and leaned on the sink next to her.  The strawberry blonde regarded the other pearl with caution, if she was up then there was no telling who else might be up.  That thought brought unpleasant possibilities to her mind.  Pearl 00739 silently looked her over, folding her arms across her chest.

            “You healed fast from that,” came the very quiet statement.

            Pearl didn’t say anything, she just put her nightshirt on.

            “I’m the only one up besides you, 00824 is asleep, I checked.”

            The thin woman looked away, scowling slightly.  How long was it before more came in and she was cornered?

            Pearl 00739 sighed.  “I wouldn’t trust that statement either.”

            Silence drifted between them as Pearl refused to say anything.

            “It was Garnet, wasn’t it?”

            Light blue eyes looked back at the dull green ones of Pearl 00739.  Thin lips mouthed the word “how”, but no sound came out.

            “She treats you differently, that’s easy to tell.  Well for a pearl who has regulated Garnet it’s easy to tell,” the gem clarified.  “Also, your back healing up so well without anyone helping you would be near impossible.  You remember it took 00824 almost three weeks to heal from stealing your food after Garnet’s warning.  And she even had help.”

            Hands fidgeted with the edge of her shirt.  She stopped once again, internally scolding herself for it.  The bad habit always crept up whenever she was feeling anxious or afraid.  Pearl made a note to break herself of that.

            “Look, I’m not going to say anything.”

            “Like I can trust that,” Pearl bitterly whispered.

            Pearl 00739 sighed again.  “I know you can’t and I don’t blame you.”

            Another long silence in the conversation stretched on, only disturbed by the plip from the bad sink dripping once.

            “Garnet helped me one time,” Pearl 00739 reminisced, “I had only been regulating her for about a couple of months when we went to Pink Diamond’s place for a match.  We were warned of where to go and where not to go and to always travel in pairs or a group.  Turns out Pink Diamond’s gems have a tendency to be a bit wild and unruly.  I got turned around during one of my errands while preparing for the Friday event.  I didn’t have a buddy and before I could get back to the right path, two of Pink’s quartzes suddenly grabbed me, dragged me down a few halls, and pulled me into a bathroom.  I tried to fight, but it was pointless against them.”  Hands gripped folded arms as the older pearl shivered.  “It was obvious what they had planned as they worked to remove my clothing, but before they got too far past removing what was necessary the door was broken down and the one hovering over me was thrown into one of the stalls.  Next I heard a stream of curses as a bare foot kicked the other in the face.  I have no idea how Garnet had seen what had happened, maybe we were near the fighters’ area or something, but there she was in her fighting uniform, cursing at the top of her lungs as she beat the two gems into a bloody pulp.  Only once the two were whimpering on the floor, unable to move because of their injuries did she stop.”  Pearl 00739 shuddered and took a shaky breath.  “She glanced over her shoulder to look at me as I had pressed myself against the wall farthest from everyone.  I was more terrified of her than of the two that were trying to rape me.  A hand was offered to help me up, but I couldn’t take it.  I couldn’t touch her.  Luckily Garnet didn’t seem majorly offended by it and just washed her hands in one of the sinks.  Garnet stated that she had noticed me being dragged off.  While she didn’t explicitly blame me for what happened she told me to be more mindful of my surroundings while at other facilities.  She waited for me as I redressed, then escorted me back to where I was supposed to be.  Before leaving she firmly stated that she would not step in on my behalf again and that I needed to take steps to protect myself.”

            Pearl blinked.  She remembered Pearl 00739 mentioning that Garnet had helped her once.  It wasn’t what she had pictured Garnet had helped the pearl out with.  The pale woman’s mind quickly recalled Garnet escorting her back after regulation at White’s place and the run in with the two jaspers.  Bile rose up in her throat as she suddenly realized what could have happened to her.

            “Garnet has typically helped the pearl that regulates her one significant time,” the older pearl continued, not taking notice of Pearl’s slightly green state.  “We pearls are excellent targets, pretty things without the ability to fight back.  I thought yours would be the food one, but now that she’s done this…” Pearl 00739 motioned to Pearl’s back.  “that makes two significant actions.”

            Ears perked up at this new information.  She really didn’t know much about the previous pearls that Garnet had interacted with.  The other two times Garnet had helped her out could also be considered one of these significant exceptions.  Pearl swore internally to never speak of them.

            “Well I’ve probably given her more opportunities to than most,” the strawberry blonde shrugged.

            “You have, and that’s most likely because you’ve been with her the longest.”

            The words didn’t register at first.  Pearl shook her head.  “Wait, what?”

            “You’ve regulated Garnet the longest out of any of us.” Pearl 00739 restated.  “You’re on like what, seven months?  Almost eight?  I had the assignment for six months, and then before me the longest one pearl had lasted was four months.  Normally it gets switched up for Garnet every three to four months,” her whisper had picked up a little from her usual dull tone.

            Wide, light blue eyes stared at the other with furrowed eyebrows.  Her mind reeled a bit as she worked to process the information.  Was this good news?

            “I thought you might be getting switched out any time now, but with Garnet doing another favor for you, that might not happen.  At least not for a little longer.”

            “Who determines when things get switched up?” Pearl dared to ask.

            “Yellow Diamond, though no one knows if Garnet has any say in it.”

            “So, I could be changed at any time?”

            “Without warning,” Pearl 00739 added.  “But maybe it will be different for you, who knows?  I would just prepare myself for that inevitable switch.”

            Pearl numbly nodded.

            “Anyways,” Pearl 00739 shrugged, “I just wanted to give you a heads up and confirm my suspicions about your back.  Good luck.”

            With that the older pearl walked silently back into the sleeping area.  The pale woman was left confused with a small pit opening in her stomach.  She hadn’t thought of the possibility of her assignment changing.  She figured that as long as she performed well it would remain her task, but now that had been thrown to the wind.  It all depended on Yellow Diamond’s whims, and if she was lucky, Garnet’s input.  Pearl breathed out and tried to steady her nerves.  If Garnet helping her was a good sign, then maybe she did have a little more time with the gem.  She quickly turned off the light and headed back to her bed.  As she laid down her mind wondered why she cared about potentially losing the time she got to spend with Garnet. 

            Well I stay off the list that way and have a safe person to regulate.

            The thought didn’t sit right.  She wasn’t being completely honest to herself.

            I’d be OK with not seeing her anymore if I was switched.

            That was a blatant lie, she would care if she didn’t get to see Garnet anymore, but couldn’t place her finger on why.  Internally she was still torn between considering the gem her friend or being terrified of her.  Pearl pushed away the thoughts by reciting her real name, her family members, and the location of her home until she fell asleep.

 

            Things for her standard job had slowed down a little after a couple of weeks.  With both the End of the Year Celebration and Head-To-Head against White Diamond over, it was back to the normal rush.  Thankfully for Carnelian and Rainbow Quartz, the dancers had done really well in comparison to White Diamond’s.  Carnelian laid out the year’s schedule to her.  In the beginning of November they were to have another Head-To-Head event, this time with Blue Diamond.  For this year’s End of the Year Celebration no new outfits would be created for the dancers.  Only every other year they did that.  There were a few events planned with some of the more notable facets scattered all throughout that states.  However, the main task that had been given to Carnelian was to design a type of combat outfit for the amethysts, jaspers, and other quartzes.  They were to be bulletproof, light, able to carry/conceal a number of weapons, yet not too obviously combat attire.  Something deadly, yet ordinary looking at first glance, just like the yellow suit Carnelian had made for Yellow Diamond.  The pudgy woman had military designs and patterns strewn all over her office.  Pearl wondered how she got access to such files.

            “So all of those dancers bragged at how smart you are, now let’s see if they were right,” Carnelian said as she set a notebook and folder of papers down in front of Pearl as she sat on the other side of the desk.  “Here is a list of the types of weapons Yellow Diamond wants to have put into action with these outfits.  I want you to brainstorm several ideas on combinations and locations of the weapons with three levels of combat.  The first level is light, 25 pounds or less of total added weight.  There should be high mobility, low protection, and low fire/fighting power; mostly for security guards.  The second is medium, 40 pounds or less of total added weight, high mobility, medium protection, and moderate fire/fighting power.  The third is heavy, 70 pounds or so of added weight, medium mobility, high protection, and high fire/fighting power.  I want your ideas and your reasoning behind them.  Remember practical and logical placement for the weapons.”

            “Yes, ma’am,” Pearl nodded.

            She dug through the information presented to her and then began going through all of the military designs.  The thin dancer began creating a spreadsheet by hand categorizing each weapon and its size, weight, and lethal effectiveness.  Halfway through the day Carnelian gave her access to her computer to digitally construct the spreadsheet.  It was accompanied by a stern warning that Carnelian would know exactly what Pearl did on the computer.

            It didn’t take long for the two of them to get buried in the designs and ideas.  Several times Carnelian and Pearl would head to the training center to watch and learn how some of the weapons were handled and to see what hindered or helped mobility.  Carnelian would talk with the gems there, getting their input on her designs and ideas.

            On one of these outings Pearl noticed Garnet amongst the fighters training, facing off against multiple attackers at once.  The Champion still had some marks on her from the beating she took well over a month ago, but overall she looked a lot healthier than she had when they had their most recent regulation.

 

            Her new concerns about her regulation assignment being switched up were eased slightly as no changes had been made to her schedule.  On the day following her odd conversation with Pearl 00739 she had checked her scheduler for how far out she was set to report to Garnet’s regulation.  It went on indefinitely, just like her assignments to help Carnelian.  The schedule must be set to a specific pattern and would only be altered when things changed.  In the standard four week time frame she reported to Grey Light Red 24134.  Thankfully Yellow Diamond wasn’t there, Pearl wasn’t too keen on seeing the woman anytime soon after everything that had transpired at White Diamond’s place.

            The tall, muscular frame was shoved into the room and subsequently stumbled, still favoring her left leg.  Pearl looked up at Garnet from where she sat in her usual spot.  A frown formed on her face, eyebrows pulled together as she took in the champion’s unusual posture.  Face turned to the side, staring down at the floor, slightly hunched posture, hands curled into fists.  Gone was the straight and powerful stance.  Light blue eyes traveled over the naked woman’s body, horrified by all of the bruises covering every inch of her.  Yellow Diamond’s fury was not to be taken lightly.  Granted most of the bruises looked older with only a few fresh ones standing out.  Pearl wanted to stand up and hug Garnet, hold her close and tell her she didn’t deserve that treatment, but she remained on the floor afraid to do anything that might cause further pain to either of them.  They were being watched after all.  Mismatched eyes glanced up to meet hers only for a second before they darted away.  Garnet turned and laid down on the bed, obediently spreading her legs.  A sigh drifted past Pearl’s lips as she stood up, walked over, and got between Garnet’s muscular thighs.  She tried to make eye contact with the dark woman again, but she was staring at the pillows to the side, hands already attached to the comforter with a vice like grip.  Carefully Pearl leaned in and began trace her tongue around the fighter’s opening, habitually applying the same level of pressure she normally did.  Garnet pushed away from her.

            “Don’t,” her voice quickly shot out.  “Not there, stay high.”

            There was an almost indiscernible layer of pain laced into those words.  Pearl stopped and stared at Garnet’s face trying read exactly why.  Once again the dark woman refused to look at her.  With no further instructions, the pale gem lightly licked the bundle of nerves, testing the waters to see if that would hurt Garnet as well.  No response.  She internally sighed before moving back in and slowly getting to work.

            It took a very long time to even get Garnet slightly aroused.  Her body was a bundle of tight nerves and this only seemed to be making it worse.  It was a solid reminder to Pearl what regulation really was.  Rape.  No matter how much the two of them had enjoyed the previous one, it didn’t change the reality of the arrangement.  The thin gem almost didn’t catch Garnet reaching her high.  An abrupt jerk of the body, a muffled sound followed by a partial relaxation of the tense muscles.  Before she could start the required second session, the dark woman pulled away again.

            “Wait,” she softly ordered.  “Give me some time.”

            Pearl silently nodded.  Awkwardly she remained kneeled between the woman’s legs.  When it became apparent that Garnet wasn’t going to be ready any time soon, the thin gem stood up and walked around the dark room.  She stretched her legs and arms to pass the time.  Several minutes passed.  Finally Garnet spoke up.

            “You may continue.”

            As Pearl went about her task she would glance up to see if she could catch the woman’s eyes.  Nothing.  Her attention was drawn to one of the hands that was gripping the comforter.  Tentatively, she reached out with her own towards it.  When she was just a couple of inches away she hesitated, there was no way of knowing if Garnet would be receptive to the action.  Pearl pushed through her fear and slowly moved closer, giving the woman plenty of time to tell her no or to shift away.  Long fingers were timidly draped over the large, tense fist.  The injured woman breathed out harshly through her nose.  Pearl continued her soft movements with her tongue and lips, keeping her hand there.  Inch by inch, she felt the hand release the comforter, turn over, and firmly grasped her wrist and forearm.  The smaller hand did the same.  How tightly the fighter’s grip was would increase or decrease as the woman was worked up to her second orgasm.  Pearl kept still and suppressed any cries of her own pain from surfacing when it became a little too much at times.  The time it took for Garnet’s second orgasm to happen was noticeably shorter.  Both heard the doors unlock, signaling that they could leave.  Hands reluctantly separated as Pearl sat back.  Garner sat up and shifted her legs so the smaller gem was no longer between them.  For a brief second, mismatched irises looked into hers.  Shame.  Pain.  Anger.  They parted ways without another word.

            Pearl held herself as she walked the deserted hallways back to her dorm.  She dared to pull back her sleeve and take a look at her wrist.  Dark red marks could be seen making the imprint of a large hand.  They would bruise.  Pearl didn’t care.

            The car ride the next day was incredibly awkward, just the four of them silently traveling together until they reached the event center.  Yellow Diamond was the first to speak as she left the vehicle with a curt, “You better not fuck up this fight.”  Garnet almost seemed to shrink away from the words.  Pearl didn’t blame her.

            One hectic night and successful fight later, Pearl breathed out a sigh of relief as she got to share the ride home with Garnet.  The champion’s lighter mood improved as they played a few card games and had a short session of Blackjack with the question wager.  Pearl inquired about what things Garnet did when she was unable to train due to injuries.  Kitchen prep, janitorial jobs, and random office tasks for Yellow Diamond, were all things Garnet had done in those three weeks off.  She had also spent a good amount of time studying the film of her fight against Imperial Topaz.  In turn Garnet had asked how Pearl’s back was doing.  The pale gem thanked the dark woman for her assistance as she delivered the good news of her back having healed completely.

 

            Light blue eyes stared maybe a little too long as Pearl watched the lithe figure weave through all of the attacks before snapping back and powerfully countering.  She was no stranger to Garnet’s body, but somehow lately, it was harder to look away whenever she saw the tall fighter.  Pearl admitted to herself that Garnet had always been attractive physically, but she had been so cold and intimidating at first that it was hard to get past that wall.  That and the shock and terror that came from learning how lethal and dangerous the woman was.  However, Pearl’s more recent interactions with Garnet had opened up a few holes in the massive front Garnet put up.  The champion’s attempts to be considerate and helpful along with her playful side that came out whenever they played cards made Garnet as a whole seem more attractive.

            The light eyed woman quickly shook her head and turned her attention back to Carnelian.  It was just some silly crush.  She would get over it before too long.  Yet as the weeks wore on Pearl desired more and more interaction with Garnet even though it almost never happened.  There had been one instance that Garnet and Pearl had passed each other in a hallway.  Garnet had smiled at her and greeted her with a simple “Hi.”  Carnelian had inquired later that same day why Pearl was in such a good mood.  Pearl couldn’t think of an appropriate answer so she just said, “Nothing in particular, ma’am.”  The smaller woman even found herself opening up to Garnet about the project she was helping Carnelian with.  As they robotically played War, Garnet listened quietly while Pearl went on for at least an hour about the designs she had created and the various ways weapons had been implemented.  Surprisingly when Pearl had gone into the weapons, Garnet had offered her own opinion on some useful combinations and things to consider such as time to reach the object and flexibility required to do so.  It had never occurred to the smaller gem that the champion was trained in armed combat, but at the same time it would be foolish for her not to.

            Bruises and welts faded, scars on faces didn’t stand out as much, Garnet’s fighting record improved with two new wins, and Pearl dared to hold Garnet’s hand again during one regulation.  Worries about her assignment changing faded away.

 

            Garnet casually shuffled the deck once again before setting up another round of Blackjack.  Despite the fatigue that was plaguing Pearl she couldn’t refuse to play the game whenever Garnet offered.

            “Have you ever been kissed?” Garnet asked as she won.

            Pearl blushed.  “Yes, by a couple of people.”

            “Girlfriends?” Garnet asked.

            “Hey now, you gotta win again to ask that,” Pearl playfully objected.

            The darker woman chuckled.  “Sorry.”

            Pearl sighed as Garnet was victorious once again.

            “We weren’t girlfriends or anything official; we were just two close friends who got a little friendly after a couple of drinks.  She was into men and was just experimenting, while I finally admitted to myself that the female type is what I prefer.  The others were just hormonal make-out sessions with a couple random girls.”

            “Underage drinking and hook-ups?  I didn’t know you were such a rebel,” the other teased.

            “I was hardly a rebel, underage drinking and making out with a couple of people are standard at high school,” Pearl scoffed.

            “Really?  I guess I had the wrong impression about high school.”

            “Well when you stick hundreds of hormonal teenagers in the same area for weeks on end, things are bound to happen.”

            Garnet hummed thoughtfully.  To Pearl’s surprise she won the next round.

            “When was your first kiss?” she asked.

            The Champion’s hand twitched ever so slightly at the question.  “I was sixteen.”

            Pearl won again.

            “Who was your first kiss?”

            “I’d rather not talk about that,” came Garnet’s gruff reply.

            “Oh…I’m sorry.” Pearl looked down at her hands.  “Have you ever drunk alcohol?”

            Garnet shook her head.  “Never.  I am forbidden to ever drink it, along with eating any sugar that is not naturally found in fruits and vegetables.”

            “Wait, have you never even had chocolate?  Or a cookie?  What about birthday cake?”

            The fighter motioned to the next game.  Pearl externally groaned; and then sighed when Garnet won.

            “Have you ever done any drugs?”

            “Thankfully no, I didn’t really hang out with the type of people who did them so I was never offered.”

            “Yellow Diamond has little patience with addicts, they die the fastest,” Garnet stated offhandedly.

            “Oh, I didn’t know that.”

            Pearl was victorious.

            “I’ve never had chocolate, or any of those things called treats.  My diet is very controlled, built for natural maximum recovery, health, and growth.  Alcohol, drugs, and sugar are some of the main things that subtract from that.”

            The smaller of the two thought on the topic for a moment.  It made sense, all meals were void of treats or candy and always had items from each food group.  She blinked slowly and yawned.  She claimed another victory.

            “Does your diet include steroids?”

            “No, the use of steroids makes you ineligible to fight.  I just have a regime of supplements that Yellow Diamond has me take.”

            “Oh.”

            “What?  You think these guns are fake?” Garnet pretended to be offended as she raised her arms up and flexed.

            Pearl’s eyes traced the cut muscles displayed before her; the bulge of Garnet’s biceps and deltoids, the angles of her trapezoids and forearms, the ribbed pattern of her abdominals and oblique muscles.  She looked away and coughed slightly, a light blush dusting her cheeks.

            “No, I just was curious that’s all.  A few athletes in my high school would do steroids to help them perform better.  Some were caught, others weren’t.”

            “I didn’t know kids did that stuff.  No, everything I have was accomplished through years of hard work and a strict diet.”

            “What about the supplements though?”

            “Those are essentially mega doses of specific vitamins, minerals, and other random plants.  They just give me more building blocks for my body to work with.  I am indifferent towards supplements, but they feel like they help,” Garnet finished with a shrug.

            Pearl hummed thoughtfully.  Inside, her craving for physical contact with the fighter ate at her once again pleading to be satisfied.  Every time she had been around Garnet the past three events it had been a constant whine running through her body.  It most certainly hadn’t been helped by Garnet’s tease just now.  As victory fell in her hand once again, her reasonable sense was overridden by the desire.  The question was heavy on her tongue.  What was the worst that could happen?  She would say no?  Pearl rolled it around in her mouth for a moment.

            “May I hug you?”

            Garnet stopped shuffling the cards and looked up at Pearl, fixing her with an unreadable face.

            “I’m sorry, that was out of line I-”

            “Yes.”

            A faint eyebrow was raised.  “What?”

            “Yes,” Garnet restated.

            “Oh! OK…”

            “Though, I can’t really stand up in the car…” Garnet trailed off as she glanced around the cabin.

            “That’s OK, I can just…well…” Pearl tried to think of a way to explain a way they could hug without it getting too awkward, but was failing miserably.

            Garnet set down the cards she was holding and extended a hand to her.  Pearl took the calloused hand and let herself be guided so she was kneeling as she straddled Garnet’s legs.  They stared at each other for a second.  Pearl’s heart hammered wildly in her chest.  She slowly leaned forward until their bodies were flush against each other; long arms wrapping around Garnet’s solid muscular torso.  Comforting arms wrapped around her body and large hands were splayed against her back.  Pearl let her head rest in the crook of Garnet’s neck; slowly breathing in the scent of the other’s soap and shampoo.  That craving inside of her ate up every second; it rejoiced and screamed with elation.  She could feel Garnet’s breathing slow down, her ears could hear the rhythmic sound of the fighter’s heartbeat.

            Lub-dub, lub-dub.

            Light blue eyes slowly drifted closed, she could get addicted to this.  As her mind became enveloped in the calm she felt, the world slowly faded away.

 

            Dissonance began to vibrate through Pearl’s subconscious, slowly pulling her back to reality.  Her entire body was being shifted 90 degrees as the comfortable surface underneath her moved.  Pearl’s back registered one hand braced against it.  Her fingers grasped at the dry-fit material as she fought the exhaustion keeping her eyes closed.  Another wave of dissonance shot through in the form of an angry tone shouting far away.  A low growl rumbled next to her ear as a response was given.  Pearl pulled her arms under her torso and pushed against the form that had sat her up.  After blinking several times the bright lights evened out and the world came into focus.  Pearl looked up to see Garnet looking down at her.

            “Hey,” came a sleepy accented tone.

            Pearl blinked again.

            “Hey,” she finally replied.

            “We’re here,” Garnet informed.

            “Get out of the fucking car!”

            Pearl jumped, now completely aware of her surroundings.  The smaller woman leaped off Garnet’s lap and apologized profusely.  They quickly gathered up the cards that were all over the cabin and got out before the amethyst could start yelling again.  Garnet told her off saying that the two extra minutes it took for them to get out wasn’t going to kill her.

            “I’m sorry, Garnet, I completely fell asleep,” Pearl said as she looked down at the asphalt.

            “Don’t worry about it, I fell asleep too,” Garnet smirked.

            Pearl blushed profusely and did her best not to stare at the taller woman next to her for the remaining time they were walking together.

 

            It was a mistake.  A horrible, foolish, impulsive mistake.  How on earth did she think that it would ever be a good idea?  Pearl blamed her irrational/hormonal side.  She also blamed her reasonable side for letting the other side get their way.  Instead of satisfying the craving, it had only made it worse.  The hug that turned into sleeping on Garnet was just like throwing gasoline on a fire.  She was distracted for a few days afterward as her body and mind recovered from the hug hangover.  Fortunately, Carnelian was good at making sure her focus was trained on the project whenever they were together.  During those times the hunger would be forced into the back of her mind as she dove into the projects.  The icing on the cake had to have been when Pearl sat straight up in her bed as she jerked herself awake from another dream.  It wasn’t a nightmare, no, if it had been a nightmare it would have been easier to deal with.  This, this was the opposite, but just as shocking.  Garnet’s large hands had traced the bare subtle curves of her naked body as full lips were locked with hers in a passionate kiss.  Sweet nothings were whispered in her ear as the darker woman peppered her neck with light kisses.  Her hands were tangled in the mass of curls as her voice called out the other’s name breathlessly.  Pearl clasped her hand over her mouth as she looked around the dark room.  Had she actually said it out loud?  In all sincerity she hoped that she had not.  Her heart hammered in her chest as a recognizable ache pulsed between her legs.  Pearl groaned in frustration and flopped back down on her bed.  A section of her mind suggested purchasing something to help satisfy the ache from the Individual Gem Supply Station.  For a split second she considered it, only to shove the thought away as the idea of doing that in her dorm or even a bathroom was not welcomed.  Thick lips pressed against her own, a tongue sliding against hers, warm hands mapping her hip bones and navel.  Another groan was stifled as part of the dream popped back into her head.  This was not helping.  Pearl forced her eyes shut and thought of something horrible to get the remnants of the dream out of her mind.  For once her past traumas were good for something.

 

            Carnelian hummed thoughtfully as she looked over Pearl’s ideas and concept designs.

            “Interesting.”  She turned to the next one.  “That’s a different combination.  Oh heavens no.”  Another design was tossed aside.  “This one might show some promise.”

            Pearl stood off to the side on pins and needles as the woman picked through all of her designs and sketches.

            “Well, one for thing is for sure,” Carnelian said as she looked at Pearl, “You have a lot to learn when it comes to designing clothes.  However, I do like the different perspective you added to this part of the design phase.”  The older woman gathered all of the papers and neatly stacked them in a folder.  “I will be working on the rough designs for Yellow Diamond, and you will help me by calculating out any schematics I need.  She will want to know why certain weapons were picked and placed with what.  That part you actually did well on, so I can rely on your help in that area.”

            “Yes, ma’am.”

            “Now, once we have the designs off to Yellow Diamond, we will put the project on hold to focus on the dancers’ outfits for the Head-to-Head with Blue Diamond.  It is only five months away.”  Carnelian walked over and handed her a stack of designs.  “But first, for each outfit I want a full spread on the weight, quantity, et cetera of the weapons/gear that is on them.  I’ll let you know if any changes are going to be made as I make the more presentable version.”

            “Of course, ma’am.”

            Carnelian smiled.  “The dancers were right; you are smart, just more with numbers than with clothing.”

            “Thank you, ma’am.” Pearl allowed a small smile to show through.

Chapter Text

^^^^^^

An errand for Carnelian sends Pearl through a whirlwind of emotions.

^^^^^^

 

            Fingers typed out the password without needing to look, successfully unlocking Pearl’s scheduler.  A spoonful of steaming oatmeal was blown on before being carefully eaten.  It had become a habit as of late.  Checking to see if her schedule had changed.  Light blue eyes wandered over the maroon box floating a couple of weeks away as she scrolled down.  It was still there, thankfully.  Pearl paused.  The shift had been so subtle it almost slipped by unnoticed.  From wishing the maroon box would disappear to thanking the stars that it was still there.  Internally she rationalized that the change was due to Pearl 00739’s words, her current status as the pearl that had regulated Garnet the longest, and that she enjoyed the car rides alone with the fighter.

            Don’t deny the real reason.  You’re used to it, you like it.

            Pearl shook her head trying to dispel her own voice.

            It’s safe, Garnet won’t hurt me and I remain unavailable to those that would.

            Keep telling yourself that.  You’re becoming what they want, someone who enjoys it.

            Enjoys what?

            Fucking a monster.

            The next bite of oatmeal took more effort to swallow.

            Yellow Diamond is the monster, not Garnet.

            Really?  After everything you’ve seen?

            Garnet’s not like that, that isn’t her.  She’s required to do it.

            Even after she hurt you?

            She was just reacting, she would never intentionally hurt me.

            Right…whatever makes it easier for you to swallow.

            Pearl breathed out harshly, forcing her mind to scan through her schedule for today.  It was the same as it always was.  Eyes stared at the date for several seconds, the number repeating itself in her mind.

            June 12th

            June 12th

            June 12th

            June 12th

            Eyebrows were pulled together.  What was with today’s date?  Was there something important about it?  Did she forget this important thing?  The thin gem locked her scheduler and stuck it to the side of her pants.  She only had five minutes left to eat her breakfast before she needed to leave.  It bothered her though, not knowing why that date should have some significance.

 

            The day passed and Pearl completely forgot about the puzzle of June 12th as she was buried under her usual workload.

 

            Carnelian grumbled as she dug through the file cabinet searching for some vital paper that would help with the continued design of the military-like gear.  Manila file folders were pulled out and set on the floor as she moved deeper into the drawer.  Pearl watched from the side waiting for the potential request for her to come over and help the stout woman.

            “There is just too much in here!” Carnelian stated in an exasperated tone.  “It’s time I sent some to get archived,” she sighed.  “Ah finally!”

            The sought for paper was discovered and lifted high in celebration.  Carnelian shuffled over to her desk and began pouring over it and writing things down on the design she was working on.

            “I’m going to need you to make a trip to White Dark Orange 55046 with a number of those papers.  I just can’t keep all of them, but I hate putting them away,” the curly haired woman sighed, not looking up.

            Pearl silently nodded.

            “But I will need to sort through them first.  After I send you off for a few more errands I’ll make sure to have a good pile for you to take.”

            A frown slipped onto Pearl’s face, it was a white hallway, she wasn’t supposed to go down those unless another higher ranking gem was with her.  She had been able to go down some white hallways to get to rooms or areas she was required to be at.  Her scheduler had been great backup whenever someone had stopped her.  However, this was just an errand, she wouldn’t have any evidence on her side.  An even breath was let out, she would figure out a way by scoping out the area and moving quickly.

            True to Carnelian’s words she was sent on a number of errands, delivering designs to the seamstresses, picking up the first sets, putting in another materials request, etc.  When she stepped back into the office, the older stout woman was carefully removing manila folders from the metal file cabinet and stacking them in a specific order.

            “Good you’re back, I have a couple of bankers boxes, load them up and head off to White Dark Orange 55046.  You may have to make more than one trip.  And it will take some time to get everything properly sorted away.  Make sure they stay in that order and if possible have them all put into the same drawer until I have the chance to go up and organize it myself.”  Carnelian walked over to her desk and grabbed a stray piece of paper.  After checking both sides she wrote out a short note.  “Normally I make all necessary trips to the archives, but I can’t spare the time today.  That woman moves far too slowly for me.  Here is a note explaining why you can go in the hallway, if anyone gives you trouble, this should help you out.”

            The pale gem took the paper and gratefully nodded.  Manila folders were neatly placed into the heavy-duty cardboard boxes.  Once both were fairly full, Pearl stacked the two and picked them up with a huff.  Carnelian raised an eyebrow at her.

            “Paper can really add up, are you certain about taking that much at once?” the curly haired woman inquired.

            Pearl’s pride didn’t let her put down the boxes.  She nodded, putting on her best face to convince Carnelian that she would be able to handle the load.  The woman just shrugged.

            “Alright.”

            Long legs strode out of the office.  It didn’t weigh nearly as much as Garnet, and if she could help carry Garnet a few hallways then a couple of boxes to White Dark Orange 55046 should be nothing.

            It wasn’t her legs that gave out or her back collapsing under the weight, it was her arms.  From her shoulders to her fingers they burned from stubbornly holding onto the boxes for as long as she humanly could.  Heavy breaths were forced out as she stood and shook out her arms; the boxes sitting on the floor for the moment.  Pearl glanced around.  She had just barely made it to building 5.  With a huff the thin woman gritted her teeth and picked up the boxes again.  Now all she needed to do was find a staircase.  Stairs provided to be a whole different challenge as her legs now started to burn from having to carry the extra weight up and up.  It didn’t help that every time she needed to rest she would have to squat down and up all over again.  By the time she made it to the entrance of the correct hallway, Pearl was sweating profusely.  Light blue eyes noted the yellow diamond symbol off to her right before looking down the long white hallway with doors of varying shades of orange.  This was new territory for her.  As she took one last quick rest, she pulled out her scheduler and opened up the note that was her map for Yellow Diamond’s buildings.

            [Orange- Records]

            The device was locked and stuck back to her pants.  Fingers curled around the handles made by the oval cutouts in the thick cardboard.  Pearl moved quickly down the hallway counting down the doors on her left until she reached the fourth one.  A light grumble escaped as she had to set down the boxes once again to open the door.  After awkwardly shoving the door open, grabbing the items, pushing the closing door back with her butt, she got into the room.  The beginning part of the room was very similar to the Individual Gem Supply Station in that it had a small open area that went up to a desk.  However, past the desk was not an open row of shelves, but a wall with a single door in it.  Manning the desk was a plump older woman with shoulder length, curly, white hair, light brown skin, tired, grey-blue eyes, yet a simple smile adorned her lips.  The gentle clicks of metal knitting needles occasionally making contact were the only sounds in the room aside from Pearl’s labored breathing.  A slam shattered the quiet as the door closed behind Pearl.  The thin gem grimaced, cautiously turning to the older woman.  Hands gradually stopped their movements as the woman raised her head to look up at who had come into her area.  Pearl’s arms were about to give out.  With a huff the boxes were set on the ground and the sweaty gem took a couple of steps closer to the desk.  Grey-blue eyes wandered over her necklace.  Pearl examined the woman’s as well.  It looked like it was made of aluminum, just like hers.

“Fluorite 00106

YD 0001”

            “A pearl?” came the drawn-out remark.  Fluorite breathed in and out.  “Not many of you come here.”

            Pearl shifted her weight from one leg to the other.

            Fluorite carefully set down her knitting and looked behind Pearl.  “Items to be archived?”

            “Yes, they are from Carnelian 00023, I am her pearl.  She sent me here with them.”

            “Ah Carnelian 00023,” lips gradually turned up into a knowing smile, “more designs of hers no doubt.”

            The woman slowly rose to her feet and turned towards the door.  Pearl noticed that the woman’s waist was adorned with a belt that had a dozen key rings attached to it with carabiners.  Each key ring had another couple dozen or so keys.  Light blue eyes suddenly widened as she realized that the woman’s belt was knitted, each loop a carabiner hung from was a different color of yarn.  It wasn’t just the belt, but the woman’s whole attire was not the usual issued clothing, but a colorful knit sweater, skirt, and socks.  Only the shoes, and probably undergarments Pearl reasoned, were the usual type seen around.  Colors were knitted into large stripes that changed every twelve inches or so.  A pale green was at the top of the sweater, followed by blue.  Violet started the skirt and then switched to lavender, then pink at the bottom.  The socks contained the same pattern, but with much shorter segments.

            “Grab the boxes,” came the measured voice.  “Bring them in with you,” Fluorite finished as she unlocked the door and stepped through.

            Pearl quickly grabbed the items and ran into the long, dimly lit room.  It was twenty feet wide and seemed to go on for at least fifty feet.  Each side was filled with metal filing cabinets containing five drawers, lined up one right next to the other.  Fluorite paused after walking past a couple of them.  A remote was pulled from her belt and she clicked a button.  Light burst from a bright bulb several feet away.

            “Oh…wrong one…” came the sigh as the older woman examined the remote before pressing another button followed by the one she just hit.

            A light appeared over them at the same time the other turned off.  Pearl was suddenly bathed in the realization of what she was standing in.  Each drawer was labeled with gem titles and numbers listed in alphanumerical order.  Some drawers listed a range like the “Amber 00001-00050” drawer, while some had just one or two gems listed, and even others like Carnelian 00023 had a whole filing cabinet with her name on each drawer.  Light blue eyes widened.  The archives within the records area.  This room most likely contained information on every single gem that Yellow Diamond owned.  Files for several gems popped into her mind she desperately wanted to see.  Fluorite unlocked a drawer, opened it up, then looked expectantly at Pearl.  The pale gem felt her face heat up.  Quickly she set down the boxes, opened the top one, and began to hand the manila folders to the older woman.

            “Carnelian would like these all to be in the same drawer if possible and kept in the same order,” Pearl quickly informed.

            Fluorite smiled, her eyes crinkling in the corners.  “I know well how Carnelian 00023 likes her designs organized.”

            The heat on the thin gem’s cheeks grew.  For a few moments the manila folders traded hands silently.  Pearl noted that she needed to slow down as Fluorite didn’t move nearly as fast as her.

            “Each gem has a beginning, and an end,” the low mellow voice spoke up.  “Each beginning and end, is stored here, in the archives.”  Fluorite gazed down the long hall before passively turning to look back at Pearl.  “I keep them all.  That is the assignment given to me by Yellow Diamond.”

            The first box was steadily emptied.  Pearl quickly set that one to the side and opened the second.

            “Tragic beginnings, willing beginnings, tragic ends, peaceful ends, some more so than others,” Fluorite stated slowly.  Grey-blue eyes settled on her.  “Your beginning is here.”

            Pearl’s breath hitched.  Of course she would be here too.  The need to see her own file burned inside of her.  There had to be a way to get a glimpse at it before she left.  Eyes wandered to the belt of keys.  What if she grabbed the belt and knocked down the older woman?  She was much faster and would be able to find her drawer easily.  She could even make the woman tell her which key would unlock the drawer her file was in.  Pearl’s mouth fell open, horrified at her own thoughts.

            How could I even think of doing that?!?!

            Bile rose up from her stomach.  Thin lips closed and the pale gem forced herself to swallow.  She bowed her head, refusing to look at the woman, feeling like she owed Fluorite an apology.  After the last manila folder was handed over, the drawer was shut and locked.  However, instead of walking back, Fluorite motioned for her to follow.  Pearl trailed behind the plump woman, keeping her eyes on the concrete floor, the shame from her violent thoughts still reverberating inside.  Another drawer was opened and a manila folder was pulled out.

            “Pearl 01079,” came Fluorite’s measured voice.

            Pearl looked up.  It was her folder!

            “You have some interesting notes and assignments.”  Grey-blue eyes wandered back and forth as a few papers were turned.  “I’m surprised they didn’t recruit you to be a peridot or sunstone.”

            “What?” Pearl couldn’t help speaking out.

            Fluorite looked up at her.  Thankfully her eyes were void of any anger towards her, only a soft crinkle in the corners as she smiled.

            “It’s noted here along with your high school transcript and records of ballet performances.  You could have easily been a peridot or sunstone, but I can see why they chose a pearl.  Peridots usually have some significant computer programming experience on top of the math and science aptitude.   As for sunstones, they don’t need to be replaced as often.  They needed a pearl, so that’s where you were assigned.”

            Pearl’s mind exploded as it went several directions at once with this dump of information.  They had her high school records, they knew of her dancing, she could have been a peridot, she could have been one of Rainbow Quartz’ dancers.  They knew…  She could have… They needed a pearl…  She became a pearl…   She…  They…  Pearl gripped the sides of her head as she breathed in and out heavily.  Her life here could have been completely different.  Would she have wanted that?  Would things have been easier for her?  Or would have it just been harder in a different way?  It was too much to process at the moment, she needed to let it digest.

            “Your anniversary is just around the corner too,” Fluorite continued, seemingly unaware of Pearl’s distress.  “Your first one.  That’s always an important one.”

            The thin woman stared at the archivist.  “What day is my anniversary?” the question spilled out without her being able to stop it.

            “June 27th.”

            Oh…yeah…I remember it, barely.

            “A sad beginning, recruited individuals usually have those,” Fluorite nodded.

            A date quickly popped up in her mind.

            “Is there anything about June 12th in there?” she asked, not caring if she got reprimanded for talking out of turn.

            Fluorite didn’t seem surprised by the outburst at all.  Grey-blue eyes were lowered back to the papers in front of her.

            “That’s your birthday,” she stated simply.

            It felt like she had just been socked in the stomach by Imperial Topaz.  All air left her body as she collapsed onto her butt, her back slumping against the file cabinet behind her.  She had forgotten her own birthday.  Light blue eyes stared out at nothing as her mind tried to recover from the shock.

            “You’re nineteen now.”

            “I forgot my own birthday,” Pearl all but sobbed.

            Fluorite’s face fell.  “Birthdays are not celebrated here, only anniversaries.  Each gem usually has one, some have a second that coincides with some major achievement.”  The woman breathed in and out.  “It’s common for gems to forget that day. Do not dwell on your sadness of doing the same.  I remember mine, but that’s only because I’ve had so many.  Here my anniversaries make me feel younger since it’s such a small number,” the older woman chuckled.

            “How…” Pearl cleared her throat and wiped at the edges of her eyes where tears had gathered, “how many anniversaries do you have?”

            “I hit my ten year anniversary a couple of months ago, such a strange feeling that was.”

            The strawberry blonde looked up.  “I’m sorry, that’s a long time.”

            “Don’t be, I chose to be here.”

            “You did?”  That surprised Pearl more than anything.  So far Fluorite seemed very sweet and genuine, not the type of person who would choose to live in this hellhole.

            “My granddaughter didn’t make the best of decisions…”  Fluorite stared off into the distance.  “She got into a lot of debt as a result of her consumption of the Underground’s products.  Debt she couldn’t repay.  And then Yellow Diamond’s representatives came to collect.”

            Pearl winced.  That couldn’t have gone well.

            “Two bulky topazes.  I remember them well.  They were to take my granddaughter away so she could work off her debt in the Underground.  I consider it a stroke of fortune that she had been visiting me when they came knocking.  She tried to make any other arrangement, but none would be accepted until I offered to go in her stead.  The two topazes exchanged a glance, stepped away for a moment, then came back and motioned for me to come.  She had her whole life ahead of her, I didn’t want my only grandchild to disappear forever.”  A tear ran down Fluorite’s cheek.  “I had no idea what I was getting into or what would happen to me, I only took solace in the fact that my granddaughter had a second chance.  The two topazes took me right to Yellow Diamond who already knew of the entire exchange and my offer.  Yellow Diamond was as cold as ever, but there was a moment she seemed touched by me taking my granddaughter’s place.  I am to work until the debt has been repaid by either of us.  But as I’m sure you know, what I can contribute to the debt is only a fraction since the rest goes to my living expenses.  I only hope that my granddaughter has made the most of her second chance.”

            Tears threatened to spill from Pearl’s eyes as she listened to the heartbreaking tale.  Coming here to save her granddaughter from a fate worse than death.  Pearl was astounded at the courageous sacrifice Fluorite had made.  Internally she made the note to never forget and to always be kind to this wonderful grandma.

            “I have a simple job,” Fluorite breathed out, “and Yellow Diamond provides me with new balls of yarn each month so I can keep myself occupied in my downtime by knitting.  So it’s not too bad, just lonely.  Gems who come here are always in such a rush,” she slowly finished.

            Pearl looked away.  “What do you do when the loneliness gets to you?”

            A smile formed on the older woman’s lips.  “I read these stories,” she motioned to the nearly endless rows of file cabinets.  “Sometimes I find one that makes me happy, but mostly ones that make me sad…” Fluorite trailed off.

            Her eyes wandered back to Pearl’s file, silently turning through the papers stored in it.

            “You regulate Garnet,” came the slightly surprised statement.

            “I-I do,” Pearl could feel her cheeks heat up.

            A mischievous smile appeared on Fluorite’s lips.  “I want to show you something.  But you have to promise not to tell anyone.”

            “I promise.”

            The drawer was shut and locked, however the older woman kept Pearl’s file in her hand.  Once again Fluorite motioned for Pearl to follow her.  They stopped at another cabinet and the drawer marked “Garnet 0001” was unlocked.  Pearl couldn’t believe her eyes.  One of the files she wanted to read was being opened.

            “I was going through this drawer, organizing it after quite a momentous occasion, when I found this!”

            A standard 4 inch by 6 inch photo was pulled out and presented to Pearl.  Two women stood side by side, one with her arm around the other, happy smiles on both of their faces.  The woman on the left side had tight black curls that poofed out into an afro that framed her square face.  Deep brown eyes and a toothy grin matched the slightly relaxed posture the woman had.  Even then Pearl could see the obvious definition in the muscles beneath the woman’s cool reddish-brown skin.  A red, dry-fit, muscle tank top with black, skintight fighting shorts adorned her lower body.  The athletic woman’s arm was around someone who could be considered the opposite.  Wavy, waist long, blonde hair with bangs covered the thinner woman’s eyes and stood out against her deep umber skin tone.  Full lips were parted only slightly in her serene smile.  She wore a beautiful, royal blue dress that flowed past the extent of the picture and had puffy, short sleeves.  Pearl’s eyes were finally drawn to the bundle in the thin woman’s arms.  A maroon blanket was wrapped around the large baby.  Black curls sprang in every direction, also covering a good portion of the baby’s face.  However, a scrunched up, kind of serious expression could be seen.  The baby must have been asleep.  Light blue eyes looked back and forth between the two women, neither of them were Garnet, so then why was it in Garnet’s file?  It dawned on her as she looked at the baby once again.

            “Ruby, Sapphire, and their baby, Garnet,” Fluorite supplied from the side.

            She was staring at baby Garnet.  It was such a hard to thing wrap her mind around at first.  This tiny child became the fully grown fighter less than twenty-one years later.  Light blue eyes continued to stare at the picture, committing it to memory.  Pearl had to admit, Garnet looked adorable cuddling into her mother.

            “One of the few pictures of them like this,” the older woman continued.  “I like to look at this picture every now and then.  It’s one of my favorites.”

            The other two names were not lost on Pearl.  Ruby, Yellow Diamond’s previous champion, and Sapphire, Garnet’s mother.  Sharp eyes noticed several details.  One, the picture was taken in the Underground, she could recognize those bleak colored hallways anywhere.  Two, Ruby had several bruises including a cut in her lips.  Three, Sapphire had a wedding ring on.  A simple gold band, but a wedding ring nonetheless.  Pearl searched for Ruby’s left hand to see if she also wore a ring, but could not see the appendage.  She had to ask, she needed to know.

            “What was Ruby’s and Sapphire’s relationship?”

            “They were married before they came here.  I don’t remember how long, I’d need to look in their file again.”  Fluorite looked down the hall then back at the picture.  “Those days are long gone,” she carefully took the memento from Pearl.  “A tragic beginning met with only a more tragic end.”

            The drawer was closed and locked.  Silently Fluorite made her way back towards the door.  She glanced expectantly at Pearl.  The pale gem quickly gathered the two empty boxes and exited the archives.  Knitting needles traded places with Pearl’s file.  Metallic clicking filled the still room as Fluorite sat down.

            “I have more to bring.  Thank you for showing me that picture and for giving me that information about myself,” Pearl bowed.

            “Of course,” the woman’s wrinkled face brightened as she smiled.  “I will be right here when you come back.”

            Feet moved swiftly down the halls as Pearl weaved her way to Carnelian’s office.  As she walked her mind tried to sort through all of the discoveries that had been made in the archives.  Thin lips let a huff escape as she arrived at the designer’s office before she really had been able to think about it at all.  Carnelian made no comment about how long Pearl had been gone, she only motioned to the remaining files that were to be taken to the archives.  This time only one and a half banker’s boxes were filled.  Pearl was grateful for the lighter load.  However, the decrease in weight didn’t prevent her from having to take a number of breaks as she made her way back.  Fluorite leisurely chatted with Pearl as the remaining folders were put away, mostly telling her about the various things she had knitted over the years and the new things she was going to attempt to do.  As they walked back into the reception area, Pearl was about to leave when the older woman pushed a manila folder to her.  Light blue eyes stared at the name written on the tab.

“Pearl 01079

YD 0001”

            “You have five minutes to look at what you want of it,” Fluorite explained, “If you dare to.”

            Did she?  Yes.  There was no hesitation in her internal response.  Hands pulled the file towards her.  A breath was slowly exhaled.  The top of the file was opened.  Pearl was greeted with a small image of herself in gem attire and a sheet of paper that listed all of her physical stats, assignments, past offenses, and other notes.  All of the information was succinct and well organized.  For a moment she tried to recall when her picture had ever been taken, but couldn’t think of any time it had.  The only possible answer lied in her meetings early on with Peridot 00231.  It wasn’t unthinkable that a picture could have been quickly snapped with the tablet the short gem always carried around.  The first page was turned away, revealing her medical records.  Shots, reasons she had ever gone to the doctor, everything from when she was born up until the day she was kidnapped.  Pearl closed her eyes and turned that page, there was no point in reading it.  Bright light blue eyes looked back at her from a gorgeous picture of a young woman with carefully styled, short, strawberry blonde hair, light make-up, smiling lips painted pink, and a black top that had an off the shoulder v-neckline.  Eyebrows were furrowed, who…?  It was her.  It was her high school senior photo.  Pearl placed a hand over her mouth and shook her head.  This was painful.  Through a steadying breath she pushed on, she was running out of time.  Eyes quickly scanned over her transcript which was nothing but an entire column of A’s, A+’s, and one A-.  Next was a brief summary of her extracurricular activities.  Dance, community service, being a tutor, etc.  It felt like she was reading someone else’s file, none of this felt familiar and only a few fleeting memories surfaced.  The next item in the file made her come to a full stop.  It was a police report.  Eyes tore through the information as hands gripped the desk tightly.

            “Emily Arvokas, reported missing on the 27th of June 2016 has been declared dead after six months of searching and finding no clues or evidence to locate or contact her.  In the event that clues are found the case will be reopened and the search renewed.”

            Six months.

            For six months they searched for her only to declare her dead when they couldn’t find anything.

            “NOOOO!” the sound tore from her throat as her hands latched onto the stapled bundle of papers, crumpling them slightly in her vice-like grip.  “No!  No….” her voice dropped as her grief began to consume her.

            They had looked for her.  They really did.  But they never found anything.  No hints, no clues, no evidence, nothing.  She was dead.  Emily Arvokas was dead to the world.  Dead to her family.  Dead to whatever friends she might have had.  Dead.

            Sobs shook Pearl’s frame, tears falling from her eyes onto the police report.  The file and the police report were gently pried from her hands.  Eyes stared down at the droplets collecting on the desk as she continued to cry.

            “No….” the pale woman whimpered.  “It can’t be-hic-it can’t be true…”  Pearl collapsed onto her knees and then onto her heels, burying her face in her hands.  “I’m still alive-hic-I’m still here…I’m not dead…”

            She barely noticed Fluorite disappearing into the archives with her folder and returning moments later.  The older woman crouched down next to her and pulled her into a hug.  Pearl cried into the knit sweater curled in on herself as a warm hand stroked her hair.  No words of comfort were offered, there was nothing that could be said after all.  The pale woman composed herself after a couple of minutes, pulling away and slowly getting to her feet.  Pearl extended her hand down to help Fluorite stand.

            “I’m sorry for creating such a disturbance in your office.  It won’t happen again,” she robotically stated.  “Thank you for letting me see my file and for your kindness.”

            “It’s the least I can do.  I’m sorry it caused you such grief.”

            “No, I should have prepared myself for that.”

            Fluorite frowned.  With one final bow, Pearl grabbed the empty boxes and left the archives.

            On her way back to Carnelian, the thin woman stopped in a bathroom and checked her appearance.  Her eyes were a little puffy and red, but there was nothing she could do about it.  Hazel eyes lingered on her appearance, but no remarks came from Carnelian for the rest of the time Pearl was assisting her for the day.

            The narrow body fell onto the worn mattress covered with thin sheets and a decent comforter, dull light blue eyes stared up at the bed above her.  Pearl was exhausted and her mind was a mess from everything she had learned in the archives.  Emotional whiplash would be the best way to describe the experience.  Fingers grabbed the aluminum bar hung around her neck and tilted it so she could read the engraved words.

“Pearl 01079

YD 0001”

            She could have been a peridot, responsible for integrating new gems, working with technology, buried in computers, codes, and reports.  Any technical mistake or inaccuracy could swiftly spell her doom.  She could have been a sunstone or other type of dancer.  Dressed in clothing designed to attract everyone’s lecherous gazes, dancing to please the customers, dancing to show off and entertain.  She could have her time bought or be required to put on a special show.  But she was a pearl.  Ordered around, designed to serve, be silent, and still.  Assigned to gems for work and regulation and put on a list to be picked from.  Disposable.  The necklace was dropped, causing it to lightly thump against her collarbones.  Eyelids slowly closed and reopened.  There was nothing left for her outside of the Underground.  No one was looking for her anymore, in all reality it would have been a miracle if they had been.  This was all she had left.  A life of helping Carnelian until either her or the woman died or she was reassigned, and regulating whomever she was matched up with.  Tears burned in her eyes as it became harder to breathe.  The next inhale was broken as lines of salt water began to run down her cheeks.  A shaky sob jumped past her lips.  Pearl rolled onto her side and curled into the fetal position, she wasn’t going to try and stifle her grief.  For a couple of moments none of the other pearls made any comments as they walked around getting ready for the evening.

            “Oh shut the fuck up!” one pearl finally exclaimed.

            Normally Pearl would shrink and obey, but this time something snapped in her head.

            “Oh YOU shut the fuck up!” she retaliated, sitting up and scouring the pearls with her blurry vision trying to see who said it.

            The room paused.

            “I’m going to cry my fucking eyes out for once instead of holding it in and you all can just shut it!” Pearl continued.

            “Then at least muffle it with your pillow dumbass,” Pearl 00824 grumbled.  “We all need our sleep and I don’t want to have to listen to you at full volume.”

            The pale woman breathed out through her nose and glared at Pearl 00824.  She flopped onto her bed, pulled her pillow from under her head and placed it on top.  From there the hot tears continued to stream down her face as she let herself be as loud as she needed to be.  Pearl didn’t look at her astronomy book, get ready for bed, or even get in her bed.  She just cried herself to sleep.

           

            Waking up felt like coming back from the dead.  Her eyes didn’t want to open and the bright lights stung them.  Pearl staggered to the bathroom area and soaked her washcloth in a sink before rubbing it all over her face.  The water felt good on her eyes and tear stained face.

            “Got it all out of your system crybaby?” Pearl 00824 snidely remarked as she passed by.

            “Fuck you.  As if you’ve never cried before,” came Pearl’s unfiltered response.

            Pearl 00824 snarled and made an aggressive step towards Pearl.  “I have, but at least I don’t try and keep up a whole dorm full of people when I do.”

            “Whatever.”

            “Hey,” the pearl reached out and grabbed the back of Pearl’s hair pulling the head back towards her.  “You better keep it down next time otherwise a number of us are more than willing to give you a real reason to cry.”

            With that Pearl 00824 shoved Pearl’s face towards the mirror as she released the hold on her hair.  Pearl glared at her as she walked away.

            “Crying never helps you here.”

            Garnet’s words echoed in her mind as she looked at her sunken face with puffy eyes in the reflective surface.  It really didn’t.

            At breakfast she checked her schedule for the day and looked ahead to make sure that the maroon box hadn’t disappeared.  It was still there.  Her thoughts drifted to Garnet and the sweet picture Fluorite had shown her.  More pieces of the puzzle were falling together.  Ruby, Yellow Diamond’s previous champion was married to Sapphire, Garnet’s mother.  Now Ruby and Sapphire were both dead and Garnet had become the new champion.  The circumstances around Ruby’s and Sapphire’s deaths were obscure, but she didn’t like the sinking feeling that opened up in the pit of her stomach as she recalled the words of Pearl 00745 before Garnet killed her.  Pearl didn’t want to think about it and chose instead to focus on the image of the two smiling women and their cute baby.  A smile in turn formed on thin lips.  Part of her wanted to tell Garnet of the picture so bad, but she knew the fighter wouldn’t react well to her having seen it.  With a sigh she put away her scheduler and focused on eating her food.

            June 12th

            The scheduler was pulled right back out and Pearl created a new note.  On it she typed down her personal information including June 12th her birthday.  She wasn’t going to forget that again.

Chapter Text

^^^^^^

Memories return, a kiss will be shared and innocence will be lost.

^^^^^^

 

            An odd feeling washed over Pearl as her eyes checked the day’s date.

            June 27th

            It was her anniversary.  One year.  She had become Pearl 01079 a year ago.  Originally she thought this day would bring another wave of tears and varying emotions to her that she would have to stifle and hide, but she felt nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  At first the pale woman was alarmed at this, but it faded away into her detached mental state.  It was more advantageous to be numb anyways, uncontrollable emotions always complicated things.  Pearl breathed out and continued double-checking her schedule.    It was the same as always, however this week there was a maroon box on the upcoming Thursday.  A tiny smile pushed up the corners of her flat mouth.  She would get to see Garnet again!  She would get to hold Garnet’s hand again, and maybe if she was lucky, she would get to hug the woman.

            It’s regulation, you shouldn’t look forward to that.

            She wasn’t looking forward to regulation, she was looking forward to spending time with Garnet.  Eyes drifted to the yellow box the next day that indicated she was traveling with Garnet and Yellow Diamond.  After regulation came the car rides and that’s what she was really looking forward to.

            Right, keep telling yourself that.

            You like going down on her.

            It excites you.

            Pearl’s body heated up slightly as her mind recalled a couple quick sounds and sights from some of the more memorable regulations.

            It’s a normal human response to get riled up when seeing and hearing that.

            It would happen with anyone.  Even the other pearls got into it too when regulating her.

            Her internal voice laughed at her.

            Not all of them did.

            Pearl shoved the thoughts away as she stood up from the cafeteria table and headed out the double doors.  She breathed out harshly through her nose and focused her mind on the list of things Carnelian was most likely going to need help with.  There was a lot to do for Carnelian, as there always was whenever a Friday event was coming up.  As she began her usual route to the designer’s office, a chirp echoed from her scheduler.  The device was opened up to reveal a new event had been added.

            “06:30-07:00: Annual Review Peridot 00231: Blue Light Orange 53189”

            Eyebrows were pulled together, she didn’t know there was such a thing down here, but considering Yellow Diamond’s business sort of approach to things it made sense.  Feet pivoted to head the other way towards the new event.  It was with Peridot 00231, a gem she hadn’t met with much since she had made it to her half-year mark.

            Hopefully it will be a simple meeting, today’s going to be very hectic for me.

            Pearl knocked on the door, paused for a second, then stepped in.  Peridot 00231 sat in a small room behind a simple desk with her hands clasped out in front of her.  The pale woman noted the level of self-importance radiating from the gem.  Peridot 00231 was usually like that and thankfully it wasn’t over the top.

            “Pearl 01079, come in and take a seat,” the small woman motioned to the simple chair on the side of the desk closest to Pearl.

            Silently the thin woman took the offered seat.

            “Good to see that you arrived on time, an indication that you’ve become much better acquainted with where everything is located and how the coloring and numbering systems work.”

            “What is this meeting about?” Pearl spoke up out of curiosity and the desire to move things along, she had a lot to do today.

            Green eyes narrowed as Peridot 00231 glared at her.  “And it seems that your talking habit still has room for plenty of improvement,” came the grumble.

            Pearl clamped her mouth shut, teeth grinding together ever so slightly behind her closed lips.  Talking rules varied depending on which gem she was around.  With Larimar and Garnet she could ask questions and converse like a normal person as long as it was just the two of them.  Carnelian never minded simple questions, especially if it helped to clear up confusion, educated, or provided valuable information.  She needed to be more careful in her speech, it had nearly killed her once, and was bound to get her in more trouble with other gems.

            “I was just about to explain the reason for this short meeting before you interrupted me,” Peridot 00231 nasally lectured.  When no further response came from Pearl she continued.  “This is your annual review, it gives us a chance to let you know where you are performing optimally and where improvements are necessary.”  She pulled out her tablet and set it between them so it faced Pearl.  “There are three general categories gems are evaluated in, with additional ones added for specific gem types, and personal objectives.  The three general categories are efficiency, behavior, and skills.  For pearls, there are the two additional categories.  The first is not speaking unless you are asked a direct question, while the second is a grade on the amount of unnecessary movements you have been making.  As I hoped you’ve noticed, these are the first and third pearl rules. Pearl rule number two is already covered in the behavior part of the general ones so there is no need for repetition.  Finally, for you personally, you will have two areas of evaluation that are relative to both of your assignments in assisting Carnelian 00023 and in regulating Garnet 0001.  Do you understand?”

            “Yes, ma’am,” Pearl agreed in her programmed, pleasant yet neutral tone.

            “Excellent!” Peridot 00231 grinned widely.  “We shall start with the first topic in the general category.  In efficiency you have been rated at 80%.  Overall you’ve had a good first year for a pearl.  There have been noticeable times of decreased productivity, namely your first couple of weeks, which is anticipated, but the couple of months soon following your regulation assignment were not.  A note was made that this was due to improper nutrition intake.  Regardless, reduced productivity for this long of a time is dangerous.  Mostly because it often precedes or leads into even longer lulls.  Stay on top of your meals, don’t lag on your errands, and you’ll have an even better second year.”

            The pale gem’s jaw tensed again.  This whole thing, while informative on how they were doing in the eyes of their superiors, was also an intimidation ploy for Yellow Diamond to let her gems know that they are being watched and graded at all times.  Messing up even when it technically wasn’t her fault would still be counted against her.

            “For the second topic, behavior, there are a number of instructions left here for me to pass along to you.  I encourage you to heed them well.”  The woman with short blonde hair cleared her throat and drug the next slide of information into the screen, and then stared at Pearl.  “Speaking out against Yellow Diamond is one of the highest offences here.  She is not to be questioned for she is the most logical and intelligent decision maker ever.  It shows low confidence in her and disloyalty.  I hope you remember that if there is ever a repeat offense your punishment will increase.”

            Oh Pearl did remember, very well.  Not only the punishment, but the axinite’s warning following it.  The dark red marks crisscrossing her back had finally started fading into a lighter shade of pink.

            “Aside from that glaring error,” the small woman continued, “it has been reported that you in general are very cooperative and will accomplish your tasks with virtually no complaints.  However, you could use improvement when addressing customers at the Friday night events.  While it may be tempting to just grumble along after a hard day and maybe the customer is being less than considerate, they are still our customers and should at least be addressed with a minimally pleasant attitude.  Finally, your ability to obey the proper chain of command has been good so far.  In conclusion, you’ve been rated at 75%.  This next year shall hopefully yield a much better rating.”

            The pale gem had a sneaking suspicion that most if not all of the 25% she lost was from her one outburst towards Yellow Diamond.  She did not regret doing that at all.  Yellow Diamond was the one who was out of line, not her.

            “Onto the third topic of the general category, skills.  Coming into the Underground you were already highly rated skill-wise for a pearl and it has shown.  Carnelian has been able to rely on you to help her out with medium difficulty tasks with minimal error.  On top of that you’ve developed and improved a number of skills you had little to no experience in.  Yellow Diamond is pleased with the progress her gems make, so keep that up.  Overall your score for skills as a pearl was rated at 90%.  Not at all a bad score for a first year, but I speak from experience when I say that getting to that 100% is incredibly difficult.”

            It wasn’t hard to decide that busting her butt over a final 10% wasn’t going to be one of her goals for the coming year.  For once in her life she was just fine with a 90%.

            An A-…

            The inner voice tried to drag her down, but Pearl simply ignored it.  This wasn’t high school, an A- wasn’t going to kill her.  Light blue eyes silently watched as Peridot 00231 sat up straighter in her chair and became much more somber.

            “Now I’m sure at this point you’re probably feeling quite satisfied with your results, but that was just the first category.  In the gem specific category, you aren’t doing so well.”  After exhaling Peridot 00231 swiped her finger across the screen to bring up the next slide.  “Starting out here you often would speak without given permission to, even with multiple reminders and light punishments, your ability to remain silent during the appropriate times has not improved much at all.  Case in point at the beginning of this meeting.”

            Pearl breathed out slowly, calming down her agitated mind.  The rule was ridiculous, and really only made things more difficult for her to communicate with the other gems she worked with outside of Larimar, Garnet, Carnelian, and Pearl 00687.  Yellow Diamond could have easily made a rule where a pearl could speak when necessary, but that they were to remain silent all the other times.

            “This topic is rated at 50%,” Peridot’s voice brought the pale gem’s focus back to the meeting.  “I feel like I shouldn’t have to explain why it’s this low.  For a pearl you are very chatty.  Topics that you score a 50% or lower you will be monitored more carefully until satisfactory improvement has been made.  Hopefully that won’t have to be for too long and I would encourage you to try and work for an 80% rating next year.”

            Increased monitoring seemed like the typical response and Pearl was grateful that she was actually being informed of this.  While the improvement in the percentage would be nice, the real motivator to do so was to avoid getting hurt.  She wasn’t fond of getting hit despite how much she had gotten used to it.

            “Similar things could be said for topic number two,” the small woman continued.  “While there has been effort on your part to stop once you’ve started fidgeting and unnecessarily moving around, it’s still happening.”

            She had been working hard to “fix” that one, but had little success.  Moving and playing with things was her body and mind’s way of dealing with all of the stress and anxiety produced in the volatile environment of the Underground.

            “It’s a response to being stressed and anxious,” the strawberry blonde spoke through gritted teeth.

            Peridot 00231 glared at her for speaking out.  Pearl internally sighed at her inability to keep her mouth shut, but did not retract her words.

            “Case in point for topic number one of category two.  I would slap you but my arms are too short to reach across this desk,” came the nasally grumble.

            That statement brought a hilarious image to her mind of the short arms failing as they tried to reach for her.  It was hard to suppress the smirk that wanted to curl into her lips and the laughter bubbling up in her throat.

            “While I understand and know such actions are common for individuals under stress, you can pinpoint your triggers and be prepared to stop yourself.  Don’t use excuses to try and exempt yourself from actually improving.  I know this from experience as I had these similar issues when I came here.  While peridots do have more leniency on those areas I was able to channel it into other things or create internal ways of handling stress.”

            Pearl was genuinely surprised.  Peridot 00231 did know somewhat how it was to be like her and yet she had still been able to fix those same things.  Newfound respect was given to the gem with green eyes.

            “As a result, your rating for unnecessary movements is at 60%.  Better than your talking habit, but still needs considerable improvement.”

            I’ll try again to work on it, even though it’s such a natural response for me.

            Satisfied with the lecture she delivered, Peridot 00231 cleared her throat, straightened her posture, and brought up the next display.

            “For the first topic in the personal section Carnelian gets to influence your rating.  I hope you take this number to heart.  At the end of the year you have been rated at an 85% in helpfulness to Carnelian 00023.  She has commented that you’ve learned a lot and always do your best in each of the assignments she gives you.  Her load has become much more manageable and partial credit is awarded to you.”

            85% for Carnelian was one rating the pale woman was actually happy about.  While Carnelian would compliment her at times it was nice that she had passed it on to those monitoring her.

            “Finally, you received a rating of 90% in regulation.  While Garnet 0001 lists no complaints and states your performance is satisfactory, the decrease in rating comes from notes on you leaving early during one and being late a couple of times.”  Peridot pulled her tablet back to her and began to type away.

            Pearl wasn’t sure if she should be happy or sad for her rating.  Part of her wanted to know more about what Garnet had said, but at the same time she realized that it was probably a very awkward topic to give a rating on.  Besides, she shouldn’t be glorifying rape.

            “A summary of your annual ratings will be sent to your scheduler shortly.  Make the most of your next year, a couple of your scores better improve by then.  Return to your next scheduled task.”

            With that the pale woman was dismissed.  As Pearl stood up she heard her scheduler give off a faint ping indicating that she had received the file.  She didn’t look at it, but spared Peridot 00231 a second glance as she left the room.  She wanted to say thank you, but she wasn’t supposed to speak.  With a huff she paused in the doorway and went through with it anyway.

            “Thank you Peridot 00231.”

            The gem’s face lit up and then pulled slightly at the broken rule.

            “I am just doing my job Pearl 01079, but thanks is always appreciated.”

            Pearl left with a nod.  As she started back towards Carnelian’s office her jaw tensed up once again; a busy day awaited her.

            The thin woman was running around the entire day as she was given tasks from Carnelian and helping Pearl 00687 manage her larger load from Rainbow Quartz.  Fortunately, Pearl was still able to get her scheduled lunch and dinner.  Quick feet, seamless teamwork with Pearl 00687, and most of the buildings’ paths memorized for the first four levels or more of each helped her accomplish her tasks faster than ever.  It was such a stark difference to her first day helping out Carnelian.  Before Pearl knew it she was back in the dormitory sitting on her bed with her back resting against one of the square, metal posts staring at the date displayed on her scheduler.  Eyelids blinked once.  She didn’t even remember consciously pulling out her scheduler.

            June 27th

 

******

 

            Feet walked at a leisurely pace as the new high school grad moved with her group of friends.  Laughter filled the warm night air around the five young women.  Summer was in full swing and in Arizona that meant blistering heat in the daytime with slightly cooler temperatures in the evening.  Right now the thin girl was enjoying the warmer temperature as it slowly melted away the chill that had gathered on her from the few hours they had been in the air-conditioned mall.  Emily joined in on the laughter for a few moments.  The friend off to her left pulled out her buzzing phone.  The bright screen stood out in the dim lighting of the parking lot, lighting up her friend’s face.

            “Yes Mom we just got out of the mall and are headed to our cars.  I’ll be home once I’ve dropped off Brittany, Katie, and Veronica.  OK, see you soon Mom.  Love you too.”  The friend ended the call and gave them an exasperated face.  “Even with being graduated and accepted into a good college I’m still given a curfew.  ‘Be back by midnight!’” she imitated her parent’s voices.  “C’mon you three, my car is over here,” she gestured with her head.  “Emily, where did you park?”

             “I’m way over there actually,” the tall strawberry blonde pointed to a distant and even more dimly lit section of the parking lot.  “I didn’t get lucky on the parking.”

            “That’s awfully far away,” Katie frowned.

            “Yeah,” the first friend agreed.  “Plus it’s dark.  Come with us, I’ll drive you over to your car.”

            Emily took another glance where her car was.  It was tempting to just walk the seemingly harmless path, but internally she was less than thrilled with the idea.  Thin lips were pressed together.

            “I’ll take you up on that offer actually Lacy,” Emily smiled.  “Besides, that way I can hang out with you all a little longer.”

            “Of course you’d want to spend more time with us, just like we want to spend as much time with you as possible before you leave us forever when you head east for your big name college!”

            A blushed formed on pale cheeks.  Emily chuckled and sheepishly shrugged.

            “I didn’t think they would accept me either.  I applied to your same college too.”

            “We know,” Veronica waved off as they walked towards Lacy’s car.  “We just like to tease since you’re the only one who is going off on a wild adventure.”

            Light blue eyes were rolled.  “Oh I’m sure you four will have plenty of wild adventures here too.  Plus, we will still keep contact through phone, messaging, and video chat.  At bare minimum, as long as time and money permit, I’ll visit for the holiday breaks and maybe summers.”

            “We know, it just won’t be the same as having you with us sharing on our wacky adventures,” Lacy dramatically sighed.

            More playful teasing and chatty conversation bounced back and forth as the group of young women piled into the white car and traveled the short distance to Emily’s car.  Bright lights lit up the area around the used, tan sedan as the tall dancer unlocked her door, got in, started the engine after two tries, which was odd, and signaled to her friends that she was good to go.  The two cars followed each other out of the giant parking lot.  Eventually they parted ways as one headed west while the other went east.  As the tan car took another right turn, a black SUV followed from an inconspicuous distance.

            Emily hummed along to her music as she accelerated on the long, empty highway trying to shake off the odd behavior of her car.  As it stuttered once again, eyebrows were furrowed.  An orange symbol was lit up on her dash.  That with the needle of her gas gauge hanging below empty made her pause.

            I filled up not too long ago, there’s no way I’m out already.

            Another stutter rumbled through the machine.  Fingers gripped the steering wheel tighter as the young woman calculated how long she had before she would reach a gas station or her home.  Normally the sedan could last at least twenty more miles once the light went on, giving her a small buffer to get gas.  It didn’t ease her concern much as she had no recollection how long the gas light had been on.

            The next gas station is at least ten more miles away.

            A slow breath was let out as Emily eased up on the accelerator.  The higher speed she was going at would burn through the fuel faster.  Hopefully, she could coast as much as possible to stretch out the remains of her fuel.  Stuttering and halting became more frequent to the point it was clear that Emily was not going to make it.  Reluctantly she pulled over to the rocky side of the highway, turned on her hazards, and pulled out her phone to call and let her parents know of her situation.  After talking to them all she had to do was wait for her father to drive the twenty minutes to her location with some gas and then she’d be able to get back home.  The back of her head thumped against the headrest.  It was just a minor inconvenience, but still annoying.  Annoying in how it had happened so suddenly.  Emily’s sharp mind recalled that the needle on the gas gauge had been at least at the quarter mark if not higher.

            Then why am I out all of the sudden?

            Headlights shining through the back window and into her rearview mirror pulled the strawberry blonde’s attention off of her train of thought.  A hulking figure appeared on the passenger side of her car moments later and tapped her window.  Emily froze in her seat, hands hovering between the automatic window button and the lock button.

            “Hello!  I see you have your hazards on, are you ok?  Do you need help?”

            The voice was surprisingly soft and feminine and very friendly.  Fingers hesitated for a moment longer before she took the chance and rolled it halfway down.

            “Hi!” the bulky woman waved and smiled at her.  “Do you need help?”

            “Umm, well I’m technically out of gas-”

            “Oh that’s it?”  The woman with blonde hair buzzed short stood up and shouted back towards the vehicle parked behind her.  “She’s out of gas!  Is the spare tank filled up?”  She leaned back down.  “My partner and I have some we can give you, hopefully enough to get you to a gas station.”

            “Well my-” Emily tried.

            “I’ll let you pop open the tank, OK?”

            Before the thin woman could say anything else the bulky figure walked back towards her passenger side gas tank.  Emily sighed, rolled up the window, got out of her car, shut the door, and locked it.  Small pebbles crunched under flat shoes as Emily walked over to where the two solid-looking women were standing.  Her ankle almost twisted to the side as she partially stepped on one of the larger rocks, but nimble reflexes prevented that.  A single car drove by on the practically deserted highway lighting up the black SUV parked behind her and those offering to help.  The one she had been talking to smiled and waved again, while the other standing next to her was holding the extra gas tank.  Emily paused for a second, the two women were very similar in dress and appearance.  Both wore black jeans and a yellow, formfitting tank top under the brown, zip-up hoodies.  Buzzed blonde hair, muscular, heavyset stature, square jaws, and large hands.  Somewhere in the back of Emily’s mind there was a bit of unease at the whole situation and the appearance of the two women, but she pushed it down.

            They just stopped to help me, it would be rude to reject it.  My dad can always just drive along with me.

            “I didn’t want to touch your car, people can be very particular about that,” came the light chuckle.

            “No, I understand, thank you for stopping by and offering your help.  My father is actually on his way with some gas,” Emily explained as she stopped a couple of feet away from them.  “I don’t want to take your backup, who knows if you might need it suddenly too.”

            They exchanged a wordless glance.

            “Oh, well that’s great to hear.  How long before he gets here?” the first casually asked.

            For some reason that question sent off warning bells in her mind.  Emily hesitated at first, but then came up with a satisfactory answer so she wouldn’t seem rude.

            “Any minute now, thankfully.”

            “Would you like us to stay with you until your father gets here?  It’s awfully dark and it never hurts to have company, right?”

            She really couldn’t say no even when she wanted to.  Who turns down such kind offers?  Most people just drive right by when seeing someone pulled over, but these two had taken the time out of their evening to make sure she was OK.

            I’m just being paranoid that’s all.

            “That’s very kind of you, thanks,” Emily smiled.

            The one holding the gas tank disappeared back into the SUV only to emerge a couple of moments later.  A quick glance was traded between the two of them.  Emily leaned back against her car, one foot kicking one of the many sizable rocks off to the side to establish a wider spot for her to stand.

            Before she could react, the woman she had been talking to lunged forward and drove her meaty fist right into her stomach.  Eyes bulged in their sockets as all of the air inside Emily’s body was violently forced out; leaving her gasping for breath.  Light blue eyes stared into brown ones.  No longer did those eyes contain the previous friendliness Emily had thought she had seen, they now were cold and detached.  The second woman followed right behind covering the thin woman’s mouth and nose with a handkerchief.  Chemicals flooded into Emily’s system quickly working to shut down her mind and body.  Limply she fell to the dirt, a weak grunt escaping narrow lips when the side of her head smacked against one of the rocks littering the roadside.  The helpless young woman lay there as her consciousness continued to fade, unable to scream for help or fight.  As the hulking figure bent over to pick her up, dazed eyes caught a metal necklace popping out from under the woman’s tank top.

“Topaz 00155

YD 0001”

            A bag was slipped over her head and her limp body was tossed effortlessly over a solid shoulder.  Every step her captor took could be felt as she bounced slowly up and down.  Emily’s last threads of consciousness faded away.

 

******

 

            Pearl breathed out sharply as her mind came back from memory lane.  Fingers shook as they reached up to pinch the bridge of her nose and rub her burning eyes.  She hadn’t been anticipating that.  Ever since coming here she never had thought about that day.

            It’s probably because I never had time to or the energy to.

            That and her mind was probably trying to protect her from additional breakdowns that could have put her in more precarious situations.  Out of curiosity she found the file that had been sent to her and opened it.  Sure enough there were all of her ratings.  After looking them over for a few seconds, the scheduler was locked and set on the other side of the bed where Pearl normally kept it when she slept.  In all honesty she didn’t care about any of the scores.

            One year…

            She had made it to her first anniversary.

            Yipeee.

            It would either be her last or her first of many, there was no other option.  Police had closed her case, no one was coming for her, there was no hope of escape.  It was live here and make the most of it or die.

            “Everyone comes to a crossroads where they decide whether or not to become consumed by their grief or to push on trying to make the best of the situation they have been forced into.”

            Garnet’s words from over six months ago made much more sense now.  There wouldn’t be just one crossroad, but a continual choice to either live or die.  Pearl looked out at the mental crossroad displayed before her.  What did she have to live for?  What could she hope for?  A couple of ideas popped into her mind, unsure things that could easily change, but it was all that she had.

            I choose to live.

            I choose to make the most of this.

            Pearl closed her eyes letting the silent tears run down her cheeks.  She wouldn’t sob loudly tonight, she would just curl under her covers and cry herself to sleep.  She was alive, but somehow that made her feel like she was already dead.

 

            After the emotionally draining anniversary, complete with a pointless meeting with Peridot 00231, and visit to the archives a week prior, Pearl was more than excited to report to Grey Light Red 24134.  The four weeks since the last time she had seen Garnet felt like forever.  Her watch and scheduler were handed over to Pearl 00010 who routinely motioned for her to go towards the maroon door.  Feet carried her across the well-traveled path to where she would always sit down and wait.  In a minute the anticipated figure entered the room.  Pearl took her time looking up at Garnet, slowly taking in the woman’s beautiful body.  She swallowed and nervously breathed out.  The fighter’s head was ever so slightly tilted to the side with an eyebrow raised up a fraction of an inch.  A tiny smirk formed in the corner of Garnet’s lips.  Heat burned in Pearl’s cheeks, Garnet had totally noticed her checking the athletic woman’s body out.  A worn, rough, and calloused hand was extended to her.  The thin woman reached up and took a hold of the warm hand.  Effortlessly she was pulled to her feet.  Her heart began to pound in her chest as she gazed into Garnet’s mismatched irises.  Their hands were separated as the dark woman turned away and laid down on the bed, assuming her usual position.  Pearl kneeled down like so many times before.  The opening before her didn’t fill her with dread, instead she was excited with her blood rushing through her veins.

            You like it.  You like fucking her.

            A frown pulled at her lips as she moved in.

            You enjoy rape.  You’re becoming just as twisted as everyone else here.

            Eyebrows furrowed at the thought.  She didn’t agree, but her actions were saying otherwise.

            I don’t want this.

            What do you want?

            I don’t know.

            The voice inside her head continued, making it harder for Pearl to focus on as she began to work Garnet up, however it was silenced by the first miniscule jerk of Garnet’s hips and the moan that nearly escaped her full lips.  A tingle raced up her spine.  Her wet tongue was dragged a little slower along the fighter’s center in response.  The inner thigh muscles under her hand flexed.  Pearl would never verbally admit it, but the sounds Garnet would make as she would twirl her tongue around the darker woman’s sensitive nub were becoming more enjoyable each time she heard them.  She would never admit to how good it felt to witness the powerful fighter’s body tremble and shake as she came. 

            You shouldn’t be enjoying this.

            You’re supposed to dread coming to regulation.

            Yet it was becoming less and less true each time.  She had begun to look forward to it despite all of her internal conflict.  Maybe it was the slight blush she could see on Garnet’s cheeks occasionally when she was greeted at the beginning, or maybe it was the fact that during their previous regulation her name had almost slipped past those thick luscious lips, laced with ecstasy and deep with pleasure.

            As Pearl began the second session, she placed a light kiss on the middle of Garnet’s inner thigh.  Maybe it was how Garnet started to look at her as they did this.  The two locked eyes as Pearl pushed another kiss onto Garnet’s hot skin a few inches closer to her core.  Pearl closed her eyes and peppered kisses all along the inner thigh until she was centimeters away from the woman’s soaking center.  She let out a slow breath of air, eyes looking back up at Garnet.  The other bit her lower lip and lightly groaned in anticipation.  Pearl made a movement forward, but quickly turned to the side at the last instant, landing an innocent kiss on Garnet’s other inner thigh.  A frustrated moan was the response as Garnet tilted her head back.  The lighter woman smirked as she trailed kisses and light licks along the other thigh.  Long hands slipped under the other’s body and softly grasped the round muscular cheeks of Garnet’s ass.  Once she had finished teasing, she moved in and finally gave her attention to the woman’s aching core.  For the second time that night Garnet’s muffled pants and moans filled the room.  Pearl would never admit, that sometimes just by listening and feeling Garnet’s reaction that her own body would pulse and call out to her begging to be touched as well.  It had made for a very frustrating night for her after regulation last time, and it seemed that it would happen again tonight.

            Light blue eyes looked up once again to see the full line of abdominal muscles tensed and arched as both hands were clasped tightly over the woman’s mouth.  Oh, she would never admit how much she wanted to know just how loud Garnet could be.  Pearl eased off for a moment, letting her tongue run soothing strokes along the width of Garnet’s lower lips.  The strong body relaxed and rested on the bed.  A hand reached out to take hold of the other’s, fingers intertwining.  An action that had become more common as of late.  Slowly she took Garnet’s clitoris between her front teeth.  Every second she added a fraction of pressure, tenderly nibbling it.  The darker woman’s muscles contracted once again, allowing Pearl to drink in the sight of the well-defined body.  Her free hand grasped the other’s hips firmly as they began to buck while the other hand flexed so it would not get crushed by Garnet’s increasing grip.  She knew exactly what to do to get the fighter to finish.  Her mouth and tongue worked the swollen nub over until Yellow Diamond’s champion was exclaiming into her hand.  Pearl smiled to herself as the muffled exclamation sounded suspiciously like “Pearl!”

            Part of her wanted Garnet to say it aloud, let Yellow Diamond know that Garnet said her name during regulation.  Many might argue that the fighter could be talking about any other pearl, but Pearl would wholeheartedly disagree.  There was a certain way Garnet would say Pearl’s name.  It was never accompanied by her number, and it was said in a way that it was like her actual name instead of just a title or a label.  As Pearl leisurely cleaned up Garnet, part of her wondered if maybe the reason why she tried so hard during regulation was as way to say thank you to Garnet for helping her out those times and for being kind to her.  Though it was clear from the start that Garnet didn’t expect anything more than the two times every four weeks, Pearl found herself trying a little harder each time.  Each instance she would try something new, a gentle touch there, a soft kiss here.  Garnet never would say “No.” or ask her to back off.  If anything it was harder for the woman to stay quiet and still.

            Pearl felt Garnet sit up.  Her sharp ears could hear the deep breaths coming from above her.  As she began to move away and sit back, a warm hand gently lifted her chin so they were close to eye level with each other.  Moonlight cast through the shades lit up the fire and ice irises, making them look like they were glowing.  Garnet pursed her lips and swallowed heavily.

            “May I kiss you?”

            Her voice was barely above a whisper.  It was small and timid; unsure.  Pearl was genuinely surprised by the question.  For a couple seconds she didn’t know how to respond.  Half of her was screaming with delight, while the other half was frozen with shock.

            “It’s totally fine if you don’t want to, I won’t be offended at all,” Garnet quickly backtracked.

            Pearl lightly grabbed Garnet’s hand and held it in place as it began to slip away from her chin.

            “Yes,” Pearl said quietly, looking straight into Garnet’s eyes, “you may kiss me.”

            Mismatched eyes widened in disbelief.  Pearl leaned slightly forward to physically reinstate her answer.  Garnet carefully closed the distance, her eyes not leaving Pearl’s for an instance.  Soft, plump lips were pressed against her thin, wet lips.  For a couple seconds the two maintained eye contact, simply registering the kiss and absorbing the different type of intimate physical touch.  Pearl let her eyes close after she saw Garnet’s slowly shut.  The tiniest push was added to the kiss from Garnet before the full lips drew away.  Pearl blinked a couple of times.  It was nice.  It was sweet.  The light tingle on her lips ran through her entire body like fire shooting through her veins.  Garnet looked off to the side, her face covered in a furious blush.  The smaller woman reached out and cupped Garnet’s cheek, turning her to face her.

            “May I kiss you?” Pearl asked; her voice surprisingly steady compared to how fast her heart was racing.

            “Yes,” Garnet answered with barely any hesitation.

            Pearl used her hand to pull the taller woman closer as she leaned in.  Once again those thick lips were pressed against her own.  The same feeling spread through her entire body making her brain go fuzzy and her senses sharpen.  She wanted to remember every detail of this.

            The thin woman found herself drawing back after a few moments of contact despite how much her body wanted to push for more.  It was just their first kiss, there was no need to go further.  A smile was shared between them.  Pearl felt her heart flutter in her chest.

            “Thank you,” Garnet whispered.

            “You’re welcome,” Pearl shyly replied.

            The two stood up together.  Garnet said a quick farewell before heading to her door.  Pearl turned and did the same, a smile plastered all over her face.  Pearl 00010 turned from the monitors and gave her a strange look as she walked into the small room.  The pale woman became acutely aware of herself and began to blush furiously.  Pearl 00010 slowly handed Pearl her watch and scheduler without commenting on anything.  A light bow was given to the senior gem before Pearl rushed back to her sleeping quarters.  Oh she would never admit that feeling the kiss for real was so much better than how it was in any of her dreams.  The thin gem curled into her bed, a smile curving her lips gently upwards.

 

            Pearl’s ridiculously good mood lasted into the next day as they made the final preparations for a three hour trip.  Her smile didn’t waver as her scheduler gave out a chirp.  It didn’t shrink as she opened it up.  But it fell slightly as she read the change.  She was to ride with Carnelian and all of the dancers.  Pearl stared at the change in confusion.  Why?  Had she not performed well last night?  Did Garnet not want her company?  Another idea creeped into her mind. 

            Maybe you’re going to be removed from regulating Garnet.

            The thought filled her insides with dread.  No.  That couldn’t be it.  But her conversation with Pearl 00739 came back to haunt her.  There had been no warning when the older pearl’s regulation had been changed, so why would there be for her?  Panic started to seep into her veins, she couldn’t lose that safety, she couldn’t lose Garnet, she couldn’t…  Hands trembled as her mind ran in a million directions.  She was rapidly losing her grip.  Pearl halted everything and began to breathe in and exhale with a slow and steady pace.  It was just a minor change.  It wasn’t a removal of her regulation duties.  She was overreacting.  Her panic fell to a steady buzz in the back of her head.  Pearl shoved it even farther by focusing on the positive.  It had been almost a year since she had ridden with the dancers, it would be nice to spend some time with them.  They were always such a fun and lively group.

            Besides, I’ll get to ride with Garnet on the way back.

            Carnelian, Rainbow Quartz, Pearl 00687, and the dancers were all excited to have her join them.  The ride up went by quickly and soon Pearl was rushing about getting food, water, drinks, and helping with the usual requests.  Throughout the night the feeling of kissing Garnet would sporadically pop back into her head bringing a smile to her face.  She was looking forward to talking with Garnet during the journey back.  Even though it was a smaller event hosted by a newer facet, Facet 45, it was a success for them.  Garnet won her match easily, the dancers were loaded with tips, concession sales were as anticipated, and no fights were started by the patrons.  By the end of the long day she was tired, yet unusually happy.  It was close to that time, she would get to see Garnet now.  However, her scheduler rang out bringing back the morning’s dread with it.  Light blue eyes gazed down at the device and considered ignoring it and just going to where the SUV was sure to be and pretending she didn’t get the notification.  No, that would only have disastrous results. Shaky fingers snatched the item and unlocked the screen.  Pearl pulled away as if looking at the calendar was physically hurting her.  Once again, she was directed to ride with Carnelian in the large bus.  Pearl’s mood plummeted.  This couldn’t be good news, not at all.  Both riding privileges had been altered, the regulation assignment was sure to be next.

            But maybe Garnet has a say in it.  She wouldn’t want me switched out.  Right?

            The false hope did little, but it was the only solace she had.  Robotically she followed the mass of dancers, Carnelian, Rainbow Quartz, and Pearl 00687 to the bus.

            White light from the street lamps zipped by through the lightly tinted windows of the large vehicle.  Pearl shifted uncomfortably in her chair, the bus enveloped in the silence of exhausted athletes sleeping the ride away.  The post-successful Friday event excitement had quickly died down as each individual had drifted off.  Shoulders rubbed against the fabric as she turned to the side and curled up into the chair.  Pearl breathed out an exhausted huff.  The leather seats were much easier to sleep on.  Light blue eyes closed.  The image and feeling of kissing Garnet was replayed in her mind.  A happy sigh drifted past her thin lips.

 

            Upon waking up the next day, Pearl had checked her scheduler to see if the maroon box four weeks away had disappeared.  The blessed square was still in its spot.  Relief washed over her.  It was still her assignment.

            For now, it could get changed at any moment.

            She couldn’t let that type of thinking get her down.  She wasn’t going to be switched up.  She was going to see Garnet again.  She was going to kiss Garnet again.  That thought boosted her confidence.  It was another significant thing that the fighter had done in regards to her.  There was no way Yellow Diamond could switch them up now.

 

            It had been almost three days since her kiss with Garnet, and the scene still played frequently in her mind.  Not that she minded at all, it could play for as long as it wanted to.  Pearl hummed happily as she made her bed with the clean sheets brought in by several corals.  Every week their dirty sets of clothes were washed and returned the next day while every month they got clean bedsheets to rotate out their current ones.  As Pearl fluffed her pillow and set it down, the room became unusually quiet.  Normally the sleeping quarters for the pearls was a noisy ruckus of gossip and occasional arguments or fights.  Pearl shrugged it off.  Eyes narrowed as she looked at the pillow’s location relative to the bed.  Hands reached out and shifted it a half of an inch to the right.  With a nod she was finally satisfied with its symmetrical position.

            “Pearl 01079.”

            Pearl turned to the familiar voice, only barely repressing the action to jump in her surprise.  Pearl 00010 stood in the aisle by the foot of her bed with her usual straight posture and laptop tucked under her arm.  Almost all of the pearls were staring at the high ranked pearl waiting with bated breath to find out why she came to their dorm.

            “You are to come with me,” Pearl 00010 stiffly reported before turning and walking off.

            Pearl quickly fixed one last wrinkle in her bedsheet before jogging to catch up with the brisk individual.  Dozens of questions buzzed through her mind as they weaved through the various hallways and levels.  Most of them she hadn’t been down too many times.  Why was Pearl 00010 sent to her?  What did Yellow Diamond need from her?  Did something happen to Garnet?  Did she do something wrong?  As they approached a familiar hallway full of light red doors, Pearl’s mind became jumbled with confusion.  Why would she need to go back in that room?  Garnet just had regulation.  Perhaps Garnet wanted another regulation?  The sinking feeling in her gut told her that whatever she was being taken to was not good.  Maybe Yellow Diamond’s plans for her had changed after all.

            Pearl 00010 opened the usual door and motioned for Pearl to step in.  As the pale gem did so she immediately spotted her owner.  Yellow Diamond stood in the small room wearing her grey suit with her hands clasped behind her back.  At the sound of the door closing the terrifying woman turned around to fix Pearl with a guarded expression.  Nothing was said for a solid minute, the diamond continued to just stare down at the pale woman.  The lower ranked gem timidly looked around the room, trying to focus on something other than the heavy gaze and consciously forcing her hands to keep still despite how badly they wanted fidget and worry the edge of her shirt.

            “Strip,” the sharp command sliced through the air.

            Pearl looked up at her in confusion.

            “I said strip!” came the command once again.

            Pearl robotically nodded and began to slowly remove her clothing.  Her heart hammering in her chest.

            “Put it all in this box,” Yellow Diamond’s sharp chin motioned to a shoe box resting on one of the chairs.

            The light woman placed all of her neatly folded clothes in the designated box.  A shiver ran up her spine as her skin quickly cooled from the loss of covering.  Golden hazel eyes slowly drifted over Pearl’s naked body starting at her feet and ending at her head.  Light blue eyes stared at the floor.  Hands clasped behind the diamond’s back were released as one reached forward to tip her chin up so she was forced to look her owner in the eyes.  Pearl thickly swallowed, a whimper trying to escape her lips as she stared up into the golden orbs of endless ice.  Suddenly the hand was jerked away and Yellow Diamond pivoted towards the maroon door.  As the diamond opened the door she grabbed a small box.  A glance was thrown over a padded shoulder at the quaking pearl.

            “Get in here.”

            Feet moved forward automatically, marching into the dark room.  Pearl internally screamed.  The last place she wanted to be was in a room alone with this woman.

            “Go lay down face up on the bed.”

            She nervously obeyed; a large lump steadily forming in her throat.  Soft, maroon sheets invited her body as she lay on them, but Pearl’s mind couldn’t even process it right now.

            “Spread your arms and legs,” Yellow Diamond continued as she took out two sets of handcuffs from the box.

            Arms and legs remained pressed at her sides and together.  In the light shining from the open door they had walked through, golden eyes narrowed and the emotionless face became slightly twisted with anger.

            “I said, spread your arms and legs,” Yellow Diamond’s dangerous voice commanded with a flash of white teeth.

            The appendages shot away from her body as she obeyed as quickly as possible.  No further comment came as her owner moved towards the headboard.  Pearl’s gut clenched and churned as the cold unforgiving metal was tightly clamped around her wrists and then attached to the posts on the headboard.  Yellow Diamond casually returned to the box that had been set on a nearby nightstand and pulled out two lengths of rope.  Rough twine scraped against her ankles as each one was tied to one of the posts on the footboard.  The rope was pulled tightly and Pearl let out a slight noise of discomfort as her long body was slightly stretched.  She now lay on the bed spread-eagle with nothing but her metal necklace to cover her.  She could barely move.  Whether or not Yellow Diamond noticed the panic in Pearl’s eyes, the older woman made no indication either way.  The diamond forced Pearl’s jaw open with her strong vice-like grip and shoved a rolled up sock into it.  She then pulled a roll of duct tape from the box.  A frightening rip sounded through the room as the tape was pulled out and a segment was torn off.  The strip of tape was roughly wrapped around her mouth and lower half of her head three times.  A garbled cry of panic came from the completely terrified pearl.  She could still breathe, but making any intelligible sound was prevented.  Yellow Diamond slowly looked her over one more time before leaning forward, one knee pressing into the mattress.  Pearl began to thrash against her bindings, screaming out muffled cries as her owner hovered over her.

            No. No. Please no.  No no no no no.

            She looked away, her bare chest rising and falling rapidly.  That iron grip took a hold of her jaw and forced her to look right into those eyes.  There was an ever so slight hint of amusement in them.  Yellow Diamond’s face crept closer, Pearl struggled harder against her restraints.  At the last second her face was jerked to the side.  Hot breath brushed against her ear.

            “Enjoy it,” the words whispered into her ear were sensually drawn out.

            The grip on her jaw increased to the point that tears were being squeezed out of her eyes.  Just when the panicking woman thought it was going to happen, that she was going to be raped by Yellow Diamond, the woman released her, turned, and went back through the maroon door.  It was promptly shut with the lock sliding into place.

            Bathed in the usual level of darkness, Pearl’s ribcage continued to swiftly expand and contract as short breaths entered and exited her lungs.  Her entire body was filled with dread.  Someone was going to have her.  She was going to be raped.  Thin arms and legs wrestled uselessly against the strong ties holding her in place.  No.  No.  This can’t be happening; she’s not supposed to be touched by anyone.  She wasn’t on the list.  Frantically she jerked and twisted with what little she could move, but it was all in vain, the bonds held firm.  An ache slowly settled in her joints as the minutes rolled on.  Weak attempts to escape were made every few seconds and Pearl’s breathing had slowly evened out.  It took considerable concentration to level it as her mind was running a million miles per minute trying to figure out what she could do in this hopeless situation.  Suddenly the opposite door was thrown open and a fully clothed figure was harshly shoved into the room.  Pearl’s gut dropped as she recognized Garnet’s trademark hair and sunglasses.

            “What the fuck is going on!  It’s-” Garnet’s rant was cut off as soon as covered eyes were laid on Pearl’s exposed form.

            The darker woman’s mouth hung open in horror.

            Pearl tried to say something to her, anything, but nothing understandable could make it past the barrier in and over her mouth.

            “No,” Garnet whispered. “No, no no no no no no.” she repeated as she sprinted over to Pearl’s right side.

            Garnet’s hands reached out in a couple directions, as if trying to decide what to do.  Pearl attempted to communicate with her once again.  Garnet didn’t look at her.  Instead she firmly gripped the half of the handcuff that was around Pearl’s right wrist.  The fighter pulled; teeth gritted in frustration.  A leg was braced against the headboard.  The powerful body didn’t let up for a second as she continued to pull at the restraint.  A light metallic whine screeched out before a snap was heard.  Garnet stumbled back and Pearl’s eyes widened in surprise to feel her one arm now free.  The handcuff’s chain had been broken.  She gazed at the half of the handcuff that was still attached to her and slowly moved around the stiff limb as Garnet bolted over to her left side.  Before the fighter could even put her hands on the other metal restraint, the pop of a gun sounded as a bullet was lodged in the bedpost a foot above where Pearl and Garnet’s hands were.  Garnet jerked back and turned to the creator of the sound.  Yellow Diamond stood in the doorway with her gun trained at Garnet.  A sharp whiff of gun powder drifted through the air.

            “Don’t,” came the low warning.

            Garnet backed away from the hand, but stood defensively between Yellow Diamond and Pearl, hands curled into fists.

            “Look, you’re messing up what I so carefully prepared,” Yellow Diamond sighed as she walked over to Pearl’s right side and pulled out another handcuff from her suit pocket.

            With a quick twirl Pearl’s arm was chained tightly back to the post.

            “I’m not going to do this,” Garnet lowly stated.

            “You will, Garnet,” Yellow Diamond stated as she walked back over to where Garnet was standing.

            “You can’t make me,” the champion defied.

            Yellow Diamond simply put the gun to Garnet’s forehead.  Pearl let out a muffled cry of panic.  Garnet leaned into the gun and snarled.

            “Go ahead,” she challenged.  “You can’t afford to kill me.”

            Yellow Diamond breathed out evenly and rolled her eyes.

            “That is true.  However,” she whipped the gun away and shoved it into the side of Pearl’s face, “I can always afford another pearl.”

            The blood drained from Garnet’s face.

            “It’s your choice.  Do as I say; or she will be killed,” Yellow Diamond stated as she casually laid her finger on the trigger her thumb simultaneously flicking the safety off.

            Pearl tried to say something, anything to the fighter, but her muffled words and sounds weren’t understood.  Garnet slowly shrank away.

            “Get between her legs.  Now!” the last word lashed through the air like a whip.

            Garnet shrank and obediently moved to the foot of the bed; her breath coming out in frustrated pants from her flared nostrils.

            “Lick her.”

            Large hands gripped the footboard until knuckles became several shades lighter; the fighter’s covered face staring at the ground.

            “I said lick her!” Yellow Diamond ordered.

            The gun was pressed even harder into Pearl’s face.  The restrained woman tried to turn away from the hot barrel.  Garnet finally looked up and reached for her sunglasses.

            “No, keep those on.  Go down and start licking her,” Yellow Diamond offered no room for negotiation.

            “I’m so sorry,” Garnet whispered as she bent over the wooden footboard, her face disappearing between Pearl’s opened legs.

            Pearl could feel the warm breath brushing against her most intimate areas.

            “Get on with it!” Yellow Diamond yelled impatiently.

            A warm, wet muscle ran the length of Pearl’s center.  Her body jerked at the unfamiliar sensation.  Large hands lightly cupped her hips as the muscle ran another long and slow movement across her.  Heat rapidly began to build and spread through her body as she was assaulted with foreign stimuli.  Her back arched and her eyes rolled back as one stroke pushed against her clitoris.

Chapter Text

^^^^^^

Pearl faces the aftermath of her rape and tries to work through the pain.  In the end the only thing that truly helps is communication.

^^^^^^

 

            Small tendrils of lukewarm water ran all over unfeeling skin.  It ran rivers across the downward facing head and leaped with small drops towards the cold tile below.  It collected in bunches of hair and dripped off them like a badly leaking faucet.  Long hands were braced against the off-white tile, fingers grasping ever so slightly at the smooth, flat surface.  Light blue eyes stared out into the void; nothing passing within the line of vision was registered.  They came to life for a moment and flickered down to barely glance at the lower half of their pale body.  Eyelids quickly snapped shut over them as their face scrunched up.  Narrow fingers curled into fists as a silent sob wracked her body.  For a moment her skin registered that she was still just standing under the running shower.  As her eyes dared to look down again at the dark marks littering her inner thighs, lower abdomen, and behind, she could feel the lips, teeth, and hands that had made them moving across her body once again.  Pearl pressed her forehead against the tile as tears began to mix with the water.  The deepest parts of her being were invaded.  She could still vividly remember those fingers pushed deep into her core and probing the most intimate parts of her.  Those hands roughly grasped her rear as her body responded without her consent to the stimuli assaulting her.  Every command given by Yellow Diamond had been followed with exactness.

            Pearl winced as she touched the swollen and bruised half of her left eye where the gun had mercilessly been shoved into her face all throughout the whole ordeal.  A strangled sob hiccupped into the air.  It had hurt.  Her body had been assaulted with touches and feelings she didn’t know were possible.  While it was pure physical ecstasy to orgasm those two times, it had been pure mental horror to have it done without her being able to say yes.  Her limbs were sore from being locked in their stretched positions for so long as she had intentionally and unintentionally pulled against her restraints.  Cuts and bruises decorated her wrists and ankles.

            “Hey! Get out of there!” A voice broke through the mental fog surrounding Pearl.

            When she gave no response the shower curtain was yanked back and another glared at her.

            “What the fuck are you doing?  You’ve just been standing in here for ten minutes not doing anything!  Other gems need to use the showers too.”

            Pearl couldn’t reply, she just shrank away from the angry tone and wrapped her arms around her shaking frame.  At any instant she felt like she was going to physically fall apart.  The other pearl’s eyes traveled Pearl’s body.

            “What happened to you?”

            “What’s this?  Oh, look, she got fucked didn’t she,” another voice cut in.

            “Big deal,” a louder voice scoffed.  “When is that ever new?”

            “No, it’s the one who’s assigned to Garnet, isn’t it?” the second inquired.

            “Yeah, that’s 01079, she’s with Garnet.”

            “Then how…oh…”

            “Garnet raped her.”

            “It was her first time…wasn’t it?” the second almost sounded sympathetic.

            “By the looks of it, she was pretty rough.”

            “It was bound to happen eventually,” the loud voice stated.  “That’s what happens when you get too friendly with a monster like Garnet.  You get fucked.  Hard.”

            Pearl clasped her hands over her ears trying to shut out the voices.

            “C’mon, it’s her first time.  We all had to deal with some shock when it happened to us.  Let’s leave her be,” the second suggested.

            “Fine,” one grumbled.

            “Hey!  You have ten minutes until breakfast starts, don’t be late or things will just get worse,” the loud one shouted at her.

            “Let’s go,” the first pulled the others away.

            Metal rings scraped across the steel pole as the curtain was closed.  The sounds of the other pearls eventually faded away.  Soon the only noise came from the water spurting out of the showerhead and splashing on the tile covering the walls and floors.  Pearl finally stood straight up and let the water stream hit her face.  She needed to go, she couldn’t be late.

 

            Pearl barely made it to her first time slot with Carnelian on time.  However, in order to do so she had to skip breakfast.  The thin gem was fine with that, it’s not like she would have been able to eat anything anyway.  Brushing her teeth several times had effectively gotten the taste of the, thankfully clean, sock out of her mouth, therefore she didn’t need anything else to accomplish that.  Tasks were performed robotically, her smile never reaching past the forced edges of her mouth.  Make-up was expertly applied to cover the bruises on her jaw and eye.  Carnelian made no comment on Pearl’s change of mood, they just went down their to-do list as usual.  It was four months before the match with Blue Diamond, there was no time to be moping around.

            Working was an excellent distraction for the most part, but it didn’t prevent the horrid flashbacks of the previous night that would pop up at any moment.  The first time it happened Pearl had squeaked and dropped the papers she was assigned to put in alphanumerical order.  Tears threatened to spill as she tried in vain to shove the memory away.  It didn’t leave until the segment had played out.  Needless to say, the shaky gem had to redo her organizing job.  The rest of the day more or less went by with that pattern.  Accomplishing assignments only to get interrupted with unwanted mental images and feelings.  Pearl was grateful she didn’t have to sit much that day as it was uncomfortable to do so.  Carnelian had no comments about her decreased productivity or her more fragile state, but at the same time had seemed disappointed that they hadn’t gotten as much done as she had hoped.  The pale gem was sent away at the end of the day with the promise that tomorrow was another day to be productive.

            Light blue eyes were trained on the concrete floor as she made her way towards her bed.  She could feel all of the pearls staring at her.  They knew.  Arms were wrapped around her middle trying in vain to provide some sort of comfort.  Quietly she laid down on her bed and curled into the fetal position.

            “The wind told me that you finally got your wish 01079,” Pearl 00824 sneered as she stepped into Pearl’s line of vision and leaned against one of the square posts.  “You got to fuck with Garnet, or even better, you got fucked by Garnet.”

            Pearl closed her eyes and tucked her face into her arms.  She didn’t need this.  A hand grabbed one of her wrists and pulled it away.  Pearl 00824 jerked down the long blue sleeve to display all of the marks from the handcuffs to the pearls that had loosely gathered around.

            “Handcuffs, kinky,” Pearl 00824 breathed out a short laugh.

            Her other arm was also grabbed and examined in the same manner.  Pearl attempted to yank her limbs back, but the other held on tighter.

            “Grab her legs, check her ankles.  Let’s find out just how Garnet took her,” the pearl tossed over her shoulder to two of her partners in crime.

            Verbal protests to their actions died on her lips making it so all she could do was kick her legs about.  One pearl forced her legs down with her body while the other exposed the marks on her ankles.

            “And rope too,” Pearl 00824 cruelly remarked.  “Looks like Garnet is a complete control freak.  Makes sense she would want you all tied up so she could do whatever she wanted to you.  I bet you loved it too.  You were probably slobbering all over yourself and crying out, ‘Oh Garnet please!  Please Garnet fuck me, oh! Fuck me so hard Garneeet!  Ohhhh!’”  She moaned her imitation and then rolled her eyes back and pretended to orgasm as she spoke the last bit.

            Several pearls joined in with laughter.  The pale woman tried to bury herself in her bed, hands, now free, were pressed over her ears as tears fell from her eyes.

            No that’s not what happened!

            “You finally know what it’s like to be just like all of us other pearls.  Getting fucked by those we regulate.  Though you’re probably in heaven right now just recalling having Garnet top you.”

            “Cut it out, 00824,” a voice finally spoke up.

            Angry eyes zeroed on who dared to interrupt.  Pearl glanced over her shoulder to see Pearl 00739.

            “What, you jealous or something?” came the sneer.

            “No, but if 01079 had wanted it or even enjoyed it she wouldn’t be acting like she is.  We all know that feeling and look.  It was rape, she didn’t want it.”

            “Oh fuck off, you heard 01079, she likes Garnet.  She wanted this and now she’s just trying to get our sympathy because she wasn’t expecting how Garnet was going to give it to her.”  Pearl 00824 whirled on Pearl.  “You probably thought she would sweetly romance you, didn’t you?  But you were wrong, she’s a fucking monster and you got fucked like a monster would fuck someone.”  The pearl turned back to Pearl 00739 who had fallen silent.  “She got what she deserved and now she’s just like the rest of us.  There’s nothing special about her anymore.”

            I didn’t want it…

            Thankfully the bully was done with her torment for the day and Pearl was left alone.  She didn’t dare move from her bed or really do anything besides crawl under her sheets and cry herself to sleep.  Sleep that was riddled with nightmares and memories.  Images of the aftermath of Garnet leaving through her door and Yellow Diamond callously removing her binds were mixed in with other horrors her mind came up with from her bullying and the rape itself.  Pearl woke up screaming out into the quiet dorm.  Her frame trembled at the prospect of having woken up one of her tormentors.  Eyes were forced shut as she hid in her covers.

            The memory continued to play in the dreamscape.  Yellow Diamond released Pearl from the binds around her wrists and ankles and set the box of her clothes on the nightstand.  Following that, the order to be dressed and out of the room in two minutes or less was issued.  Fingers fumbled with the duct tape wrapped around her face.  Sixty precious seconds were used up while she carefully removed it.  Both the sock and tape were tossed onto the bed as she rushed to dress herself, limbs and hands not working properly, tears clouding her vision.  Yellow Diamond approached her, announcing that the time was up and she needed to leave.  The pale gem ran away, stumbling over her partially dressed legs.  She crawled and did whatever it took to keep her distance from the woman and get out of the room.  Golden eyes spared her once last look as she was ordered to report to her next scheduled task.  The terrifying woman turned and strode down the hall, followed by her ever so loyal pearl.  Pearl tried to cover herself properly, but was unable to before the hall became filled with pearls laughing, pointing their fingers, and mocking her.  Eyes snapped open once again to be greeted by the darkness and her own bed.  The pale gem pressed her face into her pillow, sleep wasn’t a desirable option, yet neither was not sleeping.  Her final nightmare was the worst.  She chased Garnet down endless hallways begging the fighter to stop so they could talk, but the gem only shouted at her to leave and that she never wanted to see or speak to Pearl again.  Garnet disappeared saying how disgusted she was with Pearl.  By the time the lights snapped on in the dorm Pearl felt even worse waking up.

 

            Word spread like fire, before long every gem had heard some version of whatever story had been made up.  Pearl had yet to even open her mouth about it even to those she trusted.  Pearl 00824 had thrown all sorts of crude jokes and cruel comments her way whenever possible.  Oftentimes she would mimic lewd acts with one of her accomplices pretending to be Garnet or Pearl.  Laughter and exaggerated exclamations filled the room.  Pearl did her best to ignore them.  However, some days were easier to than others.  She cringed at the number of stories that had been fabricated and tossed around that were much more twisted and gross than what had actually happened.  Everyone’s mouths and imaginations were just going wild at the juicy topic.  Garnet, the gem who never touched those who regulated her, had fallen from grace and had brutally raped her current pearl.  Garnet’s iron-clad resolve had been finally broken by her lust.  It was sickening to hear some gems applauding the fighter’s actions and calling her a real champion now that she had “conquered” in bed.  Fortunately, there were some who didn’t bring up the topic once they had heard of it.  Pearl 00687, Carnelian, Larimar, and most of the dancers were the majority of those gems.  Pearl was grateful for the respite while she was around them.  In time the sensational topic should become old news and her nightmares and flashbacks would lessen.  That hope was what kept the pale gem going through all of it.  One day, Pearl remembered to check her scheduler to see if the maroon box was still in its spot.  Whether or not she had been avoiding checking that or not was left a mystery as she didn’t have the energy or care to analyze her actions.  As the calendar scrolled to the date two and a half weeks away, light blue eyes spotted the maroon box.  Pearl couldn’t decide if she was nervous or relieved.  The scheduler was locked and stuck to the side of her pants.

 

            The days flew by and the maroon square remained.  Eventually, Pearl found herself in the regulation room sooner than she was ready.  Huddled in her spot and curled into the smallest ball possible, Pearl tried her best to not relive the events that had transpired not even four weeks ago.  Memories jumped her mind at the mere sight of the bed.  Light blue eyes were screwed shut as she worked to block them out.  What was going to happen?  How could she even think to touch Garnet, yet alone be expected to perform the standard number of times?  Would Garnet be forced on her again?  How was the fighter doing?  Did Garnet even want to see her?

            A loud thump against Garnet’s door disrupted her thoughts.  She let out an undignified squeak and scooted away from the source.  Several bangs from the door could be heard along with angry voices as the object was rattled in its frame.  In a matter of minutes, the noises and voices abruptly stopped.  For a few long moments, Pearl sat in her spot on pins and needles, dreading the opening of that door.  She wasn’t ready to face Garnet, not yet.  Eventually light spilled into the room from her door as Pearl 00010 walked into the room and told Pearl that her services were no longer needed and that she was to leave.  Pearl practically ran back to the sleeping quarters and buried herself into her bed.  The meaning of Pearl 00010’s words finally caught up with her.

            Am I no longer needed at all?  Will they switch me up now?!

            Pearl fell into a nightmare riddled sleep as her brain came up with all sorts of gems she could potentially be assigned to and the things they would do to her.

            No solace came to her fragile mental state as her schedule was altered again.  For the second time in a row, Pearl was to ride on the dancer’s bus.  She was too consumed by her worry about her regulation assignment to be grateful for the break and for the change of scenery.  No attempts were made on her part to interact with the dancers or anyone else above what was requested of her.  Pearl 000687 seemed to sense this the easiest of everyone and just silently sat one seat away from her, taking the majority of the requests for help when they came.  The event was as hectic as usual.  At least everything else was pushed out of her mind as she ran from one task to the other.  She didn’t even mind not getting any dinner.  Pearl didn’t watch Garnet’s fight, but she heard how it had ended.  Announcers’ voices rang through the stadium commenting on the brutal, bloody, one-sided beat down that left the other fighter needing to be helped out of the ring and possibly sent to the hospital.  Their joking voices attempted to lighten the mood by advising those attending to give the champion her space in the hallways.  Pearl rode back with the dancers.

 

            The calendar showed the next maroon box still floating on the Thursday four weeks from the last one.  Pearl ignored it.

 

            It wasn’t until Pearl 00687 carefully inquired on the subject a week after the Friday night event that Pearl actually began to face what had happened and decide how to react and move on from it.

            “How are you doing?”  Pearl 00687 gently asked.  “Have the marks healed up by now?”

            “Yes,” Pearl dully replied as they walked through the hallways with the latest clothing supplies to be delivered to the seamstresses.

            “I’m still shocked to be honest, for Garnet to do that,” she said after a moment of silence.  “She was always very nice to you, wasn’t she?”

            Pearl nodded.

            “I wonder what changed, what made her want to do that do you?”

            “It’s more complicated than that,” Pearl slowly said, eyes darting off to the side.

            “How so?  Garnet raped you, there can’t be more to it than that.”

            “Yellow Diamond was there.”  Pearl paused.  “She gave Garnet two options, rape me, or kill me.  She chose to rape me.”

            “Wait what?!” Pearl 00687 stopped in her tracks and turned to face Pearl.  “How did she even do that?  Why would she even do that?”

            Pearl indifferently shrugged.  “Yellow Diamond shoved a gun in my face and told Garnet to rape me or she’d pull the trigger.  It stayed there through the whole ordeal.”

            They resumed walking when the strawberry blonde didn’t give any more details.

            “That’s…messed up…I had no idea Yellow Diamond-”

            Pearl 00687’s words were cut off as they passed by two jaspers.  The two pearls exchanged a glance.  It wasn’t wise to speak out against Yellow Diamond, no matter what the woman did.

            “So in the end, you lived, and she took you,” the conclusion was made.

            “Yes.”

            “Well…” Pearl 00687 paused as she ran her fingers through her long hair.  “Is that what you preferred of the two options?”

            A strawberry blonde eyebrow was raised at her friend.

            “Don’t get me wrong by asking that.  On one hand you have death and freedom from this place, and then on the other you get raped but you’re still alive and trapped here.”

            “I…I honestly haven’t thought about it.  I’ve just been trying to get over the shock,” the pale woman admitted.

            “I completely understand that.  Garnet was kind of your friend, wasn’t she?”

            “Yes, I enjoyed her company.  It hasn’t always been easy, but when Garnet gets to relax and be herself, she’s a lot of fun to be around.  Not a lot of people believe that side of her exists, but I just wish…I just wish everyone would stop talking about it!  They have no right to talk about something when they don’t even know what actually happened.” Pearl let out angrily.   “Why can’t they just mind their own business?”

            Pearl 00687 helplessly shrugged.  “It’s like celebrity gossip; any scandalous thing is blown way out of proportion by those who manage the media.  In all honesty that is one thing I haven’t missed while being down here,” she added offhandedly.

            Pearl’s mind perked up at that piece of information and the opportunity to get off the topic.  “How long have you been down here?”

            “Seven years.  I was kidnapped when I was twenty.  It was late and I was heading towards my car from the electronics store I was in when someone came up and talked to me.  Before I knew it I was here, working my ass off trying to survive.  A few things have changed since then, but the place stays the same overall.  Just as hopeless, just as depressing, and just as cruel.”

            “Did you ever hope that you would be rescued?”

            “I did,” Pearl 00687 said thoughtfully.  “But after three months I gave up and accepted my fate here.”

            “Oh…I used to hope too that they would come and rescue me, but now I know they won’t.”

            “Really?  Is that a recent development or something?  I remember you were pretty hopeful about getting rescued.”

            “Yeah well that changed when I was sent to file some stuff away for Carnelian in the archives.  I met Fluorite 00106 and she showed me my folder.  The police closed my case and declared me dead over six months ago.  There’s no point in hoping now, it’s not going to happen.”

            A frown formed on Pearl 00867’s lips.  “I’m still impressed with how long you did hope.  I took a trip to the archives once, I’ll never forget that experience.  Fluorite showed me my file as well.  You never know how much about you is recorded until you’re looking at it.”

            “True,” came the agreement.

            The senior pearl playfully bumped Pearl with her shoulder as they walked.  Pearl returned the gesture.  A brief laugh was shared between them.

            “In the meantime, I got your back and will try to help you out if you need it or just someone to talk to.  It’s not easy going through what you are, but I’ve been there too.”

            “Thanks, 00687,” Pearl smiled.  “I am glad I get to work with you.”

            “I am too.”

 

            Pearl absentmindedly filed away a number of Carnelian’s designs as she worked to clean the woman’s office while the plump woman was gone for an important meeting.  What would’ve she preferred?  Death or rape?  Freedom in the form of death or slavery in the form of life?  Freedom or slavery?  The worst part of it was that it had been Garnet.  There was no denying that the fighter was someone she was attracted to and had for a brief moment maybe considered that she had stronger feelings for the woman.  Her dreams, desires for physical contact, and enjoyment of the woman’s company were evidence of that.  Garnet was someone she trusted far more than most people here.  Their kiss, that sweet innocent act was tainted by what transpired a couple days later.  Why?  Why did Yellow Diamond do that?  Why would she put Garnet and her in that type of a situation?  What messed up game was she playing at?

            It’s all Yellow Diamond’s fault.

            In all reality it was.  That thought brought great clarity to Pearl’s mind.  It was Yellow Diamond’s doing.  It was her idea.  Garnet would have never asked for it.  Garnet didn’t want to do it.  Garnet was trying to release her.  Even though it was Garnet who did all of the touching and stimulating, she was acting under Yellow Diamond’s orders.  The champion didn’t own all of the blame.  Some, yes, but not all.  Pearl let out a small sigh of frustration.  What did she prefer?  Honestly, as much as it had hurt physically, emotionally, and mentally, she was glad she was still alive.  If she was still alive then she could still work to make the most of this hellhole.  That wouldn’t be possible if she were dead.  She wasn’t ready to give up just yet.  Long fingers slid a manila folder into the metal file cabinet; then firmly closed the door.

            I want to talk to Garnet.

            A frown formed on her lips.  That wouldn’t happen until the next time they rode in the car together or somehow could meet up outside of their regular tasks.  Both of which seemed unlikely to happen due to recent trends.  Hands pulled open the next drawer to insert the next folder.

 

            The next regulation was cancelled hours before the usual time.  Pearl became greatly alarmed at this.  She was going to be replaced, there was no doubt of it now.  Pearl 00010’s words were not just about the last time, but for the future as well.  Her services were no longer needed.  She was going to be put with someone else, she would be on the list again, and she wouldn’t get to see Garnet anymore.  The fear for her well-being ate away at her consciousness and invaded her dreams, twisting them with both the loss of Garnet’s protection and what all of the other gems would do to her. 

            Bleary eyes glanced at her scheduler during breakfast, double-checking where they would be meeting for the bus today.  Eyelids closed and reopened.

            “06:30: Transportation: White Dark Grey 30125”

            Eyebrows were pulled together, the box was yellow and was telling her to go to the wrong docking bay.

            It should read Blue Dark Grey 31055 and be a red box.

            Light blue eyes blinked again.  Her sleep deprived mind finally understood what she was looking at.  She would be traveling with Garnet to the event.  A flood of varying emotions rushed through her.  Part of her was ecstatic to finally be able to see the fighter while other parts of her were petrified of the idea of being around Yellow Diamond and anxious for what may happen during the long car ride.  Lungs pulled in a deep breath.  This was it, her chance to reconnect with Garnet, she wasn’t going to shrink away from it.  As she entered the familiar cabin, Yellow Diamond, Pearl 00010, and Garnet had already been seated.  Garnet was curled into her corner not looking at anyone.  The other two acted as if nothing was unusual.  Pearl took her spot, despite the blood pounding in her ears and how her frame seemed to freeze at the sight of her owner.  Yellow Diamond knocked on the divider and the SUV rolled out.

            Another successful evening passed and Pearl was once again scheduled to ride back in the SUV.  Thankfully, like many times before when they rode back from events, Garnet was the only other occupant in the black vehicle.  The smaller woman glanced over at the figure that had refused to look in her direction the entire time they had been around each other.  Pearl sighed, they needed to talk.  Slowly she scooted over so that she was sitting across from the fighter.  The lapels of the dark woman’s leather jacket were pulled up, covering her face even more.

            “Garnet,” the pale woman tried.

            Silence.

            “Garnet, please, talk to me.”

            The fighter curled tighter into her corner, refusing to acknowledge the request.

            “Please, Garnet.  I want to talk with you,” Pearl sighed and glanced to the side.  “About that night.”

            A low mumbling came from Garnet.

            “What was that?” she leaned forward, straining her ears so she wouldn’t miss anything no matter how quietly it was said.

            “I RAPED YOU!” exploded Garnet as she burst from her fetal position to face Pearl.

            The fighter’s face was contorted with anguish, her ribcage expanding as she harshly breathed in with hands clenched at the sides of her hips.  Light blue eyes gazed at covered ones for a moment.  Pearl pressed her lips into a thin line.  Every piece of Garnet’s body language screamed that she blamed herself for that night in addition to the words she had just exclaimed.  There wasn’t going to be any success in trying to shift the blame.

            “Yes,” Pearl breathed out, “you did.”

            Garnet let out the air she had been holding in her lungs.  She turned and began to fold back into her corner.

            “But, you did it instead of having me killed,” Pearl added.  “I had tried to tell you it was OK, and that I understood the situation Yellow Diamond put you in, but that damn sock was making it impossible for me to properly talk.”  She looked at Garnet’s still figure and sighed heavily.  “In all reality I’m glad it was you.”

            Garnet gave her an incredulous look.

            “No, that’s not quite what I meant,” the thin gem corrected.  “Before you came in the room it was just me and Yellow Diamond.  I was sure she was going to be the one to rape me as she tied me up and everything.  But then she left without doing anything and I was left frantically wondering who it would be. I had no idea who could potentially come through that door.  It could have been anyone.  As awful and twisted as it was, I’m glad you were the one.  I didn’t want to be touched by anyone else.”  She hopelessly shrugged.  “I-I don’t really know what to say, Garnet.  It’s obviously hurting both of us, I just want to talk,” Pearl confessed.

            The fighter continued to sit silently, her covered gaze staring out the heavily tinted window.  Pearl looked off to the same side and laughed weakly.

            “I really liked that kiss we shared before all of this shit happened.  I hope you did too.”

            “I should have never kissed you,” Garnet dully stated after a moment.

            “What?  Why?  I-I thought you enjoyed it too?”

            “I did, but…that’s why Yellow Diamond made me rape you.”  Garnet growled in frustration and grabbed bunches of her curly hair.  “It’s all my fault, if I had never kissed you, if I had just kept things normal in regulation, then she would have never made me rape you.  I wanted to protect you, keep you away from all of that until maybe you got to experience your first time with someone of your choosing at a time of your choosing.  I wanted it to be different for you!  Your first time should be something you remember with happiness and not with all of this shit.  Yet here I am being the very person to take that all away from you just because I wanted to kiss you.”

            “You think that because we kissed that Yellow Diamond did that?”

            Garnet nodded.  “She wasn’t pleased with how regulation was affecting me, she was…” the fighter trailed off.  “It’s exactly the kind of thing she does; take away anything good and spoil any potential future desires.”

            Pearl sat back and thought on the statement.  Yellow Diamond didn’t like how it was affecting Garnet?  She wanted to take away the good?  Ruin potential desires?  Did Garnet feel something for her?  Her mind recalled the one time they had regulation in the SUV they were currently riding in.  Her face flushed as she remembered how Garnet had exclaimed her name.  Then she remembered how Garnet had asked her not to brag about how well she had done Garnet over to anyone, especially Yellow Diamond.  Pieces of the puzzle were starting to fall into place.  Her brow furrowed as she recalled a previously missed detail.  Garnet had hesitated on something she was going to say to Pearl at the end.

            “Do you remember the time we did it in here?” she carefully brought up, her hand affectionately rubbing the leather upholstery next to her.

            “Yes,” a small blush graced Garnet’s cheeks, her word spoken with a softer tone.

            “At the end, you looked like you were going to say something, but then changed your mind.  May I ask what that was?”

            Garnet’s face became even more flushed.  “I-I uh…” she scratched the back of her neck and looked away, internally debating on whether or not to reveal the secret.  “I was going to ask you if you would like me to um…to um…to…to reciprocate.”

            Pearl’s face turned bright red.  “Oh!” she squeaked in a small voice.

            “I thought it would be safer than during a regular session, with less people watching and all, and since you had really rocked me that time I wanted to give some in return.”

            They looked at each other awkwardly.

            “I’m so sorry,” Garnet quickly apologized, “I made a lot of assumptions and really fucked things up.  I should have never kissed you; then this would have never happened.”

            Silence enveloped the cabin as the two were lost in their own thoughts.  Pearl’s mind was spinning at the revelation that she could have had sex with Garnet at a much earlier time.

            Would have I accepted her offer then?

            No, it was too soon after the End of the Year Celebration and I was too conflicted in my feelings towards her.  I would have been flattered, but I would have said no.

            Garnet let out a frustrated breath and began to curl into her corner.

            “I’m glad you kissed me,” Pearl stated after some time.

            “What?” the head full of curly hair rotated to look at her.

            “Even with everything that happened as a result, I don’t regret kissing you or being kissed by you.”

            “Why?!” Garnet demanded.

            “Because that is something that Yellow Diamond can never take from us.  She can’t take our first kiss or corrupt it because we already had it.  It was one hundred percent consent.  It was our choice and if I was given the choice to do it again…I would say yes.”  Pearl shyly looked up at the dark woman who had turned to face her completely.

            “I would too,” Garnet quietly agreed.

            Pearl toyed with the opportunity presented.  It was a bold move, but one she wanted to take.

            “May I kiss you?” she asked very carefully as she leaned forward.

            Garnet folded her arms and looked away.

            “I need a little time,” she said after a moment of deliberation.  “I don’t feel like it would be right for me to touch you right now.”

            “I understand.  Maybe some other time,” Pearl offered a small smile as she placed her hand on Garnet’s knee for a brief instant.

            The muscles had tensed under her touch for second, but then relaxed.  Slowly the fighter nodded.  Pearl sat back as they were wrapped in the noise of the tires rumbling across the roads.

            “Would you like to play some Blackjack?” Pearl offered after a minute or two.

            Garnet silently reached into her bag, pulled out the worn cards, and handed them to Pearl.  The lighter woman began to shuffle the cards and set up the first game.  Garnet won the first round.

            “Do you still hurt?  From…that night?”

            “No, not any more.  It did for the first couple of days or so, but after that they just faded away over time.”

            “I’m sorry,” Garnet bowed her head.  “I really wish she didn’t make me be so rough on you.”

            “I know.”

            Victory landed on Pearl’s side.  She chewed her lip for a moment before asking her question. 

            “What was your first time like?”

            Garnet clenched her jaw and took a couple even breaths.

            “Sorry, that’s very personal, I can ask something else,” she quickly retreated.

            “No,” Garnet held up her hand.  “It was with Yellow Diamond.  I was sixteen, her newly crowned Champion.  I reported to her room and she had me until she was satisfied.  She was the first person to kiss me and was the first person to push me to my first orgasms.”

            Pearl’s mouth hung slightly open in surprise.  In the back of her mind she had figured that Yellow Diamond and Garnet probably had sex at some point, their body language towards each other along with Yellow Diamond’s knowledge of what turned the dark woman on were evidence to that.  But no, she didn’t think that Garnet’s first time she had been raped by Yellow Diamond as a teenager!

            “I-I’m, that’s horrible.  You weren’t even…you weren’t even…why?!  Why did she rape you?”

            Garnet sat tall and regarded Pearl with a sideways tilt to her head.

            “Rape?”

            “Yes, why did she rape you as a teenager?”

            “It’s…”

            Pearl watched as the champion struggled to put together her thoughts.  When Garnet spoke, her voice was unnaturally clear.

            “Yellow Diamond owns me body, mind, and soul.  I am hers to do with as she pleases, I am to follow every command she gives me, I am to complete all of my assignments perfectly or suffer the consequences for failing to do so.”

            Light blue eyes went wide with shock.  There was no way that Garnet actually believed what she was saying.  Pearl’s mind strained as she tried to comprehend what she had just heard.  This wasn’t Garnet’s voice.  Garnet never talked like this.  This reminded Pearl of the words and tone the axinite had used after her most recent reeducation.

            Garnet’s been trained to say this.

            “It’s rape Garnet, what Yellow Diamond did to you,” the pale gem tried to reason.

            The fighter became tense, folding her arms across her chest.  “She cannot rape me, I belong to her.”

            Pearl looked off to the side and tried to swallow the bile rising in her throat.

            No.  She’s been trained to believe this.

            She felt sick.  This whole place was sick and twisted.  In Garnet’s tender teenage years, Yellow Diamond had forced herself on her.  Despite the lack of labeling what it really was, it was easy to tell that it had been extremely traumatizing for the fighter.  No wonder why Garnet was so upset, it must have been like reliving what had been done to her.  Pearl’s heart ached for the abused woman sitting across from her.  Garnet’s only wish had been to spare Pearl from her same fate.  But that same evil woman had forced them on each other instead, destroying the possibility of them choosing when they wanted to go that far if they ever wanted to.  In the silence that followed their conversation, another game of Blackjack was set up.  Victory fell to Pearl.  The pale woman breathed out as her mind debated the question she wanted to ask.  While she could guess the answer, she wanted to know.

            “Does Yellow Diamond still have you?  Even with a set up regulation?”

            “Yes.  Whenever she wants, or whenever there are issues with my regulation.”

            Light blue eyes widened with realization.  Those past two times her dismissal had meant Garnet was being sent to Yellow Diamond instead.

            “I’m so sorry, I-”

            The fighter held up her hand and shook her head.  “That was done at my request.  I couldn’t stomach the idea of making you do that when I had just raped you,” Garnet explained.

            “Oh…thank you, I needed that time to process everything,” Pearl looked away.

            The champion nodded silently.  Several more games were played, but Pearl’s guilt at making Garnet report to Yellow Diamond those two times still ate at her.  She could have done it, she still could have forced herself to take care of Garnet’s regulation.  If she had known that was the alternative, she would have done it for sure.

            “I feel bad for causing that,” came Pearl’s small voice.

            Garnet looked up at her, letting the silence ask her question.

            “For having Yellow Diamond be the one to regulate you,” Pearl got out with more strength.

            “Don’t be, I chose that alternative.  Besides,” Garnet breathed out slowly, “I can handle what she does much easier now.”

            Those words didn’t bring any comfort to Pearl, if anything they made her stomach churn at what it could mean, but she didn’t push the topic.  As they continued to play Blackjack both of them retreated to less probing questions until the cards were put away.  Pearl laid down on the soft leather as she stole one last glance over at Garnet.  The dark woman sat in her usual position instead of curled into the corner.

            “I’m glad we got to talk,” she sighed sleepily.

            “Me, too,” Garnet lightly smiled.  “Go ahead and rest, I will wake you when we arrive.”

            Pearl’s eyes drifted closed as the edges of her mouth turned slightly upwards.

Chapter Text

^^^^^^

Chapter 16: Connection

^^^^^^

Pearl learns more about Carnelian while she and Garnet start sharing a different level of connection.

^^^^^^

 

            Carnelian was pacing around her office humming thoughtfully as Pearl walked in the following Monday.  The stout woman paused and turned to face Pearl once she noticed the thin woman’s presence.

            “Good to see you, Pearl.  It looks like you’ve gotten some good rest the past couple of days.”

            “Yes I have, ma’am.”

            “Good, good.  Now, I would like to start out the day with a simple congratulation.”

            Light blue eyes were filled with confusion as she stared at the plump woman.

            “I know it’s a couple months late, but you’ve reached your one year anniversary here.”

            “Oh…thank you, ma'am!” Pearl smiled with a little force.  She didn’t quite understand why that was a thing to really celebrate.

            “I know it’s a little odd, but the first year is always the hardest.  My first year was full of all sorts of bumps and surprises.  I understand that while you may not have chosen this, do know that I am glad that you work with me.  As such, I have a gift to give you.  Now don’t get used to this, I’m only doing it for your one year anniversary.”  Carnelian walked over and handed Pearl a white envelope.

            Pearl carefully opened the envelope and found that it contained 100 units.  “Th-thank you!”  A genuine smile spread across Pearl’s face.  “For your very generous gift, ma'am.  And thank you for being an enjoyable person to work with as well.  You’ve taught me a lot and have been understanding of my sporadic schedule changes.”

            Carnelian simply waved off Pearl’s remarks.  “Oh, don’t flatter me, you earned it.  Now, unfortunately I won’t be able to let you go off and spend some of it right now, but maybe later on today if we get a number of things done.”

            “Yes, ma’am.”  Pearl tucked the units into her scheduler case.

            The older woman began sewing dime-sized, disk-like, electronic devices into the outfits for the event with Blue Diamond.  Most of the device was a flat LED light while the rest was a compact, long lasting battery and a tiny computer that could interact with a control system wirelessly.  Pearl could probably guess what purpose they would serve and was excited to see it in use.  Hopefully she would get to see the final production with the lights and dancers synched together.

            “This is simple enough to do, here, just secure it like a button through the small loop in the back.  Sew one on at each spot you see the little green ‘X’,” Carnelian explained as she demonstrated attaching one.  “We have over fifty costumes to do, once we have the prototype done for each type of dancer outfit, we are going to take them to the dancers and test them.  Once that has passed, they will go to the smithsonites so they can finish out the rest.”

            The pale woman nodded, she had sewn on hundreds of buttons by now.  Silently the two worked together on separate outfits.  As the time stretched on, Pearl’s mind began to wander, she wanted to know what bumps and surprises Carnelian had experienced in her first year.  The plump gem always seemed very satisfied with living down in the Underground.

            “Whatever question is on your mind, just spit it out,” Carnelian sighed as she watched Pearl cast a sideways glance towards her for the umpteenth time that morning.

            “Oh!  I’m sorry, ma’am” Pearl quickly apologized.  “I…” the light eyed woman began to worry her fingers.

            “Don’t fidget.”

            “Yes, ma’am,” Pearl straightened her back and pushed her hands into her lap before continuing with her task.  “I was wondering how you came to be down here.”

            A soft smile spread across Carnelian’s face as she chuckled.  “Well, for starters, I’ve been here for nearly eighteen years.  This,” her hand waved around at her office, “is my life as well as my job.  Though I’m sure you’ve already guessed that.”

            “Your job?”

            The stout woman nodded.  “Yes, Yellow Diamond offered me a job here, and I accepted.  At the time I met Yellow Diamond I was an aspiring clothing designer; I was submitting my work and trying to make a name for myself.  Unfortunately, I was facing rejection after rejection.  Apparently my designs were too simple and practical to catch any eyes in the fashion world.”  A scoff jumped past her lips.  “They thought I was wasting fabric by making the pockets for my women’s clothing larger so they could actually fit something other than a thin pack of gum.  One day after being told once again that my designs were not welcome and that I should just go work for some commonplace clothing store; I was approached by a younger woman outside of the building I was leaving.  She addressed me by name and stated that she would like to speak with me over coffee on a business proposition.  I was genuinely surprised by this, but having met yet another dead end, I was willing to give it a shot.  The woman appeared to have good fashion sense and some notable sum of financial backing due to the nicely tailored suit she was wearing along with her whole ensemble of jewelry and footwear.  We went to a nearby café where she quizzed me in my experience and ideas for different types of clothing.  Dancer outfits, casual, formal, durable workwear, business, you name it.  I drew out ideas for her in a provided notebook and we talked for hours.

            "I asked her why she wanted to speak with me.  She replied by saying that she had been keeping tabs on my work for the past year and liked my approach and creativeness.  She liked how my clothing was both elegant and practical.  Fashion with a purpose.  The woman offered me a commissioned job.  I was to design three outfits: one for bodyguards that would be mobile, simple, practical, and convey strength, one to be used for business affairs, practical, elegant, and imposing, and one for a set of pants that could hold a standard phone, last a long time, and was easy to make.  Each outfit was given a budget and a time frame for them to be completed in.  I accepted without much of a thought and got to work right away.  It was the first real fashion job I had in quite some time so I was determined to impress.  In three months I had all of the final designs completed.  We met up and I showed them to her.  After paying over the promised sum she informed me that the outfits would be tested out and to await her next call.  A month went by.  While I was still putting myself out there and trying to get a better foot in I never forgot about that commissioned job.  And then one day she did call me.  She was pleased with the results of my designs and invited me to coffee.  When we met the next day, not only was I flattered to see that she was wearing the suit I had designed, but that she offered me a full-time job working for her company.  Over coffee she allowed me to read over the contract she had written up.”  Carnelian paused for a moment as her eyes became reflective.

            “It was hard for me at first to accept the idea of moving and living within her company.  Especially when it said I would have restricted contact with the outside world and those I may care about.  She was straightforward with me; she explained that a lot would be expected, but that I could negotiate some of my own terms.  I was given 24 hours to think it over.  In the end I accepted.  Was I still ready for everything that shocked me?  Heavens no.  There should have been a lot more information in that contract about her company, in my opinion, but over time I became accustomed to it.  I had a feeling in my gut that the woman was involved in something less than savory, and maybe that’s why I chose to accept in the end.  I’ve always yearned for a thrill and a change of scenery from my ordinary life.  Also, I couldn’t just pass up working for someone who simply adored my designs.  I negotiated my food and sleeping arrangements and she laid out the rules I was to keep.  Have there been bumps in the road?  Yes.  However, through the years I have been satisfied with my occupation and my choice in life.”

            “Wow,” Pearl paused as she finished absorbing the story.  It was mind-blowing in a number of ways.  “How long was the contract written for?”

            “The initial time frame was five years.  Since then Yellow Diamond and I revisit the contract every two years to assess the next two year time frame extension.  But at this point she might as well put down ‘for life’.  I’m not going anywhere,” Carnelian finished with a tiny smirk in the corner of her mouth.

            Fingers grabbed the next LED light and began sewing it on as Pearl’s mind worked to process the woman’s origin.  Carnelian was one of those who, like Larimar, chose to be in the Underground.  Despite having a way out, the designer stayed, even after learning and seeing all of the horrors that this place contained.  Granted, Pearl was skeptical on if Yellow Diamond would have honored the initial five-year agreement had Carnelian chosen to leave.  Light blue eyes glanced up at the plump woman, her even gaze on Pearl told her she was expecting some sort of reaction or feedback on the story she had shared.

            “That’s incredible, ma'am,” the thin gem smiled.  “Yellow Diamond was smart to recruit you; I don’t think any other designer could have created what you have or handled such a unique environment as well as you.”  The compliment was genuine, though Pearl found it hard to compliment the woman’s choice to stay.

            “No, they can’t.  Yellow Diamond respects my skills and values my work.  There have been times where I have gone over budget, but she has always been willing to listen to my reasoning for needing to do so.  While she always has the final say, I have been able to get her to compromise a couple of times.  The first little while it was just me, but in a couple of months I had seamstresses at my command and any materials I saw fit to implement.  Leave it to Yellow Diamond to get things done that need to be.  Like these little things here.”  Carnelian held up one of the LED lights.  “Designed and created all right here.  If you ever wonder what those Peridots do when not initiating a new gem or hacking into something, it’s research and development.”

            “Oh, I didn’t know, thank you ma'am.”

            A pause drifted between them as they focused on the outfits.

            “Has there ever been any designs that were challenging for you, ma'am?” Pearl pried, sensing that the gem was open to answering more questions.

            Carnelian chuckled.  “Oh yes!  The dancer outfits were actually the hardest at first.  I wasn’t used to designing something so flashy and revealing.  However, once I had put together all of the outfits for the various positions here; that was her next task for me.  Yellow Diamond told me to stretch my skills and broaden my design limitations.  Most of the outfits I’ve done over the years have been for the dancers, along with updates to the gems’ clothing and Yellow Diamond’s personal wardrobe.  The combat uniforms are a new and exciting challenge.”

            “So the magnetic attachment to hold the scheduler on everyone’s pants is your design?” the pale gem didn’t hold back her surprise.  While it made sense for it to be Carnelian’s design, she didn’t know if the pants had come from her or someone before that.

            “Yes it is,” Carnelian beamed with pride.  “For the first couple of years we used the pants with larger pockets, but Yellow Diamond wanted a different solution, one that made it easier to grab and put back, especially since the phones we used were growing in size.  That is one of my personal favorite designs.”

            “It really is unique, ma'am.  At first I didn’t know what to think of it, I thought my scheduler would fall off many times.  It never did, and it’s been really convenient especially when my hands are full.”

            “Most people think it’s odd at first, but then they see the light.”

            Pearl let out a small laugh at the older woman’s cheeky statement. “Thank you for answering my questions about you, ma’am.  It was nice to get to know your background a little better.”

            “Of course.  I figured it was a fitting thing to ask as we celebrated your one year anniversary.  I assume you were recruited without prior notice?”

            Pearl raised an eyebrow at that wording.  Recruited without prior notice?  The younger woman nodded as the definition translated in her mind.  Kidnapped or forcibly recruited.

            “Yes, well, that must be hard.  But I hope you look forward to your next year here and make the most of it,” Carnelian finished.

            “I will, thank you, ma’am.”

            The two continued to sew on lights for the entirety of the day.  By the end they had four out of the five different types completed.  Pearl didn’t have time to go spend any of her units, but she figured one of these days she would get the chance to.  It also didn’t hurt to have the extra units.

 

            Arms burned as they carried the weight of the five completed outfits down the hall as she followed Carnelian to the dancers’ practice area.  By the time Pearl and Carnelian had arrived the dancers had already warmed up and would be ready to test out the outfits.  Not one minute later did a group of peridots bust through the door right behind them.

            “Time to test out our latest invention!” Peridot 00231 grinned as she stood tall with her chest puffed out.  “You two secure an area to set up the control panel,” she ordered the two on her right.  “And you two start connecting to the network and synching with the attire!” the remaining two were instructed.

            The gems with green button up shirts moved quickly to get everything ready; occasional grumbles and insults to each other or the technology could be heard.  With all five dancers suited up and the lights synched to the control system, the testing began.  Pearl bounced up and down on the balls of her feet in excitement.

 

            It took a few days to iron out the bugs in the system, but it was far enough along that the smithsonites could work on attaching the lights onto the rest of the outfits.

 

            For the next couple of weeks a few things seemed to fall into place for Pearl.  The teasing spearheaded by Pearl 00824 had fallen back to its usual level with only occasional spikes of cruelty.  Nights void of traumatizing nightmares allowed for Pearl to get the sleep she needed when she had less restful nights.  Working with Carnelian, the dancers, and Pearl 00687 proved to be the one manageable constant in her life.  One day as the strawberry blonde was heading back for her personal time, Pearl 00687 rushed up to her and asked for her help, finally calling on some of the favors owed.  The younger gem was more than happy to assist Pearl 00687 in her task.

            First off, they ran to the dancers’ dormitories to pick up their shoeboxes.  The shoeboxes were used to help sort the supplies that had come in for each performer.  A flatbed trolley was used to carry all fifty-five empty boxes as it would have taken several trips to do so by hand.  It was a tedious task as the rumbling of the cart made the empty boxes jumble around and occasionally fall off.  Several times they had to stop to collect one that had tried yet again to run away.  Behind a blue door, in a medium-sized room, ten large boxes had been set.  Their task was to inspect, organize, and deliver everything that had come in.  Pearl 00687 explained that every six months an order like this was placed by Rainbow Quartz as a way to help keep her dancers performing optimally.  While the individual gem supply station has most everything a gem would need, some specialized items were best purchased in bulk.  Each dancer over the six-month time period would be rewarded with points for good performances, improvement, and such by Rainbow Quartz.  The points were then used by the dancers to pick out what items they wanted from a catalog, each item had a specific point value, or “cost”, assigned to it.  The dancers were always excited whenever this time of year came around, especially since it meant getting free supplies, as long as they had the points to “pay” for what they wanted.  Normally Pearl 00687 had more time to take care of it by herself, but the order was already late and it was up to her to get it delivered that night.  While Pearl 00687 opened the boxes and began inspecting, Pearl set out all of the shoeboxes they had transported over in alphanumerical order.  Everything had arrived and had passed inspection.  The two pearls worked tirelessly to sort out the various items into the proper shoeboxes.  Rolls of athletic tape, moleskin, leotards, tights, leg warmers, and more.  Together it took only an hour and a half before the two were pushing the flatbed trolley back towards the dancers’ dormitory with a quick detour to drop off the ten empty cardboard boxes into the recycling room.  Silently each personalized container was set in its designated spot, the two working hard to not disturb the sleeping gems.  A high-five was shared between Pearl and Pearl 00687 as they made their way back to their own dormitories.

 

            Fingers unlocked her scheduler and habitually moved to the calendar to double-check her schedule for today.  Tomorrow would be four weeks since the last Friday night event, thus making today the day she would normally report to regulation with Garnet.

            That is unless Garnet’s not ready and has Yellow Diamond do it instead.

            Pearl shuddered at the thought.  So many things made sense now, more than she wished to.  Ignorance was bliss.  Light blue eyes noticed the maroon box floating in its normal spot.  It was only breakfast so it could still change.

            “Ooo looks like 01079 is getting fucked tonight!” came the unwanted voice of Pearl 00824 from behind her.

            The thin woman breathed out heavily, locked her scheduler, and put it away.

            “You must be looking forward to it right?  I mean now that you two have broken that barrier I’m sure Garnet must want to do all sorts of things to you.”

            There was no good response that could be made, so Pearl just focused on her food and remained silent.  A hand seized a bunch of hair on the top of her head and jerked it back, the motion causing her neck to pop a few times and for her eyes to scrunch shut.

            “Has she taken your asshole yet?  If not I bet she’ll do it tonight,” Pearl 00824 continued, trying to get a reaction out of the strawberry blonde.

            White teeth were gritted together.  A response came to mind and Pearl didn’t even try to stop it.

            “Try not to act so jealous 00824,” Pearl spoke through her teeth as she stared the other in the eyes.

            The hand keeping a hold of her hair shoved her forward in an attempt to plant her face first into the remains of her breakfast.  Thankfully, Pearl was able to push back in time to prevent it.

            “We’ll see who is jealous by the end of the day.  Don’t come crying to me when Garnet fucks you hard,” Pearl 00824 finished as she walked away.

            “I’d never come crying to you,” Pearl muttered under her breath as she glared at the pearl.

 

            The busy day moved quickly for Pearl and not once did her scheduler ring out indicating a change.  As the time drew close, the device was pulled out and triple-checked.

            “18:00-22:00: Regulation: Grey Light Red 24134.”

            She was to report to Garnet’s regulation.  Once again her emotions were all over the place as a mixture of apprehension, fear, and happiness invaded her system.

            Hopefully Yellow Diamond won’t be there.

            No such luck was to be offered as the light red door was opened to reveal the main woman who had been haunting Pearl in her sleep.  Pearl 00010 sat in her usual seat with Yellow Diamond sitting right next to her.  The pale gem couldn’t help but flinch when those golden eyes landed on her.  Yellow Diamond stood up from her chair and walked over until she was standing right in front of Pearl.  Amusement flickered in those cold irises for a fraction of a second.

            “The task has not changed Pearl 01079, go on in and perform your job,” came the unnervingly even order.

            The thin woman scurried past, quickly depositing her scheduler and watch in the provided box.  Just as her hand had grabbed the doorknob to the maroon door, Yellow Diamond spoke up,

            “It is a privilege to get to touch my champion.  My Garnet.  Enjoy it while you still can.”

            Pearl's throat bobbed as she swallowed thickly.  The door was swiftly opened and the pale woman ran in, shutting it behind her.  Darkness enveloped the trembling figure.  Just being in the same room as Yellow Diamond no matter how brief had been almost too much.  Those last words had been her warning, she was going to be switched soon, she knew it.

            No…please don’t, I won’t be able to handle it.

            There was no time to dwell on the potential change, she needed to focus and perform well tonight.  Good performance meant less reasons for her to be switched.  Eyes wandered to the bed sitting innocently in the middle of the room.  Images of being tied up to it flashed by in her mind’s eye.  Pearl suppressed the sob trying to escape her by covering her mouth.  She wasn’t ready, it was still too soon for her.  The door across the room opened up enough for Garnet to be shoved in.  Angrily the woman chased after the closing door, pounding her fist against it once.  An ice blue eye glanced over her muscular shoulder at Pearl.  Robotically the champion walked over to the bed and laid down like she always did.  Somehow feet moved forward and carried her to the spot between the fighter’s legs.  Knees hit the carpeted floor and she leaned in.  Pearl didn’t even dare to try and hold Garnet’s hand, she didn’t dare look up at her, she just did as she was assigned to.

 

            Riding from the successful Friday event proved to be the one time Pearl got a chance to relax.  Running around the event center delivering drinks, food supplies, brushing off customer advances, helping out the dancers, and more had worn her out.  Cards were rapidly placed on the leather seats between her and Garnet as they played a number of games of speed.  It was much harder to beat the fighter this time around.  No longer was it a one-sided match where Pearl beat her multiple times in a row as Garnet’s wins were stacking up just as quickly as hers were.  A smile curled into the corner of her lips, she preferred the challenge.  No Blackjack was played during the six hour trip as they just kept it to fun, light conversation between rounds of speed before Pearl was told to sleep.  In what felt like minutes Garnet’s surprisingly gentle voice was calling her to wake up.  The strawberry blonde rubbed the sleep out of her eyes as she sat up.  Outside of the SUV Garnet waited for her to step out before they walked back into building three together.  The atmosphere between them felt light and comfortable, much like it had before Yellow Diamond had forced Garnet on her.  Pale blue eyes stole a sideways glance at Garnet as they walked through the white hallway.  She could have sworn she caught a smile in the corner of the fighter’s lips.  The end of the hallway came too soon.  It was time to part ways and hope that she would get to see Garnet again in four weeks.  Feet began to carry Pearl down her usual route.

            “Wait Pearl,” came the low, accented voice.

            Pearl froze, her heart hammering in her chest all of the sudden.  Why would Garnet be asking her to stop?  Did she want something?  Slowly she turned to face the dark woman.  Garnet took one long stride closer to her, lips pressing into a line.  A heavy breath was let out as the fighter took a moment to compose her words; hands shoved into the pockets on the front of her pants.

            “May I kiss you?”

            Strawberry blonde eyebrows shot up in surprise.  Pearl pulled back; her mind immediately going to what had happened because they had kissed last time.

            “I-I don’t-I don’t think that’s a good idea con-considering what Yellow Diamond did to us,” she stammered out her response.

            “No, I-” Garnet pinched the bridge of her nose.  “It’s OK, we’re allowed to kiss each other.  If we want.”

            Pearl was unconvinced.  “Are you sure?”

            “Yellow Diamond and I…we talked…sometime after that night.  She-she won’t admit that she overreacted, but she’s told me that I’m allowed to ‘fuck you whatever way I want to’,” Garnet strained with the wording that obviously wasn’t hers, “as long as my fighting is not impacted and that my services to her in bed don’t change.”

            The thin gem didn’t believe what she was hearing at first.  Garnet saying that Yellow Diamond might have been a little extreme?  Yellow Diamond being OK with them doing things when she had been so vindictive in her punishment last time?

            “Obviously I-I don’t plan to fuck you, I was-I was just wondering if I could kiss you.  Since…” the curly haired woman shrugged and looked away, “since you said you would do it again.”

            Fingers intertwined themselves in front of Pearl’s soiled, blue shirt.  She stopped the movement and shoved them to her sides.  If Garnet’s words were true, then there was no way she was going to pass up the opportunity to be kissed by Garnet.

            What if they aren’t and Yellow Diamond does something even worse?

            There was no reason for Garnet to be lying about this, she had been just as torn up by the whole event and would only initiate if it indeed was safe.

            “Yes,” Pearl finally spoke up, an excited smile forming on her lips.

            “Really?” the fighter’s voice brightened in a way Pearl could only describe as adorable.

            The pale woman nodded.  One long step brought them closer together.  A warm, rough hand cupped her cheek and tilted her head up so her lips were in line with the ones descending towards her.  Pearl couldn’t help closing her eyes and grasping the hand touching her as their lips made contact.  It was gentle, sweet, and slow.  Just chaste movements of their lips together.  Garnet pulled back way too soon for Pearl’s liking.

            “May I kiss you?” Pearl breathlessly whispered.

            “Yes.”

            Long fingers grasped both sides of Garnet’s square jaw, stood up on her tippy toes, and pulled them together for a firm kiss on the lips.  Pearl sincerely wished the taller woman would put her arms around her as the contact continued for a few more seconds, but no such luck.  They parted as the thin gem returned her heels to the ground.  Garnet’s slightly parted lips turned up into a huge grin.

            “Thank you!”

            Pearl’s cheeks burned.

            “No, th-thank you,” came the slight trip in her response.

            The pale woman decided that she wanted to hug the dark woman.  With a quick step closer and arms reaching out, she pulled herself flush to the other’s body.  There was no stiffening of the muscular frame, just arms wrapping around her in turn a heartbeat later.  Her round jaw was nestled in the crook of Garnet’s neck.  It took only a moment for their breathing to rise and fall together.  Reluctantly they released each other after several long seconds.

            “Good night, Pearl,” Garnet finished.

            “Good night, Garnet.”

            With that the two turned and walked their separate directions.  Pearl’s feet moved with a distinct spring in her step.  Both the kiss and embrace had felt wonderful.

 

            Following their second kiss, things with Garnet were still a little awkward, but they were able to progress after another open discussion on how comfortable they were with physical affection between the two of them and how far they were ready to go.  A few more chaste kisses were shared over the next couple of months, along with a couple lingering embraces.  Each one left Pearl happier than ever and desiring more.  Thankfully, no abrupt changes had been made to either of their schedules and Yellow Diamond was more or less behaving like her normal cold self.  Both of them easily decided that it was best that any kissing should be done outside of regulation and only when they were alone for the sake of some shred of privacy.  During the ride back from yet another match, Pearl and Garnet had fallen asleep together.  A smile formed on thin lips as Pearl rested her head on Garnet’s chest as she lay on top of the other woman.  She was enjoying this new connection she had with the fighter.

Chapter Text

^^^^^^

Blue Diamond’s base is nothing like Pearl expected.

^^^^^^

           

            November was at the door before Pearl knew it.  Thankfully, the costumes for Blue Diamond’s match were completed in plenty of time and Rainbow Quartz’s dancers were performing optimally.  Pearl 00687 had shared one evening while they were working together, that Blue Diamond’s dancers were top of the line and were very hard to compete with.  Being on the older diamond’s turf didn’t help since most of the patrons would be saving their cash for the favored performers instead of Yellow Diamond’s gems.  Many of the dancers were confident though that they would be able to steal the show, especially with their plan of attack.

            On the Sunday before the Friday match, Carnelian explained to Pearl that she would be riding with the dancers for the long drive to Blue Diamond’s place.  The older diamond was located on the other side of the country and it would take nearly 48hrs of straight driving to get there.  The coming Tuesday night they were set to head out.  Pearl had been secretly hoping that she would get to travel with Garnet to and from the location, but dutifully accepted the change.  Early Tuesday morning her scheduler gave out its normal chirp and cemented in the fact that she would be driving in the bus with all of the dancers.

            It was a long drive.  No matter how exciting the conversations and games they all participated in to pass the time, no matter how many naps or stretching exercises they did, everyone at some point lost a piece of their sanity for being cooped up for hours on end.  Gas and bathroom stops were brief moments of freedom that were celebrated by all, including Carnelian and Rainbow Quartz.

            Pearl gazed up at the massive building displayed before them as the bus slowed and approached the entrance to the underground parking lots.  While Yellow Diamond’s base was a setup of five office-like towers, and White Diamond’s had been like a refurbished football stadium with a fortress of structures built around it, Blue Diamond’s was something completely different.  For starters, the building’s outer walls formed a giant rhombus that then stretched high into the sky, covered top to bottom in shiny royal blue-tinted glass.  It must have been over twenty stories high.  Pearl’s mouth hung open as they were escorted inside through the expansive underground parking garage and loading bays.  The blue-tinted glass extended all the way beneath the surface as the entrance into the main structure was made of the same material.  As they approached, Pearl noticed two things.  One, there was no obvious door or handle of any sort to open it.  Two, that despite it being made of glass she couldn’t see anything inside of Blue Diamond’s place to get a feel for what type of environment she was going to be entering.  Suddenly two large panels of glass swung open, two amethysts pushing them from inside.  Their group was directed through and informed on where their room was located.  As the doors shut behind them, Pearl peered over her shoulder.  She could see the entire parking garage perfectly through the glass.  Just then it dawned on her what was covering the main building; aesthetically pleasing, yet tactical, one-way glass.  Beauty with purpose and a means to hide all of the evil that surely happened inside.  The pale woman looked ahead and examined the interior.  No dull concrete walls coated with bland colors of paint, this was a well-furnished, elegant building complete with painted wall murals and mosaics inlaid into parts of it.  Floors mostly covered in industrial carpet, doors uniformly labeled with some secret alphanumerical pattern, and windows with one-way glass that looked outside. As they moved inward they came to the centermost portion of the structure.  The center was a second rhombus offset evenly from the outside walls that created an open area.  Nothing but wide hallways that ran alongside this open area from top to bottom of the structure.  No walls barred one’s sight into the middle, instead the side of the hallway that bordered the open area had a clear, sturdy railing that allowed someone to lean over and peer into the center.  Pearl did just that, looking up at the blue sky above them through the rhombus formed above by the building.  Upon closer inspection, Pearl could see the transparent ceiling enclosing the structure.  Most likely it was also made of the same one-way glass. Light blue eyes spotted the dozens of horizontal walkways that crisscrossed over the open area like threads in a spider’s web.  The walkways were hard to see at first since they had the same clear railings as the one she was leaning on, but the metal support structures that covered the bottom gave them away.   Her eyes were carried all the way down to the bottom of the open area where she could see the fighting ring being set up for tomorrow.  It was surprising to see the ring with not as much seating around it, but Pearl figured that all of the hallways with railings making up the inner rhombus acted as a great means to watch it from an elevated point.  Doors to other rooms and openings to joining passageways lined the other side of these hallways.

            Further admiration of the Blue Diamond’s domain had to be kept to a minimum as they were escorted to their rooms by the hosting diamond’s polite gems.  Rainbow Quartz led everyone, including Carnelian, through an hour-long stretching session with plenty of water distributed to everyone.  A perfect way to combat the stiffness of the travel.  Pearl breathed easily next to Carnelian.  While the pale gem hadn’t been keeping up on her mobility since she was kidnapped, she still breathed much easier than Carnelian.

            Something else to add into my nightly routine.

            Her ears perked up when she heard her scheduler chirp.  The device was pulled out and the updated event looked at.  Regulation for that night was to be held in a room provided by Blue Diamond.  Pearl frowned.  Considering that last time they had to move to the SUV’s because White had bugged the room, she wasn’t going to hold up any hopes for this room to be any different.  After getting directions from Carnelian, the thin woman headed towards the door.  Pearl got turned around a little bit, but with some luck she spotted Garnet standing outside of the designated door.  No amethyst guards, no Yellow Diamond, just the two of them.  Her feet carried her over so she was standing in front of the fighter.  With a wordless nod Garnet turned, opened the door, and motioned for her to step in first.

            “Thank you,” Pearl nervously smiled as she walked in; butterflies fluttering around in her stomach.

            Garnet followed, shutting and locking the door behind them.  Pearl couldn’t help but tense at the sound of the metal bolt sliding into place, it reminded her too much of how it sounded in their usual room.

            It’s just Garnet and I, nothing crazy is going to happen.

            With a few steadying breaths and her eyes adjusting to the dim lighting, she was able to relax a little.  In the darkness the pale woman could discern that it was a medium-sized, rectangular room, with the usual industrial carpet flooring seen everywhere else and a queen-sized bed sitting in the middle across from what looked like a widescreen TV hung on the wall.  Light blue eyes glanced back over her shoulder at Garnet in time to see her flick a switch on the wall.  Soft light filled the room from the two lamps sitting on the small nightstands on either side of the bed.  Underneath the TV was an entertainment center holding a DVD player, sound system, and a number of movies.  The fighter casually walked over to the bed and flopped down.  Pearl stayed by the door and decided it was best to give Garnet room to strip.

            “Come over here,” the champion patted the spot on the bed next to her.

            A faint eyebrow was raised.  However, her feet moved for her, transporting her to the side of the bed.  She noted that there was no comforter like the other bed, just sheets.  Pearl crawled onto the bed and laid down a couple of feet from Garnet, resting her head against one of the pillows.  The thin woman practically melted into the softness encompassing her.  Wide eyes stared up at the ceiling as her entire body refused to move.  Never before had she laid down on something that felt like this; not in her entire life.  The thick, yet firm mattress curved to her form, supporting her, but allowing for her to sink in a little.  The dark blue sheets were a smooth satin fabric.  Pearl would probably guess the threads per inch was in the thousands at least.  Finally, the pillows were made with the same memory foam that the mattress was and covered with a case that matched the sheets.

            “Wow…” the thin woman breathed out; blinking once.  “This is…so nice…”

            Garnet hummed in agreement.

            “This makes my bed in the dormitory feel like a piece of cardboard.  Wow…”

            A tiny smirk could be seen resting in the corner of the curly haired woman’s lips.

            For several minutes the two of them continued to lay there just enjoying the silence and the heavenly bed.

            “Is your regular bed like this too?” Pearl couldn’t help but ask.

            “No,” Garnet shifted.  “It’s probably not too different from yours.”

            “Really?!  I thought-you know, being Yellow Diamond’s champion and all-that you would have at least a decent bed.  Worn out mattresses are not good for you.”

            “My bed is adequate for my needs.  No more, no less.  I get a new mattress every few years, but it’s nothing fancy like this and it’s not too much more than the standard ones Yellow Diamond orders for everyone else.”

            “Oh…so is it the same bedframe and size as ours?”

            “Same bedframe type, different size.  I can’t really stretch out on a twin-sized bed.”

            “So what size do you have then?” the pale woman inquired.

            “I believe it is called a twin extra-long.  Gives me the room I need.”

            “That makes sense,” Pearl fell back down onto her back; once again loving how the bed just cradled her.

            They should get started soon, but she wanted to enjoy the bed a little longer before she would be kneeling down for the time required to get Garnet off twice.

            “I used to have a twin-sized bed,” the fighter continued the conversation.  “That was until I hit a huge growth spurt and needed to get a longer one.  Sapphire woke me up one morning on one of my rest days and noticed how curled up I was.”

            Pearl stilled, her ears straining to hear every word, every inflection of Garnet’s voice.  Sapphire had been mentioned and the thin woman did not want to lose the chance of learning something about Garnet’s mother.

            “At first getting a new bed was difficult because Sapphire had tried to go through the proper channels and submit a request for the new piece of equipment from one of the aquamarines, but once they rejected it, saying I didn’t ‘need’ a larger bed, Sapphire went right to Yellow Diamond.”  A soft chuckle drifted past the fighter’s lips.  “Didn’t take much to get Yellow Diamond moving once Sapphire explained why I needed a new bed.  I had grown over six inches in one summer.  Went from a chubby teen to a string bean teen.  People who were at eye level now I had to look down at, Sapphire’s head barely came up to my chest, I could look Yellow Diamond in the eye.  The last thing Yellow Diamond wanted was for me to lose any of my height by being cramped in my bed.  The taller I was the more potential I had to bulk up and become even more powerful.”

            The lower ranked gem remained quiet, sincerely hoping that Garnet wouldn’t end her story there.

            “Sapphire always did that for me.  She was always taking care of me when she could.  Whenever I arrived for my lessons after training, she would clean the blood off me,” the champion’s voice caught for a split second, “and put on any needed salve and bandages.  Or an ice pack.  Sapphire always managed to have an ice pack whenever I needed one.  She was always there for me,” Garnet’s voice became soft, “always…until…”

            Suddenly the fighter sat up and turned her back towards Pearl, large hands gripping the sides of the mattress.  Pearl instinctively moved with her, worry etched into her expression.

            “I am going to meditate,” came the gruff statement.  “Feel free to enjoy the bed or do whatever the fuck you want,” the dark woman abruptly finished as she stood, walked over to the far wall, sat down on her crisscrossed legs, and cupped one hand with the other; the thumbs arching above the other fingers to touch in the middle.

            The pale woman’s body moved of its own accord, following the other woman towards the wall.  Garnet’s chest rose and fell as she breathed out heavily.  Pearl faced the dark woman, folded her legs underneath her and sat on her heels.  Tentatively she reached out to set a hand on the muscular shoulder.

            “Don’t touch me,” came the sharp words.

            Pearl recoiled as if she had been struck.

            “I am a monster.  Don’t ever forget that.”

            Light blue eyes fell with her hands into her lap as Pearl bowed her head.  Slowly she retreated back to the bed and laid down on her side.  For a few moments she tried to rest, but she couldn’t take her eyes off Garnet’s tense form.  The fighter was taking in deep breaths, holding it for a few seconds, then slowly letting it out.  Pearl was familiar with that type of exercise, for she had done it a number of times over the years when her anxiety was getting to the breaking point.  Despite how comfortable the bed was and how badly her body just wanted to sleep on it, the only thing she could think of doing was joining Garnet in her meditation.  There had been genuine happiness in the muscular woman’s voice until the last moment when it was all turned into anger.

            Talking about Sapphire must have set her off.  No wonder she avoids the topic. 

            It was easy to slide off the bed, but so hard to make any further movements towards Garnet.  Pearl took a deep breath, set her spine, strode over, sat down, and mimicked the curly haired woman’s position.  Light blue eyes were forced shut and another lungful of air was drawn into her body.  No movement or recognition came from the woman next to her; Pearl didn’t know if that was a good thing or a bad thing.  When nothing happened after a few moments, she assumed that it wasn’t a bad thing.

            Minutes ticked by.  It wasn’t until nearly a half an hour later that Garnet made any other movement aside from her deep breathing.  Pearl opened her eyes and looked sideways at her.

            “There is no need to do regulation tonight,” the fighter simply stated.

            “What?  But…aren’t we… aren’t we being watched?” the strawberry blonde countered.

            “This is one of the few rooms that is not monitored on the inside.  Blue promised me that I would always get to use this room for regulation and whenever I wanted.”

            Eyebrows were pulled together.

            Why would Blue Diamond do something like that?

            “What about the match?  I need to make sure you’re ready for it.”

            “I will win tomorrow Pearl.  I’ve faced off against Blue Topaz 0002 two other times and have beaten him twice.  Plus, I’ve had nine months to improve since my match against Imperial Topaz.”

            Light eyes glanced at the faint lines running through Garnet’s two largest knuckles on both of her hands.  She looked away, the memories from earlier this year coming back to life in her mind.

            “You doubt I’ll win?” there was a hint of surprise in her tone.

            “N-no, I just-I just don’t want that to happen again.  I don’t want Yellow Diamond to beat you!” Pearl softly exclaimed.

            Reflective sunglasses turned to look at her.

            “I’m not going to lose,” Garnet stated.

            “What if you do?!  Your body…your body was covered in-you hurt everywhere!  She starved you and insulted you, I don’t-I don’t want that to happen to you!”

            “Pearl.”  Garnet reached out towards one of Pearl’s hands that was tightly gripping a pant leg.  The warm hand was set on top of hers and squeezed it gently.  “I’m not going to lose.” 

            The lighter woman stared at the fighter’s calm expression.  She pushed forward and pressed a firm kiss against Garnet’s lips; her open hand desperately grasping the right side of the champion’s strong jaw.  Pearl pulled back, keeping their foreheads together.

            “You better not then,” she said with a light tease.

            Garnet chuckled.  “And you better not get into trouble, especially because of me.  I don’t want you getting hurt again either.”  The calloused hand was moved so it softly rubbed the smaller woman’s back.

            “I won’t,” Pearl promised.

            The dark woman smiled briefly; then pressed a quick kiss to her lips.  Light blue eyes fluttered closed as she enjoyed the contact.

            “We still have an hour; do you want to sleep on the bed or shall I just escort you to your sleeping quarters?” Garnet offered as she stood up.

            It was very tempting to just take a short nap, but she knew it would be better if she were to just get an hour more of undisturbed sleep.

            Pearl glanced up, noticing Garnet’s outstretched hand.  The thin woman was effortlessly tugged up to her feet.

            “I should just head back to the room,” she sighed as she stared longingly at the heavenly bed.

            “Alright,” came the nod in agreement.

            Garnet headed for the door, unlocked it, and opened it up for Pearl.  They walked back to Pearl’s sleeping area in silence.  No gems of Blue Diamond disturbed them, none of Yellow Diamond’s gems bothered them either.  A final goodnight and good luck was exchanged between the two before Pearl headed into her room.  Like before, Pearl 00687 had set up Pearl’s futon and waved her over.   A couple of dancers tried to pry for details on their regulation, but she was saved by Rainbow Quartz threatening everyone to go to sleep.  Obediently they all closed their mouths and set their heads on their pillows.  In only a matter of minutes, the thin woman had fallen asleep.

 

            From the instant she woke up it was full speed ahead.  Dancers were helped in their preparation for their performances that night.  The LED lights were tested out; a few had burnt out or were not functioning properly and had to be replaced.  Special visors covered their eyes to protect them from the bright lights attached to their bodies.  As Pearl was handing them out, the silver, wide, curvy, reflective item reminded her of Garnet’s sunglasses.  For a moment she wondered if Carnelian had designed the champion’s shades as well.  The train of thought wasn’t continued as she couldn’t afford to let her mind wander.

            The hours leading up to the main event flew by.  Pearl excused herself to the bathroom when she got the chance to as she had been holding it for far too long.  As she walked, her eyes wandered over the lively event center.  All of the rooms and hallways running around the innermost rhombus were filled with patrons, gems, and all sorts of entertainment, food, and drinks.  Pearl spared a glance down at the fighting ring ten stories below her by leaning over the clear railing.  One of the pre-main event fights must be going since the seats were still being filled up and little cheering could be heard from those watching.  Orange lighting filled the area from the setting sky overhead and was matched by the orange and yellow hues displayed by the glowing bars running along both sides of the base of the hallways and the middle of the upper rounded portion of the railings.  Soothing electronic beats weaved through the air from hidden speakers as the accompanying bass rumbled the floor she was standing on.  For a moment Pearl almost forgot what she needed to do and just wanted to start dancing right then and there, but her bladder reminded her of the urgency of the situation.  After relieving herself, the thin woman took her time walking back towards the room where Carnelian was.  Customers walked around with drinks and food, some dancing with each other, while others just chatted.  Everyone up in the hallways was well dressed and polite while the lower area had the typical rowdy patrons with more casual attire.  Blue Diamond’s gems were no exception.  They all had fashionable, pressed uniforms, and polite, yet haughty demeanors.  Pearl distinctly remembered the gem who had looked at her and Pearl 00687 as they came to retrieve their food and water supplies for the dancers.  The tourmaline had treated them like they were no better than Blue’s own ambers.  That behavior certainly hadn’t been appreciated by either of them, but they didn’t have time to let it affect them.

            A couple hours later the announcements for the main fights starting drifted through the hidden speakers, along with the encouragement for all of the patrons to gather around the open middle area at a specific time.  No details were given on why, just that they wouldn’t want to miss what was going to happen.  One final test was done on the dancers’ outfits in preparation for the approaching deadline.  The dancers would perform their special opening act before coming back and changing into their second, more typical, outfits for the rest of the night.  Final wishes of good luck were given as the dancers headed out into Blue Diamond’s energetic place; escorted by a large number of quartz guards.  With her duties taken care of for the moment, Pearl found herself needing to use the restroom once again right around the time spoken of by the announcer.  The pale gem stepped out into the dim hallways.  Blue, indigo, and violet hues were emitted from the bars framing the floor as the night sky had turned into a rich midnight black.  Other light sources were minimal as it gave the whole area an ethereal look with the glowing colors brightening up the dim areas.  After taking care of her business, Pearl paused to look out into the open area trying to see who was fighting at the moment.  It was hard to tell which of the five fighters was down there, but she knew for certain that Garnet wasn’t in the ring.  Shoulders slumped forward, Pearl had been hoping to catch maybe a little bit of the fighter’s match.

            No such luck Carnelian will let me watch it like at the last head-to-head match.

            Just then the music changed as purple lights burst from the edges making up the inner rhombus.  Dozens of bright purple aerial silks fell from the ceiling at the same time the synthwave music dropped into a lower tone.  Patrons rushed to the railings craning their necks upwards to see what was unfolding.  Pearl’s eyes followed.  On each silk, one of Blue Diamond’s dancers was gracefully descending, the long fabric falling and weaving between the various transparent walkways darting across the open area.  Covering each athletic body was a long-sleeved leotard with an asymmetrical v-neckline.  One arm of the leotard was a shimmering neon blue, while the other arm and the rest of the formfitting bodice was dark blue with a pattern of bright purple and neon blue swirls moving across it.  The entertainers performed various tricks, spins, and movements in synch and in time with the music as they slowly made their way down the twenty story building.  The pale gem stood transfixed as she watched the dancer a few floors above her maneuver into the splits, the silk wrapped around her feet and hands being the only thing preventing her from plummeting to her death.  Despite this danger, the dancer showed not a single speck of fear, but was greatly enjoying twirling around and skillfully tangling herself in the fabric only to seamlessly escape seconds later.  Whistles and cheers rang out from the crowds as each new impressive part of their routine was completed.  The dancer slid down just enough so she was at Pearl’s level.  With a smooth wave of her body, the dancer swung over and grabbed a hold of the railing right in front of the strawberry blonde.  A mischievous smile formed on the sunstone’s lips as she extended her pointer finger and bopped Pearl lightly on the nose.

            “Boop!” came the playful, accompanying word.

            Before the pale gem could react, the sunstone had winked and glided back into the main area just in time to synch up with the rest of the dancers in their routine.  Pearl’s cheeks burned as her hand reached up to touch the tip of her long nose.  On either side of her the customers continued to call out to the dancers in hopes of getting some personalized attention.  There was no way Pearl was going to leave now, she just had to see the rest of the performance.  It was stunning, elegant, and breathtaking.  Now she understood why Blue Diamond’s dancers were considered top tier.  The way they moved so easily about while flipping themselves upside down and this way and that was as much mesmerizing at it was impressive.  Watching the performance from above got harder as they got closer to the end and subsequently the bottom of the structure.  Dancers hopped off their silks and did a number of movements on the floor before striking a final pose as the music began to fade out.

            Neon lights burst from all of the walkways, shooting yellow through the violet-blue atmosphere.  Familiar electronic music took over the ending of the synthwave melody and quickly carried on.  Wide eyes shot to the glowing figures standing on the mostly clear bridges.  Yellow Diamond’s dancers had taken over the show.  LED lights changed colors in a wavelike pattern towards the dancer’s arm that was extended to the side.  A body roll came next, accompanied by the appropriate wave of lighting moving up and down their bodies.  The music picked up pace along with the dancers and bulbs.  Pearl remained frozen in place as she finally got to see the performance the dancers had been working tirelessly on for months.  Everything was perfectly timed, from the toss of the head, to the subtlest shift in the hips.  At times the lights moved so quickly with their arms and legs it looked as if they were shooting lasers into the dim building.  Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, pink, and white colors burst from the dozens of performers moving with the energetic music.  Ooo’s and ahhh’s rumbled around from the crowd.  As the routine continued, the main color emitted by the bulbs changed depending on how high up the dancer was located.  The whole building seemed to roll along with the movement of the lights as they went from white, to blue, to yellow, to pink, and back to yellow again.  With the last few beats, the dancers stomped out their final pose; ending in a dramatic silence.  For two seconds everyone drew a collective breath before the place exploded with applause and cheers.  Pearl clapped along and shouted out the names of the gems closest to her.  She had never seen anything like this, both performances blew her mind.  Quartz guards began to escort Yellow Diamond’s dancers out of the bridges and back towards the room.  The pale gem suddenly realized how long she had been gone and ran in the same direction.  They would need her to help them get ready for their usual routines.

            While Carnelian was upset about Pearl being gone so long, she did understand that it wasn’t intentional and that Pearl had been a captive audience.  Rainbow Quartz walked by and sang that that was the point of the routine, to make everyone stop, stare, and forget everything else.  Pearl grinned and readily agreed that had certainly been accomplished.  Getting all of the dancers out of their light suits and into their usual attire went fairly smoothly.  Black body suits covered in hundreds of LED lights were traded for colorful, silky outfits composed of bare midriffs, halter tops, low-cut short skirts or booty shorts, with the accompanying mesh or satin scarf.  Before Pearl could blink, the performers were all out the door again to capture everyone’s attention.

            “With the second round knock-out by Blue Diamond’s trusty Dumortierite, the score is 3-1 with Yellow Diamond in the lead,” the first announcer’s voice drifted through the hidden speakers.

            Pearl rotated her head towards the sound.

            Four matches have already been completed?  Wow…the night has been flying by.

            “While Yellow Diamond is set to win the head-to-head regardless of how the last match turns out, we can all agree that the real winner will be whichever champion comes out on top,” the second piped up.

            “Very true, the best of both diamonds are set to clash in just two more minutes as they prepare to step out into the ring.  You won’t want to miss this match, so grab a drink and some food and make your way down here or observe from above.”

            Light blue eyes traveled to the door that lead out to the hallways and the fighting ring.

            “Don’t even think about it,” Carnelian spoke up as she walked over to where Pearl was carefully packing up the light suits; her arms laden with more.  “You already got to see the dancers’ performances, without permission.”

            Pearl bowed her head in response.

            “It’s just two muscled individuals trying to beat the snot out of each other, not nearly as entertaining to watch as a well performed dance routine,” the plump woman continued as she set her load down next to the thin gem.  “Once all of these are packed up, come see me.”

            “Yes ma’am.”

            While the strawberry blonde was disappointed in not being able to watch Garnet’s match, at least she would be able to listen to the commentary through the speakers.

            “Both champions are looking ready to spring into action as soon as the referee gives the green light.  And there it is!  Wow, Blue Topaz went right for a head shot just after bumping fists with Garnet,” the first announcer narrated.

            “Garnet seemed to be expecting that, she dodged it no problem.”

            “Given that her last loss was due to being knocked out, I have no doubt she’s been working hard to improve her blocking and weaving.”

            “We’ve got a first takedown!  Garnet with a swift double-leg takedown!  Right into side control, Blue Topaz better pull up his defenses quick and keep her from getting mount,” the second quickly cut in.  “Blue Topaz has his guard up and Garnet broke out only to stand back up.”

            “Looks like that’s not what she wanted to do just yet.  The two champions are now trading punches.  Nice one-two-three combo by Garnet, she’s applying relentless pressure.  Oh!  Lucky shot for Blue Topaz catching Garnet on the jaw!”

            “Garnet is now giving Blue Topaz a little more room, probably to avoid that happening again and give her time to recover from that nice hit.  More blows traded, Blue Topaz was able to sprawl in response to another takedown attempt.  The first round will be over soon,” the second commentator drawled on.

            Pearl grabbed the next light suit and folded it up before setting it into its small box.  It wasn’t hard to visualize the match just from the commentary, she certainly had become much more familiar with the sport over the past year and five months.

            “That concludes the first round.  Easily Garnet’s round, she landed more hits, had a couple of takedowns, while Blue Topaz really only had the one solid punch and blocking some of Garnet’s attacks.”

            “But Blue Topaz doesn’t seem fazed at all, he’s gearing up for the next round.”

            The final suit had been put away and Pearl walked around to find Carnelian.  It took only a minute to find her and receive the instructions that she was to take all of the boxes and set them in the corner where the designer would be sleeping that night.  Confusion was weaved into Pearl’s reply and Carnelian further explained that they wouldn’t be leaving that night, and not until early Sunday morning.  A solid day to rest and recover before making the long trip back.  Feet carried the thin woman over to the neat stacks of boxes.  She squatted down to pick up one and take it to the designated spot.  What was she to do the extra day they had at Blue Diamond’s place?

            “Blue Topaz is pursuing Garnet as she retreats, she’s dazed and unsteady!”

            The announcer’s voice cut through Pearl’s thoughts.

            What?  I must have tuned it out!  Tell me what’s happening!

            Light blue eyes searched for the hidden speaker in the room, somehow hoping that finding it would give her the answers sooner.

            “Blue Topaz is not letting up for a second, Garnet is taking some good hits here, but wait!  Look at that, she’s like a wisp of smoke, Blue Topaz can’t seem to land a hit now!” the second announcer described.

            “That is some textbook weaving right there.  Hands still up, side to side and fading back, she’s got them all down.  Any moment now Garnet is going to switch to the offensive,” the first’s voice was bubbling with anticipation.  “Bam there it is!  Oh my stars Blue Topaz can barely move after that kick to the liver.  Garnet is not wasting a single second.  Cross, jab, cross, hook.  Blue Topaz just fell onto his back!  AND THE REFEREE HAS CALLED A STOP TO THE MATCH!  GARNET WINS WITH A TECHNICAL KNOCK-OUT IN THE THIRD ROUND!!”

            Pearl’s heart soared as she jumped into the air and cheered.  A couple of snickers and teasing comments came from the dancers resting in the room.  Red blossomed all over her cheeks as she composed herself and resumed transporting the boxes.

            “Slipping through Blue Topaz’s onslaught, Garnet delivered a solid back-kick right into his liver and then didn’t hesitate to finish him off with her powerful fists until the referee called for a stop.  While Blue Topaz was still conscious he was unable to properly defend himself in his dazed and stunned state,” the first gave a quick recap of the end of the fight.

            “A truly impressive performance by the young champion,” the second added.  “You can always count on Yellow Diamond to bring out her best in these Head-to-Head events.”

            “You certainly can, I don’t know about you, but I’m still surprised at Yellow Diamond’s dancers jumping right in at the tail end of Blue Diamond’s dancers’ performance.  Both routines wowed me in various ways.”

            “Don’t leave just yet ladies and gentlemen, there is still another hour to enjoy the food, games, and entertainment before the recap of the night.  So grab a beer or fruity drink, some salty side, and have a good time!” the second redirected the conversation into the next required announcement.

            Pearl couldn’t help the grin spreading across her face.  Garnet had won, and by the sounds of it she won without too much of a struggle.  Arms and legs threw out some of her old ballet moves as the thin gem pirouetted over to the nearly empty water jugs.

 

            Buzzing sounds broke through Pearl’s dreamless rest.  A hand reached out, silenced the device, and checked the time.  With a groan, light blue eyes blinked several times before trying to read what time it was.

            [07:00]

            Eyebrows were pulled together in confusion, she should have woken up over an hour ago, why didn’t her phone go off?  Pearl’s gaze wandered over the rest of the sleeping figures filling up the room.  Slowly the conversations that happened right before she went to sleep earlier that morning rose up from the fog inside her mind.  Fingers opened up her calendar so she could read over all of the adjustments that had been made.  Today was to be one of those extremely rare days that the gems actually got a break.  Dancers were to mobilize and do light exercises to recover from the long and exhausting Friday event.  Pearl 00687 and she were to assist as usual, but that if they were not needed for anything, they were allowed to walk around the hallways that frame the inner rhombus or relax within the room they had been given to sleep/prepare in.  Despite only getting four hours of sleep, Pearl felt wide awake.  A day mostly to herself, she couldn’t remember the last time this happened outside of traveling time to and from events.  She was determined to explore every hallway she could of Blue Diamond’s base.  More buzzing came from the side.  Light blue eyes turned to watch Pearl 00687 as she groaned and slapped her vibrating scheduler.

            “Morning 01079,” Pearl 00687 mumbled as she sat up and rubbed her nose.  The pearl habitually examined her calendar as well.  “We get the showers until 07:30 then we need to head down and get the breakfast supplies for everyone; they will be waking up at 08:00.”

            Pearl energetically nodded, the schedule Rainbow Quartz had given them now fresh in her mind.  The older pearl raised an eyebrow and chuckled.

            “You look like this is already the best day ever.”

            “We practically get a day to ourselves!  There’s so much I want to do!”

            “Yeah?  Like what?”

            “Exploring!”

            “Blue Diamond’s is probably the best place to do that, as long as you keep to the zones you’re allowed in.  Generally, her gems are much better behaved than everyone else’s.”

            “What do you plan to do?” Pearl lightly bounced up and down on her folded legs.

            “In all honesty?  Sleep.  I’m so tired that’s all I want to do.  Stress and late nights take it out of you,” Pearl 00687 shrugged.

            “I might take a nap too sometime, I’m not sure.  It’s not a bad idea,” the pale gem mused.

            The two pearls headed to the large bathroom area and got ready for the day.  In fifteen minutes they headed down to the industrial-sized kitchens to collect breakfast for everyone and refill the water jugs.  Minimal preparation was required to set out the food, which was good since the dancers were all up and eager for their morning meal.

            After cleaning up from breakfast, Pearl 00687 and Pearl helped to rollout and stretch the dancers until it was lunch time.  Lunch was delivered and consumed.  By then, Pearl found herself with some free time to wander the designated hallways, play games with the dancers, or to do like Pearl 00687 had planned and sleep as much as possible.  There was no contest between those options.  However, she was still concerned about wandering around another Diamond’s place alone.  The dancers and Pearl 00687 reassured Pearl that as long as she stayed within those hallways, Blue Diamond’s gems would not bother her.  Even though the pale gem could still feel her fatigue in the burning behind her eyes and the aching in her feet, she headed down to the first floor and began to slowly pace around the hallways, admiring all of the painted murals and mosaics set into the solid walls across from the clear railings.  She had about four hours before she would need to report back and help out with dinner.  Floor by floor, the thin gem made her way up the structure.  It was like getting to walk through a gigantic art museum.  Calming silence with the occasional passerby that never did more than glance in her direction.  Blue Diamond's mosaics were typically massive creations of symmetrical circular, square, or flower-like patterns while the murals ranged from a fiery explosion of reds and blacks, to soothing blue waves, to organic greens, to golden and silver designs.  Two hours later Pearl had finally made it up to the twentieth floor and was currently staring at an impressive mosaic.  Square stones of all shades of blue were expertly pieced together to create a stylized image of a woman wearing a flowing, but formfitting, gown with a head covering that obscured her eyes.  Powerful waves of water rose up and around her only to fall down and tumble down the hallway.  The square stones seemed to go on for the entire segment of the hallway that made up a fourth of the level with the beautifully depicted, roaring water.  Pearl’s attention was drawn back to the lighter blue, glittering rhombus placed in the middle of the woman’s chest.

            “Is it to your liking?”

            The pale gem practically jumped out of her skin at the voice that came from right behind her.  It was calm, yet had the firmness and feeling of belonging to someone of great power.  She had heard this voice once before.  Adrenaline coursed through her veins as her heart rate sped up, pounding against the inside of her ribcage.  She hadn’t even heard the woman approach!  Feet were rooted into the ground, her muscles frozen in place.  No further words came from the woman standing only a couple of feet behind the trembling gem as she continued to wait for a response.  Pearl swallowed and let out a shaky breath.  She hadn’t done anything wrong.  She just needed to turn around and answer the woman’s question.  Inch by inch Pearl was able to force her muscles to cooperate.  Light blue eyes widened as she rotated and looked up to come face-to-face with Blue Diamond.  The woman wore a dark blue dress and shawl that was pulled over her head enough to make it hard to see her eyes or any of her hair.  Shimmering light blue and silver thread was embroidered into a loose paisley pattern all over her dress and head covering.  Pearl recognized the stainless-steel cane Blue Diamond was ever so slightly leaning on.  It was the same one she had several months ago.

            “It is very impressive, must have taken a long time to set all of those stones into place,” the pale gem finally replied.

            Blue Diamond didn’t move or respond right away, but Pearl could feel the woman’s eyes on her.

            “Is the piece to your liking?  I know it’s impressive, exactly how long it took, and how much it cost to make.”

            A hint of disappointment and annoyance could be detected in the tall woman’s tone.  The urge to fidget and worry her hands ate at Pearl like never before, but she was able to stuff it down by gluing her arms to her sides.  Blue Diamond wanted her opinion?  Was this a trap?  If she said something Blue Diamond didn’t like something horrible might happen, but if she wasn’t honest the woman could also get mad at her?  There was no good way to win, so Pearl took a gamble and decided to answer the question truthfully.

            “I…” Pearl exaggerated the movement of her mouth as she looked around, trying to avoid the heavy gaze and stall for any last precious seconds, “I think…it’s a well done stylized depiction of you, but that…” she swallowed and took a deep breath, “that it makes you look a little like a cartoon character due to only using hues of blue.”

            A low hum came from the woman, round lips curling up ever so slightly in the corner.

            “Different points of view are refreshing,” Blue Diamond stated as she looked past Pearl at the mural of herself.

            Pearl’s heart continued to pound inside of her ribcage, sweat beginning to trickle down her back.  While nothing bad had happened yet, she wasn’t yet in the clear.

            “Have you seen the rest of this level?” the covered gaze refocused on Pearl.

            “I have not,” the thin gem barely kept her voice calm.

            “Good, come walk with me, I want to know what you think of the other three.”

            Eyebrows shot into her hairline, as surprised as she was, Pearl didn’t dare object.  She turned the same way as Blue Diamond was facing and began to walk.  After only a few seconds she stopped upon realizing that she had moved much quicker than the Diamond.  Pearl quickly retreated to the tall woman’s side and forced herself to keep the same slow and measured pace.  An ever so slight limp could be seen whenever Blue Diamond took a step with her right leg, even with the cane’s assistance.  It took nearly seven minutes to get to the end of the blue segment of the level and begin the yellow one.  Another seven minutes and the two were staring at the stylized depiction of Yellow Diamond.  Hair spiked in two pieces, eyes that stood out along with the rhombus in the middle of her chest, and lined, angular patterns of electricity that were created by hundreds of thin, bright yellow stones radiated from the figure.  Even though a single angular stone made up each eye and no pupil or iris was depicted, Pearl could swear Yellow Diamond was actually watching her.  A shiver ran down her spine.

            “What do you think of this piece?”

            This felt like another trap.  How was she supposed to freely express her opinion of the art depicting her owner?  Blue Diamond would not be satisfied with a fake answer.  Pearl remained silent as her mind worked overtime to figure out what to say.

            “If it helps, I won’t be telling Yellow or any of the others what you say,” came the amused, relaxing tone.

            Light blue eyes whirled to look at the Diamond.  Blue Diamond was so different from Yellow Diamond.  Pearl exhaled and intertwined her fingers.

            “While Yellow Diamond does look slightly cartoonish, I feel like she is watching me through those eyes and that at any moment she could shock me with one of those bolts.  It fits her very well.  The styling for the electricity is amazing, cutting the stone that thin and long must have been a challenge, but it brings it to life.”

            No response came from Blue Diamond except for a simple hum before she turned and began to walk down the hallway once again.  At the sixty degree turn, the yellow patterns ended and turned into pink.  Pink square stones were clustered together in floral patterns that seemed to float across the wall.  In seven more minutes they had reached the mural of Pink Diamond.  The stylized figure was just as lively as the square flowers.  Arms outstretched to the sides, head looking up, seemingly basking in the environment around her, and a bright pink rhombus located at her navel.  This time Pearl didn’t stress over her opinion.

            “Carefree.  Youthful.  Organic.  This reminds me of falling cherry blossoms, large cherry blossoms.”

            “Pink is a little wilder than the rest of us,” the tall woman simply commented before resuming her slow walk towards the final segment of the floor.

            Floating blossoms hit a wall of white.  It was hard to discern at first what the pattern for the oldest Diamond was.  All Pearl could see was just one white square stone after another.  No changes in hues, no added minerals that would glitter in the lighting, nothing but a blinding white wall wherever there wasn’t a door or opening.  Eventually, she could pick out stones cut into slightly different geometric shapes that might be following a pattern.  When they reached the center, the thin gem finally could see the picture and the piece of art unfolded.  The stones had been set at different heights relative to each other instead of them all being laid flat like the other three mosaics.  Light sources falling from above used the different stone heights to cast shadows and create the image.  Alternating segments of thick angular shadows and white stone created the rays bursting from the mosaic sun rising from the base of the wall.  Shadows outlined and detailed White Diamond as she stood just above the rising sun.  The sunrays shot out and expanded the farther away they were from the center figure.  Pearl now understood why it was hard to see any pattern at first due to the shadows being so spread out and lacking the proper lighting and viewing angle.  Light blue eyes traveled back to the large figure in the middle.  White Diamond stood tall with stylized braided hair, a face that looked down on them, and her fingers intertwined in front of her stomach.  In the center of her forehead was the usual distinct rhombus that had been found in various locations on the other Diamonds.  The rhombus was the only piece of stone that had tiny minerals glittering inside of it.

            “Wow…the stones are all the same color, you can only see the simple design by looking at it here where all of the shadows are cast from the lights hitting the varying stone heights.  I’ve never seen anything like it, nor will I forget any time soon.  It makes quite the impression on you as well as making it hard to look at for very long,” Pearl gave her opinion, now finally comfortable with the notion of doing so.

            “White always likes to leave a lasting impression.”

            Blue Diamond then turned and continued to walk back to the beginning of the blue section.  The pale gem was hoping for a little more of a response, but kept her tongue in check and simply accompanied the powerful woman.

            “It’s not every day a gem takes the time to admire all of the artwork displayed in my property.”  Blue Diamond stopped and faced Pearl.  A hand reached out, slipped under the engraved bar chained around Pearl’s neck and tilted it up.  “Pearl 01079, I shall keep that name in mind.”

            “Th-thank you, Blue Diamond,” the thin woman bowed lowly.

            “My Diamond,” a soft voice came from their side.

            The two turned to the thin woman with short blue hair who was addressing Blue Diamond with a low bow.  Pearl remembered this gem too.  Pearl 00002.

            “What is it my pearl?” came the woman’s reply.

            “The usual monthly delivery of opiates is late, I contacted the representative and they promised delivery as soon as everything was ready.  They would not give me an estimated timeline.”

            Suddenly the air around them became tense and filled with an unnerving chill, the same type of chill that often followed Yellow Diamond around.  Blue Diamond rose to her full height, erasing the slight hunch she had been walking around with.

            “They wouldn’t give you an estimated timeline?”  The words cut through the air like a blade of ice.  “Not only did they fail to deliver and did not communicate ahead of time, but they have disrespected me and my specified chain of command by refusing to report to you.”  Blue Diamond turned to look down at Pearl.  “It was nice to hear your thoughts and to have some company for my walk.  Resume whatever task you have next.”

            “The honor was all mine Blue Diamond,” the pale gem bowed low.

            A simple nod was returned before the tall woman and her pearl walked off together.  Pearl watched them for a few moments.  Blue Diamond pulled out a phone and brought it up to the side of her covered face.  Pearl had no desire to be the unfortunate soul who was on the other end of the line.  Her attention was drawn down to her scheduler as it began to vibrate.  Before heading out to explore, Pearl had set an alarm to ensure that she would head back in enough time to help with dinner preparation.  After silencing it, the thin woman made her way back to the large room to meet up with Pearl 00687.

            Pearl 00687 greeted her with a lazy wave as she sat in her futon.  True to her word, she had slept the whole time.  In minutes the two were on their way to retrieve their dinner supplies.  The meal preparation and serving didn’t take long.  A few of the dancers inquired of Pearl’s adventures.  She gave satisfactory answers about the various works of art she either liked or thought were interesting, but kept her interaction with Blue Diamond a secret.  Interacting with higher ranked individuals in the Underground seemed to be a double-edged sword, and the last thing the pale woman wanted was a negative reaction from the dancers due to her getting to walk around with one of the four women who ruled the Underground.  They were in the middle of their post-dinner conversation when someone called out.

            “Hey Garnet!  What are you doing here?”

            Pearl’s ears perked up and she turned to look in the direction the voice had come from.  The tall fighter had entered the large room and was making her way through the throng of dancers in the room.  It wasn’t too hard for her to do so as most of them cleared a path for her, casting nervous looks her way.

            “You here to dance with us?  It’s been so long since you have,” one of the older sunstones, Sunstone 00072, commented as she took a couple of steps closer instead of backing away.

            A few other dancers approached, mostly the lower numbered ones, the ones that had been around longer than everyone else.  Little changed on Garnet’s face, but Pearl could have sworn a tiny smirk appeared in the corner of her lips. 

            “No dancing tonight,” the familiar, low, accented voice replied.

            “Aww, why not?” Fire Opal 00065 lightly complained as she walked over and leaned on the sunstone’s shoulder.

            “I’m here for other reasons.”

            Light blue eyes widened when the reflective sunglasses were rotated, then stopped when they landed on her.  The pale woman’s breath got caught in her throat; her heart jumping inside of her chest.

Chapter Text

^^^^^^

As the time at Blue Diamond’s place draws to a close, Pearl and Garnet move closer.

^^^^^^

 

            Sunstone 00072 followed Garnet’s line of sight; a wide grin forming on the dancer’s lips when she also ended up looking at Pearl.

            “You’re here for Pearl 01079 aren’t you?” came the tease.

            Garnet gave no reply, but simply continued to walk towards the pale woman.  Without even thinking about it, Pearl stood up and faced the champion.  Small cuts could be seen on Garnet’s cheeks and in the corner of her mouth, along with a bruise or two poking out from under the sleeve of her maroon, dry-fit, muscle t-shirt.  Evidence that she didn’t come out of the match unscathed.  However, Pearl preferred this much more than what had happened at the last Diamond head-to-head.  Garnet stopped two feet from the thin woman.

            “Hello, Pearl,” came the basic greeting.

            “Hi, Garnet,” Pearl timidly responded.

            She could already feel her face heating up as a result of the attention and the increased pounding in her chest.  A few whispers came from the surrounding dancers openly or discreetly watching them.  Some were excited, while most others were hushed.

            “Congratulations on your win,” the strawberry blonde continued as she tried to keep her racing heart under control.

            A wide smile broke out on Garnet’s face.  “Thank you.  It wasn’t too hard; Blue Topaz 0002 is easy to frustrate.”

            For the moment Pearl’s mind went blank as a result of Garnet’s cheerful tone and smile, she didn’t know what to say next.  Nervous laughter jumped out in place of any intelligible response.

            “What assignments do you have between now and when we leave tomorrow morning?” Garnet went right to the point.    

            “I…” Pearl grabbed her scheduler and opened up the calendar.  “I don’t have anything listed until 05:00 when we leave, but I will be needed before then to help pack things up into the busses.”

            “What are you doing here!?” Carnelian’s voice shot out from across the massive room.

            Pearl and several of the dancers whirled to face the plump woman marching over to them, her face contorted with disgust.  Carnelian stepped in between Garnet and Pearl, glaring up at the fighter that towered over her.

            “Shoo!  You have no business being in here!” her hands waved at Garnet as if she were trying to brush something unpleasant away.

            “Carnelian,” came the low growl.

            “You’ve already had your time with my pearl, now scram!”

            Garnet didn’t move.  “I am here simply to ask Pearl if she was busy for the next little bit and if she wanted to come spend some time with me if she was available.”

            “She’s not available!” Carnelian crossed her arms over her chest.

            “Really?” the fighter dragged out the word.  “What do you need her for?  You’re already packed for the most part and will soon be getting ready for bed.”

            “Well I…well…I…” the plump woman stuttered before turning her attention to Pearl.  “You don’t want to go with her, do you?”

            The pale woman tensed, how was she supposed to respond?  Carnelian obviously didn’t like Garnet being around, much less the idea of her and Garnet going off to do things with each other.

            What kind of things would we be doing together?

            Pearl’s face burned even more as several lewd ideas popped in.  She mentally shook her head.  They could do any number of other things together, like playing cards or just talking.  However, those lewd ideas weren’t unwanted…

            “I…” the thin woman opened her mouth and then froze.

            There was no good way to answer this.  On one hand Carnelian might get upset at her wanting to spend time with Garnet, while on the other Garnet might be put off if Pearl turned down her offer.  She really did want to spend time with the champion and didn’t want to lose this rare opportunity.  Before she could reattempt to express herself, Garnet spoke up,

            “May I see your scheduler?”

            Pearl pointed to herself, confused.  The fighter nodded and held her hand out expectantly, not so subtly pushing Carnelian out of the way to do so.  Carnelian huffed, her hazel eyes darting back and forth between the two.  Shaky hands grabbed her device and handed it to Garnet.

            “I can unlock-” Pearl’s offer was cut off as the dark woman had swiftly entered a different code that had unlocked her scheduler.

            Garnet continued to her calendar, and after entering in another password, she created a new blue event.

            “21:00-03:00: Garnet 0001: A3752”

            Reflective glasses were tilted up from the scheduler to meet Pearl’s eyes.

            “The event belongs to you.  You can decide if you want to come or not,” Garnet evenly stated as she handed it back to Pearl.

            The thin gem was at a loss for words; for several seconds she just stared at the blue rectangle.

            “There were no other events in that time frame, and if she did come, she would be back in enough time to help with loading and everything,” the dark woman directed to Carnelian.

            “If she decides to.  It would be a poor decision to do so in my opinion,” Carnelian snapped.

            Garnet faced Pearl again and gave her a small nod before turning and leaving the room.  The curly haired designer looked at Pearl.

            “You’re not going to go, are you?  You know what she’s most likely going to want to do to you, right?”

            It wasn’t hard to know what the older gem was implying and despite Carnelian’s distaste, Pearl was ecstatic.  Garnet had given her a choice and prevented Carnelian from saying no or blocking out the time with meaningless assignments.  She would have an opportunity to talk and spend time with Garnet in the unmonitored room for a few hours.

            “I’m not sure,” she carefully began, “I will think about it.”

            With that, Pearl turned, put her scheduler away, and excused herself to get a drink of water.  Light blue eyes glanced down at her watch.

            [20:30]

            She had a whole half an hour before the time listed on her event.  A half an hour to slip away before Carnelian tried anything else to either dissuade her or keep her there.  Pearl figured the sooner she headed out, the better.  The paper cup was filled with water and drained twice.  Evidently Carnelian had left for the moment because a number of the older dancers, including Sunstone 00072 and Fire Opal 00065, and Pearl 00687 came over to her.  The dancers expressed their excitement for her and noted how strange of behavior that was for Garnet.  They wished her good luck and threw out a few tips and suggestions for her to try during her private time with the fighter.  Red-faced and thoroughly embarrassed, Pearl was finally left with just Pearl 00687 standing next to her.

            “Do you want to go?” came the soft unassuming question.

            Pearl stared at her friend for a moment before looking down at the disposable paper cup in her hand.  “I do,” was her quiet, happy response; a tint of red gracing her cheeks.

            “I’m glad,” Pearl 00687 smiled.  “She’s someone you want to be with, right?”

            “Yes.  It doesn’t have to be anything sexual, I enjoy spending time with her when it’s just the two of us.”

            “I’m happy for you,” Pearl 00687 turned and gave Pearl a tight hug.

            “Thank you,” Pearl grinned.

            “Now you better get going, Carnelian might come back soon and you don’t want to be late,” her friend finished as she gave her a light shove towards the door.

            There were no words she had for the genuine support, so Pearl just waved as she left the room.

            Feet moved quickly through the halls back to the familiar location she had been at a couple of days ago.  Her racing heart thumped inside of her chest, seemingly beating faster the closer she got to the room.  Just like before, Garnet was standing outside of the room, waiting for her.  A wide smile formed on the champion’s lips when she noticed Pearl.  The pale gem couldn’t hold back and ran the last few feet towards Garnet and jumped into her strong arms.  Laughter rang out from both of them as Pearl was effortlessly swung around once.  After she had been set down on her feet, they continued to hold each other, simply enjoying the warm, wholesome feeling that spread all throughout their bodies.  Pearl’s head was nestled under Garnet’s chin where her ear could easily hear the fighter’s racing heartbeat.  Hands tightly gripped the maroon, dry-fit shirt.  Garnet’s grip loosened around her and she looked up as the reflective glasses gazed down at her.

            “Would you like to come in?” the fighter made a gesture towards the door.

            Pearl nodded, reluctantly releasing Garnet enough so she could open the door.  Together they walked into the dim room.  Soft light seeped out from the two lamps once the switch had been hit.  A flutter of excitement and nervousness rippled through the pale woman’s stomach at the sound of the closing and locking of the door.  They stepped back from each other so they were just holding hands.

            “Would you like to lay down on the bed?  It’s comfy,” Garnet suggested as she motioned to it with her head.

            “I know,” Pearl couldn’t help but giggle.

            The dark woman let out a short, sheepish laugh.  “Yes, you do.”

            Step by step with Garnet holding both of her hands, Pearl silently followed the fighter’s lead as she walked backward towards the queen-sized bed.  Shoes were kicked off and then the two laid down on the same halves of the mattress they had been on before.  The only change was that this time instead of being on their backs, they had laid on their sides, facing each other.  For several long moments they just stared at each other, smiling.  A distinctly different atmosphere surrounded them, full of tension and energy.  Both so fragile that at any moment they could snap and turn into something more.

            “What did you do today?” Pearl decided to break the silence.

            “Slept in, stretched, declined Blue Topaz 0002’s challenge for a rematch when we ran into each other in the hallway, then tossed him over the nearby railing when he wouldn’t leave me alone.”

            “You what?!” faint eyebrows shot into the strawberry blonde hairline.

            “I was just walking around the center area, third floor, when we ran into each other.  He might have been looking for me, this isn’t the first time he’s done that after a loss.  So he challenges me and starts throwing punches, and I just casually circle so my back is to the railing, then the next time he charged I just used his momentum to flip him over it.”

            “Did he…survive falling all those floors?!”

            “Oh I kept ahold of one of his arms and let him dangle over the railing.”

            Pearl let out a sigh of relief.

            “And then I let go,” Garnet finished with a grin.

            “What?!  Did he get hurt?”

            The champion waved the question off.  “He caught the second story’s railing, he’s fine, probably just got another bruise or something.”

            Another sigh of relief was let out.  “What would have happened if he did get injured from that exchange?”

            “Nothing,” Garnet shrugged, “he attacked me and lost.  Blue Diamond isn’t about to get mad at me for her own champion’s stupidity.”

            Pearl had to laugh at the ridiculousness of the whole situation.  A large hand was slowly extended towards her, pausing before gently tucking a couple of loose strands behind her ear.  Warm fingers caressed Pearl’s cheek as Garnet pulled back.  The pale woman scooted closer and laid her left hand in the middle of the space between them.  Garnet mirrored both actions, her right hand resting just an inch or two above Pearl’s.

            “May I?” the pale woman carefully asked a few moments later as she reached out towards the reflective sunglasses.

            A nod.  The visor was carefully removed to reveal Garnet’s mismatched eyes and the crescent scar around the left one.  Pearl rotated backwards, set them on the nightstand behind her, and then returned to her previous position, just a few inches closer.  Once again, the champion matched Pearl’s movement and reduced the distance between them so their faces were mere inches apart.  Anticipation slowly built between them as they stared into each other’s eyes.  Pearl’s tongue darted out for a split second to wet her thin lips without her even thinking about it.

            “May I kiss you?” came the breathless whisper, Garnet’s eyes not leaving hers for a second.

            “Yes,” Pearl returned.

            Garnet pushed herself forward with one of her elbows.  The kiss was met halfway, lips pressed together eagerly.  A hand cupped Pearl’s cheek as the contact continued.  It was similar to all of the other times they had kissed, but with so much more behind it.  For once they had some privacy and could relax and enjoy this level of intimacy.  The thin woman wrapped her arms around Garnet’s neck as the remaining space between their bodies disappeared.  Each second felt better than the previous.  They pulled apart for a second, eyes locking, before they were closed as the kiss was resumed.  Lips moved together in a slow dance for several blissful moments.  There was no doubt in Pearl’s mind right now why people liked kissing.  The pale woman jerked back when she felt something wet trace her lower lip.  Surprised light blue eyes met wide mismatched ones.  Garnet opened her mouth to apologize, but Pearl smiled and cut her off by tugging her down into an open-mouthed kiss.  Electricity ran through her body as she welcomed Garnet’s tongue into her mouth.  Soft moans escaped her lips as the passionate kiss steadily escalated.  The fighter shifted and rolled them so that she was hovering over Pearl, partially laying on the thin woman while Garnet propped her torso up with her elbows.  Narrow hands wandered over the athletic body, daring to start poking underneath the bottom of the form-fitting shirt.  Inch by inch Pearl pushed it up, fingers tracing the cut abdominals, feeling how they would move in time with the champion’s heavy breaths.  Lips were pulled away and an appreciative moan was rumbled into her ear.  The pale woman’s breath hitched as she felt Garnet’s hands stroke her sides and kisses were peppered all over her neck.  Legs covered in black slacks shifted apart, allowing Garnet’s pelvis to rest against Pearl’s.

            “Oh Garnet,” Pearl breathed out in response to both the pressure against her body and the lips that were sucking and biting her neck.

            Fingers began to work her shirt up, rough but careful hands stroked her bare sides making her mind go fuzzy and the area between her legs pulse harder.  Pearl dared to push Garnet’s shirt up to the bottom of her sports bra.  One hand redirected the fighter into a passionate kiss, while the other caressed her exposed lower back.  Hips rolled upwards of their own accord, craving more contact, more friction.  Swollen lips were pulled apart, a string of saliva connecting them for a second before it broke. 

            ”Pearl…” Garnet moaned.

            Light blue eyes gazed into the fighter’s light brown and blue eyes, pupils completely blown out.  Hands were braced against the mattress on either side of Pearl’s ribcage.  Garnet straightened her back and locked out her arms as she ground her pelvis against the pale woman’s center.  A soft gasp jumped past thin lips.  Oh how she had wanted this.  This feeling building inside, the need to remove the barriers between them and become as close as possible.  Pearl tugged her shirt off and tossed it to the side.  Mismatched eyes went wide at the sudden movement, then began to wander over her.  Garnet breathed out heavily.  The fighter sat back on her heels, grabbed the bottom of her rolled up shirt, and threw it on top of Pearl’s.  Slightly sweaty, bare skin made contact as lips were crashed together in a desperate dance.  It was in this moment through the passionate haze in the pale woman’s mind that she decided reality was way better than her dreams.  Here she could feel, taste, see, smell, and hear the actual Garnet in an experience like this instead of her mind using bits and pieces to create a fantasy.  The kiss was broken as the dark woman began to move south, placing a lingering kiss between the ends of Pearl’s collarbones, and then one in the middle of her chest, just above where the center of her bra was.  Another was pressed below her bra.  Fingers tangled themselves in thick curly hair, gently tugging in time with her moans and soft cries.  Garnet ran her tongue down the strawberry blonde’s sternum all the way to the base of her ribs.  Hips bucked up yet again, her center pulsing, crying out for more direct attention.

            Something changed when a kiss was pressed to her navel.  It was tender, just like all of the others, but it was familiar.  Light blue eyes were scrunched shut in response.  From the depths of her brain, something pushed up.  A memory.  Large hands were moved so they were holding her hips.  Another kiss was laid on Pearl’s lower abdominals.  This was also familiar.  The hands, the kisses.  This had happened before.  Images began to seep into her mind, causing her body to tense up and for her to silence the next gasp that had been making its way up her throat.  Garnet’s next kiss didn’t come for several seconds.  When it did, it was hesitant and brief.  The hands gently caressing her hips began to slow their movements.  Pearl forced her eyes open.  Soft, warm light and blue sheets were replaced with chilly darkness and maroon sheets.  The pale gem jerked her head to the right, trying to escape the phantom feeling of a metal muzzle being shoved against the side of her head.  A head of curls between her legs.  Pearl closed her eyes, trying to shut out the unwanted memory taking over her mind.  Garnet’s next kiss barely made contact with the skin just above the waistline of the thin woman’s slacks.  The pressure from the hands on her hips disappeared.  Garnet lifted her torso up and straightened her back, creating more distance between them.  A shaky inhale slipped past the fighter’s lips.  Narrow hands gripped at the comforter as the pale woman’s mind was assaulted by what had happened only months ago.  Pearl gasped out, tears starting to form in the corner of her eyes.  Her body sank a little more into the mattress as Garnet’s fists braced on either side of her abdomen pushed into it.

            “I shouldn’t be touching you,” came the champion’s harsh whisper.

            Garnet tilted her head up enough so they could make eye contact.  Pain.  Pain, shame, disgust.

            “Not…not like this.”

            Pearl couldn’t speak, it was as if her mouth had been taped shut once again.  The dark woman turned her face away.

            “I raped you…I shouldn’t…I’m so sorry.”

            All of the previous passion and desire between them was long gone.  They weren’t ready.  They thought they were, they had wanted to be, but they weren’t.  Both of them were still haunted by how they had been forced together.  Several silent tears ran down Pearl’s cheeks.  The memory faded away, but only after a good portion of it had been played out.

            “Garnet,” Pearl finally found her voice.

            “I raped you,” came the harsher whisper.

            “Yellow Diamond forced you to rape me.”

            Garnet just stared at nothing, lips pressed into a firm line.  Shaky hands wiped away the remains of the thin woman’s tears.

            “We…we should stop.”

            The fighter made no response, but simply sat back on her heels, reached over to the pile of clothes, grabbed her shirt, and tossed Pearl hers.  In a few seconds they were fully clothed with a suffocating silence floating between them.  Light blue eyes watched Garnet as she sat hunched over on the edge of the bed, eyebrows creased, and a frown on her swollen lips.  Pearl rolled onto her side to face the other way.  A couple images from that horrid night jumped by in her mind’s eye.

            “You were reminded too, right?” the thin woman dared to ask.

            “Of course,” came Garnet’s bitter and defeated response.

            Pearl sighed; she didn’t know what to say next.  The reflective sunglasses sitting on the nightstand caught her attention.  Curious, she grabbed them and put them on her face.  Two things stood out to her right away.  First, they were very comfortable and second, they were not shaded.

            “These are not sunglasses?” the pale woman blurted out.

            The champion glanced over her shoulder, eyebrows furrowed.  For a moment she just stared at Pearl.

            “No they are not.”

            “Then…then why do you wear them?”

            “They’re bulletproof to a certain extent and make it so people can’t see my eyes,” Garnet answered in monotone.

            “Bulletproof?  What can it stop?”

            “Most handgun bullets, though the closer they are the less likely it is to protect me.”

            Pearl took the glasses off and examined them.  Her observation from the other day came back to the forefront of her mind.  “They kinda remind me of the visors Carnelian made for the dancers for this weekend.”

            “Carnelian did design those.  Reluctantly.”

            “Really?” the thin woman’s ears perked up.  “Wait, why do you say reluctantly?”

            “She only did it because Yellow Diamond told her to, otherwise she would have never done it.”

            “Why did Yellow Diamond have her make them?  Why didn’t she want to make them for you?”

            Garnet sighed and stared at the wall in front of her.  “They were Yellow Diamond’s first gift to me, following my accomplishment of becoming her champion.  I asked for shielded glasses that would cover my eyes, with tactical purpose and this was the result.”  The champion paused, hands clenching into fists for a moment before relaxing.  “Carnelian was very clear that I did not deserve them and that I should ‘live with my guilt instead of hiding’.”

            “Oh…”

            Pearl dropped her eyes to study the glasses.  Her gut told her the guilt had something to do with Sapphire and Ruby, especially since Ruby was the previous champion and the glasses were a gift to Garnet for replacing Ruby.  In addition, the dark woman had slipped out a couple of nights ago that Sapphire had at least been around when Garnet was a teenager.  As much as Pearl wanted to ask more details on what guilt Carnelian thought Garnet should live with, the thin woman knew that pushing the topic was bound to end badly.  Redirecting the conversation was a much better option.

            “Well…I like them, they are very cool looking, and they look really good on you,” Pearl complimented as she handed them back to Garnet.

            “Thanks.”  A shadow of a smile could be seen on the dark woman’s lips.

            The conversation died down again as the two awkwardly sat and laid on the bed.  Pearl considered heading back to the room to sleep on her futon with all of the other dancers and Pearl 00687, but the idea of staying on this super comfortable bed and possibly sleeping in it was incredibly tempting.

            “It is just past 21:45,” Garnet spoke up.  “You can either go or stay until you need to leave at 03:00.  I’ll be in here as long as you are since I’m the one the room is reserved for.”

            Pearl tossed around her response for a couple of moments.  “I would like to stay, with you, until I need to go.”

            “Alright, I’ll set a timer,” the fighter pulled out her scheduler from one of her pockets and began to navigate to the alarm application.

            A faint eyebrow was raised, this was the first time she had ever seen Garnet using one of those.  The scheduler was just like everyone else’s in appearance and probably had the same functionality with a few additions specific to Garnet’s needs.  Pearl didn’t know why she was surprised, it made complete sense for the champion to have one.  Eyelids slowly closed and then reopened, trying to soothe the exhausted ache that had settled into her eyes.  With how tired the thin woman was, she could just fall asleep right there in an instant, but they needed to talk first about what had interrupted their passionate moment.  A deep breath was pulled in just as Garnet set the device on the nightstand.

            “I want to talk about what happened,” Pearl carefully stated.

            Garnet glanced at her from over her shoulder.

            “You know,” the pale woman continued, “what just happened between us, while we were making out and touching.”

            “We weren’t ready, that’s all,” was the curt response as the fighter slipped on her reflective glasses.

            “I would like to try again someday,” the pale woman spoke up after a few moments of quiet.

            No reaction.

            Narrow fingers traced idle patterns into the comforter as she continued, silently hoping Garnet would feel comfortable to open up if she did first.  “I really did enjoy it.  Kissing you.  Touching you.  Feeling those barriers fall away.  There were no expectations, no required things we had to do, just us enjoying being with each other and becoming closer.  We could try again; go as far as we felt comfortable, then stop if it ever became too much for either of us,” Pearl let the end of her sentence trail off; leaving an opening in the conversation.

            A subtle shift came from Garnet.  The curly haired woman’s stoic face was turned sideways.

            “I would like that.”

            “You would?” the pale woman tried to keep her excitement down, but failed miserably.

            “Yes.  It was…nice,” the fighter threaded her fingers together as she hesitated before continuing.  “It didn’t hurt.  I could have kept going…I wanted to…but once I remembered what I had done to you…I couldn’t.”

            Pearl scooted across the bed and hesitated for a split second before resting her hand on Garnet’s warm, tense back.

            “I understand and I wouldn’t want you to make yourself continue if you were feeling like that.”

            The fighter rotated her whole body so she was sitting sideways on the bed.  It was hard to read Garnet’s expression, but Pearl realized that was exactly why Garnet wore the glasses.  They protected her physically and removed the vulnerability of her expressive eyes.

            “May I kiss you?” the pale woman timidly offered.

            Lips opened, then closed before Garnet looked away.  “No.”

            Pearl deflated a little.  “I understand,” she finished in a friendly tone.

            “You should get your rest, enjoy the bed,” the dark woman softly smiled as she stood up and walked over to the light switch.

            Darkness encompassed them.  Pearl anticipated the shift in the bed from Garnet getting in, but when it didn’t come she began to look around.  Eventually her eyes adjusted enough so she could make out the fighter crouching down by the edge of the bed.

            “You’re not going to rest?”

            The sound of something heavy sliding out from under the bed caused the strawberry blonde to peer over the edge.  A second, twin-sized mattress with sheets was pulled out from under the queen.

            “I’ll just sleep down here,” Garnet informed as she laid down.

            While the pale woman had been secretly hoping that they might share the bed or even cuddle, Garnet obviously wanted some space at the moment and she was going to respect that.

            “OK.  Good night Garnet.”

            “Good night…Pearl.”

            The thin body slipped under the silky covers and spread out as much as she could.  If she was going to have a queen-sized bed all to herself, she was going to enjoy as much of it as she could.  Within seconds Pearl fell soundly asleep.

 

            Chaos screamed out and cut through the strawberry blonde’s dreamless sleep in the form of a buzzer that sounded a lot like the one in her high school gymnasium.  Pearl shot up into a seated position, eyes wide, searching for the source of the horrid noise.  In the light emitting from the device, light blue eyes could see a dark hand reach up and silence it.  The pale woman blinked several times, pushing the sleep out of her eyes.  Ears could hear the other occupant in the room move about for a moment, then nothing.  Suddenly the lamps on the nightstands were turned on, shooting out their seemingly bright light.  Pearl flinched and groaned, eyes blinking rapidly until she had adjusted to it.  Garnet walked nonchalantly to the bed and faced the shorter gem.

            “It’s time to go,” came her even tone as she moved to the side and shoved the second bed back under the larger one.

            “Right,” Pearl nodded.

            The thin woman got out of the bed and then straightened out the sheets and comforter.  Garnet waited silently by the door, obviously watching her.  When Pearl turned around and noticed, a blush spread across her cheeks.  She walked up to the fighter.

            “Thank you for inviting me to join you,” Pearl smoothed out a couple of wild strands of hair from her sound rest.  “I really enjoyed it.  Both spending time with you and sleeping in the nice bed.”

            The champion stood tall, a smile curling in the corner of her lips.  “You’re welcome.  I’m…glad you came.”

            Light blue eyes glanced down at the floor.  “May I hug you?”

            When no verbal response came, the thin woman’s shoulders fell, but then she was enveloped in Garnet’s strong arms.  A wide grin formed on Pearl’s face as she returned the hug, her head tucked under the fighter’s chin and arms wrapped tightly around the other woman.  Breaths were inhaled and exhaled in unison for the several moments the contact was continued.  Pearl’s insides slowly became all warm and fuzzy.  She never wanted this to end.  Reluctantly the two released each other.  Garnet unlocked the door and stepped out with Pearl following right behind her.

            “See you another time, Pearl,” the curly haired woman curtly nodded.

            “See you again, Garnet.”

            With that they went their separate ways.  The pale woman stole one last glance over her shoulder at the fading figure before focusing on getting back to the room.  A couple of yawns escaped as she walked.  While she had an excellent rest, her body and mind were still really tired.

            Once we’re on the bus I’ll get a chance to sleep some more.

            Upon arriving at the door to the room, Pearl could already hear the commotion inside.  Everyone was awake and getting ready to leave.  The thin woman hoped that they hadn’t been up too long.  Hands turned the knob and she strode into the room, determined to get right to work.  A wave of relief washed over her when she saw that the dancers and Pearl 00687 were in the middle of their morning routines.  She hadn’t missed any potential assignments from Carnelian.  Pearl quickly made her way to her futon and bag.

            “Morning 01079,” her friend greeted.

            “Morning 00687.”

            In moments the strawberry blonde had rolled up her futon and was double-checking her bag to ensure everything was still in it.

            “How was your time with Garnet?”

            “Looks like the two of you had some fun.”

            Pearl turned towards the voices of Sunstone 00072 and Fire Opal 00065.

            “So how was it?” Sunstone 00072 smirked.  “Spending the night with Garnet?”

            “Oh…!  It was nice, I enjoyed it.”

            “I have no doubt of that,” Fire Opal 00065 chuckled.

            “Was Garnet in a celebratory mood?  I bet landing that win must have been a really nice boost,” Sunstone 00072 pried.

            “I guess so?  We only talked for a little bit how Blue Topaz tried to fight her again, and how she just avoided it.”

            “Oh Blue Topaz 0002 is such a cocky asshole, can’t take a loss, especially from Garnet,” Fire Opal 00065 rolled her dark brown eyes.  “I’m not surprised at all that he did that.”

            “Did you do anything else after that?” Sunstone 00072 pressed.

            Pearl’s face turned bright red and she shut her mouth tight.

            “Please Sunny, you don’t need to ask a question we already know the answer to,” the fire opal dismissed the question.

            “I was going to see if she was going to give any details,” came the light complaint.

            “C’mon, let’s not get too personal, you wouldn’t want people asking about what you and Moonstone 00087 do together now would you?”

            Light blue eyes darted between the two, silently hoping that the invasive conversation would end without her having to divulge on what other things Garnet and she had done.  She really didn’t want to, that was a very private and personal moment between them.

            “No…” the athletic woman admitted.

            Fire Opal patted her fellow dancer on the back before turning to Pearl.  “We’re glad you had a great time,” the dancer finished with a wink.

            “Thanks,” Pearl blushed even more.

            A sigh of relief was let out once the older dancers had walked out of earshot.

            “Pearl!”

            The pale woman’s anxiety shot up at the sound of Carnelian’s sharp call.  Nervously she faced the plump gem.

            “You’re here, good to see,” Carnelian began, “once all of your things are packed up I want-” her train of thought was stopped as her eyes suddenly bulged out of their sockets.  “Go cover those shameful and horrid marks!  I will not have my pearl looking like some trashy hooker-wait-no a hooker would have better sense than that.  Take care of those this instant!”

            Pearl stared at the designer, confusion written all over her face.  She had no idea what Carnelian was talking about.

            “What are you waiting for?!”

            Pearl 00687 leaned in and whispered, “Your neck.”

            “My neck?” Pearl looked at her friend, eyebrows still furrowed.

            “Oh my stars!  Grab your makeup kit and go to the bathroom!  All of them better be covered up,” Carnelian exclaimed in exasperation.

            The pale woman quickly dug out her makeup kit and scurried off towards the bathroom.  Her ears picked up Carnelian’s last sentence.

            “The last thing I need is a constant reminder that my pearl likes sleeping with that monster!”

            Light blue eyes narrowed, she didn’t appreciate that comment.

            We didn’t even have sex!

            Upon entering the bathroom and looking at herself in the mirror, Pearl’s confusion gave way to mortification.

            “Garnet!” she screamed under her breath as she saw all of the faint to more distinct bruises sprinkled over her neck.

            Internally she cursed at how easily she bruised and for her lack of foresight to check for hickeys in the bathroom connected to the room they had been at.  They had been kissing quite passionately last night.  She should have brought her makeup kit, but then she didn’t want to assume they would be doing something that needed to be covered up.  The makeup was applied and one by one the marks disappeared.  Pearl stared at her clear neck for a moment.  A fraction of her was bothered by having to hide something that reminded her of a special night she had shared with Garnet.

            It will only cause me more trouble if people see them.

            Carnelian didn’t bring up the topic again when Pearl approached her for her assignment and thankfully the designer’s mood had been tempered.  The two pearls worked together collect the last of their food and water supplies and to load up all of the dancer’s special outfits and large duffle bags in the underside of the bus.  By 05:00 they were on the road as planned.  Pearl caught one last glance at Blue Diamond’s beautiful building as they exited the underground parking lot and made their way to the highway.

            For the first few hours everyone slept, and only started to stir after breakfast had been consumed.  Excited chatter would occasionally drown out the constant rumble of the bus traveling across the country as dancers would talk and play games.  However, like before, by the second day of solid driving the gems were sick of being cooped up and resorted to sleeping or quiet conversations to help pass the time.  Pearl found her mind wandering to the topic she had been avoiding.  It was brought back by the memory of Garnet’s slip about Sapphire during their scheduled regulation time.  Something happened and Pearl needed to know.  She needed to know why Garnet’s mood abruptly shifted and she subsequently went to meditate.  She needed to know why Carnelian called Garnet a monster and treated her with such disdain.  She needed to know what “Sapphire didn’t fight back” meant and what happened to Ruby after Garnet replaced her as Yellow Diamond’s Champion.  She needed to know what the couple’s tragic ending was.  Light blue eyes glanced to the side at Pearl 00687 sitting in the seat next to her.  Pearl 00687 had been in the Underground for over seven years and Garnet had been Yellow Diamond’s champion for five years.

            She would know.  I could ask her.

            Pearl pulled in a deep breath of air and prepared herself.

            I need to be ready to accept what I find out.

            Her gut churned at the thought.  Could she ever be truly ready?

            “00687?”

            “Yeah?” the pearl with the yellow shirt faced her.

            “Ummm, I was wondering if I could ask you a question?”

            “Sure,” Pearl 00687 shrugged, “what’s on your mind?”

            “What happened to Sapphire and Ruby?”

            The idle chatter around them ceased.  Pearl felt her body tense as she sensed numerous pairs of eyes land on them and Pearl 00687’s eyes went wide.  Nevertheless, the strawberry blonde maintained eye contact, she needed to know.  The other pearl swallowed.

            “Sapphire 0001 and Ruby 0001,” Pearl 000687 began, “are dead.”

            Pearl waited for more.  Her friend sighed.

            “No one knows why they were killed, they were both highly productive gems that caused little to no trouble and had been serving Yellow Diamond for a long time.”

            “Garnet murdered them both,” Carnelian’s cold voice cut in.

            Light blue eyes shot to the designer who was standing in the aisleway right next to their seats, the plump woman’s face scrunched up in anger.

            “There’s nothing more to it than that.  That monster killed her own mothers to acquire the title of being Yellow Diamond’s Champion.”

            Pearl felt like she had been punched in the gut.  No…It couldn’t be true…Garnet…Garnet wouldn’t kill her own mother, would she?  The woman she had talked about with such fondness?

            “That-that can’t be all,” the pale woman stammered.  “There has to be more to it than-”

            “I was there!  I watched as Garnet ruthlessly murdered one of my closest friends after killing her wife!”

            Carnelian and Sapphire were friends?!

            “There is no good to be found in someone who can turn on their own mother.  Garnet is a monster and it would serve you well to keep your distance from her unless you want to end up just like them!” Carnelian finished.

            Pearl stared at the seat in front of her as her mind worked to process the revelation.  It made sense.  Garnet’s guilt, her anger, the avoidance of the topic, everything the pale woman had learned but had refused to put together for fear of discovering the awful truth.  Pearl gripped the sides of her head with arms that were propped up by her elbows on her thighs.  At first she didn’t notice the scheduler that was hovered in front of her downward gaze, it wasn’t until it had lightly tapped one of her arms that she did.

            [There’s more to it than just that.]

            Light blue eyes glanced to the side to see Pearl 00687 was the one who was holding the device.  The scheduler was pulled away and the gem typed out the next sentence on the notepad application.

            [It was in The Cage.]

            Pearl 00687 typed away furiously.

            [There was a huge assembly, we all had to watch it.  Initially it was just a regular match between the two that Garnet easily won.  Then The Cage came down and they were locked in.  Ruby attacked first when the announcement was made, but Garnet came out on top.  Once Ruby was dead, Sapphire was put in afterwards.]

            Fingers gripped the sides of her face harder as she tried to keep still while Pearl 00687 worked on the next part of the story.

            [Garnet tried to avoid Sapphire by keeping her distance and not engaging while Sapphire just followed her around for a number of minutes.  Something changed, or something was said, nobody knows.  In the end, Garnet had to kill Sapphire, so she did.]

            One more sentence was added.

            [I’m sorry.]

            Pearl gestured to the device and her friend nodded in permission.

            [No, thank you for telling me.]

            Her friend passed the scheduler back one final time.

            [You could try talking to Garnet about it.  Of all gems I think you have the best shot in asking about that night.]

            It was an idea.  A dangerous idea.  Pearl nodded in response and typed out a final “thank you” to Pearl 00687.  After that, the pale gem curled into her seat and stared out into the void.  Garnet had killed her own mothers.  Her stomach threatened to spill her lunch, but Pearl forced it down.  A sixteen-year-old had bested a seasoned champion and killed both of her parents.  Pearl hugged her legs to her chest, trying to contain the trembling in her body.  She was sickened, she was terrified, she had no idea how to handle the information and how it created a conflict of interest with her growing affection for the dark fighter.  Light blue eyes were forced shut as the thin woman attempted to sleep.  That was the only thing she could do right now.  She couldn’t shout out the whirlwind of emotions in her or ask more questions.  Thinking about it at the moment was only going to make it worse.  So Pearl decided to sleep.  Maybe when she woke up it will have been just another bad dream.  Slowly the thin gem drifted off into a nightmare riddled sleep while the bus rumbled on towards its destination.  In under twelve hours they would be back at Yellow Diamond’s place.

Chapter Text

^^^^^^

Pearl gets a chance to see the world above for a moment.

^^^^^^

 

            Returning to Yellow Diamond’s base brought not only the familiarity of her daily routine, but also the rumors of what had happened at Blue Diamond’s base.  The tales of Garnet getting friendly with her pearl were spread all over the place.  No doubt by the careless tongues of the dancers.  Looks and comments were thrown her way much like they had been back when the news of Garnet raping her was circulating.  The other pearls treated her just as rudely and cruelly as before.  Pearl 00824 was satisfied that Pearl would finally know what it’s like to be treated like any other pearl in regulation.  That she would be forced to do things to satisfy Garnet’s demands as she apparently was the pearl that finally “broke” Garnet’s resolve and made the fighter give in to her animalistic desires.  However, Pearl did her best to ignore them and push on with her regular routine.  She knew that wasn’t how it was between her and Garnet.  They had been unable to have sex due to the past haunting them and it would take time, patience, and communication for them to be able to become more intimate.  One gem reiterated her concern of Pearl’s friendlier interactions with Garnet, and that was Carnelian.  She warned that sooner or later Garnet was going to turn on her and hurt her like the fighter had when she had raped Pearl.  It was the first time Carnelian had mentioned that event and it took all of the pale gem’s willpower to keep her mouth shut about the truth of Yellow Diamond being the acting force behind it.  There was no way Carnelian would believe that her employer and friend had done such a thing.  Pearl tried to assure the designer that anything they did together after that one time was with both of their consent.  The older gem simply shrugged and warned her about getting too close to Garnet, lest she end up like Sapphire and Ruby.

            Sapphire and Ruby.  Pearl knew the truth now and it made her wonder yet again if ignorance was bliss.  Garnet’s first kills were her two mothers and then followed by dozens more.  Was it just dozens or was there more?  The pale gem really had no idea how many people the fighter had killed.  If Garnet had been the champion for five years then she would have killed at bare minimum 7 people a year in The Cage.  Was seven even the number of individuals sent to The Cage each year or could it be more?  Or less?  A grumble of discomfort gurgled up Pearl’s throat, she really didn’t want to do that math.

            Does killing affect her?  How did killing her mothers impact her?  Was it easy for her?  Does she regret it?  Does she regret any of her kills?

            Questions ran through her mind as she tried to work through her emotions.

            Can I fall for someone who murders people?

            With their growing closeness over the past few months, the pale woman had conveniently pushed that fact to the back of her mind the farther they had gotten from last year’s End of the Year Celebration.  However, with it being almost the middle of November, the next one was just around the corner and she would be forced to watch Garnet murder more people.  Pearl gripped her astronomy book tighter as she held it in front of her face.  A hopeful nonverbal signal to the other pearls to leave her alone as they were all enjoying their routine personal time.

            Do I even like Garnet in a romantic sense?

            A skip in her heartbeat partially answered the question.  Garnet was either her favorite person in the Underground or tied with Pearl 00687.  Both were fun to be around when other forces weren’t making things unpleasant.  Losing either of them would take a serious toll on her.  However, the main difference between the champion and the pearl was that she saw one as a friend, while the other was someone she had been actively choosing to become closer to both physically and mentally.  She was attracted to Garnet, savored the time they got together, and had not been opposed to the idea of becoming intimate with her.  But now?  Should she get close?  Would she really end up like Ruby and Sapphire?  Part of her protection in this horrid place came from Garnet, but at the same time the assignment had caused her more trouble.  It was a two-edged sword, and the contrast between the two extremes was sure to increase as the space between them decreased.

            I don’t know what to do.

            Pearl wanted to keep spending time with Garnet, but the words and teasing from all of the pearls and Carnelian’s warnings were starting to get to her.  What if Garnet did turn on her?  What if Garnet did hurt her on purpose?  What if?  An uneasy feeling settled in her gut.  The pale gem closed her book and started to get ready for the night.  Thankfully it would be some time before she saw Garnet again.  Hopefully by then she would have figured out how she was going to react.

 

            It had only been a week since they had gotten back from the match against Blue Diamond when Pearl was given a surprise.  As she was walking towards her sleeping quarters at the end of the day, she spotted Garnet waiting across from her dormitory door dressed in her casual attire and leather jacket.  Amongst all of the pearls walking around her she knew who the fighter was looking for.  Several emotions jumped up, half of her was nervous, and scared, while the other half was excited.  This was much sooner than she had expected to see Garnet and as a result the pale woman had not fully sorted out her conflicting feelings towards the dark woman.  Pearl continued to walk towards the door trying to play it cool.  Before she made it, Garnet turned and faced her, a smile gracing her round lips.

            “Hey, Pearl.”

            It was crazy how that short sentence and smile had quieted her fears and soothed her nerves.

            “Hi, Garnet,” Pearl blushed as she tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear.

            Great, not even a sentence in and I’m already losing my composure.

            “Come with me, I have something to show you,” the champion paused, “if you’d like.”

            “Yes!” the thin woman’s blush deepened as the word jumped out of her mouth.  She quickly cleared her throat. “I would like to.”

            Garnet’s smile grew a little.  The fighter turned and walked through the mass of gems heading off to bed.  Pearl fell in line right at her side.  Her long legs kept a good pace with the champion’s purposeful, powerful strides.  Light blue eyes noticed a long, black case slung over Garnet’s shoulder.  It was about 6”x6” and over two feet long.  They kept walking until they reached building zero and then began to weave up a set of staircases.  Pearl was grateful that she didn’t have any trouble keeping up with the fighter.  Nearly fifteen floors later Garnet slipped through an “Authorized Personnel Only” door and continued her march through the bare hallway.  Pearl figured it must have been a sort of service hallway created for those fixing elevators, electrical wiring, or heating and cooling units.  The taller woman stopped next to a steel ladder set into the wall that went up to the ceiling.  She climbed up effortlessly, pushed open the hatch at the top, and disappeared onto the roof.  Pearl silently followed, trying to muffle her labored breathing as much as possible.  Keeping up with Garnet had been easy for the majority of the journey, but the last little bit had been a challenge.  As she reached the top of the ladder, Garnet appeared again to offer her a hand and pull her onto the roof of the building.

            Cold, brisk wind shot through her waking up every atom in her body.  She breathed out and reveled in the feeling of the outside air and noise.  The wind whipped her hair around and pulled her clothes in various directions.  Pearl felt alive.  The faint honking of cars brought her attention to what lie below her.  She rushed to the ledge surrounding the edge of the roof and peered over.  Dozens of stories below was a busy main street.  All around her were tall office buildings gleaming in the night lights.  Her mouth hung open as she took it all in.  She was outside.  She was in the world above.

            “Breathtaking isn’t it?” Garnet supplied as she stood off to Pearl’s side.

            “I haven’t seen the world above in forever,” the pale woman commented with awe.  “You can barely see it, but there are people walking on the sidewalks, cafes, taxis, cars; people going about their daily lives.”  Light blue eyes looked around at the closest buildings.  “If we are in building zero, then these surrounding five must be the other ones, correct?”

            “Exactly.  In the south we have building two, the north building four, building three to the west, to the east building one, and to the northwest building five,” Garnet explained as she pointed them all out.

            “Building zero is the tallest,” Pearl observed.

            “Which is why I brought you up here; this way we are closer to the night sky.”

            Pearl turned and stared out at everything once again, familiarizing herself with the outside view of Yellow Diamond’s base.  It was right in the middle of everything.  Did people know what this place was?  Or were they just oblivious to it?  The strawberry blonde’s attention was drawn to the side as she noticed Garnet slung the long, boxy item off her back and began to set something up.  Piece by piece the mysterious item was revealed.  The thin woman was genuinely surprised.  On the roof was a good-sized telescope pointed up at the midnight sky.  Garnet smiled at her.

            “Since you like stars and stuff, I thought we could try and see if we can find some tonight with this.”

            Pearl didn’t know what to say or do at first.  She blinked a couple of times; then a wide grin broke out on her face as she ran over and looked into the telescope.  It was a clear night, no clouds in the sky, but the light pollution from the city made it hard to see much more than a few stars here and there.  Nonetheless, it thrilled her to no end to get to look up and find what she could.  Shivers began to wrack her frame as the cold winds had effectively chilled her to the bone in minutes.  A warm, heavy jacket was plopped over her shoulders and the strong scent of Garnet filled her nose.  Pearl glanced up at the fighter, taken aback by the gesture.

            “Won’t you get cold?” she blurted out.

            “Don’t worry about me,” the dark woman smirked.

            “Thank you,” Pearl blushed as she pushed her arms into the sleeves and zipped up Garnet’s leather jacket.

            She was practically swimming in it, but she couldn’t care less.  The fleece liner was especially nice as it provided immediate warmth and comfort.  An offer was made to Garnet to take a look in the telescope, and to Pearl’s surprise, the fighter did glance in a couple of times.  Once the few stars had been gazed at to the extent Pearl desired, she then turned her attention to the celestial object orbiting the Earth.  The moon was a quarter full so they could get a decent look at the various craters and surfaces that were illuminated.  It was unfortunate that they didn’t have a darker place to set the telescope, it was a quality piece of equipment with the capacity to see so much more.  After about an hour or so, Pearl turned the telescope down so she could zoom in on the streets below.  There she would find a familiar restaurant chain or an interesting person to look at and show them to Garnet.  The smaller woman talked endlessly about the various things she recognized or found in the world above while Garnet stood by and silently listened or took the occasional peek when prompted.

            After a while Pearl straightened her back and yawned.  Hands reached up to rub her eyes before she checked on the time.

            [23:13]

            “My goodness, it’s already past 23:00?!”

            “It appears so,” Garnet mused as she checked her own watch.  “Do you want to head down then?”

            Pearl cast a longing gaze out into the city below.  “It would be for the best.  I need to get my rest.  Thank you so much though, for doing this for me,” she finished as she gestured to the telescope, “it was nice to see the stars and the world above for once.”

            Garnet nodded and made an affirmative grunt.  She carefully put away the device and slung the full case over her shoulder.  Curiosity got the better of Pearl as they made the trip back to her sleeping quarters.  The telescope was such a random thing for Garnet to have.

            “Garnet?” she dared to speak up.

            No verbal response, so the pale woman assumed the champion was listening.

            “How long have you had that telescope?  Or how did you get it?  It’s not something I’ve seen in the Individual Gem Supply Station before.”

            They traveled through half of a hallway before Garnet responded.

            “It was a gift.”

            “Really?  From who?”

            “Yellow Diamond.”

            “Really?” Pearl’s eyes went wide with her flat, unconvinced tone.

            The fighter made no indication of offense.

            “She gives you things?”

            A soft chuckle.

            “She did give me these glasses, remember?” Garnet motioned to the reflective item covering the top half of her face.

            “Oh!  Yeah…” Pearl’s face burned.  She decided to not dig herself in a deeper hole and kept her mouth shut, just like a pearl should.

            “For each win, accomplishment, or successful mission, Yellow Diamond likes to offer me an opportunity to ask for something.  Depending on the magnitude of what I’ve done, I’ll be able to ask for something bigger or smaller.  Beating another Diamond’s champion generally allows me to ask for something bigger.  So, after my win against Blue Topaz 0002, I asked for a good telescope.”

            A faint eyebrow was raised.  “Why did you ask for a telescope?”

            “I-uh…well…so…so you could see the stars,” the curly haired woman stuttered.  “Since you like them so much, I thought, it would be something nice to do.”

            Pearl’s heart skipped a beat as she stared at the woman who was intentionally not looking in her direction.  She could swear there was an ever so slight reddish tint to Garnet’s cheeks.

            “Well…I had a great time and it was something nice to do…together.”

            “Yeah,” came the curt response.

            Another question popped into the pale woman’s mind and she didn’t bother to hesitate asking this time.

            “So are you ever awarded units for your accomplishments?  Do you get any at the End of the Year Celebration like everyone else?”

            “I don’t have any units, never have, never will.”

            “Then how do you get things like a haircut, or a book, or other random personal items outside of what has been issued to you?”

            Garnet seemed to ponder her answer for a moment.  “Yellow Diamond provides me with everything I need.  If there is something that I am lacking, then I am to go to her.  Most things are issued monthly or weekly like it is for other gems, but if there is ever anything out of the routine or something that breaks, or you know,” the dark woman shrugged, “I ask Yellow Diamond for it.”

            “Oh…” Pearl stared down at the floor as she processed the new information.  “So you only have what you do because Yellow Diamond allows it, right?”

            “Yes.”

            “Wow…is it hard to get what you ask for?” the thin woman asked with some hesitancy.

            “Depends.”

            For several tense moments, no further explanation was offered.

            “If I am performing well, behaving, and such, Yellow is prompt to fill my requests.  If not, then I have to shape up before I ask for anything.”

            “I see.  Thank you for answering my questions, Garnet.”

            They continued to walk back to Pearl’s sleeping quarters side by side.  In just a couple more minutes they arrived at the door.

            “Thank you again, I had a great time,” Pearl blushed as she opened the door.

            The limited light from the overhead lights slipped into the dark room full of sleeping pearls.  At this time of night only a quarter of the fluorescent tubes were kept on.

            The fighter smiled.  “You’re welcome.”

            Garnet then leaned forward and then stopped about two inches from her face.  A silent request for a kiss.  The shorter woman smiled, tipped her head up, closed the space between them, and eagerly obliged with a sweet brush of their lips.  The champion’s mouth curled up in the corners as she stood back up.  Pearl was about to step into the dark room when Garnet’s hand on her shoulder stopped her.

            “I should probably take my jacket back now,” Garnet off-handedly mentioned.

            “Oh!”  Embarrassment heated Pearl’s cheeks as she quickly took it off and handed it to the darker skinned woman.  “Sorry about that…it’s a very comfortable jacket.”

            Garnet hummed in agreement.  “Good night, Pearl.”

            “Good night, Garnet.”

            Pearl stole one quick glance back at the athlete walking away before entering the dark room and quietly shutting the door behind her.  She effortlessly maneuvered to her bed and pulled out her bathroom supplies from her duffel bag.  Plastic bristles scrubbed against teeth, effectively cleaning them with the minty toothpaste.  In the light of the small bulb in the bathroom, the thin woman changed into her pajamas and washed her face.  As she laid down to sleep a happy sigh drifted past her lips.  Spending those few, short hours with Garnet had been a wonderful surprise.  Legs shifted so Pearl was on her side.  Fingers ghosted over her mouth.  It was almost like a date.  An activity together, getting to know each other better, a kiss at the end.  The thin woman just wanted to with squeal with glee.

            You’re falling for a monster.

            Light blue eyes stared out into the pitch-black room.  Her gut clenched.

            You like kissing and spending time alone with a murderer.

            She wouldn’t hurt me, not willingly.

            I bet Ruby and Sapphire thought the same thing.

            Pearl shut her eyes tight and pulled the covers up around her neck.

            It was in The Cage, she didn’t have a choice.

            And yet she’s continued to keep killing since then.

            She only does it because she has to!

            Are you sure?

            Yes!

            Really?  You do remember how she brutalized those people last year right?  If she didn’t enjoy it, then she would have taken them down quick and painless.

            The pale woman gritted her teeth as she tried to argue against the voice in her head.

            “You could try talking to Garnet about it.  Of all gems I think you have the best shot in asking about that night.”

            Pearl 00687’s words came just in time.

            I need to ask her about it.  About that night and how she feels about killing in general.  Until then we can’t make any judgments.

            You better do it soon, the next End of the Year Celebration is just over a month away.

            With that foreboding reminder, Pearl rolled onto her other side and focused on falling asleep.  Luckily since it was late and she had a busy day it shouldn’t take long to do so.  One last thought popped into her mind.

            What if she does enjoy it?

            She had no response to that.  Slowly, the thin woman drifted off into an uneasy sleep.

 

            Suffocating pressure forced her body violently awake.  Pearl tried to breathe in but all that happened was a strangled gasp.  Light blue eyes snapped open as her legs and arms tried to fight off the weight on her body and throat.

            “You’re no better than us!” came the angry screech.

            The fingers around her throat compressed, nails digging into the back of her neck as the arms of her assailant also began to jerk her head back and forth.  Pearl grabbed the hands and tried to pry them off in an attempt to reduce some of the pressure and stop the shaking so she could get her accelerating panic under control.

            “You’re no better than us!” the pearl screamed again.

            Eyes were able to focus long enough to recognize Pearl 00824 as her attacker.  Pearl lashed out with her fists and fingernails, desperately trying to throw her off or free her neck.  Another strangled gasp made it past her lips before everything started going dark.  The pressure increased.  Pearl cast one silent call for help towards all of the other pearls standing around before her mind slipped into an oddly pleasant state of relaxation.

 

            The pale gem snapped awake, her lungs pulling in a raspy, vital gasp of air.  Blood raced through her veins distributing the precious oxygen as the heart pumped wildly.  Bloodshot eyes jumped around the room at all of the pearls still standing around her.  Her hand was instinctively brought up to tenderly rub her burning and sore throat.

            “You’re no better than us!” Pearl 00824 repeated as she took a threatening step towards Pearl from where she had been standing off to the side of the pale woman’s bed.

            Pearl flinched and tried to scoot away from her.  Hands latched onto her clothes and threw her to the ground.  Light blue eyes looked up just in time to see the hand slap her harshly across the cheek.

            “You are a pearl!  A low ranked piece of shit!” Pearl 00824 continued as she slapped Pearl again.  “Don’t you dare go around like you’re something special, you are worthless!”

            The young gem curled into a ball, trying to protect herself from the strikes as tears streamed down her face and her rough throat pulled in sharp breaths of air.  A bare foot connected with her stomach, forcing the air out of her body.  It came again striking her side.  Arms were moved lower to protect her thin torso.  The hand returned, slapping her repeatedly across the face until her nose and mouth bled.

            “You are no better than any of us!!”

            With that final exclamation, Pearl 00824 spat on her and then stormed off.  The other pearls dissipated, each of them muttering similar words and giving her looks that could kill.  Pearl laid on the floor, sobbing and bloodied, shaking as her body tried to recover from the assault and to steady her frantic breathing.  A couple of minutes later when she finally felt ready to stand up, out of the corner of her eye she saw Pearl 00251 walking up to her.

            “You better clean up the mess you made on the floor before you leave otherwise I’ll have to discipline you, or worse report you to our overseeing aquamarine.”

            “Y-y-yes, m-ma’am,” Pearl quickly bobbed her head.

            “I will make sure that you have cleaned it,” she finished as she walked away.

            Slowly, the beaten gem was able to stand and reach for her scheduler on her bed, she needed to know how much time she had before she was to report to Carnelian.

            [05:55]

            Pearl decided it would be best to skip breakfast and to make sure her injuries were adequately covered up.  She spent ten minutes straightening out her area and scrubbing the concrete floor to remove any traces of her blood, spit, or tears.  The last thing she needed was for Pearl 00251 to have any reason to make her life even more miserable.  After a quick shower, thankfully all of the other pearls were gone by then, she painted on the image of a healthy, blemish free gem.  Bloodshot eyes nearly started crying again, but she forced them back by blinking rapidly and holding her head high.  Crying never helps.

 

            Carnelian didn’t notice anything, or let on that she had noticed.  Pearl went about her day assisting the plump woman just as usual.  However, her hands trembled as she performed her tasks.  A stab with a needle had to be attempted several times, items were almost dropped, and her handwriting was a little shaky.  Multiple times she had to stop herself from rubbing her sore throat.  Any time the door to Carnelian’s office opened, the pale gem’s mind was sent into a panic of who it might be and if they were coming to torment her.  Meditative breathing techniques were the only things that could keep her from completely breaking down.  As the day wound to a close and Pearl trudged back towards the sleeping quarters, she remembered the night before and the wonderful time she had with Garnet.  For the first time that day a genuine smile formed on her cut lips.  It had been wonderful, just spending time together outside of their assigned schedule.  Gazing up at the stars, watching all of the people down below, and sharing a kiss at the end.  Pearl stopped and leaned against the wall as she let the good memories fill her mind.  Even though she was more tired than usual from losing a couple of hours of sleep, she did not regret it at all.  With a content sigh, followed by an uneasy grimace Pearl resumed her march back to her room.  Light blue eyes peered into the large dormitory, quickly scanning for her usual assailants.  When none of them were immediately spotted, she slipped in and began to make her way to her bed in as little time as possible.

            “Not going to sneak off with your precious fuck tonight?” the aggressive voice lashed out at her.

            Pearl jumped, whirling her head to see Pearl 00824 standing just off to her side.  The pearl took menacing steps forward, forcing Pearl to retreat until her back came in contact with a square, metal bed post.

            “Acting outside of the arranged regulation times could get you into serious trouble.”

            Eyebrows were pulled together.  They hadn’t been doing any regulation activities.  They had just been spending time together.  Pearl’s mind finally connected the dots.  It was that, spending unarranged time with Garnet, that had reignited the other pearls’ dislike for her.

            “How dare you think you can do that.  You are a pearl.  A disposable servant and toy to be thrown away when you are no longer entertaining.  There is absolutely nothing special about you,” Pearl 00824 continued.  “You are the lowest of us all!”

            Hands grabbed her arms hard enough to bruise, and then began to violently shake her.

            “Get it into your fucking head!  You are worthless and disposable!”

            Pearl whimpered.

            “Say it!” came the slap.  “Say it!” another hit.

            The pale gem cowered behind her forearms, trying to protect herself from the numerous strikes.

            “You are worthless!  You are disposable!”

            Blood dripped onto her clothing, mixed with more tears and snot.  No one was going to stop Pearl 00824 and she had no way of fighting back in this situation; she only knew how to run.  The only thing she could do was give up.

            “I am worthless!  I am disposable!” Pearl cried out from behind her battered arms.

            The strikes stopped.

            “Say it again,” Pearl 00824 venomously spat.

            “I am worthless!  I am disposable!”  the thin gem fell to the floor and sat curled up into the tiniest ball she could be.

            “And don’t you forget that.  Ever.”

            After several minutes had passed of being left completely alone, Pearl dared to look up from her fetal position.  The pearls milled about, talking and getting ready for bed as if it was just any other day.  Carefully, the pale gem got to her feet and hurried over to her bed.  With her night clothes and toiletries, she simply went right to the broken sink, not even taking a chance at trying to get a shower or regular sink.  Her hygiene routine was finished as soon as possible and the thin pearl practically ran to her bed.  Blankets were pulled tightly around her and Pearl buried herself in the thin layers of protection it offered.

 

            The next morning, Pearl was thankfully not woken up by Pearl 00824.  She was able to go about her usual routine as long as she stayed as far away from her bullies as possible.  An internal sigh of relief was made when her meals were not tampered with.  They still remembered Garnet’s real threat and did not want to risk getting sent to reeducation.  Working with Carnelian was busy and kept her mind occupied.  However, upon her return to the dormitory, Pearl 00824 had been waiting for her and demanded she repeat the same mantra as the day before.  Pearl did without much hesitation, she didn’t want to get hit any more.  Days passed like this.  Only after a week did Pearl 00824 leave her alone, satisfied that Pearl knew her place.

 

            Ahead of Pearl was a sight that brought both joy and horror to her system.  It was in the evening again, right when all of the gems were making their ways back to their dormitories.  Garnet stood in the same place as she had over a week and a half ago with the telescope slung over her shoulder.  As much as the pale woman would love to go watch the stars with the fighter again, she was terrified of what the other pearls would do to her as a result.

            What if she hasn’t seen me yet?  Maybe I could slip by?

            Something told her that wasn’t a good option, Garnet had a decent vantage point and her glasses prevented people from knowing where her eyes were looking.  For all she knew, Garnet could have already seen her.  Pearl attempted to swallow the lump forming in her throat as she walked towards the dark woman.

            “Evening Pearl,” Garnet spoke first, a lop-sided smile gracing her features.

            “Evening, Garnet,” she couldn’t help the corners of her mouth turning up in response.

            Garnet looked very attractive at that moment with her relaxed posture and charming smile.

            “Would you like to join me again for a little bit?” the curly haired woman motioned to the item resting against her back.

            Here it was, her one chance to say no and be spared the torment that would surely come from the jealous pearls.  Pearl pulled in a shaky breath, trying to prepare herself.  Light blue eyes darted off to the side.

            “I’d love to, but,” a heavy sigh drifted past her lips that had finally healed, “I’m really tired tonight and need to get as much rest as possible.  With another Friday night event coming up, Carnelian is always super busy.”

            “Oh…” Garnet’s mood dampened considerably.  “That’s perfectly fine,” came the more neutral tone, “I hope you rest well.”

            “Thanks, I hope you also get a good night’s rest.”

            With a nod of her head, the champion turned to walk away.

            Say something else!  Do you want her leaving thinking it would be a waste to ask you again another time?!

            “Perhaps another time?” Pearl shot out loudly as she reached for the sleeve of the leather jacket.

            Her hand met air as she had either missed, or Garnet had moved her arm just enough so Pearl couldn’t grab her.  Fortunately, the dark woman paused and rotated enough to look back at Pearl.

            “Another time then.”

            There was a small smile on Garnet’s lips.  Relief flooded the pale woman’s system.

            “I would like that,” Pearl finished.

            A nod.

            “Good night, Pearl.”

            “Good night, Garnet.”

            Now that she had successfully handled that situation, she felt like she could go to her dorm and get that good night’s rest.  Feet tentatively carried Pearl into the dormitory, eyes darted about trying to find Pearl 00824 before she did.  They made eye contact that was quickly broken by Pearl as the light brown haired pearl was making her way towards the pale woman.  Only a few more yards and she could be in the relative safety of her bed.

            “Not joining Garnet for another fucking session tonight?” Pearl 00824 called out.

            Pearl didn’t respond, she just kept marching towards her bed.  An arm latched onto her wrist and jerked her back to face her bully.

            “I saw her waiting out there.  You’re the only one she’d be around here for.”

            “Well obviously I’m not joining her tonight,” came her firm reply.

            The grip on her wrist tightened.  Pearl didn’t react, it wasn’t even close to how painful Garnet’s could get.

            “Who are you to think that you can say ‘no’ to a higher ranked gem?”

            “She asked-”

            “And you thought it was okay to say no?” Pearl 00824 cut her off.  “Garnet must be livid at you rejecting her, she’s going to make you pay next time.”

            “I have a much better idea than you do at how Garnet feels and thinks!”

            A sharp slap was partially muffled by all of the chatter of the pearls not watching the latest scene.  The thin woman stared at her attacker in surprise.

            “Did I ask you a question?”

            “No…” Pearl’s eyebrows were pulled together.  “You’re another low ranked pearl I don’t need to wait for a question to speak.”

            The back of Pearl 00824’s hand collided with her other cheek.

            “I’m higher ranked than you by over two hundred pearls!”  Hands latched onto the front of her shirt.  “Don’t you dare go around thinking you’re something special.  There are three pearls with higher numbers than you, when you’re around them then you can speak whenever you want.  Until then, what are you?”

            “I am Pearl 01079,” came the sigh.

            The corner of a square metal bedpost collided with her bony back.  Her face stung as she was slapped again.

            “I said WHAT are you?!”

            What was she?  A pearl.  Was this a trick question?  The demand was repeated with another strike.  It finally dawned on her, the response she was supposed to give.

            “I’m worthless.  I’m disposable,” was her even answer.

            “Louder!”

            Pearl grimaced at the next painful hit.  Angry blue eyes stared into light brown eyes.

            “I’m worthless!  I’m disposable!”

            For a moment the attacks stopped before a fist was shoved into her gut, forcing the pale woman to hunch over and gasp for air.  Pearl 00824 let go and stepped back.

            “Don’t you dare think otherwise.”

            Red liquid had gathered in her mouth and dripped onto the floor.  There was a new cut in her lip and more bruises to come the next morning.  Pearl wiped the edge of her lips with her sleeve.  Those who had been watching turned and resumed their routines.  Her shoulders fell forward.

            I should have just gone with Garnet, I’m going to get attacked either way.

            “I’ll clean that up,” she grumbled to whoever was listening as she stood up and walked to her bed.

 

            Dull eyes stared down at her makeup, or what remained of the powder-based foundation.  Her concealer was on its last drops as well.

            At least I have mascara, blush, and eyeliner…

             Pearl did the best she could to scrape out the remains hiding in the corners of the cheap plastic case and spread it over her new unsightly marks.  A sigh drifted past her lips as she looked at her reflection in the bathroom mirror.  The bruises would be noticed by someone who had an attention to detail like Carnelian did.  There wasn’t enough for tomorrow, she needed to get more makeup.

            Maybe Carnelian will send me to get some, otherwise I might have to use my own credits.  How much does this stuff cost anyway?

            A glance at her watch told her she didn’t have time to ponder that if she wanted to get breakfast.  The thin woman moved robotically with the crowds.

            “Gem?”

            “Pearl.”

            The tray of steaming food was slid out to her.  Pearl carried it over to her usual spot near the middle of the table.  A grimace jumped onto her face as the hot scrambled eggs came in contact with the cut in her lip.  Quickly it was moved away by her tongue.  The initial pain from getting hit was more tolerable now after having experienced it so many times, but the lingering effects were always bothersome.  With conscious effort to avoid the spot in her mouth, the pale woman’s breakfast was steadily consumed.

            Carnelian was deep in thought when Pearl arrived, so the strawberry blonde just stood in her corner, waiting for whenever an assignment would be sent her way.  A half an hour later the designer looked up.

            “We have a few demonstrations to attend today, with the completion of all the combat uniforms, Yellow Diamond is wanting to test the final prototypes one last time before going into mass production.”  Hazel eyes looked up at Pearl, narrowing.  “Are you unaware that the blemishes on your skin are showing?”

            “No ma’am,” Pearl stared at the ground.

            “Then why are they showing?”

            “Because my concealer and foundation are out.  I’ve tried to get what I can out of them.”

            “Well then next time tell me sooner and I can get you a replacement,” Carnelian stated.  The plump woman pulled out a piece of paper and began to write on it.  “Is that all that you are running low on?”

            For a moment Pearl couldn’t respond.  She didn’t actually think Carnelian would give her more.

            “Y-yes, ma’am, those are the only ones I’ve run out of.”

            “Go get your supplies, fix your appearance and be back no later than 07:30.  At 08:00 the first demonstration is to begin.  I’ll need you to take detailed notes of everything we see and any comments that are made.”

            The slip of paper traded hands.

            “Thank you, ma’am, I will be back promptly.”

            “Good,” Carnelian waved off as she returned to her desk.

            A short line greeted Pearl at the Individual Gem Supply Station.  Thankfully the three orders in front of her were processed quickly.  When no others came in after, the thin woman breathed out an internal sigh of relief as she handed Larimar the form.

            “More makeup?  Been a bit since you got your stuff the first time.  It sure lasted a while,” the curly haired man commented as he walked between the rows of inventory.

            “Considering that I only use it to cover up bruises, I’d say I went through it rather quickly.”

            “I’d have to agree with you there,” he nodded as the two items were set on the counter.  “Make sure to dispose of the old cases.”

            “Why would I want to keep them?” a faint eyebrow was raised up.

            “You never know why, some people like to hold onto trash.  Before Yellow Diamond switched to tubeless toilet paper, there was one chrysocolla that collected them.  When one stash was accidentally found of these brown tubes, the whole dormitory was cleared out.  Rumor has it there were several thousand of them hiding all over the place.  They had been collecting them for years, or maybe just months…there’s a lot of gems here.  A lot of toilet paper gets used up.”

            “I don’t want to think about how many people are taking a dump right now, ok?”

            Larimar chuckled.  “It’s a shitty place, what can I say?”

            Pearl just glared at the man.

            “Lame pun, I know,” he sighed.  “So, been awhile, new bruises from…”

            “The other pearls.”

            “Damn, they still don’t like you huh?  Thought they would have gotten used to you being Garnet’s favorite by now.”

            “I don’t think they will ever get used to it, if anything they keep using it as an excuse to continue bullying me,” the pale woman grumbled. A quick glance at her watch told her that she needed to locate a bathroom and fix herself up before too long. 

            “Have you ever tried punching them back?”

            “What?”

            “Have you ever fought back?  You know show them that they don’t want to mess with you?”

            “I don’t know how to punch,” Pearl stated.

            “Seriously?  After all the MMA matches you’ve probably seen by now?  Have you just been ogling Garnet the whole time?”

            “N-no!”

            The man with the goatee rolled his eyes.  “Well maybe you should start paying better attention.  Watch and learn how to fight, at least the basics.”

            “It’s one thing to watch, but to actually do, and be successful at it?”

            “Look,” he raised his hands up, “I’m not saying it’s the best method, but it’s what you got right now.  You punch those troublesome pearls in the face a few good times and they are going to start thinking twice before doing something.

            There was some truth to the gem’s words. However, the idea of attempting combat with zero experience didn’t sit well in her stomach.  She could watch all the fights she wanted, but she needed to experience it for herself.  Punching, blocking, kicking, breaking arms.  The piece of advice was pushed to the back of her mind as she decided to change the topic.

            “How much does this stuff cost?” her narrow hand motioned to the makeup sitting in front of her.

            “Foundation, this cheap kind, goes at ten units, and then the concealer also at ten.”

            “Oh…I thought it would be more, considering bandages are ten units.”

            Larimar shrugged his wide shoulders.  “Not everything makes sense down here.  Though if you want to get the nice stuff, that’s more like twenty to thirty units.”

            “Did Carnelian specify the quality and color for you to get me?”

            “You didn’t read what she wrote down?” an eyebrow was raised in disbelief. 

            Pearl paused.  “I…I didn’t think to…”

            “Well, just so you know, unless a request is specified to have the nice stuff, I always default to the cheaper stuff.  There’s more of it, and obviously doesn’t cost as much.  As for the color,” the curly haired man picked up the case and held it next to Pearl’s arm.  “I think I did a pretty good job of picking one.  You didn’t have any complaints about the last set either.”

            A faint smile slipped onto the pale woman’s mouth.  “I didn’t know there was an option to pick out your own,” the thin woman tossed back as she grabbed the items.

            “Eh,” Larimar shrugged, “If I’m not sure or if the gem asks nicely, I let them pick out which one they like the best.”

            “I’ll keep that in mind, but hopefully I won’t need any replacements for some time.”  Eyes darted to her watch again.  “I’d love to stay and chat, but Carnelian needs me back and presentable soon.  See you again sometime,” Pearl waved as she headed for the door.

            “See you again 01079!”

            Feet quickly carried her to the bathroom by Carnelian’s office.  With a new layer of makeup applied, she was ready to return to the designer.  For a moment there was this feeling of déjà vu as the plump woman took the newly acquired items and stored them in her desk while they would be doing their work.  Pearl’s arms were loaded up with all sorts of sewing supplies, a notebook, and some pencils.  Together they headed down the halls towards the familiar training area to observe the demonstrations.

Chapter Text

^^^^^^

Pearl gets to see the armored clothing in action as the End of the Year Celebration draws near.

^^^^^^

 

            Mechanical humming filled the air between all of the occupants in the elevator.  It would have been nice to even have some tacky elevator music playing that could possibly diffuse the tension inside her thin body.  Entering the metal box with Carnelian to descend the necessary levels to the training grounds had gone as expected at first, but then it had stopped two floors down to let someone else on.  Pearl fixed her gaze straight ahead when the doors slid open and Yellow Diamond and Pearl 00010 casually stepped on.

            “Morning Carnelian,” their master greeted the designer.

            “Good morning indeed, Yellow Diamond.  I hope you are as excited for these final demonstrations as I am,” Carnelian cheerily replied.

            “They will be informative, and if the results are satisfactory we will move forward as planned.”

            The tone of Yellow Diamond’s voice made it clear that no further chitchat was desired.  For the next six levels, all four of them stood silently in their spots with Pearl using her deep breathing techniques to help her nerves settle down.  Being around Yellow Diamond always did that to her. Shoulders were rolled back in an attempt to try and ease the burning in her arms from having to carry all of the random pieces of material and sewing tools for so long.  Humming stopped at the same time their momentum was slowed.  Metal doors slid open the next second and Yellow Diamond strode out closely followed by Pearl 00010.  Pearl did the same with Carnelian as they exited.  While the pale gem was familiar with the training grounds carved out and built deep into the Earth, it was still an impressive sight every time she saw them.  The central, wide hallway had the typical nondescript doors appearing on both sides.  Getting from one door to the next took some time as they were about fifty yards from each other.  Light blue eyes focused on the door they were approaching, the first entry point into the shooting range.  In the same order as before, all four of them entered.  Thirty shooting stations with targets that could be placed anywhere from two feet to fifty yards away made up the impressive range.  The first time Pearl had seen this place any question she had in the lethal power of the gems trained down here was erased.  These weren’t just bodyguards and bouncers, they were an army.  A labored breath was let out carefully, the thin gem really needed to set the items down sooner than later.  Yellow Diamond walked up to the jasper, Jasper 00096, that was waiting for them at stations 1-3.  Several more jaspers and amethysts could be seen sitting at a number of the stations with varying types of firearms, all geared up and ready to fire.

            “Yellow Diamond,” he saluted her, “All stations are set up according to your instructions and are awaiting your command to begin testing.”

            The intimidating woman waved off the salute.  Sets of over-the-ear protection and safety glasses were distributed to all four of them.

            “Carnelian tell your pearl to set the supplies behind station 1, she looks like her arms are going to fall off,” Yellow Diamond tossed over her shoulder as she put on the items.

            Hazelnut eyes made contact with light blues and Carnelian nodded to her.  The materials were set down on the floor against the wall.  Pearl picked up her notebook and pen; then shook out her arms for couple of seconds before falling to the designer’s side.  Protective gear was donned by all who were there.  They stood behind stations 1-3 where the three quartz gems were outfitted with handguns and the targets were hung five feet away.  Instead of the usual paper human silhouettes, the body armor of one of the three types of combat outfits were hung over a metal mannequin suspended in the air by the rod that connected it to the ceiling.  Station 1 had the light, station 2 had the medium, and station 3 had the heavy.

            “You may begin,” Yellow Diamond called out.

            Handguns were grabbed, aimed, and fired twice, one bullet impacting on the lower left segment of the torso with the other on the bottom half of the left thigh.  All three gems then immediately set down their weapons and waited for the next instruction.

            “Move the targets to ten feet,” was the following order.

            Jasper 00096 keyed in a command into the controller he was holding, and the targets were pulled back by the automatic track set into the ceiling of the range.

            “Fire.”

            The pops of gunfire echoed throughout the large room for a couple of seconds.  This time a bullet impacted the lower right section of the torso and one hit the bottom half of the right thigh.  Yellow Diamond waited for a moment before ordering the targets to be moved back to fifteen feet.  Once again the gems shot twice, however there was a little more hesitancy as more care was taken to ensure they hit their target in the desired upper left areas of the torso and thigh.

            “Issue the call to have everyone step back from the range, and bring the targets as close as possible, I want to have a look at them.”

            A buzzer sounded and all of the gems set their weapons down and stood against the back wall.  Yellow Diamond, Pearl 00010, Carnelian, and Pearl walked out onto the range to look at what damage the outfits and the mannequins had taken.  Notes were written down in rapid succession as Yellow Diamond and Carnelian talked.  Overall, the amount of protection provided from handgun fire by each of the levels was anticipated and satisfactory.  They then moved down to stations 4-6 where the same process was repeated but with semi-automatic rifles and different distances.  Results were recorded.  Once the same procedure had been completed with all of the varying types of weapons desired, all four of them moved onto the observatory deck for the urban obstacle course.  Pearl had to quickly regather the sewing supplies and run to catch up with the group.  When they had arrived, their owner was saluted and given a headset with a microphone.  Swift orders were issued to the gems overseeing the course.

            Quartz gems outfitted in the three different types of suits were to run though the gigantic obstacle course that looked like Yellow Diamond had just taken a section of the city above her and brought it underground.  There were dumpsters to jump over, buildings to scale, chain-link fence, barbed wire, stationary cars, windows, and more.  The first drill was to have three different groups of five gems complete the course for each level.  Pearl watched as the gems ran over, under, and up the varying blockades while also hitting any targets that popped up with paintballs, and avoiding any that were sent their way.  Times and performances were tracked and logged before the next group went.  It scared Pearl to a certain extent how well-trained Yellow Diamond’s combat gems were.  If the terrifying woman so desired she could launch an attack in a city and win.  No that wasn’t just it.  How many times had Yellow Diamond attacked and won?

            “Prepare the course for one final run for this drill, shift the cars around, and set the turret ranges to high,” the businesswoman spoke into her headset.

            Light blue eyes were glued to the course as the signal was given for the test run to begin.  It took several seconds to even spot the lone figure weaving through the buildings and cars wearing the heavy level gear.  At first all she could hear was the buzzer sounding from targets that had been hit and the impact of paintballs from the turrets on the structures.  Pearl watched as the armored individual climbed up a side of alleyway stairs only to turn and jump onto a narrow window sill of the neighboring building.  There was no mistaking those powerful and graceful movements, she could spot Garnet anywhere.

            “She’s slower,” a low grumble came from Yellow Diamond.  “But that is to be expected considering the additional weight and lack of training in it,” came the sigh.  “That will need to change.  Carnelian,” sharp eyes turned to the designer.

            “Yes, Yellow Diamond?”

            “If Garnet desires any modifications to her outfits she will come to you to have those made and you will follow them exactly, understood?”

            “Yes, of course, nothing but my best.”

            Carnelian’s smile was ever so slightly strained.  Pearl wasn’t sure if Yellow Diamond had noticed, but either way nothing more was said on the topic.  In a couple more minutes the champion had finished the course.

            “Prepare the teams, deactivate all turrets and targets, shift around the cars, add fencing in zones 1, 4, and 11, and remove fencing in zones 5, 13, and 26.”

            Gems moved about on the course for a few minutes as the demands were met.  When the green light that everything was set and the teams were ready was given to Yellow Diamond, she ordered them to begin.  The two sides moved about, working together to take out the other individuals on the opposing team.  Paintballs whizzed back and forth, and those hit in lethal areas had to leave the course.  One by one their numbers dwindled.  Pearl noticed that while one had Garnet on their side, the other had five more gems.  There was no doubt that the discrepancy was intentional and it intrigued the pale gem to see how it would turn out in the end.  After thirty minutes, Garnet’s team was down to three, including her, while the other had eight.  The three made good use of their teamwork sticking together and ambushing one of the pairs that was searching for them.

            “Activate the turrets and set them to medium range.”

            It took only a short few minutes for the two teams to be whittled down by the turrets catching them off guard.  Only Garnet remained of the one team, while the other still had four left.  Pearl watched on pins and needles as the champion moved about avoiding detection by her opponents and getting caught in the turret fire.  Two were successfully taken out before Garnet was hit from behind by the fourth while she was engaging the third.

            “Garnet, report to the observation deck immediately,” Yellow Diamond called out over the intercom once the drill had ended.

            Pearl kept busy filling out the rest of her notes as they silently waited for the champion to arrive.  The door to their left opened and the tall figure walked up to Yellow Diamond.  Pearl was familiar with the fighter’s outfit as the clothing, boots, formfitting helmet and hoodie, and armor that Garnet wore were exactly like had been designed for the heavy level.  However, instead of the intended weapons, they had been replaced with non-lethal variants for the exercises.  Paintball guns, rubber knives, and powder grenades were secured in the proper places.  The other main difference was that Garnet’s typical pink and blue angular glasses had been switched out for a set of black ones that were more closely molded to her face.  It was an odd sight.  Pearl noted that she missed seeing the dark woman’s afro.

            Yellow Diamond stepped forward to examine the splatters of paint on her champion.  Two yellow marks, one on right her shoulder, and the other scraping her right side were from the turrets hitting her in the first drill.

            “Turn around.”

            One final mark was splattered all over the middle of her lower back where she had been hit in the second.  Pearl winced at the sight of the bright red liquid, even though she knew it was fake, it brought about unwanted images of Garnet getting hurt in such a way.  Yellow Diamond placed a hand right above the mark and trailed her fingers through the dry paint, her face as expressionless as ever.

            “While your improvements in the ring have been most beneficial, I can’t have you slipping up in this area,” came the even voice.

            Garnet faced her master.

            “Your schedule will be modified to give you more time down here while maintaining your skill in the ring.”  A pause.  “I need you Garnet, especially right now with everything that has been stirring.”

            The fighter took a knee, braced her gloved palms against the floor, and bowed her head.  Yellow Diamond rested her hand on the back of Garnet’s protected head.  Pearl could have sworn she saw the hand move in an affectionate rubbing motion.

            “You are my gun, my weapon, my champion.”

            No response was given from the bowed figure.  The way Yellow Diamond turned her attention back to the three of them made the pale woman feel like she shouldn’t have been watching that exchange.

            “We have one last area to test before I make my final call.  Come now to the sparring rings.”

            Pearl cast a lightning fast glance towards the stone-faced Garnet as she picked up the sewing supplies once again.  She hoped that they had made eye contact, but it was impossible to tell.  The five of them walked to the elevator.  As the doors opened, Garnet turned and headed for the stairway a few feet away.  If Pearl had the choice she’d rather walk all of those stairs with the dark woman than have a short ride in the elevator with the other three occupants.

            Dozens of gems were in the sparring rings located on the ground level of building one; all of them dressed in one of the three various levels of protection.  They walked around observing hand-to-hand combat and how each gem was managing with the additional weight and restrictions in movement.  Pearl studied the fighters as they punched, blocked, and kicked.  It didn’t look too hard, just simple strikes and shifts of one’s body.  She could do that too, right?  A frown formed on her lips.  It depended a lot on timing, and she wasn’t sure how good she would be at that.  Nonetheless, the pale gem did her best to memorize the moves.  After a long hour of observations and Yellow Diamond ordering specific match ups and situations, the drills were stopped and the four of them retreated to a corner of the large room.

            “I am satisfied with the results of your designs Carnelian, it’s time they were put into mass production.  I want quotes and requests for materials, and lead times for 250 of each level divided into our typical size ranges.  Clothing, headwear, armor, footwear, and other necessary accessories.  I will handle the weapons,” Yellow Diamond finalized.  “Completing these will be your main focus for now.”

            “Consider it done, Yellow Diamond, I will make sure everything turns out as expected,” Carnelian smiled widely.

            “If you need more seamstresses, let me know and that can also be arranged.”

            “Thank you.”

            “That is all, I’ll leave you to your work,” Yellow Diamond finished with a wave.

            Carnelian bowed before turning to Pearl.  “Time to head back, we have lots to do!”

            Pearl silently nodded and followed the plump woman out of the room.

 

            “Lots to do” barely scratched the surface.  From the moment the pale woman would arrive in the morning to when she left at night, it was go, go, go.  There wasn’t a minute to lose and on more than one occasion Pearl missed a meal as a result.  Planning out what they needed, planning for extras, putting together the order, double-checking the order, placing the order, getting the fabric and gear, then finally beginning the creation process.  Before Pearl knew it the month of December had arrived and they were to have their last Friday event before the End of the Year Celebration.  A frown pulled the thin woman’s lips down, she was running out of time to ask Garnet about Ruby and Sapphire before that dreaded event.  Part of her hoped that Garnet would come invite her to go stargazing again, but it had been over two weeks since she had foolishly rejected the second offer.

            We can talk during the car ride back or something, that would be a good time, right?

            There were no other guaranteed times they would get to spend time together, if it came down to it, she would have to make it work.  Otherwise Pearl would have to wait until a safe time after the End of the Year Celebration.

 

            Regulation was a rude push back into reality after being able to avoid it at Blue Diamond’s place and their intimate attempt a couple nights later.  It hurt to be forced to do this instead of doing things on their own terms.  Despite the situation, Pearl wanted to make the most of it and at least do a good job of going down on Garnet.  She extended her hand out in an invitation to be held.  An invitation that Garnet silently accepted, her mismatched eyes staring into her light blues.

            Talking didn’t happen during the car ride back.  The event against the other facet had gone much like the others had.  Garnet had won her match and Pearl was kept busy the whole night.  When they got into the SUV, no words were exchanged as they just sought out the physical comfort of resting together.  Pearl nuzzled the silky dry-fit material of the curly haired woman’s shirt as she lay on top of Garnet listening to her heartbeat.

            The pale woman’s attention was drawn to her left wrist.  Marks were already forming from Garnet’s grip during regulation.  While the fighter’s hold hadn’t been as tight as other times, it didn’t matter as Pearl bruised easily.  At least they wouldn’t be as dark as previous times.  Silently she hoped that holding hands made it easier for Garnet.  Unfortunately, she had no idea of knowing and it was unlikely that Garnet was going to offer up her thoughts on it.  The ride passed in silence as they just laid there together, neither of them really falling asleep.  A light kiss, their lips barely brushing against each other’s, was exchanged at their parting in the hallways.  Pearl flopped on her bed and let out a heavy breath.  She had just missed her best chance to talk to Garnet about killing before the End of the Year Celebration.  Covers were pulled around her thin body; there wasn’t anything she could do about it now except hope that maybe Garnet would ask her to go stargazing within the next few weeks.  Exhausted eyes drifted to a close.

 

            Fate seemed to be smiling down on her as Garnet had appeared outside of her dormitory the next Wednesday with her telescope slung over her shoulder.  Pearl didn’t hesitate to accept the invitation and before she knew it they were on the top of building zero trying to find what they could in the night sky with Garnet’s jacket wrapped around her to ward off the freezing wind.  The fighter was much more interactive this time as she would make a comment here or there as she looked into the telescope.  Casual touches were traded, a hand resting on a shoulder for a moment, reaching out to grab the other’s arm, a playful shove.  By the time it was almost 22:30, Pearl was sitting cross-legged in a comfortable seat that Garnet’s crossed legs had formed.  A happy sigh was let out as she relaxed against the warm, solid frame.  Off to their side the telescope stood pointed down towards the bustling streets below them.  Light blue eyes blinked slowly.  She could fall asleep in her current position no problem.

            You need to ask her about Ruby and Sapphire.

            If Pearl had a dictionary she could look up the word “mood killer” and find a picture of her inner voice there.  Unease settled into her stomach.  She did need to, but she really didn’t want to ruin the nice evening they were having together.  This would most likely be the last night they got to spend together in private before the next year.  The thin woman was torn between keeping the atmosphere light and asking the burning question.

            “Pearl?” Garnet’s deep, accented voice broke through her train of thought.

            The smaller woman jumped a little in surprise.  “Yes?” She relaxed back against the fighter.

            “The end of the year is coming up.”

            Pearl’s gut sank even more.  Garnet was going to be the one who brought up the topic.

            “You know what that means, right?” the curly haired woman continued.

            “Yes.  The End of the Year Celebration is only a couple weeks away.”

            “And you know what I’ll be doing, right?”

            “Yes,” the thin woman’s voice shrunk, her body inadvertently tensing and curling in on itself as her mind decided to replay a few gory memories of the last End of the Year Celebration.  Blood splattered all over the ring, Garnet effortlessly crushing one life after another, mutilated corpses.

            “Good, I just wanted to be sure you were prepared for it.”

            The warm and relaxing atmosphere around them had shifted into an anxious silence.  It was now or never if Pearl was going to ask Garnet about killing.

            “Do you enjoy it?” her voice was barely above that of a whisper.

            She could feel the rise and fall of the fighter’s chest as she breathed in deeply and exhaled.

            “It’s part of my job to kill.”

            It was neither a yes nor a no.

            “How do you feel about those you’ve killed?” the pale woman decided to push the topic further.

            “What do you mean?” Garnet’s tense voice grumbled.

            “Do you remember those you’ve killed?  Do you regret having to?  Did you find satisfaction in killing them?”

            A long pause.

            “The random names and faces of those who’ve died at my hands mean nothing to me.  Remembering them or regretting their deaths would only slow me down.  There are so many that I’ve killed that adding another to the pile does not impact me.  I do take pride in my work and gain satisfaction from a job well done.  And if it so happens that I kill someone who has been causing me or those I protect trouble, then there is an additional bonus to it.”

            “So you do enjoy it then.”

            Garnet’s legs and torso tensed.  “It’s easy, I’m good at it, and is the best solution in most cases.”

            “What about The Cage?” the pale woman spoke through the sound of her blood pounding in her ears.

            “The Cage is not something I particularly look forward to Pearl.”

            “You don’t?”

            “I don’t.”

            “Why?” Pearl pressed, sitting on pins and needles.  She could tell she was riding a thin line, but so far Garnet hadn’t pushed back or gotten significantly upset.

            “There’s no need for it, all of those who are put in could have been killed long before.  It’s an entertaining execution where they are given a glimmer of hope, only to crush it.  Most who are put in The Cage present little to no challenge for me.”

            “Then why don’t you just kill them quickly and painlessly?  Wouldn’t that be more humane than dragging it out like you did?”

            A huff of hot air brushed across the top of her head from the fighter’s harsh exhale.

            “You misunderstand my position,” Garnet grumbled.  “I am supposed to make a show of executing those people and at the same time if I lose, I die.”

            Looking back, the requirement to put on a show made perfect sense, of course Garnet wouldn’t just enjoy torturing people to death.  It was to stir up the crowds and give them what they wanted while also striking fear into all of the others.

            “I’m sorry for making the assumption that you could just end them however you want,” the thin woman quickly retracted.

            “I can kill them however I want, I just can’t do it super quickly, you know, play a little cat and mouse game with them,” the fighter sighed, somewhat appeased by the apology.  “Besides it also gives me a chance to try out something new or refine a technique.  If I have to do it, then I might as well learn and improve.”

            The last sentence didn’t sit well in Pearl’s stomach.

            How many ways does Garnet know to kill someone?

            Now was not the time to be wondering about that.  She needed answers and right now she was on a roll.    Pearl breathed out slowly, her mind working to create a subtle change in topic to bring up Sapphire and Ruby.  While it seemed Garnet neither hated nor reveled in killing, the thin woman needed to know about what happened to the fighter’s mothers.  That last question had really pushed the line, but the pale woman was willing to take the risk of nudging it a little further.

            “Last year in The Cage I remember the one pearl shouting out that ‘Sapphire didn’t fight back!’.  I’ve never heard of any Sapphires aside from your mother, was that who she was referring to?”

            Several seconds of absolute silence passed by.  Light blue eyes watched as the large hands resting on the fighter’s knees on either side of her gripped at the jean pant legs until the veins in Garnet’s hands and forearms began to bulge out even more.

            You’ve made her mad.

            “Garnet?” Pearl dared to speak up again, trying in vain to keep her rising panic under control.

            She wouldn’t hurt me.  Right?

            You asked a dumb question while sitting in the most vulnerable position with your back completely exposed.  She could do any number of things to you from here like grab your head and twist it around…it wouldn’t take much effort at all for her to kill you.

            Just…

            Like…

            SAPPHIRE!

            The voice jostled Pearl out of Garnet’s lap and onto her feet.  She whirled around to face the fighter, her entire frame trembling.  Round lips were drawn into a neutral line, but the tension in the dark woman’s body was terrifyingly obvious.

            “I told you not to ask about Sapphire ever again,” came the low growl.

            Long, pale fingers fidgeted and intertwined with each other to try to release a fraction of the fear steadily growing inside of the strawberry blonde.  However, she had to try, she had gotten this far.

            “Please, I want to understand.”

            Garnet steadily rose to her feet.  “How could you understand?” she spoke through gritted teeth as she took an aggressive step towards the thin woman.  “You don’t even know what it’s like to kill someone you hate!  Let alone someone who did their best to love and care for you even up until their dying breath!”

            Pearl flinched and backed away.  “I’m sorry, you’re right I could never understand.”

            “Then WHY did you say that?!” the fighter threw her arms out wide.

            “I-I just…I want to know.”

            “Know WHAT?!”

            “What happened!” the smaller woman shouted back, tears starting to burn in the corner of her eyes.

            “I killed my mot-Sapphire’s wife and Yellow Diamond’s current champion, Ruby, and then I killed Sapphire!”

            “But why?!  How?!”

            “HOW?!”

            Another long stride was taken towards Pearl; causing the thin woman to back up closer to the edge of the building.  This was a mistake, she had pushed Garnet too far.  She should have just let them enjoy the rest of their evening together.

            “Just like this!  I wrapped my arms around their necks-” muscular arms were folded in the now familiar, triangular blood choke, “-and then squeezed as tightly as I could until I-” Garnet’s voice caught for a second, causing her to pause and swallow heavily, “-I felt their life drain out of them,” she finished in a shaky, hushed tone.

            Pearl stared, unable to formulate a response.

            “I…MURDERED THEM!” the angry voice shot out only to be swept up by the cold wind.

            Garnet stomped forward until she was less than a foot away from Pearl who had pressed herself up against the stone barrier surrounding the building, hands braced against the top of the cold ledge.  The champion’s upper torso expanded and contracted in time with her harsh breathing.

            “END OF STORY!”

            Two tears jumped from wide, light blue eyes, to run down Pearl’s cheeks.  A whimper escaped her throat.  Hands snapped up to cover her mouth.  They stared at each other for a few painfully tense seconds.  Pearl had no idea if Garnet would lash out physically in her anger and just the thought made the pale woman tremble even more.  Tears continued to make streaks down the sides of her face.  Round lips that had been pulled back into a snarl, slowly fell to a neutral line.  Garnet thankfully didn’t move any closer as her breathing was leveled out with a few intentional deep inhales and exhales.

            “Why doesn’t matter.  They are dead and I’m the one who did it,” Garnet finished.

            With that the champion pivoted on her foot and briskly walked over to the telescope and began to collapse the legs and detach them from the main body.  The distance between them and Garnet’s self-control seemed to give Pearl a fraction of her courage or idiocy back.

            “Why does matter to me.  You didn’t want to kill them, right?”

            The telescope case was shut with a firm snap of the metal clasps latching into place.  Garnet didn’t even spare a glance in her direction as she stood up, slung the long object over her shoulder, and began to make her way to the trapdoor that led into the building.  The fighter’s refusal to answer the question was making Pearl’s stomach do flips.

            “Do you at least regret killing Sapphire and Ruby?” she tried one last approach.

            Garnet froze in her spot, a foot or two away from the trapdoor.  An elongated pause drifted between them.  Pearl anticipated the return of angry yelling, but instead, Garnet’s deep, strained voice made its way to the pale woman’s ears.

            “I cannot regret killing them, if I did, then I would regret becoming Yellow Diamond’s champion and it would have been better if Ruby had killed me that night.”

            Pearl opened her mouth to continue, but Garnet cut her off.

            “Do NOT ask any more of me.” She crouched down and lifted up the door.  “It’s late.  Time to head back and get what rest we can.”

            Thin lips were shut tight, pushing the topic anymore would not only be extremely reckless and put Garnet in an even worse mood, but it would disrespect her firm request to end the conversation.  Quietly the strawberry blonde followed Garnet through the trapdoor.

            They walked in silence all the way back to Pearl’s dormitory.  Several times Pearl tried to catch the fighter’s eye as they traveled through the halls, only to fail each time.  Reaching out to touch her was out of the question as Garnet walked with a few feet between them.  The champion more or less acted as if the thin woman wasn’t even there.  Swift strides slowed to a stop once they had arrived at the door.

            “Garnet I’m-”

            “My jacket,” the sharp demand was accompanied by Garnet’s outstretched hand.

            Pearl pulled back; surprised at being cut off.  Numbly she took off the huge, warm object and surrendered it; shivering as the cool inside air brushed over her skin causing goosebumps to rise up.  The black leather jacket was hung over Garnet’s shoulder as she turned and started to walk away.

            “Please Garnet I’m so-”

            “Save your breath,” came the hiss.

            Light blue eyes blinked and a couple of tears welled up in her eyes.

            “I told you not to bring that topic up, and yet you did.  Then you repeatedly pursued it without any regard to how discussing and thinking about it affects me.  Do not cross that line again, otherwise you WILL regret it.”

            Tears rolled down Pearl’s cheeks as she watched Garnet disappear into the concrete maze.  She had messed up.  Royally.  The bony back collided with the stone wall and slid down until Pearl was sitting on the hard floor.  Ugly sobs filled the hallway like the tears and snot stained her face and shirt.  She had got some answers but at a cost to hers and Garnet’s relationship that she wasn’t sure was worth paying.

            After considerable effort to calm herself down, the pale woman took a few last deep breaths, wiped off her face, opened the door to her dormitory, and closed it behind her.

 

            Sleep did not come easily despite how exhausted Pearl was.  Her mind repeatedly played her questioning of Garnet over and over until it could be recited word for word.  Each time she realized even more how much of a selfish idiot she had been to do that.  It was because Garnet wasn’t crying or lashing out violently that Pearl thought she could keep on asking.  The dark woman’s anger, tone of voice, and tensed posture should have clued Pearl in that Garnet was at her limit, but Pearl ignored it in favor of getting as much information as she could.

            I’m lucky Garnet didn’t hurt me.

            Hands were curled into fists under her blanket as an ache settled into her chest.

            No, I’m the one who hurt Garnet.

            Pearl breathed out heavily.  She would need to apologize for that and try to make amends.

            I just hope I get a chance to.

            Light blue eyes stared out into the dark room, eyelids opening and closing at a snail’s pace.  Even though the answer wasn’t given explicitly on if Garnet wanted to kill Ruby and Sapphire, it was obvious when looking at how the fighter had reacted to it and how she had spoken of Sapphire in the past.  The pale woman tried to bring up some of the good parts of their night together, like the jokes they had shared or something cool they had seen but she couldn’t remember anything aside from the questioning.

            A night together.

            Dread seeped into Pearl’s bones.  She had been out for the night and the other pearls were well aware of this.  In the morning Pearl 00824 was sure to attack her again.  The pale woman reached out for her scheduler set next to her pillow.  There was only one way she could think of right now that could help her avoid being beaten, and that was if she woke up earlier and got ready for the day as early as possible.  An alarm was set to go off fifteen minutes before the lights came on.  That would give her the fifteen minutes she needed to be ready.

            She’s not going to catch me off guard.

            With the alarm set, Pearl worked on forcing herself to get the four hours of rest she had left.

 

            Urgent chirping called from the electronic device next to her pillow, its bright light shining up and illuminating the area around it.  The thin woman forced her sleep fogged mind to wake up.  Her mattress creaked as she rolled over to silence her scheduler.  Not too far away Pearl heard the squeaking of another bed followed by the rapid slap of bare feet on the concrete floor approaching her.  Adrenaline shot through her body as her heart rate sped up dramatically.  Nothing good could come of that sound.  The light from another scheduler popped up just to her right, revealing Pearl 00824’s livid face.

            “You bitch!” she hissed as she lunged for Pearl.

            Only one thought ran through Pearl’s head as she was faced with her assailant and that was to put as much distance between them as possible.  Feet frantically kicked the covers off of her as she scrambled backwards using her hands, butt, and legs.  Pearl tumbled to the ground a second later as her left hand reached behind her and only met air.  Pearl 00824 chased after her, grabbing a fistful of the front of her shirt as they both fell the short distance to the floor.  The pale woman’s right hand grabbed her pillow and brought it down with her, quickly shoving it under her head as Pearl 00824 pinned her to the cold ground.  A fist crashed against the side of the strawberry blonde’s face causing her to grit her teeth; a small hiss of pain escaping her lips.

            “You think you’re some special piece of shit don’t you!” Pearl 00824 spat; her other fist landing another hit that connected with Pearl’s nose.  “Going off and fucking the night away with Garnet like you’re someone important?!”

            The lights from both of their schedulers shut off as they went into sleep mode.  Avoiding strikes she couldn’t see was impossible.  However, Pearl 00824 seemed to have no trouble finding her face in the dark.  Blood oozing from Pearl’s nose and mouth began to smear all over her face and run down the sides to drip onto her pillow.  Even though she couldn’t see it, she could feel the sticky wet substance collecting on Pearl 00824’s hands.

            Think!  There has to be something you’ve seen in the fights that could help!

            Her mind was drawing a blank right now, all she could think of was that she felt like how Garnet must have when Imperial Topaz was bearing down on her.  Endless punches and slaps raining from above.  Eyebrows were pulled together as her mind remembered the gut-wrenching scene of Garnet’s loss.  The fighter wasn’t just lying there trying to avoid, she had her arms up like a shield.  A light bulb switched on in her mind.  She had seen that same technique done so many times by Garnet and her opponents.  Forearms were pulled up to cover her face, causing the next two strikes to hit her arms instead.  Pearl 00824 let out an infuriated screech.  There was enough hesitation before the next attack that Pearl got a chance to breathe and piece part of her brain back together.

            “Oh you’re so fucking smart!” came the sarcastic comment.

            Now that Pearl’s eyes had readjusted to the darkness, she could see the outline of the woman straddling her torso pull her fist back in preparation to strike.  Pearl tucked her head behind her arms and internally celebrated when it hit them instead of her face.  However, the next punch connected with the side of her head as the attacking pearl opted to circumvent the barrier.  It didn’t hurt as bad as the others, but Pearl needed to keep her eyes on Pearl 00824’s silhouette so she could try to determine where the fists were going to go and block them.  Two more hits were landed, but one more had been blocked.  Two hits were blocked and only one was landed.  Pearl was ecstatic about her success only to have it snuffed out by the hands forcing her forearms apart and wrapping around her throat.  Nails dug into her neck.  The strawberry blonde forced herself to keep her breathing even.

            “Let’s see you block this!”

            Go for the thumbs, break the grip there!

            Fingers wrapped around the thumbs and Pearl began to slowly peel away both of the hands attempting to strangle her.  Pearl 00824 cried out angrily.  The hands jerked about causing Pearl to lose her grip on them.  An instant later they were latched back around her neck.  She tried to pry them off her again, but her assailant was anticipating the move and increased the pressure, thus making it much harder to remove them and think.

            “You worthless pearl!  You are no better than us!  How dare you act like you are!”

            Pearl 00824 jerked Pearl’s head up only to slam it down hard against the pillow.  The strawberry blonde still felt some of the firm impact with the floor, but it was nothing compared to how it could have been.  The motion was repeated over and over again.  Pearl could only tense her neck and upper body to try and make it harder to jerk her head about, reduce the whiplash, and soften the impact against the pillow-covered ground.

            All around rectangular screens began to light up.  Beds creaked as the waking pearls moved about to gather around them.  Through Pearl’s fading consciousness, she could see dozens of schedulers shining down on them, illuminating the beat down with their painfully bright white lights.  Pearl 00824’s face was twisted with rage and satisfaction.  The pale woman gurgled and gasped for air.  What else could she do?  The other pearls seemed content with just watching and Pearl 00824 wasn’t going to back off.  One final idea popped into the bloodied pearl’s head.  If her attacker, who was shorter than her, could reach her neck, then she could reach her attacker’s face.  Pearl gathered the last of her strength, curled her left hand into a fist and shot it up towards Pearl 00824’s chin.  She never saw if she connected or not as the world around her was muted and doused in darkness.

 

            Ceiling lights finally welcomed Pearl back to the land of the conscious.  There was no pressure around her neck nor was there anyone sitting on her waiting to resume the beating.  Barely open blue eyes rotated in their sockets to gaze at the scene around them.  She was surrounded by pearls and they all were either watching her or Pearl 0251 as she lectured Pearl 00824.  Pearl coughed and gasped for air.  Oxygen burned as it rushed down her bruised windpipe.

            “She’s conscious,” a voice spoke up.

            “I don’t care that you two fight; however, if you seriously injure or kill each other then I will have to report it,” Pearl 00251’s stern tone continued on.  “And don’t you two start things while the rest of us are trying to sleep for stars’ sake.”

            “Yes, ma’am,” came Pearl 00824’s dutiful response.

            The older pearl pivoted on her heel so she was facing the beaten one.

            “And you clean up your mess before you leave!  I will not have my floors looking like the fighting platforms.”

            With that she dismissed everyone and stomped off.  Pearl rolled onto her side and coughed again.  The gathering of pearls steadily dispersed; their morning chitchat filling the air.  Pearl 00824 sneered at Pearl as she walked over, kicked her hard in the stomach, then strode away.  Eyes were shut tight as arms wrapped around the newly abused area of her body.

            I feel like shit.

            Pearl numbly stared into her bloodied pillow for a few minutes.  At this moment she really couldn’t see any reason to keep on fighting or pushing to make the most of this horrible life.  Good things were fleeting moments that could easily be spoiled, and the bad seemed to only get stronger with each day.  Time was slipping by and if she was late to helping Carnelian things were only bound to get worse.  Pearl forced herself onto her feet and began her daily morning routine.

Chapter Text

^^^^^^

Pearl is much more prepared for the End of the Year Celebration than the first time.  Or is she?

^^^^^^

 

            “Today I need to take measurements for some alterations of the armored outfits, namely for a few of the higher ranked combat individuals.  The first appointment is at 08:00 and should be done by 09:00.  Normally you would join me, but I need you here to clean up the disaster this room has become.  I have appointments until 14:00, so once you’re done fixing everything in here, then you can join me.  Your scheduler should have updated with my location for each of the alterations,” Carnelian explained as she rushed about gathering her tools.

            Dull blue eyes cast a short glance at the object clinging to the side of her pants.  Pearl had seen them.  Right during breakfast the scheduler had chirped out several times.  While initially it had sent the pale woman into a panic, when she had read them she was able to calm down.

            “Organize the bolts of fabric, thread, bits and pieces, dispose of the trash, collect all loose pins, vacuum, and put away all of the loose designs into my cabinet and organize them.  If you run out of room, take any designs that are from last year or older to the archives.”  The plump woman grabbed one last item before rushing for the door.

            Pearl was able to react quickly enough to make it to the door and open it just in time.

            “Thank you, Pearl, see you soon!”

            With that the thin woman was left all alone in the room.  She didn’t mind that though, the space was nice to have for once.  Eyes looked over the messy office.  The order for the 250 of each armored level was right on schedule, a little ahead of schedule actually.  Pearl began to walk about the room gathering the large bolts of fabric and moving them to the shelves built for holding and displaying them.  Next, the larger pieces of fabric laying around were collected, folded, and either thrown into the trash or stored for future use.

            “Ow!”

            Pearl pulled her hand away from the grey Kevlar she was going to pick up.  A tiny dot of red began to bubble up on her finger.  Light blue eyes glared at the pin hiding in the fabric.  With a huff it was removed and stabbed into her pincushion wristband, and then the Kevlar was shoved into the bundle of scraps in her arms.  Now that she had encountered it, there was a high possibility that some of the other pieces were hiding a number of pins.  The thin woman grumbled as she walked over to the organized scraps and began to undo all of her work so she could find any pins.  Over twenty pins were pulled and poked into the pincushion wristband.  Pearl glanced at her watch.

            [09:48]

            Feet carried her over to Carnelian’s desk so she could open one of the top drawers and retrieve the tool she would need for her next task.  The object was an old, telescoping, antennae that had once been part of a car with a large, powerful, disk magnet welded to the tip.  Picking up pins quickly became a common and often frustrating task.  Carnelian’s office, like many of the nicer ones, had multicolored, industrial carpet flooring.  This made it very difficult to see pins before they embedded themselves in shoes or searching hands.  While finding them on the usual concrete floor wouldn’t be too much easier, by the time Pearl had been doing this for over a year she resolved to make it easier.  A quick trip to the Individual Gem Supply Station resulted in the purchase of the magnet and directions to where the bismuths generally worked.  From there Pearl got lucky in her interaction with one of the female bismuths.  After handing over thirty credits she was presented with the resulting tool.  Simple, compact, and effective.

            Pearl extended out the telescoping rod to its full length and began to sweep the magnet over the floor like she was some treasure hunter with a metal detector.  Every time the click of a pin sticking to the magnet was heard, the pale woman couldn’t help but smile in satisfaction.  Checking over the entire room took a good forty-five minutes as she had to pause and remove the gathering of pins to free up more space on the magnet two or three times.  The sharp objects were then stabbed into a tomato pincushion until it was full with the remainder put into a plastic case.  Next she was going to organize all of the files.  Papers were put into the correct folders, folders were then alphabetized and filed away.  There was enough room for everything, so no trips to the archives were necessary.

            As the thin woman was spacing out the folders before shutting the drawer a title caught her eye.

 

“Black Leather Jacket w/ Fleece Liner

 

            Eyebrows furrowed.  Pearl grabbed the folder, pulled it out, and flipped to the front.  Sketches and concept drawings for the article of clothing covered the first few pages, followed by detailed measurements and specifications; then patterns and a couple pictures of the end result.  The pale woman had to do a double take at the picture of the completed jacket and the person who was wearing it.  It was Garnet.

            Of course it’s Garnet you dummy, who else have you seen wearing a black leather jacket that looks exactly like the one in here?

            Pearl got to the end of the folder and saw the full title for it.

 

“Black Leather Jacket w/ Fleece Liner

Garnet 0001”

 

            So Garnet’s jacket was another gift then.  I wonder what she did to get that?

            Hands flipped back through the designs, pausing on the page that listed out all the measurements and details.  There were several pockets supposedly on the inside of the jacket, but Pearl had never felt them.  She read over the page carefully.  Two pockets, one on each side, were up by the chest and were no bigger than a hand.  Four pockets, two on each side, were located around the ribs and could hold small weapons or ammunition.  Pearl knew there hadn’t been any weapons in the jacket when she had worn it, but it made complete sense for Garnet’s attire to be outfitted in such a way.  As the folder was put away the pale woman began to wonder if Garnet’s other “casual” attire held secrets.  With a heavy exhale the cabinet drawer was closed and Pearl marched to the nearby janitorial closet to acquire the vacuum.

            Garnet was a topic she had been intentionally avoiding, again.  The week after their disastrous evening together she had endured more physical bullying from 00824 until she bent to the crazy pearl’s demands.  Physically Pearl was improving as her face and neck were finally clearing up from all the bruising of the initial attack, but her mind and thin sense of safety was in shambles.  Nightmares of her bully, Garnet’s anger, and other past traumas happened nearly every night, while throughout the day Pearl had to use her deep breathing techniques whenever someone burst into a room or came close to her without first being detected.  Her nerves felt frayed and jittery.  Nothing had been seen or heard of Garnet since that night as she had not appeared in the hallways and their scheduled regulation was cancelled days before it was to happen.  Pearl’s face was pulled sideways in a wince.

            That meant Garnet chose to have Yellow Diamond take care of things instead of me.

            She somewhat knew how regulation went for Garnet with Yellow Diamond, and if Garnet would rather deal with that than see her, then that meant she really had pushed things too far.

            I need to properly apologize to her.

The End of the Year Celebration was only a few days away and that meant that the next time Pearl would see the champion would be when she was killing whoever got put into The Cage.  After that she had no idea when she would see Garnet again.

            The plug was shoved in the outlet and Pearl hit the power button on the vacuum.  Much like the noise of the mechanical broom chased away the silence, Pearl chased the thoughts of Garnet away by running through her mental checklist of things that needed to be done in the next few days.  She knew she needed to face what had happened, what she learned, and how much she hurt Garnet, but for now she wasn’t going to think about it.

            Nothing is going to change until I can speak with Garnet again anyway and I need to stay on task.  Maybe during my personal time later tonight.

 

            The remaining days until the End of the Year Celebration went by too quickly for Pearl’s liking.  Carnelian was neck-deep in alterations and completing Yellow Diamond’s specialized, tactical suit.  Pearl was with the designer as much as possible, helping out in any way she could.

            Today, the day before the big event, she was supplying pin after pin as Carnelian pieced together the suit on Yellow Diamond as she stood there on a raised, cylindrical platform.  Right now, just the three of them were in the room as Pearl 00010 was nowhere to be seen.

            “I already like the feeling of this latest design of yours,” Yellow Diamond spoke up.

            “You do?” Carnelian returned, her voice filled with thinly veiled excitement.

            “A Kevlar lined suit with stainless steel woven into the silk fabric, built to be both fashionable yet effective and protective in combat, there is little to not like about it.  While it may be a bit heavier and restrictive than the others, it will serve me well.”

            “I am very flattered by your praise Yellow Diamond.  Once we have all the pinning complete it will only take a day or so to complete the rest of the sewing.  Your new suit should be ready for action in a few days.”

            “Good.  The sooner the better.”

            Carnelian continued to expertly line the side of the suit jacket with pins, tailoring the clothing to its wearer.  The door to Yellow Diamond’s office was opened and Pearl 00010 walked in, her face carrying a neutral expression.

            “What is the result?” Yellow Diamond asked without context.

            “Level 3, Yellow Diamond,” Pearl 00010 stated.

            “What?”

            Pearl didn’t like the sharp change of tone in her owner’s voice, it put her on edge.  She took a deep breath and exhaled, the voice wasn’t directed towards her.

            Yet…

            “Are you certain?”

            “Both of the spinels agree.  Agate 00016 has had to-”

            The blonde pearl stopped speaking the instant Yellow Diamond held up her hand.

            “Carnelian, I need a moment with Pearl, take yours and wait outside until you are called back in,” the businesswoman instructed.

            “Of course,” Carnelian bowed before heading towards the door.

            Pearl rushed after her and closed the door behind her.  The designer sighed and put her round hands on her hips.

            “I do hope it’s a short discussion, we have a schedule to keep.”

            For a few minutes they stood in the yellow hallway awaiting the moment when they would be let back in.  By the time they had, Carnelian had begun to pace around.  Yellow Diamond was back on the pedestal and Pearl 00010 had taken a seat in the large office chair.

            “We will proceed as planned, it’s been this high before,” the businesswoman spoke to her pearl.

            “Understood.”

            “You may resume Carnelian, I apologize for interrupting your work, but some things must be taken care of immediately and privately.”

            The pale woman stared at Yellow Diamond as if she had grown a second head.  Her owner apologizing for something?!  It was beyond comprehension.

            “No need to,” the designer waved off, “I totally understand.”

            It only took another half an hour or so to pin the rest of the suit.  Like usual, Yellow Diamond went into the connected room to take off the combat attire and change back into her other suit, except this time when she came out she was just wearing a blouse and a pair of slacks, no jacket.  Pearl had never seen Yellow Diamond wear anything less than a full suit.  It was an odd sight to actually see the woman’s subtly curved figure.  Light blue eyes noticed that Pearl 00010 was definitely admiring the tall woman’s backside.

            “Come now Pearl, back to my office to work on completing this,” Carnelian spoke up as the last of their things were gathered.

            Pearl silently nodded and followed the woman out the door.  As they were exiting, the thin woman stole a glance back.  Yellow Diamond was standing in front of Pearl 00010, hands braced on the armrests of the office chair and leaning in close enough so their faces were only a few inches apart.

            “You’re sitting in my chair,” came the deeper sensual tone.

            “Am I?” Pearl 00010 feigned innocence.

            The strawberry blonde shot her focus forward and shut the door as swiftly and soundlessly as possible.

 

            Several lengthy lines of gems ran through the wide blue hall; each one for a different gem type.  Pearl waited patiently as the slow-moving line of pearls carried forward.  It was just like the beginning of last year’s End of the Year Celebration, a designated entrance and time to get your unit reward for the year.  Even with using her units only when necessary and getting the extra hundred from Carnelian, Pearl had almost run out.  The slips of special paper in her case totaled to 13 units.  She was glad to be getting another one hundred.

            “Number?” the agate demanded once Pearl had arrived at the front of the line.

            “Pearl 01079.”

            “I know you’re a pearl,” the stern woman grumbled as she keyed in the number into her tablet.

            Pearl put her head down and waited for the next command.

            “Two hundred and fifty units, looks like you got a raise for your performance this year.”

            Eyes shot up to stare at the agate in disbelief.  “Two hundred and fifty?  That’s over double!”

            The agate rolled her dark brown eyes.  “Records state you only worked half a year last year so were allocated half of what you would have received for a full year,” she stated as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.  “So you got a 25% raise, quite lucky if you ask me.”

            A nice neat stack of slips of ten unit value each were handed over to Pearl, whose mouth was just hanging open.

            “Now remember, just as you can get a raise, you can also get a cut for decreased performance.”

            “Thank you ma’am,” Pearl bowed.

            “Hurry on, this line isn’t getting any shorter,” the agate shooed her away.

            The pale woman made her way through the crowds and into the underground stadium on level 0 of building 4.  Light blue eyes darted around for a familiar face.  Pearl 00687 had promised to meet her in section TT.  The seats were filling up fast as gems and guests poured in from the numerous gates all around the room.

            “01079!” the recognizable voice called out.

            Pearl zeroed in on the sound and spotted Pearl 00687 standing and waving at her amongst a number of the dancers and a few quartz guards.  She returned the gesture, feet adjusting to carry her over to her friends.

            “How are you?  Ready to have some fun on our partial day off?” the shorter pearl smiled.

            “Yeah, I am,” the pale woman returned after a moment of thought.

            They took their seats and before too long the lights dimmed and Yellow Diamond appeared on the fenceless octagon platform.  Just like last year the intimidating woman stood there in her tailored, solid yellow suit, and gave a memorized presentation of their successes of the year that included a short motivational speech, a rundown of the activities that had been set up for the evening, and then a final instruction to be back in the stadium by 21:00 for the mandatory final show.  A pit settled in the strawberry blonde’s stomach at the implied mention of The Cage.  Pearl 00687 placed a hand on her shoulder and gave it a light squeeze.  Pearl nodded to her friend in appreciation.  The mass of attendees filed out of the stadium and began to disperse among the open levels of building 4.

            Unlike her first year, this year Pearl had the assignment to help with the selection of dancers that were performing for the first half of the evening while Pearl 00687 would cover the second half.  It was run just like a Friday night event.  Get water, get food, help with stretching, find a lost item, stand around waiting for another command, retrieve food and drink orders, etc.  Thankfully it wasn’t too crazy and before long she was wishing her friend well as they traded posts.

            It was hard not to get caught up in the exciting festivities despite the impending dreaded final event coming closer with each minute.  Bright lights danced around, catchy music was pumped from the hidden sound system, delicious food smells wafted through the air, and cheers and laughter came from the various games and activities.  Pearl went around exploring her options before deciding on what she wanted to do in the three hours she had until 21:00.  For three hours she was going to escape her cruel reality and pretend everything was as bright and as colorful as the party.  Mechanical whirring drew her attention to a group of peridots huddled around a clear plastic cage.

            “Your feeble attempts to thwart my unstoppable mech are futile!” Peridot 00231 cackled.

            Light blue eyes peered into the cage to see two remote controlled robots battling each other in a tiny ring.  The one Pearl assumed Peridot 00231 was controlling had just successfully ripped the arms off the other robot and had begun to beat it down with its own detached arms.

            “YOU CLOD!” the other peridot raged.  “Next year I’ll wipe that smug grin off your face!”

            “I’d love to see you try!  You ULTRA CLOD!”

            Watching the mech fights was extremely entertaining, from the amazing small robots that had been constructed over the year and how well they performed to the expressions and exclamations of the gems controlling them.  After a few matches Pearl moved on.  A visit to the dunk tank was always a good decision.  This year an amethyst was in it.  Pearl sent them in for a swim twice after a handful of attempts.  Gurgling in her stomach made the thin woman stop and buy some food.  This time she didn’t go overboard and made sure to finish everything well in advance for The Cage later on.  On one floor there was an inflatable Velcro wall where one would don a Velcro suit and run and jump at the wall to see how high up they could stick to it.  Pearl had to do it several times since it was so much fun and she ended up sticking fairly high up due to her low weight and decent power in her legs.  Two more puzzle books were purchased; the ones she had were almost completely used up from all of the long road trips.  The pale woman glanced at her watch.

            [20:32]

            Less than a half an hour…

            By that time a number of the booths were closing up so the pale woman made her way to the dance floor and lost herself in the music until it was cut off.  At 20:47 Pearl found herself sitting with her friends a dozen rows away from the octagon platform.  All of her enjoyment and happiness from the evening slowly oozed out of her body as the executions approached.  Pearl 000687 sat next to her with an equally glum face.

            I hope Garnet is doing okay.

            “Welcome ladies, gents, and gems to the final event of the night!  I am Beryl 00012 and will be commentating on The Cage matches along with my co-commentator Idocrase 00008,” the animated female voice rang out from the speakers.

            “Greetings!”

            Pearl tuned out the rest of the introduction as her eyes watched the barred structure lower from the ceiling and get locked into place with the quartz guards taking their positions around it.  She knew what was about to happen, she didn’t need hear another explanation of it.

            “GAAARRNEEEEEET!”

            The muscular figure all but sprinted into the cage and began to pace around inside, throwing her arms up into the air, encouraging the crowds’ cheers.  Pearl tensed in her seat when Garnet’s face looked in her general direction.  She had no way of knowing if Garnet saw her or not, but it still affected her all the same.  Watching this wasn’t going to be easy.

            “The first contender for their lives is Margaret Smith!” Beryl 00012 announced as a middle-aged woman with shoulder length, bleach blonde hair and stylish but modest clothes was tossed into the ring.

            The woman’s hair was pulled back into a bun and had two out of place, metal chopsticks sticking through it.  It seemed odd to Pearl mostly due to the fact that the rest of the woman’s ensemble was very western influenced with her fashionably stressed jeans, name brand, athletic shoes, loose fitting, pastel, monotone shirt, and name brand, athletic, zip-up hoodie.

            “Not only has this woman delivered counterfeit products on more than one occasion, she is known for being a real pain in the ass to the gems who were unfortunate enough to have to deal with her.”

            “It’s a fight to the death!  Only one can leave The Cage alive,” Idocrase 00008’s voice rang out with the bell.

            Margaret focused her attention on Garnet and began to walk towards her, “Now I’ll give you a chance to call this off before I get real nasty.  Go call to your owner Yellow Diamond and have her stop this ridiculous show.” She pointed a finger at the fighter like she was scolding her.

            Garnet simply took one swift step forward, hooked her foot around the curvy woman’s ankle and tripped her.  Margaret fell face first onto the floor with a loud thud.  Gems roared out in laughter.  She scrambled back onto her feet; her red face contorted into a livid expression.

            “Listen you bitch!  I’m being real patient here, but one more move like that and I will make you and Yellow Diamond regret ever messing with me!”

            The champion folded her arms across her chest and stood still.  It wasn’t hard to tell that the dark woman was waiting for Margaret to take another step towards her.  And step she did.  In the blink of an eye Garnet slipped behind the woman, brought her foot up and front kicked the blonde woman in the butt.  Once again, a loud thud echoed through the place as Margaret was shoved to the ground.  More laughter roared along with a few suggestions from the crowd, one particularly loud voice called for Garnet to bitch-slap her to death.

            “YOU ASKED FOR IT!  I WARNED YOU!” spit flew from the woman’s mouth as she reached up and pulled both of the chopsticks out of her bun.

            However, they weren’t chopsticks, but thin, pointy blades fashioned to look like the utensil when viewed from a distance.  Pearl sucked in a breath.

            That’s not fair!

            Margaret wasted no time in lunging for the champion, swiping her dangerous blades this way and that.  Each attack met the air as Garnet effortlessly dodged them with a bored yet focused expression.  The majority of the crowd called out and cheered Garnet on to kill her while some had begun to side with the chopstick-welding lady.  Pearl tensed as another swipe came dangerously close to the fighter’s chest.  Garnet grabbed one of Margaret’s wrists and twisted the blade out of her hand instants before she could be stabbed with the other.  Long legs hopped back, established a wide base, and dropped low as Garnet held up her weapon in a fencing pose.  The chopstick looked comically small in her large hands.

            “You little twat!”

            The blonde woman took a more defensive stance for a few moments before attempting to thrust her blade forward.  Garnet lunged, parried the attack, and sliced the blade up the top of Margaret’s forearm to her elbow all in one seamless movement.  A metal ping sounded as the woman’s chopstick was dropped from a trembling hand.  Wide blue eyes stared down at the blood gushing from the deep injury, feet stumbling back as the red liquid began to drip onto the octagon platform.  The champion didn’t waste a second as she struck once again making a similar slice up the other forearm.  Red burst out on Margaret’s quads as Garnet’s blade continued its war path down one thigh and up the other.

            “My…my…arms…”

            Garnet slashed the blade horizontally through the air.  Tear filled eyes gazed down at the blood rolling from her stomach and staining her nice pastel blue shirt and white zip-up hoodie.  They then looked up into emotionless mismatched eyes.

            “I…”

            Pearl’s stomach churned at the sight of so much blood steadily covering the woman.  The curly haired woman thrust forward one last time, piercing the front of the woman’s throat and shoving the blade in far enough that it poked out the back of her neck.  Blood gurgled up and dribbled down the blonde woman’s chin as she struggled to breathe.  Garnet yanked the chopstick out and stood back.  Margaret collapsed onto all fours vomiting and coughing up more red gore.  Pearl squirmed in her seat at the awful sight and sounds.  In what felt like forever, the lifeless corpse finally fell into the puddle of blood with a sickening splash.  Celebratory cries rose up from the mass of gems.

            The gate to The Cage was opened and three amethysts ran in as a fourth stayed back to ensure it didn’t close.  Two grabbed the body, while the other collected the blades from the ground and from Garnet.  Surprisingly the weapon was surrendered without protest.

            Must be another rule, that way Garnet just can’t easily kill each one.

            “Ahhh, a nice fitting end to one really annoying and deceitful person, don’t you think so Idocrase 00008?” Beryl 00012 sighed.

            “Agreed, and it sets a great tone for the rest of the matchups we have for tonight!”

            Light blue eyes were finally torn from the horrid sight and closed as Pearl put her head between her knees and plugged her ears.  Measured inhales and exhales were repeated until her stomach settled down.  It was no accident that the chopsticks had made their way into The Cage, Yellow Diamond had let them in.  That realization only made Pearl want to puke more.  Garnet was intentionally being put at risk of injury just for a more entertaining show.  The pale woman spared a glance up to see what was happening only to regret it.  Garnet was in the middle of practically ripping the lower half of a man’s leg off due the angle she had it bent to.  Cries of agony coming from his bloodied face were drowned out by the crowd’s enthusiastic reaction, but Pearl felt like she could still hear his pain in her mind.  Fingers plugged her ears once again as she put her head down.  She didn’t want to watch this.  She didn’t want to see Garnet doing this.  She didn’t want to have the sight of people getting brutally murdered seared into her brain.

            While it was effective in blocking out most of the stimulus of the environment around her, she could still hear pieces of the announcer’s commentary, she could still feel the way the stadium seats shook from the ebb and rise of the crowd’s celebration, she could still imagine what was happening despite how hard she tried to focus on anything else.  There was no way to know how much time had passed or if they were even close to the end of all the executions without opening herself to hear or see what was going on.  Pearl finally decided to quickly unplug one of her ears in favor of glancing at her watch.

            [21:32]

            “Where the fuck are you?  You ugly bitch!  Come out and fucking fight me!”

            It came from The Cage.

            What?

            Curiosity got the better of her.  Light blue eyes were opened and lifted up.  Stumbling around on unsteady feet in The Cage was an average height, chubby man.  There were a number of blood splatters on his face and clothing, an indication that Garnet had already engaged with him, but other than that and a few lumps on his head, he seemed fine.  Pearl looked around but couldn’t find the champion.

            Where is she?

            “Looks like Richard is still trying to locate his opponent.  Do you want to take bets on if he finds her first or if she takes action first?” Idocrase 00008 tossed out.

            “That’s an easy bet, I’ll take five units for Garnet making a move before he finds her,” Beryl 00012 quickly agreed.

            “Well there aren’t that many places she could hide, I’m sure Richard will spot her in no time.  Five on Richard.”

            “Given that he probably has a concussion or two from Garnet already brutally knocking him out twice, he’s not going to be able to think clearly on where to look.”

            “True, and at this point she’s merely just playing with him, there’s been plenty of opportunities for her to finish him off but she has stepped back each time to let him get back up.  So! Take your bets if you want as we watch the rest of this match!” the challenge was issued to the audience.

            Pearl scoured the bars, trying to locate Garnet.  She was about to give up when she finally spotted her.  The champion had climbed up to the inside of the top of the metal prison and had positioned her body near the bright lights that were shining down on the platform.  Hands and feet gripped the metal bars in a partially spread-eagle fashion.  Looking up at her would temporarily blind the man, so the only way for him to figure out her location was for him to notice Garnet’s ever so subtle shadow on the floor.  Richard took a staggering step forward.

            “Where are you bitch!  Come and fight me!  I’ll rip your head off!”

            Another step put the man even closer to the edge of the platform and the wall of metal rods running vertically and horizontally.  Ever so slowly, Garnet unhooked her feet and lowered her body so she was just hanging by her hands.  She stealthily swung from one to the next like she was on a set of monkey bars; moving closer to her target.

            “Show your face coward!” he swung his fists about like a drunken man, attacking one way, then the other.

            Once his back was turned to her, Garnet’s feet were pulled back then kicked forward as the fighter let go of the bars.  She jumped on his back with her feet in a position similar to that of a skateboarder and used the momentum of her descent to throw him towards the bars while still remaining on top of him.  Arms flailed about to try and stop the impending crash of skull against steel, but it was a futile attempt.  The rapid clang of bone meeting metal sounded six times as he was shoved to the ground.  Garnet’s usually neutral face sported a sadistic grin as she gazed down on her victim.  A roar of approval rung out from the crowd at the sick move.  Pearl winced.  Richard’s face was now a mashed mess as his teeth had been knocked in along with his jaw and nose being obviously broken.  He lay there with his head propped up by the last bar, putting his neck in a very dangerous position.  Garnet wasted no time in swiftly stomping on the back of his vulnerable spine using the cage as a leverage point.  The resulting snap killed Richard instantly.  Garnet hopped off the corpse and crouched down with her hands taking hold of the corpse’s shirt collar and belt.  With a loud cry, the champion lifted the body off the ground and pressed it over her head, arms locking out and bulging muscles straining at the difficult movement and maintaining the balance to continue holding it up.  The stadium went wild!  Several of the quartz guards sitting near Pearl and the dancers had jumped onto their feet and were adding their voices to Garnet’s; fists pumping into the air.  The champion rotated a full 180 degrees and then threw the body hard enough that it landed a couple of yards away from her.  Bloodied fists were held high and one last triumphant exclamation was let out.

            “Wow that was impressive!” Beryl 00012’s awed voice drifted from the speakers.

            “Not just how she killed him in such a stunning move but being able to do that right there.  It’s one thing to lift 230 pounds or so over your head with a barbell, but to be able to do that with a limp human body, even more impressive!  Gotta wonder what it’s like to be on such a level like that.”

            Garnet paced around in the now empty cage, hands curled into fists, lips pulled back into a snarl, and wild, mismatched eyes glued to the gate; waiting for the next individual to be pushed in.

            “I don’t think I’ll ever know, but it’s time for you to pay up Idocrase,” Beryl 00012 smugly stated.

            “That was an easy one,” came the sigh.

            “And yet you still took it.”

            A shuffling of paper could be heard.

            “We have only a couple more exciting match ups left for the night, so sit tight and don’t look away!”

            Pearl retreated back to her previous position, she wasn’t going to watch anymore, it didn’t matter how curious she was as to who was going to be put in and why, knowing and seeing wasn’t worth it.  Before the thin woman plugged her ears, she took off her watch and held it between her legs.  Now she would be able to make a better guess on when things ended.  For the first few minutes she was able to tune out the environment, but then the atmosphere shifted and a distinct voice could be heard crying out.  She knew that one, it was Garnet’s.  Fingers were pushed harder against her ears, she didn’t like that angry sound or the accompanying thuds of the next victim’s body hitting the metal cage over and over.  There was no concern for Garnet’s safety, if the champion was somehow losing, the crowd wouldn’t be cheering as much as it was.

            I just want this to be over.

            Eventually the crowd seemed to settle down and the muffled voices of the announcers took over until those stopped as well.  Pearl nearly jumped out of her skin when a hand gently touched her upper back.  The pale woman shot into an upright seated position with her fists pulled up in a defensive manner.  Pearl 00687 stared at her with wide eyes.  It was just her friend.  A sigh of relief was let out through the thin woman’s burning cheeks.

            “The matches are done, we can go now,” Pearl 00687 offered with a small smile.

            “Thanks,” Pearl barely mumbled.

            “Eight people and no gems, that’s a surprise, I guess everyone was on good behavior this year,” an older sunstone commented as she stood up and stretched.

            The other dancers agreed as they too stood up and began to make their way towards the exits.  Light blue eyes were turned to the lone figure in The Cage.  Like last year, Garnet had her back pressed against the metal bars as she was crouched down on the balls of her feet.  However, this time hands were tangled in her thick afro as eyes were strewn shut; face contorted as if she were in extreme pain.  Pearl felt a pang in her chest. 

            What kind of mental toll does this take on Garnet?

            She was torn between wanting to reach out to try and comfort the fighter and wanting to retreat and hide from the terrifying figure.  Out of the corner of her eye she saw Pearl 00687 rest her hand on her shoulder.  This time she didn’t jump at the anticipated touch.

            “You two coming?” the sunstone directed down at the two pearls.

            “In a moment, we won’t be too far behind,” Pearl 00687 answered as she rubbed Pearl’s back.

            “You’ll get used to it,” the dancer shrugged off.  “Give it a couple more years.  Have a good night!” she finished with a wave.

            The pale gem continued to stare at The Cage, watching as two amethysts walked in holding a set of handcuffs.  Garnet’s hands were quickly pulled away from her afro as her eyes snapped open and zeroed in on the approaching gems.  Pearl tensed.

            Those aren’t her usual guards.

            With minimal resistance the champion was jerked to her feet and had her hands cuffed behind her back.  As the three were making their way to the open gate, a jasper walked up and sealed off the exit.  The loud clang echoed through the stadium drawing the dispersing audience’s attention.  The two amethysts shared a worried and confused look, their hands tightening their grip on the champion.  Garnet didn’t waste a second.  The champion twisted out of their hold as she dropped low and rolled between Amethyst 00895’s legs.  Before they could even throw one punch, Garnet was back on her feet and had delivered a solid push kick to the center of the man’s chest.

            “And for our surprise final match of the night, Garnet versus Amethyst 01528 and Amethyst 00895!  Two gems that have been running a little business on the side that has endangered a number gems on The List by accepting and arranging bids that were not approved through the system and pocketing the money for themselves,” Beryl 00012’s voice jumped from the speakers.

            Gems rushed to grab nearby seats and watch this exciting match unfold.  Pearl began to worry her hands.  The odds were more against Garnet than ever before, two capable opponents and being handcuffed.  However, that didn’t even seem to faze the dark woman.  While the two amethysts were working together to try and corner Garnet, she was able to always outmaneuver and strike in just the right spots with her legs to make them falter or back off.  Once she had secured enough space and time, she jumped over her arms, successfully bringing her cuffed hands to her front.  Defense was immediately switched to offense as the champion charged at Amethyst 01528.  The one backed up on instinct and Amethyst 00895 moved to close in on Garnet’s back.  Suddenly Garnet changed directions and shot after Amethyst 00895.  Elbows and feet smashed through the virtually nonexistent defenses Amethyst 00895 had up.  Just before Amethyst 01528 could attack her blind spot, the fighter jumped away and danced around so they were both facing her while standing side by side.

            “Rush her together!  We can’t let her split us up!” Amethyst 00895 shouted through the blood in his mouth.

            Garnet bounced back and forth on the balls of her feet as they cautiously approached.  Punches and kicks were thrown, each one was either blocked or avoided with a few that landed.  Inch by inch they were pushing her towards a corner of the cage.  If they got her there, she would be trapped and then killed.  The pale woman pressed her hands to her mouth terrified of what was to come next.  Just as it seemed the two amethysts had Garnet cornered, she lunged forward, grabbed one of Amethyst 01528’s calves at the same time her shoulder collided with his thighs, swiftly carried him a few yards, and dropped him to the ground.  Amethyst 00895 chased after and was on her in seconds, kicking and stomping every inch of her he could land a hit on.  The man didn’t dare go to the ground with her, they knew she could easily kill them there.  The trapped man tried to escape, but the champion’s iron hold gave no such room to.  Minimal effort was put towards avoiding the strikes from Amethyst 00895, as Garnet’s legs and arms rapidly trapped one of Amethyst 01528’s heels and viciously twisted it.  The younger quartz cried out in pain, hands shooting to his knee.  Cheers erupted from the remaining audience.  Garnet immediately abandoned the injured man and brought up her defenses.  Amethyst 00895 backed off, his eyes darting between the bleeding dark woman and the other amethyst.

            “Get on your feet!” he shouted.

            “Fucking hell!  She blew out my ACL!  SHIT!” he cried.

            Amethyst 00895 breathed out evenly, focusing solely on Garnet.  The champion hopped to her feet and pushed forward like it was a regular match, not at all hindered by the hard hits that had landed on her.  Kicks struck out and chipped away at the man’s legs, joints, and torso before Garnet would close in and land a few decent elbows.  There was no playing around here, the fighter was going to kill him as quickly as she could even with her hands being cuffed.  Amethyst 00895 stumbled forward after a painful hit to his leading leg’s knee.  The champion closed the distance between them and tackled him to the ground.  They scrambled for a few tense moments, both fighting for a position of control.  It ended, much to Pearl’s relief, with Garnet claiming the mount position.  From there Amethyst 00895 was dealt blow after blow to his forearms and face.

            Movement off to the side drew Pearl’s attention towards Amethyst 01528 who was slowly crawling closer to the two fighting; face strewn with pain, yet still determined not to die.  The pale woman wanted to shout out a warning but she couldn’t get her vocal cords to work.

            Watch out Garnet!

            The crowd shouted on as the amethyst got closer and closer to Garnet’s back.  However, as he was shifting in his crawl he moved his injured leg enough that it made a squeak of pain jump past his lips.  Garnet halted her beat down of the barely conscious amethyst and whipped her head around to focus in on him.  Amethyst 01528 visibly gulped.  One more elbow was crashed against Amethyst 00895’s skull.  Garnet cautiously stepped off her current victim and then sprinted at the other.  A powerful leg was lifted up to deliver several axe kicks to the younger man’s torso and legs.  One hit was without a doubt intentionally given to the injured leg.  The champion then dropped down to take side control of his body and then aggressively slipped into back control; positioning them so she could keep an eye on the other amethyst that was starting to sit up onto his elbows.  Frustrated exclamations were let out as Garnet was unable to get a solid blood choke on due to the restrictive handcuffs and the amethyst’s defense.  So instead, the dark woman worked to forcefully sneak the handcuff’s short chain around his neck by pulling it over and down his face.  Amethyst 00895 got to his feet.  The champion swiftly moved her feet from where they hooked between the younger amethyst’s legs to the area behind her so she could lean all of her weight on Amethyst 01528’s back, nearly folding him in half.  There was little he could do in his position aside from try and pull at the chain that was tightly wrapped around his neck. Amethyst 00895 took two unsteady steps towards them.  A knee was braced against the Amethyst 01528’s spine and then Garnet used her whole upper body to jerk the chain back as hard as possible.  The front of his throat collapsed in from the brutal force, leaving him gasping for rattling breaths.  Garnet didn’t have time to finish him off completely as the other Amethyst had finally regained his bearings.  This one would just have to suffocate to death.

            Amethyst 00895 charged.  The champion untangled her hands from around the younger amethyst’s neck and jumped back.  However, her fatigued legs didn’t move fast enough and she ended up stumbling and falling onto her butt.  He landed on her, taking full advantage of her misstep.  Fists and elbows rained down on her defenses until she was able to weave her legs up into a protective guard from the desperate quartz.  The two paused, assessing their advantages and disadvantages.  Garnet exhaled heavily from her nose, blood spraying from her nostrils and leaking from a number of gashes on her face and mouth.  Everyone waited on pins and needles, dying to see what would happen next.  Amethyst 00895 seemed to fully realize his predicament.  If he went on the offensive Garnet was sure to reverse things and kill him.  If he stayed on the defensive it was only a matter of time before Garnet would cleverly tangle him up and kill him.  In that moment of hesitation, the seasoned fighter broke his grip and posture, and then slipped around to take control of his back.  Legs were locked into a body triangle around his midsection as vertical elbows were delivered to the back of Amethyst 00895’s head.  After only a few hits the man became unresponsive.  Garnet then pressed the handcuff chain against his throat and began to saw her hands back and forth.  The dull chain did nothing at first but as more pressure was added it broke through the skin and continued to work its way slowly through his neck, tearing through muscle, tissue, and more.  Blood squirted out and splattered all over the section of the platform in front of them.

            Pearl couldn’t look away; her eyes were transfixed to the gruesome, gut-churning scene.

            As the chain hit the man’s spine, Garnet well out a furious cry, hands moving faster until with one mighty tug the chain broke completely through and severed the amethyst’s head from his body.

            “A decapitation with a dull chain!  A first for The Cage!” Idocrase 00008 exclaimed.

            Bile rose up in the pale woman’s throat forcing her to dash to the nearest trashcan and empty the contents of her stomach into it.  Watery eyes eventually looked back up after Pearl couldn’t spit up anymore.  Garnet’s yelling hadn’t ceased, she stood there slightly hunched over with blood coating her arms from the elbows down.  The pale woman shakily backed away from the trashcan, a hand reached out to locate a nearby seat for her to sit on.  Three jaspers moved to enter and remove the bodies, but Garnet charged at them, mismatched eyes wide and screaming death to any who dared to come in.  They quickly jumped out and closed the gate in time for the champion to latch onto it and try to rip it off its hinges.

            “RAAAGHH!!!”

            “That will be all for tonight!” Beryl 00012 tried to cheerily state despite the nervousness in her voice, “Please exit quickly and orderly.  Another big year ahead of us!  Thanks to the visiting Diamonds, Blue and Pink Diamond, and to the leaders of Facets 3, 11, 12, 16, and 21 for joining us!  I hope you all had a grand time here tonight!”

            The gems that had stayed to watch the extra executions rose up from their seats and headed for the exits.  Casual conversations drifted about.  Pearl caught a few comments about the champion still locked in The Cage as she sat there letting her stomach settle down a little more.  Lips were pressed into a thin line as she watched Garnet rattle the gate a few more times and try a variety of methods to break her handcuffs using either the cage or one of the dead bodies.  However, as each attempt failed the fighter’s rage seemed to only increase.  The quartz guards that typically stood around The Cage were standing a little farther away than usual.  None of them wanted to be too close.  Pearl 00687 approached the thin woman.

            “Are you coming?” she motioned with her head to the exit.

            Light blue eyes glanced back and forth from the double doors and the dark woman’s unstable form.

            “Yeah, I’m coming,” came the hesitant response.

            The two pearls began to make their way up the steep stairs.  Another loud cry echoed in the nearly empty stadium.  Pearl paused and glanced over her shoulder at Garnet.

            She needs help.

            And you think you could help her?  She’ll rip your face off it you get close.

            I can’t just leave her like this.

            Feet halted their ascent.

            You really want to help that monster? Don’t you remember how close she came to hurting you?

            Pearl winced at the memory.  Despite how much she did want to just retreat to her bed to recover from the night, leaving while Garnet was in such a state felt wrong.

            I have to try.

            “Go on without me,” she spoke up.

            “Are you serious?” Pearl 00687 turned back toward her.

            “I am.  I want to try and maybe help Garnet calm down, she’s probably just shot with adrenaline and isn’t completely aware that it’s over or something.”

            Pearl 00687 raised an eyebrow.  “Approaching Garnet is a bad idea right now.  I doubt the guards will let you get close enough to talk to her anyways.  She’ll be taken care of, don’t worry.”

            Feet continued to refuse to move upwards.

            “It hurts to see her like this.  This isn’t her.  That’s not Garnet.”

            The older pearl sighed.

            “I’m not going to stop you,” Pearl 00687 relented.  “Good luck, be sure to keep a good distance from The Cage, make it quick, and hope the amethysts and jaspers don’t get mad at you for staying.  The chrysocollas will be arriving any minute to start cleaning this place; you don’t want to get in their way.”

            “I won’t, thank you.”

            Her friend turned to continue her journey up, then paused.

            “You’ll need to learn to accept that that is part of her.  No matter how nice she is around you, that is still her,” she pointed to the champion.

            Pearl swallowed as she watched the pearl with the yellow shirt depart with the remains of the audience. The thin woman took a deep breath and then began the steep journey down the concrete steps.  Light blue eyes panned over the two jaspers closest to her.  So far they hadn’t noticed her, but they were sure to do something as she got closer.  Pearl dashed behind a row of seats, watched for them to glance away, then moved a couple rows closer; making sure to stay as low as possible.

            You’re not going to be able to help her.

            I have to try.

            It was eerie how quiet the stadium had become.  Garnet’s harsh breathing and heavy footfalls echoed about.   Pearl slipped behind another section of seats just as one of the jaspers faced her direction.  When she peeked up they were definitely staring at her.  Immediately she ducked back down and swallowed.  She was still a dozen or so rows away, too far to be able to try and communicate with Garnet.  However, Pearl didn’t dare to look up and risk forcing the jasper into action.

            Maybe they will just stay there and I can sneak over to another section and make my way closer.

            The sound of a door opening and closing made the pale woman freeze.  Clicking footfalls and low voices were added to Garnet’s pacing.  Pearl tried to figure out where they were coming from and where they were headed.  It seemed like the sound was coming from the other side of The Cage.  The pale woman began crawling behind the row of seats towards another section and father from the suspicious jasper.  Light blue eyes dared to peek up once again only for her to dive back down as she saw the figure clad in all yellow step up to the gate of The Cage.  The sounds of the gate opening and more of the heeled steps followed.

            “Shut the gate,” Yellow Diamond’s voice commanded.

            “Wh-what?!” came a stuttered response.

            “DO as I SAY!”

            “Y-yes, ma’am!”

            The pale woman moved closer to the other section and paused to peer out from behind her cover.  She couldn’t believe what she saw.  Upon the gate closing and the lock sliding into place, Garnet’s tense, coiled body sprang loose as she charged at Yellow Diamond. The business woman stood tall with her hands behind her back and round lips pulled down into a frown.

            “RRAAAAAAAAHHHHH!” the champion cried out as she was just a couple of strides from her owner.

            “On your knees,” came the even order.

            Bare feet slammed against the octagon platform as Garnet stopped mere inches away; blood-stained hands almost grabbing the front of the pristine yellow suit, lips pulled back into a snarl as crazed mismatched eyes stared into stern, golden hazel ones.  Yellow Diamond didn’t even flinch.

            “I said, ON YOUR KNEES.”

            Pearl observed with rapt attention, her mouth hanging open.  Garnet made a movement to kneel, but it was quickly changed into a halted swipe at her master.

            “ON YOUR KNEES!”

            Garnet dropped to one knee with both of her fists pressed against the floor and her head bowed.  The pale woman had to admire the insane guts of steel Yellow Diamond had to have to face-off against Garnet while she was in such an instable condition.  A few long moments passed with just Yellow Diamond staring down at the champion.  The fighter’s ragged breaths being the only sound in the stadium.

            “Calm down,” Yellow Diamond spoke.

            Garnet twitched like she was about to jump back onto her feet.

            “Calm down.” The phrase was repeated in a soothing tone.

            For several seconds Pearl watched as Garnet pulled in and exhaled large lungfuls of air.

            “I have the keys to the gate, as well as to your restraints.”

            The shiny metal objects were pulled out a suit jacket pocket.

            “Three jaspers are going to come in here and remove the bodies, you are to stay exactly where you are.  You will not be fighting them, you are done for the night,” Yellow Diamond issued the clear instructions.  “Nod your head if you understood me.”

            Slowly the head covered in thick curls moved up and down.

            “Good.  Now nod your head that you’re going to obey.”

            Another nod.

            “Good.”

            The businesswoman motioned for the jaspers standing by the gate to come in and take care of business.  Garnet’s kneeling body jerked and flexed, itching to lunge at the gems in The Cage.

            “Stay…” Yellow Diamond warned.

            Even breathing was becoming shorter.         

            “Stay.”

            In less than a minute the bodies were cleared out and the two were locked in again.  Pearl let out a breath she didn’t know she had been holding.  Out of the corner of her eye she made note that none of the jaspers had made any movements towards her.  Maybe they all were silently listening in too.  Unfortunately, Garnet’s agitation and breathing wasn’t settling down even though it was just her and Yellow Diamond.

            “Calm down.”

            A strange sound came from the champion that reminded Pearl of strangled sob, but this one was laced with pain and anger.

            “Calm down, my Garnet.”

            “AGGRRRAAAHHH!” the dark woman gasped out, her whole frame shaking.

            “My Garnet,” Yellow Diamond crouched down in front of the fighter, “my pride, my joy, my pain, and my anger,” she reached out to cup Garnet’s bloodied face only for the fighter to pull away from her.  “My Garnet,” came the sigh.

            Yellow Diamond reached for the turned away face and guided it so they were looking into each other’s eyes.

            “You have done well tonight.”

            “Why did you do that!” came the anguished demand.  “You had them wait until I was bound!”

            Pearl jumped a little at Garnet’s surprising injection.

            “To challenge you and to prove that you are force to be feared.  They all make light of your skill when they see you demolish those far beneath you.  So I leveled the plane a little to make them see.”

            Garnet tried to pull out of Yellow Diamond’s hands, but the woman maintained her firm hold.

            “I can’t let you become stagnant in your abilities, you won’t always be able to fight on your terms and in your comfort zone.  That is why I arranged for the surprise.  And you performed phenomenally.  Not only did you take down two semi-competent fighters, but with your hands restricted.  I am proud of you Garnet.  My Garnet.”

            The champion stared into Yellow Diamond’s eyes for a few seconds before bowing her head again.  Finally, her ragged breathing seemed to settle down.

            “Now if I remove your handcuffs will you come quietly and calmly with me to have you looked over?”

            A slow nod.

            “Good.”

            Yellow Diamond reached down and with two twists the blood-soaked handcuffs fell away from Garnet’s wrists.  Without any further instructions the woman stood and walked to the gate.  Garnet rose to her feet and followed her master.  In another twist the gate was opened and they disappeared from view.

            Pearl breathed out a huge sigh of relief.  Garnet was going to be okay.  Movement off to the side brought her attention to the jasper moving in her direction, a frown set on the muscular woman’s face.  The pale woman was suddenly sent into a wave of panic.  Now she needed to get out of there before she got into any trouble.  Pearl was on her feet, dashing to the end of the row and up the set of stairs in seconds.  The thuds of heavy feet chased her as the jasper called out at her.

            If I don’t get caught they can’t punish me.

            Long arms pumped at her sides as she made short work of the stairs and passed through the set of double doors without getting caught.  However, she couldn’t stop, the jasper could still be heard running after her.  Pearl sprinted down the hallway, not daring to look back.  At the first chance she had to slip down another hallway she took it.  The pearl continued to weave through hallways of varying colors until she couldn’t hear the sounds of pursuit anymore.  A sigh of relief was let out in tandem with her gasps for air.  The pale woman stood tall and began to make her way back to her dormitory.

Chapter Text

^^^^^^

A new year brings about new opportunities and old issues resurface.

^^^^^^

 

            Hands frantically rubbed up and down the sides of her arms, making the futile attempt of generating some warmth for her shivering body.  Garnet hadn’t brought her jacket for some reason and now as they stood at the top of building zero, Pearl was left with her standard issue, long-sleeve, blue shirt to keep herself warm.  She glanced to the side at the stoic woman.  The wind tugged Garnet’s afro this way and that; it always sprung back to its square-like shape whenever there was a break in the gusts.  Light blue eyes turned to the concrete ledge in front of her and the bright streets below.  Pearl let out a heavy sigh.

            “I just wanted to hear it from you.  I didn’t want to face it.  I was ignoring all of the clues and hints, refusing to believe it until you said it yourself.”

            She looked at Garnet once again.  The champion stood there as still as ever.

            “I didn’t mean to hurt you, I was just careless.”

            “I told you not to ask about them,” the clear, cold voice rumbled.

            Light blue eyes blinked, Garnet’s mouth hadn’t moved, yet that was without a doubt her.

            “Garnet,”

            “Silence!” lips were pulled back into a snarl.

            Pearl’s body shook, but this time it wasn’t because of the wind.  The fighter took three swift steps towards the thin woman and seized the front of her shirt before Pearl could even flinch.  Effortlessly Garnet lifted her up and over the ledge to dangle her over the busy street hundreds of feet below.  Hands latched onto the fighter’s scarred ones, wide eyes staring down into the expansive reflective surface of the champion’s sunglasses.  Blood began to drip from Garnet’s mouth, seeping out from between her clenched teeth and running down the front of her face and neck.  Pearl was far too terrified to cry out.

            “You cannot see my pain!”

            Blood flew from her mouth, spraying the pale woman with dozens of droplets.  The flow continued to increase and, in a few seconds, it was already a steady stream.

            “You cannot understand what I’ve been through!”

            Pearl shifted her hands as she tried to get a better grip only to feel the sticky red substance.  Eyes darted down to see that Garnet’s hands, wrists, and forearms were now coated in blood.

            “You cannot comprehend the weight of the mountain of bodies that I carry!” Garnet’s words were choked by the liquid gushing from her mouth.  “And you don’t deserve my answers!”

            With that final sentence the hands released the front of Pearl’s shirt.  Desperately the thin woman tried to hang on, but the blood made her hands slip right off the fighter’s wrists.  Her scream was caught in her throat as she fell faster and faster towards the unforgiving concrete and blinding street lights.

 

            “Ahh!” Pearl shot into a seated position, her heart racing in her chest and her body covered in a cold sweat.

            Hands patted down her front and felt around her to confirm that she was still in her bed and that there was no blood on her.  Several deep breaths were taken to try and settle her nerves.

            Again…

            Out of habit Pearl checked the time.

            [01:18]

            A long sigh was let out as she curled back under her covers.  Hopefully she would be able to get a few more hours before she was disturbed by the next nightmare.

 

            During breakfast one week after the start of the New Year, Pearl’s scheduler gave out its usual chirp, signaling to her a change in her routine.  The tired woman opened it up and stared at the new blue box that had popped up.

            “08:30-09:30: Physical Examination with Spinel 00112: Blue Pink 21512”

            One strawberry blonde eyebrow was raised up.  She knew what the colors meant and she knew the type of gem she was to meet with, she was just puzzled as to why.  With a sigh the device was locked and stuck back to Pearl’s pants.  She would find out once she got there.

            The two hours of assisting Carnelian flew by and Pearl found herself stepping through Blue Pink 21512 only a few minutes after 08:30. Since the door designation was pink for medical, she had half expected to walk into the familiar setting of a hospital waiting area in the world above, but instead the door opened to a large room with two rows of fifteen examination tables, each with their own curtain that could be pulled around for privacy, a ton of official medical equipment, and a number of gems either in scrubs, scrubs and a white lab coat, or standard issue clothing.  One of the nearby gems in dark blue scrubs looked up from her clipboard and made eye contact with the thin woman.

            “Pearl 01079?”

            “Yes, ma’am.”

            “Oh good you made it, for a moment I thought you were going to skip this or something,” the curvy woman breathed out a sigh of relief.

            Pearl just stared at the woman, still very confused as to why she was here.  She didn’t have a medical emergency or anything.

            “Come right this way, I’m Spinel 00112, I’ve got our area all ready to go for your annual physical,” Spinel 00112 motioned as she began walking towards a table on the right side of the room.

            The pale woman followed.  “Annual physical?  We do those, ma’am?”

            “Yes, each year a person gets a physical, just a way to check on overall heath, see if anything might be going wrong, and keep them up to date on medications, shots, and such.”

            “But, last year I didn’t have one, ma’am.”

            Spinel 00112 paused and looked over her clipboard.  “Let’s see…pearls are all done in January…and your start date was in June…so by the time last January came around, you hadn’t been here for a full year yet.  Only those who’ve been around for over a year get a check-up physical since one is performed right when you’re brought here.”

            “I don’t remember having a physical…”

            “Oh…well you were probably unconscious, a lot of them are I’ve noticed.” A frown tugged at the corner of the tan woman’s mouth.  “But what I need you to do is change into the paper clothes set on the examination table,” she instructed as she began to pull the curtain around, the metal hooks clattering in the track set into the ceiling.  “I’ll close this so that you have some privacy, just poke your head out when you’re done.”

            Wordlessly Pearl stripped and hung the flimsy, crinkly paper around her frame as best as possible.  The top was the familiar vest and the bottom was just a sheet to wrap around her lower half.  A shiver ran up her spine and she rubbed the sides of her arms.  While the room was warmer than most, such thin covering didn’t prevent her from getting chilled.

            “I’m done, ma’am.”

            “OK, so the first order of business is to get your height, weight, and skin fold measurements.”

            An eyebrow was raised at the last part.

            “I know typically in physicals they just do height and weight, but Yellow Diamond finds the BMI to be inaccurate and has us do the 7-site skin fold test to help determine body fat percentage,” Spinel 00112 answered the silent question.

             The first two pieces of information were captured relatively quickly out on the open floor.  For the third, they went back into the curtained area and took measurements on Pearl’s triceps, under her shoulder blade, midway between her shoulder and chest, on her oblique muscles, off to the side of her belly button, over her hip bone, and finally the middle of her thigh. Each measurement was repeated three times.  The process took a few minutes since they had to wait a bit between each iteration.