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Phosphophyllite

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“…Antarc,” Their voice rings out in the empty room. “Today is the first day of the first spring I’m living – or reliving, I guess? It was strange, meeting Dia and the others again for the first time. Not that I have any memories of the first time this happened.”

Phosphophyllite laughs awkwardly, patting down long turquoise locks.

Silence replies them.

“-I’ll come back tomorrow.”

They say, as if choked.

Antarcticite listens to the clanking of heels against stone fading into the distance.

They stare unabashedly at Phosphophyllite’s disappearing back, watery ears still ringing with the sound of the voice which they’ve never heard till now. (It’s high pitched, childish, and sweeter than they imagined it would be. It’s also more solemn than it should sound.)

Just…what was that?

.

“-Oh.” Antarcticite halted, heels sending flakes flying. “The lunarians, huh.”

Antarcticite could remember, clear as crystal, the day they found Phosphophyllite at the Beach of Beginnings.

They had been drawn, just as Sensei had been when Antarcticite was born, by the appearance of the lunarians in the far-off distance without it approaching. They remember charging forward with the faintest suspicion on their mind – and fear, because it’d be the first time they’re anywhere near failing at the expense of others.

Taking the moon people down had been easy, but collecting the fallen pieces of Phosphophyllite had not.

“This doesn’t seem good.” Antarcticite had concluded after scrutinizing the beach for the fifth time. They looked down at the partially broken face with a sigh. “Your eye seems to have dropped into the ocean. I’ll go after it-”

They’re stopped, by chipped fingers clinging to their glove.

Antarcticite paused. Peered at the other gem inquisitively.

A single narrowed bluish-green eye looked back in concern. Their mouth formed words, without sound.

Antarcticite had wondered if they looked like this gem back when they’re born.

“It’ll be quick.” They stated, pulling the chipped fingers from their glove. The other still seemed unconvinced, so Antarcticite drew an arrow in the ground pointing to the ocean. “Like this, if something happens to me, Sensei will be able to know where I went, won’t he?”

The gem still seemed unconvinced, so Antarcticite leapt into the water before any more protests could come their way.

They’re kind, Antarcticite remember thinking as they scoured the vicinity. Even at the expense of themselves, that new gem had cared about their safety. That’s why, Antarcticite was only more determined to find their eye for them. They’re the first gem Antarcticite’s ever found, and they shouldn’t be broken from the start.

When Antarcticite returns ashore, clothes dripping with water, they’re stunned when the new gem reached out to him with short stumps and a pained look on their face.

Sensei was there. He’s fixing the new gem.

But even so, the gem had reached for Antarcticite and not relented until Antarcticite was pressed up snugly against their side.

Antarcticite remember dropping the eyeball into the other’s lap when Kongo smiled down at them.

“Phosphophyllite.” The waves had crashed and an ice floe had cried. “Your name will be Phosphophyllite.”

.

“Today is the 65th day since the end of the third winter.”

Phosphophyllite smiles weakly.

“Today…I met Cinnabar.” Their voice falters. They lower their head. “Cinnabar is… as usual, all alone. They’re doing night duty alone, with that disagreeable look on their face. Being all prickly, as always.” Phosphophyllite laughs. “They haven’t changed in the least.”

“If there is one thing good though… it’d be that they were offended when I asked if they want to go to the moon.”

“That is the only good thing.”

Phosphophyllite falls silent for the longest time, lost in some place Antarcticite can’t follow them to, until their face lights up with a smile.

“But let’s talk about something else, ‘kay?”

They beam as they sat down at the chair Obsidian’s put out for them, hands reaching for paper.

“Today, I’ve finally had the courage to step into the library. Lapis Lazuli was there. They’re pleasant to talk to, as expected, though I wouldn’t associate myself too much with them… Frankly, I’m still kind of convinced they’re evil. Anyways, I got a book! Given their intelligence, I’m sure it’s gonna hurt my head, but… You never know till you try, right?”

A sardonic smile is given.

Antarcticite listens and wonders, as always, but if they have any opinion on Phosphophyllite’s ramblings, they’ve learnt to keep it to themselves through winter.

.

The first gem Antarcticite has ever picked up was just like any other gems.

Antarcticite had watched and helped out with the surgery Sensei did to even out Phosphophyllite’s features; had held the other still with ginger gloved hands as they slid around, not used to their still new limbs; had taught them how to dress themselves, and how to get around the school, and how they have to be careful to not shatter each other – all tiny little things like that.

Phosphophyllite took to them faster than they did. As a matter of fact, it’s scary, how fast they did it. As if they had done it once.

“He is a smart child.” Kongo once said. “Perhaps more so than Cinnabar.”

Phosphophyllite chose that exact time, of course, to trip over themselves as if they’ve got lead for legs. They shatter into a thousand pieces and Antarcticite sweatdropped when Kongo added,

“Or maybe not.”

Curious little thing Phosphophyllite is, the youngest gem has a habit of running up to the pond by the school and looking at their reflection while making the weirdest faces and even poses.

“I’m not fixing you if you fa-”

A splash.

Antarcticite took off a heel and raised it threateningly to the other’s face when they made a smug look at them, broken arm in hand.

“Sensei’s orders or not, I’ll put you back after I break you down for this.”

Then Phosphophyllite’s wriggling to get out of their grasp.

But for all the small successes and quick progress and normalcy that they get, Phosphophyllite stumps them in some other areas.

“What are you doing in my bed?”

Phosphophyllite smiles innocently, lifting their hands and doing a dirty gesture with their fingers – one which they’ve recently learnt from Sensei regarding animal reproduction, much to Antarcticite’s chagrin.

Antarcticite’s face darkens. They brandish their jagged sword and Phosphophyllite’s quick to raise their hands in surrender.

“I’ll feed you to Bortz if that’s your intention.”

Phosphophyllite laughs soundlessly and drops their head.

‘Come on. Just accompany the lonely me a bit, will you?’ Says the note Phosphophyllite writes out.

They’ve both acknowledged by now how different Phosphophyllite is; how similar Phosphophyllite might be to Padparadscha, who’s born with some unfortunate abnormalities. That is but another way in which Phosphophyllite stumps Antarc, because – they’ve never gotten to speak with Padparadscha; never had to deal with the other gems, much less one that’s disabled. They don’t know how to deal except to be soft and kind and to relent--

Antarcticite stares blatantly, trying to access the unreadable thoughts Phosphophyllite always seem to conjure behind their false front.

Phosphophyllite hesitates and offers a wry smile.

‘Pretty please?’

It’s pathetic, but Antarcticite gives in like their body in summer.

“Fine.” They sigh, wrapping the bundle of sheets around themselves, so neither of them would be scraped in their sleep. “If either of us are broken in the morning though, you’ll be the one answering to Sensei.”

Phosphophyllite beams and flops down in the bed with them, nuzzling sheet-covered shoulders in thanks. If Phosphophyllite doesn’t sleep at all, or if their arms trace the parts which had given way under the lunarians’ attacks that afternoon, Antarcticite doesn’t say a thing.

.

“Today is the 85th day after the 40th winter.”

Phosphophyllite smiles wryly.

“Today… Lapis Lazuli was stolen by the moon people.” They breathe the words, looking down at their hands blankly. “I saw Ghost. They were… They are devastated. Both of them. Ghost and Cairngorm. Ghost hid themselves in the library, but I caught a glimpse of Cairngorm when I bothered them enough. They were pissed, just like the old times.”

A weak laugh.

Phosphophyllite falters.

“Just watching though…It makes me wonder if I should have interfered and tried to save Lapis.”

“But… it’s enough, right? I mean, I’ve been courageous this whole time. I can stop for just a bit, right? Antarc?”

Antarcticite watches silently. They have no answers for words which don’t seem to be directed entirely at them. They have no means, either, to give a response to what may be a rhetorical question. What should they say, even?

In the end, Phosphophyllite interprets their silence as always.

“……Who am I kidding?” Their eyes turn hard. They stare blandly at their reflection in antarcticite. “Us low-grade gems have no worth if not for our courage…right? I’ve got to work harder. Become stronger, like you did. I need to protect you and everyone else, if it’s the last thing I do. I can’t remember what happened on the moon, but… I need to…”

Phosphophyllite trails off, lost in their thoughts.

They smile when they leave.

“…I’ll see you tomorrow.”

.

Phosphophyllite is strange.

That is a fact that Antarcticite has long accepted. And it seems that the other gems are only just starting to realize the depth to their level of strangeness.

“They’re a little troublemaker, that one is.” Jade often visits their room just to complain. Plopped down on Phosphophyllite’s chair, with arms folded, and an exasperated Euclase by their side, Jade would huff. “At first, we thought they were just clumsy, not doing any of the jobs well. But as it turns out, they just didn’t want to do any of those jobs. Sensei told us so!”

Euclase smiles chidingly.

“Now, now… I can’t imagine them taking well to a job without Antarc by their side, so can you really fault Phos?”

The words fluster Antarcticite, though they can’t express it.

Euclase somehow has telepathic powers though, for they smile knowingly at Antarcticite’s tub and strokes the edge of it gently.

“But in a way, it’s a relief.” Euclase sighs. “We’re sorry for leaving you alone for so long, Antarc. I’m glad you finally found a partner to pair with – and they’re such a cute one at that.” They giggle.

Antarc, unused to the company and the light teasing, merely settles into the base of their tub at that.

Neither Jade nor Euclase sees fit to inform Phos that Antarc’s conscious in this form.

But besides them, there’re dozens of others visiting between winters. (None of them did, too.)

“We should pair up as fashionistas sometime, Antarc!” Red Beryl had laughed, waving an outfit over the edge of their tub. “I found your post-it note the other day; It’s super nice to finally have someone pointing out their preference for me – even if it’s Phos’!”

“At first, I thought it was awfully nice of you to leave a warning for me.” Rutile had gritted out, pale-faced. “But it’s only after Phos broke themselves for the tenth time that I realized it was basic courtesy. Honestly, what did you teach that kid?!”

“Finally, I found the note Red Beryl and Rutile were telling me about!” Obsidian had bent over, panting lightly. “So, so! What sort of materials should we use? You gave me a good idea on Phos’ sword sizing, but that one is a bit fragile… It should definitely be something light? Or should we hollow it?”

The first few had to do with the tiny notes they left around, of course, because Phos is their responsibility and Antarc is nothing but responsible. Then, the subsequent ones were more to do with Phos themselves.

“Aren’t you going to inform them of your consciousness in this state?”

Lapis Lazuli had brushed their hair back with their arm.

“They’ve been putting themselves through these tough books, memorizing stories and tales to tell you when you’re conscious, even I fear their head would give way from all the information. They don’t look very smart, afterall. How would they even tell you of those stories? Hmm...”

Lapis blinked then.

“Ah, right. Speaking of communicating-”

“-Eh? You’re fine without these?” Yellow looks troubled as their hands stop. “But Rutile went through all the trouble of making you these.” The letter-shaped gems in their palms plop in their fluid body gently. “You don’t want to talk to Phos? Phos has been missing you, you know?”

‘I know.’ Antarc moves the letters around with some effort. ‘I’ll be fine. This isn’t what Phos needs.’

What they need is somebody who would listen without commenting. Someone, whom Phos feels they can open up to. It doesn’t matter if it’s a different version of the Antarc they want. What matters if that somebody remains there to monitor Phos’ (dangerous) state of mind and make them feel they’re listening.

Yellow sighs and smiles exasperatedly.

“Looks like old age’s finally gotten to someone.”

Antarc intentionally shifts the gems away when Yellow made to grab at them.

“Hey-!”

“-They asked me to pair with them.” Cinnabar whispers, standing at the door where they’re far, far away from Antarc. Antarc can’t see them, but they have a good memory, especially of voices. They recognized the other. “Phos, that is.”

“I wonder…if it’s because we’re somewhat alike. That one…They’re always confusing, always changing personas like that. It’s…strange.”

“But then again, I don’t have the right to say that.”

“…You should treasure them more.”

Cinnabar’s shoes click as they walk off, presumably back to their self-imposed isolation.

Antarcticite turns in their watery body, thinking and pondering and contemplating – until Phos comes the next day, of course, a skip in their light-heavy steps and the usual worn smile painted across their lips, as always.

.

“Today is the 30th day since the 100th winter.”

Phosphophyllite’s voice sounds out despite their figure not being seen. They must be leaning against Antarcticite’s tub again, despite Jade’s warning to not fall asleep there. (They never sleep.) Their voice is slightly muffled too, for whatever reason.

“My name is Phosphophyllite. I am 100 years old here, 502 years old in total- Eh, I’m basically an old fart, aren’t I?!”

They better not let Yellow hear them.

“But, well- That’s true. I am old and shrivelling.” There are scribbling sounds. Are they writing? “To the me of the future, and the Antarc of whichever time, I, Phosphophyllite, remember a time that’s different from this. One where I was the most useless gem in the school for over three centuries, one where I can’t keep a job for my life, one where I essentially killed Antarc because of my stupidity-”

A chuckle.

“When put like that, I really am useless, aren’t I? No accomplishments. Two gems, lost in a year. No legs, no arms, no head. Eeeeeh – Where should I actually start?” Phos scratches their head. “It’s haaard, writing a biography like this—”

“But oh, well.”

“It all started before my 300th birthday, back when Sensei called me to give me a job--”

.

It’s stupid.

It’s dumb.

But all Antarcticite thought in that moment when they saw shards of Phosphophyllite raining down on them was – Was it my fault?

They remember Phosphophyllite’s words about how Antarc – the other Antarc – had wished their hands to be different. They see how much Phosphophyllite’s weird way of fighting makes sense now. They hear murmurs of words that were whispered to them in an empty room –

‘If I have to, I wouldn’t mind losing these limbs again. Afterall, as I am, in this brittle body, there’s not much I can do to save you when the time comes again.’

Did they want this to happen?

Antarcticite didn’t move. Because Bortz was already slashing at the lunarian by then, wild mane of black fluttering as they fell.

And Phosphophyllite fell with them, their torso – a stark white thing to match Antarcticite’s, as requested – caught, just barely, by Rutile, who wrapped them up in their white coat.

Their head is cradled by Sensei, and the other gems spread out, sleepily gathering their other pieces.

Rutile fixes them in the aftermath with rutile eyes barely open. The duo does not see the rest to sleep, like they would before. Antarcticite wonders if they sensed their fury. Not even Sensei bothered to reproach Phosphophyllite, leaving them to Antarcticite’s hands.

And Antarcticite, leaning over the sheepishly smiling gem, only narrowed their eyes.

“Why-” They questioned, grabbing the other’s hand. Phosphophyllite blinks. “-do you always fight in that reckless way? Us low grade gems… we may be nothing except for our courage, but there’s a fine line between recklessness and courage.” They know their words strike Phosphophyllite. They have to. Their hold tightens. “We may be low grade, but even our lives, pieces, and memories mean something. Yet, you…!”

They’re not sure what expression they’re making now, but it must be scary. Phosphophyllite’s smile disappears in a flash, replaced by furrowed brows and thinning lips.

“Promise me.” Antarcticite demands without thinking. Some part of them is resisting the notion – they’re the senior here. They have no right to be making demands. Phosphophyllite doesn’t know they know – but the rest works in tandem. “Promise me you’ll stop thinking and doing reckless things like that. Otherwise, there’s no meaning to us pairing up.”

Phosphophyllite’s eyes widen. They shake their head in horror at their words.

Antarcticite doesn’t think they’d be willing to put the other in more danger though.

‘I promise.’ Phosphophyllite clings to their hand, note desperately scribbled and handed to him.

They’re practically shaking at the thought of losing Antarcticite as their partner. Good. Now they know how Antarc feels.

Even then, Antarc wanted to grab them by the shoulders. Shake the rest of that ridiculous notion out of their turquoise little head – until the words fall from their lips.

‘I promise.’

Antarcticite thinks they’ll cling onto those words till they shatter, with or without Phosphophyllite leaving before them. But for now, while Phos is still before them, Antarc leans in and grasps their shoulders tightly – a mimicry of the large fluttery hug Kongo always gives them.

“Good.” They close their eyes. Breathe in the flowers which Phos smells of from lying too long in grass. “I’ll hold you to your word.”

.

“Sorry. I am not Phos.”

A coy smile is offered as their owner settle down gently in Phos’ seat.

Ghost Quartz lean over their tub, a delicate smile still on their lips in a manner that’s similar, yet different from Phos. A million stories come to mind in that instance – of Cairngorm, the other within Ghost; of Ghost themselves; of the unwavering support both parts of Ghost Quartz provided Phos. Antarcticite can’t help but think of Ghost Quartz as a threat to their position as Phos’ partner.

“There’s really not much to say, so I’ll keep it short: I’ve become a pair with Phos.”

“…But it’s only for spring, of course.”

Those words lighten the blow slightly, because – of course, it’s good that Phos is finally contributing to the school in the other seasons.

“Autumn for Cinnabar, Winter for you, and Spring for me. It’s quite the balanced schedule, isn’t it? No need for competition.”

“It’s summer now though, so I’m sure you’ve noticed. Phos decided summer is when they will rest. I’ve seen them off to the hibernation room. Wished them sweet dreams, in your stead too. Though I suppose they’ve informed you beforehand.”

They did. They even demanded goodnight kisses and received some tender pinches instead.

“The reason, they said, is because ‘Antarc demanded them to take care of themselves better’. That’s why, I’m grateful.” Ghost smiles. It’s every bit soft as Phos described. Every bit as gentle and kind. “Both of us are, not that the little one within me would admit it. We’re glad Phos is finally looking after themselves. We thank you for scolding them when they need to be scolded.”

Ghost stands.

“I won’t tell Phos about you, so don’t worry.”

“Let’s work together from now on. To take care of that little troublemaker.” Ghost chuckles.

.

“Today is the 35th day since Phos’ first hibernation.”

Ghost whispers with smile, tilting their head.

“A few pieces of Lapis have returned today, and the one who brought them back was none other than Cinnabar. It was nice of them, to collect the pieces with gloved hands and leave them at my door. But at the same time… it was strangely heart-breaking.”

“I wonder if Sensei will let me pair up with Cinnabar over summer? We’d make a pretty depressing pair together, wouldn’t we?”

Ghost smiles.

“I wonder… Is it impudent of me? To imagine a day the four of us can stand together? And maybe even with Lapis?”

Ghost pauses, as if listening to the other voice within them. They chuckle.

“It is, isn’t it?”

.

“Thanks for looking after this idiot.”

Antarcticite takes the first opportunity they got to drag the annoying gem off with them and pay their respects. Phosphophyllite struggles where their head is pushed down by them, making all sorts of face at Antarc, they’re sure.

“I’m sure Phos has been much trouble. I’ll make sure to beat out their recklessness by the end of winter – though I’m not very confident in face with their obstinacy.”

Phosphophyllite bristles at those words and writhes a bit more, making large motions to illustrate their feelings on it – not that Antarcticite cares about it in the least.

“Oh…” Ghost seems conflicted upon meeting Antarcticite in person for the first time. In the end, after a glance at Phosphophyllite, who’s throwing a tantrum and prowling off to banter with Jade, Ghost settles for a soft smile. “Please take care of Phos.”

‘You traitor, Ghost! I’m hardly as troublesome as Antarc makes it, right?!’

“Riiiight.” Yellow Diamond sings, looking away from Phosphophyllite’s gaze.

“Learn to have some self-awareness!” Jade lectures.

“-Thank you for looking after this idiot.”

Antarcticite repeats the phrase in the midst of a blizzard, bowing their head ever so slightly to peer into the man-cave Cinnabar has monopolized for themselves.

In response, Cinnabar had jumped, startled, turning and stuttering shocked words until a habitual glare took over their face and they pushed themselves up (readying themselves to move away from them, for Antarcticite’s sake, they fill in with some sad understanding).

“W-What are you doing here?”

“Red Beryl told us to pass you your winter clothes.” Antarcticite fills in for Phosphophyllite when they jump out from behind them, waving the frilly fabric at Cinnabar with a bright sunny beam. “Rutile told us to replenish your resources, and Obsidian wanted us to take your measurements, so they could finally carve a sword for you. We have gloves, so don’t worry-”

They pause when they see Phosphophyllite taking the opportunity to trace Cinnabar’s (utterly horrified) features with their covered hands. Antarcticite kicks Phosphophyllite away.

“-about anything save for this one, I guess.”

.

“Today’s the 55th day since the 180th winter.”

Phosphophyllite pauses and smiles.

“Sometimes, I get scared… of how beautiful everything is.”

They stare out of the windows, lost in the distance again.

“A sensei who loves us regardless of the moon people; an unbroken Antarc, or Ghost, or Morga or Goshe; a job for Cinnabar… Sometimes, this reality is so beautiful, I can’t help but wonder when I’ll wake up from this dream.” Phosphophyllite plants their face in their hands. “And that… is just so terrifying.”

“Peace is good. No suspicion over Sensei. No broken gems. It’s good like that. I won’t mess things up and get you or Ghost or anyone else abducted again. And yet, sometimes…I can’t help but wonder. What happened when I took the others to the moon the last time? How did I come back in time? If I don’t do it all again and repeat things —Would you break again?”

Their voice cracks like brittle gems.

In fact, Phosphophyllite’s face does crack. Little stones plummet into antarcticite with tiny gulping sounds.

And their presence within them – it makes Antarcticite feel – They want to reach up and grab Phosphophyllite; they want to comfort them, to scold them for keeping these thoughts; they want to kick their arse and embrace them and make their worries go away. It’s such a foreign feeling, like Phos’ parts in them.

But they’re liquid and they can’t.

“…I’m sorry.” Phosphophyllite furrows their brows and reaches down into Antarc. Fishes out the little pieces. “I- I promised you, didn’t I? I’ll stop thinking about things like that. J-just… enjoy the peace, like right now. Right, that’s what I’ll do.”

“I-” Phosphophylite’s eye cracks just a little. Another shard falls from their eye. Like the antarcticite that slips out when Antarc is sad, or the mercury from Cinnabar. (Or heavy gold.) “I’m just – so happy, it’s unbearable.”

.

“If I’m ever abducted by the moon people someday, I want you to live on and be happy with Ghost and Cinnabar.”

The words slip out in the winter cold thoughtlessly, freezing Phosphophyllite in their arms. For a second, Phosphophyllite merely stares at the wall. Then, they turn around in their bundle of blankets, turquoise eyes boring into Antarcticite’s, wide and confused.

Antarcticite covers their mouth at the slip, contemplates taking the words back, before they drop it and stare back into those eyes.

“Death is something that comes to all living creatures someday. For us, being abducted may just be a form of death that’s inevitable.” It’s something they’ve accepted. That ‘Forever’ is impossible, and it’s this fact that brings meaning to their lives. “Someday, all of us will ‘die’, leaving for the moon in one way or another. If I go earlier than you, I don’t want you to linger.”

Phosphophyllite parts their lips. For a second, Antarc knows, they forgot they can’t speak. That they forbidden themselves from speaking.

Antarcticite presses a palm – naked and bare – against the other’s mouth.

“Shut it.”

Phosphophyllite’s mouth closes with a ‘clink’.

“Don’t move.”

Their arms freeze where they had been ready to make dramatic motions.

“Don’t give me that look.”

And Phosphophyllite continues deadpanning at them.

Antarcticite sighs. Removes their hand from the other gem’s mouth so they could trail their thumb across the span of Phosphophyllite’s cheek, rubbing off the powder between them.

“To ‘live’ forever… That’s just not possible.” They whisper, eyes narrowing as they thought of Sensei. Who knows how long Sensei had been living? Who knows how long he had been alone? “If there exist a creature who can do that, they must be amazing to not lose sight of the meaning of life.” Sensei is. “They must be terribly lonely.”

“But you’re not alone, Phos.”

They both have the school. They both have Sensei.

Antarcticite narrows their eyes at Phosphophyllite’s pained look, brushing their fingers through the other’s long hair.

“So, don’t linger if you lose me.” Come on. Antarcticite will even do the same for Phosphophyllite. “Take it as my dying wish. But someday when the time comes for either me, Cinnabar, or even Ghost to leave… Accept it, grief, but move on. We’ll want you to be happy.”

Phosphophyllite stares, still wide-eyed, still unreadable. Still blinking furiously, struggling to hold back tears of gold which they no longer have. Eventually, their breath hitches. A soft choked breath escapes their lips. They twist in their sheets, wriggling deeper into the cocoon they’ve created for themselves as if to bury their face away in the sheets.

“Too embarrassing?” Antarcticite’s face is burning red when Phosphophyllite peeks out of their shell. A teasing grin comes to their lips. “I’d love if you hide away for a while longer.”

A soundless laugh escapes Phos, and they pop out of their shell again, batting at Antarc’s wispy lock of hair fondly.

A sudden press of lips against theirs shocks Antarc into silence. Icy shards blink, taken aback by the foreign but intimate gesture, and Phos laughs through their chapped lips with a pink flush painted on their cheeks. For a moment, Antarc thinks of reproaching them. But met with their content look, they merely sigh and smile, tightening their hold on Phosphophyllite.

“You will explain your face to Sensei in the morning.”

Phos’ laughter dies out.

.

“You suck. You suck sooo bad.”

Phosphophyllite complains, arms folded on the edge of their tub and tilted head placed on it.

“Sure, I love you, but- Did you really have to go and start that tradition with me?” Phos’ cheeks redden. “Thanks to you, it feels strange to go to sleep with your ‘goodnight kisses’! I blame you for distracting me during the battle today!”

“But, well…”

Phosphophyllite smiles.

“…Thanks I guess? Or not, for telling on me to Sensei.” Phos pouts.

.

‘I’m sincerely, truly, very, very sorry, Antarc. There’s a long story behind this that’s reeeaally hard to explain.’ Says the note Phosphophyllite passes to them. Before their eyes, the agate glints rainbow spirals and Phosphophyllite shrinks under their gaze. ‘I’ll do whatever you say for the next three months, so could you please find some meager amount of kindness in the depths of your cold heart to forgive me?’

“No.”

Phosphophyllite slumps, hair drooping like puppy ears.

“Explain properly. And make it short.”

‘My ears got eaten by a slug and the slug begged me to take it home.’

“…Give me the long version.”

They kind of anticipated the long list Phosphophyllite hands them a moment later.

“So, the lunarians sent a slug. The slug ate your ears, and you develop enhance hearing abilities which allows you to interpret their language. The slug begged you to return it to its home and you sympathized with it – since it came all the way from the moon all alone to save its family – and walked right into a trap. Those legs are formed from another slug’s shell in appreciation for your sacrifice.”

Phosphophyllite nods.

Antarcticite inhales deeply. Exhales. They stand.

“I’m going to crush some ice floes.” They walk a fine distance before halting. “Are you coming?”

Phosphophyllite follows a moment later.

Antarcticite ignores their fear at – what? That they’re crushing floes to substitute Phos? Well, normally, Antarc would be downright pissed and worried that their partner tossed themselves headfirst into danger again. However, the fact stands that Phos would turn three hundred this winter – and Antarc has some understanding of why Phos sympathized with the slug. (All alone, wandering to the unknown, risking themselves for their family. It’s just like them.)

Antarcticite reaches out instinctively. Tightens their grasp on Phos’ hand.

“Don’t lose another limb again.” It’s not so much of a warning as it is a plea.

No more.

Not their hands, or their head this time.

Phosphophyllite stares at them for a moment before dipping their head with a tiny helpless smile.

.

“I’ll be turning 300 next winter, huh.”

Phosphophyllite breathes.

“…I’m scared. But at the same time…I’m glad.” They smile. “If I manage to protect you through my 300th winter, then you’d have lived past your first lifetime. I’ll be happy, so long as you stay for a while longer with me, though it’d ideally be best if you never leave.”

They laugh.

“I’m greedy, aren’t I?”

Yes. Very much so.

Phosphophyllite trails the tip of their finger across Antarcticite’s body.

“I love you, Antarc.”

They feel the same.

.

Phosphophyllite doesn’t lose their hands. Antarcticite made sure they didn’t, keeping an eye on them throughout.

They leave for the Beach of Beginnings anyways, when the lunarians appear there.

The battle wasn’t particularly tough. With the both of them battle-ready, not even the special-type lunarian – they had rubies on them; Yellow would be delighted – stood a chance against them. With their twin battle styles and similar mindsets, there’s a reason why they’re the best pair behind the diamond duo, or when they’re active anyways. The end comes with fading pieces of lunarians and slight cracks in Phos’ worn body.

“…finished…” Phos’ whisper slips out in the cold. “Finally…maybe now-”

An arrow shoots them to pieces.

Antarcticite freezes, horrified as they stared.

Right. Right. This had happened the first time round, according to Phos. That’s how they had gone – Had Phosphophyllite been forced to see this same scenery? No. No, they need to stay calm. They’re not going to take either of them away. Not now. Not ever.

Antarcticite races and leaps onto the float. Bats away arrows with their jagged sword. Runs holes into the centre lunarian with their heels like they do with ice floes, land perfectly and cracks the lunarian in half with their sword. It’s almost entirely too anticlimactic when they tear easily, cloud disappearing with one last arrow which Antarc bats away easily. But the scare doesn’t fade easily.

Antarcticite has a strange feeling when they turn back and find bluish-green pieces strewn across sand. For a second, the past overlaps with the present. They see Phos, beaten and battered, chasing after them. Maybe this is what the other Antarc had felt? Overwhelming relief that Phos would be safe…that they wouldn’t repeat their failure…

“Phosphophyllite. …Phos!” They call out when they return to the beach.

Bluish-green pieces glint in the light of the morning sun. Phosphophyllite had pushed themselves up against the shore, a faint smile on their face when they turn to see Antarcticite racing towards them.

“Talk about a beauty, huh.” Phosphophyllite laughs breathlessly.

“This beauty just heard you talk.”

“…Oh jeez! I’m reeeaally a late bloomer, aren’t I?! Getting a voice at 300-”

“I already knew for a long time coming.” Antarc deadpans, drawing amusement at how Phos stones instantaneously. They drop to their knee in exasperation. “Just so you know, I’m conscious even in my liquid form. Which means I heard everything. I know everything. Including your dream of drowning in me someday. Which I forbid, by the way.”

Phos stares.

“…Somebody, please wake me up from this nightmare.”

“It’s not.” Antarcticite sighs. “Come on. I’ve got to gather your pieces. Help me out. I know you skimped out on work the first time-”

“Aaaah. My bones are broken and my back is in pieces. Senility seems drastic on me-”

“Do it before I tell Cinnabar about your fantasies of being absorbed by their-”

“Right, right! Don’t tell anyone about that!”

Broken and battered, they return to Sensei in pieces, all sighs of exasperation and cheer. But there’s the two of them, even if Phosphophyllite is a tad too noisy and affectionate for Antarcticite’s liking, and that’s enough for them.

They cling to each other in their sleep that night – After Phos talks their ears off and shatters themselves while blubbering emotionally, of course.

Antarc held them through it all.

.

“This is wrong.”

Phosphophyllite covers their face with their palms. ‘It’s the thirteenth day after the first winter’, is what they’re supposed to say. But they can’t bring themselves to.

“I shouldn’t- I shouldn’t be telling this to you – any of you, Antarc in the past or future, yet – I just can’t help it.” They sob. “I’m sorry, Antarc. I didn’t mean to betray Sensei. I just didn’t want this to continue forever – this…constant feeling of loss. I didn’t mean to be so weak. I didn’t mean to make you sacrifice yourself in my stead. I – I can’t even look after winter for you. How useless am I?”

Useless. Useless. The word fills their head.

Only the useless would deny reality like this.

Their Antarc is dead. They already knew that long ago. How is Cairngorm doing back home? Did dragging Padparadscha really make things easier on Rutile? They miss home so much, and yet – here they are, stuck in the past which should have occurred, talking to an Antarc and using them in place of their Antarc, the one who’s long gone (grinded to pieces; scattered on moon).

They know though, that no matter how much they apologise, they’ll still return the next day to report things to Antarc. Whether it’s this Antarc or their Antarc, they don’t know, the feeling of opening up to another, to Antarc, is just so addictive - but they can only apologize for that.

“Please forgive me.”

.

It’s still hard to swallow at times – that the past Phos came from is truly gone, replaced by this reality. But when they open their eyes in the morning to see Antarc before their eyes, it’s hard not to be relieved for that. Sure, they don’t think they’ll ever forget what happened in that other nightmarish timeline. Sure, they’ll always suspect Sensei despite loving him. But it’s all of those things that make this reality unbearably precious despite its faults.

Antarc frowns even in their sleep, brows furrowed sternly, lips pursued downwards and blue eyes – so different from their natural composition – shut closed. It’s sweet despite that – how Antarc had taken to wearing gloves in their sleep alongside the long sleeves of their pyjamas, just so they could hold Phos in the way they like. (It’s a constant reminder that this is no longer the past.) And how they don their thigh high socks so their legs could tangle.

Phos smiles up at them from their position in their blanket cocoon and reaches up, nuzzling their nose against the other’s.

Translucent lashes flutter sleepily. Antarc wakes at the soft impact that rings through both their noses, blinking dazedly at Phos.

“…what…?”

That sleepy murmur, too, is cute of their normally stern partner.

“Nothing, it’s just-” Phos beams as they snuggle into the other’s chest, arms tightening around Antarc. “You were just so angelic in your sleep, I couldn’t help but do that!”

“Save your bad jokes...” Antarc sighs. “Go to sleep.”