In the moment Pink Diamond gave that final order, Pearl didn’t care. She didn’t have time to. The enormity of the deed they were about to commit loomed on the horizon, filling up the entirety of her mind with uncertainty and terror and giddiness and wonder.
She wanted to do this. She truly did. She wanted to discard her old life for good, to live free, to be whoever she wanted to be.
It was just hard, letting go of almost everything she’d ever known.
In the days following, Pearl did find a few quick chances to think more about the order. She had some… uncertainty regarding it. Had binding her really been necessary? Surely Pink— Rose knew that she’d keep any promise asked of her, without question.
But it had felt solemn. It had felt important. A fitting way to mark Pink Diamond’s demise.
And surely, Rose was right. In this new world they created, why would there ever be any reason to bring up the past? Rose Quartz would always be Rose Quartz, Pearl would always be Pearl, and there would be no need for anyone to doubt those facts.
Then the Corruption came.
In that timeless length after, when the grief and horror was rawest, there were moments when Pearl thought she couldn’t bear it.
Garnet— or Ruby and Sapphire, they couldn’t always manage to stick together— would be there. Crying. Or not crying at all, looking hard as stone. Pleading with monsters, fighting with them, staring at their bubbles, or else, just sitting on the barren ground, lost in thought, or time-streams, or something else altogether.
And Pearl would imagine throwing herself in front of Garnet, and telling her the truth. The whole of it.
It’s my fault, mine! I’m the reason they’re gone! I faked Pink Diamond’s death, this was all vengeance on behalf of a Gem that’s whole and well—
But she’d choke on her own words.
Garnet would notice. No matter how lost she was in her visions, sooner or later, she always noticed. And she, or Ruby and Sapphire, would wrap an arm or two around Pearl’s slender frame, and rub her back, an offer of silent comfort. Even though they didn’t understand what precisely they were comforting her for, Pearl would accept, and offer comfort back.
Later, she decided, this was for the best. What consolation would the truth have given Garnet? Either way, their friends were all gone.
The final order wasn’t something Pearl thought of much at all, in the millennia that followed.
It only came to her after Steven was born, and even then, quite some time afterwards. When the boy was nearly up to about Pearl’s waist.
Pearl had spent the day teaching him about astronomy, explaining about the solar system, and stars, and asteroids. Steven hadn’t understood much, but he’d marvelled at the projections Pearl had summoned from her gem, and drawn scraggly pictures, and proudly announced that one day he wanted to be an astronaut. Pearl had laughed at that, and so Steven had laughed too.
He was returned to Greg shortly thereafter, and Pearl was left thinking. She wasn’t sure if she’d ever be able to take him into space— they had no working ships left, none at all.
She could tell him about it, though. Not just these generalities. About the other planets she’d seen, the space systems she’d flown through. The radiant colours of nebulae, planets that were covered entirely in oceans, floating cities which could only be built where gravity was only a fraction of Earth’s.
… but she’d seen all of that in service to the Diamond Authority.
There were ways around the binding, of course. Pearl was clever. She knew she could be vague in the right places, direct the focus of the descriptions. Those tales wouldn’t have to risk Rose’s secret.
But what if Steven asked? What if Amethyst did, or— or Garnet? No, Garnet wouldn’t, she’d always respected Pearl’s reluctance to speak about her past, but the other two—
Pearl didn’t know what would happen, and it scared her.
Steven grew. He grew and grew and grew, and learned so much, and Pearl was so, so proud of him.
And then he heard, from a Homeworld Ruby: “I saw the traitorous Rose Quartz shatter Pink Diamond with my own eye!”
Pearl’s hands flew to her mouth automatically. She wasn’t even planning to say something, but the thought of That’s not what happened was still enough to trigger it.
Then she saw Steven.
He looked like someone struck to their core.
She wanted to tell him, tell him then, No, that’s not how it happened, Rose never killed anyone, never would have, she loved everything and wanted it all protected and—
Of course, even if she could speak, she wouldn’t have done so there, surrounded by enemy Rubies. That was something she’d have chosen to share in private. Just for her family, as Steven would have called them.
But it wasn’t a choice, was it?
Hours and hours later, they were in their stolen Red Eye, and Pearl was finally starting to calm down. They’d found Steven. He was there. He was alive. The red was starting to return to his cheeks. He was breathing, and talking, and laughing, and safe.
… and then he asked why none of them ever told him about Pink Diamond.
Garnet answered. She was the only one of them who could.
And it was horrible, hearing her tell these lies she wholly believed. Pearl just sat there, hands on the ship’s controls, lips a thin line, unable to stop herself from listening.
Garnet’s story ended. Steven seemed mollified.
Pearl told herself she was, too.
Then one day Steven stood defiantly in the middle of the living room, face scrunched up in anger and frustration, an old human journal in his hand, demanding answers.
The journal’s picture of the Palanquin was colorless, but Pearl could see it, vivid pink in her mind, the air thick with the scent of hibiscus and oncoming rain, screams and clashing swords in the distance—
And Steven said he’d dreamed of that place. Dreamed.
How? Was he reliving Rose’s memories after all? Was it some other thing, future visions or long sight or a telepathic connection, and if so, with who—
Pearl wanted to ask, but she can’t, she can’t, she can’t.
“Please, you’re making Pearl very upset,” said Garnet.
“No! I’m upset!” yelled Steven.
She can’t, she can’t, she can’t
“We’re. Not. Going. Rose never wanted you to see this place!”
“R- Rose wanted? What about what I want!”
Steven was right, he was completely right. Steven was the one here, with her gem, and his own human heart, and that order Pink Diamond gave so long ago could never have considered this.
But it wasn’t just that, either. Steven wanted to know, and Pearl wanted to tell him. And Garnet, and Amethyst. They deserved to know too, surely? And surely Pearl deserved to loosen that crushing feeling in her chest—
She said, in her mind, What about what I want?
Garnet was worried. She wasn’t telling Pearl why, concerned that her friend was on the verge of some emotional meltdown. That in itself was one more source of frustration.
Pearl wanted answers, an explanation, but there was only so far she could push without an explanation of her own to offer.
Steven and Greg disappeared. Some days later, Garnet did too. Then she came back. Steven was with her. Greg was not.
He’d been taken to the Zoo.
Returning there was like walking into a dream.
Pearl remembered when the Zoo had first been built. Pink Diamond had been so excited. Her own little collection of humans, in the prettiest of colours, all safe and warm and protected. She could visit them whenever she wanted.
Later, Rose Quartz had soured on it. The carefully conditioned environment was so pale compared to natural human encampments and towns and cities. Even Pearl had been able to appreciate that. There was barely any art here, any music, no chance to choose when they ate or slept, or even their own partners.
They’d discussed ways of disbanding it, but couldn’t figure anything out. To have Pink Diamond close it would have seemed immediately suspicious to the other Diamonds. To send rebellion fleets to raid it would have been dangerous, a waste of both time and resources.
“We can’t risk getting our people shattered for so few humans,” Pearl had said.
Rose had nodded. “Yes. We’ll get them after. They’ll be safer here than on a war-torn planet, anyway.”
That was the justification for the Rose Quartzes, as well. It was truly, truly regrettable how they’d taken the fall for Pink Diamond’s rebellion, but better safe in a bubble than on the front lines. They too would be retrieved after.
But there had been no after. Their spaceships had all been destroyed.
In the magnitude of everything else she’d lost, Pearl had found it hard to care.
She cared now. Not just from the pain of being plunged into a role she thought she’d escaped forever. Not just from fear for Amethyst and Ruby and Sapphire, trapped in this viper’s nest with her. Not just out of worry for Steven, thrown into the same Zoo— prison — his mother had made millennia ago.
Worry for Greg. She was worried for Mr. Gregory Universe.
Later, only after Greg had been rescued and everyone was safe, Pearl marvelled at that.
She marvelled at how excellent she felt, in general. She had a stolen spaceship, she’d insulted an Agate to her face, her whole body was thrumming with rebellion, and they had been victorious!
It was enough to convince her, for quite some time, that everything was alright.
Then Steven turned himself in to Homeworld.
Pearl floated in the water, throat and eyes burning, as Steven announced his identity as Rose Quartz, and Aquamarine took him in.
Everything was a gray flurry of pain after that. Her hands worked automatically at repairing a drop ship while her mind was a million miles away. Her memories swam with protocols for questioning, trials, imprisonment and executions. There should be time to get to him before he was shattered, but...
-but what if those protocols had changed? What if, when confronted by an ‘assassin’, the Diamonds rushed immediately to the harshest punishment?
If only Steven knew. If only Pearl had told him. She had no idea if it really would have helped, if he would have believed her, or the Diamonds would have believed him, or what the fallout would have been be if they had. But surely anything, anything, would be better than this.
This is my fault, she thought, eyes misting up so violently she couldn’t see the tools in front of her.
And then: No. This is Pink Diamond’s.
Later, when Steven tore away from her, tears running down his face, oblivious to the words Pearl was choking on, she thought: No. Rose’s fault.
When Steven came to her, asking if she shattered Pink Diamond, Pearl had no idea what brought these suspicions on. She would ask if she could. She would do so many things.
Instead, she walked herself right out of the room, and spent the next hour cleaning swords. Then the next mentally preparing a new training routine for Connie. Approximately thirty minutes spent attempting to perfectly recall musical compositions from 14th Century Japan. When she realised she already remembered them all, she went to vacuum every inch of Steven’s room that she could reach.
Steven came to talk, again, this time with a message from Pearl that she had absolutely no recollection of writing.
A text saying: I want to tell you, but I can’t
For a moment she was confused. Then an idea unfurled in her mind, along with the realisation she must have already had it.
Oh. Oh, she was smart.
She told Steven to go find her phone. She was allowed to tell him that. He was confused, but hopefully, he would understand soon.
Pearl lost track of things, after that. Her body was still vacuuming. The rhythm was simple and calming like nothing else was, and it required no real guidance from her mind.
She’d heard the human idiom ‘lost in thought’, and never had it been so appropriate.
At some point, Amethyst showed up. She asked, “How you doing?”
“Fine,” said Pearl.
“Cuz ya seemed kinda… off, earlier.”
Amethyst stared at her. Distantly, Pearl knew she should find this uncomfortable, but did not have the mental energy to do anything about it.
“Have you seen Steven?” Amethyst asked.
“Yes,” said Pearl.
“Where?” asked Amethyst, leaning forward.
“The battlefield.” Pearl could see him in her mind. She could see everything. It seemed so much more real than the Beach House.
She could see Steven’s horror when he discovered the truth. He was in her mind. She could feel it.
After it was all done, Pearl felt untethered.
Something around her throat had loosened. For millennia, she’d always been bound to someone. Now, that final pink rope had been cut, and she felt like a human boat with a broken sail, slack and directionless.
There was a lot of crying. From herself, from Garnet, Ruby, Sapphire, Amethyst, Steven. It all blurred together.
Eventually, Pearl fell asleep.
She wasn’t even aware it had happened. Those handful of times she’d tried before, she’d had to lie still and stiff, thinking intently about not thinking. This time, she simply became so exhausted that she tumbled into it without realising. Once there, she did not dream.
When she woke up, it was dark.
She was lying on the couch. She could not recall how she’d ended up there— perhaps someone had carried her. They must have laid the blanket over her. There was something pressed against her calf. Looking carefully, Pearl discovered it was Amethyst, sitting on the floor, head slumped on the couch’s cushion, some saliva dripping from her mouth. Steven was on the other couch, tucked into a small ball, snoring quietly. Next to him, in an almost identical pose, was Peridot. Off to the side, Pearl made out the slumbering mass of Lion, his chest rising and falling softly. The animal’s mass half-blocked another shape-- or shapes-- also covered in blankets. Was it Garnet, or Ruby and Sapphire?
Pearl supposed it didn’t matter, as long as the two were together.
She felt no need to go back to sleep. Carefully, so as not to disturb Amethyst, or anyone else around her, Pearl eased herself up and got to her feet. She would go to her room and… think.
Evidently, she wasn’t as quiet as she thought-- or perhaps Steven wasn’t sleeping as deeply as she’d assumed-- because as she passed, his eyes blinked open.
“Pearl?” he murmured, bleary.
She said nothing, just smiled at him faintly. Pearl saw the slow realisation as memory crept over him.
“Are you okay?” he said, shifting a little.
“I’m alright,” Pearl said, and to her own surprise, it was the truth.
He looked between her and the stone door. “Please,” he said. “Can we talk?”
“Of course,” Pearl said. He got to his feet, and seemed to hesitate a little. Pearl recognised what he wanted, and took his hand. It was soft and warm. Side by side, hand in hand, they walked into the Temple.