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goodbye to the creek joining the river

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The Rebels are throwing a party. It hasn't been planned. Almost nothing is in their little enclave. That is what Rose Quartz encourages of her Crystal Gems, to listen to impulse and gratify desires without giving one single fig to what the rest of the world expects you to do.

Taking what you want is a beautiful sentiment that Pearl fully believes in, but it’s one she can never seem to incorporate into her reality. Rose finds Pearl’s inability to relax amusing, often admonishes her to sit with the other Gems by the fire for a while and enjoy the moment instead of pacing and practicing and planning. But living for herself feels like a luxury, and one she has difficulty fitting around the strictures placed on a Diamond’s Pearl.

So for days when she struggles to keep all her parts in place, Pearl lives and dies by her list. It’s a mental tally of all tasks she must accomplish and the most efficient order to complete them in the limited time her double life allows her. Rose needs the mental space to plan the rebellion and can no longer bear even feigning to run her colony that is dragging this planet to its destruction. Pearl understands that. So while the other rebels watch the movements of the stars, Pearl mentally plans the announcements and appearances and inspections Pink needs to fit in when they return home. When the rebels explore the planet and all its wonders, Pearl practices her swordplay. She's afraid every time that too long spent as her Diamond's Pearl will leave her rusty and impaired on the battlefield, and she already has to work twice as hard to keep up with the other's natural resistance and strength. No, she will have time enough for stars and frogs and rivers when the war is won.

Pearl has never been fond of multitasking. She believes in devoting her full attention to the job in front of her. And that’s fine until they're ambushed by Blue’s soldiers and it feels like it's days before they emerge from the other side of the fighting. It throws her schedule into chaos, leaves her with no mental preparation for their return home, for the hundred and one things that need to be done over the next few days, and what's worse, the fight has ended with them abandoning their sanctuary and fleeing to higher ground.

The forest garden Pearl and Rose made together is gone now. If it was still just the two of them it would require a long moment of mourning. Rose’s maudlin sorrow would have fallen on both of them like a blanket of snow, and Pearl could have spent hours comforting Rose with her favourite things. Soft words, arranging flowers, discussing the violent overthrow of government and such.

(One doesn’t have much to do with the other, but Pearl really likes making things look symmetrical. And foxgloves.)

But they have no time for such indulgences around the soldiers. Because the Crystal Gems have actual, experienced soldiers now, including a real Quartz, and they bring a buzz to the air that makes every loss taste like victory. Having narrowly escaped a shattering, the new Ruby they picked up starts to whoop in glee. It feels at odds with Rose and Pearl's disappointment. But their new Amethyst begins to shout and playfight with Bismuth, and they mock the blows they took in battle, and then out of nowhere even quiet Garnet punches the air with a sudden, excited cheer of “We did it!”

The giddiness spreads to Pearl, bubbling up underneath her breastbone. “We were incredible,” she agrees, going for humble and demure, but unable to stop herself from collapsing into howls of laughter when Bismuth snatches her up and swings her through the air.

“Yeah, we were! The way you dodged that axe blow! Where’d you pick that trick up, doll?”

Pearl attempts to explain, but the Amethyst has started to sing a song that’s bawdy enough to make Pearl blush. Crazy Lace Agate whips around to stare at her, which would be intimidating in any Homeworld barracks, but when she meets the Amethyst’s suddenly nervous gaze, she bursts into raucous laughter that only encourages everyone to ratchet up the noise. The Amethyst stomps her feet and demands a celebration of their survival; the Ruby makes joyful noises and bellows out an even worse chorus. There’s such a lightness and joy in the air that Pearl has never known.

Rose is fascinated, of course. She stands a little outside them, as always, but what Pearl sees as her awkwardness over fitting in with the culture of lesser Gems, the others accept as the expected remoteness of a great leader. The notion of a party for soldiers and labourers is as foreign to Rose as it is to Pearl, but Rose wants to know what they'll get up to, and she tries to ask questions that she thinks are sly, and the rebels think are cute in their earnestness. Will they sing and dance? What are they going to do to entertain themselves?

The questions make Pearl nervous, but the others probably write them off as the naivety of a colony Gem, one born with rebellion baked into her inclusions. But then Rose starts recalling stories of human festivities she's seen, talking about making a large bonfire and twirling all of her comrades round the flames like humans do, and the bottom drops out from Pearl’s stomach because Rose has forgotten they're running late on their plan to return home. That, or she didn’t care for it in the first place, and it’s almost embarrassing to have to puncture her twittering excitement by saying, “We should leave soon, Rose. The new mission-”

“Oh, forget your mission!” The Amethyst jumps in. “Don’t be so uptight, Pearl, we just did something awesome!”

“We did,” Pearl smiles, “But reconnaissance is vital if we want to stay one step ahead. Rose-”

But Rose does not acquiesce. Rose pouts at her and reprimands. “But the party, Pearl! Ruby and Crazy Lace are going to teach me this song! We really should-”

“Rose!” Pearl interrupts before Rose can forget herself and use wording that will force Pearl to stay. A blush creeps across her cheeks, and she can see Amethyst and Bismuth trading mirthful looks. She can imagine what they’re murmuring. Silly, nervy Pearl who can’t let herself go for one evening. Who clings to her refined aloofness and shallow notions of what a real soldier does, and is out of touch with the common feeling Rose so openly embraces. And Rose doesn't help by being stubborn and smiling coyly from beneath her lashes.

“Oh, can't we spare an hour or so? Pearl, we’ve earned it!”

Everything in Pearl tells her to nod and agree, fit her existent plans around Rose’s whims. But she can’t allow herself those luxuries today. The list tells her she must leave the rebel camp before the sun reaches the tops of the mountains, because it's a five hour walk to the nearest warp pad, and longer if she meets a patrol force. From there, she'll have little more than a day to prepare what should normally take three. But still, contradicting Rose does not come easily to her, and Pearl stammers out the justifications with the sinking notion that Rose is just going to override her without a second thought.

“The… the mission is- it’s time critical, Rose, and…”

Rose saves her. She smiles indulgently, smooths her large palm over Pearl’s head and makes a magnanimous show of giving up her desire for the party.

“Of course, you’re right. You keep us so focused, Pearl.”

Joyless Pearl thinks she hears someone hiss, to muffled laughter. There’s so few of them but Pearl still can’t tell who said it. Maybe it’s a figment of her imagination. Bismuth, kindly, starts towards them, her nature instinctively generous.

“Should we-?”

“No, no!” Rose cuts Bismuth off. “Stay and enjoy the party. I’ll go with Pearl.”

Pearl can’t identify why she feels so embarrassed. She needs a better way to handle these moments, she decides. A way to pull them out without humiliating herself in front of everyone. The part of her that is taking a little too well to rebellion wishes Rose would just make this easy for her. But then again, constant negotiation is what equality is about, right? The blue tinge across her cheeks is only a sign of how far she's coming, how far she'll go.

Pearl is also throwing a party. A perfectly arranged but low-key soiree. It is so pleasant in the Spire, after all. And Pink has collected so many human trinkets and customs, it would be a shame not to show them off to the Blue Court while she still could.

That was what Pink had said, before Rose decided slumming it with the masses appealed to her more. But Rose’s wants are discretionary. Pink’s are compulsory. Rose and Pearl may share a common feeling, built on a foundation of mutual negotiation, but once they step inside this Spire, it’s not Pearl’s place to question her Diamond.

They arrive back at the Spire with only hours to spare before the party, and Pink pouts while Pearl pulls twigs out of her hair.

“We have ages to go yet, Pearl. We could have stayed a tiny bit longer.”

“I’m sorry, my Diamond.”

Pink sighs, her cheeks puffing out as she sulks a little. Pearl feels guilty that she’s denied Pink this small pleasure, but tells herself that if they succeed in this mad scheme, then Pink will have plenty of time to get rowdy and up close with all the real Quartzes. But that future will only come to fruition if Pink can demonstrate impulse control in the present. And Pink, historically, has been troubled by that. That’s entirely the reason Pearl was made the way she is, to smooth out those decisions for her Diamond. She does what she can.

“I suppose it’s no bad thing,” Pink decides, and Pearl feels a knot of anxiety loosening before she even realised it was what was sealing up the inside of her chest. “We can relax a bit before Yellow and Blue turn up to ruin everything again.”

Pearl laughs, but demurely, with her lips hidden behind her hand. Not the discordant squawk that comes out of her mouth around the rebels, that makes Pearl worry about forgetting herself and chortling like a labourer in the middle of some plenary or performance. Her survival of this double life is dependent on being single-minded in all things.

“Yes, my Diamond.”

“Oh! I can even fit in a bath beforehand. Do you think so, Pearl?”

A bath. Where is she going to find the time to draw one? It’s hardly necessary and Pearl’s schedule is tight enough as it is. But the order sinks in despite the niceties and she says, “Yes, my Diamond,” and it must be made so.

The rebels needed nothing but a fire and a song, but Pearl spends a great deal of time coordinating some Lapises and Rubies to draw the bath exactly as Pink Diamond likes - hot and full of fragrant blossoms and scented oils. Then once Pearl has polished the floors and hung the decorations and confirmed all the invitations and pressed the pleats into Pink’s appearance modifiers and organised the program of entertainment, she will go back upstairs to where her mistress is pondering the stars, or the miseries of life, or a dozen clever strategies she can create to prevent herself from building her own kindergarten, and help her out of the bath and into her dress and remind her exactly who all the aristocrats are who will be attending and what she needs to say to them, and which ones are most likely to hold information on the soft spots in the other Diamond's military forts.

She has some few minutes before their first guests will arrive, so Pearl finds some joy in taking up the rugs and changing everything around and putting the Earth trinkets in a new place - two new places, actually, Pink has collected that many. It really does make it all quite new to her, visible evidence that her world has altered in some indefinable way, and isn’t that what rebellion is about nowadays?

She knows that when Yellow Diamond's Pearl arrives, the first thing she will see is all the spots with trinkets where trinkets have never been put before, and the thought of how frustrated she'll be by the change is gratifying. Pearl does like to torment Pearl.

She spends the last minute finalising the seating, and decides there’ll be plenty of places for the Court to sit if Pearl brings Pink’s magnificent floor pillow down from upstairs. If Pearl came to the Spire for a party, on the pillow is exactly where she’d want to sit. Of course, knowing her mistress as she does, she’d probably arrive a little late and somebody else would already be sitting upon the pillow very comfortably, talking intently to someone else standing up. Which wouldn't be so bad. Gems do move about, and it would be gauche to make it plain in front of the aristocracy just how much she'd like to sit there, on that plush cushion - she certainly couldn't make a beeline for it!

As Pearl answers the door, taking cloaks and announcing guests, she pictures herself dawdling by the walls, perching upon any number of places before she'd dare go near it, so that, when finally she did come to sit on the pillow, it would appear perfectly natural, just as if she'd ended up there with no effort or design at all.

If the Renegade was crashing the party, she would sit on whatever chair she liked. The Renegade would loudly tell any Gem who was sitting on the pillow to remove themselves please, as that is where the Renegade will be sitting tonight thank you very much, and she'd get away with it because it was still such a charming novelty to her new friends, a Pearl demanding something from them. It would rankle a bit to be indulged like their exotic and pushy pet, but one hardly had to care when one could curl up on that cushion for a good hour or so and do nothing but let one's mind wander freely over topics of science or mathematics or love.

But Pearl is not and will never be a guest here. She spends the evening on her feet, rushing to indulge the whims of any Gem who crosses her path. But in this, she is so experienced that the physical effort far outweighs the mental. While Pink orders her here and there - to keep up appearances she apologises every time, put on the expected show - Pearl allows her mind to wander. She and Pearl and Pearl spend what feels like hours singing some twee ditty about all glory to the Authority, but she knows that routine by rote. Her mind keeps circling around that cushion, and how blindsided she is by the strength of her desires. The notion that one day she could sit down whenever she liked is an invigorating one that only leads her thoughts further astray.

There are five other Crystal Gems now, and Pearl can see the energy building for the movement. More Gems are going to join them, and soon they’ll be a force to be reckoned with. And upsetting a hundred Gems presents more of a risk than upsetting five.

Yes, if Rose told them the truth now, it would sting. Maybe some of them will upset enough to be driven away for good, but Pearl is confident that Pink could make them understand why she did it this way. Everyone admires Sapphire so much for giving up her position and all that privilege that came with it. Devoting herself to a Ruby soldier is enough to buy her solidarity and gratitude from the lower classes, and, well, couldn’t Rose and Pearl spin them a story about class differences being overcome by common sentiment!

It would hurt, perhaps, to admit that she’s not quite the renegade she claimed to be. Some of the new recruits are already insufferable, despite all the strides Pearl makes, and having her mistress in the picture wouldn’t help her image any. But wouldn’t Pink be happier? Freer? Able to find who she truly is, without this duplicitous cloak she's forced to wear. And Pink will always have Pearl to defend her to the hilt, to do anything to help her realise her vision. Honesty will be painful, but imagine how much better it will be if they could give up these lies and devote themselves fully to the cause ahead of them. Pink could be herself, who she wants to be, and then with that clarity and focus, Pearl could finally build her own identity into something solid and real. Calm her deepest fears that the revolution blossoming within her could be quelled the moment her Diamond decides it's too dangerous, too foolish, or grows too wary of her own complicated plots.

If she can find those perfect words, she can convince Pink to do it. With the right words, they can break down that wall with the others. Pearl will always stand beside her. Pink Diamond just has to take that first, brave step.

‘Pink Diamond is a coward.’

Rose says the words with a venomous passion they rarely hear from her. Even among the very few Gems earnest enough to rebel, speaking of a Diamond in such a way is met with a frisson of shock. It strikes them like the ground crumbling from beneath their feet.

Or maybe Pearl is the only one who feels the solid foundation she had been fabricating in her head falling away. Her knees wobble, and she ends up clutching Garnet beside her. The rebels close in, wide-eyed and ready for a story, and Rose is only emboldened by the awed attention. She spins a tale of a fierce Rose Quartz and her petition to protect Earth life, an impossibly brave Gem who found herself evolving beyond her purpose, who fell in love, who made a valiant stand against her ignorant leader in defense of that love and was exiled in punishment.

Pink Diamond is a coward, Rose says. Weak. She can't do anything on her own. At the first sign of trouble, she'll run to the other Diamonds for help to keep her power and blind ignorance intact.

"And those Gems who rely on her for support? Those are the ones she's cruelest to."

It seems like her unfathomable eyes are boring into Pearl's fragile form, and she feels tears well up. It's a cruel assessment of herself. Yes, even Pearl will admit there's been some truth to it in the past, that Pink has always had a reputation for being difficult, but it doesn't have to stay that way. Aren't they supposed to fight for growth? And who could be better proof of the power of change than a Diamond?

Bismuth places a warm, firm hand on her shoulder, and her simple trust beats into Pearl’s internal dam of emotion like a sledgehammer. Pearl has never told her friends any story about her past, but she knows they gossip. Pearl knows what Bismuth and Garnet suspect, and her tears likely do nothing but confirm their worst instincts.

And it isn't like they've guessed wrong.

But for the sudden wrench of misery that's taken her, the others regard Rose with open admiration. And Rose responds well to it, flourishing under their astoundment. Garnet looks at Rose like she's created something wonderful inside her. She is terrified of her Diamond (and having spent many an occasion watching Blue reprimand Pink, Pearl doesn’t blame her). To Garnet, the idea of a soldier bringing open rebellion to her Diamond’s court is an act of impossible bravery. And isn't that clever? This story is almost targeted to cement Garnet's solidarity. Pearl wonders if Rose got the idea for her plot points from Ruby's impulsive defiance and romance.

It is an inspirational story, Pearl admits. Casting Pink Diamond as flawed is a masterful stroke. It will give hope to all Crystal Gems. It will help them divorce their new movement from any Diamond influence. To think there was any other option than to keep up the lie is idiocy. Revealing Rose’s identity would break the movement and fracture them into ideological splinter groups. Only a silly Pearl would think it could ever be a good idea.

Rose’s bravery will inspire them to new climb to heights. Pearl tells herself all this over and over again until she’s almost quieted the brittle disappointment that has taken root inside her.

Nothing has changed at all, so it's ridiculous to feel as if a chapter of her life has been closed off. But Pearl still senses some unfathomable loss has occurred. A weight has been dropped on her that she wasn’t carrying before. She doesn't know what she's mourning. Maybe just the potential. Who Pink could have been. Who Pearl could have been. Who they would have been together.

Rose and Pearl have a five hour walk back to the warp pad and Pearl waits patiently for a justification. Yes, Pearl has told herself a dozen reasons to explain what Rose has just done, and will faithfully support Rose in her decision, their collusion in maintaining this fiction. But some unreasonably proud part of her still thinks she’s owed some explanation. This affects both of them, doesn't it? Isn't Pearl is the unspoken extension of Rose's story?

But the explanation never comes and, in the end, Pearl isn’t brave enough to ask.

Afterwards, after a conversation that took so many turns Pearl couldn’t grasp half the implications of it, after her Diamond breaks in front of as many witnesses as Pearl could gather, after she finally escapes capture, she crawls into a hideyhole to await the return of Rose Quartz. The whole thing turns Pearl's stomach, but Rose strokes her hair and promises her that one day she will look back with pride at this moment, because she had brought about a better future for all of them. She has given Rose a better future.

If Rose had asked her, Pearl would have sworn her silence for eternity. She would never have spoken a word. There's no possible scenario Pearl can envision where she would betray Rose. Not even to Garnet or poor Bismuth, if, stars willing, they ever find her again. Rose and Pearl began this together, and Pearl has always considered herself privileged to hold Rose’s deepest confidences. To be the Gem she could turn to for her most desperate needs.

But that doesn't matter anymore. And at the end of the day, maybe this is a kindness. Pearl has very little talent for straightforward deception and double speak, not like Rose does. If they're caught - a scenario they've oft-whispered about and Pearl now fears comes closer every day - Pearl will at least have the luxury of never being able to give in to weakness and betray them both.

Pearl never wants to betray Rose.

Pearl would do anything for Rose. Even kill her. It's not something they have spent much time discussing, but ever since the first lie came out of Rose's mouth, they’ve both been aware that this is the only end for Pink Diamond's story. For true growth to take place, for the rebellion to have any meaning at all, they must cut out the festering societal wound that obstructs their new world.

Pearl hasn't been able to stop the tears since Rose reformed. Pearl wishes she knew all this was coming, or that she at least had more time to prepare for this day, to practice what she’d say. She could have made herself gallant, chivalrous, sharing in Rose’s infectious enthusiasm. Not the emptiness crawling through her that she can’t define or explain. She knows she’s feeling emotions. She just has no clue what they are. Rose had pulled her into her lap, cooing into her hair and whispering praises, a thousand gratitudes for that beautiful piece of violence that they both believe will create true change. Pearl promised Rose she was capable of it and look what she has done! She has given Rose her freedom.

Rose is so excited about it she can barely contain her glee. She is free, and Pearl sits, listless, mustering a weak grimace of a smile as Rose elaborates on her new position. She exists outside of society, now. No connections or attachments to any of her past. And it hits Pearl then, with a kind of bitter irony, that it also means she has no connections or attachments to Pearl. They are no longer obligated to each other as master and slave. Rose can finally, freely do whatever she wants.

"All the time!" She whispers to Pearl, clutching her to her chest. She can do exactly what she wants all the time, to the extent that sometimes she could even do what she didn't want, just because she wanted to do that too.

Pearl keeps her silence, because her Diamond’s last decree means any excitement for Rose would be as forbidden to express as announcing her true identity to a full room. And eventually Rose notices Pearl is not speaking, is not voicing any affirmations, is not excitedly speculating on what a free future will look like. Rose looks at her face, suddenly, and her eyes are piercing.

She has always been uncomfortable with Pearl's silences. It's not a trait that's unusual or special to her. There is a certain kind of observable madness that seems to overtake those for whom every moment of crisis and insubordination has a silent witness. For some Gems, they experience a compulsive need to know what their Pearls truly think of their worst actions. But at the same time, it would be unthinkable to ask for a Pearl's judgement on her owner's behaviour.

And so it has often seemed to Pearl that the outcome of this paradox is that Mistresses feel compelled to cast back onto their slaves the compromising qualities that Pearls were in a position to observe in their Mistresses. That one is too defiant. Too needy. Too critical. She has her own plans. She is thinking the worst of you, always.

Indeed, her silence had often seemed to prompt Pink Diamond's fears, presuming a whole host of judgements Pearl could be making about her, and so she had almost seamlessly inserted her Pearl's imagined reproaches into the place of her voice of conscience. Pearl had thought that, at least, might have been one of the things they could avoid after the war.

“We had to do it this way,” Rose says, staring over the top of Pearl's head with sudden hardness. "Pink Diamond was a product of the system. She had no real power to do anything. Only someone completely free from this hypocritical society could make a real change. Only Rose Quartz can save this planet."

Pearl says nothing.

"The elites have to make way for common Gems. But they'd never give up their power freely, so it has to be taken from them! They have to be forced to grow, so they can find a way forward for themselves. Don't you understand, Pearl? Being the one to destroy a Diamond, to destroy an entire Court and their way of life? If we let one of the Crystal Gems do that, it would weigh so heavily on their conscience. It wouldn’t liberate them. It would destroy them."

Pearl adores her swords and is proud of her capability for violence, but she is not in love with death and destruction. Neither she nor Rose wanted insurrection. And she agrees with Rose. Change, real change like Rose dreams about, it can never come from inside their society. Not now, not when they're in so deep that the rebellion will only ever go down in history as either Pink Diamond's killer, or as her personal coup against the rest of the Diamond Authority.

"This way hurts, my Pearl, but it was our only option. The only clean way to end it all. I don’t want to be a weight on anyone’s conscience but my own.”

This isn’t hypocrisy. Hypocrisy requires clarity of mind. An unscrupulous intention to deceive. Pearl does not believe Rose capable of it. No, Rose fully believed they had embarked on this adventure together, which was true, and that they shared the same goals, which was probable, and that the pretense was incredibly necessary for success. And Pearl would never have voiced any contradiction to that, even if she was still capable of it.

No. None of it matters anymore. Pearl is proud, she thinks, to keep her silence now she has finally given Rose what she has always so desperately wanted.

Rose wants what Rose wants, and what Rose wanted in those early, despairing days after they lost everything was to coax Pearl into games with her human playthings. She presses over her men and rasps, ‘Oh, you must let Pearl play with us too, I insist,” and sometimes they are a little too eager for her presence and sometimes they aren't, but, like Pearl, they all let themselves be sweet-talked into sharing Rose’s bed.

Pearl is never sure what Rose wants from her during romps with humans. Her role on these nights seems purely ornamental. She observes Rose and her boys, demurs to Rose’s teasing and leaves herself open for tranquil touches. Pearl doesn't understand the purpose she serves in these trysts, but Rose wants it so she plays along, allowing herself to be posed and kissed in front of princes and poets, her performance an opening salvo to the main event. It’s been a long time since Pearl has needed her list, but she still ticks the acts off one by one. Where before it was the only way to keep she could keep track of the pieces of herself, now there is some relief in keeping everything neat and organised. It keeps life predictable.

This works as long as Rose is her focus, as long as Pearl thinks only of soft pink skin and melodious gasps. If an overeager man makes a go for her, it is no trial to swiftly disabuse him of the notion that Pearl was up for grabs. Even better, Rose always looks so wickedly delighted by how easily Pearl would throw off any soft humans whose hands stray her way, and by the confused anger when her bratty playthings found Pearl wasn’t as fragile and submissive as she appeared under Rose’s hands. It was part of the game and Pearl loves Rose’s laughter, their shared mischief and history.

Until her Babylonian harpist, nursing his red arm and crawling limply back to Rose’s embrace, chagrined. Pearl settled into a repose, the smug triumph on her face at odds with the delicate arrangement of her limbs. The Babylonian harpist scowled while Rose fussed over him and soothed his hair.

“Pearl likes to play a little rough, sometimes. She can just watch us.”

“I suppose,” her harpist muttered, mollified by the swell of Rose’s breasts pushed against his back. “Her charms are better suited to accessorising your magnificence, anyway. If you draped her in gold and lily flowers, she could sit in the corner all she wanted and be a sweet complement to your beauty.”

Rose laughed again and did not seem to notice the way Pearl’s shoulders went stiff and her fingers clenched the fur throw.

So Pearl marched off, secretly gratified to hear Rose’s “Oh” of surprise behind her, and even more so to hear her chide “That was very unkind of you to speak of Pearl like that.”

Pearl sequesters herself in the gardens and is surprised by how far the moon has travelled through the sky by the time Rose makes her way to find her. She supposes she shouldn’t be. She had agreed to join in and she had failed, and she couldn’t bear disappointing Rose again, so she blurted out her feelings by way of apologies.

“I’m sorry I left. I got upset.”

“I know,” Rose murmurs. “But he didn’t mean it like that.”

“Maybe no one should talk about anyone like that,” Pearl tries, humiliated by how Rose looked at her like she was behaving like a sulky Ruby or a- a ditzy Pearl.

“Yes, of course not.” Rose cupped her cheek and Pearl’s eyelids fluttered as she dipped forward. “But he doesn’t understand that yet.”

And Pearl has one despairing flash where she wonders And you do?

Then the guilt and rage and panic descends and she hates herself for ever thinking that way of Rose. The war was not the end of her secret double life, she is beginning to realise. She thought she might be past all this compartmentalising, where she could act as her true self with the rebels, but had to be… the other one while with Homeworld, but now she thinks she has only complicated it by hanging onto this incurable anger and despair that has no direction (it has no direction, not towards pink ringlets or pink laughter or pink anything). There is no one to blame except herself, because she did it, she killed her, she promised she would commit that wonderful act of violence and she did it all for her and lost everything-

She winds up sobbing in Rose’s lap, incoherent and voiceless. Rose asks her what’s wrong, what can she do to help, is she really so troubled by the words of one silly human after so long being free? But it’s far too late for Rose to be asking Pearl how she feels about any of this.

No, now it’s up to Pearl to compose herself. To find all these troubling parts of herself and rank and file them away into tidy boxes, where they can be let out only when Pearl is safely away from Rose and her compassionate eyes and endless capacity to worry about others. Pearl refuses to be one more burden she has to carry.

Pearl knows she is slightly absurd in the eyes of her friends. It has been a long time since she ran into the attitude that her social expression is the very thing that devalues her. It’s foolish of her to keep seeing her every action as resistive, to imagine an opposition to her every word. She can't be a Renegade if there’s nothing to renege on.

She is contextless. There are people in her life who have never once considered her property, and that is wonderful. She loves bickering with Amethyst. She loves the way she caves to her force of personality and sulks and complains about her perfectionism without the faintest idea of just how absurd it is for a Quartz to be played by a Pearl that way. She sometimes even enjoys taunting Greg. He is the competition, yes, but oh, how unthinkable even this would have been just five thousand years ago. That Rose was the thing to be won and Pearl the one to risk the winning.

With Garnet, she fears that the topic bores her. Garnet is content to be, to exist in the moment, to live for the future. And Pearl can take the point. Her freedom is old news. The novelty has worn off. It's the responsibility expected of her now, and they have so many more things to worry about at this point.

And that, maybe, is why she has sought Rose out to ask this one thing of her. She’s thought so hard about how she’ll phrase it, how she’ll make Rose understand that it’s not a desire to betray her, never that! It’s something undefinable within Pearl, a need she can’t find the words to explain. Keeping their secret has always been bearable with Rose there, to hold her and smooth her hair when Pearl can only sob. When Rose is gone, every scrap of Pearl’s history will finally be lost to her. There will be no one to understand why she is who she is, and no way for Pearl to ever explain it.

Rose settles beside her, hand pressed to the bump of her stomach, where the baby grows bigger every day. Pearl wants to touch it because she’s fascinated by how it sometimes moves, but that could be interpreted as approving of Rose's whims, and there's too much at stake in this moment for her to show that.

"There is a human philosophy," she begins confidently, with the barest hint of fidgeting hands, "that freedom is an act of responsibility. That responsibility requires freedom.”

That's as far as she gets before her body seizes. She hasn’t even broached the topic, and already her chest feels tight, her hands poised to spring and claw at her face.

And really, she tells herself, what’s the point? It's been so long. Rose may not even remember. She may have forgotten their pact, her order. She might be angry that Pearl is bringing it up at all - and rightfully so! After so long living successfully as Rose Quartz, Pearl has no right to drag up the past, no right to ask anything of Rose at all. She’s flouting the one thing - the one thing Rose has ever asked of her, and yet...

"They have a story," she starts again, her rehearsed bargaining falling before the desperation that’s creeping upon her now. Rose's gaze is fixed ahead, at the sunset, and Pearl was afraid she knew exactly what Pearl was trying to say.

"This human has a cow he leads about on a rope. He owns it, but the human is afraid that the cow has no interest in him. If the rope gets cut, the cow will run off, because the cow doesn't care about him. The cow just wants to do what it wants."

Rose laughs then, bright and brittle. The gentle upright swell of her stomach ripples with her amusement. The baby must be so big now. It must be so close to coming. Pearl has so little time left, and she should be using it to celebrate what she and Rose shared. Not this ploy she’s trying, this unthinkable, ungrateful, unaskable act-

“Greg knows where to find a whole field of cows. They’re the most wonderful creatures. Garnet and I chased them.”

Pearl looks away from the gentle rise of her humanised chest and up into the unfathomable depths of her dark, pupil-less eyes. All her carefully practiced, clever words fall right out of her head.

"I love you, Rose."

Rose dips her head towards Pearl. One hand smoothes the wrinkles from Pearl’s face. Her hair curtains them both from the sunlight and turns Pearl’s whole world pink.

"Oh Pearl," she whispers, expression brimming with her endless kindness and compassion. "I know you do."

Sapphire is gone. Pearl could say nothing to stop her, not while everyone is yelling Pink Diamond Pink Diamond Pink Diamond and keeping Pearl’s hands firmly in place. She expected Garnet to break, though. She only wishes she could have done more to prepare her, to make this day nicer for her. If she had known today was the day, she could have organised a party. Some kind of picnic, just for the four of them, before she rent their world apart.

Steven has fled, and Amethyst has gone after him. He's distraught, she knows, and she worries Amethyst might be too. She was always so proud to share things with Rose none of the rest of them had. Their Quartz nature and origins on Earth. But the truth is better. Pearl has figured that out now. The only way to heal the hairline fractures steadily splitting their family apart is to reveal the source. But still. Amethyst has been so strong and capable lately. Pearl hopes that has only made her more able to deal with this.

Steven and Amethyst have their secret conversations now. They think Pearl doesn’t know, but she does. Amethyst is his confidant and Pearl would have words to say about that, or maybe just advice to give, but they all stay lodged in her throat.

Beside her, Ruby sags to the floor like a sack of sugar.

"How could she just leave me?” She rants, and Pearl sits quietly and lets her get it all out. "After everything we've been through, she can't just talk to me? She always does this!"

Pearl should feel guilty for doing this to them, but guilt has been her companion since the first day she picked up a sword. Guilt has spent so long with her that it's baked into her nacre, part of her orient. Right now, it's nothing compared to the novelty that is this deep, painful relief that drills right down into her core. Finally being honest with everyone is like tasting freedom again for the first time.

She settles next to Ruby, bracing herself for a fight, for Ruby to shout at her or storm off or scorch the floor. But Ruby just cries Sapphire's name and waits at the warp pad. She’s too fixated on Sapphire, Sapphire’s pain, Sapphire’s absence, Sapphire’s needs, to even stop and think about how she feels right now.

Pearl reaches out, presses her palm gently on top of Ruby's, onto the smooth cut of her gem. They sit quietly that way for a while, until Ruby bows her head. She snatches her hands to her and scrubs furiously at the tears drizzling down her face.

“Sometimes," Ruby says, and then stops, at a loss of where to go next. She tries again to find the words. "Sometimes they just don’t understand.”

Pearl’s hand pulls up to her chest and she hesitates for one long moment, trying to think of a reply that won't trigger the order. She tries to avoid Ruby’s eyes, but she knows she’s being watched. And that she (and by extension, Rose, because Pearl is always an extension of Rose) are being judged. But she knows that Ruby doesn’t particularly care about them right now. She’ll care soon enough, when it’s all sunk in and Sapphire has come back (because Sapphire has to come back), but Ruby is free with her opinions. Ruby doesn’t do secrets. Right now, her mind is fixed on Sapphire alone.

Finally, she’s thought hard enough about the bonds of mutual strength between Ruby and Sapphire to relax her fingers and settle them in her lap and breathe again.

“No,” Pearl finally agrees. “Sometimes they don't."