Of the new crafts that Bismuth had learned since she’d been unbubbled, cooking was quickly becoming one of her favourites. After all, what wasn’t to like? It combined three of her long time loves-- fire, sharp tools, and artistry-- with the new, wondrous world of taste.
She liked experimenting with new flavours, learning different measurement systems, finding out how to balance different spices, dozens of little tricks. It reminded her of the same excitement she’d had back when she’d been first learning smithing.
Steven was the one who noticed, and suggested the cook off.
That was very Steven. In the short time Bismuth had known him, she’d already realised he was someone who always found ways to use games and competition to inspire camaraderie.
… unfortunately, this latest attempt didn’t seem to be working.
Oh, it worked on Bis just fine. It also seemed to be working on Peridot, who despite not being capable of eating, had gotten roped in because “I currently have no other projects to do”. But Sapphire and Ruby?
… well. It was the same that they'd been since Bismuth had been (re)released. While everyone else chatted and joked and bragged as they worked on their culinary creations, Sapphire floated in frosty silence. Occasionally she would ask, in a very quiet voice, for someone to pass her a tool or a food item. Ruby, meanwhile, laughed and grinned, but acted as though Sapphire wasn’t even there.
If you didn’t know them, thought that they were just any Ruby and Sapphire, you could almost think they were okay. That this was just how they normally behaved. But then you’d notice the smoke or frost they’d emit every time they accidentally glanced each others’ way, and you’d know.
Steven kept a smile plastered on his face throughout the competition, but there was an exhaustion in his eyes.
Bismuth sighed. She wished, for the hundredth time, that things could back to the way it had used to be.
Something Ruby had prepared needed to set, and Bismuth’s meal… well, her pasta probably needed more work, but that was fine. There were more important things to tend to. She left the heat on low, and caught Ruby as she went out onto the Temple’s deck.
“Where ya going?” Bismuth asked.
“Just getting a breath of fresh air,” said Ruby, taking a deep, exaggerated breath.
“Uh-huh.” And definitely not because she hated to remain in a room with Sapphire any longer than she needed to. Bismuth cut to the chase. “Look. Why don’t you just talk to her?”
Bismuth threw up her arms. “Just hear me out! I know how horrible Rose’s lies were. No one knows that better than me! But she’s not the reason you fused! You did that because of each other, and you can’t let some scummy Diamond get in betw--”
“THIS ISN’T ABOUT ROSE QUARTZ!”
The scream came out with a wave of heat, forcing Bismuth back in surprise.
“It’s not about Rose,” Ruby repeated in a mutter. “None of you guys seem to get that! It’s Sapphire! I told her the same things you just told me, and she didn’t care. She said it was my fault we didn’t know! My fault! That I never know anything!” She laughed, a bitter sound. “All those centuries telling me 'no', I was different, I wasn’t like the other Rubies-- turns out Sapphire was just a big frackking liar too!”
Bismuth sighed. She wanted to reach out and comfort her old friend, but with the size difference, she couldn’t think of any gesture right now that wouldn’t come across as patronizing. “I don’t think she meant that.”
“She did.” Ruby rolled her eyes. “C’mon, Bis. You know what I’m talking about. Those aristocratic upper-crusts, always looking their noses down at us grunts…”
It was true. No denying; Bismuth had said the same herself, often. But the thing was, Sapphire was different. Or, well, she certainly seemed different-- before waking up in the future, Bismuth had only ever had a few scant conversations with Sapphire as Sapphire. Because she spent all her time as Garnet, a fusion with a Ruby, when most aristocrats wouldn’t even deign to touch such a lowly soldier. Garnet, who would give advice to anyone, who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with a Pearl, who’d complimented Bismuth’s ingenuity more times than she could count, who'd happily wrestle with any Quartz…
No. Bismuth didn’t think Sapphire had meant it. But she’d been angry, and the subject of her anger hadn’t been there, so she’d unleashed it on the nearest available target.
Bismuth knew what that was like. And she also knew what it was like, to be too stubborn or prideful to admit that you’d been wrong.
“I’m not saying you have to forgive her. Just that you should give her a chance to apologise,” said Bismuth.
Ruby sniffed. “If she wants to apologize, I’m sure she can See where I am.”
Well. There’d be no convincing her, not now. With one last sigh, Bismuth made her way back into the house, hoping she could still recover her pasta.
She caught a brief image of Steven standing at the stove with Sapphire, in hushed conversation. When Bismuth came in, they froze. Not literally, which was always a risk with Sapphire, just going very still. Bismuth wondered if there was a chance to pretend she hadn’t noticed.
“Pass me the salt, please, Steven,” said Sapphire, in that distant voice she always spoke with now.
Steven got the salt. Sapphire continued cooking. Peridot apparently hadn't even noticed anything was even wrong.
For a moment, Bismuth and Steven exchanged glances. That single moment communicated more than they could have done in a thousand words.
The tomato sauce was nearly burning. Bismuth rescued it just in time. But what did that matter? There were so many Crystal Gems she hadn’t been able to save, and now, it seemed, she wouldn’t be able to save Garnet either.