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Lapis comes back, and it’s not like the other times.

Most of her life, really, she’s been reliving this cycle: she leaves, she comes back, and nothing goes like it’s supposed to. Like every other Gem, her mission, her purpose, should’ve been clear, but it all went to pieces when she got trapped inside that mirror. For thousands of years, she could do nothing except let her frustration build, dream about escape, dream about revenge. It was all she had to hold onto, any hope that Homeworld might still be looking for her, that someone would free her, gradually trickling away until the day she found herself looking into a pair of wide, curious, unfamiliar eyes.

But even after breaking free, revenge didn’t bring the closure she craved. Unleashing all those years of simmering resentment wasn’t nearly as satisfying, when she met the pleading gaze of someone who knew nothing of the war, the reality that had destroyed so many Gems, torn planets apart - someone who, he kept insisting, just wanted to be her friend .

Lapis just wanted to go home, to the life she remembered, the one she was made for. Touching down on Homeworld, though, she wondered if all those years slowly being worn away by anger and despair had blinded her to the reality - that she had failed her mission, she was a disgrace to her Diamond and she was just lucky her intel on the Crystal Gems made her somewhat useful, or she’d have been shattered on sight. It probably wouldn’t have affected her much, if she didn’t keep thinking about Steven. The unabashed joy on his face when she relayed those dumb noises, and how somehow she’d felt more accepted, more valued, more like anything other than an incompetent embarrassment in her few hours with this human than in her thousands of years serving Homeworld.

So Lapis went back, and she betrayed him.

Coming back isn’t like coming home. It’s an admission of defeat, a power struggle, a test she was doomed to fail from the offset because she wasn’t strong enough, she wasn’t brave enough, she wasn’t enough. She became desperate enough to seize the glimmer of opportunity she had to claw back some tiny bit control, because Jasper, Malachite, keeping them chained together was her decision, her refusal to remain a passive prisoner. It was the least she could do to protect Steven, who she knew didn’t deserve any of what the Crystal Gems had coming for them, because none of it was his choice. But that decision took everything she had, every last scrap of strength, and by the time it all fell apart everything had changed. Suddenly, she had Steven - and Peridot, that was the weirdest part, utterly unrecognisable from the uptight Gem she’d landed with. Saying she was sorry, she wanted to start over, that she understood now things could be different, here on Earth. Both of them hoping for things Lapis couldn’t give them, because she was so completely drained, exhausted, used up.

But she still stayed, and as time went by, even started to feel closer to something like contentment - but there was always a sharp little voice in the back of her mind, reminding her life could never be this easy, she’d caused too much pain and messed too much up to settle into a cozy, comfortable, traitorous life with her former captors. All she was ever doing here was waiting out the inevitable, and when the Diamonds brought their full wrath, Lapis knew she wouldn’t be enough. She couldn’t join their fight - she’d only be a liability, a dead weight. She’d almost convinced herself she wasn’t really running away, she was doing the right thing by giving Steven, Peridot and the others a better chance of winning the freedom they deserved, as if that made the guilt and self-loathing, sharp as a sword to her gem, tear at her any less as she flew away before she could see their faces crumple.

Maybe that’s why this time is different - or maybe it’s the fact that coming back is truly her decision, and that’s what scares her more than anything the Diamonds could do. A twisted part of her almost wants to laugh when Blue Diamond’s wave of trauma washes over her, because she’s been lost and alone and afraid her whole life, this is nothing new - but now she’s done. No more fleeing, no more hiding, she’s ready to fight and far beyond caring how the Diamonds will punish her for it. Even if they shatter her, if they harvest her, at long last she’ll have gone down for something - for someone, the people that believed in her and that she’s already let down in so many ways, but now at least they’ll know she was with them at the end. That thought might just be the most simultaneously terrifying and freeing one she’s ever had - moments before she plummets to the ground.

But it’s not the end. Lapis comes back, and something’s definitely different, she feels -

You have a star!” Peridot’s voice is the first thing she hears as she emerges from her gem, loud and shrill and oddly reassuring as she points at Lapis, then back at herself. “I have a star! Oh my stars - we have stars! We’re officially…” she almost whispers the last part, her hand trembling and her eyes huge, “Crystal Gems.

Lapis glances down, and she sees it, the triangular navy pattern of her top and skirt having shifted from its former diamond pattern into three additional points. Subtle, but it’s there.

I guess we are? That’s...” She shrugs, scratching a hand through her hair, but a bemused smile tugs at her lips as she searches for the word: inconceivable, ridiculous, hilarious, terrifying, right … “ neat.”

Peridot beams at her, earnest and open and infectious, and Lapis has to admit her new star suits her, loud, proud yellow splashes boldly displaying her allegiance. Maybe Earth suits her, too. “I know, I know, I initially felt the same way,” she says, patting Lapis’ arm. “But after careful consideration, I came to the conclusion that my considerable expertise and unique skillset are overall much better utilised and appreciated - well, most of the time - here on Earth especially following certain...altercations with my former Diamond -“

You called her a clod,” Lapis summarises, her lips twitching.

She is a clod!”

The cloddiest.”

Anyway - what I’m saying is, with you on the team, we’re significantly increasing our overall strength and efficiency as characterised by the diversity of abilities at our disposal! But, more importantly - we also have a Pumpkin, and two whole seasons of Camp Pining Hearts to catch up on. So confirming your allegiance at this point is really the only logical course of action. At least, if - if…” Peridot’s voice wavers, catching on the last word as she averts her eyes from Lapis’ like she’s afraid of what she might see there, “if you’ll stay.”

Something in Lapis’ chest tightens, a rush of familiar regret and less predictable tenderness, and there’s so much she wants to tell her. Tell her she’s sorry, so sorry for taking the barn, for leaving Peridot and Pumpkin and the life they were building behind as though they meant nothing, sorry she couldn’t be as strong and brave as Peridot when she needed her to be. There’s just so much , she doesn’t know where to begin - but maybe now she’ll have the time to figure it out, as Peridot’s hand slips from her arm and Lapis catches it, intertwining their fingers together.

I’ll stay,” she says; Peridot lifts her head, her expression transforming from astonishment to relief to pure joy , and it’s terrifying and exhilarating and completely worth it as Lapis squeezes her hand the slightest bit and adds: “I really missed...Camp Pining Hearts.”

Lapis is back, and this time, it’s going to be different.