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In the Veil of Great Disguises

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The golden gleam of the evening sun bathed the clumps of rose bushes scattered around the clearing in a gentle glow. The blooming roses filled the air with their sweet fragrance. A soft breeze rustled through the trees, carrying the sounds of birdsong and the trickle of a nearby brook. It was as if Earth had chosen to show itself from its best side just for this occasion, Pearl mused.

But the fusion seemed too dazed to take in much of her surroundings. She was freshly reformed, having unfused not long after they had found her, the excitement of her new situation clearly getting to her. It had allowed Pearl and Rose to take a closer look at her component Gems, outside of the whirlwind tumult of battle, although Ruby and Sapphire had hardly spoken a word to either of them. They’d been wrapped up in each other, clinging tightly together, whispering words of reassurance; each the other’s safe haven, her shelter from the storm. Pearl had been touched by this closeness, by the mutual trust and affection that permeated their interaction. Despite their difference in status and the short time they had known each other, Ruby and Sapphire fit together like two parts of a whole, like they had been destined to find each other. Like it was always meant to be. It left Pearl with a strange sense of yearning, a forlornness she couldn’t quite define.

“Go on then, have a seat! Make yourself comfortable!” Rose patted the grass in front of her, beaming at the fusion. The fusion sank to the ground, a little shakily. She gazed in silent wonder at the gems embedded in each of her palms, as if she still couldn’t quite fathom her own existence. Her appearance was noticeably different from before: her clothes less tattered, her hair more orderly, bright pinks and blues beginning to blend into a deep purple.

Pearl seated herself at a slight distance, her hands folded neatly in her lap. She eyed the fusion in silence. She was still wary of her, unsure what to make of her, her very existence a violation of everything Pearl had been taught to believe. Just looking at her sent Pearl’s head reeling, her mind spinning with a thousand tantalizing possibilities, as exciting as they were forbidden. A part of her wanted to turn back time, to return to a simpler world, where two Gems of different types would not fuse under any circumstances, where some lines could not be crossed, where there remained some semblance of order among all the chaos.

Rose had no such inhibitions, of course. She leaned in close to the fusion, settling one hand on her shoulder in the casually affectionate way that was so unique to her. Words gushed from her as if from a waterfall, a jumble of questions about the fusion’s feelings interspersed with remarks on the beauty of Planet Earth and the ideals of the Crystal Gems. The fusion was hardly able to get a word in. What she did say, however, made clear that it was not just her appearance that had changed. Her answers were short and to the point, betraying none of her previous insecurity. She seemed to have taken Rose’s advice to heart, as not a single question left her lips. She radiated a quiet confidence, a calmness that came from deep within. Pearl marveled at the sudden transformation. Was this a natural part of cross-Gem fusion? Did a fusion become an entirely new person every time she reformed, reinvented in the blink of an eye? Or was this fusion still in the process of finding her identity, of defining herself as one person instead of two? Pearl’s logic failed her here, stumped by the sheer novelty of it all. It bothered her more than she cared to admit.

But despite her curiosity, she was only half listening. Her thoughts kept scurrying back to the scene that had unfolded between her and Rose just a few hours earlier, in the same clearing they were sitting in now. Her awkward attempt at fusion, the scandalous sight they had encountered during their attack on Blue Diamond’s court still vivid in her mind, the heady rush of an inexplicable elation tricking her into forgetting everything she was made for. Her mortification when she’d returned to her senses, certain this would result in her shattering. Welcoming it, even. And then it had poured out of her, the whole embarrassing truth, her silly fantasies of a life she would never have. But Rose had been so kind, so understanding, and for just one moment Pearl had felt heard, as if any notion of status or purpose had been erased, as if they were equals. On the same page.

Then, a flurry of sensations, rapid fire, dizzying. Both her body and her mind had unraveled, dissolving into a burst of light, spending a fraction of a second in confusion and disorientation before being pulled towards the inviting heat of another light beam, the only thing that could complete her. A burst of euphoria at achieving this completion, still herself but at the same time someone new and exciting, four eyes wide open in amazement. And then it was over, in an instant, before it could really begin. Sprawled across a rose bush, her body half entangled with Rose’s, Pearl’s elation gave way to sorrow. For one fragile fleeting moment, she had felt whole. She had longed for that feeling then, and she still longed for it now.

But she knew full well, with a bitterness that seeped like an ache through her bones, that it could never come to more than longing. Perhaps it was possible for a Ruby and a Sapphire to fuse, but for a Diamond and her Pearl? That was not only unheard of, but unthought of. Unspeakable, unimaginable. The mere idea of it was an effrontery to the very core of Gem society. They had touched that boundary, come dangerously close to crossing it, but hadn’t quite reached it in the end. Pearl told herself that it was better this way. Rose might have been merciful enough not to punish her, but surely she could see, despite her talk of revolution, just how inappropriate it would be for her to fuse with a common Pearl.

But is that really true, a nagging voice insisted at the back of Pearl’s head. An image kept flashing into her mind: Rose’s face just seconds before they had almost fused, stars in her eyes, a deep pink blush covering her cheeks and nose, her hands holding onto Pearl’s shoulders as if they were her lifeline. In thousands of years, Pearl had never seen her this excited. Please don’t ever stop, she had said. Had she meant it? She couldn’t possibly have, Pearl thought, silencing the voice at the back of her head. She’d simply gotten caught up in the moment, buoyed by her astonishment at what they had just witnessed, and forgotten her position. So had Pearl, and it was a mistake she was not going to repeat. At the end of the day, behind the veil of swords and rebellion and secret identities, she was just a Pearl, and Rose was still her Diamond. She couldn’t afford to forget that.

She forced her mind back to the present, paying closer attention to the fusion, who had just begun to speak.

“We – I’ve heard stories about you, back on Homeworld.” She paused, seeming to search for a way to phrase her next sentence without turning it into a question. “I wonder how many of them are true.”

“Most of them are greatly exaggerated, I imagine,” Rose said.

She beckoned the fusion closer and gave her a conspiratorial smile. “But I could tell you the real story, if you’d like.”

The fusion nodded eagerly. For a second, Pearl had the absurd thought that Rose was just going to tell her the truth, that she was going to reveal her true identity as if it was nothing.

Instead, Rose launched straight into a different story. It was the tale of a lowly Quartz soldier made in an Earth kindergarten, who discovered the beauty of the planet and decided to fight for its protection rather than aid in its destruction. Pearl shifted in the grass, trying not to show her unease. This was not a story she had invented alongside Rose, not something Rose had asked her to imagine. They had never even composed the barest bones of an origin story for Rose Quartz – until now, it hadn’t been necessary. And yet Rose’s narrative was too elaborate to have been made up on the spur of the moment, embellished with plenty of details and flourishes. Pearl couldn’t shake the thought that Rose had been developing this for a long time. Had she snuck out of their camp late at night too, gazing up at the stars and dreaming of a life she could only ever pretend was hers?

When she’d finished, the fusion looked at Rose with awe in her eyes. “That’s incredible,” she breathed.

Rose beamed at this, but Pearl felt a sharp pang between her ribs. The beginning of an unwavering admiration, an unconditional loyalty so powerful it would become a destructive force, was achingly plain to see in the fusion’s awed expression. Rose had a rare gift to inspire these sentiments in others, without even intending to; a smile and a kind word from her were enough to ensure eternal devotion. A phenomenon Pearl was only too familiar with. It was rather like the veneration a Gem was supposed to show her Diamond – Pearl wondered if Rose was aware of the irony. How would the fusion react when she found out that the trust she had placed in Rose was built on nothing but lies? Would she ever find out? Pearl was almost tempted to tell her the truth there and then, to save her from later disappointment, but instead she bit down hard on her bottom lip and stayed silent. Of course she did. For Rose. Everything for Rose.

Now, the fusion cast an inquiring glance at Pearl, who felt herself blushing under the attention. Rose’s smile widened and she placed a hand on Pearl’s shoulder, drawing her closer. Even this slight contact was enough to make Pearl’s whole body tingle.

“Now that’s a story,” Rose said with a glint in her eye. “You see, Pearl ran away from her owner to live here on Earth, as her own Gem! And then she met me. We’ve been together ever since. Isn’t that right, Pearl?”

She angled her head towards her, waiting for an answer. Pearl froze. This was her story, her shame-faced admission to Rose. The one she’d desperately hoped Rose had chosen to forget. What could she possibly mean by bringing it up now? Was she indulging Pearl’s fantasy, encouraging it even? And what should Pearl reply? Any form of no was out of the question, for obvious reasons. But if she said yes, if she gave Rose the answer she wanted, she would only sink further into lies and treachery, into pretty fairytales replacing cold hard truths. It was a swamp that might one day swallow her whole. Cold droplets of sweat ran down her temple. She realized it would look suspicious if she hesitated any longer, and managed a shaky smile.

“Oh… um… yes,” she said. “That’s what happened.”

The fusion’s eyes grew wide. She regarded Pearl with no less admiration than she had shown Rose. Pearl allowed herself to speculate, just briefly, on what might be said about her back on Homeworld. She had to admit there was a certain appeal to the fusion knowing only this fabricated version of her. Perhaps that was all Pearl needed – someone who would look at her and see the rebel she had never gotten the chance to be.

Rose gazed over her shoulder at the sun sinking ever deeper into the horizon, and stood up. The fusion followed suit.

“Well, how about we show you around a little? You can’t have seen much of Earth yet.”

The fusion hesitated, then said, “I – I think I’d rather go exploring on my own just now. If you don’t mind.”

“Oh! I see!” Rose’s face lit up in a flash of understanding. “You need to get to know each other better – and yourself too, I suppose. Don’t let me keep you then! But be careful you don’t stray too far. And don’t take too long! It’ll be getting dark soon.”

She wiggled her fingers at the fusion, waving goodbye. The fusion set off with slow but steady strides, and had almost disappeared between the trees when Rose called her back again. “Wait! You haven’t told us the most important thing yet.”

The fusion stepped back onto the clearing and cocked her head slightly, all three eyes fixed on Rose.

“What is your name?” Rose asked.

The fusion blushed, but this time she spoke without hesitation. “There isn’t exactly a precedent for this kind of situation, but… I have chosen to call myself Garnet.”

She threw her head back, a clear gesture of defiance, as if daring anyone to challenge her newfound identity. And without saying another word, she withdrew into the forest.

Pearl realized, with a jolt of anxiety, that she was now alone with Rose. For the first time since their failed attempt at fusion. The fusion – Garnet – had acted as a barrier that prevented them from talking about what had happened earlier, a welcome distraction from a conversation Pearl was not sure she was ready to have. Now that Rose was able to speak freely, what would she say? Would she punish Pearl for her insolence? Would she pretend that nothing had happened? Or – an unbidden image flared up in vibrant colors– would she try to fuse with her again? Conflicting thoughts came flooding into Pearl’s mind, like waves crashing against a shore, threatening to drown her. She found it nearly impossible to sit still. Electricity coursed through her veins, every nerve a taut wire. A thousand sword fights, a thousand battles for life or death, would be easier than this horrible uncertainty. To keep her hands busy, she plucked a rose from the nearest bush and tore it apart in a restless frenzy. Red petals littered the grass like giant drops of blood.

If Rose sensed her discomfort, she showed no sign of it. She was still giddy with excitement, pacing the clearing in loping circles.

“Isn’t it amazing? This fusion chose her name, chose her entire identity, just like that! In an instant, she became a completely new person. Can you imagine how different Gemkind would be if we all got to choose our own destinies?” Rose punctuated her words with an array of animated hand gestures.

Then she came to an abrupt halt. “I’ve been going about this all wrong,” she said, furrowing her brow.

She dropped to the ground right in front of Pearl, facing her with an intense gaze. Pearl’s face heated and she hastily raked her fingers through the grass, sweeping aside the scattered rose petals.

“You see, all this time we’ve been fighting only for humans,” Rose said. “But now I realize that Gems need liberation just as much! This fu-, I mean Garnet, can’t be the only Gem who doesn’t fit into the system. There must be tons of off-colors all across the colonies. Or just Gems who are unhappy with their position, who want to reinvent themselves outside of their purpose! I can’t believe it’s never occurred to me that they are worth fighting for, too.”

Gems like me, you mean? The thought entered Pearl’s head before she could stop it. Others followed in rapid succession, embittered accusations borne of pent-up frustration that had been cooking in the back of her mind for the past 250 years. You never thought Pearls were worth fighting for? You never thought I was worth fighting for? You spent centuries doing nothing to challenge the system as long as you could protect your little planet, and now this fusion comes sauntering along and you change your mind? She forced them back with all her might, telling herself she wasn’t being fair to Rose. She had always treated Pearl with far more kindness and respect than it was customary to afford a Pearl. Even as Pink Diamond. Even in the millennia they had spent together before Pink was given Earth. And now, in their alter egos as revolutionaries, Pearl was Rose’s equal in nearly every respect, her right hand, her trusted advisor, her confidante. She just wished that she could have been the spark to ignite Rose’s latest epiphany, rather than the eternal bystander, doomed to a life on the sidelines, longing to one day leave a mark of her own. Forgotten by the ballads, left out of the annals, a mere footnote in an unwritten tale. Just the fate befitting a Pearl. Was it so selfish of her to wish for something more? To want to be recognized, recognized by Rose above all? Perhaps it was. And it certainly led nowhere. She banished the thoughts, burying them in some deep recess of her mind, never to be accessed again. When all else failed, at least she could still rely on her ability to compartmentalize.

Rose continued talking, oblivious to Pearl’s inner turmoil. “Why should the Crystal Gems be just the two of us? We could recruit new members, Gems who want a new life, who are ready to fight for Earth and humanity and make a stand against Homeworld. They would live together as equals, regardless of their status. Earth could become an oasis for Gems who don’t fit the mold! And just imagine how much we could achieve with more Gems on our side. Our attacks would be much more effective with a whole army. We could start a war, even! We could make an impact like nobody has done before. We’d need a proper headquarters, of course, and a logo, and a manifesto, maybe. Oh, just think of all the possibilities…”

Pearl smiled, in spite of herself. As always, it was hard not to get swept along in Rose’s enthusiasm. “That sounds lovely,” she said, and meant it.

Rose returned her smile. “Doesn’t it just?” Then she fell silent, staring into the distance.

“Pearl?” she asked finally.

Pearl flinched. An ice-cold dread took hold of her insides. There it was at last, the chain tying her to reality, the ironclad reminder that some things could not simply be forgotten, that there had to be consequences. In just a moment, Rose would tell her, was bound to tell her, that she regretted doing this but circumstances left her no choice but to replace Pearl. It was the only logical course of action.

“Y-yes?” She almost added My Diamond.

“Those things I was talking about… do you think you could show me some ideas? You know, what it would be like if we did go through with it. I always love seeing your input.”

Pearl breathed a sigh of relief, the ice inside her thawing. This was familiar territory for them, a well-trodden path. Every now and then, Rose would ask her to imagine certain scenarios with the help of her holographic projections and, with increasing frequency, to come up with her own ideas. A large chunk of their plans had been devised in that fashion, from battle strategies to the protection of humans. Some of Pearl’s most treasured memories were of moments like these, havens of peace and quiet amidst the pandemonium of attacks and ambushes, just her and Rose and an infinite number of possibilities.

Now, she paused for a moment, her eyes closed, collecting her thoughts. Then, with a light touch to her gem, she brought forth blue-tinged visions of what their future might hold.

A flag waving on a hilltop. Rose giving an impassioned speech to a crowd of spellbound Gems from all sorts of backgrounds. Hundreds of arms raising weapons into the sky, ready for battle.

She deliberately omitted the less hopeful pictures that were forming in her mind, the battles lost, the Gems shattered, the other Diamonds swooping in on their little rebellion like an eagle on a mouse. Omitted, too, the very real possibility that their allies would one day discover Rose’s secret; their anger, their disappointment, at realizing that everything they believed in was founded on a lie, that they had been duped into fighting a war that had been a ruse all along. She knew Rose wouldn’t want to see these.

When she’d finished, her last projection flickering from view, she ventured a glance at Rose. She decided, in that moment, that all the heartaches, the lies, the uncertainties, all the fear and frustration – they were worth it, more than worth it, if they meant that she got to see that face again. Rose’s starry eyes, her flushed cheeks, her lips parted in wonder… to think that such adoration, such reverence, could be directed towards her, a common Pearl, and from a Diamond of all Gems.

“Thank you, Pearl. That was wonderful.” Rose covered Pearl’s hands, which were still tightly clasped in her lap, with one of her own. This was nothing new for them, but even so Pearl marveled at the sensation as if experiencing it for the first time, at the reassuring warmth of Rose’s palm, the gentle squeeze of her fingers, how easily Rose’s large, solid hand dwarfed both her slender ones. She felt a faint blush creeping over her face.

“So can you tell me…” Rose began. “Can you tell me what you see for us?”

Us? The word sent a rush of heat through Pearl’s body, like she’d swallowed molten lava. Her blush deepened. Surely Rose couldn’t mean…

She settled on the safest option: deliberately misunderstanding the question. “Well, you would lead the rebellion, of course. And I would be by your side the whole time, giving you advice, protecting you in battle…”

Rose sighed. “That’s not what I mean.”

Pearl straightened her spine. Forced herself to meet Rose’s eyes. Gathered up every last bit of her courage to pour it all into this one question. “What do you mean, then?”

Rose flushed a deeper shade of pink, looking anywhere but at Pearl. If Pearl hadn’t known her any better, she might have thought she was nervous. “What I mean is… I… I… I can’t stop thinking about what happened earlier. About what we did, and about… about the things you said. It sounded so lovely, what you were describing. So beautiful. I hope you know that I meant what I said, when I told you to never stop. I want to believe in your story, Pearl. I want to make it our reality.”

But it’s not real, Pearl thought. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? It’s just a silly fairytale that lets us forget who we are for a moment. You can’t build a life on smoke and mirrors. She didn’t voice any of these thoughts, though. She couldn’t have spoken if she’d tried.

“You know, meeting Garnet changed everything for me,” Rose went on. “I’d never thought it possible for a Ruby and a Sapphire to fuse… or any Gems of different types, for that matter. But really, why shouldn’t they? That’s what this whole rebellion is about, isn’t it? To go against the established order – and that includes breaking with the hierarchy! So then, there should be nothing unusual about two different Gems wanting to fuse, seeing each other as equals. Even a Diamond and a Pearl.” Her eyes roamed Pearl’s face, as if trying to gauge her reaction, and her voice was soft as velvet. “I know we didn’t quite manage to fuse the first time. But if it’s fine with you, I would really like to give it another try. Perhaps… perhaps you have an idea. Something that would help us get it right this time.”

Oh, she had ideas all right. Dozens of them, in intricate detail, the fanciful fruits of many lonely midnight reveries. Colored by shame, tinged with regret. None of them involved fusion – until now, that topic had been too taboo to even imagine – but Pearl supposed that they all featured a certain kind of… intimacy that could be conducive to a successful fusion. A very forbidden kind of intimacy, needless to say. Her mind lingered on one particular vision, an old favorite of hers. It was a simple scene, plain and unadorned, and yet it had a special charm that kept her returning to it. Of course, it was ludicrous to even think of it, utterly preposterous, deserving of shattering or worse. But it might work. It might just work. She took a steadying breath and let the words out, not leaving a single second for doubt.

Rose gave her a puzzled glance. “Sorry? I didn’t quite catch that.”

“I thought we might… dance,” Pearl repeated, a little louder, a little slower. “If – if you’d like that.”

Rose’s lips spread into a smile so wide it seemed to cover her entire face. “I think I’d like that very much.”

Pearl’s face burned under the intensity of Rose’s gaze, a fierce fire in her eyes that looked like admiration, that almost looked like… worship. Suddenly, it was unbearable to hold her gaze even a moment longer. She scanned the ground for a distraction, but found only scattered twigs, which she gathered up and arranged in a neat line, her fingers working frantically. Her momentary confidence had drained out of her, and the all too familiar insecurity was back with a vengeance; a constant, menacing drumming in her head. She heard a soft rustling in the grass, the unmistakable sound of Rose getting to her feet. If she said nothing, if she did nothing, if she kept sitting here with her eyes fixed stubbornly on the ground, Rose might give up. She might walk away and leave Pearl be, and never speak another word of fusion or of fantasies. Everything would go back to normal. And yet, despite knowing all of this, she couldn’t stop herself from looking up.

The sun had now disappeared almost entirely behind the horizon and Rose was illuminated by its remaining faint rays, a deep orange glow that seemed to emanate from within her. Thick pink ringlets cascaded down past her waist, flowing slightly in the light breeze. Her face was warm and wonderful, dark eyes gleaming, full lips forming a bright smile. She was beautiful. There was no other word for it. Just beautiful. Sometimes, Pearl forgot that she had invented Rose, technically speaking, that she had been the one to design this form; and moments like these always caught her off-guard, took her breath away every single time. A warmth spread through her that had nothing to do with shame or embarrassment, and melted away the doubt she’d been nursing. If she stripped away all the layers of duty and purpose and hierarchy, she was left with a very simple truth: she would do anything for Rose. Rose was the moon, and she was the tide. Rose was a star, and Pearl was a planet in her orbit. She would follow her to the ends of the Earth, if need be. She would follow her to her own doom, if she had to. That was all that mattered now.

As if she’d read her thoughts, Rose offered Pearl a hand, a silent invitation. Pearl took it without a moment’s hesitation, like Rose’s hand exerted a magnetic pull on hers. She let Rose draw her up to her feet.

“So,” Rose said with a smirk that turned Pearl’s knees to jelly. “Shall we begin?”

Pearl could do nothing but nod; words were lost to her. Rose raised their linked hands and placed her free hand on Pearl’s waist, pulling her closer. Pearl shivered at the touch. She lifted her own hand, tentatively at first, then with more determination, settling it on Rose’s shoulder.

Their first steps were clumsy, awkward, their postures too stiff and their movements too cautious. But soon enough, they found a rhythm and settled into it; every step fluid, smooth, graceful, as if they’d practiced this all their lives. Rose released an exhilarated giggle and when she led her into a twirl, Pearl was ready, swiveling on the tips of her toes in a perfect pirouette.

When she faced Rose again, they were mere inches apart, locked in a tight embrace. Their proper dance had been abandoned for a soft sway from side to side. Pearl closed her eyes and felt all remaining tension leave her body. She focused her attention on every point of contact between her and Rose, their entwined hands, Rose’s arm wrapped snugly around Pearl’s waist, Pearl’s hand inching from Rose’s shoulder to the back of her neck, her abdomen pressing against the cool facets of Rose’s gem… Each of these spots was reinvented by Rose’s touch, made iridescent, transformed from black-and-white to a rainbow of colors. She felt closer to Rose than she ever had before.

But still, they remained separate, their forms frustratingly solid, not even a glimmer of that wondrous light. There was still something missing. Something was holding them back.

Rose seemed to sense it too, because she placed her lips over Pearl’s ear and whispered: “Well? What do you see next?”

Pearl’s eyes fluttered open again and she caught a glimpse of Rose’s face, wide-eyed and eager. It struck her, sharp as a bolt of lightning, that this was real. This wasn’t some daydream that could simply be discarded or stowed away for later use, no castles in the air that would dissipate in the blink of an eye. Rose was here, in the flesh, waiting for Pearl’s next move.

And she knew, of course, what this next move was going to be. There was no other option, really. All her manifold visions, different as they were, had eventually wound up at the same point. She had imagined these precious few seconds countless times, turning them over in her mind until they became as graphic as a memory. They were almost palpable now, imprinted on every sense, sight and sound and smell and touch and taste

But they were followed, every time, by a less pleasant vision, one that always put a harsh stop to her galloping imagination. She saw it now; an alert observer hidden behind a tree, a report made to the Diamonds, her gem shattering into a million tiny pieces. Then, worst of all, the version where it was Rose herself who turned her in, casting her aside like a broken toy.

She squeezed her eyes shut, willing the images away. But they wouldn’t leave. Strong hands gripped her arms, gently but firmly, holding her fast. Pearl realized only now that she was shaking.

“Pearl.” Her name, in Rose’s voice, spoken with such concern, such tenderness, shone like a beacon through the dark currents of her thoughts. It anchored her in place, kept her from falling apart. Rose relinquished her grip on Pearl’s arms and settled her hands on her shoulders instead. “It’s okay,” she said softly. “It’s okay, Pearl. Just breathe. You’ve got nothing to fear. Please, Pearl. Look at me.”

With some effort, Pearl drew in a shaky breath. She focused on the rhythm of her breathing for a while, inhale exhale inhale exhale, her chest rising and sinking at an ever-steadier pace. Gradually, her panic subsided, the dark clouds in her mind dissolving, her trembling limbs relaxing. She forced her eyes open, but couldn’t bring herself to meet Rose’s gaze. She looked down instead, staring at the hems of Rose’s dress, their ivory white a sharp contrast against the lush green grass.

“Feeling better now?” Rose asked.

Pearl nodded mutely.

“I’m glad.” Rose’s hands wandered to her back, tracing circles around her shoulder blades, then sidled up higher until her fingers hovered over Pearl’s neck. “You should never feel bad about imagining things, you know. I wish you could understand that. It’s just such a wonderful idea! Me, a Rose Quartz who started a rebellion; you, a Pearl who ran away to be free… I want to be that kind of person. I want to live that kind of life. With you.”

“But it’s not true,” Pearl said, with more bitterness than she’d intended. “It’s just a story. It will never be true.”

“No,” Rose said. “I suppose it won’t be.”

Pearl was startled at her resigned tone, imbued with a melancholia that mirrored her own. For a moment, they were equals again, united in their shared longing for a different fate. On the same page. Rose cupped Pearl’s face in her hand, her thumb brushing gently across her cheek, wiping away a tear.

“But can’t we just pretend?” Her voice was insistent, almost pleading. “Just for one day?”

Pearl said nothing. She simply raised her hand to Rose’s face, long fingers dancing across her skin, as if she were sculpturing her. Her fingers brushed along Rose’s chin, swept just lightly over her lips, and came to linger on her cheek. She relished the heat she felt beneath her fingertips, the deep magenta spreading across Rose’s face. Rose stayed still throughout it all, her eyes locked on Pearl’s. Neither of them dared to blink. Pearl could have sworn an oath then that it was Rose Quartz who stood before her. Not Pink Diamond. Pink Diamond didn’t matter now; Pink Diamond was just a faceless tyrant. Rose was much more interesting, a common Quartz soldier who had defied the authorities and fought for freedom. And Pearl – she was her first and most loyal recruit. A runaway who took orders from nobody. A rebel. A revolutionary. A renegade. And together, they were free to do as they pleased, untethered by the prejudices of their kind. It was a simple story, a naïve story, a sentimental story. It was too simple and naïve and sentimental to ever be true. But perhaps that was precisely what they needed. Pearl had grown weary of realism, anyway.

This was one of the select few times in her life where she acted on impulse alone. She stood on her tiptoes and leaned in closer to Rose, until their faces were no more than an inch apart, until she could count every one of Rose’s eyelashes. Then, throwing all caution to the wind, she pressed her lips to Rose’s.

It was a light kiss at first, barely there, waiting for a response. But Rose’s only reaction was a sharp intake of breath. Pearl jerked away as if she’d been stung, a frantic apology already on the tip of her tongue. But before she could utter a single word, Rose clasped her head in both hands and pulled her back, kissing her with a fervor that left Pearl’s mind deliciously blank.

Her entire world shrunk, condensed into the feeling of Rose’s lips against hers, soft and pliant and asking for more. She tangled her fingers in Rose’s curls, while Rose traced patterns across Pearl’s back. Desperate for more contact, unable to bear even the tiniest amount of space between them, Pearl flung her arms around Rose’s neck, and Rose in turn wrapped her arms around Pearl’s waist to draw her even closer, until their bodies were flush against each other.

This time, there was no awkwardness. It happened so quickly, so smoothly, that they hardly noticed it. One moment, they were separate, though clinging to one another so tightly they might have been mistaken for one. The next, they were weightless, drifting, a bright light growing between them that pulled them in with the force of a black hole. The light faded, the pull subsided, their forms grew solid again. Just like before. Except that nothing was as before. They were – she was – still the same and yet someone completely new. There was Pearl, and there was Rose, and then there was her, both of them at once but somehow more. She was unchanged and different, familiar and strange, together and alone, all at the same time. They had made it. They had fused. She was a fusion. Shaking her head in disbelief, a laugh bubbling up in her throat, she stared at the now far more distant ground, ran her hands over the gem on her navel and then the one on her forehead, blinked all four of her eyes.

A fusion of a Diamond and a Pearl, she made a mockery of the very pillars that Gem society rested upon, just by existing, but that fact was of little importance right now; she barely registered it. For there was so much more to her than a broken rule. She was born of imagination, of freedom, and of love; and that had shaped her into who she was – a being defined, above all, by hope; a light that could never be extinguished, that would shine on even through the darkest of despair. A celebration of all the beauty that still remained. A thousand dazzling colors brought to life.

And so, when she stumbled upon the inevitable question of what to name herself, the answer popped into her mind immediately, a simple obvious truth. Rainbow Quartz. She would call herself Rainbow Quartz.

It was anything but the truth, of course – there was not a speck of quartz in her – but it didn’t feel like a lie to her, either. True and false were meaningless to her, petty, oppressive categories. She was an impossible fantasy imagined into existence, and that was all the truth she needed.

She spent the next hour in restless glee, rushing and skipping and twirling across the clearing, filled with an ecstasy her form was almost too small to contain. Eventually, she had worn herself out. Her knees buckled and she collapsed onto the ground, her fall cushioned by the gentle grass. She was dimly aware of a familiar light surrounding her like a halo, growing in intensity.

Pearl lay sprawled across Rose’s lap, trying to come to terms with being herself again. But unlike before, she did not feel incomplete. Even after unfusing, she kept that sense of togetherness, of belonging, as if she were tied to Rose by an invisible bond. As if she would never be alone again. She was still dizzy, basking in the afterglow, her whole body suffused with a languorous calm. She couldn’t remember the last time she had felt this much at ease.

Night had fallen, and the stars above her seemed brighter than ever before, luminous and incandescent, dozens of constellations she swore she would give names to one day. For once, she didn’t bother looking for Homeworld’s galaxy. Her hand reached out until it found Rose’s, and Rose enveloped it in hers, giving it a light squeeze, before lacing their fingers together. Rose’s fingers slid perfectly into the spaces between Pearl’s. Like they were made for each other, Pearl thought. Like it was always meant to be. Rose’s eyes gleamed through the darkness, the brightest stars of all.

“My Pearl,” she whispered. Not possessively. Not as a declaration of ownership. No, it was a title, an honorific, a mark of the reverence a Gem only afforded the very highest of her superiors. It was every bit as worshipful as My Diamond. Just for one night, the foundations had been uprooted, the traditional order reversed, a Diamond bowing before a Pearl. And it was their doing. All of it.

Pearl was grateful for the darkness covering up the deep blush that was once again spreading rapidly across her face. She was unused to this kind of veneration, unable to handle it.

“Garnet should be back soon,” she said with a nervous titter, making a weak attempt to slide out of Rose’s lap.

But Rose planted her free hand on Pearl’s back and gently raised her up, until she found herself sitting upright, face to face with Rose. Her imploring gaze made it all too easy for Pearl to give up her already feeble resistance and lean into the welcoming warmth of Rose’s body. Rose buried her hand in Pearl’s hair, drawing her closer and closer.

“She’s not here now,” she mumbled against Pearl’s lips, a challenge that could not be ignored. And Pearl had never been one to back down. She closed the distance between them without thinking twice.

In that instant, sitting on the cool grass, Rose’s arms wrapped tightly around her, their lips meeting and parting in an intoxicating rhythm, Pearl could not imagine her future as anything other than rosy. The visions she had shown Rose earlier, as hopelessly idealistic as she’d thought them then, didn’t seem too unrealistic now.

She saw it all lined up before her, delicious fruits ripe for plucking. There would be countless Gems recruited, countless battles won, and most importantly, countless moments belonging to her and Rose alone, to kiss and fuse and never stop imagining. Perhaps they really would start a war, and of course they would be victorious, because with a love so powerful it transcended every boundary they knew, how could they ever lose? They would leave a mark that could never be eradicated. Their stories would be told in legends for millennia to come. And then they would live happily ever after. That’s how it went in fairytales, didn’t it?

In hindsight, it was a mercy she didn’t have to carry the burden of future vision. She was blissfully unaware of what was yet to come, of heartbreak, death, guilt, jealousy, of absent friends and lonely nights. A memory that would haunt her forever, a secret so immense it weighed her down, a silence so oppressive it nearly stifled her. A last order that would always keep her chained. A distance growing between her and Rose, almost imperceptibly at first, then more and more each day, until it became wide as an ocean, and nothing she did could bridge it. She didn’t know that the day would come where they would fuse for the last time, neither able to meet the other’s eye when they parted. She knew much less that after everything she’d sacrificed for her, Rose would still leave her in the end, that after being ready to lay down her life for Rose in battle more often than she could count, she would discover that living for her was much harder than dying for her. She knew nothing of the immeasurable grief she would face, and that she would have to fight harder than she had in thousand years of war to push through it, to open her heart to a different kind of love, to lower the pedestal she had placed Rose on all this time, to find something in herself she had always looked for in others.

And yet, even through the darkest of times, some small echo of this one perfect night would reverberate, reminding her to never give up hope. Even thousands of years later, even after she knew she would never see Rose again, she would catch herself revisiting that particular memory, and smile. Despite it all, she would smile. She would remember their innocence, their naivete, their unshakeable belief in fairytales, and think to herself, Oh, weren’t we such fools? But she would also remember the happiness she’d felt, how convinced she’d been that Rose truly loved her, and then she’d think, It wasn’t such a bad story after all. No, it really wasn’t too bad. And for just a moment, she would walk with a little more ease, some of the weight lifted off her shoulders. Perhaps that was Rose’s gift to her.