Rose Quartz thinks a lot about death.
She's never wanted to. It's not in her nature. She is a Gem of life. She summons shields; makes plants grows; cries healing tears which can bring almost anyone back from the brink.
Yes, she wishes she could banish death from her mind. But she cannot. It's her responsibility to think of it.
When she sees the Kindergarten, its lands now craggy and desolate and barren where once they teemed with life, she thinks of death.
When she stands before her peers and pleads the planet's case, and they say that her empathy will be the ruin of Gem kind, she thinks of death.
When she takes her precious Pearl aside, and gives her one last chance to draw out of the war to come, and it is refused, she thinks of death.
When she leads her troops into battle, sword drawn and flag flying, she thinks of death.
When she stands among the rubble and the destruction, only three of her friends left at her side, she thinks of death.
When she stares up at the star-filled sky, the only true constant on this ever-shifting planet, she thinks of death.
Humans have a lot of beliefs concerning death. One of the most enduring and constant ones is that there is a life after it, however paradoxical that sounds. Rose supposes it's a natural hope to have, when your existence is so short.
As a species, they have an obsession with the concept. It holds across all cultures, though it takes different forms. When a person dies, humans hold elaborate funerals. They treat the body with complex rituals, sometimes preserving it, sometimes burying it, or eating it, or feeding it to vultures, or committing it to flame. They leave markers, build elaborate monuments; mounds and statues and temples and pyramids.
It's like they want to keep death in their mind. Rose cannot fathom it.
Sometimes, almost against her will, she comes to love a human.
The ones she loves over the millennia comes in many varieties. All genders, all colours, everyone from queens and leaders, to merchants and musicians, to servants and runaway slaves. She can't help herself. Humans enchant her.
And all of them die, far too quickly.
Once that inevitably happens, Rose Quartz withdraws into the Temple for long periods of time, and tries very hard not to think about death.
(She never succeeds).
Another peculiar thing about humans- they seem to think that death is not simply the term given to describe the end of life processes, but rather, an actual person. Or at least, something very much like a person.
Descriptions vary tremendously, though a consensus is that “Death”, no matter what exact name they take, is at least humanoid in shape. She has seen depictions with jackal-heads, or robes of darkness, or blue skin, or missing eyes... the varieties are endless. For Rose Quartz, though, one particular version stands out above the others, if only because of the circumstances behind it.
She's seen humans die for many reasons. Thirst, starvation, battle, childbirth, disease. Especially disease.
Plague is particuarly terrible. She's in Europe for the one which would come to be called the Black Death. Once infected, it would attack the lungs, and people would struggle to breathe. Then they grew bulbous tumours, leaking blood and pus, before finally dying. Pearl speculates that it is caused by a parasitic bacteria, spread through insects such as fleas, in turn carried by rodent vermin. Of course, the illogical and superstitious humans understand none of this. Instead, they blame the disease on a dozen scapegoats, their fear turning into violence, feeding the death even further. Rose Quartz does what she can to help, but there are so many ill, and she has no cure for ignorance and intolerance. In the end, the death toll is incalculable, but surely in the hundreds of millions.
That is when Rose Quartz first starts noticing the depictions of the figure known as the Grim Reaper. A skeleton, robed in black, sometimes flying, sometimes atop a steed, scythe in hand, cutting down human lives by the thousands. It's a simple metaphor, a way for human minds to grapple with the horrors around them, surely; but nonetheless, she can't help but feel as if the Reaper has been standing by her side, all this time.
Rose doesn't understand why humans are so terrified of there being nothing after death. To her, the idea sounds peaceful, restful. It's a rest which Gems may very well never be given.
It is very hard to kill a Gem. If the physical body is destroyed, they can just retreat into their gem, to regenerate later. The only way to kill a Gem permanently, then, is to shatter it- and even that is not a true death, not in the way humans and animals have it. The shards left behind can still think. Still remember. Still feel. Not fully, but enough to have some sentience, enough to have some power.
During the war, the Homeworld tried to use Gem shards as weapons, to power vast armies of perfectly loyal, inanimate troops. It was a disaster. The shards were in pain, and they knew what had happened to them. They rebelled, and turned on their 'masters'.
The traditional, proper thing to do, when a Gem is broken, is therefore to destroy it utterly. It is a kindness, a way to deliver the shattered soul from eternal torment. But when Rose Quartz sees the fine dust of ground Gems, she wonders, (she fears)- what if that isn't enough? What if each individual particle can still think and feel? What if they are still in pain? How would she tell?
So when Rose finds Gem shards, instead of grinding them up, she suspends them in a bubble. She and her comrades do the same for all their corrupted, fallen fellows. It holds them in a perfect stasis. There, they cannot think, or feel, or suffer.
It's as close to a true death as she can give them.
Garnet thinks about death, too. In many ways, it's as much her job as it is Rose Quartz's. She sees the ways things could go wrong, the bad outcomes, and acts to prevent them. Garnet is very good as that: fixing immediate problems.
But sometimes Garnet sees more distant ones. Events which occur long after the next battle, the next year, the next decade or century. The images are brief and vague. The Galaxy Warp, repaired after so long. Strange probes falling from the sky. The Kindergarten reactivated. Homeworld finally returning, with technology far beyond their own.
Garnet reports all these visions to Rose Quartz, always in private, where the other two can't hear. She remains stoic, her face outwardly calm, but Rose can sense the worries and insecurities beneath the facade.
Always, Rose places a comforting hand on her friend's shoulder. “There's no guarantee, remember,” Rose might tell her. Or, “It's a million-to-one chance.” Or, “Let's focus on the problems we know we have, for now.” And always, “Don't worry.”
Rose Quartz worries, instead.
Thousands of years after arriving on Earth, Rose Quartz falls in love with Mr. Greg Universe, a human.
He is a man filled with music and romance and starlight, and sheer genuine kindness, and he makes her happier than she's been in a long, long time.
And Rose wonders how she'll survive the grief when he, too, dies.
Rose thinks about the cruel truth of Gem biology, that they can only reproduce at the expense of others.
Rose thinks about Garnet's visions, and about the rebellion which never truly ended.
Rose thinks about Greg's unavoidable mortality, and the pain it will cost her.
And Rose thinks she might have the solution to all three of these problems.
Just over nine months later, Rose Quartz is dying.
Her friends, her family, are all crying. She is not, but just barely. She's in pain, and she's scared, but she's also happy, and ready.
(She thinks. She hopes.)
She says goodbye.
Rose Quartz- or the essence of her- floats up, through a world of grey mists, and stares at the speaker with unconcealed surprise. “You came.”
The skeleton looks at her with what may be amusement. “DID YOU THINK I WOULD NOT?”
“I wasn't sure,” Rose says. “Not for me, anyway. And not like this.”
Rose has wondered a great whether whether Gems, as a whole, can truly die. She has also wondered if what she has chosen to do can be considered dying. But never once had she ever thought that the humans might have been right, and that Death could be a person, after all.
“I COME FOR EVERYONE,” Death simply tells her. He has a voice, but it's like the sound of an exploding supernova in the vacuum of space.
And isn't it funny, Rose thinks, that after everything, he would have this particular form, out of all of them? The skeletal grim reaper from the old woodcuts, mowing down human lives like wheat?
But...no, not quite like the woodcuts, after all. Those pictures never captured the sparkling blue infinity contained in the sockets of Death's eyes, or the somehow tender expression on his permanently smiling face.
In her life, Rose Quartz rarely allowed herself to have the luxury of uncertainty, but she is uncertain now. “Do you know what happens next?”
“YES.” Death seems to sense her question, her concern, and appears sympathetic. “YOU ARE A BIT OF AN ODD CASE. BUT THERE IS SOMETHING OF A PRECEDENT TO WORK OFF OF. REINCARNATION,” he explains, at her inquiring look.
“That's real too?” Rose asks.
“MANY THINGS ARE REAL, IF NOT FOR EVERYONE.”
“Oh,” Rose says. For a moment, she wants to ask- about the other Gems, the ones shattered, or ground to dust, or encased in bubbles. Have they met him, too? And what happened when they did?
She doesn't ask, though. She suspects that if she did, he would simply tell them that such information belongs to those Gems, and them alone. Instead, she holds out a hand out for him.
Death takes it tenderly by the palm. Her form is faltering. As a shape-shifter, her morphic field is naturally strong, but that willpower can only hold on so long after separation from the physical realm. That shape begins to fade, to shift, to shrink, and within moments, Death is instead holding a pulsing pink mote of light.
It is not the only light in the gloom. There is another, even tinier, warbling, pure white. It is as young as the other is ancient.
Death walks towards it, kneels down. He lets go of Rose Quartz's soul, and it drifts gently downwards. For a moment, the two motes of light orbit each other, like a pair of stars. Then something like gravity pulls them together, and they fuse, impossible now to separate.
For now, Death departs.
A baby is born.