the process in which sediments
compact under pressure
and gradually become solid rock
Whenever Pearl got upset, she would run off to places no one could hurt her. In Homeworld, that meant being wrapped in the protection of Rose’s arms, large hands gently stroking her hair, as words of comfort and sweet nothings were whispered in the dark.
Pearl’s core ached at the memory, like how a human heart would twinge in the bitter sweetness. Rose was gone— not that Pearl wanted to think about her at the moment—so she kept running. She ran past old battlefields, hollowed out mountains, and forests that served as campsites during the war. She couldn’t stop running. Every place she went to only reminded her of secrets, lies, and the horrible things that went on inside the Kindergarten.
There was no place on Earth that hadn’t been tainted by the memory of Rose, so she had nowhere to go.
She only stopped when her body thrummed with exhaustion. Not the physical kind—she was a gem warrior after all—but from the psychological strain on her gem as she pushed her projected body to its limits. She half-collapsed on a strawberry bush, some gigantic axe shading her from the setting sun. She didn’t know how much time had passed since she stormed out of the Temple. But then and there, hidden away from everything and everyone, she curled in on herself and finally let herself cry.
It was Peridot who found her there wracked in sobs while hugging her knees.
“There you are," she said. "You’ve been gone for weeks. The Steven was getting worried.”
The sound of solid metal crushing the surrounding underbrush rang out. Footsteps. The more the sound grew closer, the tighter Pearl hugged herself to make her body occupy as little space as possible.
“Go away!” she cried out, her voice cracking.
“Sorry, not happening.” More footsteps.
“Please. I just want to be alone,” she pleaded, words muffled against her arms. The crunching sounds had reached the spot right beside her, followed by a heavy thump and the familiar sensation of a gem being nearby.
“I could sit here and be perfectly quiet. That’s as good as leaving you alone."
Pearl sighed but didn't reply. She didn’t care about what the younger gem did anymore. She stopped caring the moment she left the Temple, slamming the door behind her.
Peridot was the one who started this whole mess in the first place.
If she hadn’t tried to check on the clusters, Homeworld would have never realized the Crystal Gems survived the war. She wouldn’t have ended up stranded on Earth long enough to switch sides, divulging everything she knew as part of their agreement. And they wouldn’t have to deal with their ranks crumbling just before Homeworld came knocking at their doorstep.
Garnet had asked Peridot for information on the fusion experiments, reasoning that they needed to know everything about them if they were to try to heal their fallen comrades. Steven had been making great strides in rehabilitating the corrupted gems, but with Homeworld coming in with an army, they needed to do as much as they could to bolster their numbers. One idea was to heal the gem clusters. So Peridot obliged, naturally, and gave them every document she had on the experiments, including records from before and during the Rebellion.
To say it was difficult to go through the records was a gross understatement. They described many of Homeworld's atrocities in stark and comprehensive detail, with no regard for the gems subjected to them. More than once, Pearl had found herself retching despite not having a digestive system, after reading about one of the more cruel procedures. Still she plowed on, systematically going through them in reverse chronology and taking notes on what could be useful to them.
That was, until she reached the earliest documents on lithification experiments—signed and approved by Rose Quartz herself, the pink rose insignia prominently placed on every page.
Knowing that Rose may have something to do with the methodology of the forced fusions shook the Crystal Gems at their very core. Steven had immediately run off to Beach City, probably to cry in his father’s arms, followed by Amethyst who disappeared to who knows where. Garnet had locked herself in Sapphire’s room, something she rarely did in the past five thousand years. And Pearl...
Pearl had bolted.
And then there she was in the strawberry battlefield, with a silent Peridot by her side.
She didn’t know how long they had been sitting there together when glimmers of light— sunlight or moonlight? —peeked through her fingers. Slowly, she uncoiled from her fetal position to look up at the sky. Stars twinkled at her from on high, but they were not the stars she knew from her youth. Even after thousands of years, she couldn’t help thinking about how different the night sky was on Earth.
It was much more beautiful here than on Homeworld.
To her side, Peridot had her hand stumps pressed on the ground behind her, supporting her weight as she leaned back to gaze at the sky. In the light of the moon, her greens and yellows blended perfectly with the surrounding plants, and at that moment, Pearl thought she looked like she could have always belonged to this place.
Pearl decided to break the silence.
“The stars are different here, aren’t they?" she said, still marveling at the starry sky. "I used to project an image of Homeworld’s star map over this view, but the last time I did that was around five thousand years ago.”
Peridot flinched upon being addressed so suddenly, almost losing her balance. But her surprise was soon replaced by child-like curiosity when she turned to face Pearl.
“Why did you stop?”
Creases formed between Pearl's eyes as she contemplated the question. Why indeed? She couldn't remember. Perhaps there was no single reason why she had fallen out of the habit. After the war, they'd spent all their time rounding up their fallen comrades and keeping the planet's inhabitants safe from gem-related occurrences. Maybe she had simply become too busy to stargaze. Or she had been away from home for too long that she'd already forgotten the right constellations. Or maybe she had stopped missing her old life in Homeworld. After all, she was with Rose in this planet. That was enough for her.
But Rose wasn't with her anymore.
“...She used to tell me about everything. I’m her favorite.” As the words tumbled out of her mouth, Pearl belatedly realized that her reply had nothing to do with the question. But then, she had already let the silence grow too long between them; Peridot had returned to watching the sky, her detached fingers absently plucking out the weeds around her.
Without missing a beat, the younger gem said, “Rose Quartz, you mean?”
“—was her favorite," Pearl corrected herself with a bitter chuckle. "I thought I was the one who knew her best. But the more I learn about her now that she's gone... I guess I never really knew her at all.”
At that, Peridot stretched an arm upwards, as if reaching to pluck out one of the stars.
“I don’t really know much about Rose Quartz. Or the Rebellion, for that matter. There were no records about it in Homeworld, at least as far as my clearance went before I got stuck in this miserable planet." Then she let her arm drop back to the ground, one of her digits poking out to kill the insects scurrying around. She hunched over her knees, mimicking Pearl's curled up position. "I suspect Yellow Diamond wanted to erase this ugly piece of gem history from memory. How stupid.”
Pearl sighed. “If only I could erase the ugly parts from my memory, too…”
“Mud in the facet, you really are a clod, aren’t you?!”
The sudden outburst had Pearl so taken aback that she flinched away too strongly, causing her to fall backwards. A set of detached fingers caught her by the fabric around her chest, yanking her back up until she was nose to nose with a thoroughly incensed Peridot.
“Listen here, you gunky pearl, because I’ll only say this once: if there’s one thing I learned from you Crystal Clods, it’s that you keep moving forward no matter how bad things get. So what if your former leader was deep in with some messed up gunk in the past? Take it like a gem and deal with the fact; but never, ever try to forget it. Otherwise, you’re exactly like Homeworld, constantly making the same mistakes ‘cause we keep ignoring and running away from them. But no, not you clods. You learn from your mistakes and become better for it. You stupidly keep pressing forward no matter what, and for some reason I find that... admirable.”
Having said her bit, Peridot let go of her to glare at the strawberries.
Throughout the whole tirade, Pearl had openly gaped at the younger gem. She had never heard Peridot talk that much in one go, and especially not to say that she admired anything about the Crystal Gems. She also brought up some valid points. The lithification experiments happened in the past, true, and—
How could I be so stupid?!
—it was before Project Crystal System, thus before the Rebellion and long before Ruby and Sapphire had rediscovered fusion. The experiments could have been intended and used for repairing shattered gems, for all they knew.
They had all been too caught up in the idea that Rose had anything to do with the forced fusions that they lost sight of everything else:
Rose had saved countless gems from being shattered for no reason.
Rose had always respected Garnet and the way she viewed fusion.
Rose had tried so many times to heal their broken and corrupted comrades.
But Rose had also kept so many secrets—important, worldview-changing ones— from everyone, even from her Pearl.
Is this one of those horrid secrets?
Pearl didn't know what to think anymore.
She hadn't moved at all since Peridot's outburst, still frozen with her jaw hanging open, as her mind reeled through so many conflicting thoughts. When Peridot noticed this, she started to deflate. “Uh, Pearl? Are you— I didn't— What I meant was, um—"
The stuttering jolted Pearl out of her daze. Slowly, she turned to the other gem and asked, “Did you really mean all of that?”
Peridot didn't answer immediately. Instead, she hemmed and hawed as if agonizing over the simple yes-no question. “…ee-yes?” She preemptively winced as she said it, as if expecting something bad would result from her answer. But instead, pale sinewy arms had wrapped around her shoulders, tugging until their bodies were smushed against each other. “W-w-what are you doing?!”
“It’s called a hug." Pearl's voice was husky as she spoke directly into Peridot's ear. "Humans do it to show affection.”
“A-affection?” Peridot squeaked out, her voice cracking. But despite all the awkwardness, her arms looped around Pearl's waist to return the gesture.
Gem bodies didn't naturally generate heat, but there was a certain warmth between them as they held each other there, surrounded by strawberries and remnants of the war. Pearl wasn't one for overlong hugs, especially with someone who felt as stiff as a metal pole in her arms, but for some reason she didn't want to let go. And Peridot seemed to feel the same way, if the way she clutched at Pearl were any indication.
Unfortunately, they couldn't stay that way forever.
“Thank you, Peridot," said Pearl as she pulled away. Tears were running down her cheeks, which she rubbed dry with the heel of her palms. Then, for the first time in a while, she smiled. "I needed that."
Dark green splotches grew on Peridot's cheeks as looked away from that smile. She made a grunting noise that could be a "You're welcome" or an "I don't know what you're talking about," which amounted to the same thing if Pearl knew her at all.
Pearl got up to her feet, dusting off her bottom as she did. Then she turned around and offered her hand.
“C'mon. Let’s go home.”
Peridot pouted as she stared at the offered hand, but took it anyway.
They headed to the warp pad, hand in hand.