After the battle was over, and they had defused, there was a lot to do.
There was always a lot to do, after every battle, and this one had been bigger than most. The destruction, the losses, the toil- it had all been terrible.
Once the smoke and dust had cleared, the remaining Crystal Gems- and there were a large number of them still alive- could not rest. First, they found their fallen comrades. Those who’d lost their bodies in the fight and were now dormant in their Gems were carefully picked up and carried from the battlefield, so that they could regenerate in safety. Those who had lost far more than their projected forms- whose Gems had been broken, or crushed, or shattered- they picked up too, as much as they could find. Rose Quartz had developed a strange new skill called bubbling, and those few Gems who had mastered it captured the shattered souls so they would not have to exist in semiconscious pain.
They did the same for broken Homeworld Gems they found. There was some protest about that. Bubbling was a courtesy, a kindness, that Homeworld would never have offered them. But Rose Quartz insisted, and so the Crystal Gems bubbled the bodies of their enemies just the same.
And after all of that was done- they celebrated. Celebrated with songs, and dancing, and tears, gloriously happy for the fact that they had survived. That despite all the odds, they were still alive.
Most of them did. Ruby, instead, slipped away from the festivities.
She wanted- needed to think. There hadn’t been time before, during the battle and afterwards, but there was now.
Rubies were not known for introspection. They were not built to think. They were known for being brash, fierce, reckless.
And they were all those things, Ruby had to admit. But to say they were all thoughtless? How could they care so much, so passionately, if they were?
Garnets, on the other hand-
There hadn’t been thoughts. There hadn’t been time. There was only the fighting- but it hadn’t felt like fighting, not the way she or Sapphire had been used to, it had been like dancing, all swift and fluid-
-and it had been amazing. Glorious. There hadn’t been any fear. Any hesitation. Garnet had just Seen what would happen, what needed to be done, and she would do it. She raced across the battlefield, untouchable. The ground had shook from the force of her blows. Lightning had arced from her body, blinding.
She had, alone, turned the tide of the battle. Gem after Gem, enemy after enemy, had fallen at her feet. Jaspers, feldspars, amethysts, pyrites, spinels, rubies-
She’d never fought another Ruby before. She’d never had any reason to. But Homeworld had sent them, dozens, setting the battlefield ablaze, turning the rock beneath their feet into lava. Garnet had surged through it without hesitation, without fear; her powerful legs striding through the molten rock like it was nothing thicker than water. In the smoke and the ashes, the rubies hadn’t seen her coming. With her mighty gauntlets, she’d picked them up, one after the other, and ripped their bodies apart so quickly they hardly even had time to scream.
Garnet could have crushed their gems, too. After their projected bodies were destroyed, she’d let the ruby stones fall onto the barely solid ground, moving on to her next opponent. Once, a zircon had come out of her out of nowhere; Garnet had only just managed to dodge her glaive. Zircons were made for speed, and even Garnet struggled to keep up, dodging and blocking her rapid thrusts and slashes. In the scuffle, Garnet had lost ground; among the other sounds of battle, there had been a telltale crunching from beneath her feet; and just like that, the ruby was nothing but shards.
Ruby didn’t blame Garnet for the other ruby’s death. She couldn’t. This was war. Everyone knew the risks.
But Garnet. Garnet hadn’t flinched at the sound at all. She hadn’t mourned. Once the zircon was defeated, she hadn’t even looked down at the Gem she’d just killed, just moved on.
And Ruby didn’t know how to feel about that.
What did Sapphire feel about it? Ruby didn’t know- she’d been in her head, and yet, somehow, she still didn’t know. Was that normal for fusion? It didn’t feel like it should be possible.
Should she ask her? It would be different for her, of course- she was a sapphire, it hadn’t been one of her own kind that Garnet had crushed underfoot, there hadn’t even been any other sapphires on the battlefield at all. But what if it went beyond that? What if Sapphire genuinely didn’t care, at all, that another Gem, another ruby, was killed by their hand? Surely that would mean that her soul was frozen to its very core?
No- no, that couldn’t be true, Ruby refused to believe it. Not Sapphire, not her Sapphire, who had chosen to stand under the rose banner, who spoke so softly and hid her fears from the world and sung when she thought no one was listening?
But how could Ruby bear to ask her that question? And how could she bear to stand in Sapphire’s presence, and not know the answer?
The air around Ruby warbled from the heat radiating off her. What could she do? Simply avoid Sapphire? Ask Rose Quartz to no longer assign them on missions? Avoid her gaze? Stop talking to her? Not speak to her, never startle a laugh out of her? Never feel her ice cold hand on her skin? Never again get to dance in-step, to become so close that they were one, never again be Garnet-?
She ran across the landscape which just days before had been a battlefield, ground baking beneath her feet. Any tears she might have had evaporated instantly. She ran as hard and fast as she could, focused only on her own speed and movement, as if she could burn all other thoughts from her mind. Maybe she was even successful.
At least, until an unexpected sound caught her unawares.
Ruby slowed, trying to place the raspy noise, wondering if it was the call of some unfamiliar Earth animal. Then, it dawned on her. It was crying. The dry, tired kind of someone who’d been doing so for a long time.
She came to a stop, and slowly turned around, trying to pinpoint where the crying was coming from. There was a little gentle slope a few feet away. She crouched down low, and half crawled towards it. She didn’t want to startle or scare whoever was there (and besides, there was a possibility that the crying Gem was an enemy, someone who’d escaped from the battlefield and hidden in the aftermath, and if it was, Ruby wanted to have surprise on her side). She edged up the hill, peered over the edge and-
She didn’t mean to say it; the word came out of her throat in a shocked whisper.
The other Gem flinched and stared upward, the hair falling out of the way of her single eye. “Ruby!”
“I-” Ruby began, but she didn’t know how to finish it. “I. What are you doing here?”
Sapphire rubs away her tears furiously with the fine fabric of her dress sleeve. She struggled to keep her voice even when she said, “What does it look like?”
Ruby blinked. “I- I just didn’t think.”
“Didn’t think what?” Sapphire’s glare was sharp and cold.
Didn’t think you cared. What Ruby said was, “Just figured you’d be with everyone else. Celebrating.”
Sapphire shrugged. It was a stingingly casual gesture. Ruby sat there, on the edge above the other Gem, not sure how to break the silence. She’d never been alone with Sapphire before. Well, unless you counted being Garnet as ‘being alone’ with her.
“I didn’t think you’d come,” Sapphire finally said, in a very quiet voice.
Ruby didn’t have anything to say to that. If she had known who was crying, she may not have.
“I thought-“ began Sapphire. Then she changed whatever she was going to say. “I Saw that you wouldn’t come. That you’d never want to talk to me ever again.”
Ruby’s hands clenched into fists.
“It’s ridiculous,” Sapphire said. “I shouldn’t be acting this way. I know this. But it just- hit me. We managed to fight off Homeworld forces, we’re safer now than we have been in over a century- and suddenly, I realised I didn’t care one bit, if the price was you hating me.”
“I don’t- I don’t hate you!”
“Really?” asked Sapphire. She’d hidden her single eye behind her bangs once more, expression unreadable. “Because it sure seemed like it.”
“It’s not- it wasn’t you. That’s the problem,” said Ruby. “I- we killed someone.”
Sapphire stared. At least, it seemed that she did. “That- that bothers you? I thought you were a warrior, that you’d killed before!”
“I have!” Of course she had, more times than she cared to think about. Ruby felt her temperature rising and she leapt to her feet and began pacing back and forth across the ground. “That doesn’t mean it doesn’t bother me!”
“Oh.” Sapphire drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. “I’ve never killed anyone before. That ruby was the first time.”
There was a quaver in Sapphire’s voice and Ruby felt her footsteps slow. Sapphire only ever sounded like that if she was in great distress.
“If- if Garnet didn’t react, I think that’s my fault. I didn’t know- know how to. And I still don’t. So instead of reacting, Garnet just moved on to the next obstacle, and left me to sort it all out.”
Except, of course, Garnet hadn’t been the one to leave Sapphire alone to deal with all of this. Ruby had. A line of tears was streaming down Sapphire’s face from behind her bangs, and Ruby’s legs were taking her over the ledge and sliding down the embankment to sit next to Sapphire before her brain could catch up.
“Shh. Shh. Look- I’m sorry,” Ruby said, quickly, the words all coming out in a rush. “I shouldn’t- I shouldn’t have just ran away, after we defused. I- assumed. And I was scared.”
“And. You know,” Ruby added, after some hesitation. “You- or Garnet, or us, or whoever- made the right decision, I think. It’s not nice, but. In battles, you’re not meant to get distracted by things like that. I always do.” She gave a bitter laugh. “I got reprimanded about that a lot, before. Told it was one of my flaws.”
“Caring’s not a flaw.”
“If it gets yourself- or someone else- killed it is.”
Sapphire made a sound which, from a less elegant Gem, would have been called a snort. “How about this?” she asked. “You teach me the basics of this whole warrior thing, and I’ll keep you from getting distracted.”
Ruby was not sure which answer she wanted to receive.
Sapphire seemed to be staring off into the distance- or perhaps the future. Maybe for her, there wasn’t any real difference. “One day, as Garnet. Maybe,” she said. “But I think, for now…”
“...we should try to find out what we are, separately?” Ruby finished.
Sapphire smiled at her. “Yes.”
Ruby leaned in closer. At the moment, she realized, Sapphire’s skin wasn’t cold, just cool. And her own skin wasn’t hot, just warm. “I’d like that,” she said. And sitting together on that strange planet, they opened their eyes to the future.