“No, no fighting!” Steven cried as the battle began. Normally it seemed like his pleas in this group had the uncanny ability to make the Crystal Gems do what he asked without question. This time, however, the effect was lost. The two Pearl halves exchanged blows as if it hadn’t spoken at all. He started to run after them, reaching out his arms to break them apart, but Garnet quickly snatched him up and pulled him to her chest.
“Steven, you’re not going to help anything,” she said, then looked at Amethyst, who had her whip ready and seemed only to be calculating which half of Pearl would be the easiest to nab and yank back.
“Stand down, Amethyst!” Garnet snapped. “This is Pearl’s battle. You have to let it play out.”
“What?” Amethyst exclaimed. “Have you lost it? What if one of them gets poofed?”
“They’re not going to poof each other,” Garnet said sternly. “They’re looking to disarm each other, to get the other to admit that she’s the inferior one. They can’t get that if one of them disappears.”
“Oh, well, that’s good to know,” Peridot muttered sarcastically. She could see Sea Glass hesitating to throw her full weight into the blows, but Coral was so blind with fury, her Pearl-like precision could easily go amiss.
Steven fell on his knees, tears welling in his eyes. “This can’t be… there’s got to be some way to settle this without a fight,” he said. “Can’t you stop them, Garnet?”
“And do what then?” Garnet asked in frustration. “Order them to play nice and refuse with each other? It won’t happen.”
And even if it would, you’d rather see your friend poofed than forced into a fusion. It was a sentiment that was written all over Garnet’s face and one that Garnet herself probably found very noble. But in this case, it was stupid. Just stupid.
The two halves of Pearl continued to battle each other — a swipe of the dagger, a sidestep, a swing of the staff, a dodge. It truly was like watching one of them battle her reflection. Unfortunately, it was also coupled with a slight flicker, starting in Coral’s left leg, but then mirroring itself in Sea Glass’s right.
They can’t sustain this much longer, Peridot realized. They’re going to vanish. And if they do, they might not ever come back.
Steven was crying in earnest now, large pathetic blobs of liquid spilling onto the translucent floor. Sea Glass glanced over her shoulder and looked upset by his distress, but had to turn quickly to counter one of Coral’s blows.
Peridot crossed her arms. She had no intention of jumping into the middle of this mess, especially when one of the fighters had expressed so strong a desire to skewer her. But something about watching this display infuriated her. Pearl had been whole once, hadn’t she? Somehow these two parts of her personality had worked together before. What was so difficult that they couldn’t do it now?
“You… you clods!” she yelled at the two fighters. She pointed to Steven. “You’re both throwing up a ruckus about Rose Quartz? Whose gem do you think he has, hmm? Or are you too busy trying to impale each other to notice?”
Her words seemed to freeze Sea Glass in place. She turned and looked at Steven again, stopped and really looked at him. Coral saw the opening and made a mad charge.
“No!” Steven screamed and reached out his arms. Although Garnet still stopped him from sprinting forward, he began to form his shield. A pink bubble of light encompassed himself, Garnet, Amethyst, and Peridot. It then spread far enough to bring Sea Glass under its protection as well, but stopped short of Coral, causing her to fall backwards as she charged into it.
Coral let out a grunt as she fell, and Steven dissipated the bubble. Its size must have been far beyond his normal capabilities, Peridot reasoned, because he collapsed the second his arms fell. Garnet cradled him, and a worried Amethyst patted his face.
“Steven? Hey, little man, hang in there!”
Peridot found herself unable to move. The Steven had to be okay, didn’t he? He was half Gem. Surely he couldn’t injure himself from a mere weapon summoning, could he?
Sea Glass said nothing, but let her weapon clatter to the floor as she hurried to join her friends. Coral got to her feet and started to reach for her dagger. Then she looked up at the scene before her, and her eyes grew wide with fear.
“S-steven!” she said, scurrying over and leaving the weapon behind. “Steven, are you okay?”
As the crowd of Gems gathered around, a dazed Steven slowly came to. “Ugh… little Stevie has a stomachache…” he murmured, then closed his eyes once again.
A collective sigh of relief arose from the group.
“He’ll be okay,” Garnet assured everyone, resting Steven’s head on her lap. A strange and awkward silence fell over everyone. Sea Glass and Coral eyed each other, then the weapons on the floor. Whoever ran for their weapon first would have a distinct advantage in the resumed fight. But neither one looked interested in making that run.
“Coral,” Sea Glass finally said. “You’re wrong about me. I’m not missing all my emotions. I love Steven. And I’d do anything to keep him from getting hurt.” She made a dismissive motion to her staff where it had fallen, and it vanished at her command.
Coral’s cheeks went red. “I-I care about Steven, too!” she said. “You think I don’t care? I was horrified when I thought he was hurt.”
“But by not re-fusing, we’re hurting him,” Sea Glass argued. “And we’re keeping ourselves from reaching our full ability to protect him.” Her face softened. “Rose told us to protect him. I don’t remember the exact moment, but I remember repeating it to myself every day, any time I thought he might be in danger.”
Coral tightened her hand into a fist, staring at the floor. “Rose is…” she said in a hoarse voice.
“Rose is gone,” Sea Glass replied, not matter-of-factly, but not welling up with tears like her counterpart was, either. “Not just her, but all the Gems that fought beside us in the Rebellion. This is all the family we have left. But that’s exactly why we have to cherish it.”
For a long time, Coral said nothing. Then, still without looking at anyone, she waved her hand in the direction of the dagger on the floor. It disappeared with a sound like shattering glass.
“There’s so many bad memories,” Coral said. “I don’t the details, but I know how I felt. We saw fighting. We saw death.”
Sea Glass nodded. “Yes. We saw a lot of that.”
“If we refuse, I’ll have to see it all again.” Tears welled up in Coral’s single eye.
“You will,” Sea Glass said softly. “But we’ll work through it together… the way we were supposed to.”
Coral nodded and reached out her arm, pulling her counterpart closer. The two of them both began to glow. The warm light flooded the space, and Steven stirred again. He opened his eyes once more, and even sat up this time, albeit with a little assistance from Garnet.
Then the light faded, and there, collapsed on her knees, sat Pearl. The full Pearl. Well, with a few subtle changes. Her hair fell to her sides, her sash was now tied with a symmetrical bow in the back, and she had two gems on her forehead instead of one. But when she looked up and smiled at the group around her, her face was nothing but familiar. “Hello, Steven. Hi, Garnet.”
“Pearl!” Steven exclaimed. He nearly tackled her as he threw arms around her. She put one arm across his back, then with the other, patted him gently on the head.
“I missed you, Steven,” she said. Then she glanced up and locked eyes with Peridot. Peridot made her best attempt to smile back, but she must have done it wrong. Pearl tensed up upon seeing her. She released Steven and got to her feet, stumbling backwards and muttering to herself,
“Come on… we can’t split up already…”
“I’m not splitting… I just want to teach that Peridot a lesson!”
“No, no more fighting!”
“It’s not fighting. I’ll poof her before she takes a swing back.”
“Whoa, whoa, that’s enough now,” Garnet said calmly. She stood and motioned for everyone to take a step backwards, especially Peridot and Amethyst. Everyone obeyed her without question. Garnet walked up and gripped Pearl by the shoulders. “Pearl, you can’t keep fighting with yourself. This isn’t going to be like before. You’ve got to adjust to having two Gems, not one.”
Pearl’s breathing sped up a bit, but then, as Garnet continued to hold her, she seemed to calm down. “Why is this… so hard?” she finally asked, voice cracking.
“Because fusion is hard,” Garnet said. “Because you’ve always had conflicting feelings about yourself. You’ve confident in the skills you’ve learned, but you doubt your inherent value.” She reached up and moved a stray piece of hair out of Pearl’s face. “I know you can do this. You’re strong.”
Pearl stood whimpering a bit more, but then at last she seemed to collect herself. She gave Garnet a quick embrace and then wiped the tears from her eyes.
“Come on,” Garnet said, heading towards the exit, “let’s go back to the kitchen. I hear Coral and Sea Glass are great at baking.”
“Yes, baking!” Steven suddenly exclaimed. He jumped up, completely recovered, it seemed, from his earlier collapse, and hurried to tag along with them to their destination. He sprinted ahead of Garnet towards the warp, and Pearl laughed and followed behind both of them. “Well, Sea Glass brings a certain precision to the whole process,” she began, “but Coral really has that creative edge that pulls it all together…”
Well, glad to know everything’s all right again, Peridot thought, starting to follow as well. Amethyst, however, grabbed her hand and pulled her back. “We’ll leave in a second. Don’t want to set Pearl off again.”
“Oh. Yes. Of course.” Peridot said awkwardly. As she watched the other three leave, Peridot experienced a most peculiar feeling. Something in her felt a certain imbalance about her actions in this room. She did not know why; she should have felt nothing by satisfaction in her victory at saving Pearl’s life. And yet she felt the opposite. Like she had wronged Pearl somehow. It was not a pleasant at all feeling, and at first, Peridot had no clue how to make it go away. But she would figure it out. She had adjusted to everything else on Earth. Getting Pearl to forgive her was simply another challenge.
It was late that evening when Peridot found Pearl sitting on the edge of the cliff overlooking the beach. Pearl had a strange, distant expression, as if she were pondering a deep question and hoped the water would answer it for her. Gentle waves glinted with orange and red highlights from the setting sun and Earth-birds yelled out their annoying calls. If the ocean was talking to Pearl, Peridot sure wasn’t picking up on the message. She swallowed hard. She had spent the last five and a half hours working tirelessly, studying and preparing for the perfect apology. Now all she had to do was deliver it. For some reason, this felt much harder than the preparation itself.
“Um, hello. Pearl.”
Pearl turned around and although her eyebrows raised when she saw Peridot, she did not attack her this time or have an argument with herself about attacking. A good sign already.
Peridot cleared her throat. “I have, um… come to regret my previous actions taken in your room. It was… morally incorrect of me to handle your memories without consulting you. I would, uh… like to offer my apologies and receive your forgiveness in return.” Peridot gave a small smile, rather pleased with herself in executing Earth etiquette so perfectly. Yes, Pearl would obviously still be upset over the disruption of her memories, but that didn’t mean it had to affect their friendship in any way.
Much to Peridot’s frustration, however, Pearl just stared at her, frowning.
“Peridot,” she said. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I… don’t think I’m ready to forgive you.”
“What?” Was Pearl not listening earlier? Peridot had performed all the required forgiveness-seeking customs to perfection. There was no reason she should have been turned down. “But I apologized. I viewed all of your Earth entertainment sequences and they clearly displayed that one party requests forgiveness, the other party–”
“It doesn’t work like that!” Pearl snapped. She looked like she might stand up and walk away, but instead she hugged herself and took slow, jagged breaths. “Listen… Peridot,” she said. “I am… barely holding this fusion together. One part of me wants to forgive you and the other part wants to attack you. The best I can do is keep my distance from you. Do you understand?”
Peridot did not understand at all. The only thing she got was that standing next to Pearl seemed to be threatening to drive the fusion apart. So, as per Pearl’s request, she backed up and walked away.
Heh, a Peridot taking orders from a Pearl. Can’t sink much lower than that. She tried to smile at her silent joke, but the expression wouldn’t come. Her feet dragged as she made her way back to the precarious wooden structure that Steven called “house.” As she walked, she saw another Gem coming down the path in the opposite direction. Peridot frowned.
Garnet. Of course. Now that they were both fusions, Garnet and Pearl probably had all sorts of… fusion things to talk about. Probably if Garnet screwed up and asked Pearl to forgive her for something (or vise versa for that matter), it would be all hugs and happy hand-shaking, and the rest of it. Peridot hung her head and crossed her arms as she and Garnet passed each other, but to her surprise, the Gem gave her an encouraging nod.
“Don’t give up,” she said. “Pearl isn’t too keen on forgiving Amethyst right now either. It’s going to take time.”
Peridot nodded. Time. She didn’t see why she had to wait at all. If Pearl was going to forgive her eventually, why couldn’t she just do it now? But Peridot was still Peridot. She could be patient, if that was what it took.
“I… appreciate the advice,” she said and left it at that.
When Peridot had left, Garnet sat down next to Pearl on the cliffside. Pearl knew she was there, but that was the nice thing about Garnet. You didn’t have to exchange words with her to have a conversation. For a long time, they simply watched the ocean together.
“Peridot ask you to forgive her?” Garnet finally asked.
Pearl nodded. There was a long pause between them, broken up by the sound of seagulls and crashing waves.
“I’m guessing you talked to Amethyst earlier,” Garnet finally went on. “She ask the same thing?”
Pearl nodded again and wiped a tear from her eye. “I’m so awful, aren’t I? Even knowing how it felt when you wouldn’t forgive me, I can’t let go of that anger. All I think about is Rose, and…” She held her head. The pounding in her ears had almost started to feel like a familiar sound.
“How do you do it?” Pearl whispered when the pounding had subsided. “Stay fused for so long when Ruby and Sapphire are so different? I mean, I’m two halves of the same Gem and I can’t do it, even though it should be simple.”
“Fusion’s never simple,” Garnet said. “Pearls never fused much on Homeworld, did they?”
Pearl shrugged. “Sometimes. Your owner tells you to put such and such away, and it’s on a shelf three times your height… fusing with a fellow Pearl can come in handy.” She tried to smile, but her face seemed to reject the expression. Garnet watched her, her own expression unreadable behind her visor.
“I want to tell you something I remember about Rose,” she said after a while. “It was a few days after the two of you accepted me into your group. I watched you practicing swords together. Will you listen?”
Pearl nodded. She wasn’t completely sure she would like what she was about to hear, but then again, without having any real memories of Rose now, what could it hurt?
Garnet stared out over the ocean and began her story.
“Win!” Rose announced when she had cornered Pearl with her sword. She wasn’t not happy about the win, though. It had come too easily again. Many Gems fell to Pearl simply because the shock of seeing a Pearl with a sword at all made them drop their guards. But when Rose, who knew Pearl’s weak points, came at her, she fell every time.
“You’re still too hesitant,” Rose began, pulling back her blade. “You’re getting better at charging, but when someone comes at you in return, you back off.”
“I… I’m trying,” Pearl said, standing and panting from exhaustion. “I’m trying, my Quartz, but–”
“I told you, there’s no Homeworld hierarchy here. Call me Rose.”
Pearl straightened and blushed. “F-fine then, my– erm, Rose… Quartz. If I may be so bold, I want to say that… that I think you’re expecting too much of me.” She dropped the sword on the ground. There was nervousness in her voice, even fear. She’d never questioned Rose before, no matter how many times Rose emphasized to her that they were on equal footing. This was new territory.
“And why do you say that?” Rose asked, casually examining her own blade and avoiding eye contact.
“Because I… I think sometimes you forget that I’m just a Pearl!”
There, it was out. The unspoken tension that always floated between them. Rose stiffened at the words, but seemed determined to make no more reaction to them than that.
“I know you’re stuck with me because you couldn’t get anyone better,” Pearl continued, tears welling up in her eyes. “If I could wish myself to be a Jasper or something more useful to you, I would but–”
“I would never wish that,” Rose said. “I would never want you to be any other Gem.”
“What?” Pearl asked in shock.
“If I could change one thing about your life,” Rose went on, “I’d have rescued you earlier, take you before anyone ever told you what a Pearl is ‘supposed’ to be. Because you can be anything you want, my Pearl. Anything.”
Pearl blushed madly. “D-don’t call me that!”
“Why not?” Rose asked, smiling for the first time.
“Because… it makes you sound like you’re beneath me. It’s completely inappropriate!”
“Stop calling me ‘my Quartz’ and I’ll stop,” Rose said with a giggle. She then pointed the tip of her blade towards Pearl’s weapon. “Now, pick up your sword, and we’ll try again.”
Garnet ended the story there. No big concluding statements, no summary of lessons she might have learned. Just a simple sharing of what Pearl had been craving — a memory of her time with Rose.
“She called you ‘my Pearl’ for the longest time,” Garnet said. “Not to call you a possession. She meant it as the highest form of respect, just like you called her ‘my Quartz.’ She wanted you two to be on equal ground.” Pearl smiled at the memory. Even in those early days, Rose Quartz had displayed her love for others, Gems and humans alike.
“The name drove you nuts,” Garnet went on, “because it sounded so wrong to you. Finally, you got in the habit of calling her Rose, and she went back to calling you Pearl.”
Pearl smiled and touched her cheek, not at all surprised to find it damp. “Thank you for that, Garnet,” she said. Then it occurred to her that she didn’t think of Rose as “my Quartz” in her head. Whatever memories she had lost, that hard-won name had stayed etched in her mind. And the confidence that Rose had cultivated in her… that remained as well. Rose had left something in her that no one, not even Homeworld with all their awful machines, could erase.
And for now, at least, Pearl could be content with that.