It was nighttime when Steven snuck out of the house with Lion. He felt a little bit bad about it, but at the same time, he didn’t feel like going back and explaining himself to the Gems, either. There had been something off about Pearl on the beach today. Even before Peridot had revealed her hiding place (and Steven wasn’t totally sure Peridot had gone back to the barn afterwards), Pearl had been acting strange. He couldn’t place it, exactly, but he knew that something had happened between her and Bismuth. And since only two people could explain that conversation, Steven was determined to talk to at least one of them. With Lion’s guidance, he found his way back to the forge. The door opened at his approach, and his eyes widened at what he saw inside.
Bismuth had the furnace going at full blast and she had just finished working on something. A small piece of metal shimmered as she walked it to the nearest shelf. Steven took a tentative step closer. Stepping into the forge felt no less like an oven than it did the first time, but at least now he anticipated it. He narrowed his eyes, trying to get a better look at what the weapons master had made.
Bismuth wiped her brow and turned back to her work, only to be started when she noticed she wasn’t alone.
“Steven!” she exclaimed. Then, gathering herself she added, “Come in, come in!” and beckoned him forward. Now that Steven could get a better view, he found that the shelf she’d been standing at contained a dozen or so of the bracers he had seen Pearl wearing earlier.
“Did Coral explain these babies to you?” Bismuth asked.
Steven nodded. “She’s Pearl again, though,” he corrected.
“Ah, I see,” Bismuth said, looking a bit disappointed at the news. “Well, there’s enough extra power in these new ones to last millennia if it’s needed. So she’ll have all her options open.” She stretched her arms over her head. “Man, it’s been a long day. Guess it’s about time to close up shop.” She busied herself with tiding some of the clutter around the forge while Steven found himself unable to take his eyes off the stash of bracers shimmering on the shelf.
“Hey, Bismuth?” he said nervously.
She gave a “hmm?” of acknowledgment, but didn’t turn to look at him.
“Bismuth, there’s… something that’s bothering me,” Steven confessed. “When Pearl came out from meeting with you, she was only wearing one of the bracers.” He pointed to his left arm. “It was on Coral’s arm. But I don’t understand. Didn’t you give them two?”
This time, Bismuth didn’t reply at all. Maybe she was too involved in her work. Maybe she just didn’t hear him. “The thing is,” he went on, “Sea Glass seems a lot more down on herself than Coral is. And I’m… I’m worried that if they split up… I mean, you don’t think Sea Glass would… not wear the bracer you gave her, right?”
Again, she didn’t answer, still managing to find a barrel of supplies to straighten or some dust to sweep up so she didn’t have to look at him. Steven went from hurt to frustrated. He knew these weren’t simple questions he was bringing up, but she could at least stop pretending she didn’t hear them.
At last, Bismuth seemed to run out of things to do. She came reluctantly over and knelt down so that she and Steven were at eye level. “I’ll be straight with you, Steven. Keeping that half-Gem around is dangerous business. I think Coral can keep her under control plenty enough, but that’s not her responsibility. She should be free to live how she wants to, not spend her life tied to someone that’s so… so…” She shook her head. Whatever word she’d been searching for, though, Steven was pretty sure it hadn’t been a nice one.
“What do you mean ‘keep her under control’?” he asked nervously.
Bismuth gave him that look that Pearl and Garnet gave him a lot. The one that said, “Steven, it’s so cute how clueless you are.” He really didn’t like that look.
“You don’t know what a war is like, I get that,” Bismuth said. “You grew up in a place where any Gem you saw was trustworthy. But back then, we knew… if a Gem wasn’t for us, they were against us.”
“Sea Glass is for us, though!” Steven objected.
Bismuth sadly shook her head. “She isn’t, Steven. She’s for Homeworld. It’s their ideals she clings to, not ours.” She stood up again. This time, she lowered a couple levers and the forge began to cool down. Molten iron dulled its glow, then went dark. Steven and Bismuth stood alone with barely any light between them at all. As Steven rubbed his eyes, trying to get them to adjust faster, Bismuth went on talking as if the darkness didn’t bother her at all.
“Pearl always made me nervous. Don’t get me wrong, I loved her to death, but she still made me nervous.”
“Why?” Steven dared to ask.
“Well, none of us Crystal Gems wanted to go back to Homeworld. The idea made us cringe. But she… she missed it. After everything they did to her, she actually missed it.”
Steven’s stomach sank. He sure couldn’t deny what Bismuth had said. He knew firsthand, even before she’d been split, that Pearl was desperate to see home again. She’d even risked his life for it. But… that was because she admired the beauty of the planet… or something, wasn’t it? It wasn’t because she actually missed Homeworld’s rules or society or anything. Right?
“So… why did you trust her if you thought she was loyal to Homeworld?” he dared to ask. The place had started to look a little less dark now. Instead of a huge, bulking silhouette, Bismuth now resembled a huge bulking, very dark grey Gem with somewhat visible eyes.
“A few things,” she said. “Rose was around, for one. And Pearl would shatter herself before she’d turn on Rose. But also because I could see parts of Pearl starting to change, coming around to Rose’s way of thinking. Y’know, every day Rose would ask her, ‘who do you belong to?’ Took ages to get her to stop answering ‘you’ or ‘Pink Diamond’ or whatever. Ages more before she started believing it.” She felt around on the shelves and pulled down what looked like a cloth sack. She then walked over to the pile of bracers and began methodically picking up each one, feeling it over, and then placing it inside the sack.
“Separating yourself from what Homeworld wants you to be… it’s no easy bismuth, if you get my meaning.”
Steven tried to laugh at the pun, but it sounded more like a confused whimper.
Bismuth continued, “It came pretty easy to me, because I stuck to what I was good at. I built different things, but I never stopped being a builder. Pearl was trying to go from being a servant to a knight. No wonder she struggled.” The bag now full, she handed it over to Steven, who gripped it tightly in his hands. He could hear the metal pieces sliding over each other inside, some of them still with a touch of warmth to them.
“But this,” Bismuth said with awe in her voice, “this split that Homeworld’s machines did to her? It’s like they made a shortcut for that whole process. Coral is Pearl’s real self, Steven. Sea Glass is everything she’s been spending her whole life trying to get rid of.” Her face looked suddenly sad, like Steven had hurt her feelings in some awful way. “Why would you try to imprison her again?”
Her words were so strong and confident, Steven almost blurted out an apology. But then something us flared up inside him. Something angry.
“No!” he said, stomping his foot and dropping the sack at his side. “You’re wrong! Pearl is Pearl’s true self. When something bad happens to you, it changes you. It affects how you see things. How you treat other people. Things aren’t as separate as you think they are!”
Bismuth seemed at a temporary loss for words, and Steven took full advantage of the opening.
“Pearl always has time for me. She always helps me take care of things. And she always works to better herself. I think… the time she spent on Homeworld has a lot to do with that. I’m not saying it was good that it happened, but… but how Pearl dealt with it showed who she is on the inside. You can’t act like that part of her doesn’t matter!”
Bismuth’s expression hardened. “Ask Coral if she would ever want to go back to Homeworld, Steven. I’ll bet she gives you a way different answer than Sea Glass would.”
“I don’t care what she would answer,” Steven said, turning away. “Sea Glass is my friend, and she’d never turn on me. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” He wanted to stomp out of the forge. Lion was waiting for him; it would be easy to run off right now. But that wouldn’t solve the underlying problem. Steven sighed and sat down on the floor, hugging his legs. He heard the shuffling of Bismuth’s feet as she came and sat next to him. She didn’t try to argue anymore, but he could feel the distance between them just the same.
“Look, I won’t take back what I said about Sea Glass being dangerous,” she said after a long silence, “but if you think you can keep everyone safe, then… I trust you. After all, you’re Rose’s… Rose’s…” She seemed at a lost for the right word.
“Son,” Steven offered.
“Right.” Bismuth gave a smile. It was the kind of warm, friendly smile that Steven could see coming from his mother. In that moment, even though he was still kind of angry with her, even though they still fiercely disagreed, Steven felt a kind of bond with Bismuth, like they’d be able to work things out. Maybe that was what it was like between his mom and Bismuth all those years ago, too.
“Hey, I’m sorry,” Bismuth said. “All that stuff… Rose and I argued about Pearl a lot back in the day. I guess talking to you brought it all back to me. But I’ve gotta remember you two aren’t the same person.” She patted Steven gently on the back, and he smiled up at her. “You know, it’s kind of exciting,” she went on. “You don’t have to be like Rose Quartz. You can be someone even better.”
“Even better?” Steven questioned. “Even better how?”
This seemed to get Bismuth excited, and she stood up again. “Well, for one thing, I could get you a much better weapon.”
Everything happened so quickly after that. Steven wasn’t even sure how it had started. One minute, Bismuth was showing him an old weapon she had been working on… something insanely powerful, but something also insanely cruel. The next minute, she was yelling at him. Saying he was his mother. And that he’d let the Crystal Gems die because he’d been too cowardly to use all his resources.
Steven had tried to argue with her, to explain how the Breaking Point was just as terrible as Homeworld’s fission machine. He tried to voice how he couldn’t possibly use it, even to defend his friends. Then Bismuth had snapped. And attacked. Steven had never felt so scared. It wasn’t only that no one had his back in the fight — it was worse than that. The person he was facing off against was supposed to be a friend.
Some time later, Steven warped back home, battered and bruised as he clasped the bag of bracers Bismuth had given him. Garnet noticed his arrival first, but once they saw his injuries, all three of the Crystal Gems hurried to his side.
“What happened, Steven?” Pearl cried with concern.
“You okay, little man?” asked Amethyst.
“Fine, I’m fine,” Steven said. He tried to explain what had happened, but just then, he heard a loud “Ow!”, followed by the clanging of metal. From the top cabinet in the kitchen, Peridot tumbled out, pots and pans spilling out after her. She smacked the stovetop first, then rolled off and onto the floor.
“What the– why are you even in there?” Pearl snapped. “We told you to leave!”
Ignoring Pearl, Peridot jumped up and hurried to Steven’s side. She grasped his hand, examining both the top and palm, then narrowing her eyes at each of his fingers. “Injuries seem minimal,” she said. Next, she grabbed his chin and stared into his eyes. “No serious trauma,” she added on, then smiled. “Excellent. I am glad to see that your non-Gem half is still very much intact. Now, provide a summation of the events leading up to this moment. Myself and your fellow Crystal Gems will listen with attention and then proceed to coddle you accordingly.”
Pearl was still seething about Peridot being in the cabinet at all, but a look from Garnet seemed to calm her down. Steven rubbed the back of his head. This explanation wasn’t going to be easy. “Well, I got into a bit of a disagreement with Bismuth…” he began.
Peridot nodded vigorously. “Ah, let me guess. The two of you engaged in an epic battle. She swung. You used your shield. She swung again, harder than last time, shattering your shield to pieces. Unable to summon it again in your haste and panic, you attempted to avoid her blows. But each time she got closer and closer until you finally had no choice but to pull out your sword and impale her through the chest!”
Steven stared blankly at Peridot for a long moment. “Um, no, nothing like that,” he said. The group looked skeptically down at his injuries. “Okay, maybe… something like that. We did get in a fight, but…” He gripped the bag tighter, which burned his skin a bit where he still had some open scrapes. “…but, in the end, she just left. She said some stuff about how she couldn’t stay around us if we were going to be this…” he rubbed his sore head, “I think her word was ‘misguided.'”
Peridot’s face fell. “Oh, that was it?” she asked. “For some reason, I thought it was going to be more serious than that.”
“All right, everyone, back up and give Steven his space,” Garnet said, shooing the others away. As Steven watched the group disperse (which involved Pearl more or less kicking Peridot out the front door), he gripped his sack and tried to call out after them.
“Wait, I have–”
“Tomorrow,” Garnet interrupted. “The best time to show them to Pearl is tomorrow.”
“Oh,” Steven held the bag closer, “All right, then. Tomorrow. I guess I am a bit tired.” He gave a large yawn and allowed Garnet to escort him up to his room. When they reached the door, Steven paused as he reached for the knob.
“Hey, Garnet?” he asked. “Bismuth… said some stuff about Pearl before she left. She said that–”
But Garnet only put a finger to her lips and said, “Shh. We’ll talk about that tomorrow, too.”