As soon as there was any mention of “magic Gem memory stuff”, Greg Universe quickly took his leave. Steven walked with Sea Glass up towards the temple, but stopped short when he noticed something strange atop one of the stone hands that cupped the house in its fingers.
“Is that…” he narrowed his eyes. It could have been a large seagull. If seagulls were yellow and had human-ish arms and legs.
Sea Glass narrowed her eyes at the figure. “It’s that Pearl again.” She stood defensively in front of Steven, not quite summoning her staff, but ready to do so quickly if she had to.
“She said she was going back to the barn,” Steven said, and she could hear a touch of caution in his voice, too. It seemed that after so many battles against Homeworld, Steven wasn’t so quick to trust other Gems as he used to be.
“Obviously, she had other ideas,” Sea Glass replied. She steeled herself and called up to the Pearl. “We see you up there! What do you want?”
Yellow Pearl seemed startled, almost losing her balance, but regained herself. Shakily, she spread her wings and glided down to stand a few feet away from Sea Glass. Sea Glass, in turn, summoned her staff and held it out in front of her. Yellow Pearl held up her hands to show she had no intention of attacking, but she did look over the staff with intense curiosity.
“Oo, you can make a weapon?” Yellow Pearl said. “I thought maybe it was only your other half who could do that. My, my, you two are a regular little pair of Jaspers, aren’t you?”
“We asked what you were doing up there,” Steven said, taking a step forward and looking every bit ready to summon his shield. Sea Glass felt guilty listening to his tone. As wonderful as it was that Steven could defend himself now, she dearly wished he’d never had to learn in the first place. She might have remembered nothing about Rose, but she felt sure she had wanted her son to grow up as normal as possible.
Yellow Pearl winced suddenly and massaged her head. “I really don’t have the patience for… for whatever it is you are,” she said to Steven, half-growling the first half of her sentence. “I was waiting to speak with Sea Glass.”
Sea Glass straightened. It was the first time Yellow Pearl had actually called her by name. The fact that she’d bothered to remember her name at all was strange on its own. She lowered her weapon a few inches.
“I’ll listen,” she said cautiously. “Though I’m not sure what you could have to say to me that you didn’t already say inside.” She nodded towards the house, where it wouldn’t have surprised her if Coral’s dagger was still buried in the floorboard. Still, this Pearl had a vast wealth of information that the rest of them didn’t. If Sea Glass was, for some reason or another, the only one she would open up to, they had to take advantage of that. She glanced at Steven.
“Go on in ahead of me, Steven,” she said quietly. “I’ll be there soon.”
Steven didn’t look at all happy about this arrangement, but lowered his arm and nodded at her. He opened the door and headed inside, glancing back over his shoulder every few steps to make sure his ally and their not-at-all-friendly visitor hadn’t vanished or broken into a brawl. Then, at last, he stepped indoors and closed the door quietly behind him.
“Sheesh, organic beings walk slow,” Yellow Pearl muttered. Then she turned to Sea Glass. “I hope you don’t hold a grudge against me. All those things I said inside… they weren’t strictly meant to upset you.”
“So, what? They were meant to upset Coral, then?” Sea Glass didn’t see how this made all those hurtful words any better, but Yellow Pearl rolled her eyes as if to say, “Yes, obviously.” She then walked in a circle around Sea Glass, wings twitching every few steps.
“I noticed it was Coral who challenged what I said. Coral who said she had to ‘prove’ she was her own Gem. But you… you don’t seem all that interested in proving such a thing. I have to wonder, do you believe it at all?”
Sea Glass gripped her staff tighter, feeling suddenly uncomfortable. “Believe… what?” she asked.
“Believe that you are your own Gem? That you have a purpose beyond the happiness of your owner?” She narrowed her eyes. “You do believe you have an owner, don’t you?”
“Y-yes,” Sea Glass said defensively. “Steven is my owner.”
A look of relief poured over Yellow Pearl’s face at this. “Ah, yes. Rose Quartz’s new form. Completely understandable.” She waved it off as if it were a minor defect… like a ding in a car’s side that she could easily repair later.
“Listen, I can see everything the fission did to you. The Crystal Gem Pearl was an oddity. What do you do when your only purpose is to take orders and then you’re ordered to stop taking them? No wonder the Gem acted as erratic as she did.” Yellow Pearl did a small twirl, then leaned down, balancing on one toe, until she and the shorter Sea Glass were nose to nose. “But you… you’re separated from all that irrationality. All the defects that Rose Quartz created… they’re with your other half now. You’re free of that.” She grinned and laid a clawed hand against the gemstone on her chest. “If you let me help you, you can be a regular Pearl again. Nothing is tying you to Rose’s last order anymore.”
Sea Glass stammered out a few syllables, but couldn’t bring herself to voice a complete sentence (or, indeed, a complete word). She could barely grasp it. She’d spent all this time feeling pity for Yellow Diamond’s Pearl, but now it seemed the Pearl had been feeling pity for her.
Yellow Pearl’s face softened and she pulled out of her pose, standing on two feet once again. A cool breeze played with the tufts of beach grass around them. “Okay, okay, I’m sorry. I understand that was a bit much. Here, let’s back up a bit.” She held out her hand. “Fuse with me.”
“Wh-what?” Of all the places Sea Glass thought this conversation was going, that wasn’t one of them. “Why?”
“You want the data on Rose Quartz, don’t you?” Yellow Pearl asked. “If you go in there, you’re going to have to deal with Coral again. All she’s going to do is shoot you down. Tell you that she’s right and you’re wrong. You don’t have to deal with that. Fuse with me and you’ll see my memories in an instant. Let Coral deal with the data I gave her.”
Sea Glass looked cautiously down at the hand being offered to her. There was obviously more to this suggestion than Yellow Pearl simply being generous. In fact, Sea Glass had the distinct feeling that Yellow Pearl didn’t even know how to be generous. But Sea Glass couldn’t deny that she had a point. A fusion would fuse their knowledge, too. Not just selected information that Yellow Pearl had decided to put on that tablet, but all the information she had on Rose Quartz. On Homeworld. On Yellow Diamond.
Sea Glass felt a renewed determination within her. Coral thought she couldn’t be a fighter. Coral thought she was the weak one. But there were different ways of fighting and it wasn’t always going at things with a sharp object. One had to apply strategy. That was what Pearl did. That was what Sea Glass would do. And whatever Yellow Pearl was plotting, Sea Glass felt sure she could fend it off.
“All right,” she said. “Let’s fuse.” She placed her small hand in Yellow Pearl’s larger one. Yellow Pearl twirled her around, letting her balance on one toe, before pulling her back in again. How strange… their dance was so similar, it felt like they were mirror version of each other… a better partnership that Sea Glass and Coral had ever been. Yellow Pearl then held Sea Glass by her waist and tossed her into the air. Sea Glass performed a small spin before diving into her fellow Gem in a blast of white light.
She could feel memories flowing into her instantly. So much information, more than she could imagine, and much more, she was sure, than Yellow Pearl had stored in that little tablet. But the moment the fusion was complete, Sea Glass knew it had been a mistake. Not because of anything related to Yellow Pearl’s corruption. That had been Sea Glass’s first fear, that Yellow Pearl had nothing to lose and only desired to take Sea Glass down with her. But Steven’s healing held fast and Sea Glass felt none of the corruption spreading. In fact, the opposite seemed to be true. Their reformed body had no scales or claws. It did have wings, but they looked elegant and beautiful, the way everything about a Pearl was supposed to look. Two arms, two eyes, nothing like when completely different Gems fused together. Quite frankly, the Pearl fusion looked downright angelic.
No, where Sea Glass had made her error was that she hadn’t accounted for Yellow Pearl’s strong personality. Her deeply held belief that she was, at her core, a possession to be owned by another Gem. In this case, her ownership fell to Yellow Diamond. The fusion awoke memories in Sea Glass… very, very old memories of the moment she had emerged as Pearl from the dirt. She had known her purpose then. She had never felt lost or confused. She belonged to Pink Diamond, and her Diamond would tell her everything she needed to be, everything she needed to do. She never had any self-doubts back then. And the longer the fusion held, the less self-doubts she had right now. Being fused with Yellow Pearl instead Coral, Sea Glass’s desire to be independent became deeply suppressed. Her desire to see home again greatly amplified.
You… you tricked me… one part of the fusion whispered to the other in her mind.
Of course I did. You knew I had ulterior motives when I offered to fuse. You miscalculated and thought you could fight me off.
But why? Why would you do this?
You know why. I was no longer wanted by Yellow Diamond. I’d been partially corrupted. But you… you came from an antique Pearl, a valuable collector’s item with valuable information about the Crystal Gems’ current movements and resources. I knew if I had that… Yellow Diamond would want me again.
The fusion smiled.
If you wanted it badly enough, you could break this fusion apart. And yet it’s staying together.
It was true. Sea Glass could feel Yellow Pearl’s desires merging with her own, becoming her own. Yes, she had been made to serve a Diamond. That was the highest honor any Pearl could have. She couldn’t feel anger towards Yellow Pearl for what she had done; she was merely doing what a Pearl should do… returning to serve her owner at any cost. And with this new fusion, Yellow Diamond would never want to part with her again.
The new fusion spread her elegant wings, not a twitch or quiver, not an unsightly scale anywhere.
We’re going home… I’m going home… back to what I’m supposed to be.
Coral stood beside the door leading to the Gems’ rooms, with Peridot wringing her hands beside her. Coral had to admit, she missed the old, not-guilt-ridden Peridot, despite the disagreements she and Pearl sometimes had. Then again, Coral had so many feelings right now, her gut felt like some freakish, forced emotional fusion.
“So… I, um… all the data you need is right here,” Peridot said. She removed the tablet from where she’d been storing it on the Velcro strap around her arm. With a nervous smile, she handed it over to Coral. “Nothing’s different than from when the Pearl put everything on here. I-I mean to say, I wasn’t mishandling the information or looking at it or anything else that might bother you, or–”
“Peridot,” Coral said firmly.
The green Gem stopped talking. She looked up at Coral with wide, stressed eyes. The words that could take away all that stress hung in the air. All Coral had to do was actually say them.
“Look, whatever other mess you’ve caused…” Coral gritted her teeth. Why did this have to be so difficult? “…even I have to admit that you’re obviously trying to make amends, and I–”
“Oh, yes!” Peridot piped up. “I am trying extremely hard at that! Making amends is something I have researched thoroughly, and–”
Coral held up one hand and with the other, massaged the bridge of her nose. Peridot went silent once again. “My point being, while I might not be ready to forgive what you did to me, I still appreciate that you’re trying. And I know Sea Glass has already forgiven you. Just… give me time, okay?”
Peridot stiffened at the words. Coral wasn’t quite sure what sort of reaction she expected, but Peridot tearing up wasn’t one of them. This situation had just become incredibly awkward. “For the love of my sanity, please don’t cry,” she said.
Peridot’s expression changed instantly. “Peridots do not cry!” she growled. “I am merely giving the illusion that my visual input spheres are producing liquid in order to set the emotional tone that I thought you would prefer.” She crossed her arms and sharply turned away from Coral, as if to emphasize just how incredibly insulted she was at the very suggestion. After a moment, thought, her arms slackened and she added quietly, “Incidentally, I am grateful for your forgiveness… in whatever amount you’re willing to offer it.” She cleared her throat and turned back to the door. “I’m not sure if the door will open without you and Sea Glass fusing again, but once it does, you can easily download the tablet’s compressed data into the waterfalls, and from there–”
The lights in the house flickered. At least, that was what Coral thought had happened. But then she realized something had been flickering not inside, but outside… the bright, white light of a new fusion.
“Um, guys?” Steven called nervously. “I don’t see Sea Glass outside anymore! And, um… that yellow Pearl looks different. I think she got bigger!”
No! The thought pounded in Coral’s ears; panic ran like poison through her body. No, there’s no way Sea Glass would have fused with her. She’s smarter than that. We’re smarter than that! Dropping the tablet on the nearest flat surface (which happened to be the coffee table), Coral sprinted for the front door, with Peridot close behind her. She heard the clattering footsteps of Garnet and Steven too, but her focus wasn’t on them. She shoved open the door with a thunderous bang only to see her nightmare scenario turned reality.
A larger, more elegant version of Yellow Pearl turned and smiled at her. “Hello,” she said with a smile. “Come to say good-bye? I know you won’t miss me.” She spread her wings wide, ready to take to the sky.
Coral didn’t reply. Didn’t even think. All she could do was run forward. All she could focus on was stopping that Gem from taking off, no matter what.