Peridot had to give Steven credit for one thing: he didn’t give up, even on an enemy. The Pearl’s sleeves and upper back glowed as she was pulled into the fusion, but Steven charged forward with neither regard for own safety, nor common sense.
“You let her go!” he yelled, throwing his shield at the corrupted Jasper’s glowing arm. The moment the shield hit, Jasper cried out in pain and released her grip, breaking the fusion and sending the Pearl tumbling away. At that moment, Peridot was finally able to get a shard of metal free and pierced Jasper through the chest. The corrupted Gem was poofed instantly, and Amethyst hurried in to bubble her. A job well done, to be sure. But it did nothing to solve the problem of their unexpected intruder.
Yellow Pearl clutched her chest, crying out in pain as her body convulsed on the ground. Peridot saw to her horror that in the same way Jasper had contracted corruption from the Quartz monster, the same fate seemed to be overtaking Yellow Pearl. It started with blotches of mismatched colors on her shoulder blades. Then, her delicate translucent sleeves began to morph, extending into what appeared to be clawed, bird-like wings. From there, orange scales began to crawl down her shoulders and arms. After screaming incoherently for her Diamond brought her zero success, her wide terrified eyes found Steven’s.
“Help me! Please!” she begged in a raspy voice.
Steven didn’t hesitate. He licked his hands once again and ran over to her, slamming his wet palms onto her chest, where her gem lay. At first, it seemed to have no effect. The scales continued to manifest on her upper arms, and some started to appear on her legs as well. She moaned and yanked away from Steven. With guttural, animalistic screeches, she began to crawl along the ground. Peridot felt sick to her stomach.
This is too awful, she thought. Even for Homeworld. How could they invent this disease at all? How could they put other Gems through this?
Then, all at once, the corruption ceased. No new growth appeared, and the Pearl froze in her tracks. She shook her head and sat up as if being jostled out of a trance.
Peridot expected to see some of her physical transformation reverse itself as well, but it seemed that Steven’s powers did not extend that far. The yellow Pearl got shakily to her feet and looked at her back, eyes wide with horror. She stretched a clawed wing tentatively out, as if testing to make sure the awful monstrosity was actually part of her body.
“No,” she whispered. “No, no, no, no. This can’t happen to me.” She stood and turned on Steven, her face no longer filled with fear, but rage. “You told that Jasper you could heal her! I heard you say it!”
“I-I’m sorry,” Steven said, backing up and holding up his hands in defense. “My healing powers don’t work the same every time. I don’t think I can reverse what already happened. But it seems like your mind is still mostly okay. And, um, hey… you’ve got wings. That’s pretty cool, right?”
The Pearl cried out in anguish. Peridot couldn’t blame her too much — the wings were hardly elegant; they looked more like something off a feathered dinosaur. But Steven had done his best, and when it came to whose feelings mattered more, Peridot would side with Steven any day of the week.
“Oh, come on, quit crying,” she said. “It’s not all that bad.”
The yellow Pearl turned her gaze to Peridot and recoiled. “Y-you!” she gasped, pointing. “I-I know you! You’re the Peridot that insulted Yellow Diamond!”
She hugged herself tightly, still staring in the general direction of the Gems, but no longer seeming to see them. “I’m ruined,” she whispered. “I’ve been corrupted. I’ve conversed with the enemy.”
“I think I stopped the corruption,” Steven said, trying to make his voice as soothing as possible. “And, I mean, I don’t think it’s that bad that you talked to us. I mean, mostly we were talking to you, so that’s not really your fault…”
She didn’t react. “I’m going to be shattered. I should be shattered!” Her body shook with panic as she grasped the sides of her head. “I should… I should…” Her eyes rolled back and she collapsed to the ground. Steven exchanged confused and concerned looks with Peridot and Amethyst, then walked up to the Pearl’s unconscious form. Experimentally, he poked her in the arm. No reaction.
“She… passed out,” he observed, then looked back up at his friends. “Gems can pass out?”
Amethyst gave a shrug. “Eh, they can pass out the same way I can sleep. You don’t need to do it, but you can if you want to. ” She leaned down and scooped the Pearl up in her arms. “Figures. Of all Gems that would willingly faint, it’d be a Pearl.”
She turned to walk out of the kindergarten, and a look of panic crossed Peridot’s face. “Um, what are you doing? This is the Pearl belonging to Yellow Diamond. If there is any Gem that we should put on our probably-not-our-friends list, aside from Yellow Diamond herself, it’s her!”
Steven stared blankly at Peridot for a moment. “Wait, there’s a list like that?”
“I have all sorts of creatures on the probably-not-our-friends list,” Peridot said proudly. Amethyst had already started walking, and she had to scamper to keep up. “Item one, squirrels. Item two, humans who like squirrels. Item three, licorice-flavored jelly beans… hey, you’re still holding her!”
“Well, we can’t just leave her out here,” Steven said, as if they were talking about Garnet or Lapis, or someone else they actually knew and cared about and not someone who would have been very happy to call the full wrath of Homeworld down on them. “She’s partially corrupted and really scared.”
“She should be scared,” Peridot said. “She doesn’t have a future anymore. Pearls are supposed to be pretty and perfect and she’s neither right now. She has no purpose.”
“Hey!” Amethyst snapped, locking Peridot with a warning stare.
“I’m not saying anything she wouldn’t say herself!” Peridot countered. “Whenever she wakes up, she’s just going to freak out again and probably do something desperate and nonsensical.”
“Oh, what, like lock herself in the bathroom?” Amethyst said. “Yeah, we handled that once before. Think we’ll be okay.”
Peridot grunted, but didn’t answer. The truth was, the Pearl reminded her of herself more than she cared to let on. She knew what it was like to feel like she’d lost everything. Of course, she was a Peridot. Peridots were made to be adaptable. Pearls… well, weren’t.
But, if Amethyst and Steven and the others wanted to insist on doing the impossible, that was their business, not hers. Either way, now that the Pearl had been captured, Peridot had to decide if that meant the Homeworld ship she’d pinpointed was now empty and safe for her to enter. It wasn’t Yellow Pearl’s ship — possessions didn’t own other possessions. So, had the Pearl stolen it? Possibly. She did seem to have a bit more spunk to her, and Yellow Diamond certainly wasn’t with her. (The world would have been torn up by now if she had been.) Maybe she’d been exploring the ship and it had accidentally taken off with her inside?
However it had come to be, the ship was more than likely empty. Which meant as soon as they got this stupid passed-out Gem back to the barn, Peridot could come back here and get her data.
“Hey, do the same types of Gems look the same when they get corrupted?” Steven suddenly asked as they neared the last hill before the barn.
“How would I know?” Peridot said.
Steven looked at the ground. She suddenly realized he hadn’t said a word for almost the whole walk back here, which was really unusual for Steven. Seeing one Gem corrupted and another one nearly corrupted right in front of him… maybe it had hurt him more than Peridot had first thought.
“It’s just… I keep seeing it in my head over and over,” he said, dragging his feet until he was barely walking at all. “I keep imagining our Pearl… or Amethyst looking like that, and… and…” He winced and stopped walking completely, tears at the corners of his eyes. “I don’t ever want to see anything like that happen to them.”
“Hey, chill, nothing’s wrong with me. Or anybody,” Amethyst said. “Okay, Pearl’s a little messed up in the head right now, but she’s doing way better.” She laid a hand on Steven’s shoulder. “Homeworld could throw all kinds of stuff at us. But that’s why we’re here for each other, right?”
Steven looked up and smiled at her. “R-right. I’m sorry.” He picked up the pace again, almost to the crest of the hill. “So, what do we do when we get back to the barn?”
“Ugh, I don’t wanna do anything for like a month,” Amethyst groaned. At last, the barn came into view. Only trouble was, there seemed to be something there that wasn’t before. Specifically, there was a small red spaceship parked in front of it. And Lapis was holding five bubbles of water with some kind of figures inside.
“Are those…” Steven asked, narrowing his eyes. He hardly needed to finish his sentence. “The Rubies are back?” he moaned. “I thought we were done with these guys!” He shook his head in a well-I-guess-it-can’t-be-helped sort of way and started to head down the hill.
“I’ll go find out what’s going on,” he said. “You two… uh, hold on a second.” And with that, he scampered off and started conversing with Lapis. He pointed to each of the Rubies, and Lapis let them down one at a time on Steven’s suggestions.
“So, um… what do we do about this?” Peridot pointed to the fainted Yellow Pearl still in Amethyst’s arms.
“Right now?” Amethyst asked. “Probably a bad time to explain this. I’ll take her in the back of the barn and come out the front.”
“Wow, Amethyst, that’s so strategic of you,” Peridot said, then frowned. “Wait, why didn’t I think of that?”
“Ugh, come on,” Amethyst said, motioning with her head for Peridot to follow. The two of them successfully scurried into the back of the barn while the rest of the Crystal Gems continued to question the Rubies. Lapis might have stolen a glance in their direction, Peridot noted as they snuck into the door, but she didn’t say anything. Peridot smiled. Lapis was never much of a conversationalist, but at a time like this, a little discernment was precisely what they needed.