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If My Life Is Mine

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They need her, they say.

Pearl argues immediately, of course. They need someone who knows Homeworld - but she hasn’t been to Homeworld proper in thousands of years. They need someone who knows pearls - but she hasn’t seen another pearl in just as long, and hasn’t acted in a way befitting a pearl in, well… not until those sad attempts in front of Holly Blue. They need someone who will be able to understand the technological aspects of it all - but everything she’s been working with is horribly outdated - often rather ingenious, if she does say so herself, but still terribly makeshift. They need someone who knows rebellion, who understands how to properly plan it, how to prioritise, how to-

She turns to Garnet (of course), even as she knows that Garnet won’t leave what she so fondly calls her planet, especially not with a fleet of white ships looming on the horizon. Garnet doesn’t respond in any noticeable way, calmly seated on the couch in the crowded living room-turned-makeshift-rebellion-headquarters and Pearl meets her own gaze reflected in that ever-daunting visor.

Of all people it’s the permanently sour-looking yellow pearl, for quite a while now (secretly) formerly of Yellow Diamond’s court, who cuts off that entire avenue of thought via scratchy transmission from deep space.

“Garnet is needed on Earth. We need you to come stay and help out here.” In her Diamond’s convenient absence, she’s seated on a chair - yellow, to match the rest of her surroundings, and quite throne-like - that dwarfs her in a way that would seem amusing were her bearing not so insistently imperious, even though for the moment she sounds unusually humble. “We need the experience. We need long-term strategy. We need a leader. Someone to make the calls and guide us in the field. We don’t know how to do this- this entire operation alone - not yet. And you did it once already.”

Pearl half-opens her mouth to say something in denial, but… she did. She did do it. Certainly she could tick off, on a list, many of the required skills and competences. And she can do it again, she can do it even better. Learning and growth, wasn’t it, after all? And experience. Along with a unique perspective, as well as a certain reputation-

“And, well, you’re the infamous Renegade Pearl, aren’t you?” Yellow Pearl pipes up from the tiny screen, and Pearl preens just a tiny bit at the idea of that old, old title still persisting.

They need her.

-

Pearl adjusts.

The plan was well-made, but some things can’t be accounted for in advance. Issues such as being fed incorrect information - doubtless there is suspicion by now about their mole in Blue Diamond’s court, who has hopefully not yet been discovered (an extraction mission rises to the top of Pearl’s priorities either way). This shipyard ambush, however, simply can’t take place with the distribution of forces as it is. The losses for their relatively nascent little movement would be absolutely unacceptable-

“What do we do, General?” the ruby crouched at her left asks gruffly, jarring her out of her thoughts.

“General?” Pearl half expects to turn to see who was being addressed and catch a glimpse of pink. But there is none. “M-me?”

The ruby is insistent, and a soldier through and through. “The plan. Situation on the ground is different. What do we do?”

“There’s so many of them,” Rhodonite pipes up nervously, with a wail rising in her voice. “There wasn’t supposed to be. They tricked us!”

An elbow is nudging at her midriff then, annoyingly insistent and oddly reassuring. “I’m sure P- sorry, General P’s got an idea or two. She’s real good at those.”

“Amethyst, please.” But it’s a half-hearted protest, out of habit more than anything else. Pearl’s already coming up with and discarding scenarios, focusing on the placement, the distribution, the direction of movement-

“We can...” they’re all looking at her- looking to her. She doesn’t have Garnet’s Future Vision to help in angling for the best possible outcome, or her internal support structure in case the outcome is far from best. She doesn’t have Bismuth’s presence and easy charm. She doesn’t have anything Rose had, anything that made Gems stop and listen to her, and follow. All she has is... herself.

But that is something, too. A quick mind, a quick hand, and the will to use both. And then, perhaps, somewhat newer and still a bit… spotty, on occasion: the ability to summon up enough confidence, enough respect for her own judgement to take on the responsibility of picking the plan and making the call. Herself. Not in anyone else’s name. Not relaying orders. Not following, not just offering ideas and counsel for others to use or discard as they see fit, and certainly not obeying.

“We’ll go around the back and sabotage their fuel lines - that should be enough to delay progress at the colony. Avoid open combat for as long as possible. And we’ll need a distraction.” She scans their surroundings, glances over her companions, from the Rutile twins to the two peridots hanging on to her every word, and finally meets Bismuth’s eyes. “Those pillars over there-”

“On it,” Bismuth is already rising, one hand flashing into a mallet. “Whoever carved those did one of the shoddiest jobs I’ve ever seen. They’ll go down easy.”

Doubt spikes hot in her mind. “Oh no, Bismuth, you don’t have to-” Pearl tenses to get up and go after her, but a large, eternally work-roughened hand at her shoulder stops her.

Bismuth is smiling at her, an odd mix of encouragement and anticipation on her face. “Hey, it’s okay, I got this. I’m exactly the right Gem for the job - ‘s why you picked me. And you got that,” she inclines her head towards the others, all gearing up to make a break for the back of the docks, “General.”

Pearl smiles through her own highly annoying intermittent flaring nervousness, and nudges her shoulder playfully. “The right Gem for that job?”

“I know you know it.”

-

Pearl intervenes when she has to.

It’s not just planning out the combat maneuvers and timing engagements and picking which destabiliser production line to hit, or coordinating with a fearsome crew of bona fide space pirates. There is so much more to it, during the downtimes, she almost- almost finds herself overwhelmed. She is quite proud of how she’s so far managed to handle that “almost”.

Talking and listening, and taking into account. It helps when she can frame it as teaching- that, she’s always been terrific at. Steven helps there, too, whenever he visits, with his eternal patience and open hand and open ear for any Gem who might need it, and anyone who might be struggling with having just chosen a side.

And then, then there are the pearls.

Many of the ones active in the rebellion, sent their way by the ever-industrious Yellow Pearl, take on roles of subterfuge and infiltration. Making good use of all the expectations placed on them as much as the disregard they are subject to, they become excellent sources of a wealth of invaluable information. There are some who choose to fight, and Pearl can’t help but take them under her wing, so to speak. She isn’t playing favourites, of course not, but it’s hard not to feel something when faced with them, with their keen eyes and oddly demanding and expectant gazes. She can tell exactly who belongs into that daunting category of having heard of her.

But there are many that end up with them almost by accident - pearls belonging to important Gems the rebellion needed to take out, or pearls who merely found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time during a sabotage operation or a factory raid - and suddenly found themselves ownerless, for all intents and purposes. Unwanted, cast-away pearls seeking refuge.

Some of them miss their old lives. Some of them rejoice at the opportunities before them and refuse to look back. Pearl’s head spins as she bounces from extreme to extreme.

She spends a good chunk of a morning comforting a light green pearl who clings to her and cries into her shoulder and sobs-rambles about how nice her Emerald has always been, and how much she just wants to go back home where she belongs. Then, almost immediately afterwards, a plum-coloured pearl who’s only been with them a day regales Pearl with the tale of her dramatic escape, including how she stabbed the Gem who dared consider herself her owner with a decorative cape brooch and clambered over an eight-foot wall.

The latter does put something of a spring in Pearl’s step- until she comes upon one of the latest Gems to join them, seated at the edge of a docking station causeway, long legs dangling to brush against the limits of the artificial atmosphere bubble. A burgundy pearl, the short mess of curly hair a fluffy halo around her bowed head, gem exposed at the small of her back, shoulders shaking, altogether the very picture of inconsolable.

Pearl sighs, and sits down next to her in what she hopes is companionable silence.

“I’m not supposed to be here alone,” the pearl mumbles through her tears after a little while, but doesn’t acknowledge Pearl’s presence in any other way. “It’s all so wrong.”

It sounds like another case of homesickness and of attachment to her former mistress. Pearl tries to project gentle understanding and thinks back to what’s worked well in such cases before. “Tell me about her. What is she like?”

“She was one of Yellow Diamond’s citrine guards. The lieutenant of her sector, in fact - and so magnificent. You should have seen her in her dress uniform, oh! What a sight. My Spinel could only wish she were half as amazing as her.”

The other pearl’s voice is a soft, almost dreamy sigh. It is a bit odd to hear that tone, that voice - her voice, almost, and sounding so very… familiar. But before she can respond in any way, the other pearl continues, now a bit more hesitant, halting.

“But, you know, that wasn’t what… that wasn’t why…”

And then it clicks into place, along with the incongruous little details like the pearl’s noticeably non-yellow colouration, the mention of a (clearly disliked) spinel, that look of naked longing in her eyes...

“Why you loved her?” Pearl prompts softly.

The other pearl’s cheeks darken with a deep red blush, and her hands drop to fidget in her lap, long fingers tugging on the elaborate ribbons decorating her waist.

“Yes. She… she was always so kind, and so careful. When she talked to me, asked me things. And she’d always sneak off after coming back from a mission, bringing me little souvenirs. Look,” she pulls on a bit of string tied around her neck, with a red crystalline microstructure unfamiliar to Pearl hanging from it, “she got me this. She said the surface of the last moon she’d been sent to was covered with it, and that it was beautiful because- because it made her think of me, when sunlight caught my hair, a-and...”

The words dry up, and the tears well back up again. Pearl hesitates for a moment, then puts an arm around the other pearl’s shoulders, bare save for a transparent shawl, making sure to telegraph every movement well in advance.

A sincere smile, a look that was more than that unpleasant mix of covetous and shallowly appreciative and appraising, a gift of a trinket to call your own, a modicum of respect. After thousands of years away from the stranglehold of the Homeworld system, that bar seems so very, very low, but Pearl remembers very well how world-changing the smallest of things felt, once. Like being allowed completely private access to a comms terminal. Or not being berated for expressing interest in inappropriate fields, such as engineering. Being given a chance to hold a sword, not for anyone else’s convenience, but for her own use.

“We promised to run away together,” the pearl continues, voice rising in a tremor again. “But she- they got her when we were making for the docks, where I managed to have a ship waiting for us, and she- she said she’d hold them off, told me to run, and I listened to her… why did I listen?”

Pearl looks away, gaze skimming along the scorch-marks left by their most recent skirmish here. It’s an odd little attempt to offer some privacy to the most naked parts of grief.

“I, um.” Pearl clears her throat again, awkwardly. “I lost someone too, not so long ago. Someone very important to me.”

Laughably recently, for a Gem. And it’s all such an oversimplification of thousands of years of fraught history, but if it can help in any way…

What these two had undertaken together might pale in sheer scale and far-reaching impact to starting a war over an entire planet, and everything that came... afterwards. But it is no less monumental for being restricted to the personal, Pearl finds.

There is no response for a while. The pearl turns a bit and allows her head to rest on Pearl’s shoulder. “Does it ever go away?”

Pearl restrains a wince at the way the pearl’s hand clenches over her chest, but pushes herself to disregard platitudes and stick to the truth she’s so painstakingly cobbled together over the years.

“Not really, no,” she replies, voice almost a whisper, smaller than anything she’s used since leaving Earth. “But it does get easier.”

They sit together as the station makes another half-trip around the moon it’s orbiting. Pearl studies its face, idly wonders about labelling its craters, and ponders the fate of the pearl pressed against her side.

“Listen,” Pearl begins once her companion has seemingly calmed somewhat and sat back up, “since you made it all the way here... you can join us, if you want. It’s dangerous, and bound to only get more so, and I can’t promise you much. But whatever you choose to do with yourself, I promise you can stay here with us as long as you want or need. Okay?”

The pearl meets her eyes for the first time. “I wanted to be here. We both did. But I don’t think I can do this, especially not… alone. I’m nothing like you.”

Pearl wants to argue the part about being alone while surrounded by an ever-growing number of Gems, but she remembers all too well how it feels, that ragged-edged void torn open in you, and that veil between you and the rest of the world. So she argues that last bit instead.

“I’m nothing special. Any pearl can do what I do, if she wants to.”

“But-”

Pearl is quick to cut off any protest in this particular matter. “No, no, no, listen, this is very important. All I ever got was a chance, and all I did was decide to take it. What we’re doing here now is trying to give that chance to everyone else. To you as well. Do you understand?”

The pearl’s tear-stained face scrunches up in thought. “I think so. But I- it’s hard to believe that a pearl could… do all these things...” her soft voice trails off again.

“Oh, so many find that hard to believe,” it’s so much easier to find words now, being allowed to preen and gloat and boast and put on a show - one of the great joys of the entire people-seem-to-like-calling-me-General arrangement, in Pearl’s view. “And let me tell you, there is nothing quite like the satisfaction of seeing the looks on their faces when they realise they’ve been beaten, outmanoeuvred, and outsmarted by the very pearl they were laughing at and offering to assist in returning home mere moments ago.”

There is an actual hint of a tiny smile on the pearl’s face, and Pearl feels herself beam with pride. The old thrill is still there, unchanged - the delicious awareness of rule-breaking, when the rules are so utterly terrible and suffocating, the inimitable spark of rebellion. Deliberately being so far removed from all the things they made her to be, everything they tried to instill in her. It is a delight Pearl can’t ever see herself growing tired of, and one she is eternally grateful she has managed to recapture.

“You’d think,” Pearl grins, “after so many thousands of years, they’d learn not to underestimate us. But noooo. Well, all I’ll say is... makes it all the easier for us to keep pulling it off, right?”

The pearl ducks her head. “You really think I could-?”

Escape a dozen quartz guards? Steal and fly a spaceship?

Lead a band of intergalactic rebels?

Pearl lets her smile soften. “Absolutely. Whatever you want. And I’ll gladly help.”

-

Pearl takes responsibility.

Failure is a reality, and the possibility of defeat is a cloud constantly looming over them, outnumbered and faced with such an overwhelmingly powerful opponent. And miscalculations happen, and good Gems are lost - hopefully merely imprisoned, though there is nothing mere about Homeworld imprisonment.

“I’m sorry,” Pearl tells the only ruby that managed to escape back to their hideout, hidden away in a nook of an abandoned and thankfully mural-free Diamond base. “I should never have sent you in there without some scouting first. I got carried away thanks to our recent victories, overreached, and you paid the price.”

The ruby shakes her head. “They knew the risks. We all do. But we chose to be here.”

She’s fiery and passionate and ever so insistent, and reminds Pearl of another Gem she knows and holds very dear. Pearl’s best attempt at a determined, reassuring smile, even if it’s for the moment just an unpleasantly forced stretching of the lips, is the least she deserves. “We’ll mount a rescue as soon as we have the chance. You’ll be a great help.”

“Thank you. They, uh-” Ruby trails off, voice suddenly wavering, and looks down, scuffing her foot on the uneven ground of their most recent temporary base. “They mean a lot to me.”

Pearl nods, but doesn’t quite know what to say, not when it counts - it’s never exactly been her strong suit, for all her tendency towards outright rebellious loquaciousness. Then there are the intrusive, poisonous thoughts, grasping at her, always doing their very best to pull her down no matter how high she manages to climb - Who’s ever heard of a pearl leading? Who let a pearl give orders and make decisions, let alone important ones? Of course it all went wrong, what pathetic game of pretend are you trying to play? You’re not fit to pick out the colour of your dress. You know all you’re good for is standing pretty in that little display corner, you’re not fooling anyone and you never have.

They are something she suspects she will never be entirely rid of, those stinging little whispers. But she takes a deep, grounding breath, and lets them roll off her as best as she can - and her best now is certainly better than her best even just a few quick human years ago.

Everyone makes mistakes, no matter who they are - herself just as much as Garnet, or even- or even Rose. There. It isn’t even all that hard to admit that anymore, is it?

By now she’s analysed the outcome of the mission, pinpointed the flaws in her original plan, and come up with several options for improvements in the future. Dwelling on it, wallowing, beating herself up over not seeing the obvious and slipping into that familiar self-deprecating place of always ruining everything would be the opposite of helpful right now. Even if Pearl has always been so very, very good at dwelling.

Pearl puts a hand on Ruby’s shoulder instead, and thinks back to the asteroid belt patrol route layout a disgruntled citrine slipped them. “We’ll get them back, and I know exactly where to start.”

-

Pearl cooperates and co-conspires.

The holo-screen takes several tries to properly turn on and the transmitter sputters to life reluctantly, worn and overheating from the strain of Pearl’s extremely long-distance and carefully frequency-masked subspace conferences with Garnet, the hours of building plans together, ironing out strategies and syncing up short-term goals. Fighting on two fronts is incredibly difficult, even without heavy communication constraints. But Earth’s defense is in Garnet’s capable hands, and Pearl’s well-oiled little strike team buys them time with sabotage and interference whenever they need it, and provides an endless stream of new recruits and fresh turncoats.

“How are things back home?” The words slip out at the tail end of her latest report before Pearl can fully register their implications, and she pauses. Bathed in the lights of some of her oldest haunts, she didn’t ask about Earth, about the Solar System, about Beach City, or the Temple, or about Steven or Connie, thankfully highly regular in their visits. She asked about home.

When did that shift even happen? If we win, we can never go home and that meaningful clasping of hands was thousands and thousands of years ago. And now here she is, hidden in the very heart of the home she renounced then, surrounded by echoes of things she’s for so very long feared both never and ever seeing again.

There are many places she wouldn’t mind calling home, she thinks - perhaps at the same time, which also has its charms. A true citizen of the stars, she’d style herself, and oh, the places she’d go - the places she will go, the things she will show others, once… once all this is done. But there is always something to be said for that odd little planet, teeming with life, and encouraging all sorts of wildly inappropriate behaviour. Perhaps her slip isn’t so strange after all.

By the time she tunes back in fully, Garnet has covered Amethyst's return with her entire extended family, their slowly building plans for the relocation of the space station housing the zoo humans, and all their updated planetary defense-related arrangements with the humans in the region.

“Nice work at the shipyards - Amethyst has been recapping the fight to everyone within earshot. Sounds like you’ve got things well in hand over there.”

“Well, you know me,” Pearl laughs awkwardly, “always full of surprises!”

“Not surprising at all,” Garnet cuts in, suddenly far more serious. “I knew you could do it.”

Half of Pearl wants to puff out her chest and soak in the praise and build herself on the foundation of it, and the other half wants to give a self-deprecating little laugh and say Well, that makes one of us! and call her every accomplishment a happy accident. But she stops herself before she can do either, as neither is a road she much wants to go down again.

“Would you believe,” she starts up instead, voice carefully casual, “the other day I had to break up a fight over some utterly minor nonsense between a carnelian, a peridot, and a dioptase, of all Gems, and listen to endless arguments about who started it. I have no idea how you did it, Garnet, any of it, with Amethyst and myself- we must have driven you to distraction!”

“You did.” Even through the low resolution of the transmission, Garnet’s dry amusement is palpable.

Pearl clears her throat and tries not to ruin the mood by giving the (really, mostly correct) impression the next thing she says is some kind of settling of old scores, of putting things to rest and making them right, just in case something were to happen to either of them while they’re apart like this, and she never got the chance to try again.

She wishes it weren’t by laggy, grainy long-distance transmission, but she forges on all the same. “I’ve been wanting to tell you for… for a while now that… I’m sorry. We put so much on you, when Rose left, and you’d never asked for any of it in the first place, or wanted it, and… I’m so sorry, Garnet. You didn’t deserve that entire mess just dumped on you like that.”

Garnet pauses long enough to remove her visor, a gesture that, although more common in recent years, still comes laden with meaning and a sense of trust - that most precious and vulnerable of things that Pearl hasn’t always been kind to. “It wasn’t your fault.”

Technically, of course, that particular thing indeed wasn’t, and isn’t, and there is a lot there, wrapped up in that stinging, thorny bundle of Rose always did what she wanted that they are still only starting to unpack.

“Right, maybe I had no way of... affecting that decision. But I should have been there for you. And for Amethyst, too. I should have helped, and all I did was make everything worse.”

Garnet looks away briefly, and allows herself a sigh. “It was a bad time for all of us. But it’s in the past. We made it through, Pearl, and look at us now.”

“Yes,” Pearl acquiesces softly, “look at us now.”

The transmitter beeps a warning in the stretch of silence, and Pearl nudges it absent-mindedly.

“I suppose what I really wanted to say is… thank you. I want you to know I appreciate all you’ve done for us. And all you’re still doing.”

“You’re welcome. We’re doing it together now.”

Garnet’s smile is small and soft and sincere, and Pearl is delighted to meet all three of her gentle eyes with what briefly feels like no barrier, even with entire galaxies between them.

“We are.”

She reaches a hand for the tiny screen, and Garnet reaches back. It’s not the contact they’d both like, light years away, but it’s something.

“I should go,” Pearl says finally, regretfully, and Garnet merely nods, until she’s startled by the way Pearl rapidly switches gears. “Oh! I almost forgot... you’re making sure Steven has the appropriate amount of vegetables with his meals? No offense to Amethyst, and not to add to your, well, overflowing list of concerns, but I do not trust her with matters related to nutrition-”

“Steven’s doing fine, Pearl,” Garnet interrupts, efficiently mollifying in a way Pearl still finds few Gems to be.

“I know. Of course he is- and he’s been such a help here! I’ll need him back soon.” Pearl meets Garnet’s smile. “And not just because I miss him already.”

“Connie says she’s coming over as soon as she’s done with school. You’ll see both of them soon.”

“Stevonnie will want a mission then, won’t they? Luckily, I know just the thing, excellently suited to their talents and highly educational. Oh, they’re going to love it!”

Pearl’s enthusiasm is cut off by the display sputtering in and out of static, and breaking into a comms unit production facility crawls up on her ever-growing to-do list. The signal stabilises again, but the message is clear.

“Well, looks like it’s really time for me to go. I’ll send you a quick report when we come back from the asteroid mines tonight.”

Garnet puts her visor back on, and gives a quick wave. “Good luck. Look after yourself. And everyone else.”

“I’ll do my best. You too, of course. And-”

Pearl blushes, her best approximation of ‘newly-minted confident rebel leader’ mellowing into something softer and more bashfully hesitant.

“And say, um,” she clears her throat, and Garnet grins and lets her squirm. “Tell Sheena I said... hello?”

“I will. But I’m sure you want me to tell her something more than that.”

It’s a tad hard to think clearly and come up with charming retorts when her mind so eagerly floods with sweet recollections of being suddenly held back from boarding an off-planet bound ship at the very last minute - for the admittedly very agreeable purpose of ‘goodbye kisses’.

Oh, but that’s it! “A kiss!”

“A kiss.”

“Yes, tell her that, while it’s true that I am regrettably far away, I’m sending her a kiss! And that I’ll certainly call her as soon as I am able.”

“One kiss from a dashing space rebel, got it. She’ll love it.”

Pearl drums her fingers against her lower lip nervously, and frowns. “You think she will? I think she will. Ohhhh, but what if she thinks it’s too, I don’t know… silly?”

“Pearl.”

“Yes?”

“I don’t need Future Vision for this. She’s going to love it.”

Pearl’s face is still bright blue when she returns to the hub, but she feels lighter than she has in days.

-

Pearl leads.

Others follow, to her eternal surprise. Or- well. Maybe not eternal. They’re- she’s... working on it. She’s earned the respect, surely, or it wouldn’t be there in such noticeable amounts. Right?

The battles she can handle easily, such as they are - mostly ambushes and quick stings and brief skirmishes anyway. Planning out troop movements on holographic chessboards is something she’s an old hand at. But the aftermath, when the dust settles, and they have made their escape, safe as can be, and she finds herself surrounded by Gems who look to her, that is new.

They want to listen to her. So many Gems, from all possible walks of life, eager to hear what she has to say, to take into account what she thinks, often when making their own choices, and not just in the heat of battle. It’s… an odd feeling. One Pearl is not sure she is altogether fond of. Guilt and blame are not pretty things, and the pitfalls here are rife with the potential for both, and are plentiful and not always obvious save in hindsight.

It was always easy to make a lightning-quick decision when it was just her own gem on the line. Easy to throw herself into battle, easy to throw herself in the way of swords and maces and javelins. Infinitely harder to expect someone else to do it. Without even the veneer of just doing what someone else would have wanted, acting in someone else’s name. And most of these Gems have never met Rose Quartz, have never followed her or fought against her or anything at all. She is, at most, a bogeyman to them, a figure from a cautionary tale. And while they’ve all heard other tales now, too, it’s incredibly odd to realise that beyond some vague notion of important legacy she doesn’t really mean all that much to them. But Pearl, Pearl they all know, and Pearl is real to them, and Pearl is right there, and they, for whatever incomprehensible reason, seem to trust her, even with their lives.

She’s developed something of a distaste for secrets in recent years (and is still working on her Lion tolerance levels- well, no offense or blame to the feline personally, and 'Earth mammal drawn into Rose’s orbit and inexorably changed' was hardly a narrow category - no offense to Greg, either, who’s been a stellar reminiscing companion, but facts were just that). Oh, she works hard not to burden the Gems under her leadership - her Gems, what an idea! - with her fears and anxieties, while still keeping them aware of important concerns. But the balance is difficult to strike, and the whole ‘protecting’ issue required quite a lot of thought, and Pearl isn’t sure she’s reached a satisfactory conclusion there yet.

She is distracted, very briefly, as a particularly colourful comet flies overhead. Their current hideout comes with an observatory dome that Pearl is determined to make good use of, and where she spends most of her (admittedly meagre) downtime.

And then, it isn’t the number of orders given or plans made that makes her important. Yes, perhaps on a strategic level, but…

What gives her worth? (Oh, asking the real questions now - and there, another comet, this one with a less pronounced dust tail, but still wonderful.) Not what she meant to Rose, or what she means to someone now. Worth is something she herself has, utterly intrinsic, without anyone else entering into it - it’s an odd equation. What she can do, and what she chooses to do. What she knows, what she believes. And even without that, just the fact that she is. A living thing. Thinking, feeling, being.

Rose had made many speeches on the topic. There was an entire manifesto to consider. Pearl has had plenty of time to expound upon it on her own, and pass it on to others. She does her very best to believe it herself, of herself… but it’s easier said than done, a lot of the time. Still, let it never be said she doesn’t try.

Even if Rose were here, and she isn’t, she isn’t, she isn’t- but even if she were, her glance, her word, her touch, her kiss, the way she beamed at Pearl standing at her side and carrying her banner, and all the secrets in the universe, whether entrusted to her, or forced upon her… that wasn’t what made Pearl Pearl. Oh it… informed it, certainly, but so did many other things, and many other people, but most of all it was Pearl who did the final sculpting, in the finest of pale, iridescent nacre. No matter who she’d claimed to do it for, she was the one doing it, in the end, and that has to count for something, doesn’t it?

While the others rest, Pearl ponders essential existential questions and has deep, introspective moments while stargazing at constellations she never thought she’d see again. That much she allows herself, with a gentleness aimed at herself that she’s had to painstakingly cultivate - she wouldn’t be Pearl, after all, without getting stuck in her own head now and again.

-

The rebellion continues. And persists.

-

Pearl gazes, exhausted, across a newly liberated colony-formerly-in-the-making, and feels relief, and feels pride. Pride in the Gems fighting alongside her, in their cause, and in herself. To have come so very, very far…

Her reverie is interrupted by the sound of someone walking up the hill on her left, and she turns to see Bismuth, hands held conspicuously behind her back.

“I was thinking…” Bismuth begins, rehearsed, as soon as she’s by Pearl’s side on the summit. “I wanted to commemorate our first big victory. So I made you this.”

She’s holding out an elegant rapier, glittering silvery in the oddly coloured dusk. It’s a stunning show of craftsmanship - the fine metal has little constellations worked into it, stars winding around the elaborate hilt and the blade both. Pearl feels her eyes welling up before she’s even dared to reach out and touch it.

“Oh… oh, Bismuth, it’s beautiful,” her fingers lightly brush against the grip, and Bismuth nudges it towards her until she finally grasps it. “You’ve truly outdone yourself.”

“You say that every time,” Bismuth scoffs playfully.

Pearl, however, is utterly serious and insistent. “That’s because it’s true every time!” She turns in a huff, and gives the sword a trial flick, and a few swings. It cuts through the air like quicksilver. “Oh-! Oh, the length, the balance- how did you get it to be so perfect?”

Bismuth grins. “Easy! I know you. And I happen to know we’re both real good at what we do. So it all works out.”

Work.

Pearl pauses halfway through a quick, spontaneous swordfighting form, and heaves a deep sigh. “There’s still so much to do.”

“Sure is! I was in such a rush to get this to you, I still haven’t even started on a scabbard for it. But I can’t help it - the promise of finally getting to see you use it, even just a bit? Worth it.”

Bismuth, you know that’s not what I meant.”

There’s that wonderful, indomitable grin again, and Bismuth nudges a shoulder against her gently. “I know. But look, we’ve made some big steps here, and we aren’t about to stop, and they aren’t about to stop us, either.”

“No,” Pearl agrees, looking back towards the horizon littered with jagged half-finished spires, “no, we are certainly not stopping.”

Bismuth throws an arm around her shoulders and Pearl presses into her side gratefully, sword held tightly to her chest, and sniffles only a bit.