Sapphire hates the word 'I'. She hates the way it feels on her tongue, the way it rolls from 'ah' to 'uh' or 'ee'. The humans, with their funny little symbols, mark it down as one stroke, but that's not what it is. She feels dishonest when she says it, like 'I' is something she's not. But 'I' is all she ever is. Of course she doesn't say it very often. She doesn't say anything very often. She listens to the song of the Earth, the simple solitary strain of 'is' and the immeasurably complex harmonies of 'might be' and she does her best to sing of what will come but it's hard to be sure. She's never certain where now is.
The other gems mostly avoid her and it's not surprising. She's so small they don't notice her very often and when they do it's because she replied to something they hadn't said yet. She knows she shouldn't do that but she gets confused. She keeps her eyes covered because the now is blinding but she can't see what the other gems see. She keeps her hands covered too. And her chest. And her back. Her gem screams in protest when she covers it completely but it's better to endure the pain than let the other gems see her for what she really is. Unbalanced.
Her gem isn't where it's supposed to be. It's supposed to be on the center line. Stomach, face, head, chest, throat, back. Not hand. Never hand. In the middle where it can control everything. Not off to one side where it's too far away to hear the other side. Unbalanced gems are slow, damaged, worthless. That's what everyone says.
Sapphire isn't slow. She's fast, fast, fast, faster than any gem she's ever met. She has to be to catch up with her eyes. But she's never fast enough for that, always a little bit behind the future. Maybe that's what slow means. Not not fast, just not fast enough.
That all changes when she meets the laughing Pearl. Pearls don't laugh. They work. This Pearl laughs and she works. Sapphire doesn't know what to think.
She might meet this Pearl on a cold day on the topmost regions of Earth when all the water has solidified. Sapphire is still fascinated by water. She's never seen so much of it in one place. The Pearl might be assigned to stay with her, hold her hand to keep her in the now while she looks for the might be her superiors want. It might be hard to find. The ground might break open underneath their feet and send them plunging into the water. They might not be found for months or years, centuries even.
Or the Pearl might squeeze her hand (the one without the gem) and Sapphire will remember where they are now and lead the Pearl along the banks of the hardened water to find a good place for a warp pad and maybe on the way to the warp pad, Sapphire will hum a song so loudly that she won't hear the tree falling until it is too late.
Or she might move fast, fast, fast and drag the Pearl along with her until they are out of danger and she can breathe again. And the Pearl might start laughing in relief.
Then the Pearl will see Sapphire and remember and there will be only two might be's. The Pearl might run while Sapphire is frozen in shock, run and hide and not come back until the hardened water unhardens and closes over Sapphire's head. Or that might not happen. Sapphire doesn't want that to happen, so she does what she rarely does.
"Don't worry," she says. "I won't tell."
"Tell what?" the Pearl asks and the tree cracks and Sapphire grabs her hand and runs fast, fast, fast until they are out of danger and the Pearl starts laughing in relief.
"I won't tell that," Sapphire says. The tree has fallen twice now. That must mean it happened for real.
"Thank you," the Pearl says. And "Let's keep going."
They might find the warp pad, or rather the spot where it will be. Sapphire might try to warp away on a pad that doesn't exist yet and Pearl might laugh and guide her back to the warp pad that does exist yet. They might become the best of friends after that, sharing secrets only for each other and no one will come between them.
But they don't.
Instead, the laughing Pearl looks at Sapphire with an expression she wouldn't be able to read even if she could see it.
"You have Future Vision, right?" Pearl asks.
Sapphire might shrug and move on and never answer the question even though the answer is obvious and they might never see each other again.
But they don't.
"Yeah," Sapphire says. "But I don't like to talk about it. It's not as fun as people make it out to be."
"I can imagine," Pearl might say and Sapphire might reply "No you can't.". It might turn into an argument, then a physical fight. The rift between them might become too deep ever to cross. They might come to hate each other.
But they don't.
"I know someone who might be able to help," Pearl says.
Sapphire looks at her and sees with perfect clarity like she almost never does. "Why don't you introduce me?" she says.
That's how Sapphire meets Rose Quartz.
Rose Quartz is a beautiful gem, an image of perfection, tall and large and strong and smart and taking up far more space than Sapphire would ever be allowed. But that's not what strikes Sapphire about Rose Quartz. She looks at Rose Quartz and sees thousands of thousands of ways she will live and barely a dozen ways she could die. For a gem with Future Vision, Rose Quartz might as well be immortal.
Sapphire speaks her name over and over again, trying to memorize the way it feels on her tongue. 'Rose' is a beautiful word, long and broad and feeling like it never has to end. Rose is the perfect name for the gem who bears it. Quartz isn't. It's harsh and quick and ugly and Sapphire isn't even sure what the vowel is supposed to be. Whatever it is, she doesn't like it. Quartz is as bad as 'I', as far as Sapphire is concerned. Rose figures it out and gives Sapphire special permission to call her by the name she likes.
Then Sapphire has to leave. She has to report to her superiors. Rose is the laughing Pearl's superior so Sapphire has to go back alone, Rose's gem (perfectly placed in the center of her stomach) at the forefront of her mind. Rose shines so brightly she even outshines the future, holding her firmly in the present.
That's why Sapphire makes the stupid mistake she does. That's why she misspeaks Rose Quartz's name in front of her superiors. That's why a handful of overzealous gems drag her outside to punish her for her disrespect. That's why she's taken completely by surprise when the bright red gem appears from around the corner, burying a fist in Emerald's face, kicking Onyx in the chest, flipping Topaz over her shoulder.
For a moment, Sapphire doesn't move. She's too scared, too blind. Then her eyes return and she sees what might happen if Topaz gets to her feet, if Onyx thinks to come up from behind, if Emerald gets truly angry. She banishes the glove from her right hand, summons the knuckle spikes from her gem. She moves fast, fast, fast, faster than she's ever moved before, fast enough to get ahead of the future, of the consequences. Onyx falls first, then Topaz, then Emerald, then Sapphire and she's crying as she realizes what she did.
The bright red gem grabs her around the shoulders. "Come on," she says. "We gotta get outta here."
"No," Sapphire says. "There's no point. They know what we did." She can already feel the pain as her gem cracks.
"They know what I did," the bright red gem corrects. "No way they saw you. You're too fast for that. Come on. We gotta go."
Sapphire is breathing hard. She can barely see. She knows her vision is narrowed, that she isn't seeing all the possibilities, but she can't even begin to figure what else there might be. The only part of her that isn't panicking points out that 'I' almost sounds pretty when the bright red gem says it.
She lets the bright red gem lead her to the galaxy warp and down to Earth. They settle themselves in the branches of a tree on the banks of hardened water.
"The tree might fall and kill us," Sapphire says absently, not sure she cares.
The bright red gem shrugs. "It might," she agrees. "But it might not. Try not to worry about it so much. I'm Ruby, by the way."
Sapphire might say that she can't help but worry it's part of who she is. She might yell at Ruby for trying to protect her and just getting her in more trouble. She might ask why Ruby bothered to save her. She might ask how Ruby knew she needed help and Ruby might shrug and say she was just looking for a fight. Sapphire might let the lie slide.
What she says is "That's a pretty name." It is. It's even prettier than Rose. It has strong round vowels and gentle consonants with just enough power in them to be dignified and proper.
It's not until Ruby starts laughing that Sapphire realizes she said it all out loud.
"What's so funny?" she demands, color rising in her cheeks.
Ruby might laugh so hard that she falls out of the tree. She might crack her gem. Sapphire might put a hand on her shoulder to make sure that doesn't happen. It might be the left hand, the hand without the gem and this might be just another chance meeting.
She puts her right hand on Ruby's shoulder.
Ruby stills at the touch and it takes Sapphire a moment to realize what she did wrong. She pulls back her hand like it was burned.
Ruby might snarl at Sapphire's audacity and jump out of the tree, leaving her alone. Or she might punch Sapphire in the jaw and send her tumbling through the hardened water. Or she might just pull on Sapphire's glove for her and let them both pretend the whole incident never happened.
Or she might hold out her own left hand, palm outstretched, and let Sapphire see the gem there. Unbalanced. Just like her.
"Gems like us aren't proper," Ruby might say, the old pain soothed by the inevitability of contempt. "Even with pretty names." She might wrap her hands around her legs and stare at the sky.
Or she might grin, wide and brilliant, and say "Hey, look at that, we match."
And Sapphire laughs because they do and they're a matched set and she might laugh so hard that she falls out of the tree and Ruby might try to catch her and they might fall into the hardened water together.
But they don't because in that moment, the warp pad activates and Rose Quartz finds them. Rose Quartz smiles at them.
"It's good to see you getting along," she says. "Emerald and her lot have been chastised. Come along home now."
Sapphire and Ruby laugh together and it doesn't matter if they fall because Rose Quartz will catch them. Always.
After that, they're never apart. Rose Quartz (Sapphire hasn't worked up the nerve to shorten her name again) pulls a few strings, smooths the whole incident over, gets Sapphire and Ruby transferred to her command with the laughing Pearl. Sapphire keeps her hand in Ruby's and sings until she can hardly stand to sing any more.
One day when the flowers, funny little organic nonsentients, are in full bloom, Sapphire realizes she's not an 'I' anymore. She's one half of a 'we'. 'We' tastes much better to her than 'I' ever did. 'We' tastes like promises and hands clasped together gem against gem and who cares what anyone else says we love each other. 'We' is honest. Real.
Sapphire learns that it's easier to figure out where now is when Ruby is with her. Now is where Ruby is. Ruby doesn't worry about the future even though her love has Future Vision. It might spell trouble, but Sapphire won't let it.
It's Sapphire who first suggests they fuse. The idea comes to her from the Earth, listening to the song, all the strains of possibility intertwined with harmonies of 'used to be'. It's new and exciting even though it's ancient and she wants someone to share it with. Ruby listens better than most but Sapphire knows she can't truly understand.
Ruby agrees to fuse, but it's not as easy as all that. Ruby's dancing, if it could be called that, is erratic and unpredictable. Not formless, as many have accused, but not the graceful, delicate movements that their superiors say are Correct.
Not that Sapphire is any better. She moves fast, fast, fast, skipping steps and missing moves, too excited by what will be to focus on what is. It's the first time she's loved her Future Vision and she finds she can't savor it. They try over and over again to fuse, but no matter how hard they try, they can't. Sapphire knows they might, one day, she's seen it. But she can't seem to find the right might be.
They ask Rose Quartz for help. She smiles and points them towards the humans, they way they interlock their bodies to create new humans. It's not quite the same as anything a gem can do (yet, Sapphire's mind whispers and she ignores it because she wants to leave her happiness unspoiled), but it might be close enough to work.
It isn't. They try all the human methods and nothing works. Ruby still can't find a rhythm and Sapphire still gets ahead of herself, skipping all the important steps in the excitement of having completed them.
Finally, after a day they were forced to spend apart (two new warp pads and they found both of them there's Big Plans for Earth and they can't wait to see what unfolds) Ruby grabs Sapphire's hands, gem against gem, hand against hand, and twirls her around in glee at their reunion. Around and around and around they twirl. They fall into an easy rhythm. There's no tricky steps to confuse Ruby. There's no set order to drag Sapphire out of the now. It's just them and their gems and each other.
'I' feels much better on Garnet's tongue than it ever did on Sapphire's.