The wind blew gingerly through the barn, and the boards creaked softly in response. Birds 'sang', though Peridot still failed to see how random instinctual noises qualified as songs. But they still held some soothing quality, she had to admit. And there was nothing but her, her steady breaths, and her own thoughts. Peridot chuckled atop her reliable, sturdy 'tractor'.
Was she sure she wanted to stay indeed. How could Steven have even doubted her? Yes, it had taken her by surprise yesterday that after her and Steven's retelling of their incredible heroism, Garnet had decided to drop 'the bomb'. A thankfully metaphorical one. Peridot had already gotten much too close to possible explosions lately.
"Good job, Steven. Peridot." Hold on, that wasn't the bomb yet. It was suitably non explosive; they had saved the planet, after all. That was at the very least a 'good job'. The smile Garnet delivered with it was less common, and did take Peridot by surprise. "You two stuck together and worked as a team. We're very proud."
"Like true Crystal Gems," Pearl agreed.
"To P-Dot and Steven! What whaaaaat!?" cheered Amethyst, trademark grin in place.
Peridot felt a rush of heat to her face, a smile break across it, and even some liquid buildup in her eyes that she dispatched of before anyone noticed. Steven, clearly touched, grinned bashfully and thanked them with a chuckle, a small blush, and actual words. Which showed he was more used to these compliments than she was, given that her reaction was fumbling for anything that could be generously categorized as a 'response'.
"I… That… It…" She cleared her throat, straightened her posture. "It was nothing. Steven had saved the day. I provided backup."
"Nuh uh! You helped!" Steven's exclamation brokered no argument. "We were a team!"
"Well, there it is. What Steven says goes, Per-bear. Dem the rules…" Amethyst teased, as if she didn't want Peridot praised contrary to all her actions.
"Just say no to those eyes," Pearl gestured to Steven. "You can't. I know I've tried."
"You did incredible, Peridot. Thank you." Another Garnet smile. Just for her. All of them were smiling at her. She was feeling big again.
She turned her face away and declared, "Well, if you all insist… I'm a hero!" she declared, turning back around with a grin. "You should've seen me!"
Pearl chuckled fondly, and Amethyst returned her grin, and Garnet was, as ever, focused on the next step. "Now. Let's get our things ready and we'll head home." Ah, yes. The bomb. Boom.
"Woo hoo! Home!" Steven cheered, oblivious to Peridot's shellshock.
Amethyst noticed though, with a raised purple follicle line- sorry, 'eyebrow'. "Uh, yeah? What, did you think we'd stay in this beaten up, dingy, old barn forever?"
"Yes!" The barn held machinery, familiarity, memories! What else did they need!?
"The Crystal Temple is the best base of operations," Garnet explained. "The warp pad allows us to easily and quickly get to missions. We can easily store corrupted gems. And-"
"All our stuff is there, yo!"
"And-" interjected Pearl, "There are no bugs. "
"Eva Wallace is a true companion and they get me!" Peridot shrieked. Eva Wallace was a charming green bug Peridot had met and christened. They were surprisingly respectful of her boundaries, and as the saying goes, 'greens before means.'
Garnet's voice cut through her hyster- her reasonable and fair reservation, with, "Peridot? Are you alright?"
"I'm-" A Crystal Gem, she mentally paused and reminded herself. It was only natural for her to… Relocate to their base. She had to follow orders. "Fiiiiiine?" came the wholly convincing finish.
But Steven, for better or worse (and at least on the inside, Peridot had to admit it was far more in the better category), saw through her, as he often did, and stepped closer to her with gentle eyes and a "Peridot? You know you don't have to be fine, right?"
"...Yesss?" she settled on, unsure of the correct answer.
"And you don't have to go to the temple either."
Peridot blinked. "I don't?"
"You don't! You're used to the barn! I can't blame you, it has a lot of great memories, huh?"
She remembered her experiences here. Respect through competition and mutual interest. Empathy through laughter and regret. Understanding through patience and conversation. Love through faith and friendship. And she nodded.
"So stay! It's fine. Right, guys?" he asked the others.
"Yeah, Peri, it's cool," Amethyst assured gently. "But don't think this means you're off the CG hook, girl! We're still gonna hang."
"Amethyst is right. After all, who else would I talk machines and numbers with?" Pearl asked rhetorically, which did not keep Amethyst from answering.
"Yeah, you're the only people dorky enough for each other." Amethyst raised her hands at Pearl's glare. "Whaaat? You guys make it work!"
Peridot looked at them, confused. "But… But shouldn't I be at the main base?"
"Not if you don't want to be," said Garnet. "That's what being a Crystal Gem is about. Choice. Our fight for our ideals and lives is what binds us. Not our location."
"Exactly!" Steven exclaimed. "You may not be going home with us, but you'll always be home with us! Because of this!" He put his finger on Peridot. She looked down. Slowly looked up.
"No, Peridot," he said kindly, laughter in his voice. It was a feeling she couldn't forget, bringing laughs and giggles out of him, even if a good portion of the time she had no idea what was so humorous. "Your heart." He brought his finger to his own chest. "Home is where the heart is. It's an Earth saying, but you can use it too. You'll be in our hearts." He put his finger back on her chest. "And we'll be in yours, right? And it'll be like magnets! We'll be pulled in and visit each other, and in between, we'll still have our… Heart memory… Things. The metaphor may have gotten a little muddled, but you get what I mean. You can stay here if you want. We'll still be friends, and fellow Crystal Gems, and hang out. So be honest. Do you wanna stay in the barn?"
Peridot looked at him, and at all of their understanding, kind faces and found there was only one thing to say. "W-wow. Thanks. I… I do. This barn is… What I'm used to."
Pearl nodded. "I completely understand. Patterns and familiar environments comfort me too. And you should've seen Amethyst when we first met, she did not want to leave her Kindergarten, she wouldn't let go of this rock until Rose convinced her-"
"P!" Amethyst shrieked, bright purple. "D-don't tell people that!"
"Whaaaat? You made it work!" she playfully teased.
"...I'm not saying that was a good diss."
"I don't need you to," preened Pearl, with an air of satisfaction.
"Besides-" Peridot interjected, before they really got into it- and believe her, they really got into it often-, "I could use the quiet and solitude! ...Er, no offense."
"None taken," Garnet said surprisingly understanding. Peridot raised a brow.
"Aren't you… Never alone?"
Peridot waited for more, but nothing came. Steven broke the silence with "Could you still help us pack, though?"
"Certainly." Packing', as it turned out, was more 'just throwing Steven's things into either Lion's mane or Greg's van'. The others said their farewells.
"Take cari, Peri!" Amethyst 'punned'.
In the silence that fell, Peridot felt compelled to offer a "Ha ha!"
"...I know, not my best, I don't need your 'li-ing too hard' laugh," she called back, earning an actual laugh from Peridot and a confused look from Pearl. "But you and me are going out sometime, got it?"
"You better visit us too," Pearl added. "And don't burn down the barn while we're gone. The two of us did enough damage to it already."
"Though I did slightly more damage, of course…" Peridot ribbed, playing up an air of superiority completely unlike her usual kind and flawless persona.
Pearl rolled her eyes fondly and ruffled the top of Peridot's head. "See you soon, you."
Garnet, on the other hand, gave her a simple, stoic nod, which Peridot returned. And it was fine. Such intellectual warriors like the two (three?) of them didn't need farewells overwrought with emotion. A nod conveyed all the levels of respect and trust better than anything else ever could.
Was what Peridot thought before Garnet suddenly swept her off her feet and into a sturdy hug. "Don't get too lonely, now."
Peridot fought off the rush of heat to her face and scoffed. "I'll be fine. I've been on my own before I met you lot, you know."
Garnet held Peridot out and stared into her eyes seriously. "And now you'll never have to be again. Remember that." Peridot swallowed, no words coming to mind, and so she was forced to go back to the classic standby of a slow nod. Garnet smiled, and set her down, and then she, Amethyst, and Pearl went to the van as she went into the barn. Steven checked on her one last time, as he often does, and then finally, she was alone.
In perfect, quiet solitude.
With the wind blowing ginger- no, she mentioned that… And the birds were singing-... still singing. Uh… did she mention the floorboards? It was all so very… very… quiet.
"Okay, that's enough," she announced, sitting up without fanfare. Solitude didn't have to be all quiet all the time. There was plenty to do! Like… her tractor! She hopped down and opened the back of the tractor. "Let's see… I'm sure I can make some improvements somewhere…" she mused, wrench in hand. Not too many, of course. She and Pearl had already done quite a bit for the machine.
"Human machines are just so… primitive," Peridot groaned, looking at the sorry excuse for a vehicle. "Where's the boosters, the artificial gravity modules, the fingers?"
Pearl gave her an understanding smile. "While I miss all of those too- er, except the fingers, I still don't understand your hand motif- "
"They're the most useful appendage!"
"- Earth vehicles aren't all bad. Look." She lifted up the back, and Peridot followed her just to indulge her line of thinking.
"Ugh. It's like comparing my ship to earth junk, in that I can't find a simile to describe just how simple this thing is."
"Simple, maybe, but that doesn't mean bad. They make do with what they have. And look!" She pointed at a large block of metal. "What is this?"
"Very good!" Pearl enthused, and Peridot chuckled and preened.
"I am quite intelligent, aren't I?"
"You are. And just like your ship, this engine filters the fuel to the rest of the machine. Now can you guess what these are?" She pointed at the slits on the front.
"Hmmm. Probably a ventilation system to help limit overheating…"
"Correct! Just like the ones on your ship. The tractor moves through the steering wheel, like your ship did through its panel. It turns the vehicle around through a series of rotations. It's just more… direct about it. It's simple, and plain, and honestly not visually appealing in the least-"
"I think it looks alright."
"But it's a machine, all the same. And all machines run on the same principles, from our mechs to your ship to even this… track-ter?"
"Steven called it something like that…" She hmmed, and stared at the machine, and something… clicked. The inner workings, the principles… they were all there. At its core, it was just another machine. "...I… suppose it is alright. But…"
"I think we can make it better," she finished with a smirk, and Pearl returned it.
"Oh, most definitely."
Peridot shook her head clear of the memories. Why was she thinking about that? It wasn't like she needed Pearl's help for this. And yet… she still kept waiting for some suggestion, or objection, or impassioned debate over the best improvement to make. Maybe she just… didn't want to do it alone right now.
"Tch. So I'm not feeling this? So? I'm fine! There's other things to do! I…" Her eyes went around the barn. She could paint the walls? No, they were fine. She could… sit on the hay? Yes! Perfect! She walked over to it, placed her hands atop their rough splendor, turned her body around, and then pushed herself up slowly, to savor the moment, before landing gently atop nature's creation. Then she stopped to take it all in.
"... Now what!? It's just itchy! Ugh!" she hopped off and kicked the stack. "Stupid hay!" she grumbled, before her eyes fell upon a familiar book next to the hay. Jokes! How To Make People Laugh Around You Instead Of Feel Bad.
"That's it! I'll practice my already finely tuned jokes!" She flipped through the worn pages. This book had belonged to someone else once, and with its obvious quality, they surely made use of it too. She stopped on a page with a triumphant "A ha! Perfect." She cleared her throat. " 'How did Clark Kent describe his day?'" she asked the… hay. "'...Er…. just super?'" The hay said nothing. Tough crowd. But of course it was! She forgot, she had to deliver the punchline with confidence. "I mean… just super! Or… is it just super? And who in the world is Clark Kent!?"
The hay offered no commentary. "Oh, so quick to disapprove but so slow to offer constructive criticism, hm? I don't see you up here! You tear down the people who have the courage you lack to perform! You make me sick." The hay sat there in what she assumed was regretful, stunned silence. "Good." Now that the audience had an open mind, it was time to swoop in with a homemade coup de grace. "That one was a dud, but the next one will blow you ahay. Eh?" Nothing. "Oh come on! Nothing? It's funny cause you're 'a hay!' I made that one up myself, work with me here! Ugh…." She let out a sigh and sat against the block of hay. "Amethyst would've laughed…"
"Hmmm…" Peridot shuffled through the pages. "Hold on, I promise there's a good one in here…"
Amethyst gave her an easy smile. "I can wait, Per-"
"Found one!" she cheered. "Ahem. Are you ready?"
"Always," replied Amethyst with a smirk.
"Are you sure? Are your shoes properly fastened?"
"Uh, I think so? I mean, I can morph them to be a tighter fit, I guess."
"No need! I just wanted to make sure I didn't 'blow your socks off'." Amethyst snorted, to which Peridot rose a brow. "I actually haven't started yet."
"Sorry, sorry, just… the way you said it. You're funny, it's good! Now do your joke already, Hairy-Peri."
"...Hairy-Peri?" Peridot repeated, unsure if she should be offended.
"Y'know. Because of your huuuuge hair." Amethyst put her hands above her head and outlined Peridot's hair above it to emphasize her point, and Peridot fought her mortification.
"I-it's not that big!"
"Hey, it works for you. Part of the Peri charisma."
"...H-hmph," she muttered, holding back a smile. "As long as that's acknowledged. Now I present to you, Peridot's joke. Ahem," she started again. "I miss my…" She peered at the page in confusion. "Umbilical cord? I grew attached to it. Huh." She stared at it a moment longer,before remembering Amethyst was there. "I-I mean… H-ha! Comedy!"
"...Er… Ha ha?"
Her shoulders slouched. "Don't patronize me, I don't get it either. What even is an umbilical cord?"
"I have no idea, dude."
"Hmph. Us getting it or not, giving me a li-ing too hard laugh is just uncalled for."
"A what?" she asked.
"Li-ing too hard. That's what I call my laughs for Pearl whenever she does an overeager joke ever since she tried joking about your lion form."
Amethyst let out a loud snort. "S-see! That's funny!"
"It is? I mean, of course it is! ...Why?"
"Cause it's you. 100% Peridot. And that's what all your jokes gotta have. You. You gotta say em with confidence, because you are funny and fun and you know it." Peridot's cheeks tinted green. "So say these jokes like you said that one."
"...You still want to hear jokes from my book?"
"Do you still want me to?"
"Then heck yeah I do! I'm here for my Peri fill. I'm not going anywhere."
Peridot smiled. "Well… if you insist…"
...But she did go somewhere. She growled and pushed herself off the hay. "Fine! Forget jokes! I know something that never fails!" She went up the stairs with a determined energy, skipping a step or two with her enthusiasm and most assuredly not almost tripping or anything. She jumped up and slid across the floor on her knees, sweeping up the case of the seminal work of art Camp Pining Hearts.
"Pierre and Percy never let me down! Maybe I can't have fun by myself, but with them, I'll be just fine!" How lucky she was that Steven introduced her to this masterpiece-
Steven beamed at her while he held a box with the most inane covering in his hands. That grin inspired a strange mixture of feelings in her. Typically, it meant something new and excitement and… and affection.
Peridot shook her head to free herself of more memories. "Nooo." She could watch this without remembering who introduced her to it. It was easy to forget Steven! It's not like he was a dear friend who offered unwavering support and brightness to her life, someone she
Could never say no to it either. The thought of making it drop left a sinking feeling in her chest-
"Stop it," she moaned in frustration to herself, "I'm not listening-"
"Why do you even want me to watch this?"
"Cause you need a hobby! And I love this show, and you know what makes anything you love better?" This was a trap, she knew that by now. She'd ask what, and then his smile would get bigger or softer and he'd say something with this force, this wave of calm and security and belonging, and she'd gape like a clod and do whatever he wanted her to do. And yet,
There it was. The twinkle in his eyes, the fondness in his voice. "Experiencing it with someone you care about."
She knew it. Bam. She was finished. In came the wave of gratitude and awe and 'wow, thanks'. She looked away.
"F-fine. If it matters so much to you."
"No no no no no!" Peridot shouted, standing up in a fervor and launching into a pace back and forth, angrily stomping about. "I am a Peridot! I'm used to solitude! I would work by myself or travel alone in a ship for months! I'm not going to fall apart in a day! Why-" Her foot touched the Camp Pining Hearts case and immediately, she recoiled and dropped to her knees. "Are you okay!?" The cover was a work of art! Such evocative design had to be protected! She looked it over for any damage. Her eyes fell onto the bottom, and silence enveloped her. She traced the writing with a finger.
"For Peridot… I really hope you like it. Left arrow three… Steven." She smiled softly rereading it. He gave this to her without a moment's hesitation. He'd be fine with her watching it, of course, she'd watched it without him before. Yet-
As she clenched the 'gift', no other words came to mind but this. "...Wow, thanks."
Steven grinned. "Anything for a fellow fan, Peridot! I'm glad you're enjoying it. Even if maaaaybe I don't need all the recaps…"
"Of course you do. My analysis will enrichen your experience by pointing out subtextual details."
"Haha, right. Uh… you know you don't have to say the wow, right? In wow, thanks? Not that you can't! Just sometimes, it can be just 'thanks'. Most of the time, most people just say that, because it's faster, you know?"
No, that couldn't be right. The thanks alone was not sufficient. It expressed gratitude. The wow was… awe. Awe of… 'you saw fit to give this to me. You gave it to me.' Awe of the fact that he hadn't given up on her yet, that when he was an enemy in her base he came up to her with a smile, and did the same when she was an enemy in his. Awe that he was here, with her, for reasons she was still trying to understand. Thanks was… thanks was not enough.
"...The wow is fitting," she says simply instead, face turned away. And yet his smile seemed to indicate he understood what she meant anyway.
"Got it, Peridot."
...She didn't feel much in the mood for watching it today. "Another time, Percy and Pierre," she sighed as she put the show away. She stood up. Walked down the stairs. Walked across the barn. Went outside. And then plopped onto the ground, looking up into the stars. They, at least, were still here, a rare constant. They still dazzled and gleamed, and yet all they were doing now was reminding Peridot of friends dressed up in stars.
This was usually when Garnet would show up for a talk, and a part of her still expected it. A larger part was hoping for it. But there was nothing. No one. Not even the background noise of Pearl making little adjustments in the night, or Amethyst playing a late joke. No Steven as he tossed and turned, and no Garnet checking the area. It was just her as
She stared up into the stars. A weight was bearing into her, but not from the vastness of above, but from the ground beneath her. She was used to the stars. To the earth, to the foundation it gave, not so much.
Garnet walked up to her, as she often did. Peridot stopped being surprised by that by now, and neither was she surprised when Garnet sat down next to her.
"Are you alright?" she asked, and Peridot scoffed.
"Of course. Why?"
"You've just seemed… subdued."
"Please. I've never been that in my life."
"Besides the times when we've subdued you?" teased Garnet.
"Oh, ha ha. Very funny."
"...You can talk to us, you know," her voice soft and serious. "That's part of being a team."
"That's the problem," she hissed. "This… team, this planet, this.. everything! I just got all of it! And.. and it might all go away because of me."
"Peridot. It wouldn't be because of you." She placed a hand on her shoulder. "It'd be in spite of you."
"Wow, thanks," came the dry reply.
"We'd be dead without you. We may still die with you. But if we fail, we fail having gotten a new friend and a fighting chance. And I will always be grateful to you for that."
She stared at Garnet. "...I… I just… the earthquakes are getting more frequent. The moment when we have to deal with the Cluster is imminent, and I don't… I don't know if I'm ready. I want more time."
"...Nothing lasts forever. All things end. Even when we stop the Cluster, with our lives, something else may take our friends away."
"Then what's the point?" came the desperate question.
"The time we do have," was the gentle reply. "Hold onto them while you can, treasure these moments, and remember that every one spent with them makes the end worth it. Don't run away because you might lose someone. Run to them."
"...I see. Garnet?"
"Would you like to watch the stars with me?"
She smiled. "I'd love to."
The answer, it seemed, was clear. Go see them. Have them visit. All very simple. But she was planning to do that anyway. Missing them couldn't be just what it was. It was… more than that. They had ruined her. She'd gone from not even noticing the quiet of hard work at a computer or the solitary sterility of a ship to missing the pitter patter of steps that weren't her own, of voices on the tip of her earshot, of knowing someone else was just… there with her. She'd gone from three roommates to none, and had arrived at a disheartening conclusion.
She didn't like it.
But what could be done? She could move in with them, but she meant it when she said the barn was her domain. It was comfortable, familiar, hers. And she couldn't just ask them to move back in here, that'd be 'selfish'. Not to mention pathetic. As if this was any more of a proud moment. She sighed. There was nothing else to do but adapt, she supposed. Endure. She'd get used to it again. She had to-
"I… I wanna… it…" Peridot sat up. That voice… Lazuli? Wasn't she gone? Apparently not.
"Yeah?" And Steven! Excellent! Here was an excellent opportunity to get some social interaction with an old friend, and to make a new one! But… why was Lazuli here? Her mind went into overdrive, analyzing the situation. She probably needed a place to stay. Things were too tense with the Crystal Gems for her to stay at their temple, even Peridot could see that. So if she played her cards right… she could have someone here again. Companionship, company, perhaps even… a friend? Yes, yes! And all she had to do was go over and say hello.
"Like here here?"
Peridot stood up and began walking.
"Yeah, here here!"
Annnd drop a charming line… "Yes, 'hear hear' everybody. What are we talking about?"
What could possibly go wrong? She just knew. This was going to be the start of something great!