In which I continue to write fic based on the meta I meant to write, instead of writing the meta itself.

Pearl settles into her place by the wall. She used to like moments like these, a bit of distance from her diamond and freedom to think to herself instead of watching for any errant move so she'd be ready for the next order, but she's had every thought she can here enough times that every interesting bump and edge has been smoothed away into nothing.

The door opens again. Pearl doesn't look up. After a moment, the other pearl has pranced up to her, flashing a smile before sliding into position, straight-backed, arms held stiffly behind her.

The other pearl is so young she still has sharpness to her thoughts - boredom, fear, relief. If Pearl were gone, she imagines the other pearl would bite her fingers to try not to cry.

At Pearl's side now, the other pearl goes on-pointe, chirps at her diamond. She coughs, then coughs again, louder, turning to Pearl with a mixture of concern and disapproval, like she's doing her a favor by keeping her from missing her cue. Blue Diamond doesn't care and Yellow Diamond wouldn't concern herself with another diamond's property, so it doesn't matter these centuries if Pearl is paying attention. But the other pearl thinks it matters. "Ah. Oh," she whispers, and the other pearl looks at her like, "What would you do without me?" and Pearl almost smiles, because she knows how pleased the other pearl must be with herself, and they begin to sing.

Pearl doesn't know, exactly, how this ends. She doesn't know if it goes long enough that the other pearl's vigilance slips or if they all keep it right until the end. It would be cruel to say anything. She's almost certain the other pearl doesn't know.

Pearl imagines the next time she'll see the other pearl, or maybe it'll be five times from now, or ten. She doesn't keep track of numbers. In her mind, she pictures the other pearl across the room, hair swept up in imitation of Yellow Diamond's, too timid to stand next to her yet. Maybe the other pearl will mouth words from across the room, or maybe just stare at her too scared to do anything. It can go a few different ways, in the fine details, but the fine details never matter. The other pearl will start to sidle closer, either then or the next time they see each other. No matter how scared she is, wanting to be near another pearl will outweigh it.

"What's yours like?" the other pearl will ask first. It's always the first thing she asks.

Pearl will tell her, "She doesn't pay much attention," again. It would be nice for Pearl to get to say something different, but it's the best thing for the other pearl to hear. Reassuring that she doesn't need to be twice as afraid, or worry much about Pearl when they're apart again, but not emphasizing the difference between them any more than needed. No need to say, "My diamond doesn't care what I do. My diamond will barely notice if I walk around. My diamond wouldn't ever get rid of me even if I did anger her, because she can't get another pearl who remembers what happened." No need to say, "I don't have to be afraid at all with mine." It would be cruel. Pearl's voice will be soft, a whisper under a whisper, and there will be no sadness in it, and she will listen to the other pearl responding with, "Really?" again and she will say, "What's yours like?" again and the other pearl will tell her again.

The other pearl suddenly shoots up onto tiptoe again, but facing her, arms raised and face a parody of aggression, and Pearl repeats the last snatch of Yellow Diamond's words in her head - an agate. Yellow Diamond isn't watching to mind a pearl taking this less than seriously for an instant, busy haranguing Blue Diamond instead. Pearl puts up her hands in resigned surrender at the pantomime, then twirls and falls into the other pearl's arms like she's fainting in fear.

Her diamond cries because she never thought anyone could be taken from her, and now the loss stays as sharp as a crack in the gem. But if you think about it before, if you walk through what's going to happen over and over and over, you can wear all your feelings away, until when it does happen you don't feel anything at all, until you're calm as a river flowing. And your face is worn blank when you see the other standing there timid and brand-new, and when she comes close and whispers, your voice doesn't hesitate or catch when you say, "She doesn't pay much attention," again.

Yellow Diamond reaches down, and the other pearl plasters a manic smile on and hops onto the hand. Pearl climbs on after, because, regardless of the situation, wanting to be near another pearl will outweigh it. The other pearl sings along, acting her heart out, and Pearl goes through the motions with her. Then they're set back down on the balcony, and the other pearl twirls in relief. Her side of the song doesn't falter.

Yellow Diamond's does. The other pearl cowers, hands clutched in front of her, and Pearl pulls her own hands together, so that if a diamond glances over without really looking, she might just see two pearls standing together in the same pose, like pearls do. Yellow Diamond is usually really looking, though, and the horror on the other pearl's face is not hard to see. If she turns her head, if she opens her eyes... Pearl doesn't look at the other pearl but she can hear her biting her lip, breathing in tiny spasms through her nose, song forgotten, trying to fill her chest with enough to say everything she'd need to if Yellow Diamond turns to her and knowing there is not enough air in all the worlds for it.

Pearl wonders at what might happen with faint interest, but the song fades away quietly, and, crisis averted, the other pearl straightens and lets her hands fall to her sides. Yellow Diamond continues to not cry, as she has every other time Pearl has seen her.

Maybe it'd make her diamond feel better if Pearl cried, but Pearl had stopped caring about what would make her diamond feel better long before Blue Diamond had ever shed a tear.

Pearl and the other pearl settle into standing position above the diamonds, the other pearl's hands behind her back again. The other pearl is still so young she does care. The other pearl is always still so young she does care. She pictures the other pearl trotting in at Yellow Diamond's heels flush with devotion, looking at Pearl for the first time like always, asking questions for the first time like always, and walks through the motions of what she will say and do again. And again.

It doesn't even hurt at all.