If you don't mind me asking, Pearl (cause it's kind of personal), what does it feel like knowing you've messed up? How bad does it feel? And does it compare to anything else in the past?
The question wasn’t one Pearl was prepared for.
Of course, that lack of preparation wasn’t for lack of having thought about it. Even with things relatively back to normal, guilt and self-loathing threatened to consume her at all times, especially when she was alone with her thoughts. Pearl’s memory was all too clear, too vivid at all the wrong times; she could name every particle documented on Earth, its Homeworld counterpart, and some combinations of atoms that humans ought to never discover. And yet there were great marks of human civilization, grand accomplishments she had been on Earth for, that completely escaped her notice. But every misstep was fresh in her mind as if it had been mere moments ago, from the disastrous aftermath of her impossibly stupid stunt repairing the Hub to every time she had ever stumbled while learning sword fighting from Rose Quartz before journeying to Earth to begin with. Failure was absolutely unacceptable on Homeworld, and Pearl—and the others like her—had essentially been hardwired to remember every mistake, big or small.
Talking about those feelings aloud, though, was an entirely different thing than wallowing in them in private. It was a perfectly fitted mask that allowed Pearl to smile and blithely sweep things under the rug for Steven’s sake, one where the beginnings of cracks were creeping in under the polished surface. But with the others out once again, this time on a mission that Garnet had specifically benched her from—the fusion had been kind enough to assure her that it had everything to do with the location and nature of the monster they were likely to face—there weren’t many tasks remaining at the temple to occupy herself with. Steven’s kitchen could only be so clean.
For a long while, Pearl stared at the screen, then licked her too-dry lips. The polite tone of the inquiry did make it harder to ignore, though, and she had promised herself that she wouldn’t just go around deleting questions. No matter how uncomfortable the subject matter was.
“I’m not perfect,” she started slowly, eyes downcast. It hurt to admit aloud, even alone. “I don’t think I can count the sheer number of mistakes I’ve made, not even since Rose… since Steven was born,“ she corrected herself, frowning so deeply that her cheeks hurt.
“I suppose regret must be the same for everyone. Even humans experience it. Their mistakes are so small, so microcosmic compared to what we Gems are capable of. Intergalactic war is so grand–imagine battles spanning multiple galaxies, in different planetary systems, with skirmishes on other worlds, on terrain Earth’s atmosphere can’t even sustain! And I… primarily, I fought on Earth, with Rose Quartz. But there were calls I made that lost both soldiers and battles. But…” Pearl heaved a sigh, twisting her long fingers into a guilty knot in her lap. “I think it’s… a completely different kind of mistake. Betraying a person you lov–”
Pearl caught herself at the last possible second, jaw snapping shut with the strength of a bear trap. Love was a word she generally tried to reserve for Rose or Steven. Not that it didn’t also apply to Garnet, or even Amethyst, trying though the purple Gem was. After thousands of years of companionship, it was hard not to love the both of them. It wasn’t the same, of course; Rose was her raison d'être, and Steven was her child in every sense that she thought was possible for a Gem to understand, but…
Then again, loving Garnet was a little different, too. But Ruby and Sapphire had long been dear to her heart. Even before the war, the pair’s willingness to see beyond her societal ranking had left an impact that was only second to Rose’s. That they had been the only other survivors of the war had intensified the feeling, the horrors Amethyst had been fortunate enough not to see for herself made her different–kept her at length, in a way. Garnet was different. Garnet was special.
Her throat was tight, and Pearl gulped for air, increasingly aware that she had been silent too long. But her mind swam with new questions that probed at feelings too raw to examine, about what she sought when she fused to become Sardonyx–and what fusing to become Rainbow Quartz had lacked by comparison. She scrunched her eyes shut, determined to finish answering. “Betraying someone you trust. It’s different. You hurt with them, and for them. And you have no one to blame but yourself. I don’t think it’s fair to compare the two, it–it cheapens both. Objectively, loss of life is worse, much worse, but I don’t think… I can’t even begin to describe how it felt, how she must’ve felt. And everything I did to make up for it made things worse.”
Sugilite’s raw power at the Hub had burned the air; left Pearl’s skin tingling with an electric buzz that lasted several hours after they had all returned to the temple. Garnet’s stony silence, her refusal to so little as look at her for days after, had spoken volumes about her catastrophic mistake–even if her stupid, defective mind had come to the wrong conclusion on how to fix it.
Pearl could feel tears in her eyes; a stinging that had become so familiar in recent weeks that it seemed strange to go a day without it. She pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes, fighting the urge to cry. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to make this right. And that’s worse. That’s worse than knowing there’s nothing you can do at all.”