“Can’t sleep either?”
Pearl jumps, startled, as she leaves her room. In the chaos swirling around her Gem in the past several hours since the house had settled into a sudden, relieved calm, she’d forgotten that Greg was spending the night.
“We don’t need sleep.”
She doesn’t turn to look at him as she walks past the couch where he’s sitting and proceeds to the stairs that lead to the loft. She ascends halfway—just enough to see Steven’s sleeping form in his bed—then stops, bowing her head.
“I keep doing it too,” Greg says, after a moment. “Glancin’ up there to make sure he’s still there. Counting his breaths. Like if I stop, he’ll disappear again.”
“I used to watch him sleep almost every night after he moved in here, until a little over a year ago. When he found out, he more or less told me that he didn’t want me to, so I stopped. But tonight, I…These past few days…” She pauses, and when she speaks again, it’s hardly louder than a whisper. “I thought I’d lost him.”
Greg blinks, then breathes a shaky breath. When his voice returns to him, he asks: “Wanna…sit with me for a sec?”
“No, no, you’re human, you need sleep, and I couldn’t possibly—”
“Pearl, I’m not sleeping tonight any more than you are. Honestly, I’m probably not gonna sleep for a while.”
“We’ll wake up Steven.”
“Nah, he was so exhausted, he’s out cold.”
She looks at him for a minute, then relents, slowly paces to the couch and sits down stiffly beside him.
“Do…do you know what happened to him out there?”
She slowly shakes her head. “Not precisely.”
“But you have some idea.”
“I know what they’re capable of.” A pause. “And I know what they would have wanted to do to him in particular…”
“Because of Rose?”
“Man…They really hate her, don’t they.”
Pearl takes a long breath, then nods again. “They…they don’t have a concept of children and parenthood; as far as they’re concerned, Steven is Rose Quartz.”
“Pearl...the reason why they hate her so much…does it…does it have something to do with Pink Diamond?”
“I—” Pearl begins, but stops herself, eyes wide, both hands flying to cover her mouth in apparent distress. It must be too painful to speak about, Greg thinks, because her hands remain over her mouth, and tears begin to prick at her eyes.
“Geeze, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you, I just…He’s my son. If something’s after him, even something I don’t understand, I gotta know!”
With what seems to be a great deal of effort, Pearl pries her left hand off of her mouth with her right. “I…can’t…talk about this.”
“I can’t, Greg. You should…ask Garnet.”
“Fine,” he sighs.
She expects him to bid her a good night then, to imply that if she can’t or—more likely from his perspective—won’t give him the answers he needs, there’s no point in the two of them having this conversation. This is Greg, and, though they’ve gotten along better since their heart-to-heart in Empire City several months ago, the idea of sitting in a raw silence with him remains strange, feels almost wrong after all this time.
“Are…are you okay?” he asks, instead of sending her away.
She looks up, surprised. “No,” she admits. “Not really.”
“Yeah. Me neither.”
“I…Obviously, somehow, he’s fine. He made it back to us. Alive. But I…I keep imagining what could’ve happened to him, and I…” She shakes her head, and when she speaks again, her voice cracks. “It would have been my fault.”
“What?! Pearl, that’s crazy!” And when she doesn’t respond, he continues. “Whatever some crazy Space Gems wanted to do him isn’t your fault!”
“There are things that you don’t understand, Greg.”
“I know! That’s the whole problem!” He throws his hands up in the air. “I’m just a human—and not even a very good human—trying to do right by my kid! Except he’s half magical alien, and somehow got roped into a five-thousand-year-old war that I know nothing about! And for the past year-and-a-half, I’ve seen it weigh on him more and more, and I try to be supportive, but I don’t know anything about what’s going on, and he won’t tell me, and no one else will answer any of my questions so that I can be there for my son!”
“And I know you all just see me as this…this thing, this useless, goofy, washed-up musician, who sorta just fell into your lives—”
“But I gave up living with my son when he was eight-years-old, because I thought it was best for him. And every year, especially the past few years, it feels like…I’m losing him more and more…Not just to Homeworld. But to…being a Gem. I don’t need to be his whole life, but I want to be part of it.” A pause, then a grounding, shaky sigh. “And if…if all that terrible stuff had happened to him out there, I wouldn’t have even been there for his last moments on Earth. I mean, I wasn’t even there when he sacrificed himself to Homeworld.”
Pearl blinks. “I…I’m sorry, Greg. I…I never considered what this, all of this, must be like for you.”
“Well,” he says, voice softening. “You and I never really talked until recently.”
“No, we didn’t,” she agrees.
They sit in a heavy silence for a moment, listening to Steven breathe in and out from the loft above them, before Pearl finally breaks it with a hesitation in her voice to continue.
“There are…certain things that I’m not able to talk about. Physically. Because of…how I was built. And even if I could…” She grips her left wrist firmly in her right hand, and manages to restrain it even as it attempts to jerk upward. “Rose…never wanted me discussing them. For so long that was more important to me more than anything else. Everything I did…everything I do…I do for her.” She closes her eyes. “And for a long time, that was okay. It felt right…but recently…” Another pause, and seems to change course. “Years ago, after Steven’s Gem glowed for the first time, when we tried to take him—”
“You mean when you took my baby for a joyride in the middle of a blizzard?”
“Well, yes…” Her cheeks flush blue.
“I’m just giving you a hard time.” Greg cracks a small smile. “Sorry. Go on.”
“Right. Well. Just before you found us, Garnet said that from then on, this wasn’t about Rose. That everything from that point forward had to be about Steven. And I...I don’t think I quite believed her. And yes, I suppose it meant giving up on trying to bring Rose back, but—”
“Was that something you were trying to do?!”
“Briefly.” Her tone is dismissive. “But to me, even after I gave that up, everything was about doing what she would have wanted. And I thought I could do that and be there for Steven. I thought they were the same thing. I never…I never thought I’d have to choose. But I think I do now.”
“What do you mean?”
“These...things…that Rose didn’t want me to speak about. If Steven had known them before, he may not have sacrificed himself to Homeworld at all. He needs—deserves—all the information. And so I think I…I might have to tell him. Choose Steven over Rose. I think I want to. From now on,” she says, as if trying to convince herself. “Everything has to be about Steven.”
“But…I thought you said you can’t talk about it.”
“I can’t. But I’ve…I’ve found ways to countermand my programming before, and it’s been painful, but, I’ll…I’ll devise a way to do it again. For him.”
“Can’t Garnet or Amethyst tell him?”
She shakes her head. “They don’t have the information either. It has to be me.”
Another silence. Steven lets out a small groan in his sleep.
“Pearl?” Greg says, after a moment.
“Why are you telling me all this?”
"I've always just thought of him as hers, but...you're Steven's father. You deserve to know.”
In several hours, when Steven wakes, stumbles down from the loft rubbing his eyes and claiming to be hungry, Pearl and Greg will both rise and walk to the kitchen to prepare him breakfast—Pearl by cracking eggs into an omelet, and Greg by reaching for cereal and milk. They’ll sit with him as he eats, both listen sympathetically as he talks about needing to tell various people what happened to Lars, and they'll encourage him together. And when Garnet and Amethyst emerge from the Temple, they'll join them and do likewise. The five of them will be every bit a picture-perfect family.
For now, though, Pearl and Greg sit quietly side-by-side on the couch and listen to their boy breathe, a constant reminder that he’s still alive.