“Aw come on, dude, you were supposed to have my back!” Amethyst groaned, flopping to lie on her stomach as the game over screen flashed at them.
“No, you were supposed to have mine!” Steven complained, frowning at her. “That was the plan!”
Steven tossed his controller off to the side and fell back on his bed. “Okay, come on, let’s try again,” Amethyst said, nudging his foot. “We got this.”
“I dunno.” Steven yawned, looking at his alarm clock. “It’s almost midnight. Maybe we should—”
He paused when he heard the temple door opening, and they both sat up to stare at Pearl. She was tugging uncomfortably at her jacket, and didn’t notice them until she was halfway through the living room.
“Wha — Steven, it’s late, what are you doing awake?”
“We were playing a video game.”
“What are you doing?” Amethyst asked slyly, leaning forward and smirking. Pearl blushed.
“If you must know, I’m going for a walk.”
“Do I need a reason for everything I do?” Now she was getting defensive. “Steven, you should get to bed.”
“Uh, yeah, right,” Steven said, a little bewildered, as Pearl left.
“Man, that was weird,” Amethyst said, frowning. Steven shrugged.
“She’s right, though, it’s late. I’m going to—”
“You’re kidding, you’re just going to bed?” Amethyst asked in disbelief. “We’ve got a mystery to solve!”
“Huh?” Steven looked at her, confused. “What do you mean? She said she’s going for a walk.”
“And you believed her? Come on, she’s a terrible liar. She’s got something going on. Don’t you want to know what it is?”
“Uh…” Not really, but Steven has a feeling that isn’t the right answer. “Maybe she’s going out somewhere.”
“But where? Pearl doesn’t have a life.”
Steven couldn’t argue with that. “We’ll just follow her for a little bit,” Amethyst said, taking advantage of Steven’s silence. “If it’s boring, we’ll come home.”
“Hmmmm.” Steven thought about it for a moment. “Okay. Let’s go.”
He grabbed his jacket, and they hurried out of the house. Pearl hadn’t gotten far; she was heading out of Beach City. “She knows places out of town?” Amethyst whispered as they followed at a safe distance.
“We went to Empire City that one time,” Steven said. “You don’t think she’s walking to Empire City, do you?”
After half an hour, it was starting to feel like Pearl planned on doing exactly that. Steven’s feet were beginning to hurt, and not groaning out loud was becoming difficult.
“Is she walking to another state?” Amethyst complained. She had been expecting a bit more action than this.
“Maybe she really is just going for a walk. We should go home…” Steven’s voice drifted off as he realized they were approaching a building. A club. The club Sadie Killer and the Suspects had done their first show. Surely Pearl wouldn’t be going there. Why would she be?
She turned right into the parking lot, and Amethyst grabbed Steven, hurriedly dragging him forward. They paused at the edge of the parking lot, hiding behind a light pole, and—
“Is that mystery girl?” Steven’s whisper was high-pitched, his eyes wide. Amethyst clasped a hand over his mouth, her own mouth hanging open. The pink-haired woman was leaning against her motorcycle, playing on her phone. She looked up and smiled when she saw Pearl approaching.
“Oh. My. God.” Amethyst breathed out each word in a stilted way. “Steven, stay here.”
Amethyst answered the unasked question by shape-shifting into an owl and taking to the sky. Steven stays behind the pole, watching as Pearl and Mystery Girl talk. They seem so… friendly. Like they were familiar with each other.
Amethyst stuck to the shadows — Pearl would recognize her immediately — and landed on the roof, listening until the two turned and made their way inside. Steven ran forward as soon as the door closed.
“Well?” he demanded. Amethyst fluttered down, changing back, her eyes wide.
“Sheena. Her name is Sheena. It’s that same band they saw last time that Pearl really liked. The one with the electric cello. Of course Pearl would like an electric cello. Come on, let’s go.”
“Wha — wait, are we following Pearl on her date?”
“Heck yeah! Oh man, Pearl is on a date. Can you believe it?”
It wasn’t too crowded inside, unfortunately, which made hiding hard. Pearl and Mystery Girl were standing at a tall table, Mystery Girl nursing a drink as they continued chattering. Pearl pulled out her phone to show Mystery GIrl something, and she chuckled.
“Oh my god,” Amethyst whispered again as they took up at a table behind them, almost hiding under it. “They’re on a date and she’s enjoying it.”
“How long do you think she’s been doing this?” Steven whispered back. “Does Pearl have a girlfriend? Why is she hiding her from us? We need to make sure she’s good enough for her!”
“Shush!” Amethyst hissed, eyes locked on the women in front of them. They fell silent as the lights dimmed, and the curtain raised to show the band on stage. When asked later, Steven and Amethyst would have to admit they had no idea what music the band had even played. Pearl perked up and clapped animatedly when the show ended. She was enjoying this. She was having fun. She was voluntarily out of the house, meeting with a human, and having fun.
They slid under the table to hide and try to figure out what had just happened. “Pearl’s on a date,” Steven whispered.
“I know.” Amethyst put a hand to her head, bewildered. “What happened to her on Homeworld?”
They both jumped, whipping around to see the Mystery Girl leaning down to look under the table at them. “How long are you two going to spy on us?”
“Uh…” Amethyst coughed as Steven stared. And then Pearl appeared.
“Amethyst! Steven! What are you two doing here?”
“You know them?” Mystery Girl looked at Pearl, who sighed wearily.
“Yes.” She stepped back, pulling the other woman away so Amethyst and Steven could crawl out.
“Oh!” Mystery Girl’s eyes lit up with familiarity. “That’s your kid, isn’t it?”
“N-Not mine,” Pearl sputtered, blushing.
“Oh my god,” Amethyst deadpanned. “You talk about Steven on your dates?”
Steven certainly didn’t mind that. “I’m a great topic of conversation, thank you very much.”
“I talk about other — this isn’t a date!” Mystery Girl chuckled, clapping a hand on Pearl’s shoulder, and she blushed. “What are you two doing here?”
“Following you,” Amethyst said without shame.
“I can see that. Why?”
“We wanted to know where you were going. When did you get a life?”
Pearl was now blushing furiously as she turned away, shoulders hunched. “Well, you want to join us?” Mystery Girl asked. “They’ve got another set after the break.”
“Love to,” Amethyst said before Pearl could protest. “I’m Amethyst, by the way.”
“Sheena. Nice to meet you.”
Steven hopped up into the seat, noticing Pearl’s phone was still on the table, at just the right angle that he could see the screen, with a photo of him and Cat Steven napping on the couch. “So, you talk about me?” he asked curiously.
“Like a proud mama,” Sheena said with a chuckle. “She always has a new story.”
“You would,” Amethyst teased while Steven beamed. Pearl looked at the floor like she wished it would open up and swallow her. Steven tilted his head, watching her curiously. She’d looked a lot happier before they’d caught him and Amethyst.
The band came back out, and they all went quiet. Steven actually paid attention this time, and understood immediately why Pearl liked this music so much. It sounded like a mix of her own tastes and something his dad would like. After a moment his eyes drifted to Pearl. She had relaxed again, and was even leaning slightly to the side, her shoulder just brushing Sheena’s.
“Jeez, it’s almost two,” Sheena said when the show ended. “I’d offer you all a ride, but I don’t think my bike’s big enough.”
“That’s fine,” Pearl said with a small smile and laugh. “Walking is good. Besides, they walked here—” Her glared was mostly focused on Amethyst, “they can certainly make it back.”
Steven bit down a groan at the thought of walking back. “It was nice meeting you both,” Sheena said as they made their way outside.
“You too,” Steven said, grinning.
“Always good to know our girl is in good hands,” Amethyst added, ignoring the glower Pearl gave her. Sheena laughed, kissing Pearl’s cheek and immediately putting an end to the glower.
“I’ll see you.”
“Yeah.” Pearl’s voice hopped up an octave. “See you later.”
Amethyst at least had the decency to wait until Sheena and her bike had disappeared down the road to the let out a loud peel of delighted laughter. “Pearl! Oh my god!”
“You didn’t tell us you were dating Mystery Girl!” Steven added, stars in his eyes. Pearl grimaced, storing her phone back in her gem as she started down the street. They hurriedly followed.
“There was a reason for that.”
Steven remembered how relaxed she had been when she had been talking to Sheena, before they had been found. His voice was a little small as he said, “Are you mad at us?”
Pearl sighed, her shoulders falling. “No, I’m not mad. I just didn’t expect you guys to follow me.”
“I mean, can you blame us?” Amethyst asked. “You sneak out in the dead of night and won’t tell us where you’re going, and we’re supposed to just let you go? How long has this been going on?”
“I don’t know,” Pearl said, looking up at the stars. “A little while. I texted her a few days after we met and we… went out once or twice, but other things were happening, and I didn’t have time to meet her, but we kept talking. After we got back from Homeworld, I started seeing her more.”
Amethyst and Steven exchanged looks. No one had really talked about Homeworld since they had gotten back to Earth. “How come you didn’t tell us?” Steven finally asked, tilting his head.
“I… I don’t know.” Pearl’s shoulders dropped, and she sighed. “It was nice, keeping her separate from my… regular life. Everyone has expectations about me and about the way I should act — yes, even the two of you.” There’s no malice in her voice. She’s simply stating a fact. And they couldn’t deny it. They all had expectations of one another — a result of knowing each other for so long. A result of being a family. “Sheena doesn’t expect anything of me, though. I can be whoever I want with her. I don’t have to act a certain way or be a certain way. For the first time in my entire existence, there’s someone who doesn’t have some preconceived notion of what I’m supposed to be — a servant, a rebel, the one who cleans up everything, the one who’s supposed to know everything. I never realized how good that felt until she asked me about myself and I thought, ‘I can tell her whatever I want. She doesn’t have to know things about me if I don’t want her to.’ I can be someone else.”
Steven frowned, jogging to catch up with Pearl and taking her hand. She looked down, surprised. “I like who you are,” he started quietly. “But you’re allowed to be someone else, too. Even with us. I know you were kind of… forced back into a certain role while we were on Homeworld, but we all know who you are. And you’re always allowed to change.”
“Seriously,” Amethyst piped up. “You’ve already changed. Do you think you would have gone on a date with a human five years ago?”
“It wasn’t a date.” Pearl’s voice cracked slightly, and she blushed. Steven bit down a laugh.
“Sure, P.” Amethyst came up on her other side, patting her back. “Sure.”