No permanent losses on their side, only about a dozen recovering in their gems, and Homeworld driven to a messy retreat. A good day, all in all, by Pearl’s reckoning.
True, she got taken out of the fight earlier than planned thanks to Emerald’s failure to close ranks and hold off the hastily put-together assault on their weakened left flank – a very obvious attempt to reach Rose Quartz herself, and something Pearl quickly put a stop to, one way or another.
Things are well over by the time she regenerates, her hurry notwithstanding, and so she remains lying down among the others in the unofficially designated recovery section of the camp, playing out the events of the day in her mind, mulling over every slight mistake and possible alternative. She couldn’t have known Homeworld’s new agates had added reach thanks to extra links in the chains of their flails, true. But her footwork could have been much, much better, even in the very close quarters they ended up forced into, and-
Warm hands press against the flat of her belly, and pull her back. The years have taught her to be wary and constantly vigilant: whatever she was once meant for, instincts that guarantee survival (perhaps, if they’re lucky, sometimes) develop in this whirlwind of constant peril, ambushes and skirmishes. Rose Quartz is the only being in this universe whom she allows at her back, consciously or no. Rose, in turn, is well aware, and indulges in the trust as often as she can, basking in the loud absence of a start or a flinch, cradling Pearl from behind and enveloping her in the closest thing to safety this sad, troublesome, wonderful planet can offer them.
It feels… special, and rather new, to know that while Rose, so obviously powerful – amazing, unstoppable, incomparable Rose – could easily break her and destroy her in an instant, she would never, ever deliberately hurt her. It is strange and wonderful, as well, to be able to be so very sure of something.
Pearl snaps out of the cloyingly sweet haze filling her mind and turning her limbs to useless jelly, slightly embarrassed to notice that Rose is speaking, and has obviously been for a while now. She catches the tail end of a murmured statement, and repeats a tentative, questioning “After?”
“Yes. This will be over one day – sooner rather than later, I hope. I can’t wait! I wonder what we will do then?”
It sounds so certain and set in stone when Rose says it, and Pearl can almost see the war ending, the retreating backs of Homeworld soldiers and the green-blue afterlight of departing ships bursting out of Earth’s atmosphere. She runs her fingers up and down the arms that encircle her, tracing increasingly intricate patterns as thoughts multiply in her mind, insistent and unstoppable. Thoughts of Rose and her, her and Rose, and possibly- sometimes- nobody, nobody but them.
“Oh, it will be lovely,” Pearl clamps down on an almost-outburst of Of course it will be lovely, you’re lovely, and focuses instead of listening to Rose’s vision of their tentatively shared future. “And then, once things have calmed down and settled somewhat, I won’t have to handle so much of the day-to-day affairs myself. A bit of clever delegation and we can take a little trip, perhaps. Get away for a bit, and see just what other wonderful sights Earth has to show us.”
Rose sounds happy, optimistic, her heart apparently lighter than it’s seemed in months- this is what Pearl wants to focus on, latch onto, and treasure. But she is distracted. “Just…” she starts, almost not daring to believe, half-convinced her thoughts have just turned very loud and drowned out what Rose is actually saying and none of it is real, “just the two of us?”
She can feel the chuckle deep in Rose’s chest pressed against her back, and hear it in the warm murmur right next to her temple. “Just the two of us. You know there’s no one else I’d rather have at my side.”
Gentle hands ruffle and smooth her hair, and Pearl feels like she might just float off the ground given half a chance, so she snuggles further back into the hold. The bubbly warmth churning in her insides emboldens her enough for her to start voicing a wish of her own. “I would, perhaps-”
She hesitates a bit too long, because Rose quietly prompts her to continue. “Yes?”
“I was thinking… I’d like to go to the sea.” A new sea, filled with strange creatures and odd tidal phenomena, and one that has never seen lines upon lines of saltwater farms and eerily identical production facilities. One which won’t make her endlessly wonder and desperately want to know just where in the well-documented and highly streamlined pearl manufacturing process the mistake actually happened.
The memories are still so sharp and vivid, Pearl can almost feel the cold spray seep into her clothing and inch underneath her skin. She almost wishes she had something physical to recoil from as she draws further into herself, and further into Rose. Rose- Rose is always warm and patient and welcoming to her, for her. Pearl decides for the thousandth time that yes, she likes this touch, and never, ever wants to be without it again.
Rose hums in agreement after a brief while, and Pearl likes to think she understands. “We can do that. You have to promise me something, though.”
Pearl feels a catch in her throat and a nervous chill start its way down her spine. There was a but, of course there was, of course there was. A condition, a price for everything, because, really, she didn’t deserve any of it in the first place, it was not for her, and she’d better make it worthwhile for Rose, and for everyone else, and-
“Don’t throw it all away.”
Pearl pauses, her thoughts pause, her breathing pauses. What?
“You may think I’m selfish, to demand things of you like this. And I am, I hate it, but…” There are fingers tracing Pearl’s newly reformed and entirely whole collarbone and chest, as if looking for some kind of reassurance, and Rose expels a sad little laugh, “who will I take to watch the waves with me, otherwise?”
Both of them are silent, for a while, and Pearl allows her hands to slowly uncurl from the tight, shaking fists they were clenched into. Rose presses a gentle, barely-there kiss to her temple and starts speaking again - more calmly now, but with an edge still very much present.
“Please promise me, Pearl. Please. I can’t bear to watch you get hurt like this again. If you can’t for yourself - oh, I do so wish you would, I wish you could see your own beautiful, brilliant worth- but I understand, or at least I think I can begin to. So if that’s too hard right now, then please, for me? Stay alive, for me? For us?”
Somewhere along the line Pearl’s gotten turned around in the embrace – whether by her doing or Rose’s is perfectly unclear – so they’re face to face now. There are tears in Rose’s eyes even though there’s nobody around to heal, and Pearl realises her own cheeks are damp as well. Rose’s gaze is on her face, searching and expectant, and Pearl forces out a weak, stammered reply. “I can- I can try.”
“That’s all I ask. Just – try trusting me to take care of myself, Pearl, and try thinking of yourself, for once. You do deserve it, whether you believe me or not.” The tone is soft and saddened in a way that makes Pearl want to rage at herself, and she looks away, frowning.
Rose draws them even closer to each other in response, and Pearl relaxes enough to allow herself to start breathing again. She focuses on the way one of Rose’s hands is pressed against the small of her back, moving in soothing almost-circles, while the other tilts her chin upwards with little more than the suggestion of a touch and perhaps a barely audible whisper of my Pearl. The next thing she feels is the softest of kisses pressed to the gem on her forehead, and an equally gentle but more lingering one on her lips.
“I love you.”
It’s quiet, but real.
Pearl sees the end of the next battle.