It is by far the happiest and most excited little gasp she’s ever heard a Gem make.
Rose finds herself hit with a strange mix of heady, bittersweet feelings as she watches Pearl all but fly across the short length of the cockpit and plant herself in the pilot’s seat. It feels remarkable, that such a small thing in her eyes could mean so much to another-
Her thoughts are derailed before they’ve even had a chance to properly form when she notices a sudden unpleasant change in the small craft’s atmosphere. Pearl is quickly drawing back, visibly retreating into herself, both hands clasped over her mouth as if to prevent any further audible outbursts. Rose tries very hard to understand what brought this on, why Pearl went from enthusiastically and efficiently buckling herself in and running through pre-flight checks to apparently doing her best to melt into the large cockpit chair and disappear. There is nothing she can pinpoint – nothing at all obvious to her happened between one blink and the next. “Is something the matter, Pearl?”
Pearl shakes her head feebly, words barely discernible through her still steepled fingers. “I- I couldn’t possibly-”
“Yes, you can,” Rose smiles, pouring as much encouragement as she can into a single kind, open expression. “I’ve seen your simulator scores – I know precisely what you can do. This is an exact match to the old analogue model you tested on during your transfer evaluation. I’m confident you can handle it, Pearl.”
“I’m- I- I’m not a… I’m not supposed to-” Pearl’s stammering fades into a barely audible mumble as her wide eyes jump near-frantically between Rose and the instruments before her. And really, it’s a small wonder Pearl believes such things of herself – what with Port Overseer Tourmaline kicking up a furious fuss mere hours earlier, over her designation and status and pearls are not pilots, we classify Gems for a reason- and decrying having her anywhere near the simulators at all.
“Well, I want you to give it a try anyway,” Rose states simply, hoping the very obvious permission - and excuse, almost - would be enough to provide the increasingly uncomfortable Gem before her with some semblance of renewed calm.
Pearl answers with a somewhat hesitant nod. Her hands hover nervously above the thruster controls, pale fingers dancing over and not-quite-touching all the buttons and levers and switches and panels in turn, in intricate patterns that Rose can barely follow. Pearl finally brushes the surface of the pre-ignition activation crystals, but then she flinches away as if she’s been burned and bows her head in defeat. “I’m sorry.”
Rose suppresses a sigh rather than have it misinterpreted as annoyance or anger, and tries for a different approach. “There’s nothing to be sorry for. I’d be nervous, too - you know, I’ve never flown one of these before, either.”
“Really?” Well, Pearl is meeting her gaze, at least – Rose counts it a triumph, and forges on.
“Really! Well, I know how to, in theory, but I always just have a pilot with me, so I’m a bit rusty when it comes to flying in general.” It’s only half a lie. “And this… How many engines does this thing even have?”
“Four heavy-duty carbon jets on each side,” Pearl pipes up immediately, all traces of earlier nervousness evaporated, and Rose can’t quite keep the triumphant grin off her face. “A bit of an old model, so it doesn’t do all that well when it comes to rapid acceleration. It can fairly easily achieve some rather impressive thrust, however, and it comes equipped with an excellent dynamic positioning system – quite possibly the best one currently available on the market! Well, in my opinion, at least.”
“Well, then,“ Rose puts on a more business-like tone and sits down, strapping herself into the only other seat in the rather cramped cockpit. “Take us out to Sector 24B and put us into a geosynchronous orbit. I want to see this system you hold in such high esteem at work.”
Pearl nods curtly, and it’s as if a switch has been flipped in her. Where not moments earlier she seemed ready to jump out of her own skin at the slightest provocation, now she moves with a fluidity born of utter confidence and determination, every part of her physical form knowing exactly where it needs to be to get the ship to respond the way she wants it to.
Rose barely has time to blink, and they’re already close to breaking through the atmosphere. There’s an exhilarating jump right before the inertial dampeners fully kick in, and a perfectly-timed grin springs up on Pearl’s face. It’s infectious, and in the midst of feeling her own smile widen Rose catches a part of herself she is increasingly coming to hate thinking Oh, Yellow Diamond would kill for a pilot like you-
The impressive Homeworld System starscape bursts over the pilot viewscreen, and Pearl makes a fascinating little sound in the back of her throat. The sight is one Rose has seen far too many times to count, and on enough occasions to have thought herself completely immune to it. But Pearl is right, it’s beautiful - Rose agrees with that and every other awestruck whisper Pearl is likely only half-aware her lips are forming.
Still, the new look on Pearl’s face, her demeanour of being both utterly lost and exactly where she belongs at the same time, makes whatever spectacular scenery the universe is offering up outside pale in comparison. Rose wonders, not for the first time, how this Gem managed to worm her way into her graces so quickly and so thoroughly.
They enter a steady orbit, and the automatic station-keeping takes over exactly as promised. Pearl takes her hands off the controls and starts breathing again. “I think…”
“Yes, my Pearl?” It takes Rose a moment to fully register exactly what it is she said, and she wants to curse her own mouth. She’d only just taken the poor Gem off of rather unkind hands, this is probably the very last thing she needs to hear-
But Pearl looks up, a thoughtful frown on her face, cheeks dusted lightly blue, and her fingers brush gently and almost contemplatively over the pink diamond newly emblazoned on the front of her suit. “I like it when you call me that.”
And just like that, Rose is struck speechless. It’s far, far from a state of being she’s familiar with, and she can count all previous instances on the fingers of one hand. Thankfully, Pearl is completely prepared to fill in any silence between them. “Oh, oh, look!” She bursts out excitedly, pointing out a constellation in the upper right corner of the viewscreen. “It’s the Andesine Spearhead - amazing! I’ve never managed to see the tip of it - the name actually makes sense now!”
“Hm,” Rose reluctantly tears her gaze away from the unabashed delight writ large all over Pearl’s face, ignores the nagging Rose, you fool, you are smitten that her own mind supplies, and points out another speckle-pattern of stars almost at random - a greenish-purple dotted swirl that happened to catch her eye. “And what about that one?”
“The R-27 cluster. According to recent probe data, it holds the record for highest number of ringed planets in the entire Homeworld System,” Pearl supplies eagerly, then allows her voice to soften, almost apologetic. “I’d like to go there some day- it’s… it’s not very far.”
Rose happily meets her slightly wistful, wishful smile, and allows herself a smirk in return. She leans over to Pearl’s pilot chair perch, and whispers to her conspiratorially. “Why don’t we go there right now?”
The delighted surprise and disbelief that spill over Pearl’s face are precious, as is her small gasp when she feels one of Rose’s curls brush against her arm. “You can’t be serious.”
Rose shrugs. “Why not? It just so happens I have a clear schedule for the next few rotations. And as far as I know, so do you.”
She wonders, for a moment, how Pearl will take that last remark. The intent is playful on her part, but it’s all very tender, very new ground for the both of them. “Of course, as you wish,” Pearl answers almost mechanically, enthusiasm starting to bleed back into formality, obedience, and restraint.
It’s the exact opposite of what Rose had in mind, and she moves to put a stop to the downward trajectory immediately. “No, Pearl, as you wish. We’ll only go if you want to. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to impose.”
Pearl blinks and for a moment looks at Rose as if she’s shapeshifted an extra two heads. Then, instead of an answer, she grasps the ship’s steering with both hands and breaks orbit with a highly precise turn towards what Rose now knows to be the R-27 cluster.
Rose sits back and smiles, eyes still firmly fixed on her travelling companion. The happy little hum Pearl is making in time with the engines seems to seep directly into Rose and under her skin, and she promises herself she will do everything in her considerable power to never give it cause to stop.