“Should we be worried about you two, or what?” Amethyst said, crossing her arms as Ruby carried supplies back and forth for Peri and Pearl. The tiny red gem muttered angrily as she went, mumbling to herself under her breath. Her attempts at being subtle were amusing, but she was far from it. “Because you keep saying it’s not a fight, but for real. This is the longest I’ve seen you two apart willingly.”
Ruby dropped her supplies and looked over her shoulder with a glare. She split up her sentence, punctuating each word with a stomp of her foot. “We. Are. Not. Fighting!”
“Okay, okay,” Amethyst said, holding her hands up. They were so fighting. But she sure as heck wasn’t going to say that to the angry little gem. So Amethyst lied instead. “I believe you. I do! But that still doesn’t explain why you’re here and Sapphire isn’t.”
“She went into town with Sky because she thought it’d be good for her to see humans,” Ruby said. She kicked a loose part over and huffed. Ruby tugged on the edge of her hair, pouting. “She’s not. She’s not wrong, but still. We didn’t have to split up for that.”
“Peridot and I needed your help with the drill today. Production can’t halt because we’re babysitting a homeworld gem,” Pearl said, walking by with her own hands full of loose parts. She eased herself into the conversation with all the grace she could muster from years of meddling. Amethyst was still impressed at how easy she made it looks. Pearl shifted her grip on the supplies and smiled brightly. “This keeps Sky out of the way, and keeps us from being a hand short.”
“I know,” Ruby said, probably also lying if Amethyst had to guess. Self denial counted as lying, right? Ruby curled her lip, glaring at the ground. “I get it! I just. I don’t like it.”
“Things will be fine, Ruby.” Pearl put her stuff down and looked over her shoulder. Peri was waist deep into the side of the drill, working hard with the tools at her side. Pearl crossed her arms. “It looks like the heavy lifting is done. Why don’t you get your mind off things, and go find Steven and Connie? They’re sparring, and I’m sure they’d appreciate your input as our resident warrior other than myself.”
“Yeah, Red,” Amethyst said. She slapped the smaller gem on the shoulder and gave her a thumbs up. “It sounds like a distraction is just what you need!”
“Yeah, maybe,” Ruby said. She rubbed the back of her hair and knocked the dust off her hands. “I’ll go do that. Been a while since I got to practice knocking heads around on my own, anyway.”
“Make sure to hold back!” Pearl shouted, as if she’d had sudden second thoughts.
“Yeah, yeah!” Ruby said, holding her hand up in a wave.
Amethyst watched Ruby disappear over the hill to the back of the barn where Steven and Connie were training. Pearl watched her go, a mother hen look of worry falling over her face. She bit the edge of her finger and Amethyst could already see the internal debate of whether or not she should run after them. Amethyst peered over her shoulder to make sure Peri was still distracted herself.
She took a step closer to Pearl and put her hands behind her head, feigning calm. “You think those two are going to be okay?”
“Long run?” Pearl said, already knowing which “two” Amethyst was talking about. Pearl tipped her head up, tapping the side of her chin. “Of course. Sapphire and Ruby are far too close to let something like this get between them.”
“Short term?” Amethyst said, picking up on the unspoken “but” that Pearl had left out.
“The next couple of weeks are going to be a storm and I’m not looking forward to being in the middle of it,” Pearl said. She rubbed her temple and glanced toward the back of the barn. “I had told Garnet that I wasn’t worried because Steven would be a good influence on Sky, but that was before we had the complication of Sapphire and Ruby bickering.”
“They’re not fighting, you know,” Amethyst said, holding in the smirk as she quoted the fiery red gem.
“Not yet,” Pearl said.
Amethyst flinched from the forewarning in that simple statement.
Pearl went back to work with Peri, somehow managing to be civil as they participated in the shared chore. Amethyst took a seat next to the pile of junk and started to sort the various extra parts into their respective groupings.
She only hoped that things were going better in town.
Sapphire nodded politely as they passed the residents of town, accepting the odd looks, but happy that enough weird things went on that no one really questioned two new blue-skinned guests. There was one blond boy with a camera who seemed to want to capture Sky on film, but Sapphire vaguely remembered he wasn’t too much of an issue.
Mostly, Sapphire enjoyed walking along the Beach like she belonged. She tilted her head back, pushing her hair out of the way as she looked at the sun. The weather was beautiful, the breeze was light, and it was days like this that Sapphire could see how easily Rose Quartz fell in love with this planet oh so long ago.
“So this settlement is called ‘Beach City’, yes?” Sky asked, speaking first to break the silence, but comfortable, walk. Sapphire inwardly praised her progress at opening up and learning to talk for herself. “And this is the boardwalk?”
“That’s right,” Sapphire said. She lifted her skirt to step over a crab that had wandered up on the beach. “This is a heavy tourist center for the city. Humans like to visit the beach for recreation.”
“How delightful,” Sky said.
She looked genuinely engaged by the scenery and people around her, taking in all the sights while maintaining an air of dignity. Sky did the Blue Court proud. Sapphire frowned to herself, touching her cheek. The Blue Court wasn’t exactly something she should be praising, even if there were things about it she missed.
Sapphire closed her eye, thinking of Ruby and her energetic smile. The way she lit up when she was happy. The way Sapphire got to see it because they weren’t back on that planet. Sapphire smiled to herself, feeling warm. Rose Quartz. Pearl and Amethyst. Steven. Connie. And even now, Peridot.
Anything she missed back on Homeworld, it wasn’t worth giving up what she had now.
“Would you like to go into the city proper, or shall we keep walking the boardwalk?” Sapphire asked, as much to distract herself as to give Sky a better picture. Apart from Ruby, she’d let her thoughts wander far too much. Sapphire stopped by the fry shop and waved her hand down a street. “There’ll be less tourists, and more permanent residents the further into the city we go.”
“Is there any place you enjoy most in the city?” Sky asked. She rubbed the gem on the back of her hand, her thumb moving in a nervous circle. “We could go there.”
“I’m asking what you’d like to do, Sky,” Sapphire said, chuckling into her hand. Sky bit the edge of her lip. Poor thing must be so confused at Sapphire’s behavior. “We have plenty of time, so if you’d like to stay on the beach, we can. Or if you’d like to see more of the city, we can do that, too. It’s your choice.”
“I’m not sure,” Sky said. As they passed the next alley, Sky looked down the street and her head perked up. She took a few steps toward it, holding her head to the side as she listened. “I hear something.”
“I hear it, too.” Sapphire followed her gaze and concentrated. A few strummed chords later, and Sapphire grinned, knowing that particular sound very well. “Why don’t we go see what it is? I have a feeling you’ll like it.”
Sky smiled, holding her hands up. The music continued to drift around them, barely audible through the wind and the busy boardwalk. Sky nodded toward the source of the sound. “Do you know the cause?”
“I do,” Sapphire said. She reached out and took Sky’s hand, tugging her lightly. “But I want to keep it as a surprise. Come on.”
“Yes!” Sky said, blushing as she stared at their linked hands.
Sapphire put any thoughts that accompanied that aside as she pulled Sky along, heading to a very familiar destination.
“You seem distracted, Ruby,” Steven said. He put his shield away, and Connie put down her sword. He trotted over to Ruby’s side and put a hand on her shoulder. “Are you okay?”
“Sorry, Steven,” Ruby said. She looked toward the fence again and growled to herself before almost literally burning out and sitting down. She crossed her legs on the ground and put her hands on her knees. “I’m trying to figure out if Sapphire and Sky should be back by now or not, or if I’m just too impatient to see them again.”
“A little of both, I think,” Steven said. He squat next to Ruby and rubbed the back of his neck. “On the one hand, they’ve only been gone about an hour, which isn’t all that long for a tour of town if you’re stopping places and talking to people.”
“Yeah,” Ruby said, fidgeting. Connie sat next to Steven, patting his back in support. He appreciated that more than he could say. Ruby crossed her arms, pouting. “And the other half?”
“Well, I would be a little upset my friends didn’t give me an idea of how long they’d be gone if they knew I was waiting,” Steven said.
He wasn’t completely sure what was going on between Ruby and Sapphire, alleged fighting or not, but it was odd to see them apart for so long. Even his dad had said they were always together if they could help it. Heck, even when they they were unfused before at the hotel they stayed next to each other the whole time. This had to be hard on the both of them.
Steven crossed his arms on his knees. “Sapphire should have told you how long she was going to be away.”
“Right!” Ruby said, holding a fist up. The energetic gem did a few practice punches in the air before grinning wide. “That’s exactly right! I don’t have her future vision, so I have no idea when she’s going to be back. Thanks Steven! I’m going to let her know that!”
“That should help for next time,” Connie added, quite helpfully. She clapped her hands together, nodding. “Waiting for someone isn’t nearly as bad when you know how long they’ll be gone.”
“Next time?” Ruby said, freezing in place. “What do you mean by next time?”
“Uh, in case this happens again?” Connie put her hands in her lap. “I mean. It’s bound to, right?”
“Excuse me for a second,” Ruby said. She stood up and walked stiffly out of view.
Steven and Connie both flinched at the sudden sound of yelling and something breaking just around the corner. At the sign of flames, they both wisely retreated to get Pearl.
“Hello, Greg,” Sapphire said, stopping next to the man. He jerked up, slamming his hand on the strings of his guitar to stop the sound before calming. Sapphire patted the top of the instrument, glad to see it in good shape. “It’s good to see you have a chance to play with all that’s going on.”
“Yeah, well, as much as I love helping you guys, I gotta work the car wash too,” Greg said, throwing his thumb over his shoulder. He put his guitar next to his chair and frowned. “Not that I’ve had many customers.”
“I’m sure more will come,” Sapphire said. “And you have time to practice while you wait.”
“A little too much,” Greg said, mumbling under his breath. He brightened, sitting straighter as he noticed sky. “And who’s this little lady? I don’t think I’ve met you yet.”
“This is Sky Pearl,” Sapphire said when Sky made no move to introduce herself. She pushed Sky forward on the back until she was closer to Greg and could take his hand to shake it. “She’s come to live with us from Homeworld. I’m showing her around to get a better picture of human life.”
“Well it’s nice to meet you, Sky. I’m Greg Universe, Steven’s father,” Greg said, shaking her hand up and down. Sapphire appreciated his willingness to accept Sky without question. But then again, after his first meeting with Peridot, this was easy going. “Always nice to see a new face.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Sky said. She took her hand back and tilted her head. “Father?”
“You can get the crash course on that title later,” Greg said, laughing. “But the short version is I’m a member of his family unit.”
Sapphire smiled, amused Greg remembered the proper word for it.
“I see,” Sky said. She curtseyed at the waist, fluffing out her skirt when she straightened up. “Then it is doubly nice to meet you. Steven is a very pleasant young boy.”
“Thank you! I’m pretty proud of him myself,” Greg said. He looked around and crossed his arms. Sapphire already knew who he was looking for before he even asked. “Where’s Ruby? She hanging around causing trouble somewhere close by?”
Sapphire smiled brightly, happy that for once someone didn’t assume that they were fighting.
“Ruby’s helping with the drill while I escort Sky around town,” Sapphire said. “There isn’t much for Sky to do while Steven and Connie train, and while Pearl, Peri and Ruby work on the drill.”
“Ah, so you’re escaping the work,” Greg said, slapping his knee. “I get you.”
“Only technically,” Sapphire said. “Truthfully though, it is good for Sky to learn her way around town and this keeps us both out from under foot.”
Sky held up a hand and Sapphire nodded at her to speak. One step forward, and two steps back. Sky pointed at the guitar. “May I ask what you were doing earlier when we arrived? Was that an example of earth music?”
“Uh, yeah!” Greg said. He picked up his guitar and slung it across his lap. His cheeks turned pink, and he flustered under the attention. “I’m a musician. I have an album out and everything.”
“Would you mind playing more for me?” Sky asked, holding her hands clasped together in front of her chest. “Music was always one of my favorite cultural activities on Homeworld. Mistress Sapphire has such a lovely singing voice, and seeing music shared on this planet is most wonderful!”
“You want to hear me sing?” Greg asked, almost stunned.
“Well, alright!” Greg laughed. He turned in his seat, pulling up one leg to support his guitar. He strummed a few times, before starting a quick melody on the strings. Sapphire smiled as brightly as Sky when he continued. “Here’s a little number I wrote when I was young. Rose loved it, so it’s gotta’ be a good Homeworld favorite!”
Sapphire took a seat on a box as Greg began to play his guitar in earnest, singing along. Sky’s rapt attention seemed to be a motivating factor, raising Greg’s volume and confidence. Sapphire closed her eyes and listened as Sky settled next to here.
Greg Universe gave them a private concert, and Sapphire couldn’t have imagined a better way to end Sky’s first day in town.
The only thing that would have made it better was if Ruby were there to hear it, too.