She moves as quietly as she can.
There is moisture on her neck, drool most likely, or perhaps condensation from the warm, even breaths that press against her skin. But either way Pearl doesn't mind it. Normally she might, but the swell of affection, of love that fills her overpowers all else, and right now, in this moment, nothing but the weight of the child in her arms matters.
A cool breeze brushes though her hair, across her cheeks, and she spares a glance for the slow crashing of waves in the distance, the moon reflecting glittering light across the water as she makes her way up the staircase, one foot at a time, arms tight around Steven's sleeping form, grateful for the black jacket he wears, protecting him from the cold.
Her fingers are tangled in his hair, cradling his head like she would when he was a toddler, holding him steady against her like she had when he was five years old and fell off these very stairs, spraining his ankle.
It’s with a tug of nostalgia that she recalls the way he'd clung to her, for hours, sobbing in her arms and in that moment she had felt so needed, so loved by this boy, consoling him and rubbing slow circles across his small back until his sobbing subsided, singing to him quietly until his breathing evened and the pain of his ankle faded to a dull throb.
Pearl clings to the memory just as he’d clung to her, and presses a kiss to the crown of Steven’s head.
The next step she takes has wood creaking beneath her foot so suddenly and so loudly that she sucks in a hissing breath, completely frozen on the landing and inwardly cursing these stairs for making such noise, for harming Steven when he was five. Pearl swallows quietly, trying as best as she is able to glance down, wanting to see if his sleep has been disturbed but with his face buried in her neck like this she can't quite tell, only has his warm breaths against her throat to go by, deep and steady.
Another creak sounds beside her as Greg comes into view, moving ahead to stand directly before her, leaning in to check on Steven. She near sighs in relief when he pulls back a moment later, smiling. “He’s out like a light.” Though he says it in a whisper, and she barely hears him beneath whistling of the wind, the roar of the waves in the distance. With suitcases in hand he turns from her, hair fanning out all around him in the breeze as he continues ahead of her, she follows slowly, in no rush, pressing her chin to Steven’s head, pillowed on course black curls.
Pearl manages to incline her head in thanks when Greg opens the door for her, and as she enters their home, dark but for the moonlight that streams in through the windows, she finds she doesn't want to let go of the child in her arms, doesn't want to stop holding him against her where she knows he is safe. The thought is selfish, he needs to sleep in his own bed, and she can't very well hold him all night as she would when he was a toddler.
Well technically she can, but he might not appreciate the stiffness in his back come morning.
Greg is beside her as she begins laying Steven atop the bed, his father already lifting the covers and wrapping them around his sleeping form. This will be the second night he's slept in that suit, and she spares a thought for the wrinkles she'll have to iron out, but for now it doesn't matter. Steven shifts in his sleep, turning onto his side and facing away from them, towards the glass doors and she allows herself one moment to watch over him before she takes one of his stuffed toys at the edge of the bed and lays it beside him, and though he's still asleep he wraps his arms around it immediately, holding it close.
Greg's thick fingers brush through Steven's hair, affection bright in his eyes, the smallest of smiles on his lips and she knows her expression must mirror his, knows the swelling of love that lingers in his chest, endless and overflowing as the sea that churns just outside these walls.
He must sense her eyes on him because when he looks up their gazes meet and he shifts awkwardly, she finds she can empathize. Though so much has changed in just one evening, there is still the matter of old habits. Years of dancing around each other, only to end up dancing together.
She can scarcely believe it.
"I should go." He says, and it's what the humans would call an olive branch, a means of escape for her should she want to be alone with her thoughts, worded in a way to allow for her to avoid any guilt that may come with asking him to go. It's a kindness that, after everything, she isn't quite sure she deserves.
And now that she's looking at him, truly looking, she finds it's remarkably easy to read him, understand him. Rose's voice whispers across her thoughts, and her breath is catching, fingers twitching at her sides.
You've got a lot in common, you really do.
"Stay." Belatedly she realizes that sounds far too much like a demand and less the request she was trying for. Pearl flushes, ducking her head and she’s never been good at this, at asking for company. “I-I mean, if you’d like…I could make some tea?”
She grimaces at how inarticulate she sounds, glancing back up again only to find Greg watching her with wide eyes, touched of all things. "Uh...Yeah, yeah tea...sounds good."
"I'll...get the kettle." She spares one final glance at Steven, her arms feeling empty without the weight of him, before turning away. And Pearl's trying vainly not to reflect on how utterly awkward this feels, how her stomach is churning as she walks into the kitchen, the heels of her new shoes clicking against the tile with each step she takes and finds she does not mind feel of them, finds that she's grown quite attached to this outfit, the smooth glide of fabric against her skin.
Greg pulls up a stool somewhere behind her, his fingers drumming rhythmically against the counter and she's grateful that he didn't turn on the light, not wanting to disturb Steven's sleep, perhaps. But she has a feeling it's more likely that they're not quite ready to see each other so clearly, a feeling that somehow illuminating the world break this fragile new peace, this friendship they've formed.
The white moonlight more than suffices and as she fills the kettle from the sink tap she exhales slowly, willing her stiffness to fall away as she hums quietly along with Greg's drumming, the melody familiar in a way she can't quite place, but doesn't question as she sets the kettle atop the stove. But when she turns the knob and lights the gas, the words leave her unbidden, quiet in the night. "You both love me and I love both of you."
The drumming stops, a sharp breath sounds out somewhere behind her and Pearl is clenching a fist, squeezing her eyes shut, cursing herself this time because she did exactly what she'd been trying to avoid, pushing too hard and too soon. She shouldn’t have allowed her guard to drop, but how could she help it?
He’d been drumming the melody of that song, unconscious or not and surely, surely, she cannot be expected to ignore that.
Surely she cannot be expected not to sing the words circling her thoughts, the words writhing and burning within her like a star going supernova, upending her entire plain of existence, her sense of reality with the sheer power of its detonation. She’s still trapped in the epicenter of that blast, overflowing with so much emotion that she cannot even begin sorting through all the shock, the devastation, the euphoria.
And Pearl isn’t quite sure how to explain that to him, if she even should, suddenly half caught with the urge to apologize but, no. No she can’t, she won’t. In this she’ll allow herself to cling to her stubbornness, she won’t apologize, even as guilt gnaws at her, even as the silence seems to stretch into infinity.
But then Greg’s voice sounds out, just above a whisper, and the hitch of it has her throat tightening, tears stinging in her eyes. “I know you both needed, I know you both needed, someone who knows what you're going through."
His fingers are drumming the melody again, and her head bows for a second as she sniffles, a small smile coming to her lips before she straightens her posture and reaches into the cabinets, singing back. "You might not believe it, you might not believe it but you've got a lot in common, you really do."
With mugs in hand she turns towards him, his watery eyes meeting hers but there's a smile on his lips, small, hidden beneath his facial hair but a smile nonetheless, and it mirrors the one she wears as their voices join together quietly.
"You both love me and I love both of you."
The sound of steam rising has her looking away, reaching for the kettle, and when she turns back to pour boiling water into their cups, she sings with him. "You both love me and I love both of you."
A beat of silence passes, before breathless laughter leaves her, a tear sliding down her cheek that she wipes away quickly, sniffling again and turning towards the pantry. Silently, she sets before him the box of multi flavored tea bags that Steven purchased for her, and Greg glances at them, at her, something open and vulnerable in his eyes. "I thought you didn't like to eat?"
With a slight shake of her head Pearl leans against the counter, fingers idly sifting through the tea bags, not quite sure which flavor could match the stillness of this moment, the emotions within her. "I don't, but I do enjoy a cup of tea now and again. Plus this was a gift from Steven." And no further explanations are necessary after that, he gives an understanding nod as she selects the cherry blossom and hibiscus, dipping it in the steaming cup and allowing silence to settle in all around her, comfortable, in a way it never has been between them.
But of course it doesn't last, and she finds herself humming that melody again, her hands wrapped tight around the mug, letting the heat bleed into her skin. "I can't believe..." She begins in a whisper, glancing up at Greg who closes his eyes, exhales. "Yeah. Me too I...I never thought I'd hear her voice again."
"Sometimes," She begins, gaze fixed on the wafting steam in the air, throat heavy with emotion. "Sometimes Steven does things, says things that..."
"Yeah." And she's grateful for the interruption, having never been able to truly articulate the thought, and it is nearly overwhelming to find that someone understands without needing explanation, instead just a simple word of agreement between them conveys volumes.
Pearl is unsure how to even respond to it, or acknowledge it without drowning in depth of her feelings so instead she looks away, opening the pantry, voice thick as she speaks. "Honey and sugar, with your tea?"
"Actually, you got any milk?"
Well, at least in this they are different. She sets the honey and sugar onto the counter before turning back. "Hmm, I think so," She mutters, only to wince when the light of the refrigerator fills the room, and behind her Greg is chuckling, his voice quiet. "Ha, has it always been that bright?"
She sets the milk in front him, replying with a breath of amusement while busying herself with pouring honey into her tea, adding a pinch of sugar, and across from her Greg begins humming that melody again, then mumbling the lyrics under his breath. "Aw, jeez, I'm never gonna get that song out of my head."
It's her turn to chuckle this time, grasping her mug in both hands and bringing it to her lips, inhaling the sweet scent. "I share the sentiment. ...It is quite catchy." Well, maybe catchy isn't the word she'd use, validating might be more apt, but it's easier this way and she stifles the urge to correct herself by taking a slow sip, closing her eyes and sighing as heat slides down her throat, blooms in her chest.
"No offense but..." It takes effort to open her eyes again, to face him, she'd wanted to linger in the soothing warmth for just a moment more. "Yes?" It's odd to feel his eyes on her like this, watching her with an intensity that makes her want to squrim, and it's only now, in this moment that she realizes they've never quite made true eye contact before this night. Rose's words linger in her mind, with the melody, and she resists humming it within her throat.
"Did you really...Okay I know you did but, you thought she stopped loving you, only because she loves me?"
Ah. And her own words echo through her thoughts, petty and dull with the nerve to doubt her. She never should have, she knows that now but, oh, how could she have known? Perhaps it's her fault, she'd never confronted Rose about it, too lost in her own despair, but then Rose never bought it up with her either.
She wonders if, before tonight, Rose had even realized...
Unconsciously, she glances up at the portrait and gives a quiet sigh. As utterly brilliant as Rose was-is- sometimes she could be a bit-
But then again, though Pearl hadn't done much to hide her jealousy-Rose knew how she felt in that-she'd always gone to great lengths to conceal her pain.
She'd succeeded quite well, apparently.
Her head snaps up, eyes wide as she blinks in the darkness, cheeks burning with the beginnings of a flush. She'd been too silent for too long, lost in thought, and he was expecting some sort of reply wasn't he? The urge to continue with habit, to conceal, is difficult to ignore but no, she's tired of hiding.
Why don't you talk to each other?
"I...She fell in love with you Greg. I wasn't prepared for that, even after all the women and men she'd loved she never-" Her sigh is so heavy it disturbs the steam in the air, and she glances down at her mug, thumb brushing across the lip. "I never expected it, I was always the only one she'd ever truly...and then I saw the way she'd look at you and I thought..."
"Oh, oh yeah, aw jeez." Greg rubs at the back of his neck, tugs at his collar with a grimace on his face. She hadn't noticed when he'd removed his jacket, and his silhouette is more prominent in the moonlight, reflecting white light off of his white dress shirt. "Yeah I can see why you'd think that. But man, Pearl, you should've heard the way she talked about you."
That has her blinking, an eyebrow raised and curiosity of all things rearing within her, she didn't think she'd be able to feel any more than she already does, her head heavy with it, and she wonders how much of her emotions bleed into her voice when she speaks. "She talked about me?"
Of course, logically, she knows Rose must have at least mentioned her to Greg but, the way he said it implied something much more and she's leaning in unconsciously, keeping the mug next to her lips so she tastes cherry blossoms and hibiscus with each inhale of useless, soothing breath.
"Oh yeah, all the time." He takes a drink from his own mug, and Pearl resists the urge to lean in closer, trying her absolute best to feign nonchalance.
She fails, miserably. "O-Oh? What...what did she say?"
And the way he looks at her makes her chew her lower lip, like he can see right through her and she feels so foolish, desperately seeking validation while Rose's words, spoken through Steven still echo in her thoughts. But before she can attempt to take it back the grin falls from Greg's lips into an expression of empathy, understanding.
The stiffness in her shoulders falls away as he speaks, excitement in his voice. "A whole bunch, stuff about how you're a great fighter, how you two were the first crystal gems, things about your loyalty and how much she could trust you. Hell, when she'd tell me about some of the things you guys went through she'd always have this look of total admiration on her face you know? Her eyes would light up and everything, I mean, it was plain as day that she loved-" he flinches, shakes his head and smiles.
"Sorry, that she loves you."
And that has her cheeks flushing, already over-full, already near bursting only to hear this, and for a moment Pearl isn't quite sure if she's on the precipice of tears or laughter or despair. Isn't quite sure what to do, all she can think of is how much aching she has endured, and how suddenly, with a few simple words all of it has been lifted from her shoulders.
And it feels wrong somehow, she'd grown accustomed to that weight, holding onto it with trembling limbs and staggering beneath it only to suddenly have it gone-
She feels too light, as if her form has begun to skitter and become corrupted, as if she no longer has mass.
Greg is still speaking, his words faded into the background, a quiet ringing in the corners of her awareness and she forces herself to come back, to focus on this moment, to be here.
Later, she'll pour over all of this. Later, in the privacy of her rooms beneath the roar of the waterfalls. She'll hide there, maybe for a day or so, and let it all soak through her, let the blast of the supernova settle and begin reforming the universe around it. The shift has already begun, she can feel it to the very core of her gem. Later, later.
She swallows still warm tea, lets the flavor and the heat ground her and focuses in on Greg's words. "I mean, okay she never told me anything really personal you know? She probably wanted to respect your privacy, but...yeah, she definitely never stopped loving you."
He meets her eyes, expression sheepish and flushed and open and the only pain she has left is that Rose is gone, she's gone at least to the point where Pearl cannot take her into her arms, cannot bury her fingers in those soft pink curls and kiss her with all the love and gratitude she feels until their lips grow swollen and numb in her eternal desperation.
Pearl swallows another gulp of tea, Greg mirrors the action, and for the first time she is grateful for his company, for his existence. And perhaps, in due time, she'll find herself grateful that Rose fell in love with him, too. He is a good man, even in the depths of her bitterness, her petty jealousy she'd always known that, and just now despite everything he gave her a gift.
It's only right that she respond in kind.
"She spoke of you often as well." Endlessly, more like, at least she'd felt that way at the time. "Of everything she adored about you, your kindness, your goodness, your musical talent, how much you like hot-dogs, of all things." And that has Greg snorting with laughter.
"You know, now that I think of it," She begins with a small smile, tapping a finger to her chin and it's funny to her, the realization that comes. "She was probably telling us both about each other to try and nudge us into developing a friendship."
This time Greg actually starts laughing, quiet, hiccuping chuckles that he tries to keep stifled, the mug shaking in his hand so he sets it down, shoulders trembling with his amusement. "That was a terrible plan! It didn't work at all!"
It was. It truly was and all of a sudden it stops being funny and becomes hilarious, so much so that she can barely muffle her own laughter, hand pressed to her lips and her knees quaking, leaning against the counter for support while she laughs harder than she has in years, tears burning in her eyes.
"What was she thinking?" She chokes out between giggles, cheeks wet, because of course Rose would think that was the best way. Of course, as brilliant as she was, as great as a tactician in battle and war, this plan had to have been her absolute worst. And she'd never thought she could even think such a thing.
If any of Pearl’s dignity were still intact she might balk at how long it takes for her to recover, at the urge not to, part of her wanting to remain caught in the hysterical laughter, all while knowing if she allows herself to continue her knees will eventually give, and the endless giggles that burst from her throat will choke into sobs. And the last thing she wants is for Steven to find her like that come morning, collapsed onto herself in a heap upon the kitchen floor, too overcome to function.
Pearl instead forces in deep, heavy breaths, fingers trembling around the handle of the mug as she drowns her laughter with the last of her tea, rubbing at her tired eyes and glancing up at the mound atop Steven's bed, worried they might have disturbed his sleep but, he doesn't move, and his breaths, at least from what she can see from here, seem even. She looks away with a relieved exhale, half breathless, loosening the bow tie around her neck. "We were really quite silly back then, weren't we?"
Greg is wiping his eyes too, the white sleeves of his dress shirt damp from his tears, his hair a tangled mess all around him as he speaks past the hiccuped remnants of his laughter. "Uh huh, you were jealous of me, I was jealous of you, we fought like kids, it was ridiculous." That almost has her lapsing back into those gut wrenching giggles again, just the thought of it now, looking back, how unnecessary it was.
You both love me and I love both of you.
The words echo in her mind.
I love both of you.
I love him but I love you too.
I never stopped loving you.
That she would speak through Steven to tell her, to tell them…The thought will keep her warm for decades to come.
She’d allow herself to smile, to wrap her arms around herself and sigh with the depths of the joy she’s just now beginning to sift through, but something comes over his countenance that has her pausing, something in the way he seems to fold into himself, staring, presumably, at his reflection in the mug. "Hell, I'm still kind of jealous of you, ya know? Even now."
And that has her throat closing, enough so that she can barely force the words out. "I- Really?"
Greg just nods, fingers brushing across the surface of his mug, staring into the liquid as if it were his salvation. "I mean you were with her for, what, five thousand years?" The exact number comes to mind but she bites back the urge to say it. "Compared to that, the time I had with her was...minuscule."
"Minuscule?" She parrots back, trying to endue her voice with just a touch of humor, longing for the near frantic laughter from a just a moment before. When he looks up at her though, she's relieved to find that she's succeeded in bringing at least some amusement to his expression. His voice even has a bit of teasing, hidden behind that heaviness. "Hey, I know big words too ya know."
And then he grins at her, she smiles back, and wonders if this is what their friendship will be like in the years to come, humor and kindness one moment, heaviness and loss in the next. She finds that might not be so bad a thing. Rose, or Steven, or, well, both of them really, had been right. Greg truly knows what she’s going through, and she feels the same of him. And perhaps in each other they've found someone they can finally talk to about this.
Maybe that's why the words come so easily to both of them now, their darkest secrets dissolving between them like the honey she'd poured into her tea.
"I mean, okay I know she was more honest with me than she'd been with her other human lovers, and I know she loved me-"
"Loves." Pearl immediately interjects, without even thinking about it, and Greg's widened eyes mirror her own as she touches her lips, near disbelieving. But then Greg is nodding, lips stretched with the type of bright smile that shines in his eyes, that has the moonlight casting shadows across the lines of his face. Undeniable proof of the passage of time.
"Yeah, yeah I know she loves me it's just, I kind of wish I knew more about her? I mean, you know everything there is to know about Rose and I can't even understand half of this gem stuff anyway. I guess it's normal to be kind of jealous? I mean it's been thousands of years and she's still in love with you. Sometimes I look at Steven and I can't believe fourteen years passed by, I don't even know where to begin imagining what five thousand could feel like."
He looks away from her then, back down at his mug, and he's never looked more human to her than in this moment, with moonlight shining off the bare skin of his head. "I always have this urge to just, ask you stuff."
Pearl feels as though everything within her has frozen, as though time is moving all around her and she is separate from it, its slow decay. It takes a moment to find her voice, words breaking at the edges but she doesn't notice, doesn’t care.
"Ask me what?"
He looks up at her, brows knitted together causing the skin of his forehead to seem overly wrinkled, adding years to his face, and her stomach turns at the sight. "Everything?" The breathless laugh that comes has no trace of amusement, more self-deprecating than anything she's heard from him thus far. "Like, what was she like before she met me? Before that first war you both fought in? What were her past lovers like? How did you two meet? When was the happiest you ever saw her? The saddest? How did you two fall in love? All that stuff, everything."
The laugh comes again and it chills her, to the core of her gem, has her trying to swallow down the heaviness that rises again to her throat. "It's...a little pathetic huh? She's gone and, if she ever does come back-" His voice breaks there, his breathing uneven, and she knows what he'll say next, knows and doesn't want to hear it. "I'll be gone."
He swallows, so thickly it's audible in the otherwise silence, and when his eyes meet hers again, wet and intense, her breath catches. "I can't move on either Pearl, I'll love her until the day I die. When the time comes...Hopefully not for a long time but, when it comes, when you see her again, will you tell her that? Even if she already knows, please?"
Pearl didn't think she had any more tears left to give, but they cascade down her cheeks now, drip off of her nose as she nods and there's so much guilt clawing at her throat, ripping her voice away, so much because once, years ago she'd been impatient for his death, comforting herself with the knowledge that he'd fall prey to the slow trickle of time, just as all the others had.
And though she'd stopped waiting for him to die long ago, it's only now that she faces the fact that he will, sooner rather than later, and Steven will suffer for it. Rose will suffer for it, and she thinks that now, she too, will mourn.
Pearl sucks in a deep breath, pressing the heels of her hands against her face and pushing away her tears because he made a request of her, is trusting her to deliver his message, and she will do it, proudly, without hesitation, and resolves to make sure he knows it.
Pulling her hands away, she meets his eyes, her posture straight as she swallows down her emotions, telling herself later, later. "I will. I'll tell her for you, I swear it." And of all things it seems that Rose must’ve imparted to him how seriously she takes a vow, the lengths she'll go to keep it, because surprise comes to his face, before he closes his eyes and bows his head, clearing his throat. "Thank you."
And she doesn't know what to say to that, doesn't know what to say at all, and between them the silence stretches into something as vast and deep as the oceans of this world and somewhere, outside of this small world they've created the beginnings of dawn start coloring the sky.
Greg presses his hands to the counter, a tell-tale sign that he intends to stand, to make some sort of excuse and leave, and if they parted now it's not as though it would not be amicable, if they parted now it would be in friendship, in understanding.
But she doesn't want him to go, isn't even surprised by that fact.
So before he can stand and make any sort of excuse, or attempt a fake yawn she says the first words that come to her mind.
"So, what did you want to know? I mean-erm, specifically."
Greg blinks up at her, eyebrow raised high on his forehead. "I...wha?"
Pearl resists the urge to fidget, to drum her fingers atop the counter. "Well, you did say you've been wanting to ask me about everything. Was there...something specific you wanted to know first?"
It's her turn to offer the olive branch now, and she's glad to do it.
"Are...are you sure?" He looks her up and down, uncertain, but she shows no sign of hesitation, and for the first time in all the years she's known him she allows herself to drop her guard entirely, and nods, an open smile coming to her lips.
"Please, I insist." It's the most genuine she's ever been with him, and he must sense it, because the stiffness of his shoulders falls away as he lets his body sink back into his seat, fingertips drumming at the edge of the counter. "Well, if you insist." And he grins at her, friendly and playful and that brings with it a sort of happiness she hadn't been expecting.
"Okay so, well, what I've really wanted to know is, how did the two of you meet?"
The surprise must show on her face, because his cheeks redden and he rubs at the back of his neck as he tends to do when he's nervous. "Is that too personal? Cause if it is I can-"
"No no, I'd just assumed Rose already told you about that."
Greg shrugs, sheepish, avoiding her eyes. "She did, kind of. I don't know I've always just.. wanted to hear it from your point of view?"
And that has her chuckling, breathless. "Alright, but I warn you, it's a long story."
Glancing out the window at the beginnings of sunrise, Greg smiles in a way that reminds her, not of Rose, but of Steven. It's a good smile. "Eh, I've got nowhere to be."
"Well, if that's the case," And she snatches both of their mugs with a little grin, eager suddenly, to share the tale. "We'll both need a refill. Now, how to begin?" Pearl busies herself with filling the kettle, settling in for a long, pleasant morning.
"In order to truly understand the complexities of our meeting I'll have explain to you the hierarchy of gem culture, the roles of Pearls in Homeworld's society, and my liberation from servitude."
"Yes. It all started six thousand, eight hundred and ninety four years ago, when I was first introduced to Rose Quartz. I was only a few thousand years old at the time, you see, and thus far all I'd ever been allowed were the menial tasks I was assigned..."
A few feet away, tucked under thick covers with a stuffed bear wrapped tight in one arm, Steven presses the heel of his palm against the barely glowing gem beneath his shirt, and in his half-consciousness smiles to himself, muttering, "It's over, isn't it?" Before he falls back into the safety of sleep, lulled by the familiar timbre of Pearl's voice and far off memories of war, of freedom,