Chapter Forty-Nine: Reorientation
"I think that should do it." Pearl closed the control panel with a satisfying click and slid out from under the drill. She grabbed the nearest, cleanest rag and wiped the grease from her face, neck, and arms. "Can you test it out for me, Blue?"
"Clear, please!" Blue Pearl called out to Amethyst and Lapis, who were working nearby. She flipped a few switches from inside the cockpit. The engines started with a low hum, growing louder and louder until it was almost deafening. The main drill-head slowly began to turn.
"It's working!" Pearl yelled over the noise. "We did it!"
As soon as she said that, the engines sputtered and spat out a large plume of smoke. The drill-head stuttered to a halt before it fell out of the main carapace and crashed on the ground.
Pearl stared as months worth of hard work spat out more smoke.
"I thought we had it this time," Blue Pearl said, hopping out of the cockpit and landing beside her.
"I thought so too." Pearl wanted cry and yank her hair out in frustration. But no, she was not about to give up. She forced a smile back on her face. "But this is good! It started up, so we at least know we're on the right track!"
Just then, the drill-head burst into flames.
She groaned and buried her face in her hands.
"It will be alright," said Blue Pearl. "It is like you just said. We already got it working once, so I am sure it would take only a few more adjustments until we finally, truly get it."
"Thanks for saying that." Pearl looked up just as a light rain, courtesy of Lapis, doused the flames. "I'm sorry I haven't been around lately. And then when I do manage to come and help out, things fall apart like... Well..." She waved towards the smoldering drill.
"These things happen." Blue placed a soothing hand on Pearl's back. "I understand you have been very busy these last few days."
"...You could say that."
After their talk under the cherry blossoms, Garnet had been taking Pearl on missions all over the world. They hadn't been very difficult missions; either of them could've easily done them alone. Pearl knew Garnet was just doing whatever she could to help her process and she appreciated that, even as part of her resented needing the help at all.
But then, Pearl also knew that she had to get back into the swing of things at some point. Sure, thinking about Rose still cut her at her very core, but keeping busy, feeling productive, and doing things that she enjoyed— things that were own, outside of Rose Quartz— would be good for her. Rose's life didn't revolve around Pearl, so why should Pearl's life revolve around Rose?
( — In the back of her mind, there was an empty palanquin.
It was surrounded by hibiscus flowers. )
Life kept moving forward, so she buried herself in work on the drill to catch up on the time lost in her absence. Not that there was a lot to catch up on, thanks to Blue being her usual hardworking self and Peridot performing to what Pearl had to admit was an extremely high standard. Still, it wouldn't do to slack off.
Once the fires were out, the two Pearls moved to the opposite canyon wall where they kept the drill's plans. Pearl grabbed one of the blueprints and spread it out on a flat boulder they had turned into a makeshift table.
"We don't know where the fire started exactly, but from where I was looking when it happened, it should be around this area." Pearl drew a circle with her finger. She frowned and massaged the growing knot between her eyebrows. "I know we have a lot of delicate components there, so figuring out which one— or which ones— caused the malfunction is going to be tricky. This is going to set us back quite a bit."
"It will take some time, yes," Blue said lightly. "At least it will still not be as bad as defining one over zero."
Pearl blinked at her. Once. Twice. "What?"
"That would be beyond the limits of our current task," Blue continued. "But it would not be imaginary that the possibilities approach infinity."
Pearl confusedly stared at Blue's expression— tiny smile and hopeful eyes— before the words finally sunk in. She laughed. "Oh. Oh! That was quite the real number, Blue."
Blue Pearl's smile widened. "I am glad you found appreciation over time. I was starting to worry the implicit function would end up asymptotic to you."
"It took me a moment, yes. But once I found the integral part, it was easy enough. And I do enjoy the positive slope of this tangent."
"Yes. That is exactly what derivatives are for."
Pearl burst into loud guffaws, doubling over and clutching at Blue Pearl to get a hold of herself. "That's so brill— absolute maximum brilliance, Blue! Hahahaha! Stars, I think I'm— Hahaha!— running out of values for this continuous function."
Blue Pearl chuckled. "I am sure we can always have a change of variables for further study."
"GAH! I CAN'T TAKE THIS ANYMORE!" cut in another voice.
Startled, the two Pearls flinched away from each other and abruptly stopped laughing. Pearl glared at the source of the interruption. "It's just calculus, Amethyst. I'm sure you'd understand it too, if you'd just take the time to—"
"I'm not talking about the stupid math puns. I'm talking about you!" Amethyst pointed an accusing finger right at Pearl. "How can you be all smiley and happy, joking around as if nothing's wrong while Rose is holed up in her room crying over you? Have you even gone back to the Temple at all?"
"I... I didn't know Rose has been..." For a moment, Pearl's mask cracked, her despondence slipping out. She warily glanced at Blue and schooled her expression into something more neutral. She turned back to studying the blueprints. "No. It's better if I don't see her."
"Did you even hear a word I said? Rose is crying, Pearl. She misses you so much, she tried to make a cloud-you to talk to, but she couldn't even manage that because she kept breaking down in sobs!"
When she heard those words, everything about Pearl tightened— her expression, her shoulders, her grip on the drill plans— and she wanted nothing more than to feel Rose again. To hold her in her arms. To wipe her tears away. To tell her that everything would be okay, as long as they were together. Just like old times.
But those old times also came with patterns and habits that whittled away at her will until she had grown too complacent, too used to her pain. Pearl didn't want that... anymore.
She clutched at her chest. It was getting hard to breathe, not that she needed to, but she felt like she was caught in a boa constrictor's death grip. She wanted to ignore Amethyst's words and keep working, but her concentration was starting to errode and...
No, she would not give in— she refused to. She picked up a nearby wrench and headed back to the drill.
Amethyst followed behind her.
"Can't you go talk to her or something?" she continued to prod. "I'm sure if you guys talked about your feelings and stuff, things will all go back to normal."
Pearl frowned. "I'm needed here. I have work to do."
"Bloop and Lapis had managed while you were away with Garnet. I'm sure they can handle a few hours on their own."
"I already said no, Amethyst."
Pearl's frown deepened. "Why what?"
"Why don't you wanna talk with Rose?"
"Because..." She stared at the wrench in her hand, at how her knuckles protruded as she gripped it much too tightly than necessary. "You know, I don't have to explain myself to you."
"Yeah, like you ever tried so hard to explain anything to dumb little ol' me." Amethyst scoffed. "I'm not stupid, Pearl."
"I never said you were stupid."
"Then why won't you tell me why? All of you keep saying talking makes things better, so why d'you gotta be so unreasonable about this?"
"Excuse me?! " Pearl whirled around to give her a scathing glare. "I'm the one being unreasonable?"
"Yeah!" Amethyst threw her hands in the air, gesturing wildly. "You always act out like this whenever there's a new human, and everyone's like 'no harm, no foul'. But you know what? I am sick of it. Sure, I was able to fix things up with Connie's parents this time, but what if I hadn't? Would you even care? If you hate humans so much, why d'you gotta keep giving the rest of us who like thema hard time? Can't you just, for once, not be like—" she waved her arms in an encompassing gesture "—this?"
"You don't get to lecture me, Amethyst."
"I'll stop 'lecturing'," she made air quotes, "when you stop messing things up!"
" I messed things up? Rose was the one acting inappropriately at that dinner!" Pearl snapped, pointing in the general direction of the Temple. "Why aren't you lecturing her?"
"This isn't just about dinner! This is about whatever the tizz is up your butt that you would leave Rose!"
"That's—" Pearl flushed a furious shade of blue. "That is none of your business!"
"It's plenty my business because I'm the one who keeps getting caught in between your spats all these centuries and I am done!"
"Right. Because this whole thing is about how you feel about my relationship!"
"ARGH! Why does it always have to be about you?!"
"Because this conflict is between me and Rose, and Not. You! " Pearl angrily poked Amethyst's chest for emphasis. "But you sure are doing a great job making it all about yourself, that's for sure!"
Amethyst snarled and wound her fist back, very obviously preparing for a punch. Pearl blocked it easily when it came, and sneered at the attempt. Or, she tried to sneer but something socked her on the mouth so hard, her knees buckled.
"I have two fists, you moron!" Amethyst bellowed, shaking the fist she had hit Pearl with. "And I can shapeshift more if I have to!"
Pearl spat and wiped her lips with the back of her hand. "Oh, so we're going to do this, are we?"
"Stop acting high and mighty!" Amethyst summoned her whip. "If you won't see reason, I'll just beat you up until you do!"
"I can say the same to you!" Pearl summoned her spear, twirling it around as she fell into a sturdy, well-practiced stance. She hadn't noticed when Blue and Lapis had made themselves scarce, but she was glad they had. That meant she could go all out.
She effortlessly weaved in and out of Amethyst's attacks, moving up too close for a whip's effective range. She put the smaller Gem on the defensive with her quick kicks and stabs, up until Amethyst decided to leap away and regroup. That was when Pearl took aim and laser blasted her out of the air. Amethyst collided into the drill, making a sizeable dent on it, before she crashed back on the ground.
"Give it up, Amethyst." Pearl pointed her spear, as if daring Amethyst to defy her further. "We both know you can't beat me."
"Keep telling yourself that." Amethyst coughed out some ash. "I'm just getting started!" She summoned a new whip and thrust it forward, catching Pearl's spear by the shaft. They struggled for control, neither side wanting to give in. Until Amethyst put all her weight into one powerful tug, making Pearl careen right into a roundhouse kick to the ribs. She flew into the air. Pushing through the pain, she flipped to land on her feet, skidding to a halt near the opposite canyon wall.
Not waiting for her to recover, Amethyst summoned another whip and lashed both forward, purple flames running along their lengths. Pearl rolled to the side, forward and backwards, again and again, barely avoiding the flurry of fiery strikes. She couldn't get her footing and dodge at the same time, and she knew jumping into the air right now would only make her more vulnerable to the onslaught.
But if she had learned one thing about combat: If there is no opening, make one.
"Is that all you got, Amethyst? You said you'll beat me up, but all you're showing me is how excellent you are at not hitting anything!" Pearl taunted. The next lash almost grazed her face and left an angry burn on her cheek. She knew it would only be a matter of time before she got overpowered like this; she needed to take the upper-hand back from Amethyst.
She struck the whip on its journey back, letting it wrap around her spear and letting herself be pulled back into range. At the last second, she let go of the captured spear and summoned a fresh one, using the momentum to propel her counterattack.
Predictably, Amethyst leapt out of the way again.
Pearl threw her spear after her.
It went flying past Amethyst.
"HA! Ya missed!" she gloated. "Who's not hitting who now?!"
But Pearl wasn't aiming for her.
Sandstone rocks rained down from the cliff face the spear had hit. Some of rocks hitting Amethyst on the head was a nice bonus, but mostly they were for leverage. Pearl jumped into the air, kicking off them to relentlessly hit Amethyst from all directions. Amethyst could only curl into a defensive ball to minimize the damage.
However, once Pearl started to run out of rocks to jump off of, the time between her attacks grew longer and Amethyst gained enough breathing room to snag the boulder Pearl was about to land on next. Suddenly without a foothold, Pearl couldn't change directions quickly enough when Amethyst flung that same boulder at her like a makeshift wrecking ball. Pearl went flying to the far end of the canyon.
"Had enough yet, Pearlie-bird?" Amethyst yelled. "Ready to come talk with Rose now?"
Pearl could only cough up dust in response. She pulled herself out of the mini-crater her landing had made, glaring at Amethyst. But that was when things happened so fast:
The burnt, battered drill was wobbling.
Amethyst was standing right at its feet.
The drill started to lean to one direction.
Amethyst still hadn't noticed.
The drill began to fall.
Pearl cried out her name.
Amethyst turned around to look, but it was already too late to get away.
Pearl's body moved on its own, quicker than she ever thought she could.
She caught part of the drill before it could crush Amethyst.
"What the—? How?" Amethyst's voice cracked. "P-Pearl? Is that you out there?"
"Just shut up and get out of there!" Pearl grunted. "I can't hold this thing forever!"
Amethyst crawled out from under drill. Once sure that she was safe, Pearl let go. It loudly crashed to the ground.
"You didn't have to do that," Amethyst muttered, once the echoes of their fight had subsided. "That thing would've just poofed me."
"It's heavy enough to crush your gem," Pearl replied. "I couldn't risk that ever happening to you."
"Why? It's not like you care about what happens to me."
"But I do!" she snapped, turning to glare at Amethyst. Then she realized the oxymoron she was presenting, and softened into a gentler expression. "...I do. Care about you, I mean. I'm sorry I haven't been very good at showing you that."
"... I'm sorry too. I shouldn't have punched you."
The two of them stood in awkward silence, staring at the mechanical wreck at their feet.
"You're still not gonna talk to Rose, are you?"
"Can you at least tell me why? I heard Rose's side of the story. She said you were being unfair. But I guess there's more to it than that?" Amethyst huffed, kicking a pebble to the debris. "I just want things to go back to normal already."
Pearl let out a heavy sigh. "I don't know if things will ever go back to how they were, Amethyst." She raised her hand before the younger Gem could ask why again. "Rose is... wonderful, in so many ways. She makes me feel like I was everything, you know." She smiled, almost wistfully, but her eyes were clouded with sadness. "Or... she used to make me feel that way. All this time, whenever she goes off to frolic with her humans, she makes me feel like..." She looked away, grounding out the next words like it physically pained her. "Like a Pearl."
"But you are Pearl," said Amethyst.
Pearl opened her mouth to speak, but no words would come out. She stared at Amethyst, wondering how to word just how complicated everything was— if she even could talk about everything. Sighing, she decided she would just have to give it her best shot.
She began to explain. It was a long and difficult discussion. There was so much Amethyst didn't know, and even now, it was terrifying telling her. Amethyst seemed thoughtful throughout, only interrupting to ask questions or for outbursts of anger in her behalf. Pearl thought it was sweet, in a very Amethyst way.
But when it was over, Amethyst was very quiet. Pearl didn't know what to make of that.
She also wasn't sure what to make of the two blue figures, heads just barely visible peeking over the canyon's lip, who'd listened to everything she'd had to say.
Rose Quartz had no idea how long she stayed inside her room, only that when she left, the light outside was completely different. That told her little, however; it could only have been a matter of days, and regardless, she cared little.
Her trip outside was short. She just went to that little Big Donut store, grabbing a load of human confectionery and ice cream, carrying them in her arms. Once back in her room, settled safely among the clouds, Rose methodically ate through each and every one of them. The sweet flavors and varied textures offered a distraction from the emotional turmoil inside.
Not much of a distraction, but it was something.
She had nearly finished off the 'honey crullers' when Garnet arrived and said, "Rose, I need your help."
Rose had just stared at her blearily.
Garnet had stared back.
Eventually Rose said, "Get someone else's help." After a moment, she added, "Please."
Rose dug her fingers into the clouds, which turned into solid, cold earth. "I don't want—"
Eventually, Rose did leave. There may have been some pulling involved. Maybe Garnet had to carry her. Maybe. But not for long. The thought of what Pearl would think if she saw her like that snapped her out of it quickly. Rose made sure to hold her chin high as she exited the Temple.
… Pearl wasn't there.
Garnet didn't comment. Not then, or in the warp stream.
Even once they arrived at their location- a thick, muddy swamp- Garnet didn't say much than to describe the mission at hand. Ancient Homeworld Temple hidden beneath the muck. Powerful geothermal arificat. Cause terrible earthquakes. That would be bad.
Rose only half listened. It was difficult to find any of that important, just then.
But as she moved through the the muddy hallways, navigating around alligators and coaxing vines out of the way, Rose found it became more important. The feeling of damp on her dress, mud in her hair, coolness against her skin… It was grounding, real, in a way that nothing in her room was.
Eventually they came to the obstacle Garnet knew only Rose could help pass; a never end cascade of tiny blades, like a waterfall of iron.
With Garnet standing close to her, Rose Quartz summoned her shield, summoning the urge to protect, to keep safe. It was harder than it had been in a long, long time, but she managed it. Together they passed through the obstacle, the blades letting out delicate little tings! as they bounced off the shield.
Sitting on a pedestal was an artifact of wrought silver, a glimmering blue gemstone embedded in the fine metal. Rose was just going to grab it when Garnet said, "Wait."
Rose stopped, wary of any traps Garnet may have foreseen.
"We need to talk," Garnet said, instead.
Rose turned away, and plucked the artifact from its pedestal. "I don't see why."
"Hiding in your room isn't going to fix anything."
Rose didn't say anything. She just marched to the sword-waterfall, and raised her shield, gesturing for Garnet to come with her. Garnet didn't move.
With a sigh, Rose let her shield disappear. "Then what do you suggest I do, precisely?"
"Talk to Pearl."
"I tried that." Rose rolled her eyes. "She was being unreasonable."
Garnet let out a sigh of her own. "No. I don't think she was."
Rose raised her chin. "You weren't there."
"I spoke with Pearl."
"So you heard her side after-"
"- and before. Rose, this has been hurting her for a long time," said Garnet.
Rose fidgeted it a little. Yes, of course, she'd noticed how strange and rude Pearl could get around humans. But she had never known how fierce, how intense, her irrational dislike had been. Rose said, "... Then she should have told me."
"I know." Garnet nodded. "I said as much, many times. But she was scared that you wouldn't listen. That you would dismiss her. That she would lose you.
"And you proved those fears correct," Garnet finished.
Rose froze. Something akin to a blush crept up her cheeks.
She took a moment to collect herself. To put into words what she was feeling, how betrayed she had felt by Pearl's demands, how her request went against everything the Crystal Gems stood for; to love wholly and freely—
But Garnet spoke first, saying, "Rose... I think I know what happened here."
"Oh?" It was framed as Rose's usual, genuine curiosity, but there was a sharper edge beneath it.
"Yes." Garnet sighed. "I'm a Sapphire."
"No, you're not!" Rose admonished. "You're Garnet, you're something completely—"
"—different, yes, I know," Garnet said. "I'm me. I'm a fusion. But I am also Ruby, and also Sapphire. And you're a Quartz. And on Homeworld, we had a degree of... privilege, that our partners didn't. And working to even out that imbalance can sometimes be- difficult."
Rose looked at Garnet sidelong. "Well, you don't seem to have any difficulties."
"Not as much, these days," Garnet agreed. "But you must remember what it was like, early on."
… and Rose could. It has started in ernest just as Garnet had begun to lose her original, splotchy pink and blue form. She had still smiled and laughed easily— far easier than she did today— but had often turned sharp and edgy in a flash. She'd been plagued by hallucinations. She had fallen apart more often, Sapphire and Ruby rushing off in a huff, or yelling or ignoring one another.
Garnet nodded, seeing Rose's comprehension on her face. "It was hard," she said. "And… extremely unpleasant, at times. But we had no choice but to figure it out, because if we hadn't, I couldn't have kept existing. Not so stably, not long-term."
Rose nodded, slowly, but she wasn't sure she quite understood. "So… what are you saying?"
"I'm saying there's still some lingering imbalance between you and Pearl," explained Garnet. "It's interfering with your relationship. It makes Pearl hesitant to speak up, and you reluctant to listen to her."
"That's ridiculous!" Rose huffed, crossing her arms. "Of course I listen to Pearl! It's just that what she was saying was— it was, ridiculous, Garnet, ridiculous and controlling— "
"Or perhaps you were simply affronted that Pearl would ask something of you."
Rose glared at Garnet. "No."
Garnet laid a hand on her friend's shoulder. "Please, Rose. Just hear me out. Sapphire has made similar mistakes, assuming Ruby should just do whatever she wanted—"
"I'm not Sapphire!" Rose cried. "I'm not— I've never been some— self-important upper crust! I started the rebellion! I led it! Nobody believes in equality more than me!"
Garnet stepped back. She was frowning. "You can still make mistakes, Rose," she said. "We all can."
Rose made herself take a long, deep breath.
It wasn't that Garnet was trying to upset her, she knew. And Garnet… did know some things about this, she had to admit. Getting angry wouldn't help.
"... Alright," Rose said at last, re-adjusting her grip on the artifact they'd come to collect. "I will… consider what you've said, Garnet. But… Don't expect me to give up my bonds with humans. They mean too much to me."
At length, Garnet nodded. "You don't necessarily have to do what Pearl asks of you. But you should speak with her about her desires, calmly and seriously. Come to some sort of compromise. Together."
"Together," Rose Quartz echoed. But she hadn't felt ever felt so distant from Pearl— not since those lonely days when they had shared each others' company in stiff, professional silence.
Pearl. Her Pearl. Rose wanted her back, so much that she ached for her. Ached.
… but the thought of trying to speak with her right now hurt too.
Garnet must have predicted what Rose was going to say, because she stepped in; "You don't need to speak with her yet. It might help for both of you to take some time apart."
Rose nodded, a little stiffly.
"... And, one other thing," Garnet added. Rose gestured for her to continue. "Let's… be careful how we talk about this with Amethyst. We don't want to upset her."
"Yes. Yes, of course," said Rose, feeling another wave of guilt creeping up on her.
Garnet laid a gauntleted hand on Rose's shoulder, heavy and comforting. Rose reached out to squeeze it.
Under the protection of Rose's shield, they left the sunken, crumbling temple side-by-side.
"Alright, so. Some post game drink, yeah?"
Pearl saw Lapis shift in her seat on the couch next to her, but otherwise remain silent. Ever since they had arrived at Vidalia's house earlier that evening, Lapis had lookedprofoundly uncomfortable. And while Pearl was better at masking it then Lapis was, she did understand Lapis's discomfort.
"I've got some beers in the fridge," came Vidalia's voice from the kitchen again. "And I might even have some wine leftover from Yellowtail's birthday."
Lapis sat up just a little straighter in her seat and called back, "We don't drink."
Vidalia stuck her head back in the living room, looking at the pair. "Oh," she said simply. "Well, I've got plenty of other choices. Got some soda or ginger ale. Or I can brew us up some tea or coffee?"
"No, what Lapis meant," Pearl spoke up, "was that we don't drink at all. As Gems we require no food or water to sustain ourselves."
"Ah, right," Vidalia said, waving her hand. "The whole 'alien thing' right?"
Pearl resisted the urge to say that from her perspective, Vidalia was the alien, and instead nodded simply. "Yes, that is correct."
"Right, right," Vidalia nodded. "Well then, do either of you ladies need anything else? Anything Gems do need? Sunlight? You guys photosynthesize like plants or something?"
Pearl shook her head. "No, I am fine," before passing a look to Lapis.
"Yeah, I'm fine too," Lapis said.
Vidalia disappeared back into the kitchen, but only for a moment before she returned with a brightly colored can in her hand. She pulled the tab and it hissed as carbonation escaped the can. She took a drink as she sat down in a recliner next to Pearl and Lapis and placed her drink can on a coaster on the coffee table.
"So," Vidalia said casually, leaning back in her seat. "How are you two liking Beach City?"
"It is quite agreeable," Pearl answered, picking her words carefully. "It is certainly a change from Korea."
"Yeah, I can imagine," Vidalia answered. "Greg tells me you and little Steven were living in the mountains while he was here taking care of some business." Vidalia smirked as she reached for her drink. "Don't get me wrong, that sounds nice, but-" She took a sip from her drink, "-I think I'd rather live somewhere a bit more connected to others."
"Yeah," Lapis shrugged. "Being alone for too long sucks."
Vidalia opened her mouth as if she was going to ask for more details, but she stopped herself as a pair of footsteps were heard coming down the hall. A moment later Vidalia's son Onion emerged into the living room, followed closely behind by Steven.
"Hey there, you two. Where are you off to?" Vidalia asked. In response, Onion climbed into her lap and got close to her, whispering something in her ear. Vidalia nodded along before Onion hopped down from her lap when he was finished.
"Alright fine. But you two don't leave the backyard," Vidalia said.
"Yes. It will be dark soon," Pearl added. "So stay near the house, dear."
Onion nodded, as did Steven who also said, "Okay, Pearl. We won't." The two then turned and ran to the back door together.
Vidalia chuckled after them before returning her attention back to Pearl and Lapis. "Kids, huh? Always so fast to make new 'bestest' friends." She laughed lightly. "And that Steven of your's is well behaved." She gave Pearl a smile. "You must be pretty proud, huh?"
Pearl bowed her head slightly at Vidalia. "Steven has always been a joy to look after."
Vidalia laughed again and said, "Yeah, he seems like that kind of kid. Quiet, and low impact. If you know what I mean."
Pearl lied and pretended like she did. "Yes, I suppose so."
Taking another sip of her drink, Vidalia went on, "It's not an easy job, being a mother. I didn't I'd ever be up to it, but well." More laughter. "Here I am, huh?"
"Ah," Pearl said, raising a hand to her mouth. "I am not Steven's mother. I am merely his guardian."
"Right, well. A parent's a guardian. Besides," Vidalia said, waving a hand. "The way he acts around you? Heh, I know a mother and son when I see them."
Pearl shifted in her seat slightly, and Pearl saw Vidalia's brow crinkle a bit.
"Ah, man. I didn't mean-" She shook her head, setting her empty can on the table with a hollow 'clank'.
"I don't want to step over a line or anything," she said. "Greg's told me a lot about you and… his Ex."
Pearl felt her chest tighten, though she did her best to hide it. This of course wasn't the first time Pearl had been mistaken for Steven's mother. And while the comparison had never sat well with her, the ease at which Vidalia was able to make it…
Being compared to her Diamond was never something Pearl enjoyed. For… multiple reasons. None of which Pearl ever dwelled on long.
Still, Vidalia seemed more perceptive than most. She at least seemed to realize that such comments made Pearl uncomfortable. Pearl supposed Greg had told Vidalia at least some about Blue Diamond, and Pearl herself.
Lapis moved her hand over and Pearl felt it rest on top of her own. She gave Lapis a sidelong look, but Lapis was still looking straight ahead.
"It is alright," Pearl said. "It is an easy enough comparison to make." She turned her hand over and lightly squeezed Lapis' hand. "I have been with Steven and Greg since Steven was born. And I've done whatever I can for both of them."
Vidalia chuckled. "Yeah, I get that impression. And based on what I've seen, I think they're both luck to have ya."
Pearl felt her cheeks flush as she fidgeted in her seat, and was followed by Lapis giving her hand a quick squeeze. The gesture was quick and just for a moment, but it was still enough to be noticed.
Vidalia raised an eyebrow. "You two known each long?"
"A while, I guess. I mean, I saw Pearl back on Homeworld and stuff," Lapis answered flatly. "But I didn't know her, or anything."
Vidalia nodded. "Yeah, I getcha. But now that you've got some new scenery, things change, huh? I know what that's like." She grinned and closed her eyes. "Something similar happened with me and Yellowtail. Before him it was mostly just short term hookups with any guy or gal who showed any interest."
Pearl nodded silently.
"But, anyway," Vidalia continued, shaking her head a little, "as long as you two are happy together right now, that's all the really matters." She grinned again, though this one seemed to have a more devilish flair to it. "It's all about finding who makes you happy, and damn what everyone else thinks."
"Makes sense to me," Lapis said with a shrug.
A silent moment passed, before Vidalia spoke again. "So, are you two still in the hand-holding-only phase, or have you taken it to the next step?"
Pearl started slightly, as she instinctively pulled her hand away from Lapis'. "I- I'm sorry?" she stuttered.
Vidalia laughed again. "Sorry, sorry," she said, slapping her knee. "I don't want to imply anything that's not there, but… well, from an outsider's perspective, I'd say that you twoare pretty close."
Pearl felt her mouth open, but no words came to her. She tried to force something— anything— out, but no sound at all came.
"Well, yeah. We're pretty close."
It was Lapis that spoke, and for a moment, Pearl wasn't even sure she'd heard her. But she looked over at Lapis, and she was still there, her expression the same neutralness that Pearl had come to recognize. Albeit, her cheeks were just slightly flushed with color.
Vidalia gave a toothy grin. "That's good to hear." She looked over at Pearl, as if waiting for her to add something.
But Pearl pursed her lips and finally forced out, though perhaps a bit louder than she intended, "I think it is getting late. We should probably be going."
Laughing, Vidalia stood up. "Yeah, I guess it is." Pearl stood up as well, but Vidalia waved a hand. "You two stay here. I'll go grab the kids from out back."
She left them, and after several quiet seconds, Pearl sat back down next to Lapis. She bowed her head and closed her eyes, doing her best to gather thoughts.
"Lapis?" she asked quietly. "Did… you mean that? What you just said?"
"What do you mean?"
Pearl looked up at Lapis, brushing her bangs out of her eyes so as to see as clearly as possible. "What you said, about us being… close. Did you mean it?"
Lapis looked at her curiously. "Well, we are, aren't we?"
"Of course," Pearl was quick to say. "But… the way Vidalia said it… I believe she meant it in a slightly different way."
Lapis nodded slowly. "Like… in that movie we watched with Steven. About those two guys that turned into- wolves or whatever."
"Yes," Pearl said. "It's… a different type of closeness, then say the closeness I share with Steven and Greg."
Several silent moments passed before Lapis shrugged. "Well. Aren't we close like that?"
"I…" Pearl trailed off. It was true. There was a lot of fondness to be had for Lapis. And it was true that they had grown undeniably close. But so close the other could so easily see it? It felt odd, and maybe even a little taboo to consider. To think about Greg and Steven seeing a Pearl while away her time with something so frivolous.
But… Greg and Steven were unlike anyone else. They were more like Vidalia, in their own way. They didn't care about such things— indeed, were Pearl to tell them she suspected that Steven would be excited at the prospect.
Her insides felt like they flipped around. No, no telling Steven or Greg yet. Not yet…
Pearl swallowed and in one gentle movement, laid her hand back on Lapis', letting their fingers intertwine.
"I suppose we are that close," Pearl said softly. "If you want to be…"
Lapis gave no vocal response, only letting her head rest gently against the the back of the couch, supported by Pearl's arm. The two sat their in comfortable, content silence for several minutes, until Vidalia returned with Steven and Onion.
Authors' Note: And we're back!
Thanks to everyone for their patience! This last month has been bananas hectic for us, but we're excited to be back in the groove.
Hopefully look out for our spooooky Halloween AU story stuff to be coming back too this month :)