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The F Word

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Pearl has been spending a lot of time alone lately. Just thinking, mostly.

 

Out on the beach she thought about all the ways to deliver a message that did not require the use of speech. After several (dozen) failed attempts, it was finally time to give up on the idea of simply saying it.

 

It would be nice. If it could be that simple. But as it was, Pearl couldn't even run the words through her mind. Not even to get a feel for what they might sound like if she could say them.

 

'blank blank was blank blank.' Was about as close as she was able to get, which was quite frankly ridiculous. Pink Diamond had placed her hands over her mouth, not a limiter on her mind. And a little shudder went up her spine when she remembered that such things were possible, for the Gem that required a certain level of... discretion. But no. For this, she didn't have anyone to blame but herself.

 

She started playing with the sand because she liked how it felt. It gave her an idea.

 

Pearl controlled the sand with fluid movements of her hand. She was good at this. She used to do this for Rose. It made her laugh.

 

'That,' She told herself, 'Is very dangerous and not at all productive.'

 

Right, being productive. Figuring out the problem. That's what this was all about!

 

Rose was easy, Pearl made Rose figures in the sand all the time. But a representation of Pink that could be recognized as such proved... slightly outside of Pearl's talents. There was only so much she could do with this medium.

 

But there were others! Invigorated with fresh inspiration, she dashed back to Steven's room. He wasn't there - it occurred to Pearl that she rarely knew where he was or when he planned on coming home anymore, and thought that perhaps she should learn to use her cellular phone to 'check-in' with him. But that would have to wait for another day.

 

She hummed a song she knew by roughly the same name as she gathered her supplies. It helped her feel less nervous. But she didn't need to be nervous! She was so close back there with the sand. She was going to get it this time.

 

She promptly broke half of Steven's crayons trying to write the message out with words, and broke the other half trying to draw a rough depiction. The only thing she had to show for it was an entire sheet of paper colored in soft pink, which even she had to admit didn't communicate anything about anything other than her own mental state.

 

For a half a second, she questioned whether or not she was okay.

 

Pearl shook her head like she could dislodge the thought. There were still other ways! Like... music! She could say so many things with song that she couldn't normally.

 

And she spent most of the rest of the day at the Cloud Arena practicing, but even her best rendition after hours was so vague as to be meaningless. If Pearl ever strayed too close to a detail, the gag order had no problem asserting itself here, either.

 

That wouldn't do any good. She couldn't leave it up to the others to just guess what her secret was, because she was quite confident that no one would ever be able to guess this. Not even with all the time in the world. It had to be explicit. If only she could just say it!

 

After that Pearl truly had no idea what to do next. So she went to the Palanquin. Even though she knew it was probably a bad idea. Even though she wanted to turn around. Wanted to turn around right up until she got there.


Well... it wasn't as bad as she thought it would be. It was actually beautiful, although that shouldn't have been surprising. There were so many flowers. She picked one of them and held it, smiled at it fondly like the face of an old friend. Sat on the steps of the Palanquin she had once known so well, and hadn't seen for so very long.

 

"He needs to know," She said out loud, to no one. Thought about Steven turning himself over to Homeworld gems, thought of him in front of the Diamonds, for Stars' sake, it was only a matter of time until something like that happened again! "They all deserve to know." Garnet and Amethyst, her friends who on some level knew that Rose Quartz was not what they thought she was, but no idea how.

 

She looked down at her pink flower and added in the smallest voice, "And I want to tell them."

 

There was silence but for the wind in the leaves. Pearl had to laugh at herself then. Just a little. Asking for permission from someone who wasn't here to give it.

 

She tucked the flower behind her ear. It felt familiar.

 

Her hands twisted together with lack of anything to occupy them. They had been doing that more often lately. She couldn't help it. She ran her hands through her hair and down her face and sat with them covering her mouth for some time before she even realized it.

 

But when she did, she got her best idea yet.

 


 

"And so then I was like... Oh hey, Pearl, come listen to - whoa."

 

Amethyst was shocked to silence when Pearl came up and pulled a pair of steel handcuffs from her gem without preamble. She and Garnet both watched in silence while she restrained herself behind her back. She tugged on them, hard, to test if she would be able to break them. She didn't think so.


It was now or never.

 

Rose Quartz was Pink Diamond. Rose Quartz was Pink Diamond. Rose Quartz was Pink Diamond.

 

"So, uh... watcha doing there, P?"

 

"I need to tell you something," All the urgency in the world in her voice.

 

Rose Quartz was Pink Diamond!

 

She pulled in air heavily, each breath rattling her chest and looking like it might burst. Her jaw was tight.

 

Amethyst shifted closer to Garnet. Looked at her like she was hoping she was planning on doing something here, or at least explaining what was going on. "Well, we're listening."

 

She was pulling on the handcuffs. The metal was screeching against itself. It looked like she was trying very, very hard to open her mouth, but couldn't. Her eyes were screwed shut.

 

Amethyst leaned in very close and whispered to Garnet, "Do you think... is she biting her tongue?"

 

Garnet took on the stance she adopted when she was being the Leader of the Crystal Gems. "Pearl, you don't have to do this to yourself."

 

Pearl spoke through gritted teeth, and it was plainly apparent that she had, in fact, been biting her tongue. That was blood on her teeth, and splatting onto her lips when she choked out, "No!"

 

Amethyst really didn't know what that meant, but she didn't get a chance to ask. Because right then, Pearl took a massive breath of air, and for a second it looked like she might actually tell them.

 

But she didn't. Oh Stars, she didn't.

 

"OH FUCK!"

 

The handcuffs went with a short squeal of metal and then there was nothing stopping her hands from clapping over her mouth and staying there.

 

And then she started crying.

 

Garnet took over then, took Pearl into her arms and Amethyst was immensely grateful for it. She was pretty sure she was too shocked to actually move. What the fuck had that been?!

 

There were bruises on her wrists, dark ugly ones that stood out after Garnet got the broken halves off her. Little drops of blood spilled between her fingers and for whatever reason, her hands didn't look like they were going anywhere for a long time.

 

Literally all of them had seen Pearl in the throes of some complete and utter breakdown at various points, but this was something Amethyst had no idea what to make of. She knew what Pearl was like when she was upset. When she was just being Pearl. About Rose or the war, or her paranoias over Steven or her vague past that she refused to ever talk about. This was... something else.

 

She almost followed them to the Temple.

 

Almost.

 

Garnet would handle it.

 

She wished Steven was around. Ended up just sitting around and waiting until he showed up, which wasn't until after dark.

 

"Hey Amethyst," He was packing up snacks and didn't even offer her any. "Do you know who broke all my crayons?"

 

Amethyst eyed the Temple door. "No clue."

 

"It's a mystery, then! I'll get to the bottom of it after I get back from the moon with Lion."

 

Wow. Steven was getting to be really cool. Not like the way he's always been cool, but like... cool. Normally she would be more impressed, but right now she just wasn't in the mood. "Alright. See you later."

 

"Tell Garnet and Pearl and Dad I said 'bye'!"

 

It was the middle of the night before Garnet stepped out. Alone.

 

"She said it wasn't supposed to go that far." It was all she had to say. She didn't know what was going on with her, either. 

 

"So... are we gonna talk about this?"

 

"Not right now, Amethyst."

 

And Garnet walked off without further discussion, undoubtedly needing some time alone with herself.

 

Amethyst wasn't happy with that. When Pearl went to her room when she was upset, she didn't come out for days. At least.

 

She remembered the dangers of poking at Pearl when she got into one of her moods. Hell, she did it on purpose a few times those horrible months after Rose died and... she wasn't proud of that. And maybe Pearl didn't want to see her. But she clearly wasn't okay and....

 

She pulled herself together and went to the Temple. If Pearl didn't want to talk about, at least maybe she could get her to leave her room.

 

Chapter Text

Pearl takes the time to tape her blisters the way a dancer does before a performance. A real soldier wouldn’t need to. A real soldier emerges with the calloused skin that is building up so slowly on Pearl’s hands. Her skin wants to be soft too much.

 

“Almost ready?” Rose is especially anxious today, already has her shield drawn. She appraises the dark clouds rolling across the sky. There’s an interesting silver tint to them that they haven’t come across before. Hopefully it will rain soon, because they need the practice in earth’s chaotic weather.

 

Pearl finishes the tape around her wrist and jumps to rigid attention, “I’m ready!”

 

Her swords are already out and she assumes her stance with them shining in all their deadly glory. Rose smiles at her (oh, Pearl could float away when Rose smiles at her) but the laugh that comes with it, the little toss of curls over shoulder, her general air of ‘this will be easy’....

 

It’s everything that Rose knows riles her up and she falls for it willingly.

 

Pearl rushes her. No more than an instant goes by before her blade connects with Rose’s shield. The clouds rupture overhead, pouring on them and their training grounds.

 

Rose deflects the oncoming blow from her second sword and leaps back with unparalleled grace. Now that there’s some distance between them she prepares to launch her shield. Pearl knows this move well - it’s her oldest trick.

 

Refusing to let Rose hold her ground, Pearl surges forward with a battle cry. Rose rears to correct her aim as Pearl closes in on her.

 

But then a burst of light with no source blinds them both. Pearl stubbornly maintains her trajectory. Unable to see, and with the ground as terribly wet as it’s gotten, she starts to slip. Rose brings her shield down rather unceremoniously just from the shock of it all. Much to the surprise of both, her shield comes down directly on Pearl’s head.

 

An electrifying jolt passes through her whole form. Her clumsy pitch toward the ground speeds up to a full force plummet and she lands in the mud with a shout that the heavens echo.

 

“Oh my Stars, Pearl!” Rose gasps when she sees the tangled heap of gem. “Are you okay?”

 

Pearl sits up. Her head is sore and her insides feel like they’re still vibrating, but right now she’s most concerned about the mud that’s absolutely everywhere. “I’m fine.”

 

“Let me see your gem,” Rose said. “Please.”

 

Pearl allows it, of course, and allows the unnecessary and excessive fussing that follows thereafter. Rose probes the surface, and asks her over and over if she’s sure she’s alright, and suggests a trip to the Reef that Pearl pleads out of. “I’ll be perfectly fine without...” a good many unkind thoughts about the Reef boil up to the surface. The Reef is like a dollhouse that she’s expected to belong inside. The Reef is like an auction block where she is the item up for sale. She’s not entirely sure where these thoughts came from and they feel too upsetting to express, so she just lets the sentence trail off without finishing.

 

“Let’s just be done for today,” Rose says even though they just started. Pearl doesn’t think of protesting because Rose appears more distraught than she does. She helps Pearl stand and keeps hold of her hand even after she’s up. “I’m so sorry.”

 

“It’s okay,” Pearl is already making use of the rain to wash the mud away. She’ll still need to find a body of water to bathe in before they go back to the moon, without question. “You didn’t mean to.”

 


 

 

It’s not until later that Pearl realizes that she’s really not okay at all.


The smallest thing is what does it. Pearl is standing at Pink Diamond’s side, bored out of her gem like she always is when they aren’t on earth and avoiding the frequent brow-knitted looks Pink is treating her to. She cranes her neck up to take a look at the stars outside the observation bay, pretending that they are vastly more fascinating than anything going on in here....

 

A shock much like the one before courses through her, undeniably stronger this time. Pearl’s mouth opens in a near silent gasp. Stars above.

 

Pink notices. “Is everything okay?”

 

“Fine!” Pearl says too fast. She takes a breath and forces a smile. That’s something she’s had to start doing lately - faking her smiles. They feel like little lies. “My Diamond, it’s fine.”

 

Pearl can’t stand that concerned look any longer. She takes the first opportunity she can to excuse herself.

 

Once alone she feels along her gem, even more thoroughly than Rose had earlier. She secretly hopes she won’t find anything and will never have to tell Pink Diamond or anyone else about this. Ever.

 

Alas, she finds what she’s looking for. The agony of touching the very top edge of her gem sends her to a knee with a pathetic yelp.

 

Oh no. This is very bad. She already told Rose there was nothing to worry about! And if Pink learns that she’s hurt Pearl, if Rose or either of them or both or whoever....

 

This is going to upset her very badly.

 

So badly that she’s going to want to ensure it never happens again.

 

Something awful will come of this, something even worse than making Pink Diamond cry. Quite frankly Pearl would have never thought such a thing imaginable.

 

Rose won’t spar with her any more after this. She’ll say it’s too dangerous for her. Too dangerous, much too dangerous for a pearl. She’ll chide herself on what she could have possibly been thinking in the first place. There will be much pacing back and forth and gesturing of arms. And when it’s done, Pearl won’t be allowed to fight any more. Maybe Pink Diamond will even take her swords away. Take them away to destroy.

 

Pearl starts breathing very fast. She leans a hand against the wall, hunches over herself and whispers, “fuck.”

 

Maybe no one ever has to find out about this. It’s such a small crack! A hairline fracture at the most. Invisible to the naked eye, probably. And she can cover it with her hair if not. As for the effects....

 

She decides to worry about that later.

 


 

 

She gets by on the moon base.

 

As a pearl she is very skilled at holding very still for a very long time, and the crack doesn’t bother her at all as long as she doesn’t move. Pink Diamond even seems satisfied enough to spend her afternoon ignoring calls from Yellow and the evening ignoring calls from Blue with a break here and there to ignore all work entirely. Everything would have been well and good if Pearl hadn’t taken up a reputation for getting dirty and using swords.

 

“Come on, Pearl!” Rose splashes around the inviting little pond she’s found herself in. Her curls are dampened to her beaming face. “Jump in!”

 

Pearl stays firmly on the shore. “I’ll just watch from here.”

 

Which is no unfortunate thing in her mind. Pearl could happily watch Rose enjoying herself for... ever, probably. But it doesn’t last long before Rose’s attention falls on something else.

 

“Look!” She points to the toads that live in this lake. “Let’s go catch frogs!”

 

She reaches for Pearl but she doesn’t come any closer. “Maybe later.”

 

Rose appears puzzled and tragically crestfallen.

 

“How about we go spar?”

 

The question is so unexpected (it’s not, Rose loves to spar and asks all the time, but it feels unexpected right now) that Pearl can’t find the voice to answer. And she doesn’t want to shake her head because of the crack, which leaves them in an awkward silence.

 

“You’re mad at me.”

 

“No!” Pearl answers too late to avoid this confrontation. Now that she’s gotten going, words tumble out of her mouth and can only be half understood. “I’m sorry, I want spar with you, just not right now. Okay, Rose?”

 

The silence that follows shifts from awkward to heavy. “Something’s wrong. Pearl, you have to tell me what’s wrong!”

 

“No,” Pearl refuses to admit it even though she’s up against a rock and a wall here.

 

“Are you hurt?” Rose moves toward her and Pearl backs up.

 

Rose is stunned by Pearl’s avoidance, the first she’s ever shown towards her. It makes her face go pink. It makes her start pacing back and forth and gesture with her arms.

 

“You need to tell me these things, Pearl! You can’t just go around getting hurt and not saying anything about it! The crack could spread! It could -”

 

Rose freezes when she turns back toward Pearl. Her head is down so far her nose aims straight at the ground. Her hands are gripping the edge of her tunic. She can’t believe that she was so stupid as to think she could hide something so obvious from Rose. She can’t believe that all she did was go and make everything worse!

 

“Pearl, please don’t cry...”

 

“I’m sorry!” Pearl blurts out, and when she looks up at Rose, she is indeed crying profusely. “Please don’t take my swords away.”

 

“Why would I...” Rose’s face softens. When she approaches Pearl this time, she does so slowly. “No one is going to take away your swords. They’re yours and you can defend them if you have to.”

 

Pearl hiccups and turns this over in her head. Although she doubts that she would be able to raise a sword against Pink Diamond to save her gem, it’s is more than enough to assuage her fears. Her swords belong only to her. Easier to understand in theory than actual practice.

 

“Is that why you didn’t tell me that I cracked you?”

 

Pearl turns her head at that phrasing, because Rose never meant to. Rose shouldn’t have to accept any blame because she didn’t do anything wrong. If anything Pearl shouldn’t have charged head first into Rose’s path when she had her shield out like that. Reckless. Pearl bites the inside of her cheek. “I really didn’t notice it at first. But when I did...” she takes her time so as to enunciate clearly, “I was afraid you would think I’m too weak to fight.”

 

Rose hugs her. Rose gives the best hugs, so engulfing and consuming that Pearl doesn’t mind the jolt. Rose’s hugs feel like a gift. “You’re the strongest gem I’ve ever met.”

 

It would wound like a cruel taunt if said by anyone else, but not from Rose Quartz. Coming from Rose, it sounds like a fearless telling of the truth.

 

Pearl thought the sound of those words alone is what relieves her pain, but when the initial dizzy rush wears off she realizes that’s not the case. “Rose, are you crying?”

 

“I can’t help it!” Rose wails, pulling her closer in an embrace that’s nothing but nice. Even more of her tears drip onto Pearl’s gem.

 

“I think you fixed me,” Pearl said breathlessly. She squeezes a hand in to check. It’s perfect. Like nothing ever happened. “You fixed me.”

 

Rose wipes at her face. Searches her own pale pink tears for answers. “How did I do that?”

 

Rose looks so surprised and relieved and beautiful that she can’t help herself. Oh, maybe in another time she could have helped herself, but that has come and so long gone. "You just did. You're wonderful!" Pearl stands up on the tips of her toes, throws her arms around Rose’s neck and gives her a kiss upon the cheek that makes both of their faces turn colors.

 

She’s a miracle. She’s brilliant and brimming with magic and she thinks Pearl is the strongest gem she’s ever met.

 

“Please tell me if you get hurt,” Rose squeezes her like she’s scared of the thought. “I’ll fix you again.”

 

Pearl knows that she will, and it’s so much more appealing than the Reef and infinitely better than suffering in silence. Agreeing is easy. “I will.”

 

She enjoys Rose’s hug for a few moments more, and the gem newly healed by the force of her love. Pearl soaks it up for all it’s worth and then proposes, “Do you want to spar with me?”

 

Rose smiles like she thought she’d never ask. Kisses her gem where she was once broken so sweetly that Pearl melts inside. “With you? Always.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Greg walks in on Pearl baking.

 

Far from the most awkward scenario, that’s for sure. Still, he really wasn’t planning on seeing her today. He’s been avoiding her since the world almost ended.

 

“Hey.”

 

“Oh, hi Greg!” She prepping pastry cream bags in front of a counter of puffs. “Can I help you?”

 

Greg cringes. Tactfully decides not to mention he wouldn’t mind never hearing those words from her again. Not even if he’s carrying something heavy (Pearl’s stronger than him) or needs a hand on the van (Pearl’s been keeping her alive for years) and he doesn’t even like the idea of dropping off his laundry anymore (Pearl doesn’t mind throwing it in with Steven’s for an old friend. As long as he takes care of the underwear). “I was just looking for Steven, but I guess he’s not here. You’re... doing some baking?”

 

“Yes, I’m making a croquembouche,” no way Greg’s gonna try saying that, but he’s looking forward to eating it. “I saw it on the Fabulous English Baking Program.” Greg perks up. It goes without saying that he loves visiting because his son lives here and he loves his son more than the whole world. But coming around is even better when Pearl’s been binge watching the Fabulous English Baking Program. And he has to stay on top of it if he’s going to get anything before Amethyst, who has an egregiously unfair advantage in living with Pearl and all her delicious desserts. He’s camped on the beach. More than once. The competition is brutal.

 

Pearl picks up the vanilla cream, piping into the pastries. Going slow like she intends on filling each and every one exactly the same. Or she’s taking her time for the sake of it. Greg scratches the back of his neck. He wasn’t planning on this, and he’s kinda been writing a speech that’s not done yet, but it seriously feels like they gotta talk about it now. “Hey....”

 

She finishes her pastry. Completely bemused, “Hello?”

 

Oh no, it’s one of those awkward-alien-human-social-situations now. It goes from bad to worse when Greg opens his mouth and forgets how to close it. Not to mention all the deep wisdom he thought he possessed while he was working on his little speech. “Oh, uh, that wasn’t a ‘hello’ hey, it was more of an ‘I wanted to ask you something but I’m not really sure how to start’ hey, but I can see you’re real busy with your thing here so I could always come back later, much later....” Pearl’s head tilts to the side. Desperately lost. He wraps it up. “I was just wondering how you’re doing with everything?”

 

“Oh, good! Our first students are arriving soon. It’s so exciting! And my croquembouche is going well so far, if I do say so myself. How have you been since we last exchanged pleasantries?”

 

Greg loves the Gems, and without them Steven might’ve grown up to be an out of control worm or something, but he wishes they weren’t so oblivious. “Actually, I meant with like... getting reset and all. Ya know.”

 

Pearl’s done with vanilla. She switches to chocolate and her face betrays nothing. “I wasn’t aware that was something we needed to discuss.”

 

Shit, abort mission! Not a drill! Abort!

 

“We don’t! Not if you don’t want! I just thought I should... maybe check in. With you. About it.”

 

Maybe he shouldn’t have.

 

Maybe he should have ducked out of the house instead of announcing his presence like a fool.

 

“I can go...”

 

Pearl focuses on her pastries while she talks. “I don’t remember much. It was only a day.”

 

Greg has a career and a kid that drives and a couple silver hairs, but he feels new on earth when he thinks that Pearl spent thousands of years of like that. Thousands of years living for someone else. More like thousands of years living for nothing. Wasted. Puts things in perspective. “What was it -”

 

Pearl looks up at him. Wide eyed and curious. Not angry or judging. God knows it would be clear if she was. He really missed this Pearl. Having her back is worth doing his own chores for... how long did the Gems ground Steven for? Way longer than he’s gonna live, reasonably or otherwise. “What was it all like for you?”

 

She sets her baking down. He worries he might have crossed a thin invisible line. Worries that at any moment he might reawaken that fire breathing salt dragon side of Pearl he remembers so well. Might just be him. He’s been reminiscing on those years lately, remarking on how even that Pearl was preferably to the one he met.

 

“It wasn’t,” a chuckle with no spirit. There’s a subtle but mounting pressure in the air. What if he’s not the best person for Pearl to be dredging everything up with? She could go to the other Gems if she wanted. Pearl has them and they’ve weathered worse together. She doesn’t need him. “It honestly wasn’t that bad. I’d say I had the best time out of anyone. Except maybe Garnet after she got back together.”

 

“Yeah, you were enthusiastic alright.” It was the creepiest detail of them all to Greg. So much empty happiness. Like Pearl was a hollowed out animated doll version of herself. There but not here. Living but not alive. And damn if she didn’t commit to being the best doll she could be.

 

Pearl hums, rolls the bag to get the last of the cream. “New pearls are notoriously clingy. And... eager. I was the same with Pink at first.”

 

Her eyes dart. Greg knows what that means. That’s the undeniable panic of someone who didn’t think words over before saying them. Greg pulls a stool up at the counter and sits.

 

“I need to put these in the fridge and start the caramel. Do you want this?” She slides him the bowls and spoons from the cream and he dives in like a kid, using his fingers to get all that sugary goodness. Inspired, he double dips to mix the flavors.

 

Greg assumes it’s all a smooth evasion tactic, which is fine. Pearl doesn’t have to spell her trauma out for him right here and now, wherever it stems from. That’s hers. And according to Steven she doesn’t really talk about this stuff. Not with the Gems and not with him. Not with anyone. Steven concluded that Pearl wasn’t ready and would come to them when she was. If she ever was. And it’s nauseating, like it actually makes him sick and want to throw up, but Greg Universe is the one and only human being to have ever owned a pearl and if Pearl wants to clue him in on what that means, he’s gonna stick around and listen unless she asks him to leave.

 

Especially if she keeps feeding him scraps.

 

Pearl gets the sauce going and stirs. “I would have done anything to make Pink Diamond happy. But she gave me little direction.” Is that polite language for telling her exactly what, when, and how to do everything? “So I gave myself jobs to do.”

 

“Yeah... I think you’re still holding on to my sound equipment,” Greg laughs. He knows for a fact it’s in her gem because he was helpless to do anything but watch her store it there one piece at a time. She turned to him for praise every time she ‘put it away for you, My Um Greg Universe!’ He shudders. He can still hear her and, much like Pearl then, it’s not helping. “I need it back, by the way.”

 

Pearl waves him off. She’ll get it later. “Mostly it was silly tasks like that, but I could be daring. Even then.”

 

She clams up for a second. Not telling, and Greg’s not asking. Her back is turned to him. Stirs harder. “I made her angry. She would never say it and she would certainly never act on it. But I could tell. She got so frustrated with me sometimes....”

 

Is it warm in here, or is Greg ashamed that he started snapping at Pearl right away? She was embarrassing him, and freaking him out, and annoying him. He didn’t think twice about it because Pearl didn’t react. Not even a blink. Which made him more frustrated with her, and the world being in danger, and him not being able to help his son the way he wishes he could. He wishes that Steven didn’t have to deal with so much. It’s not fair.

 

And he wasn’t being entirely fair to Pearl. In a fine example of speaking-without-thinking he asks, “Was I okay?”

 

Pearl swivels around to him. He braces himself for tears, but Pearl isn’t crying. She’s impressively composed. “You were very kind to me, Greg. Don’t doubt that. You did the best you could in a situation you weren’t prepared for.”

 

He breathes a load off his shoulders. Story of his life, huh? “Thanks. That’s good to hear.”

 

Pearl returns to the counter and plunges the pot into an ice bath. “It’s impossible to make somebody be happy. Not if they don’t want to be.”

 

Greg imagines the crossing of a finish line in a millennia long race. A thesis statement. And he wants so bad for this to be the end for her, if only one could put their pain away and be done with it. Not every ending comes with a ‘once and for all’.

 

He ponders all this while licking the caramel spoon and Pearl retrieves the puffs. “Pink Diamond never wanted to be happy. Rose did. Was. That’s why I chose her.”

 

Her name sticks out like a dogeared page. But it doesn’t hurt too bad to talk about her. Greg thanks Steven for bringing them together. He and Pearl can talk to each other about Rose like no one else in the universe, because they both loved her and she loved both of them.

 

And they’re okay with that.

 

They lapse into meandering conversation while Pearl builds her tower of pastry with caramel glue. Mostly about Rose, some about Steven. Greg eyes the croquet-whatever-it-is. It’s beautiful. He offers to help (give him some credit, he can’t mess up the dipping part. And the sooner it’s done the sooner it can be eaten), but he backs off at the look Pearl gives him alone.

 

Please God don’t let Amethyst walk in right now.

 

“I didn’t always do what Rose wanted. Stars, it would have made her life easier if I had!” Pearl smiles at a fond memory. These days they both do more of that than crying. “At least during the war.”

 

Greg’s heard the gist of it. That Pearl was a glass cannon who would never stand to see Rose on the battlefield without her protection. Took it seriously enough to knight herself, which is more seriously than Greg’s taken anything but parenting. And maybe not even that.

 

“I wouldn’t have done anything to make her happy. She didn’t need me for that. But I would have saved her life by any means necessary.”

 

She looks far off now. Her hands are getting sloppy. “I get this voice in the back of my head sometimes that’s not entirely mine. Sometimes when I’m least expecting it.” The stack is wobbling now, but no one notices and Pearl works faster. Messier. “It says 'do it', whatever it may be... no matter what. No matter the risk. Even if it kills me.”

 

The tower falls.

 

Pastries cave in on themselves. A couple of them pop their filling. There’s caramel all over the counter and puff balls everywhere.

 

“My croquembouche is ruined!” Pearl throws up her hands like this is the worst thing that has ever happened to her or around her. “Fuck!”

 

Greg has no idea what to say. He might not be the perfect person for this, but he’s the one that’s here right now.

 

He has to do his best with a situation he’s not prepared for.

 

“It’s still good!” He nabs one of them off the counter and takes a bite. Oh dear sweet Lord singing in Heaven. “This is the best thing I’ve ever eaten.”

 

That’s an under-exaggeration if anything.

 

Greg would never say this out loud, but he’s always found Pearl’s eyes a little freaky. They’re so big and unnatural. When she looks at him it’s like... an owl. A thousands of years old owl peering directly into the place where he keeps all his secrets. Even more so when she got reset and her eyes resembled painted doll ones.

 

The reverse is going on. Pearl looks at him and her eyes look so full they might burst like the pastries. “Steven doesn’t own me. Pink and Rose were the same Gem. In more ways than I’d like to admit. But Steven is different.”

 

He’s not sure where she’s going with this, but that’s nice to know. He can’t say that thought has never hit him in an uncomfortable way.

 

Pearl’s voice hitches like she might cry soon. “And I know that he’s going to die one day.”

 

A stupidly long time after Greg, he dearly hopes.

 

Pearl can’t really say the same.

 

“I’m not... reckless. Anymore. But I can’t help but think....” She chews her lip and takes all the time she needs to think before she speaks. “If I could somehow save Steven’s life by sacrificing my own? I’d do it.”

 

This is something that needs to be considered over a puff pastry. Greg delightfully finds that this one is chocolate. “I would die for Steven. No question. And kill for him... if I had to. That doesn’t make it not your choice. That makes you his mom.”

 

Pearl’s freakishly huge owl eyes glaze over and she launches herself at him.

 

His first reaction is panic, but there’s no need. She’s hugging him like she’s never done before. “Thank you.”

 

He frets over his sticky caramel hands for a second, but throws his arms around her anyway. The situation calls for it. And, since he’s not sure when it’s ever going to be appropriate for him to say this again, he chooses now. “You’ve come so far, Pearl. I’m really proud of you.”

 

She freezes and thaws in an instant. “I’m... proud of you too. Thank you.”

 

She discretely swipes at her eyes before letting go. Gestures to the remains of her endeavor. “Take this and get it out of here before Amethyst sees. Never tell her I gave you this.”

Don't gotta tell him twice. Tonight he’s going against everything his doctor’s ever told him! ... Since he turned 40.

“Wait!” He calls from the door. “I still need my sound equipment!”

 

“I almost forgot! My apologies.” Pearl promptly expels several hundred pounds of gear on the porch.

 

“Thanks! Could you help me get it to the van?”

 

Pearl slams the screen door shut. “Do it yourself!”

 

She laughs all the way to the mess in the kitchen, and Greg takes one last moment to fold this pain up and put it away.

 

... Wait, is she being serious?

 

Chapter Text

“Pleeeeeease, Pearl?”

 

“I just don’t see why she can’t stay in Little Homeworld with everyone else.”

 

“Jasper doesn’t wanna go to Little Homeworld! But I think I’m really getting through to her now. She’s never gonna learn by living in that cave all by herself! Please? I promise not to ask for anything ever again. Not even for my birthday!”

 

Pearl restrains herself from saying the first words that come to mind. Struggles to find some kinder ones. She’s already gone over all the reasons why she thinks Jasper is a terrible influence. In PowerPoint format with cited references. “I guess... she can stay in the lighthouse.”

 

Steven flings his arms around her shoulders. “Thank you! I promise she won’t cause any trouble!”

 

“Just don’t think you have to be responsible for her.”

 

Pearl won’t forbid her from their home, but she demands Jasper take the blame with her when this inevitably falls apart.

 


 

The lighthouse proves a suitable middle ground. Close enough that Steven feels like she’s part of the household and with plenty of space for the Gems.

 

Pearl leaves the Temple early to spend time with Garnet, Amethyst, and Steven before warping to Little Homeschool. For the first half of the morning she shows Gems how to configure the privacy settings on their cell phones and gives driving lessons after.

 

“Remember to go easy on the gas pedal.”

 

“Got it!” Agate immediately proceeds to floor it.

 

“BREAK! BREAK! BREAK!”

 

“Which one is that?!” She shouts over the accelerating engine roar and screams of onlookers, turning the wheel this way and that as if imitating something she’s seen done before but doesn’t understand at all.

 

“THE OTHER ONE!”

 

“Oooooooh.”

 

Agate slams on the break and they stop inches short of swerving through the art studio. “That was so much fun! Does this thing fly?”

 

“Let’s just...” Pearl catches her imaginary breath. “Start small for now.”

 

She remembers Steven had an electric jeep before he moved in with them. And she could match its top speed at a brisk walk. Hmm....

 

After surviving her hurtle toward death she goes over the logistics of building a vehicle that can hold an 8 foot Gem capable of no more than 15 mph with Bismuth and Peridot.

 

By then it’s time for her favorite class!

 

Inclusion is a central tenet at Little Homeworld. When they make their class rosters at the beginning of the year every effort is made to mix Gemstones. Skittish Gems need the encouragement and (lovingly) forced interaction at first. The usually warm up fast.

 

Gems are more alike than the Authority (to this day) believes. But the Crystal Gems learned a valuable lesson from their first year: not all Gems struggle the same way. Not all Gems need the same help.

 

For the second year, the Crystal Gems each assigned a few of their core classes to star students with a passion for education. Now Garnet mentors fusions in the afternoons. She helps new fusions learn how to keep it together and when to let herself come apart. Old fusions that hid away for eons because she thought she was the only one. Gems that are curious about fusion and whether or not it’s right for them.

 

Amethyst teaches Gems to love themselves no matter how they came out of the ground.

 

“Where my Rejects at?!” She starts her class with a rousing cheer that the rejects are all right here. Pearl doesn’t know how she does it. She recalls this one Quartz that swore up and down, break her own Gem, it would never be okay that she wasn’t as tall as she was meant to be.

 

She’s part of the Shorty Squad now. They even got jackets.

 

And Pearl teaches a new program she calls ‘Freedom for Beginners’.

 

Her class is small. Heartbreaking small. It bothers her very much. Where is everyone? What happened to them? Will they ever get the chance just to walk through the door? Or any kind of chance....

 

It bothers her nearly all the time. But when class is in session, her spirit soars.

 

Pearl has questioned her choices and actions countless times over the eons. Always asking herself what she could have done differently. What pain she might have spared herself. Spared others of.

 

When she lost herself in those thoughts she used to wonder why she had to go and do anything. For all the many faults in Homeworld’s system, Pearl couldn’t lie to herself and pretend life hadn’t been easier there. She had one job. And she couldn’t do it right. That hurt.

 

But that was just one kind of hurt. One of infinity. Sometimes Pearl thought she was cursed to suffer them all one by one. Possibly for disobedience, but most likely because she was bad in a way that transcends caste. And all she could do was ask herself why.

 

This is why.

 

There is nothing, no Gem or person or outside influence, that could complete Pearl the way her own kind does when the world opens to them.

 

Now, she has the chance to tell them everything she had to figure out through trial and (primarily) error. Because she learned herself. And if there are 9 of them here, that's 9 more pearls who get to be free for the first time.

 

Rose would love this.

 

Bliss carries her through family dinner. Steven used to fend for himself more meals than not, but they made it a ritual. Some days it’s the only time they’re all together in the same room. Hard to believe they used to be all each other had....

 

They cook. Some of them eat. Talk about what they did today and will do tomorrow. At the end of the meal, Steven makes two plates of leftovers.

 

“Uh, I know you’re a big man and all, but really?”

 

Steven rolls his eyes like Amethyst has room to talk. When did he start rolling his eyes at them?! “I don’t want Jasper to be lonely eating by herself.”

 

Pearl says nothing. She agreed to this. They all did. In too deep to do anything but trust Steven.

 

She double checks the chore wheel to see if it’s her night to clean the kitchen. She doesn’t make her own edits anymore, but she wasn’t lying when she said she likes doing chores. She finds it relaxing to clean up a mess like the kitchen after dinner.

 

She doesn’t wait for Steven to get in, but she’s relieved when he rushes in with two sets of dirty dishes.

 

“Did you start the dishwasher yet?”

 

“No,” She saves that for last on purpose. A few unnamed occupants of the household have a habit of ‘remembering’ to bring the dishes from their rooms while she’s cleaning the kitchen. She doesn’t mind much. They’re usually horrendous and no one else would wash them right. “How was she?”

 

“Oh, just... getting settled in. She says the lighthouse is kinda like her old cave! I think she likes it.”

 

Pearl hums as she starts on the dishes. Content as long as she’s behaving herself. Reminds herself of that chance to change.

 

She sees Steven off to bed and turns out the lights. If anyone remembers their nacho cheese experiments, it’s officially their problem.

 

She spends the night planning lessons and reemerges after sunrise to face the coming day.

 

She stops in her tracks. Mouth hanging open.

 

Midnight snacks happen often around here, but this is ridiculous. It looks like a tornado blew the entire contents of the kitchen around the house! Cabinets hang open, the fridge is empty, and there’s a heaping stack of dishes in the sink. The ones that made it that far appear to be the lucky ones.

 

Steven couldn’t have slept through this. She huffs all the way upstairs to find his bed messy but abandoned.

 

She has to get to the bottom of this. So she calls him.

 

“Hey... Pearl. What’s up?”

 

Far from the speaker, someone asks, “what’s that?”

 

“Are you in the lighthouse?”

 

Steven shushes someone. “Yeah, I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep so I thought I’d say hi to Jasper!”

 

“Hmm. I see. And did you two get hungry?”

 

Steven is slow to answer, like when he was little and knew he did something wrong. “Uh... yeah. Jasper wanted to try more people food! Isn’t that cool?”

 

“Steven! The kitchen!”

 

Jasper sounds closer now. “Is that the pearl?”

 

“I’ll clean it up! I’m coming down right now.”

 

Pearl massages her gem. “No, Steven. Tell Jasper she has to help. Honestly, she should do it herself.”

 

Steven has lived with them for many years without once doing something so inconsiderate. She doubts it’s the product of coincidence.

 

“Make her shut up already.”

 

“I... I’ll talk to her, okay? See you soon!” Steven hangs up without letting her get another word in.

 

Pearl scowls. Sits in the least destroyed section of couch to wait for Steven and Jasper with her arms and legs crossed. She’s so pissed she can barely think about anything other than how pissed she is.

 

“Damn P, what happened here?”

 

“I don’t want to talk about it!”

 

Amethyst backs way off. “Okay, jeez. Sorry.”

 

Pearl waits and waits as long as she can. Human Technology starts in 4 minutes, and she needs at least 5 to thoroughly chew out her son and his guest. Tries to call Steven before she warps off and gets sent straight to voicemail. She texts him from the warp stream.

 

‘Dear Steven,

I’m going to work. Please clean the house with Jasper before I get back. I’m serious. If she doesn’t help I’ll know.

Love,

Pearl’

 

Stars. She pushes it down. It’s just a mess. A Jasper sized mess, but that was only a matter of scale.

 

Still. It’s not really about the mess.

 

It’s about how Steven leaves her on read until midday.

 

‘Calm down.’

 

Oh no.

 

‘Dear Steven,

I will not calm down. I’m upset about this and we will discuss it when I come home. I’m deeply disappointed.

Love,

Pearl’

 

Her phone buzzes on the way to Freedom for Beginners.

 

‘Need a hug?’

 

And again right after.

 

‘You gonna go cry about it?’

 

This is not the Steven she loves.

 

“Everyone!” Pearl’s students are right on time and assemble when she enters. “As much as I hate to do this, I’m afraid our class must be canceled for today.”

 

She’s not really sure how to explain why without ranting about vanquishing enemies and saving her precious baby’s soul. She likes to keep things light as she can in here. Sadness is contagious.

 

A pale blue Pearl raises her hand. “What should we do for our homework?”

 

The prepared assignment doesn’t work without today’s lesson, so she wings it. “Get angry!”

 

Her students exchange puzzled looks while Pearl storms out to the warp.

 

She arrives to find Steven wearing rubber gloves up to the elbow and scrubbing a hopelessly dried pool of syrup. He leaps in surprise and smacks the ceiling. “Aren’t you supposed to be at work?!”

 

Pearl breathes fire. “I came home early because I received some very strange text messages from you.”

 

“Oh, but... that happens sometimes, right? I get strange messages all the time. So many that I kinda gave up on finding an explanation,” he laughs like he’s scared for life and Gem.

 

Pearl narrows her eyes. Steven stops laughing. “Explain this.”

 

“I gave Jasper my phone so she wouldn’t get bored while I was cleaning!” He wails, falls to his knees and reaches to the heavens for forgiveness. “I’m sorry, I thought she was gonna be cool and watch cat videos for a few hours. I showed her how to use Tubetube and everything! I tried!

 

She’s heard plenty.

 

“Where are you going?” Steven asks, even though he knows where she’s going. “Don’t you want to yell at me? I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to!”

 

Pearl doesn’t stop or slow down. “If you’re not going to hold Jasper responsible, I will.”

 

“Please don’t kick her out.”

 

“Steven, I’ll make her wish I kicked her out! Don’t clean anything else.”

 

She stokes the roaring fire in her Gem up to Jasper’s lair. All but rips the door off its rusty hinges.

 

Jasper’s lounging back and swiping left on Steven’s phone.

 

The object of her rage in sight, Pearl completely unloads on her. “CLEAN UP YOUR FUCKING MESS!”

 

Jasper doesn’t even go to the trouble of looking at her. “Why does Steven take so many pictures of this girl if they all look the same?” She swipes again and her eyes and mouth pop open. “Oh my Staaaaars....”

 

Pearl grabs it and locks the screen before she can see whatever private information is on it. “Did you hear me?”

 

“Be damn hard not to,” Jasper rolls her eyes.

 

Pearl points to the door and repeats herself like Jasper admitted to being hard of hearing. “Now, Jasper!”

 

She stands to her full hulking height. Pleasing at first, until she makes no move towards the door. “Make me.”

 

“Excuse you?”

 

“Don’t you like that kind of stuff? It should be your job anyway.” Jasper puffs her chest out like a big Quartz soldier. Never mind there aren’t any wars around to fight.

 

“In this house we all do our share. That means everyone.”

 

Jasper gestures to the walls around them. “I don’t live in that house. My room is just how I like it!”

 

Pearl dares to move in on her. “Your room is on our territory and you’re here because we let you. You’re welcome to Little Homeworld, but you’ll be expected to do more work there than here. You’re also welcome to return to your cave. I understand you’re homesick for it.”

 

Jasper growls like she detests the notion of home. “Well... I’m not leaving.”

 

Pearl blinks. “What?”

 

“I’m not leaving. And no pearl,” Jasper enunciates like Pearl is very stupid and shoves her out of her personal space. “Is gonna make me.”

 

It takes all the patience she has not to draw her spear and fight Jasper off the beach. Worry about Steven’s feelings later. She wants to show Jasper exactly what she can and can’t do. She wants to make her leave.

 

Or at least clean up her mess!

 

The only thing that stops her is knowing she would lose. Badly.

 

Pearl is no physical match for Jasper. But violence isn’t the only solution....

 

“Jasper, I challenge you to a rap battle!”

 

She falls down laughing. “Is that what pearls do? That’s cracked!”

 

“Do you refuse my challenge?”

 

Those are magic words to a Quartz like Jasper. “I'll beat you into the dirt with my rhymes.”

 

“Is that what you think?”

 

“Yeah!”

 

“Then we should do in front of as many people as possible!”

 

“Maybe we should!”

 

“Good!”

 

“Fine!”

 

“Meet me in Little Homeworld at sunset!”

 

“I’ll be there!”

 

“If I win, you have to fix the house and your attitude or move out!”

 

“Deal. And when I win, I get you for keeps!”

 

Pearl balks but for an instant. “You’re on!”

 

“Then I guess you can leave!”

 

“I guess I can! But not because you told me too!”

 

“Close the door behind you!”

 

Pearl tears the door the rest of the way out of its frame and hurls it to the sky. It flies and flies and... it belongs in the ocean now. She really didn’t think that through.

 

Huh. Come to think of it, she didn’t think a lot of this through.

 


 

 

“WELCOME ONE AND ALL! STEP RIGHT UP, STEP RIGHT UP TO WITNESS LITTLE HOMEWORLD’S FIRST RAP BATTLE!”

 

Amethyst’s hands are shape-shifted into megaphones. Gems are already gathering in the courtyard a half hour before sunset. Prime spots are going fast.

 

“I didn’t think it would get this big so quickly....” Pearl wasn’t nervous before, but it’s starting in her stomach.

 

“Welp, none of us thought you would get into a rap battle with Jasper over who cleans the kitchen. STEP RIGHT UP EVERYONE, SUNLIGHT’S BURNING HERE!”

 

There’s a ring of bodies taking formation. A couple humans are barbecuing by where Sour Cream is setting up his DJ gear. And there’s an odd looking cart parked off to the side... “What’s that?”

 

“Merch. ONCE IN A LIFETIME EVENT, PEOPLE!”

 

Pearl finds a nice, quiet corner to sit in. She thinks about her life and waits for it to get dark.

 

“TAKE YOUR PLACES!”

 

That means her, too. She squares her shoulders and marches to what feels like a very real fight with Jasper.

 

She’s waiting in the center of ring. The huddled crowd parts so that Pearl can join her.

 

“LET’S GET READY TO RAP!” Amethyst makes them stand next to each other while she does her thing. “PLEASE WELCOME THE RAPPERS! JASPER! AND! PEARL!”

 

The audience cheers. It’s hard to tell one from the other with only firelight to see by, but she can’t miss the 9 distinctive forms standing together right up front. One of her students waves at her.

 

Stars, they really shouldn’t be watching her gamble her freedom on a rap battle while they’re still learning what that is. It’s kind of a mixed message. But they’re here now and there’s nothing she can do about it. She waves back to them.

 

“The rules of the rap battle are simple. The Gem that can lay down sick burns the longest wins. Rappers, what do you rap for?!”

 

Pearl steps out first. “If I win, Jasper has to clean up the mess she made.”

 

Amethyst consults Jasper. “You down with that?”

 

“I’m down. If I win I get to keep the pearl.”

 

Amethyst shifts her megaphones away. “Hey, you know we’re not gonna let you do that, right?”

 

Pearl cuts in. “Those are the stakes, Amethyst.”

 

“Alright. It’s your freedom, I guess.” Amethyst shrugs and replaces her megaphones. “Pearl, do you accept?”

 

Pearl speaks directly to Jasper. “You are so on.”

 

“LET THE RAPPERS.... RAP!” Amethyst clears the ring. Sour Cream kicks up the beat.

 

The two Gems circle each other around the main warp. This is a fight, and it begins when Jasper sings.

 

//I’m flawless

emerged perfect

never bested

Gems see me and start writing their obituaries

 

Thinking you’re a match for me

would be cute but you’re way too annoying

do you ever stop talking?

Your voice makes me wish I were still forming!

 

Silly Pearl

so lost you don’t even know it

playing school like you ain’t

already got a purpose

 

Oh, am I hurting your feelings?

so sorry

should I go get the tissues

before or after you start crying?

 

You’re a joke that’s not funny

so back off with just a warning

or you’ll shatter from my rhyming

that is unless you miss your little friends that didn’t listen//

 

There’s some polite applause and nervous shifting. “BOO!” Pale Blue shouts, hands cupped over mouth. The others follow her example. “BOOOOOOO! BOOOOOOOO!”

 

Pearl feels strangely taller.

 

//That it?

let me give a demonstration

now make way center stage

for the terrifying renegade!

 

I’m up with the stars

so far

you ain’t on my level

say the word I might ease up a little

 

You try so hard to be scary

not the first Gem coming all out at me
best get yourself in line

last warning

second guess me and it will be your undoing

 

you think that you own me?

bitch I got a newsflash

it’s that you’re too broke

to afford me!

 

I’ll send you to the era

you got all your discount rhymes from

 

 

And when it comes to class

you either got it or you’re ratchet!//

 

“OOOOOOOOOOH!” She doesn’t have to look to know where it’s coming from the loudest. Jasper deflates and takes a second to puff herself back up.

 

//You call yourself a soldier

but I see you pretending

a Gem can’t hide her nature

and it’s clear you should be serving

 

Give up

admit

honey I am your salvation

and you know that you want it//

 

Pearl catches Lavender pantomiming being sick out of the corner of her eye.

 

//See there’s our major difference

I know what I want

and then I go right out and earn it!//

 

They stalk each other around the ring like prey. Jasper launches back. Is that the fire, or is her face more orange than normal?

 

//Yeah?

let me remind you

you’d be by your owner’s side

if it weren’t for Rose Quartz//

 

Pearl laughs. She was so nervous, but this is too easy!

 

//You act like such a know it all

but you don’t have a clue at all!

pay attention

have you ever heard Rose Quartz was my creation?//

 

“DAAAAAAAAMN!” Jasper breaks her prowl to glare at the audience. When she turns back, her face is deep red.

 

//How defective

of a Gem who’d do all the fucked up shit you did?

watch out

because this pearl might go and stab you like Pink Diamond.//

 

Ah. Is that what this was all about? Pearl’s smirk stretches across her face.

 

//Your talk's as big as you

but I think you sound jealous

your face proves it to be true

must be since you know Pink Diamond loved me more than you!//

 

“OOOOOOOOOOH DAAAAAAAAAMN!”

 

“SO WHAT?!” Jasper’s roar is impressive, but the stuttering that comes afterwards is not. “Uh... I mean....”

 

“JASPER IS UNABLE TO LAY DOWN A SICK BURN! THE WINNER OF LITTLE HOMEWORLD’S FIRST RAP BATTLE IS PEARL! JASPER MUST CLEAN UP HER MESS!”

 

Lots of people she barely knows want to congratulate her afterwards, though she’s not terribly sure why. “You should really think about starting a rap career,” Sour Cream mentions. Hmm....

 

Her students approach her as one group. Pale Blue wants to know “Did we get angry enough?”

 

“Oh,” Pearl hugs them. “You all get gold stars tomorrow!”

 

That makes them very happy.

 


 

 

Pearl reclines on the couch with a bowl of popcorn. She’s not eating it, she’s just periodically throwing some of it on the floor for Jasper to pick up. “You know, this would have been much easier if you did it when I asked the first time. Food sticks when it’s dry.”

 

“Shards,” Jasper mutters under her breath. She's been bent over the same spill for the last twenty minutes. Pearl tosses another kernel in her direction. “Will you stop that?”

 

Pearl looks her dead in the eyes. An effective intimidation tactic, but Pearl is just aiming so her next throw lands right between them. “Make me.”

Chapter Text

Amethyst takes the pan from the oven with a spinning flourish. “Ta da! Presenting my Bacon Chipotle Five Cheese Mac and Cheese!” 

The audience claps. “You really outdid yourself this time!” Steven congratulates her. 

“What can I say, those Cooking with Kofi classes are paying off.” 

Steven and Amethyst dive in as soon as the food hits the table. Garnet refuses a plate, saying she’s waiting for dessert. 

“You want any, Pearl?”

Steven shoots Amethyst a look like she shouldn’t have said that. Last decade that might have gotten Amethyst a scowl or maybe a snappy retort. Tonight, Pearl wavers. 

“What’s in it?”

Amethyst freezes. She honestly didn’t think she would get this far. “Bacon, peppers, and five cheeses. And macaroni, duh.” 

To raise a dare, Amethyst sticks a fork in her plate and holds it out. “Wanna try?”

Pearl silently thinks about it for literally thirty seconds. “Just one. And I’m spitting it out if I don’t like it.” She’s not out to blaze trails tonight. 

“Whoa, really?!”

“No problem!” Amethyst shakes off all but a lone macaroni. “Do what you gotta do, P!”

Garnet claps her on the back. “You’ve got this.”

At all seems like an excessive amount of fuss, but she actually feels like she needs more encouragement than that when the fork actually reaches her hand. Oh Stars, she really can’t think about this too hard. She just has to do it. 

She pops it into her mouth and her face instantaneously sours. 

Without a second thought she grabs a napkin and gets rid of it. “It’s hot! And slimy... I need to go rinse out my mouth.” She excuses herself to the sink. 

Amethyst doesn’t take offense. Peppers probably weren’t the best call. Besides, this was a wildly unexpected turn of events in the first place. As far as any of them knew, Pearl never consented to swallow anything before.



Pearl makes tea and gives Amethyst the bag. Pearl likes to make tea and Amethyst likes the bags, and if there’s no one around that actually wants the tea Pearl will just hold the mug until it gets cold. She likes the warmth and the faintly floral smell. She sits in the living room with it and works on her endless grading pile.

And her mug has long since gone cold before she takes it to the sink to dump it out. Which is a shame. It really is wasteful. Pearl hesitates for a moment and then hazards to take a sip of it. 

Hmm. She’s truly not sure how she feels about it. This may be what humans refer to as an ‘acquired taste’. Perhaps it would have been better warm....

She holds it in her mouth while she decides what to do with it. It’s not as if she’s in any rush. She’s gotten along fine for eons and eons without human food consumption and she’d get along fine without it. She’s a Gem. 

Pearl swallows it.

And much to her surprise, it wasn’t very bad at all. 



Pearl comes upstairs to say goodnight to Steven. She’s going to her room early to do grading. 

“Hey Pearl!” 

“Oh, Connie! What a surprise, it feels like we never see you anymore.” 

“Yeah.... but I’ll be in Beach City for a whole month over the summer.”

Steven smiles like he can’t wait, and so does Pearl. “That will be lovely. I do hope you’ve been keeping your training up.”

“Of course, ma’am!”

It looks like the two of them were watching a movie. There’s popcorn and candies strewn across Steven’s bed. “What’s that?”

“Pocky. It’s kinda like a cookie.”

“Could I try one?”

“Uh,” Connie glances at Steven like she can’t believe this is happening. “Of course!”

It definitely doesn’t look as slimy as the macaroni had. “Is it spicy?” She asks at the last minute. 

“Not at all. It’s really sweet.”

Okay. 

Crunch.

“Oh my Stars,” Pearl forgets herself. “That’s fucking delicious.”

Both of the teens are so shocked by what they have just seen and heard that Pearl swallows without even realizing she’s done it. 

“Pearl likes pocky!” Steven exclaims, “We gotta go get more flavors! We gotta go buy all the flavors there are!”

“Later,” Pearl laughs. “I need to grade and you two need sleep.”

She takes the rest of the package in the meantime. 

Steven hugs her before she goes. “I’m so glad I got to be here the first time you ate people food and liked it!”

Pearl doesn’t mention that she’s been drinking tea for several weeks. She decides this counts more.

Chapter Text

Greg falls on the sofa in complete exhaustion. 

He brought Amethyst and Pearl back to the beach house so at least the things he needs don’t end up stuck in Pearl’s Gem. Of course he could ask for it back... but he doesn’t want to ask Pearl anything.

Not when he doesn't get what the implications are.

Pearl tries to situate a pillow under his head and Amethyst mimics her with one of her own. God, why did Steven have to leave both of them here with him? 

Greg groans. He knows it’s because Steven is trying to save the whole world by himself right now. And there’s nothing he can do for him but babysit the Gems. 

The only thing he’s thankful for in all this is that he was the one who spoke up when Pearl came back like this instead of Steven. At least Greg can deal with this for him.  

The worst thing is that they don’t get tired.

“Are your energy level depleted, My Um Greg Universe?” 

Big time. 

Alright, the first thing he needs to do is separate these two. And he won’t tell Pearl what to do, but he can’t help it if she gets right to work when he sweeps a shelf of books to the floor. Which she does. 

He picks Amethyst up while she’s distracted. 

“Come on, Amethyst.”

“Come on, Amethyst.”

“It’s bedtime.”

“It’s bedtime.”

He never really thought about what young gems must be like. He assumed they were just... always the way they were. Like Rose said. He didn’t expect any of this. 

“Watch this!” He announces when they get to Steven’s room. 

“Watch this!”

Greg dives on Steven’s bed. Amethyst does too. He closes his eyes and pretends to snore. Please God let this work. 

He can hear Amethyst snoring way louder than his own. She’s pressed up to his side on the narrow bed and she’s got an arm flung over his chest. Neither of them have room to move. 

He’s about to fall asleep for real when a creek on the stairs snaps him out of it. Spots a flash of bright color around the crack in the door. Greg looks over to see Amethyst still sleeping. Or at least pretending. “You can come in. Don’t gotta hide.”

Nothing happens. 

“Pearl?” 

Only then does she enter. She steps slowly and wrings her hands like she’s doing something she’s not supposed to. “I finished organizing the books, My Um Greg Universe.”

He sighs, “Thanks, Pearl.”

She nods. Her eyes are on Amethyst’s arm over his midsection. It almost looks like she’s thinking about something, which would be a first for today. “May I ask... what’s that?”

“Oh?” He’s kinda relieved to hear an inquiring question that’s not about his imaginary needs. “I guess it’s sort of a hug.”

“Why -” Sounds like there was a bigger question there, but Pearl shuts herself up quick. Ducks her head like she’s embarrassed.

Greg can elaborate for himself. “It just feels nice. People like it.”

Pearl nods again. She never takes her giant empty eyes from where his and Amethyst’s bodies touch each other. It’s creeping him out. “I’ll be downstairs soon. I’m just going to let Amethyst sleep here tonight.”

He hoped Pearl would head down on her own, but she patiently waits for him to extract himself without waking the sleeping Gem and having to start all over again. She follows him down the stairs two steps behind.

Greg falls on the sofa in complete exhaustion. He feels like he just did this.

His eyes close whether he likes it or not. It’s quieter now, and he doesn’t really care what Pearl gets up to in here. Not like she’s going to try and go anywhere without him.

It’s harder to fall asleep than his exhaustion should allow. He just can’t stop thinking about everything. Steven, the end of the world, the Gems, Pearl....

Thinking of which, he’s starting to worry it’s too quiet. He peeks his eyes open to see what she’s doing.

She’s staring so close to his face that their noses brush.  

“Ah!” He flies back against the couch. 

Pearl backs herself up a few inches. Her mouth is slightly open like she’s surprised and her eyes dart around. To tell the truth, Greg’s surprised that she reacted to something that’s isn’t an order.

Okay. He thinks he’s learning. Words are okay, sudden movements are not. 

He hates this. 

“Okay!” He backtracks. Loosens his posture to show it’s okay, since not much he says seems to get through to her. “Everything’s okay.” 

Pearl relaxes. And again, it almost looks like she’s thinking. Her face is blank except an intensity in her eyes he can’t place.

She invites herself to curl up with him. 

Okay, this is too much. Greg scoots the few inches to the arm of the sofa. Pearl comes right along with him like she’s velcroed to his person. 

This is weird. This is too weird. He and Pearl are friends now, and he loves and treasures their friendship, but he’s absolutely confident Pearl would never initiate this if not for... all of it. Her staring is freaking him out. He would ask her to close her eyes, but he's pretty sure she would be physically unable to open them until he said she could. 

He takes deep breaths to calm himself. He’s not being fair. He was doing this with Amethyst and it helped her fall asleep. Pearl saw and she’s curious. So he decides to focus on the needs of the Pearl that’s here right now instead of the one he wishes was. Despite how conflicted he feels about the whole thing.

He settles an arm around her shoulders and she nestles into his side. 

Greg tries not to think about it and fall asleep. There’s a gentle tug-tug-tug on his scalp. It feels like Pearl’s braiding his hair. She’s petting it. 

Sleep ain’t coming. This is all way too much all at once and all he can think about his how Pearl must be interpreting this situation. 

He thinks Pearl is shaking. There’s a subtle shudder to the pressure beside him like she’s trying to contain herself. He doesn’t think about what that means. He doesn’t want to know.

Pearl presses close to him. She kisses his shoulder. A feather light musical sigh brushes against his neck....

Greg’s eyelids snap up the same moment his penis does.

“I gotta go!” He jumps, sending Pearl shrieking and scrambling to the other side of the couch. He doesn’t look back. He just runs. 

From the door, he decides to give her a one and only order. “Don’t follow me!”

He makes it the railing just in time to lose his midnight doughnuts over it. 

He groans, leans his head against the wood. Groans again. Nothing kills a boner like pure self revulsion....

Pearl is beautiful. Of course she’s beautiful. It was the first thing he noticed about her, way back then. Looked too beautiful to be real. 

It faded soon after she opened her mouth and started talking. 

And not to be superficial, but Pearl isn’t his type. He likes soft. He likes someone he can lose himself in. Someone like a certain someone. 

Greg has never once felt sexually attracted to Pearl and the feeling is mutual. He knows enough to know she would never consent to being with a man. 

Until now.

He throws up again. 

This is madness! He could be anyone! He could take advantage of her! He won’t, God no, it makes him want to throw up again. But Pearl is not the only pearl out there, and he is not the only one who owns one. 

He never really thought of that until now. Why would he?

He also never....

Okay, Greg isn’t celibate or anything. Not on purpose. But he had so much going on with Steven, and he missed Rose. By the time Steven moved in with the Gems he’d simply lost interest. At a certain point he forgot to think about it anymore.

It’s just that there’s no one out there like Rose.

Maybe he shouldn’t wait for someone to be. 

He dimly remembers that Pearl’s been playing the field lately.

He sighs, spits, and goes back inside. 

Pearl didn’t follow him, but she’s not here. The pillows from the sofa landed on the ground in all the commotion. There’s a stripe of light under the bathroom door. 

Greg knocks. “Pearl? Can I come in?”

There’s a sniff, a shuffle, no response. He tests the knob. She didn’t lock it behind herself. 

He finds her in the tub behind the curtain. She’s curled up there and she isn’t crying now, but the blue on her cheeks makes it look like he might have just missed it. He kicks himself a little. Sudden movements are not okay.

“I’m sorry I upset you, My Um Greg Universe,” Oh God. He can’t do this. He can’t handle it if she cries. “Please forgive me.”

He sits on the edge of the tub and takes his time. He needs to calm down. “You didn’t do anything wrong, Pearl.”

She blinks. “But you were upset.” 

“That wasn’t your fault! It wasn’t anyone’s fault, it just... it happens sometimes. It’s like that old saying... if every porkchop were perfect, we wouldn’t have hotdogs!”

He hopes she can understand. Please, God, let this get through to her. Maybe he shouldn’t have used the line about the hotdogs.

Pearl has that strange blank intensity to her. “You’re not mad at me?” 

“No. I’m not.” 

She nods and nods and when she looks up, he so wishes that she’ll say something normal. Something that sounds like what Pearl would say right now. He has no idea what she would say and he wants to hear what she’s thinking. But instead she smiles an empty smile, looks up at him and earnestly asks, “Is there anything I can do to help you, My Um Greg Universe?”

He sighs. “Let’s... just forget about this.” 

Since Greg never owned a Pearl before and hasn't read the owner's guide, he had no idea that she did exactly that. 


Greg’s got a white knuckle grip on the wheel. He can hear Amethyst teaching Pearl swears. 

“Be nice to her!” He lost count of how many children he has right now. 

“I am. Relax!” Amethyst whispers into Pearl’s ear and her face turns bright teal. 

“What’s fucking?” 

Greg pulls over to the nearest shoulder. “EVERYONE OUT OF THE CAR BUT AMETHYST!” 

“But dad!” Steven whines, “the world is ending!”

“I need a minute!”

To her credit, Pearl doesn’t have to be told twice.

Amethyst shifts to the seat beside his. “Uh... what’s this all about?” 

Greg has his head in his hands. “I can’t do this! I’m not responsible enough!”

Amethyst leans back. “Whoa there. What are you talking about?” 

“Pearl!”

Greg’s at a loss for words. Amethyst thinks. “Okay... I’m just gonna ask one harmless little question here. Did you fuck Pearl last night?”

“NO!” Has he been yelling? He hasn’t meant to yell. 

“Did you... wanna fuck Pearl last night?” 

He doesn’t know how to answer that so he doesn’t. 

“Okay,” Amethyst sounds like she’s got this all figured out, which is a relief in and of itself. She points to Pearl from the window. “Look at her! Anyone with eyes and lady love wants her! You have no idea how many phone numbers she gets when we go out. Without even trying. Besides, you probably got hard because she was all over you and....” She points at his groin. He wishes she wouldn’t. “Can you control that thing?” 

He sheepishly admits that he cannot.  

“What if I... what if I hurt her without meaning to?” He remembers that she was crying. 

“She’s fine. And besides, it’s not like you’re supposed to be her owner. That's dumb.” 

Huh. He hasn’t thought about that much since Pearl started acting like it. 

“So let’s get to that rock show and bring her back, good as new! Er... before. Like me!”

That’s right. It feels better now, much better now, knowing that there’s a way to bring the Gems back to themselves. 

“Okay,” He stares down the road ahead. “We can go. And thanks, Amethyst.” 

 

Chapter Text

Pearl turns her nose up at the knock, knowing by instinct and logic that it’s the last person on earth she wants to see. Garnet will answer him. Maybe Amethyst. Or no one will.

 

Pearl pirouettes atop center waterfall. She couldn’t care less.

 

Her weaponry appears to be in tip-top order. She’s taken to meticulously polishing every sword, axe, and other she owns while thinking of the Gem who used it when she was alive. Though she inevitably ends up focusing on how they all died.

 

She inspects each and every one. Tweaks Snowflake’s saber even though it was already perfectly straight and fixes it back. Rubs an imaginary spot of dust from Crazy Lace’s shield, comes to Biggs’ magic battle axe....

 

Comes to where Biggs’ magic battle axe should be.

 

An internal explosion detonates in Pearl’s chest. It was right here yesterday, good as it had been when Bismuth made it and Biggs fought with it, in much better condition than it had been when she and Rose recovered it and now it’s gone just like everything else!

 

She storms down to the basement feeling ready for a fight.

 

“Amethyst!”

 

“Ah!” Amethyst falls off a pile of festering garbage and hits the floor. “What gives? I was napping here.”

 

Pearl rolls her eyes. Stars forbid. “What did you do with my magic battle axe?”

 

“I haven’t touched any of your junk.” Amethyst rubs the side of her head.

 

Pearl’s voice goes up an octave at the suggestion this is in any way her fault, or that her things qualify as ‘junk’. “It was in my room and now it’s not. Someone had to have taken it!”

 

“Wasn’t me.”

 

“Then who did?”

 

“Ask Garnet.”

 

“Right. Like Garnet would be so stupid as to steal from me.”

 

Amethyst’s cheeks deepen in a bruised flush when she catches the insult. She goes to climb back on her trash mountain. “We’re done. Get out of my room!”

 

“I’m not leaving until you give it back!”

 

“I don’t have it!”

 

Pearl stops Amethyst from going any farther by stepping in front of her.

 

“Move!”

 

“No! I’m serious!”

 

“So am I!” Amethyst shoves Pearl out of her way with both hands and all her might.

 

Pearl’s mouth hangs open in shock then curls in fury. When she comes back it’s with her spear drawn. “DO YOU WANT TO FIGHT ME, AMETHYST? BECAUSE I SWEAR YOU WILL REGRET IT!”

 

Amethyst roars in her own rage and shows her willingness by throwing herself in Pearl’s direction.

 

“STOP!”

 

Both Gems freeze in their places. Pearl has her spear aimed at the ready, Amethyst with her hands outstretched like she wants to tear Pearl to pieces. Garnet stands between them.

 

“Amethyst took my battle axe.” Pearl rushes to explain.

 

“I don’t know what she’s talking about! She just barged in screaming about her dumb toy!”

 

“It belonged to Biggs, Garnet.”

 

The line that is Garnet’s mouth has been tightening with each exchange. “That’s enough! I’ve had it with both of you.”

 

“I didn’t -”

 

Garnet holds up a hand and Amethyst goes quiet. “Greg needs someone to watch Steven tomorrow. Pearl, you’re going.”

 

Pearl’s face falls and Amethyst’s lights up. “Ha!”

 

Garnet turns on her. “And you’re going to look for Pearl’s axe.”

 

“What?! Why should I have to?”

 

“Because if you find it, there will be no questions asked and we will all move on!

 

“I don’t want to be around him.” Pearl refers to Greg and Steven at once with her arms crossed over chest.

 

“I don’t care. Greg needs help with Steven, and you need to get out of the Temple.”

 

The Crystal Gems trudge off in their separate directions. Garnet warps off, Pearl slips back to her room, and Amethyst sulks off to pretend to look for the axe without a second thought of what she’d shoved under a trash pile earlier.

 


 

 

Pearl reminds herself a couple thousand times that this is what Rose wanted and Greg needs help with it. The baby. Steven. Greg needs help with Steven.

 

That helps, but only marginally. Hardly enough to get Pearl out the door in the morning and over to Greg’s.

 

“Hey!” He leaves the front door open for her and disappears down the hall. The baby is crying. “Thanks for coming over on such short notice! His babysitters always quit when he... uh... when he does the pink glowing thing.”

 

Pearl stands barely over the threshold and says nothing.

 

To her relief Greg comes back with car keys. That must mean he’s leaving now.

 

“I just realized... the van is almost outta gas. I meant to go last night, but Steven was fussing, and well... would you mind filling it up for me?”

 

Pearl flares up. She wants to say that she’s not his errand pearl, and doesn’t even want to do this and wouldn’t if Garnet hadn’t made her. She doesn’t care about his van or if it has fuel. Or him.

 

But this is what Rose wanted and Greg needs help with Steven.

 

“Fine.”

 

Greg hands her the keys, a plastic card he swears contains currency and a secret code to use it. He starts to explain how to fill up the tank.

 

“I know how to pump gas.” He always assumes she knows nothing about humans and their ways, like she hasn’t lived on earth much longer than he has.

 

“Oh... great! See ya soon.”

 

He runs off again and Pearl goes about her errand. She can’t understand Greg’s affinity for this dilapidated machine. It’s by an alignment of the Stars that it speeds back up after she hits Beach City’s only traffic stop.

 

The nozzle clinks off and she punches the code into the machine.

 

CARD DECLINED

 

Pearl huffs and tries again.

 

CARD DECLINED

 

This is truly ridiculous. She’s never gotten a code wrong before.

 

CARD DECLINED

 

She groans and goes into the shop to pay a confused young man with a handful of Roman coins she acquired after the war. The years on them range between 27 and 44.

 

Greg must have given her the wrong code. Or he was lying about having money on it, which was a suspect concept from the start. And now she’s on her way back to see Greg and spend the day with the baby.

 

That’s what Pearl is thinking about when she runs a red light at Beach City’s traffic stop.

 

And she does end up coming to a complete stop, but it happens halfway through the intersection and with a terribly loud crash that rocks the van off her passenger side wheels and back down.

 

Pearl sits at the wheel unable to believe what has occurred. She closes her eyes and leans her head against the dashboard and wonders why this is happening to her. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

 

“ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!” A red faced woman screams. “ARE YOU INSANE?”

 

Pearl scowls. This woman is very rude. “I believe you’re the one who hit me.”

 

The woman points at the light. “YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO STOP, BITCH!”

 

“I don’t appreciate your tone!”

 

“If I had a phone in my pocket I would call the police on you right now!”

 

“MOMMY!” A little boy screams from the back of the woman’s car. Pearl winces.

 

“Not right now, Kevin sweetie. Mommy’s taking care of everything.”

 

She’s done with this. Greg’s is three houses away. “Follow me.”

 

Impressively, the van didn’t take any damage at all. Unfortunately the front end of the woman’s little yellow car looks like a smashed up can. It’s possible Greg has the right idea.

 

She walks in without knocking or waiting. “Greg! This angry woman hit your van so I brought her to you.”

 

Greg dashes down the hall with Steven. “You crashed the van?!”

 

Pearl bristles. “I did nothing of the sort.”

 

Greg sighs and shoves Steven in her direction. “Just take him while I deal with this.”

 

Pearl reluctantly holds him. At first it isn’t so bad, but then he starts screaming and it gets very bad quickly. She hopes Greg doesn’t leave her alone with him, but he goes outside and shuts the door behind him.

 

“Okay,” Pearl breathes. She bounces Steven up and down because she thinks it’s supposed to make babies stop crying. “Can you... please stop that.”

 

He cries so horribly that his voice cracks and his scrunched pudgy face goes red to the neck. It sounds like he’s being tortured.

 

Pearl paces and bounces and shhes him. “Oh, what do you have to cry about anyway?”

 

Steven shuts up like he’s thinking it over. Apparently decides he’s got plenty to cry about and goes back to it with renewed force.

 

The door opens and Pearl gets ready to hand Steven back and maybe bolt. “She wants your driver’s license information.”

 

Pearl helplessly pats Steven on the back. “I don’t have a driver’s license.”

 

“What?! How do you not have a driver’s license?”

 

What does he honestly expect? “I just don’t.”

 

He says something while the door is closing that sounds like, “I hope she doesn’t call the police.”

 

She’s left alone with Steven again.

 

“Stop crying,” Pearl growls.


He doesn’t listen.

 

Pearl feels strangely unwell. Her form is too light and Gem too heavy. She stumbles over nothing and holds the back of the couch to right herself. For one second she fears she’s going to dissipate her form and wills herself not to go doing that again.

 

She can hear Steven wailing crystal clear, but her vision flickers on the edges. Black spots flash across her eyes and vanish in an instant only to pop up elsewhere. “Stop, stop, stop it!”

 

She can’t see anything at all. She isn’t sure if she’s standing or fallen. Lost all sense of her form and surroundings. The only thing she knows for sure is Steven’s constant miserable vulgarity.

 

“PEARL, YOU CAN’T SHAKE A BABY!”

 

A weight lifts from her arms then pushes her back. When she hits the floor the black begins to slowly ebb away to reveal what’s happened. “Oh Stars.”

 

Pearl has the distinctly awful feeling that she’s done something very terrible, but she has no idea what. She notices that Steven isn’t crying anymore. “Did I hurt him?”

 

Greg tears himself from Steven to look down at her. It’s an image that will burn itself into her mind for the rest of her life, because she has never been afraid of a meek human before. Not even a little. But she recognizes that look and all the rage, disgust, and intent behind it. It’s not the first time she’s seen in. She used it herself. Before.

 

Greg looks like he wants to kill her. For a good reason.

 

“Go. Just GO!”

 

Pearl lifts herself up and runs.

 


 

 

She waits on the beach and twists her hands and hates herself.

 

“Is Steven okay?” She asks when Garnet finally returns.

 

“He’s fine.”

 

It’s a relief that her mistake won’t cause permanent consequences.

 

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt him.”

 

“I know you didn’t,” Garnet says. “And so will Greg. In time.”

 

Pearl doesn’t want to know what Greg must think of her. It’s humiliating to care so much about what he thinks.

 

It doesn’t stop there. “From now on, the three of us are going to help with Steven together.”

 

Garnet doesn’t say the truth because she doesn’t have to.

 

She’s near killed Steven both times she’s been around him. So even though Garnet knows she didn’t try to hurt him on purpose, someone has to be around to make sure it doesn’t happen by accident.

 

She wishes she lost her form back there before any of this happened.

 


 

Pearl seals herself in her room and makes for the center waterfall.

 

Laying there like it had never gone anywhere at all was Biggs’ magic battle axe.

 

She meant to pick it up and put it away, but ends up holding it while she cries the rest of the day.

 

Chapter Text

Steven’s birthdays are the best!

 

There’s cake and presents and kazoo racers and you can’t forget his birthday suit! What’s not to love about it?

 

This birthday is most important of all, because Steven is turning 5. Soon he will join the envied ranked of the big kids. He isn’t entirely sure what that all entails, but he’s certain that his life will never be the same.

 

All his closest friends must be invited to the occasion. Steven works all his crayons down to stubs (except the white one, why do they even give you a white crayon?!) making personalized invitations for everyone. Well, everyone but Mom. She can’t come because she gave up her Gem to have him.

 

Steven lifts up his brand new red shirt and looks at his and Mom’s Gem. He does this a lot. It’s really pretty and shiny, and it’s the pinkest pink of all the pinks he’s ever seen! And the Gems say it probably has powers. Sometimes he tests himself by trying to climb up the walls or move things with his mind, but even he has to admit that the results are underwhelming. Maybe his powers will start working when he becomes a big kid.

 

Anyway, he has deliveries to make! Dad loves his interpretation of a guitar (the neck was really hard but he did his best) and PeeDee likes how colorful the balloons and stars and stuff on his are.

 

“And it includes a plus one!”

 

“Cool!” Peedee puzzles over it for a second. “What’s that mean?”

 

Steven throws his arms wide. “It means you can bring your big brother!”

 

Peedee doesn’t look as excited as Steven thought he would, but he still says he’ll let Ronaldo know.

 

The next ones are the only ones he’s a little nervous about. Well, the only ones he didn’t think he was going to be nervous about until he saw all three of them on the playground. In his mind he was going to make a personal connection with them one at a time and pitch them on the idea of coming to his birthday party. This is a little more pressure than he was expecting.

 

Steven gulps. They aren’t just big kids - they’re the cool big kids. They probably get invited to all the hottest birthday parties every weekend. They’ll never come to his.

 

He hides the invitations behind his back and is slowing inching away but then JENNY WAVES AT HIM! Steven looks behind his shoulder just to be sure she’s really waving at him. He already made that mistake once on the way over here.

 

“Hey, Steven!”

 

Oh my gosh, this is happening. He’s becoming a big kid now and it tastes like the acceptance of his new peers.

 

“Hi guys, whatcha doing here?” Oh no, that’s such a dumb question! They’re obviously here to play, that’s what the park is there for!

 

Buck shrugs, “hanging out.”

 

They’re so cool!

 

“I was wondering if maybe you guys wanted to come to my birthday party?” Steven asks in one gushing breath. He pulls the invitations out from behind his back. “It’s on Saturday.”

 

“Oh, yeah....” Jenny takes one. These are all the same-ish. Simple was more cool and mature. “Totally!”

 

Sour Cream asks, “Is your dad going to play his guitar?”

 

“Probably! He always plays the harmony to the Birthday Song, and I bet he takes requests!”

 

“Can’t wait,” Buck throws up a peace sign.

 

Steven has undoubtedly arrived.

 

The last ones are the ones he knew he was going to be nervous about so saved for last on purpose. It’s just that none of the Crystal Gems have come to his birthday party before.

 

That and the fence.

 

“GUYS!” Steven shouts with his face pressed against the chain link. Shakes it a little bit too, even though Dad says that’s not being patient. He can’t help it with the fence. A few days ago he heard Dad and the Crystal Gems talk about taking it down, but Pearl said she’s not ready yet. He wishes she could hurry up and get ready already! He’s not sure what tools someone needs to take down a fence, but they can’t be that hard to get. “HEY GUYS! GARNET! AMETHYST! PEARL!”

 

They must not be home.

 

Steven props their invitations up against the fence, bottoms stuck in the sand like surfboards. He spent more time on these than any others. He even went around with scissors to make them shaped just like all their weapons! Still, it’s a good thing that he’s been telling them about his party all week.

 

He hopes they don’t forget.

 


 

 

It’s Saturday!

 

Steven sits at the window after he helps Dad set up for the party.

 

“Do you think the Crystal Gems are coming?”

 

“Uh...” Dad scratches the back of his neck. “I don’t think the Gems really get birthdays yet, Shtu-ball.”

 

Steven droops over the window-sill.

 

“Besides, they’re probably off saving the world or something!”

 

Steven perks back up.

 

His friends start getting there soon. Peedee brings Ronaldo and all the cool kids show up, and Kiki, and Onion! Come to think of it, he doesn’t actually remembering inviting Onion... but the more the merrier!

 

He tries to hold off the party until everyone gets there but Dad says it’s time to start the games and then he kind of forgets that the Crystal Gems haven’t made it. Birthday games are the most fun games of all. Maybe they’ll get here in time for cake! Sometimes Amethyst turns into a bear and shovels cakes into her mouth whole. It’s really funny!

 

Dad plays the melody to the Birthday Song and everyone sings but the Crystal Gems aren’t there. Steven tries not feel disappointed on his birthday. That would ruin the whole thing.

 

Steven closes his eyes and wishes to be just like the Crystal Gems when he grows up. He wants to save the world too.

 

He blows out the candles.

 

Everyone except for the Crystal Gems clap. Oh, and Mom.

 


 

Steven isn’t supposed to ever go out after dark, especially not without Dad and especially especially without telling him, but as a newly minted Big Kid he thinks he can handle it. Besides, he’s just going down to the beach.

 

He doesn’t yell and rattle at the fence. He sizes himself up against it. There’s none of that sharp prison stuff at the top, which is good. Steven leaves the ukulele Dad got him and jumps up.

 

He climbs it and only falls once in the process.

 

It feels a little scary to be on this side of the fence without the Crystal Gem's permission per se. But he just wants to say hi, and maybe see if they planned anything for his birthday.

 

He can hear at least one of the Gems on the beach, which is a good sign! He can’t tell who it is, but it sounds like she’s laughing.

 

He gets closer to the broken off statue hand and thinks it sounds like Pearl. He slows down.

 

She doesn’t sound very happy. It sounds like she got hurt really bad. He twists his red shirt and wonders if he should go get one of the other Gems or Dad. He’s always heard that he should look for an adult if he needs help.

 

Then Pearl says the bad word and he gasps. She’s crying. Something’s wrong.

 

“Pearl!” He runs to the statue, which isn’t easy in flip-flops. He slams into Pearl a little harder than he meant to and wraps his arms all the way around her. “What’s wrong?”

 

“Steven?!”

 

He keeps his face buried in her side. He doesn’t want to see what her face looks like.

 

He’s never heard a person cry like that before.

 

Pearl squeezes him and cries into his hair for a long long time. She never tells him what happened, and no one says anything about his birthday.