If you had told Greg even four years ago that one day he'd find himself jamming in the back of his van with Pearl, of all Gems... well, he'd find it unlikely at the very least. But here he was, and there she was.
Greg's leg dangled off the back of the bed, bare foot drawing circles into the sand of the beach. He leaned heavily into the inner wall of the van, guitar resting against his arm and chest as he drank in the cool, salty night air. He heard Pearl humming softly as she practiced the chords he'd been teaching her – the amp wasn't plugged in so they wouldn't wake the kids in the house nearby, but he could still hear the muted zip and pluck of long, pale, calloused fingers playing on the fret as she practiced. She hummed the lyrics to the song they'd been working on; Greg hasn't felt this relaxed in what felt like months.
“You think the kids are actually asleep?” He asked, cutting into the hush of waves and Pearl's soft humming. He cracked open an eye as he heard Pearl reply, “Probably not,” with a smile in her voice. She had a cheeky grin on her face, and he couldn't help but grin back.
She shifted the bass to rest on her lap, sighing softly and curling her long, thin legs under her. Her jacket was folded and placed aside, and her pale, boney shoulders looked blue under the moonlight. “They were in the middle of a movie marathon when I left the beach house, but I'm not sure how much they were – ah – actually paying attention to it.”
Greg snickered, pressing the back of his hand to his mouth and kicking his legs a bit. Pearl, cheeks flushed, giggled as well. It was strange as hell to see Steven navigating girl stuff , even if he'd had an open crush on Connie since he was a kid. Her current visit was something they had all been looking forward to – Steven had more or less cleared his whole schedule for the whole week out for Connie and they all knew he could use the break, use some time to be a teenager and not a little over-worked adult. He wasn't sure where Steven's workaholic nature came from. It definitely wasn't him.
“Should I be more... I donno, concerned about this stuff?” Greg mused. “I trust Steven. He's a good, smart kid.” He didn't know what, exactly, the kids were up to, but he trusted Connie and he definitely trusted Steven.
Pearl shrugged a shoulder, tracing a fingertip up one of the strings on her bass. “No more concerned than you ever were, I think.” Her shoulders relaxed, and he smiled softly, weirdly proud when she relaxes against the inner wall of the van, mirroring him. She used to be so high-strung, so... tense all the time. Something like this – having a jam session in his van, for fuck's sake – was an impossibility before things changed between them.
He can't imagine not having her in his life like this now. Just another thing Steven gave them.
Greg puts his guitar aside and slides onto his back, legs hanging over the edge of the van, arms crossed under his head. He watches as Pearl continues to absently fiddle with her bass, eyes cast out towards the ocean. There's a comfortable silence that's settled over them, comfortable and familiar.
Pearl breaks it by quietly admitting, “Steven told me he sees me as his mother.”
Greg's skin prickles. He pushes himself up onto his elbows, watching Pearl pointedly avoiding his gaze. He was speechless, but... not necessarily surprised. “Wow,” he muttered, unhelpful as ever. “That's – that's.... something.” Pearl's shoulders locked up, and she hummed.
The calm soothing hush of the waves filled the now-tense space between them. “That's not that surprising, is it?” He tried. “I mean. You three have been in his life since - “
“He didn't say the three of us, Greg. He specifically said me. That he sees me as his mother.”
“Oh.” Pearl's arms crossed over her chest, and she shifted, legs dangling off of the van, back facing him. He could see the tension running through her shoulders and down between her bare shoulder blades.
Surely she wasn't.... upset, right? She couldn't be. She loved Steven. She was fiercely loyal to him him, she nurtured him and cared for him and, even with all the ups and downs of his childhood in her care (he still got nervous whenever he saw the remains of the ship she'd made and, essentially, attempted to kidnap Steven in), she'd been a special, unique, motherly influence in his life. She loved Steven and loved being loved by Steven. So why would this upset her?
Was she scared of him? Of his reaction?
He sat up and rested a hand on her shoulder, and, after a steadying breath, looked at him, eyes wide and glassy. He rubbed her shoulder, and she relaxed ever-so-slightly.
“Is it.... really that much of a surprise? And is it really so bad that he does?”
Her shoulders sagged. She rubbed a hand over her face and let out a nervous little wheeze of laughter. “I – no. No, of course not. I feel the same about him – it feels like he's mine. Ours. ” Greg smiled, relieved, but didn't say anything. Pearl was frighteningly good at keeping things bottled up, but she didn't do that so much these days if she was given the space to let things out. Greg was good at that. “I felt – I felt so proud when he told me. But nervous, too. Nothing has changed, nothing has to change, and I know that, but having it said out loud – is there... pressure now? That wasn't there before? And what about you?” She turned to him, eyes wide. “How does this make you feel? For me, of all Gems, to be his surrogate mother after Rose, after our.... ah....”
“..... Rocky start?” He offered. She grimaced. He bumped shoulders with her, smiling.
“I just don't want you or Steven or anyone thinking that I set out trying to replace Rose. Things with Steven just .... happened. I don't feel bad for it.”
“That's good. You shouldn't.” He leaned back on his palms, looking up at the starry sky, breathing in the salty air. He sighed, smiling sadly. Pearl cupped her hands in her lap, bass abandoned behind them as they kicked their legs, toes trailing shapes in the sand.
“There's no pressure, you know? No more than there already was,” Greg said. “Just keep doing what you're doing. He needs his mom with all of this stuff going on, just like he needs his dad. We're a team, you and me and the other Gems. You've been an amazing mother to Steven, Pearl. Even when we weren't getting along you were doing what you needed to do, being what Steven needed you to be. More or less. I could have done with a bit less kidnapping and crazy gem stuff, but.” She smiles, ducks her head a bit, sheepish. “That's all water under the bridge now, right?”
“..... Thank you, Greg.”
He shrugged. “Don't mention it. And... not to beat a dead horse, but if he wants to call you mom or whatever, it'll be.... weird, but I'll get used to it. You've earned it, I think. Just give me a heads-up if you start bringing Volley around as his mom's new girlfriend instead of her special friend so we can figure out that dynamic, too.” He grinned when she blushed dark blue, twiddling her thumbs and biting at her lower lip. She glanced at him, saw his mischievous grin, and rolled her eyes with a scoff, elbowing him (a bit too hard) in the gut. He let out a hoarse chuckle, shoving her back, and they laughed together. Volley and Pearl were new and unexpected and he was thrilled for her. If anyone deserved to love again, it was her.
They relaxed after that, returning to their guitars, working on the song they'd written together. He'd always known that Pearl loved music, singing, and he knew she could play the violin, but he was surprised when she'd admitted she'd never actually written lyrical music before. They'd bonded hunched over notebooks and sheets of staff paper, and what they'd come up with was beautiful and sad and sentimental in a way only the two of them understood.
Pearl swapped her bass for one of Greg's acoustics, and together the two of them played a lullaby to the ocean, to Beach City, to their home. The waves swallowed their song, but that was alright; it was mostly for the two of them, and they could hear it just fine.
Ultimately, it's a beautiful thing
Like flowers blooming in a lonely field
The petals drift through crossing winds
They find their way to river streams
That scent the water beautifully -
It takes me back to you
It takes me back to you