The night’s weather is perfect for a campfire dinner outside the temple, so naturally Steven invites his dad, the gems, and Connie over for a barbecue. Pearl thinks this is the perfect opportunity to expose Volleyball to some of humanity’s more enjoyable activities, so she takes the liberty of inviting her as well.
After a round of various grilled meats (Pearl still dislikes putting food in her mouth, but Volley is more adventurous in trying - and liking - Greg’s signature burgers, much to everyone’s surprise and delight), the conversation soon twists to the topic of the multiple scars Greg has picked up over the years. Whether it’s for bragging purposes or to serve as a confessional is anybody’s guess.
“So this one,” Greg announces, pointing to a pinkish raised bump on his left knee, twisting so his captive audience could see it in the light of the bonfire, “I got from crashing into Vidalia’s garden fence on my skateboard.”
“Wow dad, I didn’t know you could ride a skateboard!” Steven exclaims, eyes wide and engaged.
“There’s still a lot you don’t know about me, son.” Greg chuckles and reaches over to rustle the boy’s hair.
Pearl shoots a teasing smirk across the campfire and crosses one leg over the other with perfect posture, while Volley giggles at her side. “Please. If he knew how to ride one, he wouldn’t have crashed in the first place.”
Greg sputters. “You weren’t there! I swear, that rock came out of nowhere!”
“A likely story.”
Amethyst slaps a thigh and barks out a laugh. “Give it up, Greg. Vidalia ratted you out years ago. She told me it’s not the first time she’s had to call the neighbors to help pull you out of her hydrangeas.”
Greg scratches the back of his head and gives a nervous chuckle. “Did she also tell you how I had to come back every day for a month to nurse them back to health?”
As a round of laughter makes its way around the circle, Garnet speaks, the corner of her lip twitching up in amusement, “It’s okay, Greg. We can’t all be good at everything.”
“Still, I’m glad that was the extent of your injuries,” says Connie as she twirls her marshmallow over the fire. “My mom always tells me that skateboarding injuries can get pretty nasty, especially if you don’t wear a helmet. It’s why my parents used to drive me everywhere.”
As the conversation continues about skateboard safety and "living life on the edge," as Amethyst adds in, Volleyball grins into her hand and shifts closer to Pearl, gently laying her head on her shoulder. So that only the two of them hear, she murmurs, “I don’t know what a skateboard is, but is it hard to ride one?”
“Oh, it’s fairly straightforward,” Pearl smiles, stroking the pink gem’s velvety hair as it flows freely over her shoulder. “It’s basically just a board with wheels.”
“Cylinders that revolve around an axis when force is applied. In this case, they’re attached to a board for use as transportation. Or, in his case -” Pearl pointedly raises an eyebrow toward Greg, who’s still looking sheepish in the face of criticism. “- for other people’s entertainment.”
Volley giggles. “Humans are so creative.”
Greg, adamant to redeem himself, continues with his showcase. “This one I got from saving a little kitten in a tree.” He rolls up the sleeve on his right arm to reveal a thin, nearly invisible scar. “He was the cutest little thing. Come to think of it, he kinda looked like Cat Steven! Except with a different facial pattern.”
Garnet nods along in agreement. “Nothing can beat Cat Steven in cuteness.”
“Hey!” Steven huffs in mock offense.
“Except the boy with ‘Cutie Pie’ in his middle name, of course.”
“Dude,” says Amethyst around the burger she shovels into her face. “That’s nothing. You got any bigger ones?”
“Let’s see.” The older man furrows his brow in thought. He shrugs. “Nah. Nothing physical, anyway. Not unless you count the heavy emotional scars from…”
“…From?” Steven asks lowly, hesitant, as an uneasy silence spreads across the group. Amethyst even stops chewing, her jaw going slack in anticipation.
Volley visibly tenses next to Pearl - who shoots the pink gem a questioning look.
“From missing tonight’s premier of the Lil' Butler remake, of course!” Greg convulses with laughter. “You should see your faces!”
Amethyst shape-shifts an arm to stretch across and knock the older man backward off his log, who continues chortling, sputtering sand out his mouth. “Not funny, jerk. You know I’m taping it!”
Volley frowns and cuddles closer to Pearl as she watches Greg pull himself back up to retort that “watching live is a whole new transcendental experience compared to a recording,” to which Amethyst pushes him back down to the sand with a thump. The pink gem plays with the coarse texture of the log underneath her, peeling off splinters, while she intertwines the fingers on her free hand with Pearl’s. “What’s a ‘Lil' Butler?’”
Pearl chuckles. “Trust me.” She presses a soothing kiss to the other gem’s furrowed brow. “You don’t want to know.”
Volley says nothing but tightens her grip around Pearl’s hand, her inner turmoil reflected in the chaotic blaze of the campfire.
Her silence tips off the other gem. “Are you all right?”
Volley trails her eyes up to find concerned blue orbs staring back, and the ever-present affection she finds there brings up old, bittersweet memories.
Memories of Pink holding her in her lap, stroking the smaller gem’s hair to a tune only she could hear. Her diamond used to love to decorate it with flowers or braid them in their quiet moments together, especially when Pink was distraught from dealing with the other diamonds.
They would comfort each other - support each other. At least, that’s what the pearl had thought once upon a time.
Until the day that Pink decided to ask White directly for a colony, bypassing Blue and Yellow’s authority completely, which didn’t end well for either of them.
Except, Pink got her colony eventually. And Volleyball, well…
Some wounds just stick more than most.
But these days, she finds herself in the same position with Pearl, and finds that the alabaster gem likes playing with her hair as well. She’s the only one that Volley lets it down for anymore.
Volley feels the same strange pull in her heart during their quiet moments that she used to feel with Pink, but these feelings, although similar, are just different enough in little ways.
They feel safe. Safe and unconditional.
She doesn’t answer the other pearl’s question but instead lets her eyes slide shut to focus on the waves ebbing upon the shore and the faded chatter as it moves away, their friends getting ready to depart for the night. Connie has to get back home to study before it gets too late, so everyone moves to help clean up the hibachi and snacks near the van, leaving the two pearls alone in front of the campfire.
She sighs, snuggling further into the crook of Pearl’s neck, trying to keep her thoughts away from the troubling memories rising up against her will.
Pearl encircles her in an embrace. “What’s wrong?”
“Just thinking about scars.”
Pearl lifts a hand to stroke Volley’s cheek, brushing the splintering cracks where her eye was supposed to be. They’ve been receding ever since that day at the Reef, but each groove still stands out stark against her pale skin. “Anything you’d like to talk about?”
She thinks of fists slamming against concrete. “Not really.”
Pearl nods, opting to stroke a soothing thumb against the back of Volley’s hand where it’s settled on the log in the tiny space between them.
“But I was wondering…” Volley pauses.
“Do you have any scars?”
Pearl’s hand stills. “I do.”
Volley takes the time to inspect the other pearl’s face - which remains carefully pensive. “Would you like to talk about them?”
Pearl sighs and slides her jacket off, folding and placing it neatly next to her on the log. She takes Volley’s hand in her own and slowly drags it over the expanse of skin on her arm, settling on a thin shoulder. There’s no visible mark on the uncovered skin, but Volley understands completely. “Right here. A quartz soldier took me by surprise on the battlefield.”
“Does it hurt?” Volley asks. At Pearl’s questioning look, she elaborates, “Poofing, I mean.”
“I don’t remember much, no.” She just recalls the paralyzing fear down to the very fabric of her being before it all goes white. And the next thing she knows… eight thousand years have passed.
Pearl inhales a steadying breath through her nose. “It does - for a bit. There’s a sharp, nearly unbearable pain at first, but then it fades. Then you heal and return stronger than before. And even though you still remember how much it used to hurt, you can move on.”
Volley nods, tiny pink strands tickling against the other’s neck as it blows wild in the ocean breeze. “Show me another.”
“This one,” says Pearl, as she leads Volley’s hand back down her arm and over her stomach, sliding the thin material up to tenderly place it on bare skin. “I got from a jasper who tried to sneak up behind Rose. We were winning the fight, but I was previously disarmed by a ruby fusion with no time to pull out another weapon. I couldn’t allow her to be poofed on the battlefield in order to protect her secret, so I did the only thing I could think of and jumped in front of the ax.”
Volley lightly trails her fingers across the unmarked skin there, feeling Pearl’s stomach muscles quiver at the touch. “She was lucky to have you.”
“At the time, it was the other way around.”
Volley can understand that - the unquestioning devotion to one’s owner. But what she can’t understand is being thrust into a war as a pearl with no combat experience. Their kind isn’t made for fighting, and the thought of having to face murderous gems every day for a thousand years makes her shudder. “It’s scary to think about. Being in a war.”
Pearl hums in agreement. “It was. But I would do it again.”
Volley takes a moment to admire the hint of salt on the gentle sea breeze, the vast expanse of dark ocean seemingly stretching forever into the night, and the illuminating crescent moon hanging in the sky, surrounded by millions of glittering stars. “I suppose I get it. This planet is beautiful.”
“Yes. Although, I wasn’t fighting for Earth at the time.”
“What else was worth taking all those hits for?”
“The freedom for gems like Garnet to exist, the right to live without an owner.” Pearl’s voice rumbles in her chest, which Volley can feel against her cheek at her place on the other gem’s shoulder. “The opportunity to start a new life with Rose.”
“How romantic.” Volley can’t help but chuckle teasingly, relishing in the resulting flush she gets from Pearl. “The more I hear about the Terrifying Renegade, the more I want to see her in action.”
“I - I wasn’t that impressive.”
“Now, don’t be modest.” Volley resumes stroking the delicate skin of the other pearl’s stomach, pressing a tender kiss to the crook of her neck. Pearl releases a warm, shuddering breath that rustles the pink gem’s hair. “Blue told me all about the time you took out six gems on the cloud arena.”
“That… um, that was nothing.” Pearl stumbles over her words, distracted by the teasing hand at her abdomen. She shoots a nervous glance toward the others to make sure no one is watching, but they’re busy with their own conversation, having cleaned up the area a while ago. Steven had long since driven Connie back to her house in the Dondai.
“They were worried, you know.”
Pearl breaks out of her reverie to raise an eyebrow in question. Volley refuses to meet her eyes, absently staring into the crackling fire pit. “Who?”
“Blue and Yellow. They knew it was you; they knew what you were doing. They just couldn’t understand why you would risk your life for a single colony - and worse, why you didn’t ask them for help.”
“I didn’t know.” In the past, Pearl didn’t have many meaningful interactions with the other two pearls, but considering their shared situations, their connection as pearls… it makes sense to her now. She knows how close Blue and Yellow are, but having been made long after both of their creations, Pearl had always felt awkward carrying a conversation with them. She felt inexperienced and naive in their presence. But perhaps, she should have given them the benefit of the doubt. “I guess… I never really considered they would want to help.”
“From what they told me,” says Volley, “Blue was devastated after the Corruption and broke down whenever the topic was brought up, nearly getting herself cracked by her diamond for the trouble. Yellow was furious - at you, at the diamonds, and I bet that although she wouldn’t admit it, at herself for not being able to do more. She tends to put so much responsibility on her shoulders, even when it’s not her fault.”
It shouldn’t be so surprising to hear Volley refer so casually to the other pearls, considering she's probably been around them longer than Pearl has. Thinking back, Volley’s injury must have hit Blue and Yellow particularly hard, especially having to see their friend so cold and emotionless - a mere placeholder for a gem who was once overflowing with love.
Then she looks over at her family, the people she'd do anything for and would do the same in return - and Pearl’s gut twists in shame for not realizing sooner. “I didn’t mean to make them worry.”
“They know that now and why you had to do it.” Volley sighs, her voice taking on a softer tone. “Especially with how your - our - diamond was involved.”
Pearl bites her lip. “Well, I wasn’t ordered to join the rebellion. I was free - free to join of my own accord.”
Volley looks surprised at this, shifting to gaze up at the other pearl. “Really?”
“Except for…” Pearl pauses. She brings Volley’s hand from her stomach up to touch her lips, fingertips grazing over the soft skin there, warmed by the following exhale. “This. The biggest one of all. It affected everyone around me.”
Volley knows about this - Pearl told her about the seal she carried for thousands of years to keep Pink Diamond’s secret. “I’m sorry.”
“It still hurts, if I’m being honest.”
“I know the feeling.” This time, Volley laces their fingers together and brings Pearl’s hand to gently graze over the cracks that spread across her face. She feels the other gem run her thumb across her soft cheek before cupping it in her palm. Volley sighs and leans into the touch. “But you said it fades and heals, and you return stronger than ever. And I believe you.”
“And we have each other until that day comes.”
“If you don’t mind me asking,” Volley murmurs. “Is there one that hurt the most?”
Pearl’s expression twists into the same pained look it sometimes does whenever her past relationship with Pink Diamond - Rose - is brought up. Perhaps talking about it can help her heal, but going forward, they have nothing but time. And if Pearl isn’t ready tonight, Volley is perfectly capable of waiting.
After a lengthy silence, the pink gem opens her mouth to take back her question but Pearl interrupts.
“If I had to pick one, it would be this.” Pearl brings their entwined hands to rest over the left side of her chest. “Rose had my heart the moment we explored Earth together. When I saw how happy she was - and knowing that it was my idea that made her happy - I never looked back and never had a reason to. Thousands of years passed by, and I thought we would be together forever like she promised, but seeing how quickly she fell in love with Greg, even after all we’ve been through, destroyed me...
“She had so much love to give, and I knew that expecting her to stifle that in order to be with one person would be doing her a disservice, but it still hurt.”
Volley says nothing, gently kissing the other gem’s shoulder to encourage her to continue.
Pearl goes on. “When she wanted to have a baby, I… I panicked. She was going to give up our lives together, and for what?! Another human that couldn’t even protect itself for a good part of its lifespan? For a time, I blamed Greg and said horrible things to him. I even blamed Steven for a while, which I still feel guilty about.
“It felt like she was running away, and I think part of it was, especially with all of her secrets coming to light these past few years. But I understand now that it was part of her attempt to change - no matter how roundabout it was.”
“It’s all still surreal to me,” Volley interjects. “I can’t imagine the Pink Diamond I once knew wanting to change, but you showed me differently. Sometimes… I wish I could have known her as she was in her last days, but I don’t think I would have the strength to face her, either.”
“You would,” Pearl smiles. “You’re stronger than you believe.”
“I’d like to believe that someday.” Volley chuckles, snuggling into the crook of Pearl’s neck. “But you sure loved her a lot, didn’t you?”
Pearl hums in agreement.
“I did, too. Do you think… you’ve healed?”
“I’ve put it in the past where it belongs,” Pearl sighs, a satisfied smile gracing her face. “Now I can move on.”
Volley bites her lip. “Maybe we both can,” she whispers, sneaking a hesitant glance toward the other gem to gauge her reaction.
The pink gem nervously wets her lips before continuing. “Maybe we both can move on… If you’ll have me?”
Pearl’s eyes widen. Of course, affectionate kisses and touches aren’t anything new between them, but somehow - as Volley leans in close enough that Pearl can feel her breath against her cheek - this feels… different. But a good different.
The kind of different that fills Pearl with a giddy lightness she hasn’t felt in years. “I-It… would be my honor,” Pearl answers, mentally scolding herself for stuttering over the already awkward response.
In her defense, it’s been a while.
“Good. Because…” Volley whispers into her ear, causing the other gem to shiver, even with the campfire blazing just two feet away. “I’ve been wanting to do this all night.”
Pearl finds herself holding in a breath as the pink gem leans in, slowly at first to give her the option to move away but proceeds with confidence when that doesn’t happen. The moment their lips touch, there’s electricity in the air, and despite her previous nervousness, Pearl finds her eyes sliding shut, deepening the kiss with a soft moan that’s quickly reciprocated by the other gem.
One of her hands finds itself tangled in Volley’s soft pink tresses, while the other holds tight at her waist, pulling the other gem as close as possible.
It’s not long until Pearl finds herself towering over her, spurred on by the noises escaping the pink gem’s lips. Tiny hands clutch tight on the material at Pearl’s stomach like a lifeline, trying to tug her ever closer, and every brush of Volley’s fingers against her skin feels like a tiny spark igniting within her.
Pearl’s mind is a fog as she takes in the velvety texture of the other gem’s lips and the taste of her mouth against hers, until…
“Get a room, you two!”
Amethyst’s abrupt voice and the following suggestive whistle causes Pearl to jump back in embarrassment and cover her bright blue face, leaving Volley to stare at the object of her affection in flushed amusement.
Near the van, Greg is trying and failing to hide his laughter, while Garnet casually leans against the side, an amused smirk plastered on her infuriatingly smug face. Meanwhile, Amethyst is making kissing noises and fake moans in their direction.
Pearl blushes even harder at the sudden attention, peeking through her fingers. “Amethyst! Don’t be crude!”
“Hey, I’m not the one making out with Volleyball in public,” Amethyst snickers. With words dripping of sarcasm, she teases, “Jeeze, have some self control, P.”
“Oh, leave them alone,” Garnet interjects, having gotten her share of enjoyment and deciding to take pity on the two pearls. Despite all this, she’s still smiling as she drags a struggling Amethyst back toward the beach house by the back of her shirt. “Good night, Greg. And congratulations, you two.”
“Good night,” Greg calls back to Garnet, and with a wink and a thumbs up to the two pearls, he hops in his van and takes off in the direction of the car wash.
Pearl groans, still too flustered to respond, until she feels fingers prying at the hands covering her face.
“You’re cute when you’re embarrassed,” Volley giggles.
“Oh, not you, too...”
“You don’t mind crying in front of them, but kissing is too much?”
“It’s just been a while, is all!”
It’s been so long since Pearl’s felt like this, so comfortable with someone else that she wants to share every part of her, to bare her soul, without fear of rejection. The best part is she doesn’t owe Volleyball anything - this is entirely her choice - and the thought is a thrilling one.
Two pearls together - with similar scars, who were once bound by the very same chains. The past still weighs upon them, heavy and oppressive, but they can share the burden together. And just maybe...
Maybe this can be the start of something entirely new.
“Well, it’s just the two of us now.” Volley caresses her cheek and leans in closer to whisper against her lips. “Why don’t we pick up where we left off?”