It started, like many things (the band, for example), as a way to bond with the gems while waiting for Rose to come back from… wherever she went when she left.
Okay, that previous statement needed a minor correction. It started as a way to bond with Amethyst and Garnet. Pearl was… Pearl. While Greg still maintained hope that she would warm up to him, one day, it certainly wasn’t going to be while on a tennis court.
“Why did I think that playing tennis with aliens was a good idea?” he panted as he ran after the ball again, his racket swinging wildly with each stride. His long, thick mane of hair was tied up for once, and though his rocker aesthetic was somewhat tarnished by the messy bun he could not bring himself to regret the decision to get it off of his neck and out of his sweaty face.
The felt ball had half obscured itself in a small leafy bush, and Greg let out a loud breath as he plucked it out. “Well, at least I’m in shape!”
Garnet’s serves were unfairly strong. The worst part, though, was that Greg knew she wasn’t even using a full percentage of her strength. Not when she could pick him up and hold him over her head like a pillow (the vim and vigor of youth counted for nothing, in comparison to polymorphic sentient space rocks).
Garnet also had this somewhat provoking habit of standing in one spot and shapeshifting her arms to reach for the ball when it came onto her side of the court. She had him running ragged, and she wasn’t even going to try and act like this was difficult.
“This is good exercise!” he puffed optimistically. “Don’t you think so, Garnet?”
From the sidelines, Amethyst (who would be playing winner) guffawed loudly. “Exercise?” she snorted. “Humans are so weird.”
Garnet, whose mirrored visor obscured half her face and whose mouth showed very little extra emotion for Greg to study, merely hummed and gestured with one gemmed palm for him to Bring It. The red stone glinted in the early afternoon sunlight like—well, like the jewel it was.
Aliens. He was playing tennis with aliens.
Well, he had better offer up a good serve, then!
“Alright, Garnet, try and catch this one!” Greg spiked the ball to the left much harder than he intended, actually. It was, in his opinion, an extraordinary serve—nearly impossible to catch!
Garnet’s left arm glowed and extended, and she whacked the yellow sphere right back to his court. It bounced once off of the green painted ground, and then neatly towards him. Greg didn’t even have to run for the ball this time. They exchanged a couple of harmless volleys while Amethyst groaned about how boring they were, but Greg thought Garnet was really trying to force him to use his backhand swing more. She was always returning the ball to that side. It was, he noticed, helping him refine the return.
She was doing this on purpose.
Greg… you know, he honestly didn’t mind all that much. He was improving, how could that be a bad thing?
Was this a sign that Garnet had taken a liking to him?
To be honest, he liked the sound of that. Garnet was efficient, reliable, and kind (in her way), the sort of woma—err, gem—that anyone would want as an ally.
“Ha, try this!” he shouted, feeding a little extra power into his return and smacking the ball out of the semi-reliable patterns they had been following. The little yellow sphere went wide, nearly careening over the chain link fence surrounding the tennis court.
This time, Garnet’s arm didn’t just move to catch the ball, the entirety of her did. It was nice, Greg reflected, not because her powerful loping strides betrayed how easy this activity still was for her, but because the act of her running for the ball made him feel like they had reached an equilibrium. Like they were equals now, or something.
It took about half an hour for Amethyst to get fed up enough to wander off in search of more entertaining spectacles. It took two more weekend afternoons of more or less the same thing, spread out over the course of a month, before she gave up on joining Garnet and Greg for tennis entirely. Garnet and Greg kept coming back to play, though. Not every weekend, but most weekends.
Garnet would train Greg, help him refine his techniques and build muscle, and Greg would satiate her competitive spirit by never being able to beat her (“Yes,” she would hiss in low-toned satisfaction at the end of every game. “Garnet wins.” And Greg could only laugh and shake his head; he was a pretty easygoing loser of sports games). Garnet didn’t talk much, it was true, but when you play a sport with someone conversation isn’t always the best use of your time anyway.
Which isn’t to say that Greg always refrained from talking. He did vent to Garnet, and more than once. It started as asking her advice about Rose, or trying to understand Rose, or expressing frustration at her alien-ness to him and his cultural norms and vice versa. As the years passed, though, it evolved into discussions about missing Rose, and about Steven. Garnet, naturally, was good at listening; she also gave some of the most solid advice Greg had ever heard. As the years passed, he came to truly trust her judgement. Amethyst was brash and fun, and Pearl was strict and detail oriented, but for all of her remoteness as new leader of the Crystal Gems Garnet seemed to have the most compassion and humanity.
Tennis was an act of mutualism that worked for Garnet and Greg, uniquely, standing on opposite ends of the court and casually lobbing the yellow ball back and forth. They hadn’t played in a while now—many, many, many weekends—but that did not diminish the quality of the memories, or the notion that Garnet was, truly, his friend.
“You know,” Greg said to himself, standing in front of the precarious piles of junk in his storage unit and gazing at an old, familiar pair of tennis rackets. “Maybe I should break these bad boys out and see if they’re still any good.”