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The Glass Gemstone

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The sounds were unbearable in hindsight.

It began with the wet thunk of his body hitting the floor. Her own voice screaming out as she ran to him, his shallow breathing, the sobbing, his broken voice, even his hands pawing the ground, flip-flops scraping uselessly before she thought to pick him up—it stuck with her, a broken memory running on repeat for weeks on end. When she did pick him up, she felt more than heard the sound of his heart stumbling in his chest.

And all that from just one half of him.

The other half’s voice alone proved to be of two halves in itself. If she had been directing a movie, she couldn’t have asked for a more heart-stopping effect: The quiet response hanging thick in the air, then the moment he shattered it—shattered the air, shattered the moment. It physically hurt to hear. She could only imagine the pain it caused him.

But the worst was the sound of his final breath. It was the worst because she didn’t hear it, because the sound of his trembling heart was so much louder, so much more difficult to discern from her own. She never heard that last moment. She experienced no profound cutoff point, only the break as she struggled forward, determined to get him to where he wanted to be, when—

Suddenly, she realized she was the only one trembling.

The other him had stopped in the middle of the room, arm raised in defense of the onslaught. The light tore through the air to reach him; it would have been blinding if Connie had bothered to look.

“S-Steven?”

Silence.

Steven’s other half expelled the cumulated power, knocking their friends and enemies onto their backs. Connie glanced up in time to register what had happened, then back down to her Steven for a response.

No, stop! he should have shouted, you’re hurting them!

His eyes weren’t even open to see it. Remnants of tears trailed thick around to the back of his lolling head, but his face had already begun to dry.

Connie’s heart all but stopped. “No, n-no...”

The weight was too much. Shaking, she lowered her best friend’s body to the ground. His knees caught them both with a thud, the sound inanimate as a block of wood hitting the floor. She held him up with one hand and tried with the other to lift his head, check his pulse, find something. She thought that maybe he was okay, maybe his eyes were open, that maybe the tears in her eyes were blurring her vision too much to see...

He’s... gone, whispered a voice in her head.

Sometimes, when Connie thought or said certain phrases, a significant instance of hearing some version of it played in her mind. She heard her mother’s voice in all variations of “be careful!” or “watch out!” Dogcopter’s voice actor murmured random advice in the back of her mind. Lately, Steven took up a lot of space in her head, shouting and laughing and echoing her thoughts when he wasn’t around to do it in person. It was usually endearing. The worst it had ever been was annoying.

He’s GOOOOONE.

Now it was unbearable.

He’s GOOOOONE.

“C-come back,” she sobbed.

Something sharp cut through the air. Connie looked up in time for a dark, translucent version of Steven’s shield to jam itself into the space behind White Diamond’s gem. The other half had already knocked her down. Now she stooped on hands and knees, eyes crossed in numb shock, before the room filled with white mist. The ground shook as her gem hit the floor, and then—

Silence.

The silence was unbearable too.

“Come back,” Connie whispered. She tried to lift Steven’s head so it didn’t lie at an unnatural angle. “Come back.”

She sank from her knees to the ground. He sank with her, and when the mist dissipated, she saw how the action had bent his legs at an odd angle. “That looks uncomfortable,” she choked. She tugged at his pant leg, trying to ignore the way his head slumped back without the support of her hand. “Here, let me... Let me fix that for you.”

He lay sprawled with his head in her lap. They’d done this before. They’d done this yesterday, when he’d gone to get help in his dreams. Connie wanted to believe that was all this was. He was asleep, and he’d just... gone somewhere. He’d gone to Earth to talk to his dad. He was in the Diamonds’ minds again, trying to get them to see reason. He was...

A tear dripped off her chin and landed on his cheek. “Steven.” She sniffed. “Don’t leave me.”

Another hand came into Connie’s periphery. She gasped and pulled back, arms wrapped protectively around her best friend. The hand stilled, and she met his eyes. They were Steven’s eyes, but not really. The spark in them felt less like light and more like fire. The muscles around them were locked in what came off as a default expression.

Blank.

Like a model.

He crouched in reaching for Steven’s body. The longer she stared at him, the more Connie saw in that posture: hesitance, intent, impatience.

She loosened her grip.

Steven’s other half (his gem half) put a hand on his arm, the one pressed against her stomach. It felt like steel, like he was tense, or maybe it was more to do with being a diamond. When she didn’t resist, he reached under and picked himself up.

Steven’s gem stood over her like a statue, his human body draped bridal style over his arms. Connie blinked, and a stream of hot tears washed back into her ears. She imagined “bridal style” was a more accurate metaphor, and through the water in her eyes she may have seen Steven wrap his arms around his pink half’s neck, laughing if not for the salt in her ears.

She blinked again, and his hand fell loosely in front of her. His gem hadn’t moved. He kept his eyes firmly on Steven’s face, looking for all the world like he was willing him to wake up.

The others began to stir. In a few moments, there were gasps.

“What happened?”

Steven!”

“Oh, no.”

Connie sniffed. Mustering all of her strength, she pulled herself up in front of Steven’s gem. “Well?”

He didn’t react.

“Oh my stars,” Blue Diamond gasped. “Pink, you didn’t—Pink?”

Connie glanced up at the Diamond. She had crouched over what looked like one of Steven’s bubbles, inside which hovered White Diamond’s gem. It was enormous, taller than Stevonnie if Connie had to guess. Blue Diamond looked horrified.

Connie turned back to Steven’s gem. “Fix him.”

“I can’t.”

Connie flushed. He’d responded too quickly, almost impatiently. His voice... It sounded like Stevens, but... not. He had never been that dismissive with her.

She clenched her fists at her side. “Well, why not? You’re like Steven’s gem powers, aren’t you? You can heal people. You can bring them back to life with your tears! Just... cry on him!”

Her words exploded into the perturbed silence of the room. It stretched thin, demanding an answer, but the thing that used to be Pink Diamond refused to look up.

She ended up following his gaze. Steven’s face was still pale. The sickly shadows under his eyes had grown blue. His arm hung limp from his shoulder. It swung there, still in motion, and pulled his head to the side. His eyes fell half-open, and Connie threw her hands to her mouth with a wet gasp.

“I’m trying.”

She blinked up at him, forcing fresh tears down the tracks on her face. “What?”

Steven’s gem shifted so his head dropped back into his arms. “I can’t cry,” he said. His voice never changed tone. It could have been anything from resignation to frustration.

Connie’s breath hitched when Garnet spoke up from the middle of the room. She was still missing her visor, so the pain in her eyes shone clear. Pearl and Amethyst unconsciously gripped her arm and leg, attaching themselves to the most assuring presence in the ship.

Garnet said two words. “Pink... Diamond?”

Time stood still. After a moment, the gem raised his head, and the Crystal Gems stepped back in alarm as he opened his mouth. “I am not PINK DIAMOND.

The ground trembled at the name. His voice blew everyone back a step, but it didn’t break anything.

Pearl choked on a sob. “Steven...”

“He-he’s gonna be okay,” Connie blurted. She clenched her fist before her, catching a stray teardrop from the sudden movement. “His gem is still here. His powers! They brought Lars back to life. Th-they can do it for Steven!” She stepped forward and pushed Steven’s limp hand back over his stomach. His gem turned to look at her. “You can do it. You will do it. You have to.”

He stared in silence.

Like a bolt of lightning, Yellow Diamond broke the tension. “All right,” she announced, “This has gone too far.”

“You didn’t need to bubble her,” Blue murmured. She raised the bubble containing White’s gem.

Yellow turned away. “Now when she reforms, she’ll no doubt want to punish us. What do you propose we do, Pink?”

Connie and the Gems stood frozen at the Diamonds’ feet. No one dared say a word, and in the silence Connie finally noticed the figure hidden behind the steps of White Diamond’s dais: White’s Pearl, now in shades of pink, watching fearfully as the Diamonds stared down the smaller gems.

“Pink,” Yellow barked, “I’m talking to you.”

Connie flinched in anticipation, but Steven’s gem didn’t respond.

At that moment, Bismuth, Lapis, and Peridot came barreling into the ship. The three gems landed with dramatic flair, posed for battle. Bismuth’s voice rang out in stark contrast to those in the room. “Listen here, you nail heads! The Crystal Gems are—Steven?”

Peridot stepped off her garbage can lid. “Why is Steven pinker than usual?”

“What’s going on?” Lapis demanded.

“That,” Yellow Diamond said sharply, “is a very good question.”

“Oh, don’t you get it?” Connie snapped. “White Diamond controlled you and took Steven’s gem. It was never worth trying to negotiate with her. She’s nothing like my mom. She’s an abuser! A-and so are you!” She jabbed a finger at them both.

Blue reeled. “Wh— Who do you think—”

“You can’t even accept that Pink Diamond is gone!” Connie’s voice cracked. “You were so bad, she didn’t just leave. She didn’t just fake her own death. She killed herself to give someone else a better childhood. A-and after all that, you couldn’t accept it. If you’d just listened to Steven, none of this would have happened!”

 “Connie.”

A hand fell on her shoulder. She looked up, and hot, angry tears forked their way down her neck. Keeping her eyes on the Diamonds, Garnet replaced her visor and squeezed Connie’s shoulder.

“We,” she announced, “are going.”

Blue turned from Connie and shut her eyes.

Yellow laughed hysterically. “Going? Where do you think you’re going after this? White’s been-been bubbled, Steven is... broken, I—”

 “Yellow.” Blue put her free hand on Yellow’s shoulder. Her eyes flickered in thought. “This... this has gone too far. Look at what we’ve done to her. What White did to us.” She contemplated the bubble in her hand. “Let them go.”

“I...” Yellow’s face contorted with emotion. She turned her head away. “Fine. Yes. Go back to your planet. It would be best for everyone if you never return. There was never any point to this. White—”

“We’ll deal with White,” Blue said. “Now go, Crystal Gems, and take your pet away. Before I change my mind.”


 

Without Blue and Yellow Diamond, the leg ship’s main interior contained easily as much floor space as White Diamond’s head. The enormous sitting spaces mechanically flattened, eliminating any risk of falling and hurting oneself. Everyone could sit or stand as far away from each other as they wished.

So they did.

The legs could still only be flown by Steven. Though Peridot quietly suggested she make adjustments, it was easier to let his gem half step into the pilot’s position. The Pearl previously controlled by White wordlessly elected to join him, and they set the ship into flight.

Steven refused to put himself down.

Garnet, Pearl, and Amethyst drifted away from the center of the ship. Without so much as glance, Amethyst knew they had agreed to speak together, but it was difficult to start in the fool’s silence of Connie’s suppressed sobs across the room. For a while, they simply stood against the wall, arms crossed.

Finally, Pearl sucked in a breath. “I always wondered what would happen when... I mean, not that I wanted-but I didn’t think I’d be getting an answer so-so soon.”

Amethyst grit her teeth. Her first instinct was to shout—how could Pearl talk about the technical side of this now—but she didn’t want to make things worse. Connie was still crying, and Lapis looked shell-shocked. They couldn’t fight.

Instead, she snorted. “I didn’t think we’d leave Homeworld without doing something about White Diamond. This whole trip was a disaster. The least we could have done is break that... that bitch.

“Amethyst!”

“What? Am I still not allowed to swear?” Amethyst spread her arms, angry at her own tears. “It’s not like there’s a chance to be a bad influence anymore. So I’ll say it! Fuck White Diamond, and fuck Blue and Yellow too. I hope they let her out of that bubble, and they fight, and they shatter each other in the process. That’s the least they deserve for-for killing Steven!”

“Steven isn’t dead,” Garnet said quietly.

Pearl touched her hand to her mouth. “Garnet...”

“Right, because his gem’s still here.” Amethyst hid her face in her hair. “Garnet, that isn’t Steven, and it sure as hell ain’t Rose. I'm not even sure it's conscious.”

“No,” Garnet retorted, “he’s not Steven, but he is a part of him. If Ruby or Sapphire were shattered, I wouldn’t be entirely gone. We can’t just...”

She trailed off, and Pearl and Amethyst pretended not to notice her form shiver.

“You... You’re right, Amethyst,” she said quietly. “Gems... aren’t like that. But we were made with all we needed to know about being alive coded into us. We didn’t have to learn how to control our bodies or how to express ourselves, but humans do, and Rose wanted to give Steven a human childhood. If she had left him with any of that code, he would have been more gem than human, but he’s not. He... wasn’t.”

Amethyst flinched. Pearl made a strangled noise in her throat.

“Steven was never one or the other,” Garnet continued. “Not a gem with a human body, nor a human with gem powers. The body and gem were one. They functioned together as one.” She looked down at her shaking hands. “Part of him is gone, but we can’t just pretend we don’t still have some of Steven to take care of. This half of Steven isn’t used to existing on his own. He hasn’t needed to learn certain behaviors, because the human and gem halves supported one another. That doesn’t mean he isn’t conscious.”

“That sounds plausible.”

The gems stiffened. Amethyst refused to turn around, but she knew he was there, not ten feet behind her. Pearl and Garnet tried and failed to keep their faces neutral.

“St-Steven!” Pearl’s hands flailed aimlessly, trying to find purchase as a gesture. “Why aren’t you piloting the ship?”

“Pearl put it on autopilot,” he replied. His toneless voice made the gems cringe. “I was wondering if you could help me.”

Amethyst formed lungs for a deep breath. She took one, then turned around. The... pink Steven looked just as empty as before, like a video game character with its default expression. The body in his arms lay equally unchanged, though someone had closed his eyes—thank god.

She forced a grin. “Hey! What can we help you with, Ste-uh, kiddo?”

“I’ve been trying to cry.”

Amethyst lost her lungs. She could feel the others trying to maintain their composure as Pearl choked out, “You mean... healing tears?”

Those eyes moved to Pearl. It was the only thing that changed. “I can’t cry. But you can. You could cry for me.”

“Uhh.” Amethyst grimaced. “We... don’t have healing tears.”

He turned to her, and it took all her power not to look away. “I know,” he said.

They waited for him to elaborate. He didn’t.

Garnet gasped. “St...Steven. Are you asking one of us to fuse with you?”

“Yes.”

The gems exchanged looks.

“Could that work?” Pearl wondered.

Garnet re-crossed her arms. “I don’t know. Fusions don’t always have the powers of their gems. I can’t create ice, and not all of my fusions have future vision.”

“But you do have future vision,” Amethyst pointed out. “And Pink Steven here is basically a Diamond.”

They contemplated this. Steven’s gem half looked on, eyes fixed on some space between him and Amethyst. She couldn’t focus with him staring at her like that, so it was just as well that she had grown used to deferring to Garnet.

Garnet blew out a steadying breath. “We may as well give it a try.”

Pink Steven blinked. Garnet looked to Pearl and Amethyst. Pearl and Amethyst looked at each other.

Amethyst shuffled her feet. “Uh, Pearl, you’ve been crying the most. R.Q. two-point-oh saves the day?”

“Oh!” Pearl flushed. “Well, I-I...”

“It has to be one of you,” said Garnet. “A three gem fusion might risk diluting Steven’s healing powers.”

Bullshit, Amethyst thought. You just don’t want to do it.

For a few prolonged seconds, the only sound to be heard was Bismuth speaking quietly at the back of the ship. Connie’s sniffling softened at whatever she was saying.

Amethyst pulled her face into a hard blink. Latent tears sprung to the corners of her eyes. “Gimme a break,” she grumbled. “I’ll do it.”

Pink Steven seemed to perk up at that. He turned to face her.

“R-right now?” Pearl stammered.

“What other time is there?” Amethyst made herself breathe again. It was nice, breathing. Organics didn’t have a lot going for them, but breathing was truly a gift.

She shuffled closer to Pink Steven. She tried not to look as uncomfortable as she was; he stood a few inches shorter than her, but being next to him now... It made her feel small.

Despite herself, Amethyst held out a hand. “I’ll do anything for Steven.”

Steven’s gem half moved to extend a hand under the burden in his arms. His human body shifted, and its face fell against his chest.

Amethyst grimaced. “You... uh, you’re gonna have to put him down, buddy.”

He looked down at himself. Pearl fidgeted, and Amethyst stayed frozen in place as, perhaps reluctantly, he turned and pushed his body into Garnet’s arms. She let out a little grunt, but otherwise managed to remain stoic.

When Steven turned back to Amethyst, she offered a half-grin. “You ready, partner?”

He reached out, and they clasped hands like they always did. Smokey had never been hard to form. They were a hug personified. All it took was a little squeeze, and they’d be out in the world with their three arms and cheerful little self.

Amethyst wasn’t sure what Smokey would be like now, but they would at least know why they were there. Her gem began to glow. She closed her eyes, her form lightened, and then—

Nothing happened. She opened her eyes. Garnet and Pearl watched on in concern. Steven’s gem didn’t seem to be affected.

“Steven?” Amethyst tried to smile. “Uh, it’s go time. Something wrong?”

“I can’t fuse anymore,” he murmured.

 Amethyst’s eyes widened. She looked to Garnet. “Is that possible?”

Garnet shifted her arms in a gesture vaguely resembling a shrug.

Amethyst resisted the urge to scream her frustration. It wasn’t fair. None of this was fair. He couldn’t just... give them hope like that and then take it away. Gritting her teeth, Amethyst pulled her hand away.

Steven wouldn’t let go.

She stared at him. “Uh, squeezing my hand won’t make it easier, buddy. It’s okay, we can try again later.” She tugged again. He didn’t move. His grip began to tighten. “You’re—ow, you’re probably still in shock or something.” She gave it a yank. “Steven, you’re hurting me.” She leaned away and dug her heels into the floor. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Pearl move in to help. A bolt of pain shot through her form. “St-Steven, let go of my hand. Hey—!”

There was a sickening tug, and the world disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Pearl leapt forward and caught her gem from the air.

“Amethyst!” Peridot squeaked from the other side of the ship.

“What happened?” Lapis called in alarm.

It was an accident.” Pearl was shaking. She looked to Steven’s gem for assurance.  “Right?”

A thick silence pierced the air. Steven’s gem lowered his hand.

“Yes,” he said, then turned away. He retrieved his body from Garnet and returned to the center of the ship. The Pearl standing there averted her eyes.

After a few minutes, her soft voice spoke volumes in the silence. “We’re nearly there.”


 

Connie couldn’t remember feeling so terrible. She tried to. She tried to find something in her memories to put an anchor to, something this bad, something that had ended. She had been a little girl when her grandmother died. If she was honest with herself, the worst feeling had probably been when Steven gave himself up to Homeworld. She had thought something terrible would happen to him, that he would be killed or tortured or that... someone would tear his gem out to get to Rose Quartz.

But that feeling didn’t compare to standing in a spaceship, so very far from home, in constant proximity with a ghost of her best friend.

He wouldn’t even look at her.

Having positioned herself just a few feet away (certainly within his line of sight), she began to lose control of her breathing. It came out too fast and irregular, so she closed her eyes and forced herself to inhale slowly.

One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand, four...

Connie stepped up close. “Hey, I was thinking, when we get back...” Her voice trailed off. He was looking at her now. For a second, she froze, trapped in his eyes. Then she jerked her head away. “Y-you—I mean, Mr. Universe is probably going to be waiting for us.”

“My dad,” he said. Connie couldn’t decide what it meant. Was he correcting her? Was he asking if that’s who Mr. Universe was?

She blinked at him. “Y-yeah. He’s going to be down there, and—oh, my parents too probably.” She fought the urge to start crying again. “And I—I think we should—”

“Your parents.”

Connie tensed. At some point, she had grasped her sleeves with opposite hands. She squeezed them. “Are you mocking me?”

“No.” Steven’s gem blinked. He glanced down at his body. “Your mom is a doctor.”

Connie thought her heart must have stopped. Was he... was he serious? She forced herself to breathe. “N-no, I... Doctors can’t bring people back to life. You know that.”

“They can restart people’s hearts.”

“Not—” Connie had to wipe her cheeks with the back of her arm. “Not after the first few minutes. If you’re not getting oxygen to the brain, it can’t survive long enough for it to matter. Besides, it’s been over an hour, and... bodies... decay.”

“No.”

Yes. Look, I just wanted to—”

“I won’t let him decay.” Despite his blank expression, Connie felt the angry pressure of his words in the air.

She flushed. “What are you talking about? Do you think, by force of will, you can just make things okay?” She was trembling again. “If you think that, you can bring Steven back yourself.” She sniffed. By chance, her eyes dropped to his human face, and she clamped her eyes shut. “I just think that, when we get back, you should let me go out first and talk to everybody.”

He didn’t respond right away. Over by the gems, who had all gathered close, a shimmering glow indicated Amethyst’s reformation. She dropped onto the floor in a form Connie couldn’t discern from her last one. Different shoulder straps maybe? The day had been too chaotic to notice the details.

“Okay,” Steven’s gem said softly.


 

The legs showed up at the best and worst moment imaginable. On the one hand (or foot), Sadie Killer & the Suspects were playing their first concert on the beach, and the ship flashed in at the exact moment of the end of a song. Greg thought that was badass, and it meant Steven was home sooner than he’d hoped.

On the other hand, the pink bubble that floated down from the hip—that settled at the edge of the crowd, that blossomed away to reveal its interior—contained only Connie, and she looked very not okay.

The silence afterwards made Greg’s ears ring. Connie spotted him at the edge of the crowd and, alarmingly, made a beeline for him. He ran to meet her half-way.

“What happened?” He tried not to sound accusing. “Why aren’t the others with you?”

Connie inhaled deeply. “I came out first to tell you...” She averted her eyes. Greg realized she was trembling. “While-while we were up there, White Diamond... did something to Steven.”

Greg tensed. “Did something?”

She grimaced. From this close, Greg could see the tear tracks on her cheeks, the remaining water in her eyes, and the trembling of her lips. His heart sank.

“He-he’s inside,” Connie said, “but...”

“Connie!”

They turned.

“Mom,” Connie yelped. “Dad! I...” She cut herself off with a suppressed sob and threw herself into her father’s arms. Her mother embraced them both.

“There there, sweetie,” her dad soothed.

“It’s okay,” said Dr. Maheswaren. “You’re home now. Oh, I’m so glad you’re all right.”

Greg turned his gaze back to the ship. It stood like a monument, bigger than the temple and probably way older. “Far be it from me to interrupt a reunion, but what were you saying about Steven?”

“Right.” Connie pulled away from her parents. She took a deep breath. “We got to White Diamond, but she wouldn’t listen. She just wanted Pink Diamond back. She thought... she...” Connie shut her eyes. “She pulled out Steven’s gem.”

Greg’s breath caught in his throat. Some thoughts ran through his head—fears, concerns, what does that even mean—but most of all, She didn’t kill him, then, right? “Is he okay?!”

Connie shook her head.

Greg squeezed his eyes shut. His old heart pounded, threatening to burst. He refused to let himself break.

Inhale.

Exhale.

“Have them come out, Connie.”

With a nod, the little girl turned and waved at the ship. Two seconds later, another bubble slid over the side of the hip and began hovering down.

“Thank you for telling me,” Greg said quietly.

Murmurs began to ripple in waves through the small crowd behind them as this bubble peeled itself open. Garnet and Bismuth stood on either side of those inside, arms crossed like bouncers.

Greg wasn’t sure what to expect. A part of him imagined Rose must have reformed from Steven’s gem, and there was certainly more pink there than usual, but he didn’t register the source. As soon as he spotted his son, the body limp in somebody else’s arms, he broke.

STEVEN.” The scream came out hoarse, and Greg wasn’t entirely sure at what point he’d said it. Time meant nothing. He may have been standing in place, running for the gems, or on his knees before his child. The name stayed on his tongue like a coat of grease until he could fully comprehend what he was looking at.

Steven.

Not moving.

Not breathing.

Too thin, too pale.

Greg raised his hands over his son’s body. He forced himself to breathe, but that didn’t slow his heart or stop him from trembling. He gripped Steven’s shirt (the lack of a gem under his hand felt like a wound) and squeezed his arm. “You said—” His voice shook. He almost turned his head. He couldn’t look away, but he knew Garnet was right there. “You said he would be fine.”

She didn’t respond.

Steven’s body was still warm. It must have been ages to Homeworld, but the person holding him radiated heat—

Greg looked up suddenly. He hadn’t noticed the tears in his eyes until he blinked, and they blurred his vision. He saw a chin, a nose, eyes, pink— “Rose?”

“No.”

He blinked again. “S-Steven. Oh.” He got it. He didn’t understand, but he got it. Trembling, he lowered his head, reached for the back of Steven’s still-standing form, and screwed his eyes shut against the pain.

At some point, the murmuring and gasping and quiet “oh no”s died out. Some sound hit the beach, some voices, all unimportant. Then Sadie shouted, “Lars!” and Greg had to look up.

A spaceship had landed on the beach. A hatch had opened, revealing more gems and a pink Lars. Steven had told Greg all about their journey to Earth. Now seemed the worst possible time for their arrival.

Sadie ran up and stopped dead in front of Lars. He grinned at her, but before he could say anything, he spotted the Greg and the gems. His eyes widened. The gems behind him began murmuring worriedly.

“Sadie,” Lars breathed. “What... what’s going on? Is that Steven? Why is he pi—oof.”

Sadie cut him off with a hug. She started sobbing into his shirt, and the new gems looked on with varying levels of fear and concern.

“I’m sorry, Greg,” Garnet said finally.

As if spurred by her response, the pink Steven began to walk away from the gathering. The gems tensed.

Greg scrambled to his feet—“Wait!”—and ran to keep up. “Steven! Where are you going?”

Connie began to pull away from her parents. “I should—”

Greg waved her back. “I got this, Connie. Stay with your parents.”

“But...”

“No buts.” Her mother hugged her close. “You heard the man. I want to hear everything.”

The townies parted for Steven and Greg like the red sea. There were tears in that sea. No one knew what was happening, but most people in Beach City were at least residually familiar with the cheerful little boy who had lived amongst them for the past fourteen, nearly fifteen years.

 Steven (his ghost? His gem?) made a beeline for the temple. Greg followed silently, occasionally glancing back to see what the gems were doing. They seemed to be arguing, or greeting the new gems, or speaking quietly under the legs. They didn’t follow, and Greg was sure he preferred they didn’t. He couldn’t take that right now, not when they had come home with his son like this.

What was left of his son climbed the steps of his still-broken house with silent feet. Greg knew what those steps should have sounded like, the creak and squeak of each plank of wood. He remembered building it. Hadn’t that been recently? Hadn’t Steven just moved in?

They stepped onto the warp pad, and a musical sound preceded the light of the warp. When it dropped them off, Greg found himself momentarily blinded by the darkness.

They were outside. The moon and stars dimly illuminated a garden path, then a stone wall, and sparkling water somewhere ahead. Aside from the regular nightly sounds—crickets, frogs, rustling—he thought he heard a bubbling fountain.

Steven was already on the move. Greg hadn’t realized in all the artificial lighting of the beach, but this... ghost Steven glowed in the dark. Shadows in the form of his supine silhouette bobbed along in front of him. A rabbit tinted pink scurried off at the edge of the light.

Greg stepped off the warp pad. “So, uh. Where is this place?”

No response.

He forced himself to breathe. He wouldn’t pressure him. He didn’t know anything. All he could do was follow.

They got to the fountain, and Greg choked on a gasp. Rose. One of her statues, crying water into this vast pond, stood over them with more delicate grace than she had ever achieved in life—at least not as long as he’d known her. But it wasn’t water, was it? Greg had never been here before, but he knew about it.

“Rose’s healing fountain,” he murmured.

Pink Steven paused a few feet from the water.

Greg swallowed down hope, but he still had to ask. “Can this... heal you?”

A moment passed, and then Steven stepped into the water. His feet didn’t make contact at first, though Greg could have imagined it. He moved in like a ramp extended into the pool. When it was up to his stomach, he turned to the side and lowered the body in his arms into the water. His face—his human face seemed to relax. Greg was pretty sure it should have gone stiff by now, but his arms extended in the water, kept in place by the loose grip of... himself.

When nothing immediately happened, Greg sat down by the edge of the pool. They waited in silence, in the glow of the moon and the stars and the gem that was and was not his son. Greg blinked back tears. He had a suspicion they wouldn’t stop once he let go.

After a few minutes, his heart had sunk about as low as it could. “It’s not working,” he said numbly.

The gem blinked.

Greg studied his face. It looked the same now as it had back on the beach. The only emotion he had ever shown had been when Greg had mistaken him for Rose, and that had been in his voice. His face was just... Steven, but blank.

Desperate for something, Greg asked, “Can you... talk?”

“Yes.” He spoke softly. It was a distant sound. It was...

Greg swallowed. He knew that sound. It was the exact tone of someone who had lost everything. He had never wanted to hear his son speak like that.

He forced himself to breathe again. “Look, I...”

He stopped.

A minute passed.

He started over. “What even...?”

No.

Again. “Whatever this is, I...”

Greg drummed a rhythm on his knees. Finally, he gave up trying to begin. “Rose didn’t explain everything to me. She made sure I understood that you and her are different people. I understood that. I understand. But... I still don’t know what... Steven, please. Talk to me. I need to know what’s going on so I can help you. What is this? What...”

His son remained silent. He didn’t even acknowledge his presence.

Greg bit his lip. “At least... tell me what you’re thinking.”


 

“At least... tell me what you’re thinking.”

Tell me what you’re thinkingwhatyou’rethinkingwhat—

What was he thinking?

Have to, want to, need to—

Have to be whole. Want to be whole. Need to be whole.

I need, I need, I NEED—

“I need Him.”

He still wasn’t moving.

It wasn’t just movement, though. If He’d only been still, Steven would be back by now. If there had been something there to connect with, he would have connected. He would have—

He’s not thereHe’snotthereHe’snot—

A sound interrupted his thoughts. Dad was crying. He had pressed his hands over his mouth to suppress emotion.

Emotion.

Emotion leaking out His face. He knew what that felt like, but it hadn’t been his face, had never been his face, would never be—

His. Him. Want to—need to

Another sound, this time with impact: Dad had stepped into the water. He waded over and stood on the other side of Him. He—not Steven, not alone—was aware of this, but he didn’t care. Or maybe he did. Maybe Dad had an idea; he’d always been good at fixing unfixable things.

“It’s not like fusion, is it?”

Or maybe not.

Despite his silence, Dad went on. “Or like you’re... Steven’s ghost. I always wondered about gems and souls. Not enough for it to bother me, but if souls are real, would that mean you had two, being half human? Would that be like fusion? Or is it more like that episode of Pine and Ford? You  know, the one where they split their sister into two bits of her personality? Stuff like that in cartoons never sat well with me. Does it imply that everyone has fully functional potential people inside them, or...

“I-I’m rambling. I want to tell you that you don’t... need him, because I know how-how hard it is to move on, and when you lose someone, you... You have to learn to live without them.

“But I don’t want you to. Is that selfish of me? I want this to work, but it’s not like the real stuff—I get it—and I get it if your resurrection powers don’t work on yourself, or him, or whatever. It’s not your fault. I want you to know that, whatever this is with you, no matter what part of you is left, you’re still my son, and... I love you.”

Want...

“We’ll work through this.”

Need...

“I promise it’ll be okay. Eventually.”

...

“Is there anything I can do for you? Anything at all?”

A song ghosted over thought. It cleared... something. It cleared enough for a thought to break through the static.

The fountain isn’t going to heal us.

“Steven?”

Another thought: “I’m not Steven.”

“...O-oh?”

“No.”

“So... is it fusion?”

Is it fusion?

(Is it fusion?) Fusion?

What is fusion?

(Fusion?) I can’t fuse anymore. (Could I fuse?) I hurt Amethyst. (So?)

“Then... what do I call you?”

Steven. I’m called Steven. (I’m not Steven. I’m alone.) I’m alone, alone, ALONE

Something else ghosted over thought: If he had been Him, he would have told Dad to call him Alone. He couldn’t remember why, but he knew Steven would have taken it seriously, even if it sounded like a joke.

“Alone.”

(What else would He have done?) He would have been talking. He was always talking. No. Not talking. Communicating. He would have been communicating.

He would. We would. I’m not...

“I can’t call you that.”

He tore his line of sight away from Him. There was no purpose this time, but He would have. He would have been, should be

Dad’s hand was on his shoulder. “How about we talk this through? Do we know that you can’t use your powers to bring him back?”

His mind buzzed, but he formed a response. “I can’t cry.”

“You can’t cry physically, or you’re having trouble?”

...

“Because it’s perfectly natural to have trouble expressing emotions when something... traumatic happens. It’s okay. I mean, I’m not sure if there’s a-a window or... But you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. And then, if it’s physical, it’s important to understand when you can’t do anything anymore. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

...

“This, heh, this could almost be a normal dad talk if...”

...

“...How long are you planning on standing out here, kiddo?”


 

A hush fell over Beach City.

It was a small town, and nothing major could happen to anyone without everyone knowing about it. The giant legs on the beach, immobile since they’d dropped down, served as undeniable evidence that something had changed. By Monday, everyone knew what.

The town was small, but it did get some tourism through most of the year. The usual experience of an outsider involved friendly family restaurants, a deceptively jovial Funland employee or two, and a brush against a community that would divulge the presence of a superhuman family living in an ancient temple on the beach in such a casual manner that it must be some kind of attraction.

Steven used to wake up to strangers gawking at his house every summer.

Beach City wasn’t the most well-known vacation spot in the country, but those who did know it looked forward to a lively little town too noisy for its size.

This year, the silence was deafening.

Oh, the restaurants still served, Funland still ran at seemingly all hours of the day, and the community still brushed hard against anyone who entered the town. Occasionally, you might have seen something vaguely fantastical, like a pink teenager or a very small orange lady with a gemstone sewn into the back of her glove.

But it was wrong.

People smiled, but they looked sick.

People laughed, but they sounded preoccupied.

The car wash was closed, and any resident walking by would glance sadly at the door, like it was significant somehow.

If you were curious, you would have heard whispers. Gems was a popular word for the dark. So were pink and body and universe. Maybe it had something to do with the giant pair of pink legs on the beach. When prompted, anyone around would refer to them as a “ship,” but that was as far as it went.

The truth was—no one knew for sure what had happened to Steven Universe. Another boy that looked like him, only pink, had been seen carrying him along the beach that first night. No one was under any delusion that he had been alive. Afterward, though everyone kept well away from his house, they held a sort of collective focus on the beach. His father came and went. His friends came and went. The occasional tourist would stand at a distance before thinking better of approaching the area.

Everyone agreed, townies and tourists alike: It felt haunted.

That same pink boy, the weird clone of Steven Universe, would occasionally step outside or walk down the length of the beach, but no one said a word about that. No one would admit to seeing the burden he carried.

Chapter Text

The simple truth of the matter was that no one had been there but Connie. The others had seen the fallout, and they all had shared in the following moments, but Connie Maheswaren alone could say that she had been there when the life of Pink Diamond’s son had ended.

According to all of psychology, at least as far as she knew, that should have been upsetting. Connie should have wished one of the gems had been conscious for it, had been there to help or to comfort. She should have blamed herself.

But she didn’t.

She refused.

To Connie, it felt like a vital secret. No one could know that Steven hadn’t simply dropped dead to the floor as his gem reformed in the air. No one could know how he had tried to get back to himself. No one could know the way time had stood still in the moments before White Diamond was defeated.

Yes, defeated. Their journey to Homeworld hadn’t been a waste of time. Steven’s half-death couldn’t be all they had taken from it. Gem kind were going into a new and better age without that tyrant.

And Steven wasn’t dead.

Connie had worked it out. Maybe if his human half had simply dropped dead the moment he’d been separated from his gem, she would believe it—but he hadn’t. Gem Steven was just one half of Steven Universe, like a fusion. He just didn’t know how to be his own person, because they had never been apart before. It wasn’t that he couldn’t cry, because gems could cry. Rather, she decided, he didn’t know how, and it was her duty to teach him again.

The gems didn’t agree. Garnet said that it was only a matter of time before his body began to break down, despite his gem’s magic, and that Gem Steven wouldn’t change one bit before that happened. For some reason, Pearl and Amethyst believed it. As if they hadn’t defied Garnet’s future vision time and time again, as if Connie would even let it happen.

He hasn’t given up! Why would you?”

Connie refused to blame herself for Garnet’s reaction to the question. She was right. Steven had to come back. When Garnet fell apart in Steven’s living-room, Connie allowed herself no more than a moment’s shock before steeling herself again.

“Because he’s gone!” Ruby roared, setting the floor beneath her on fire. “He’s gone, just like Sunstone and Stevonnie and Smokey and Rainbow because they can’t come back, because he can’t come back, because he’s DEAD.”

“How can you say that?” Connie yelled. She gestured at the wall. “He’s right there! And if he couldn’t bring himself back, he wouldn’t be. He just—”

“Connie, please,” Sapphire sobbed. She had dropped to the floor, drowned herself in the folds of her dress. She looked up. “We’ve looked everywhere. Even if he does manage to get in sync with one of us and fuse, or learn to cry on his own, it’s already too late for his tears to do anything. There was a window, and it’s closed.”

Connie grit her teeth. Her eyes stung, and her stomach churned, but she wouldn’t give in. “You’re... You’re wrong. You’ve been wrong before. You always underestimate him!”

“Don’t talk to her that way!” Ruby screeched.

“Just give it a rest,” Amethyst blurted.

Connie turned on her, but Amethyst didn’t look ready to fight. She stood by the warp pad with her arms crossed and head down. Pearl held a comforting arm around the smaller gem. She looked away when Connie faced them.

“It’s no use fighting,” Amethyst muttered, “and he wouldn’t want it, so just... cut it out, will ya?”

The gems stood firm. By the tarp that covered what Bismuth had yet to repair of the house, Steven stood broken, half of him watching impassively, the other unaware.

Connie knew her parents were waiting for her out on the beach. They had grown open-minded since learning about her sword-fighting, more-so since Stevonnie, but she had the feeling they were reaching their limit. If the gems wouldn’t back her up...

“Fine,” she grumbled. “If you won’t help him...” She went over to Steven, grabbed him by the sleeve, and marched him outside. Behind her, Pearl gasped quietly, and a soft glow indicated Garnet’s return, but they didn’t try and stop her.

Once outside, Connie let go and turned to face him. “They’re wrong. I know you can save him. He—” She gripped the human Steven’s arm. “He’s still warm. You’re preserving him, right? You care. You—you’re part of Steven, and Steven would never give up.”

He didn’t respond, but Connie imagined he gave her a little smile.


 

Down on the beach, the Mr. Universe van sat with its back open to a view of the house and the ocean beyond. The inside was a wreck, as usual, but Greg could imagine himself getting even more behind on tidying from now on. Already, he’d failed to roll up his mattress this morning, and glass from a shattered picture frame littered the floor on one side. At the very least, he thought, he should remember to clean that up.

Ever polite, the Maheswarens didn’t comment on his bedraggled appearance, nor on the fact that he didn’t bother to get out of the back of his van. They managed not to be awkward over the whole thing, and Greg appreciated it. He didn’t have the energy to keep up appearances.

“We’re really sorry about this, Greg,” said Priyanka. “Connie was out the door before we could talk with her. She wouldn’t listen to us in the car, and...”

Greg sighed. “Don’t apologize. Connie was there. I wouldn’t want to keep her away from the people who were there with her.”

Doug sent him a sidelong glance. He was clearly trying to be subtle, but Greg caught it. The pity, the confusion... he had seen it all before.

Greg wished he could shrug it off now. He wished he had already done half the grieving, or that he even knew for sure why he was suffering. Was his son dead, or dying? Crippled? Brain damaged? He didn’t know which would be worse.

And what was he meant to be doing now, anyway? Grieving felt wrong, but he didn’t know how to help. Should he be asking for a funeral? How would that even go? How would that affect what was left of his boy? Should he be talking to him? Would the gems be okay if he walked in there, sat down with his son, and tried to be a dad?

The Maheswarens turned away, and Greg realized he had started to cry again. He dragged an arm across his face. “I’m sorry, I...”

“It’s okay, Greg.” Doug smiled sadly. “I can’t even begin to imagine what you’re going through. Please, feel free to ask if we can do anything to help. Anything at all.”

Priyanka tapped her elbow nervously. A distant shout drifted down from the temple. She sighed, “I wish I knew everything sometimes.”

A weak smile tugged at Greg’s lips. “It feels like that’d fix everything, doesn’t it?”

“Hm. Yeah.”

The thwap of the screen door falling shut drew their attention to the house. Connie stood outside speaking stiffly to what was left of Steven. The parents watched, tense, as she turned down the steps, and as Pink Steven followed.

“Oh no,” Priyanka muttered.

The body still hung limp in the gem’s arms. His feet bobbed with each step. The breeze played with his hair and blew his shirt against his arms. Greg couldn’t tear his eyes away from the pale face as they made their way down the steps and across the beach.

“Mom, Dad, I’m staying in Beach City for a while.”

Pink Steven stopped a few feet behind Connie. His gaze was fixed, but Greg couldn’t have said what on. Why had he followed her?

“Connie, no—”

“A while? What do you mean ‘a while’—?”

“You’re seeing a therapist,” Priyanka hissed. Her tone made Greg internally flinch. It was the parent voice; it left no room for questioning. He could never do the parent voice. In his broken state, he wondered if that was a good thing.

“What, today? Mom, Steven needs me. I don’t expect you to understand—”

“I don’t need to understand magic and aliens and-and your... extracurricular activities to know that you’re human, Connie.” As she spoke, Priyanka’s voice lost its venom. She clutched her hands close to her chest. “I don’t always know what’s best for you. I understand that now. But— I’m not a psychologist, but you’re showing signs of trauma and— You’ve been through something, and I don’t even know what. It... it scares me that you won’t let me help you.”

Connie squinted, holding back tears. “Mom—”

“Connie—”

Greg reached up and touched Priyanka’s shoulder. She stopped talking to turn to him. Everyone turned to him, including...

Greg’s breath caught in his throat. He pulled back and cleared it, forcing himself to look away from the pale pink figure as he addressed Doctor and Mister Maheswaren. “Connie’s right about one thing,” he said. “Unless you know someone on the inside, she’s not getting to a therapist, psychiatrist, talk show host or anyone as soon as today. I’ve checked. It’s a heavy system, and it’s all miles away.” He paused to run a hand over the back of his neck. “We should really have someone in Beach City...”

The Maheswarens shared a suppressed grimace.

Greg tried to smile, but it felt forced. Instead, he made himself sit up straight. “Now, I might not be a psychologist either, but I am a dad, and I’ve been living next to that mess—” He nodded up at the temple. “—for more than half my life. And if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that sometimes you just need the right company. I don’t want to step over any bounds, but if you let Connie stick around for a while, I’ll be here.”

Connie’s parents glanced at each other. While they weren’t looking, Connie mouthed, Thank you at Greg. He hoped he hadn’t just caused more problems.

Steven was still staring at him.

“You are... a trustworthy adult,” Doug said admittedly. Priyanka nodded, and he cleared his throat. “Connie—”

“Yes, Dad.”

“If we let you stay in Beach City for the day—”

For the day,” Priyanka emphasized.

“—do you promise to stay within calling distance of Mr. Universe—”

Physical calling distance,” Priyanka clarified.

“—text us if you plan on leaving the beach, so we know everywhere you go, call us or talk with Mr. Universe if you need emotional support, and not start any more fights with the Crystal Gems?”

Connie’s face reddened, but she nodded.

“And it’s just for today. Your mother is picking you up at six o’clock sharp, and then we’re talking about... the rest of it.” Doug looked at Greg. “Is that okay with you, Greg? We don’t want to put too much on you right now.”

Greg raised his hand. “You’re perfect. Thanks for being so kind. You really didn’t have to.”

“Don’t be absurd,” Priyanka said softly. “Kindness is the least we can offer.”

Greg ducked his head. His mind went back to the situation, to his own child hovering in a state of half-death not twenty feet away. Those eyes remained fixed on him, almost imploring. He didn’t know why. He didn’t know... how to continue the conversation now. His mind filled with honey, and he found that he couldn’t bring himself to say anything more.

Priyanka began running through the rules again with Connie, and the couple offered to stay a while longer. Connie refused, citing their parental ignorance once more, and they left her with Greg.

How much time did that take?

He wasn’t sure.

The van dipped as the tiny Maheswaren climbed into the back. She folded her hands in her lap and turned her gaze to the figure on the beach. “It’s going to be okay,” she said softly, but firmly. “If Steven didn’t think he could heal himself, he would have said. ...It’s just that this side of him doesn’t know how to use all his powers. Like... like before, when he lost his healing powers for a while. We just have to help him learn again.”

Greg wasn’t so sure about that. He wanted to hope—so desperately he wanted to—but the gems... and Garnet...

The van bounced up as he stood. Steven’s eyes followed him. He walked over and knelt down on one knee. As much as it hurt him, he scanned his son’s body, the still human form in the still gem’s arms, before turning his gaze to his son’s waking eyes.

They flickered.

Greg swallowed. “Hey, schtuball. Been a rough couple of days, huh?”

He blinked.

Greg gripped his shoulder, a reassuring gesture that didn’t seem to mean anything anymore. Steven’s gem half glowed. Greg didn’t know what he was exactly, and he would be the first to admit that, but he was sure gems didn’t glow, not unless they were fusing or reforming. This being—his son—he wasn’t just a gem. He wasn’t Rose, and Greg was glad of it.

He squeezed. “I’m not giving up on you.”


 

The next few months were torture for Pearl. For everyone else, she knew, it was horrible. They had lost their child, their precious baby. He was broken and suffering and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

“Why don’t we just... bubble him?” Amethyst suggested one day.

“Amethyst!” Pearl gasped.

“I mean—” Amethyst made a tense sound through her teeth. “He’s not himself. He’s not anyone. Isn’t that like corruption?”

Garnet played with her visor. “I don’t think that would be wise.”

Pearl crossed her arms tightly.

“We don’t know how he would react,” Garnet continued. “You both saw the carnage of what happened while we were under White Diamond’s control. You saw what he did to White Diamond.”

Her gem felt cold. Her stomach twisted, somehow, viscerally, despite the lack of organs. Pearl had seen it all right. She had known Rose (Pink) better than anyone, but she had never known she—her gem—was capable of such raw destructive power. If any part of her had still been in there, her—Steven’s—gem would never have done that.

Never.

She felt a hand on her arm. Pearl—Pink Pearl—had yet to work herself out of her programming; Pearl had almost forgotten her presence, just as any higher gem should of another’s Pearl. She was trying, though. She had been clinging to Pearl, watching her for silent instruction. It wasn’t much, but knowing Pink Diamond’s former companion wanted to move forward...

Yes, things were horrible for everyone, but Pearl was filled with shame.

One afternoon, she warped into the house alone. Bismuth had finished repairing the place and had moved on to rebuilding the barn for Peridot and Lapis. Pearl left Pink Pearl with them for a moment’s peace. The Homeworld gem would find a home with her fellow refugees.

Garnet and Amethyst were on a mission. Someone had suggested they collect more ancient weapons, find more experimental technology left behind during the war, build up some kind of protection against any potential invasion. Pearl didn’t think Blue or Yellow Diamond would risk destroying what was left of Pink, but it gave them something to focus on.

The warp stream disappeared, and Pearl stepped into the house. There was Greg, asleep on the couch. He had practically moved in. Bismuth had even built him his own bedroom, but he felt most comfortable out here, and no one minded anymore.

Pearl moved into the center of the house and watched him sleep for a while. He looked so peaceful, so unbothered. If humans had one advantage over gems, it was sleep. They could do it, sure, but even Amethyst would admit that it did nothing for them with so much stress on their minds. After a point, humans didn’t even have a choice.

Her eyes misted over, and she wiped them dry. She couldn’t cry in front of...

Pearl finally looked up at Steven’s bedroom alcove. Bismuth had changed a lot of the house, but this half had been undamaged in the attack. It remained as it had been.

Sitting there, flip-flops hanging loose over the couch, the Pink Diamond gem watched her in silence. He held her gaze. That expressionlessness... Pearl had never seen that on Rose or Steven. Even Pink, when she had acted her part on Homeworld, never looked so, so empty.

The stairs creaked as Pearl began climbing them. She sat down two and a quarter feet from her baby. Down on the couch, Greg lay snoring softly. Pearl envied him.

“I thought she would come back, you know,” she murmured.

The Diamond didn’t respond. She glanced over. He had turned his eyes away from hers to return to his silent vigil. The body in his arms never withered, never cooled. Something about the power of a Diamond, Pearl was sure. They exuded life. Steven’s mind may have been long gone, but his body would never fully die. Not if his gem had anything to say about it.

She turned away. “I tried not to think about it. Rose, she... She wanted us to love you. Steven. And I did. I do. So much.” She sniffed and wiped her face again, a little less successful this time. “But... Always, in the back of my mind, I had hoped—someday, I would see her again. It pained me, knowing that you—that Steven would probably... die. Not like a human, not at seventy or eighty years, but maybe in a few hundred, or a thousand, or...” She squeezed her eyes shut. Tears fell. “And then, maybe, someday, a silver lining. Rose. And maybe she—maybe she would remember me, and everything I did for you. Him. I don’t need it anymore, but I thought that maybe she’d be proud of me. Now, I—” She laughed for some reason. “Now I wish she had come back, just so I could smack her.”

No response.

Of course.

Pearl sighed. The sun shone through the front windows, illuminating the floor. It looked warm. That anything could be warm right now felt unfair to Pearl.

She brushed the tears away. “I’m sorry, Steven.”


 

Connie started a journal. The therapist her mom had found wasn’t doing anything to help, but she did have one good piece of advice.

“Start a journal. Write down all of your thoughts, all your feelings. You don’t have to show it to anyone. Just make sure you keep it up. Write about space, about your day, about your friend...”

Clearly, Dr. Pines thought this was a good way to work through Connie’s grief, since she refused to speak with her in the proper terms. Contrary to that, Connie thought it would help her work out how to help Steven.

She used the scientific method.

Question: How to get Steven’s gem half to cry?

Available information:

  • He’s a Diamond
  • He has emotions (anger)
  • He wants Steven back, too
  • He has healing powers (Steven’s body is still warm)

Not enough info.
New question: What parts of Steven are still in there?

She started by asking questions. What did he like? Did he still like books? Could he remember anything from The Spirit Morph Saga? Did he even have all of Steven’s memories?

He answered the questions seemingly at random. Yes he could remember the books, and yes he had all of Steven’s memories, but did he like anything? Could he still appreciate music? Connie had Greg bring out some of his old songs—and he complied, unsure but hopeful—but Steven wouldn’t say anything. The best Connie could do was guess, based on his general posture, that he at least listened to it.

She tried another approach by taking him to Funland with his dad. (Her parents still wouldn’t let her leave the house without an adult, but she understood why and respected their wishes.) But Mr. Smiley called him a health code violation and asked them to leave.

“I’m sorry,” he said, voice shaking. “I-I can’t let you carry around a... I have other customers, you know. Can I offer you each a free ring toss prize? Or—anything?”

Connie understood. It was a false step on her part; after a week, she had learned to tune out the morbidity of her best friend’s condition.

“We’ll play some board games,” she decided. “Put on a movie... maybe I can read you Unfamiliar Familiar again? Just say if anything helps.”

Mr. Universe was always there. He had closed down the carwash. Connie wasn’t sure what he did while she wasn’t around, but he did his best to contribute to her attempts. He tried talking with Steven, made casual comments about their activities. About a month in, he suggested that Connie talk to them about her therapy sessions.

“Maybe that’ll... bring something out.”

Connie didn’t think it would, but anything was as good as anything at this point.

  • Won’t talk to his dad
  • Won’t talk to the gems
  • Barely talks to me
  • Never smiles

It wasn’t looking good.

“Dr. Pines is nice,” she began. The three of them were sitting in a circle in Steven’s front room. Steven’s gem had adjusted his hold on the body, cradling his head against his chest. It would have been sweet if, well...

Connie didn’t think about it. “She wants me to ‘move past denial.’” She did air-quotes and rolled her eyes. “And, I get it. Five stages of grief. Anger, denial, bargaining, de...depression...”

Something cold settled in her stomach. For a moment, doubt fluttered there. Sitting here, in Steven’s house, with Steven and his dad, the familiarity of it all—it caught her off-guard. Could that be all this was? Grief? Denial? Bargaining?

She looked at Steven. He was watching her intently. Her face flushed. “B-but she doesn’t understand that you have powers! I mean, I told her, but she’s never dealt with people who have access to that kind of thing, you know? So, yeah.” Connie sighed. Yes, that was all. Dr. Pines didn’t understand. “Anyway, she doesn’t get it, but she is nice. We’ve been talking about other things, and she has some really effective meditation techniques that are good for anxiety.”

Mr. Universe strummed a soft chord on his guitar. Connie was convinced Steven still liked the sound, deep down, so it was always around now.

“Also,” she added, “she has board games in her office, and she lets me bring my violin to our appointments. Sometimes we just hang out, which is a little weird since she’s like thirty-seven, but it’s nice. She knits and embroiders, and she leaves all her materials right there. I asked her if she had an online store where she sells her homemade sweaters and embroidery, but she said that she prefers to give them away. I find that really inspiring, actually. You really don’t need to monetize your passions. And she found a way to make a difference in her art and her career. Like you, Mr. Universe.”

Red tinted his cheeks. “Aw, I haven’t made that much of a difference.”

“Are you kidding me?” Connie snorted. Mr. Universe lowered the neck of his instrument as she gestured wildly. “Your music wooed a magical space goddess! If you didn’t make music, Steven wouldn’t even exist. And-and I wouldn’t be here, and White Diamond would still be around, and the Cluster would probably have destroyed the Earth by now. You’re a hero!”

Mr. Universe smiled tentatively. “Gee, thanks, Connie. But I don’t think it was my music that did it, and uh, ‘space goddess’ might be a bit much.”

Connie clenched her hands in her lap. Her heart raced for a few moments. When it calmed, she blinked the mist out of her eyes. “Well, your music is pretty good. You taught Steven, after all.”

Mr. Universe strummed another chord. “Are you okay, Connie? I can take you home if you want. This has been pretty heavy on you.” Another chord, soft and un-intrusive. He looked tired. “I think... it might be time to consider something else.”

Connie stiffened. “Something else?”

“You know.” Another chord. It sounded like a song, but Connie couldn’t place it. “Come up with another game plan. I don’t think this whole resurrection thing is going to work out, Connie. I think we should consider the next best—”

“No.”

Mr. Universe set down the guitar with a grimace. “I just think—”

No.” Her eyes welled with tears. “You were the last—the only person willing to help! You can’t just give up on me. I... I can’t hold up on my own.”

He sighed.

Connie’s bottom lip trembled.

Steven sat unaffected by the argument. At the sight of it, Connie clenched her fists and jumped to her feet. She pointed down at him. “You should care at least! Don’t you want Steven back? SAY SOMETHING!”

She didn’t expect anything, not really. His eyes had followed her to her feet, but now he tilted his head to face her. His grip tightened on the body in his arms. “Yes,” he said, “I do.”

Connie’s lungs heaved. “Can’t you work with me, then? This whole time, you haven’t done anything to help. Can’t you do something?”

Mr. Universe stood. “Now, I don’t think it helps anyone to—”

“You’re right,” Steven murmured. He faced forward again. Not looking at anything, just returning to a neutral state. He stood up, readjusted his burden, and turned to the temple. Before anyone thought to say anything, the door to his mother’s room bloomed open.

He stepped through.

Connie yelped, “Wait—”

And it shut.


 

Dr. Pines was a tall woman. She was tall, thin, and strong, like she went on regular hikes through the woods. In support of this theory, she had a different set of rocks and wildflowers sitting on her desk each time Connie came in for her session—and it always smelled like outside in her office, despite the lack of windows. Every day she saw her, Dr. Pines was wearing one of her homemade sweaters, and she always had a bowl of generic-brand candy on an end-table next to the couch.

Today, Dr. Pines greeted Connie in a blue sweater with the image of a forest knitted into the front. She offered her candy and complained about the squeak in her chair as they both settled in.

Then she fell silent. Connie’s eyes lowered.

After a moment, Dr. Pines said, “You look tense, Connie. Has something happened you’d like to talk about?”

Connie swallowed. She had been sitting all morning on what she would say to the counselor, but now those thoughts seemed to have slipped through the cracks. Numbly, she nodded.

Dr. Pines tilted her head, tapped her chin, and sat back with a gentle smile. “No pressure, Connie. Do you want to save it for later in the hour?”

Connie shook her head.

The counselor nodded. She waited patiently for a few moments. A few seconds. A minute. Two. Finally, she stuck out her tongue in a show of thoughtful contemplation. “Hmm, how about we play twenty questions? That won’t count as a question, by the way. No cheating!”

Connie almost smiled, but the movement seemed to tug on her tear ducts. She inhaled carefully and nodded.

“Alright.” Dr. Pines steepled her fingers over her mouth, exaggerating concentration. Connie snorted, and the woman’s expression softened again. In an equally soft tone, she asked, “Does it have something to do with Steven?”

Connie swallowed. “Yeah.”

Dr. Pines nodded again. Waited again.

Connie fiddled with her skirt. She bit her lip, trying to sort her thoughts, but they were all a big gooey mess in her head. “I’m not sure why I...” She trailed off and took a deep breath.

“Take your time.”

She nodded. “Could, um... Do you have any more questions?”

Dr. Pines rubbed her chin thoughtfully. “How about... When did it happen?”

“Two days ago.”

Another nod. Another minute of waiting. “And how was yesterday?”

Connie sniffed. She tapped her hands on her knees, trying to stave off the emotional response. She felt comfortable with Dr. Pines, but not that comfortable. “I woke up, had breakfast...” Her counselor nodded. She turned her head toward Dr. Pines’ tackboard. It was covered in embroidery and drawings with glitter on them. Some of the art looked to have been done by younger patients. Focusing on the bright colors, Connie continued, “I did some homework over breakfast.”

“Homework?” Dr. Pines tilted her head. “You haven’t mentioned summer school.”

“Oh, no. I just want to get ahead.” Connie tucked some hair behind her ear. “But I couldn’t focus. I...” She had spent the next hour crying in the shower, but she couldn’t mention that. “Later, I texted Mr. Universe. For... an update on the situation.”

Dr. Pines glanced up at the art Connie kept going back to. “Question four,” she said, and Connie nodded. “What was the update?”

A moment passed.

“Steven hasn’t come out of the temple.”

Dr. Pines nodded slowly, processing, understanding.

“I think...” Connie took a deep breath. “I think I was wrong.” She lowered her head. She clasped her hands. She hunched her shoulders. “I don’t know if I can get Steven back the way he was. If he... if... whatever his... I mean, if what’s left of him d-doesn’t...” She swallowed. The words tasted bitter in her mouth. “If he doesn’t think so, then... I don’t know.”

“And... what’s left.” Dr. Pines spoke cautiously, pausing to assess Connie’s comfort level. “I don’t want to make this about him, and I’m hardly experienced with magic space rocks, but his situation sounds comparable to brain damage. Do you think that’s a valid assessment?”

“Maybe...”

Dr. Pines spread her hands. “Do you think, if he comes to terms with it himself, he could still offer you his friendship?”

“I think... maybe,” Connie replied, her head shaking softly

Her counselor leaned forward, arms on her knees. “Connie, I know I’ve said it before, but now more than ever, it’s important to recognize that he’s not your responsibility. It’s good that you’ve considered the possibility that Steven, as he was, is gone. It’s good because now you can start mourning. I’m not saying you should forget him, or give up on the person left behind, but he needs to make his own recovery. Someday, I’m sure you’ll talk to him again, and you will both be able to move on. But for now, Connie, this is good progress. I’m so proud of you.”

Connie wiped the mist out of her eyes. “Can we talk about something else, Dr. Pines?”

“Of course.”

Chapter Text

Steven’s gem came out of the temple only once in the weeks that followed. No one saw it, but Mr. Universe found a trail of sand leading from outside to the temple door, and no one else had been through that day. The room was sealed from the inside, so the gems—despite their efforts—couldn’t go in to check, coax him out, or ask what he had been doing.

They started keeping vigil, waiting for him to come out again. When the gems were busy, Steven’s dad or Connie would sit up at night, Maheswaren parents be darned. (They allowed the sleepovers, but they didn’t like it.)

Connie still saw Dr. Pines, but there was a limit to how far she was willing to move on. She was responsible for Steven, at least what was left of him. She had promised.

Time passed in a blur.

And then... the inevitable.

August 15th, 2015

Steven’s fifteenth birthday.

In the back of her mind, Connie had been sure it would never arrive. Somehow, now that Steven was gone, the day he came into this world would vanish.

She knew how illogical that was, but it still hurt.

The town was extra quiet that day. Friends and townies came and went, but they found no sign of change in the temple. When the sun had set, the Gems decided to investigate the moon base for any salvageable information, hoping to increase their growing defenses. (Or perhaps, Connie thought, hoping to distract themselves from what was missing that day.)

So it was that Greg slept, and the Crystal Gems were gone, and Connie took up the mantle to keep a tired eye on the temple door. She had promised to wake Mr. Universe up when she couldn’t stay awake anymore, but they both knew the exchange had proved utterly useless up to this point.

A summer breeze wafted in through the open door.

Connie sighed.

She had huddled up on the couch with her phone and spent the last half hour opening and closing various apps. Flipping through her old photos, she slid into a particular date: August 15th, 2014. Steven’s birthday last year. There were a lot of selfies and dramatic poses. Peridot could be seen sulking in the background of one or two. Connie hovered over one in particular: A selfie of her and Steven, the latter lifting his chin to show off one single beard hair. She’d snapped the picture while mock-gasping, and immediately after had broken down in fits of laughter. At some point after the shapeshifting debacle, they’d laughed so hard they couldn’t stop crying.

Connie blinked hard to clear her vision. She hit the home button and opened her TubeTube app.

Then a new sound invaded the quiet night: A soft chime from the temple door. It glowed and twisted into the vague shape of a rose that bloomed open. Pink light flooded the house.

Connie jumped to her feet. Her phone fell on the floor, and Mr. Universe gave a loud grunt in his sleep. When the temple door closed again, a softer pink illuminated the room in the form of Steven’s gem half.

Alone.

Connie barely dared to breathe. “Wh-where’s...?”

“He’s fine,” he assured her.

His voice startled her. “You-you don’t sound like a robot.”

The gem forced a smile. “I’ve been practicing.”

Connie stared. She still wasn’t breathing. An image came to mind of Steven’s gem half standing in front of a mirror, speaking to himself and smiling awkwardly. But her common sense wiped that image away; more likely he’d been talking to his other half.

“You said fine. What do you mean ‘fine’?”

The smile, if she could call it that, faded. “...Preserved.”

“L-like with magic? Even without you?”

He nodded.

She started to breathe again. Her heart raced to keep up. “You... You do realize it’s your birthday.”

His eyes moved between her own, maybe uncertain. It was less unsettling than the last time she’d seen him. “I know,” he said finally. “I wanted to see you.”

A laugh Connie didn’t understand burst out of her. “You wanted to see me? Steven, I saw you every day for a month. It’s been weeks. You wouldn’t talk to me, and then you wouldn’t even come out of the temple!”

“I know,” he repeated. “I’m working something out.”

“Working what out?” Connie asked. She couldn’t help feel a chill at the vagueness of it all.

Steven’s gem didn’t grace the question with an answer. Instead he asked, “Can we go outside?”

“Why?”

“Dad’s in here. And I want to be on the beach.”

Connie swallowed down a series of questions. She didn’t want to scare him back into the temple. “Okay, but promise you won’t be weird.”

He seemed to consider. Another small, almost doubtable smile pulled at his lips. “I can’t promise that.”

Connie almost laughed again, but she knew she would start crying if she did. “That’s fair,” she conceded.

She reached for her phone as he walked past her to the door. His movements were deliberate, still unnatural. She forced herself not to dwell on it, or on what he was “working out,” or on the last thread of hope she felt fraying in her heart. Instead, she followed quietly—into the night, down the steps, onto the beach. He kept walking, and Connie kept quiet.

He stopped just out of reach of the waves and sat down on the sand. Connie settled in a couple of feet away. They watched the ocean for a few minutes in silence.

“Why did you come out of the temple tonight?” Connie asked quietly.

It took Steven’s gem a few seconds. “I wanted to talk with you.”

She hugged her knees. “Why?” He didn’t respond right away, so she added, “And how did you know I’d be out there?”

“There’s surveillance in Mom’s room.”

Connie swallowed. “Y-you sound just like Steven now. Not like... before.” Angry, distant, hollow, alien...

“That’s what I’m going for,” he said. “That’s why I’m talking to you.”

“You’re going for...” It dawned on her, and she turned to him. “You’re trying to be whole on your own.”

He looked down at his knees.

Connie crossed her legs more comfortably in the sand. The ocean stretched into infinity before her. Her own thoughts, jumbled together, seemed to go on forever too. She wasn’t sure what brought her from the previous conclusion to the next question. Maybe it was obvious. Maybe the connection was a one-step process, but it took her a while to reach.

She asked, “What’s it like? Being apart?”

Steven turned his head, but he didn’t look at her. His gaze landed on the hand at his side, buried in the sand. The soft glow of his gem body gave it a stained glass effect.

“Y-you don’t have to answer.”

“No,” he said immediately, like he’d known what she would say. “I do.”

“Oh... okay.”

He sat up, bending one knee to support himself, and dragged his hand across the beach. He brought it up filled with sand. “It’s like this,” he said, and pressed his hands together. When he pulled them apart, the sand had been crushed into pink glass. It looked like a rose quartz gem. “This is Steven.”

He held the faux gem so both thumbs were pressed against the pentagon in the center. The shape popped out, cracking the remains, and shattered over the beach. He offered what was left. “And this is me.”

Feeling numb, Connie took it. “And the...”

He shifted to gather up the shards. Connie bit back a gasp as he shoved it into his mouth. When he spit it back into his palm, the shards had regained their shape. “I can’t do this with him,” he said hotly.

His voice, again, carried physical weight. Connie shivered.

She turned the glass gem over in her hands, careful not to slice her fingers on the edges inside. As she studied it, a leftover shard fell onto her lap. “You’re hurting,” she realized. “I... oh, Steven, I thought you were just... the diamond powers or-or like the left brain, or... But you’re not. You didn’t just come apart. You were shattered.” She looked up at him to find his eyes locked on her. She pressed a hand over her mouth with a choked sob. “I-I’m so sorry. I... All this time—and I didn’t even ask how you... I should’ve... I-I’ve been a bad friend.”

Steven’s eyes widened. “No. No, you’re not a bad friend.” His words reverberated in the air, and Connie realized that—

That was...

That’s what the shattered gem experiments sounded like. All that time, and she had never made the connection. Her hands trembled. Something like bile rose to her throat.

Her shock must have shown, because Steven’s gem froze. After a moment, he reached over and picked up the glass. She must have dropped it on her lap. “You’re a great friend,” he continued, crushing the glass absently in his fist. It slipped between his fingers as sand. “That’s why I wanted to talk with you. You had such a good influence on me. As Steven.” He almost smiled again. Almost. “He didn’t really know himself until you came along.”

Connie blushed. Unable to form a coherent response, she mumbled, “Your voice is deeper.”

“Is it?” He stared at nothing for a moment. “How about now?”

Connie blinked. She turned back to the ocean. “Is there really nothing you can do to bring him back?”

“I’m a Diamond,” he said. Connie was really listening now, and she realized his voice carried. She could probably have heard him from the house. “It should be easy. I just can’t cry.”

Connie closed her eyes. “Why not?”

“I don’t remember how.”

She took a shuddering breath. “That’s it? You don’t remember?”

“I can’t remember a lot of things. It took weeks to remember how to smile, and I’m not really sure if I’m talking right. You seem uncomfortable, so I guess not.” He paused. “I’m empty.”

“You’re not empty,” Connie muttered into her arms. “You’re... not whole. It doesn’t mean you don’t have substance. You can still be your own person.”

“I’m not a person.”

“You can be.”

“Not without Him.”

She shuddered again. She could hear the special emphasis that time. Him. If this was really just a part of Steven, what parts were missing? She could never figure it out before. Her journal lay collecting dust under her bed. She used to ask, but he had never told her before. Maybe now...

“Steven.”

He stayed silent.

Connie decided to change subjects. Eyes still shut, she reached out for his hand. He let her find it. “You told me the Cluster was okay because all its broken pieces have each other.” She squeezed his hand. “I want you to remember how to cry, because I want you to be Steven again. But if not... you’ll always have me.”

A second passed, and then he squeezed her hand.

She winced.

He pulled back. “Sorry.”

“I-it’s okay.”

“I don’t know—”

“Your own strength.” Connie’s voice shook, but she snorted. “I’ve been there before. Remember Jeff?”

“Yeah.”

They didn’t talk after that. The ocean was peaceful. The stars were clear.

She was exhausted.

After some time, the waves and the wind and the stars lulled Connie Maheswaren to sleep.


 

Alone on the beach, the gem that used to be Steven Universe tried to think of some reason not to go back inside. He had done what he came out to do, and Connie couldn’t do anything for him while she slept. He could have stayed with her in case she woke up later, but he couldn’t leave Him alone that long, and Connie needed sleep.

He rolled that thought over in his gem. Sleep. Humans and half humans needed sleep. Sleeping sitting up was uncomfortable. He had vague memories of that, of waking up with a stiff neck and wishing someone had put him to bed like they used to, then berating himself for wanting to be treated like a little kid.

Inner conflict. There wasn’t much of that now. There was nothing for the frustration to bounce off of, no way to reflect. It all went inward, or outward. Feelings had a one-way ticket, and the tracks led nowhere. The longer he stayed like this, the thinner they stretched.

It was lonely.

“You’ll always have me.”

A wordless response buzzed somewhere in his gem. What remained of the human part of him, something organic imbedded deep inside the Diamond, reached into the void at the center of his being. The thought was there, but he couldn’t reach it. The thing felt like a loose thread, scattered bits of DNA fused with crystal—brainless, soulless, but so important. If only it had something to connect with.

Frustrated, he stood and threw the remaining glass over the ocean. It disappeared on the other side of a distant wave.

Connie started to fall over. He placed a hand on her shoulder to keep her steady, and she laid her head on his arm with a sigh. Still asleep.

They had to get inside now. He needed to be back inside the temple, and Connie needed proper rest. He bent and lifted her into his arms. She didn’t fit quite as well as He did. She was lighter, and he could feel her internal organs moving around inside. (He remembered Steven listening to his own heartbeat, wondering if his and Connie’s were the only ones in the galaxy. He remembered realizing that heartbeat was gone and wanting to scream.) Connie didn’t stir as they left the beach. She sighed again when he laid her on the couch, and that was it.

He opened the temple door, but before he could step through, a tired voice called from upstairs. “Steven?”

He paused. He hadn’t meant to wake Dad up. Bringing to mind the tone of voice Connie had responded well to, he said, “Go back to sleep, Dad. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Oh. O-okay. It’s good to see you, son.”

He entered the temple and let the door shut behind him.

In the next instant, his room began to kick up a storm. Maroon clouds gathered in the artificial sky. Formless mist blew in circles around him, whipping his shirt into a frenzy against his form. The room’s persistent glow darkened, and distant cries of distress broke through the storm.

Now with the temple door between him and the outside world, he responded with unrestrained venom—

QUIET!

—and the storm tore itself away. The pink light returned. The clouds calmed. The mist parted to reveal the room as he had left it. (Dimly, he thought that Steven should have screamed more often. He had certainly wanted to.) The infinite expanse ended a few yards ahead with a pink table surrounded by piles of sand and rock. Beyond that, clouds.

At his approach, a few of the rocks opened their eyes. Two or three leaped onto the table and pushed on the gilded edge of the case that lay there. The movement of the curved glass distorted the figure inside, causing His face to briefly look alive before the lid was fully open.

The Pebbles shuffled their feet and slid down the table legs with wordlessly sorrowful murmurings. He hadn’t asked them to do anything for him. They simply knew what he wanted, and they constantly mourned their inability to help.

They...

That torn feeling carved into him again, an almost-thought. They... He... He had to... something. He was... what? A frayed thread stretched in vain across the damage, not quite long enough to reach the answer. He reached out physically and placed a hand over His stomach. The contact flooded the body with warmth, but he found no response from within.

He was gone.

Something hollow scraped at the inside of his gem, and he pawed at the empty space it was meant to fill. There was no hole. If there had been, he might have asked one of the gems to poof him and put him back. He had briefly considered doing it anyway, but the thought of damaging His insides was too much of a risk.

He tried to summon his power. The body glowed and flushed as though responding to his call, but the emptiness remained. His eyes stayed dry.

He called on some memory of what he should say.

“Come back.”

No response.

No response—as if he thought he would get one—but he felt...

He felt.

“Come back.” He tried again, as if he hadn’t done so hundreds of times before. He remembered Connie sobbing on the floor back in White Diamond’s ship. He remembered Blue Diamond’s crocodile tears in Steven’s eyes. He remembered his other half crying for him, too far away to reach in time. The tears had come so easily. The physical dread had been nigh unstoppable. Yet the most he could muster now was the sound of emotion.

He dropped all pretense. He stopped trying to cry. He stopped trying to speak. It wasn’t like he had anyone listening anyway.

Numbly, he thought, I need you, and he didn’t understand why.


 

The future held many possibilities. In terms of herself, Garnet saw gentle hands, violent encounters, and a few rare but plausible ways she could fall apart. In terms of her family, she saw the same. Her sight in near-future events was almost always exactly accurate, or she was able to prepare for multiple possibilities, and things like falling apart could be prevented.

In contrast, the further out she looked, the less she could be sure of anything. She couldn’t say how fast human technology would develop, or whether the Earth would be destroyed utterly by climate change were the Crystal Gems not there to guide the humans away from collectively self-destructive behavior. Likewise, she didn’t actually know if they would need to deal with Homeworld again, nor if White Diamond would be allowed out of her bubble within the next thousand years. But they hadn’t been prepared the last few times their home had been invaded, so it was better safe than sorry.

Besides, preparing for such a thing kept the Gems from unwittingly committing their own self-destructive acts. To Garnet, the near future was far more unsettling than anything Homeworld had to offer.

“We didn’t bring back any moon rocks last time,” Amethyst commented. “Or the time before that. Humans like space junk like that, right?”

The top of the moon base glowed a haunting white in the dim light of the Earth. Amethyst had pressed her face against the glass, trying to get a good view of the silver ground below. Pearl and their new Pearl companion stood fussing over what was left of the control panels. (Amethyst had wanted to call this new gem “Pearl, the remix,” but they had settled on calling her Pink Pearl, and—in a sickening sort of irony—had more than once defaulted to simply Pink.) Another fact that made Garnet shamefully ill was that Pearl knew exactly how this place worked. She had stood here, thousands of years ago, performing all the basic functions required of her by a Diamond. When they’d come here before, she had deliberately avoided providing evidence of this, but now she and her counterpart stood fiddling with the ancient tech with the ease she would build or repair anything on Earth.

When no one responded to Amethyst’s inquiry, Pink Pearl asked, “Are—were you addressing me?”

“Uh, nah, just talking. Don’t listen to me.” After a few moments, Amethyst twisted her head around. “Hey, Garnet, d’you think Pink Steven would appreciate some moon rocks?”

Pearl flinched at her nonchalance.  Two weeks ago, casually referring to their boy’s broken pieces would have started a fight, but they were each beginning to accept each other’s coping mechanisms.

Garnet didn’t respond. Amethyst accepted that.

Exactly twelve hours into the future, Garnet stood inside the freshly repaired house they had built for Steven. Amethyst, the Pearls, herself, Connie, and Greg were all present, all silent, all watching the door of the temple.

It felt like a dream, or a lie. Steven’s gem hadn’t spoken with Connie the night before, and he wasn’t going to come out on his own.  Any moment now, Pearl would go in herself, and Amethyst would storm out, annoyed with them for giving her false hope. Greg would offer to make breakfast. It was all so predictable, all so in character.

But the temple door did open, and a few of them—specifically, Garnet, Pearl, and Greg—immediately caught sight of a construct deeper into the room. Pearl gasped and went ridged, but they didn’t dare bring attention to it. (Garnet put it out of her mind that, just before the temple door closed again, the room would conjure three more loose bouquets of pink anemones.) The most important thing in this moment was the figure standing behind the warp pad.

Garnet tried to see how this would play out, but the emotions in the room were too volatile. She would have to let it happen, or jump pools.

“Hey.” Connie broke the silence, and those bright pink eyes blinked at her.

“Hey.” His vocal tones were almost playful, if only his form weren’t a brick wall of emotion. He turned to the rest of them. “I came out for Connie,” he said. “Can the rest of you go?”

In the stunned moments that followed this announcement, Connie stammered, “He-he said I could help him... remember things.”

Greg frowned. “We could all help with that, schtuball. Anything you need, just ask. We’re here for you.”

“No,” Steven’s gem said firmly. His voice reverberated more intensely than before. “You can’t all help. I don’t want you here.”

There seemed to be several stunned silences, each emitting from a different individual, each a different kind of hurt.

“Steven...” Connie began, but Amethyst cut her off.

What? You don’t want us here?”

Pearl reached out. “Ameth—”

“After all that?” Amethyst smacked at the air where Pearl’s hand would be if she had actually tried to touch her. “After all of that, Homeworld and the Diamonds, after fusing and fighting and... after all of it was just—thrown in the garbage. After you poofed me? After all this time, making us wait on the edge of our butts while you wander around like a robot, you’re gonna stand there and tell us to-to screw off?”

“Amethyst,” Pearl hissed. “Please don’t start a fight.”

“I—” Amethyst stopped herself. She took a calming breath, and Garnet nodded in approval.

“It’s okay,” Connie said. She stood by Steven’s gem form, tense but managing a smile. “He just needs time. Right, Steven? We can all talk or-or hang out or something later today.”

“No,” he said again, and the sound sent a chill through Garnet’s gems. He had lowered his voice, much like the real—the... intact Steven would when his emotional state affected the age of his larynx. The abrupt change always demanded immediate attention: Was he okay? Did something happen? Did something hurt him? Was he angry with someone?

In this case, anger might be a problem. Steeling herself, Garnet jumped ahead a few hours. She saw Connie crying on the beach. She turned her head; just below the house—no, where the house should  be, Steven’s gem stood inside a hexagonal globe of his own making. Garnet herself held onto a pair of stones... gems? Pearl and Amethyst, both cracked. Her gauntlets were on.

I shouldn’t have provoked him, Garnet thought in dismay. A memory of the future played back at her: Steven angry, shouting, his house shaking.

“Steven, you cannot just unleash your power like that. You could hurt someone. You could hurt Connie.”

A pause. A freeze. A realization. He dropped all indication of feeling. “You need to leave us alone.”

 Garnet pulled back in her mind. She jumped tracks of fate, trying to get a hold on why so many futures would bring him to attack them. What had made him angry in the first place?

“We all lost Steven,” Pearl said tearfully.

Steven’s gem pulsed. It looked almost like a fusion coming undone, or a gem’s form glitching from a crack. That’s when he yelled. “You didn’t lose anything!

Garnet tried again. Why would Pearl say that?

“Give him a break.” It was Greg, speaking quietly, trying not to look at anyone. “He lost a part of himself.”

She scanned the entire conversation backward, back to this crucial moment, to standing in the house after an awkward greeting. She went over various possibilities, things she could say to change the outcome at different moments. Things would change, but never enough. If the Crystal Gems stayed in the house for much longer, someone would verbalize the risk of leaving Steven’s gem half alone with the humans. Someone would say something about him that made him sound like a corrupt gem, and he would realize, and he would return to the temple. If he returned to the temple, he convinced Connie to come with him, and they wouldn’t see her again for some time. Or, alternatively, if the actual suggestion was made that he should be guarded, or watched, or bubbled—if someone tried to prevent him from leaving—he would blow them all out of the house.

If he thought they had become a hindrance to his hopeless idea that he could bring his human half back to life by isolating himself with Connie, he attacked them. If they fought back, someone would be poofed, or cracked, or flung into the ocean. If they attacked first, Connie and Greg would get hurt.

Garnet came out of that last future with tears overflowing under her visor. She tried to be discreet in wiping them away.

She couldn’t find a future where things turned out okay if they left at this moment. When they returned, at whatever time of day, Steven would have run off in the warp. Sometimes, he came back out later on, still refusing the company of anyone but Connie.

Why?

Frustrated, Garnet looked specifically for a future in which Steven was alive and intact.

A year into the future. The most probable scenario was not unlike the one they were living now. The Crystal Gems went on missions and lived their lives. Garnet couldn’t see Steven, but Connie was still around.

Two years into the future. Not much different from the last year. There were possible scenarios where they would take the legs into space, but she couldn’t see why.

Five years into the future. She saw Connie babbling about college to a pink Steven. Her gems lurched, hoping—but no, it wasn’t the soft pink of a body reanimated by Pink Diamond’s powers, and he hadn’t aged. He was smiling, and he didn’t hold a body anymore, but Garnet felt a pang from her future self. He still isn’t himself. The smile was fake.

Five years into the future. Another possibility: The Pink Diamond gem rested inside a Sapphire bubble. Symbolically, or maybe hopefully, it hung over the clear glass coffin he had made for himself inside the temple. Someone had moved the coffin, or perhaps replicated it, and positioned the ensemble beneath the Crystal Heart.

Five years into the future. Something different: She saw shards, and then a memory of a pudgy pink hand gripping the edge of a gem. The hand closed, and the form it was attached to vanished into nothing as he shattered.

Ten years into the future. He was smiling again, but it felt more genuine. No, he was still just the gem, but Garnet’s eyes welled up at the thought that he was okay in this future, even if he wasn’t quite Steven.

Ten years into the future. Alternatively, Steven simply wasn’t there. Connie lived in his old house, reading his old books to an adopted child. Amethyst came out of the temple and picked up the kid with a snide little tease. Garnet spotted a new painting above the door.

There were more. Garnet knew there were more, so many more, and so many variations on each, but these were the most natural paths the future could take as of this moment. She couldn’t find one where the broken Diamond that used to be her favorite little cutie pie would ever be able to revive himself. Even if he did cry—and he almost certainly would—the window of opportunity had closed. The corpse would remain a corpse.

But he could still be happy, she reminded herself. She tried to find where that future connected to her present, but it was too distant. It wasn’t even plausible; after a year or two, her visions may as well have been daydreams.

Back in the house, there was nothing she could do to prevent immediate heart-ache and pain. She didn’t want to fight him, but if Steven’s gem was left alone with Connie, after upsetting him like that... Garnet saw four possible outcomes. In three of them, Connie died. In the fourth, nothing changed.

Garnet didn’t know how much time had passed while she contemplated the future. If she had to guess, judging by the others’ behavior, it couldn’t have been more than a minute or two.

“We’ve got it! Oh, well done, Pearl.”

Amethyst came away from the glass dome. “Whatcha got, Ps?”

Pearl smiled at Pink, silently urging her to respond. The latter’s blush deepened. “Um, well, the system is badly broken, a-and I’m not really... made for this kind of thing, but I realized that those, um, human-made satellites? Might be compatible with this technology.”

Pearl clapped her hands together. “It looks like they actually based certain features on old gem tech. Possibly something left behind from the colony, or maybe some kind of lunar shift sent something from the base flying to Earth. Either way, it didn’t even occur to me to use the humans’ primitive experimentation with planetary orbit.”

Pink Pearl smiled softly. “My Diamond always encouraged me to find new purpose in things with simple designs.”

Pearl’s own smile grew sad. “Yes, that sounds like her.”

“Excellent work, Pearl,” Garnet said briskly. “This could be incredibly useful. Now, there’s been a change of plans.”


 

Connie had explained everything through text to her parents. Steven is talking again. He’s still kind of broken, but it’s a gem thing and he thinks I can help. I’m spending the day in Beach City. I’ll keep you posted. They weren’t happy with her insistence, but she wouldn’t consider No for an answer. When her mother called, she remained adamant.

“Mr. Universe is here. There are no evil gem monsters. Things are going well with Dr. Pines, and I’ll talk to her about anything that happens.” Pacing up and down the length of the porch, Connie began listing her statements on one hand. “I’m not in physical danger, there’s a responsible adult around, I’m fully cognizant of the situation, and you’ll know where I am at all times.”

“Yes, Connie, but you said—”

“You don’t know the full context, Mom.”

She paused by the railing when the screen door opened behind her. Steven (not Steven) stepped out with his dad, the latter clearly trying to hold himself together. The pink Pearl with the cracked eye stepped out after them, hands clasped nervously over her chest.

“I would if you’d explain, Connie. Wasn’t that the deal? That you would tell me what was happening with you? What changed? Weren’t you going to move on?”

Connie turned away and lowered her voice. “I am telling you, mom. I’m just... not telling you anything I haven’t corroborated. But I promise I’ll be safe.”

“Hey, uh...”

“I need to go now, Mom. I love you.”

“I love you too, honey. Please be c—”

Beep

Connie spun around to two and a half expectant stares. She blushed. “Um, my mom’s okay with me hanging out today.”

Mr. Universe glanced down at the shape of his son. “Are you two sure about this? I mean, it’s not a very clear plan. He...” He looked up at Connie. “He didn’t explain better to you, did he? I couldn’t get much out of him.”

“Well...” Connie tucked her phone into her pocket. She turned to the smaller Universe. “You said you’re having trouble remembering things, right? And you think I can, um, boost your memories?”

“Basically,” he replied. He still sounded like Steven, if only his voice didn’t seem to be coming from the other end of a metal tube.

Don’t get caught up. Connie took a deep breath. “Right. So Steven and I will just... hang out normally? Is that what you were thinking? Like we did before you went into the temple, only you’re the one with the plan this time. We could walk along the beach, maybe... down the boardwalk, or into the woods? Or we could use the warp pad. Didn’t you tell me about a strawberry field out in the middle of nowhere? I always wanted to see that place.”

“That sounds—” Mr. Universe stopped himself. “You know what, why don’t we wait for the Gems to get back? They... Where did you say they were, Pearl?”

The pink Pearl squeezed her hands together. “Garnet said it was imperative that the three of them spend the day with Bismuth, and that I return to ensure he doesn’t...” She paused and cleared her throat. “’Hole himself up in the temple all day.’”

“So they’re not coming back,” Connie translated.

“Not for a while, no.”

Mr. Universe dragged a hand over his face in the manner of a hapless father. His eyes glazed over; he pressed them shut. “And Steven needs you specifically?

Connie looked to her friend’s remains. He caught on and turned to his dad. “Yeah, I need her.”

Mr. Universe opened his eyes at him. “Why?”

“She’s my only friend.”

Mr. Universe blinked. An air of suppressed frustration came over him. “I’m your friend! The gems are your friends! If you need someone to talk to, you have plenty of family—including you, Connie,” he added in a rush. “But not only you. Why do you need to leave? Why can’t we all help you?”

“She’s my only friend.” Steven’s gem repeated the statement without missing a beat, adding pressure to his voice that made Pink Pearl flinch.

Mr. Universe’s eyes widened. He turned to Connie, and she recognized that look in his eyes. It was the same kind of grave concern her parents gave her whenever some new gem thing came up. It said, Are you sure about this? Please don’t do this. It’ll be my fault if something happens. I don’t trust them.

It’s Steven. What do you think he’ll do, hurt me? Connie gave him a reassuring smile. “It’s okay, Mr. Universe. He just needs time. I’m here to help, and when the gems get back...”

Mr. Universe ran a hand over his face again. He sighed loudly. “Well... Can Pink Pearl go with you at least?” He turned to the gem. “I’d feel safer if I knew they had an adult looking after them.”

Pink Pearl smiled awkwardly. “I’m not sure what an ‘adult’ is, but that is why I’m here.”

Steven (not Steven) didn’t offer an opinion on the matter. Connie found that strange, seeing as he was so adamant about not spending any time with his family. A prickle of concern crept down her throat.

She shook it off. “So! Steven? Where should we start?”

He blinked in a ghost of thoughtfulness. “You wanted to see the strawberry battlefield?”

Mr. Universe choked. “Battlefield?”

“I-it’s okay,” Connie said quickly. “Steven’s told me about it. It used to be a battlefield, but now it’s all strawberries and scenery. Right, Steven?”

“Right.” When he said that, Steven’s form suddenly became animated. He had moved like a living statue all morning, but now he tucked his hands in his jeans and glanced at the door. “Back inside then, huh?”

He still looked dazed, but the change made Connie less tense. She laughed, “Yeah, I guess so. Is that okay, Mr. Universe?”

“I—” Mr. Universe stopped when Steven’s gem nudged past him to reenter the house. He grimaced.

“It’ll be okay, Mr. Universe.” Connie smiled, and Mr. Universe forced himself to mirror her expression.

Inside the house, Steven’s gem stood waiting on the warp pad. With his hands in his pockets and his head tilted down, he gave the impression of a person trying not to be miles away. Perhaps that’s all he was at the moment.

Connie forced herself to breathe. Right. I’m just... going on a mission. Not a gem monster mission, but it’s still a mission. A Steven mission. She put on a grin. “Just let me grab some things.”

Connie would have expected the sight of a new gem location to lift her spirits, or for the severity and uncertainty of the situation to ruin the experience. Instead, when the warp stream faded and the ocean air of Beach City was overwhelmed by the warm smell of strawberries, she just felt dazed. On the one hand, it was beautiful, and it was exactly like Steven had described. A mess of jam betrayed where an animal had made a snack of a giant strawberry. The sky was clear. Silvery butterflies fluttered over the field.

On the other hand...

She eyed the butterflies. It was hard to feel present when her best friend and battle partner was effectively... gone. She wanted to help him. She wanted to make things better for what was left of him, but it didn’t feel real anymore.

The ghost of Steven Universe stood next to her in all his ambiguous stillness. Quiet. Not Steven. If he was a part of him, Connie was having a hard time feeling it. And if she couldn’t feel it, what if she couldn’t find it?

“Oh!” Pink Pearl gasped in delight. Connie looked up at her in time to catch the sparkle in her eye. The thought faded. Connie sighed and smiled out at the scene. Yeah. It was pretty.

Shouldering her backpack—a pack filled with food and basic survival gear (just in case)—Connie hopped with a “hup” off the warp pad. Her pink companions followed suit. Pearl drifted toward a nearby cluster of butterflies. Steven...

“What you said last night,” Connie said, beginning to walk down a natural path. A soft glow out of the corner of her eye confirmed that he was walking next to her. “About not being a person. I was thinking, and I know that you... Well...” She tightened her grip on the backpack straps. “You’re not nothing, or no one. You’re not Steven, I guess, but you are a part of Steven. So, if we’re gonna help you remember that, I think we should find out who you are on your own.”

She waited for a response. She wanted so badly to get her questions answered, but she knew that badgering him wouldn’t work. It hadn’t before. At least, this time, she knew he was on board. If he wanted to walk in silence with her, they would walk in silence.

 After a few minutes, something soft smacked into the back of her head. She yelped, but when the thing fluttered into view, it was just a butterfly. She snorted. “Heh. What sort of butterfly are those, anyway? Some kind of gem thing maybe?” She placed a thoughtful hand under her chin. “They look an awful lot like...”

She trailed off. Did this part of Steven have their shared memories? Would he know what she was talking about if she mentioned Stevonnie’s panic-induced hallucinations? He had told her he remembered Steven, but what of Stevonnie?

A few yards behind them, Pink Pearl responded to her question. “They don’t look like any gem-tech that I’m aware of, but I’m not exactly up to speed. Pearl might know.”

Connie sent a grateful smile her way. The gem followed at a respectful distance. She had started to gather various random objects in her arms: rocks, twigs, strawberries, bugs... Connie hadn’t spent much time around her, but she seemed the curious type.

Steven still wasn’t speaking. Seeking a new topic, Connie squinted at the nearest landmark. “Are those the floating islands you told me about?”

He looked up at the islands, then back at her. “Do you want to go see them?”

“I...” She hesitated. “Yeah. But you never answered me before. About... finding out who you are?”

“Oh.” He turned back to the path in front of them. It wasn’t a strict path, or even really a path at all. The strawberries just made it easier to follow. He turned so they were moving in the general direction of the islands. “Sorry, Connie. I’m just not sure what to say. I don’t think I’m much of anything right now, but I don’t want to argue with you.”

Connie’s heart jumped at the sound of her name. For a moment, it felt like they were really together, on a normal walk, having a normal talk. He was Steven. He was here. They were discussing their latest mission, or comparing notes on their latest book, or...

But he wasn’t here. He...

He’s GONE.

Connie’s breath caught in her throat. She closed her eyes. It’s just a thought. It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.

By the time it was socially too late to respond, Connie asked, “Why not? I mean, I don’t want to argue either, but I do want you to be honest with me.”

“Honest,” Steven’s gem echoed. The word itself seemed to move away from the pair. Like a ghost. “Are you sure?”

“Completely sure.”

“Okay. I’ll try if you want me to.”

“I definitely want you to.” Connie adjusted her backpack. “How about... Okay, here’s a thought. I know it’s not fusion, but when you and I... I mean, when Steven and I aren’t fused, we still exist as different parts of Stevonnie. Their powers are all Steven, obviously, and I’m most of the sword-fighting. Their love of dancing is both of us, I think. And they like shaving for some reason. I mean, I guess that’s Steven.” She smiled wistfully. “And... they can be pretty shy. That’s mostly me, but we’re working on it. So, you might not be all of yourself, but all of yourself is part of Stevonnie. You were part of them. So... the same should be said of you and Steven, right?”

“...I guess so.”

They were growing close to the floating islands. Connie wondered how they stayed in the air. Was it magic? Technology? She would have to ask Pearl later.

A minute passed. Connie cleared her throat. “So. What’s something about Steven that’s still true about you?”

He took a moment to respond. “I have his powers.”

“Yees.” Connie found herself fiddling with her thumbs. She reached for her backpack straps again. “But what about personality? Likes and dislikes? You said I was your friend, so... There must be something there. I know nothing we tried before worked, but...”

“I don’t know.”

Connie pursed her lips. Something Dr. Pines had said came back to her. “Okay. Um... What’s on your mind? Any memories of this place? Anything you’re thinking of? When you let your mind wander, where does it go?”

He stopped walking.

Connie stopped and turned to look at him. He was staring into space, expressionless. “Steven...?”

“Yes.”

“What?”

He looked at her. He opened his mouth, but no sound came out. Connie wasn’t sure, but she thought he may have thought better of something. Finally, he said, “I remember this place. I remember you. I remember sitting and thinking about other things. The gems. Mom. Cartoons. Lars and Sadie. Dad. Stevonnie.”

Connie listened with baited breath. He was speaking to her. Not just that, though, because he wasn’t just responding. He was explaining, and he sounded like himself, like Steven. When he paused, she was afraid her staring had stopped him.

Then he spoke again, and it was all gone. All the tone. All the emotion. It was the same as before, back on Homeworld, when he had first opened his mouth, and that haunting tone struck the air.

He said, “None of that matters anymore.”

A lump formed in Connie’s throat. “Why not?” He didn’t answer. She swallowed. “What matters now?”

“Steven,” he said. “Steven matters.”

“And... me? Do I matter?”

“You matter to Steven,” he said, then changed his tone. “You mattered to me.”

Connie’s hands moved to the same strap. “Mattered?”

He seemed to hesitate. After a few seconds, he breathed, “Honest,” like it was a prayer.

Connie held her breath.

Steven looked up at the floating islands. “You’re right. I was a part of him.”

“What part?”

“The part no one cared about.” He looked at the ground. “Everyone thought I was Mom.”

Connie inhaled slowly. Tears began to form behind her eyes, and she decided it wasn’t worth it to try and swallow them down. “The gems know you’re not your mom.”

“They know Steven isn’t Mom,” he snapped, turning his head. A barely contained fire raged behind his eyes. “If I had been shattered, and He was here, no one else would be crying over me.” He clenched his fist, and the ground beneath him cracked. “He would. He would be crying. You would be crying. He wouldn’t be Steven, and His tears couldn’t bring me back to life, but no one else would care.

On the final word, a wave of energy pushed Connie back, tore up the plants around them, and sent small chunks of the ground flying away. It wasn’t as destructive as she’d seen before, but it was scary. Connie stepped back a few paces.

“Rose Quartz is already dead,” he continued, bitter and biting, eyes squeezed shut. “Pink Diamond’s been dead for five thousand years. If she was shattered now, only the Diamonds would care, and they never cared.” Another wave. Pink Pearl looked alarmed. “Even Steven thought I was her. I thought I was her. I almost reformed as her.” His voice cracked, and Connie’s hands flew to her mouth. “The only reason I didn’t was because He didn’t believe it. He was everything I liked about myself, but He still CARED about me AND NOW HE’S GONE!

The air exploded. The world flashed dark, then white, and Connie’s scream was cut off by thousands of tiny claws tearing at her in all directions. She had half a thought, then a denial— No!

He wouldn’t—

And everything was pink. A thin figure bent into view (over, under, next to); she saw a face, maybe, and lips moving, but no sound. She couldn’t feel her own body. Did she have a body? She couldn’t think. Pink and white and black swam around like desperate thoughts trying to grasp onto consciousness.

Connie couldn’t remember if any time passed, or if the next moment had already happened. She sat on the ground, covered in strawberry mush, leaning against an unreasonably large fruit. She blinked, winced, and went to wipe some of the substance out of her eye, only to find that her hands were covered too.

“I’m sorry.”

She looked up. Steven’s gem sat next to her on his knees, eyes to the ground. He sat wringing his hands and scowling, just like Steven always had when he felt guilty. The only thing missing was a worrying amount of tears and snot.

The ground some distance behind him had been completely torn up. A crater the size of Mr. Universe’s van sat surrounded by broken ground and the remains of decimated strawberry bushes. All the strawberry jam made it look like...

A battlefield.

A thin hand came into view and wiped the red out of Connie’s eye. Pink Pearl looked shaken, but she breathed a sigh of relief when Connie sat up straight.

“You said to be honest,” Steven’s gem said. His expression melted back into neutrality. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

With the shock wearing off, Connie checked herself for injuries. All the strawberry could have been blood, but she didn’t feel any pain. Her legs weren’t broken. Her vital organs seemed to be intact. Her hair was soaked in sticky jam, but she couldn’t find any cuts or cracks.

The only damage seemed to be to her clothes: Her jeans were in tatters below the knees, and the front of her shirt had been torn from the bottom to the top of her chest, only hanging closed by chance at the moment. Once she was sure she hadn’t been hurt, she pulled the strips of fabric tighter together.

Connie swallowed. It was surprisingly easy. No dry throat or anything. “Did-did you heal me?”

He nodded.

“I’m sorry.” Pink Pearl finally spoke up, voice shaking. “I didn’t see it coming. I should have been faster to bubble you.”

Connie blinked. She hadn’t known Pink Pearl had a bubble. She filed the information away for later. “Thanks.”

She was still shaking.

“I guess you want to go home now,” Steven’s gem said. “You probably hate me now, so—”

“I don’t hate you!” Connie yelped. “You lost control, I-I get it, I mean... You healed me, anyway. So... it’s okay.”

The air was tense. Pink Pearl looked ready to throw up another bubble at a moment’s notice. Steven’s gem had gone neutral.

“I’m glad I got through to you,” Connie tried. “That’s progress. Talking about your feelings. That’s good.”

Slowly, Steven’s gem blinked. “Nothing’s changed, though,” he said quietly.

“That’s... that’s okay,” Connie insisted. “Healing takes time. You might not realize at first, but...”

He shook his head, effectively cutting her off. “I thought this would change something. I...” He pressed a hand over his gem. “There’s something in me that won’t fit. Before I met you, there was something in Steven that wouldn’t fit, and you started to fix it the day we met. Something should have changed by now. You should have been the missing piece.”

Connie bit her lip. She tugged her shirt closed tighter around her. “It’s Rose, isn’t it? That I didn’t know her. Your whole family talked like the powers in your gem were her legacy, rather than a part of you. And that’s you, isn’t it? You’re the part they didn’t try to understand.”

“Yeah.”

Connie nodded.

Steven’s gem met her eyes. His face remained neutral, but something burned there. “I don’t know who I am. I don’t even know who Steven is. You do.”

“So do your family.”

He shook his head slowly. “They don’t. They ignored me. They ignored parts of him that were... inconvenient. The Diamonds did the same to Pink, but you can't ignore the soul out of someone. You can’t change someone by pretending they’re different.”

“How profound,” Connie teased. The attempt was weak, but her intentions must have shown, because Steven’s gem offered a fake smile in response.

The smile didn’t last. “None of this is helping.”

Connie swallowed. Reflexively, she moved to hug him, but something primal made her hold back. Her hands were still shaking. She wasn’t entirely sure this jam was all jam.

Pink Pearl spoke up. “Should I bring you home, Connie?”

Connie kept her eyes on Steven’s gem. She may have been projecting, but he seemed so downtrodden. Steeling her nerves, she leaned forward and crawled close enough to wrap her arms around him. He didn’t respond at first, but that didn’t stop her from pressing her face into his neck and whispering, “You’ll be okay. Even if we can’t bring Steven back, you’re not alone. I’m here. The gems are here. They’ll try to understand. They care. And you... you can be a person like this. It’ll take time, but you can heal. I promise.”

She sat like that for a while, hugging what amounted to a statue of her best friend. Then he spoke—“I think you’re wrong, but thank you”—and slowly pulled her into an embrace of his own.

Connie tensed at the motion, but he knew what he was doing this time. He didn’t squeeze, didn’t hurt her. He leaned forward, and they sat there together, mourning the lost piece of Steven Universe.

And Steven’s gem half remembered how to feel connected.

And Connie forgot he wasn’t whole.

Chapter Text

Connie was pink.

And alone.

She wasn’t sure what had happened. She’d been frightened, and shaken, and worried. She’d been hugging someone, and they’d squeezed, and...

Now she was pink.

Lars’ face flashed in her mind, and a series of panicked possibilities arose. Did Steven’s gem kill me? Did he bring me back to life? He can do that now?

I can do that now?

The world flooded as what was left of the dam behind her eyes collapsed. She tried to wipe away the waterworks, but it just kept coming. It felt like when Blue Diamond used her powers: a flood of aimless pain and tears.

A pit carved its way through her stomach. “I’m crying,” she breathed, voice shaking. “I’m crying. Connie, I—”

Oh.

Oh.

He had fused.

They had fused.

Connie looked down at her own hands. Yes, they were pink, but not Lars pink. Her clothes had filled in with ghostly pink versions of what they were supposed to look like, but they were still her clothes.

She remembered the emptiness, the loneliness, the anger, the confusion, and... Steven.

But she was still Connie.

Was she Connie?

Maybe not, but she certainly wasn’t Stevonnie, so Connie it was. How is this even possible? You’re a full gem now, aren’t you?

No?

Information flooded her mind as an innate understanding of the gem embedded in her stomach. A copy key clicked into place.

The tears kept coming. Pink Pearl was speaking, but Connie couldn’t hear her over the roar in her mind. The tears. The tears. She laughed, and it hurt. "I’m crying!” she cheered as she fell to her feet. “I’m crying! I’m crying!” Tears flowed like rain as she ran back across the field. “I’m crying!”

Connie moved faster than she ever had. The ground was like air. Her chest ached, but she laughed because she was crying, and she was nearly whole again. The threads of humanity inside her gem braided into the humanity of Connie Maheswaren and stretched.

The warp pad activated before her feet had touched down. When it dropped her off in her—Steven’s—house, she was still moving and stumbled into a wall of flesh. It yelped in surprise.

“Connie?” It was Mr. Universe. Dad. Greg? He looked down at her with wide eyes. “What’s wrong? Why are you pink? Are you o—Connie!”

She jumped back over the warp pad to the temple door. The warp activated behind her, but she didn’t care to look. She ran into the temple, shutting it fast behind her to the alarmed cries of her—Steven’s d—Dad—Greg and whoever had warped in. She didn’t hear them. It was all noise. Everything was noise, nonsense, static behind the warped sense of nonexistence that had flooded her brain from the broken dam of her gem.

The shock of their fusion had jolted him out of his unstable mental clarity. A primal unwholeness took to screaming in her mind: Have to, want to, need to reform—

She skidded on her knees into the space that the table and coffin ceased to occupy in a flash of mist. The body inside dropped into her lap, and her tears began soaking His shirt. She pulled Him close and lifted His head to face her, pressed their foreheads together, and sobbed. His eyes were closed, and He was pale, sporting shadows on His cheeks and a line for a mouth instead of lips. His arm against her stomach was cold and wrong, but they would fix Him.

They had to fix Him.

“Come on,” they growled. Their voices came out together, separate—unstable. Need to, have to—

It hurts.

I know it hurts. Give it a minute.

She forced herself together. This wouldn’t work if she fell apart. She tried to wipe their tears off His face. Where their hand made contact with His skin, it flushed pink. When they pulled away, it faded again.

It’s not working.

It’s going to work.

Growing desperate, he jostled the body. Its head fell to the side, deadweight.

 “NO!

Distantly, she recognized that the room had begun to tear itself apart. They sat in the dark, the only source of light in a storm, losing themselves to the flood in their eyes.

“It’s not working,” she sobbed.

It has to.

“He’s too far gone.”

HE’S NOT.

“We have to unfuse.” Their arms shook. Connie tried to pull away. The ecstatic hope from minutes ago felt too distant to be real. “Steven, it hurts.”

I’ve been hurting this whole time, he responded, but the storm began to calm. Their sobs reduced themselves to sniffles. Raindrop tears fell down His cheeks and washed behind His ears.

She, not Stevonnie, was hit with a pang of guilt. She lowered His head into her lap. The room lightened. Small things crept into the corner of her vision, afraid but curious.

“I’m sorry,” she murmured. Her tears still fell, half-blinding her. She imagined through the underwater effect that He had opened His eyes. He was smiling at her, crying, hugging her, laughing and laughing and—

No.

But it’s a nice fantasy, isn’t it?

Some time passed in stillness.

I can feel again, he thought. With you.

It’s weird, she thought back. But I get what you mean. I see some of your memories. This hurts, but it was so much worse before. I guess this helps.

I’m sorry.

It’s okay.

No, I’m a parasite. I should just shatter myself and let you move on.

No!” she yelped. The Pebbles scurried away.

Their fusion pushed Steven’s face back toward herself, searching hopelessly for any signs of life.

“Just...” Connie adjusted their arms. “Let me... Let me try something.”

She felt the gem shrink away to lend her full control. It was weird. They had never done this as Stevonnie. They had always been stable. This wasn’t stable, and it felt wrong. It hurt.

Trying to steady their breathing, Connie pulled Steven’s body in close. She squeezed their eyes shut and rested their chin on the top of his head. His hair felt alive. How, after all this time, neither of them fully understood, but it wouldn't last forever.

The fusion inhaled, and pockets of air stumbled into her lungs. Another sob wracked her body. She tucked in her chin, planted a kiss on his forehead, and she laughed because it felt ridiculous.

Was it ridiculous to have any hope at all?

Connie took a deep breath.

She had worked it out.

The threads of humanity, broken bits of organic life fused forever with the gem, now had a map of what it meant to be whole. The gem inside her was still desperate to reconnect. If it held fragments of humanity all along, and now that part was whole, why should it not follow that there were fragments of gem inside this body? Being more than half human, why couldn't she just... 

Why couldn’t she just...

...pull Him in?

Connie exhaled slowly. Please let me be right.

One last time, the fusion sent a wave of healing energy through His body. It pulsed with only a memory of life. He was too far gone for a Diamond's help. 

But now they had Her.

Please. 

Chapter Text

Stevonnie was pink.

And alone.

Funny, they thought. I don’t remember being pink.

The last thing they remembered was getting thrown into a tower back on Homeworld.

What had happened to Steven and Connie since then?

Why were they Pink?

And more importantly...

“Why am I in Mom’s room?”

As if responding to their confusion, the temple door poofed into existence a few feet away. From the other side, a muffled voice called through with words they couldn’t make out.

They wished the door would open so they could hear—and then it did.

They saw the gems. Pearl, Garnet, Amethyst... and Pearl? Was that White’s Pearl?

No, Pink Pearl.

What?

“Wait.” Stevonnie blanched as the last few minutes flooded their mind. The accidental fusion, the body, trying to fuse again—it hit them like a blast of tears, and all other thought left their mind but—

Steven.”

They fell apart.

Chapter Text

A flash of light—

“STEVEN!”

He wasn’t sure who or how many people had shouted, but he suspected he’d been one of them. The world spun in hues of pink. His hands flew to his stomach, an instinct screaming in his head—

No gem.

Nothing.

His ears rang in the noise that followed the event. Something was missing. He looked down. His gem. It was gone. “Where...?”

Then he saw it. The pink diamond. It reformed and it was him and he was there and he wanted it back. He had to... He wanted... “I need...”

He hit the ground. Why didn’t he just walk? He couldn’t feel his legs. That was a blessing, because everything else was in agony. He reached out. He—the other him—wasn’t moving. White Diamond was shouting. Why wouldn’t He come over here? Why wouldn’t He come back? “Help. Please.”

Someone picked him up. It hurt. Everything hurt. He could feel his heart on his tongue. His lungs filled with smoke. He couldn’t hear anything. His vision darkened, and all he could see was that pink figure, moving slowly—too slowly. It was fading. He was fading. No. Please, no—

Why was his skin pink?

A flash, and something bowled him over. The momentum rolled them over and over across the room in a mess of pink and pink and sliding to a stop with the offending object on top of him.

No.

Not object.

Person.

... No.

Not person.

Him.

His own face reflected back in a halo of pink light, grinning so wide His cheeks should have torn from the effort. A burst of laughter escaped him, and he pulled Him down into a hug. He—the other him—laughed too, and though he was crying again, the pain was irrelevant.

For the first time in what seemed like forever, Steven felt warm.

Chapter Text

It didn’t feel real.

All that pain.

All that time.

It couldn’t be real, so that part of him suppressed it. Steven woke up from a nightmare in his mom’s room in the temple, the dream swiftly fading. He tried to discern what his last memory was, why he had fallen asleep, where he had been... but time came unwound in his head with knots. The past was impossible, so he tried to focus on the present.

Cries of “Steven!” and “oh my stars” and wordless expressions of some desperate emotions filled the present. His dad appeared, which made the whole thing more surreal. (Dad didn’t go into the temple.) He was crying and hugging him and Steven didn’t know why, but it felt good.

Next came Pearl. She hugged them both, burying her face in his hair as she cried. Her nose poked through his hair to the top of his head, but he couldn’t bring himself to complain.

Amethyst appeared behind them. She looked stunned, and she was crying—but when he spotted her, she laughed.

Garnet stayed by the door. She held one hand on the frame like an elevator and vanished her visor. She was smiling. She was crying, but she was smiling, so whatever was going on couldn’t be that terrible.

Then he saw her.

Connie.

She sat on the ground some distance away. She looked dazed, and her clothes were torn to bits. The sight of her in such a state jolted Steven into action.

“Connie!” he gasped. Dad pulled away. Pearl didn’t let go on her own, but Steven pushed her away with gentle ease and scrambled to his feet.

Steven,” Connie sobbed as he reached her. Evidence of her crying stained her face and neck. Her eyes were dark and puffy and wet, and—was that blood in her shirt?—but she smiled.

Steven dropped to his knees. He scanned her for injury. “Wh-what happened to you?”

Was it my fault?

The smile faded. “Steven...?”

It’s totally my fault. He grit his teeth. “It’s okay, Connie, just—“ He licked his hand. “Tell me where it hur—”

Connie tackled him. He teetered on his knees, taken aback, before cautiously reciprocating the hug.

“You big silly,” Connie laughed into his hair. “You already healed me.”

“O-oh.”

A tiny tornado of the room’s pink mist blew by. A cloud shifted to reveal a mass of tiny gems with tears in their tiny eyes, sniffling and hugging each other like everyone else in the room. Steven stared. What are the Pebbles doing on Earth? he wondered.

Wait...

What am I doing on Earth?

He thought of the dream he’d been having. It was fuzzy, but he did remember Homeworld, fusing, the Diamonds... White, and—

“Do you remember anything?” Connie asked.

Steven felt more than heard his family approach from behind. He sat back and craned his neck around to look. They seemed to be holding their collective breath.

The world was still. The gems cried, but all he could see was his own face reflected back at him. “He-he’s gonna be okay. His gem is still here. His powers! They brought Lars back to life. Th-they can do it for Steven!”

Steven looked down at his hands. The view gave him a sinking feeling. “I’m... pink.”

I am not Pink —”

He blinked hard. Connie covered his hands with hers. She looked so happy... He pushed the thoughts aside and smiled back. “But I’m me.”

 “You’re you,” Connie agreed. Her voice was small. Her hands were shaking. Steven hugged her again, and someone—Amethyst, he thought—jumped on him from behind. Another impact, and two more pairs of arms cradled him and Connie and Amethyst together. Someone was laughing, and someone was crying.  Steven smiled and let himself be overwhelmed by the thoughtless relief.


 

Steven’s memories didn’t exactly return.

They had never really left.

He just... wasn’t thinking about it.

But he did get flashes. Like when someone finally suggested they leave the temple and get reoriented, when Steven stepped into his house and half-recognized the changes from Bismuth’s rebuilding. He remembered Connie looking frightened, then shook his head to clear the image away.

“I imagine you can guess what happened,” Pearl murmured, and Steven realized he’d been staring at his hands.

They were so pink.

Connie stepped up next to him with her arms crossed. He straightened his neck at the sight of her. “Oh, Connie, you—you can borrow my clothes if you want.”

She nodded, blushing and smiling but still crying, and made her way up to his chest of drawers.

Steven turned to Pearl. She visibly struggled to maintain eye-contact. Looking to Amethyst, he found the same effect. Garnet had replaced her visor, so he couldn’t tell, but Dad (thank goodness) behaved the same as Connie: crying and smiling and looking like Steven might disappear if he so much as blinked. Behind the four of them, White’s Pearl, now pink, hovered in uncertainty.

All concern for Steven’s own well-being flew out the window. His family needed him. He tried to read them, find some sign of what he should say or do. They all maintained an air of unease. Shock, maybe? They hadn’t expected Steven to come back. (He would put off finding out why until later.) Maybe they didn’t even truly believe he was back.

At that thought, Steven found himself placing a hand on his own chest. A second passed.

Ba-dump.

He sighed. His heartbeat was slow, but it was there.

“Bismuth did a really good job on the house,” he commented. The others glanced around as though only now noticing the changes. Steven frowned. “Where is Bismuth, anyway?”

“She—” Garnet stopped. She had spoken too quickly. Wiping away the tears left on her cheeks, she started again. “Bismuth should be rebuilding the barn with Lapis and Peridot right now.”

Steven grinned. “Oh man, that’s awesome! They’ll need a new place now that Lapis is staying on Earth.” The collective unease loosened up. Good, he thought, and doubled down with a gasp, stars in his eyes. “Wait, that means Lapis is staying on Earth! Do you think we should go see them? Or would that be too sudden? I could text Peridot.” He searched his pockets for his phone. “...Oh, right. The Pebbles.”

As if on cue, something tugged on his pant leg. He looked down. Pebbles, at least four or five of them, were attempting to climb up his leg. He leaned down to lift them up. “Speak of the gems. Where did you guys come from?”

One leapt into his hair. Another stood on his palm and pointed toward the temple door. “In there!” she chirped.

Steven looked at the others quizzically.

Dad rubbed at the back of his neck. “Uh, well, you... I guess you don’t remember everything, but I guess you brought a bunch of rocks into the temple? The gems told me about the Pebbles, so I guess, um...”

Steven’s hair lit up as another Pebble jumped into it. He tried not to react. That was normal. This was normal now. “Wait, so did I... make them?”

“Seems like it,” Garnet said.

Steven wasn’t sure how to feel about that. He decided not to be concerned. It was normal now, just like his hair and skin, just like the Watermelon Stevens, only... tiny gems. Normal.

The Pebble expanded like a sponge and opened her eyes. Life. Again. Proof that he wasn’t broken.

Steven blinked the memory away. “Okay then!”

One of the Pebbles climbed onto his shoulder and poked his cheek. “Okie then,” she echoed, giggling. “You’re smiling!”

“She’s whole!” another cheered from his hair. The one in his hands sat down and closed her eyes, content to take up space there.

Connie came back from the bathroom dressed in an oversized t-shirt and jeans. She grinned up at Steven’s hair. “He’s whole,” she corrected.

“He’s whole!” the Pebble cheered.

Steven tried to keep smiling. He tried not to feel overwhelmed, or start panicking, or think about what any of this meant. “So what about Bismuth and Peridot and Lapis?” He looked up at Garnet. It was easiest to look at Garnet. “Last time I saw them, we were Obsidian, and...”

And things weren’t looking too good after that. He couldn’t say that.

No, because that wasn’t the last time he’d seen them. He remembered them on Pink Diamond’s ship, giving him horrified looks, holding back tears. The weight of a body in his arms—

Steven took a shuddering breath. “Um...”

“Why don’t we ease into things,” Dad suggested. He pushed forward to place a firm hand on Steven’s shoulder. Steven reached up and grasped it, grateful for the comfort, and one of the Pebbles climbed around his neck to inspect the alien appendage. To his credit, Dad didn’t pull away. He even waited until Steven made eye contact to speak. “Do you want a little chat about it, bud?”

Steven felt the familiar phasing wash over him. It had been years since he’d heard it. Dad wasn’t asking if he wanted to sit down right now and talk things out with the gems and Connie and the Pebbles in the house. He was giving him an out. Do you want to go somewhere else? We can get donuts if you want. I’ll grab a big old blanket and wrap you up in the van. We can talk about nothing, or we can sing, or watch TV. I could tell you a story. Do you want to feel safe right now? Do you need me, son?

Steven sniffed and nodded.

It was surreal, he realized. This whole thing was surreal. He knew what was happening in the back of his mind, but it stayed here—right there—in the back, tucked between his nightmares and daydreams.

“We’ll just pop out for a quick drive,” Dad said, shifting in a manner that suggested they leave.  “If that’s okay with everyone.”

Connie’s hand appeared on Steven’s wrist. “Should I wait here?”

Steven’s eyes widened. “Oh, no, Connie, you can go home. You probably want a decent change of clothes anyway.”

Connie looked down to inspect her new shirt. “Mm, nah. I think your clothes look good on me.” She gave him a tiny smile. “I’m here for you. Anyway, my parents said I could stay all day, so I have time.”

Steven tried to smile back. He thought there was something he should say, but it wasn’t quite on the tip of his tongue yet. For a few moments, he just stared at her. When she began to look unsettled, he found his own arm (the Pebble in his hands had ended up in a pocket) and looked anywhere else until he was able to force a grin. “Thanks, Connie.”

As he and his dad began to leave, Pearl hurriedly sang out, “We’ll all be here when you get back!” in her most artificial mom-voice. That was familiar, too. She hadn’t used that voice in ages.

It wasn’t real. It couldn’t be. None of this could be real. They had just been trying to heal corruption, and—

“Got anyplace in mind, kiddo?”

They were outside. A pale glow preceded a Pebble in a pink toga dropping out of Steven’s hair. He caught her in his hands and shook his head.

The Pebble gawked up at the sky. The rest of them had stayed in the house. Seeing as they were so easy to lose track of, Steven placed her back on his head before following Dad away from the temple—

—down the steps—

—onto the beach—

—around the cliff—

Steven almost wondered what had happened to Connie, but then he didn’t.

He almost thought about Homeworld, but then he didn’t.

He ended up in the passenger seat of Dad’s van. Dad started the engine and asked, “Do you want me to grab us some donuts, schtuball?”

Soft voice. Gentle tones. Cautious, afraid he might break. Emotion leaking down his face—

“Sure!” Steven yelped.

Dad jerked on the wheel in surprise, and they swerved into the Big Donut parking lot. Steven gripped his seatbelt as Dad’s worried gaze washed over him. He felt himself flush. Could Dad still see it under his new hue?

Dad turned off the engine. “Do you want to talk for real, Steven?”

Steven shook his head.

Dad sighed. “Alright. I understand.” He opened his door. “You coming in, or..?”

“I’ll wait in the van.”

It had been a while since Steven had been left alone in the van. He and his dad didn’t go out very often, and there was no reason for them to split up when they did. The last time had to have been... back when Dad and the gems were still building his house, and occasionally they would ask him to stay inside while they talked. Steven hadn’t realized until later that they had been arguing out there. At the time, the silence in the van had been calming. It smelled like Dad and music equipment. He’d never felt alone in there.

He felt alone now, but not in a bad way. Steven was alone with himself.

Dad paused at the Big Donut’s entrance to wave back at his son. Steven smiled and returned the gesture.

His heart beat once in his chest. How slow was it now? He waited for the next beat.

One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four...

Had it beat yet?

Had it stopped beating?

Steven pressed his hand against his chest, breathing quick and ragged. He was him, wasn’t he? He was alive. He was—he was pink. He was still—

Ba-dump.

His shoulders relaxed, but just for a moment. What about his stomach? Oh no, he—he felt his gem under his shirt, solid and perfectly melded with his skin, just like always. Steven was together. He was together, and he was alone.

“Can I help?”

Steven looked up. Not alone, he corrected himself. That one Pebble still sat in his hair. A faint glow let him know that she had peaked her head out of the pink dimension. (Did Steven have his own island now?) He couldn’t see much, but imagining her shiny little eyes made him smile. “Help with what?”

The Pebble made a little I dunno sound, and Steven felt her shrug.

His smile widened. Adorable!

She pushed herself out of his hair and plopped into his lap. The way she landed, her... gem? The darker lump of rock in her body lay exposed on her back. Below it, Steven spotted a faint, light pink star against the rose color of her tiny toga. She turned onto her back, caught in the dip of his lap, and gaped up at him.

Steven’s grip on his gem loosened. “What’s your name, little, uh, Pebble?”

She closed her mouth and cocked her head. “Name?”

“Yeah, uh... You do know what a name is, right? No? Oh, right, I guess you’d be called Pebble. But there are other Pebbles...” He stared at her a moment, rubbing his chin with a thoughtful thumb. “Hmm. I guess I’ll call you... Toga.”

Toga beamed. “Toga! I love it! Do I call you something too? Not Diamond?”

His smile dropped.

“Is there really nothing you can do to bring him back?”

“I’m a Diamond. It should be easy.”

Toga squeaked the sudden change. “O-oh, I’m sorry!”

“Ah—no, no, you’re good,” Steven said. “I’m sorry for scaring you. You can call me Steven.”

Toga blinked a few times. She sat back, relaxed again, and played with the word. “Steeeeeeven. Steven! I like that too.”

Steven’s smile returned, though to a lesser degree. Toga had been really scared of him for a moment there. An idea of guilt began to settle in his stomach—

—but he wasn’t thinking about why.

And then he was thinking about the void left behind, and all his thoughts began swirling around the black hole of... of what was left behind.

His stomach turned in silence.

When Dad got back, he had to lift Toga out of the driver’s seat. “Hey, little, uh, fella. Mind sitting on the dashboard for now?”

Toga giggled and complied.

“I wasn’t sure what you’d want, so I got a box. Baker’s dozen variety.” Dad opened the box. “Though I think you’ll probably want a cream filled chocolate glazed right now, am I right? Steven?”

Steven kept his gaze on the glove department. He wasn’t looking at it exactly, but he couldn’t bring himself to turn his head or move his eyes. He felt his brow furrow and stick like that, a frown plastered firmly to his face. He was frozen. Some part of him seemed to be thinking about something, but he couldn’t quite...

Dad closed the box and slid it onto the dashboard. He sighed.

They sat in silence for a moment, then Steven asked, “Did I ever tell you about the time I watched myself die?”

Dad stopped breathing. Somehow, Steven heard it. The missing space where a sign of life should have been—it felt heavy.

“...No?” Dad managed.

“It was on a mission.” His gaze snapped away from the glove compartment, and he crossed his arms loosely over his gem. “It wasn’t supposed to be dangerous. We were at the underwater temple looking for this... little hourglass. A time thing. I can’t remember what it’s called. No one knew what it looked like, and there were a bunch of decoys all over the place. So when Amethyst set off the alarm, I thought I’d grab this little cute one.”

He held his thumb and forefinger to mime the size and shape of the artifact. “I didn’t know it was the real one, but then all these other Stevens just appeared out of nowhere. Dozens of them. They all had their own time things, and it looked like they were... fighting over them? I don’t remember getting violent before, but...” He trailed off.

The ground cracked beneath him. His voice seemed to come from the air rather than himself, remnants of emotion exploding into being as words—

Screaming. It didn’t feel good, but it felt honest. Steven should have done it more often. Connie was probably right about—

Connie was hurt.

Connie was broken.

He had killed her. No, was she alive? He needed her

“Steven?”

Steven sucked in air. Right, the story. The timelines.

He tried to push his thoughts away. “This-this one Steven found me in the chaos. He grabbed my time thing and wrestled me for it. He was so angry. I’d never been that angry. I didn’t want to give it to him, but he shoved me, and... I guess he realized he was hurting himself, because he shouted for everyone to stop. He said something about the future and it not being right. I didn’t understand, but then he took my time thing and just—smashed it with his bare hands.”

“Yeesh.”

Steven clasped his hands together. “The other Stevens started seizing up, like he’d hurt them. Their time things shattered, and then they shattered. They turned to dust, but not like when a gem poofs. It stayed there, on the ground, in piles. One of them... He reached out to me. His time thing had already broken, but he was holding on somehow. He asked me to do something, help him. He almost grabbed me, and then he just... died.” Steven grimaced. “He was so scared...”

“Oh, Steven...” Dad breathed.

“B-before he died, that first Steven grabbed me and—and I think there was blood on his hands? Like he hurt them when he broke the thing? He told me I had to find another way.” Steven sighed. “I thought he was talking about Beachapalooza, ‘cause you couldn’t come out that year, but I don’t know. Maybe not. Maybe it was something else. Maybe it was... Homeworld?”

Dad tapped rhythmically on his thighs. “The one time I couldn’t make it to Beachapalooza was two years ago. Why didn’t you tell me?”

Steven struggled through a shrug. “I don’t know? I guess I thought it was normal. The gems didn’t try to talk to me about it, and I wrote a song about it but no one said anything, so I figured it wasn’t a big deal. I just... didn’t think.”

Dad leaned over and pulled Steven into a hug.

Steven gripped his dad’s arm. The muscles on his face were working out an expression of pain; he felt acutely aware of it. His vision blurred with tears, and he screwed his eyes shut.

“What’s brought this up now?” Dad asked softly.

“I don’t know,” Steven murmured. “I mean, I think I do know, but I don’t want myself to know. You know? Like I... Ugh, I should’ve asked Lars if there were any side effects to this.” He pulled away to stare down at his hands, queasy at the familiarity of them. Was he still dreaming back on Homeworld? If he looked up at the windshield, would he see Pink Diamond reflected there?

After a few moments, Dad placed his hand over Steven’s so he had to look up. “Steven, I just want you to know that whatever happens, to you or anyone in your life, it matters. You matter, and your feelings matter. And I’m here for you, bud. If anything like that happens again, you tell me.”

Steven had to look away. The sincerity made him feel guilty, but he knew his dad was right. He nodded.

Dad squeezed his hand. “Now, why don’t we go find someplace private to eat these donuts? Maybe my jamming spot? I thought you might like to help me with a song I’m working on.”

Chapter Text

“I’ll keep the van parked here a while. If you need me, just call.”

Steven turned back to the van and started to babble in protest, but Dad raised a silencing hand. “No buts. I know the gems are gonna be bursting to have you back. I was lucky to get you away for an hour.”  

“But—”

“What’d I just say?” Dad smiled. “I do my best, Steven, but there’s a lot you need to talk about with them. You don’t have to go in just yet, but I’m staying out here for now.”

Steven glanced up at the house, then back at his dad. His eyebrows did that thing again—the expression thing that he shouldn’t have noticed but did. In the end, he ran back and hugged his dad before heading up to the temple.

The house was quiet when he came in. Someone had evidently made lunch, and now Connie and Amethyst sat at the counter munching on what appeared to be miscellaneous meat sandwiches. Pearl and Garnet stood by the sink, the former whispering in a tone that suggested she was on the verge of tears. Pink Pearl was nowhere to be seen.

At the sound of the door, everyone turned to look at him. He stopped in the doorway. What was that? A feeling crept up inside him, a heat from the core of his gem. Anger? He had no reason to be angry. Or did he?

Gritting his teeth, Steven stamped it down.  Not now.

Garnet frowned, pursed lips pulling at the lines in her forehead. Pearl hunched her shoulders. Amethyst set down her sandwich. Connie gripped hers, and instead of looking over at Steven, she turned to Garnet.

Steven cleared his throat of the tightness building there. “Sooo, where’s Bellybutton Pearl?”

Amethyst snorted into her hand.

Pearl gently touched her lower lip, as though she had to feel the ghost of a smile that had formed.

Garnet’s mouth twitched.

“She went to the barn,” Connie said. “I thought the others should know you’re back.” Her voice cracked at the word back, and she cleared her throat.

Steven blinked. “Ah. Nice.”

Garnet’s lips pursed again. After another few moments of uncomfortable silence, she drew out, “We need to talk.”

Steven’s gaze dropped momentarily to the floor. “Yeah, I figured.”

“How much do you remember, Steven?”

She had spoken softly, but Steven flinched at the words.

Confusion.

Distance.

The world exploded into light, and he realized instinctively what was happening. He remembered her claws around him, then blackness, and he knew that whoever he was, he wasn’t Steven anymore. He must have been—her? She must have been Pink Diamond now. She—no, she was Rose. She was Rose Quartz now, not that worthless jester of a power symbol. She still didn’t remember, but she must have been, and she would reform like this just to spite that—

But, no, that felt wrong. If he was just a gem now, what of his human half? He needed Him. He needed to be Steven.

He opened his eyes, half-formed, and felt His pain from the other side of the room.

Wrongness.

Steven inhaled sharply. He squeezed his eyes shut and shook the memory away. “N-not—not much.”

The others exchanged a collective grimace, but Garnet nodded like that was exactly the response she’d been looking for. “Pearl. Amethyst.”

“R-right,” Pearl stammered. She stepped out of the kitchenette and started for the door. Amethyst drummed the counter a bit before jumping up to follow.

Steven’s eyes widened. “Oh, no, guys, you don’t have to leave, I—”

Amethyst shrugged as she passed, and Steven moved out of the way as though she’d pushed him. “Don’t look at me. Garnet wants to talk.”

Steven turned his gaze to Pearl. She paused, opened her mouth, but decided against speaking.

They shut the door behind them.

Steven was not at all comfortable with this turn of events.

“Steven,” Garnet called in her closest approximation of a motherly voice. She waved at him to come closer.

Steven swallowed. Every inch of him tingled with apprehension, but he forced his legs to move. They brought him to the kitchen counter, where his arms collaborated to lift him onto the stool next to Connie. His hands folded. His eyes became transfixed by the bubblegum pink his skin had become. Even his fingernails had deepened in hue, the hot pink of a deflated balloon. The veins in his wrists, usually visible when he bent his hands backwards, were no longer blue. Or maybe his skin had thickened? He wasn’t sure.

Garnet leaned into the counter opposite him. Her visor dissolved, revealing scrunched brows and sad eyes.

A fire ignited in Steven’s gut. He snapped, “What?”

Garnet blinked. Her third eye slid shut. “Do you know what happened, Steven?”

He blinked hard. Crossed his arms. Tried not to think about it.

Connie touched his shoulder. “It’s okay, Steven. You don’t have to talk about it yet if you don’t want to.”

“No,” Garnet said, causing the kids to look up at her. “We need to know what happened, and Steven needs to process this in a healthy manner. Do you remember our talk with Stevonnie?”

Steven’s jaw clenched. His thoughts scattered like so many ants in a flood.

Beside him, Connie nodded. He wished she wouldn’t.

Garnet’s eyes softened. “Steven, please speak with me. I assume you remember going to Homeworld?”

He tried to respond, but his mouth seemed locked shut. He nodded.

“You remember White Diamond?”

She spat and screamed and howled, demanding Pink Diamond, but he didn’t want to be her anymore.

Steven lowered his gaze. His hands were shaking. He pulled them down to his lap. “I don’t want to think about it,” he murmured.

Connie hugged him. She had to lean over a considerable amount, but he didn’t feel like reciprocating fully. In compromise, he leaned into her enough to show that he was fine with it.

“I know it hurts,” she murmured. Her breath in his ear sent a shiver down his spine. “I know how much it hurts, but it won’t get better if you try to forget.”

The low flame inside him died, drowned out by Connie’s assurance.

She pulled back, and now they were facing each other. “If you want,” she started slowly, “we could form Stevonnie again. Like last time. It might be easier—”

“No,” Steven yelped, eyes wide. “No, no, I... I don’t want to fuse. S-sorry, Connie.”

Connie smiled. If he didn’t know any better (and he didn’t; in fact, he knew Connie pretty well, and he was pretty good at reading her by now), Steven would have said she looked relieved. “It’s okay,” she said. “I understand.”

Garnet hummed. “I was going to suggest it myself, but I won’t make you do anything you’re not comfortable with.”

Steven frowned at her. He wanted to argue, Then why are you making me sit here and talk about it? But he held his tongue.

“I’m going to say something now,” Garnet told him, “that might be... disconcerting to hear, but I need to know how much you understand the situation.”

Okay, he wasn’t going to be able to get out of this. Steven took a deep breath. Four seconds in, four out. He let his eyes rest for the breath, then he opened them and nodded.

“Our mission to Homeworld failed. White Diamond used her powers on Pearl, Amethyst, and I, controlling our bodies and numbing our minds.” As she spoke, Garnet placed a hand over her chest, eyes downcast. “While we were incapacitated, she removed your gem. It reformed. Do you remember any of that?”

“I... Yes. I do.”

“Do you know what happened after?”

Steven’s mind, as minds are wont to do, immediately went to answer that question. What did happen after? Well, he—

No.

He clenched his fists on his lap. “No.”

 “Steven...” The tone of Connie’s voice called out the lie.

Steven looked away. He murmured, “I died, didn’t I?”

They waited.

“I died,” Steven repeated, slowly this time, trying not to remember, “but my gem reformed. It has my powers. It brought me back.” He held up his hands. “That’s why I’m pink.”

“So you don’t remember,” Connie surmised.

“No, I... I think I just don’t want to remember.”

Garnet stood up straight. She set her visor back in place and gestured for the kids to follow her to the living room. They joined her on the couch.

“Steven,” she said, and the way she said it made them both sit up straight. “I need you to remember what I told you when Connie broke that human child’s arm. That when a part of you is falling apart, you’re unstable. That you need balance. That you need to confront and understand your emotions.”

“I remember,” Steven mumbled into his lap. “Flexibility, love, and trust. That really helped me before, with how guilty I felt—but—” He looked up at her. “But that was with Stevonnie. I mean, I know I’m better off confronting my emotions, but the balance thing was about fusion, wasn’t it? What’s it have to do with me? I’m not a fusion.”

Garnet held her chin in thought. “Not in the traditional sense,” she said finally.

Steven stared at her. “What?”

“You’ve been apart, Steven. You’re not two wholes, like me, but it’s been long enough that your human and gem halves have had considerably different experiences—experiences different enough that they’ve elected not to include them in their unity.”

“T-they?” Steven tried offering Connie an indignant smile. “She’s joking, right?”

Connie wasn’t smiling. “I talked to your gem half, Steven.”

His eyes widened. “You... huh?”

 “You... he... talked about you and, um, your human half, like you were three different people. Maybe it is like before. Stevonnie didn’t know what was happening until we decided to sit and think about it. Is that what you mean, Garnet?”

Steven whipped his head around to see Garnet nod solemnly. “That’s one aspect of fusion we’ve never talked to you about,” she said softly. “If you want to keep a secret from your fusion partner, you can. But it makes the fusion emotionally unstable. Remember Malachite. Remember when you first met Sardonyx. Remember Stevonnie that day in during training.”

Steven and Connie shared a grimace.

“If you keep up like this,” Garnet said, “I’m afraid of what might happen to you.”

Steven swallowed. “Do... Do you think I might...” His voice got small. “Unfuse?”

“I’m not sure that’s possible,” Garnet murmured. “But I don’t know if that’s the worst case scenario either.”

“Can’t you see it with your future vision?”

She grimaced. “I... I didn’t even see this, Steven. I looked into so many possible futures... You weren’t in any of them. I’m benching future vision. For now.”

“Oh.”

They sat in silence for a few moments. Steven figured Garnet and Connie were thinking, but he couldn’t bring himself too. His thoughts swirled and clouded over. Right here, right now. That was all that mattered.

Wasn’t it?

Yes, it was. He didn’t want Him to know what—

Steven froze. Not that he had been doing anything, but the natural idle motions of his body ceased. He stopped breathing. He stopped blinking.

Had he—

No.

Nonononono.

Steven was whole.

Steven was one person.

Steven was Steven.

He shouldn’t have been thinking about this. He didn’t want Him to—

  1. Not that again. He—

What are you talking about?

Steven gripped his hair.

“Steven?” Connie sounded frantic. “What’s wrong? Are you remembering something? Is it traumatic? Do you need a metronome?”

He tried to push all the thoughts away. Every one. Gone. Gone. Gone. “Here and now,” he breathed. “Here and now.”

“What did you say?”

Steven blinked. He lowered his hands, cautious, like something might break if he moved too fast. He didn’t look at her. He didn’t say anything.

“Do... Do you want to fuse? If that would make it easier, the offer still stands, and I want to help. Steven?”

He shook his head slowly. “No. No, I don’t want to...” He blinked a few more times, trying to clear his head. “I don’t want... to think about it.”

Or did he?

“Am I hiding something from myself?”

It took him a moment to realize he’d said it aloud. When he did, he looked to Garnet. She reached out and gently patted his head. He had to exert some effort to peer up around her hand. “Garnet?”

“Yes, Steven?”

“I’m scared.”

Connie grabbed his hand. “It’s okay to be scared. We’re here for you, Steven. I’m here for you.”

Garnet drew her hand back. “You should try and meditate,” she told him. “Do you want me to sing?”

Steven shook his head. “No, I’m—I’ve done it alone before. Just not...”

He tried to breathe. Ocean waves. Resigned now, Steven pulled his feet up and crossed his legs on the couch. Connie pulled her hand away, and Garnet assumed a relaxed position, face turned from him. She began humming softly.

Steven shut his eyes.

Here comes a thought.


 

It wasn’t like meditating as Stevonnie.

It wasn’t like meditating alone, either.

The thoughts drifted by like the clouds in his mother’s room. They resembled things, but he didn’t dwell on them. One resembled Connie. Another resembled Dad’s van. Something too close for comfort resembled White Diamond’s spiked hair.

He let that one approach. Part of him screamed to push it away, make it go away, don’t let Him see—

I have to see, Steven insisted. He wasn’t sure what part of him thought so. He remembered this as Stevonnie, how he and Connie had been able to interact inside their mind, separate but together as they dozed.

He tried to imagine that. He thought of someplace to stand, a mindscape where he could watch his thoughts drift by. It came up pink and brown, like strawberry chocolate ice-cream swirl carved into an endless room. That works, Steven thought, appraising the mental space.

The thought of White Diamond materialized up above as an actual cloud—or an image of one, anyway. Steven felt some conflict at the sight of it.

Where was the conflict coming from?

He imagined two of himself. One looked like he normally did: Human, Caucasian, brown-haired, pretty chubby. The other was pink, but not quite how he looked presently; this Steven glowed like he was burning.

In the real world, Steven took a deep, deep breath. He held it just long enough to begin to relax, then he let go.

In the confines of their collective mind, in some form they didn’t fully understand, the Stevens became animate.

Pink Steven immediately grabbed Human Steven and put himself between him and the cloud.

Human Steven yelped. “Hey!”

“You can’t,” hissed Pink Steven.

Human Steven struggled in Pink’s arms. He twisted his head to get a look at the thing that was forming above them. “I have to,” he insisted. “You heard Garnet. This isn’t healthy. Let me go!”

“No!” Pink pinned Human’s arms to his sides. Human Steven grunted. “You don’t understand,” Pink Steven said. “You’re the sensitive one. I can’t let you go through all that!”

I’m sensitive?” Human went limp, surprising Pink into loosening his grip. He dropped to the ground and slid under Pink’s legs. “You’re the one keeping secrets.”

The thought took shape. It was White Diamond’s face, just as she’d looked with Steven clutched in her palm. The other hand came into view. Fingers like claws, she reached down, and the memory grew dark as Steven shut his eyes in anticipation.

Stray thoughts burst from the cloud.

Would it hurt? Would he die? Would Pink Diamond really come back? Or had she never left, and White Diamond was right? What if he really was just—Pink Diamond trapped in a human body? Would her memories return? Would Steven just disappear, like Rose had when she died?

The memory burst into mist.

Pink Steven sat down next to his Human counterpart.

“That wasn’t so bad,” Human Steven said. “I already knew we were separated.” He remembered seeing his gem reform. He remembered realizing it wasn’t in his stomach where it belonged.

“We remembered that earlier.”

“You shouldn’t have been keeping my own memories from me.”

“I think you forgot that on your own.”

“Oh.”

Some more thoughts drifted into view. Pink Steven tensed.

“Don’t,” Human warned.

“I don’t want you to—”

“I don’t care. I need to know.”

Steven’s thoughts drifted in and out of the room. Some were old—that was just the nature of meditating—but most belonged to Pink Steven and Pink Steven alone. He made his protests vocal, and he could have easily overpowered his other half, forced him to remain ignorant, but Human Steven’s gentle voice (or what approximated one in the mind) kept his agitation under control.

“You’re so angry,” Human Steven murmured, watching as his other half listened to Garnet’s attempts at getting Connie to give up. A fire burned in his gem, something equal or greater than their friend’s visible rage.

“You were gone,” Pink Steven replied. “They didn’t care enough.”

A slow smile spread on Human Steven’s face. He teased, “Aw, you care about me?”

“You are the only person I care about.”

A jolt ran through him. Human Steven watched Pink’s face for a sign that he was joking. “Wait, really?”

Pink Steven shrugged, eyes still on the memory above them. “I can’t help it. I don’t know if it’s because so much of me is human, and I’m not quite... a gem, or if that’s just how Diamonds are. Maybe we can’t really love people.”

“That’s not true,” Human protested. He stood up and faced his other half. “I know it’s not true. Mom was a Diamond, and she loved people. She wasn’t perfect, or even good sometimes, but why would she start the rebellion if she didn’t care about people?”

Pink Steven stayed quiet for a moment. “I could probably answer that.”

Human blinked. “What?”

“Her memories are probably all still in here somewhere. Why else would we have had dreams about her life?”

“Please don’t try to remember her memories,” Human said seriously. “We’re not her. You’re not her. Even if you did remember, you wouldn’t be her, because you’re different now. You’re a part of me, and I’m a part of you, and we love people.”

“I don’t,” Pink insisted. “Not without you.”

Human pursed his lips. In the real world, Steven sighed, and that was him, Human Steven, sighing. “I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of half of me being a psychopath.”

“Is that what that word means?”

“I think so?” He sat down again and went in for a hug. Pink returned the gesture with a little more force than necessary. When they pulled apart, they were holding hands, and Human smiled. “See, you just never got the chance to learn.”

A thought played out: the memory of Pink Steven’s rant on the battlefield. Inside, he was weeping. Outside, he screamed.

“You’re probably right,” Human Steven admitted. “The gems see me as the real Steven, and you as... what’s left of Mom. I know they don’t mean it, but I think they just never had any real closure, you know? So we always had the burden of being Rose Quartz on top of everything, and that all sort of went to you. You were Mom, or my powers, or my gem. You were so busy being someone else, you never got to be part of deciding what it meant to be Steven.”

For the first time, Pink Steven smiled. “I’ve missed you so much.”

Human Steven squeezed Pink’s hands. “But don’t you get it? You are my gem, but I’m yours too, whatever exactly I am. We’re equals. From now on, you get more say in how things are run around here.”

Pink’s smile faded. “I don’t think I should—”

“Uhp-uhp-uhp!” Human tugged on Pink’s arms. “I know you care about people. You love Connie as much as I do. You can try to hide from me, but I can feel your feelings. We’re the same person!”

As if he wasn’t pink enough, Pink Steven’s face flushed. “I thought we were shy about that.”

You’re shy about that. See? We’re one person. Without you, I’d be someone else. Well, actually, I guess I wouldn’t be anyone. We’d be shattered.”

“...”

“Now listen. We’re going to open our eyes now, and you’re going to let me in.” Human Steven narrowed his eyes. “Completely. No hiding anything, no matter how bad. It’s not healthy.”

Steven sighed. The couch shifted as someone sat down on it. In his mind, his two halves hugged, and he felt something warm in his gut. He searched for the word, determined to find it before opening his eyes.

Connie’s hand brushed against his knee. His heart fluttered.

The word drifted by.

Love.

Chapter Text

As Steven opened his eyes, he allowed everything to come flooding back. He couldn’t help the way his hands clenched in his lap, or how his breath caught, or the tears that sprang to his eyes at the memories.

They didn’t feel quite like his memories. Pink Steven hadn’t been Steven. He hadn’t thought like Steven, or even like the Pink Steven in his mind. He had felt trapped in his own light body, unable to feel much more than I need to go back. That yearning was more painful than anything Steven had ever felt before.

Briefly, that part of him thought to stop the flood, but that wouldn’t have been healthy. We just talked about this, he thought to himself. Same person. I’m not going to be split anymore.

Then he remembered fusing with Connie. He remembered the pain of being human again, her protests, forcing her to stay fused just long enough

“OH MY FUCK—” Steven clapped his hands over his mouth. He turned to Connie, who looked to have jumped out of her skin at the shout. He didn’t need to breathe as much anymore, but he started hyperventilating regardless. “Connie,” he croaked.

“Steven?” she replied cautiously.

“I am so sorry.” He blinked. He was crying again. “Connie, I’m SO SORRY. I didn’t—I can’t— I-I’m sorry.”

Connie raised her hands. “Whoa, Steven, what are you sorry about?”

“I hurt you, Connie!” Steven shifted on the couch, legs popping out of their crossed position. “I fused with you without your permission, and I-I made you stay, and I didn’t care, I—I...” He ran out of breath. Tear tracks ran warm and cold down his chin. “I’m horrible,” he whispered.

Connie’s eyes widened. She snatched his hands out of the air. “Steven, no. You-you can’t... I don’t blame you, Steven. You were hurting. I get it.”

But her hands were shaking. Steven pulled away, ashamed of his touch. “And you offered to...” He covered his mouth again.

Connie bit her lip. Her eyes were misting over, but she kept her composure. “Steven, if you hadn’t... That’s what saved you. I would have done anything.”

Steven averted his eyes. He felt sick. He was glad to be back, but if that was why...

“Connie,” Garnet broke in with her no-nonsense voice. The kids looked up at her. She frowned. “You didn’t tell us about that.”

Connie rubbed the moisture out of her eyes. “I didn’t think it was important.”

Steven grit his teeth. He opened his mouth to retort that of course it was important and she deserved so much more from him, but Garnet stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. She gripped tighter than usual, so much it almost hurt. Steven figured he deserved it, so he didn’t complain.

“It is very important, Connie,” Garnet said sternly. “I’m glad you were able to defy my future vision, but the part of Steven that hurt you should not have done what he did.”

Steven sunk low in his seat. His shirt edged up, revealing the sheen of his gem.

“It was wrong,” Garnet emphasized. “And you were hurt. Your feelings matter.”

Steven tugged his shirt over his stomach.

Connie swallowed loudly. “I...” She choked. Steven squeezed his eyes shut. Connie took a shuddering breath. “I know,” she whispered. “I know, I just... I was so scared.”

“I’m so sorry,” Steven whimpered. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

“I know,” Connie said. Steven kept murmuring I’m sorry under his breath. Connie put a tentative hand over his knee, then pulled it back. “I know. I forgive you, but...” Her throat audibly closed up. When Steven turned to look at her, she had both hands over her mouth, tears spilling down her cheeks. She closed her eyes. From behind her hands, her voice came out muffled. “It was ho-horrible. You... we...” She let out a shuddering breath. “I wasn’t me. And I thought... I thought I’d never be me again.”

Steven’s stomach twisted. He pushed himself up to reach for Connie, and she flinched. He pulled back. “I wish I knew how to make it up to you.”

“You can’t,” Connie decided. She lowered her hands to her lap, kept her eyes on her twiddling thumbs. “I know you would never do anything like that, but... I need time.” She took a deep breath and slowly let it out. Then, suddenly, she laughed. “What am I going to tell my therapist?”

Steven blinked a few times. “You’re seeing a therapist?”

“Well, yeah.” Connie smiled sheepishly. “Going to space, watching you die? My parents might be more lenient now, but I was never going to avoid therapy after that. Not that I really mind anymore. Dr. Pines is really nice, but... oh, she has no idea about fusion. Do you think she’d even believe me?”

Steven began to think of how he should respond, but Connie punctuated the statement with suppressed laughter. He chuckled awkwardly. “Our lives are...”

“Pretty messed up,” Connie agreed.

“I’m sorry,” Steven said again.

The three of them sat in silence for a few moments. Steven rolled his thoughts over in his head, trying to be delicate. His hands weren’t shaking yet, but he thought they might start if he wasn’t careful. He closed his eyes, and took a long breath.

He remembered something else.

He leapt to his feet.

Connie yelped. “Steven?”

“Just a minute, Connie!” Steven ran out the door in a flash—

“S-Steven!”

—and skidded to a stop at the top of the steps. “Pearl!”

The two other gems had jumped away at his sudden exit. They were both tense and blushing. Steven zeroed in on the shorter of the two, and she tugged her hair over her eyes.

“Amethyst,” Steven said softly. Pearl shifted out of the way so he could approach.

Amethyst grit her teeth. Her voice caught as she replied, “Steven.”

“I’m so sorry.”

She blinked. It took her a moment to process what he had said, then she turned to him looking scathed. “What?”

“For poofing you.” Steven fiddled awkwardly with his fingers. “I-I remember now. I didn’t mean to, but I didn’t care and—I-I’m sorry.”

Amethyst stared in disbelief. “What—no, no no no no no, Steven.” As she repeated the word, Amethyst walked forward and clapped her hands on Steven’s shoulders. She looked at him intensely. “You do not get to feel sorry for anyone. You’re the one who went through everything back on Homeworld. You’re the one who died.” Steven flinched, and Amethyst tightened her grip. “You weren’t you, anyway. I’ve been poofed more times than I can count. You—you’ve been poofed once, and it destroyed you. If anything, we should be sorry for giving up on you.”

Steven’s vision blurred. Half of him wanted to deny it—no, Amethyst, I am sorry—but the other thought she was right. Yes, they should be sorry. They gave up on Him. How could they give up on Him when He would never give up on them if—

Steven gripped Amethyst’s wrists with both hands. Her eyes widened at the contact; he was shaking so hard, she began shaking too. Behind him, the house door creaked open. Steven screwed his eyes shut.

Flexibility, love, and trust.

Eyes opened.

Amethyst stared.

Steven pulled her hands away. “Thank you, Amethyst, but I’m sorry too. I still hurt you.”

“Dude,” breathed Amethyst.

“And Pearl,” Steven added, crying now as he turned to her. “I’m sorry to you too.”

Pearl’s hand was pressed close to her mouth—not enough to silence herself, but enough that silent tears dripped between her fingers. When Steven turned, she lowered it slightly. “What-whatever for?”

“I heard what you said. About Mom coming back when I died.”

A collection of sharp gasps cut through the air. Pearl’s eyes widened.

“I thought so too,” Steven babbled, wiping at his cheeks with the palms of his hands, “I-I always thought she would come back. I felt so guilty, but I thought—at least you’d get to see her again, you know? Someday.”

“Oh, Steven...” Pearl reached out for him, hesitated, and then threw herself forward. On her knees, she all but cocooned him in her arms. “I should never have told you that. I’ve moved on already, and I can’t stand the thought of losing you now. You know that, don’t you? You don’t have to apologize—shouldn’t apologize. I’m sorry, for-for speaking like you couldn’t hear me, for ever making you feel guilty for any reason.” She squeezed him, and Steven finally leaned into the hug. Pearl spoke in a whisper. “I’m sorry, Steven. I love you so much.”

Garnet’s hand appeared on Steven’s back, and Pearl backed away. He turned to the fusion. She knelt down and cupped a hand under his chin. “I’m sorry too, Steven,” she said softly. “I’m the reason we gave up on you. I’m the reason we didn’t figure this out sooner. You need to stop apologizing,” she added when Steven opened his mouth. “You’ve apologized enough. Now its our turn. Can you ever forgive us?”

Steven blinked the tears out of his eyes. He nodded, and Garnet ran her other hand through his hair. It glowed when she pressed into it, and she pulled back again. “That’s odd,” she murmured. “I thought only you could enter that dimension.”

Grateful for the distraction, Steven reached up and poked his hair. It glowed when he touched it too. “Um, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’m the one who made it pink?”

Garnet hummed thoughtfully.

Steven pushed his hand in further. It felt weird. Softer than usual. When he pulled out of the pink dimension, a little Pebble appeared, clinging to his hand. “Toga!” He grinned and sniffed away the remnants of his tears. His voice still came out stuffy. “When did you get in there?”

She shrugged.

Steven looked up at the others. His eyes landed on Connie. She was hovering near the door, but a soft smile made her tear-stained face beautiful. Steven raised Toga up in a gesture. “Where did the rest of them go, anyway?”

“With—”

A sound from inside cut off her response. The warp pad had barely activated when Bismuth’s voice sliced through the tension:

“Where is he? Where’s our boy?”

Connie leapt outside to make room for Bismuth, Lapis, and Peridot as they crammed themselves through the doorway.

Steven!” Bismuth expelled, eyes filling with tears of disbelief.

“STEVEN!” Peridot gasped, frozen in terror, as though any further movement would shatter his presence.

Steven,” Lapis Lazuli sobbed as she broke through the doorframe and flew the two feet between her and Steven. She grabbed his hands. Her eyes swept over him, unbelieving, and her hands followed, not quite touching him until she fell into what should have been a suffocating hug.

Steven felt suddenly overwhelmed. It hit him, though he had known it, that he had been dead. He had been half dead, half shattered. (Human dead and gem dead?) For months, the gems had been forced to contend with that, unable to grieve because he wouldn’t let himself go.

He wanted to apologize. He wanted to make it up to them somehow, but Garnet didn’t want to hear it. So, as the next best thing, Steven stayed quiet and let their relief wash over him.

Chapter Text

Steven and his family spent the rest of the day in his house. They all needed the comfort, so after summarizing to the others what had happened, no one brought up the last few months. They even celebrated Steven’s birthday, though the party was low-key; Pearl made cake, they sang, and games were played for hours.

Steven was used to physical affection, but today he knew no space. Not a moment passed where someone wasn't hugging or cuddling or patting him on the head. Steven didn’t mind—in fact, he loved it—but it did bring about some moments of... instability. He tried not to dwell on it, and by the time the day was over, Connie had left, and the gems were telling him to go to bed, Steven had grown comfortable enough to miss the contact.

“It’s all right if I stay here tonight, isn’t it?” Pearl asked timidly as the other gems left the house. “I know you don’t like me watching you sleep, but just—just to make sure you’re okay.”

Steven gave her a little smile. “I’ll be fine, Pearl. I don’t think I actually need to sleep, anyway. Lars said he's only slept, like, three times since I turned him pink.”

Dad’s hand fell into Steven’s hair with a fump. “As your full-time father figure, I’m pretty sure it’s my job to prevent you from copying teenagers with poor sleeping habits.” He punctuated this by ruffling Steven’s hair into his eyes.

“Daaad,” Steven whined, halfheartedly pushing Dad’s hand out of his face. “I’m not even tired!”

Dad yawned and went to slump down on the couch. “I know things are different, schtuball, but we don’t know how different yet. Could you try to get some shuteye, just for tonight, for your old man?”

Steven let out an exaggerated sigh. “Fiiine, Dad. But Pearl, I don’t like you watching me.”

Pearl pursed her lips. “Oh, all right. But I’m going to check in on you.”

“I know you will,” Steven teased—then, on an impulse, he threw himself into Pearl’s arms. Pressing his face into her chest, he mumbled, “I love you, Pearl.”

Pearl caught her breath. In a moment, she managed to choke out, “I love you too, Steven,” and gave him a loving pet on the head. Steven’s hair had been thoroughly tangled from everyone’s hands mussing it up all day, but Pearl ran her fingers gently through the curls, loosening the knots. She hummed softly. “I really am sorry,” she murmured. “I know it’s in the past, but there’s so much I’ve done wrong...”

“It’s okay, Pearl. It’s not your fault. None of this was your fault.”

“I know. I know, it’s just—I could have done better. You could have been here sooner, and maybe if I hadn’t compared you to Rose so much...”

Steven froze. That was it. That was the apology he needed. Something in him grew light, and he had to hold back another round of tears. Instead, Steven exhaled shakily, squeezed Pearl one more time, and stepped back to meet her eyes. “Thank you.”

Pearl blinked. “I... Oh.” Her lips pulled into a sad, understanding smile, and she stroked his hair one more time. “Good night, Steven.”

“Good night, Pearl.”

Steven made a detour to the couch to give his dad a hug too. “Good night, Dad.”

Dad reciprocated the hug. “Good night, Steven.” He kissed the top of his head and added, “I love you, son.”

“Love you too.”

“You don’t mind if I sleep out here, do you?”

Steven snorted softly. “Never. I’ll have to thank Bismuth for building you a room.”

Dad ruffled Steven’s hair. So much for Pearl's brushing it out. “I almost feel bad for not using it," Dad admitted. "But I’m more comfortable on the couch.”

Steven figured he only said that because it meant he could be closer to him, but it would have been rude to point that out.

Dad yawned.

Steven grabbed the blanket off the back of the couch and threw it over the older Universe.

Dad chuckled. “Thanks, bud,” he murmured, and promptly flopped onto his side. By the time Steven was halfway up the stairs, the soft snores of a sleepy father permeated the air.

It was just Steven now.

His bed was just as warm as he remembered, and the sound and light from the moon and stars outside helped him relax. Even the distant scuffling of the Pebbles who hadn’t gone with Bismuth to check out her forge felt like an ambient lullaby.

In no time at all, Steven was asleep.

...

Or was he?

Steven blinked rapidly, trying to reorient himself. He was still in his bedroom, but he had gone vertical, and something felt—

“Oh.” Steven had left his body again. He had astral projected right into his bedroom. He twisted around to get a better view of his body. It looked peaceful. Only now did Steven realized he had forgotten to change into his PJs; the body was still in clothes from back on Homeworld. Yuck.

He reached down and tried to get back into his body, but something kept him in the air. Steven looked at his hands. “I guess I’ve never come back on purpose before,” he admitted.

Steven glanced around. The gems were gone. Dad was snoring on the couch. The Pebbles were opening and closing the kitchen cupboards. Essentially, nothing was happening. He couldn’t just float here all night, could he? Maybe he could go on a little trip.

Slipping through the wall in his ethereal form, Steven spun around to watch the house drift away. He had never been given the time to explore this power. In the few days he’d had it, there had been too much going on. He wasn’t even sure what triggered it. Stress, maybe? But he’d had those dreams...

A light flicked on somewhere above the temple. It was a room inside the lighthouse. The dim light of a lamp or a candle glowed through the window.

Someone must have been inside.

Steven kicked off of nothing and swooped over the head of the original Obsidian's statue. He had to glance down as he passed her face, take note of the differences. He hadn’t been Obsidian 2.0 very long, but he knew her hair had been different, and his mother’s curve was definitely a prominent aspect of the original.

A shadow passed over the lamplight above. It was quick, so he couldn’t quite make them out, but there was something lithe about the figure. Who did Steven know whose silhouette looked like that? He puckered his lips in thought. Pearl? Other Pearl? Sour Cream? He actually knew quite a few tall, skinny people. It wouldn't do to just wonder about it.

Well, that was decided. Steven passed through the wall by the ground, into the basement, and hovered for a moment in the dark. If he were in his body right now, his eyes probably wouldn’t have been able to make out the cracks in the wall, or the fragment of wood with Lars’ name carved into it. No one had cleaned up after that night. Steven had never found out how that gem got in the wall, either.

He skipped the stairs and went straight up through the floor. The old couch and TV set Ronaldo had set up for movies had been moved to a supply room on a lower floor. A cluster of tapes lay by the machine, some in and some out of their cases. Popcorn kernels had been pushed under the couch, and an empty bowl sat abandoned on the back cushion.

“Movie night,” Steven murmured, then continued to the top floor.

He peeked his head up through the wood, saw an old lamp on its own, and drifted into the room. Now, why would anyone just leave a light on in the middle of a—

“AH!”

“AH!” Steven spun around at the shout.

Steven?”  Standing by the balcony door, eyes wide, mouth agape, was Lars. He gaped at Steven. “What... What are you... Are you a ghost?”

“Oh, no, I...” A small movement alerted Steven to the presence of a puke green sleeping bag on the floor. A tuft of blonde hair poked out the top, and the figure inside sighed in her sleep. “Uh... Have you and Sadie been... living up here?”

Lars blinked. “What—no, we were just... sleeping over. She lives at her mom’s house still, and—”

“Oh!” If he had been in his body, Steven would have blushed. “Right, yeah. None of my business.”

“What?” Lars blinked rapidly. “Oh, no—no, I don’t even think... Um, what-what are you doing here? I mean, you're... I thought you were... You look...”

Steven blinked, and memories flew by of Lars and the Off-Colors. They had spent the first week or so trying to help Connie get through to him, returning from wherever they lived now almost every day to spend time with them. The gems had quickly become uncomfortable, though, and Lars began coming alone. Eventually, he stopped trying to help. Steven remembered him being there now and then, but his presence was incidental. He’d been sad.

Now, he looked to be in shock.

How many people were still mourning him? Onion? Mr. Smiley? The cool kids? Steven found himself chewing on the inside of his cheek. “Yeah, I kind of... brought myself back to life? W-well, Connie helped, but... yeah. I’m back!”

Lars’ eyes lit up. “Wh-really? That’s great! So are you just... astral projecting right now? Connie said you could do that—oh, man, Steven, that-that’s... amazing! And I, uh, I guess you’re like me now, huh?”

Steven nodded.

Lars smiled. He stepped closer, then hesitated. “I’d hug you, but I guess you’re not really here right now.”

Steven laughed. “Oh yeah, I’m not. Wait, how can you even see me? People can’t normally see me when I do this.”

An expression between thoughtful and confused passed Lars' face. “I... don't know. Maybe 'cause we’re both pink?”

“Lion has chased after nothing before.” Steven scratched the back of his neck. “I always thought it was a cat thing, but maybe...”

Sadie shifted on the floor. She murmured something about ghosts, then settled down.

Lars smiled sheepishly. “Maybe we should bring this outside.”

“Right.”

The boys went out to the balcony. Steven continued to float two feet off the ground. Lars rested a hand on the railing and raised an eyebrow. “Like feeling tall?”

“What? Oh.” Steven glanced down and laughed. “I don’t know, it’s just more comfortable like this.”

Lars pulled his mouth into a short-lived smirk. “So... how long have you been back?” He raised his hands before Steven could answer. “Aaand you don’t have to tell me how it happened. No pressure.”

“No, it’s okay.” Steven drifted down so he could fake-settle his wrists on the railing. Lars mirrored the action, and Steven began talking. He told Lars about the night before, and how he had almost killed Connie, and the pain that followed, how Stevonnie had been there for just a moment and brought him back to life.

When he was done, the two of them stood (and floated) in silence, watching the ocean’s ebb and flow on the beach. Steven wondered idly where Lion had gone. He wasn’t sure, but he didn’t think he remembered seeing him very much after that first night back home.

Finally, Lars asked, “So how are you holding up?”

“I don’t know. Good, I guess. My human and gem halves are getting along now, which is really weird to say, but... I have two sets of memories now. It was rough for a while. It’ll probably be rough when I wake up.”

Lars bobbed his head. “I can’t imagine getting split apart like that. What about the whole... pink zombie thing?” He smiled crookedly. “It can take a while to get used to.”

“Oh, I’ve hardly even noticed it.” Steven looked down at his hands. They were always tinted pink in this form, but he knew they would still look like that when he got back to his body. It felt... final. “I kept forgetting about it, actually. Then I’d look down, or see my reflection, and...”

“That sounds about right.”

Steven made to swallow down a lump in his throat, but he didn’t have a throat. Somehow, it still helped. “So... how are the Off-Colors? I haven’t seen them at the temple.”

“That’s ‘cause they haven’t been. The Off-Colors wanted to see as much of Earth as possible, so they’ve been visiting different continents with the Sun Incinerator. I actually just got back from a trip to Japan.” Lars snorted. “Ronaldo loves his weeb sh—uh, stuff.”

That perked Steven’s interest. “Have you two made up?”

Lars made a so-so gesture. “I know he means well, and I’ve apologized for being a cowardly jerk.”

“That’s great, Lars.” Steven reached over to bap Lars’ chest. He met his eyes and grinned. “I’m proud of you.”

Lars stared at him a moment, then burst out laughing. “Oh man, Steven, are you for real?” He shook his head fondly. “I can’t believe I used to think you were a dumb kid.”

Steven pulled his arm back with a chuckle. “Yeah, well, I was a dumb kid.”

“No, I was.” Lars leaned into the railing and sighed. In the silence that followed, distant traffic became one with the waves. “You’re really back, aren’t you?” Lars whispered. “This isn’t some kind of psychotic breakdown I’m having?”

“I’m really back,” Steven said softly. “You should come visit in the morning.”

Lars nodded.

“And—hey, maybe you could bake something! I missed your cake thing while you were in space. What was it called again? Oobee?”

Lars snorted. “Ube. And I... I guess I’ve missed it too.” He sighed and pushed his chin into his hand. “Not much opportunities to cook or bake out in space. I haven’t even eaten very much, and with everything going on since we got back...” He sighed and groaned and drew his hand over his eyes. Another moment, and he smiled. “Yeah, Steven, why not? I’ll get out the old recipe book and come over in the morning. Do you have baking ingredients?”

“Not much, but you could bring over a shopping list. I’m sure Amethyst has plenty in her room, and Dad wouldn’t mind buying the rest.”

“Sweet.”

“L-Lars?” a new voice yawned. The boys turned to find a PJ-clad Sadie in the doorway, one hand on the door, the other over her mouth. She yawned again. “Who’re you talking to? I thought you said you’d try and sleep tonight.”

“Oh—” Lars glanced at Steven.

Steven shrugged. People weren’t supposed to see him like this.

Lars cleared his throat. “I did try, Sadie, but sleeping doesn’t do anything for me anymore.”

Sadie smiled sadly. She let out another yawn and went to join him by the railing. Steven had to move so she wouldn’t walk through him. “It’s a beautiful night,” she whispered.

“Yeah,” Lars agreed.

Sadie closed her eyes to breathe in the summer air. There were bags under them, deep and dark and far too settled to be from waking up in the middle of the night. When she opened them again, they were damp, and the smile was strained.

Steven’s heart ached at the sight of her. She had been happy when the gems returned from Homeworld. She had been with her band, singing covers of his dad’s songs. Steven didn’t know where the band was at now, but it looked like Sadie was suffering. And why else, he thought with a sinking feeling, but because of him?

As he made these observations, Steven had settled himself close to the floor of the balcony. He had to look up to meet Lars’ eyes. “Lars? Can you tell her I’m here? I can talk to her if I touch her shoulder, but I don’t want to startle her.”

Lars nodded solemnly. “Hey, Sadie?”

“Yeah, Lars?”

“I need to tell you something, but I’m not sure how, because it’s kind of weird and magic, but it’s really important that you know about it.”

Sadie gave him an amused look. “Okay?”

Lars steepled his fingers and cleared his throat. “So you know how Steven brought me back to life.”

The amusement dropped. “Yeah...”

“And you know how he can astral project?”

“Um... Yeah, I think he told us before going into space. Lars, where are you going with this?”

“Well...” Lars tilted his hand so he was pointing at where Steven was hovering. “He apparently brought himself back to life and is astral projecting right there, and I can see him because something gem magic pink zombie something.”

Sadie whipped her head around, saw nothing, and turned back. “Lars, this isn’t funny.”

“It’s not a joke! I—”

Steven touched Sadie’s arm and said, “Hi, Sadie.”

Sadie leaped backwards, eyes wide. “S-Steven?”

Lars let out a relieved laugh. “You heard him? Thank God, I was afraid I was imagining things.”

“But how..?”

Steven flew forward so he could talk to her again. “It’s a long story, but basically my gem half was finally able to bring my human half back to life, like-like I did to Lars. I fell asleep, and... well, now I’m here.”

Sadie cupped her hands over her mouth. She blinked her eyes full of tears, staring at some point behind Steven. “Oh, my... I can’t...” She choked on a burst of laughter. “Where are you right now? I need to hug you!”

Steven snorted. “Well, right now I’m in bed back at my house, but I think you’d wake up Dad if you came in to hug me.”

“We were just talking about a... I guess a potluck? Tomorrow morning.” Lars fiddled with his hair. “You should come. We can all hug Steven.”

Steven and Sadie both laughed.

“It’s prob’ly a good idea to wait for morning,” Sadie yawned. “I’m... n-not in a clear state of...” She yawned again, wiping the tears out of her eyes with a thumb. “...mind. I need to process this.”

Steven patted her arm. “Right, I woke you up. You look like you need the rest.”

“H-yeah I do. Steven... I can’t even articulate how amazing it is to hear your voice again.” Sadie smiled in Steven’s general direction, then looked up at Lars. “Will you come back inside with me, Lars?”

Lars smiled. “Heh, all right, Sadie. What about you, Steven? What are you gonna do?”

Steven shrugged. He turned his gaze to the skyline, down the beach, over the town. “I don’t know why I’m out here. I figure I’ll just... explore a bit?”

“Alright. Don’t possess anyone by accident. Or on purpose.”

Steven grinned. “I would never.”

With Lars and Sadie safe in the lighthouse, Steven floated around the building and glided down the back of the hill. The carwash sat vacant, only the dim flicker of a new neon “closed” sign to show that it wasn’t completely abandoned. Down the street, he found the Big Donut in a similar state, but various scuffs in the parking lot and trashcans filled with wrappers and boxes gave it a less dreary atmosphere.

Steven drifted through town, taking note of all the little signs of life: A car pulling into a driveway, lights on in a house, a sleepy teenager walking home after a long night. It was Beach City. It was home, but... something was off.

Garbage fluttered in the breeze down at Funland, and Mr. Smiley was nowhere to be seen. A van stood in a driveway next to a bucket and some sponges. When he passed Vidalia’s house, Steven spotted Onion sleeping fitfully on the couch inside, head in his mother’s lap as she stroked his hair and absently sketched on a little notepad with her other hand.

Looming over it all, the legs of Pink Diamond’s ship remained on the beach. Steven could see it from anywhere in town—from everywhere in town. He wasn’t sure why the gems hadn’t moved it in all this time. Eventually, he couldn’t take it anymore; he flew over town, over houses and shops and the boardwalk, and settled down by the feet of the ship.

It took him some time to process what he saw there.

Around its toes, endless stacks of flowers, stuffed animals, and various trinkets had been lovingly organized. Photos of Steven over the years had been framed and mounted in the sand; four separate paintings in Vidalia’s style depicted him with the gems or his dad or his mom. One showed him and Rose with halos, hugging and crying like he had met her in death. Handwritten notes had been pinned to the picture frames or taped onto the ship, all addressed to Steven. Flickering candles stood as evidence of recent visits.

The ship was a memorial.

Steven fell to his knees over the beach. Somehow, astral tears made waterfalls down his cheeks, and he was suddenly sobbing. He pressed his hands over his eyes. He rubbed his cheeks and held his arms for comfort in the dark.

Steven Universe had died, and the entire town of Beach City had mourned him.

They were still mourning him.

Did he mean that much..?

Steven stared at nothing in particular, shivering on the beach.

I was dead, he thought numbly.

Back at the house, Pearl appeared from inside the temple in time to witness a soft whimper from the bed.

On the beach, Steven closed his eyes and screamed.

Where had he been all that time?

He had been drifting through a half-life, making Connie suffer. He remembered his own face, his own body in his arms, reaching out but finding nothing.

Where had he been all that time?

He had been lying still, unable to move on. He remembered feeling weak, and then lost.

Could you be lost in death? Had he been in some kind of afterlife?

Had he met his mother like in Vidalia's painting?

The thought made him sick.

"I died," Steven breathed, astral tears blurring his vision. It hit him, and it kept hitting him. What did that mean? He didn't need to breathe in this form, but he felt himself suffocating.

Beyond the existential dread rushing through him, it occurred to Steven that his death meant something else. It meant he had failed. The Diamonds were still on Homeworld. The corrupted gems were still corrupted. Gem society was still broken. His family, his friends, and the entire town were suffering.

Steven Universe had died, and he had died for nothing.

Chapter Text

The ocean sparkled on the edge of an effervescent sunrise. Stars were still visible in the west, but somewhere in town, engines started to bring working folk to their jobs in the city. The pink ship glinted as the light of the sun reached the beach. In the arms of the statue in the cliff, Greg Universe slept. Far above, Lars Barriga leaned out over the balcony of the Beach City lighthouse, waiting for Sadie Miller to wake up.

Between them, Steven Universe sat cross-legged on Obsidian’s forehead, back against a fluffy being curled up behind him. Lion had appeared in the night, drawn to the beach by his cries, and been very upset that he couldn’t touch him. Now Steven was back in his body, but he still felt like a ghost.

It had been a long night.

“I remember you,” Steven murmured to the statue below. Lion growled in his sleep. Steven stroked his paw to calm the beast.

He cocked his head at the letter in his hands. It was from Buck Dewey. He was sorry for being an irony-obsessed jerk, and he was writing a song about how much Steven had inspired him. Steven folded it nicely and set it with the others.

“My other fusions are brand new,” he went on. “They have our memories, but they’re their own people. I don’t come out of it remembering the fusions they used to be part of.”

He picked up another letter. This one was from Nanefua Pizza. She thought of Steven as one of her own grandkids.

“But I remember you from when Mom was part of you. I was just one of five gems in the fusion. The memories were too strong for us to be new.”

Priyanka Maheswaren. He was the best thing that had ever happened to her daughter.

“It’s not like Pink’s memories back on Homeworld. You were... warm. Family.”

Amethyst. She didn’t deserve him.

“But with me, we were different. There were no secrets. You... you didn’t even know you were part Diamond.”

Sapphire. She should have seen this coming. It was all her fault.

“You still loved yourself, though. You even made this statue.”

Jaime. He wrote a soliloquy about Steven’s development over the years. Tears stained the ink.

Steven closed his eyes. Inside him, two minds struggled to stay as one. His voice came out in a whisper to himself. “You’re not Pink Diamond anymore.”

“I know. But what happens when—”

“No. Please, just...”

Steven shook his head. Last letter. It was from Pearl. She loved him.

There was a knock on wood from the beach. “Steven? It’s us, Lars and Sadie. We brought Jenny, Buck, and Sour Cream. I hope that’s okay!”

Steven smiled as the telltale sounds of his dad greeting apologetic teens reached his ears. It was time for a potluck.

It would be cliché to say that the next few days passed in a blur, but there is no more apt a phrase than that. In less than a week, Steven had learned that his mother was Pink Diamond, thought he found a cure to all the corrupt gems on Earth, and died. Months later, he was alive, and time was meaningless.

Since he missed his birthday, the gems threw a party on the beach—a real one this time. The whole town came, and Steven was overjoyed to see their relief, but he snuck back into the house after cake and presents. Something about a party felt off right now.

He stopped sleeping. He tried again the next night, but he couldn’t stop astral projecting. When he spoke to Lars about it, Lars admitted that he hadn’t had a dream since Steven brought him back. The closest he’d come had been sleep paralysis, and Steven didn’t like the sound of that. Amethyst hooted and laughed when he announced he would stop trying to sleep; more time to hang out, she said. Pearl and Garnet agreed, but Steven’s disappointment must have been clear, because all of them did their best to make it sound like the best possible outcome. He missed dreams.

Being a pseudo-fusion changed his entire thought process. Steven thought that, maybe, if he had been able to re-fuse back on Homeworld, he wouldn’t spend so much time talking to himself. As it was, the split memories festered like a scar in his mind. The gems continued discussing contingency plans, and Steven wanted to help—but he also wanted to stop them, stop all of this, and make plans to return to Homeworld and start where they left off. Surely the Diamonds would see sense now? Surely, with White in a bubble, they could discuss ways of convincing her to help without her overpowering them? Surely they could win. Surely it wasn’t all a waste of time?

But Steven couldn’t go back there. He couldn’t see them again, not with what White had done. The best course of action would be to build up defenses, protect the Earth.

He wasn’t even sure which half thought what. Maybe it wasn’t even that kind of inner-conflict. Maybe he was just... scared.

“It’s okay to be scared,” Connie told him. “You’ve been through a lot of trauma. That kind of thing is bound to have a lasting impact.”

The two of them sat together on the hill behind the temple. They had brought a picnic, but they weren’t eating. It had just felt like the thing to do at the time.

“But that shouldn’t be what’s important,” Steven argued. “There are hundreds of thousands of corrupted gems out there, and millions, maybe billions of gems in the Diamonds’ empire, all suffering—and what about the worlds they conquer? Blue and Yellow never said they’d stop. We can’t just... leave them.”

Connie reached across the picnic blanket to hold his hands. “We don’t have to, Steven. We’ll go back someday, but right now, you need to take care of yourself.” She squeezed his hands. “Dr. Pines always says that you can’t untangle a mermaid’s tail if you’re too busy drowning.”

Steven laughed, “What?”

Connie grinned sheepishly. “It’s her own spin on the phrase, ‘Before you assist others, always put your oxygen mask on first.’ If your life is unstable, you can’t do much for anyone else.”

Steven winced at her choice of words.

Connie sidled over to sit next to him. Naturally, they leaned into each other. “Have you been meditating?” she asked.

He shook his head. “I can’t seem to do it on my own anymore. It always ends up... split.”

“We could...” She hesitated. “I-I’m at a better place now. If you want, Stevonnie might have an easier time of it.”

Another shake. “I’d like to just be Steven for a while. I hope that’s okay.”

“Of course it’s okay.” Connie threaded her fingers between his own. She leaned away and lay down on the grass. She tugged on his arm, so he grinned and lay back with her. She pointed up at the clouds. “So, change of topics, but do you see a parrot up there, or am I crazy?”

Steven giggled. “I don’t know about a parrot, but I think I see an ice cream cone over there.”

“No, that’s the parrot! Look, it’s got a beak and little legs.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s ice cream. Or maybe an ice cream parrot!”

“Pff.” Connie pushed on his arm, and they laughed.

After some companionable sky gazing, Steven squeezed Connie’s hand. “You seem a lot happier than before.”

“Before what?”

“Before, um...” He was thinking about when he had locked himself in his mom’s room, but he didn’t want to say so. “I don’t know. Some point after Homeworld, you started getting better. And now... everyone else still acts relieved when they see me, but you seem like you’re... handling it.” His voice got quiet. “Is therapy that helpful?”

Connie didn’t answer immediately. When she did, she sounded thoughtful. “It can be. I think you have to find the right therapist, and they have to be patient and understanding of your circumstances. I got lucky with Dr. Pines. Mom has connections.” She hesitated, absently rubbing her thumb over the back of Steven’s hand. “But if you found someone who could help, I’m sure it would make a world of difference.”

“Do you think I should?” Steven asked quietly.

“Knowing what I know now? Honestly?” Connie exhaled. “You probably should have right after Peridot came to Earth. That’s when things got rough. Not that it’s my business,” she added hurriedly. “But you try so hard to make other people feel good about themselves. You need to take care of yourself too.”

She’s right.

She’s right.

Steven made a startled noise in his throat that turned into a laugh. Connie giggled, but she didn’t get it. That was okay.

Everything would be okay.


 “Hey, Dad?”

Greg Universe opened his eyes a crack. Seeing his son, he leaned forward in the deck chair. “What’s up, schtuball?”

Steven shuffled his feet on the top step to the porch and lifted his ukulele. “I, uh, think I’ve worked something out for your song. Wanna hear?”

Greg beamed. “Of course, Steven. Since when do you need my permission to jam?” He reached behind him and pulled another chair around from the table. He patted the seat. “I was wondering where you’d been today. Thought you needed some space.”

Steven half-smiled. “I did,” he said, and sat down next to his dad. Greg put an arm around his shoulders.

The teen’s bubblegum pink skin gleamed like a rose in the evening sun. They were all used to seeing it by now, the constant reminder of what had happened. Still, sometimes Steven would pause—like now—and turn his hand over, like Is this real? Is this my body now? Greg took it as a signal to scuff his hair or pat his knee. This time, he reached over and plucked the C string on his instrument.

“Is it still a waltz?” he asked. “I’m not even sure how that happened, honestly.”

Steven choked on a laugh. “Yeah, Dad, it’s still a waltz. I didn’t change any of the music, actually. Just transposed it. It’s, um, the lyrics you were stuck on.”

“What’s this?” came a voice from the house. Pearl stepped out with a smile. Garnet and Amethyst came out after. “Is Steven debuting a song?”

Amethyst leaped onto the railing. “Serenade us, Ste-man!”

“I like a good waltz,” Garnet said with a smile.

Steven grinned. He played a practice strum on the ukulele, and—

“Hey,” Connie greeted. She and Lion made their way up the last steps.

“Hey, Connie. I—hey!” Steven laughed as his animal friend pushed his face into his neck. “Stop it, Lion, I’m gonna fall over.” When Lion backed up, Steven bapped him on the nose. “Good lion.”

Connie leaned back against the railing, at-ease with the world. After a few weeks of Steven’s return, a sense of relief still hung over his friends and family. The whole town, really. “I heard something about a waltz?”

Steven snickered.

Greg ran a hand over the back of his neck. “Heh, that was me. I didn’t mean to, I swear.”

Steven raised his instrument again. “I can play now if no one else wants to show up.”

They waited.

...

He nodded, satisfied. “Here we go. I called this song Happy Endings.” He paused to glance up at his dad. “I hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all.”

Steven nodded and prepared a D major 7 chord. As he played, he began to sing.