Outside the familiar coziness of Steven’s bedroom, the late autumn rain pours steadily, the choppy waters of the Atlantic crashing onto shore with a ferociousness Connie hasn’t seen for a number of months. Historically, Beach City has been blessed to be host to consistently good weather. But even the most consistently stable meteorological systems aren’t immune to the odd unexpected shake-up. It’s a necessity to clear the air with a great thunderous clap, sometimes. It relieves pressure that’s built up long term amongst the clouds. It leaves the atmosphere noticeably cleaner, the dirt below sparkling with that fresh scent that comes about after torrents of cool rain.
On this particular afternoon, she’s found that this is a lesson that holds just as true for people as it does the weather.
It begins with a stray comment, as things often do.
They’re watching TV, the two of them, tangled together on his bed. About once a week they’ll try to have one of these cuddle sessions, just some time alone together to relax and enjoy each other’s company in private. Working alongside a myriad of Gems to aid in the restructuring of an entire society can be excruciatingly stressful at points, and so can rigorous AP classes and the eye-rolling drudgery of high school drama. There’s no placing a hierarchy on these things for them, no matter their outward difficulty or importance, they’re all just... the challenges in life they have to win. And on occasion, they’re the challenges they need a quiet break from. Both of them are no stranger to throwing themselves at a problem and working endlessly towards a solution until they hit rock bottom and crash, but over the years they’ve started to recognize this tendency for the bad habit it is. It’s okay to take 'me' time, Connie’s constantly reminding Steven (and herself) whenever she catches him about to stubbornly sneak away to the galaxy warp with clear stress lines rimming his eyes. And without fail he’ll groan halfheartedly, knowing he’s been caught red-handed, and retire to his room to relax with a book or a board game or a few rounds of Lonely Blade: Resurgence instead.
Today’s workaholic distraction is a marathon of old Under the Knife episodes. It’s been a while since they’ve binged through this show, and when Steven brought it up and she started to feel super nostalgic about it, in a flash their entertainment for the afternoon was selected.
“Gosh, I honestly forgot how good this is,” he says in the middle of an episode, nudging her arm with his elbow. “The satirical nonsense, the passion, the drama? Eh?”
“Yeah, it’s pretty pulpy,” she giggles, nudging him right back. Then, directed at the unhearing characters on screen: “Ughh, Marigold, come on, just go out with him already! We all know you like him!”
“I can’t believe they kept this a slow burn for five entire seasons,” he comments, pursing his lips. “They’re literally perfect for each other!”
Connie throws her arms down against the mattress, palms stretched wide open. “I know, right?? Adrien’s like, a total dreamboat of a man.”
“Yeah, he is pretty cute,” Steven says, an unmistakable blush coloring his face and ears.
Connie pauses upon hearing this, gazing at her boyfriend thoughtfully with a soft smile as he continues to watch this old episode with the same level of investment he exhibited upon its first airing. He props his chin in the cradle of his hands, which of course only further exaggerates the curve of his chubby cheeks. His eyes are blown wide with youthful endeavor, the TV’s glow glinting against his irises in a myriad of continuously shifting colors. He is pretty cute, she thinks, his own adorably smitten words echoing through her mind. And then that blush...
There’s a question she’s had for quite a while but has never asked. Something she’s suspected of him, but had no concrete proof of. The reason? Even if they’re best friends, and now— boyfriend and girlfriend on top of that— the idea of asking him something like this just felt too... what’s the word... invasive. Not that there’s anything wrong with discussing this sort of stuff, no, no, of course not! That’s definitely not what she means. But talking about something as important as this, she just knows it would turn into an in-depth conversation, as most worldly topics tend to do with Steven Universe, and it’s only inevitable this conversation would eventually turn back on her. On why she cared to ask in the first place. And that answer was... well, straightforward, but something she’s not sure she’s ready to broadcast. As if she’s taken command of but a single fragment of Garnet’s future vision, in her restless mind she’s already mapped out what feels like every possible response he could have to her. Most of them are no more than anxiety laced fabrications, things he would never ever dare think of with his upbringing, but believe her when she says she’s been burdened with considering every outcome in great, excruciating length.
Now that she knows for sure there’s a strong chance he’s the same way, however... that narrows down these possibilities significantly.
Connie threads her fingers together, gathering the courage.
Come on, you. It’s just Steven. No script, no planning, just... say it!
She opens her mouth to speak before her anxiety laden mind can beg to differ.
“By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask- do you like girls and guys?”
Steven glances away from the television set to meet her curiosity head on. “Oh, you mean like, romantically?”
Running in automatic, she nods in confirmation. Here she goes. The answer to both her spoken question, and the question of which river of probability this conversation will careen down.
He grins, scratching at the side of his neck. “Uh, yeah. Yeah, I guess I do! But I think I could like anyone, really. Guys, gals, none of the above. Doesn’t matter to me. That’s... okay, yes?”
“Silly, of course it’s okay! You don’t need my permission to like who you like. I just asked because I-“ Her heart pounds as she pauses briefly, focusing on the nervous jitters, but not in fear. Not anymore. Instead, that soft fluttering in her heart is nothing less than sheer exhilaration. She parts her lips once more, bravely speaking her inner truth into reality for the first time in her life. “I’m like that too. I... I’m bisexual.”
Her boyfriend’s whole expression lights up so bright she may as well be looking at a newborn star.
“Oh, really? That’s awesome!” he says, throwing an arm around her shoulder to side hug her. (Knowing him, his keen empathetic ability likely led him to sense the internal battle she waltzed through just to state this out loud.)
The forgotten soap opera continues to play in the background as Connie gives a bashful laugh.
“Hehe, glad you think so. You’re actually, um... the first person I’ve ever said that out loud to,” she says, blushing.
Steven looks as if he’s about to say something in response, but then he pauses— fades into a silence that’s deliberate and measured— as he gazes back at her. Drinks in the moment. Wonders how he could be so lucky to hold her trust like this, or how— heck, he could be thinking anything, she has no idea! Unlike him she can only catch small glimpses into how he feels, the truth woven like gossamer threads through his words and actions, but in this one hallowed moment she doesn’t need to guess. The spark of affection dancing within his dark eyes is soft, perhaps softer than he’s ever looked at her before.
More than anything, Connie feels seen. Years back, long before sword training and Gem missions, long before that fateful day she discovered the beautiful temple (it looked like it could very well be a Hindu goddess, and that cultural connection alone made this slice of beach instantly familiar) hidden on the other side of the hill and decided to park herself there with a book, she’d grown used to feeling invisible. Before she bravely chose to step into this world of magic, it’s as if she forgot that she even had a choice to stand out, to openly shine as the unique, extraordinary individual she is. Admittedly, she still struggles with that to this day. But whenever she’s with him, with her Steven? It’s as if her universe explodes into a kaleidoscope of dizzying color where everything is so, so beloved and worthwhile. She’s worthwhile.
She can only hope being with her makes him feel the same way.
“I know it’s silly after everything we’ve been though,” she continues in time, still having a few things on her mind she suddenly has an exhilarating need to set free, “but I always kinda worried that people... would belittle me for it, I guess. Especially my parents. That like, there’s some upper limit to the number of unusual things about my life they’ll accept.”
“It’s not that unusual, though,” Steven says with a shrug. “I mean, Ruby and Sapphire are legally married. Sure, the Gems aren’t exactly women, but they do present that way. And then Pearl was in love with Mom, of course. Oh, and Amethyst once told me, and I quote, that ‘like a whip, I swing in every direction.’”
Connie snorts at this, and even he can’t help but laugh.
“Let’s see, what else...” he muses, peering at the ceiling thoughtfully as he continues to list the queer individuals he knows of. “Jenny, Buck, and Sour Cream are all dating each other. Mr. Smiley finally reconnected for real with his old comedy partner, and they’re dating. And my dad may not be seeing anyone but he’s always been openly pansexual.”
“Well, it’s not usual in my family,” she says glumly, nestling her chin into his bed’s comforter as the terrifying possibility of rejection hits her harder than expected. Her glance roams. On the television screen, the episode they were watching had paused automatically, a message asking if they’re still there popping up. Clearly it’s been a while since anyone’s handled the remote. She blinks past tears, shame settling at the pit of her stomach for even daring to cry them when others have gone through so much worse, and you’re lucky, what do you even have to feel lost about, and suddenly she begins to feels shameful just for feeling shame, and what cyclical, bittersweet irony is that, and what’s wrong with her, why can’t she stop obsessing over distant possibilities that likely have zero chances of coming to pass, why can’t she—
Steven breaks through her downward spiral with a gentle hand on her shoulder, rubbing away the physical evidence of her stress. She melts into his touch, forever smitten by this kind of casual intimacy they get to experience together here, alone. It’s innocent, still merely the wandering hands of two teenagers barely beginning to break the boundaries between close friendship and romance, but when words fail she’s discovered that touch can be a language of its own. And right here, right now, she knows he’s talking her down from the mountain of anxiety she’s marooned herself on. He’s leapt effortlessly into the stormy sky and cradled her in his arms, ready to float back to Earth’s surface together.
Outside, the rain continues to slap in rhythmic sheets against the deck. She shivers. Maybe it’s in reaction to the gloomy weather beyond the sliding glass door, maybe it’s despite it. She has no idea.
Steven scoots forward on his belly a bit, and rolls to his side so they can talk face to face without turning their heads. During this, his shirt rides up— ever so slightly— ambient light catching on the lower facets of his gem. The reassurance found in that beautiful, familiar smile of his is dizzying. “Well, at least no matter what happens with your family, you have more than one, huh?“ he says.
“Yeah,” she breathes shakily, eyes glistening with emotion at the metaphorical hand he’s extending with that statement.
Hopefully it’ll never have to come to that, though.
“I do think my parents will be fine with it, if I ever do tell them,” she continues, dabbing the dampness from her eyes. “Especially my mom. She works with queer patients all the time at the hospital, so she’s pretty used to stuff like that. I just... get anxious sometimes.”
“Yeah, I get that. It’s tough dealing with identity stuff.”
She hums, mind immediately harking to the years he spent doubting his own personhood. Seeking any kind of physical connection she can get, she nuzzles her cheek against his forearm, which he’s currently leaning on. They lay there like that in comfortable silence for a good while. Steven, laying on his side, one hand lazily trailing through her wavy hair, and her, curled up close to his heartbeat, hugging his free arm.
“Hey, while we’re on the topic, can I ask you something?” he asks eventually.
She nods. “Anything.”
“How’d you distinguish bi from pan, when you were figuring all this out? I know they’re pretty similar, and my dad tried to explain it a while ago when I asked, but I still don’t exactly get the nuances.”
Connie shifts to sit up, pursing her lips as she considers her words here. She’s done a lot of research into queer identity in her time, checking out books from the school library and looking up stuff online on incognito mode, but there’s probably still a ton of holes in her knowledge. “Hmm, okay... so I’m no sole authority on any of this of course, but to the best of my knowledge bi means you’re attracted to two or more genders, and pan means you’re attracted to people, but like... their gender isn’t really a factor in the way you experience that at all? I‘m pretty sure? There seems to be a lot of overlap. From what I’ve read people just sorta pick whatever feels the best to them.”
“Huh, that makes sense,” Steven says. “So picking labels is kinda like fusion, then! Whenever I fuse, we decide our own name, and it’s sorta... based on a feeling, y’know?”
“Yeah! And like, with Stevonnie... Even though Amethyst kinda inspired the name, they still had to figure out who they were as a person on their own.”
“Exactly! And then, even if two fusions are made of the same gem types, they could still have different names because they’re different people, and that’s what they choose. Anyways, that’s just what this reminded me of,” he says, glancing up at her with a bashful smile. “Honestly... I don’t actually know how I identify.”
The corner of her lips edge upwards. “That’s fine,” she reassures him with a pat, “it took me a while to sort through all this stuff.”
“I really wanna figure it out, have a word for it, but nothing’s clicked yet. For a while I thought I was pansexual like my dad, but that didn’t quite... feel right. Like—“ he too shifts to sit up, folding his feet under his legs as he continues to speak— “I love getting to kiss you, but no offense, I don’t... know if I'll ever want to have- to do anything more than that, y’know?”
She snickers at his inability to simply say the word sex. He’s sixteen now, he knows full well what that is, yet still his faux innocence on the matter remains. It’s one of his charms.
“None taken. Love and attraction is a bizarre, complicated world.”
“You can say that again.”
“Whack,” he agrees with a playful grin. Reaching for the remote, he presses play a few times to wake up their streaming site. The episode starts up right where it left off, and they continue to watch together, the air somehow feeling sweeter after her much needed release of emotion.
The satirical medical drama quickly fades into the background, though, as Steven’s hand curls around hers.
“Hey,” he says quietly, blushing. “Even if I don’t know everything about labels yet, I do know one thing for sure.”
She raises a curious brow. “What?”
“I know I love you.”
And before she can open her mouth to respond in kind, he’s kissing her cheek, swooping in like a bandit just like she did for the first time all those months ago, and her heart swells with affection for this boy. He leaves her with one kiss, then two. At the exact moment she turns her head to reciprocate— to sneak a gentle kiss to his cheek right back— he turns as well and she ends up meeting him at the lips. It’s but a quick peck, but she's almost floating. The two of them stifle a laugh as they gaze at each other, their noses almost brushing together.
"Hey, it stopped raining,” he comments then, grinning against her cheek.
She drapes her arms around his shoulders, and hugs him close. Her eyes trail to the glass sliding door. The clouds outside are still thick, but after releasing their load they’re visibly lighter now.
“Yeah,” she breathes, feeling her muscles finally relax as she sinks into her best friend’s embrace. “Yeah, I guess it finally has.”