Visiting the Diamonds was always an odd thing, but it was doubly odd when Connie was there. She preferred to only see them as Stevonnie, and he could feel the simmering anger from her half of the fusion every time they shared a room, so Steven could respect that choice. Of course, that came with its own problems. Misgendering everyone with feminine pronouns was standard practice for the titanic rulers, but it was extra problematic for the young fusion.
"We really like they as our pronouns," Stevonnie explained patiently. "I know that some of Steven's fusions like using she or he, but we really only want they. It makes us very, very uncomfortable if you use anything else."
Blue frowned. "But why? Is it really that bothersome Stev... Onnie?"
"Yes," they insisted. "It's really is. Because Steven's a boy and Connie's a girl, so we-oh." They gasped and doubled over, white light splintering across their body for a moment. It flickered and flashed, skittering over their skin like the yellow disruptor had done to Steven years ago. Garnet was there to catch them before they fell apart.
"You're alright," Garnet soothed. "Just breathe through it. Talk it out."
Yellow arched an eyebrow. "They're unstable."
"Not usually!" Stevonnie groaned, and some of Connie’s anger flicked over to Steven, vibrating back and forth between the two of them. They righted themself, breathing softly as they muttered too low for the Diamonds to hear: "Okay. So, what was that? | I don't know. | Me neither! We were just saying who we are!"
"Try it again," Garnet advised.
Steven’s a boy and Connie’s a girl, so we’re they. Say it. Just say it out loud. They hesitated for a moment, then closed their eyes as even the thought of it brought on confusion and discomfort. "I don't want to. It doesn't feel good. I... I can't stay together like this. Just... Hold on."
They managed to make it through the warp, to the greenhouse dome, before they tumbled apart. Steven put his hands in his pockets and fell back into Lion's fluffy bed with a sigh. "Okay, so I definitely feel like a boy today."
Connie chewed her lip, standing in the center of the greenhouse as she mused on that. "Does it bother you to call yourself a boy on a boy day?"
"I don't know. Not really? It usually feels good. That's how I know it's not a girl day." He swept a hand through his curls and leaned forward, arms on his knees. "But it feels kind of weird to have Stevonnie say Steven's a boy and not genderfluid, you know? Now that I know that's what I am, it feels so weird for Stevonnie to lie about it. But I don't think it's break a fusion weird."
"You still haven't told the gems?" she asked.
He shook his head. "I know they'll be nice. I just don't want to have that talk. I don't want it to turn into a bunch more talking, you know?"
" That's why you haven't posted any pics of girl day shapeshifting," she said with a sigh. Connie crossed her arms and shook her head. "I'm sorry. I thought you would've told already."
"Not ready yet. Girl Steven's just for you and me." He smiled, a little strained from the weight of the secret, but managing for now. "What about you?"
"What about me?" she asked, just a little too quickly. Steven raised an eyebrow and she groaned. "You felt that?"
"Kinda hard not to when half your brain starts getting jumbled up." He laughed. "We said Connie's a girl and it was like someone threw a hard math problem at us. What's going on with you?"
"I don't know." She bounced her heel, the rubber thumping softly on the floor of the dome. "You've been talking about gender a lot, what it feels like on boy days and girl days and inbetween days. I've been thinking a lot."
"And?" he pressed.
She rubbed her arm, heel coming to a sudden stop. "I don't know what I am. But girl's been feeling weird ever since you started talking to me about gender stuff."
Steven pushed up and held out his hand. "Come on. No matter what, we're still just us, right? Dance with me. We'll talk."
"And maybe we'll fuse and we can get back to Homeworld." Connie took it. After a moment, his hands went to her shoulders and hers went to his hips. She forced a smile and asked, "So, what does being a girl feel like?"
"It's different for everyone, I think. But, for me, I guess it's that I want people to know I'm a girl. I want them to treat me like a girl. And wearing dresses and heels and that stuff gets kind of close to that. And I like it when you call me a she." He blushed a little and gave her shoulders a squeeze at a particularly nice memory. "I really liked it when you said I was your girlfriend right away when I told you. But I wouldn't like that now . Just little happy moments. Do you get stuff like that?"
"I don't think so," she said, smiling for real as he shifted his hands and gave her a twirl. "But it makes me really happy that I made you happy."
He hummed and dipped her. "Ever get dysphoria?"
"What's it feel like?" She raised an eyebrow from her place dipped back, and he tugged her back up. "The stuff I read online makes it look pretty extreme, and I never feel extreme about any of this stuff. Then I'd get it."
"It doesn't have to be big.” Their hands shifted again, and this time she twirled him a few times as he spoke. “You don't have to get it at all. For me it's just kind of annoying? I'm not really extreme in different gender feelings. It's all really smooth. But when someone treats me as a boy on a girl day, when I've tried to look like a girl, it's... Oh! Your mom sending you to space camp. You know they love you, and they're trying, but it's like-'
"They don't know you," she finished. She looked a little worried at the idea. "Then yes. Sometimes. Not for pronouns, but there's some weird stuff. Girl. Daughter. Lady."
Steven was gentle, like always. "Why don't you like it?"
"Feels like a box. None of this gender stuff ever made sense to me." She shook her head with a little moan. "You're Steven! If some days you dress like a girl and feel like a girl, that's okay. If some days you're in the middle, I get it. I'm half of Stevonnie. Seems like a hassle to not just do whatever you want."
He thought about that with a little hum, musing as they stepped to a soundless beat that they both always found so easily. "Do you know what you want?"
"I want... Nothing," she said with a grin. "I want to wear a dress or wear a tux and it doesn't mean anything. I want to be Connie. Just Connie."
"And Connie isn't a girl or a lady, right?" Steven asked. "Never?"
"I don't think so," she said uncertainly. "I mean, I wanna wear dresses sometimes. Maybe even makeup? And I want to dress like a boy sometimes too, but I don’t want that to mean something about me. It's not like you. I don't want to be a boy or a girl. I want nothing. Is that a thing? To want nothing?"
"Probably. Everything's a thing," he said with a giggle. "There was a word for 'usually a boy but really wants to be a girl every full moon', so..."
"Weregirl," she whispered, eyes wide.
Steven howled, but shifted his vocal cords thin so it came out feminine and high, their dance stopped as they giggled for a bit, enjoying being themselves with no one else around to put on the pressure.
And then, a bit later, they were enjoying being themself in front of the Diamonds, taking it again with a huge smile. Stevonnie waved. "I'm Stevonnie. I'm a fusion of Steven and Connie. I like they, and nothing else, and that's all you need to know about that."
Chapter 2: Humanity and Singing
Steven and Connie chat about what's human and what's gem.
"Do you ever think about which half of you stuff comes from?" Connie asked around a clementine slice. Every single slice that had burst on their tongues were perfectly sweet and ripe. January was a bit chilly, and the cold bit at them through their jackets, but catching their mutual favorite citrus at the end of the season was always a treat.
"Pretty sure my shield comes from my gem. Uh, gonna say the bubble is the same. The floating could be from any-" He rambled, then giggled as she playfully pinched his cheek. "I don't know! Sometimes. Do you think of which one of your parents gave you stuff?"
"Ooh, yeah!" she said eagerly, catching him by surprise. She shrugged as she chattered on, "I mean, it's probably all pseudoscience or how I'm raised or something, but being studious comes from my mom, and loving bad puns comes from my dad, and-"
He laughed and held up his hands in surrender. "Okay! I guess it's not that weird. Um. I guess I always thought of creativity coming from my human half."
"That's a good one. Your dad's super creative too." Her legs swung slowly over the edge of the porch as they looked out at the warm evening sun, the waves crashing gently on the beach. "Your mom sounds like she only got clever ideas once every few thousand years."
"Yeah," he agreed. He thought, popping a slice into his mouth. "I'm good at aiming stuff? Angles? I don't know how to explain it, but I think it might be gem stuff."
"Like you'd be good at pool?" Connie asked.
He nodded. "I am good at pool."
"We could go scamming," she said longingly. "Chester and Angel. Why, you've never played pool in your life, Chester! You're gonna throw in the whole kitty on this game?"
"Why is it suddenly the past?" he giggled.
"Everyone knows the scam now. We'll have to time travel." She giggled back. "Music's easy. That's human."
Steven blinked. "What? No way. That's gem."
"Singing's really human!" she protested, looking very insulted at the idea that it wasn’t. "And your dad's a musician! It's gotta come from that side of you. No way. It’s gem stuff. Singing is a human trait."
"The gems sing all the time!"
"So?" Connie stuck out her tongue and he quickly dropped a slice onto it. It vanished into her mouth with a wrinkled nose and a smile. "Their music on Homeworld is terrible. Humans obviously taught them how to sing. Gems can learn to sing, but humans are born singers."
"Born singers, huh?” he asked slyly, his hand already fishing in his jacket pocket. “It's just natural for humans to sing?"
She nodded, not paying him any mind."Mmmhmm. Instinctual. All cultures have music. Most have instruments. Still, we definitely all sing. And it's all better than what we heard on Homeworld, even polka. Even nightcore."
"Oh yeah?" he teased, holding up his phone as he tapped the recording app on. Instantly her eyes were wide, her face flushed from the prospect of her voice trapped on his phone as long as he wanted it. "Sing something."
She giggled and ducked her head, holding out her hand in front of the microphone. "Oh, gosh, shut up! That's not fair."
"It's instinctual," he said, gently pushing it on her. "So just sing something!"
"That's not what I meant!"
"Human imposter! You're some kind of robot!" He dropped the phone into his pocket and eyed her suspiciously. "No wonder you had time travel technology, Angel. I never should've trusted you and your pool shark scamming."
She tapped her chin at that. "Robots… I guess singing can be robotic. Mathematical. You said Peridot picked it up right away. But the Homeworld singing was missing something. Passion, I guess?" She took a sip of her juice box, swallowing thoughtfully as she didn't respond to his tease. After a moment, noting the recording app was gone, she poked his knee and asked, "So, um, if I sing something, will you admit I'm right?"
"Yeah! Do it!" He shook her shoulder a little. "No one's heeeeere. Do it!"
"Pressure pressure pressure," she muttered.
She closed her eyes, leaning back on her hands, and Steven waited expectantly for something short and easy - Twinkle, Twinkle or the birthday song. But when she finally sang, her finger tapping on her leg to keep rhythm, it was a very quiet rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow . He tried not to stare because Connie hated staring, and immediately failed as Connie stumbled her way through. It was rare for Connie to sing without a lot of pressure - rarer still for her to sing anything with the slightest bit of a challenge to it.
A few bars in, his own musical instincts kicked in, and he let his voice fall under hers in harmony. It felt so wrong to him to hear her voice without his own, trying so hard at something she found so big and scary - especially when it was something he found so natural.
Sweet and soft, they sang about dreams and wanting, and Steven wondered if the easy harmony came from his gem. He wondered if the logic of music, the patterns, was something his organic side was gifted with, or if something was innately programmed into the gem on his belly. Like Connie's studiousness or bad puns, he could never really know.
Still, singing with her on their quiet snack break, cold wind twisting down the cliff behind them, Steven felt truly human.
Chapter 3: Contact and Sleep
Connie is dreaming.
“I’m dreaming,” Connie says uncertainly.
Dreams are a funny thing. She’s standing in a room with Lion at her feet - as small as Cat Steven. He roars and it shakes the house. The shelves all around her are crooked, knickknacks fuzzy until she stares at them hard. The words on the books are blurry and unreadable. A second ago, they were in a forest. The change was not what told her she was dreaming.
Steven had said, “I need you to-” and the dream had nearly ripped apart. That had given her the hint.
It’s so hard for her to think, her thoughts horribly dragged down so words were like speaking through syrup. “You’re really him?”
“Yes! I’m the real Steven! Connie, I need you to-” The dream rips again, tangling in on itself in a strange twist of images. Chunks begin to fall away into infinite nothingness, endless black like deep space, and his hand latches onto hers. The contact is something grounding, snapping the dream back together as he shouts, “No! Not again! Connie, where are you? Hurry!”
“Where am I?” She looks around the room, blinking slowly. This is her room, isn’t it? But is she home? “I left home,” Connie concludes.
“You didn’t leave ,” he insists. “You were kidnapped. Do you remember Bluebird? You told me last time. She-”
The window (was it there a second ago?) shatters, and the red and blue cockroach tumbles in with a cackle. She’s watching herself on the floor (and maybe is herself on the floor?) fight with angry growls and grunts, kicking and biting and shoving, when an icy sword sits against her throat and she goes still. Connie can’t feel much about that. Dreams are a funny thing.
She points slowly. “I didn’t have my sword because I had it in the corner. I don’t study with my-”
“I know!” Steven’s voice is frantic, his hand almost painful on her wrist. “Connie, please. I don’t know where you are. You need to tell me right now before you wake up.”
Why can’t she think? The world rocks like an earthquake and there’s an awful little voice shrieking through the room, “Get up! Get up !”
“They won’t let me sleep. Oh. Oooooh.” She looks at him. “Oh, Steven, I’m really tired. My brain won’t work.”
“I know.” He squeezes her hand. “You’ve been fighting so hard for days, I’m so proud. Please, tell me where you are. You can sleep as much as you want. You just have to tell me so I can come get you.”
The dream is breaking, her hands held tight in his. It hurts for sure now. Not in her hands, in her head. A splitting headache as she wakes and dreams at the same time, Steven’s contact holding her down. It’s turning into a nighttime beach now. There’s a dock. Stars. Familiar, familiar, familiar. She knows star maps well. She bursts into giggles as she realizes. “They’re so stupid ! We didn’t even leave Beach City!” Steven’s eyes go wide. “We’re under the-”
There are several little points of pain all over. Bluebird is pinching her awake, and Steven’s strength means nothing as her hands slip from his. The dream crashes into endless dark and she jolts awake. Her head pounds as she hears Bluebird smugly say, “It’s your worst dream come true, isn’t it, human? I can’t believe you told us right where to put you.”
Connie does her best to sound miserable. It’s hard, even with no sleep and the feel of Steven’s terrified grip still fresh in her mind. Because, beneath it thrums the wonderful, giddy feeling of fighting. The feeling that comes from pushing herself beyond what anyone could have expected. The thrill of winning. It’s a fight to keep it out of her voice.
“Please, take me anywhere else,” she pleads, pathetic and small despite the fire burning in her heart. “He’ll never figure out that you’re at Funland again.”
Chapter 4: Alone Together
The gems throw a party, and Amethyst notices Steven and Connie aren't having fun.
Amethyst saw Steven and Connie exchanging looks as they walked into the house decorated with Dogcopter balloons and streamers. She paid attention to their awkward laughter as they started a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey, how Connie had cheerfully pushed aside Candycountry and reached for another board game, saying, “I know this one takes hours, but I’m looking for a challenge.” She noticed the way they barely picked at the cotton candy, how they each had a single slice of ice cream cake, the awkward way Steven had asked, “Uh… is there anything else to eat?”
“There’s all the food you want in the fridge, man,” she said with a shrug, surprised at how bitter it sounded.
Steven frowned, and Connie leaped in with an all too eager laugh. “Hey, that’s fine! I was really craving pizza. That’s what you do at a birthday party, right? Pizza? How about we go get something to eat, and when we come back we can…”
“Draw in a My Tiny Pony coloring book?” Steven said, shockingly sarcastic.
She rolled her eyes and grabbed his wrist, dragging him out the door. Amethyst followed behind, quiet as could be. Fine. She’d see exactly what was so great about getting pizza that wasn’t as fun as the birthday party they planned. She was immediately surprised by the grin on Steven’s face, how their hands shifted so he was grabbing her wrist, dragging her giggling back behind the house.
Amethyst followed up on the patio, creeping silently above them as they made their way through the foliage below, and heard the two of them laughing with each other. Connie’s voice floated up: “Steven, it’s not that bad. You know, I actually enjoyed Pupcopter when we watched it.”
“Because it was awful! We made fun of it!” he laughed.
“It was emblematic of everything wrong with late-stage capitalism in Kansas City,” Connie agreed reluctantly. She groaned a little. “I… they’re trying , Steven. My parents mess up too. They just want to make you happy and this is how they think they have to do it. It’s like Space Camp.”
“It’s not like Space Camp,” he argued. “The gems don’t understand I’m not twelve. They’re just… slow, you know? They don’t get how humans grow.”
“Mmm, true,” she said, something odd in her voice as it dropped low and almost… convincing? Flirtatious? Amethyst crept over the edge, carefully looking down, and saw the two wrapped around each other, Connie’s back to the support beam. “But there’s some advantages to having slow guardians, dontchya think?”
And then they were kissing. Really kissing. Amethyst barely managed to keep herself from running, from making too much noise and getting herself caught. Her eyes started to sting and she had the most awful pain in her belly as she burst inside. She looked around the house, decorated with Dogcopter balloons. She looked at the cotton candy, barely touched, and the slowly melting ice cream cake. She looked at Pin the Tail on the Donkey, and the pushed aside Candrycountry board game. And she felt very… stupid.
“I think we kinda messed up on the party,” she muttered, sitting down with Pearl and Garnet on the couch.
Pearl looked worriedly around the decorations. “I didn’t put up enough streamers, did I? Garnet, I knew we needed the second bo-”
“Steven and Connie aren’t getting pizza,” Amethyst interrupted. She cleared her throat, which refused to untighten, no matter how hard she pushed it. “They’re, uh, kissing. Under the porch. In the back.”
Garnet nodded. “Good. They deserve to be happy.”
“That’s just adorable!” Pearl said with a clap and a laugh. “I was hoping they’d resolve those little crushes sometime soon. I wonder what they’d do for their first date? I’ve heard dinner and a movie is a popular choice. Oh, I’m going to go congratulate them.”
“P, don’t,” Amethyst said, grabbing Pearl’s arm before she could stand. “They want to be alone together, and I think we should put all this stuff away.”
She rolled her eyes. “Whatever for? It’s a first kiss, Amethyst, we should cele-”
“It’s not a first kiss!” she shouted, leaping to her feet. Her arms wrapped tight around herself as the image of it flashed in her eyes. “Connie… Connie had her hands all over him! Steven had his hands…” She choked on a cry. “His hands were all under her shirt! They were making out! They’ve done it before! And he was all into it like...like…”
“Like a human,” Garnet finished. “A grown human.”
“Yeah!” Amethyst sunk down, wiping at her eyes. “So we should throw all this stuff away. Because he’s, you know, making out with her and not telling us about it. So he’s dating and we didn’t even notice. Whatever. Who cares?”
Pearl shook her head, looking completely baffled. “That doesn’t make sense. I’ve asked Connie several times if there was anything romantic between her and Steven. I would have never left her and Steven alone together in the house or in the area if I had known. Dr. Maheswaran was very clear-”
Amethyst stormed to the ice cream cake while Pearl talked and slammed it into the trash, anger coiled up in her chest with every new stupid word. Her voice cracked. “Yeah, well, she lied! They lied! Because they want to be alone and smooch and… and this whole thing was stupid! Every time we get the hang of it he changes again like a stupid human!”
She stormed into her room, leaving Garnet and Pearl alone in the house. The house under which, at that very moment, Steven and Connie were kissing. They had probably done that before, under that very house, many times. The weight of it sat on their shoulders. After a moment, Pearl murmured, “Connie lied to my face.”
“I didn’t see this,” Garnet said, a slight tremor in her voice. ”Again.”
The human world rushed by, where a century passed and the whole world was made over. Where children went from children to adults in just a few short decades. Where change came hard and fast, their dear baby boy doubling in size in just a few short years, with car keys in his hand, with his best friend sneaking off with him to do things that seemed very alien, and very strange, and very much not like the little boy he had once been.
There was nothing much to say, but Pearl spoke anyway: “I should’ve gotten that second box of streamers.”
Chapter 5: Drive Home
After a long road trip, it's time to go home.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Steven's breath puffed in the air as he came to sit beside her, feet crunching in the frost and pine needles. He was glad they'd planned it the way they did, just cold enough so the Rocky Mountains were dusted with snow. Specks of brown and green covered the mounds that swallowed up the horizon, towering and beautiful, almost touchably close and endlessly far at the same time. Pine trees circled close around them, boulders jutting up from the earth, and he came to sit down on one beside Connie with a smile.
It was odd up in the mountains. Occasionally hikers would pass them by, or a family of tourists, but off the more well-worn trails that was rare. It was still odd for Steven, who so rarely traveled, to see so many people pass him by that he didn’t know the names of. So often he felt like he should see Buck’s familiar deadpan face, or hear Jenny’s laugh from one of the people that passed him by.
But the only familiar face was Connie’s. The thermos of tea he had brought her was hot in the metal flask. When they drove lower, he would switch back to her favorite black teas, carefully measured with swirls of honey and just the right kind of milk to make her smile. But high up in the mountains, the water didn’t boil hot enough.
Just thinking of her face the first morning she’d tried to make them both tea at 10,000 feet was enough to make him smile. The weak brew had made her nose wrinkle up in confusion, baffled at her perfectly measured cup failing, before she burst into giggles and explained the correlation between how water boiled and the altitude.
She was so brilliant. He handed it to her, enjoying the feel of being stupidly in love and out in the world alone with her before murmuring, “How do you feel?”
"Small. But in a good way. You?" She took a deep breath of mountain air, looking over the landscape. He wondered if she felt the same as him, or if we-moved-a-lot Connie never felt that same warm loneliness.
"Same." He smiled and looked back out. Questions about wanting to see familiar faces could be saved for the road home when they were barefoot and bored. “Wish I had come to places like this more often. Oceans are beautiful but... Nothing makes you feel more like a speck than a mountain. It's comforting."
"Just another little person, running across a big marble." She nudged him softly with her free hand. "Gets a little too much when you really see the marble though. I think going out in space can make Earth feel a little too small."
Steven nodded. "Yeah. This is a good middle ground. Earth feels big. I feel small. I like it this way.”
“Why don’t we stay?” Connie asked lightly. “Drive around forever.”
“I could be happy getting lost in these woods,” he agreed, but there was no weight to it. There was no weight to her words either. They swept away in the breeze, tumbling down stone and needles and babbling brooks to the world beneath.
"Me too." Her fingers wrapped tight around the sketchbook in her lap, the cover digging into her skin just at the brink of hurting. "I'm, um... I'm done with it, by the way. With my portfolio. I’ll submit it in the morning."
"That's great!" Steven said, throwing his arm around her shoulders with an eager squeeze. His lips found her temple in a reassuring kiss, seeing the nerves in the stiff lines of her body. "I'm so proud of you. Did the landscapes turn out the way you wanted?"
She opened her sketchbook and Steven eagerly looked over her shoulder, never tiring of the contents. It started with the temple. The morning they left Steven had found her on the beach, wrapped up in a hoodie in the early dawn chill, sketching his home and occasionally sipping at a coffee that had gone cold, and though she had insisted it wasn’t important, he had happily delayed their start until she finished.
Connie flipped to fields of grain. Traveling the midwest had been much less exciting than he expected. Keystone had rolled by and their eyes had glazed over as everything seemed to be the same three trees and two rocks. They had burst into Buckeye and passed through Kansas and had mumbled incoherently about corn while the radio tried to keep them alive and driving. That night they had stared at Connie’s grain drawing with a ghostly horror, neither of them remembering when she had drawn the stuff.
She moved past a drawing of rolling grassy hills. In Nebraska, he had floated to the top of the RV with her. While she drew, he had read about the Great Plains on his phone. They had taken a moment, in warm breeze and isolation, to let tears hit their eyes and cries choke their lungs as they read about what happened to buffalo who had roamed there once. They had whispered about colonies of all kinds, and there was no one around to reassure them, so they took the time to mourn things that might have been.
They had done the same in sand dunes, or close to it. The sketch she passed held more memory than a picture, the grays of her pencil capturing more than just the desert, but him breaking down over Kindergartens sucking life from the earth. Another sketch just after, with a lovely pink flower blossoming on top of a cactus, and he could hear her voice reassuring, “Nothing’s as lifeless as you’d think.”
Connie paused on his favorite, the polar bear she had sketched from the San Diego Zoo. They had spent such a long day there, but when they got to the polar bears she had stopped and gushed about them. The Spirit Morph saga had inspired her to do research, and she rambled facts. Polar bears had terrible success rates, with only two percent of their hunts being successful, did he know?
He really liked that idea. The largest bear of all, living in such a harsh environment, failed almost all the time. It fumbled and watched as victory slipped away, but it came back to try another day. It survived.
She finished on a sweeping mountain landscape, not too different from the one they sat in now. Connie set her phone next to it, a copy of her finished project next to the rougher draft. "That's the last one," she said quietly, pointing to the screen. "I think it turned out okay."
"It makes Earth look beautiful. I’d put it in a gem brochure," he reassured. “You chose a lot of amazing stuff.”
She bit her lower lip. “I hope so. I tried to choose what a school would think is best, not just the stuff I think is great. The stuff that shows skill, you know?
He kissed her cheek this time, saying, "Any school is going to be lucky to have you. You're amazing, Connie."
"I'm okay," she said, voice very practical about her own skills. Connie looked at him with a little laugh. "I don't know what's scarier - getting rejected or getting in. Mom was mad enough about the world US road trip gap year."
"She got over it! You know, after the meltdown." Steven said, wincing a little at the memory. He had sat behind her, trying to support her as quietly as possible while Priyanka and Connie growled and snapped at one another, each insisting on how the next year should be spent. And, at the end, the tearful apologies, the confessions of fear over the future… He had to admit that it was a relatable feeling, even if no one had fought with him.
"She'll get over this too. Come on. This is what you've always wanted. You're going to be an animator, Connie,” he said, and just saying the word made her eyes go a little wide with hope.
He remembered her earliest drawings with him, rougher but already so much nicer than his own. He remembered her working through how to draw anime books, silly cat-eared characters with huge eyes. Steven remembered her fumbling beyond that, hours of Tubetube tutorials, crying at the tablet he got her for her birthday, the countless gifts of fanart for his favorite shows. He remembered trembling hands the first time she showed him a comic, with characters he had never seen, because she had snatched them from the air the way he grabbed music.
Steven knew he was tearing up again like he did every time he told her, but he could never hold it back. “It’s what you live for, Connie. It’s what makes you happy. You're going to tell stories ."
Connie breathed again, taking in pine and chill and rocks older than even the Crystal Gems by orders of magnitude. The world was big and wide and old, the universe even more so, and usually that made her problems feel small. But nothing could swallow up the fear and doubt today. She took his hand tight in her own.
"This has been amazing. Driving across the country, seeing all these different parts of the world, pitstops to warps so we can see everything Earth has to offer. Steven, I..." She looked up at him, shaking her head in disbelief. "These past ten months have been the best months of my life. Everyone said we were going to get sick of each other. Your dad gave us that speech about how it was okay to bail. Everyone thought we were going to mess this up but... I'd do this for another year if it wasn't for college."
He was careful not to jostle her phone or sketchbook from her lap as he lifted her hand and pressed it to his lips. "I loved this. I love you. No expectations. No scary future. No responsibilities. Just a big journey together.”
“I’m glad you loved it as much as I did,” she said with a smile.
“More than that. I needed it.” He laughed and shook his head. “Connie, I never could have asked for anything better than this. Everything at home was a mess. I’m so tired of all the work and responsibility and wondering what I’m going to do with my life. But this past year I just got to be with you and not be afraid."
"But now we have to go home," she whispered looking at the RV parked behind them. The place where they slept and ate. The place where they made stupid jokes and listened to terrible radio and podcasts. The place where they’d cried and kissed and worked through things they never thought they’d work through. But that was over now, and it loomed like a hearse. “We have to get in there and drive all the way back to Beach City. And then I... I have to wait to see if I get accepted.”
She laughed, cold and bitter, and took a hand to wipe at her eyes. He couldn’t see any tears falling, but Connie felt them stinging. “I’ve messed up on a lot of stuff, Steven. I know I seem smart, but most of it is from studying so hard. I’m not… special. I’m not talented. The odds are good they’re not gonna want me. And if they don't, I guess I'll go be a doctor or something. And, if they do, I..."
I’m screwed either way .
Steven shook his head hard. "You'll be an animator," he insisted. He took the thermos and set it aside, untouched, just so he could take both her hands in his. "You'll do exactly what you've been doing ever since I met you - telling stories. You'll finally get to be who you've always wanted to be."
She winced. "But my mom-"
"Who cares?" Steven said, barely holding back his temper. "We spent a year, just the two of us! You don’t need her to agree."
"Ten months," she corrected softly. "But, you're right. We did."
Steven didn’t like his temper. He didn’t like how angry he got. He didn’t like how easily he could drag Connie into it, drown her in it when they fused. He felt guilty about that. He worried about that a lot, that maybe his anger meant he wasn’t as good of a person as he liked to try to be. He loved Dr. and Mr. Maheswaran, didn’t he? His anger shouldn’t be so burning and flaring when all they wanted was for Connie to be safe.
But his feelings for her parents got tangled in his own, and when he started down that path he felt that little voice hissing that they should leave them alone, and that they could do things on their own, and for once they wanted to live their own lives and forge their own paths, and was it really so much to ask for unconditional support in that?
Steven took a steady breath to calm himself. "She should be in your life. The gems should be in my life. But nobody... Nobody gets to tell you what to do with it. It took me so long to figure that out. I didn't get that making other people happy and hurting yourself to meet their expectations aren't the same thing. I spent my whole life trying to be my mom. I didn't know what to do when I wasn't."
Connie nodded weakly. "I know."
He took her face in his hands, pressing her forehead to hers. "You're not your mom. You never have been. You don’t love rules and coloring inside the lines. You sneak candy into movies and find loopholes in the law and climb giant robots and... And you love books. And comics. And television. You love survival."
Steven flipped back to the polar bear, gently tapping the page. "You drew this because of the warrior bears in the Spirit Morph Saga, because those books meant everything to you, and you want to make something like that for other people. That’s who you are. You want to inspire people like people who have inspired you."
She closed her eyes, trying not to cry. “I know. But I’m… I don’t know if I…”
“I’ve seen you capture Pearl on a page, and I can see all her determination and all her fear at the same time,” he whispered. “I’ve seen you draw your dad as a superhero, with a goofy flashlight and a big smile, because that’s who he was when you were small. You… You drew me, Connie.”
His thumbs smoothed over her cheeks as he took a shuddering breath. “You drew me the way you love me. It was just me, sleepy in our RV, and I looked peaceful and happy and I was looking outside and… and I could feel the way I love our stupid little rock. I was human and not human and I loved it, Connie. You made me feel so much.”
“I know, Steven. I know you feel the things I make but…” She whimpered, the tears he hadn’t seen before finally rolling. “What if I'm not good enough? What if I reach for Kansas and burn out halfway there?"
Steven hugged her tight, and let her bury her face in his shoulder. They were all alone up there, softly rustling trees holing them up from the terrifying landscape ahead. But there were such beautiful things below, pressed into the pages of Connie’s sketchbook, and it was time to face them all.
“I’ll pick you up.” His face buried in her hair, thoughts of their families fresh in his mind, and there was only one thing to promise, "I'll drive you home. And we'll all love you anyway."
To all the wonderful content creators out there. It's been so amazing seeing the community come together and inspire one another. I love you guys.
Chapter 6: Sword and Shield
Connie didn't understand how gems summoned their weapons. Pearl had explained something very metaphorical about petals. Garnet had said something about being one with the universe. Amethyst had rambled on about going with the flow. Steven had fumbled over words about very intense feelings.
As Stevonnie, she had felt it. Not quite explainable as anything more than a need to protect the ones she loved, the place she called home, and a tiny touch of responsibility and obligation. Steven said it was different when it was him rather than them, but he couldn't quite explain how. She was frustrated with that. She liked to put words and explanation to things.
And then, one day, a quartz was being terrible to Steven. Not in a mean way, not in a way that she could say anything or fight them. That wouldn't be polite, and the gem was technically being polite. She hated being polite. She hated biting her tongue as the quartz demanded this and that, insisted on a permanent spot in Doctor Steven's office. She couldn't do nothing .
It lashed out of her, her sword in the quartz's face. "Maybe you should be more careful with your gem!" she cried, and everything in the room was confusingly, breathlessly still.
Because her sword was tucked away in its scabbard on Steven's couch. Her sword was not supposed to be shining pink and white energy, sparkling as it came into existence. Her sword was a tangible thing of hard light and metal. It didn't feel perfectly like an extension of her own arm, her body and soul stretched beyond the tips of her fingers. But that was the sword in her hand, and that was the sword in Jasper H245's face.
She dropped the sword and stumbled away from Steven in shock. The second their connection broke, the sword switched into a shield, Steven snagging it from the air with pure awe. He vanished it. Summoned it. Once more. His eyes slowly met hers. "I can't summon a sword."
His hand reached for hers, fingers timidly twining together. It was so similar to pulling a shield. A need to protect the ones she loved, the place she called home, but this was a tiny touch of... Not refusal. It was active. Rebellion. Not just "No, thank you", but "This will not continue". And there was a sword, her modus operandi incarnate.
Steven stared for a moment, then looked at his free arm, where his shield appeared. And she almost felt him do it, a vague sensation buzzing at her navel. There they were, sword and shield from the same gem, both completely perplexed. Steven cleared his throat, but it still came out cracked, "Pearl, could Mom-?"
"No," she cut him off eyes wide. "She absolutely could not."
"Let's think of a gem like one of your simple human computers," Peridot began cheerfully.
Connie frowned at that, exchanging a confused look with Steven. “Aren’t gems just really powerful computers?”
She scoffed and shook her head. “Are humans just especially intelligent animals?”
Peridot stared for a moment, then continued as if Connie hadn’t spoken. “A Diamond, even compared to other gems, is an extremely powerful and expansive data storage tool. However, Pink Diamond wiped all that data clean from her gem. All those instructions on how to run an empire and make more gems gone in an instant, leaving plenty of room for whatever weird human instincts Steven has.”
Steven raised his eyebrow as he plucked the sensor off his gem. Peridot seemed down with her experiment and he didn’t like the tingling “Okay. So what’s that got to do with Connie pulling a sword from my belly?”
“That’s where it gets interesting. Pink Diamond wiped as much as she could, but she couldn’t get everything . You’ve had a few weird dreams, you said? Memories? Just some remnants she missed when she was scraping herself clean.”
Peridot grinned maniacally as she paced, throwing up her arms in her excitement. “I have no idea how she did it, but she… she shared her gem. Like adding a second user to a computer! So there’s her account, which is wiped clean, and your account, which is full of you!”
Connie grasped it first, gasping a little as she figured it out. “I have an account on Steven’s gem?”
“Yes!” she cried, gesturing to her screen as if anyone could understand the data displayed there. “I’ve never seen anything like it! I’ve never seen a gem fuse with a human either. Somehow, Steven’s Diamond has made a slot for you to access, just like his fleshy brain does. As long as you’re in proximity, you have access to his gem.”
She paused. “Assuming he doesn’t pull access. There seems to be some sort of ranking to users I can’t nail down, but Steven is definitely in charge.”
Connie looked at Steven and found him blushing faintly. His fingers were tracing around his gem, and she could feel something on her own navel - not quite a touch, but the memory of one. “It’s sort of like we’re Stevonnie all the time, even when we’re not fused. It’s kinda, um…” His eyes flicked to her. “Wh-what do you think? Is it weird?”
“Of course it’s not weird! Steven, you trust me enough to let me share your gem. You’re not even asking to remove me or…” She wiped at her eyes as emotions bubbled up. He hadn’t done it on purpose, so it couldn’t have meant too much, but he hadn’t asked to remove her and that meant something. “Oh, geez, sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
He flung his arms around her, squeezing her tight. “You’re my best friend. I trust you more than anyone in the world.”
They clung to each other with happy giggles as they both realized just how happy the other was. It almost felt like fusion again, a faint feeling of knowing how the other person was feeling and almost feeling it themselves.
And then they were rudely interrupted by Peridot’s excited squeal of, “Which one of you is floating?”
Their faces wore identical blushes as they pulled back slightly, finding themselves hovering a few feet above the ground. At the realization that Steven wasn’t holding Connie up, the giddiness only grew, and they raised a few feet higher while Peridot shrieked questions from below.
Chapter 7: Future
Steven and Connie talk about future plans.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
"I was thinking," Connie began casually, in such a casual way he knew in an instant that it wasn't casual at all. He was extra sure because it was coming during a fighting game. Connie regularly snuck in important things during fighting games, hoping he’d be too distracted to talk much about it.
Not today. He paused their game to look up at her from where she lay on his bed, very carefully avoiding his gaze. That couldn’t be good. "Since my gap year is ending, and I'm heading off to college, I had some thoughts about us. About you."
The announcement hit his belly like lead. He knew this was coming, after all. Connie had a career ahead of him and he still had, well… He had a better relationship with his family at twenty than he did at seventeen, and better mental health, even if he was doing absolutely nothing with it.
But Connie had a future, and he supported that. His voice stayed calm. "Oh yeah? What kind of thoughts?"
She looked at him then, sat up on his bed, took a deep breath, and spoke: "I know this is a lot, and I was going to drip it to you but I didn’t know how to start. So, I guess, the first thing I should say is that some college force you to live in the dorms for a year, but mine doesn't. Since it's a college town, there's all kinds of affordable housing, we could absolutely live together no matter what you choose, okay?"
He blinked, the weight on his chest suddenly gone and replaced with a lightness so intense he had to think about sad animal facts to keep himself from floating to the ceiling. "What?"
"No! You have to hear me out!" Connie dropped the controller and held up her hands frantically, and he gawked as she continued her panicked babble, "Okay, so, it's too late to apply, and I get why you didn't apply, and I maybe should have pushed, but I didn't want to push? That doesn't matter. The point is that most people get a degree to get a job, right? But you have lots of money, and there's literally a whole universe of stuff you could be doing, so you don't need a degree.”
Steven began, “I guess that’s-” but she cut him off, not done with her tirade.
"But you don't really know what you're doing right now, or what you want to do. And that's okay! Who even knows what they want to do for the rest of their lives at twenty?” She laughed nervously. “I’m a weirdo who figured out she likes art. Most people don’t! Most people actually change majors and spend more time in college. We’re all stupid, Steven. But college can be about figuring stuff out, too, and you don’t have to be accepted or waste money on that!"
“Breathe.” He laughed a little and put his hands on her shoulders. "What are you talking about?"
"You could audit classes. You could sit in on classes. I've been asking around." Her voice was still a little unsteady, words tumbling out, and Steven felt his throat starting to close up for a wholly different reason as she rambled off all the effort she had put in for him: "I've sent emails, done research, even reached out to professors about it. Basically everyone said they didn't care at all if someone just really wanted to learn and wanted to sit in the back of the class and not bother anyone!"
He shook his head. “You’re saying teachers would be okay with me hanging out in their classes because I can’t figure out what to do?”
She beamed and nodded eagerly. "Most of them were really flattered by it, actually. They love the idea of being so interesting someone would want to come to listen to them for free. Some college students already do that, just to learn about other majors for fun! You wouldn't do the assignments for grades or anything, but you could sit in and learn all kinds of stuff, see if something lights a fire in you, you know?"
"I don't get it. You're not... You don't want to take a break.” His eyes were burning, his lips slowly turning up into a smile. “You want me to come with you?"
"Of course I don't want to take a break!" she cried. Her eyes went wide and she rocked back from him, already starting to panic. "Do you want to take a break? Oh my gosh, and I've been going on about dragging you to college and living with you. Steven, I’m so-"
"No!" he yelped. His arms wrapped around her, hugging her close to his chest. Hearing her say it outloud, even in shock, was far worse than he had imagined. "No break. I don't want a break. Jam Buds forever."
She giggled, pulling back just enough for him to see her blushing face. "Okay. Good. Then what don't you get?"
"You asking me to come with you, doing all this research. I’m sorry I didn’t do any of it myself." Steven frowned and swallowed the lump in his throat. "You're about to start the rest of your life. Why are you wasting all this time on mine?"
"Because there's no version of the rest of my life that you're not in," she answered, calmly and matter of factly as his heart melted in his chest. Connie’s hand came up to push his forehead to hers, the casual embrace soft and warm as she reassured his doubts. "No matter what happens, we're together. Friends, daring, married, anything. If you're not a part of my future, it's not a future worth planning."
"You want me to come with you," he murmured in awe. "You really want me there."
Connie laughed. "Always. No matter what you pick, it's you and me, Steven. We’ve got a million futures ahead of us and in every single one, we're partners that do everything together. So, what do you say? Did any of that sound good?"
"It all sounded good," he said. But he would have to think it over. He'd have to carefully make a decision. And right then, his heart was full to bursting with love, so any decision he made would have been the one that let him nip at her heels like a puppy, lovesick and wandering wherever she decided to go.
But that wasn’t how things should work. She had followed his lead for years through gem stuff, and even if she took the lead on human things it was only to show him the possible paths. He couldn’t live his whole life for her, no matter how tempting that may have been in the quiet, intimate moments.
So, instead, he just climbed on top of the bed. He climbed on top of her, and she was warm and he was warm, and everything was the quiet melancholy that came with change, even when it was change for the better. They felt each other's heartbeats in the quiet beach house, the quiet two-beat sound whispering all the reassurances they needed to move ahead.
Ba-dum. Ba-dum. As soothing as the tide rolling out below.
This has been so amazing! Participation has been so high I think I actually missed loads of stuff. It was so cool to do all of this with you!