Work Header

Connie Swap Omake Collection

Chapter Text

Citrine's Room by br42 - "Connie needs to find more data for her mother's room to complete its simulation. She goes to her dad and each of the gems for something of Citrine's."

Connie Swap Style Guide by br42 - "A guide outlining some of the details surrounding the main characters of Connie Swap." This is 100% official.

What Can I Do For You? by CoreyWW - "Doug did miss Citrine, missed her every day. And he hated that he let that show in front of Priyanka as much as he did ... But the thing that really made him hate himself was the small, idle thought in the back of his mind of how good it felt when Priyanka hugged him ..." This is 99% canonical.

Fond Reminiscence by SilverScribe - "Sometimes happy memories lead to unbearable pain..."

Creative Writing by CoreyWW - "The Adventures of Lady Connaline and Lord Stefan is a bit of creative writing Connie does when no one’s around. What happens when her hidden bit of fiction gets found out?"

Still and Silent by Cyberwraith9 - "As Connie struggles to find her sword again, Jasper shows her a secret technique from a time long ago."

Gem Swap by timeisweird - “'So what is this thing, Pearl?' he asked, looking to the pale Gem besides him. 'It’s a dimensional stabilizer, but don’t worry, Steven. It’s harmless in its current state.'" Note: Contains an original promo pic from MJStudioArts.

Self by citrusella - "I've been me my whole life and somehow I still don't know what that means." Steven frets over the way he feels about different parts of his identity, but not before having an exciting day of adventure and discovery. Chapter 2 is effectively canonical.

Happy New Year by SilverScribe - "The new year brings new challenges for some and old challenges for others. Or, the immediate aftermath of the Crystal Gems crashing of Steven's New Year's Eve party."

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary by CoreyWW - "Greg can tell that Mary is troubled by the events of New Year's Eve."

The Boss Fight by CoreyWW - “An exploration of what might have happened during Doug’s visit to the Universe household.”

Give Me A Sign by Jess4400 - “Ronaldo tries to teach Connie and Steven this language he calls ‘Gem Gestures.’ Connie and Steven try to teach Ronaldo ASL. Many facepalms ensue.”

Momma-Dot by MJStudioArts - “Peridot is home alone with baby Connie.” This fic is 100% canon.

Momma-Dot 2.0 by MJStudioArts - "Connie the toddler tries to talk to Peridot." This fic is 100% canon.

Momma-Dot 3.0 by MJStudioArts - “Lapis returns home to visit Peridot and the baby.” This fic is 100% canon.

Comic Relief by citrusella - “Jeff and his new friend, Steven, begin an art project to make school in general, and the lunches specifically, more bearable.”

Power Testing: Force Field by br42 - “Lapis, Jasper, Peridot, and Steven spend the day testing Connie's force field power, discovering both the limits of her new ability as well as the limits of her patience.” This fic is 100% canon.

Hair Dye by Jess4400 - “Steven finds some hair dye. Connie finds a confidant.”

Feed A Fever by br42 - “Connie has gotten sick and Steven has rushed over to join Lapis, Peridot, and Jasper in helping the girl get better."

Diving To New Depths by Jess4400 - “Steven convinces Connie to learn how to scuba dive with him.”

Best wishes, Connie And Steven, Saviors of the World by Jess4400 - “The Gems can't take Connie to a mission in a volcano. Bummer, huh? Now she's getting dragged into going on a road trip with Steven, who is visiting his uncle Andy with his family in Mountain Town. Sounds fun, right? That's what she thought, too, until they get stranded at a Waffle House at 1 a.m. with a corrupted gem on their tail. Written for the Connieswap prompt, 'Travel.'”

Steven and Connie Do A Let's Play by Jess4400 - "Steven introduces Connie to Undertale."

Love Me Like You Do by Jess4400 - Based on the Week 2 prompt from the Connie Swap Tumblr.

Love Me Like You Do by MJStudioArts - “Lapis' sleep is troubled and she turns to Peridot for help.”

Story of a Sidekick by br42 - "The story of Timeline #2's Steven and his progression from friend to sidekick to something both more and less." This fic is 100% canon.

TV Tropes page for Connie Swap created by fan, fellow fanfic author, and person of numerous fine qualities, TheDoomKitten.

War Never Changes by H_C - "Lapis has finally returned and Connie has had some growing questions about the war." Based on the Connie Swap Discord prompt of the same name.

The Quest for the Specially Marked Box by Cyberwraith9 - "A shopping trip with Peridot quickly becomes an endurance trial for Connie, until the pair encounter a despicable foe intent on keeping them both from their heart’s desire: for Peridot, a treasure she thought she lost long ago, and for Connie, getting her afternoon back."

Home Is Where the Dot Is by SilverScribe - "Lapis wants to spend some quality time with her favorite gem on her first night back at the beach house."

Babysitters Lars and Sadie: Featuring the Jelly Buds by Jess4400 - "Lars and Sadie watch Steven while Mary is away. Connie gets into some trouble with a new friend. Steven's just happy that the jelly from the donuts makes a good hair gel."

This video that thelittlemerms (a.k.a. mermaid in the Discord) created about Lapis and Peridot, set to the tune of Bei Mir Bist Du Schon (i.e. the song Lapis and Peridot fused to).

First by Crooked_Mantis - "Doug receives a message."

Ask a Question for Peridot’s What-If Machine by br42 and CoreyWW - "Peridot unveils her latest and greatest invention. Responses are mixed."

Beach City Limits Deleted Scenes by br42 and CoreyWW - "Two scenes were deleted from Episode 14, Chapter 3: Priyanka’s Pre-Confrontation Digression and a fuller version of what Lapis overheard from the Junk Food Jockeys."

Power Testing: Electricity and Energy Aura by br42 - “Lapis, Jasper, Peridot, and Steven spend the day testing Connie's electricity power and aura of radiated gem energy. Connie learns more about both her powers and the unfortunate number of electricity puns out there.” This fic is 100% canon.

Connie Swap: Peridot’s What-If Machine Collection by br42 and CoreyWW - "Peridot unveils her latest and greatest invention: a device that can scour the Multiverse, answering hypothetical questions with brief scenes. Questions are asked by readers of the Connie Swap series and the Connie Swap Team writes mini-omakes which are then posted to this collection. The answers are stand-alone and non-canonical."

The Lost Episode - BR42 Edition by br42 - “After the disastrous New Year's party at the Universe's house, Lapis was gone for more than three months. This is a story of what she was doing for those 99 days.” This fic is mostly canon.

Crossing Over by TexasAndroid - “Connie and Steven are goofing off together when something strange happens to Steven. This marks the start of an adventure unlike any Connie has had before." Note: Contains an original promo pic from MJStudioArts.

Deleted Scenes - Ep16: Loud and Clear, Ch3: Citrine's Room by br42, BurdenKing, CoreyWW, MJStudioArts - "An alternate scene for the gems comforting Connie following her experience in Citrine’s Room"

Deleted Scenes - Ep16: Loud and Clear, Ch5: Do Not Bob To Nod by br42, BurdenKing, CoreyWW, MJStudioArts - "Alternate scenes including: Lapis and Connie play resulting in Lapis getting cracked, Lapis flees post-healing, Debriefing post-mission, Chapter ending with Steven and Connie."

J.UNI.OR. by Japkot - "Jasper UNIverse ORigin. Connie and Steven discover that she can summon her weapon, this time with a twist..."

Loud and Clear: Priyanka Epilogue by br42 - "Priyanka and Doug react following the family dinner in Ep16Ch4: Whine and Dine." This fic is 100% canon.

G.E.M. 001 by BurdenKing - "The secret government file on 001, a.k.a. Citrine a.k.a. Connie."

Veni, Vidi, Connie - Chapter 1 by Wierdkid20 - "Earth receives some unexpected visitors."

Deleted Scenes - Episode 17: Steven’s Picnic Delivery Service by br42 - "Connie and Lapis narrate Wolf’s morning visit to the boardwalk."

Connie Finds Out About Lapis And Peridot's Secret Pop Career by br42, BurdenKing, MJStudioArts - "With Steven's VHS copy of the vintage Crying Breakfast Friends movie destroyed, Connie scours a seedy shop on the outskirts of Beach City looking for a replacement. She finds far more than she was expecting." Note: Contains original art from MJStudioArts. This is 100% canonical.

Deleted Scenes - Episode 19: Sworn to the Shield by br42 - "One deleted scene and one alternate ending to Episode 19: Sworn to the Shield."

Deleted Scenes - Episode 20: Together Breakfast by br42 - "Three alternate takes on the scene at the barn."

Me, Myself, and I by TexasAndroid - "A look at what might have happened with Steven and Connie between Together Breakfast Chapters 3 and 4."

Peridot's Secret by MK_Foodshops - "Peridot has been secretly attempting to gain magical powers, despite being an Era-2 gem. She believes that this time it will be successful for sure. However, everything goes awry when a certain somebody shows up unexpectedly. What will happen now that her secret is out?"

Escape from Homeworld by br42, BurdenKing, MJStudioArts - "Novaculite, a warp pad technician and veteran from Earth, needs to find a way to the one planet she knows Homeworld won’t follow her." Note: Contains original art from MJStudioArts. This fic is 100% canon.

The ConnieSwap Vignettes - A collection of very short stories by MK_Foodshops - "A series of very short stories that takes place within the universe of ConnieSwap. Every short story could represent either a plot or not much of a plot at all. All in all, every story ranges all the way from slice of life like Lapis philosophizing about the universe while eating a coconut flavored donut to the final moments of a gem warrior more than 5000 years ago during the Gem War. This collection will be constantly updating."

Subplots, Running Jokes, and Nicknames Log by br42 - "A reference document filled with information about Connie Swap’s subplots and characters."

Bonus Scene - Episode 21: Lost and Found by br42 - "An explanation of where Wolf was during the excitement of Episode 21, Chapter 3." This is 100% canon.

Caught Off Balance by br42 - "Everyone knew that Rose and Citrine, leaders of the Rebellion, argued over strategy but Obsidian never expected anything to come of it." This is 100% canon.

Connie Swap: My Hero Marathon. Omake by Mandalore5 - "Connie, Peridot, and Jasper sit down to watch an anime Lapis is enthusiastic about: My Hero Academia. Jasper finds it surprisingly compelling."

Pet Store by br42 - "Having recently discovered Wolf's pocket dimension, Connie demonstrates it for Steven. Peridot is there to supervise. What they learn changes everything." This is... 75% canon? It's canon overall with non-canon silliness added.

Diamonds in the Rough by br42 - "It turns out, Connie isn't the only one with a startling secret to share."

Lutes and Loot by leo60228 - "Connie, Steven, Jeff, and Peedee have an exciting battle against an alien matriarch."

Universe Family House Layout by br42 - "A reference document detailing the layout of Mary, Greg, and Steven's Beach City home."

Deleted Scenes - Episode 24: Gems-ology, The Collection by br42 - "One scene that we joked about in the Team chat but never seriously considered including in the episode."

Neimaat Visits Beach City - Draft Document by br42 and CoreyWW - "Neimaat, Steven's childhood friend, visits him in Beach City for the first time. Connie has mixed feelings." Takes place between Ep18 (Citrine's Sanctuary) and Ep19 (Sworn to the Shield). This is the draft document for an unfinished but canon omake.

The Joy of Cooking for Humans by alexandritemoon - "Steven realizes how perplexed Bismuth is by human needs; namely, stuff like making food that tastes good. In the interest of being a good Destiny Partner, he tries to save Connie from eating burnt cooking the best way he knows how: filming a cooking show. Will it work? Find out here!" This is 90% canonical.

Life and Death and Love and Birth by BinaryGeek - "Connie and Steven have decided they want to start a family, and Connie is pregnant. They now have to break this news to their families and the gems, despite its potentially bittersweet implications."

Power Testing: Shapeshifting by br42 - “Peridot, Connie, and Steven are determined to figure out what Connie can, can't, and shouldn't do regarding her newfound shapeshifting power. Jasper, Lapis, and Bismuth are along to help out and watch the show.” This fic is 100% canon.

Exploration by BinaryGeek - "Mary tries to walk the fine line of respecting her son’s privacy, and making sure he and Connie are being sensible, especially when it comes to magic and fusion but also more human pastimes."

Twinkle, Twinkle by br42 - "During a relaxed evening of stargazing, Steven asks the gems where they're all from."

My Own Worst Enemy by Cyberwraith9 - "Connie is looking forward to a week all to herself, but finds herself stuck with a whole lot of Lapis instead! And when Beach City starts feeling especially blue, it's going to take a lot of patience and even more luck to survive the flood."

Alternate Episode - Bonnie Lockdrew/Be Wherever You Aren't by br42 - "An outline of the very different story Episode 15: Bonnie Lockdrew and the Cries of Hallowed Halls almost became. Warning: contains spoilers from Episode 27."

The End of an Era - The Unbroken Fortress by BurdenKing - “A gem seeks to learn about the end of the era, of the unbroken fortress, the Ziggurat.” This fic is 100% canon.

Blind Date by Doc_Cairo - “After getting zapped, Connie and Peridot find themselves temporarily blind. Everything works out nicely though. Wholesome Connverse, with a hint of more mature Lapidot.”

A Couple of Clods by BinaryGeek - "After Peridot finds out about Connie and Steven's new relationship status, Lapis tries to defuse the situation."

Gemiverse by Moondragon8 - "Steven Universe, son of Rose Quartz, and Connie Maheswaran, daughter of Citrine, are best friends. Despite the fact that their guardians dislike each other, their mothers are shrouded in mystery, and they know far too little about the legacies they're bearing, they have each other, and it's fine. Because nothing can tear them apart. Right?"

Same Old Steven by citrusella - "Steven, trying to come to terms with what happened between him and Connie following Episode 16, decides to talk to his close friend Neimaat. He quickly gets more than he bargained for, but maybe that's just what he needs." This fic is 100% canon.

Colored Perception is NOT Covered by the Warranty by Wierdkid20 - "After the testing is over Bismuth learns she needs to up her standard of indestructible."

Unpleasant Reminder by Unwary - "Jasper struggles with the personal repercussions of the corruption event and the sudden, hollow victory."

Connieswap Meets the Harlem Globetrotters by Cyberwraith9 - "The Harlem Globetrotters have come to Delmarva, and are burning up the court of the Ocean Town Memorial Arena with their signature style! But what's this? Their perennial opponents, the Washington Generals, are looking a little more colorful than usual. Can our favorite sultans of swish defeat a bunch of polymorphic sentient rocks in a game of basketball? No!"

Weren’t we destiny partners? by Darkspirit - "Steven’s head is a mess as he tries to deal with [redacted]'s revelation and, more importantly, the tension between him and Connie. This happens while Steven, Connie, and the CGs are in [redacted]'s room, in Connie Epilogue of The Return episode." Summary redacted by br42 to spare anyone not as far as Episode 35 from noteworthy spoilers.

The End by TheInvaderZim - "At the end of everything, Connie and Steven reflect on their life together."

Deleted Scenes - Episode 35: The Return by br42 - "There's trouble in the bubble as Pearl and her new master make their way down to Earth. An outtake from Ep35Ch9."

Gravity Swap by br42 - "P2 and Amethyst make a detour to visit this 'Mystery Shack' P2 is so curious about."

Turquoise Haven by Darkspirit - "Finding herself squished between inadequacy and anxiety thanks to Rose’s shenanigans, Peridot looks for some comforting and relaxation. Maybe her blue companion can help her."

Tales from the Rebellion: Frog Hunt by br42 - "During the Rebellion, a Ruby is finding this romance business a lot harder than she'd expected. Fortunately Garnet is there to offer the burgeoning romantic a mission to find the answers. A mission... to find a frog!"

It's Not Too Late To Try Again by Darkspirit - "After learning that Lapis went by the Universe household to talk about Connie’s grounding over fusing, Steven looks for more relationship/fusion advice from the other mature source he knows: his parents."

Chapter Text

Goal: To make explicit some of the details that help the characters of Connie Swap be distinctive from their canon counterparts. The hope is that this will help people who want to write Connie Swap content have an easier time doing so.


  • Connie's behavior tends to shift a little depending on which Crystal Gem she's with: student-like with Peridot, serious/focused with Jasper, silly with Lapis.
  • Despite being only 13, Connie has an extensive vocabulary and good critical thinking skills.
  • Connie knows English, Tamil, French, and is learning American Sign Language. When she texts, she tends to use longer, more grammatical sentences.
  • Around people other than the Crystal Gems and Steven, Connie has a tendency to get nervous and socially awkward.
  • Connie's internal dialogue always refers to herself as "I", never "we", even when multiple 'voices' are arguing.
  • Connie takes her glasses off when she's feeling rebellious. She doesn't seem to actually need them to see, despite Peridot's insistence to the contrary.
  • Connie likes to use her powers casually, though too many force fields make it hard for her to think.
  • Connie reaches for her gemstone without noticing when she's anxious or scared, but not when she's sad.
  • Connie rarely uses nicknames, although she calls Peridot "ma'am".
  • Connie wants to be a heroine like Lisa (protagonist of the Spirit Morph Saga), and thinks in that metaphor frequently.

Nicknames for Connie:
the girl, Con-Con (Lapis), squirt (Jasper), kiddo (Jasper), dear (Peridot), Alloy (Bismuth)


  • Steven is often energetic and enthusiastic, though a bit impulsive or short-sighted.
  • Steven adjusts his hearing aids and signs when he's unsure of the situation.
  • Steven thinks Connie and the Crystal Gems are superheroes and interprets their magic and adventures through that metaphor.
  • Steven knows English, American Sign Language, Muh-speak (Yellowtail) and is learning Tamil. When he texts, he tends to use shorter sentences with more text slang.
  • Steven can be a little indecisive and usually waits for Connie or someone else to take the lead.
  • Steven is comfortable in social circumstances and gets along with people well, though he can be a little naive.
  • Steven has a habit of speaking quickly in run-on sentences in a stream of consciousness manner unless someone interrupts him.
  • Steven will sometimes call the Gems "miss".
  • Steven is very self-conscious about his musicianship. However, he knows quite a bit about instruments and music theory itself.
  • Steven was raised in a tour bus and has many stories about moving around and living on the road.

Nicknames for Steven:
the boy, Pinkie/Pinkie Pie (Lapis), the Steven (Peridot), Universe (Peridot), Meatball (Bismuth)


  • Jasper doesn't eat or sleep.
  • Jasper generally only plays around when Connie, Lapis, or Peridot draw her into it... though she really enjoys fighting.
  • Jasper refers to humans (other than Doug) using gender neutral terms (e.g. it, they, them).
  • Jasper always refers to Citrine as "Citrine", never "your mother" or some other name.
  • Jasper speaks the least of any Crystal Gem. I try to have Jasper state what she wants to happen and only offer explanatory details when pressed for them.
  • Non-verbal communication (e.g. nods, gestures, pointing) and other characters speaking up can all help keep Jasper reticent.
  • Jasper does have a sense of humor as well as a fairly biting wit, even if she rarely chooses to express them.
  • Jasper prefers simple and direct solutions.
  • Other than "kiddo" and "squirt" for Connie, Jasper doesn't use nicknames.
  • Jasper is slightly possessive and protective of Lapis.

Nicknames for Jasper:
the large gem, the large Quartz, the warrior, the orange gem, OJ (Lapis), Jaz (Bismuth)


  • Lapis is irreverent and silly 90% of the time.
  • The other 9% of the time she's obsessing over gem ruins.
  • The final 1% of the time she's scary as can be.
  • Lapis makes frequent pop culture references and snarky observations. She often uses nicknames for others.
  • Lapis eats with abandon and is a great lover of both human media and sleep. However, she does have a problem with nightmares.
  • Lapis is a gem of emotional extremes, going from very bubbly to vicious if triggered.
  • Lapis' control of water is clumsy on any volume smaller than a basketball.
  • After doing something fun with her hydrokinesis, or when she's feeling whimsical or annoyed, Lapis often blows a raspberry.
  • Lapis sometimes likes to "go smash" and fights in close with her mallet.
  • Lapis will go to great lengths to avoid something unpleasant, including suddenly flying away.
  • Lapis hates it when people bring up that whole "Atlantis" thing.
  • Lapis really doesn't get along with Doug. She veers between camaraderie and antagonism towards Jasper.

Nicknames for Lapis:
the blue gem, the svelte gem, Lapi, Laz (Peridot), Lazuli (Peridot), Raindrop (Bismuth), Blue (Bismuth)


  • Peridot eats and sleeps a little. She mostly prefers sour things.
  • Peridot is never seen without her limb enhancers. When describing her arms or fingers, you should use "limb enhancers", "floating fingers", and "hand-equivalent".
  • Peridot does not use a gem weapon nor shapeshift. She gets cagey when asked about it.
  • Peridot and her robonoids do probably 90% of the household chores.
  • Since her limb enhancers are fragile, Peridot generally fights from afar and/or overhead.
  • Peridot's dialogue (or Peri-phrasing) involves a lot of technical terms and multisyllabic synonyms (e.g. "topical ultra-violet protective cream" instead of "sunscreen").
  • Peridot is extremely protective of Connie.
  • Peridot can be a little awkward dealing with complicated teenager moments, usually relying on Lapis to handle them instead.
  • Duct tape... lots of duct tape.

Nicknames for Peridot:
the green gem, the technician, Peri (Lapis), Dot (Lapis), P-Dot (Lapis), Periwinkle (Lapis), ma'am (Connie), Green (Bismuth)


  • Bismuth almost never sleeps and likes to stay busy. She likes food just fine but finds most of it too bland. The spicier the better.
  • Bismuth frequently shapeshifts her hands and arms to make tools or weapons for the situation. She'll scratch an itch by shapeshifting her hand into a chisel. If she's angry, she might unknowingly shapeshift weapon-hands the way others might clench their fists.
  • Did you know 'Bismuth' sounds like 'Business?' IT DOES! This is comedy gold, the sort of joke that is still funny even thousands of years later.
  • For Bismuth, the war was still going only a couple of months ago. Sometimes she forgets the Rebellion won and falls into old wartime habits. Sometimes she gets confused by modern things. This peace Bismuth takes some getting used to.
  • Bismuth likes to give weapons away as gifts. You like spears? Of course you like spears. Have a spear. No, have two.
  • Bismuth is pretty chill and accepting of things. Not a lot bothers her. It's Earth; everyone can do whatever they want!
  • Bismuth gets really intense about the war and bringing down Homeworld's hierarchy. If she gets forgets the war is over, things can get... messy.
  • Bismuth tends to fall back on building, smithing, or weapon metaphors when explaining things.
  • Bismuth and Lapis prank and tease one another constantly.
  • Build it stronger. Then, build it bigger. Then, add spikes. That's how you make a [guard tower, warhammer, fence, coffee table, teddy bear].

Nicknames for Bismuth:
the rainbow-haired gem, the smith, Biz(Lapis), BM (Lapis), Skittles (Lapis), Auntie Bismuth (Connie)

Chapter Text

"Your father? I'm not sure," the towering yellow woman said, finger tapping her chin in thought. "What is time to an immortal, after all? The past, present, and future coalescing into a seamless-"

"No, no, no! Room: end simulation," said the much shorter brown girl, though with the same sunny gem as the now-dissolving giantess. "That last line was lifted from Welcome to the Wizard Wilds, which wasn't even written back when she was... she couldn't have read it, is my point."

A wizened goblin scribe, lifted directly from some Spirit Morph fan art Connie was particularly fond of, cleared its throat. "There was insufficient primary data to continue the simulation so the room extrapolated from secondary sources. Specifically, you, mistress."

Connie sighed, not really surprised but still a little disappointed. Isn't magic-as-wish-fulfillment supposed to be easy, by definition?, she groused internally.

"Room: open door. Room: suspend Gartleby the Scrivener." The goblin froze partway to dipping its quill in the inkwell it had on the little desk it sat at. Behind Connie, light that wasn't pervasively yellow filtered in.

Connie stepped out.

Fortunately, dad didn't have to leave for his next business trip for another few hours. Connie rode her bike to the extended-stay hotel he used when he was stopping over in Beach City and saw the lights on in his room.

Doug was hunched over a fold-out ironing board, dressed in boxers and an undershirt while getting the wrinkles out of a pair of slacks. A baseball game played on television but was muted, a docked myPad instead providing the soundtrack for Doug's laundering.

“Connie!” Doug said, looking up as Connie walked in. “How are you doing this morning--”

“I’m doing-- um ... dad?” Connie pointed to the ironing board. “The iron.”

“Huh?” Doug looked down, seeing smoke waft up from the pants. He gasped, pulled the iron away, and patted the smoke down (thankfully before it started a fire). He took a relieved breath a moment later.

“How’s laundry going?” Connie said with a smirk.

“Great,” replied Doug with a grunt. “I’m like a real adult man and everything.”

Connie chuckled and embraced him. “It’s okay, dad,” she said.

Doug gave a sweet smile as he ruffled her hair.

“So what brings you here, munchkin?” Doug asked.

"I was wondering, do you have any old photos from when you and mom met? It's for a, uh, multimedia project I'm working on," Connie asked, choosing her words very carefully.

Doug frowned reflexively, then looked down at Connie and seemed to soften his expression.

“I’ve got one,” Doug said. He then knelt down to solid-looking trunk case sitting in the corner and began fiddling with the combination lock. “It’s um ... it’s from when we were only together for a couple weeks...” He sighed. “I had more from around that time but they were lost years ago when an airline decided half my luggage was going on a different trip than I was.”

Connie fidgeted, unable to think of a suitable response. A moment of rifling through and Doug withdrew a small, framed photo. He looked a little wistful as he handed it to Connie.

Connie took it, holding it gently, feeling slightly awed, as though entrusted with a relic. "I'll take extra good care of it, I promise, dad."

“I know you will, cupcake. Now run along; there must be more exciting things for you than to stand around here and watch me cook a pair of pants.”

Connie giggled and the pair embraced. Hair was ruffled, goodbyes were said, and before long Connie was peddling her way back to the Beach House.

Peridot, as usual, was standing over her workbench, the innards of what looked like an old CRT monitor splayed out while the Green gem poked here and there with a voltmeter.

The slow lava flows that wormed between the heaps of cast-off appliances had a lavender scent today. Connie had never been able to determine a pattern or deeper meaning to that particular olfactory quirk.

After several minutes of waiting, Connie cleared her throat loudly, causing Peridot to straighten up and turn to the girl; several of her floating digits, however, remained at their tasks.

"Connie. Was that meant to be a polite interjection or are your bronchial tubes inflamed? I ask because somewhere around here I have the appropriate pharmaceuticals."

"No ma'am, I'm fine. I was wondering if you had any of mom's old VHS tapes? You know, the ones we'd watch when I was little?"

Peridot was momentarily taken aback, but had enough fingers available to tap her chin.

Raising a digit in exclamation, she said, "Oh yes! This may take a moment, but I know where at least one of the relevant video home system recordings is stored."

Peridot recalled her fingers and helicoptered off into the dimly-lit expanse of the cavern. Half an hour later Connie returned to the Beach House clutching a lavender-scented copy of The Princess Bride.

Jasper was out on patrol somewhere but Connie knew where to get what she needed. To her knowledge, the large gem had only ever made one meep-morp: a mural along one side of the burning room.

Connie padded over furtively, feeling like she was intruding somewhere private. There it was: Citrine striding over a battlefield, sword raised, with a battered but fierce-looking Jasper at her side; the silhouettes of countless other gems, some fleeing, others kneeling, surrounded them.

Little candles were lit and placed in niches around the mural. Connie had never seen any burn out, nor was she aware of any of the gems purchasing votive candles; it was just one of many mysteries that surrounded the gruff, orange warrior.

Connie took a photo of the mural with her phone before hurrying out.

Connie had to call from the threshold of Lapis' room. Swamped, crumbling structures and a profusion of plant life --water lilies, cattails, and lotus blossoms being most prominent-- emerged above the waterline of the perpetually flooded chamber.

Lapis swooped over, yanked Connie into a surprise bridal carry, and took the girl on a spiraling, looping flight, the former laughing while the latter screamed in excitement.

Eventually the gem set Connie down on an outcropping of rocks that thrust above the waterline.

"What's up, Con-con? Need the scoop on where Peridot's latest candy stash is, because I definitely don't know that it's taped to the back of the utensil drawer."

Connie laughed, both from Lapis' use of her pet-name and the residual rush from the gem's aerial acrobatics. "No that's not- Uh, the utensil drawer, you say?" Lapis smirked and tapped the side of her nose.

"What I really came in here for was to see if you had any of mom's stuff. I was, uh, that is to say, Steven was wanting to see some and I said I'd ask. On his behalf. For him. Because he wanted me to."

Lapis' playful demeanor dropped in an instant, replaced instead with a kind of all-encompassing weariness. Suddenly the gem sprouted wings of water and tore away, disappearing into the distance, eventually blocked from sight by the scattered waterfalls that rained down from... somewhere overhead.

For a time, the only noise came from the waves lapping at the numerous ruined structures that leaned drunkenly out of the marsh, and the susurrus of plants stirred by a gentle breeze.

A wave appeared through the haze bearing an old gondola, the former dissipating in time for the craft to bump gently against the rocks.

Connie boarded carefully and found a parcel wrapped in wax paper and tightly bound in twine. Connie slowly poled her way to the exit, stepped out, and watched a sudden current propel the boat back into the depths of the room.

Unwrapping the parcel she found a nondescript journal with ‘Pleasant Moments’ written in curling letters of canary-yellow.

When she got like that, Lapis was usually several days before emerging from her room. And when she did, she’d be figuratively and literally flighty, to say nothing of her aggressively chipper attitude.

Despite her success, Connie looked a little crestfallen.

"Primary sources encoded, mistress. The simulation has been updated," the well-dressed goblin said after more than an hour of continuous inscribing.

"Room: select one of the newly-encoded simulations at random. Room: engage selected simulation," called out Connie.

The air and ground shifted, becoming a bright and sunny day on an unfamiliar beach, a large wooden pavilion appearing nearby. Beside that was a bench on which a colorful top and sarong lay.

Connie walked over and felt the material, raising an eyebrow in confusion.

There was the sound of the ocean lapping at the shore and the breeze whispering through the palm trees. Then, a soft chuckle, and Connie’s eyes went wide.

She straightened up, swallowed, and managed to say with only a modest tremble in her voice, “H-Hi there…”

"Hello my dear, little Connie,” said the yellow woman from before.

She emerged from the shade of the pavilion and into the sunlight, dressed in a matching, if much, much larger outfit of her own.

“There's something I've always wanted to do, you know, but of course I never could,” she said, a hint of sadness in her voice and eyes.

"But here, now,” and she gave a smile that could only be described as ‘brilliant’, “I can share with you one of my favorite pastimes."

The radiant woman waited patiently while the little brown girl readied herself.

"Now, to start, put your feet like this and your hands, just so. Bend your knees: it’ll help when you sway your hips. Good. When the music begins I'll show you the basic motions and you follow along when you're ready."

A tune suffused the air, the woman began to sway hands and hips, and she sang in a clear voice, “Haʻaheo e ka ua i nā pali…”

Chapter Text

Doug first met her a little over a year ago, doing temp security work at a hospital.

It wasn’t an expensive job, certainly, but he happened to be in the area anyway and thought it was worth some extra money. Just a little more for food on the road or to get something nice for Connie next time he visited ...

Aside from a few hospital visitors not knowing how to act in public, it was almost completely uneventful.

That is, until he was about to leave around sunrise and he saw a woman in a lab coat with the hood of her car up.

The woman (a doctor, by the look of things) had long black wavy hair and dark skin. Doug thought she looked Indian, but wasn’t certain until she looked down at her jumper cables and shouted what Doug thought was an incredibly vulgar curse in Hindi.

“Um ... ma’am, are you alright?” he said.

She turned toward him. Doug was a bit shocked to see she had big, expressive brown eyes. So expressive they reminded him of ...

Don’t think about it, Doug told himself.

The doctor nodded towards the car.

“I think my battery is dead ...” she said. She held up the cables in her hand. “And it looks like my jumper cables are corroded, so--”

“Oh!” Doug said. “That’s no problem, I have some. Hang on a second...”

Doug pulled his car up and it didn’t take more than a few minutes for the doctor’s car to hum to life.

As Doug was detaching his cables, the doctor got back out of her car.

“Thank you so much,” the doctor said. “If it wasn’t for you, I’d probably be calling Triple-A with a huge attitude right now. Not something I’d like to do after a twelve-hour shift.”

Doug chuckled.

“Yeah ... yeah, same here,” Doug said.

“Are you new here or--”

“No no, I’m just temping for security.” He shrugged. “I’m not nearly important enough to work at a hospital all the time.”

“Well, I’d say your important after this,” the doctor said.

“Heh ... thanks ...” Doug said, shifting uncomfortably.

The doctor smiled.

“If you like, I can buy you some breakfast to make it up to you,” she said.

Doug’s eyes widened. He scratched the back of his neck.

“I uh ... look, I’m not sure--”

“Please, it’s the least I can do,” she said.

He could have just said no. That’s what the inside of his head was screaming for him to do anyway. Just say no and walk away and don’t think about it and wow, her eyes are really, really nice and--

“I ... well, okay,” Doug said nodding. “Yeah.” Immediately, he added, “It’s good to have breakfast with a new friend.”

The doctor blinked for a second, then gave a nervous smile.

“Right. Friend. Of course,” she said.

Doug felt like garbage for dropping that hint the way he did, but he felt he had to. It was the right thing to do.

It was, he insisted to himself.

Her name was Priyanka Kurunthottical. Dr. Priyanka Kurunthottical.

The breakfast started nice enough. Priyanka was ... not unpleasant to talk to, Doug had to admit. She talked a lot about her work. She asked about Doug and he talked about his work, about Connie (quite a lot about Connie, since part of Doug always thought about her) ...

But after hearing about Connie, Priyanka asked, “Are you still married or--”

Doug glanced down at his half-eaten waffle.

“She um ...” He cleared his throat. “She’s no longer with us.”

Priyanka straightened up in her chair.

“Oh ...” she said. “I’m ... I’m sorry, I had no idea--”

“No, it’s fine,” Doug said. “It was a long time ago. During childbirth actually.”

Priyanka put her hand to her mouth but said nothing.

“That’s ...” Priyanka shook her head. “I don’t know what to say.”

There was an awkward pause between them. Honestly, Doug wanted to comfort her ... but mentioning Citrine and realizing he was eating at a restaurant with a woman who was not Citrine suddenly made him feel uncomfortable.

Priyanka stared at him and bit her lip.

“I; um ... I’m divorced, actually” Priyanka admitted. “I-I know that’s not the same thing, not even close, but--”

“No, I get what you mean,” Doug said. “It’s ... hard.”

Priyanka scratched behind her ear.

“Yes ... it is,” Priyanka said.

After a few uncomfortable minutes, Doug brought up some small talk he wouldn’t even remember later, trying to ignore his own conflicting feelings.

After they finished, Priyanka gave him a slip of paper with her phone number on it.

As she handed it to him, she said, “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. I understand, but ... I-I had fun.”

Doug wanted to say he had fun too, awkwardness aside, but didn’t; he almost felt guilty for it.

“Listen, I don’t know if I’m ready to--” he started, but Priyanka cut him off.

“Even if you want to just talk as friends, I’m alright with that.” She gave a smirk. “This may shock you, but I’m not Miss Popular. Doctors hours don’t lend themselves well to a social life.”

A laugh escaped Doug.

“I can relate,” he said.

Doug stared at the slip of paper and took it.

“I’ll ... call you soon,” he said. “As friends.”

Priyanka nodded, a faintly sad smile on her face.

“I’d like that ...” she said.

Priyanka lingered awkwardly for a moment. She looked like she was about to hug Doug, but ultimately backed off.

Doug wasn’t sure what he would have done if she had tried.

He tried to pretend he didn’t think it would have been a little nice ...

When he got back to the hotel (after taking a freezing cold shower), he put the number on his phone. It didn’t even occur to him until later he could have just thrown the number away if he wanted to.

But he didn’t want to.

Over the next couple months, Doug made a point to call Priyanka every now and again, not just when he was in area.

And ... it was refreshing, honestly. Aside from Connie and occasionally old college friends, he never had anyone to call outside of work. Having someone else to talk to was pleasant.

Even if she was in a cruddy mood from work, she never seemed to lash out at Doug for it and was always willing to talk.

He’d mention whenever he was near her area, which was fairly often; Empire City had a lot of events needing security, after all.

Sometimes she’d ask if they could get together.

And ... most of the time Doug would politely say no. Not every time, but most of the time.

Not because he didn’t want to spend time with Priyanka, just the opposite. He felt like he did want to and the thought of that scared the hell out of him.

Was it even right to want to, when he still loved Citrine? Knew he would always love Citrine? Did thinking certain ... things about Priyanka make him a terrible person? He didn’t know. He didn’t think he was a horrible person, but whenever he thought of something more with Priyanka it just seemed ...

It seemed dishonest. Unfair. Unfair to Priyanka. Unfair to Connie (he was too afraid to even mention Priyanka’s existence at all to his daughter) ...

... and unfair to Citrine.

One day, about a month before Doug visited Connie for her birthday, Doug actually agreed to go to Priyanka’s apartment for coffee.

(“I mean actual coffee, Doug,” Priyanka had insisted with a laugh. “Not the codeword kind. We’re not teenagers, Doug.”)

As soon as he came in, laptop bag in one hand, Doug said, “I want to tell you something.”

Priyanka perked up.

“Really?” she said. “A-” Priyanka bumped against her kitchen chair awkwardly. “A-about what?”

“Oh um ... not about--” Doug laughed nervously, trying to ignore the blush on his cheeks. “Not about that, just ...” He took a deep breath. “I’ve mentioned my wife before ...”

Priyanka’s expression became serious as she nodded.

“Yes, of course,” Priyanka said. “What about her?”

Doug sat down at Priyanka’s kitchen table.

“There’s ... something I never told you about her,” Doug said.

Priyanka’s face went pale.

“Oh god ... she hasn’t been alive this whole time, has she?” Priyanka said.

“What-- no!” Doug shook his head. “No, never!”

Priyanka exhaled.

“Oh god ... for a second I thought I was like the ‘other woman’ or something,” Priyanka muttered.

“No, you’re not the other woman!” Doug insisted. “You’re the only woman!”

Priyanka blinked, raising an eyebrow. When Doug realized how he phrased that, his cheeks got redder.

“I mean there’s no primary-other-y woman relationship happening at all! There is zero woman-ing about!” Doug said.

Priyanka snickered.

“Gosh I ...” She stifled her laughter. “Sorry, I... I shouldn’t laugh. You were being serious, I’m sorry.” She cleared her throat. “But ... for real, what did you want to tell me?”

“Alright, so, I know this will probably sound crazy, but just hear me out,” Doug said.

“Okay, so ...?” Priyanka said with a nod.

Doug took a deep breath.

“My wife, Citrine, she was what you might call, um ... an alien,” Doug said. “As in, the kind from space.”

Priyanka tilted her head.

“O-okay,” Priyanka said slowly. She clasped her hands together. “Doug, um ... if you’re really stressed and going through a hard time right now, I can give you a referral. There’s no shame in speaking to someone if you’re feeling a little confused about--”

Doug gave a bitter laugh.

“I--I know how it sounds, trust me,” Doug said. “I really get it. But I have proof.”

Doug unzipped his laptop bag. As he did, Priyanka gave a nervous laugh.

“I--I should probably let you know that those bad History Channel specials aren’t exactly proof, if that’s what you’re gonna show me.”

Doug shot Priyanka a harsh look. She flinched and touched her shoulder awkwardly.

“Sorry,” she said.

Doug’s face softened.

“It’s okay,” he mumbled as he pulled out his laptop. He opened up a photo gallery marked “Citrine” and scooted his chair back. “See, look? There she is. What does that look like to you?”

Priyanka glanced at Doug skeptically, then looked towards the laptop. On it was a photo of Citrine standing at the beach, her yellow Gem glinting in the moonlight.

“Um ...” Priyanka said, searching for the right words. “Well, she looks like one of those fans of Gem animals I’ve seen on the news. And I can see she likes yellow, certainly ...”

“She’s not a fan of Gem; she is one.” Doug pointed to the Gem on her chest. “That Gem is attached to her body!”

Priyanka raised an eyebrow, her brow furrowed.

“I ... listen, Doug, I think you’ve just been working too hard. I know there are some myths about some Gems turning into humans or something, but they’re just weird animals. Someone dressing up like one doesn’t make them an al--”

Doug rubbed his forehead.

“Okay, okay ...” Doug hit the arrow key on the keyboard, bringing up another picture of Citrine. “Keep going, there’s a bunch of her friends too. They’re also Gems. I think a few of these show one of them being able to do weird stuff with water.”

Doug ...”

“No, really!” Doug said, conscious of how irrational he seemed at the moment. He clicked the arrow for her. “Look--”

Priyanka looked back to the monitor. She frowned.

“Annnnnd your wife’s naked in that one,” Priyanka said.

“Huh?” Doug looked at the screen. “YGG!” Doug frantically mashed Alt + F4 to close the window. He glanced back at Priyanka, his face red. “I ... that was a really old picture and--”

“Doug, I’ve seen what people’s insides look like, I think I’ll live,” Priyanka said with a faint smirk. It faded a moment later as she reached and touched Doug’s hand. “Doug, I think maybe you just need a little rest or--”

Doug jerked his hand back, frustrated.

“I’m not imagining this!” Doug said. “I knew Citrine since I was 22, I know what she is, and I wouldn’t lie about that!”

Priyanka stared at Doug, saying nothing. Doug put his palm to his face. He knew this would be hard, but he hadn’t imagined it would be this hard.

He had hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but he knew he had definitive proof ...

Doug felt his chest sink.

“Alright,” he mumbled. He went over to the laptop and found a folder buried deep in his documents. It read “Video for Connie / DO NOT OPEN.”

He hung the mouse cursor over the single video file in the folder. He looked to Priyanka.

“You want proof?” Doug said quietly. “This is video from the day my daughter was born.”

“Doug, I don’t see how that has anything to do with--”

“When I told you Citrine died in childbirth, that was true,” Doug said. “She gave up her physical form to make Connie. My ... my daughter has the Gem that used to be on her chest.”

“What?” Priyanka said, eyes wide.

“Yeah ... I was there.” He heard his own voice crack. “You don’t believe me? Watch that. Nothing about what happened there is like a normal birth. There was this bright light and ...” Doug pulled his hand away from the computer. “Just watch it.”

Priyanka stared for a moment. He could see it in her eyes, she was starting to doubt herself. After a glance at Doug, she scooted towards the computer.

Doug turned away.

Priyanka looked after him.

“Doug?” she said, concern heavy in her voice. “What are you--”

“You watch it,” Doug said. “But I ...” He swallowed a lump in his throat. “I just can’t ...”

Priyanka looked into his eyes, then nodded.

“Okay,” she whispered.

When Doug heard the video start, he walked into the other room.

About fifteen minutes later, as Doug sat on the edge of Priyanka’s bed, she appeared in the doorway. She leaned against the doorframe, stunned.

Doug looked up, his eyes stinging. Priyanka closed her eyes.

“... I believe you,” she said.

Doug frowned and nodded.

Priyanka hesitated before she sat next to Doug on her bed.

“I’m ... I’m so sorry, Doug,” Priyanka said. “I know that couldn’t have been easy to watch. Let alone film-- why was there a video of it?”

Doug turned his head away from her.

“Citrine wanted me to,” Doug said. “She ... knew that would happen and I guess she wanted video in case Connie ever wanted to see that one day or ... something.”

Priyanka shook her head, bewildered.

“What child would want to see their mom--”

Doug cut her off. “I dunno,” Doug said. “But she wanted that video in case Connie ever did want to see her birth. She ...” Doug took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “She thought the whole thing was beautiful.”

A sob escaped Doug’s throat.

“Doug,” Priyanka said. He felt her hand brush against his. “Doug, it’s okay--”

“I’m sorry,” Doug said, unable to stop the tears trickling down. “I’m sorry I showed you all this. I--I just didn’t feel right keeping it from you anymore, you deserved the truth, you deserved to know, I didn’t want to hide anything anymore, I--”

“Doug, it’s okay,” Priyanka said, placing her hand on his cheek. “It’s okay, I’m here.”

I miss her so much ...” Doug said.

“I know ... I know.”

Priyanka pulled him into an embrace, his head buried in her dark black hair.

Doug did miss Citrine, missed her every day. And he hated that he let that show in front of Priyanka as much as he did ...

But the thing that really made him hate himself was the small, idle thought in the back of his mind of how good it felt when Priyanka hugged him ...

Doug talked to Priyanka less in the weeks after that. Partially because he had a big job before he had to visit Connie and partially ...

Partially because Doug wasn’t even sure how to feel or what was right anymore.

Despite his usual apprehension about visiting Beach City, it couldn’t come fast enough this time. He just wanted to see his little girl and have something take him mind off of ... all that.

Just a nice normal visit was exactly what he needed.

Needless to say, nothing about that visit was normal. And not just the spontaneously de-aging of his daughter due to Gem magic part.

Doug realized his daughter was growing up. She was changing. Everything around him was ...

Everything except himself. Doug was the only one trying to make everything stay the same.

And as he sat in his hotel, making plans to get a house in Beach City, be around his daughter, and finally sort his freaking life out ... he realized he didn’t even want everything to stay the same anymore.

He put down his phone, after looking at photos of Citrine. He sighed.

It’s time, Doug, he thought. She’d want you to. Connie needs you to. Doesn’t matter that part of you still can’t see that yellow sparkle without thinking of… times that will never happen again.

When he logged onto his PC and saw an invite from Priyanka to do something next week, he almost hit decline out of habit. But he took a deep breath.

She’d want you to, he thought.

He hit accept.

“I had a lot of fun tonight,” Priyanka said when Doug walked her to her apartment door.

“Yeah ... yeah, I did to,” Doug said, smiling.

“I ...” Priyanka brushed her hair from her eyes. “I have to admit I was surprised. After what happened last time I ...” She gave a nervous chuckle. “I thought you’d be afraid to be around me anymore or something.”

Doug chuckled.

“Well ...” Doug said. “I--” He shook his head. “Sorry, this is gonna sound stupid.”

“No, what?” Priyanka said.

“I ... I think I was afraid to be around you for a long time,” Doug said. “Because I felt like I was doing something wrong but ...”

Doug paused.

“I--I don’t ... I don’t want to feel like it’s wrong anymore,” Doug said.

Priyanka’s eyes were wide and suddenly Doug thought back to when they first met, when he first noticed how big and expressive her eyes were.

“Are you ... are you sure?” Priyanka said uneasily. “I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable or--”

“No. You don’t make me feel uncomfortable. I make myself feel uncomfortable, but you never have.” Doug scratched the back of his neck. “You deserve to be treated better than ... than how I’ve been acting.”

Doug stared at the floor. He saw Priyanka gently slip her slender hand into his. He looked back up at her.

“What do you want to do?” she whispered.

They were sitting on the edge of Priyanka’s bed, again in an embrace but with a much different feeling in the air.

She kissed him and he’d be lying if he said he didn’t feel something. He kissed her back.

And again.

And again.

He ran his hand through her hair, held her as close as he could, felt a closeness he hadn’t felt in thirteen years, not since ...

“Citrine,” he muttered in between kisses.

Priyanka jolted upward, brushing her messed up bangs from her face.

“Huh?” she said.

Doug blinked, it taking a moment to register he had just actually said that, oh my god, he really just said that, could he be anymore stupid.

“Oh ... oh god!” Doug said. His face turned red. “I ... I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to--”

Priyanka said nothing, only settling back on the side of the bed, unable to make eye contact. She didn’t look angry at Doug, just shaken. Oddly enough, that made Doug feel even worse.

“It’s alright,” she said finally.

“I-- we should stop,” Doug said.

“Yeah,” Priyanka said. In a lower voice she whispered, “Yeah ...”

Doug hesitated then touched Priyanka’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” Doug said. “I didn’t mean to--”

“I know,” Priyanka said, not looking at him. “I understand just ... maybe another time?”

“Y-yeah,” Doug said. “Do you want to just talk or-- that wouldn’t be too awkward, would it?”

“No ...” Priyanka said.

But as they talked, it was clear they both knew it was too awkward.

At some point Doug must have fallen asleep because he woke up to the clink of ice in a glass.

He looked up from the bed and saw Priyanka holding a glass of something dark. Her eyes were slightly red.

It shook Doug. He’d never actually seen evidence of Priyanka crying, not in the whole time they’d known each other.

“Priyanka ...” Doug said.

Priyanka turned towards him, clearly shocked he was awake.

“Are you alright?” Doug said.

“Yeah ...” Priyanka said. But then a moment later, she sat down back on the edge of the bed and sighed. “Okay, no, maybe not.”

Doug wasn’t sure what to say. Priyanka took a sip of her glass, then turned and asked.

“... could I have just been anyone?” she said, hurt.

“What?” Doug asked, sitting up.

“I mean ...” Priyanka clutched at her hair. “I mean, when you’re with me, are you actually seeing me or ...”

“What? No, no,” Doug said. “That’s ... that’s not what this is.”

Priyanka didn’t reply.

“You’ve ... been a good friend to me this whole time,” Doug said carefully.. “And you’re the first one I’ve felt anything like this for ever since ...” He cleared his throat. “Ever since Citrine died. I mean, you’re sweet--”

Priyanka gave a bitter laugh.

“Now I know you’re lying--” she said.

“No, really, you are,” Doug said. “You’ve got a good heart, you listen, and ... and you’ve been very patient and understanding. Much more than I think I deserve.”

Doug sighed, feeling a tug at his chest at the sheer amount of feelings he was letting out.

“I--I’d be lying if I said I never think about her,” Doug said. “And I’d be lying if I said it’s easy to be with someone else after being with her so long. But ...” He swallowed. “But I want to be with you. And it’s because of how you are and how you make me feel, not so I can pretend you’re ... someone you’re not.”

Priyanka turned her head towards him, tears welling in her eyes.

“Really?” she said.

Doug nodded.

“Of course,” he said.

Priyanka gave a small sad smile. Doug shook his head and rubbed his eyes.

“Sorry ...” he said. “Talking about my feelings is something I’m not always good at.”

“You know what helps with that?” Priyanka said in a low voice.


Priyanka shook the glass at him, ice clinking around.

Doug chuckled despite himself.

He rested his hand on the bed. Priyanka laid hers on top of his ...

Doug didn’t know what he did to deserve finding someone like Priyanka in his life now, but he was glad she was there. And he wasn’t going to let himself make her feel like he didn’t appreciate it.

Not anymore.

Chapter Text

The warm glow from the slowly flowing lava pools that circulated through her room provided a soothing light for the repair work on the house phone. Perhaps it was redundant to repair the device now that Connie had obtained a portable equivalent from Doug. But redundancies were sometimes a good thing to Peridot's way of thinking. As one set of floating fingers worked out the wiring and another busily set about fabricating a casing for the device, Peridot was trying a more durable material this time taking into account how often the phone was destroyed, she idly found herself humming the Do or Do Nut theme. If one thing could be said for the lyrical training propaganda melody it was that it was extremely catchy.

“Dunk them in coffee or tea, napkins are always free...” she sang quietly to herself as she applied solder to the phone components.

“Now if a customer chokes on a donut, state law requires that you assist them,” a voice rang out in a mocking tone above her head. Peridot jumped and her fingers went everywhere, nearly sending various phone parts hurtling into the lava. After she regained her composure she looked up to see Lapis floating languidly in a reclined position through the air. She was snacking on what appeared to be a lemon filled donut.

“Lapis? To what do I owe the pleasure of your companionship?” Peridot asked irritably. She disliked the blue gem's propensity for randomly appearing in her room. Although now that she took a moment to consider it, it had been some time since she'd done so.

“I can't believe you're still obsessed with that lame tune P-dot,” Lapis answered with a grin as she popped the last of the donut into her mouth. Peridot then noticed what was essentially a floating platter dish made of water as Lapis reached over and grabbed...

“Hey! Those are mine!” Peridot squeaked indignantly.

“Did you really think taping your stash behind the toilet tank was a good hiding spot? From me? And so unsanitary P-pod. I'm disappointed,” Lapis teased as she tossed a gummy worm from Peridot's Sour Extreme pack up into the air and caught it in her mouth.

“It is not unsanitary in the least. I'll have you know that our sanitation facilities have a cleanliness level higher than most human food preparation centers! And do not consume all of those!” Peridot ranted, futilely hopping up and extending her floating fingers towards Lapis. She blew a raspberry as she floated up out of reach with a twitch of her wings. But then she suddenly changed course and dropped to the floor in front of Peridot.

“Chill Dot, I know they're your favorite. You gotta get better at hiding them though,” Lapis said rather somberly as she handed the bag over to Peridot. Something was wrong she then began to realize, Lapis was smiling but it didn't quite touch her eyes. Peridot also glanced up at the floating water dish piled high with donuts and other confectioneries. Lapis always enjoyed eating but this was excessive even for her. Setting her prized candy down on her workbench she glanced warily at Lapis as she padded over to one of the many component piles spread about her room.

“Laz, are you feeling—”

“Oh my stars! You kept Occupied?” Lapis exclaimed with a snort as she floated over to the collection of toilets that was one of their earlier collaborative morps. “Do you remember how we talked Doug into sitting on it not long after he started hanging around Citrine? That was hilarious!”

“From my recollections you were entirely responsible for that incident and Doug's subsequent saturation,” Peridot replied as she walked over to stand next to Lapis, her concern growing by the second. Where was this sudden trip down memory lane coming from?

“Nuh-uh Periwinkle, you were totally in on it. Don't even try to lie, you were a lot more fun back then,” Lapis said with a nudge to Peridots shoulder before wandering off to continue her exploration. Her floating dish of junk food followed her and she absentmindedly reached up and grabbed another donut along with a bear claw which she rapidly consumed.

“I believe you may regret consuming such...copious amounts of food stuffs after some time has passed,” Peridot said with concern as she quickly followed after the blue gem. Lapis seemed to be binge eating. That was never good.

“What's one more regret in my life?” Lapis said with a shrug and a hollow laugh as she began looking through various items pinned to a nearby wall.

Peridot's anxiety only heightened after that remark. She knew Lapis had her...trying times. But she usually rode those out in the peace and solitude of her room. This coping behavior was extremely distressing.

“Listen Laz, if—”

“No way! You still have pictures of our old snow morps! I haven't thought about those things in years,” Lapis exclaimed as she took down a couple of old polaroids from the wall and excitedly held them up for Peridot to see. The photos in question depicted Lapis and Peridot posing in front of life-sized snow sculptures of Percy and Pierre from Camp Pining Hearts. In both photos Peridot and Lapis had their arms wrapped around each other's shoulders and wore glowing smiles. The two characters were facing each other, the larger Pierre seeming to loom slightly over a visibly flustered Percy.

“Do you remember how much time we poured into those things? Trying to get every detail just right? We were such nerds,” Lapis said, and this time her smile seemed to be genuine.

“I mostly recall the difficulties I endured in thwarting your attempts to position them in rather...indecent poses,” Peridot answered, a slight dusting of teal rising in her cheeks at the memory.

“Pfft. You know you loved it Dot,” Lapis answered as she carefully placed the pictures back in their previous locations on the wall. She then reached up to her floating dish and proceeded to consume two more donuts and an apple fritter in rapid succession.

“Lapis, I really think we should discuss—” Peridot began, but she was interrupted when the ocean gem suddenly turned around and leaned in very close. Lapis' breath seemed to be coming up short, which was odd since they didn't even need to breath, and her eyes were half-lidded as she took a step forward. Peridot took a nervous step back.

“You don't have a donut-gram to save you this time Miss Matrix,” Lapis said in a husky voice as she leaned her face closer. Just barely brushing her lips against a suddenly very flustered Peri's. Peridot's entire form shivered and she'd be lying if she said she didn't want to lean up into that temptation of a kiss and run her touch stumps through Lapis' wild blue hair. But she couldn't help but think back to long how this had ended last time.

“Lapis I don't think we shou—”

“Shhhh. No thinking, just let it happen,” Lapis said as a hungry grin spread across her cerulean features. Peridot's cheeks flushed a deep teal as her breath quickened and she closed her eyes. It would be so easy to just let it happen, she just needed to lean up a bit and...

No. This was wrong.

They couldn't do this, not with Lapis in an impaired emotional state. Lapis put a hand under her chin and tilted it up to meet her lips before Peridot finally gathered enough of her faculties to say something.

“Lapis...don't. Please,” Peridot said in a breathy voice as her floating fingers rose up between herself and the blue gem. The warm orangish red glow of the lava set Lapis' face off in striking relief as she stopped just a hairsbreadth away from a kiss. Confusion, hurt, anger and finally resignation washed over those features as she slowly pulled back from Peridot.

“Hah. Yeah, guess I threw away any right to kiss you awhile ago right Pierre?” Lapis said with a bitter, mirthless laugh. “That's me! Lapis the screw up. Sorry to bother you, I'll let you get back to your nerd stuff.”

“Lapis no...I didn't mean— wait!” Peridot yelled desperately, reaching out for her friend. But Lapis had already spread her wings and with one powerful stroke she leapt up into an opening in the ceiling that led deeper into the temple. A few moments later the floating water tray disintegrated and the remaining food stuffs fell into a lava flow with an angry sizzle.

Peridot sat down heavily and leaned her head back against her workbench. “Excellent job Peridot. You're such a genius,” She said in a bitter, self-loathing tone. She spent a long, long time simply staring into the glowing orange lava flow that ran in front of her work area. But finally she reached up and briskly wiped away the moisture that had accumulated behind her visor before resuming her work.

Connie still needed her redundant phone after all.

Chapter Text

Alright, homework’s done, Connie thought as she finished typing the essay Peridot assigned her. She looked to the window and noticed the sun setting. She sighed.

Today had been a bit of a slow day. Jasper had gone on a mission by herself, Lapis left to binge on donuts, and Peridot was busy harvesting her crops in South America. Steven had been busy with family stuff, so there hadn’t been much for Connie to do aside from homework.

She smiled faintly to herself.

Steven ...

Connie shifted her eyes back and forth. She looked around slowly, making absolute certain none of the Gems were around.

She grinned.

Well, I suppose if there’s nothing else to do, I could work on my other project, Connie thought.

She opened a folder cleverly marked “Faxes” and opened up a file called “The Adventures of Lady Connaline and Lord Stefan.”

Let’s see what things they’re up to now, Connie thought as she began typing ...

The tall, statuesque twenty-something ruler stood at the edge of her balcony, addressing the crowd of subjects down on the ground below.

Next to her stood her large, muscular, hairy husband and partner, Lord Stefan. He gave his wife a sweet smile.

Lady Connaline cleared her throat and let out her most regal voice.

“My subjects!” she proclaimed.

At the sound of their monarch’s voice, the crowd’s cheering swelled. Connaline held up one hand and they fell silent.

“My subjects ...” she continued. "As your new, democratically-elected monarch, I promise fair and just rule to all of you. And a swift, nearly-painless death to our enemies."

There were loud claps as Connaline went on.

"It is time to move on from the mistakes of the past and finally have equal rule under the law."

As the crowd’s jubilation increased, Stefan stepped forward, raising his arms.

“Can you dig it?!” Stefan shouted in a voice that gave Connaline goosebumps.

The crowd cheered louder.

CAN YOU DIG IT?!” he repeated.

The sound of the crowd was almost deafening.

“Good! Now just the ladies!” he said.

There was a loud “whoo” as countless female voices rose over the crowd.

“There we go!” Lord Stefan said.

Connaline had to stop herself from snickering for the rest of the address.

When it was over and the crowd had dispersed, she gave Stefan a wry smile.

“You’re having fun with this,” Connaline said.

He grinned back.

“So are you,” Stefan said.

Connaline ignored the blush on her cheeks.

Stefan gave an overly elegant bow.

“So, what shall we do next, my Lady?” he said.

Connaline grinned and leaned close to him.

“Well, since I’m exhausted from such an important address, my next decree is that you must allow me to feel your strong muscles,” Connaline said slyly.

Stefan’s grin fell as he blushed as intensely as he had as a child.

“Ahem, well,” he coughed and gave a bashful smile. “I suppose if it’s the law, I’ll have to oblige.”

She took a single finger and traced it along his chest, feeling the hair underneath his shirt.

“And then--”

Hey Connie, whatcha writing?!” said Lapis in Connie’s ear.

AHHH!” Connie shouted, falling out of her chair.

Connie looked up to see Lapis hoving in the air with her water wings, a pleased grin on her face.

Before Connie could protest, Lapis floated into the chair and started reading.

“Lord Stefan? Oooooh ...” Lapis said.

“Lapis! Stop reading that! It’s private!” she said, standing up and jerking the laptop away. “I--I mean it’s nothing, it’s just homework, I was studying--”

“Yeah, studying adult Steven’s muscles.”

Connie’s cheeks reddened.

“I--You--” Connie stammered. “Stefan is more of a composite character than anything else--”

“Riiiiiight,” Lapis said. “Anyway, give that back, I want to read more.”

“No!” Connie said, holding the laptop away from her.

“Aww, come on!” Lapis said, frowning. “I know I was teasing, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t like it.”

“I--” Connie blinked. “Wait, you liked it?”

“Yeah, it was cute,” Lapis said. “I wanna see if it gets to a part where you and Steven kiss or something.”

Connaline and Stefan,” Connie insisted.

Lapis waved her hand dismissively.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” she said.

“And they kiss a lot, actually ...” Connie muttered.

“Huh?” Lapis said.

“Nothing.” Connie folded her arms. “I’m not sure. I don’t write any of that for people to read. It’s just ... I dunno, something I do to relieve stress.”

“So you haven’t shown it to Steven?” Lapis said, smiling.

“No, and if he ever read it, I’d die!” Connie shouted.

“But I thought Stefan was just a--” Lapis pulled her water wings up and made air-quotes with them. “‘Composite character.’”

That was a lie and you know it!” Connie said. “If I let you read it, you cannot show it to anyone else, promise?”

Lapis dropped the teasing smile and nodded.

“Okay, yeah, I promise,” Lapis said. She held out her hand. “Now give me the goods.”

Connie sighed.

“Alright ... but let me print this out. I don’t want you flying around with my laptop and breaking it,” Connie said.

“Hey, Doug can always buy you another one--”


Lapis folded her arms.

“Alright, alright, fine,” Lapis grumbled.

“Hi Connie!” Steven said when he came over the next day, a cheeseburger-shaped backpack slung on his shoulder.

Connie beamed at him.

“Hi Steven!” she said with a sweet smile as she invited him in.

“I brought those books I was telling you about,” Steven said. “I mean I’ve never actually run a game of Lutes and Loot, but the books are fun to look at so ...”

“They sound really cool,” Connie said. “Come on, there’s plenty of room in the living ro--”

Connie froze as she saw Lapis on the couch, reading from the large stack of papers that made up her story. Lapis looked up, only then noticing Steven walk in.

Lapis glanced at Connie, long enough to see Connie go pale, before she stood up, holding the papers behind her.

“Stef- I mean Pinkie Pie!” Lapis said nervously. “Heeeeey. How you been?”

Steven didn’t seem to notice anything odd. He just waved.

“Hi Lapis! What you reading?” Steven said.

“What? Oh, this!” Lapis said. She just shook her head. “Oh nothing just, um ...” She coughed. “Just some silly romance. Nothing you’d be interested in or--”

“That sounds awesome!” Steven stepped forward. “Can I look-”

Connie froze in place and suddenly wished one of her powers was to turn invisible.

Lapis, however, took a step back.

“Oh ho, no no no,” Lapis said, laughing nervously. “Iiiiiit’s nothing appropriate for you to see, no no.”

Steven sighed.

“Okay, fine,” Steven said.

Lapis glanced and smiled at Connie. Connie had just then discovered the will to breathe again. A moment later, Lapis looked at her bare wrist.

“Well, would you look at the time?” Lapis said. “I have to go bother those dorks at the Big Donut.” She closed her eyes for a moment as water flowed from the sink in the kitchen to form wings on her back. All the while, she still held the papers behind her back. “Later peeps.”

Connie mouthed the words “Thank you.” Lapis gave a smile back.

“Okay, bye Lapis,” Steven said. “Have a good--”

Before Steven could finish, Lapis flapped her wings and flew out the door with incredible force, the sound of papers rustling in the air as she left.

Steven stood staring out the door after her.

“-- day,” he finished. Steven glanced back at Connie. “Lapis is so funny.”

Connie laughed awkwardly.

“Hehe, yeah, that Lapis, never know what she’s gonna do next, yep,” Connie said, grateful that that had not gone worse. “Uh ... w-why don’t we look at those books you brought?”

“Huh? Oh yeah,” Steven said. He placed the backpack on the table. “I brought like five. Only three of them you really have to have but--” Steven glanced at the floor. “Oh, hang on a sec ...”

Connie unzipped the backpack as Steven walked near the front door.

“Everything okay?” she said as she pulled the hardcover books from the backpack.

“Yeah, I think Lapis just dropped some of her romance stuff over here.”

Connie’s eyes went wide, her heart pounding.

“P-pardon?” Connie said.

She looked over to see Steven reading from a single, slightly damp sheet of paper.

‘I can do anything with you by my side, my Lord,’ Lady Connaline said as she laid kiss upon kiss on Lord Stefan’s lips ...” Steven said, reading the paper aloud.

NOOOOO!Connie shouted. And before she could stop herself, she ran to Steven, crashing into him in an awkward tackle. They both fell to the floor as the paper fluttered through the air.

Oof!” Steven said.

Oh god, what am I doing?! Connie thought. Before her head could catch up with her words, she started speaking.

“I’m sorry, please don’t read that!” Connie said, on top of Steven. “It’s just some dumb thing I wrote, it’s--”

“Wait ... you wrote that?” Steven said.

“Um ...” Connie said.

Did you really just say that? Connie thought. WHY WOULD YOU EVER SAY THAT?!

“... maybe?” Connie said.

Steven’s eyes shimmered.

“Oh my gosh ... you’re so talented!” Steven said, a wide grin on his face.

“H-huh?” Connie said.

Steven sat up, gently pushing Connie off of him.

“I can’t believe I know someone who writes that good,” Steven shouted. “It’s so cool!”

“I ... well ... are you sure you like it?” Connie said, bewildered.

“Of course! It looks amazing!”

“I--” Connie blushed. “Well, thank you but ...” Connie shook her head. “I mean, doesn’t it bother you that ... you do realize Connaline and Stefan are basically ...”

Steven tilted his head.

“Basically what?” he said.

Does he seriously not get that those are stand ins for us? Connie thought.

She stared at Steven who said nothing. She couldn’t believe it. It was obvious, but maybe it was so obvious he just couldn’t see it.

Maybe everything really was fine.

And honestly, Connie felt flattered by all the praise Steven heaped on her.

“Well ... o-okay, if you really like it, maybe I can show you some more,” Connie said with a smile.

Steven sat at the laptop reading while Connie paced in the background. As excited as she was that Steven was interested, she couldn’t help but feel a little embarrassed considering the nature of the story.

“Um ... all of that is rough draft stuff, so I’m sorry if there are any grammar problems or anything,” Connie said, glancing over Steven’s shoulder to see what part he was reading.

“No, it looks pretty much fine so far,” Steven said. He scrolled down. “This is so good. These characters seem so real!”

Connie had to stifle a laugh.

“So you um ...” Connie scratched behind her neck. “You like Lord Stefan’s character?”

“Yeah! I feel like I really relate to him!”

I’ll bet you do, Connie thought.

“And, uh ...” Connie brushed her hair back. “W-what do you think about Connaline?”

Steven turned back with a glint in his eye.

“She’s such a cool main character!” Steven said. “I like that she’s really nice, but also tough. And it’s really cool learning new stuff about her.”

Connie turned away to hide the redness on her cheeks.

“That’s ... that’s good to know,” Connie said.

Steven scrolled down further.

“Aww, I really like this bit where Stefan and Connaline kiss for thirteen pages,” Steven said.

Connie nervously cleared her throat.

“It’s fourteen,” she said. “I-I like that part too.” She chuckled and said, “Anyway, keep reading, there’s lots more about running the kingdom after that ...”

Steven read more and had nothing but nice things to say about the story when he finally finished. They talked more about Connie’s story and she felt good having written something two people she cared about liked so much.

A few hours later, Steven checked his phone and said he had to be home for dinner. He said bye to Connie and that was that.

When Connie closed the door behind him, she leaned her back against it and slid down to the floor, giggling like a little girl.

Wow,” she said between chuckles, “I can’t believe he didn’t get what it was about and still liked it!”

She chuckled, amused that Steven was innocent enough to just not figure it out.

Steven walked home with a blush and a huge smile on his face.

He thought back to Connie’s description of “Stefan” and his smile got even wider.

I CAN’T BELIEVE SHE THINKS I’M HOT, Steven thought to himself.

Chapter Text

The hilltop whistled with a gentle breeze, making the grass dance in lazy, lustrous waves. Seagulls flitted around the crown of the old lighthouse on the way to or from feasting at the garbage cans on the boardwalk. Sunshine and blue skies stood in postcard-picturesque delight atop the gentle waves kissing the shoreline. It was the perfect day for battle.

Taking a deep breath, Connie focused her thoughts behind a single goal. Everything she was, everything she knew, gathered inside of her with one clear purpose. She reached for her collar, fingertips brushing the edge of the yellow gemstone peering out from her shirt. Then, grasping, she flung her hand forward, bellowing, “And…sword!”

Her empty hand hung in front of her, challenging her imaginary foe with a blade that wasn’t there.

Connie groaned and pulled at her hair, stomping a little circle into the grass. All of her attempts for the past few hours had been met with equal success. She had tried every position, every location, and every word she could think of to coax the glowing blade back into her hand.

“Come on!” she snapped at the absent sword, waving her hand. “Energize! Transform! Power Extreme! Thunderblade, ho!”

Nothing. Connie let her hand drop, her whole body sagging in frustration. After days and days of trying, the sword refused to appear. She might have thought its first appearance had been her imagination if not for the temple’s hand still broken and resting on the beach.

Wandering to the cliff’s edge, Connie leaned against the white fence guarding the precipice, her elbow brushing the printed metal sign that read CAUTION: DO NOT CLIMB ON FENCE. She sighed and stared down at the broken hand, reminding herself again that it was possible, and making her that much more frustrated that it still wasn’t happening.

She knew that having the weapon wouldn’t suddenly change who she was. And her force fields had improved immensely, appearing and disappearing almost exactly when she meant them to. The force fields let her protect herself and the people close to her. But the sword made her feel like a protector. It made her feel one step closer to who she wanted to be. And no amount of trying seemed to be able to bring it back.

A pale shape by the ocean drew her eye from the broken stone hand. It wasn’t until the breeze stirred the shape that Connie realized it was Jasper sitting on the beach. The huge Quartz sat motionless, her shoulders hunched forward, head bowed. Though Connie craned to the very edge of the fence, she couldn’t tell what Jasper was doing, or even why she might be doing it.

An impish thought suddenly struck Connie. She could suspend force fields in the air, one after another, and use them like a staircase to descend to the beach. Maybe she couldn’t fly like Peridot or Lapis, or clear the cliff in a single bound like Jasper, but the big Gem would surely be impressed to see her running on the air.

Then she remembered what happened to her force fields when she got distracted, and how far, far below the beach actually was.

She took the long way down from the cliff. Her path took her by some of the other signs posted in the sand, like NO UNSUPERVISED SWIMMING and NO RECREATIONAL HYDROKINETICS ON BEACH. A different sign, this one cobbled from driftwood and hand-painted, read NO BUZZKILLS ALLOWED. This had prompted the newest “official” sign, which read NO POSTING UNAUTHORIZED SIGNAGE.

She found Jasper down by the surf, sitting at the dark edge in the sand where the waves stopped. Hunched forward, the Gem had laid her hand in front of her. Foamy white waves trickled up, rippling over her knuckles, then receding, leaving Jasper’s fingers half-buried in the wet beach. A crease puckered Jasper’s brow, her eyes fixed on some distant point in front of her.

“Jasper?” Connie called, pounding across the beach. “Hey, Jasper!”

Barely turning her head, Jasper lifted her free hand from her lap to press a finger to her lips in a shushing gesture. Connie complied immediately, slowing down and treading softly until she stood next to the Quartz. Even seated, Jasper was still more than a head taller than Connie.

“Hey, squirt,” Jasper rumbled softly.

Lowering her voice to match, Connie said, “What are you doing out here?”

Jasper considered her hand on the beach. “Practicing,” she said.

Connie adjusted her glasses, wondering if she had missed some part of the equation. Unless there was a weapon buried in the sand or a monster about to pop out of the surf, this did not appear to be the kind of training Jasper normally did. “Huh,” she grunted. “Is it going well?”

“Can’t say yet,” Jasper said. “What about you? I saw you up on the cliff earlier.”

Connie sighed, collapsing onto her back. The surf came up to tickle the toes of her sandals. “Sword hunting again,” she admitted.

“Mmn,” Jasper grunted.

“I know, I know. I did it once, and I can do it again,” Connie said. “But it’s so frustrating. My arms and legs do what I want them to do. Even my force fields do that, mostly. The sword is supposed to be part of me just like all the rest. Right?”


“Then apparently it’s more like a pancreas than an arm,” Connie groused, scowling. “It’s inside of me just doing its own thing, never listening to whether or not I want it to produce more insulin or…leave my body and cut things…”


“So maybe it’s not exactly like the pancreas,” she agreed. Her head thumped back against the sand. “I just wish I knew what I was doing wrong so I could fix it.”

With a slight shake of her head, Jasper said, “You’ll have your weapon when you need it. And you’ll need it when you’re ready to need it. Until then, don’t focus on what you can’t do.”

Connie sighed again, watching the clouds trundling across the sky. She knew from her lessons that they were actually moving at incredible speed, always changing, roiling, shifting and moving. But from where she lay, the clouds looked almost static. They only changed when she wasn’t trying to see them change.

“It shouldn’t bother me so much,” she admitted, “but it does. I mean, the sword was hers. It was a part of her, and it’s a part of me. Knowing I could summon it made me feel like…”

She rolled away from Jasper, curling on her side. The treasured pictures her father had shared with her, the portrait of her mother hanging in the beach house, all drifted in her thoughts. Of all the people in her life, she had the least cause to be wistful for the Gem she had never met. But she missed her mother all the same.

“…like I could bring another piece of her back,” she said.

Jasper was quiet for a long moment. Then she said, “Your mother left behind things far more valuable than weapons, Connie.”

Connie tried to smile, but it felt more like a grimace. “Like me?” she said.

Another silence crawled between them. Then Jasper sighed as if steeling herself for a difficult task. Speaking in little more than a whisper, she said, “Did you know I was thrown out of the Crystal Gems?”

Sand sprayed as Connie burst to her feet, the frantic motion throwing her glasses from her face. “What?” she cried. “When? Did something happen with Lapis and Peridot? Was there a vote? I didn’t get to vote!”

“Settle down, squirt,” Jasper said, chuckling. With her free hand, she retrieved Connie’s glasses and gently placed them back over the girl’s befuddled expression. “This was a long, long time ago, back when I first joined the war.”

Settling cross-legged on the sand, Connie tried to wrap her head around the revelation. She had known Japer her entire life. The warrior was an integral part of the Crystal Gems, and vice versa. She couldn’t imagine one without the other.

Jasper bowed her head, watching the surf ripple over her hand. “I was made right here on Earth, back when Homeworld was pumping out as many troops as they could to turn the tide of the war. I wasn’t just made to fight. I was made to fight Gems. And I was good at it.”

“So I guess nothing much has changed?” Connie said.

Smirking, Jasper continued, “When your mother found me, she convinced me to join the Crystal Gems instead. She wanted me to choose my own destiny, decide what I wanted to do instead of taking orders from one Agate or another for the rest of my life.”

Connie’s smile broadened. Some lessons about the war were harder to bear than others, but she never got tired of hearing the dream behind each battle, each hardship. “Mom set you free. That’s good, isn’t it?”

“For Gems like Peridot, Lapis, and Citrine, freedom meant leaving their purpose behind. But I liked to fight,” Jasper explained. “Being free just meant I got to choose who I fought and why. So I chose to fight everyone, because I never wanted the fight to end.”

Connie frowned. “Even your friends?”

“I didn’t have any friends,” Jasper said. Then, seeing Connie’s heartbroken expression, she quickly added, “Not at first. I spent too much time picking fights with the other Gems just to show them I was stronger. I questioned every order and argued about every move our side made. In my mind, we never pushed our advantage hard enough. We didn’t take enough chances. And any mercy we showed the enemy was weakness. But Citrine always kept me in line, and I always backed down…until I didn’t.”

Connie squirmed at the glint of memory in Jasper’s eye. “Was it bad?” she asked.

“Have you ever been to the Snow Spire?” Jasper asked in reply.

“No,” Connie said. She wracked her brain trying to remember the name from Peridot’s geography lessons.

Clenching her free hand into a fist, Jasper said, “Now you know why.”

The implication clicked, and Connie’s eyes widened. “Whoa.”

“When I walked out of the rubble, a hundred gemstones buried behind me, Citrine was waiting for me.” Jasper’s expression hardened. “She told me I was reckless. That I had destroyed what could have been a key part of the new world. That we were trying to build something on Earth, and the rebellion didn’t need thugs to make it happen.”

Her stomach churning at Jasper’s scowl, Connie said, “A-And that’s when you settled your differences and became lifelong friends. Right?”

“I called her a coward,” Jasper said. Her fingers in the sand twitched. “I told her she was too soft to win the war. Then I challenged her for leadership of the Crystal Gems.”

Connie’s jaw dropped. “W-What happened?” she stammered.

Her scowl breaking into chagrin, Jasper admitted, “Well…after my body reformed, Citrine threw me out of the temple. She told me I couldn’t come back until  I proved to her I could be an actual part of this world, and not just a storm raging through it.”

“Were you upset?” Connie asked, her voice shrinking.

Jasper snorted. “Even Peridot doesn’t have a word for how angry I was. I’d spent my entire existence fighting Gems better than anyone else, period. Only now that wasn’t enough. I didn’t want back in. I wanted to prove your mother wrong, and rub her face in it.”

Connie thought carefully about what to say next. “Furi-ange-rage-ous,” she guessed.

“Not even close,” Jasper told her. “I started a one-Gem war on Homeworld’s colonials. I fought them everywhere I could find them, no matter what odds they threw at me. Almost got myself shattered a dozen times doing it.

“But it was never enough. No matter how many ships I brought down, or how many gemstones I sent back in bubbles, your mother was never impressed. I stood outside the temple, yelling at her, calling her terrible things. She just shut the door in my face and ignored me,” Jasper said.

Connie clutched at her gemstone, watching through tears as an old, bitter anger ebbed into Jasper’s face. “Jasper, I…I don’t…” she said.

Closing her eyes, Jasper sighed. Then she gave Connie a strained smile, and said, “So I did the one thing no Quartz should ever do: I gave up. I just collapsed in front of the temple, trying to figure out what to do next. No victory was going to make the Crystal Gems take me back, and Homeworld only wanted me in shards.”

“But they had to take you back! Of course they took you back!” Connie protested tearfully. “What did you do? What did Mom do?”

“Nothing,” Jasper said. Then, as Connie’s eyes grew wobblier, she smiled and added, “until that night, when Citrine left the temple. I thought maybe she wanted to fight again, but instead, she just walked past me like I wasn’t there, and sat down at the water’s edge.”

Wiping her cheeks, Connie looked to Jasper’s flat hand on the beach. “You mean, like that?”

Nodding, Jasper said, “Exactly like this. I asked her what she was doing, but she didn’t answer. She didn’t move or speak.”

Jasper fell silent for a moment. Then two. Then three.

“And then what?” Connie asked.

“You really want to know?” Jasper asked. When Connie nodded emphatically, the Gem turned back to the surf and fell silent, her whole body becoming utterly still save for the gentle stirring of her hair in the breeze.

Connie understood, and sat down next to Jasper, mimicking her posture and resting her hand at the edge of the surf. And they waited. And waited.

For nearly an hour, Connie bit back her questions, her impatient sighs, and even tried to relax any fidgeting out of her body. As the tide slowly rose, the water climbed higher up Connie’s wrist with each wave. She passed the time guessing why her mother might have done such a thing with Jasper on a night so long ago.

Then she noticed them. Lurking in the shallows were a host of tiny fiddler crabs. The creatures weren’t much bigger around than Connie’s thumbnail, and their shells were speckled with brown and white colors, perfect for hiding in the sand stirred up by the tides. As they bobbed up and down in their hunt for food, the tide would push a few toward the beach, forcing them to scurry back toward deeper waters.

Of course, she had seen them before. One of her lessons with Peridot had been a report on local animals. But she hadn’t thought about them since her studies had moved beyond them, and she hadn’t noticed their presence all throughout Jasper’s story. As she watched, the tide pushed them back and forth on the beach.

Then one wave carried a fiddler crab up onto Jasper’s hand. As the water receded, the crab took a curious trip up the length of her finger, climbing the craggy peak of Jasper’s knuckle. Jasper grinned and gently, carefully, lifted her hand to watch the crab explore her arm.

“We sat there until one of these little things found your mother. And she lifted it up just like this.”

Jasper held her arm out to Connie. Slowly the girl pressed her arm along the Gem’s, waiting. A moment later the crab’s wanderings carried it onto Connie, its tiny feet tickling her skin. She giggled silently at the tiny explorer, watching it scuttle.

“I might have walked through a million of these little creatures without ever knowing they were down there. I could have grabbed it off her arm, crushed it without even trying,” Jasper said, lowering her arm. “But the only way to get it to come to me—to accept me—was to be still and silent. And when I did, I became part of the creature’s world. That’s when I started to understand a little of what your mother was talking about.”

Connie frowned at the tiny crab, and then up at Jasper. “So you’re saying I should stop trying to summon my sword?” she asked, confused.

“I’m saying,” Jasper told her, “that you need to know when to act and when to wait. That first one is what Quartzes are made for, but the second one is hard for us. Your mother helped me learn how. Her lesson, and a thousand others, are the reason I’m here right now. They’re why Peridot and Lapis are here. And they’re more important than any weapon ever could be.”

Connie tilted her arm, coaxing the fiddler crab onto the back of her hand, and brought it up even with her nose, watching it carefully. “I think I understand,” she said. Grinning, she admitted, “But it doesn’t make waiting any easier.”

Jasper chuckled. “That’s what the practice is for,” she said. Then she sobered suddenly, and added, “Don’t tell Peridot about the crab. She’ll want to disinfect you again.”

Connie winced. “Right,” she said, lifting her free hand to press a finger to her lips. “Still and silent.”

“Especially silent,” Jasper agreed, mirroring the gesture.

Chapter Text

Connie lay awake staring at the clock on her bedside table. It was 4:17 am on the first day of the new year and she wanted nothing more than to return to blissful unconsciousness. But her mind wouldn't allow it. What sleep she had managed to get was fitful and left her feeling even more exhausted than before she'd gone to bed. The beach house was quiet, peaceful. The moon providing the only illumination. Spreading a soft glow across the living room below. As far as she could tell no one had returned yet.

Would they return?

The thought was ridiculous, the logical part of her mind knew this. Of course they'd return. For all she knew all three of them were sulking in the temple right now while she lay here staring at the red numerals on her clock tick by. With a sigh she rolled over onto her side, away from her clock, and resolutely closed her eyes. She tried to clear her mind, tried to relax her muscles, tried to breath away the tension in her body. But worrying thoughts kept floating up through her consciousness. What if they didn't come back? What if the fight at Steven's house hadn't been a regular occurrence for the gems? What would her mom have done? She'd know how to fix this. She'd know how to restore balance. So why didn't she? She put a hand to the gem on her chest. She wasn't like her mom. She didn't know how to hold everyone together. That put her mind on another thought. On something Peridot had said through Hiddenite earlier.


You ALL abandoned Connie! Doug; Lapis; Jasper; before Connie had aged two months it was me trying desperately to ensure a fragile, helpless little being survived in an empty house and an emptier temple.


Why had everyone left her in the beginning? Well everyone save Peridot evidently. Was it because...was it because they blamed Connie for her mother's death? Blamed her for the loss of Citrine? Connie curled in on herself and clutched her hand to her chest.

“Why did you leave? Why did you choose to have me? They need you. I don't know what to do. I don't know how to help them,” she whispered to the yellow gem set in her chest. It didn't give her any of the answers she needed.

Connie rolled over onto her back and put her forearm against her forehead. It was then that she realized she was crying. Tears were streaming unbidden down her cheeks. No. She couldn't be crying she thought as she reached up with both hands and rubbed at her eyes. The protagonist in her books never cried over problems like this. They figured out how to solve them. Definitely a heroine demerit for her. But then the sobs came. Low and quiet, forcefully shaking her small shoulders with their intensity. She wasn't a heroine. She didn't know what she was supposed to do.


No, she had to be strong. For Lapis. For Peridot. For Jasper. She had to be strong like her mother.

For all of them.

But she still kept crying until a fitful sleep finally claimed her.

Candle flames flickered and swayed in the slight draft of Jasper's furious pacing. Shadows cast by the wavering points of light danced about her feet. Her huge fists clenched and unclenched steadily and a low, near constant growl issued from behind her clenched teeth. The burly gem looked as if she would go on like this forever but finally she stopped mid-stride and turned to the sprawling, candle haloed mural that took up a good portion of her room's wall.

Citrine seemed to be staring down at her.


“I...could have handled that better. That's not how a leader should behave,” she admitted in her low, rumbling voice. “But if you'd been there and seen that shameful display you'd understand! Lapis was using fusion like some frivolous toy. Such a display of indecency, and they paraded around like that in front of Connie.”

Citrine didn't respond. Not that Jasper had expected her to. Despite usually being a gem of few words she found it helpful at times to talk through her thoughts with someone else. That someone used to be Citrine.

Now it was the battleground mural featuring herself and their former leader on her wall.

“Fusion isn't meant for that. It's a battle tactic, a means to acquire greater strength. Not some intimate exchange. Not some party trick for a bunch of humans to gawk at,” Jasper continued. “And Lapis! She was completely out of control. She's always out of control. That's why she needs a fusion partner like me. I can contain her. Control her. Give her focus.”

She'd turned away from the mural now, but she still felt the weight of Citrine's gaze on her back. She tried to imagine how Citrine would have handled the situation. What Citrine would do now after Lapis had ran away to hide again and Peridot had gone chasing after her. She needed answers. But she was the only one around to give them.

“Peridot and Lapis, time and again they go through this cycle. Their little dates. Their little games. The flirting. It always ends the same way. Lapis screws it up somehow and Peridot is left to pick up the pieces. I don't understand why she still puts up with it after all these centuries,” Jasper grated at the floor tiles as she knelt down to observe them. Perhaps hoping for some clues to this mess in their rough surface. Contemplating her teammate's cyclical relationship brought something else to mind though. Something Lapis had said earlier that night.


This isn’t about Citrine; this is about jealousy! You’ve been thirsty for a long, cool drink of Lapis for millennia, ever since Malachite, but especially since Doug swept in and made it clear Citrine was open to a relationship, just not open to a relationship with you!


Jasper balled her hands into fists and ground her teeth together as the biting words played through her mind again. Malachite had been nothing to her. It was just another path to power. A way for the Rebellion to gain greater strategic advantage. She didn't miss that power. She didn't miss fusion. She didn't miss that sense of closeness to someone else, the connection. The intimacy. The feeling of being wanted.

“I'M NOT JEALOUS OF YOUR PATHETIC FUSION LAPIS!!!” she roared as she slammed her fist into the chamber floor below her. Had this been any other structure there would be a rather large crater at the point where her fist had made contact. But this was the Temple. It was made of sterner stuff. A few cracks spider-webbed around her fingers as she stared down at the floor breathing heavily. Trying to regain control of herself, a bitter, rough laugh escaped her lips.

“Now who's putting on a shameful display?” She asked the mural as she straightened and turned around to face Citrine once more. She stared up at her former leader, her former companion of so many battles and not for the first time deeply missed her counsel. Her comforting words. The simple joy of her presence.

But she didn't have those anymore.

“I'm sorry. I'll do better,” she said quietly, back in control. “I'll do better for Connie.”

Lapis floated listlessly through a crushing void absent of all light. She couldn't see anything. She couldn't hear anything. She could only feel the cold, immense pressure of countless tons of water. It was perfect. Although if she was honest she could really use a donut right now. Or a dozen donuts. Maybe two dozen.

She'd done it again. Just like Jasper said. She'd flown away to hide. This time in the deepest part of the ocean she could find. Thoughts of Jasper inevitably lead to thoughts of Malachite. Maybe...maybe that's why she'd chosen this place? It reminded her of Malachite. Cold. Dark. Suffocating. The complete opposite of Hiddenite.




Every time you and Peridot reach the end of this tiresome cycle, you out-sulk her. She mopes around almost as wrecked as her limb enhancers...


Why did she always do this? Why did she put the gem she cared about so much, the gem she'd been through so much with, through this cycle time and time again? Peri didn't deserve that. Peri didn't deserve her. Lapis just used Peridot... Used her to feel better about herself. Used her as a source of affection. A source of love. A source of self-worth.

Jasper was right.

She did nothing but hurt Peridot.

She did nothing but hurt everyone around her.

Lapis screamed. She screamed with everything she had into the choking abyss. Fists clenched and eyes screwed shut. The water all around her began to vibrate and swirl. She could feel it rising and building, tons of water shifting at the influence of her despair.


Remember Lemuria?!


Jasper's words howled across her mind. Her eyes snapped open as she realized what she was doing. Desperately she reached out to the water all around her. Forced it to calm. Forced it to stillness. Finally she relaxed and went limp in the watery void.

“Moron. Do you want to wreck every coast that touches the Atlantic?” she mumbled to herself. Or at least she tried to. Talking to yourself, or in general, didn't work so great six miles below the ocean.

Lapis pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, burying her face in her legs. Maybe this time she should stay gone. Just stay down here. Away from everything. That way she couldn't hurt Peridot. She couldn't hurt...


Connie needed her.

She groaned internally with memories of the scene she'd caused at the New Year's party. Her little Con-con must be so embarrassed. And angry... Stars, and Pinkie Pie had seen all of that. So had his parents. Lapis wouldn't be surprised if they'd tried to call child services after that one. What a mess. Her mess. And Connie would need her help to clean it up.

That settled it Lapis thought as she slowly began floating up towards the surface. She might be a walking disaster but at least one person on this mudball needed her. Wanted her. Well, hopefully. After tonight who knew? But she'd try to do better.

For Connie.

Peridot sat on a rough clifftop overlooking the dark ocean waves. She didn't know where she was exactly, the navigational equipment in her limb enhancers could easily tell her, but right now she really didn't care. This was where she'd lost Lapis. Where she'd given up the chase as a futile effort. She'd never be able to locate her in the vastness of the sea if Lapis didn't want to be located. And Lapis certainly didn't want to be located. Peridot knew this from past experience. Excessive amounts of past experience at this point. With a sigh she leaned back on her elbows and looked up at the still dark sky. If Jasper was right about anything it was that this was a cycle.

Although that was about all the big, orange, puerile dullard had been right about tonight.

“If that clod could have just kept her mouth shut for another hour or two we would have made it through the ritualistic human festivities and everything would have been fine!” Peridot shouted angrily at the empty landscape surrounding her. Although even as the words left her lips she knew they were a lie. Everything wouldn't have been fine. Perhaps they would have made it through the evening but something else would have inevitably happened sooner or later. With a similar result for herself and Lapis.

With a frustrated groan she laid back against the rocky ground and stared up at the fingers of her limb enhancers. She idly set them dancing in various patterns and positions, it served no purpose, it was just something she did at times when in deep thought. Earlier tonight had been so wonderful. The dancing, the music, the surprisingly enjoyable patriarch riddles, kissing Lapis...

But most of all Hiddenite.

Peridot thought back to their fusion. To a query Connie had put forth desiring to understand if Peridot and Lapis were aware while being a part of Hiddenite and the fusion's response to her.


Those two are here and loving every minute of being together as Hiddenite, so don’t you worry about them...


And she had loved every minute of being together with Lapis. Of being something more, of being Hiddenite. It had been so long since they last fused and it was so wonderful to be them again. Jasper said that Lapis shouldn't fuse with Peridot, that Peridot couldn't contain her. Couldn't control her. But Peridot didn't want any of that. She just wanted to be with Lapis. She just wanted to help Lapis.

But she didn't know how.

She cared deeply for Lapis but she simply could not comprehend a way to assist her in times like this, no matter how often she had made the attempt. She knew that Lapis'...instability stemmed from her past. From a time before Peridot had joined the Crystal Gems. From things the ocean gem regretted. She knew that this wasn't her fault. That it wasn't something that was wrong with her. That she wasn't just some Era-2 pebble messing everything up.

But it still hurt.


She shook her head forcefully and brought her fingers back from their eccentric formations to wipe at her eyes as she sat up. She was not going to cry anymore tonight. It made it exceedingly difficult to see out of her visor. She looked out over the ocean once again. Lapis was out there somewhere. But there was nothing more Peridot could do at present. On the horizon the sky was beginning to tinge a soft orangish yellow and the dark canopy of stars was fading to a gentle blue. It was a new day, and it would shortly be time for her morning nutritional intake preparation routine Peridot thought as she stood and readied her enhancers for flight. She had to get back. She needed to be there.

For Connie.

Chapter Text

“Uh ... Mary, are you okay?” Greg asked.

Mary sat on the bed, her hands fidgeting.

“Y-yeah,” Mary said weakly.

Greg sat next to her, silently laying a hand on her knee. She gave a small smile, but even that couldn’t quell her anxiety over everything that had happened that night. It was almost three in the morning but she couldn’t see herself falling sleep anytime soon.

She wondered if Steven was actually sleeping or if he too was too shaken to get any rest. It wouldn’t surprise her, but she didn’t check to be sure. She wasn’t sure she could be comforting when she herself felt like she needed comfort.

Greg rubbed her knee.

“You’re stressed out over what happened, aren’t you?” Greg said carefully.

Mary shrugged.

“Well, we just had half our backyard wrecked by two aliens in a sweater. I think that would stress anyone out,” Mary said, glancing at the floor.

“Is ... that really all it is?” Greg said.

“Yeah,” Mary said. But she couldn’t keep up the act and put her face in her hands. “No. No, it’s not.”

Greg nodded.

“Yeah, I thought so,” Greg said. “Wanna talk about it, Starlight?” He chuckled. “I mean, I know I’m just a pretty face, but these pretty ears work too.”

Mary managed a chuckle and gave him a playful push.

Stop,” she said with a laugh. Her chuckle died out as she stood from the bed. “I don’t know, I just ...” She clutched her shoulders. “Greg? All that stuff that happened in front of Connie ... should we ...”

She rubbed her temple.

“I mean, should we do something?!” Mary said, raising her voice. “You saw what happened! Like ... is it healthy for Connie to be around that?”

“Well ...” Greg rubbed his beard. “I mean, I know seeing Hiddenite throw stuff around like that was scary, but from what Steven says, a lot of Connie’s life can get like that, I don’t think it’s--”

Mary shook her head.

“I don’t give a crap about that!” Mary said. “Yeah, I guess magic stuff happens sometimes and sometimes it can get out of control like that, but that’s not what I’m worried about. I’m worried about everything else!”


“I mean, did you hear what they said in front of that poor girl?!” Mary shouted. Her heart pounded and she was getting emotional, but she didn’t care. “All that stuff about how some of them weren’t there for Connie, acting like they resent her for whatever happened to her mom, what the hell was that?! It’s not fair! That’s never okay to say in front of a child! I don’t care if they’re an alien or xenomorph or whatever--”

“Starlight, take a deep breath, calm down” Greg said, standing up and moving towards her. Mary shirked away.

“How can I calm down?!” Mary said. “And it’s not like it went over her head! I know it didn’t! I could see the look in her eyes. I mean, do you know what that must feel like?! To hear the people who are supposed to protect you say things like that right in front of you?! Because I do. You know that!”

“Starlight--” Greg cupped one of her cheeks.

You know how I was raised!” Mary said, her voice cracking.

There was a long pause. Greg sighed, letting his hand fall from her face.

“Yeah ... yeah, I know,” he said.

Mary couldn’t stop her breathing from quickening. It didn’t bother her often. She felt like it shouldn’t bother her anymore at all. It was a long time ago. It’s not like she had anything to do with her parents anymore; it was all over and done with, she felt stupid for even thinking about it.

And yet, sometimes she’d get reminded of it. Reminded of what it was like to have parents arguing at home all the time. Reminded of being blamed for her parents problems so much she started believing she was the cause. Reminded of crying in the mornings before school and wearing a fake smile so no one would know she was sad. Reminded of waking up almost every night to the sound of yelling. Reminded of never being able to relax when it was quiet because she always, always, knew it was just a prelude to more screaming, more awfulness, more feelings of helplessness she couldn’t do anything about--

“I-I need a cigarette,” Mary said, her head pounding. She pulled open the drawer of the nightstand and started rifling through it.

“I thought you quit?” Greg said.

Mary turned back, faint blush on her cheeks.

“I did! You know, basically,” she said, pulling a pack from the drawer.

“Hey, hey, look,” Greg said. He approached from behind, holding himself against her, before he gently took the pack from her hands. “Let’s just talk for a second, okay?” He hugged her. “Alright?”

Mary sighed, feeling her breathing get a little slower.

“Alright ...” she said, exhaling.

They sat back down on the bed. Mary rubbed her temple.

“So what do you think?” Mary said. “Should we call someone or--”

Greg scratched the back of his neck.

“Well ... I don’t know,” Greg said. “I mean, I think we should keep an eye on things but ... well, everyone has a bad day, you know? It’s not like we’ve never argued before--”

“But not like that. And not in front of Steven,” Mary said seriously. She shook her head. “I don’t even like when we have arguments.”

Greg smiled.

“Making up after is fun,” Greg said.

“It’s alright,” Mary said with a grin.

Greg gave a mock frown.

“I ... I feel so attacked right now,” he said.

Mary sputtered out a laugh, despite herself.

“That ... that’s what I love about you,” she said. “Even when I’m being a basket case you always make me laugh.” She traced her finger along his thigh. “Well ... I love that and other things.”

Greg grinned. Mary set her hands back in her lap.

“I dunno,” Mary said, “just ... imagining them fighting like that all the time--”

“I don’t think they’re like that all the time,” Greg said. “Like before that, they were fine. We were getting along and everything.”

“That doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Lots of people can fake how they act in public.” Mary immediately thought of herself as a child, acting cheerful, but she didn’t mention it for fear of getting worked up again.

“Well yeah,” Greg said, waving his hand. “But I think if they were faking, Steven wouldn’t have such nice things to say about them. And he’s been around them a heck of a lot more than we have. Plus it’s not like Steven would keep it a secret if he actually thought Connie was in, you know, danger or something.”

Mary bit her lip and nodded.

“Y-yeah, I guess that’s true,” she said. “He’d definitely tell us if he was afraid for Connie.” She smiled. “He’s a good little boyfriend.”

Greg snickered for a second, then fidgeted with his thumbs.

“Plus ... well, there’s one other thing,” Greg said. “Connie hasn’t really asked for any help. Like if we knew she was in a terrible situation and was too afraid to say anything, that’d be one thing, but ... I dunno, she doesn’t seem like that. And if she’s not asking us for help, like ...” Greg shrugged. “I dunno, she should have a say in what happens in her own life, you know? I don’t feel like we’re in any place to decide for her.”

Mary considered all this and nodded.

“Maybe you’re right,” Mary said. “I dunno, I always remembered being too afraid to tell anyone anything but--”

“But Connie might not be going through the same thing you did, honey,” Greg said gently.

Mary looked him in the eye. She took a deep breath through her nose and exhaled.

“Maybe ...” she said. After a moment, she added, “I’m still gonna keep an eye on things.”

“That’s fine,” Greg said, laying a hand on hers. “And we should. Let’s just not, you know, jump to any conclusions.”

Mary gave a faint smile.

“I already told Connie she could spend the night here anytime she needs to,” Mary said. “I ... I guess that’s the most I can do right now.”

“Yeah, that was a good thing,” Greg said. He gave a chuckle. “Hopefully Stu-ball doesn’t die of a heart attack if she ever takes us up on that.”

Mary snorted. She rested her other hand on top of Greg’s.

Greg was right, Mary figured. She couldn’t just take control of Connie’s life for her, especially when Mary didn’t know her full situation. She couldn’t just assume it was like her homelife, as hard as it was not to imagine.

And they had seemed nice enough before that. It was hard for her to get the image of them arguing and wrecking things out of her mind, but she’d try to. She would give them the benefit of the doubt.

... for now .

Chapter Text

Doug had a bad feeling about this as soon as he arrived at the Universe house. And not because of the obvious damage he noticed to the yard when he drove up.

And it certainly wasn’t because of Steven or Mr. Universe. Greg had seemed pleasant over the phone (more casual than Doug thought a rock star would be, certainly). Both he and Steven had greeted Doug with smiles as soon as he left his car.

No. It was because of Mrs. Universe. She stood behind Steven and Greg and wore a smile when Doug walked up but her posture seemed ... off. Her arms were folded and she wouldn’t look directly at him. There was an unmistakable tense air he noticed the second he came up.

Still, this had to be done. After all, Hiddenite had messed up their yard and ruined their New Years from what Connie had said. As nervous as Doug was, he felt he had to suck it up and be an adult.

Lord knew he’d been avoiding doing just that for far too long ...

“Hi there!” Doug said with a wave, trying to look as relaxed as he could manage.

“Hey! Glad you found the place okay!” Greg said as he put out his hand.

Doug gazed up at the large house as he shook Greg’s hand.

“It’s a bit hard to miss,” Doug said. “Every place I’ve ever lived in could fit inside it.”

“Hey, you’re telling me! I used to live in a van, believe it or not,” Greg said.

Doug chuckled. He had to admit, the friendliness emanating from the man was infectious.

Doug glanced down at Steven, who was looking up at him in silence. Doug smiled.

“And I suppose you’re the Universe boy I’ve heard so much about?” Doug said.

Steven scratched his long hair and smiled nervously.

“It’s um ... it’s nice to meet you, Mr. Maheswaran, sir,” Steven said, reaching up and shaking Doug’s hand.

“Likewise,” Doug said.

“So um ...” Steven let go of Doug’s hand. “What ... exactly has Connie been saying about me? Good stuff?”

“Mostly,” Doug said with a shrug.

“Wait, ‘mostly’?” Steven said, a flush on his cheeks.

Greg covered his mouth, an unmistakable snort coming from his nose. This was enough for Steven to seemingly get the joke.

“Oh um ... heh, I get it,” Steven said, face getting redder. “F-funny ...”

Nice kid, Doug thought with a smile. A moment later though, his heart beat quickened. Too nice. Oh god, my daughter thinks he’s adorable, doesn’t she?

Doug however shook his head and resolved to worry more about that later.

Greg glanced to his wife and smacked himself on the forehead.

“Oh gosh, where are my manners?” Greg said. “I didn’t even introduce you! This is my beautiful wife, Rosemary.”

She stepped forward, holding out her hand. However, her shoulders were stiff, as if relaxing for her right now was impossible.

“Call me Mary,” Mary said.

“R-right,” Doug said, trying and failing to conceal his nervousness. He shook her hand for a moment, then felt a tight squeeze before he let go. He rubbed his hand, which was now red. “Wow, you uh-- you got a good grip there.”

“Oh ... sorry,” Mary said. Her eyes were downcast. Again, Doug got the unmistakable feeling she was trying to acknowledge his prescience as little as possible.

Greg glanced at his wife, then back to Doug. He clasped his hands together.

“Well, um ...” Greg coughed. “Let’s talk more inside! Give you the grand tour!”

“S-sure,” Doug said, shrugging.

Doug walked in, making sure to keep his distance from Mary.

Just as a precaution.

Unfortunately, despite Doug’s effort, it didn’t take long to get awkward.

After Greg gave a brief tour of their living room/musical instrument storage area, Doug finally summoned the courage to get to the point of why he came.

“Listen, Greg,” Doug spoke up, before looking to Steven and Mary. “Well, all of you, I ... I just wanted to say I’m very sorry for what happened on New Years.”

Greg paused, before waving his hand.

“Eh, don’t worry about that,” Greg said.

But Steven seemed to fidget awkwardly. More alarmingly was Mary, who was glancing down at the floor with a dark look in her eyes.

“No no, really,” Doug protested. “It was not okay for the Gems to ... disrupt your New Year’s the way they did. Especially the damage to the yard.” He pulled out his checkbook. “I mean, it’s only fair I cover the damage--”

Greg chuckled and waved his hand.

“Look, really, Doug, don’t worry about any of that,” Greg said. “We have insurance. And even if we didn’t, I’m rich, it’s nothing you need to--”

“Well, there has to be something I can do,” Doug said. “I know how they can get sometimes. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened so--”

Really?” Mary said suddenly, looking up. She folded her arms. “Really, that’s just a-- just a thing that happens?”

“Uhh ...” Doug said, taken aback.

Steven’s eyes darted to his mother and Doug, perplexed. Greg seemed equally shaken up.

“Uh ...” Greg laughed nervously. “Y-yeah, so anyway, why don’t I show you the rest of the house and--”

Mary cut him off.

“Doug, would it be alright if I spoke to you in private for a moment?” Mary said.

“Mary ...” Greg said in a hushed tone.

“I just want to ask him something, that’s all,” Mary said in a tone that was in no way reassuring.

Mary’s eyes were now set on Doug and would not waver. The look in them was intense and scary.

To be honest, it gave Doug flashbacks to the first time he met Jasper.

Doug couldn’t say he wanted to have such a conversation, but considering all they had been through, Doug didn’t have a right to say no. Besides ... he had a feeling she wouldn’t take “no” for an answer anyway.

“Um ... sure, of course,” Doug said, nodding.

Steven looked up at his mother, but said nothing.

Greg seemed to notice, as he let out a nervous laugh and put his hands on his son’s shoulders.

“H-hey Stu-ball, I just remembered, I need you to help me with a song I’m writing!” Greg said.

“But--” Steven started.

“Hehe, sorry, but it’s super important and you need to help me in the studio right now,” Greg said, gently pushing his son with him down the hall.

Before he disappeared from the room, he caught eyes with Doug and grimaced. He didn’t say anything, but his eyes seemed to say “sorry.”

Doug heard a door down the hall shut, and then he and Mary were alone.

There was an awkward silence. Doug opened his mouth to say something, but then Mary interrupted.

“We should sit down,” Mary said.

Her tone didn’t make this sound like a request.

“R-right,” Doug said. “Good idea.”

They went into the living room. Mary sat in a chair by the fireplace, Doug taking a seat right across from her.

Doug rubbed his legs awkwardly.

Mary’s stare had not gotten any less intense.

Doug took a deep breath.

“This um ...” Doug cleared his throat. “This really is a lovely home you have here, thank you for--”

“Is your daughter safe?” Mary blurted out.


“Is your daughter safe with those women?” Mary said. Curiously, her hard demeanor broke and she seemed in a state of panic. “I mean, if this is just something that happens, how can you just let Connie be exposed to that? What if she gets hurt? Or ... forget that, she’s already hurting being around that kind of talk so--”

“Whoa whoa whoa,” Doug said, holding up his hands. “Slow down! I...” Doug took a breath. “Listen, I know I said things like this have happened before, but I don’t think it’s a regular enough occurrence that--”

Mary’s panic, however, did not subside. In fact, Doug got the feeling she hardly even heard his statement.

“I mean,” she went on, “d-did she tell you what happened?”

“Yes, of course she did!” Doug said, raising his voice. “And ... trust me, I am not happy about it either. Hiddenite’s always been a bit of a problem whenever she appears.”

“So she is dangerous?”

“Ye- no!” Doug said, his face flushing, realizing how bad all this must sound. “I-- listen, I’m sure this arrangement must sound very ... worrying to other people but--”

Ya think?!” Mary shook her head. “I mean ... breaking a few things is one thing, but making it sound like they were upset Connie was born in front of her?!”

Doug straightened up.

What?” Doug said.

“I thought you said she told you!” Mary said.

“Well ... she didn’t mention that!” Doug ran his hand through his hair. Now he was feeling panicky. “They said that?!”

Basically!” Mary said. “I could tell by the look on her face that it hit her hard! And why wouldn’t it? Just ...” Mary hung her head. “Kids shouldn’t have to go through that.”

Doug put two fingers to his temple. He felt sick.

“I-- I should have been here ...” Doug mumbled.

Mary let out a humorless laugh. Doug looked up, feeling anger rise in his gut. He wasn’t usually the type to get angry but ... something about her tone was making him defensive.

“I mean, you can see why I’d be concerned right?” Mary said. “We got this ... lovely young girl and she’s just-- it seems like she might go through things like this all the time--”

“She doesn’t,” Doug interjected, but Mary just kept going.

“--and seemingly her father is never around--”

“I have to work to support her, it’s not my fault!” Doug said, his blood boiling.

“Well, whose fault is it?!” Mary said. “You’re her father, you’re supposed to protect her, and you just let stuff like this happen?!”

“I do protect her--”

Do you?!” Mary said. “I mean, Steven and Connie have been practically dating for well over a month and he’s never even met you till today! How is that normal if you were really looking after her?

In that moment, Doug could not have recalled a time when he had been more angry at another human being.

It’s not like that, alright?!” Doug said, raising his voice without meaning to. “It’s an odd situation, but I would never let Connie stay there if I didn’t think she was safe! And with all due respect, Mrs. Universe, it is not your place to tell me how to raise my daughter--”

Mary gritted her teeth and yelled.

“How can I tell you how to raise your daughter when you clearly DON’T raise your daughter?!” Mary shouted.

Doug sat back stunned, as if he had been physically struck. His anger melted away as he just stared at Mary.

Mary, oddly enough, had a similar reaction. The anger melted from her face and her expression softened. For the first time since he arrived, she looked like the caring woman Doug remembered seeing on stage with Greg all those years ago.

“Oh god,” Mary said, putting her hand to her mouth. “I--I’m sorry, I don’t ... I don’t know what came over me. I--” Mary stood up abruptly from her chair. “I should go.”

Doug, feeling conflicted, instinctively leaned forward to comfort her, which was odd considering just a moment ago he was more furious with her than he even thought possible.

“Hey, wait, listen--” Doug said softly.

“No, you’re right, it’s not my place and just-- I need to go. I’m sorry.”

Mary walked out of the living room and left Doug alone.

He sat in the chair, all of Mary’s words sinking in. He felt like he wanted to throw up.

The worst part was that, whether Mary knew it or not, her words were completely fair. And Doug knew it.

He couldn’t believe the Gems had said something like that around Connie and he hadn’t been there to help her.

Then again ... he was never there to help her ...

He lingered in the living room for another moment before he felt too awkward being alone in someone else’s house. With a sigh, he stood up and started for the door.

Before he could even reach for the front of the house, he felt something grab his shoulder

He turned around to see Greg. Greg gave his shoulder a pat.

“Hey uh ...” Greg cleared his throat. “You feel like having a drink or something?” He pointed with his thumb over his shoulder.

Doug thought of declining, feeling like he didn’t deserve any hospitality after all that, but Greg’s awkward, friendly smile was hard to turn down.

Doug sighed.

“Yeah ... sure, I guess ...” Doug said.

Greg took him to a room upstairs he called the mellow room. It was a pretty minimalistic room aside from some ... interesting band posters on the wall. Aside from that, it had a mini-fridge, a desk, and an acoustic guitar.

“What do you like to drink?” Greg said, crouching down and opening the mini-fridge.

Doug sighed.

“Anything that will help me forget about my life choices,” Doug said sadly.

Greg glanced back at Doug.

“... well uh ... cherry soda, okay?” Greg said.

“That’ll work,” Doug said with a shrug.

Greg threw Doug a plastic soda bottle. There was a fizz as Greg opened another for himself.

“Where’s your son?” Doug asked, opening his soda.

“Ah, he went out,” Greg said. “Figured out the whole ‘help with my song’ thing was a lie pretty quick and went out for a walk. Probably going to hang out with Connie or something.”

“Hm,” Doug nodded. “Yeah. Well ... it’s good she can talk to someone that’ll make her feel better today.”

Greg gave Doug a look and scratched the back of his head.

“Listen um ...” Greg said, “I couldn’t help but overhear some of, you know ... all that. I already talked to Starli-- Mary, I mean. She’s pretty upset about what she said. Needed some time to herself. She’s ... kinda been through a lot in life and--” He shook his head. “A-anyway, I’m sorry if things got a little heated.”

Doug took a sip of the cherry soda.

“Honestly? She doesn’t have much to apologize for,” Doug said. “She was right.”

“Come on, don’t be that hard on yourself, dude,” Greg said.

“Well ... it’s true,” Doug said. “If I was actually there, maybe things wouldn’t have been as bad as they were. Maybe-- I dunno, maybe if I had been around more, Connie wouldn’t have to ever deal with anything like that and-- I dunno. I just ... I dunno.” He took another swig of cherry soda. “I’m ... I’m trying to do better but maybe it’s already too late ...”

“Look, dude,” Greg said, “I know what it’s like to feel ... you know, guilty about stuff going on with your kids, even if it’s something you can’t change. That’s something I had to learn myself. Like ...” Greg traced his finger along the rim of his bottle. “I mean, after Steven was born, I felt awful cause I was worried my, you know, my genes or something might have caused ...”

Greg paused and shook his head. Doug stared at him, wide eyed, unable to say anything.

“Well anyway, it doesn’t matter,” Greg said. “I was ... I was just beating myself up for something I had no control over,” Greg said. “Like ... you can’t change what’s already happened, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to be there for your kids, help the things you do have control over.” Greg cleared his throat. “If ... that makes any sense. I dunno, I’m a rockstar, not a psychologist or whatever.”

Doug looked down in his cherry soda. He felt some of the tenseness leaving his shoulders

“No ... actually, what you’re saying makes a lot of sense,” Doug said. “I’m sorry for raising my voice at Mary though. I should tell her--”

“I’ll let her know,” Greg said. “Like I said, right now she needs some alone time. She really is nice but ... Starlight burns hot sometimes, you know?”

Doug raised his eyebrow.

“Is that a song lyric?” Doug asked.

Greg’s eyes drifted past Doug for a moment.

“No, but ... I should use that ...” he said slowly.

Doug chuckled and pulled out his phone.

“Let me text Connie again. Hopefully she answers this time,” Doug said. “There was some ... other ... stuff going on today, I want to make sure she’s alright, even if Steven is already doing that.”

Doug pulled out his phone and texted a quick message. As he slid his phone back into his pocket, he stopped and looked at Greg.

“So is Connie actually dating your son or--”

Greg snorted.

“Well, neither have them have said that but, you know, come on,” Greg said.

Doug sighed. Greg reached out and patted him on the shoulder.

“Don’t worry, being a parent is hard for everyone, buddy,” Greg said.

“Heh! Yeah ... yeah,” Doug said, for the first time letting out a genuine laugh as he did.

Chapter Text

Peridot hummed to herself as she carefully bounced and paced the open area of the Beach House, a set of floating digits resting on the small child’s back, head resting on her shoulder to the side. Small breaths filled the silence as her other set of floating fingers held up a book, flipping through pages.

“Mmmm... heating water… Temp..” she grumbled to herself. This couldn’t be that hard right.. She thought and continued to read. She had three books on the go: What to Prepare for During the First Year, The Book of Baby Care and InfantSmart. She had read them at least three or four times already, though she found herself perplexed by the information the books offered. As she read on, she only felt her eyes grow tired and sore.

She closed the book and sighed, sitting down on the sofa then leaned back. She had been reading all about “the mother’s touch” and how important it was for the baby to make skin contact with its mother, to calm the baby and help it sleep. She eyed down to the small figure resting on her shoulder before turning her eyes to her floating digits and made a decision. She carefully set the infant down and removed the upper part of enhancer.

It only took a moment for the baby to let out a soft whine. She barely stretched her fingers before she had to scoop up the small being into her arms, shushing her softly.

“Hello, small human. Don’t worry. You have not been left alone...” She whispered, cradling the girl. She leaned back and hummed a slightly familiar jazzy tune. Her eyes flicked up over the Beach House door to the large painting of their now-former leader. It had been a short while since she passed and in her wake, she left a small being; an infant, Peridot had learned. She and Citrine had done much reading on the subject, mostly Citrine. Peridot wished she had studied more vigorously instead of having to learn everything now. That was poor foresight on her part.

Citrine had been so excited, telling Peridot about how this child would be something so amazing. Part human and part gem, the first of its kind...

Peridot could remember the sparkles of excitement in her eyes. It was hard to understand Citrine’s choices, but she supported her, unlike her fellow gems. She knew that Citrine wanted this, so she was in no place to say anything about it.

The calm only lasted a moment before Connie, the chosen name for her, began to let out a soft cry. Peridot got to her feet and began to pace, softly rocking her. Peridot began to rack her brain, when was the last bottle made? Did she forget to make another and put it in the refrigerator? She really should be writing this stuff down. She had only just napped, she could be just grumpily waking up?

“Hey, Grumpy. Heyyy... yeah, hi…” She smiled as the little one calmed, turning her head slightly to look up towards Peridot’s face. She could see that Connie was trying to focus on her face, wanting to find where her voice came from. They were very alert, slowly learning all the time, unlike Gems. It was ... fascinating.

“Yes, hello. Hello, Connie. Such a pretty face you have. And your eyes are so tiny, my goodness,” She chuckled, watching the little eyes scan her face. Her heart skipped a beat as she made a soft little coo. Domestic life was not quite Peridot’s thing, but for Connie, she would do anything. If playing a caretaker role was what she needed to do, that is exactly what she would do.

Shifting the child to rest in a single arm, she made her way to the kitchen, pulling the fridge open and peering inside; she did happen to make a bottle.

“Thank the Skies.” She whispered, and began to hum, peeking down at Connie every so often as she filled a pot of water to put on the stove to warm the bottle. She watched little hands reach and open and close slowly, her small legs kicking every so often. Peridot found herself chuckling at the small sounds from the child. She wished she could understand what was so interesting, but she guessed that would remain a mystery.

Her eyes wandered over the empty Beach House as she fed the bottle to Connie. It wasn’t exactly the environment she would hope for Connie to grow up in.

An empty home... it isn’t my place to make the choices for them, all I can-- could do is-- she heard a small pop that pulled her out of her thoughts, looking down to Connie who turned her head away, losing hold of the bottle’s nipple and letting out soft sounds as she wiggled.

“Hmm not hungry, huh?” The child began to pout then cry, pulling Peridot’s heart strings like she never thought could happen. She spoke, sure she was stating the obvious but it was really to keep herself sane in the quiet house more than anything else. “Hey... hey, it’s okay. I’m right here. What’s wrong baby?“

She stood and rested Connie on her chest, a hand on the back of her head, the other on her bottom as she began to pace. But it wouldn’t calm her; she just kept crying. And really, Peridot couldn’t help but let out a dry sob.

This wasn’t fair. For either of them, but she had to be strong. If she didn’t, both of them would cry and nothing would get done. She let a few tears slip down her cheeks as she racked her brain, for something to do, anything.

...lullabies. Baby’s enjoyed singing, right?

“A-ah..” She choked out. She didn’t know any. Why hadn’t she looked any up!? She was stuck pacing without any way to take a moment to think something up.

No matter. She could do this. Deep breaths.

“Y-you’re just so strange / Your So-.. peculiar??/ This world she’s left, it all to you now. / There is so much, you should know / about this world you’ll battle for” She began, her voice shaking slightly, her mind searching, pulling for any words she could find that made sense together. At least for her sake…

She couldn’t find something more, until a little hand reached up and rested on the side of her neck, little fingers opening and closing to feel her skin. She smiled, “For now: You will dominate with little hands, and giggles I can’t understand, and by the time that you can walk…”

She paused, chuckling softly, “You’ll never stop. / You’re ever changing, and yet... so tiny. / Oh so defenseless… what they call- ‘A baby’ ? / You’ll do so much in this world. / Hush now, don’t fuss my girl…”

She sang as she swayed softly walking around the emptiness of the beach house, pausing at the end as she looked to the temple door and frowned, before turning away from it.

“’ve got us.”

Chapter Text

Babbles filled the Beach House as Peridot went between the book on her lap and the toddler playing in front of her, the child squealing with joy as she smacked blocks into one another. Little eyes peeked up at the green gem as the toddler babbled, tossing all kinds of sounds into the mix. She waved pudgy hands as if she was telling an extremely serious story, then she paused and laughed to herself.

Peridot nodded. “And then what?”

Connie started up once more. Peridot had been reading about how important it was to engage them in conversation, to teach them how a conversation worked by asking them questions between babbles.

“Mama!” slipped out of the toddler's mouth, causing Peridot to stiffen. She looked up from her page, making eye contact with the child.

“Mama?” It was almost a question as the toddler scooted her way over to Peridot.

Peridot’s was starry-eyed and smiling as she let the book fall to the floor.

“That’s right, Mama~” Bringing the toddler up in to her lap, Peridot cooed and tickled her belly.

“Mama!” Connie cooed back, grabbing at Peridot's hand-equivalent.

“Yes! Good job, Connie, good job!” She smiled, leaning back against the couch as she pushed a few stray curls from the hybrid’s face. In doing so the yellow of a familiar painting entered her peripheral vision.

Peridot felt her heart sink, the babbling almost becoming white noise. She swallowed heavy before looking down to the toddler.

“Mama?” She tilted her head, smiling genuinely up at the gem.

“N-no no... not Mama...” Peridot stuttered out. She placed hand-equivalents under tiny armpits and picked the small being up. Little feet kicked and arms wiggled, Connie clearly not wanting to leave the gem's lap.

“MAMAMAMAMAMAMMAMAMA” yelled the toddler, waving little hands in the air.

“Ah! N-no no no, uh uh…”



The toddler blinked up at the green gem, then broke into a bright smile.

“Say it with me. Muh-ah-ah-muh. Ma’am.”

“Mama~” cooed the toddler

The teary-eyed gem sighed and brought the toddler in close, gemstone resting against pudgy forehead. "For now that will do, Connie. For now..."

Connie cooed and giggled.

Chapter Text

Peridot smiled at the little girl laying on her back staring up at the hanging toys above her with soft coos of enjoyment, little fingers grasping at air as she tried to reach them. Peridot would give one or two a poke making them wiggle and jiggle.

Peridot was finally getting a hang of all this parenting stuff, 12 months in. She couldn’t help but watch her grow, catch every little moment of change and learning. She never felt so grateful for being able to experience something so amazing. She knew Citrine would as well. She took many photos for memories, keeping dates in books, there was a human made book just for that… ‘milestones.’

Everything was going according to plan. Connie had just gone down to nap, and Peridot was getting a head start on putting together bottles for the refrigerator. She was busy measuring when she heard the unfamiliar sound of the front door open.. Peridot peeked up from her work, eyes wide as she saw the familiar blue gem step inside, hand resting on the door still as they stood in silence.

Peridot’s face rolled through emotions: confusion, anger, joy, sadness. Tears welled up in the corner of her eyes before she dashed around the end of the counter, pulling the blue gem into a tight hug. This caught the gem by surprise before she hugged back. They stood in silence as the door fell shut, the two holding tight to one another.

“Where have you been..?” Peridot whimpered into the blue gem’s shoulder. It felt like an eternity that she had been gone, that Peridot had been alone.. That they had all abandoned them.

“Around…” answered Lapis, nuzzling into the green gem, closing her eyes.

“You left..”

“And now I’m back..”

“How long..?”

Lapis’ eyes fluttered open, her mouth falling ajar before shutting and opening a few times, trying to find an answer. But she didn’t have one. “I-I.. I don’t know..”

It wasn’t long until Lapis was sipping the cup of tea. A mediocre brew in Peridot’s estimation, but then it was more a prop than beverage.

“So… where have you been?”

“Around, you know. Here... there…”

“That’s not an ans--”

“How’s the tyke doing?” she cut in, changing the topic.

Peridot sighed. “She is well… How long are you going to be here?”

“I told you, I don’t know… Where is the little thing?” The blue gem asked, peering around the immediate area.

“She’s napping, but that’s not what we are ta--” Peridot tried to get the topic back on it’s tracks. But Lapis was having none of it.

“Boring,” the blue gem groaned.

“Lapis! Not everything is made to entertain yo--”She quickly covered her mouth, squinting her eyes as she stood still for a moment before hearing soft little cries. She sighed, and made her way across the beach house and up the loft. Slipping off her arm enhancers she carefully picked the small being up, holding her close and shushing her.

Lapis watched how Peridot interacted with the small being. Patting her back and bouncing around.. She even took off her upper pair of limb enhancers. Why? Why was she treating it like it couldn’t do anything. Why was it letting her treat it like that? Within a moment, Lapis summoned her wings and with a flap she landed beside Peridot, eyeing the small being cradled in her arms.

She watched close as its tears subsided and it became silent once more, big brown eyes peering up at her. Blinking a few times the small hybrid begin wailing once more, making Lapis tilt her head with a look of near-offence. “Psh, what is it broken? It’s not doing anything.” Lapis tried to poke the little bundle, only to be smacked away by Peridot.

“Human infants are born underdeveloped, meaning it takes them time to develop the proper musculature and cognitive functions that are common in other live birth animals. And you assaulting her when I just calmed her down is not helpful to her development,” Peridot huffed, bouncing the baby softly in her arms, humming a soft tune.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

You're just so strange
You're so peculiar
This world, she left
It all to you now

There is so much
You should know
About this world you’ll
Battle for

For now you'll dominate with little hands
And giggles I can’t understand
And by the time that you can walk
You’ll never stop

You're ever-changing
And yet so teeny
Oh so defenseless
What they call 'a baby'

You’ll do so much
In this world
Hush now, don’t fuss, my girl

You’ve got us

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Lapis watched in awe. The child calmed. Looking around she pulled her foot up to her mouth and put it in.

“Gah, no Connie, we do not eat our feet..” Peridot made her way to the kitchen fetching a bottle. Switching the nipple out with the foot, little hands rested on the bottle, eyes rolling back slightly as she suckled away.

The blue gem watched her walk away with the hybrid, marveling at how different Peridot was now. She was so much more mature.. She couldn’t help the grin that was forming on her face as she watched the green gem take on the role of mother that she had seen so many times in movies. She couldn’t help but think it almost fit her, how she fawned over the little being in her arms.

Peridot looked up from Connie as she fed to meet Lapis’ eyes, half-lidded, taking in her every movement. Peridot gave a tired sigh and turned away, going back to talking softly to the baby.

Lapis was rather surprised. This Not a bad new.. But new.

Lapis ended up staying for a week, as she learned about the new being in their home. She taught her to blow raspberries and listened to her babble, a conversation of sorts between the gem and the hybrid. Peridot told Lapis all about how human babies worked and how they grew. It was interesting, she couldn’t deny the technician that. Then, in the late hours, the blue gem watched the two curled up, fast asleep. Peridot had once told Lapis that the concept of sleep was preposterous, even if she enjoyed it after a while. Looking over the two it was like the most beautiful painting she had ever seen. A moment in time frozen, perfect as it was.. Leaning forward Lapis slowly stood and brushed a large curl from the small hybrid’s face, watching her little eyes flutter open like the wings of a butterfly.

“...Sorry there sport.. Shhh, go back to sleep..” She smiled slightly as she stepped back, watching the little eyes lock on to her as she began to turn away a sound made her freeze.

“Lala?” A small voice she had only started getting to know.

She didn’t move. If she’d needed to breathe, she would have been holding it.

“Lala.. Lala?” Again, it called out to her. Peeking over her shoulder, sure enough, the hybrid was focused on Her and only her . It pulled on her heart strings harder than anything had since… since she left them..

As she began her way to the door she heard little sniffles and whines. And as she placed her hand on the door --“Lala? Lala?”-- she knew she couldn’t do it. She couldn’t walk out. So she turned back, and made her way over to the small hybrid before carefully picking her up. She looked around; with Peridot taking up a large amount of the sofa, her eyes landed on the window seat.

“You like the sea kiddo? I do.” she asked the baby as they moved towards the window. Climbing in she rested the child on her chest and looked out the window, as the waves lapped the shore she softly played with the curls of the child's hair.

With a soft coo and a yawn the baby had fallen asleep in her arms, in that little nook. Under the moonlight by the shore, all was calm and the blue gem was home.

Chapter Text

Ah, lunchtime! It may not have been the most important meal of the day, but it was a welcome reprieve from the pressures of classes, passing periods, and the unforgiving social structure of school.

Jeff hadn't been overly popular or an outcast at his former school, but here, he was "the new kid" at best. As such, he wouldn't be seeing himself find a seat at any of the tables taken by the established sorts of cliques. No, he'd have to find a place on the periphery.

He was relieved to find a small table almost in an alcove with someone he thought he recognized sitting alone. The long hair of the boy sitting at the table cascaded toward his shoulders, his face obscured as he looked intently at his tray. He methodically dragged his fork through the chicken tetrazzini with each bite he brought to his mouth as if trying to figure out if it was actually food.

Jeff, suddenly getting the wherewithal to eye his own food, grimaced for a moment before shaking it off and asking if he could sit. Getting no response, he tried again. Faced again with the feeling he was talking to a brick wall (he couldn't be that unpopular, so obviously this lunch was so bad it was zombifying students), he waved his hand near the surface of the table.

The boy's head shot up to look Jeff in the face. He blushed as he messed with something along his hairline, cringing slightly at the influx of noise as he remarked, "Sorry, I've been turning my hearing aids off during lunch."

Jeff was about to ask why when a loud, excited scream emanated from the bustling center of the lunchroom, causing the boy to wince as the sound snaked through the hearing aids and into his ears.

"This might be one of the 'quiet' areas of the lunchroom… but it's not quiet enough," he smiled awkwardly. "Were you trying to ask to sit? Because you can." As Jeff took a seat, the boy spoke again. "Hey, you're Jeff, from the, uh, Beach City class, right?"

Oh! That was where he knew the guy! He was pretty sure they shared a few other classes, but they'd only really ever properly met in the Beach City one, since they were the only two in it.

"Yeah! You're… um… Steven, right?"

Steven, face wearing an expression of simultaneous triumph and nausea as he tried to do the opposite of savoring his last bite of tetrazzini, nodded. Once Steven swallowed, he talked cautiously, unsure of the appropriate volume to match the din.

"Um, you hadn't been standing there very long, had you?"—Jeff shook his head—"Thank goodness. The other day, some girl apparently tried to talk to me for two whole minutes or something and then decided dumping all her fruit snacks on my head was a better use of her time than just leaving me alone."

Jeff sniffed uncomfortably, biting into the apple on his tray as he responded, "That's pretty rude."

Steven paused to make sure he'd properly parsed Jeff's remark before shrugging and taking a sip of his milk. "Ah, it wasn't that bad. I got a free set of fruit snacks out of the deal!" he smirked. "Actually, there might still be one in here…" he joked, pretending to search his ponytail for loot.

Jeff laughed. "I guess that's a glass half full way of looking at it!" He lifted up his own milk. "Or carton."

Steven giggled, then awkwardly tried to find something else he could eat on his tray, unsure of what to say next; he sort of wanted to turn his hearing aids back off until lunch was over but didn't want to make Jeff unwelcome.

They were both silent for a few moments as Jeff poked his entree. "I wonder if school lunches like this are what make people become vegetarians," he mumbled, looking to Steven for reaction.

Steven didn't seem to have heard what Jeff said, and honestly, he didn't look to have been paying attention at all. His brow was creased as his eyes darted between his now-sparsely-populated tray and the exit.

Jeff reached a hand out, bringing Steven back to Earth. "Dude, you okay?"

Steven hesitated as he processed Jeff's interjection, trying but failing to shake the pained expression on his face. "Yeah, it's just… I kinda wish we were allowed to leave the lunchroom after we finished eating. At one of my old schools, they used to let me, like, go to the library with a friend or two to get away from the noise, and we tried to get that here, but the people who write up the paperwork for stuff like that, I think they think I'm gonna go, like, spray paint the lockers or something because they said no. Plus, they were all like"—he put on an important-sounding air—"'lunch is your socializing time and we can't take that away from you'… but it's not like I can do much 'socializing' when everything sounds like I'm in a loud, twisted haunted house. Or is an evil torture chamber a better way to describe it?"

Jeff lifted a forkful of his still-uneaten tetrazzini and examined it intently, then let it flop off to splat onto the tray below. "Definitely torture chamber. I don't know anything about what stuff sounds like to you, but no one would make food this bad unless they were supervillains bent on mind-controlling the entire kid population of a city, ya know?"

Steven, eyes fixed intently on Jeff as he related the mind control thought, broke into a grin that was clearly barely suppressing a giggle fit. "Does that mean if we start bringing our own lunch, we're trying to fight the villain… like heroes?"

Jeff leaned back in his chair, trying to take on a nonchalant sort of persona but unable to stop himself from smiling giddily at the prospect of being a superhero. "You know, I think it does."


Steven was eating a turkey sandwich his mom had made when a paper slid into view. He cocked his head to the side inquisitively and picked it up with his free hand. In the corner near the title, a sticky note read, "Thought maybe you wouldn't wanna endure the torture chamber again... so I figured we could draw instead! ☺"

Steven looked over the top of the paper toward Jeff, who was lowering himself into a chair to Steven's right as he opened his Temporal Mistress lunchbox. Jeff smiled and motioned for Steven to look back at the paper.

Drawn below the title were two figures resembling Jeff and Steven. Around Jeff's side were various blurbs describing superpowers he presumably had—Immunity to mind control! Hypnosis! Head-exploding clarinet skills!—though Steven's was, at the moment, still blank.

Steven turned on the hearing aid in his right ear, looking to his right to catch Jeff's response to the question he was about to ask: "You play clarinet?"

"No, that's why it's head-exploding! I blew into my sister's clarinet once and it made this loud scream noise."

"That's called overblowing," he chuckled.

Jeff was silent, looking confusedly at Steven, who took a juice box out of his lunch bag and proceeded to fiddle with it as he continued, answering Jeff's unspoken question.

"My parents are musicians. My mom does music lessons," he said matter-of-factly.

"Oh, okay!" Jeff paused awkwardly. "…Sorry for making you turn on your…" He gestured at his ear, not bothering to complete the sentence before clasping his hands and blushing.

Steven, who didn't answer, frowned, though it was unclear if his expression came from the statement or the fact that his straw seemed unable to crack through the foily barrier keeping him from juicy goodness.

He groaned in uncharacteristic upset and began violently stabbing the opening. Definitely the straw thing.

Once the straw broke foil, he remarked, "It's okay. I probably would have had to turn them on eventually anyway." He shrugged and took another look at the cover as he sipped his juice.

His eyes were pulled back to Jeff again as the boy spoke up. Steven missed a few words entirely but got the gist of Jeff's explanation anyhow. "—your hero name off 'cause I didn't know what you'd wanna be called. Or what your powers would be." Jeff pointed to the title.

The Adventures of Treble Jeff and

A blank space waited for Steven to write a cheesy name of his own.

"Hmm… hand me a pencil."


Ability to resist supersonic attacks! Knowledge of multiple secret languages! Terrifying talking torture tactics!

Treble Jeff and his cool compatriot, Universal Man, had once again been captured by the dastardly Angry Administrator!

This time, though, the heroes had the upper hand! Their capture wasn't a case of getting in over their head, no! It was deliberate, a ruse, a chance to take down the operation from the inside!

They suppressed their smirks as they listened to her plan to feed her mind control pudding to everyone. "Now that I have you in my claws, nothing will stop me from exacting on the rest of these puny children their just desserts!"

Angry Administrator turned to the tapioca tin. Surprised, she shrieked as it was now clear she'd made a critical error in the capture of her enemies!

Curly coifs covered the confectionery! That might not have stopped her from serving it… but the students would never eat it now!

"Hey, 'trator!" a voice called from behind her, "Looks like you've gotten yourself into a hairy situation!"

As she turned, Universal Man pulled at his ponytail, which was significantly shorter than normal, smugly squinting at her as he willed it to grow back to its standard length.

"It's Angry Administrator! Or Angie to my friends, which you're—"

A sudden overblow cut her speech short as her head exploded.

"Aw, come on!" Universal Man turned to Treble Jeff. "I think she was about to surrender!"

Treble Jeff shrugged. "Eh. My way was faster. She'll be back, anyway. One of her powers is generating new heads!"

"Ohoho!" the heroes guffawed as they jumped away to their next mission.


The boys sat in the library after school, examining the completed first story of what they hoped would become a completed first book.

"This is coming along amazingly! I especially like that the villain just makes her head all over when she loses it." Steven nodded, approving of the punniness of her power.

"Thanks! My clarinet power's not too OP, is it?"

Steven paused as if remembering something. "No. I once made the mistake of being near the business end of a clarinet when someone did that sort of thing. They were practicing… hmm… I think it was 'Pride of the Corpse'," he said, "and Mom had been helping them all afternoon but they still didn't get it and they were probably really tired after all the practice and I think they said they were hungry and they didn't wanna listen to her so—"

"Steven, get to the point—wait, 'Pride of the Corpse'?"

"Yeah, c-o-r-p-s, 'corpse'."

"…That's pronounced 'core', Steven."

Steven looked around skeptically, as if he didn't believe this challenge to his established knowledge, then chose not to acknowledge it in his next statement. "Anyway, let me be one to say that head-exploding is almost an understatement."

Jeff snorted. "Good to know." He thumbed through the comic one more time. "How do we decide who takes it home and who doesn't?"

"Maybe we can trade off? I can get it on days ending in 'y' and you can have it on the eighth day of the week!" Steven joked.

"Hey! That's not fair!" Jeff laughed.

"It's not my fault your art is too good to give up!"

Jeff blushed. "You really think my art is good?"

"Uh, yeah! I like it and it's fun and you do action really well and I like it."

"You said that twice."

"Because it's twice as good as anything I could draw!" Steven eyed the clock and then picked up his backpack and started putting his half of the comic-writing implements that had been strewn across the table back into it. "But I guess if you don't like my first proposition, we could just alternate it. I don't want us to have any unnecessary treble, Jeff," he chuckled.

With a smile, Jeff held out his hand for Steven to shake. "I think I'll take you up on that offer, Universal Man."


For many days they worked, usually in the lunchroom, usually an unspoken lesson in teamwork, the comic passed from one to the other as if on a strange back-and-forth assembly line. Disorganized scribbles and aimless written rambles turned into an almost-storyboard of a scene littered with sticky note flags turned into coordinated panels between the two.

On the rare times they worked on the comic in class or the hallway instead of over lunch, their work was often focused on figuring out when they could meet outside of school to do some polishing on their work… or a more fun distraction, scouting for new character types.

"How about her?" Jeff spoke in a hushed tone, pointing to a woman who seemed to grace any classroom Steven entered, currently seated near the front row of desks at such an angle that she could face the room and still see the board. She was currently reading a book because the teacher was ahead of plan and had decided let the two boys' class be an unstructured study hall today while she got a bulletin board down the hall done. "Is she a villain? A civilian, perhaps?"

Steven scratched his chin before arriving at what he deemed an acceptable solution. "No! She's a… double agent. She has the power to seamlessly blend in with the villains, so she's our informant on their plans… from the inside!" He gesticulated wildly as he explained this, as if the half-pantomime, half-sign-language gestures he was pairing with the sentence were integral to fully understanding it.

The interpreter, pretending not to overhear lest it spell certain doom for the future of the comic, fought to keep a straight face as she continued to read her book.

Jeff smirked as he wrote that character down. "Okay, I don't know if this'll be harder or easier, but how about the teacher?"

Speak of the devil. She ambled through the door and to her desk to pick up some forgotten bulletin board decorations, eyeing the boys as they both scrambled to look like they were doing serious studying of emergency preparedness.

A note slid onto Jeff's desk.

"Definite villain."


It was only on a particularly loud day in the cafeteria, after a grave misconception—they'd had their share before, but nothing like this—had almost cost the life of one of the characters, that it occurred to Jeff to ask.

"…So, um… maybe should I learn some sign language or something? Y'know, so you don't have to rely on reading my lips or writing or trying to hear me over everything else in here or…" he looked at his hands and blushed, his next words falling over each other as if on a race out of his mouth, "uh-um… I dunno, maybe I should have thought about asking you earlier than now, I—" His mouth clamped shut as he rubbed one thumb against the back of another.

Steven said nothing for a long moment. Jeff, fearing the worst—or at least another misunderstanding—cautioned a glance up at his coauthor.

Steven's eyes were twinkling, maybe a little more than it seemed was possible for them to do under the grating cafeteria lights. A smile stretched wide across his face.

Jeff, eyes wide with relieved surprise, allowed himself to relax a little as Steven exclaimed.

"Of course! I've been helping my friend Connie learn stuff already, so maybe you could come, too! She's a little bit ahead of you, but I could make it work. And with you there, it'd almost be a class!"

Jeff let out a short chortle. "Does that mean you're going dark side, Mr. Universe?"

Before he replied, Steven narrowed his eyes in… confusion? Malice?

"…I, ah, didn't catch the beginning of that, but," he cleared his throat and tried to make his voice take on a different, funnier quality, "Mr. Universe is my father."

Jeff snickered before clarifying. "I asked if you were going to turn evil since having a class makes you a teacher."

With the sentiment clear now, Steven's brow arched inquisitively as he pondered that circumstance.

"Maybe not just yet, but—" He jotted it down on a list of future plots that lay on the table between the two boys… then scrawled out a place and time for a potential sign meeting. Jeff took the pencil from Steven and wrote in reply.

"I'll be there!"


Jeff didn't seem to be having a good day. He'd been completely… off during lunch. It had been an awkward thirty minutes with neither of them saying much of anything or working at all. It was as if Jeff hadn't even been there.

Here in their Beach City class, things weren't much different. Jeff kicked his feet idly, his eyes taking on a distant quality, as if they could see through walls or something. Steven glanced over often but kept most of his attention trained on the front of the class, unsure that there was anything he could really do, especially during a lecture on such important topics as what to do if the ocean froze over or a volcano full of lawn gnomes began to rain on their fair city.

Luckily, the teacher gave them an in-class assignment that required working in pairs. Or pair, as the case was. Steven and Jeff scooted their chairs toward either side of a single desk.

"Are you—" Steven began before backtracking, trying not to pry. "What's—um—is something wrong?" Was someone ghosting him? Had he forgotten his homework at home? Did someone he knew die and then get brought back to life with magic tears only to have to sacrifice their own well-being in the end so the hero could—nah, that last one only happened in movies.

"I… I don't wanna talk about it." Jeff looked off to the side, focusing his attention on twirling one of his shoelaces' aglets between his thumb and forefinger.

"…Are you sure? If you want, you don't have to talk, exactly," he whispered, pulling the comic out of his bookbag and sliding it to Jeff with all the stealth of a slinker. "I mean, not that you have to write it, either, if you just don't wanna say anything," he muttered, being careful to stop himself before other thoughts toppled out of his head and he started rambling, lest it attract the teacher's attention.

Jeff looked at the book for a span of several seconds before grabbing it and opening it to a new page. He scribbled furiously, a scene displaying a villain towering over the hero, spitting a single word at—

A throat clearing from above them brought them back to reality. They looked up like deer in headlights.

The teacher was not impressed.


The vice principal paged through their weeks of work, only making the occasional mumble of disapproval, though at one point Jeff thought he heard a stifled laugh.

Finally, she placed the comic down on her desk and eyed the two boys silently for what felt like the longest moment of either of their young lives. She sighed and opened her mouth to speak but found herself interrupted.

"I'm sorry, it's my fault!" Steven spoke. "I told him he should draw in it and if I hadn't told him then he wouldn't have gotten in trouble!"

Jeff gasped. While what Steven was saying was technically right, Steven didn't deserve the whole blame! "No, it's mine. I decided to take you up on your offer. And besides, I came up with the comic in the first place—"

The vice principal held out a hand to silence the two.

"I… I have to tell you… it's actually not a bad quality comic." The boys looked to each other in disbelief. "And I feel pretty strongly that stuff like this should be allowed as long as it's not hurting anybody or being sold… or distracting from class." They looked down.

"This might be a paper-thin parody of this school, but since it's just a bunch of basic archetypes, it doesn't directly mention anybody specific. And… it doesn't seem like you're selling it. So… as long as you promise not to write it during class or make it a viral sensation or something, I can let you off with a warning."

The boys looked to each other and then firmly toward the vice principal. "We promise!"

She reiterated that she had better not see them in there again as she waved them out and back to class, but she stopped them at the door with one last interjection. "Oh, and boys?"

They turned to look at her.

"Keep in mind that the staff here are people, too. Even if it doesn't always seem like it."


"Well, that went better than expected," Jeff said as the two walked back to class.

Steven nodded, eyes sparkling as his steps bounced excitedly with each word. "I can't believe she called it not bad! I think she secretly liked it! And that gives me an idea for a new plot."

"What's that?" Jeff smirked.

"Our first redemption!"

Chapter Text

Connie could summon force fields. This was a recent development and cause for considerable excitement, not only for Connie but for the Crystal Gems and her new friend, Steven Universe.

It was also cause for considerable frustration as the girl attempted to figure out the seemingly random behavior and limitations of her newfound power. Voicing this frustration aloud, Connie had learned from a very nonchalant Peridot that her mother could also summon force fields and, for very specific reasons, the only other people on the planet who knew about this sort of thing had been unwilling to inform Connie of this fact until just now.

There had been words. There had been hugs. The phone had been slagged. Again.

However, the key development was that Peridot, Jasper, and Lapis had promised to help Connie figure out this power.

Connie, being Connie, had insisted they start the very next day.

Peridot, being Peridot, had devised a rigorous battery of tests to explore Connie’s power in a scientific and quantifiable manner.

Lapis, being Lapis, had made a snack run of considerable size “to keep everyone energized and because those new maple-glazed cake donuts the Big Donut is carrying are the best thing since the invention of Nutella.”

Jasper, being Jasper, had said, “Tomorrow morning,” patted Connie on the head, then left on patrol.

Steven, being Steven, had arrived early that morning, straining under the weight of a cheeseburger backpack laden with “research papers” (comics), “test materials” (assorted blunt and sharp objects, a flashlight, numerous colored plastic squares, various household cleaners, a piccolo from his mom’s shop), and a “power diary” (yellow spiral notebook with the words ‘Destiny Powers’, spelled out in glittery letters, glued to the cover).

It was pleasant if blustery outside, which made it unseasonably nice out for early November. Everyone was assembled on the beach out front of the Beach House: Jasper and Peridot were setting up folding chairs and assorted testing equipment while Lapis, Steven, and Connie huddled around the Big Donut boxes, talking excitedly between mouthfuls.

Making three shrill chirps on her limited edition, Camp Pining Hearts Happy Camper Wilderness Whistle, Peridot called everyone to order and outlined the day’s itinerary.

Below are the distilled notes from the day’s exercises, compiled by Peridot and Connie, with additional observations from Steven, Lapis, and Jasper.

Test 1: Quantity Limit Alpha (How many fields can Connie summon)
About a minute later Connie was lying passed out in the sand while seven force fields floated in various positions around her.

Peridot was running around making odd squeaking noises as she’d swallowed her whistle (a mere inconvenience since breathing was a pastime instead of a physiological requirement for her). Steven had dumped out the contents of his backpack and was rummaging through the eclectic pile for the smelling salts he’d packed. Jasper had just picked Connie up and was calmly holding the girl until Lapis dropped about half a pool’s worth of sea water on them both.

About thirty seconds later and the first of Connie’s fields vanished. The girl, sputtering and dazed, came to cradled in the Quartz’s arms.

Test 6: Quantity Limit Zeta
Connie summoned her fourth field (or, as Peridot called them, hard light constructs), ran through an agility test (somewhat clumsily), and took a brief IQ test (results consistent with the control test taken the day before... but requiring more time to complete than previously).

Steven confirmed she wasn’t becoming “a being of pure light and/or energy” by poking her with a stick.

Test 9: Quantity Limit Iota
Seven really does appear to be Connie’s upper limit, with five being as high as she can go and still be capable of active behavior and predictive thought.

Test 10: Size and Shape Control Alpha (What dimensions could she make her fields)
Connie summoned several fields, attempting to make them as small as possible. The smallest was two feet square and all were roughly half an inch in thickness. Peridot observed that the edges were rounded. Lapis observed they’d make pretty excellent TV trays.

Test 11: Size and Shape Control Beta
Connie summoned several fields, attempting to make them as large as possible. The biggest was fifteen feet square, and all were the same, half-inch thickness. With boosts from Jasper, Connie and Steven confirmed they made pretty exciting slides.

Test 16: Size and Shape Control Eta
Fields appear to be constrained to strictly square planes of force. Curves, non-right angles, or rectangular shapes all seemed impossible. On a somewhat related note, it was observed that Connie responded best between unsuccessful tests to the Crying Breakfast Friends Pear-shaped stress ball over the baoding balls or the inflatable, weighted “bop me” clown that Steven had packed.

Test 17: Construct Mobility, Elasticity, Plasticity, and Resiliency Alpha (What can the fields sustain while remaining intact)
Direct force delivered orthogonally to a field (i.e. Jasper punching it) showed the fields were capable of withstanding roughly 20,000 pounds per square inch of pressure before cracking. Repeated direct force impacts (i.e. Jasper punching it enthusiastically) shattered the field into dissolution.

Test 18: Construct Mobility, Elasticity, Plasticity, and Resiliency Beta
Extreme direct force delivered orthogonally to a field (i.e. Jasper spindashing into it) was the upper limit of what the construct could sustain.

An unscheduled test via hydrokinetic impact (i.e. “Mah Big Ol’ Water Fist”) confirmed that the constructs could not withstand such a blow and shattered completely. Also confirmed, Lapis has no sense of testing procedure and poor aim to boot.

Test 19: Construct Mobility, Elasticity, Plasticity, and Resiliency Gamma
Sustained force delivered orthogonally to a field (i.e. Jasper pushing on it) showed that the fields would shatter before they would move or deform. Connie states the sustained pushing “feels really weird.”

Test 20: Construct Mobility, Elasticity, Plasticity, and Resiliency Delta
Constructs apparently make poor trampolines. Also, water fists that fail to shatter the field spray outward amazingly. Suspect Lapis anticipated this. Suspect Peridot needs to install a new sense of humor. Suspect Lapis should refrain from baseless editorializing, both within testing results and without. [Raspberry]

Test 21: Construct Mobility, Elasticity, Plasticity, and Resiliency Epsilon
If there exists a resonant frequency by which one could destabilize a barrier, it is not one you can reproduce with a piccolo. Even if you try blowing, like, really, really hard. Attempts to test this with a modified wailing stone were inconclusive because Jasper threw the device far out to sea once the city’s dogs were howling and the seagulls were flying erratically. {My, uh, I think my hearing aids blew a circuit or something. I'm having to use my old, backup pair.} {I will see your ear enhancers restored before you depart. Incidentally, how would you feel about being able hear into the 50,000Hz range?} {Wait, you mean like bats? Would I be able to do echolocation? Would I be like Daredevil? How-} {Steven! We talked about this. No super-tech unless your parents are okay with it} {Oh, right.}

Test 22: Construct Mobility, Elasticity, Plasticity, and Resiliency Zeta
Construct material is roughly as reactive as laminated glass. It even spiderwebs like safety glass, too! It blocks nearly all non-visible light frequencies. Good for preventing sunburn. {Hmm, yes, good observation} Fields are unaffected by green light or yellow light, tested by placing colored plastic over Steven’s flashlight. Why this would be otherwise is beyond- {I only brought the first six Lantern Corp books, but they’ll explain. I don’t suppose you have any anti-light we can test with?} {You mean… darkness?} {No, like light but opposite. Shoot, that doesn’t come up until book nine and I loaned that to Jeff.} {I think this… reading material is quite sufficient. Thank you.}

Heat and cold, acid and alkaline substances responded accordingly. Her force fields taste like old pennies, by the way. {Oh? What else have you been lic-} {Nice stranglehold, squirt.} Connie is under advisement to “not fight any destiny battles with her archnemesis over lakes of acid”, which is only prudent, if worryingly specific.

Test 23: Construct Materialization Range and Limitations Alpha (Where can she put the fields)
Connie is capable of summoning fields up to roughly fifty feet away under circumstances of perfect visibility. Size of field and orientation seem to have no impact on this distance.

Test 24: Construct Materialization Range and Limitations Beta
A proximal visibility screen (i.e. Jasper spindashing in place atop loose sand) completely impeded summoning fields past said screen. A partial visibility screen (i.e. Lapis holding up a water wall) partially impeded summoning range. Suspect distance is related to sense of vision as Citrine possessed superior eyesight and could commensurately summon fields farther.

A timeout was called so Connie could “take a small break”, cleaning her glasses and generally looking downcast. Psychological side-effect of power? I dunno, P-dot, you don’t seem to be seeing the obvious either. You need an eye exam too? PLEASE REFRAIN FROM UNRELATED COMMENTARY.

Test 25: Construct Materialization Range and Limitations Gamma
Blindfolded, Connie can summon fields but only roughly a foot past her reach. Being asked to “use the force” by Steven failed to improve performance. Having Steven apply or remove the blindfold caused a curious epidermal flushing and the fields’ durations seemed shortened. Must investigate further. Maybe a shoulder rub from Pinky Pie? {No! -Connie} {Negative -Peridot} {Uh, maybe not unless it’s, like, destiny-important -Steven} {[eye roll] -Jasper}

Test 26: Construct Materialization Range and Limitations Delta
Fields cannot be summoned inside other solid materials, be they opaque or transparent. Fields cannot be made to bisect one another. Footage shot with an extremely high-speed {and really cool!} {Wow, thanks} camera revealed that the fields begin as a point in space and expand uniformly outward from there at roughly four-fifths the speed of sound. This expansion stops as soon as the barrier encounters resistance. Should the field be unable to attain the minimum size of two foot square it will fizzle entirely.

Attempts to “game the system” by having Connie believe incorrectly that there was more room available for a field than actually existed failed to produce fields that could exceed the size of their containment. {Don’t worry, Connie, even Neo couldn’t see past the Matrix at the beginning.}

Test 27: Construct Materialization Range and Limitations Epsilon
Constructs can expand through air, clearly {no, yellowly} {[sigh]}, so they are able to displace some matter. Further testing revealed that water at surface pressures can be displaced and will not impede barrier manifestation. Water under sufficiently high pressure (i.e. Lapis “puttin’ the squeeze on it”) will obstruct field creation.

Gelatin of lime-green, yellow, orange, and blue varieties {Ah, Pinkie Pie, were you thinking of us?} will not obstruct field creation and are surprisingly tenacious {and delicious} in clinging to the conjured surface. {Troublesome to bite into, though} {Fun to punch}

Test 28: Construct Duration Alpha (Min. and max. durations as well as control thereof)
Connie describes the extant fields as “being something I have on my mind while they’re around.” When asked to concentrate on a single field, said field lasted for seventy-two minutes, at which time Steven’s idea of filling donuts with different flavors of donut holes {Pinkie is a genius! I love this kid!} distracted Connie, causing the field and test to conclude prematurely.

Test 29: Construct Duration Beta
Working under the assumption that conscious awareness of fields is required for their sustained existence, Connie was startled while concentrating on several fields. {Hehehe} {Lapis, that was NOT funny!} {You’re right, it was hilarious. Besides, it all washed out} The five fields vanished between thirty seconds and five minutes later, seemingly at random. Further rounds of testing were impossible because Connie found and destroyed our supply of custard pies and air horns.

Test 30: Construct Duration Gamma
Connie summoned several fields, then she was blindfolded and told to forget about the constructs as best she could. She was then disoriented (i.e. spun around by Jasper) and asked at intervals for the number, distance, and direction of the remaining fields. The field count answers were unerring but the distance and direction answers were indistinguishable from random guesses. {Hey, I was really dizzy… ma’am} {Science neither requests nor brooks excuses, young lady}

Conclusion: Connie knows how many fields exist at any time but nothing else. {She’s also waaay better than I am at not barfing from being spun around. We should ride some roller coasters over at Funland sometime} {[chuckle] That’d be nice, Steven} {How curious. Your fields just terminated even more rapidly than they did following the Beta test}

Test 31: Construct Creation Triggers Alpha (What conditions allow Connie to summon the fields)
Bioscanners were arranged and Connie was asked to summon a field followed by an in-depth questionnaire about her thoughts and emotional state during. While scientifically relevant, all of this was also diversionary so that Lapis and Jasper could begin hurling harmless projectiles (i.e. tennis balls) at Connie. {They still stung. And Lapis soaked hers in water first!} {Hehe} The resulting performance, along with corroborating scan data, indicates that invoking the fields, even for protective purposes, is a conscious and deliberate one; not subject to reflex or reactionary behavior.

Test 32: Construct Creation Triggers Beta
With assurances that the ambush testing was complete, Connie was once more set before the scanners and led through a verbal exam conducted by myself. Then Lapis and Jasper once more appeared to hurl harmless projectiles, not at Connie but at myself. {You’re right, they did sting} {See!} If her powers were fueled by protective urges, her powerful feelings of attachment to my person would cause detectable changes in response time and efficacy.

The conclusion was... negative. Connie seemed more amused than distressed by the simulated assault and only generated a construct to deflect a ricochet.

Test 33: Construct Creation Triggers Gamma
With emphatic assurances that the ambush testing was well and truly complete, Connie was given another distracting exam and then Steven Universe was accosted instead, loudly announcing his distress. {I, uh, really didn’t expect it and, I mean, it was like a jump scare in the movies and those always get me} {It was printed clearly on your copy of itinerary. All save Connie’s read ‘Ambush Steven’} {Who?} {The [sigh] the only human present, Jasper} {I just followed Lapis’ lead} {And, uh, I may have kinda skimmed the last part of the schedule thing you wrote up. Sorry, miss}

The conclusion was… surprising. Connie responded promptly managing to interpose fields between Steven, herself, and the simulated assailants with speed and efficiency despite being caught flat-footed.

A subsequent data analysis and questioning (which Connie insisted take place only once Steven and she were in possession of all the projectiles) revealed that Connie’s sense of justice was offended by the attack on a helpless bystander. {I know Steven volunteered… sorta, but it still felt wrong} {It’s okay, Connie. I mean, it’s for Science. Destiny Science. That’s important, right?} This caused a surge in the aggression centers of her limbic system, prompting the results displayed.

Test 34: Construct Application Alpha, Beta
Connie summoned fields sufficient for windbreaks and (for Steven and herself) UV protection such that a picnic could be had. Following that, fields were used to serve as the load bearing supports for a sandcastle of considerable size. Jasper seemed to particularly enjoy gathering and compacting the sand. Lapis, in designing the appearance; I have my doubts there was ever a Sandspire on Earth {There totally was, Deripot. Some whackadoo Pearl could manipulate the stuff and-} {Ahem!} but the facade was impressive nonetheless. Gathering and analyzing this was, for me, quite entertaining. {We all saw you lick that field when you thought no one was looking, Pterianodon} {Nonsense! Cathode-flavored nonsense!}

Science is delicious; nearly as much as those maple-glazed cake donuts!
Now we just need a big room full of holograms for you to train your powers in!
Connie did good.
It’s weird having a power but even weirder to have one that literally occupies your mind.

{Wait? Someone needs to retrieve my modified Wailing Stone!} {[touches gem-nose]} {Uh, Steven and I have to breathe, ma’am.} {I would but I really don’t want to} {[incoherent grumbling followed by helicopter noises]}

Chapter Text

"Wooooooooooooo!" cried Connie as she sped through the air, the rain mingling with the tears from so much wind in her face.

A giant watery mushroom reared up from the sea below providing Connie a much gentler landing, though certainly no drier.

With a few gestures from Lapis, a wave crested across the beach, depositing the soaked Connie. "Hey girlie. You wanna-"

"Again!" cheered the girl impetuously, scrambling to her feet as salt water leaked out of her sodden overalls and rain drops impacted her glasses.

"You heard her, Jassafras," said the Blue gem as Jasper picked Connie up.

"One fastball special," said the large gem, rearing back and chucking Connie skyward. This sent the girl hurtling on a parabolic arc through wind and rain over to the ocean that was even now preparing to catch her.

Ding! went the limb enhancer.

Peridot looked at the results of the scan and sputtered. "That is a fever, a biological response whereby the body brings itself to near heat-death in the hopes that the bacterial invaders expire before it does! And this ludicrous game of metabolic chicken was initiated because YOU TWO", and she pointed accusingly at Jasper and Lapis, "wanted to use Connie as a frisbee."

"Frisbees spin," answered Lapis. "Connie was more of a..."

"Javelin," finished Jasper. She shared a look with Lapis and the two came away with a hint of a grin and a Cheshire smile, respectively.

Peridot threw her limb enhancers in the air in exasperation. "Embed my gem in a pillow because I can't stand this anymore! You two, get on that warp pad and don't come back until you've gathered from the garden everything needed to make my curative slurry."

Connie, who was already looking fairly pathetic, paled further at the prospect of a bowl of Peridot's utterly healthy and completely awful nutritional puree.

Once the warp pad chimed, Peridot turned to Connie and spoke in gentler tones. "Speaking of embedded, you should get yourself to your loft and rest. I've had Toasty pre-warm the covers for you and Daneel has been subdued so we don't have a repeat of the 'Nurse Ratchet' incident."

Connie settled into the warm bed and took a sip from a glass of water on her bedside table. Pulling the covers up, she felt her pocket buzz.

* StUn - 10:11am | Making snack sushi but it has cheetos
* StUn - 10:11am | Want to bring some over but
* StUn - 10:12am | Would th@ offend Jasper? She just seems
* StUn - 10:12am | Cheeto sympathetic

Connie set her drink aside and smiled between sniffles. She was awash in weird on a daily basis, but Steven's weird was... quaint. Funny. In contrast...

The tone of the warp pad heralded the return of Lapis and Jasper, the latter holding in one hand a box of produce that probably weighed as much as Connie did.

"Ah, excellent," observed Peridot from the kitchen. "I have completed my cookware sterilization process and finished my sixteen point check-up on the industrial blender."

Over the din of what sounded like logs being fed into a woodchipper, Connie tapped out her reply to Steven.

* CoMa - 10:14am | I don't think Jasper would mind. It's not like she's going to eat them. Me neither :(. I'm sick in bed and Peridot would blast any junk food that got within 5 feet of me.
* StUn - 10:15am | U R Sick?!
* StUn - 10:15am | ILL B OVER SOON

Connie sent another couple messages --to find out what he had in mind, to assure him that she was not lacking for care, to try and keep him from making a fuss over her-- but she got no reply.

Several minutes passed followed by a loud, wet 'wump' sound. Jasper stepped out of the kitchen, one side shellacked in a greenish-brown paste, clumps of which were oozing down one of the warrior’s legs and pooling to the floor.

"Apologies, Jasper," called out Peridot. "An alkaline build-up from the radishes must have hit a pocket of citric acid from the grapefruits and, uh-"

"You got blender blasted!" finished Lapis.

"Fortunately, my scan of the admixture confirms that the desired concentrations have been achieved in the, uh, less kinetically active remainder. I believe this curative is complete," announced the Green gem.

"Gonna go for a spin dry," said the impassive and sticky warrior as she headed towards the door, every other step leaving a large, gloopy footprint on the floor.

Holding a salad bowl of slurry like a monk holding a reliquary, Peridot walked up the stairs to Connie's loft. Each footfall resounded in the girl's ears as it brought the dreaded mixture closer; the phantom flavor of the sickeningly healthy soup was already tormenting Connie's tongue.

Peridot got to the top of the loft when Connie heard someone ascending stairs outside. Quickly.

Lapis had been sitting on the kitchen countertop watching Connie's facial expressions with a mix of sympathy and schadenfreude. When the door swung open with a bang the Blue gem fell backwards onto the kitchen floor with a yelp and a thud.

Connie and Peridot (who, much to Connie's profound relief, did not startle and spill the slurry) looked to the door.

"Uh... Hi, Steven," said the girl, a touch bemused.

Steven was leaning one shoulder against the door frame and panting heavily, a large, insulated basket held with both hands at chest height.

"I... hope... I got... here in... time!... Connie... your gemstone... hasn't... turned... white or... something... has it?!"

Eyes wide, Connie glanced down to see that the single part of her that had never once changed was still, in fact, unchanged. "No, it's still-" but she was cut off by a sneeze.

Steven nodded, walked across the room, and carefully set the basket on the coffee table. He was still panting from his mad dash across town. "I found all... the yellow food I... could! I just... hope it's enough."

Wiping her nose, Connie shared a puzzled look with Peridot before hesitantly answering. "Um, thanks?"

Lapis, meanwhile staggered to her feet, various verbal barbs on her lips. However, she restrained herself to merely shaking her fist, first at Steven and then at her old nemesis, the Door For Dramatic Entrances. After that she settled in to once more watch the show, though this time from the more stable perch of the window seat.

Unpacking the basket, Steven carried on with his baffling air of urgency. "Yeah, I mean, what if you're using up your supply of it when you do awesome yellow magic stuff? Are you low? Will you lose your powers if you run out? Maybe that's why you're sick."

Peridot set the bowl on Connie's nightstand --a waft of the contents reminding Connie just what was at stake here-- so she could better express her skepticism by placing her hand-equivalents on her hips. "If this is about that four humors malarky human physicians used to ascribe to-"

Steven nodded and cut in, absentmindedly signing while he spoke. "No, I don't think it's funny either, Peridot. That's why I've got," and he gestured to the spread he'd arranged, "chicken soup, cornbread, lemonade, and bananas. Oh, and diced yellow bell peppers, though I think they look kinda orange but there's an actual 'orange bell pepper' that looks even more orange so I hope Connie's power reserve will accept it."

Peridot opened her mouth to rebut then stopped, brows furrowed as she processed his words. Shifting to a more thoughtful pose she remarked, "That is... a surprisingly appropriate collection for a convalescent diet."

Connie's taste buds, sensing a thin, yellow ray of hope amidst a sea of greenish-brown doom, assumed control of Connie's mouth. "You know, it, uh, it's worth a shot. I mean, I'm only half gem so maybe this power business works differently for me. It couldn't hurt."

She gave Peridot a pleading smile.

"Hmm, while I commend the Steven's instincts, my curative slurry is scientifically optimized and..."

While Peridot enumerated the virtues of her unpalatable panacea, Connie fixed Lapis with an urgent look. Once she was sure she had the gem’s attention, the girl silently mouthed, 'help me.'

Lapis rolled her eyes and mouthed back, 'you owe me.' Then, speaking loudly, she said, "Here, Con-Con, I'll get you some fresh water. I think I saw Toasty drop some crumbs in tha- Whoops!"

The water in Connie's glass as well as the viscous broth in the nearby bowl were caught in Lapis' hydrokinetic effect, rising into the air and commingling. Bobbing within the muddy sphere was one of Connie's wadded up tissues.

"...efficiency of imbibing your entire dietary requirements cannot be denied. Furtherm- Aaah! Lapis! You've contaminated the last of the medicinal mixture! Now Connie will have to entrust her recovery to this cobbled-together chromatic calorie collection," objected the Green gem.

While Lapis hovered the remains out the already open door then launched them skyward, a saddened Peridot turned to Connie. "I'm sorry, dear, but I'm afraid you'll have to make do with suboptimal foodstuff at this time."

Connie managed to assume a look of pained acceptance until Peridot turned to descend the stairs. The girl then sunk into her pillow with visible relief.

Jasper sighed and wiped the green-brown mess (as well as a soggy tissue) from her face. The large gem turned and walked back to the stretch of rocks and sand that already looked like a Jackson Pollock painting.

Steven set a tray across Connie’s lap loaded with sunny servings of each of the things he'd brought. "Here, lean forward and let Nurse Steven fluff your pillows for you."

Connie took a sip of the drink Steven had poured her, then exclaimed, "Ooh, this lemonade is good!"

"Thanks," he said as he fussed over her bedding. "The lemons are from mom's garden."

Picking up a damp cloth from the tray, he moved to wipe her brow when there was a flash and an audible 'pop'. Steven yelped, jerked his hand back, then put a finger in his mouth.

"What just transpired?" asked Peridot from below.

"Uh, I went to wipe Connie's forehead and I got shocked. It, uh, it really stung."

"There was a spark between you two, eh?" drawled Lapis without turning away from the splatterfest taking place on the beach.

As Steven attempted to parse both the text and subtext of Lapis’ remark, he noticed Connie’s hair was starting to look like someone had rubbed a balloon on it. A chance view of his reflection in the window revealed that his thick mane was also poofing out to frightful proportions.

“Hey,” asked Connie, “What’s going on with your hair, St-Stah-aaah-CHOO!”

There was a moment of brilliance, a crackle that left the ears ringing (or, in Steven's case, making static noises), and the light bulb in Connie’s desk lamp exploded.

The air smelled of fried wiring and ozone.

Steven, his hair defying both gravity and the limits of human scrunchie technology, plucked a tissue from the nearby box and held it up to Connie’s nose. She blew into it. A small shower of sparks issued forth causing the paper to smolder.

“Fank yew,” she said, utterly congested, as Steven hustled downstairs to extinguish and discard the used tissue.

Like the shot at the start of a race, the shock sneeze heralded the start of many strange happenings.

At one point, Connie got a severe case of the hiccups, which caused her to randomly summon force fields, large and small, around the Beach House.

Jasper was coming in from outside and tripped over a small field that appeared at ankle height. Getting to her feet, she then bonked into a second field that had appeared overhead.

Lapis found this hilarious; Jasper, less so.

An especially poorly placed field meant Steven had to run to the Big Donut to visit the bathroom, which Connie apologized vehemently for.

Several remedies were suggested to cure Connie's hiccups, but the results were a lot of spilled water and applesauce, as well as Peridot getting suddenly punched in the nose by Connie... though the scary mask she was wearing did absorb some of the impact.

Jasper found this hilarious; Peridot and Connie, less so.

However, upon waking from the stupor that summoning too many fields caused for Connie, the girl found her hiccups gone. Jasper, who had unthinkingly been leaning on one of Connie's fields, toppled heavily over onto Lapis.

Connie and Peridot found this hilarious; Lapis and Jasper, less so.

Then there was what Connie would later describe was an Alice In Wonderland mishap. For some reason, the banana Connie was eating kept shifting in her hands. It wasn't until a surprised noise from Steven made her look up that she noticed the world had gotten larger.

With little hands, tiny baby Connie made an adorable facepalm while Lapis and Steven squeed and Peridot looked on wistfully.

Despite being unable to articulate herself vocally, baby Connie could sign (if clumsily) and so it was that Steven translated to Peridot that this was absolutely not the time for the lullaby, thank you very much.

A short time later Peridot was carefully spooning mouthfuls of chicken soup broth to Connie, Steven sitting nearby to act as interpreter, when the world grew quite a bit smaller.

Jasper's eyebrows shot up. Lapis gave a wolf whistle. Steven's eyes were wide as saucers and his cheeks showed the early signs of a fiery blush.

Twenty-something Connie was unable to contemplate all of this because she was being crushed by clothing that was many sizes too small. When she started to tug urgently at her shirt, Steven gave a yelp then stumbled blindly down the stairs and out the door.

Peridot was eventually able to coax him back in, but there was lingering awkwardness between him and the now-restored Connie for several minutes longer.

"Daytime television is one of the great joys of being all boogered up," explained Steven to Connie (in bed), Lapis, Peridot (sitting to either side of the bed), and Jasper (leaning on the edge of the loft from the floor below).

Pacing in front of the assembled, Steven continued. "Reruns, strange commercials, and marathons of old shows are all a vital part of getting over being sick. The bad news is that Connie's, uh, lightning sneeze broke something so the TV only shows one channel. The good news is there's an airing of the Gilmore Girls on that one channel, which is perfect for when you're in bed at one in the afternoon. It's about a mother and her teenage daughter living in a small town of quirky characters."

Jasper nodded her head, then turned like she was about to walk over to the warp pad to do literally anything else. She was stopped in her tracks when a certain girl, sad to see her leaving, gave an involuntary whimper.

"Give it up, OJ. There's no escaping the Connievalescence," drawled Lapis between bites of bell pepper.

With a sigh, Jasper returned to her post. "So, what's the mother's name?"

"Lorelai," answered Steven.

"And the daughter?" she asked, looking slightly put-upon.

"Also Lorelai, actually."

Jasper blinked. "This might actually work then."

"This is amusing but I find it vaguely off-putting how it's all a thinly-veiled bit of escapism for unsatisfied women," said Connie during a commercial break.

Steven pondered this criticism from where he was leaning against the wall at the foot of the bed. "I mean, guys have plenty of guy-flicks to watch, so why is it bad for the same thing but for women?"

Connie shook her head. "No, escapism is fine. I'm objecting to what is implied from the form of escapism being presented. It's a celebration of the implausibly tight bond between this mother and daughter while both are surrounded by hunky male stereotypes trying to woo them."

"I agree," said Jasper, surprising everyone. "Their behavior is strange. The tall Bismuth-human with the hammers-"

"You mean Dean the construction worker?" translated Connie.

Jasper nodded. "That one should challenge the insolent Zircon-human with the two-wheeled vehicle to gladiatorial combat. That way the tall one could establish itself as the dominant suitor for the smaller Lorelai."

"You want Dean to beat up Jess... for Rory?" asked Steven.

The warrior nodded.

"That's... actually a very popular opinion among the fans," said the boy. "Oh! And Dean's actor goes on to be in this other show called Supernatural where he fights ghosts and monsters and stuff. And Jess' actor was in this show called Heroes, where he was this kind of Neo-meets-Superman mashup, by the end anyway, and it'd be really cool to see them-"

"Steven!" interrupted Connie. "Remember the promise we made you and Peridot make after the third episode?"

Wilting a little, Steven nodded. "Oh, right. 'No shipping charts and no crossovers.' Sorry, I got a little carried away."

Connie nodded magnanimously to Steven as Peridot jumped into the conversation. "Actually, while we are bringing up irregularities, are these Gilmores supposed to have intestinal parasites or some sort of genetically induced metabolic inefficiency?"

On-screen the mother-daughter pair were making their umpteenth visit to Luke's Diner.

"Nooo," said Steven. "Why do you ask?"

"Because according to my calculations, these two have consumed more than triple the daily caloric intake needed for someone of that body type," came the nasally reply.

Lapis scoffed. "As a svelte gal who knows the joys of food, I object to that remark. No, if you want to nitpick this thing, the dialogue in this show is ridiculous!"

"Really?" said Steven, "Because the banter is one of the things it's best known for."

"Oh, it's not dumb, it's unrealistic," groused Lapis. "No one goes around delivering pop culture references, snarky retorts, and endless quips in a rapid-fire delivery on demand."

Everyone was silent and, for some reason, staring at Lapis incredulously.

Muting the TV, Connie set down the remote, clapped her hands together, then pointed to the Blue gem with her index fingers, "Lapis. Nicknames; bonus points for obscurity. Go!"

Lapis answered hurriedly, starting with Peridot and working clockwise around the group. "Oh! Waiting for Perdot. Stevie Wonderverse. Jasperger Syndrome. Aaand... Condide the Optimist! How'd I do?"

Connie nodded and reached behind her bed to fish out a box of Pocky. "Six points; I'm only awarding extra for the Voltaire and Beckett references."

"Yeah, whatever. Now, gimme-gimme-gimme," said Lapis excitedly snatching up the proffered snacks.

Unmuted, the group was treated to a lively exchange on-screen about how car repair was like something out of Kafka.

After a moment, Steven said, “Well, at least we can all agree that Kirk is funny.”

Everyone nodded.

Peridot perked up. “Steven, this Kirk actor was also in Guardians of the Galaxy. So, what if, instead of Peter Quill, Star-Lord were Logan?”

Steven’s eyes lit up. “Oh! Then you could have Rory be Gamora and Paris be Nebula and-”

“No crossovers!” shouted Connie, Lapis, and Jasper.

Another sneeze had fried the TV fully, putting an end to the antics from Stars Hollow. As the others stepped down, Steven cleared away Connie’s dishes. “So, I brought one more thing but, after how things get kinda weird when you eat, I’m not sure whether to offer it or not.”

Connie sniffled, sending a few errant sparks tumbling to her blanket. “I doubt there’s anything more that can happen. Besides, we don’t actually know if the food had any effect or if all of this is what happens when I get sick now that I have powers. But I really enjoyed the food so thank you for bringing it.”

Downstairs Peridot had resumed trying to de-gunk the blender.

Connie reached out and gripped Steven by the wrist, her gaze suddenly very serious. “No, really. Thank you,” she said with emphatic earnestness.

Steven smiled and, once Connie let go, walked the dishes down to the sink. Rinsing off the bowls and plates, the boy called up to her, “I brought a pint of lemon sorbet. It’s the sort of thing my parents would always bring me when I got sick while we were touring. There’s no dairy, so it’s less likely to upset your stomach and it’s got, like, a million percent the amount of vitamin C you need which I’ve heard is good too.”

“Oh! That sounds delicious,” exclaimed Connie. Pitching her voice so Peridot would hear her over the sounds of scouring, Connie said, “Can I have some, ma’am? Pleeease?”

Peridot, mottled greenish-brown in places, rubbed her chin. “I suppose so long as the others have no objections. Steven is largely correct about both the lactose and the ascorbic acid.”

Lapis, who had been laying upside-down on the couch reading a manga that was held rightside-up (because that way I can read it left-to-right), piped up. “Yeah, I mean, whoever heard of someone getting a power boost from ice cream? Besides, she shouldn’t eat the whole pint so she’ll have to shaaare it~” she said, singsonging at the end.

Peridot spared a glance at Jasper. The large gem was staying out of the direct path of the blender and looking at her feet every so often for stray fields, but paused in her vigilance to give a noncommittal shrug.

Moments later Connie put the first bite in her mouth, savoring the potent tartness of the treat, her eyes closed. “Oooh, that’s good. The sourness is making my tongue tingle a little, and I can feel the cold settling in my tummy. It kind of tickles.”

“Uhhh, hey Connie?” came the tremulous voice of Steven. “You might wanna open your eyes.”

Connie’s eyes blinked open to find an empty spoon in her right hand and… a tiny, glowing yellow sword held lightly in her left hand.

In a reverent (if congested) voice, Connie said, “That’s… that’s my sword.”

Eyes wide and starry, hands on his cheeks, Steven whispered, “So coool…”

Stay calm. I've thought about this exact moment... well, okay the ice cream is new, but regardless, I've been thinking about what I'd do if I resummoned my sword for months now. My... teenie-tiny cocktail sword of magical destiny. So, deep breathes, no sudden movements, and don't just throw it by accident like-

Normally sneezes take a moment to happen. There's a tingle in the nose, the eyes may water slightly, and of course there's the famous "aaah-ah-" before the percussive "-choo!" Sometimes though, a sneeze forgoes all of that and simply happens in a blast that leaves everyone, the sneezer included, surprised.

For Steven, it looked like Connie had been holding her diminutive sword tenderly, as though it were made of glass, when there was a sudden movement and a shower of sparks filled his vision. On instinct, he gave a yell and brought his arms up to cover his face.

For Lapis, the Beach House was upside-down and the fabric of the couch cushion was pressed against her gemstone in a way that kinda tickled. There were some amusing stammers happening up on the loft causing her to roll her eyes. Oh just kiss already, she huffed while turning the page of her hair stylist manga which was held, from everyone else's perspective, rightside-up. Then there was one of Connie's cute little mouse sneezes, a yelp from Pinkie, and then a tiny yellow comet sailed overhead. What the fusion was that?!

For Connie, she opened her eyes from a sudden sneeze to see Steven flinching away from numerous little motes of light while a blur of motion and diminutive thunderclap heralded Connie's cocktail sword of destiny... embedded in Jasper's left buttcheek.

Jasper twisted around to see her posterior recovering from an attack. She looked up and saw that Connie was staring at her wide-eyed while that human of hers was making noises of distress for some reason.

"That's it!" cried the large gem.

An untimely bout of Connie hiccups meant Jasper tripped twice and literally punched her way through a third shield on her way to the temple door.

Everyone started talking at once, the Beach House awash with vocalized confusion, apologies, and exclamations, all of which stopped the moment Jasper stomped out of the temple and strode purposefully toward Connie.

"Drink this. Now," said the large gem, holding a vial with a stylized rose blossom on it.

There was a gasp from Peridot. "No way," said an awed Lapis.

Connie gingerly took the vial, then downed the contents. It was slightly salty and yet cloyingly sweet at the same time, but Connie was breathing normally through her nose before the liquid had even reached her stomach.

Jasper retrieved the glass container, then walked swiftly towards the warp pad. "I'm going on patrol," she muttered before being engulfed in light.

"Guys?" asked a normal-sounding Connie. "What the heck was that?!"

Peridot was quick to answer. "That was a powerful curative from the days of the Rebellion. Your mother entrusted the last of her stockpile to Jasper centuries ago. She stores it somewhere in the temple and is normally very reluctant to dip into the finite supply."

"So... Connie annoyed Jasper so much she gave her ancient healing water?" asked Steven after making sure his hearing aids were working right.

Lapis hovered up to the loft, a big grin on her face. "Yeah, nice job, Con-Con. Speaking as something of a connoisseur of crabby Quartzes, you were in fine form today!"

Connie didn't find Lapis' praise particularly heartening. "Do you think we should go after her? Should I apologize?"

Lapis waved the girl's concerns away. "Pfft, naw. OJ just needs to stomp around and punch something, or whatever it is she gets up to when she's on patrol. She'll be fine after she's had a couple of hours to blow off steam. Now, I can't speak for you all, but I'm going nuts to try this gem-enhancing gelato Pinkie Pie packed a pint of."

Peridot found herself nodding so hard she almost dislodged her visor.

Spoons and bowls were assembled in a hurry and gathered downstairs to try it. No powers were unlocked, big nor small, but everyone agreed it was delicious.

The folksy opening song to Gilmore Girls competed with the rustle of leaves and water sounds.

Jasper was stretched out on what would be for any other person a comically oversized and heavily built lounge chair. Reclined, bathed in sunlight filtered through a thick canopy overhead, the large gem finished off the contents from a cocktail glass and watched a TV set up nearby.

While the larger Lorelai fretted about the monthly visit with a Diamond-human the smaller Lorelai called "grandmother", Jasper extended her arm and waggled her empty glass.

A bramble seized the drink in its tendrils, then shuffled over to the fountain of the large, weeping woman that had animated it so many millennia ago.

It filled the glass from the fountain, then handed it back to the recumbent Quartz.

Jasper took a sip then reached down and handed the rose-labeled vial to the walking bush. "Here, fill this up too."

The Peridot-human called "Kirk" did something amusing, causing the warrior to chuckle. Raising her glass up slightly, Jasper made a toast to the figure on the fountain. "You may have been a traitor most foul, but you sure had great taste in decor. Maybe someday I'll even show the others your pad."

The bramble soldier handed Jasper the vial of 'irreplaceable Rebellion-era curative', who pocketed it and took another sip.


It was late at night. Steven had left hours ago and Connie was fast asleep. Lapis was off amusing herself somehow and Jasper was still on patrol.

Peridot, deep within her room in the temple, took one last look at the dozens of holograms as well as the trio of blackboards she had arranged, all covered with the notes and equations from one of the first projects she'd started since coming to Earth.

Taking one last glance at the weapon summoning diagram, the very same she'd shown Connie the day the girl had first summoned her weapon, Peridot turned to the dishes assembled around her and began speaking for the benefit of the audio log she was recording.

"For trial one I will sample a measured quantity of limes, some sliced and others suspended in a concoction known colloquially as 'sorbet'. Trials two, three, and four will be spinach, guacamole, and green bell peppers, respectively..."

Chapter Text

Peridot was busy in her room working on a most time-consuming project: fixing the host of problems that continually cropped up in her limb enhancers. She heard the familiar fluttering sound of wings behind her and didn't need to turn around to know there would be a blue gem staring back at her.

For a while longer Peridot remained focused on her task and her visitor remained quiet. Then blue arms wrapped around her waist and a head rested on her shoulder; Peridot clenched her teeth and tsked as the interruption caused her soldering to be slightly off the mark.

"Mmm?" the Blue gem hummed, her eyes closed as she nuzzled into the crook of Peridot's neck tiredly.

"I'm working, Lapis..."

"Mmm..." she hummed again, pressing her nose to the other's neck and taking a deep breath.

Peridot dropped her tools, ducked away from the gem, and swiveled around to face her. "Lapis, I am in the middle of something important and I don't have time fo-"

The words died on her lips as she took in Lapis' appearance. Her hair was disheveled, her eyes were tired, and she was leaning on Peridot's workbench to stay upright. If Peridot knew Lapis (and she did), she knew what that meant.

Lapis sighed and brought one hand to her chin, her other resting on her hip. "Hey Periwinkle..." Lapis said, smiling tiredly.

Peridot didn't respond, instead pushing up her visor and pinching the bridge of her nose.

"Do you- I keep... you know..." slurred Lapis, shaking her head as she tried and failed to capture the desired words. "I'm having those dreams again and... can I just-"

Peridot spared her the effort, saying, "I'll get the hammock set up." She turned away, crossing several small bridges over scented lava rivers.

Lapis could only smile slightly, thankful to have Peridot.

It took the technician only a little time, by which Lapis had made her way over. The Blue gem smiled happily, grasped Peridot by her waist, then with a flick of her wings deposited the both of them into the hammock.

Peridot made a small, surprised gasp that turned into a huff by the time they'd landed. "Lapis, I set this up for you. I am still in the process of making modifications to my limb enhancers and-" but she trailed off when Lapis laid down, pulling Peridot with her and cuddling the Green gem like a teddy bear.

"Please, P? You know how you help me sleep... Just this time?" she asked, resting her head on the other's chest and looking up at her with heavy, pleading eyes.

Peridot's cheeks grew dark. Then, with a sigh, she wordlessly gave in, gently petting Lapis' hair.

Lapis' eyes shifted from 'sleepy' to 'bedroom' and she licked her lips. She attempted to snuggle her way up to face level with Peridot, saying, "While we're here..."

A hand-equivalent on Lapis' shoulder stopped her. "Lapis, you're not thinking straight. Go to sleep."

Lapis offered no protest to being rebuked, instead settling in just under Peridot's chin. "P... Can you promise me something?" the sleep-drunk gem asked already on the edge of slumber as her eyes fell shut.

"Hmm?" Peridot replied, looking down at her hammock-mate.

"Always... uh," started Lapis, chuckling softly as she nuzzled Peridot, her sleep-addled mind gathering her thoughts as best it could. "Always love me like you do... Please?"

Peridot was at a loss for words, her fingers stopped in their soft scratching motion. A beat later she resumed, hearing the soft snores from the Blue gem, and she whispered in reply, "I promise."

Chapter Text

The girl in the overalls went flying backwards away from the drink counter.

Aside from being confused and worried by events, there was a corner of Steven that couldn't help but be intrigued. Whoa, he thought, Is she wearing those wheel shoes? I've always wanted those. Or maybe she's got those tiny wires they use in kung fu movies. Is she a street performer? Are you still a street performer if you perform inside a building? Building performer just doesn't sound right. How-

The girl was zipping towards the entrance when a big, vertical yellow window thing appeared beside her. Grabbing the edge of the window thing, the girl hung horizontally midair.

Wow! She's like a reverse-mime! Instead of wearing face paint and making invisible boxes, she's wearing invisible makeup and making see-able boxes. This is way better than that donut shop in Topeka that had that living statue guy hanging out outside.

With a determined look on her face, the girl released one arm, struggling to keep her grip on the visible part of her invisible box. With her free hand she reached into one of the back pockets of her overalls, pulled something reflective out, and then promptly dropped to the floor like someone had cut her kung fu wires.

Running over, Steven helped the girl to her feet, asking if she was alright. She said something indistinct (Oh shoot, are my ears off again?), then seemed to take stock of her surroundings, said something else, then sprinted out the door. She ran swiftly down the beach away from the town.

For a moment Steven just stood there, watching the retreating figure. Then he fiddled with his ears; sound returned in a rush and he caught the tail end of a dry chuckle from Lars.

“Did I miss something?” he asked, turning towards the two clerks. Sadie gave the boy a slow shake of her head.

“Yeah, you kind of missed a lot, Steven.”

A few seconds later, the side of the visible-invisible box became invisible-invisible.

Steven was panting from both the run trying to escape the docks and then the frantic run back across the docks after the giant worm monster smashed into splinters the route to shore.

Connie turned away from the monster, her eyes wide with some sort of realization. She looked to be shouting something to Steven but the only sounds of his world were the static of his one hearing aid and the pounding of his blood rushing in his ears.

“What? Connie, what’s happening? What do I do?!” he cried, panic coursing through him as he fiddled in vain at his malfunctioning hearing aid.

Connie grew calm all of the sudden. She took a deep breath, made a quick survey of her surroundings, then she reached up and wiggled Steven's nose.

"I’ll be okay?” he said quietly, translating the gesture.

Connie nodded, turned to face the monster, and took a few steps forward, putting herself between it and Steven.

Stretching her arm out, Connie grasped the air and... was holding a sword. It shone a soft yellow light and there were faint shimmers of electricity up and down the length of the blade.

With a roar Steven felt even as he was unable to hear it, the worm surged forward. Connie turned sideways, rearing back like a pitcher on the mound, then lunged forward while sending the sword rocketing ahead.

There was a flash, a tangible wave of sound, and a surge of static in one ear.

Steven lowered the hand that had been sheltering his eyes. Blinking away the spots, he saw Connie picking herself up off the ground (having thrown herself off balance hurling her sword) and he noticed a red, five-sided gemstone rolling slightly on the dock where the monster had been a moment ago.

Whoooaaa!, thought the corner of Steven that wasn't frozen in awe or lingering panic. Did Connie just level up? Am I part of someone's origin story? Is that red diamond thing the loot drop?

Connie raised her arms in triumph and gave what Steven assumed was a cry of victory. Before he realized he was doing it, Steven had run over and joined her with his own shout of exultation.

"YOU WERE INCREDIBLE!" // "THAT WAS INCREDIBLE!" shouted Steven and Connie.

The pair had an impromptu victory jig. The celebration didn't stop until Onion came into view and began poking the gemstone with his machete.

Connie met Steven at the fry shop and she was in an even better mood than usual.

"Yesterday was the best birthday ever!" she exclaimed.

"What?! It was your birthday?" cried Steven as he gathered their order. "I didn't get you anything. Hold on..." and he rummaged through his pockets. "Um, here's $8.27, five Fun Land Arcade tokens, and a card dad gave me that's good for unlimited free car washes."

Connie laughed, waving away everything except the card, which she examined. "Steven, I don't even have a car, unless you count my bike. Besides this is a family discount card."

"Well, you're a friend of the family. And, I mean, someday a crazy monster will probably try and eat dad's car wash and you'll totally obliterate it and then you'll be given the hero discount. This just skips ahead," defended Steven.

Connie rolled her eyes and laughed again. "Fine, we'll share it." Then, shouldering her pack, the pair walked to their spot on the beach just off the boardwalk.

Between bites of the bits Steven asked, "First, happy late birthday. And second, what made it the best ever?"

Connie thanked him while still chewing, then rummaged through her backpack. She swallowed as she was pulling out a little metal hubcap thingy with straps on it. "This is my mom's shield. Peridot fixed it up recently and yesterday I used it to fight these little monsters that were angry that their big monster had been poofed by Jasper earlier."

Steven prodded the shield. "That's cool and all but... wasn't your mom tall like Jasper? How'd she use this little thing to-"

There was a flash of yellow and suddenly a circular force field extended out from the metallic center, shielding a grinning Connie completely.

Over the next couple of minutes Steven oohed and aahed over the heirloom armament, trying it on himself and marveling at how cool and lightweight it was.

"You know what the other awesome thing about yesterday was?" Connie asked while Steven confirmed that, yep, this force field tasted the same as the normal ones Connie could summon.

"Wuh?" he asked, wiping his mouth while she giggled.

Suddenly Connie was all sparkly and... see-through? Thinking it was something to do with the force field he was looking through, he turned the item aside and... nope, there was Connie and behind her was the sun reflecting off the ocean.

Connie's expression went from one of smug satisfaction to confusion to something else. She returned to her normal not-see-through self, her expression… contemplative.

"That was really cool! What was that?" thrilled Steven.

Connie was quiet for a while, thinking. Steven fidgeted nervously.

"Steven?" she asked eventually. "Would... you like to be my sidekick?"

Steven blinked in surprise. He looked at Connie: the sea breeze blowing her hair, her stance confident, her muscles looking toned from the heightened training regimen she'd been pursuing. The sun was reflecting off the waves behind her and sparkling in the gemstone peeking out of her shirt.

Steven kicked the sand nervously, the shield still engaged and strapped to his side. "I mean, that would be amazing but... What can I do for you?"

That made Connie split into a wide smile that Steven couldn't help but return. "I'll have a talk with Jasper tonight. Come by tomorrow morning and train with me; I think you can do plenty."

The shield was disengaged and the pair, seated in the sand once more, resumed their snacking. Steven, riding the emotional high, was content until he realized he still had an unanswered question. "Hey Connie?" he asked.

Connie had been alternately staring off in thought and sneaking side glances at Steven. "Hmm?"

"What's that sparkly power of yours do?"

"Oh, I'm calling it 'people watching.' It's weird but really neat."

Steven nodded. Connie's powers were sometimes hard for her to describe, as the page-after-page of scrawlings in the power diary implied. "Well, what did you see when you, uh, watched me?"

Connie smiled widely, momentarily twinkling in the sunlight, or was the sunlight twinkling in her? "Something impressive," she said, opaque once more.

The first day of his training had been the hardest day of Steven's life. The second day of his training had ALSO been the hardest of Steven's life, topping the first handily. It was now the fifth day of his training and Steven looked back on days one through four wistfully.

Or rather, he would have if he weren't too busy screaming and running for his life.

Admittedly, the monstrous coelacanth that Jasper had unbubbled and allowed to reform for this practice was slow and clumsy on land. Despite its determination to pursue Connie and him, Steven could have jogged or even walked for his life and outpaced it.

"Steven!" cried Connie as the boy was alternately panting and cowering behind a fragment of the temple that was lodged in the sand. The gem monster heaved forward, menacing the boy anew a full eighteen inches closer.

Yup, he thought, the fifth day is definitely topping the fourth.

Connie reached Steven, her sword in hand and crackling with power. "Steven, it's okay. This is like facing Peridot's training surrogates just..."

"Scarier?" ventured Steven, huddling behind his shield.

The coelacanth lunged forward, gaining a full three feet of ground in the process.

"Maybe," hedged Connie, her face skeptical. "My point is, you can trust me Steven. Trust me and the gems. We're a team and we fight together and we protect one another." She reached forward and laced the fingers of her free hand through Steven's, then gave him an affirming squeeze.

Steven looked up at Connie's confident smile, bravery and compassion in her eyes. I... I can do this, he thought. For her. I just have to-

A roar that was really more of an angry wheeze sent Steven back to cowering. Nope! Nope! All the nopes! I'm a terrible sidekick. At best I'm the comic relief. I am sub-Scrappy Doo level! If she ever gets a wisecracking animal companion, the only thing she'll need me for is taking Snarf out for walks when she's busy saving the world.

Steven noticed sparkling in his peripheral vision as well as the sensation of Connie's fingers vanishing from his grip. He managed a tremulous glance over and saw her transparent face drawn into a concerned frown.

When the sparkling stopped, Steven heard her say in an uncharacteristically hesitant voice, "Steven... I, I think I can help you feel less scared."

There was another noise of primordial fury (or soggy vexation, depending on your perspective) that caused Steven to curl up further, tears forming in the edges of his eyes from clenching them tightly shut. "I'm really sorry but I don't think a pep talk is going to help."

"I'm... not talking about encouraging you, Steven. I think I can use my magic to make you not feel so afraid," she said softly.

Steven blinked away the moisture and stared up at the superhero holding a magical sword that was asking if she could help him, him, be a part of her destiny.

"Yeah. That sounds good," he said before an asthmatic bellowing a mere twenty feet away made Steven flinch and close his eyes anew. "Really good! It turns out fear is scary. I'm fine with it being... not."

Seconds passed; how many, Steven couldn't say. Then anticipation, or perhaps the first hint of boredom, caused the boy to open his eyes.

Connie was giving him a searching look; she seemed concerned.

Peeking over his rocky hiding spot, Steven saw... a weird-colored fish the size of a riding lawnmower giving him a constipated look. It wriggled incrementally forward.

"Huh..." he said, cocking his head in confusion.

Turning to Connie and jabbing his thumb in the direction of the 'monster', Steven asked, "Hey Connie, did you or Jasper replace the big, scary doom-fish with a cheesy parade float or something?"

Connie raised an eyebrow. "No. That's the same gem beast Jasper unbubbled earlier."

"Huh," said Steven a second time. He walked over to within about three feet of the creature. It thrashed at his approach, flopping accidentally on its side and somehow managing to slide backwards in the process.

Steven picked up a nearby length of driftwood and poked it while it tried unsuccessfully to right itself.

He turned back to Connie. "Wow," he said as she walked his way, "I never knew I was such a scaredy-cat."

"So you're okay?" she asked, stopping only a few feet back.

He rubbed the back of his neck and gave a chagrined smile. "Fine and dandy. A little embarrassed though. Hey, I don't suppose you can make that go away too?" he quipped before flashing her his thousand watt grin.

She took his free hand in her own, rolling her eyes but returning the smile. "I think you'll just have to live with it."

A fin flailed at Steven's ankle, delivering piscine wrath about on par with being popped by a rubber band. Steven propped his foot up on the creature, holding it at bay.

"Hey Connie, do you think you could..."

"Huh?" She asked, having been staring at his face in profile. "Oh right."

She made a small jab with her sword, there was a puff of smoke, and then there was the sound of a gemstone landing in the sand with a muted thump.

The fifth day of training was the best day of training yet.

Steven opened his eyes and saw the hard stone floor inches from his face. It was decorated with tessellated triangles and was all green for some reason.

Jostling him inside the tractor beam field was a groaning Connie.

Lapis landed lightly nearby, bending over so that her face, upside, was peering at him. She gave an impressed whistle. "Good catch, P-dot! Two more inches and we'd be picking them up with a spatula."

Overhead, above the sound of helicopter-noises, came a shrill voice of concern. "Can I disable my zero point energy field safely or not?"

Lapis straightened up and shouted, "Sure, go ahead." A beat later she added in an uncharacteristically serious tone, "You should get a good look at Connie too. Girly took a couple of licks on the way down."

The green disappeared.

"Oof!" said Steven as he dropped a few inches to the floor and Connie dropped a few inches onto him.

Lapis helped disentangle the two, propping Connie up against a wall. Peridot landed and ran a battery of scans, muttering in poorly-contained panic throughout.

Steven was rooted to his spot: by anxiety, concern, and embarrassment if not by fear.

Then Lapis sat down next to him, placing a cool hand on his shoulder. "Hey Pinky, speaking as the resident goof, don't sweat it. Peridot will clean up this mess... It's what she does," she said, her voice a mix of melancholy and admiration at the end.

I'm still feeling shame and sadness too, thought Steven as his mental inventory took stock.

"Connie told me not to touch that floaty pyramid thing; I should have listened to her. And when everything was going all flippy, I panicked. She told me to jump left, I jumped right, she tried to grab me from the edge of her force field and I just pulled her down with me. And now..." he sniffled (yup, definitely got plenty of shame and worry 'round here), "she's hurt. My ears aren't that good but even I heard that hit she took."

Lapis tried and failed to hide her own concerns but, in a practiced maneuver, she managed a pretty good on-the-spot evasion instead. "You worked your tuchas off during training; no one's questioning your commitment, Stevedore. Besides," she said with an impish smile, "this just means she'll have some boo-boos for you to kiss and make better."

She snickered while Steven flushed to the roots of his hair, but she did sneak another peek at Peridot's triage while he was distracted.

The mattress they were sitting on together creaked slightly when Connie stopped sparkling. "I can reinforce certain things but this is complicated. Way more complicated than what I'm doing for the gems."

Despite Connie mending well, Steven was still the very picture of guilt. "I'm a crumby sidekick, Connie. I'm such a crumby sidekick that even your destiny powers can't fix me. I'm..." he looked up at her, "I'm sorry. You deserve better."

"No! Steven... You're being too harsh on yourself," she said quickly. "Besides," and she took his hands in hers, "I don't want someone else. You're... impressive, Steven.”

Patting his hand gently, Connie looked down. She seemed… vulnerable, Steven realized with a start. She was always such a pillar of self-assurance --even the gems turned to her for advice sometimes and they were, like, super old-- that looking at her like this was like seeing her anew.

She spoke, her face still downcast, “You should know that I haven’t always been this strong or capable. I used to be weak. Powerless. I was a scared little girl afraid that her destiny was something too great for her to bear.”

She looked up and over Steven’s shoulder. The boy craned his neck around to see her staring at the large portrait of her mother that hung over the entryway. “It took time for me to find the way to be strong like her. Confident.”

She brought a hand up and ran it along her arm, the corners of her mouth curling into a frown as she looked at her toned flesh. “I had to find ways to overcome my limits and be-” she brought her hand up to the stone set in her chest, “-something better.”

She then reached out and cupped Steven’s cheek, looking at him directly once more. Her eyes were sympathetic, but her posture was resolved. “We just need to help you overcome your limits too. I'll take another look; there must be something we can leverage."

Steven tried to muster a smile up at her. "You're so smart, Connie. I'll do whatever you say."

Connie started to nod when she froze, eyes widening. Without word she folded her hands in her lap and went sparkly for a few minutes, her eyes moving as she looked at something only she could see. The mattress creaked again as the depression she was sitting in slowly leveled with the surrounding material.

When she was opaque once more she took his hands and gave them a squeeze. "Steven, I have an idea."

The pair snuck back to find Lapis dancing with Jasper; even the latter was smiling broadly. Meanwhile Peridot was talking animatedly with Greg as both were hunched over a mixing board, fiddling with dials and cables.

Mary was standing by her husband's side, sipping a drink and adding to the conversation occasionally. But mainly she was staying in easy reach of the fire extinguisher at her feet.

There was a patch of grass a few yards away that was conspicuous in being both blackened in places and powdery white.

Steven's head was still spinning from earlier. A first kiss would have been plenty but then, when they’d danced...

Connie squeezed Steven's hand. Steven smiled and squeezed hers back. Hand-in-hand the pair rejoined the party. When the fireworks display started, neither spent much time looking up.

"~Jasper, Peridot, and Lapis... AND CONNIE!~" sang Steven, strumming his ukulele, his brow furrowed in concentration.

He looked up to see Connie clapping excitedly from the couch. "That was great! I told you you could do it, you were just too insecure before. Come here, you," she said patting the cushion beside her.

Without conscious effort, Steven set the instrument aside and crossed the living room of his house to sit on the couch next to his girlfriend. The motions may not have been his, but the grin was, as was the thrill he got every time he thought that phrase.

Connie was his girlfriend.

The two canoodled on the couch until they heard the front door of the house/music shop being opened.

The pair separated in a rush.

Dad walked in stomping his feet from the cold, mail held in a gloved hand. "Hey kids," he said happily. "Is Starlight home?"

Steven cleared his throat. "Mom had to run an errand. Um, you're home early, dad. Are things slow at the carwash?"

Dad, doffing his winter attire, rolled his eyes. "Turns out no one wants to get their car washed when it's freezing outside. Crazy, I know. Anyway, I figured I can play solitaire just as well from the house as I can from the wash, so I packed up early. I ran into Barb doing her rounds --that woman is unstoppable, by the way-- and it's all momma-mail."

"Momma-mail?" asked Connie.

Steven chuckled. "He means bills. Mom handles the money."

"It's a good thing too," said dad, walking their way. "If it weren't for her, I'd probably be living in my van. Anyway, there was one thing not destined for Mary's office; here ya go, kiddo," he added, handing Steven an envelope.

Tearing it open Steven found a handwritten letter and a picture which fell into his lap. Picking it up he saw a light-brown girl smiling up at him, a trumpet folded across her lap. She had the telltale signs of a cochlear implant visible at one ear and a hearing aid in the other.

"Oh, cool! It's a letter from Neimaat," he exclaimed as he began to skim the letter.

An unusual tone entered Connie's voice as she asked, "Who's Neimaat?"

Dad chuckled and answered. "She and Steven went to school together a few years ago, back when we were living near Wilmingmore... well, as much as we lived anywhere, with the tour bus and all. Those two used to be thick as thieves."

"She wants to know if I've ridden a monster yet. She also says she's going to a performance by Beethoven's Nightmare in a couple months." Turning to Connie he added, "They're a band entirely of deaf musicians. Anyway, she says she can get a couple of extra tickets if we want to come."

Connie shifted position, draping her legs over his lap and wrapping her arms around his neck and shoulders. "That's around the time Peridot was saying the boiling lava lake should have receded. Plus, there's the Quartz pack and revisiting the Lunar Sea Spire to make sure the Vortex is functioning properly."

Steven tried to rub the back of his neck but found Connie's arm was there already. He settled for rubbing his arm. "Oh, okay. Well, I can tell her I'm busy. I mean, that stuff is all super important."

Connie nodded at Steven’s sensible statement.

Greg took in the sight of Connie laid possessively over Steven and managed to intercept the knowing look and shake of his head he almost made. However, a chuckle of sympathy for his son tickled the back of his throat; he had to play it off as a cough.

"Whatever you say, shtu-ball. Just don't ask me to lick the stamp for your reply; those things are the worst. Anyway, I'm off to deliver these to Starlight's desk," and he shook his handful of 'mamma-mail'. "If I'm not back in an hour, tell my wife I loved her... and that I'll see her after my nap."

He chuckled (openly this time) and wandered off into the recesses of the house.

"'Thick as thieves,' eh?" asked Connie pointedly, a single eyebrow raised.

Oh boy, thought Steven.

Connie pulled away leaving Steven confused. "What's wrong?" he asked, panting slightly.

"There was a noise out on the porch. Go check it out," said Connie.

Gingerly stepping off of Connie's bed, he proceeded down the stairs of the loft.

Steven opened the door of the Beach House and looked around. His collar was askew and his cheeks were a little flushed. He fiddled with his hearing aid, shrugged, and closed the door.

"No one was there," he called up. "Maybe it was a seagull or something."

Connie nodded. She really does look good in yellow, Steven thought, seeing the long-sleeved shirt with the exposed midriff she was wearing for today.

Smiling down at him, Connie sparkled for a moment, before returning to normal with a smile. "Oh you," she said affectionately. "Come on back."

He headed up the steps automatically but eagerly.

Two minutes later there was a knock at the door.

"I don't think that was a seagull," said Connie.

"I'll answer it. Is my collar straight?"

"Yeah, but your hair is kind of mussed. Hang on," and she fluffed up her beau's brown curls.

For the second time, the sidekick went down the stairs and opened the door.

"Oh, hi Connie," said Steven.

Chapter Text

Connie squirmed, trying to keep the circulation in her legs while her seat in the shopping cart pinched her from all sides. The tiny seat was uncomfortable, but the humiliation of being pushed up and down the aisles of the gigantic Buy n Large superstore was a hundred times worse. “Peridot, don’t you think this is a little silly?” she said plaintively.

With her enhancers’ hands resting on the push bar of the cart, Peridot’s face loomed uncomfortably close to Connie’s as the Gem drove the cart down an aisle featuring only paper towel rolls sold in enormous shrink-wrapped blocks. The shelves around their cart were thirty feet tall, or taller, each one carrying enough product to clean a lifetime of spills and messes.

Looking around them, Peridot grimaced and admitted, “The sheer size of this retailer is somewhat gauche. But maintaining our household requires sundries that I cannot easily manufacture since the others forced me to dismantle my automated paper mill for the sake of olfactory decency. And the bulk values offered by this location allow me to maximize the stipend provided by your father.”

Though she knew all of that perfectly well, Connie waited patiently until Peridot had finished. Interrupting was rude, and it risked Peridot starting over, or worse, elaborating. “I understand that, ma’am. But why do I have to be here in—”

“I told you,” Peridot said too quickly, turning away to summon a hologram of her shopping list from her arm’s enhancer. “I require your assistance with the shopping. The commander of this location no longer allows me to use my robonoids in-store. He is under the impression that seeing ‘inhuman, soulless mechanisms shuffling from aisle to aisle dumping product into their cart’ makes other customers too existentially reflective of their own shopping experience. My offer to draw faces on the robonoids to anthropomorphize them was not warmly received.”

“Okay,” Connie drawled, shaking off the odd mental image. “But why do I have to sit in the cart? I barely fit in here.”

Scoffing, Peridot glanced back and said, “Nonsense. There appears to be adequate volume in the passenger carriage to accommodate your form. Besides, that seat affords you the best vantage point and highest level of safety available. If you were to walk around unattended, you might become lost or possibly struck by another shopper’s cart.” She stared fondly through her floating hologrammatic list, and added, “You assisted me from many seats such as that one on past shopping excursions.”

Connie shifted from side to side, fighting against the tingle that was starting to climb down her thighs. “I’m pretty sure I was a lot smaller back then,” she grunted.

Peridot shook herself out of her reverie, then dismissed her list. She hoisted a thirty-six count pack of paper towels off the shelf and wedged it into the cart’s basket. “Yes, your physical development will prove to be a great asset. Your arms can reach higher shelves now, and your reading comprehension means you will now understand product labels.”

“Peridot, my legs are falling asleep,” Connie complained.

Sighing, Peridot wrapped her hands around Connie’s waist and helped her down without tipping over the cart. “Very well. But please remain close. It may not appear so, but in many ways the Buy n Large is as dangerous as any other mission you have undertaken.”

Connie looked up at the echoing sound of a clerk asking over the PA system for a price check on canned peaches. “Like those shopping carts that want to run me down?” she asked dryly.

“To say the least!” Peridot exclaimed. She guided the cart into the next aisle, careful to always keep Connie in her periphery. “Do you know how many toxic substances are present in the cleaning supply aisle alone? Ingesting any single bottle could prove fatal.”

“I’m not going to drink bottles of cleaner!” protested Connie.

“Certainly not while I’m around,” Peridot agreed.

Sighing, Connie checked her phone again. Before Peridot had recruited her for their shopping trip—which necessitated a trip through the warp pad and a long walk to the store, and an almost equally long walk across the store’s sprawling parking lot—Connie had been hoping to meet Steven at the boardwalk to share a paper basket of fry bits with her. But that lazy afternoon of snacking and watching off-season tourists dwindled a little more with every new aisle in the seemingly endless Buy n Large.

Stopping at the end of an aisle, Peridot compared her list to the large placards hanging overhead that listed the aisles’ available products. “I neglected to ask before our departure: do you still employ bubble bath additives in your ablutions? I seem to recall you delighting in the tactile sensation it added to your bath time.”

Embarrassment burned in Connie’s cheeks. She stuffed her phone back into her overall pocket and muttered, “Maybe when I was little.”

“I have seen many advertisements and programs featuring adults enjoying bubble baths,” Peridot insisted. “Even Lapis enjoys it occasionally. Well, once. Actually, it was more of a prank. But it did leave Mayor Dewey’s swimming pool looking cleaner.”

Sighing again, Connie trailed after Peridot, glancing listlessly down each aisle they passed. An endless tessellation of aisles stretched ahead of them, as though she were looking into the world’s worst infinity mirror. “Ma’am, I don’t need bubble bath, and I don’t need to sit in the cart to keep myself safe. If my disaster of a birthday proved anything, it’s that I’m not a little kid anymore, and I don’t—Oh my gosh, it’s PUMPKIN PETE!”

Connie’s shout plowed over her own argument as she bolted down an aisle of colorful cereal boxes. Peridot swung the cart around to chase her, and yelped, “Connie, maintain proximity! Maintain proximity!”

Connie grinned up at the shelves of cereal boxes, a veritable wall of gold-orange, with the picture of a white rabbit face grinning back at her by the dozens. As it always did, each box of Pumpkin Pete’s Marshmallow Flakes featured a minor celebrity in the corner. This month the picture was of some redheaded cosplayer in brown and gold armor, but that mattered little. The smiling mascot and his product had both weathered time without change.

As Peridot caught up, Connie snatched one of the boxes off the shelf and showed it to the Gem. “Peridot, look! I haven’t seen this stuff in forever. The local supermarket stopped carrying it years ago.”

Her eyes narrowing, Peridot took the box from Connie to examine it as though it were a venomous snake. “Ah, yes. The rabbit. I seem to recall your affinity for this sucrose-peddling lagomorph. Wasn’t there some ritualistic chant its worshippers invoked as part of its advertisements?”

The commercial jingle came back to Connie in an instant. “He’s soft and fuzzy and sugary-sweet!” she sang. “Let’s hop to the meadow with Pumpkin Pete!” Then, remembering where she was, she looked around to make sure nobody else in the store had caught her singing.

“That’s the one,” Peridot said disdainfully. “Thank the stars I’ve had the good sense to never actually feed you anything so determined to give you diabetes.”

It was technically true. Pumpkin Pete was the first cartoon character Connie could remember liking, which said more about the company’s advertising than its actual product, but Peridot had never given in to her pleas to try the cereal. Her father, on the other hand, had been a softer touch, and had secreted several single-serving travel boxes to her on previous visits. The marshmallow flakes were every bit as sweet as their name promised, and more.

“But they’re really good! Or so I’m told,” Connie said.

“Our own gardens and Lapis’s fishing contributions are quite sufficient to nourish you. We’re here for bulk sundries, not corn syrup pressed into arbitrary shapes,” Peridot said. Glancing behind her, she saw a different row of boxes with green slogans about being organic and protein-rich. Taking up one of the other boxes, she said, “Besides, if we were going to supplement your diet, we would do so with something engineered for maximum nutritional efficiency, like…”

As Peridot trailed off, they both found themselves staring at the cereal box. Its mascot was a sculpted, bulging male bodybuilder who wore only black bicycle shorts and an unsettlingly realistic horse mask. Connie read the name on the box aloud to make sure Peridot was seeing the same thing as she was. “¡Soy Delicioso! Is this food?”

Turning the box over, Peridot read the back. “Perhaps? It says it contains ‘nutramites.’ Is that good?” She found the front of the box again, her eyes narrowing upon the mascot. “What are you, horse-man?” she hissed.

The box answered her with silence and a dead-eyed stare.

Seeing Peridot distracted, Connie backed slowly toward the opposite shelves and gently lifted a box of Pumpkin Pete’s Marshmallow Flakes toward the cart. Once they were in the checkout line, Connie would pay for the box with her own money, thus skipping the nutritional lesson. It was, after all, her nutrition and her money.

But the instant the box dropped into the cart, Peridot’s limb enhancer blared with a klaxon. Its fingers flew off and caught the box before it could land. In one smooth motion, the disembodied fingers pushed the cereal box back up and into place on the shelf, then snapped back to their enhancer, which flashed a new hologram above Peridot’s arm:



Peridot chuckled as she dismissed the hologram. “You’re a bit out of practice, Connie. You used to reach a triple-digit score quite easily.”

“What just happened?” Connie said, staring at the re-shelved box.

“When I used to take you shopping with me, back when there was no one else to…well…” Peridot’s smile faltered briefly before she continued, “You would grab everything within reach and deposit it into our cart while my back was turned. Eventually I developed an application to restock your whimsical acquisitions, and programmed it as a game so it would be fun for both of us.”

Fighting to smother the annoyance in her voice, Connie said, “But why was it running now? We haven’t gone shopping together in forever.”

Still chuckling, Peridot said, “That’s the especially bemusing aspect: the program has apparently been running continuously for almost twelve years.” Then she frowned and tapped her enhancer. “Perhaps there is a reason the processing power is always so overtaxed.”

Connie clenched her jaw, trying to reconcile her growing annoyance with concern for Peridot’s bizarre new fascination with nostalgia. Peridot had been and always would be overprotective, Connie knew, but they had both long since outgrown the need to protect Connie from mundane things like spontaneously drinking bleach in the cleaning aisle or dumping shelves’ worth of items into the cart.

Something else was going on, and as little as Connie wanted to confront the Gem about it directly, she knew it was the right thing to do. “Peridot,” she began uncertainly, “I—ouch!”

A cart knocked into Connie from behind, sending her stumbling into the cereal shelf. Connie fumbled to keep an entire row of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs from crashing to the floor, which she narrowly accomplished with both arms, her head, and a foot lifted shakily to the end of the row. Limbs trembling, Connie summoned a force field to hold the boxes in place so she could let her leg rest.

The woman pushing the cart at fault looked up from her cell phone to scowl, and put a hand to her hips. Her leopard print yoga pants rippled with the motion, and cherry red lips parted as she cracked her chewing gum. Her hair was peroxide blond, in contrast with her dark eyebrows, and a velour blouse clung to a frame that had obviously been sculpted by fad diets, personal trainers, and surgery. “Why don’t you watch where you’re going instead of being a little vandal?” she sneered. “Tossing boxes around. Shameful.”

From the first sound of Connie’s distress, Peridot forgot her limb enhancers and rushed to stand in front of the other cart. The woman’s nasally disapproval made the Gem frown. “Pardon me, madam,” she said in a measured tone, “but I believe your inattentiveness resulted in your collision with the young lady. It’s customary under these circumstances for the instigator to offer the injured party an apology.”

Upper lip curling, the woman snapped, “Typical. If there’s a little hooligan making trouble, there’s a lousy parent not three feet away making excuses instead of disciplining her kid like she should.”

Something dangerous sparked in Peridot’s eyes. “Excuse me?” she said.

Looking Peridot up and down, the woman said, “Maybe if you spent more time being a parent and less time cosplaying, your kid wouldn’t be running wild and getting in everyone’s way.” And with that, she grasped her cart and steered around the two, not caring to wait as Peridot sputtered in rage to find a reply.

Peridot hissed and shook, staring after the dwindling leopard print rounding the corner into the next aisle. The instant she was out of sight, Peridot exploded, “How dare you challenge my parenting acumen? I aided this child in becoming a functional adolescent without the help of millions of years’ worth of mammalian nurturing instinct coded into my biology! To say nothing of lacking the convenience of a built-in feeding system!” she added, and slapped her chest.

Horrified, Connie grabbed their cart and loudly exclaimed, “Peridot, what’s next on the list?” Her force field dissolved, letting a wave of boxes clatter to the floor. Between the mess and the one-sided shouting match about biology, Connie wanted nothing more than to be somewhere far away when their antics started drawing a crowd.

The Gem begrudgingly let her outrage cool and began leading the cart down the other direction. Her holographic list returned, most of its items struck through with lines. “Yes, quite right. I believe we’ve suffered enough distractions. Though I must point out that, if you had remained in the cart, we would be ahead of schedule now instead of behind schedule.”

“If only my legs didn’t need all that pesky blood,” Connie muttered.

Peridot cast a wry look back at the sarcasm, and then said, “I know my directives may appear excessive, even occasionally draconian, to an adolescent demi-human such as yourself. But as your caregiver, it is my responsibility to employ my superior capacity for reasoning, level-headedness, and maturity to—Oh my stars, it’s ABRAXO!”

Abandoning her cart, her young charge, and her level-headed maturity, Peridot rushed across the main aisle of the Buy n Large to stand before and endcap display on the opposite side. Four different shoppers had to swerve their own carts to avoid crashing into the frantic Gem, but Peridot never noticed them or their angry glares. She bounced excitedly in front of shelves marked with a cardboard cutout of a gold nine-pointed star, oblivious to everything else until Connie rushed after her with the overloaded cart.

“Peridot?” huffed Connie. “What is it?”

The green Gem gestured to the single, lonely box of product remaining on the endcap shelf. Another pointed star adorned the box front under the product’s name. “It’s Abraxo!” Peridot exclaimed. Deepening her tone, she emulated a commercial voiceover as she said, “Industrial cleaning power for everyday messes.”

Connie squinted at the box. “It’s a cleaner?”

“Only in the sense that the Great North might be considered mildly chilly. Abraxo was the strongest all-purpose cleaner available on the consumer market, capable of cleaning everything from kitchen messes to grease and oil stains on my workbench.”

“Was?” asked Connie.

Waving her hand, Peridot said dismissively, “It was recalled several years ago due to complaints of epidermal irritation. Ridiculous, really, seeing as how it largely eliminated any epidermal layers it happened to contact in moderate concentration.” Seeing the words added to the box’s bottom corner, Peridot exclaimed, “But now the formula is new and improved! Doubtless it cleans better than ever and barely melts any human skin at all!”

Connie briefly considered questioning Peridot’s loyalty to a product based solely on nostalgia and advertising, but then decided that she did not have a leg to stand on in that debate.

Twirling, Peridot swooned and tossed out her arms, her fingers floating wide. “Despite one or two minor setbacks, this has proven to be a marvelous day! I am spending time with my favorite humanoid, and now I’ve rediscovered a long-lost essential component of our home’s cleanliness.”

But when Peridot reached back for the last remaining box of Abraxo, her fingers passed through empty air. She spun around to find the shelf now completely empty. Faced once more with the prospect of a world without Abraxo, Peridot began frantically looking around for where her treasured box might have gone.

She didn’t have to look far. Standing across the endcap opposite the Gem, the familiar blonde in velour and leopard print dumped Peridot’s precious Abraxo into her own cart. She spared Peridot an irritated glance before pushing off, her attention returning to the text conversation on her phone.

Peridot watched the woman drift away with her prized cleaner. “But… But I was going to… My workbench is so greasy!” she wailed.

Biting back a sigh, Connie looked at their cart, and then to the crestfallen engineer. She knew they still had the back half of Peridot’s list to complete, and with no sugary marshmallow flakes waiting for her at the end, her patience couldn’t accommodate sympathy for the loss of some skin-melting cleaner. “Maybe we should just finish up,” she suggested, trying to sound encouraging. “I mean, that cleaner stuff wasn’t even on the list.”

Peridot’s eyes glimmered. The Gem blinked hard, then set her expression into one of resolve. Her floating fingers curled into a fist as she declared, “It is now.”

Connie’s heart sank as she watched her inner vision of sharing fry bits with Steven vanish into a new, terrible mission, one fraught with no peril and promising no glory.

Shelves packed with saltine cracker boxes served as their concealing underbrush as Peridot led Connie on reconnaissance of their leopard-spotted quarry. The aisle’s shelves shielded them from her notice, but not from the puzzled looks of every other shopper that happened to pass by them. Blissfully unaware of being stalked, the woman stood in front of a small table that a Buy n Large employee had assembled to offer free samples of cheese on crackers.

Holding a set of bright green binoculars to her round visor, Peridot grimaced at the sight of the woman berating the employee for something, her words made inaudible by the bustle of the store around them. The Gem watched through an empty space in the shelves, her eyes narrowing behind the binocular lenses. “The subject is distracted,” she muttered. “Now is the time to strike.”

Connie looked through her own green binoculars, having to peer through the boxes on a lower shelf. Her grimace was of a different variety than Peridot’s, having more to do with the odd looks they were garnering. “This feels wrong. And are the binoculars really necessary? She’s only about forty feet away,” said Connie.

“There are no shortcuts to success, Connie. Collecting intelligence may not be as exciting as punching your problems or hitting them with a tidal wave, but often it yields more precise, more desirable results,” Peridot insisted.

The binoculars floated out of Peridot’s and Connie’s hands and separated into halves. Each segment contracted back into a finger, and then the floating pieces joined the lone thumb on Peridot’s other enhancer to complete it again. She flexed the reassembled hand with a nod of satisfaction as she marched forward, her shoulders straight and jaw clenched.

“Bring the cart, Connie,” Peridot instructed.

Connie threw her weight against the cart’s push bar to catch up to the determined Gem. As they drew closer, the woman’s nasally voice became audible above the din of the store. “—on a gluten cleanse, and your little samples could have killed me! Do you even know if there’s gluten in these crackers?” she snapped.

The teenager standing behind the tiny folding table looked baffled. “Like I told you, miss, these are rice crackers,” he said.

“…and?” the woman demanded, crossing her arms. “You don’t even know, do you?”

Peridot cleared her throat, inadvertently rescuing the beleaguered Buy n Large employee as she drew the woman’s angry glare to her. “Pardon me, Miss…?”

The Gem’s questioning pause lingered for an uncomfortable length of time before, sourly, the woman replied, “Tyffini.”

“Excellent. Well, Miss Tiffany,” Peridot began.

“It’s ‘Tyffini,’” the woman said archly.

Peridot blinked, confused. “Isn’t that what I…? Never mind. Despite our previous verbal altercation, I recognize that you are a savvy shopper in your own right, and I commend you on your excellent taste in multi-purpose cleaning product.” Pausing again, Peridot watched the woman’s reaction, and the Gem’s smile gradually dimmed. “Perhaps you would also like to compliment me in a similar fashion, as social protocol encourages?”

Tyffini’s over-plucked eyebrows rose. Her lips puckered.

“Very well. Since we each encountered the Abraxo at roughly the same time, I posit that we both hold a viable claim to purchasing it. Ergo, I propose we engage in a debate to determine which of us has the greater need for the product and should therefore possess it to ensure that its superior cleaning power is used to maximum effect,” Peridot said.

Connie watched the proposition wash over Tyffini without effect. The employee behind the table, seeing that his confusion was being ignored, looked to Connie for answers. She could only shrug helplessly in reply.

The green Gem poised a hand on her chest and said, “I will present my case first, and then you will have a brief period of rebuttal. Then we reverse roles, and finally discuss the resultant discourse before mutually declaring the winner. My going first, of course, gives you the advantage of tailoring your own case in opposition of mine, but I have sufficient confidence in my argument that I feel comfortable in proceeding thusly.” She tossed a sidelong wink at Connie, who tilted her head in silent perplexity.

Then Peridot took a deep breath and began: “As you may no doubt surmise by my appearance, I do not possess what most Earthlings would consider to be a conventional lifestyle. For me, an average day’s activities may demand of me combat, exploratory analysis, housekeeping, beach-keeping, and myriad repairs of both mechanical and electrical equipment. Each of these activities is capable of necessitating an array of cleanups and, for the past several years, this has in turn required that I purchase a variety of cleaning products to deal with these messes. My household operates on a fixed income, and purchasing so many different cleaners taxes our budgetary constraints.

Abraxo is capable of replacing all of those other cleaning products,” Peridot declared. Her gaze turned lovingly to Tyffini’s cart, where the box of cleaner lay buried under Hungry Mom frozen lean lunches. “As its previous advertisement campaigns asserted, it ‘cuts messes to the bone.’ And now that it’s back, having been previously recalled for coincidentally and chemically burning its consumers to the bone as well, I have the opportunity to improve the cleanliness and fiscal solvency of my entire household through the act of purchasing it.”

Her eyes glistening, Peridot continued in a thickening voice, “But I know humans place a high priority on pathos as well as logos. And so I put forth to you that Abraxo has made a deep and abiding impact on my time here on Earth. When my cohort Jasper returned from patrol covered in light leeches, and their removal spread a liquid photonic residue everywhere, Abraxo was there to clean away the physical reminder of their painful and humiliating memory. When my lo…er, longtime friend, Lapis, let an entire suspended pool of fish-laden seawater drop to the floor because she became distracted by something funny on television, Abraxo made the house finally stop smelling like tuna. And when Connie, who was but an infant, decided that she would rather wear than eat her spaghetti, Abraxo cleaned the floor, her high chair, and laundered her onesie while Johnson & Johnson cleaned the rest of her.”

With a motion from the green Gem, a hologram flashed above her upraised enhancer, displaying a still image of a small, chubby, squalling toddler covered in noodles and marinara. Connie felt her whole face burn with embarrassment while Peridot and the free samples employee cooed at her baby picture.

“To conclude,” Peridot said, dismissing the hologram, “Abraxo is a product that enriches the cleanliness and emotional well-being of my life.” She drew a deep, satisfied breath, and then gestured with open hands to the patiently silent Tyffini. “Thank you. You may now present your brief rebuttal.”

Tyffini’s lips flattened into a burgundy line. She glanced around, and her gaze came to rest on the samples table. Picking up two crackers, she primly mashed them into Peridot’s visor. The crackers’ generous dollops of Squeezee Cheezee glorped them to the round lenses, obscuring Peridot’s eyes. Then, nodding in satisfaction, Tyffini took her cart and pushed on, forcing Connie to sidestep or be a collision victim again.

Peridot stood silent for a long moment. “Connie,” she said, still motionless, “is she gone?”

“Um, yes, ma’am,” said Connie.

“Hmm.” Peridot rubbed her chin, a gesture that looked less than contemplative thanks to the cheesy crackers serving as her googly eyes. “A bold invocation of Finders v. Keepers. But I think she’ll soon find that, with possession being nine-tenths of the law, there is a large, Peridot-sized opportunity for contesting that ownership in the remaining tenth.”

Then she groped blindly at the table. The Buy n Large employee, catching on, placed a stack of napkins into her hand.

“Thank you,” she said.

Twenty more minutes of standing in one spot finally broke Connie’s patience. She lifted her forehead from the cart’s push bar and groaned, “Peridot, can we please just check out and go home? I’m not even sure what we’re doing here anymore.”

Peridot continued to scroll through screen after screen of code in the holographic display above her arm. Her visor glinted with the reflection in vaguely greasy, cheesy translucent yellow lettering. “Had you paid closer intention to our intel-gathering phase, you would know exactly why I’ve chosen this as our battleground.”

Looking around, Connie saw hair care products in bulk packaging filling the leviathan shelves. She wondered why any human being would need to buy five gallons of shampoo at once, but that was a question better left unasked. “I still don’t get it,” she admitted.

“Then you weren’t looking at the woman’s roots. If she’s a blonde, then I’m a Sapphire,” Peridot said. Then she crowed in victory as her holographic screen collapsed. “Ha! Excellent. Now we can begin.”

“Begin what?” asked Connie. “Are you going to try to talk her out of the box again?”

The Gem lifted her finger in a too-familiar gesture, guaranteeing that another lecture was to follow. “There are innumerable means of acquisition. And when logic and forthrightness prove unequal to the task, other and more clandestine means are called for to yield results. Do you remember what Lapis always taught you, to my previous chagrin?”

“Wetter is always better,” Connie replied instantly.

“What? No, the other thing,” Peridot insisted.

“When you’re lost, always follow the bubbles.”

Peridot ran a hand down her face. “The other-other thing,” she said.

“If you can’t remember someone’s name, give them a descriptive nickname that makes them think they’re actually worth remembering,” Connie said. Then her eyes went wide, and she exclaimed, “Is that why she’s always calling Steven ‘Pinky Pie?’”

Gnashing her teeth, Peridot said, “The thing that applies to this situation in particular.”

“Oh! If nobody’s watching it, then it’s yours,” Connie said.

Peridot tapped a floating finger to her nose. “Precisely.” Her gaze trailed upward, past the tops of the towering shelves at either side of them, to the distant crossbeams supporting the corrugated metal ceiling. “Now, when the target arrives, your task will be to arrest her forward progress and occupy her attention with an innocuous topic of your choosing.”

“So, stop her and distract her?” Connie paraphrased. “Okay. And then what?”

The pleased expression on the Gem’s face told Connie that Peridot had been eagerly awaiting that very question. Lifting her enhancer, Peridot said, “I have reprogrammed my cart protection app to target only Abraxo. Once I set that woman’s cart as the default target, the enhancer will extract my prize with more alacrity and precision than the planet’s most generous arcade crane game.”

Connie frowned. “So we’re just going to steal the box from her cart?”

“Exactly!” Peridot cheered. Then, struck by the realization of Connie’s worried features, she amended, “That is, ‘steal’ is a rather reductive term in this case, given the moral complexity of… I mean, the concept of a product’s ownership prior to its purchase is nebulous at best… In times of great need, we—The woman put cheese on my face! This is an extreme situation that warrants an exception to the rules governing polite society.”

“Okay,” Connie said quickly, taking a step back from the puffing, wild-eyed Gem.

They both heard one-half of a shrill, loud conversation nearing the end of the aisle. Peridot gave Connie a decisive nod and then lifted her arm. A glowing tractor beam ensnared her fingers, which linked together and curled backwards into the shape of a grappling hook. Her tractor line shot the hook up to the crisscrossing rafters in the ceiling, and then dragged her into the air, where she swung onto the top shelves of the aisle to crouch out of sight.

Swallowing hard, Connie turned and watched Tyffini pushing her cart down the aisle with her phone pressed between her cheek and shoulder. Whoever the woman was talking to was receiving a loud and detailed retelling of her last doctor’s visit. The peroxide blonde’s cart veered erratically, forcing Connie to sidestep quickly in order to put herself back in its path.

Tyffini stopped her cart just short of running over Connie again. Her eyes flicked in annoyance at the nervous would-be roadblock. “I gotta call you back. Some charity case is in my way,” she said into the phone before thumbing it dark. Then, to Connie, she said, “Yeah, I don’t carry cash, so don’t bother asking.”

“Um, no. Hello,” Connie said, smiling and waving awkwardly. “I’m the girl you bumped into earlier. Literally.”

“Oh,” Tyffini said, her face growing stony. “So, what? You’re gonna sue me? Because my husband’s a lawyer, and I’m pretty sure carts have the right of way. What’s the point of those glasses if you can’t even see where you’re going? Because they aren’t doing your face any favors.”

A flash of anger set Connie’s innards bubbling, but she hid it behind a wider smile. “No, no. It’s just…you’re so pretty, and I was wondering, um, if you get your makeup here too.” She did not follow up by asking where Tyffini also got the trowel she had obviously used to apply her foundation.

Tyffini’s disdain shifted into false modesty so smoothly, Connie would have sworn it was something the woman practiced in a mirror. “Well, aren’t you sweet? No, my makeup costs more than your mother probably makes in a year, honey. But I’ll tell you what: I think I still have my surgeon’s card here. He’s a miracle worker. I’m on nose number three, and it’s the best one yet.”

As the woman dug through her purse, Connie let her gaze drift upward. She saw Peridot’s golden hair and round yellow visor peering over the top of the highest shelf. A quintet of long fingers dropped over the edge and into Tyffini’s cart beneath the woman’s distracted notice. Unable to help herself, Connie grinned at the successful heist in progress.

Then a klaxon blared from the top shelf, and the disembodied fingers became a flurry of action. Each finger wrapped around a box, bottle, package, or bag in the cart and flung it to sit neatly upon a nearby shelf, then went back to the cart for another product to re-shelve. The return of each product to its improper place was announced with its own bleating klaxon, making the hair care aisle sound like the bridge of a starship in extreme distress.

Connie and Tyffini both had to backpedal from the cart to avoid the whizzing fingers and their items. In seconds, the cart stood almost completely empty, its contents quivering and mis-shelved around them. The only thing remaining in the cart’s basket was the upright box of Abraxo. Connie stood frozen as Tyffini gaped first at the lone box, then at Connie, and then up to the source of the beeping.

Slowly, Peridot’s face appeared over the edge of the shelf twisted in a grimace. “I, ah, may have inverted the program’s targeting protocols. But we did achieve a new high score.” Her awkward laugh dwindled to nothing under Tyffini’s baffled stare. Then the Gem exclaimed, “Retreat!” And she shot her tractored hand into the rafters to swing away on a green line.

Her old training scenarios taking over, Connie sprinted from the aisle at a dead run. She didn’t look back as she heard Tyffini hurling curses and confused accusations in every direction.

After circling the store three times and doubling back into the bulk electronics section to ensure she wasn’t being followed, Connie snuck back to the rendezvous spot Peridot had made her memorize when they had first entered the store in the event that they were ever separated. It had seemed excessive at the time, but now proved to be handy, since they hadn’t discussed any other contingency in the event of the plan’s catastrophic failure.

Peridot was already there with the cart, parked next to a wall of adult diapers. The gem stood hunched with her hands grasped listlessly around the push bar, her face downturned as Connie approached.

Puffing for breath, Connie said, “Sorry. I guess neither of us is as good at, um, ‘clandestine acquisition’ as Lapis is. Did you have another idea for getting that box, or…?” She let the unspoken half of the sentence hang, pleading silently to be finished with this strange obsession of Peridot’s.

Then she noticed a tiny glimmer on Peridot’s cheek as the Gem glanced her way. Blinking hard, Peridot swiped at her cheek, trying to hide the motion in an adjustment of her visor. “No. I believe we have dallied long enough. We should proceed to the checkout and purchase our items forthwith.”

The Gem’s floating hands fumbled to find the cart’s push bar again. Connie frowned, and said, “Peridot? Are you okay?”

“Come along, Connie,” Peridot said, ignoring the question. “We both have more worthwhile matters that require our attention. I will simply continue mixing and utilizing multiple cleaners to sanitize our living spaces. Besides, if the product has indeed been reissued, I will find it at another retail provider located more conveniently in our home region.”

The hollowness in Peridot’s voice made Connie balk. She felt her stomach twisting guiltily at her previous impatience. This bizarre quest of the engineer’s made no sense to Connie, but it didn’t have to. It clearly meant a lot to Peridot.

A yellow force field materialized in front of the cart, which bumped to a stop and nudged Peridot in the midsection. The Gem glanced back at Connie with a ghost of annoyance in her features. “Connie, what are you doing? Are your abilities manifesting spontaneously, or is there some concern we need to address?”

“The second one, ma’am,” Connie said. Drawing herself upright, she declared, “We aren’t done shopping until we get that Abraxo.”

Peridot grimaced. “While I appreciate your renewed enthusiasm in my foolhardiness, it is misplaced. Tyffini possesses the box. It is rightfully hers. Now, let us—”

“No!” Connie said, standing in front of the cart so Peridot could not turn it around. At the Gem’s raised eyebrow, she hastily added, “Ma’am. We picked out that box. We were standing right there. Our proximity to it and publicly-declared intentions to buy it mean that we still have a viable claim on the product. In ignoring our intentions and refusing to debate the issue, Tyffini has broken the social contract requiring us to respect her current possession of the box. We are under no obligation to recognize her ownership of that product until she actually pays for it. If we obtain it and purchase it first, we’ll own it without compromising any unspoken societal mores.”

As Connie huffed, Peridot stared at her, the Gem’s face slackening at the recognized snippets of her previous debate. “Connie, you just crafted rhetoric using the lessons I taught you about implicit social expectations to justify disrespecting a nigh-stranger we both deeply dislike.” A new tear formed in the corner of her eye, and this time Peridot did not hide it. “I am very proud of you. I am also slightly perturbed at this newfound talent of yours for moral relativism as justification for malfeasance, but we shall address that issue at a later date.”

Connie beamed in relief at Peridot’s renewed vigor. “Okay!” she said.

Lifting a finger to her chin, Peridot mused, “However, that begs the question of what else we can do at this point.” Her pondering fell silent as she saw the knowing smile waiting for her on Connie’s features. “You have some thoughts on the matter?”

“Well,” Connie said, “respectfully, ma’am, we’ve tried it your way, and we tried it the Lapis way. But Jasper’s been teaching me a lot about being a Citrine. Maybe we should try it the Quartz way this time.”

Peridot’s eyebrows rose. “Do elaborate.”

Peace and prosperity shone in the home utilities aisle, a quiet that persisted despite the woman searching roughly through different thirty-count boxes of lightbulbs, running her long, painted nails over the boxes’ descriptions before stuffing them back onto the shelf in the wrong spot.

“I don’t believe this,” Tyffini grumbled loudly. “How do they not have tanning bulbs for night lights? It’s like we’re living in a third-world… Huh?”

The peace shattered underneath a fearsome Gem war cry cascading throughout the Buy n Large. A cart careened around the end of the aisle, tilting up on two wheels as it took the corner with Peridot pushing it at a dead run. Connie sprinted ahead, bellowing at the top of her lungs, making the shoppers in front of her jump to either side of the aisle to avoid being mowed down by the pair.

As Tyffini stared, bewildered by the semi-familiar pair charging at her, the world before her turned yellow. She backed away in surprise, realizing that an amber wall of light had appeared across the width of the aisle to separate her from her own cart. “Hey!” she cried, and thumped the wall with her palm.

Still bellowing, Peridot pulled the cart up next to Tyffini’s. Then she threaded her fingers through the latticed metal of the cart and, with a mighty heave, tipped the cart onto its side, spilling Tyffini’s selections onto the grimy tile floor. “I’m sorry! I need it more!” Peridot yelled politely through the force field.

Connie dove into the scattered products, flinging everything else aside until she came across the buried Abraxo. She snatched it up and dunked it into their cart, cheering in victory, “I got it!”

“EEEE-GRESS!” Peridot howled, and swung the cart clumsily into motion.

Shooting one last look at Tyffini behind her force field, Connie yelled, “I’m sorry about your cart! Please be nicer to people in the future!” Then she sprinted to get ahead of Peridot once more.

Together, the engineer and her young charge barreled across the store, both of them yelling as loudly as they could. Connie pinwheeled her arms in front of the cart as they ran to ensure that every single human being in earshot knew to clear their path. Her heart thundered with exhilaration, her manic grin threatening to split her face.

They reached the row of checkouts at the front of the store, still screaming. Of the fifty checkout lanes, only six were open, with queues of shoppers stretched behind each of them. But the impending wait did not matter. As they pulled into the shortest line, Connie grasped the edge of the cart and jumped up and down excitedly, exclaiming, “We did it! It worked!”

Peridot beamed, her floating hands wrapping around the slightly battered box of Abraxo. “We really did,” she sighed. Then she grinned and held the box out to Connie. “Clearly I have underappreciated the Quartz method of problem-solving in the past. Well done!”

They laughed and cheered, holding their prize between them, too gleeful to care about the mustachioed man wearing a clip-on tie and a prominent nametag bearing down on their celebration with a small squad of be-smocked employees in tow.

As they left the hot tar of the parking lot for the cool, cracked sidewalk, Connie glanced wistfully back at the enormous silhouette of the Buy n Large. Their victory had come at a steep cost, and the retail conglomerate had joined Funland and many other commercial establishments in a shared opinion of their desire for Gem customers.

“Humans put so much stock in the phrase ‘lifetime ban,’” Peridot marveled aloud. “Is there some allure in the absolutism of such a punishment? Surely it cannot be productive for businesses to ban a customer who will outlive any one employee of their chain by centuries.”

“I still can’t believe we didn’t just ask one of the employees to check in the back,” Connie said, chagrinned. “They had, like, six more crates of Abraxo in the storeroom. Maybe the Quartz method wasn’t the way to go after all.”

Harrumphing, Peridot glanced at their collective bags, which trundled ahead of them, staggering to keep in formation. Each brown paper bag had a robonoid beneath it with a cobbled platform clipped to its chassis to keep the bag stable and upright. Robinson, loaded with a year’s supply of two-ply toilet paper, had the dubious honor of navigating the rest of them the eight blocks to their warp pad, which sat camouflaged in an empty lot under a rusty piece of discarded aluminum siding.

“At least they granted us the courtesy of allowing us to purchase our items before banishing us,” the engineer huffed.

Connie smirked at the unlikely procession ahead of them. But as her gaze drifted back to Peridot, her face sobered. “Peridot? Can I ask you something?”

“Of course,” Peridot said. “Inquiry is foundational to your development. I encourage it.”

The question that had been tickling the back of Connie’s throat all day finally left her in a quiet, uncertain voice. “Did you really need my help today?”

The Gem’s faltering expression suggested that Peridot wasn’t quite so enthusiastic about that particular inquiry. She looked down, staring at her shuffling limb enhancers for a long moment before finally answering, “Yes.”

Waiting, Connie watched Peridot wrestle silently with what to say. The Gem’s loquaciousness was as intrinsic to her as her visor, and seeing her struggle for words worried Connie more than her spontaneous obsession over a cleaning product had.

At last, Peridot said, “Connie, I am…not the best Earthling.”

Shock hammered Connie in the stomach, but she swallowed her outburst and said, “What do you mean?”

“I am not like Jasper, or Lapis, or your mother. Not like you,” Peridot said. The floating hands of her limb enhancers flexed self-consciously. “I’ve struggled to find my purpose on this world from the moment I arrived. I tried to heal the scars that Homeworld’s occupation left, and I failed. I tried to help Lapis come to terms with—”

She choked, and her eyes filled with tears.

“Well, I failed her too,” she admitted. “But at my lowest point, when I was most afraid, I found my purpose in you. With only human-written texts of questionable accuracy as my guide, I taught myself how to care for you. I taught you to walk, and speak, and reason. I would take you shopping with me to purchase products essential to your survival that I never even knew existed prior to you. And now you are grown.”

Connie rested hand on the Gem’s trembling, floating fist. “Not all the way,” she pointed out softly.

Shaking her head, Peridot said through thick, globby tears, “Seeing you develop, and establish your own activities, and intentions, and social connections beyond us—beyond me—made me think I finally understood what Citrine spent centuries trying to teach me: that we could learn to change just like everything else on this world. But Lapis still lives with one metaphorical foot out the door. Jasper vanishes for days at a time, and when she is here I have to wonder if she would rather bubble me than deal with my tinkering. We’re back to where we began, and the only thing different is you.

“I did need you today,” Peridot choked, her chin dropping in shame. “I needed to feel like I did when you needed me. But I just succeeded in deluding myself and wasting your time, and possibly starting a blood feud with some strange, horrible human. Once again, I fai—”

Connie’s hug caught Peridot across the stomach, stopping the Gem in her enhanced tracks. Pressing her face to Peridot’s chest, Connie squeezed her as tightly as she could and said into the Gem’s tunic, “No.”

The front of Peridot’s formed clothes quickly became soaked in warm tears. “Connie?” Peridot said, wrapping her arms around the girl on reflex.

“You’re allowed to have bad days,” Connie insisted, her voice quavering as her glasses turned blurry with tears. “You’re allowed to feel nostalgic for when I was a baby. You’re allowed to drag me along somewhere just because you want some company. You’re even allowed to mess up, just like everybody else. But don’t ever, ever call yourself a failure. You don’t get to do that.”

Craning her face downward, Peridot tried to catch the girl’s eye. “Connie,” she said, her tone one of shock.

But Connie just shook her head and clutched Peridot tighter, and squeaked, “I don’t need cart seats or bubble baths anymore because you did a good job. You’re doing a good job. You keep the house and everything in it and all of us together. You’re multi-purpose. So you deserve a cleaner that can do it all too. Even if it might melt my skin.”

Peridot rested her cheek atop Connie’s hair and held on tight, closing her eyes until her own tears stemmed. “Thank you,” she murmured.

As they parted, Connie pushed her glasses up to wipe her eyes. They both laughed at each other’s puffy, teary faces. Then they turned to find an audience of robonoids watching them from underneath their collective purchases. Even without faces or voices, the tiny droids managed to express their impatience, and successfully guilted Connie and Peridot into resuming their route.

“Perhaps I am a more adequate caregiver than I credit myself for being,” Peridot said coyly, and began digging into the bag tottering atop Daneel’s wire mesh platform. “However, certainly a good caregiver would not send her phalanges back in secret for an unneeded indulgence whilst her young charge was arguing with the store manager about the terms of their banning.”

With a flourish, Peridot half-pulled a rectangular box from the bag to show Connie its label. Connie squinted in confusion at the box as she read the label aloud. “Magic Sponge? The sponge that makes dirt disappear?”

“What? No.” Peridot did a double-take, then stuffed the box back down and rummaged through the bag again, this time pulling out the actual desired box. “The cereal. Obviously I bought you the cereal,” she said.

When the Gem’s hand emerged, Connie found herself grinning back at Pumpkin Pete. “Thanks, Peridot. I’ll be sure to eat it only in the recommended serving sizes so I don’t have too much sugar at once.” She crossed her finger over her heart to seal the promise she knew she had no chance of keeping.

Peridot nodded, smiling. “That is very wise and mature of you, Connie.”

“Well,” Connie said, “I had a pretty great teacher.”

Chapter Text

Lapis shifted uneasily on her perch above Peridot's room as she observed the green gem at work below. Occasionally soft murmuring or a frustrated sigh would drift up to her ears. Peri hadn't noticed her yet, largely because she was absorbed with whatever was scattered about her workbench. Even if she happened to look up, the shadows cast by the gently glowing lava flows of her room would have obscured the opening of the tunnel Lapis was crouched in. She wasn't sure why she felt hesitant now. Everything had gone fine since her return earlier today. Aside from a few awkward looks from Jasper it was like she'd never left.

Connie had made a trip to the Big Donut for snacks, for which Lapis was endlessly grateful. They didn't have lemon filled donuts or triple glazed bear claws at the bottom of the ocean, or at any of the other isolated locales where she had spent her time...away. Oddly Connie hadn't eaten any of the junk food delights, she'd actually looked a little queasy at the sight of them. Weird. After three donuts and a fritter Lapis had attempted to make good on her hug promise while Connie filled her in on her adventures with Bigger Tigger at the Boiling Lava Lake. Peridot was practically attached to her hip for the entire retelling. Which was nice.

She'd lost it when Connie regaled her with a dramatic reenactment of the battle between Tiger's Eye and the “Balrog”. She'd spent the next hour trying to convince OJ to shape-shift a beard and reenact Gandalf's famous “You shall not pass!” scene on the stairs to Con-con's bedroom. The big lug had actually seemed embarrassed! Jasper. A Tolkien nerd. When had that happened?

She must have missed a lot while she was gone...

Lapis lay back in her Peridot access tunnel and looked up at the dancing shadows cast across its ceiling. Maybe that's why she was hesitant? Things had been normal when they were all together, but alone with Peri... Would it be awkward after what happened at New Year's? Or maybe it was being alone with Dot in her room again. Last time that happened it hadn't ended so well, Lapis recalled with an internal groan. Well she wasn't binge eating this time and she had no plans to try and corner P-dot into a kiss tonight sooooo. Ugh. Maybe she should just go back to her room and try to sleep. But that thought sent a shiver through her form. She didn't really want to be alone right now.

She'd had enough alone time for awhile.

Lapis sat up with a long, deep inhalation...and then she smiled. That smell. Peri's lava flows... It was a faint, light fragrance. Clean and barely there at all. But she knew it.


With a grin Lapis slowly extended her wings, taking care to keep quiet. Screw awkward. She was gonna hang out with her favorite technician and while she was at it she'd give her a little surprise too. Lapis slowly floated downward, careful to keep her wings flared and still. She touched down softly just behind the still-mumbling gem and quickly moved both hands in front of Peri's adorably geeky new glasses.

“Guess who?' Lapis asked in a singsong voice. But instead of the reaction she was hoping for, a squeaky yell or floating fingers flying everywhere, Peridot continued her work. Despite her blocked vision.

“Whoever could it be? Marietta, perhaps?” Peridot deadpanned as her fingers continued to fly over her workbench.

“Antoinette? Old Netty... I haven't thought about her in ages. That was a girl who knew how to throw a party,” Lapis responded. Her disappointment at not surprising Peridot quickly overcome by nostalgia. Peri and herself had attended a great many of the French queen’s lavish balls back in the day.

“Yes. Madame Deficit was exceptional in her pursuit of recreational frivolities if not much else. A practice that would have cost her her head had a certain flying gem not plucked her from the guillotine,” Peridot teased, finally setting her work aside and turning to face Lapis.

“Eh. Marie was a good kid who made a few mistakes....Okay, a lot of mistakes. But still, no harm in saving her neck. The French still got their revolution,” Lapis replied with a grin, taking a moment to admire Peridot's new form again as the green gem leaned back against her workbench. She loved the new hair, it was so cute, and that outfit.  “Besides, I owed her for that killer dress she gave me. I still have it somewhere...”

“Ah yes. Lavish benefactions. The easiest way to make an ally of Lapis Lazuli. That or copious amounts of sugary food stuffs,” Peridot quipped with an exaggerated roll of her eyes.

“Hey! I'd bet anything you still have a few of the outfits she gave you too P-pod,” Lapis retorted, giving the technician a playful shove to the shoulder and sticking out her tongue. She'd expected to give Dot a good scare, not get roasted. Which reminded her... “Anyway, why weren't you surprised when I popped in? You been expecting me or something?”

“Perhaps. Or perhaps my proximity sensors alerted me to your arrival some time ago. You spent a prolonged period sitting in the ceiling aperture,” Peridot answered as she held up and tapped a small, glowing panel on her limb enhancer.

“Proximity sensors? That's cheating,” Lapis whined, a light blush rising in her cheeks. She didn't know Peri was aware of her sitting up there watching her the entire time.

“Yes, well. While you were away we had another Slinker infestation so I recently upgraded the Temple's security systems,” Peridot replied as she pushed her visor-glasses back up her nose with a self-satisfied grin. “So, to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit Lazuli?”

Lapis felt her blush deepen. It was really cute when Dot pushed her glasses up like that. Yeesh, usually she was the one doing the flustering. She had to turn this around. “What? Can't a gem pull a Romeo and sneak into her favorite girl's bedroom unannounced anymore?” Lapis purred, leaning forward and slowly dragging a finger around the star emblazoned over Peridot's breasts. That ought to turn those green cheeks teal Lapis thought. But when she looked at Peridot's face that's not what she saw. Instead Peri wore a slight frown and was looking off to one side. She looked...

She looked uncomfortable.

Lapis took a few steps back and immediately withdrew her hand, internally berating herself. Of course Peri was uncomfortable. Here she was, back after vanishing on one of her tantrums for over three months, and she immediately began hitting on Peridot. After bailing on her. Again. Like nothing had happened at all. She had to stop doing this to her. “I'm sorry Peridot. It's just...I really missed you. I thought we could hang out a bit, but it's probably best if I just go,” Lapis said in a wavering voice as she spread her wings. Ugh. She was so stupid. She was about to run back to her room but before she could take off two sets of floating, green fingers settling around her shoulders.

“Wait!” Peridot shouted in a panic as she stepped forward towards Lapis.

“Dot it's fine, I shouldn't ha—”

“I keenly felt your absence as well, Lapis!”

Lapis' teeth clicked shut around the words she was trying to get out as Peridot's fingers moved from her shoulders to her hands. The green gem's mouth kept opening and shutting as if she were searching for the right words and Lapis could see the telltale sheen behind Peridot's glasses that meant she was trying very hard not to cry.

Great. Lapis had made her cry.

Lapis felt her own eyes burning as she stared down at her precious Peri. What was she trying to say? That it was okay? Of course it wasn't okay! Jasper was right! She always did this to Peridot and she was the last gem in the universe to deserve it. But she didn't know how to stop doing it. But a good start, this time at least, would be to lay off her for awhile. She was about to remove her hands from Peridot's when her grip suddenly tightened and her face finally regained its usual composure.

“I would revel in the opportunity to hang out with you, Lazuli. I'd just prefer it if we did so...platonically for now. Watch Camp Pining Hearts with me?” Peridot offered with a smile and a gesture of her hand-equivalent off to her left. Lapis glanced over and saw...

The hammock. The same hammock Peri usually set up for her whenever she had the nightmares. Whenever she needed someplace she felt comfortable and safe to sleep. A place with Peridot nearby. This time there was an old boxy television set up right beside it. Peri had planned for this. Lapis was torn between laughing and crying. Instead she chose to mask it with teasing Peridot.

“You're not going to make me sit through season four again are you, Periwinkle?” Lapis asked in mock exasperation, discreetly freeing one of her hands and wiping at her eyes. “I know it's your favorite but it's always been a little hit or miss for me.”

“It is objectively the best season of the series!” Peridot huffed, rising to the bait. “It's a key turning point in the development of Percy and Pierre's relationship.”

“It was a giant tease to all of us dying for them to finally get together,” Lapis retorted with a smirk.

“It was proper set-up! You can't rush romantic relationships! Camp Pining Hearts isn't some trashy literary romance!”

Lapis doubled over and laughed outright at this. She couldn't help it. She loved Camp Pining Hearts but she wasn't quite as... rabid as Peri. “Okay Dot, you win. We can watch season four,” Lapis replied with a snort, trying to master her mirth.

“Actually I was thinking we could watch season five together,” Peridot said, grinning despite herself at seeing Lapis laugh again.

“Season five? But season five is garbage,” Lapis replied in confusion.

“Precisely. The series went completely off the rails. Which makes it extremely enjoyable to critique. Especially with a partner.”

Lapis beamed at Peridot. That did sound like a lot of fun right now. “I'll be your Statler if you'll be my Waldorf.” And with that Lapis reached down and scooped Peridot up bridal carry-style. The green gem's yelp of surprise quickly turned to happy laughter as Lapis spread her wings and lightly flew over the few meandering lava rivers separating them from the hammock.

“I don't believe flight was necessary for such a short distance, Laz,” Peridot giggled as they landed.

“No, but it was more fun,” Lapis answered as she plopped Peridot down in the hammock. She then carefully crawled in after her. There was no avoiding touching when two people shared a hammock, but Lapis tried her best to make their contact as innocent as possible. But after Peridot leaned her head against Lapis' shoulder while her floating fingers inserted the season five DVD Lapis relaxed a little. She even leaned her face into Peri's hair, she still couldn't get over how cute it looked.

Things weren't fixed, she wasn't fixed, but for now this was nice.

This was enough.

As the title card for the first episode appeared on screen Lapis could practically feel the righteous indignation roiling in waves off of her critique partner. She snorted and wrapped her arm around Peridot's shoulders as she settled in to tear apart the worst season of their favorite show together.

“Lapis?” Peridot said as the theme song started, snuggling into Lapis' arm and looking up at her with a contented sigh.

“Yeah P-pod?”

“It's...It's a pleasure to be in your company once more.”

“Yeah. Yeah it's good to be back, Peri,” Lapis responded as she planted a chaste kiss just above Peridot's gemstone.

It was good to be home.

Chapter Text

Steven was braiding Connie’s hair. Connie was braiding Jasper’s hair. Jasper was working her way through one of Connie’s choose-your-own-adventure books. Lapis wasn’t so much braiding Steven’s hair as sifting through it like someone trying to read their future in tea leaves.

Other than Steven humming tunelessly, the Beach House was silent. Peaceful.

The temple door opened and Peridot, wearing a lab coat, wheeled something covered in a tarp into the center of the room.

“Excellent tidings, everyone!” she declared, all eyes upon her.

“What’s that, ma'am?” asked Connie as she braided a tiny bit more order into the fluffy white chaos in front of her.

“How kind of you to ask, dear,” preened the technician. “I present to you all,” she paused for dramatic effect, “my greatest invention!” and she whipped the tarp back.

Sitting on a wheeled podium was a contraption of tangled wires and iridescent green metal. A large screen dominated the front. A pull chord like you’d find on a push mower poked out from the side.

“Oooh~” said Steven.

“Wow!” exclaimed Lapis. “I have no idea what that is!”

Peridot pulled herself up proudly and said, “This is a Tachyonic Atemporal Cross-dimensional Oracle.”

Lapis considered this. “Now I have no idea what it is and I suddenly crave Tex-Mex.”

Peridot rolled her eyes. “You pose it a question and it combs the multiverse to show you an answer. But only a brief one: this device can’t sustain prolonged operation as it was built from refurbished Sea Shrine salvage.”

“Kind of like those little hourglass things from that sunken lab?” asked Connie, her face carefully neutral.

Peridot bounced on her heel-equivalents. “Yes, precisely.”

“Smash it?” asked Jasper.

“Smash it,” answered Connie.

The two got up, the latter going to grab something blunt and heavy from the kitchen cabinets.

“Wait!” cried Peridot, moving to shelter her precious device with her physical form. “I can assure you that the odds of this machine summoning dimensional doppelgangers are infinitesimal!”

“How about the odds of it traumatizing me?” drawled Connie, eyebrow raised and a heavy skillet in her grip.

Peridot opened her mouth, then closed her mouth, then shook her head. Wearing a smile that failed to reach her eyes, she said, “Let’s not get lost in speculation. The important thing is that we have the entirety of what is and what can ever be, right here for our inquiring. So let’s inquire!”

Lapis raised her arm high overhead, rocking impatiently. “Ooh! Ooh! Pick me!”

“Yes, Laz?” Peridot said, her expression satisfied once more.

“What if I found another gummy bear in Steven’s hair?”

“Hey,” objected Steven, who then paused and said, “Actually, I’d kind of like to ask how that got in there.”

While Peridot’s face was in her palm-equivalent, Jasper cleared her throat and asked, “What would happen if I smashed this machine?”

Peridot threw her limb enhancers in the air and declared, “I offer you all a glimpse at the infinite and these are the thanks I receive? Fine! Connie, you may ask the first question. That way you can be sure it is nothing you’d find objectionable to your impressionable psyche.”

Connie set the cast iron skillet on the countertop and considered the offer, looking over the group. Lapis gave her a thumbs up. Steven was preoccupied combing through his hair. Jasper shrugged. Peridot’s eyes were pleading.

“Wellllll, there are a few things I’ve been wondering about,” conceded the girl.

“Then it’s settled!” chirped Peridot. “Now I merely need to perform the delicate initialization process.”

Walking around to the side of the device, the technician braced one gravity connector against the podium and gripped the pull chord with her floating fingers. She tugged once, twice, three times, all while grumbling about ‘shoddy Era-1 scrap’. On the fourth try there was a sound like a car backfiring and then a motor chugged to life.

Peridot reached into the nest of wires extending from the back of the machine, twiddling this and that. She then formed a fist-equivalent, banged on the top of the T.A.C.O. twice, and was rewarded with a warm glow from the screen. Peridot brushed her hand-equivalents together, satisfied in a job well done, and moved aside.

On the display was a single sentence:

What is your question?

A hush fell over the room (motor noises notwithstanding) and Connie stepped forward. She cleared her throat, drew in a breath, and said…

Chapter Text

Priyanka Pre-Confrontation Digression

After years of work functions, Priyanka could ride out a gathering like a pro. On instinct she could find the Goldilocks zone between the wallflowers and the extroverts. She was never rude but neither was she too inviting. She had good posture and wore sensible shoes, allowing her to mill about without having to sit; if you sat down then you risked being 'that lonely doctor by herself' or trapped at a table with an inebriated gaggle of obstetricians.

Priyanka wove through the crowd giving the impression that she was just cutting through, no time to stay and chat since her friends were waiting, and yes, she was having a good time, thank you for asking.

She did all of this without conscious effort, a fact which meant her mind was free to wonder how Doug was getting along with Connie. That the girl was awkward around Priyanka was no surprise. Even a normal thirteen-year-old would have mixed feelings about her father dating.

If even half the stories Doug has told me are true then there is precious little about her life that is normal. It's a wonder she's as well-adjusted as-

Priyanka had to smile and nod her way through an encounter with a large, dark-skinned man with a loud shirt, a louder voice, and bags under his eyes. The man --Harold, supplied the corner of Priyanka's mind dedicated to navigating events like these-- turned and told his exciting personal anecdote to a different hapless partygoer while Priyanka made good her escape.

Priyanka had always wanted to raise a daughter. She was proud of Anjan, of course. Her son and his wife were, based on the intermittent updates that made it to her, living happily and sensibly on the west coast, just another pair of twenty-something professionals. But there was a tiny, sentimental core of Priyanka that had weathered the years of marriage, divorce, and subsequent dating that yearned. She wanted to help a girl make the transition to womanhood with her heart intact and her head screwed on straight. She wanted to be the sheltering harbor her younger self had been denied.

But if she was ever going to be any of that to Connie, she'd first need to make it through the entirety of a conversation with her.

Priyanka hid behind a plate of vegetables while a stocky blonde woman with a knee brace and a woman with glasses and a large mop of orange hair talked about their children, who were apparently coworkers at the donut shop. A conveniently timed bite of sliced cucumber --Wow, this is really good cucumber! Did this come from someone's garden?-- meant Priyanka's mouth was too full to join them in their exchange.

Still no sign of Doug or Connie. Mary Universe, the towering hostess, did manage to out-maneuver Pri and invite her to join in some girl talk later, but then she'd left 'so she could check on how the kids were doing.'

Priyanka turned, the crowds happened to part, and there, looming from the edge of the party, was Jasper. The colossal busybody was as poker-faced as ever and pacing like a caged jungle cat.

Priyanka bit a baby carrot in half, --I'll have to ask Doug if there's a farmer's market in Beach City.-- set her plate aside, and marched on a collision course with the orange interloper.

Lapis Overhears about Horror Movies

Lapis was working her way down a snack table. Donuts and assorted finger food tasted a fair sight better than hurt tinged with regret.

The sea was a little choppier than it otherwise should have been, and, okay, maybe some of the bottles of soda had become dangerous to open too quickly, but Lapis wasn’t rearranging land masses so everyone else could just cope.

Lapis’ ate a handful of mixed nuts to see if they could help quell the storm raging inside her. Hmm, results are inconclusive. More testing needed, she thought as she stuffed another handful in her mouth.

There was a guffaw with all the grace of an avalanche that rang out across the party. Lapis rolled her eyes as she quaffed a cup of punch. Oh great. Someone’s playing ‘got your nose’ with Jasper and we all get to hear about it.

Turning, Lapis saw the doctor chick Doug was shtupping walking away with all haste from Jasper, with Doug on an intercept course to his new squeeze.

She’s only guilty of terrible taste, same as those snowball cookies, but I won’t lose any sleep if she, Dougie, and Jassafras annoy each other to pieces.

Not that this had been a particularly good year for sleeping for Lapis.

The Blue gem turned back and started demolishing a pile of asian-style dumplings. A cloud halfway to the horizon began dumping its contents into the ocean.

Heh, wonton destruction, she quipped inwardly.

Nearby, Donut Girl, Snarky Pizza, and Weirdo McFryboy were gabbing. Lapis sidled a little closer to see what this conspiracy of junk food jockeys was all about. It couldn’t be worse than keeping her own thoughts for company.

“Isn’t that the one with, like, the ugly CGI bear? When I first saw it, I thought it was about a really hairy guy trying to murder people,” said Pepperoni With Cheek.

Pretty Fry For A White Guy fiddled with his glasses, a gesture that sent a pang through Lapis as it reminded her of a certain someone, and said, “You saw the remake, which was a cinematic travesty. The original version uses only practical effects and is far and away superior.”

“Well, yeah,” said Ms. Karate-Chop Action, “but because of the rights dispute, you can’t find the original Evil Bear 2 anywhere. The VHS tapes cost, like, a hundred bucks online.”

Potato Nerd gave a satisfied smile. “I happen to have in my possession the entire Evil Bear trilogy. I got a hot tip from one of my KBCW contacts a few years back: scored all three for eight dollars from a yard sale over in Ocean Town. Well worth the twenty mile bike ride.”

“Whoa! Really?!” exclaimed the cruel cruller custodian.

“Wow, Home Fries has the hookup. Shortcake here has been putting on some scary stuff with me and my boys. We get together ‘bout twice a month. You should come too. She’s really into this stuff but we’re more along for the ride,” said Pizza Party.

Ha! Shortcake! This pizza girl is alright, thought Lapis before a loud, “WHAT?!” caused everyone’s heads, Lapis included, to snap around.

Chapter Text

Connie could generate electricity. This power had been debuted in a rather spectacular fashion at a recent beach party. Words had been said, corrupted Orthoclases had been poofed, property damage had been surprisingly light, all things considered.

The evening following the party, it was discovered that Connie had a second, hitherto unknown power operating as well: she was a walking gemtech power source, broadcasting energy wirelessly. On the plus side, it meant she was able to activate the long-inert shield her mother had wielded. On the negative side, it meant she'd inadvertently caused the blaster overload which had poofed Peridot about a month-and-a-half ago.

Two days after the beach party, Connie, Jasper, Lapis, Peridot, and Steven had assembled in the shadow of the temple to find out more about these two powers.

Peridot brought an exacting itinerary of tests to be performed.

Jasper brought the shield as well as the pile of equipment Peridot had assembled for the occasion.

Lapis brought snacks, only half of which made it to the power testing. There were plenty of green- and orange-frosted donuts, though, which for some reason Lapis seemed reluctant to touch.

Steven brought the power diary, a case of gel pens with glitter in the ink, and four boxes of anti-static dryer sheets.

Connie brought her gemstone and as much patience as she could muster.

Below are the distilled notes from the day’s exercises, compiled by Peridot and Connie, with additional observations from Steven, Lapis, and Jasper.

Test 1: Mode of Electrical Generation Alpha (How does Connie generate/store electrical energy)
Connie was situated on a rubber mat laid out over the sand. Electrodes were applied to various contact points across Connie's body. {They were cold and arranged quite... thoroughly, ma'am.}{Pinkie's cheeks seemed pretty warm even though he was looking away until Peri gave him the ‘all clear’.}{LAPIS!}{Hehe.} An iron spike was driven into the sand, leads were handed to Connie, and a sensor suite was setup to monitor everything between the two. Connie was asked to discharge as much of the power she may have had currently stored up.

Once the voltmeter on the leads reached a sustained low, Connie was asked to activate her electricity generation power as strongly as she could... right after everyone else retreated to the blast shelter Jasper had finished erecting. {I liked the doodles you made on it, Lapis.}{Thanks, Pinkie Pie.}{But the picture of miss Jasper getting struck by lightning? It showed her skeleton... but I thought you guys didn't have bones.}{Artistic license, Stevie.}

The result was a steady flow of current that averaged forty kilovolts at roughly two milliamps, producing about eighty watts. {And no lightning.}{There's more to science than lightning, Lapis.}{If it helps, miss Lapis, Connie's hair did go all poofy and storm-cloudy after a while.} After ten minutes of continuous current generation, the test was concluded.

Steven helped restrain Connie's particularly voluminous hair. {Sorry for zapping you, Steven.}{It's okay. Though I really thought wearing those anti-static dryer sheets like gloves would have helped more.}

Test 2: Mode of Electrical Generation Beta
Connie was asked to remain on the insulated mat for one minute, charging, before picking the leads up once more and attempting to activate her power at full strength.

Steven's request that she 'go Super Saiyan' was duly noted, though Connie seemed to blanch at the prospect of bellowing her rage to the world. {That’s pretty much what I did two days ago. That’s plenty for me, thanks.}{That’s okay, Connie. Gohan hardly ever rages out and he’s, like, the strongest person ever. Well… until he gets to high school, anway.}{Um, thanks, I think.}

There was an initial, modest peak in the voltage and then a sharp drop. This settled to a return to the previous, sustained level of current generation.

Test 5: Mode of Electrical Generation Delta
Connie sat charging for a full thirty minutes. The greatest challenge was keeping Steven and Lapis from stepping out from behind the blast shelter. {It was boooring, P-dot!}{Also, we were running out of wall to draw on.}{Lapis, Steven, kindly recall that these very powers helped bring down a swarm of Orthoclases as well as indirectly PUT A FOUR INCH HOLE THROUGH MY PHYSICAL FORM! Caution may not be exciting, but it is warranted.}

The performance was identical to previous tests, albeit with a higher initial peak in voltage. These peaks show less than linear growth, so there appears to be an upper maximum to the rate at which Connie can charge. {Still no lightning.}{What is it with you and lightning today, Laz?}{I was just hoping Con-con and I could pull a storm theme in some future fight.}{Um, Lapis, I think we got close enough with the beach party.}{Fine, but I'm saving the costume design Pinkie drew up.}{Wait- What?!}

Test 6: Mode of Electrical Generation Zeta
Connie was informed that she would be subjected to a series of mild electrical shocks through the electrodes placed across her body. These shocks would be in a number of different locations and patterns to see if her body was capable of absorbing electrical energy from external sources and, if so, whether said absorption was constrained to certain areas. {I-If you're sure about this, ma'am.}{I assure you, dear, the shocks will be mild and that the, heh, battery of tests will be, ahem, conducted no longer than watt is strictly needed.}{That'd be more reassuring if you weren't working in so many electricity puns.}{Wait! I've got one! Con-con, just accept it because... resistance is futile.}[ZAP!]{Even I agree I had that coming.}

After discharging as much of her accumulated energy as possible, the sequence was begun. {Try meditating, Connie. Buck Dewey says it helps him.}{Oh, um, okay, Steven. I'll try it.}{Yeah, Con-con, try chanting 'Ohm'. Then maybe it won't hertz.} To Connie's credit her dedication to advancing science, and enduring word play, is impressive. {She's a real joule, that on- Ow! Hey?!}{Thanks Jasper}{[thumbs up]}

At the end, she discharged what power she had accumulated, but the results were nominal, indicating that Connie cannot charge herself from sources outside her own gemstone.

Conclusion: Connie's gemstone acts as a generator which produces current in a specific range. Her body, meanwhile, acts as a capacitor rather than a battery, and has a high rate of discharge. It charges more efficiently when charged slowly; the rate of charge dropping off over time during a concerted charging effort. It is speculated that the waste energy manifests itself as static charge. {Which is Peri-speak for Connie's storm 'fro!}

Test 7: Range of Electrical Generation Alpha (What are the generation ranges and triggers thereof)
There was a brief break for refreshments. {Thanks for the veggie platter, Steven.}{You're welcome, but I don't think miss Peridot or Lapis liked the selection.}{Carrots are a vital part of Connie's diet and your arrangement of vegetables was deficient in that area. Fortunately I was able to rectify the situation with a brief warp to and from the garden.}{Okay, but why did miss Lapis just eat the red bell peppers?}{My appetite for certain colors is kinda complicated these days. It's a gem thing.}{Oh, uh, okay.}

Connie was then placed in the testing apparatus from last time with the addition of a cerebral scanning helmet. {Ma'am, it looks like a colander flipped upside down, with a bunch of copper wiring stuck in the holes.}{Yeah, P, didn't I see you washing Connie's carrots with that thing, like, five minutes ago?}{Ahem. The cerebral scanning helm has a versatile design and is capable of both rinsing consumables and identifying neurological activity. Now hold still, dear, I think I see a bit of peel still stuck in among the prefrontal cortex sensors.}

Connie was then asked to complete an in-depth questionnaire about her thoughts and emotional state during electricity generation... right after being assured we weren't going to pelt her with tennis balls. {You guys pulled that stunt on me during the force field testing.}{Well yes, but it was-}{THREE TIMES!}

During portions of the questionnaire meant to induce feelings of aggression, the electrical output increased. {It's just... Woody the Woodpecker is a jerk! That walrus just wants to have a barbecue!}{You were right, Steven: that comic about a malevolent picidae was a good addition to the body of questions.}

Test 8: Range of Electrical Generation Beta
Connie was once more ran through the testing apparatus, helmet and all, but during the questionnaire she was subject to a simulated assault by harmless projectiles: tennis ball-shaped devices rigged to adhere to the target until they receive a modest electrical shock. {Argh! I'll never trust again!}

I hypothesized that the physicality of the simulated attack would heighten the response. After careful examination of the cerebral scanning helmet data I have come to the conclusion that this was not the case. While there was a marked increase in galvanic output, {Lightning!}{The effect was more on the scale of a cattle prod or taser, Laz}{Just let me have this, Peri.} the brain area most stimulated was one associated with feelings of betrayal or indignation.

On a related note, I received a... stinging reminder to include an examination of the means by which Connie can remotely project her electrical charges.

Conclusion: Connie's generative output seems to increase when she focuses on the power (per the previous 'charging' tests) as well as when she is feeling particularly outraged. A physical element to the situation seems to have no effect. While neither focused nor emotionally primed, Connie’s electrical output was nominal. When she was suitably, erm, energized, she was producing output about in line with devices used by humans for self-defense or managing livestock.

Test 9: Targeting and Distance for Ranged Electrical Strikes Alpha (How accurately and how far can she project her electricity)
A series of targeting dummies (i.e. sensor-laden robonoids) were arranged at various distances. Numerous detectors were positioned along the range. From her insulated mat, Connie was instructed to direct an arc of electricity towards Gort, positioned five feet away.

Time-lapse photography confirmed that Connie was inducing the target to extend an ion channel between it and her outstretched fingertips. The channel then served as the conduit for her electrical strike. As the galvanic energy flowed into the target, the charge differential diminished. This had the result of making the current seek an alternate route to ground, ultimately discharging harmlessly into the sand past the edge of the insulated mat. Simply put, the longer Connie zaps something, the harder it is for her to keep her electricity focused on it. This implies that sustained bursts will be difficult.

Additionally, careful study of the footage revealed that the electrical discharge is actually following a narrow ion channel along the exterior of Connie's body that leads back to her gemstone. This would explain why she is not shocked in the process of discharging the electricity. {Ah, I guess that means that Connie can't wear cool metal armor.}{Yes, that would be counterproductive.}{No underwire for you, Con-con.}{Hmm, that's a fair point, Lapis. Really any form of conductive undergarment could-}{EVERYONE NEEDS TO STOP TALKING RIGHT NOW!}

Curiously, following an ionized channel of air to ground is identical to how natural lightning strikes function. {Yus!}{I still wanna see those costume designs, Lapis.}{Fine. Here ya go.}{...huh. That’s neat, actually, but I don’t think I could get my hair to hold a lightning bolt shape.}{If needed, dear, I could furnish you with some industrial-strength adhesives made from elastic polymers that-}{Hard pass, ma’am.}

Test 12: Targeting and Distance for Ranged Electrical Strikes Epsilon
Unlike all of the preceding tests, Galatea at the forty foot mark was never successfully targeted. Consulting the sensor data, it appears the ion channel never formed in the first place. This implies there is some form of firm range limitation at work, though the underlying mechanism remains a mystery.

Test 13: Targeting and Distance for Ranged Electrical Strikes Delta
Connie stood inside a roughly six cubic-foot body of salt water. She then attempted to target Gort at a range of five feet away. Instead, the water surrounding her immediately shorted the electrical strike. Connie described the effect as disorienting but not actually painful. {Oh! You can tag along next time I bring in a haul of fish. We can do some electrofishing.}{Um, miss Lapis, I'm not really comfortable with that.}{Yeah, animal cruelty concerns aside, being splash-zapped like that is not something I'm eager to do again.}

Test 14: Targeting and Distance for Ranged Electrical Strikes Zeta
Connie summoned a force field and attempted to target the barrier. As with other hard light constructs, the fields proved to be very poor conductors. She then tried to target Gort from the other side of the field.

Like physical barriers, the field prevented the ion channel from completing, thus protecting the target from the shock. {Was that really in question, ma'am?}{Powers are weird, dear. You have to test this sort of thing to be sure.}

Conclusion: Connie can induce a mid air channel for her electricity to reach a distant target but only to a distance of thirty feet. The target moving or dodging (per the unscheduled Johnny test) does little unless they're able to break line of effect or interpose something more electrically conductive between them.

Test 15: Wireless Gem Energy Broadcast Alpha (How far does it extend and how much energy can it broadcast)
Another break was called, for lunch this time. As one of the testing devices was a gemtech machine for precisely heating inserted rectangles, we were able to capitalize on Connie's power aura to toast the sandwich bread. Unfortunately, Toasty realized what was transpiring and entered a frenzy. Subduing the robonoid took the larger part of the meal. {I could have done it sooner.}{True, Jasper, but I'd rather my robonoids remain intact in the process.}{[shrug]}

The test involved Connie activating the slotted ingot smelter, {You mean the gem-toaster, P?}{No, I mean the the device we happened to also use for toasting bread, which is called the-}{Right, the gem-toaster.}{Lazuli, what kind of toaster is capable of smelting aluminum?!}{[points] That one, duh.}{Gnyaaah!} having Connie walk away until it ceased to function, then measuring that distance.

The slotted ingot {toaster} smelter ceased operation once Connie moved past the thirty foot mark. Additional movement confirmed that the energy broadcast is circular in shape. That this is the limit for Connie's ion channel range is conspicuous.

Test 16: Wireless Gem Energy Broadcast Beta
For this test the Steven and Connie will stand adjacent to one another. Then Steven will carry the Citrine Aegis- {NO!}{Wha- Jasper?}{Steven will NOT carry Citrine's shield.}{Whoa, OJ, what's the big deal?}{Steven. Can you lift the toaster?}{It's a slotted-}{Yeah, it's not too heavy, miss Jasper.}{Peridot. He carries the toaster.}{But it's- oh fine, the Steven can carry the toaster. [grumble grumble]} Ahem. The Steven will carry the... toaster and walk away from Connie to confirm whether or not Connie's field behaves differently while she's stationary.

The result was consistent with Connie's aura being circular and unchanged while stationary. Additional, three-dimensional motion with Lapis' assistance {WOO!}{Fun, ain’t it, Pinkie?} proved that the field was in fact spherical, with a radius of thirty feet.

Test 17: Wireless Gem Energy Broadcast Gamma
A trio of power sinks, devices built to consume large volumes of energy and produce a trivial output, {Sounds like a few gems I've known.}{Lapis. Glass houses.}{Whoa! Normally I'd be pissed, but I'm just too surprised by Jasper using a human expression correctly to care. Man, Connie and Steven really are rubbing off on you, aren’t they?}{[narrowed eyes]} were placed at five, fifteen, and twenty-five feet away from Connie. Then all three were enabled in sequence, starting with the most remote first.

Only the closest active power sink was able to remain operational. This implies that energy is routed to the nearest device first and that the aura shrinks as energy is consumed in excess of production. This is yet another parallel with the ion channel phenomenon.

Test 18: Wireless Gem Energy Broadcast Epsilon
Two power sinks were arranged equidistant to Connie. Once activated, only one received power. Repeating this test caused the same result, although which power sink was powered was statistically no different from random chance.

Test 19: Wireless Gem Energy Broadcast Delta
The power sinks were cleared away and various terrestrial (i.e. human-invented) circuits were arranged within Connie's power radius. She was then asked to convey electricity to them.

Other than arcing electricity to one after several minutes of failed attempts, no remote current inducement occurred.

Test 20: Wireless Gem Energy Broadcast Zeta
This time Connie was compelled from emotional trigger to generate electricity (via surprise Jasper-noogie) and caused several of the circuits to show current in keeping with the tests #7 and #8 (and, later, test #1 when she attempted to zap Jasper off of her) {Good instincts, kiddo. On some other gem that might have worked.}

Test 21: Wireless Gem Energy Broadcast Eta
A power sink was placed in proximity to Connie. Then she was compelled from emotional trigger to generate electricity (via surprise Jasper-noogie to Steven). {NOT COOL, GUYS!}{You weren't kidding, Connie. Those things are no idle threat.} Only the circuit closer to Connie than the power sink received a surge of current.

Of additional note, the power surge was higher than previously noted. Further testing would be beneficial but Connie has unilaterally vetoed further efforts. {Seriously, not cool, guys.}

Conclusion: Connie's power aura is a sphere with a maximum radius of thirty feet. It's radius is determined by the amount of unconsumed power, and all the available power goes to the nearest receptive device first. This aura is clearly necessary for Connie to be able to convey her electrical power through the air, though the exact interaction between the two is still not well understood.

"Good luck with your analysis, ma'am," said Connie as she started to walk away.

"You're not going to remain? I'd certainly appreciate your help in compiling and distilling the results from today's exercises," said Peridot, a little pleadingly.

Connie's step faltered for a moment. She hesitated before turning around. "Sorry, ma'am, but I think I need a little space. After being prodded all day... normally I'd want to go curl up inside and read, but I'm afraid I'm going to fry the house's wiring if I do. I think I'll take a walk to the woods on the edge of town and back. Help clear my head."

She turned to Steven and casually reached up, scratching her ear in a manner that looked rather ear-wiggly. "I can walk you back to your house, if you want."

Steven gave a minute nod. "That'd be nice. Oh, uh, bye Peridot, Lapis, Jasper! It was fun! I'll update my power diary later and we can compare notes if you want, miss Peridot."

Peridot was a little caught off guard by the offer. "Um, yes, thank you. You two have a good jaunt."

The pair walked off, Steven asking Connie something involving the words 'Yupper Pupper,' which garnered a nod from the girl.

"The heck you suppose that was about?" asked Lapis.

"I'm not really sure. But, it has been a trying day on her, I'm sure. As to Steven accompanying her, well, he is her peer," answered Peridot.

"He shouldn't be," grumbled Jasper.

Lapis rounded on the Quartz. "About that. What's going on with you and Stevedore, OJ? Because Pinkie’s about as offensive as a harp seal pup offering hugs."

Jasper stooped to gingerly pick up Citrine's shield, taking a moment to gently brush the accumulated sand off the relic. She turned to face Lapis, her expression impassive. "Sometimes he oversteps his bounds."

Before the others could react, she turned and walked toward the temple, saying without turning back, "I'm returning this to its resting place. Then I'm going on patrol. I'll be back before dark."

The green and blue pair watched the Orange gem stride off.

"Man, who tied Tigger's tail in a knot?"

"I'm unsure. I have observed her odd behavior since I reformed forty-nine days previously."

Lapis shrugged. "Whatever. Want some help hauling all this inside? I'll make sure it doesn't rain on us while we’re at it."

Peridot agreed readily. "Yes, that would be most appreciated."

Lapis smirked. "So, you carrying the toaster, or am I?"


Chapter Text

Conniesoup is a Steven Universe fanfic that asks the question "What if instead of Steven as the hero, he was replaced with his infinitely more proactive girlfriend? And instead of the Crystal Gems raising her, we replace them with even worse parental figures?"

Connie is a half-human, half-gem hybrid who has the super power of actually asking questions about things and getting answers, something Steven took, like, 4 seasons to figure out. But to keep the plot from being resolved too quickly, the writers balance this out by breaking Connie emotionally every other sentence.

Parrot Bot is the Pearl of the story since they both like to smother their children. Not literally, but both have enough issues that you should... probably still kinda watch for that.

Lappy-Ritz is the funny but troubled hot one who all the other moms want to bang despite the fact she abandons everyone for long periods of time, then just shows up and cracks jokes like nothing happened, like the episode where Lappy loses Connie at the mall and Lappy goes home and eats donuts.

Rasper is the quiet one who just likes to kill things and has repressed anger issues, which still makes her by far the best parent.

Together they go on fun adventures and collect corrupted Gems and psychological issues Connie will have to go to a therapist about for the whole of her adult life.

Like that time Lappy-Ritz blamed Connie for destroying the Lunar Sea Spire then left to go out for space cigarettes and didn't come back for weeks. Or that time Connie met different parallel versions of herself and watched them painfully dissolve from existance. Or that time she wanted to go to a New Years party and her family went from three moms to two big moms to no moms in the course of a couple hours. (DISCLAIMER: No really, none of those were jokes)

But Connie isn't raised by just three people with issues. No! She isn't raised by five! Does the book count? Is that six?
[picture of the Pearlbook printing the number for CPS while Connie dials on a broken house phone]

Connie's father, Dug, shows us that if you drop out of school, run away from home, and are a stammering dork who's awkward around women, you too can bang a hot demi-goddess and learn kung fu. But Dug's life isn't all nerd wish-fulfillment. After only thirteen short years of abandoning his daughter to be smothered raised by Parrot Bot, Dug realizes he's a terrible father and feels bad about it. Then he starts banging a doctor the Internet has for some reason decided needs all the NSFW art. You have mommy issues, Internet. Get help. #DugFatherOfTheYear2017

Citrus is Connie's mother and she's dead. That or she's watching the world through a yellow window set in Connie's chest. Connie, stop wearing turtlenecks; mommy can't see. Citrus was perfect in every way and anyone who says otherwise gets punched into low Earth orbit by Rasper. Citrus led the rebellion against Harblewarble with the help of Rose Quartz Rasper, her bestest bestie who was in every way better than Rose Quartz other people. She also made everyone promise not to tell Connie anything about her powers because she learned parenting from Dug, and abandonment is how Maheswarans show they care.

Conniesoup teaches us that no matter how bad it gets, with open communication, self-reflection, and patience, even the most troubled of families can get their 13-year-old to do all the work of making everyone else's lives better.
[star wipe on Connie unpacking a mountain of baggage while Dug, Rasper, Lappy-Ritz, and Parrot Bot play video games]

Chapter Text

Lapis floated listlessly through a crushing void absent all light. She couldn't see. She could hear only the strange noises of the depths. She was encompassed by cold and pressure.

Sometimes Lapis would scream. Sometimes she'd thrash about. However, it wouldn't take long before the water of whatever ocean trench she was hiding in this time started to stir: surrounded as she was by miles of water, Lapis' rage was anything but impotent.

Eventually Lapis would notice what was going on. Memories, more sensation than anything coherent, would flash through her mind: water rushing in vast and terrible surges like a bandsaw chewing through miles of stone, the shockingly loud crackle a landmass makes as it’s swallowed by the sea, the screams of those riding it to the bottom.

Each time she'd reassure herself that she couldn't possibly have heard that last one. Each time she'd find her argument unconvincing.

Then she'd feel a surge of panic, cold shooting up her spine and through her limbs in a way that had nothing to do with the near-freezing temperatures. With a thought, the water would grow sluggish once more and Lapis would float bonelessly, a cerulean corpse miles from air and sun.

Eventually, a timeless eternity later, the body would stir: curl into a ball, scream into the void, grind its teeth, or kick and flail against a past more crushing than any ocean. The waters would wake in turn and then the cycle would repeat.


I'd like to get off this ride, please.

It was easy enough for Lapis to force an opening underwater, but it'd be full of vacuum and you can't talk in a vacuum.

It was considerably trickier but it was possible to make a bubble of pressurized water that could swallow a gulp of air from the surface and convey it into the depths; the magical-equivalent of a Bathysphere.

It was a hassle, but it was what she had to do to talk with Murray.

Lapis stood in the middle of her bubble on the damp and slimy deck of a caravel. It was noon overhead and she'd left the ocean trench, so the ambient light was more 'overcast' than 'blacker than the blackest black.' If someone sold a scented candle labeled 'centuries-old shipwreck', you'd only buy it on a dare. But Murray wasn't going to complain and, like a good guest, Lapis kept her opinion to herself.

"It's been, what, twelve years since I visited?"

Murray didn't roll his eyes at her, but she could sense his intent to despite the polite demeanor. He rarely had much patience for her prevarications, which was part of why Lapis liked Murray.

"Okay, yes, it's the same dang thing as last time. And the time before that, and, well, at least I'm consistent, right?" offered Lapis with false cheer.

Lapis could tell Murray was unimpressed, but he flashed her a grin all the same. Good ol' Murray.

"Thing is, I'm pretty sure Connie's gonna remember it this time. Oh, she's not a baby anymore, by the way. Weird, right? I'm mean, pffft, what's the hurry? It doesn't really get better so just, enjoy having Peridot wait on you hand and foot for a while. Kids these days, ya know?"

Murray had some strong opinions about the younger generations, but he didn't let Lapis shift the subject so easily.

"Hey, don't look at me with that tone of voice," Lapis chided. "If you'd never made poor life choices, you wouldn’t be down here too. It's hard out there! The good times end sooner or later but the mistakes stick around forever. Live long enough and that's all you'll have left."

Murray fixed Lapis with a hard stare.

Lapis' hands flew to her mouth. "Oh! That's was insensitive of me wasn't it?" She set her arms akimbo, her chagrin transforming into a scowl meant for him and her both. "Well, that's what ya get with me, Murray. Besides, you were a pirate so you were probably a jerk anyway."

Murray, a skeleton leaning in repose against the caravel's gunwale, made his silent objection.

Lapis sat down beside him, ignoring the muck she was displacing. "I don't care if pirates are cool again, Mur. Depp movies or no, we're both bad people who deserve to be sitting in sea sludge."

Much as he might have wanted to, Murray couldn't argue with that.

Lapis and Murray were on the caravel's deck enjoying a long stretch of companionable silence, when a shadow passed overhead.

"Huh. I wonder what that is?" Lapis looked upward, squinting into the aquatic dimness.

"Yes, I know it's a boat, Murray. But I wonder what kind?"

She started to rise when she paused, the corners of her mouth curling into a frown. "Hmm, I dunno. Maybe I should just stay down here. Between the figurative and literal wallowing, my day's pretty booked."

One long moment stretched into two when Lapis rose to her feet, unsteady in the sludge. "Fine, I'll go if it'll shut you up."

Lapis slip-slided out past the edge of the captured air and then shot upward like a bubble late for a meeting on the surface.

All was calm down in the unnatural air pocket. Water trickled in places. A particularly adventurous sea snail ventured up Murray's tibia. There was a faint ripple in the bubble's wall --a tell that meant Lapis was excited about something-- that made the dim light dance across the caravel's deck.

Lapis returned as swiftly as she'd departed, a wide smile on her face. "It's a cruise ship, Murray, and cruise ships mean snacks!"

Murray matched Lapis' grin.

Lapis rolled her eyes. "No, I'm not going to plunder it. You always suggest that. Can’t teach an old sea dog new tricks, eh?” chided Lapis with a smirk.

“No, I'll pay for what I take fair and square." The Blue gem turned the pockets of her cutoff jeans inside out, finding no legal tender. “Somehow,” she added, frowning down at the deck of the ship.

Suddenly an idea lit up her face. "Murray, I'm taking us to lunch and you're buying! Now, buckle up."

The bubble lost cohesion. Air escaped upward and water washed over the deck, sending the sea snail spiraling away on yet another adventure. The caravel slowly stirred, ancient seabed being blasted away in unnatural currents. Murray trembled with excitement as the ship shuddered, rocked, and then rose up, up, up in a reverse of what had happened to it centuries past.

There was a splash, the collective gasp of numerous surprised shuffleboard players, and a blur of blue motion.

Hundreds aboard the cruise ship Eobard watched as the risen wreck was surveyed. Hundreds cheered when stacks of ancient gold were hauled from the hold. Hundreds gawked while lines were tossed over and secured so that the comparatively small caravel could be towed back to civilization, no doubt to be poured over by excited archeologists and historians.

No one noticed when a blue-skinned lady flew away holding a tablecloth like a sack, a sack bulging with as much snack food as it could physically hold.

Under direct sunlight for the first time in centuries, Murray couldn’t help but smile.

Fun fact: in space, donuts swell up to giant size, thought Lapis as she sat in a crater on the near side of the Moon, looking up at the starscape and snacking. One-sixth gravity also helps a girl feel slim, she added.

Finishing her treat, Lapis laid back, staring up at the points of light amidst the vast blackness. Without an atmosphere overhead, the stars didn't twinkle, instead shining with an immutable constance.

Without looking away, she idly grabbed another oversized donut and contemplated the distant stars between bites.

Nice to know there are things out there even I can't mess up.

Wiping crumbs from her hands, the debris drifting slowly down to the dusty lunar surface, Lapis turned on her side. She stared, a touch begrudgingly, at the big, blue sphere that dominated her view.

Aaand yup, there's where Lemuria used to be. Honestly, the continent I broke it free from should be thanking me: it's got way more beachfront property than it used to.

The memory of crumbling rocks and screams vied with the memory of a teary-eyed girl and fireworks. Eventually the girl was screaming while the explosions overhead sounded like an avalanche.

Lapis snapped awake with a start, moon dust clinging stubbornly to her cheek.

'Sea of Tranquility' my blue patoot, she mentally grumbled as she staggered to her feet and brushed the powder off her form.

Lapis scarfed two dozen canapés while waiting for the storm of her thoughts to settle. Seeing the tablecloth splayed out in the lunar soil like that reminded her of the times she and Peridot picnicked on the Moon.

Back in the early days, when people like Murray were sailing around in wooden boats and Peridot's robonoids were steampowered.

Lapis smiled wistfully at the pile of food before the mental image of Peridot crying in the Universe family's lawn made her physically recoil.

Right! Enough of that, she thought forcefully, lifting a tray of deviled eggs from the heap. Time to go egg the Diamond Moon Base.

Lapis flapped her wings and rose even higher, the thinner air rushing past her still managing to sweep back her blue pigtails.

Right, mental note: stay above sixty thousand feet so I don't get buzzed by aircraft.

She turned and blew a raspberry into her free hand then made a disrespectful gesture at the receding Concorde jet. In her other hand she still clung to her decidedly less-full sack-cum-tablecloth.

Flying along at a little less than eight hundred miles an hour, Lapis was going precisely fast enough to perpetually chase the sunset as the Earth's terminator made its unending race across the globe.

She'd made a couple of laps, the rotating view below doing a good job keep her from thinking about... things. Plus, there's something poetic about chasing something bright but never escaping the darkness behind- No! Bad seat of my consciousness, she thought while reaching back between flaps to give her gemstone a chastising swat.

Hmm, I wonder, if I just flew fast enough, could I actually rewind the planet? It worked for Superman. Just roll back the calendar a few... weeks? Months? How long have I been out? Eh, probably better to dial it back a few centuries to be on the safe side.

The familiar Delmarva coastline rotated into view. There was flicker, subtle but unmistakable if you knew it like Lapis did: the flash of a warp pad seen from above.

A sudden but intense panic gripped Lapis. For a second she tumbled like Icarus after flying too close to the sun. The surety that Peridot or Jasper could see her paralyzed her... with fear or with shame, she couldn't say.

It wasn't the rallying of her self-esteem that freed her. It wasn't her survival instinct screaming about the fast-approaching ground. It wasn't even the rationalization that she was a blue speck against a darkening sky and thus all-but-invisible to the non-Citrine eye.

No, it was the sensation that her sack of stale food was slipping out of her grip while she accelerated to terminal velocity.

She pulled out of her nose dive, changed course, and flew blindly out over the nighttime ocean.

“You ALL abandoned Connie! For two gems who fought a war so gems could make their own choices, you all did nothing to support Citrine in hers!” shouted Peridot.

Lapis was trapped. She thrashed and fought and called her water to her but rather than help her escape, it smothered her, dragged her even farther from freedom.

“Every time you and Peridot reach the end of this tiresome cycle, you out-sulk her. She mopes around almost as wrecked as her limb enhancers. You leave her to clean up your mess,” condemned Jasper.

Lapis shouted her defiance to the orange oaf, trying to tell her to mind her own damn business, but that only allowed the water in instead of the words out. Lapis tried to push the water up with muscles, with magic, but nothing worked and it forced its way down her throat.

“Lapis?” said Connie, somewhere, uncertainty. “Lapis. Lapis! Laaapiiis!” she screamed, in tears, in anger, in terror, somehow all at once.

Lapis' eyes shot wide open and she clawed at her throat, bubbles escaping her lips. There was water rippling overhead and for the first time in her life...

...she felt like she was drowning.

In a panicked moment, she hurled the water away, feeling it rocket out of her mouth almost hard enough to destabilize her. The seabed lay exposed for half a mile, a wave a hundred feet high fleeing toward the horizon.

Lapis took a deep breath of sea air and took stock of her surroundings. She was on an island --she didn't know the name and wasn't even completely sure what ocean it was in-- and had fallen asleep on the beach. She'd had a nightmare, had made the water rise about ten feet above the high tide line, and thus woke up staring at the sky through six-inches of seawater.

Her panic had done the rest.

She relaxed her mental grip and the ocean filled back in with a roar and a spray. Still, wherever this place was, it was remote, Lapis had been sure of that. No real harm done.

This time.

Lapis staggered up the beach to her bundle of foodstuff. Some part of her must have known the score because she'd hung it from a tree before taking her nap. It had thus been spared her little waterbed episode.

She set it on the sand and followed it down with a flop, reaching in and shoving whatever she'd grabbed into her mouth without looking to see what it was first. It didn't really matter, anyway: it was all terminally stale, damaged by vacuum and wind, salted by the sea breeze, and powdered with moon dust. It tasted like Lapis felt.

Regolith, corrected Peridot's voice in Lapis' head.

"Wuh?" she asked around a mouthful of... something.

It's called regolith, Lazuli. I may be new to this planetary system, but I know loose, heterogeneous superficial materials covering solid rock anywhere, the memory of Peridot said while the two of them were picnicking on the Moon, talking over Peridot's dorky steampunk headsets.

Why do you even make this stuff? asked memory-Lapis, prodding the helm. You're not a gear in Homeworld's clock anymore so you don't have to spend your days molesting machines.

First, I object to your verb choice. Ersatz robonoids aside, my machines are incapable of holding opinions, and even if they were, I am a very gentle and attentive engineer, thank you very much.

Lapis, sitting in the sand next to a bag of food well past its prime, chuckled at the memory.

Second, I continue to create because I choose to, rather than being compelled. It's hard not being able to employ the fullness of my skillset, though quite necessary given the deleterious effects an active Kindergarten would have on the Earth. The retrograde nature of the material I have to work with is exasperating, to say nothing of the bewildering nature of- I digress, apologized the Peridot figment after getting adorably wound up.

The green memory looked a little abashed, one hand-equivalent wrapped around her arm when she spoke again. My point being, I create because I find it a necessary palliative from being denied my... former purpose.

"I hear ya, P. Earth is one big tea shop and I'm the bull tiptoeing through it. It's..." Lapis trailed off. A second passed, she blinked, and realized she was sitting in sand, not moon dust (regolith). She'd actually been speaking to no one while actually hiding on an island somewhere, actually eating... She looked down. A sandwich, maybe? Regardless, this lapse in lucidity was probably a bad sign.

"You made stuff to keep it together, Periberry? Maybe I should give it a go," she announced to the air as she stood up and dusted herself off. She strode forward, casually tossing the maybe-sandwich over her shoulder.

A second later, Lapis ran back and did what she could to resuscitate what could possibly have been a reuben on rye. That task accomplished, she set the offended foodstuff gingerly inside the bag, then sheepishly hung that bag back up in its tree.

Then she strode forward confidently down the beach, shoulders back and head held high.

The lump of sand and sticks could, if you squinted and were very broad-minded, be considered person-shaped. It seemed to look up at her through its crude sticks-as-glasses with an expression of being profoundly unimpressed.

Lapis frowned and tapped her chin with her finger. "Ah!" she exclaimed. Picking up a piece of flotsam, she scratched the letters 'C-O-N-N-I-E' in the sand in front of the figure.

"No, that just makes it more pathetic. I’ll just have to start over. I can’t talk about deep and important feelings to a lump of sand."

The "glasses" fell off the lumpy figure, as if to punctuate her point.

The island was doused in rain, but the droplets that would have landed near where Lapis was working spontaneously swerved away. These formed sheets of water that crashed to the ground, leaving rivulets running a dozen feet to either side of the gem as the diverted water made its way down to the surf.

In her little pocket of dry, Lapis worked, talking with the sandy facsimile that was slowly taking shape.

"So I said, 'Doug, I don't know how, I don't know why, but you're literally the first non-yellow person I've ever met who's made Jasper be less of an ass. You're aces in my book! Now, let's go try out that new donut place down the beach, my treat.'"

She took a step back to admire her work. It looked more like a snowman than a teenager, but it was a vast improvement over the previous... twelve? Twenty?

Resuming her sculpting, Lapis answered an unasked question. "The money? Oh, someone dropped their wallet. Those tourists just don't know how to handle the sight of a blue and green duo rollerblading down the boardwalk. Eh, it was the early 2000’s and rollerblades were still a big deal. 'Course your dad had to eventually go and ruin a good thing by getting Citrine knocked up and, needless to say, the donuts have been on him ever since."

Lapis tried to press a shiny yellow shell she'd found into the figure's chest but this caused the top to unbalance, the head falling backwards off the shoulders and smooshing into the sand below.

"If you wanted me to change the subject, you could have just said," drawled Lapis.

The sand-Connie, or Sandie as she'd taken to calling the long chain of creations, stared back at Lapis with near photo-realistic features. The gem had even fashioned a skirt for Sandie out of the long-empty table cloth.

Lapis fidgeted nervously under Sandie's gaze.

“So... Uh... You have questions, I’m sure. I'm sure you've asked Peri or even Jasper or Doug, though I shudder to think what those two would say. If you beat the sh-uh-snot out of those two, there wouldn't be much left over," she grumbled.

Sandie waited for her to compose herself.

"Oh, right. What I mean is, if you can find it in you to, maybe... I mean, sure Jasper made things worse with all her Hiddenite-baiting, but-"

Lapis blew out a long breath, her shoulders slumping. "Jeez, this is tough. Maybe it's because I botched the hair. Sandie #94 had great hair and I've just never been able to..."

Lapis' hand was halfway to toppling Sandie to begin sculpting her anew when it stopped, then fell dejectedly at her side. It hung there for a time before clenching into a fist.

"Come on! 'Connie, I suck, everyone and everything around me gets eroded to ruin because of constant exposure to my suckitude, and you and everyone else are probably better off if I just stay on this damn ISLAND!’ Why is that so hard to say?!" she decried.

Lapis paced in a circuit around Sandie, counting on her fingers as she went. "One: I'm, like, broken. Not cracked or shattered, just, all the happiness leaks out of me, but the regrets? Those stay. Two: Jasper is a headcase, Doug is a murderer, and Peridot has been around the rest of us so long she's held together about as well as those limb enhancers of hers. Three: It's not too late for you! Just, I dunno, go be awesome somewhere away from the toxic hole that is that temple. And four... four..."

The gem sank to her knees, coincidentally standing where Sandie could face her. "Four is that you're not here and I’m talking to a statue with stupid hair. Seriously, what did I do with #94 that made it work so well?!"

She stayed knelt there for a while. Finally she blew out a long, slow breath. "Look, real-talk, Sandie. My inner demons are scary and, after umpteen thousand years, they've dug in deep. They're not going anywhere and neither of us are changing that, no matter how good I make your hair."

A weak smirk crossed her face. "Besides, it's been a couple of months now, at least. I bet the others are worried sick about me. Plus, what the heck are those donut kids doing without me to keep Doug keeping them in business? Why, it’d be downright irresponsible of me to stay away."

She got up, ignoring the sand on her knees and cutoff jeans, and sucked in a lungful of air. "Yeah, time to get on back, hug the heck out of everyone, and catch up on all the new mangas I've been missing. Plus, anymore rebuilding and Sandie's gonna have grounds to file a restraining order against me, am I right?" she asked, flashing Sandie a cheeky grin.

"Thanks, Sandie. You're a real pal.”

She leaned in close, her voice conspiratorial, “If anyone asked, we had this whole deep and meaningful talk that ended with me seeing the error of my ways.”

Lapis pulled back and looked around. “I hereby name this flyspeck bit of sand 'Sandie Island' in your honor. May you rule it well in my stead," she said just before summoning her wings and launching herself skyward. The motion sent Sandie's skirt fluttering.

Time to go home, she thought giddily as Sandie Island receded from view.

Oh, and note to self: smuggle some donuts to Murray in whatever museum he’s wound up in, she added as she winged across the sky.

Chapter Text

“So.  If you’re gonna be a superhero, you’ll need a number of things,” Steven began.  “You’ll need a superhero name, a costume, a catchphrase…”

“Steven, I’m not a superhero,” responded Connie.

“I sure think you are, but even if you don’t think so, it’s still fun to think about it.”

Connie chuckled.  “Ok, Steven.  Where do you want to start?”

The two were slowly walking along the beach, heading vaguely in the direction of the Beach House.

“Hmm,”  mused Steven.  "Well, let’s start with the name.  I guess that sets the tone for the rest.”

“Yeah,”  Connie replied.  “Hmm.  Well the simplest would be to just use my gem name. Citrine.”

Too simple.  How about Force Field Girl?”

Connie gave him an odd stare.  “What kind of name is that?"

“Yeah, I guess it’s kinda stupid.  Hmmm.  What else?  Maybe something to play off of your gem.  Gemini?”

“Wouldn’t I kinda need a twin for that one?”

“Yeah.  Ok.  Gemini doesn’t work.”  He looked thoughtful.  “How about playing off of Wolf?  Gem Wolf… Yellow Wolf…. Golden Wolf…”

“Ooooh.  I like Golden Wolf as an idea, but it doesn’t quite roll for me as a superhero name,” Connie responded.

“Ok.  How about changing the language of it then?  That’s always a good way to make a superhero name sound more shnazzy.” He pulled out his smartphone and started tapping at it.

Connie chuckled.  “Is ‘schnazzy’ even a word?”

Steven briefly stuck his tongue out at her, then resumed tapping at his phone.  “Ok.  Golden Wolf comes out as Lobo Dorado in Spanish, Lupus Auream in Latin, Okami-kin in Japanese...”

“Hmm.  I like Okami-kin, but how about Tanka Onay?  That’s it in Tamil,”  mused Connie.

“Nice one.  Yeah.  Bringing it into Tamil plays well to your heritage.”  He thought for a few moments, then nodded.  “Okay.  Superhero name, check.  Let’s think of a catchphrase next…”

Steven may not have been the most focused person under normal circumstances, but when the subject was about superheroes, the Crystal Gems, or (as in this case) both, he attacked the topic with a kind of affable unstoppability. It was one of several hidden depths to the boy that Connie had stumbled upon.

Catchphrases; outfits; hypothetical nemeses; dramatic turns; Tanka Onay was ready to take the comic world by storm even if her real-life persona was still learning the ropes of this heroing business.

As Connie was sitting on a dry stretch of sand pondering the merit of a predominantly yellow jumpsuit (and maybe a cape), Steven was nearby writing down the results of their discussion. Partway through a rough sketch of the Tanka Onay insignia that would one day emblazon the outfit and secret team rings, Steven noticed something curious occurring.

“Uhhh…. Connie?   Something is happening.”

Connie looked up at Steven.  He was holding his hand up and it was… glowing.

The glow began to expand, quickly spreading across his body.  First up his arm, then spreading across his body.  “Connie?  What’s happening to….” his voice was cut off as the glow spread over his face.

By now the glow was covering his entire body, and still growing brighter.  It became almost too bright to look at.  Suddenly the glowing figure crumpled to the ground, and the glow quickly faded.

“Steven!” Connie exclaimed and rushed over to make sure he was ok.  He was definitely still breathing, but appeared to be unconscious.  She could also see that there were a number of things… off about him.  The biggest was his hair.  Steven’s hair was much shorter than it had been just a few moments before.  Shorter than she had ever seen on him.  Also, his hearing aids were missing.  Those were not the only things different, but it was by far the most dramatic ones.

There was one more difference that she did not see.  That could not be seen because it was hidden beneath his shirt. Right about where his navel should have been, was a largish gemstone.  A gemstone whose rose-pink glow was just now fading out.

10 minutes earlier, and a multiverse away...

Steven just stared at the screen as the credits rolled.  That was… different.  Despite the crying, “Crying Breakfast Friends” was usually fairly lighthearted.  This season finale had been downright dark, actually, with the Angry Lunch Enemies having taken over the kitchen, and several of the Friends left in precarious positions.  If he didn't know better he’d have thought it was some weird fanfiction.  But no, it was canon.  And now he had to wait who knows how long before the new season started and he got to find out what happened next.  He sighed deeply.  

Steven stood and slowly walked over to the fridge, his mood quite subdued by the whole thing.  How could they take such a fun show and make it so serious all of the sudden?

As he opened the fridge to grab something to drink, he glanced over at the warp pad.  The Gems should be getting back soon.  Steven had begged out of the exploration mission in order to watch his show.  Some ancient desert gem-temple in the Sahara that had recently shown unexpected signs of life.  The Gems might be immune to the heat, but he wasn’t.  Yeah, he could have dressed light, but when you combined that with it being the day of the season finale, it just seemed doubly good to ask to stay behind.  

Just as Steven closed the fridge, a glass of juice in hand, the warp pad began to activate. Right on cue , he thought to himself.

As the lights over the warp pad faded, the figures of the three Crystal Gems came into view.

“Well that was a total waste of time,” griped Amethyst.

“Not true, Amethyst,”  said Pearl.  “We now know that there was nothing threatening happening there.  That’s always a good thing to know.”

“So there was nothing there?” asked Steven.

“Oh there was something there all right.  Sand,” responded Amethyst  “The temple was almost buried in it.  But there was nothing happening inside.  No gem-monsters, no guardian machines, not even a single crystal-bat.”  Amethyst plopped herself down in the middle of the couch.  “I was all ready for smashing some monsters, but no luck.”

Garnet sat down on the right side of the couch, and Steven walked over to the left side, setting down his juice on the end table before sitting down on the couch himself, still nowhere near his normal energetic self.

“So why did we have to go again, Garnet?” asked Amethyst.

“I’m actually not exactly sure,” responded Garnet.  “I just know that we had to go.  And I can still feel that, whatever the reason we needed to go, we haven’t completed what we need to do.  But the exact details are far murkier than they normally are.”

Amethyst let out an exasperated sigh.  “Don’t tell me we have to go back again?”

“No. We don’t. It’s just... something is supposed to happen, and it still hasn’t happened.”  Garnet looked uncharacteristically puzzled.

Amethyst looked askance at Steven.  “And you are being unusually quiet, short-stuff.  What’s got you all gloomy?”

Steven looked up at Amethyst sitting beside him.  “Nothing of huge importance, I guess.  Just... my show wasn’t at all what I was expecting, so it’s got me a bit out of sorts.”

Amethyst looked thoughtful.  “I think I know what would cheer you up.  Pearl!  Could you make him some pancakes?  And make me a few as well.”

“You sure you’re not just looking for an excuse to get me to make some for you?”  Pearl barbed back lightly.

“Absolutely not, Pearl.  This request is totally for Steven.”  Amethyst turned and winked conspiratorially at Steven.

Steven had to suppress a giggle despite his mood.  It was hard to stay grumpy when Amethyst was being silly.

Garnet, still sitting on the other end of the couch from Steven, seemed to be watching everything that was happening closely.  Far more than would normally be expected at a simple family gathering.

Pearl rolled her eyes.  “Fine.  Two orders of pancakes coming up.”  She grabbed an apron from a hook on the wall and headed towards the kitchen area.

Amethyst turned back to Steven, the glint of mischief still in her eyes.  “By the way, Steven, I found something for you.  Maybe this’ll also help cheer you up.”  She pulled out an object not much larger than a soda can.  It was shaped like a small football, and was mostly of a pinkish color.  But the most striking thing about it was the white rose design across the side of the object.  It wasn’t quite his mother’s crest, but the resemblance was unmistakable.

“I found it just sitting in a corner of one of the rooms in the desert temple.”

Garnet’s attention was locked fast on Amethyst at this point, though she made no movement to interfere.  Pearl, on the other hand, from the kitchen registered what Amethyst was saying, and spun to look.

“Amethyst!  What do you mean you found some…” before she could finish her thought, Amethyst was lightly tossing the object to the boy beside her.

Time seemed to slow to a crawl.  The object arced through the air, giving Pearl and Garnet good views of it, and the crest on its side.  “No!!!” Pearl managed to get out, but there was no time for her to react, being on the opposite side of the room.  Garnet made absolutely no movement, instead watched the object with absolute attention.

Steven easily reached up and grabbed the object as it arced gently through the air to him.  “What is it, Amethyst?” he asked.

Pearl was starting to race across the room.  She barely got a few steps.

The object started to glow in Steven’s hands.  “That’s strange,” he observed.  Underneath his shirt it could be seen that his gem was starting to glow as well.  The glow quickly spread, spreading out from his gem and at the same time spreading down his arm from the hand that held the object.  Within a span of a second or two he was totally enveloped in the light.  The light quickly became almost too bright to look directly at.

Amethyst covered her eyes, being right beside the light source.  Pearl was trying to desperately cross the room, but was much too far away to have any effect on the situation.  Garnet, with her visor down, never looked away even for a moment.

The glowing figure sank back down into the couch.  As the glow faded, the figure lost its grip on the object, which rolled across the floor, coming to a stop at Pearl’s feet. Pearl stopped as she realized that she was too late.  Too slow.  A stunned look on her face, she reached down to pick up the object.

“And that,” spoke Garnet matter of factly, “was what needed to happen.”

“Guys?” spoke Amethyst, who was looking intently at Steven’s unconscious form.  “I don’t quite know how to say this, but it doesn’t quite look like Steven.  I mean, it’s Steven, but it’s not him as well.”

“Check on his gem,”  Garnet said softly.

Amethyst pulled up his shirt a little, and all three gems looked in shock at the normal, human-looking belly button, with no sign of the gem.

Garnet stood and walked over to a still stunned Pearl, holding out her hand.  Pearl, in an almost automatic motion, handed the object over to Garnet.  The object stayed inert.

Garnet nodded.  “Just as I thought.  It’ll only react to Rose’s gem.”

Amethyst whirled towards Garnet.  “What the heck is going on here, Garnet?”

Garnet shook her head.  “I don’t really know.  But I can tell two things.”  She stepped over to Steven.  “One, this is Steven, but not our Steven.  When he wakes up we need to keep him calm.  He’ll be as confused as we are.”

“And the second thing?” asked Amethyst.

“Wherever our Steven has gone, it’s up to him to find his own way home.  There is nothing we can do to help him at this point.”


Chapter Text

“Jasper!” Connie yelled as she burst through the front door of the Beach House.

“Steven just collapsed down on the beach. I need you to bring him back up here quickly so that we can figure out what has happened to him.” Jasper just nodded, and smashed through the (not at all open) window before heading all the way down to the beach in a single jump. She quickly scooped up the still form from the beach and jumped back up to the Beach House, entering through the same (now smashed) window through which she had exited. She laid Steven out on the couch, before crossing the room and resumed leaning against the wall.

“Thanks, Jasper,” Connie said to the large gem. She was at Steven’s side moments after Jasper put him down. He was still breathing just fine, but he had not yet awoken.

Lapis came over to join Connie. “What’s going on Con-con? You said something about him collapsing?”

Connie nodded. “He just suddenly started glowing, then he collapsed.”

Lapis frowned. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but he doesn’t normally do that, right? Glowing, I mean.”

Connie gave Lapis a slightly exasperated look. “No, glowing is definitely not something that Steven normally does.” She frowned. “But you know that, and are just pulling my leg, right?”


Connie rolled her eyes. “But it’s more than that. He’s...changed somehow.”

Lapis frowned. “Changed? What do you mean by that?”

“His hair for one thing. Steven loves his hair. And in a matter of seconds while he was glowing, it’s almost all gone. He was wearing his ears, like normal, but they’re now gone as well. But it’s more than that. Both of those are things that could have just happened. But I also think that he’s actually gotten… shorter. And that’s just not something that happens to humans.”

“Nor do they tend to glow,” quipped Lapis.

“No, they don’t.”

The door to the temple rooms whooshed, and Peridot came out into the Beach House. “Okay. What’s going on that has you all so noisy out here?” She spotted the destroyed window. “And I see that Jasper has been redecorating… again.” Her eyebrows twitched.

“Something very strange is happening with Steven, ma’am,” said Connie.

“Is it? Hmm. That’s odd. Nothing strange ever happens around here.”

“Not you too. This is a serious situation, and you and Lapis keep making jokes.”

“Very well, dear. Joking aside, what happened?” asked Peridot.

“That’s what I’m trying to figure out. The two of us were down on the beach talking, when Steven suddenly started to glow. Then he collapsed. But even more concerning is that he’s changed.”

Peridot nodded. “Okay. First things first, let’s get a scan of him.” Her finger enhancers moved out and passed up and down over his body before heading back to their owner. Peri started looking over the output, her face growing more puzzled as she did. “Hmm. That can’t be right. Connie, can you please step back from him. I think I somehow got you in that scan as well. The range on the scanners is acting up, again, I think.”

Connie nodded and stepped away from Steven. Peridot’s finger enhancers once again flew their scan pattern over Steven before returning to their mistress. She resumed looking through the data, her frown deepening as she did.

Steven groaned, opened his eyes, and started to try to sit up on the couch.

“Steven!” came Connie’s voice, and she rushed over to his side.

“When did you get here, Connie? And what happened? The last thing I remember was starting to glow.”

“That’s what we are all trying to figure out. You started glowing, then you collapsed. You’ve been unconscious for several minutes,” replied Connie, now back at his side.

Steven sat up, rubbing his forehead. “Yeah. I remember seeing myself glow, but I don’t remember collapsing.”

He looked around a bit, starting to frown. Amethyst, Garnet, and Pearl were nowhere to be seen. Instead Lapis was standing a bit off to the side, frowning slightly. She was dressed in an outfit that Steven had never seen her wear before. And Peridot was standing a few feet away, frowning heavily and tapping away at a small viewscreen on one of her limb enhancers. Which was very odd, since her enhancers had been destroyed quite a while back. How had she gotten them back? They appeared to be held together with… duct tape? Maybe she had at some point gone and salvaged parts of them. And why was she sporting a new hairstyle? Steven stared at Peridot, as she was tapping at the screen, her frown continuing to deepen. Steven could hear her muttering things about “impossible data”.

Steven looked up at Connie. “Connie? How long was I out? Because I think something very strange is going on. Where did the other gems get to?”

“Other gems? Steven, I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”

Steven was starting to get a very bad feeling about this all. Something was very wrong here.

Steven stood, facing Connie. “Connie, please tell me that you’re joking. You don’t remember the Crystal Gems?”

Connie’s eyes were growing wider. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Steven. The Crystal Gems are all right here.” She made a motion that encompassed the whole large room, prompting Steven to follow her motion with his eyes across the whole room. And this caused Steven to spot the third of the gems, standing quietly in a corner of the room all along. Jasper. Steven and Jasper’s eyes locked together.

“Jasper?” Steven said, not much more than a whisper, and echos of dread dripping from the name. Steven took a couple of steps to put himself between Connie and Jasper. “Connie, stay behind me.” Still not very loud, but louder than moments before. He had his hand down at about a 45 degree angle from his body, palm facing Connie behind him in a “stay back” motion.

Addressing the warrior gem, he spoke firmly now. “Jasper, what are you doing here?”

Jasper was quite puzzled by the question. “I live here. I’m not on patrol. Where else would I be?”

Jasper began to casually cross the room.

As she got about halfway across the room she saw Steven drop into a defensive fighting stance. Which was strange, because Jasper was not aware of Steven having been trained in fighting in that way.

Jasper sighed, and began to turn towards the temple door. She had no idea why her presence was upsetting Steven, but if she was a cause of friction, it was likely best if she just headed to her room and removed herself from the situation.

Except right at that moment Steven did something that totally changed the situation. Something totally impossible. He materialized a gem-shield on his arm, holding it in a position to protect himself.

And not just any shield. One that Jasper knew all too well. For the shield was emblazoned with a crest that Jasper recognized well. The symbol of the traitor, Rose Quartz.

“Rose” Jasper growled, hatred dripping from the name. She dropped into a defensive stance of her own. Jasper had no idea how, but if the Steven was manifesting the shield of Rose Quartz, the threat level had just risen sky-high.

Seeing Jasper brought back the memories of the last time they had met. And how he had failed her. Steven had no idea how she was out of her bubble, or how she was apparently clear of the corruption. But as dangerous as this situation was, he could see it offering another chance to redeem Jasper.

“Jasper! We don’t have to fight! I never wanted to fight you in the first place”

“Traitor!” Jasper growled, and looked to be about to go into a spin-ball attack, right there in the middle of the Beach House. Steven tensed up behind his shield and prepared to deflect Jasper.

“STOP THIS!!” came a loud voice from behind Steven. “Both of you!” Steven saw two yellow-shimmering force fields slam down between him and Jasper, one right in front of each of them. A glance over his shoulder confirmed that the voice was Connie’s. And she had a hand out in a position that made it pretty obvious that she was the one who had placed the force fields.

Jasper stopped prepping for her spin attack, and gave the force field in front of her a punch, obviously far from full power. It appeared to be more an expression of frustration. But she otherwise made no attempt to breach the field. Nor did she try to walk around the field, as she easily could have done. She was actually listening to Connie, and Connie’s words were calming her down. On the other hand, at no point did Jasper stop glaring angrily at Steven.

“Connie? How did you… What the heck is going on here?” Steven asked in confusion.

Connie shook her head, just as confused. “Jasper, can you please promise to not attack Steven, at least until we can figure out for certain whether or not he’s an enemy?”

Jasper gave a growl of frustration, but took a number of steps back, resuming her position standing in the far corner of the room. But she kept her eyes trained fully on Steven. Connie took that as acceptance of her request.

Connie turned to Steven. “Please put the shield away. I don’t think you need it anymore, and it’s unnecessarily inflaming the situation.” Steven nodded, and the shield evaporated. He was now looking at Connie in a different light. Beyond the fact that she had just generated force fields, taking control like this was a good bit beyond what he would have expected from her. And now that he really looked, there were a few visual cues that were… different about Connie.

Connie turned to the green gem. “Peri? You scanned him earlier. Now would be a really good time for some answers.”

Peridot had looked up from her monitor a few moments earlier at Connie’s shout, and obviously seen that the situation had gotten tense. The tension had lessened slightly, with Connie having some success at taking control of the situation, but it was far from calm.

Peridot nodded. “Okay. First off, Steven manifesting an obvious gem weapon-shield tells me that what my data earlier was telling me is not a misreading somehow. I have a theory, that I’ll get to in a moment, but the data shows quite clearly, that Steven is a gem/human hybrid, just like you are, Connie.”

Steven nodded. “Of course I am. What I don’t know is how that is a surprise to you, Peri.” Suddenly the rest of what Peridot said registered. “Hold on. What do you mean, ‘just like Connie’?”

Steven gave a questioning look at Connie, who just reached up and pulled the top of her shirt down a couple of inches, revealing the top inch or so of her yellow gemstone.

Steven stared in shock for a few moments. “Okay. That’s new. Umm. Before I return the favor…” he looked over to Jasper on the far side of the room. “If my shield got that reaction from Jasper, then I think that my gem might do the same. Jasper, can you promise not to react?”

Jasper grunted in frustration, but then nodded ever so slightly.

Steven reached down and pulled his own shirt up far enough to reveal his gemstone in its entirety.

Lapis whistled from where she was standing. “Yeah, that’s the Rose Quartz all right.” Jasper rumbled a little from across the room, but a brief glare from Connie settled her down.

Steven nodded. “Yeah. Rose Quartz is my mom. Was my mom,” he corrected himself.

Connie spoke softly. “My mom was called Citrine.”

Peridot spoke up again. “Steven, may I please scan you again? I mentioned I have a theory, and I think that if I do a very specific scan, I can confirm or deny that theory.” Steven looked at Peridot for a few moments, then nodded.

The finger enhancers flew from Peridot over to Steven and briefly buzzed around him. They then returned to Peridot, who quickly pushed a couple of buttons and got a small piece of paper to print from an arm enhancer. A quick glance at the paper, and Peridot nodded.

“Just as I suspected. They’re fading rapidly, but Steven is giving off a fairly decent amount of dimensional tachyon particles.” She stopped, as if that was enough to make the situation perfectly clear ot the rest. After a few moments when it was obviously not enough, Peridot sighed.

“Steven has very recently, no doubt when he glowed and collapsed, been traveling between dimensions. Given his confusion at facts that are commonplace to us, and the differences about Steven himself, I think it’s safe to postulate that this Steven is from another dimension. A dimension where events have somehow played out differently, and it’s Steven who is the human-gem hybrid of the Crystal Gems, not Connie.”

“I’m from another dimension?” Steven mused. “How is that even possible?”

Peridot shook her head. “Sorry. Interdimensional theory isn’t within the scope of my usual expertise. I’m more an engineer than a scientist. But I do know some of the very basics of the theory. It’s theorized that there may be an infinite number of dimensions out there, some very similar to ours, others vastly different. And in the more similar ones, there will theoretically be dimensions where the path of history has diverted slightly, and others where it has diverted much further. But it’s possible that, if you traced back far enough, you would reach a point where their histories were the same. I won’t go into any details, mostly because it would upset Jasper and Lapis, but I’ll say that, if your dimension and ours share a common history at any point, it is likely at least several thousand years in the past. There’s no way I can imagine that you could possess that gem if the diversion point was any more recent.”

Steven sighed and dropped back onto the couch. “Garnet? I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

The next half hour was spent with Peridot doing numerous additional scans of Steven.

“Okay,” spoke Peridot. “As far as I can tell, Steven was most likely created in almost exactly the same way as Connie. Comparing my scans of him to the scans I’ve made of Connie over the years, everything about Connine that I would associate with her nature as a hybrid, I find in Steven as well. I’ll say that this is definitely valuable data, helping to establish that certain things are natural to her… their… nature, and not just quirks unique to one or the other of them.”

She continued. “Of course there are plenty of differences. They are different gems, for one thing, and Steven’s human parts are male, with all the differences that normally brings to humans.”

Steven blushed a bit.

Steven appeared to think of something. “Peridot? What do you think happened to your Steven?”

Peridot looked thoughtful for a moment. “Well, there’s absolutely no way to be sure at this point, but I would expect you two just swapped places. I do hope you were not in the middle of any sort of dangerous mission when you came here.”

Steven shook his head. “Not unless you count being disappointed over a TV show dangerous.” He grinned. “No, I was sitting on the couch, chatting with the Crystal Gems of my world, who had just returned from a mission.”

Peridot nodded. “And that does bring up another interesting point. How did this happen? What could have triggered such a bizarre event as a trans-dimensional exchange like this?”

Steven looked thoughtful. “Actually, I’ve got a pretty good idea what caused it. Amethyst brought back an artifact of some sort,” and he gave a brief description of the object. “She said it reminded her of me when she found it, and tossed it to me to try to cheer me up.”

Peridot looked very surprised. “You mean one of your gems tossed you an artifact of unknown power, unknown nature? Goodness. I thought some of us were irresponsible, but that….”

Steven grinned. “Yeah, that’s Amethyst for you. Anyway, as soon as I caught the artifact, it started glowing, and the glow spread across me from it. Then everything went white, and the next thing I remember is waking up here.”

Steven looked around. “Speaking of that artifact, you didn’t happen to see it, did you? It might be my way home.”

Connie shook her head. “We were down on the beach when it happened, but I didn’t see anything like you described. We can check, but I don’t think it came with you.”

“Hmm. Well that’s not good,” said Steven.

Everyone fell silent, all apparently lost in their own thoughts.

After about five minutes, Conne spoke up. “I think I just figured out how to solve one of our issues.” All eye turned to her. “Peridot. All gems have multiples. I mean, there are multiple Peridots, multiple Citrines, multiple Jaspers, and so on, right?”

“Yes dear. That is basically true, though there are a very small number of exceptions,” Peridot replied.

“And there are multiple Rose Quartz in the galaxy, right?” Several people in the room tensed slightly at the mention of the name.

“Yes, I would expect so. Not a lot, as it’s a very specialized gem, but there was nothing about it that was designed to be unique…” She trailed off, and grinned. “I think I see where you are going with this.”

Connie turned to Jasper. “Jasper, whatever happened in the past with a single Rose Quartz gem, Steven is not that gem. He’s from an entirely different freaking dimension, for goodness sake. You would not blame all Peridots for the actions of a single one. Can you please accept that this Steven is a different gem from the Rose that you hate so much?”

Jasper looked thoughtful. “It’s a different way to look at it, but it make sense. Very well. I can accept that this Rose is not the traitor.”

Steven’s face was split with a huge grin. He bounced to his feet. “And I can accept that Jasper here is not the same gem as the gem I encountered on my world.” He crossed the room towards where Jasper stood, and held out his hand, his neck craned way back to look up at the much larger gem. “Peace?”

Jasper stared down at him for a few moments before she nodded slightly and extended her own hand down to him.

Connie sighed and sat back down on the couch. “I wish all today’s problems were that easily solved.” Steven returned to his spot on the couch.

Lapis spoke up from where she was standing. “Well, I think I have an idea about the other big issue: sending this Steven home and getting our Steven back.” All eyes now turned to her.

She walked casually over towards the couch. “Steven. You said you think an artifact sent you here. If the artifact did not cross over with you, maybe there’s a version of it existing in this dimension.”

Several people thoughtfully nodded their heads. Peridot spoke up “Nice thinking, Lapis.”

Steven nodded as well. “Yeah. But the problem is finding it.”

“Tell me where they found it,” Lapis asked.

“Hmm. That’s the tricky part. I didn’t actually go with them on the mission that brought it back.”

“Still, describe what you do know,” Lapis responded. “I’m something of an expert on gem-ruins on this planet. Self-taught, for the most part, but still. Tell me what you know, and we’ll see if it’s enough for me to figure out where they found it.”

Steven looked to go deep in thought. “Hmmm. Well… Amethyst said it was in a desert. She said it was almost buried in sand.” He continued to search his memories. “Oh! They did mention the Sahara. That narrows it down, at least a little.”

Lapis now looked thoughtful. “That’s still millions of square miles, but it definitely narrows it down compared to the entire world. Off the top of my head I can think of at least five different gem ruins in the Sahara. I think I know which one is most likely it, but even if it’s not, searching five ruins will be a lot easier than searching the entire world’s worth of them.”

Steven grinned. “Road trip?”

Lapis nodded. “Yeah, but best not do it today. It’s getting late. I’d say first thing in the morning.”

At the mention of bedtime, both Connie and Steven started to walk towards the loft. They paused when they were each nearing the stairs up.

“Oh right,” said Connie, rubbing the back of her neck, “I guess you’re used to sleeping up there too.”

The pair of teens stared at one another for a beat until a smile spread across Steven’s face and he gestured towards the living room. “Gem-hybrid slumber party?” he asked, his voice rising to a question at the end.

Connie laughed. “Deal; I’ll get my sleeping bag. Now, tell me, what is your opinion on pillow forts?”

Chapter Text

It was the third ruin to be searched. The first one, the one Lapis had declared the most likely candidate for holding the artifact, had indeed fit Amethyst’s description quite well. Large, buried in sand, and mostly empty. That one had taken the better part of a day to search, and turned up absolutely nothing of use.

The second had been smaller, but just as dead, and just as lacking in football-shaped, rose-emblazoned artifacts.

Steven and Connie had been mostly relegated to the back of the group. Steven was a bit annoyed by this, but it was their world, and they were in general not aware of the degree of his abilities. Connie had whispered to him that she was just happy that the gems were bringing them both along at all. Steven had nodded at the comment.

So it had been generally Jaspar taking the lead (“on point” she called it), with Lapis and Peridot not far behind, and Connie and Steven a bit behind them.

They had actually visited one more ruin site, but instead of “almost” buried, the entrance to that one had been totally buried by sand. Lapis had declared that they would save that one for last, so as not to do much excavating unless it proved absolutely necessary.

So now they were at the fourth ruin, but the third one that they were actually exploring. Lapis didn’t think that there was much chance of it being here. She had described it as also fairly small, and not really all that interesting.

They proceeded through the derelict structure, fairly slowly. Everyone looked all around, heads on swivel, to try to spot any sign of anything that might be an indication of the artifact for which they were looking.

The ruin was actually not much more than a single large, long corridor, with no twists or turns. The corridor sloped gently downward as they proceeded forward. Eventually it opened out into a much larger room. The room was itself quite long, and reminded Steven of the stereotypical main hall of a European castle, complete with a row of huge floor-to-ceiling columns lining each side of the room. It also reminded Steven a good bit of the Hogwarts main hall, but even larger.

As the group proceeded along the hall, the far end started to come into view in the distance. Just how long was the room? thought Steven. The room ended with a large raised platform. To Steven it looked a lot like some of the other gem-system control platforms he had seen back on his own world. And that’s exactly what it was. Peridot stepped forward, raised a hand in front of her, and caused a small control pedestal to rise from the floor under her hand. The pedestal rose about three feet out of the floor, and then Peridot began actively typing on the top with her fingers. A small data screen was projected in the air beside the pedestal, showing various things in gem-language as Peridot typed away.

“Let’s see if I can find out anything useful from this active control interface.” she said idly. The rest of the crew nodded and let Peridot do her thing.

After about five minutes Peridot harrumphed. “Hmm. According to this, this facility should be a whole lot bigger than it appears to be. But I’m not seeing any way to actually reach any of the rest of it.” She began trying different modes. Suddenly she stopped. “Ok. That’s very odd.”

“What’s up, Peri?” asked Lapis.

“This view is a motion sensor for the whole facility.” She pointed to the viewscreen as if the issue should be obvious to everyone else. It wasn’t. Peridot rolled her eyes lightly. “The motion sensors are showing massive amounts of movement throughout much of the facility. Including right where we are. Far more motion than the five of us are making.” She swept her arm around the room.

Jasper frowned. Lapis looked thoughtful for a moment, then her eyes went wide. “Peridot. Aliens.

“Laz, there are precisely two extraterrestrials present and neither you nor I are-”

“No,” Lapis almost hissed. “The movie. Aliens.

“What do you mean by…” Peridot’s voice trailed off as she realized what Lapis was saying. She began to quickly look up and down, trying to watch both floor and ceiling at the same time.

Jasper, though having never seen the movie in question, picked up the obvious implications from the conversation as well, and dropped into a defensive posture. “Squirt! Defensive formation 53C,” she said firmly.

Connie nodded, and appeared to tense for battle. “Steven. Stay close to me.”

Steven grinned. “Remember, I’m a gem too, and I can defend myself as well.” He moved to put himself back-to-back with Connie, and summoned his shield. Jasper made no visible reaction this time to the Rose shield. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Lapis appearing to summon a giant hammer from somewhere. Ok. That’s different, he thought briefly.

At about this moment the floor appeared to erupt in a large number of spots around them.

Formation 53C was one that Connie and Jasper had worked up somewhat recently, after her force field powers had emerged. It involved creating a tent of sorts with her force fields. Two fields slanted down to either side of them formed a line over their heads. And a third field spread across the floor itself beneath their feet, protecting from threats above and below. Steven and Connie were back to back in the middle, Connie with her crackling yellow sword, and Steven with his pink shield. They were ready when the creatures erupted. She could almost feel the ones beneath their feet as they struck the field and were stopped. But plenty more erupted from the ground all around them.

The creatures were basically small mobile hunks of crystal. Around the size of a rat, Connie quickly mentally nicknamed them Crystal Rats. Individually they were not that much of a threat. Unfortunately, “individually” was not a word that applied to the situation.

The force field tent allowed the rats only two ways to get at them. With Connie and Steven each facing an end, Connie was able to swiftly dispatch the ones coming in her direction, while Steven was easily able to hold back any that came in his end. But this meant that the numbers of rats quickly climbed on Steven’s side.

“Steven! On three, we rotate clockwise 180 degrees. Ok?” Connie suggested. Steven replied an affirmative. Together they counted. “One, Two, Three!” Staying back-to-back, they quickly spun around each other. This brought Connie and her sword face to face with the piles of crystal rats that had been held back by Steven’s shield. Before the rats could react much to the changed opponents, Connie was slicing her sword rapidly through the mass, quickly eliminating the bulk of the pile. By the time they started to react, Connie had their numbers way down, and was able to resume slicing individual ones as they approached her.

Steven and Connie settled into a bit of a pattern, and were able to keep the rats at bay well enough. Beyond the force field could be seen the remainder of the Crystal Gems also in full battle with the rats. Jasper was spinning wildly around the room, ricocheting off of almost everything, smashing rats by the dozens every time she hit the ground. Lapis was wading through the masses, swinging her giant hammer with wild abandon, obviously enjoying herself. And Peridot was weaving a web of laser-death around herself with her limb enhancers. All in all they were holding their own pretty well.

Then the floor started to give way, having been massively undermined by all the burrowing crystal rats. Lapis encountered it first, making a step and having the floor vanish beneath her. She didn’t actually fall, but had to summon her wings in order to avoid doing so. Jasper started leaving large holes in the floor wherever she landed. Connie and Steven were safe, as Connie’s force field floor would remain stable even if the ground beneath it gave way.

But then Connie realized that the ground was not their biggest problem. One of the huge columns from the side of the hall began to give way, destabilized from beneath. With an immense roar it crashed to the ground about 50 feet away from the kids.

“Umm, Connie, That’s not a good sign.”

“Yeah. But I’m not sure what we can do about it. We’re in the safest place we could be right now, but my fields are not really mobile. But as long as one of those monsters doesn’t fall directly on us, I think we’ll be Ok.”

“You mean like that one?” Steven pointed towards the pillar closest to them, which appeared to be starting to collapse right towards them. Connie quickly erected fields four and five right up against the pillar, right near the top, hoping that it would be enough to prevent its fall. It wasn’t enough, and the pillar began to topple right at them.

“Steven? I think we need to move.”

Steven shook his head. “No time. Hang on to me.” As Connie grabbed him, she could see a pinkish shimmer develop in the air around them. The shimmer reminded her a lot of her own force fields, though because of the color it was obvious that Steven was doing something. The massive pillar came crashing down, easily shattering her force field tent. A fraction of a second later it struck whatever Steven had erected. And then the world began to spin rapidly as they were sent rocketing to the side by the impact.

Connie thought she saw them smash through one of the weakened side walls of the hall, but they kept going, rolling rapidly along passages, slamming off of walls, and ricocheting in one direction or another. I always wondered what it felt like to do Jasper’s spin attack, she thought wryly to herself.

After a while they were left rolling along a single straight corridor. They seemed to be slowing a bit. Maybe this crazy ride was almost over. Then they rolled out into another large room. Connie barely had time to see the chasm crossing the room before they had rolled right up to and over the edge, plunging down into the darkness.

Whatever this bubble thing of Steven’s, Connie wasn’t sure how well it would stand up to being smashed into the bottom of a pit like this. She sat on the bottom of the bubble, thankful at least that they were no longer rolling. The respite allowed her to finally start recovering from the spin-induced dizziness, and look around. Two things occurred to her in rapid succession. It was taking a lot longer to reach bottom than she would have expected. And secondly, Steven was no longer there. She was now sitting alone on the bottom of the bubble. Steven was nowhere to be seen.

“Steven?” she asked, worried.

“Up here, Connie,” came Steven’s voice from a bit above her. Connie looked up, and saw Steven “lying” above her, his back along the inside of the top of the bubble, looking down at her.

“What are you doing up there?” she asked.

“Slowing us down.” he responded. “I can float when I need to.”

“Cool,” responded Connie. She went silent, and focused inward to better recover from the spin cycle.

After an eternity or a few minutes, it was hard to tell, they reached bottom. Once the bubble itself landed Steven himself quickly floated down to the bottom of it. It was quite dark outside the bubble. Connie stood and summoned her sword once more. The yellow sword gave off a decent amount of light, giving them at least a dim view of their surroundings. Nothing was moving around them, and there appeared to be no imminent threats. Steven appeared to concentrate for a moment, and the bubble around them evaporated.

“I like that bubble of yours, Steven. And you can float. That’s so cool.” Steven grinned.

“I like your sword a lot, as well. I have an artifact sword from my mom that I can wield, but it didn’t come with me. In fact, my Connie generally hangs on to mom’s sword.”

“You two fight together? That’s cool.”

“Yeah. Pearl has been training her in swordfighting for a while now.” He looked thoughtful. “But without it, I don’t really have that much in the way of offensive abilities.” He looked around a bit. “Next question, what do we do now? We could stay where we are and wait for your gems to find us. Or we could start looking around and see if we can find our own way out.”

“Hmm. Good question.” Connie mused. “Peridot would recommend staying put, but I expect Jasper and Lapis would recommend we look for our own way out. Though they would have different reasons for that recommendation,” Connie grinned.

“Two to one, the vote goes to exploring,” quipped Steven. He reached down and grabbed Connie’s left hand. “Let’s get to it then.” He scanned around them and pointed to one of the walls a bit away. Connie thought that she could make out the shape of a doorway in that direction.

They had only taken a couple of steps, when Connie spoke up. “Hold up a moment.” Steven stopped, looking at her quizzically. Connie let go of his hand and gripped her sword two-handed style. She pointed the sword to the ground and pressed the point into the ground a little. She could feel the power flowing through her into the sword. If she wanted, she could likely have worked it deeper into the stone, but for her purpose just a small way in was plenty. She then proceeded to move the sword along the ground, leaving a slightly steaming groove in a straight line behind it. After about a foot she removed the sword, turned it slightly, and made two more shorter grooves that all intersected with the end of the first line. She now had a fairly obvious arrow grooved into the stone floor of the room.

“We can leave these behind us as we go, in order to help the gems find us when they get this far,” Connie said.

Steven nodded. “Good idea.”

Connie released her left hand from the sword, and resumed holding Steven’s hand with it. They headed off through the doorway that Steven had spotted. They worked their way along a series of passageways, passing through several intersections. At each they ended up picking one or another direction in which to continue, and left arrows behind them carved into the stone floor. After that first one Steven helped as well at making the marks, helping push the sword along the floor.

They found a number of empty rooms along the way, and marked the floor by the door of each with a small X in the floor of the doorway.

Eventually they reached another large room. The ceiling arched above them high overhead. The room was easily 100 yards across, Connie guestimated. Across the center of the room stretched a fairly large chasm, blocking their way. On their side the floor extended out around 5 yards before dropping off into the abyss. Connie could see that there was a similar ledge area on the far side of the room. Straight out from the entrance to the room was what appeared to be the end of a stone bridge that used to cross the chasm. But the bridge itself was long gone, likely having fallen into the chasm itself at some point in the past. Several ancient gem-tech light sources gave weak light from various spots around the room.

Steven sighed. “Another dead end. Let’s backtrack back to that last intersection.” He started to turn back towards the passage from which they had emerged, but Connie didn’t move, and grasped his hand a little tighter.

“Steven! Look over there, on the far side of the room!” She pointed with her sword. Across the chasm was a small raised table or pedestal. And on that there was definitely something pink in color. From this distance it was impossible to be certain if it was the artifact that they sought, but it looked more likely than anything they had seen up to this point.

“Nice spotting, Connie,” said Steven with a grin. “Now we just need to figure out how to get over there.”

“I think I can bridge it with my force fields,” Connie stated. She opened her hand and dropped her sword. It dissolved into sparkles before it could actually reach the ground. She walked up to the edge of the supports for the ancient bridge, and began calculating in her mind just what size of fields they would need.

She set out the first three fields, which was the limit of how many she felt safe correctly placing from this point. The three fields stretched over half way across the chasm. She turned to motion Steven forward, and saw that he was nervously looking all around the room. “Steven?” she asked quizzically.

“Umm… Connie, I think you should get back here. I keep thinking I see things moving around the room. I’m not sure that we’re alone in here anymore.”

Connie nodded and quickly stepped back over to Steven’s side. She summoned her sword once again. “So what do we do?” she asked.

“Can you do that… tent trick again with your force fields?”

Connie shook her head. “Five fields is my limit at one time and still be able to fight. I already used three for the bridge, and the tent needs another three. I could do six, but I wouldn’t be much use in the fight at that point”

Steven nodded. “Gotcha. Fortunately, I can bubble us if things get too hairy. Just stay close so I can be sure to get us both inside if I have to do it.”

Connie nodded, and resumed her earlier defensive position, back to back with Steven. Now that he had mentioned seeing things moving, Connie could see them as well. For the moment they were sticking to the shadows of the room. She could also now hear them. Chittering like the crystal rats earlier. The kids remained back to back, waiting defensively for what the rats would do next.

“I think there are more of them than there were a few moments ago,” observed Connie.

“Yeah. If I had to guess, they are waiting until they think they have enough numbers to overwhelm us,” responded Steven.

“Probably right. And with the numbers I’m seeing, I think that they’ll succeed fairly quickly.”

Steven nodded. “I’m leaning towards bubbling us the moment they make their move, and not giving them that chance.”

Connie nodded. “I second that idea. I’m not too keen on the idea of becoming crystal rat food.”

At about that moment a large shifting shape rose from the depths of the chasm. The light of the gem-illumination glittered off of thousands of facets on hundreds of separate little creatures.

“Not crystal rats, it’s crystal bats this time,” Connie observed.

“Yeah. And a heck of a lot of them,” responded Steven.

Moments after the cloud of bats rose up into the room, the shapes in the shadows began to move as well, revealing themselves to be even more bats, all of which began to head right towards the kids.

“Steven?” Connie said in apprehension, but even as she said spoke she could see the pink shimmer of Steven’s bubble come into existence around them.

The bats began to slam into the bubble. The first few came in at fairly high speed and appeared to knock themselves out from colliding with the bubble. But after that they continued to come and come. The kids dropped out of their defensive stances, as it did not appear that the bats were likely to be able to get in.

Steven nodded in satisfaction. “ I think we’re safe. My bubble has withstood an exploding spaceship and the vacuum of space. I think it’ll hold out a few crystal bats.”

“A few?” asked Connie.

“Okay. More than a few. Still, I think we’ll be okay here.” The bats were piling up around the bubble, and starting to block any view of what was happening outside.

“You’re probably right. But we have another problem,” Connie noted.

“Hmm?” responded Steven.

“What next? We may be safe for the moment, but we are pretty effectively trapped now as well.”

Steven looked thoughtful. “Yeah, that’s a flaw in the plan.” He looked around. They could barely see anything outside the bubble at this point, and the bats were continuing to pile up. “The bubble protects us from the bats, but also protects the bats from us. Hmm….”

Connie briefly felt as if she had been hit across the head with something. “Ouch. And that was the bats destroying the force field bridge. Ouch, ouch, ouch.”

Steven gave a look of concern, but she waved it off. He nodded and appeared to resume pondering their situation. After a few more moments, he suddenly got a huge grin on his face. “Ooooooh. I think I just had a very cool idea.”

“Hmm?” murmured Connie.

“Are you familiar in this universe with Stevonnie?” Steven asked.

Connie got a big grin on her face as well. She held out her left hand to Steven. “Shall we dance?” she asked, barely suppressing a giggle.

Chapter Text

Stevonnie opened her eyes. At least she thought she was Stevonnie. It was all very strange. She could feel the echoes of the memories of two other Stevonnies, as well as the memories of their components. But she could also tell that this Stevonnie had never existed before. She was something new. Well, not something entirely new, as Stevonnie had existed before, but never quite like she existed now. As for the other Stevonnies, their memories were almost there, but not quite. She suspected that was because she was missing half of each of those Stevonnies.

She could feel... power. Levels of power that neither previous version of Stevonnie had ever felt. The previous Stevonnies had been the merger of a single strong gem with a human. Something cool, something important, but not dramatically more powerful than the original gems had been. But she was something different. She was a fusion of two powerful gems, and she could feel that.

It was dark in the bubble, with all the crystal bats blocking out any light from the outside. The only illumination she had was what she generated from her gems. The Citrine glowing yellow on her chest, and the Rose glowing pink at her navel. It wasn’t a lot of light at this point, but it was enough for her to see herself.

As far as she could tell, she wasn't any larger than the original Stevonnies had been. She was no giant fusion. But she suspected that she had enough power to rival Malachite or Alexandrite. She nodded. This would do. She had been created to do a job. If Steven got home, she would likely never exist again, at least not in this form precisely. But the other Stevonnies would be able to exist again, and that was more than enough.

Very well. For now she existed. And she had a job to do. Time to get to it.

Seen from the outside, there was no sign of the bubble. There was just a writhing cluster of crystal bats, all trying to get at what was at the center of the mass.

Suddenly various points of light could be seen, refracting through the bats from some unseen internal light source. The light began to grow brighter, and the number of points of light coming out of the mass was quickly increasing. The bats, sensing danger, started to move away, but it was too little, too late.

Light exploded from the center of the mass, disintegrating all the bats that it touched. It left the area scorched, and at the center of the destruction stood a single figure. In its right hand it held a golden sword. In its left, a large shield, emblazoned with a rose crest.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Note: Ai no Senshi (Soldiers of Love) plays through the battle. Japanese lyrics in green, English translations in orange.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Kami ga sora ni moeagaru
Into the sky my hair bursts afire

Stevonnie looked around, noting the far side of the chasm. There was her goal. As she stepped towards the end of the ancient bridge, more bats continued to emerge from the chasm. And others were continuing to appear from various points in the walls of the room.

Karada ga honoo no you yo
My body is just like a flame

Stevonnie reached the edge of the bridge, and stepped forward out over the abyss. For a moment it appeared that she was stepping on air, but then the light shifted and a shimmer could be seen beneath each of her feet. She was standing on small force fields, each circular and no more than a foot in diameter.

Ya da wa nande kou naru no
Oh no, why is it turning out like this

The chittering sound now loud in the air, a single bat made a run straight at her. Stevonnie calmly sliced it out of the air, sending the crystal fragments into the abyss below.

Honto ni mou okotchau kara
Now I am really burning up inside

Stevonnie took another step, and the previous force field shimmered out of existence almost as soon as her foot left it. Another step, and she was crossing the abyss on the small discs of force.

Koi wo shite setsunai mama
While I am in love, and feeling heartache

The bats began to swarm at her.

Amai yume wo mitetai no ni
Even though I want to have sweet dreams

Stevonnie’s sword darted through the air, slicing bats all over. The sword left electrical afterimages of itself in the air, almost a trail of light showing where it had passed. Her shield was moving almost as quickly as the sword. Any bat that struck the shield got visibly zapped with electricity, and dropped away into the darkness, intact, but stunned at the minimum.

Yurusenai aitsura no sei yo
They will not allow it, this is their fault

She was not making particularly rapid progress across the chasm, as she was having to concentrate simultaneously on sword and shield movement as well as creating and dispelling the small force fields.

Yappari watashi yarukkyanai ne
As I thought, it is I who must do this

A distant roar could be heard from somewhere in the depths below. Different from anything she had heard in here up to this point.

Tatakitsubushite yaru wa kono te de aku wo
By my own hand I will crush evil into defeat

Stevonnie continued to push forward. Progress might be slow, but it was steady.

Sou yo sore made ganbaranakutcha
That’s right, until then, I must persevere

Somewhere around halfway across a single bat managed to come in at high velocity from almost directly above her. She was able to deflect it with the shield, stunning the bat, but it’s trajectory took it right past one of her feet at high velocity. On a path that intersected one of the force fields beneath her feet, the bat crashed right through the force field, shattering it. Stevonnie was caught totally off guard, and began to sink down. But she had the Rose gem’s floating ability turned on as a precaution, and thus only dropped a couple of inches before she was able to create another force field beneath her foot. But losing that force field HURT.

Mezamenasai aoi senshi yo
Awaken now, soldier of blue

Another roar came heard from below. Louder this time. Closer.

Donna warui hito datte
No matter how bad a person you are

Having seen what happened, the bats changed tactics. No longer trying to attack Stevonnie directly, they started to aim for the force fields beneath her feet. Including rising at high speed from directly below her.

Suki nara shinjite miru no
If I love you, I will believe in you

Stevonnie found herself on the defensive. Defending from attacks from below was extremely difficult. Where she had previously been fighting a battle in a 180 degree arc above her, now she was having to fight in 360 degrees all around, up and down. And neither sword nor shield swung below her all that easily. Forward progress came to a complete stop, as she struggled simply to defend her footholds.

Sore wo riyou suru nante
Trying to take advantage of that

And it was a losing battle. The bats begin to repeatedly destroy the force fields below her. Each time felt like she has been hit in the head with something, and it took a few moments to establish another. She only sank a couple of inches each time, due to the Rose gem’s floating ability, but the repeated destruction of the force fields was starting to take it’s toll on her.

Sonna no yatcha ikenai no yo
Is something that you must not do

And then one of the bats got past her defenses entirely. Coming up from below at high speed, it rapidly rose past her body, striking Stevonnie a glancing blow to her temple. While the blow drew no blood, it was enough to stun her. Stevonnie reeled.

Itsu datte mamoritai no
I always want to protect you

Fortunately, she was still standing on a couple of small force fields. Unfortunately, with her trying to shake off the blow, she was no longer able to defend those force fields. It only took a few moments for the bats to destroy them. Even more unfortunately, being stunned had also deactivated the floating ability. Stevonnie began to drop rapidly.

Anata no tame tonde yuku wa
For you I will go leaping forward

She had only dropped a few meters, ten at the most, when she unexpectedly found herself suddenly soaking wet.

Ai dake ga kagirinai enajii
Only love is unlimited energy

“Need a hand there?” came a voice from the side of the room. Stevonnie found herself held tight by a large “hand” made entirely out of water. The voice was Lapis. The shock of the water had additionally served to quite effectively help Stevonnie shake off the stunning effects.

“Lapis!” Stevonnie called out, very happy to see the blue gem at the edge of the chasm. Peridot and Jasper were standing beside Lapis. The Crystal Gems had arrived.

Nee watashitachi yarukkyanai ne
Come on, it is we who must do this

The hand began to rise and move towards the other gems.

Onna no ko no junjou misete yaru no yo
We will show them the pure hearts that girls have

“Lapis! Throw me across to the other side. I think that the artifact we want may be over there.”

Nani ga nan de mo ganbaranakucha
Whatever we do, in everything, we must persevere

Lapis nodded. “Sure thing. And here’s the pitch!”

Mune ni chikau ai no senshi yo
Vowing in our hearts, soldiers of love

Stevonnie had only a moment to frown at the silly baseball reference, before she found herself flung through the air. She was now sufficiently recovered that she was able to easily right herself in the air and neatly land on her feet. “Nice throw,” she yelled across to the gems on the other side.

Nee watashitachi yarukkyanai ne
Come on, it is we who must do this

The bats were still swarming around the room. No time to waste. Stevonnie ran the remaining distance over to the small stone table that Connie had earlier spotted from across the room. There was indeed a pinkish object lying on it, and from Steven’s memories she could tell that it was most likely the artifact they were looking for. She reached out to pick it up.

Tatakitsubushite yaru wa kono te de aku wo
By our own hands we will crush evil into defeat

“Don’t touch it!” Peridot yelled from across the room. “We don’t want to swap Stevonnie back to Steven’s universe.”

Sou yo sore made ganbaranakutcha
That’s right, until then, we must persevere

Stevonnie’s hand froze, and she nodded. Yeah. Taking Connie along on the ride to Steven’s universe would not be a great idea. Neither would dropping this universe’s version of Steven, likely unconscious, into the middle of a crystal bat fight. So instead of touching it, Stevonnie reached out both hands and proceeded to bubble the artifact. The bubble was a shifting mix of pink and yellow colors, both colors swirling over the surface in constant movement. With a thought she set the bubble to floating a little behind her shoulder, where it should easily follow along with her.

Mezamenasai ai no senshi yo
Awaken now, soldiers of love

(Ai no Senshi ends)

Stevonnie turned her attention back to the room in general. The Crystal Gems were in full battle with the still-significant number of crystal bats.

Jasper was careening all over the room in ball form. It was impressive how she could zoom all over, including crossing the chasm repeatedly, and never once dip down into it in the slightest. She was smashing bats at an amazing rate.

Lapis had taken flight over the chasm, and was gleefully spinning her hammer around herself smashing bats.

Peridot had taken up a position near the room’s entrance, and was zapping bats as fast as she could with her finger lasers.

Stevonnie nodded to herself. Should be a relatively easy trip back out of here. The numbers of bats were already beginning to thin a bit. She would just ask Lapis to fly her back across once the battle settled down.

An incredibly loud roar sounded from the chasm below them. Very close this time. Stevonnie started to move towards the edge of the ledge on her side to see what was coming. She didn’t get very far before it arrived.

Time once again slowed to a crawl. A huge form rose from the depths, rising at high speed. None of them had any time to react before the form crashed into the airborne Lapis. Lapis never saw it coming, never even had a chance to dodge.

Lapis was sent flying into the wall on the side of the room, right near the entrance. As she impacted the wall, there was an audible Poof, and Lapis’s body vanished. Her hammer and gem clattered to the ground, not far from where Peridot stood.

But as the gem clattered to the ground, the real damage could be seen. Lapis’s gem had been cleanly split into two pieces.

Peridot screamed, her voice thick with raw emotion, and quickly ran to the shattered gem. Jasper crashed down onto the ledge, not far from them. She just stood still in shock.

The large form had come to a halt after crashing into Lapis, and was revealed to be a single gigantic crystal bat. Easily 20 feet tall. The remaining bats in the room all began to head for the large bat and merge into it, making it grow even larger.

Stevonnie looked up at the giant bat. Her eyes had begun to glow, as did both of her gems. The gems quickly became almost too bright to look at.

“What…. Did…. You…. DO!?!?!” spoke Stevonnie, the volume in her voice rising with each word.

Stevonnie began to walk towards the bat. She didn’t even pause at the chasm edge, she just stepped right out over the abyss. Force fields appeared beneath her feet at each step, glowing brightly. Both sword and shield had been summoned, and the bubbled artifact followed a bit behind her shoulder.

Stevonnie continued to walk across the air towards the bat. She was not at all running, but she was marching with a swift finality that her previous crossing had lacked.

The bat let out a large screech, and began to fling a series of large crystal spikes at her. In an almost casual manner, Stevonnie intercepted the spikes with the Rose shield. The spikes splintered into pieces upon impact. Stevonnie appeared to be unaffected.

The bat screeched again, and even more bats began to swarm into the room from points unseen. These new bats all flew directly at Stevonnie. But just as they approached, a pink and yellow shimmer could be seen in the air surrounding her. As the bats came into contact with the bubble of pink energy and yellow electricity that was surrounding Stevonnie they simply disintegrated. None got through.

Stevonnie approached the bat. Her eyes were no longer glowing quite so brightly, but they had now taken on a cold and unfeeling expression.

“You will die now,” Stevonnie spoke in a cold, flat tone.

The large bat turned to flee.

Stevonnie thrust her sword at the bat. She was still not close enough to actually reach the bat with the sword, but that fact did not particularly matter. Echoes of the sword’s power could be seen stretching out from the blade, and piercing right through the bat.

The bat began to disintegrate. It appeared to attempt to split off all its separate smaller bats, but that did not help. The little bats disintegrated almost as fast as they split apart from the big one.

The large bat gave one final screech, and was gone.

Stevonnie gave a nod, then turned and walked across the air back towards the entrance to the room.

She soon reached the side of the distraught Peridot.

“Give her to me, Peri.” Her voice held the first hint of emotion that she had shown since shortly after Lapis had been hit.

Peridot, stunned, just nodded and held up to Stevonnie the two halves of Lapis’s gemstone.

Both her gems still glowing brightly, Stevonnie took the two pieces of gemstone, and began to lick either side of the split. After doing that thoroughly, she pressed the two halves together and licked along the entire edge of the split. As she did, the two pieces could be seen fusing back together.

Completed, she handed the now intact gem back to Peridot.

Stevonnie spoke. “She’ll still need time to recover from being poofed, but I think she’ll be ok otherwise.”

“You think she’ll be ok?” asked Peridot, still not recovered from her state of shock.

Stevonnie responded. “Steven has healed a number of gems before, but never one split in two. But I could feel it working as I did it. Still, we are in uncharted territory here.”

Jasper spoke up. “Girl, you are one scary fusion, you know?”

Stevonnie just nodded. She released the remainders of the extra power that she had been holding onto, her gems dimming. The team began to make their way back to the surface.

Stevonnie said nothing during the trip up. It wasn’t so much that she had nothing to say. Rather she was in the middle of fighting yet another war, this time against her components. Neither of them were happy with what had just happened. They didn’t like how she had so emotionlessly destroyed the bat. They were trying to split her apart.

But Stevonnie did not want to split quite yet. Until they left the temple, she reasoned that the bats could still attack again, and that she would again be needed to defeat them. At least that’s what she told the voices of her components. Underneath that lay the factor that, once she split, it was doubtful that she would ever exist again, at least not in this specific form. The fact that other versions of herself would almost certainly be given chances to exist had been enough before, but now it felt insufficient.

She liked existing as herself. She liked being this version of Stevonnie. She liked…. She liked the power, she realized. And that was a large part of the problem. She was too powerful. Power like she had wielded back at the chasm was something no one being should have. The fact that she was holding herself together this long against the will of both her components… that was scary. Scary. That was what Jasper had called her. Jasper, the warrior gem who should be afraid of nothing, had called her scary.

The group passed out the entrance of the temple, into the blindingly hot desert sun.

Stevonnie looked around. Her excuse was up. There had been no more bats as they made their way out. And now they were out. Stevonnie was suddenly very tired. After fighting Steven and Connie the entire trip out she was drained. She had no more reason to continue to exist. At least not as herself. So finally, she just… let go.

Shortly after they emerged from the ruin, Jasper watched as Stevonnie split in two without warning. The bubble that had been floating along behind Stevonnie disappeared at the same moment, dropping its contents to the ground. Both kids immediately collapsed. Jasper quickly went over to them and confirmed that they were both still alive. She carefully picked up the bodies of both kids, and collected as well the pink artifact that they had come for, careful not to let it touch the Steven. Then, without a word, she turned and walked towards the warp portal through which they had arrived. Peridot followed along behind, cradling Lapis’s gem, not speaking a word.

The kids did not stay unconscious all that long. By the time they were warping back into the Beach House, they were already starting to wriggle a little in Jasper’s arms. She gently set them both down on the floor beside the warp pad, watching as they moved as if they had just awakened from a deep sleep.

Peridot turned to Steven, muttered a curt, “Thank you,” and turned to head towards the door to the temple rooms. She was cradling Lapis’s gemstone in her arms all along.

Japser felt that she should say something, but speaking had never really been her strong point. “Good fighting,” she finally said, addressing both of the kids. Then she too headed towards the temple door. Just before she reached it, she realized something. She turned and headed back to the kitchen table, where she deposited the pink artifact. She looked at the hybrid Steven specifically and said, “Farewell, and good luck.” Finally she turned again and headed into her room.

Connie and Steven shared a look, Connie asking, "You can go home now. Are you ready?"

Steven frowned, his brow was furrowed and his gaze was on the floor. "No," he said, "not yet." He blew out a breath. "I think I need a walk first, to... clear my head." He looked up, finally meeting Connie's eyes. He extended a hand in invitation and gave her a small smile. "Would you care to join me?”

After walking down the beach a good ways and back, silent, hand in hand, the two ended up sitting side-by-side below the Beach House, staring out at the ocean.

Connie finally broke the silence. “How could Stevonnie have done… what she did? If she had taken it down in battle that would have been one thing. But she basically executed it,” mused Connie.

“Yeah, and Stevonnie was able to remain fused when both of us were fighting to unfuse. I’ve never heard of a fusion being able to do that before.”

“Yeah,” responded Connie. “But then, you appear to have had a good bit more experience with fusions than I do.”

“True.” Steven started ticking them off on his fingers. “Stevonnie, Garnet, Sugilite, Opal, Sardonyx, Malachite, Alexandrite, Smoky Quartz, a huge Ruby, and whatever that… corrupted thing was that Jasper became.” Connie looked up at him inquisitively. Steven shook his head. “Don’t ask. I really have no idea what to call it. Oh, and dad mentioned something about meeting a Rainbow Quartz at least once.”

“I know who Malachite is, though I’ve never met her. And Stevonnie of course. But I’ve never heard of most of the rest of them.”

“But back to Stevonnie,” resumed Steven, “From what I know about fusions, every aspect of them, from powers to personality, should be able to be traced back to something in one or the other of the gems that are fused,” replied Steven. “If Stevonnie was capable of that, it most likely means that one or both of us are as well.”

“I’m pretty sure that it’s me,” said Connie softly. “I’ve seen some things that have me thinking that there is a lot of potential for darkness within me.”

“Tonnie,” Steven said simply.

Connie jerked her head around. “How did you know about her?”

“You and I were fused. Sometimes things leak over from one to the other. I don’t know any of the details, but I can still see the image of her from your mind, and that the thought of her terrifies you.”

“More like I terrify myself.” Connie sighed. ”Tonnie is dark-Connie. She was a potential future self of me. Gone now. But if I could become her under one set of circumstances, what other circumstances could lead to me becoming her?”

Steven nodded gravely. “But I think… the fact that you are aware of your darkness and alert for it is a plus.” Connie looked up at him. “You can watch out for the signs. Be ready to actively correct your course if you see yourself sliding down into the darkness. Also, if you haven’t already, tell your Steven. Have him watching out for the signs as well. Maybe even your Crystal Gems too.”

“Been there, done that. With Steven at least. I already have him watching me.” Steven nodded in approval. “As for the gems, I’ll have to think about that one. I’m not sure how I could tell them any of this without them totally overreacting.”

Steven nodded again. “Yeah, I get that. Mine are prone to overreacting as well.” He chuckled.

Connie leaned back and stared off into the night sky. “You know, I know you’re not... my Steven. But talking to you feels a lot like talking to him, with the plus that you get what it’s like to be gem and human at the same time. You understand me in a way that no one else can.”

Steven nodded again. “And talking to you feels a lot like talking to my Connie. But you’re right. We’re each one of a kind. But for this brief time, we’re two of a kind.” He held out his hand to her, and for a while they just stopped talking and held hands on the beach.

After an hour or so of just sitting on the beach and thinking, the two headed back up into the Beach House. Peridot and Jasper were still in their rooms, but the artifact was sitting out on the kitchen counter, waiting. Steven took a seat on the couch, and Connie picked up the artifact.

Connie spoke first. "Goodbye. Good luck with, ya know," she motioned to their gemstones, "all of that."

"Yeah. You too," Steven replied. He reached out both hands and cupped them in front of Connie.

Connie held out the artifact and gently placed it in his cupped hands.

Immediately the familiar glow appeared, again spreading out from the artifact before it covered Steven entirely. His arms dropped, but Connie was ready for this and caught the artifact before it could drop to the ground as well. As the glow faded, she could easily tell that her Steven was home once again.

As Steven returned to consciousness and opened his eyes, the first thing he saw was Connie again, sitting at his side. Inwardly he sighed. Was he still stuck in the other dimension? As he sat up on the couch where he had been lying and started to take a better look around, a purple hand reached out from behind him and unceremoniously pulled up his shirt, revealing his gemstone.

“Rose’s gem is back, so it looks like it’s our Steven,” pronounced Amethyst’s voice. Steven glanced over his shoulder. Yep. It was her. He gave her a grin.

“I’m home,” Steven announced, letting the relief show in his voice.

“Steven!” proclaimed Connie. His Connie. She grabbed him and gave him a strong hug. Amethyst joined in, hugging him from behind. Garnet, Pearl, Peridot, and Lapis we all standing nearby, waiting for their own turns to give him Welcome Home hugs. And he could easily see that these were the familiar versions of Peridot and Lapis.

After everyone got their chances at hugging him home, they all gathered around to share stories of what they had just been through. The others actually already knew a good bit about the Gems from the other dimension, it turned out. His own counterpart was apparently quite talkative, especially about the Gems of his home dimension. So in some ways they already knew more about the alternate versions than Steven himself. So that mostly left it for Steven to just recount the specifics of what happened while he was there.

“Hmm. Where to begin? I guess with when I woke up. I saw Connie sitting there, and Peridot and Lapis were in the room. But things got really weird when I spotted Jasper standing in the corner of the room….”

Connie handed Steven a mug of tea. He was sitting at the dining room table, telling them all about his own time in the other dimension. Peridot and Jasper were present as well. Peridot was busying herself in the kitchen, and Jasper was being Jasper, just standing quietly at the side of the room.

Lapis’s gemstone had been placed in almost the exact same place that Peridot’s had been in when Peridot had been poofed previously. Sitting on the kitchen counter, on a small pillow, with a heat lamp over it. Almost like an incubating egg. Peridot had emerged with the gemstone soon after the Stevens had swapped back, announcing that every scan she could think of to run had indicated that Lapis was fine, just needing time to recover.

Steven had been talking almost nonstop since he had awakened after the swap back.

"-and Amethyst is shorter than me but really funny. Did you know motor oil tastes kind of like raw pancake batter? Because she does! Oh, and they have this tall lady named Garnet and she does that thing that Jasper does where she leans on the kitchen counter and watches everyone with this little smile that she thinks no one notices but is all quiet and tough and-"

Fade to black…

Chapter Text

Connie waited on the sofa, cold spaghetti on the coffee table, blanket wrapped tight around her, head popping out. No Blanketville tonight, not if she wanted to see the gems when they got home.

She didn’t move at the chime of the warp pad, she stayed where she was, hearing the idle chatter of the gems as they entered the living room.

“Not too loud, we don’t want to wake Co- Connie! Hello. Glad to see you up. How hav-...” Peridot traied off, eyeing the cold and uneaten bowl of food, then Connie. Her cheeks were slightly red, her eyes tired.

The Green gem looked to her companions, worry in her eyes. Lapis bit her lower lip before patting Peridot on the shoulder and making her way to sit down beside the girl. Peridot followed her over, sitting on Connie's opposite side. Jasper assumed her usual position leaning against the kitchen counter.

“You, uh... You wanna tell us what's going on Con-con?” Lapis asked gently.

Connie grumbled and pushed her shoulders up, causing the blanket to raise slightly, like a turtle curling into its shell. She wanted to talk, but now she was second-guessing herself.

There was a slight pause before Connie felt Lapis’ hand gently stroke her back. “Look... We won’t make you talk about things if you don’t want to but-”

Lapis chuckled leaning her head on Connie’s as she continued. “I’m kinda learning this whole 'Talking thing' is living up to the hype. So… maybe we could try it some more? For me~?” She spoke softly, a tone Connie knew very well. It was a tone that said 'I am here for you.' She could see Peridot nodding in agreement.

“Was my mother perfect all the time?” Connie blurted out after a moment.

The gems hesitated as Connie looked between them, even Jasper looked surprised. The three all gave wordless glances to one another that spoke volumes.

“Uh, W-what? What do you mea--” Lapis broke the silence.

Connie sat up straight, letting the blanket fall behind her, “I mean, did she just... have all the answers all the time? Because it seems like it from what you guys have told me. Did she- … I dunno, didn’t she ever... Feel uncertain or sad or-or anything!? Things I feel, cause she just seems like this super perfect, ultra-smart woman who I have no hope of ever--”

“Whoa whoa! Slow down girlie. Let’s... Let’s slow down and, uh, wow, there’s a lot to unpack there.”

“Yes,” Jasper said bluntly, clarifying a beat later with, "to the perfect part."

This prompted Peridot to throw her limb enhancers up in frustration. “Not true Jasper! By how few Citrines were made it is very hard to say if she was indeed perfect. She was clearly quite high quality but anything further lacks sufficient supporting evidence to-"

“Wrong train of thought, Peri,” Lapis cut her off and sighed, looking to Connie. “Okay... I wouldn’t say... Citrine seemed uncertain a lot of the time-”

“So she was perfect?” Connie cut the Blue gem off, her heart sinking.

“Hey now, let me finish,” Lapis said, offering a slight smile. “So, like I said, she didn’t usually seem uncertain... but that doesn't mean she wasn’t.”

“Huh?” The girl questioned, her head tilting to the side.

Lapis chuckled, leaning back on the sofa, “I knew your mom for a long-... looong time. And I’ve been preeetty much the same way I am now the whole time. Whenever I felt uncertain or sad, which is like, well, somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred percent of the time, she always acted like she understood...”

Connie stared as Lapis continued, the latter's smiling becoming a little sad.

“At least, that’s the way I saw it... I think she always put on a strong front, and I’m not just talking about her...” Lapis motioned to her chest, then shook her head, “Nevermind, bad... Bad joke. Sorry... But yeah. I think she felt like she always had to seem strong for everyone else and, you know, probably for me too. I uh... I think if she hadn’t helped me the way she did, I probably would have gone crazy a long, long time ago.”

Connie rubbed her temples.

“She ... sounds like she was a good person,” Connie said. “I mean, if she helped you so much and was such a good friend. Was she, like, the one person you were able to talk to?”

Lapis tilted her head and grimaced.

“Well ... I was never a good talker about anything serious and your mom knew that. Let's say that she was observant enough to fill in the blanks.” She sighed. “Anyway, if you think your mom was perfect, I can tell you she wasn’t. Trust me, we all did a lot during the war. Like ...” Lapis’ gaze drifted away from Connie, “Like really a lot of stuff.”

“Like tricking Amethyst,” Connie said, an edge in her voice.

Lapis, however, didn’t get defensive at the jab. She frowned then whispered. “Yeah. Stuff like that. And lots of stuff even worse.”

Lapis settled her hands on her knees and exhaled.

“S-sorry,” Connie said. “I shouldn’t have brought that up again, I just--”

“No, no,” Lapis said. “You ... have every right to think it was a crappy thing to do. Cause it was. We’re kind of experts at doing crappy things by now. But ... anyway ...” Lapis shook her head. “That sort of thing affected all of us during the war. I know it did me. And ...” Her voice got softer. “Even if Citrine didn’t seem like it affected her, I’m sure it did.”

Connie nodded slowly, “I ... see ...”

Lapis stared at Connie, shifting on the couch uncomfortably.

“Did any of that really ... help?” Lapis said.

“A little ...” Connie said. It was true. Knowing her mom possibly wasn’t an impossible demigod she could never live up to did take some of the pressure off … But she still didn’t know very much about her. Or what she would think. Or what kind of advice and guidance she would give.

Connie would be lying if she said knowing that didn't make it feel like there was a hole inside her.

While Connie was introspective, Lapis shot Peridot a look, motioning with her eyes toward the girl. Peridot gave a small nod, her floating digits moving to caress the girl's hair.

“You can always talk to us, you know that, right? You can always ask anything. We will do our best to tell you what we know.” Peridot explained, petting her protégé.

“I know, ma’am...”

Chapter Text

Alternate Scenes for Lapis Getting Cracked

"It's sad that it didn't work out but I'm glad you tried," said Sniffling Croissant before openly sobbing in sympathy for his friend. The literal stream of tears pouring from Glum Glass slowed slightly in response.

Connie hung over the edge of her bed, lying on her back with her hair spilling across the floor of the loft as she watched the upside down characters bawl on the television. She narrowed her eyes as she tried to see the show, one of Steven's favorites, from her friend's perspective. Metaphorically; he didn't, to Connie's knowledge, routinely watch Crying Breakfast Friends! flipped 180 degrees.

All I have to do is power through two more days and then Steven's family will be back from vacation. Besides, thinking about emotionally overwrought breakfast drama beats thinking about dad. Or mom. Or Priyanka, or the gem in that book I used to have, or Ame-

Connie rubbed her eyes, telling herself it was just a sympathetic reaction to binge-watching this show, like yawning when you see someone else yawn.

Besides, Glum Glass keeps trying and trying despite all her setbacks. It's noble... in a poorly-animated sort of way. Still, I have to wonder if the writers for this show take some sort of sick amusement in putting her through so much. I kinda miss the earlier episodes, when things were simpler for her.

The crying onscreen ratcheted up a notch.

Not for the first time, Connie considered watching the CBF on mute. Reading the subtitles upside down would be a little difficult until she remembered most of them would be variations of '[sounds of crying]'.

The sound of the warp pad chiming saved her from the dilemma. Rolling upright Connie saw Lapis standing on the crystalline teleporter. The two locked eyes from across the house, the Blue gem holding up one hand and making a surfer sign, finger and thumb outstretched, her expression inviting.

When Connie smiled, Lapis' face split into a wide grin and she gave a whoop.

"This is your captain speaking. We've finished our pre-flight checks and are now ready to be completely awesome," drawled Lapis in a monotone voice completely at odds with the tail end of her statement. "Co-pilot Connie, are you ready for takeoff?"


"C-2 preparing for liftoff!" shouted Lapis, breaking character and giggling excitedly as the pair sprinted across the top of Lighthouse Park, straight toward the cliff.

Lapis launched herself into the air about thirty feet from the edge. This was so she was directly overhead, gripping Connie's outstretched arms at the moment the teen leapt into the void with a shrill cry of excitement.

Blue hands gripped brown forearms and brown hands gripped blue as Lapis flapped hard, once, twice, the pair cartwheeling through the open air, each alternating between inarticulate cries of fun and outright laughter.

Corkscrews. Loop-de-loops. Rolls. Dives. At one point Lapis flew low enough, built up enough speed, that Connie did some barefoot water skiing across the suddenly smooth surface of the Atlantic.

While they were readying to make another pass, winging high over the lighthouse and temple both, Connie felt the sweat gathering in her palms, feeling herself slipping incrementally with each wingbeat.


"Hmm? Higher?" called down the gem, the wind whipping her pigtails almost straight back as she ascended.

"Wait! Lapis!" Connie tried to grip tighter but the adjustment only made her slide further down Lapis' slim-but-deceptively-strong arms.

"Whoa, careful Con-con, I think you're-"

Lapis' words were lost in the roar of air as Connie suddenly succumbed to gravity. Unlike previous dives, the instinctual terror of weightlessness wasn't tempered with the knowledge that it was just a ride. Connie screamed.

toofastTooFastTOOFAST, screamed a corner of Connie's mind, while another could only quip, Oh no, not again.

She summoned the force field at a sharp incline, grazing it rather than hitting it directly. It slowed her down slightly, propelled her away from the cliff face a little, but it set her tumbling, making up and down difficult to differentiate.

She willed another field but it had either been off-target or even above her because she never encountered it. The third field was placed more accurately: Connie bounced off it hard enough that it was only the flash of yellow that told her she hadn't ricocheted off the cliff face after all.

There was a blur of blue followed by the press of arms around her tight enough to choke Connie's scream into a wheeze. Up and down became even more confused for a frantic fraction of a second, the wind of wingbeats briefly overpowering free fall and gravity both. Then the world shook with concussive force and every corner of Connie, even the snarky one, was jarred into insentience.

At some point Connie became aware of things again. First, that her back, shoulders, and the back of her head were hurting in a way she wasn't aware they could.

Still not as bad as that time with the Nightmare Monster, thought that irrepressible part of her, because apparently her ability to make wry observations was the quickest to reboot. Somehow, she wasn't surprised.

The second thing she became aware of was that her back had somehow gained the ability to vocalize its discomfort and was groaning beneath her. That was a surprise.

When a hand that wasn't hers dragged lazily across her face it clicked just who was back there and why. "Lapis!"

Exemplifying the expression 'painful slowness,' Connie rolled over and off the Blue gem, squishing into the sand Lapis had apparently winged them over when they'd crashed.

"Oof," groaned Connie, still too jarred to do anything but flop on her back despite how tender it was. "I think I know how some of those bee monsters felt when I zapped them and they hit the sand hard enough to poof."

Connie heard a wheezed chuckle beside her and then, “Hon? I see bees in — OH!”

Connie blinked at the odd response. Rolling onto her side, she saw Lapis pressed into a sandy crater, kind of like when the Centipeetle Matriarch had spiked her like a volleyball. The Blue gem slowly sat up, using a cerulean hand to stabilize herself, and glanced at Connie.

Thin, blue eyebrows furrowed over mirrored eyes as Connie gasped. "Lapis! Y-your eyes!"

Lapis squinted out of blank orbs for a second longer before twisting around and groping with one hand across her back like she was trying to scratch a hard to reach itch. Her expression then became one of resigned embarrassment. Turning to Connie with a weak smile she said, “I’m a fool; aloof am I.”

Before Connie could ask further questions, the gem turned revealing her teardrop-shaped gemstone, the seat of her consciousness, crisscrossed with a jagged crack. A glance in the crater showed the rock Lapis had landed on, its surface sprinkled with sparkling blue splinters.

Once again Connie gasped. Lapis shrugged and was about to stand when she stopped, bent down, and brushed the fragments into her open palm. "No, I save on final perusal – a sure plan if no evasion."

Connie was pretty sure she was in some kind of shock. She'd seen the gems hurt, poofed even, but never cracked. Unable to really process this overwhelming development, she rose to her feet, the complaints of her body relegated to a distant place. "I think 'no evasion' is what got us into this situation," she drawled.

Lapis looked at her with featureless eyes, lifted her free hand to her mouth, and blew a long, loud raspberry in rebuttal.

Connie barreled through the front door, uncaring about it slamming against the wall. The second she was across the threshold her gem lit up and the temple door across the house opened on a room of scrap, sluggish lava flows, and the sparks cast off by whatever Peridot was doing over her workbench.

"Peridot! Lapis needs your help!" she shouted.

The technician looked up from Johnny's open chassis --the ersatz robonoid lying upside down on the workbench-- her glasses shifting from welding visor-dark to clear as she did so. Extending an arm overhead, five of Peridot's floating fingers spun to a blur, allowing the gem to helicopter out of her room and into the Beach House proper.

A pair of floating fingers remained behind long enough to buckle Johnny into position like a baby on a changing table, before zipping out to rejoin Peridot. Johnny kicked its limbs feebly, unable to right itself. The temple door closed moments after the fingers soared through.

"I'm afraid the noise of my activity drowned out the specifics of your call," said Peridot, landing with a heavy thunk and walking the rest of the way over. "What seems to be the problem?"

Connie had ran ahead of Lapis in returning to the Beach House, the gem unable or unwilling to keep pace. That was why the Blue gem stepped through the already open door, one hand closed into a fist while the other she used to wave in Peridot's direction. "Yo, Aloha, Hola, Oy!"

Peridot saw the mirrored eyes and made a frightened squeak, quickly stepping forward to put herself between Connie and Lapis. "Stars! What happened?! How many oceans does the Earth still have?! Is Central America still an isthmus?!" she asked, her voice almost a shriek.

“A man, a plan, a canal. Panama,” Lapis said, attempting to lean on the door frame. She missed, fell to the floor, then staggered to her feet, giggling.

Lapis Flees

Jasper laid a still-damp hand on Lapis' shoulder, and said something for only Lapis to hear. Lapis' smile dropped off her face and she turned to look up at Jasper. "Oh. Oooh. Uh... Can I get a raincheck?" she said, giving a pained smile up at the large Quartz.

Jasper took a step back, drawing herself up to her full height, and began surveying the surroundings for threats, looking everywhere save at Lapis.

"I'm gonna make sure the ol' wing-a-lings are still working right." With a flash and a flap, Lapis was airborne.

Connie was quick to cup her hands to her mouth and shout, "No islands!" as the gem soared past.

Lapis hung in the air a moment and called back, "No islands. I'll be home when you get there." And then she was gone.

Peridot sighed, turned back, and walked over to the fountain, meticulously filling the specialized containers to their brim. “Let’s go,” she called once the job was done, Connie walking beside her and Jasper, ahead, as they made their way back through the garden and to the warp pad.

Debriefing After the Garden

Jasper returned from the temple. "The vials are all secured."

"That's fortuitous. I just finished giving these two an upbraiding for the reckless behavior that got us into this situation in the first place," said Peridot, standing on the other side of the coffee table, limb enhancers crossed, her pose that of a principle reprimanding a pair of school-aged hooligans.

Lapis, who was decidedly not school-aged, sat on the couch looking more impish than contrite. Connie, however, was sitting adjacent and had her head hung low.

Lapis and Peridot shared a look and then Lapis said, "Hey, Con-con. Don't let Dot's fun-allergy get ya down. Everything worked out alright."

Connie looked up and met the eye of each gem in the room. "Yeah, but I've been pretty much pointless this whole time. I had no idea what was going on most of the time and I completely failed as a lookout, the one job I could do. Or, could if I wasn't so blind and inept."

"The apostate cheats," was all Jasper said, arms crossed.

Alternate Ending

He wasn’t sure and he knew Connie wouldn’t be either. That’s what this was, what this whole awful three weeks had been: Connie questioning what it was to be a Crystal Gem, what it was to be her mom’s daughter, what her place was with her dad and her three, kinda-yes-but-kinda-no moms.

And here she was, scared, angry, sad, turning to him for help.

The roller coaster in his stomach did a series of twists and spirals as the significance settled in. He scooted around so he was sitting beside Connie, the two of them looking out at the ocean together. He reached around to grab her side and pull her into a half hug. She rested her head on his shoulder (and his roller coaster started doing more swirly things in response).

He was still trying to find the right words to say despite the swirling emotions inside him when Connie said, “Thanks. I… Can we just sit here, like this, for a moment? It’s nice.”

Steven nodded, leaning his head gently against Connie’s.

The two sat in silence save for one another’s breathing and the sounds of the beach below.

Chapter Text

--- May 21st---

"Then I'll go instead!" screamed Connie, Doug's daughter turning away from the table, dinner plate in hand as she marched over to the door. Throwing it open with a bang, the teen stormed through.

Priyanka had less a flashback of Anjan's own tempestuous teen years and more of a composite memory of a dozen times her son had left the dinner table in a huff.

Along with it came the old guilt of having done an imperfect job of being the parent. She'd allowed herself to get nettled by Connie's barbs. They'd been hurtful, intentionally so, but Priyanka was an adult and should have risen above them. She should not allow a girl thirty years her junior to dictate the level of discourse at the dinner table.

Doug shoved his chair back and jumped to his feet. "Connie! Where do you think you're going?!"

Priyanka mentally tsked. Rookie mistake, she thought. Even if Connie knows where she's going, and she very well might not, that's not the point. She's leaving and you either address that or don't rise to the outburst at all.

Suddenly a yellow square of force sprang into existence, less than an inch-wide gap between it and the open doorway.

Priyanka's eyebrows shot up at that. For probably the tenth time that night she'd found herself falling into well-worn modes of thought only to be reminded that Connie wasn't just any thirteen-year-old.

Doug was startled by the unwelcomed magic as well, but he had, to use his words, 'lived in Crazy Town long enough to roll with the punches.' He angrily hammered on the field. "CONNIE?! THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOR!"

Another composite memory of Ravinder shouting through a locked bedroom door at their son leapt to mind. The fact that Doug wasn't shouting in Hindi helped Priyanka from associating him with her ex-husband.

There was a pause followed by a high voice, muffled by the field. "... I actually am sorry about the force field. That was more of an impulse thing."

Doug took a breath, clearly trying to reign in his emotions. "Good. Now, remove this at once."

The fact that he had succeeded in doing so did much to demonstrate the differences between the men.

Connie's muffled voice answered. "I can't. It just sorta goes away on its own after a couple of minutes. Sorry for- Um, I'm sorry. But I really am leaving now."

The sound of footsteps going down the apartment stairs followed soon after.

Doug ran a hand through his hair, looking at the force field, the dinner table, Connie's empty seat, and back to the force field as though determined to act but with absolutely no idea how.

So this is what it looks like from the outside, she thought, years of hiding expressions behind a mask of professionalism being the only reason she didn't smirk at his expense. She'd allow herself to feel upset about the disastrous dinner another time; right now she was going to salvage what she could of the evening, mental peanut gallery quips included.

Doug finally seemed to remember that Priyanka was there and gave her that schoolboy smile of his: it was a mix of embarrassment and wry amusement worked into a grin that was dangerously disarming. "I guess we're stuck here for a little while."

Priyanka's inner schoolgirl wanted to kiss that smile. Repeatedly. She'd thought that facet of herself had vanished long ago, a victim of both the banality of adulthood and a lifetime of youthful hopes dashed. That Doug had brought that long absent part of her out of hiding...

She shook her head. The schoolgirl still had to share space with the doctor, the girlfriend, and the mother, the latter two of which had some things to say about how Doug had behaved during the dinner.

"Good," answered Priyanka, her expression neutral.

Doug's smile faltered --to the dismay of part of her-- and he gave her a faintly worried look as he sat back down at the table. "Good?" he asked.

"Yes. It means we can talk about what just happened."

Doug frowned, his eyes moving back to Connie's empty place at the table. "Right. I'm sorry for that, by the way. This wasn’t like Connie and if I had to guess what got into her tonight..." he trailed off before looking back at her and said, “Actually, I’m still figuring it out myself.”

Priyanka took a sip of her mint lassi, as much to compose her thoughts as to slake her thirst. That accomplished, she set the drink down and gave him what she hoped was an understanding look; past performance reviews and patient surveys indicated she’d lost the knack for it, if she’d ever had it to begin with. "Doug, she's a teenager and I'm the wicked woman who is simultaneously challenging her monopoly on your affection and threatening the memory of her mother."

Doug's frown deepened. "But you're not. At all."

Priyanka couldn't hide the smile this time. She wasn't sure if his guilelessness was part of his charm or just the piece of him that kept it from going to his head.

Either way, here, now, it wasn't doing Connie any favors so Priyanka the Mom had to overrule the schoolgirl and girlfriend. "It is to her, dear, and that makes it important. All things considered-" (And with Connie's home life, that's a lot to consider) "-she probably did better than most teenagers would have."

He raised his eyebrow at her skeptically.

"You forget that I've raised one," she prodded.

"One that could do that?" he said with a smirk, motioning toward the unnatural barrier blocking the door.

"Point," Priyanka conceded. "But that's why it's even more important that we have a shared understanding here. I'm a veteran in the struggle between parent and teenager. You're a veteran of... that," and she could only gesture toward the field as though it represented the entire, black-is-white insanity that was half of Connie's life.

Priyanka saw recognition spread across Doug's face. He nodded, reaching out to give her hand a squeeze of solidarity. "You're right. I guess each of us, you, me, and Connie, don't all speak the same language. I kinda forget how hard it can be at her age, even without all the added complications she faces."

Priyanka took a moment to study his expression and just bask for a moment in this closeness. It had been so long between the brief happiness of her not-so-brief marriage and when Doug had finally been willing to let her into his life. She couldn't help but relish this hard-won happiness, complications and all.

The schoolgirl, girlfriend, and mother all smiled at this man through Priyanka.

The doctor, well, she was hard to impress and didn't really do smiles. At least, not the kind that reached her eyes. She did appreciate Doug's fitness regimen... even if she was appalled at the necessity of it. In her professional opinion, no one should be engaging in one-on-one melee with bee monsters, especially not men approaching middle age. Least of all men approaching middle age who were truly important to her.

Okay, maybe the doctor had been won over a little.

Basking complete, mental digression ended, Priyanka focused on the subject at hand. "Speaking of language," she drawled, "now is an excellent time for my first lesson in Tamil."

Doug's eyes went wide, perhaps glimpsing the shape of the trap he'd just walked into.

Priyanka's smile showed perhaps a bit more teeth than was strictly necessary. "Now, what was it you two said about the Butter Chicken, exactly?"

Doug swallowed and glanced over his shoulder to confirm that, yes, the force field preventing him from escaping was still in place.

Chapter Text

“...The End,” the slightly miffed voice of Lapis Lazuli finished.

“Whoa…” the two kids chorused as Lapis finished her story. They had been absolutely enamored with every word she had said.

It had started as a regular Geography lesson with Peridot, in which she had them recite the names of every Volcano on the face of the Earth, active or otherwise included. Connie had done exceptionally of course, even if she had stumbled through some of them. Steven however, had frozen halfway through, and Connie had been caught whispering some of the answers.

Both had been taken aside for a lecture. Steven had been properly admonished for slacking in his lessons just so he can go on patrol, and Connie had been told off because she was cheating. (“And cheating is wrong ,”) Just when the Kids thought they would be spending their whole afternoon there, Lapis had literally flown in for the rescue, loudly proclaiming that Geography sucked and History was better.

The kids had agreed of course, but neither of them wished to incur Peridot’s wrath as it turned toward Lapis Lazuli. But their savior didn’t give up, and did that thing the adults did with all the eyebrows, whispering, and the general disregard for personal space before she could even say one word. Which had made the kids groan in disgust and Peridot flush a darker shade of green.

While Peridot was busy with that particular ordeal, Lapis had already launched into a (partially) embellished story from the Crystal Gem Rebellion. It was focused on her deeds mostly, of course, but it also involved a cameo from an unstoppable Citrine, and ‘the hairy bowling ball that was Jasper.’

While the unflattering description of his mother bothered Steven, he had kept it quiet. Instead he had just bugged Lapis for details on what his mother and Connie’s were doing. It would all end in one big cheerful whoop as Lapis had finally given in and told him how Jasper had broken through a moving airship just to save Citrine from a would-be-assassin, the latter being too busy cutting swathes through the enemy to notice.

“My mom was so cool!” had been his first exclamation once he had gotten over the ‘Silent Awe’ stage of Peridot’s ‘AESSoLTBSItBH’ (An Enthusastic Steven’s Scale of Likelihood To Break Something In the Beach House. It started with ‘Silent Awe’ and ended with ‘Evacuate Beach City’.) in which Connie had joined him in the reenactment of the story.

Peridot had finally gotten over her flustered state, and she was not impressed. “Marvelous, as if it wasn’t already hard to keep their mental assiduity,” her voice rueful as she cast a sidelong glance at Lapis.

She took a moment to respond, “You know you love it ‘Dot,” her tone was off-put, it seemed like she didn’t like her story being hijacked for Citrine and Jasper...

Peridot sighed, “You can’t blame them for being curious,” her tone was soft, and hushed. Not that the hyperactive kids would notice. It seemed like her words were not having the intended effect however, and Lapis only seemed to get more frustrated.

So she did some damage control.

“Connie, Steven,” she made sure to put a healthy amount of authority to her voice (Peedee had called it ‘The Mom Voice’ when he had come over with his Lutes & Loot game and she had used it to make them obey) “Dears, we will continue this lesson another time.” Even she couldn’t salvage this, nevermind the fact that she had still not given up on salvaging an entire Kindergarten, (for plants, before you get any ideas) that didn’t mean she would let them off easy of course, “But I expect a detailed essay on today’s subject.” There, Steven did well on essays, so it would serve as an encouragement at the least and get him to learn the subject before he fell behind, again.

The kids nodded with enthusiasm. “May we go outside, ma’am?” The request she had been counting on had come from Connie.

“Be back before sunset.” She then smiled. “Have fun you two” The kids nodded with a set of smiles of their own and raced off to the door after grabbing a hefty supply of ‘arts and crafts’ material. Peridot’s smile disappeared immediately as she shouted behind them, “Steven, don’t let me catch you with glitter in your hair again!” She grumbled as she turned back, “ That troublesome mane.

She threw that errant thought aside as she focused solely on Lapis.

Connie coughed theatrically as she gazed at her army, a collection of rocks and boulders that had fallen down from the Temple’s facade and spent enough time in the ground to be unrecognizable, covered in copious amounts of colorful glitter by her and Steven.

Steven cupped his hands around his mouth, “Speech! Do a speech!”

“My people!” She addressed with a semi-serious voice, trying her best not to giggle as Steven whooped, “Before us are those who would destroy what is not theirs!” She pointed dramatically at a collection of boulders that had frowny faces doodled on them with some permanent marker. Steven booed as they were being mentioned. “Join me in delivering them to their makers!”

Maybe Connie had just rehearsed one of the Book’s speeches word for word, but nobody could deny the results.

Those results being Steven charging forward toward the boulders, an orange Crash Helmet appearing around his head with a shimmer of the aforementioned color.

She smothered the pang of jealousy that reared its ugly head, instead focusing on the pride she felt on the fact that she had helped Steven summon his weapon again.

For as long as the kids could remember, Steven’s weapon would pay them a visit whenever he felt an emotion particularly strongly. Like in his 7th birthday when his father had gotten him his first drum set. Or when he had gone on a roller coaster for the very first time. These bouts usually had very good timing, but the bad moments tended to be on the ‘disaster’ side.

And Connie was still unable to summon her weapon.

She had not let it become a divide between them of course, because when she had when they were younger, Lapis and Peridot had tried to reassure her at Steven’s expense. As they so often did, Steven already had enough on his plate with being treated like a walking hazard anytime he did something the others didn’t agree with.

She charged after him after a moment, deciding not to dwell on such thoughts. It was easier to get lost in the earlier excitement, to imagine herself charging through a battlefield with her loyal comrades, leading them from the front like the spitting image of a good leader. Perhaps being too caught in the moment, she brought her empty hand down on a boulder.

But it wasn’t empty.

She noticed that too late though, as the boulder she’d been aiming for exploded everywhere and sent her crashing backwards.

The last thing she saw before she tumbled to the ground was a thin yellow line crashing through the window of the Beach House.

Several startled screams both inside and outside followed, although none of it could suppress the little mantra that had just started in her head.

I just summoned my weapon!

Chapter Text

Type: Entity

Class: Gamma

Extraction Method: As of event 001-67B, it has been deemed no longer necessary or advised to attempt to Extract 001. Pending an ethic review of the current state of 001, reclassification or dismissal of file may become necessary in the future.

In the event of sudden hostilities between subject and local inhabitants of site D, or by the order of class 5 or higher command, use of extraction methods approved for previous instance of 001 will be authorized.

001 is to be extracted from no less than five hundred meters away using high voltage shock darts, acceptable voltage being anywhere between 4000 and 20,000 volts. Personnel chosen for this role must ensure they are not perceived by 001 at all costs. If agent believes themselves to be compromised, they are to retreat and all extraction operations are to be suspended until further notice.

Agents assigned to perform the extraction are to have a full psychological profile created, detailing thoughts, feelings, and any other information that could otherwise be tampered with through 001’s abilities. File is to be memorized by an undercover handler, preferably one of the agents undercover in site D. In the event shooter is compromised by 001’s mental abilities, handler is to activate the emergency shock collar worn by shooter until agent is unconscious. They are then to wait for extraction orders, and are not to attempt to rescue the unconscious agent. Should no extraction orders be sent, handler is to resume normal undercover operations.

If G.E.M. 002 is confirmed in the company of 001, minimum range is increased to 1000 meters, and operations are not to occur near any collections of liquid water larger than 20 gallons. If possible, 002 should be neutralized prior to 001, due to threat of massive collateral damage and possible environmental catastrophe.

If G.E.M. 003 is confirmed in the company of 001, operations are to continue as normal except for the following: a high speed aerial vehicle must be available for high speed extraction of agents, a secondary team be ready to Acquire and contain 001’s geode once 002 has given chase to shooter, and preparations are made for 003’s extraction as outlined in G.E.M. 003’s file.

If G.E.M. 004 is confirmed in the company of 001, all extraction operations are to be suspended until otherwise approved by class 6 or higher command, which will be accompanied by modifications to extraction operation.

Until extraction operations are deemed required, site D is to continue operation unless told otherwise by class 5 or higher command. Civilian elements on site D are to be kept unaware of site D’s true function or any G.E.M. Operations. Local undercover agents are to be tasked with maintaining operation secrecy and to ensure site D continues to operate as designed.

Description: 001, Prior to event 001-67B, took on the appearance of a female with yellow-tan skin, blonde hair, and possessed a powerful build of around 2.4 meters in height. While possessing shapeshifting abilities, 001 rarely deviated from this appearance.

As is shared by all G.E.M. entities, recorded instances of superhuman strength and durability are more of greater magnitude in 001 than the recorded average. While not as strong as 003 or as durable a 004, 001 is shown to be not far behind either in these categories. While grossly surpassed in anomalous power by 002, it cannot be stressed that 001’s powers can and have proven to be far more dangerous under the right conditions. With the added versatility and variety presented in 001’s power set, 001 presents both a notable physical threat and a massive security risk [See Event 001-01, 001-25, 001-35, and 001-66].

001, as of event 001-67B, now maintains the appearance of a young Indian girl of 13.5 years of age. 001 stands around 1.6 meters in height and weighs an estimated 40-45 kilograms. They possess black hair, brown eyes, and dark skin color similar to subject 001-D. Since event 001-67B, 001 has grown at a rate equal to that of a human child with the only deviation occuring 13 years after “birth”, where 001 rapidly regressed in physical age. 001 has since recovered and continues to grow at a normal rate.

At this time, the physical traits and abilities of 001 are unknown, due to the difficult nature of measuring them without alerting 002 through 004 to G.E.M. presence. It has been determined though that 001 appears to have degraded in visual senses, requiring corrective lenses created by 004 for a number of years. It is unclear whether these lenses allow 001 to see at previous recorded levels or not.

It appears 001 has lost some effectiveness in their abilities following the event of 001-67B. However, due to 001 showing rapid and increased use of said abilities within recent months, it is to be assumed they are just as dangerous. Extreme caution is advised.

History: 001 is the first recorded G.E.M. Entity recognized by Management, and proves to be the focus of much of our studies. From what information we have gathered, from information released by 002 and 004, as well as numerous archeological records depicting them, 001 has been determined to be extraterrestrial in nature, along with all other G.E.M. Entities and objects. 001 was apparently the leader of a rebellion group that fought against the main governing body of their people, referred to as “Homeworld”, with 001 through 004 claiming their goal was to “protect the earth and humanity”. The validity of this claim is currently being investigated, and while likely, it has been made clear that the “Crystal Gems” are withholding a great deal of information.

All questions concerning “Homeworld”, the “Diamonds”, the entity known as “Rose”, as well as the origin of the hostile G.E.M. entities and objects have been met with dismissal or outright ignored by all parties.

Surveillance of 001 has noted several notable interactions between them and civilians, most notably with 001-D. 001 and 001-D, hereby referred to as D, maintained an apparently amorous relationship for a number of years, during which time D came into contact and conflict with multiple hostile entities and objects, leading to the creation of Anti-G.E.M. martial arts that have proliferated throughout management. D has remained unaware of this.

After several years, Event 001-67B took place, which saw the transformation of 001 to its current form. A notable change in both group dynamic and mannerisms took place, most drastically in 004 who seems to have taken a maternal role over 001.

It is unclear whether this is natural, an uncommon event, or a ruse of 001’s design to confuse or misdirect Management. An ethics investigation is currently underway to both discover the true situation, as well as alter methodology to take into account the current situation.

Due to event 004-4, the home planet of the G.E.M.s was discovered, confirming extraterrestrial life and backing the little intel gathered from 001. Information was quickly classified, the findings suppressed through a misinformation campaign, and all researchers and civilian personnel involved with the discovery either inducted into Management or given Class B amnestics. Management scientists and research personnel are currently attempting to gather as much knowledge of the home planet, and “Homeworld” as possible, but current technology makes accurate and thorough investigation impossible. Plans to approach 004 for assistance are under deliberation.

Chapter Text

As Connie had started accompanying the gems on more and more missions she had become accustomed to all sorts of derelict gem technology. Derelict was the operative word here. The one sitting in front of them was decidedly not.

“Are you sure this ship wasn’t here before?” Connie asked despite the fact that this was the only ship not overgrown in the clearing.

“Positive, this entire shuttle is an anachronism! It’s body structure is clearly that of an era 1 drop ship pod, but from what I can tell of the interior systems have been retrofitted with a guidance system typical of the more modern roaming eyes. What’s more!” Peridot moved to the rear of the craft. “This is a modified version of an era one light kite engine! Those have been out of commission for the last 4 thousand years!”

“Yeah but what’s it doing here dot?” Lapis asked as she rapped on the side of the ship.

“I have no idea.. It seems to be unoccupied but...” Peridot’s incredulity faded into worry.

“But?” Connie asked, though she felt like she already knew the answer.

“But it means that someone, another gem, is here. On earth.” Peridot said staring at the empty ship as if it might reveal a horde of homeworld soldier’s any moment.

“Peridot” Jasper said, then gestured to the nearby warp pad they had just entered on.

“Ah yes, of course.” Peridots fingers formed a screen as she pulled up the recent access records for the warp pad. Connie circled the ship. It sort of reminded her of one of the ships from the Galaxy Trek series that the evil empire used as bases for their bow fighters. Just smaller, much smaller.

“Before us there was one warp stream created roughly two hours ago.”

“Well if they left they’re going to have to come back.” Lapis said flying up into a tree to get comfortable.

“Yes, it would be for the best to remove Connie from the premises as soon as possible before they’re return-”

“Wait, why?”

“Connie this won’t be your average corrupted Nephrite or Bixbite, a homeworld gem...” Peridot trailed off.

“Come on Peri, can’t be any more dangerous than dealing with the quartz pack and Con-con con-crushed that.” Lapis swung upside down and put her hand behind her head. “Anyway, in my experience, only thing that comes out of these are Nephrites and Rubies. Not really the kind of thing you send as an invasion force.” Peridot didn’t look calmed by that in the least bit. But any further complaints she could have had were cut off by the warp pad jumping to life. In one fluid motion Jasper had picked up Connie, grabbed Peridot and dived into the bushes near Lapis. Lapis dropped down, landing effortlessly next to where Connie had scrambled to get a better look at the warp pad.

Two figures landed on the warp pad. One was a little taller than Lapis but with pink skin and hair. She was wearing what looked like a pink two-piece swimsuit with sheer ruffles around her hips and arms. Her gem was prominently displayed, a pearl, not unlike the one from Connie’s book but pink and not cracked. The other figure was taller, not quite Jasper’s height but close. But something about her Her skin and hair were a lot like Connie’s own but the finer details of they’re colors seemed to shift as she walked towards the craft, almost iridescent. She had a gem to, a white one in a diamond cut.

“A pearl and a... is that a Goshenite?” Lapis asked softly.

“What would a Goshenite be doing here?” Peridot asked

“What’s a Goshenite?”

“Upper crust bureaucrat in White-”

“Quiet.” Jasper said firmly, the two on the warp pad were talking.

“I can’t believe it!” The taller gem was saying.”There’s so many of them!” Connie could feel the air around her shift as the gem lept into the air and hovered there slightly. She saw Peridot and Lapis both frown. They had changed their gem assessment and had to be shushed again by Jasper. Connie could feel the tension coming off the other gem. Something was wrong, something more than just a ‘visitor’ from Homeworld showing up out of nowhere.

“Well Domina, they are the native life forms.” the Pearl said. Domina? Connie thought. Why would a gem have a name

“Well yes...” The taller gem said floating gently to the ground, She placed her hand on the ship and a hatch in the side opened, falling to create some sort of platform. The tall gem sat on the lip dangling her legs and looked more like Steven or one of the cool kids hanging out on the edge of the boardwalk than any kind of threat. The Pearl sat next to her, seiza style.

“How long do you plan to stay my diamond?” The Pearl asked. The hushed whispering between Lapis and Peridot abruptly ceased and Jaspers eyes went wide.

“Ma’am aren’t Diamonds supposed to be well...bigger than that at the very least?” Connie asked. Peridot nodded open mouthed

“That’s not a diamond, definitely not that diamond there’s no...”Lapis started then glanced at Connie. “Well, one way.”

Connie’s eyes went wide as the implications set in, she glanced at Jasper whose eyes had narrowed slightly at the scene in front of her.

“How long do you think before word gets back to Yellow that I’m not with the fleet?”

“A month perhaps?”

“That should be enough time.” The Diamond said with a sigh. Connie retrieved her binoculars. Sure enough the Diamond, this Domina was wearing actual clothes, her skin was weird but there was a scar on the back of her hand, perhaps from a bramble or something, that had scabbed over. This is impossible Connie thought. Is it really? A corner of her mind asked. Gems have been around for thousands of years, there could be hundreds of hybrids out there.

“Connie do you have the warp whistle?” Peridot asked breaking from the hushed conversation the trio had been having as Connie mused.

“Yes ma’am.”

“Make for the warp pad and, the moment you see an advantageous opening, retreat home.”

“What kind of advantageous opening?”

“One provided by yours truly Con-con.” Lapis said patting the hammer at her waist. She looked nervous, as nervous as the other two.

“You’re really going to fight them? They look harmless.”

“A diamond’s power is not something to underestimate.” Jasper said.

“This could just be the beginning of a full scale invasion.” Peridot said. “We’ll deal with the problem decisively.”

“But, she’s like me.. What if we just asked her what she was doing here?” Connie asked.

“Too risky.” Jasper said then gestured to the far side of the Diamond’s ship. Moving through the underbrush was less likely to attract attention there, All Connie would have to do was be quiet.

There was something in the jungle around them. Well that didn’t really narrow things down, the area seemed full of life. But Domina figures that the something was at least something sentient.

Pearl had noticed it too. She had given Domina an anxious look and gestured with her head discreetly towards an area of foliage that had been moving a bit too much. Domina kept talking, trying to think out her options. If it was a member of the local wildlife that made things easier, they seemed like for the most part they could just be chased off. A local inhabitant would be a bit more complicated, her and Pearl had garnered some stares when they went to briefly check out a settlement near one of the warp pads, but that was in a densely populated area, not in the middle of nowhere. Worst-case scenario it would be a gem, some AWOL quartz or some such she would have to deal with, or even worse it would be Rose or another one of Yellow’s gems, sent to figure out why she was on Earth when she had been expressly told to stay away from the planet. Domina really didn’t want to deal with Rose Quartz today.

The rustle of movement had gone behind the ship, Domina started slowly walking to the opposite end, hoping to intercept it, still talking.

“I mean I can definitely see the appeal, the conditions here are good enough for silicates, for stars sakes. But there’s no way the planet would have ever gotten a pass these days.” A figure stopped at the edge of the front of the ship, a human girl from what Domina could tell. With black hair and brown skin, kind of like hers but more... normal. She seemed to be unarmed, harmless most likely. Domina stepped into view and smiled, trying to be as non-threatening as possible.

“Hello, I won’t pretend I know anything about your territory or capabilities but I do believe that this area may be too dangerous for you at the moment. I haven’t had any issues with the local wildlife but I-” She started to say only to stop as she took another look at the girl. Domina’s heart stopped. Sitting on the girl’s collarbone, No, embedded, was a yellow gem. She didn’t know what type but it was definitely there and definitely real.

“Um..hello.”The girl said, her face had gone red. She covered her gem with her hand but stared at Domina’s forehead. “I'm Connie.”

“Domina...” Pearl said Domina ignored her.

“Hello... I’m uh well, Domina,’re like me!” Domina said smiling even bigger “Oh my star’s you’re like me. Pearl!” Domina spun around to face Pearl only to see not only Pearl but also an era two Peridot. Her form was decidedly nonstandard and she was wearing a set of limb enhancers that probably should have been replaced decades ago. They were functioning enough however to be able to have a hand-equivalent in defense mode and pointed directly at Domina. “Ah... I suppose it would make sense that you wouldn’t be the only gem on planet.” She said, not that there were supposed to be any gems on this planet, Yellow had it quarantined off. For some reason.

“State your purpose here.” The Peridot said crisply.

“I’d really rather you stated yours first.” Domina was still smiling, but it had gone tense.

“Ma’am I don’t think-” Connie said hesitantly from behind Domina.

“Connie resume your retreat.” Peridot said

“She’s fine, Am I really a threat? Your the one pointing a weapon at me.” Domina said. Her hands were slowly moving upwards towards her gem.

“No Diamond has ever had any altruistic intentions with regards to Earth, and you are also attempting to summon your gem weapon. Now step away from Connie.” Peridot said. Domina dropped her hands, glanced back at Connie thoughtfully. This was not how this meeting should go. Domina then glanced at Pearl, whose hand was also nearing her gem. They could get out of this. Domina dropped her hand.

“Well if you insist.” she said. There was a sudden wind and then Domina rocketed into the air, drawing her pale blue and gold saber. She smirked as Peridot trailed her with her finger-equivalent blaster, a smirk which then faded as a blue blur darted out from the tree cover.

Domina recognized the gem type in a heartbeat and struggled for a word that would precisely describe how screwed she was right now.

“Here’s Lappy!” A Lapis Lazuli holding a hammer twice her size gave Domina an ear-splitting grin before swinging the hammer to hit where the Diamond had been moments before.

“A Lapis Lazuli!” Domina cried, narrowly avoiding another attack from the massive metal mallet.

“Who thought it would a good idea to let you anywhere the same quadrant as this planet!” This time the hammer made contact, and Domina soared and crashed into a tree below, her sword dissipating in a sparkle of light..

“Oh you know, probably big blue, I can’t remember it was like a whole war ago.” Lapis said laying down midair to look at the fallen Diamond, head propped up on her hand. Domina lay there stunned for a brief moment before stumbling to her feet only to be met with a massive Jasper with a nose gem, wearing a battering ram eaque helmet. Lapis Lazuli and a Jasper, Domina thought. Why does this sound familiar? Out of the corner of her eye she saw Connie rushing towards them.

“Wait stop!” Connie shouted, “You can’t be serious, she’s not doing anything!” Connie protested. Domina resummoned her sword, if she was going down it wasn’t going to be without a fight.

“Connie. Home. Now.” Jasper ordered. The Gem took a step towards her and then a surprised step back as a translucent yellow wall appeared in front of her.

The Pearl next to Connie took advantage of the stunned moment to sprint forward, around the forcefield barriers and over to Domina. Connie took a deep breath, she heard Lapis land behind her as Peridot’s hand-equivalent returned to normal.

“Can we just talk?” Connie asked again, “Really ma’am, she was harmless until you threatened her!”

“Connie we can not afford to take risks when it comes to dealing with Homeworld gems, especially one.... like her.” Peridot chided glancing over at Domina who was currently being prodded by Pearl.

“Come on Pearly I didn’t hit her that hard.” Lapis said

“You knocked her into a tree!!” The Pearl spun on her heels to glower at Lapis.

“Yeah, she’ll be fine.”

“I am fine Pearl.” Domina said waving off the other gem.


“What are you doing here?” Jasper said firmly, She had also stepped around the forcefield, casting a slightly disapproving look at Connie.

“Good grief.” Domina muttered she rubbed the area around her gem. “I came to have a look around ok? There’s not supposed the be other gems on this planet.” She attempted to move around Jasper again but was blocked so she turned to inspect the forcefield in front of her. “This is different. What are you, a topaz of some sort?” Domina asked Connie.

“No I... My mom was Citrine.” Connie said. The Diamond frowned slightly, with a thoughtful expression.

“Citrine... a Lazuli...and...” Domina glanced up at Jasper. A grin creeping over her face “Oh.... You guys really aren't supposed to be here.”

Chapter Text

How many stories had Connie read in which the character who was the last of their kind discovered that they were in fact not alone in the universe? It was practically the entire plot of the new series of Professor Which, but gem-human hybrid seemed like a pretty safe thing for her to be the only one of. It’s not like you could just find humans scattered around the universe.

And yet here was Domina, a gem-human hybrid, sitting on the couch, staring around the house much like Peridot oogled recently reopened gem ruins, or perhaps a hardware store. Pearl stood nearby, close to the door. Connie wondered if they had worked out some plan of escape. She had overheard the gems planning exactly what to do if things went south. But here, sitting awkwardly on the edge of the couch hunching over so she could look Connie in the eye, Domina seemed harmless.

She looked at Connie and Connie drew her hand to her gem, wondering if the Domina was having as many problems figuring out where to start as she was. Simple Connie, start simple.

“So uh.. You’re not from..Earth?” She said. Wait no! Too simple, stupid question. Domina laughed.

“No I’m from...” Domina paused and frowned for a second. “I grew up in the colonization fleet, spent a lot of time moving around.”

“A fleet? So you’ve been to a lot of different planets then?”

“I have. What about you?”

“Uh.. no, I haven’t actually ever been off planet” Connie said feeling her cheeks go red. Should she know more about other planets? Peridot always talked about how the gems were a space-faring race. Why should she be the exception?

“Ah well you’ve got time. How old are you?”

“Thirteen.” Connie said, “What about you” Domina grinned even broader.

““Four thousand, six hundred and thirty...” She said trailed off and looked at Pearl.

“Two.” Pearl supplied.

“Whaddaya know, an era 2 Diamond,” Lapis said. She grinned at Peridot. “This one’s a shorty too.” Peridot frowned and made some notes on her screen.

“Precisely how did White Diamond procure a donor of human dna?” Peridot asked.

“She 'borrowed’ my father from the human zoo,” Domina said.

“Human zoo?” Connie asked. Judging by Domina’s uncomfortable fidgeting it was exactly as bad as it sounded.

“Pink Diamond had a zoo full of humans, exactly what it says on the tin, we uh.. weren’t able to get them out before everything went down at the end of the war.” Lapis said rubbing the back of her neck. “Speaking of which, what are you doing with Pink Diamond’s Pearl?”

The pair looked at each other for a moment then Domina shrugged.

“Up to you,” She said

“White Diamond took me into her court after her own Pearl was lost during the rebellion,” Pearl said while keeping her eyes firmly on Jasper and Lapis. Domina nodded.

“Yup, Anyway Connie-”

“What do you know about the rebellion?” Jasper interrupted. Domina pursed her lips and in a split second Connie could see what exactly the gems were afraid of. It was like the temperature in the room dropped ten degrees. Then as quickly as it darkened Domina’s mood lightened again.

“Another squabble about intelligent life on a planet, this one went really wrong and ended up completely changing how we went about colonizing. We lost a Diamond and that sent Blue Diamond into a depressive spiral. Also we ended up with Rose Quartz somewhere along the way,” Domina said with a shrug. “Now if you’re done interrogating me?” In the split second before anyone could answer the screen door flew open.

“CONNIE!” Steven said, stars in his eyes. “Is that a spaceship!?!”

When Domina had decided to head for Earth she had been expecting a few weeks of walking around incognito with some of the local inhabitants, maybe checking out old ruins, diagnosing what the problem with the planets galaxy warp was. She wasn’t expecting to run into the remnants of that war. She hadn’t expected to come across another gem-human hybrid and above all she hadn’t expected to spend time with said hybrid and her human friend eating.. Ice cream?

“Sure you don’t want any, Pearl?” Steven asked handing over the payment for the food.

“I am quite sure, thank you Steven,” Pearl said. She walked next to them and had been watching Steven’s incessant questioning of Domina with mild amusement.

“So Diamonds are like the Queens of gems right?” Steven asked as they walked along the boardwalk. Connie was quiet.

“I wouldn’t say ‘queens’ but yes,” Domina said hesitantly tasting this ‘ice cream’. It was sweet, but not quite like the artificial sweetness that the ‘fruit’ from the human zoo tasted like.

“Cool, so do you, like, live on the gem homeworld? What’s it like? Do you wear a crown normally and you’re just running around in disguise like Queen Starkiller from Galaxy Trek?” Steven said. He was bouncing from foot to foot and his hands were moving in a way that seemed as if it probably had some sort of meaning. “Wait you probably don’t know who that is. Maybe I should start there, actually your spaceship kind of looks like the ones from Episode 4, do you think we have time to just watch the movies, have you ever seen movies bef-”

“Steven!” Connie cut him off, glancing at Domina red-faced.

“Right sorry,” Steven said looking up at Domina sheepishly. Domina smiled slightly, she was not used to being on the other end of a question flood.

“Well I don’t live on homeworld, I stay away from it as much as possible. It’s beautiful in it’s own way but...stifling.” Domina said. “And let’s see, no I don’t wear a crown, and I’m not really disguised,” Domina glanced at Pearl wondering if she was also remembering the various incidences when Domina had been mistaken for anything from a Goshenite to a Spinel. “I’m just not what people expect when they think ‘White Diamond’.”

“Do you have power’s like Connie does?” Steven asked.

“Probably not the same ones, though that trick with the force fields would be really useful,” Domina said with a grin in an attempt to pull the young hybrid into the conversation. Connie looked at her surprised, mouth full of ice cream.

“It’s really the only thing I can do reliably,” she said awkwardly.

“Yeah but you’ve got a lot of other powers to!” Steven said. He stopped and with one hand reached into his oddly shaped backpack. He pulled out a very...sparkly notebook with some writing on it, writing that looked close to the letters her father had taught her but not quite. Steven proceed to rattle off a list, each line making Domina’s eyebrows rise a little bit higher.

“Impressive,” she said when Steven had finished. Though that was an understatement, that power set was as wide-ranged as Rose’s.

“It’s all kind of been random, or they come out emotionally and kind of ruin everything...”

“Well that seems familiar, the first time I summoned my sword I cut my hand on it and ended up creating a huge windstorm,” Domina said.

“What about you miss Pearl?” Steven asked. Pearl jumped slightly at being acknowledged.

“I'm sorry. What do you mean?” she said looking warily at Domina. Domina grinned, she liked this kid.

“Well um Lapis can control water and miss Peridot has the floaty fingers and Jasper is uh... Jasper. Can you do anything like that?” Steven asked. White Diamond knew the human didn't mean anything by it but Pearl's embarrassed expression still struck a nerve. Out of the corner of her eye, Domina saw Connie's expression go wary. She shook off the annoyance while Pearl floundered.

“Pearl makes sure I stay alive and functioning. Without her I'd probably have worked myself into the ground at this point, or done something really stupid like thrown myself out of an airlock, again,” Domina said quickly.

“Woah you did that?!” Steven said momentarily distracted. Pearl gave Domina a mock irritated look.

“It shouldn't take me to remind you that is a horrible idea,” she said.

“Why did you?” Steven asked. Domina grinned.

“Well it all started while we were on this outpost station...”

Connie didn't think Domina was evil. She certainly didn't act like a villain, even an affable one who was just playing nice until things got serious. But there were flashes, like with Lapis, flashes that said, ‘I'm not an average gem, I should be feared’. But they didn't stick around. It was like there were two people: Domina and White Diamond. White Diamond was cold and blank and looked as if she wouldn't hesitate to react pragmatically. Domina chattered eagerly with Steven about her many adventures as they walked.

Peridot and the rest of the gems were waiting outside the beach house. Peridot ‘surreptitiously’ looking over the Styx. Connie could see Domina’s posture stiffen, her smile was maybe a little bit more forced.

And then there was a chime, a three note chime, over and over. And Connie saw Domina’s face change to shock seconds before she sprinted to her ship, smacking the side until the door opened.

Connie and Steven took off after her, arriving at the entry to the ship and maneuvering they’re way to the front. Domina faced them with a translucent screen, not unlike Peridot’s, in front of her, separating her from the assembled group. Her face had gone completely blank.

“What is it?” White Diamond asked. On screen was another gem, her face was severe, in a way she almost reminded Connie of Dr. Kurunthottical.

“Yellow Diamond,” Peridot muttered softly. Pearl jostled Connie as she wove her way through the group and moved towards the ship’s controls.

“You really shouldn’t be answering the line yourself Domina,” Yellow said with a frown. She didn’t actually look at the screen. She seemed to be focused on other things.

“I might as well.”

“Hm. Well, where are you?”

“Busy, checking in on things,” White Diamond said. Yellow Diamond paused and turned to direct her full attention towards her fellow Diamond.

“What sort of ‘things’?”

“Nothing of consequence,” Domina said quickly, briefly looking nervous. White Diamond re-schooled her features blank.

“What is going on?” Yellow Diamond frowned and turned back to her screens

“We need to talk, you, me and Blue. How far out are you?” Yellow Diamond asked. It took her a few moments to do the calculations in her head.

“About 2 hours,” White Diamond said. Then froze.

“That was a miscalculation,” Peridot whispered.

“How fast is this thing?” Lapis muttered looking around at the interior of the ship. Yellow Diamond apparently also noticed this. She pursed her lips and gave Domina a stern look.

“I told you to stay away from that planet White,” Yellow Diamond said.

“Yes you did.” White Diamond’s face remained blank as she attempted to stare down the other Diamond. Yellow rolled her eyes.

“We’ll speak of this later,” Yellow said. “Don’t waste time White.” The screen collapsed and Domina caught the communicator in one hand with a sigh and looked at Pearl, then at the rest of the assembled wide-eyed group.

“Well that's the end of this trip,” Domina said.

“Somebody’s busted,” Lapis said with a smirk.

“Uh.... so should we be worried that she knows you’re here?” Connie asked. Domina shook her head.

“No, you should be fine,” she said then quickly spun to go back farther into the ship. Connie and Steven leaned forward. To Connie it kind of looked like some kind of futuristic RV: beds were set into the walls, in the back she could see what kind of looked like a bathroom. Domina was rummaging through a box until she pulled out a sleek visor.

Here,” she said handing it to Connie. “If you manage to attract any trouble let me know. The Styx is pretty fast.”

“Oh come on,” Lapis said “IF we manage to attract trouble?” Domina paused, looked at Lapis, then at Connie directly.

“Ok if you manage to attract trouble,” she said pointing at Connie. “And you know.. if you just want to talk, that’s ok too,” Domina said rubbing the back of her neck. Connie looked at the visor and carefully put it on overtop her glasses, it fit perfectly. The visor lit up and a computer display appeared in front of her. All the writing was in gem but it seemed intuitive enough.

“Really? I can have this?” she asked. Connie tapped an icon and it opened something that looked alot like a word processor. The screen felt surprisingly solid considering it was essentially a hologram.

“Yes, of course. It’s my spare, and really I can’t think of another way to get in contact with this planet.” Domina looked at Peridot. “Is there?”

“No the main communication hub is... non-functional otherwise the easiest would be wailing stones which were being phased out during my time on homeworld if I remember properly and surely are practically archaic by this point,” Peridot said. Domina made a face the moment Peridot said ‘Wailing Stones’ and turned back to Connie.

“Keep it,” she said then nodded to Jasper. “I’ll keep this as quiet as possible.” The quartz warrior grunted and nodded before exiting the ship.

“Nice to meet you! You too Pearl! Next time you’re here we’ll have to watch Galaxy Trek!” Steven said extending a hand. Domina looked at it.

“You’re supposed to shake it.” Lapis prompted. “It’s a Greek thing.”

“Oh,” Domina shook Steven’s hand “Very nice to meet you too Steven.” The remainder of the group filtered out until all that was left was Domina, Connie, and Pearl.

“Well I guess I’ll see you around?” Connie said. Domina grinned and nodded.

“Of course, keep in touch and... you’ll figure your powers out, don’t worry about it,” she said hesitantly holding out a hand to Connie. Connie shook it and nodded to Pearl. Then exited the ship. The door to it closed and there was the sound of whirring engines and Connie made her way over to Steven and the gems. The gems were talking quietly and Connie strained to hear them.

“So a Diamond knows we’re here,” Lapis said looking up at the ship as it pulled out of Earth’s atmosphere to warp.

“What does that mean for us?” Peridot asked. Jasper frowned, keeping her eyes on the ship until it winked out of existence.

“We wait and see.”

Chapter Text

A Nature Dog-umentary

Lapis landed lightly and was already raising her 'bird watching' binoculars by the time Connie was able to slide off the gem's back and get her own wilderness survival binoculars in position.

"The yellow-breasted wolf warbler rises shortly after dawn. It's a new day and that can only mean the hunt for food and butts to sniff begins anew," narrated Lapis in a Morgan Freeman voice. Wolf was padding across the sand toward the boardwalk unaware of Connie and her observing him.

In a British accent meant to mimic David Attenborough, Connie picked up the thread. "As the wolf warbler approaches its first foraging site, let's look ahead and see what's in store for him at... the Big Donut."

"Oh, say 'sloth' or 'harem' like David does. It's hilarious," requested Lapis, adding, "'Slow-th,'" and giggling.

"One, don't break character, 'Morgan,'" chided Connie. "And two, I highly doubt I'm going to have reason to say, 'Har-eem.'"

"Eh, the day's still young for Wolf," retorted Lapis.

"So am I," answered the thirteen-year-old beside her.

"Oh. Right." Lapis cleared her throat and suddenly felt the need to polish the lenses in her binoculars.

That digression complete, the documentary continued as the pair swiveled their binoculars ahead to see a chipper Sadie busying herself inside the bakery while Lars appeared to be attempting to sleep on his feet, leaning against one of the display freezers.

"So, how was your weekend?" voiced Connie over whatever Sadie was actually saying.

"Same as usual: I was a self-deprecating jerkwad to anyone and everyone and sabotaged my own chances at hanging out with the Cool Kids. Yours?" answered Lapis on Lars' behalf.

"Hung out with the Cool Kids," 'said' Sadie while she stocked the display counter.

"Son of a bi-uh-anshee. Son of a banshee," Lars said, his awkward, mid-phrase save not lining up with his lips at all.

Connie rolled her eyes.

Sadie stood up, looking at Lars over the top of the counter. "You honestly just have to- LOOK OUT!"

Wolf barreled through the door, hit the recently waxed floor, and slid in a yellow heap across the tiles, bowling Lars over as he hit the counter and stopped.

"GAH! Curse you instant-karma and your yellow-breasted avatar!" shouted 'Lars' as he tried and failed to disentangle himself from the repeatedly slipping Wolf.

Sadie leaned over the counter and hauled Lars up and out of the one-dog mosh pit. A moment later, Wolf found his footing and was soon sitting up, wagging his tail excitedly.

Lars' dialogue devolved into cartoon expletives along the lines of 'rassafrackin' while Sadie reached behind the counter and pulled out an oversized dog biscuit, tossing it to the exuberant pooch.

"Here ya go, Wolf. May you and your completely awesome owners have a wonderful day," said a suspiciously Connie-sounding Sadie as Wolf padded happily (if a little unsteadily) out the door.


Kofi glared at Wolf from inside his restaurant. Nanefua, however, finished hanging the streamers from Fish Stew Pizza's awning and hopped down from Wolf's back. She withdrew a slice of pizza from somewhere on her person and dropped it on the boardwalk for Wolf's benefit, scratching the large animal’s head as he ate.

Wolf raised a paw to shake with the diminutive woman and then continued on his way.

Faux-Freeman narrated. "The yellow-breasted wolf warbler has had an eventful morning but there's more just around the corner. Behold, the ring-haired beach hunk."


"Come on, 'David,' don't break character just because Pinkie is out making a fry run," chided a Lapis wearing a Cheshire grin.

Connie flushed, stammering a denial before relenting and looking back into her binoculars.

Steven looked worried. Connie panned over and immediately saw why: Peedee, wearing his Frybo costume, had stepped around the fry shop's corner and stood frozen as Wolf growled at him, hackles raised.

"Lapis! We gotta-"

"On it, Con-con!" answered Lapis as she let the binoculars dangle from the strap around her neck, hauled Connie into her arms, and winged at speed toward the boardwalk.

It turns out Peedee had mastered slipping free of the suit in a hurry, because the fry cook had the full-body costume off in record time and had staggered clear before Wolf pounced. The mauling was neither swift nor particularly thorough as Wolf transitioned from, 'save Steven from monster' to 'this is the largest, salt-flavored chew toy I've ever seen' part way through.

Twice Connie, Steven, or Lapis moved to break up the wanton destruction only for Peedee to aggressively fend them off. Eventually Mr. Fryman came out and did what he did to scare off the gulls --banging a pan with a spatula-- to break up the mascot massacre.

"We're reaaally sorry, Mr. Fryman," explained Steven while Connie nearly nodded her head off. Wolf seemed crestfallen, but every now and again he'd lean down and chew on a bit of loose Frybo stuffing when he thought no one was looking.

Mr. Fryman ran a large hand through his gravity-defying hair. "I guess I'll have to order another one."

Peedee, still in his undershirt and shorts, jolted like he'd been shocked. "No! No, you don't have to do that."

"Why?" asked his dad, confused.

"Why?" he laughed, a manic edge creeping in. "Because, uh, becaaause-" He looked at Connie and Steven pleadingly.

"Because... we can fix it?" answered Connie, trying to follow Peedee's lead. Evidently she followed wrong because Peedee was making discreet neck-slicing motions at Connie whenever his dad looked away.

"And have Wolf wear it!" exclaimed Steven.

Everyone stared at Steven. Even Wolf stared, head cocked sideways and mouth open, a bit of Frybo dropping to the boardwalk below.

Undeterred, Steven continued. "He'll be Dogbo and he can work off the damages. Peedee is great as Frybo, don't get me wrong, but Wolf is literally your fries' biggest fan. And he's yellow. Like fries!"

Mr. Fryman lifted his visor to scratch his brow. "Oh, uh, okay, I guess. That is, if Peedee is alright with it?"

Peedee nearly nodded his head off in his enthusiasm.

"I'll go inside and get a trash bag so we can gather up ol' Frybo's remains here for you all to do... whatever you're going to do," said Mr. Fryman before turning and walking inside, head shaking as he went.

As soon as the door to the shop swung shut Peedee dropped to his knees, arms upraised. "Deliverance!"

Chapter Text

Floating fingers flitted about with military precision as a procession of cables and adapters issued forth from the lava-lit stuff-heaps that were Peridot's room. The technician emerged last, limb enhancers out and holding a stocky VCR like a monk transporting a reliquary.

With practiced ease, Peridot's phalanges went to work hooking up the player. Peridot hovered nearby (metaphorically-speaking), supervising the work personally and speaking over her shoulder. "You were right to come to me, dear. This is the finest video cassette reader ever fabricated by human hand, further optimized by expertise and technology your paternal species may not attain for millennia to come."

With a final inspection, infinitesimal specks of dust swept off the gleaming case, Peridot straightened up to address Connie directly. "After all, this is the device I use for my bi-annual Camp Pining Hearts viewing on the original video home system cassettes, and nothing less than the best would suffice," preened the green tech.

Connie sat on her bed, positioned a little to one side to give her guardian room to work (and stay clear of the swarm of fingers). Sitting in her lap was a VHS tape in a generic sleeve, the name 'Universe' scrawled across it in faded permanent marker, a yellowed label affixed to the face and peeling slightly at one edge.

"Thanks, ma'am. Steven loaned me this old movie of his. Apparently the current run of Crying Breakfast Friends is actually a modern reboot. CBF was a show a long time back and this was the movie they made before it went off the air." Connie fingered the media in her hands, her general disinterest for weeping produce fighting a losing battle with her desire to be informed when she and Steven had the CBF critique talk they'd scheduled for this Saturday.

Connie scooched forward and gingerly slid the VHS into the player, Peridot stepping aside to give her room. The hand-written title on the label, CBF Movie - 1986, vanished from sight as the old media disappeared into the recesses of the pristine player.

"He said it's really hard to find, which I guess is why it's a homemade copy or something." Connie pressed play, then shimmied back a little on the bed and waited for the obscure film to begin.

There was a crackle of static followed by the last four seconds of a commercial for pogs. Just as the animation studio's logo was fading out and the title music was rising there was a sound like ice being fed into a blender. The video stuttered then went black, a coil of brown tape bulging out from the VCR's opening as more sounds of A.V. agony emerged.

"Gah!" squawked Peridot, lunging forward and jamming the stop button. Connie sat wide-eyed, unknowingly crushing the video's sleeve in her hands while watching the technician perform triage.

Looking over her shoulder, a snarl of brown tape still caught on her floating fingers, Peridot said, "We can take comfort, at least, that this didn't happen to one of the original video home system cassettes of Camp Pining Hearts."

The pizzamobile pulled over at the curb, allowing Connie to hop out in front of the pawn shop on the edge of town. "Thanks for the ride, Jenny!" said the girl as she stepped out of the pepperoni-painted convertible.

The driver's perpetual smirk grew into a full smile. "'s no problem, Con-con. But, uh, if you run into my dad, remember: this was the hospital and you were, like, really banged up."

"Okay. Got it," answered Connie, familiar enough with Jenny's perpetual quest in skipping work to roll with the ruse.

Jenny honked goodbye then quickly drove away, the pizzamobile's music rising to window-rattling levels as Connie turned and entered Beach City's sole establishment for hocked wares: the Bishop Takes Pawn Shop.

Aisles of castoffs piled high put Connie in the mind of Peridot's room, though lit by ailing fluorescent bulbs instead of aromatic lava flows. Connie approached the counter; a large man in a plain white t-shirt with deep scowl lines worn into his face was too absorbed in sifting through what looked to be a box of Funland Arcade prizes to notice her.

Connie cleared her throat, but the man appeared to be looking up the resale value of an aggressively pink Fancy Fairy Princess Tiara and paid her no mind.

“Excuse me, sir. Do you know if you have a copy of-”

Without looking up from what he was doing, the scowling man said, “CDs in the back, DVDs to the left, VHS is- HEY PAUL? WHERE ARE THE VHS TAPES?!”

A figure, presumably Paul, rose from behind a pile of castoff electronics that looked to be on the verge of toppling. He appeared to be in the process of detangling a rat's nest of cabling from a dozen different gaming consoles. He wore a long-sleeved sports jersey to some team Connie had never heard of and had a ball cap screwed on backwards over dishwater blonde hair. “What the heck is a VHS tape?”

“It’s one of those things that were things before the circle things.” This description was met with a blank stare from across the shop.

Connie was about to speak when the scowling man slammed the box of Funland merch down on the counter. This caused her to jump and made the assorted watches and jewelry locked within rattle. “Doze things ya had ta rewind an’ stuff.”

“Oooh, those things. Yeah, we have them.”

Connie, who hadn't actually managed to complete a sentence since entering the store, could only stand there as the conversation went on around her.

“I know we have them, ya idiot. Where are they?” barked the scowling man as calloused hands ran through the remains of his hair.

“Where are what?” answered Paul, arms up to his elbow lost somewhere in the depths of the console cabling.

“The- I swear to-" The heavy-set man looked at Connie for the first time since she entered. "Look kid, they're somewhere; go find 'em. It's a scavenger hunt or whatever, I don't care. Just stay away from the guns; I lost the padlock and I don't need another lawsuit." He began rummaging through the box once more, pulling out what looked like a ball swiped from one of the Funland skee-ball machines. Muttering, he leaned over as large fingers went hunt-and-pecking across a battered keyboard.

Deciding not to risk another conversalanche, Connie did as the man bid and walked deeper into the establishment. Peridot had once described the place as 'a viral, fire, electrical, and moral disaster waiting to happen,' and, seen up close, the gem's tirade sprang easily to mind. She passed a shelf whose organizational theme seemed to be 'porcelain keepsakes, cuckoo clocks, and taxidermy' and her hopes of finding a specific, rare movie dropped sharply. Rounding a corner and seeing a VHS tape being used as a doorstop for a door that wasn't even installed into anything made her hopes of finding it in playable condition sink even lower.

Connie stared, surreptitiously glancing at her gemstone to make sure this wasn't a particularly elaborate Nightmare Monster-induced hallucination. Crying Breakfast Friends: The Movie. It was wedged sideways in the middle of a towering stack of media players, right where the strata of LaserDisc players was giving way to Blu-ray, but there it was, even in the original packaging.

With special care not to topple the electronics Jenga pile, she wrested the video clear and accomplished her mission. It had been an arduous couple of hours sifting through bric-a-brac, 'like new' instruments that were anything but, as well as an endless number of remote-controlled cars without remotes. Through the whole, harrowing ordeal she had come face-to-face with no less than eight novelty talking fish, which would have unnerved her even if she hadn't watched that scary movie at Buck Dewey's house. And so it was, heady with relief and pride both, that Connie marched toward the front counter...

...and tripped on a skateboard that told others not to have a cow, man. Rather than throwing out her hands to catch herself, some instinct caused Connie to twist mid-fall and land with her shoulder, protecting the precious VHS tape instead. If she had to land hard enough to see stars and Peripoints before her eyes to save that darn tape, it'd be worth it.

The floor was caked with the glitter of scores of Lisa Frank trapper keepers. Connie sneezed and had to rub her eyes against the particles and the eye-watering rainbow garishness. The vacant stares of a dozen Monday-hating cat plushies bored into her from a nearby shelf. She had just risen to her feet when she blinked, an image flashing through her mind's eye. No, it couldn't have been... Right?

Crouching down, she pushed aside a dusty pile of slap bracelets and had to dig through a collection of neon-colored leg warmers before she saw it again: a four-armed, teal-colored fusion with poofy hair and a flirty grin in an outfit that left Connie literally speechless.

The inexplicable picture was printed on the front of a VHS cover, below-which read, Hiddenite In Plain Sight.

Once more Connie looked down to make sure her gemstone wasn't glowing. She pinched herself for good measure, but when she looked back down, three of Hiddenite's four eyes were looking up at her, the last in a wink that she had, judging from the surrounding merchandise, been holding for thirty years or more.

Connie made careful haste toward the counter, foregoing some of the care after passing Onion on his way toward the open and poorly-organized gun cabinet.

She gingerly placed both videos on the counter while the scowling man inspected a set of silverware, polishing the tarnished utensils with a rag whose original color was a mystery lost to the ages. As Connie was fishing out her money, the man took the Hiddenite tape, moving to place it behind counter. "Wait, I wanted to buy that!" she objected.

"No can do, little lady. Some blue babe with no shoes made me promise never to sell that tape when I didn't let her have it for free."

Connie stared at the man. "I'll give you two bucks for it."

His face uncreased slightly, attempting for 'offended' but landing somewhere in the area of 'exhausted' instead. "I am appalled; my word is my honor; I would never betray a promise in my-"

"Three bucks."

"Alright, sold. I'm outta bags so you'll be carrying it out. That'll be twenty bucks total."

"Twenty dollars? How much is that CBF video?" her voice heavy with skepticism.

"Seventeen. They don't teach math no more?" answered the man while the rag was doing a fine job spreading the grime in nice even layer across the spoon.

"No, I mean-" She resisted pinching the bridge of her nose, instead saying, “Why so much?"

"Are you kidding?! That movie is a classic. It's the basis for everything CBF is and would become. As an amateur movie critic, I can say with conviction that it might just be one of the greatest cinematic masterpieces ever made as a straight-to-video, fast food chain promotional item."

"If it's so great, why's it only seventeen dollars then?"

"Come on, kid. It's just a movie, calm down. Not like it's that Taj Ma-watchacallit. Now, either cough up the dough or scram; I got better things to do than teach some kid what don't know nothing 'bout movies math."

Officially at her wit's end, Connie simply pulled out the twenty dollars, slid it across the counter, swiped her purchased, and went to leave.

"What, no tip? Dang kids, don't know nothing 'bout hard work."

In her peripheral vision Connie saw what looked to be the red dot of a laser sight darting around the front of the store.

The owner of the Bishop Takes Pawn Shop gave an expansive sigh before barking, "HEY PAUL? DID YOU LET VIDALIA'S KID BACK IN HERE?"

"Nah, I ain't seen Sour Cream in awhile."

"Not that one, the small one."

"Yeah, he's the one what brought in that box of Funland junk. He's over by the guns, I think."

Connie left quickly, judging the immediate couple blocks unsafe.

By the time Connie returned home, stopping by the fry shop for a snack and to give Wolf/Dogbo some chin scratches, quite a bit of time had passed. Lapis was lounging in her spot at the window seat in a very cat-like manner despite the absence of a sunbeam. Peridot was running through some limb enhancer calibrations, which mainly involved doing stretches while adjusting sliders across a nest of holographic displays.

Hiddenite In Plain Sight was all kinds of baffling, but hearing that Lapis had (foolishly) extracted an oath from the pawnbroker not to sell it meant that it was embarrassing. And that made this way more amusing for Connie.

She placed her CBF tape down on the coffee table, holding the other one behind her back. "~Oh ma'am~" Connie singsonged, talking to the tall techie who was tetchy about her touch-tech.

"Hello dear," Peridot answered while making minute tweaks to the left limb enhancer's torsional configurations. "You will be pleased to know I have tested and installed a replacement video cassette reader for your entertainment system in the loft. It is not optimized like the previous player, but I can personally vouch for its functionality."

In a sleepy voice across the Beach House came a drawn out cry of, "Neeerd."

Ignoring Lapis' observations from the peanut gallery, Peridot spent a moment adjusting her prosthetic’s haptic feedback filters, saying, "But I fear I preempted you. Did you have something you wanted to ask?"

With a very Lapis-like grin on her face, Connie pulled the surprise find from behind her back. Waggling it in front of Peridot she asked, "What's this?"

"What's wha- LAPIS! ONE SURVIVED?!"

A distant, lazy voice called out, "Oooh nooo..."

Connie smiled fit to make her cheeks hurt as she played Keep Away from ten tiny, flying, green opponents.

Peridot's expression, however, was all worry lines and pleading. "Dear, please, you don't want to see that. How about we watch the Steven's tortured foodstuff footage instead? Or some modern movie drivel? There must be something with lens flares and an overreliance on computer generated imagery to distract ourselves with in lieu of this relic."

When these appeals failed, Peridot drew herself up to her full height and declared, "Connie, I forbid you to view that video!"

Connie used her coat to swat aside the floating fingers that were buzzing about her like angry gnats, her smile turning into a laugh. "Oh, now I have to watch this."

"Curse your current stage of child development's penchant for contrarianism!" spat the gem.

Apparently the skirmish had proven sufficiently interesting to rouse Lapis from her lazing because the Blue gem summoned her wings and, with a single downstroke, zipped past Connie, snatching the video from her surprised grasp.

Connie groaned while Peridot looked elated, but they quickly traded expressions when Lapis winged over to the loft and slid the video into the player. Lapis spun the video's sleeve on one finger as she faced the pair below. "It's throwback Thursday, P-dot, so it's time to face the 80s music."

"Why would you condone this?! Especially after we went to such lengths to wipe out the videos in the first place?"

"Eh, if there's one thing I've learned to live with, it's regret. And stopping girlie from watching it now is probably going to get us the teenager-equivalent of Vesuvius a year from now. Totally not worth it."

Peridot crossed her limb enhancers. "And what makes you the authority on adolescent psychology?"

Lapis cocked her head to the side, finger on her cheek in an exaggerated thinking pose. "Gee, you're right. What would I know about someone chafing against authority and engaging in impulsive behavior while being too immature to handle the consequences of those actions?"

There was silence through the Beach House.

"I'll prepare the popcorn," deadpanned Peridot before turning for the kitchen.

The screen was dark and little horizontal tracking lines flitted across. Then a tinny melody played, like listening to big band music through an old radio - all treble, no bass. It was slow and a little melancholy.

A door opened and Lapis walked in wearing a poodle skirt and blouse, a large bow visible in her hair. The lights rose showing a modest one-room home, complete with tacky, 70s floral wallpaper and what looked like a wood burning stove. Peridot stood with her back to the camera, limb enhancers thrust into the sink cleaning dishes. She wore black slacks, a belt, and a white collared shirt, though her man-of-the-house look was undercut by the giant, poofy hairdo she was sporting.

The whole scene, gems included, were sepia-toned. Combined with the music, the whole thing had a very deliberate old timey feel.

Lapis gave a tired wave which Peridot returned with a small nod, never turning away from her washing. Skirt swaying, Lapis crossed the room and changed the dial on the large, wood paneled radio that looked like a throwback to the 30s.

The music became a bit more uptempo, if still treble-heavy. A more animated Lapis was able to draw Peridot out to the middle of the room right after the latter dried her limb enhancers on a rag. The two fell into an easy rhythm together, going through the basic swing dance steps like a married couple unwinding after a long day.

The beat soon sped up, their dancing becoming more energetic while curls of smoke began to trickle up from the radio. As the two swung out at the tail-end of a Charleston their clothes ripped away, pulled off stage by hidden wires. This revealed the leg warmers, long-sleeved leotard, and shirt sagging off one shoulder that Lapis was hiding under her earlier attire. Peridot too wore a leotard, plus stockings and minus the lopsided shirt. The two swung back together, Peridot pulling Lapis into a dip and then there was flash of light.

The smoking radio exploded.

Back in Connie's loft Lapis stage whispered to Peridot, "Remember how angry the director got when that prop blew up?"

"Oh yes. We'd done so many takes that something overheated within the smoke generating mechanism, causing the effect. I feel like it worked rather well for an unplanned demolition."

Connie shushed them both, not wanting to miss a second of this surreal spectacle.

A synth-heavy pop beat took the place of the swing music. Sepia filter gone, the camera zoomed in as Hiddenite formed: up one leg (runs spontaneously appearing in the stockings), across her torso, down one arm, then another arm, then another... then another, before finally focusing on her smirking face behind a watery visor that was larger and more rounded than what Connie had seen on New Year's Eve.

Then the singing started.

It reminded Connie of some of the older Madonna songs her dad's movers had blared while hauling his furniture up to his apartment. The gist of the lyrics was that Hiddenite was there and everyone should pay attention to her. That wasn't too different from her appearance at New Year's Eve save that this was wrapped in the intro/verse 1/chorus 1/verse 2/chorus 2/middle 8/chorus 3/chorus out structure popular songs had been using for close to five decades.

The camera panned back from Hiddenite's face and it showed her standing shoulder-to-shoulder between two burly male dancers who seemed to have misplaced the sleeves to their denim jackets. This proved to be a trick of perspective: Hiddenite walked forward, dwarfing the two men with permed mullets when she actually reached them on the stage.

The whole time the background was shifting between eye-watering neon patterns in time to the music.

They danced. One of the men dipped Hiddenite like Peridot had Lapis, an impossible feat of leverage accomplished only because Hiddenite was hovering while he did it. The other man kissed all four of her hands, which prompted the two sleeveless suitors to threaten one another. After a moment enjoying the spectacle Hiddenite intervened, offering herself to both. The giantess then lounged sideways while the men lifted her overhead like a pair of workers hauling a heavy wooden beam. They walked her across the stage like she were a pharaoh in repose, all while she sang along to the music.

Hiddenite drifted back upright as one of the men grabbed an electric guitar off screen and began playing. With a gesture, the instrument flew from the man's hands into Hiddenite's and suddenly she was playing lead guitar. The second man rolled onto stage astride a drum set on a wheeled platform. Four bars later and the drumsticks leapt from his hands and a ferrokinetic drum solo broke out, the man hamming up his surprise and awe. Before long Hiddenite had upstaged both her backup dancers, a chamber quartet that tried to wander through the neon landscape, as well as a woman who had apparently been on her way to perform a recital with her collection of water-filled wine glasses.

By the song's bridge, the one fusion band had given way to just Hiddenite on stage with what must have been a very large chair to look to scale for her. Water was jetting from off screen, soaking her clothing one second and then flying off her into a watery nimbus.

Hiddenite stepped onto the chair's back and rode it to the ground, all while the water coalesced into a pair of transparent duplicates of her previous backup dancers. The fantastic trio danced out the final repetitions of the chorus and the music video ended on a close up of Hiddenite winking three of her eyes and blowing a kiss to the camera, her poofy hair blown back.

Just as Connie was getting ready to react, when she thought she'd witnessed as concentrated a dose of the 80s as existed, the next video began.

Hiddenite wore a camper's outfit that was obviously meant to invoke the ones from Camp Pining Hearts without actually giving grounds for a lawsuit. However, she had a teal top hat cocked at a rakish angle and she carried a long cane of the sort a gentleman might use while perambulating across the promenade. The song, Poutine on the Ritz, was the Canadian homage to the similarly named musical classic that Connie was certain no one had asked for.

Nausea being a common symptom of an 80s overdose, Connie found herself no longer interested in the popcorn.

The next video opened with a familiar collection of ersatz robonoids in leg warmers doing their best to high step in time to peppy music, the background a stylized sun setting behind wireframe mountains. Hiddenite and a troupe of people in tight-fitting athletic wear joined the set and what was apparently a workout video began in earnest.

When that video ended Connie could still see the side ponytails when she closed her eyes.

The next offering was a strange mashup of live action overlayed on low-quality animation, where Hiddenite had to help a cartoon Lapis and Peridot escape a brutish, long-haired monster. The art was sub-Looney Toons in quality, more on par with Hanna-Barbera's C-list productions. That combined with Hiddenite repeatedly humiliating the dumb, orange foe was enough to make Connie yearn for the weeping melodrama of Crying Breakfast Friends.

Mercifully, the credits and the Motion Picture Association of Canada logo scrolled by after that. The video clicked to a halt within the player.

Silence stretched on as Peridot and Lapis turned, awaiting Connie's response. Numbly, the girl shook her head and said, "You guys win. The next time I stumble across Pandora's trapper keeper, I'll leave it closed."

Peridot's eyebrows shot up and she turned to look over Connie's head at Lapis. "I was openly skeptical of your methods, Laz, but the data is incontrovertible. Nicely done."

Lapis gave an easy shrug. "Eh, nothing complicated, P. Teens are basically cynics in training, and the worst thing you can do is give a cynic what they're asking for." She stared into the middle distance, adding in a quieter voice, "Trust me, I know."

Connie managed to recover enough from her experience to ask, "What I don't get was how you guys were able to nearly make that vanish? I mean, I feel like I'm one slap bracelet away from throwing up, but people thirty years ago should have been blown away by all..." she waved broadly in the direction of the VCR, her nose wrinkling in distaste, "...that. Why wasn't it a bigger deal?"

Peridot sighed wistfully. "It made some waves in Canada, but the market was much more regionalized back then." Sparing a glance at Lapis, she added with little actual disapproval in her voice, "Additionally, I suspect Lazuli was less than diligent in her efforts to expunge it if you were able to find a copy within Beach City."

Lapis fluttered her eyelashes at Peridot, feigning innocence. Then she scowled, saying, "Plus, Madonna showed up a little after In Plain Sight dropped and suddenly Hiddenite was old news. I figured Hiddenite could make a comeback after that hussy faded out."

Connie blinked. "And?"

"And? It's been three decades and I'm still waiting! You can't be 'like a virgin' and have six kids! Why I bet her-"

"Laz! Consider your audience," warned Peridot, adding, "Also, I believe several of them are adopted."

When the Blue gem made no attempt to continue her tirade, Peridot looked to Connie and said, "Furthermore, the footage you witnessed was, I believe, quite expensive to produce in terms of additional takes and damages to the set. Hiddenite can be quite particular. I think it was when she demanded a trailer that was to scale that she was blacklisted by everyone in the business."

"Oh, right. That too," muttered Lapis. Shaking her head, she looked over at the girl beside her, ruffling her hair and announcing, "Well, that's enough scarring Connie for one day. You want to watch that video of Pinky's now?"

A 'yes' was on Connie's lips when she glanced over at the similarly dated VHS cover of cartoon crying. Connie felt her gorge rise and she quickly shook her head. "Oh, uh, can I have a rain check on that? I need to wash my ears out with some 90s grunge first; make a TubeTube playlist of Nirvana and Alice in Chains to play on repeat."

Connie staggered off to begin a round of aural detox.

Peridot ejected the tape from the player, sliding it into its sleeve and studying the cover for a moment. After a few more seconds of contemplation she said, "We did make a very well-choreographed video-morp, didn't we?"

Lapis smiled. "Yeah, we did, Periberry." She leaned in and waggled her eyebrows at Peridot. "~Hiddenite. In plain sight. Gonna light- the night- up bright~" she sang in a low voice.

Peridot smirked, eyes crinkling behind her glasses. "~Hiddenite. Watch my flight. A sight- Alight- at twice the height~"

Lapis slung an arm over Peridot's shoulders and then sang together. "~Of all ooothers!~"

"Aaargh!" cried Connie, clapping hands over her ears as she sprinted for the door.

Peridot and Lapis grinned at each other and sang the next verse even louder.

Chapter Text

Lord of the Rings Homework - Deleted Scene

[Sometime after You Do It For Them]
J: " Samwise. Even when their master was poisoned and weak, he served them faithfully and allowed him to fulfill his mission. It is that kind of dedication that is expected of-"

S: "Wait, Samwise? That doesn't sound like a gem name."

J: [pause] "Samwise Gamgee. He's a hobbit. [sigh] Steven, have you read The Lord of the Rings?"

S: [fidgets] "Well, I read The Hobbit and then I started on the next book but I kinda quite and watched the movies instead... Most of the movies. I fell asleep during the last one."

J: [hard stare]

S: "Right, I’ll, um, go by the library on my way home them."
[lesson proceeds]

Doug Locked in Citrine’s Room - Alternate Ending

Doug paced the yellow room torn between boredom, worry, and torment from the ghosts of a thousand memories that were fettered to this very place. But more than anything else, he was in dire need of a bathroom.

That was another of the things he’d use the holodeck for, though where it all went after the flush had ever remained a mystery.

There was a whooshing sound that forced him to pivot in place. “Oh, thank goodness!” he said as he rushed the door.

Jasper stepped into the room and she was looking worse than he’d ever seen her, worse than he’d ever seen anyone save possibly the widower in the mirror back when the emotional numbness had worn off. Then she saw him and shouted, “Stars shatter me! No!” literally falling backwards and scrambling out of the room.

She rounded the temple opening beyond where Doug could see her and then there was the flash of the warp pad.

For a split second Doug was dreadfully worried for Jasper. Then his body reminded him how another emergency was at hand and he made the hobbling half-jog, half-run you did when you didn’t dare unclench your knees.

A minute after the bathroom door slammed shut, Wolf padded into the room. He sniffed the air then put his nose to the ground and snuffled a winding trail past old rose petals and an open-mouthed tiki mask. He stopped at the length of rope, sneezed, then picked it up in his mouth and gave it a couple of shakes for good measure.

With a single swipe of an oversized paw, he sent the baseball rolling across the room and out into the Beach House.

Content, he padded back the way he came, the rope still in his mouth as he looked for someone to play tug-of-war with him.

Chapter Text

At the Barn - Encounter Jasper

“Keep it down back there,” joked Steven’s dad. “Any louder and I won’t be able to hear the sounds of silence.”

Connie was pulled out of her thoughts, the events of this morning playing over and over through her head. It was only after Steven laughed that she belatedly realized the joke, the like-named Simon and Garfunkel playing over the van’s speakers.

“Hehe, sorry dad. Connie and me are just a little distracted,” answered her friend.

“Oh, excited about the fourth, eh? I guess fireworks are cool no matter how many monsters you’ve faced down,” said Mr. Universe.

Connie shot Steven a grateful look, but seeing him meant she couldn’t help thinking about… before. When he gave her a relieved smile his cheeks flushed a little and she was pretty sure it was on his mind too.

The van stopped and Connie blinked, startled to see them already at the Universe family’s barn. “Alright you two, come help an old man get stuff for tonight’s celebration. Anything that blows up or you can sit on goes in the van.”

“What if it does both?” called Steven, her friend regaining his mental footing faster than her.

Mr. Universe laughed. “Probably best it stays in the explosion pile. You only need to have one on-stage pyrotechnics mess up to know fireworks belong above you, not beneath you.”

Connie trailed after father and son as they approached the most rustic of Mr. Universe’s storage. While the former was working on the combination lock, father and son shared some joke about luggage that Connie couldn’t follow. Connie helped Steven haul the heavy, sliding barn door once the lock was open.

She was brushing the rust and wood fragments off her hands when she looked up and froze in her tracks, Steven bumping into the back of her a beat later. Piled high was a hoard that rivaled Peridot’s. This was doubly impressive when you considered that Mr. Universe hadn’t been on Earth for close to four hundred years and didn’t have access to a space that was bigger within than without.

“Is… is that a ramjet?” asked Connie, prodding the jet engine with a shoe while Mr. Universe waded through the teetering piles of stuff.

“Huh? Oh, maybe. My aunt and uncle were big aviation buffs and this is all their stuff. Well, and some of my stuff too.” He ducked under an airplane wing that formed an arch between sheer walls of boxes. “Okay, mostly my stuff.”

Connie helped a rolling cart laden with folding chairs navigate the box- and aerospace-maze, Steven’s dad pushing from behind. Once they escaped the barn, Mr. Universe wiped his brow and they both noticed Steven rummaging through a box labeled ‘Shoes - Old Really Old.’

“Whatcha doing, Shtu-ball? All of those are gonna be too big for you.”

Steven whipped his head up and then blushed. “Oh, um, I was just looking for some shoes for, um…”

Connie’s eyes went wide. “Jasper!” she blurted out.

“Jasper?” father and son answered, the latter clapping a hand over his mouth as he said it.

“Yeah, uh, Jasper can shapeshift down to normal adult size, but she doesn’t have any shoes that fit when she does it,” ad-libbed Connie.

“Really?” asked Mr. Universe, scratching the back of his neck.

Steven looked like a deer caught in the lights of an oncoming truck. Connie, however, had been lying to her dad and trio of guardians for most of her life. Caught between personalities like those, doing so had been a matter of survival… to say nothing of the explicit lessons she’d received from Lapis. “Yeah, it doesn’t come up often. Steven’s just being really thoughtful.”

Steven’s blush deepened. “You think so? Even though, ya know, it was just that one morning.”

Connie didn’t want to smile. Connie tried not to smile. Connie smiled. “Well, I mean, it can’t hurt to have some around.” She remembered her previous concerns and was quick to add, “Just in case. It’s not a regular thing.”

“No- no, of course not,” stammered Steven.

The two suddenly found the ground very interesting, cheeks flushing.

Mr. Universe looked between the pair and then shrugged. “Well, if she wants ‘em…” and then he resumed pushing the cart over toward the back of the van.

A glimmer of light caught Connie’s eye, that long-drilled situational awareness calling it to her attention. It was for that reason and that reason alone that she wasn’t completely caught flat-footed when Mr. Universe said, “Oh, hi Jasper. I think Steven and Connie have those shoes you were needing.”

Jasper stared at Steven’s dad with an even larger look of puzzlement than she usually did interacting with humans.

Right. There was a warp pad nearby. Connie had learned that coming back from her mission with Tiger’s Eye, in fact.

Steven looked like he was trying and failing to swallow something. Connie felt herself pale. Whenever you can, don’t let them compare notes, Lapis had taught her. “HelloJasperLet’sGoTalkOverHereSoWeDon’tGetInMrUniverse’sWay!” She grabbed Steven’s hand, then marched teen and Quartz around the side of the barn.

The large gem looked even more baffled, but she managed to reassume a look of stoicism soon after. She looked to Steven. “This is yours?” she jabbed a thumb at the barn.

“Oh, um, yeah. Well, no. It’s my dad’s. I mean, it’s been in my family and it used to belong to my great aunt and uncle and I think Andy, who’s my uncle but not my great uncle although he’s pretty great too once you get to know him, keeps some stuff there so maybe that makes it-”

“Steven!” interrupted Connie.

“It’s my dad’s,” he clarified.

Jasper gave a hint of a shrug. Then she squared her shoulders and faced the both of them, the gem transforming from curious to commanding in a moment. “I respect your tactics from the sky arena. It was an unusual plan, but it was well-executed.”

Connie and Steven shared a look. Eventually Steven, hand rubbing his arm nervously, asked, “So you’re not mad?”

Jasper stared at Steven an uncomfortably long time. “I will afford the victor the respect they are due.”

“Oh, um, thanks,” said the teen. Then his expression softened and he took a half-step forward. “I was thinking that that must have been hard for you. I know I-” he paused and glanced at Connie, appearing to reconsider his words. “What I mean is, Citrine was special to you."

[Steven extends his offer of listening and understanding to Jasper]

At the Barn - Encounter Lapis and Peridot

Connie helped a rolling cart laden with folding chairs navigate the box- and aerospace-maze, Steven’s dad pushing from behind. Once they escaped the barn, Mr. Universe wiped his brow and they both noticed Steven rummaging through a box labeled ‘Shoes - Old Really Old.’

“Whatcha doing, Shtu-ball? All of those are gonna be too big for you.”

Steven whipped his head up and then blushed. “Oh, um, I was just looking for some shoes for, um…”

Connie’s eyes went wide. “Peridot!” she blurted out.

“Peridot?” father and son answered, the latter clapping a hand over his mouth as he said it.

“Yeah, uh, Peridot sometimes wears shoes over her gravity connectors, but she doesn't have many that fit when she does it,” ad-libbed Connie.

“Really?” asked Mr. Universe, scratching the back of his neck.

Steven looked like a deer caught in the lights of an oncoming truck. Connie, however, had been lying to her dad and trio of guardians for most of her life. Caught between personalities like those, doing so had been a matter of survival… to say nothing of the explicit lessons she’d received from Lapis. “Yeah, it doesn’t come up often. Steven’s just being really thoughtful.”

Steven’s blush deepened. “You think so?”

Connie didn’t want to smile. Connie tried not to smile. Connie smiled. “Well, I mean, it can’t hurt to have some around.” She remembered her previous concerns and was quick to add, “Just in case. It’s not a regular thing.”

“No- no, of course not,” stammered Steven.

The two suddenly found the ground very interesting, cheeks flushing.

Mr. Universe looked between the pair and then shrugged. “Well, if she wants ‘em…” and then he resumed pushing the cart over toward the back of the van.

Voices filtered in that Connie originally mistook for an auditory hallucination; back before she'd gotten working hearing aids it wasn't unusual for her to have someone on her mind and think she heard them even if it made no sense for them to be around. It was for that reason that Connie was caught flat-footed when she heard Steven's dad say, “Hey you two. Oh, Peridot. I think Steven has those shoes you were needing.”

"Papaverse?" said Lapis, startled.

"Shoes?" asked Peridot.

Connie peeked around the corner. "Lapis?!"

Lapis nearly jumped. "Connie?!"

Connie felt Steven behind her, her friend leaning around the corner too. "Miss Peridot?"

"Oh, hello Steven. What's this about footware?"

Steven looked like he was trying and failing to swallow something. Connie felt herself pale. Whenever you can, don’t let them compare notes, Lapis had taught younger Connie. “HeyLet’sGoTalkOverHereSoWeDon’tGetInMrUniverse’sWay!” She grabbed Steven’s hand, then marched teen and gems around to the far side of the barn, Connie seeing Mr. Universe's perplexed face just before disappearing around the corner.

Lapis arched an eyebrow. "Dot needs shoes like a Ruby needs a heater. What's going on, Con-con?"

Make it about the other guy. You're not lying when they're doing the talking.

"Nothing big. We're helping Mr. Universe haul some things," said Connie with feigned indifference. "What are you guys doing out here?"

Peridot's eyes went wide. In her peripheral vision, Connie could see Steven's had been that way since the gems' arrival.

Lapis affected an air of nonchalance. "It's a nice day. Thought we'd go out. I mean, what's the point of saving a planet if you can't go walk around in it now and then?"

[Try and draw parallels to the fact that both pairs are lying about their furtive fusion, have both sets walk away happy at hoodwinking the other while swearing their partner to secrecy.]

At the Barn - Connie and Steven Talk

Mr. Universe looked between the pair and shrugged. “Well, if she wants ‘em…” and then he resumed pushing the cart over toward the back of the van.

The three of them continued to load the van up, and the two teens continued to find reasons for being flustered. Steven's dad seemed to find something amusing though Connie was too distracted to really think on what.

"Would you look at that," exclaimed Mr. Universe. "I overloaded the van so that there's not room in it for you two. Must be getting forgetful in my old age."

Connie peered at the van's interior. It was cluttered but they could probably-

"I tell ya what, I'll run back to town and get the mayor's people to unload this real quick and then I'll come and pick you kids up."

Connie and Steven exchanged looks and then nodded vigorously.

Mr. Universe chuckled at some private joke then climbed into the driver's seat and waved out the window at them as he pulled away.

Steven dragged a box over for Connie to sit on, then got one for himself. By the time they he was seated, Connie was wringing her hands.

"I can't stop thinking about it either," said Steven, breaking the ice and voicing what must have been written plainly across Connie's face.

"But, what are going to do about it? It's not like we can tell the gems!" Connie scratched the back of her neck, nervous energy driving her to add, "And I'm pretty sure this would fall outside your parents and my dad's comfort zones as well."

[Agree to choke down the bitter pill of staying secret about it, hear noise, encounter Hiddenite, reconsider secret, Jasper barges in.]

Chapter Text

Music played softly from a cell phone.  It was the same electronic instrumental as previously, in case that specific song had been part of the catalyst.

The two figures danced across the beach.  Step by step. In time with the music and with each other.  They weaved in and out, but this time they maintained contact with each other.  Mostly just held hands, dancing together to the upbeat rhythm of the song.

The song ended, and the teens separated.

“Hmm.  That’s strange.  Nothing happened,” spoke the girl.

“I think we’re trying too hard.  Last time, it just kinda happened,”  spoke the boy. He stepped over to the cell phone and tapped on it a few times.  “Let’s try it again, except this time, let’s not really try. Let’s just dance, and enjoy that.” He began to dance to the music once again, moving in closer to her.

The girl nodded and joined in.  This time they didn’t hold hands, and just danced.  Right as the song was ending, on impulse, the boy reached out and spun the girl in, wrapping his arms around her.

They looked into each other’s eyes for a moment, and once again they began to glow.

The glow faded and once again there was a single figure standing where previously there had been two.



The figure looked down at herself, and could see the once again merged clothes.

“We did it.  We’re fused again!”  She raised a fist into the air in a bit of a victory declaration.  She spun in place, wildly giggling.

“This feels so very strange.”

“I can’t tell if we’re one person now or two people.”

“I think we’re both… and neither.  We’re… an experience.”

She nodded.

“So what do you… we… I… want to do now?”

“We need to make sure this is a good experience. Let’s just have fun.”

“Hmm.  You know what?”


“Wheee!!!!” she launched into motion. Running.  No destination, just running. Down the beach. After about 20 seconds she launched herself into the air.  A long jump that seemed to take forever. As she touched down she instantly transitioned into a series of cartwheels.  Cartwheeling down the beach.

As she tumbled out of the last cartwheel she looked around.  Her aimless run had brought her to an area where the shore stretched up into a ledge out over the water.  She ran to the edge and looked over. It was about a 20 foot drop down into the water.

She giggled wildly again, and after stepping back around 10 feet for a running start, she launched herself off the ledge and out into the water. “Eeeeeeeeeee”

A couple of minutes later the waves gently washed her to the shore, floating on her back.  She was laughing almost uncontrollably.


She looked down at her grumbling, empty stomach.

“I think we’re hungry.” She sat up and looked around.

“We left a lot of nice food back in the basket.”


She set off walking down the beach, back in the direction of the picnic basket. She idly hummed a tune as she walked along, wringing water out of her hair.

It didn’t take all that long to reach the picnic blanket and basket.  She walked up to the basket and rummaged inside for a few moments, before pulling out two pastries.

“Sweet.  Two donuts!  One for me, and one for… uh… me…”

“Are you OK?  We can stop if you…”

“No… no… don't worry.”

She sat on the picnic blanket, humming to herself as she finished off a donut.

“Here comes a thought…”


“Hiddenite has abilities that neither Lapis or Peridot has.  I wonder if we have any such abilities.”

“Hmm.  I have no idea.  How would one go about figuring out an ability if we don’t know about it?  All of Connie’s abilities she just sort of accidentally discovered.”


She was silent for a few moments, then a smile spread across her face.  “But I do know of one ability that Connie definitely has, but hasn’t been able to master.”

She stood up and held out her hand in front of her, fingers closed, arm straight, hand at almost head level.  She closed her eyes and appeared to focus inward. Nothing seemed to happen for a few moments, then a shaft of yellow light slowly materialized in and above her hand.  It took a few moments to fully take form, but when it was complete, she held a glowing yellow sabre in her outstretched hand.

With a squint she opened her eyes, not sure whether anything had actually happened.  Upon seeing the sword both eyes shot open, surprised that it had actually worked. Her other hand quickly shot out and grabbed onto the sword-hilt as well, now holding it two-handed style.  Between the possibilities of dropping it or sending it rocketing away in a blast of energy, she held onto it in almost a death-grip.

After almost a minute of simply staring at it, she loosened her grip a little, resuming her one-handed hold.  Then she turned the sword level to the ground and deliberately released her grip entirely. The sword dropped towards the ground, but evaporated away before actually hitting.

With a nod she reached out her hand and concentrated again, eyes open this time.  It took only a few moments for the sword to again materialize in her hand.

She picked up Citrine’s shield from where it lay near the blanket and attached it to her left arm, powering it up as she did.  She dropped into a few practice sword forms. Connie’s skill at swordplay and Steven’s growing skill with the shield seemed to merge together in her mind, and she found that she knew exactly how to work with either.  Or both at once.

A few practice swipes with the sword and she nodded.  She dropped the sword again, powered down and removed the shield.  

She stood still in one spot.

“Three, two, one…”

She took a deep breath.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa” she screamed at the top of her lungs.

She collapsed onto the blanket in spasms of half screams, half uncontrollable laughter.

Finally getting control of herself a bit, she managed to sit up on the blanket.

“That was SO COOL!!!!”

“I know.  I’m surprised we managed to avoid freaking out as long as we did.”

“Yeah, but doing something like this while holding a magical lightning sword would have not been a particularly smart idea.”

“Definitely not.”

She picked up the second donut and began to slowly eat it, the pastry helping to calm her down.

“On the other hand, I think we have to admit, that sword felt… right… in our hand.”

“True.  It’s our sword.  It’s a part of us.  Citrine had hers, Connie will have hers at some point, but this one was ours.”

After a minute of slowly eating the donut, she sighed and spoke again. “As fun as this is, we can’t stay like this forever.”

She finished off the pastry.

“True. Well, if we’re done with this, there’s just one more thing we should try.”


She reached into the picnic basket again and this time pulled out a banana.  After a moment to peel it she took one large bite and began to glow, before splitting in two…

Chapter Text

Peridot yelped as she tripped over a rock and tumbled on the grass. She slowly lifted her face from the pile of dirt she’d landed on. It was a clear, moon-lit night with nothing but the chirping of crickets. The sea of trees wavered gently in the soft, autumn wind. Beyond, she could almost see the temple clearly.

She picked herself back up and gathered her scattered equipment from the fall.

I ought to be more careful, quickly thought the green gem. Carbonite isn’t exactly renewable, considering the number of injectors from the Kindergarten is diminishing due to my numerous attempts.

She sighed as she heaped the last plasma conductor onto her arms. It had been many years now, and so far all of her attempts had been unfruitful. It was true that statistically speaking, it would be highly unlikely to develop some of the powers that Era One Peridots had, and she was just fated to use the metal enhancements forever, to make up for the lack of “magical abilities.”

So what was it that kept the green gem going? Maybe she just wanted to see at least some sign of progress, at least some sign that she was improving ability-wise, not just from a technological standpoint. It would probably never happen, but to imagine suddenly announcing to the team that she’d discovered her magical abilities was such a nice thought.

She had to keep it a secret. Yes, away from the others. It would be so ridiculously embarrassing for the magnificent Peridot to even want to develop magical abilities. Clearly she is needed on the team because of her technical abilities, not her magical side. Her role in a battle or in cumbersome situations was enough. Or was it?

Peridot shook her head to clear away the thoughts. She had arrived. The barn was right in front of her. She made sure that nobody could see her or knew what she was up to. Connie was asleep at this time, and Jasper was taking a patrol around pretty much anywhere in the world. Lapis was likely relaxing somewhere while chewing on donuts. The green gem made sure to take extra precautions such as telling the gems beforehand that she was collecting data on magical energy in different parts of the world. Nobody would expect her at a random barn, of all places.

She looked around inside. It was filled with a bunch of junk and dust. Stuff the human owners would put inside and forget about. Well, except that there was a shining titanium-steel machine in the center of it all.

Peridot screwed in the last gear and flicked on the switch. The machine whirred and roared to life. A thin disk that connected to the machine lit up. It was ready. These were the last parts, and all she had to do was stand under the disk and activate it. She’d made all the calculations and it should have a reasonable chance of... doing something, at least.

She frowned. It was still worth a shot.

The technician stood right under the disk. Just before she pressed the activation button combination, an abrupt thud was heard from outside, followed by an oof . Peridot stiffened immediately. She quickly climbed the ladder into the upstairs hayloft and hid in a shadowy corner near the entrance.

After a period of waiting that seemed like forever, the green gem peeked out the window of the barn. Suddenly, a face appeared from above and filled the frame of the window.

“Boo!” shouted the intruder. Peridot stumbled backwards and fell down from the second floor of the barn.

“Haha! I gotcha there, P-dot. No recovery from that one! But really, are you alright?”

At the mention of the familiar nickname, Peridot covered her face and groaned. “Lapis. I thought you were busy.”

The graceful blue gem swept onto the floor of the barn. “Whoa, strange. I thought you were busy.. ah what did you say? Collecting data on magical anomalies? Ooh yes, very important work for the amazing Peridot!”

Peridot quickly picked herself up from the floor of the barn floor. “How did you find me, Lapis? It is close to statistically impossible for you to simply appear here at the exact same time and place as me.”

The ancient gem winked at her teammate. “I literally just followed you out of the temple, silly. I knew you were up to no good, carrying hunks of metal.” Lapis huffed and swept some of her hair to the side. “I mean, you were probably afraid of using the warp because we could detect it.”

“Well that’s surprisingly intuitive of you, Lazuli. You see, using the warp would damage the equipment that I am using to track magical anomalies across the world. Setting it up here at this sparse human barn is the perfect place to send the signal with no light interference or pollution,” Peridot said quickly.

Lapis smiled playfully. “You can’t fool me, P-dot. Come on, look at this fancy equipment. What are you really up to? Why haven’t you been telling the team? What, trying to contact Homeworld again?”

Peridot cringed at the last question before regaining her composure. “Okay fine, yes. There’s no fooling you, but I absolutely refuse to tell you.”

“You’re trying to gain magical powers, aren’t you,” Lapis said flatly. “I’ve been secretly reading your work notes lately.”

Peridot’s eyes widened. “I- What- Okay! Fine! Yes! Okay first of all, that is most definitely a breach of privacy! Second of all, that’s true...” She looked to the side.

The blue gem looked sympathetically at the green one with amusement. “Oh Peridot, you know you could tell me. Look, you’re perfect to me the way you are. You don’t need magical powers or any of that mojo at all.”

Peridot stepped backwards a bit. “Lapis.. Listen. I.. I don’t feel whole sometimes. Sometimes when I see you flying through the air with watery wings, I wish I could do that. You know, not just carrying me or me flying with my equipment. With magical abilities.”

She took a deep breath and continued. “Or even summon a weapon like Citrine or Jasper. I want something to fight with that comes from myself, not things I have to repair everyday just because they are overused and damaged from dealing with difficult situations. I just.. don’t know what to do.”

Lapis suddenly pulled Peridot in for a tight embrace. The engineering gem embraced her back. “Oh, hush. Listen to me well, P-dot. What makes you special is not the things you can’t do, but the things you can do already,” she whispered. “And you know, I totally get what you mean. If you want to know it from my perspective, sometimes I wish I could do all the crazy techno-science stuff you do. It may be different in your view, but you should know that there is absolutely no difference. Never, ever think less of yourself.”

The green gem didn’t even notice the tears sliding off her visor. “L-Lapis.. I...”

The blue gem interrupted her. “One last thing, Peri. Please know that whichever decision you make, whatever you choose, I will always have your back. You are who you are, and you will always be the Peridot that everybody knows and loves.”

She slowly let go of the hug. “Now, Peridot. What will you choose?”

The engineer gem lifted her visor, wiped her eyes, and looked at the machine. She should have realized the truth a long time ago.

“Lapis. Want to help me dismantle the machine?”

The ocean gem smiled gently. “As long as it’s with you, P-dot.”

Chapter Text

Novaculite paced soundlessly back and forth, her limp growing worse in time with her agitation. She'd formed with a tiny impurity in her gemstone which meant one leg was slightly shorter than it should be. You'd hardly notice, the Kindergartners hadn't, but it left the stocky gem with a wobble she had to shapeshift to correct.

When she could remember to. Given the smoking crater where a warp pad had been a moment ago, it had slipped her mind.

"This is bad. This is reaaal bad. This is date-with-Malachite bad." Novaculite's words failed to escape her lips, the gem pacing through a room newly opened to the vacuum of space. When the warp pad had detonated, it had destroyed an external section of wall. And an Era-2 twit of a Peridot.

Unlike the wall (or the Peridot), warp pads were expensive.

Novaculite continued her teetering circuit of the room, hands gripping her thick mane of hair. "I told them. I did! 'Hey! There's an irregularity in that one,' I said. 'It's within tolerances,' they said. Smug piece of schist. They're not going to tolerate this!"

All gems in the Diamonds' illustrious empire had a record. Novaculite's wasn't great. There was a reason she was assigned to this backwater warp hub, after all.

Novaculite stopped in her tracks. With no difficulty at all she could envision her supervisor scheduling her for harvesting. That officious Agate was smiling while she did it.

"Shatter that," she said soundlessly. "Shatter that sideways with a rusty injector," she added. She began gathering ruined warp pad crystal, weighing them carefully in one of her large hands before stacking them on an intact pad.

Her snarl became a manic half-smile. "Not today, Agate. You're dealing with a gem who's been losing since before your Kindergartner's Kindergartner emerged. It takes smarts to lose that long and still not hit bottom."

Novaculite made a lopsided jog over to the control panel. Working quickly she programmed something in and then gave a sarcastic wave goodbye as light enveloped the pile of rubble. A mass equivalent to Novaculite was going on a bewildering ride across a half-dozen warp hubs, each more trafficked than the last.

Using her admin privileges, Novaculite found the failed warp in the log --having the warp pad explode was a darn good reason to flag it as unsuccessful-- and rescheduled it for thirty seconds from now. She then fudged the log so that it would look like it had been both successful and on time. Any halfway competent warp technician would spot her subterfuge in a second... which meant it would probably be tens of cycles before anyone was the wiser.

Novaculite ran to the warp pad and then shrank down, becoming an off-colored Peridot complete with faux limb enhancers. She vanished in a beam of light, an appropriate mass heading off to an appropriate destination.

That mental image of her supervisor wasn't smiling anymore, but Nova-dot was.

There was a single, intact warp to Earth. The war had been crazy, all sorts of cockamamie stunts had been pulled, and no one knew what anyone else was doing. So an alternate warp network to Earth had been established and then forgotten in the chaos of the withdraw.

It was a secret, so naturally everyone had heard of it.

Novaculite had her doubts. Not that someone had built and then lost a warp network; that sort of incompetence was utterly plausible. No, what Novaculite found suspect was that someone hadn't already blabbed to someone important about this escape route.

Others called Novaculite a pessimist. When she bothered to reply, she said that was just another word for being right all the time.

Unfortunately, all her alternatives were worse than a long-shot supported on a rumor, so it was time to try hoping for something to work out. She’d heard of good luck before and, after twelve thousand years and counting, she was certainly due for some.

Nova-dot had talked her way past the Ruby guards after stepping off the warp pad, leaving them gabbing excitedly about the 'Grey Jadeite' they'd just welcomed onto the station. However, she'd ditched that form for her own as soon as she'd ducked into a maintenance passageway. Looking like herself was conspicuous, there weren't that many Era-1 Novaculites these days, but there were even fewer Grey Jadeites.

She moved like someone who was busy and unhappy about it. She needn't have bothered, the byways being deserted of gems of that mattered, gems that would interrupt a scowling Quartz. She got a weird look from a Bismuth building a bulkhead --they'd expanded this station since she'd worked here and she'd gotten turned around-- but eventually she found the door she was looking for.

It was a crappy door, scuffed up and stained in places, but if you looked at it just the right way you could almost mistake those scrapes for a five-pointed star.

Rutile had been a crap artist during the Rebellion too, though this time it was probably deliberate.

Novaculite knocked on the door, paused, knocked again, then finished with a heavier thump. To an outside observer, she was just a Quartz standing outside a maintenance door getting impatient that no one was answering. To someone from the wrong side on Earth...

Novaculite was feeling the worry in her form twisting around. If the warehouse had anyone else operating it, if there was an inspection going on, if-

The door slide open a crack, a ruddy gem peeking through the gap. "Novi?!" The door opened the rest of the way and she was quickly ushered inside.

The door closed and locked behind her.

"The next shipment isn't for cycles yet," Rutile explained. "Besides, you'll need a few others that we can build a plausible lie around to join you."

"Then I may as well shatter myself now," Novaculite said with a smirk. "You were always a terrible liar, RT." It's why she trusted her with this. Homeworld was dumb in aggregate but it had its smart points. People who wanted out from under the Diamonds had a habit of finding someone helpful, someone sympathetic, and then being escorted out by an Agate and her Quartz thugs.

If Rutile was involved in anything like that, the ones pulling the strings were at least smart enough that she didn't know it. Oddly enough, that thought made Novaculite feel better: she may be headed for rock bottom but at least there'd be someone competent she could blame when she got there.

"Just for that, I'm keeping this datapad." Rutile waved the item at her teasingly and tucked it under an arm. "Maybe some time with your own sparkling personality will teach you some manners."

"Talking to myself is the only way to guarantee an intelligent conversation," Novaculite quipped back.

Rutile rolled her eyes. "You can say whatever you want, so long as you sound like bauxite while you do it." She ushered Novaculite into the empty bulk cargo container and started to swing the false front closed: anyone looking at it would see a container stacked floor to ceiling with boxes of bauxite.

Just before she sealed the false front shut she added in a stern voice, "And no archery practice! If I find holes in there, it won't be the Agates you'll have to worry about."

Novaculite made some kissing sounds as the front sealed shut. It was clear even to a curmudgeon like Novaculite that Rutile still had a soft spot for her. Why, though, she couldn't fathom.

The 'door' slid open a crack and the datapad tumbled through.

Diamonds, she was bored! She wasn't sure how many cycles it had taken her to exhaust the entertainment options on that datapad, but she knew she'd been here longer than that. It was precisely eighteen paces from the back of the container to the false front. Even shrinking down didn't make the space feel any less constraining.

Novaculite had a penchant for brooding, one might even say a talent. With literally nothing else to do, she'd had plenty of time to hone the skill. How did it come to this? How did my options go from bad to worse to if-I-never-see-bauxite-again-it'll-be-too-soon? she thought, pacing with an uneven gait.

Things had started out well enough. She'd emerged and been assigned to one of White Diamond's aristocrats; they had a fleet, had a really fancy Pearl, and had a need for warp pad technicians. Novaculite fit in just fine.

Then the boss got sent to a colony on the far end of nowhere. They'd been dropped in this big old desert, silicate granules as far as the eye could see, and told to get to work. Welcome to Earth.

Eventually the Rebellion happened. Eventually the boss disappeared. Eventually the fighting found them. Novaculite liked White Diamond as much as the next gem, but when a Jasper that was simultaneously the hottest and the scariest gem you've ever clapped eyes on is about to hammer you flat, you get real passionate about opposing tyranny real fast.

You couldn't lie to Citrine. Well, you could, but there was a room of bubbled spies that said you shouldn't bother. Novaculite had said the oath with the rest of the new recruits, all while Rose Quartz and Citrine looked across them like Diamond's own mercy and judgement, respectively. Novaculite hadn't been poofed, so maybe she'd been sincere.

And things had been alright. Gems like Rutile even made it fun. They'd been losing back then but for a sour puss like Novaculite that only meant reality was operating as expected. Novaculite just fired her bow and kept her head down and jiggered with warp pads when they needed jiggering with.

Then things got confusing. Rose and Citrine were splitting? Rebellion within the Rebellion?! An Amethyst holding a big ol' axe, material not summoned, asked her which side she was on and Novaculite had said, 'The same as you.' Later she learned she'd joined Rose Quartz' faction.

That had been a mess. Rose gave great speeches, but she kept glancing over to the side where Citrine would have been standing. Looked like she'd bitten something sour when she saw air. Looked like she was gonna cry.

Anyway, speeches don't mean much when the continent you're standing on decides it's going for a swim. Novaculite had been cracked in that fiasco. She’d been too out of it to tell how, but somehow she’d gotten back to Rose and Rose cried her back together. Didn't fix that impurity in her gem, but what else was new.

She heard of gems jumping back to Citrine. Made sense when her side had that kind of fire power. Honestly, if Novaculite hadn't been standing in Rose's shadow half the time, she'd probably have made the switch herself. When that Lapis and that hot Jasper made a monster that made you swear off fusion entirely, you wanted to be on whatever side didn't have to face that down.

Didn't matter, though. Homeworld got the jump on them; Rose, Garnet, the Novaculite who was actually good at shooting things, who had herself a statue in that sanctuary, they all got away but she found herself in a very uncomfortable room with a very eager Agate. She told them everything they wanted to hear but the sadist tortured her a bit just for the fun of it.

Then a whole lot of boredom. Then a whole lot of excitement as everyone deemed 'compliant' was warped off world as fast as they could cycle the pads. And then the war was over.

It wasn't until afterwards that Novaculite heard about Pink Diamond. That threw her, but not half so much as learning that Rose Quartz, THE Rose Quartz, miss 'love and individualism' was not only working for Homeworld but making quite the name for herself.

It was the sort of name you threatened an underling with when you didn’t think summoning an Agate would do the job. It was the sort of name for when threatening them with an Aquamarine wouldn't do the job.

And then, THEN, Era-frickin'-2 happened. It made Novaculite swear internally every time one of those disposable half-gems walked by. Heck, most of them couldn't even see the top of a Ruby's head without gravity connectors. Made you weep for the state of gemkind.

The one bit of luck Novaculite had was being a Novaculite. If she'd been a Jade, if she'd been a Scolecite, she'd be obsolete. The Diamond Authority still used warp pads so they needed warp pad technicians. Peridots could serve in a pinch, but if that one warp pad had been built by a Novaculite, you could bet your favorite facet it wouldn't have blown up.

Novaculite must have actually started ranting aloud at some point because she almost missed the click of the false front unlatching. She shut up in a hurry, reaching under her mane to the gem at back of her neck. When she pulled her hands free she was holding a bow as grey as she was. She knocked an arrow just as the way opened.

A Sunstone walked through, big for an Era-2, and scowled at her. Something small and blue tried to peer around the mottled brown gem, but a large hand pushed her back behind the wall of Sunstone.

The false front opened wider and Rutile squeezed past, annoyance writ across her face. "Dang it, Novi! What did I tell you about the archery?!"

It wasn't until Novaculite had allowed her weapon to dissolve that the big, brown bodyguard allowed a little Era-2 Moonstone to drift into view. Moonstones were valuable, even tiny ones, seeing across space the way a Sapphire could see across time.

"I didn't want them to get the wrong impression of me," answered Novaculite.

"That you're a clod who should be wearing my knuckles as a visor?" snarled the Sunstone.

"Exactly. Some gems mistake me for someone friendly. Gets annoying."

Rutile let out a noise of exasperation. "Look, you two can shatter each other as soon as you get to Earth for all I care. But until then, Sunstone, play nice." She jabbed the brown gem for emphasis.

Novaculite smiled until Rutile rounded on her and marched over. "And Novi, play nicer." She leaned in close, their faces almost touching, and in a quieter voice she added, "Remember, if this cracks down the middle, it won't be just the three of you that get harvested."

The Quartz sighed and nodded, pacing a bit for effect while running a hand through her mane. "Yeah, I will. Just tell me this plan of yours is a good one. Lie if you have to."

That drew a begrudging smile from Rutile. “It’s good. It’s simple.”

“What do I have to do?”

“Be a Novaculite. You can fix a warp pad, can’t you?”

Novaculite blinked. “Yeah, I suppose I can manage that, RT. But what about them.”

“Moonstone needs to be a Moonstone. Sunstone needs to not feed you a destabilizer.”

Sunstone and Novaculite shared a look, each readying something snarky or tough to say.

Moonstone floated up and tapped a container of bauxite. "Here's one; the panel is on the other side, though. There are two more hidden in the warehouse." Her voice was high and clear.

Rutile's eyes went wide. “I didn’t- I mean, if an Agate found the hidden latch- How did you-” she stammered.

"I looked ahead," explained the Moonstone. The little blue gem looked up at her companion. "Do you want one, Sunstone?"

Sunstone gave Novaculite a smirk that showed teeth. "I don't know, do I need one?"

Novaculite shook her head, hands raised in a conciliatory gesture. "No, point made. Good behavior all the way to Earth."

Rutile took another second looking surprised at Moonstone before finding her composure. "Excellent. Now, everyone pay attention, because this shipment of bauxite is leaving soon and you're all going with it."

Everyone leaned in, or in Moonstone's case, hovered up close, while Rutile explained the plan.

Chapter Text

“I've changed the manifest so that a container of robonoids is staying here and this shipment of bauxite is going instead,” explained Rutile while Novaculite and the other two leaned in close. “Once the inspection's done and the freighter leaves port, you all will sneak out and into the main part of the ship-" Sunstone opened her mouth to object but Rutile quickly added, "-And don't worry about the crew; they know to go selectively blind when they're shipping bauxite."

That seemed to satisfy the bodyguard, but Moonstone asked in her high voice, "Once we reach our destination?"

"Then you three just walk across the station to the warp pad to Earth.” Rutile grinned, something Novaculite had seen rarely since the war, and said, “No one’s going to question a Moonstone that’s doing a tour, after all. They’d seem suspicious.”

Moonstones could see across space the way Sapphires could across time. If someone wanted to find something bad enough to send a Moonstone, it got found. The authorities would occasionally send individual Moonstones out to sweep areas for signs of illicit activity/noncomformity. This shakedown was called ‘a tour,’ probably because someone important in the Blue Court had a twisted sense of humor.

Maybe even Blue Diamond herself.

Sunstone gestured toward Novaculite. “So where does she come in?” Her voice was about as warm as the void of space.

Yeah, jank you too, thought Novaculite so loudly she earned a warning look from Rutile. Though, honestly, she’d been wondering that herself.

“The Earth destination for the warp pad is a hidden feature,” answered Rutile. “It’d have to be otherwise it’d have been found out immediately. Novi will enable it long enough for you all to get to Earth, and if anyone asks why she’s with you, it’s because a Sapphire foresaw warp pad trouble during the tour.” Rutile fixed Novaculite with a solemn look. “Make sure it stays hidden after you leave or it won’t be other escapees warping to Earth, it’ll be Homeworld soldiers.”

Novaculite nodded. That all made sense but something was chipping at the back of her gemstone. “RT?” she asked, her worry taking shape as she spoke. “How in the stars do you know all this?”

There were crazy rumors about a resistance divided up into courts like the mirror opposites of the Diamonds, about the spark of the Rebellion quietly smoldering within the hierarchy itself, about secret generals, about a fifth Diamond working against her sisters. All that and a dozen other tales of complete nonsense. Novaculite could believe that a few former rebels had found the old hobbies hard to quit, but this seemed bigger.

And that made a pessimist like her very nervous, because things that were too good to be true... were.

Rutile’s expression was as serious as she’d ever seen it. “I know just enough to do my job and now you know just enough to do yours. I can’t say much more than that, and wouldn’t, not even for you, Novi.”

She held Novaculite’s gaze a little longer before she looked at the other two in turn. “Everyone understand the plan?” They all nodded. “Good. Then get comfortable and don’t say anything bauxite wouldn’t say, because the inspection will begin soon.”

They weren't pretending to be bauxite anymore, so that was a step up. But walking the ship's single, short hallway wasn't so large an improvement that Novaculite felt like breaking into song.

The bulk freighter was little more than an engine stapled to a reinforced frame that held cargo containers. Every cubic foot wasted on the skeleton crew piloting the bucket meant a cubic foot that could instead be given over to hauling more freight. There was room for the two-gem crew that she'd never met, a single room she, Sunstone, and Moonstone shared, and a hallway connecting the two.

The glories of the Era-2 Gempire, everyone: ruled not by Diamonds but by cost-benefit formulas. Novaculite shook her head.

She really hated Era-2.

A door opened and Sunstone motioned at her. In the background Moonstone hovered, staring off into space. Literally. Hopefully she was scoping out the station they were flying to, seeing trouble in advance so they could avoid it. Or maybe she was spying on the crew in their locked cabin.

Those two were probably fusing in there, out of boredom if nothing else. It's what Novaculite would do.

Novaculite made sure her long mane of hair was through the door before she closed it behind her; the burden of being a Quartz. "She spot anything?"

Sunstone shrugged. "Some. She asked me to get y-"


Both turned to look at the small floating gem, her high and clear voice the opposite of her bodyguard's basso growl.

"There are organics on the station." She smiled, a giggle like ringing bells escaping her lips. "They're so strange."

Novaculite tapped the foot on her shorter leg in thought, a hunch ballooning inside her. "These organics, do they look like gems except they’re the wrong color? Two legs, two arms, about the size of a Zircon?"

Moonstone did that thing Blue Court gems did sometimes, staring at you despite their eyes being hidden behind their hair. Always creeped Novaculite out a little... though the fact that Moonstone had powers that looked across space meant it was marginally less stupid for her than others.

"Yes," she answered, the gem drifting a little closer to Novaculite, intrigued.

"You know what they are?" Sunstone, stepping next to the tiny clairvoyant with a possessive air about her. Novaculite had to resist rolling her eyes at the display.

"They're humans." She shapeshifted her shorter leg so she was standing level once more. "We must be heading to the Zoo. That makes a certain amount of sense, it being the station closest to Earth."

"Are there more of these humans on Earth?" Listening to Moonstone talk reminded Novaculite of some of the smaller humans she'd encountered. She was pretty sure Rose had called them ‘children.’

"Yeah, there's some. Not a lot, though. They build these little shelters out of clay or wood, which is like a soft stone that grows out of the ground on Earth. They can talk to you, which is a neat trick for an organic, but they mostly talk about organic stuff." Novaculite had never found humans as interesting as some of the other rebels, but they were uncanny when you first laid eyes on them.

"Are they dangerous?" Sunstone glowered slightly. She had a face that was good at it.

Novaculite waved the bodyguard's concern away. "Hardly. Some of them carry weapons, but it's stuff like flint-tipped spears and iron knives. You'd have to be pretty bad to lose to one of them. Besides, they're really fragile; every scrape or cut is like a crack for them, and they can't reform."

Moonstone gasped, floating closer to her companion, and Sunstone’s eyebrows shot up, the gem briefly forgetting to look annoyed.

Novaculite smiled a little, reveling in lording her experience over these upstarts. "In the Rebellion, we had to make sure our camps were far enough away from any human groups or Rose would wind up healing one of them and then there'd be a steady stream of them wanting the general to cry over 'em. Can't fight a war that way."

Both of them were staring at Novaculite again, but with decidedly different expressions.

"You're talking about The Rose Quartz? The terrifying right hand of the Diamonds? Her, crying on stray organics?" Apparently Sunstone had a good face for skepticism too.

She heard Rutile’s voice begging her to play nice with her fellow fugitives. If this escape went cracked, if one of them was made to talk, Rutile wouldn't be far behind them. Still, Novaculite couldn't quite keep the edge out of her voice. "Listen, however bad you think the war was, it was worse than that. Much worse. You had gems --real, Era-1 gems-- poofing and shattering, powers flying, continents sinking, and no one knew what the schist was going on from one cycle to the next. How do you think they lost a warp network in the first place?! So yeah, Rose frickin' Quartz used to be a big, pink softie who gave hugs and cried for hurt humans. And now Agates polish their stones thinking about all the twisted stuff she does to those who displease the Diamonds. And us? We're displeasing the Diamonds a whooole lot and the only thing saving us is a plan made of coprolite. If we're caught, we'll be lucky if we're only harvested."

That brought a flinch to the blue seer, the tiny gem going so far as to float around and huddle behind Sunstone. Sunstone, unsurprisingly, glowered back at Novaculite.

"So when we go out there, we stick to the plan-"

Sunstone took a half-step forward. "You just said the plan was coprolite!"

"It is! All plans are, haven't you been listening? We get on that station, we follow Rutile's plan, and when that plan inevitable falls apart, then you listen to me!" The words poured out of Novaculite, cycles of frustration and no small amount of desperation lending them heat.

The bodyguard's hands curled into fists. Probably can’t summon a weapon then, Novaculite thought.

The mottled gem took another half-step forward. "You'll probably throw us to the Agates to save your own gem."

"Listen, runt-" Sunstone was big for an Era-2 and Novaculites weren't built as large as other Quartzes, but she was an Era-1 and still had a couple of inches on the upstart. "-When it all goes cracked, you listen to me because I survived even worse with my facets intact for longer than your Kindergartner has been out of the ground!"

There was a crackling sound, faint but you could be in an avalanche and you'd hear it; no gem made it long without respecting the sound of an active destabilizer.

Moonstone hovered back around, the device looking large in her small hands. She was bathed in a yellowish glow that, between her blue skin and hidden eyes, looked downright unnerving.

"I did find several in Rutile's warehouse," she explained in her soft and tinkling voice. "I would rather not have to use it. Stay respectful of my Sunstone and I won't have to."

Novaculite already had her hands up in a conciliatory gesture, hoping to placate the hovering murder pixie. If the other gal didn't see it coming, sure, pull a weapon. But if you were on the wrong side of the deal, the best thing you could pull was a flag of surrender. It was how she'd gotten into the Rebellion intact and how she’d gotten back out, after all.

"What I meant to say," she added after another moment's silence, "was that we need to stick together and be willing to improvise."

Moonstone turned off the destabilizer and gave a small but pleased smile. Then she tucked it back into a fold of her outfit, the bulge further hidden by the gauzy blue shawl she wore. You'd never know it was there until she pulled it on you; Novaculite certainly hadn't.

Sunstone's smile was decidedly more predatory. Still looking at Novaculite, the bodyguard leaned in and gave the blue gem a light peck on the cheek. "Thanks Moonstone."

Well, that explained why these two needed to get out of the Diamonds' illustrious empire, at least.

There was a shudder that ran the length of the ship and for one fearful second Novaculite thought the bucket of gravel they were traveling in had suffered some kind of failure. Then she noticed the stars outside the viewport were dots instead of blurred streaks. They'd slowed down to sub-light speeds.

"We're here," said Moonstone, her gaze fixed on a point past the bulkhead that she alone could see.

Novaculite stepped out of the room and closed it behind her, once more being mindful of her long hair. It would still be a while before the ship docked with the station, and whether those two would appreciate the privacy or not, Novaculite would appreciate being the heck away from them.


Novaculite had to put a hand to the wall to keep from stumbling over in surprise.

The last Era-2 Peridot Novaculite had seen had exploded when the warp pad beneath her had blown up. The Peridot that was shouting at her as she disembarked the freighter didn't appear to need the help.

"Stars, am I happy to see you! It's been cycles and cycles and cycles of waiting so I could complete my primary objective!" The Peridot was probably about as tall as Novaculite due to her limb enhancers... but she was so busy jumping with glee it was hard to be certain.

She had circular blotches of olive covering her bright green skin, including one over her left eye and another across the cheek below it. Her gemstone was set in the center of her throat and had similar greenish-brown splotches. She cantered over and rested an elbow on Novaculite's shoulder in a display of casual familiarity that was really starting to freak the Quartz out.

Novaculite had gotten off the ship ahead of the others to scope the place out and was quickly regretting that decision. She brushed the overeager technician off her and tried to walk purposefully forward away from... whatever this was. The Peridot was completely undeterred, jogging over to her side. "I mean, none of the reports mentioned spontaneous water surges that could disable a Red Eye! Fascinating phenomena, but it's left me desperately behind schedule!"

Novaculite grunted something that could possibly be construed as sympathetic and tried once more to power walk out of the situation. Then she felt air on her gemstone and saw that half-gem's floating fingers touching her mane.

"Oh hey! You've got a gem placement opposite mine! That probably means you have a personality that's radically different. So since I'm friendly and sociable, you must be-"

"Don't touch that!" Novaculite barked, whipping her hair free and running a hand protectively over it.

"-Yes, exactly like that!" The deranged Peridot smiled widely.

Bad enough this gremlin was touching her with her fake fingers, but Novaculite really didn't like having her gem exposed like that.

She shook her head. This green annoyance didn't seem to want to leave and she needed to get her to poof off. Turning to face the technician square on --and attempting to loom a little in that way that usually made non-Quartzes nervous-- she grumbled, "Why are you waiting for me, exactly?"

The Peridot blinked, her smile faltering for a second before coming back wider. "Oh, well not you specifically, but your ship! I have a delivery of flask robonoids that has been delayed again and again. But it's aboard your ship so if you could just provide me the container number and your authorization then I'll fetch them immediately!" She ended on a little squeal of excitement.

Novaculite ran a large hand across her face. "Why would I know and why do you need my authorization?"

Another look of surprise... though apparently the gem smiled by default because the expression didn't quite disappear. "Oh, I deduced that the position of bulk freighter technician would go to a gem whose usefulness to the Diamonds was in question, a low posting for a member of the previous era's technician caste such as yourself, as you were being pushed out by the more efficient Era-2s like myself!"

This must have been how Jasper felt all the time, because I'm going to shatter her with my bare hands. It's convenient that her gem is at her throat because it means I can choke her while I do it!

In the face of Novaculite’s murderous silence, the victim to-be chirped, “Was I right?”

The sound of a single set of footfalls caused Novaculite and the Peridot to look over and see a pair of gems approach, the latter doing so soundlessly while hovering just above the hanger floor.

“Novaculite, stop delaying this Peridot and attend to your duties.” Sunstone’s expression was dour but there was a twinkle in her eyes that showed she was enjoying this.

The Quartz unclenched her teeth by sheer act of will and drew herself up to attention. “Apologies,” she said, addressing the silent, aristocratic gem.

“Apologies, your auspice,” Sunstone sharply corrected, providing the Moonstone’s title.

Novaculite lowered her head and her voice. “Apologies, your auspice.”

She at least had the satisfaction of seeing that Peridot jump to attention and shut the heck up for two seconds. “Ah! Your auspice, I didn’t realize you were coming.” The green gem looked around. “No one did! In fact, I suspect there was something wrong with the manifest for your transport because nothing was intended for shipment here save for supplies to support the organics and a contingent of flask robonoids, which, by the way, if you happen to have gazed across the local spatial dimensions to the particular container with my-” The gem was peering left and right past Moonstone in case a shipment of robonoids happened to be tailing after her.

“I have seen bauxite,” answered the blue gem in her piping voice, appearing solemn and mysterious wafting there.

“Bauxite?” The Peridot drooped a little, her mouth experimenting with some sort of strange non-smile for once.

“Bauxite,” she confirmed. With a gesture, she floated forward, her bodyguard taking position in front and her warp pad technician falling to the rear, all three leaving the hanger for the station proper.

The Peridot slumped further. “Oh, my supervisor is going to be grinding gravel when she hears about another delay.”

The three traveled down the corridor away from the hanger looking imperious, mysterious, and annoyed, respectively. They passed a pair of Amethysts talking casually on their way to somewhere, Era-1s Novaculite noted with approval, but they moved to the side and stood at attention while her high auspice and retinue walked past.

When the group reached a stretch of passageway that was deserted, they ducked into a side corridor. Sunstone swiveled on Novaculite, eyes hard. “What was that?!” she hissed.

Novaculite slumped against the opposite wall. “I don’t like Peridots.”

“From what I can tell, you don’t like anyone,” pressed Sunstone.

“I really don’t like Peridots, and that one was begging to be tossed out an airlock.” If it weren’t for Peridots being sloppy at warp pad construction, I wouldn’t be on the run in the first place, she added silently. “But it’s fine. I doubt there’s any on Earth. We get to the pad and it’s not a problem.” She turned to Moonstone, who hovered beside her bodyguard, staring at the Quartz… or past her… or at any point in space within her range; it was hard to tell. “You see the one Rutile was telling us about?”

Moonstone started to talk but went silent, all three of them pressing up against the walls as someone walked down the main corridor. It was the Peridot from the cargo bay, surrounded by holographic displays, one of which she was talking to. “I don’t know, Holly Blue Agate. They just left. No, they weren’t on the schedule. Yes, I’m- Hold on, something is showing up on the long-range scanners. Oh, maybe that’s the freighter with my-” her words cut off by a door sliding shut.

Novaculite gave the green reminder of an empire in decline a cold stare --They should recall the whole line.-- and then turned back to the blue gem hovering across from her.

"I see the ways we could take. However, the main way is watched by members of my Diamond's personal guard-"

Sunstone's eyes went wide and Novaculite had to physically cover her mouth to keep her imprecations quiet. Eventually she managed to dial it down to a hissed, "It's a trap! We've been set up!"

Sunstone shook her head. "Or Blue Diamond is about to visit and we just have the universe's worst timing." A pause. "She's not here already, is she?"

"No." Moonstone shook her head then paused and shook her head again. "Maybe," she amended. "No Moonstone would fail to notice her Diamond's proximity, but we are not to gaze inside the Diamonds' sanctums. There is one on the station."

"I think those rules stopped mattering the moment you pretended to be bauxite," said Novaculite wryly.

Moonstone seemed to shrink in on herself slightly, Sunstone putting an arm around her and glaring at Novaculite. A beat later, though, the bodyguard said in a whisper, "Could you take a peek? Just tell us what color you see inside."

The Moonstone huddled in the mottled gem's embrace. "Pink," she eventually said, a shiver like a miniature quake running through her tiny form. "I see pink."

Sunstone blinked. "What does-"

Novaculite cut in. "Pink means it ain't one of the Diamonds. That's good enough for now." She looked at the blue gem. "You said 'ways.' The main route’s out, obviously, so what are our other options?"

Not looking at her, or anything else the others could see, Moonstone said, "The other way is unguarded and less obvious but there is a problem."

"Of course there is," muttered Novaculite.

"There is a group of gems using this back way for illicit activity," Moonstone's high voice ringing in the quiet of the hallway. "They may even be a rebel cell."

Sunstone looked grim. Moonstone's expression was hard to read, but the corners of her mouth tugged downward.

Novaculite gave a huge sigh of relief and it was only with difficulty that she chuckled instead of laughing out loud. "Oh, you had me worried for a little there. No, this is perfect, we just go and hand 'em over to the Agates, then slip away while everyone has their hands full. It fits our cover story perfectly!" So this is what good luck is like... I think I see the appeal.

The silence stretched out and Novaculite felt the weight of the other two staring at her. Their expressions were a combination of disbelief and mild horror.

"What? Are they friends of yours?" No one moved. "Hey, you wanna get to Earth or not?"

Novaculite wouldn't have taken her fellow fugitives as being sentimental for other rule-breakers. She'd tried to explain that there wasn't one, grand Rebellion like there had once been on Earth. There wasn't even two, like after Rose and Citrine split. What there was was a scattering of unhappy gems who decided they'd had enough.

And most of those were idiots. The only question was how many other gems got captured with them when they inevitably got caught.

These were almost certainly idiots. After all, they'd just been caught. By the three of them. They were doomed for embedding or shattering sooner or later, but at least this way their inevitable end could help Moonstone, Sunstone, and Novaculite avoid meeting the same.

Sunstone had suggested taking the others with them to Earth.

Novaculite had laughed in her face, but quietly because they had been hiding in a side corridor.

Best case scenario was that they'd all get away, but it'd be conspicuous with so many gems warping away to seemingly nowhere. Then Homeworld would get a warp technician out to look at that warp pad. And when the Peridot they sent couldn't find anything wrong, they'd get a competent warp pad technician out there, and the Era-1 Novaculite would tell them about this hidden route to Earth.

Cue invasion.

And that was the best case. So now they were standing in the command center that they'd walked into like they belonged there, listening to a Holly Blue Agate alternate between making excuses and yelling at her subordinates for their inexcusable failures.

That chokably eager Peridot was there too, gawking at something on her screens when she wasn't gawking at Holly Blue's performance. Novaculite tried not to glare too much and probably failed.

"Don't just stand there, you useless chunks of earth!" the Agate barked at a scrawny Jasper and two Amethysts. "Hurry up and guard the exits to this- this den of insubordination!"

The Peridot squinted at something on her screens and then sent a pair of floating fingers to tug on Holly Blue's collar. The Agate brushed them aside, ignored.

The Jasper and Amethysts shared a look, then the tallest Amethyst of the group said in an uncertain voice, "Uh, shouldn't we get the others to help guard too?"

Holly Blue Agate's eye roll was impressive. Novaculite wondered if she practiced it in front of the mirror. "Of course, you shallow-strata imbeciles! The only thing I trust you three to catch is my whip to your forms if you don't move fast enough!"

While the trio hustled out the door, the Agate turned back to Moonstone. "You'll have to forgive them, your auspice. They're from Earth; their position here is a testament to Blue Diamond's selfless dedication to preserving the remains of Pink Diamond's failed colony." Her expression went from unctuous to exasperated in an instant. "And I have clearly been too forgiving of them if they've allowed something like this to happen."

While everyone else on the command center was trying to appear very busy just then, the Peridot walked over, slightly obscured by her cloud of projections. "Holly Blue Agate, about the incoming craft-"

The Agate whirled on the half-gem and said, "Not now! Only Blue Diamond herself would be more important than ensuring the success of her auspice's tour." Straightening up a little and smoothing the fabric of her uniform, she asked, "Has Blue Diamond arrived?"

"Oh, no, she hasn't, Holly Blue Agate, but I'm getting some very odd-"

The Agate made an imperious pivot away from the 'technician' and said with finality, "Then it can wait until later."

"I can see that the Quartzes are in position," said Moonstone. She looked outwardly unphased by events but she'd been drifting steadily closer to her bodyguard since they'd stepped into the command center. "We should depart."

"Yes, your auspice. Of course." The Agate's high-heeled jackboots clacked against the floor as she strode briskly forward, the others jogging or floating after.

"I'll send you a report!" shouted the Peridot after them, adding, "Good luck purging the station of undesirables!"

Novaculite's expression left no doubt as to which gem she'd like to start with.

They were in a narrow maintenance corridor, the walls a faded shade of pink. Aside from the coloration, Novaculite had been in a million just like it during her long and ignoble career. In front of them was a door and on the other side of that, five or so gems unaware their hiding spot had been discovered.

A pair of Quartzes bulled through, shattering the door, and they were followed quickly by Holly Blue herself. There were cries of alarm inside and the clatter of heavy things been knocked over. A second later Novaculite heard the familiar notes of panicked combat, the crack of the Agate's whip a staccato accompaniment. It made her gemstone itch.

The Agate's voice, literally designed to sound commanding, cut through the noise: "Your denials will not save you!"

As more soldiers poured in, Sunstone made as though to join them. Novaculite reached out with a large hand, stopping her and earning a scowl in response.

"Not yet. That doesn't sound like a mop up. Don't go in until it's-"

There was another crash and something exploded. It was probably just glass they heard bouncing across the floor, not gem shards, but it left the others looking slightly queasy.

"That's why you let someone else rush in," murmured Novaculite while that itch in her gem grew worse and she forgot to maintain the shapeshifting that kept her legs even.

There were more crashes followed by a bright flash of light. Someone got hit with the sort of punch that made everyone, Novaculite included, wince.

"There are only three still fighting: a Jasper and a pair of fused Rubies," reported Moonstone.

Yeah, that sounded like a Jasper punch, thought Novaculite.

"Is the way to the warp pad clear?" she pressed. A second of further combat sounds passed and then Moonstone gave a nervous nod.

The three of them ducked inside, Sunstone in the front, always shielding Moonstone with her bulk.

The first thing Novaculite noticed was the heat, unsurprising given the fight involved a pair of Rubies. One wall was lined with containment cells and the wall beside it had implements Novaculite hadn't seen since Homeworld forces captured and interrogated her near the end of the war. Her desire to be out the other side of this room skyrocketed just then.

The explosion had destroyed a communication terminal, what was left of the tech sparking, the cracked base oozing some kind of oil.

The Ruby fusion wasn't large as such things went, but the room wasn't that spacious either and it was keeping the assault team busy. Holly Blue may have been as obnoxious as any Agate Novaculite had met, but the Quartz had to credit that she hadn't hesitated to enter the fray, her form battered in places and one of her side buns loose. Everytime she whipped the fusion, the temperature in the room rose even higher. The Jasper, imposing as Era-1 Jaspers went but far from perfect, weaved and dodged behind the fusion, striking out when an opportunity arose.

The three of them were going through the exit, leading into a broad hallway near the warp pad, when there was a whirring noise and then something bowled into all three of them. Moonstone was thrown clear, a high-pitched cry of alarm followed by a thud when she struck a bulkhead. A confused melee ensued, Novaculite kicking and scrambling more to get away than anything else. She'd just gotten free and turned around when she saw Sunstone struggling with the Jasper who had spindashed into them over control of a destabilizer.

"Nova! Shoot her!" grunted Sunstone.

Novaculite was summoning her bow when the Jasper slammed into Sunstone with her shoulder, knocking the Era-2 to the floor. She looked up at Novaculite and said in a surprised voice, "You!" She activated the destabilizer-

-and was bowled into by the Quartzes that had been assigned to guard the exit.

"No! They're not-" a solid punch cut off the Jasper's sentence. "You can't let them-"

Rather than stop to hear more, Novaculite let her weapon dissolve, hauled Sunstone to her feet, and ran quick as she could in the direction of the warp chamber. Sunstone split off and ran over to the dazed Moonstone, scooping her up from where she'd slumped against the wall she'd been knocked into.

There was a bellow and the Ruby fusion staggered through the doorway, landing in the Quartz pile with a wave of heat. The chaotic brawl grew even more so as Novaculite, Sunstone, and Moonstone ducked into the room leading to the warp chamber, the hallway echoing with the din of combat, shouting, and whipcracks.

Chapter Text

The room was a warehouse intended to hold goods awaiting warping. There were eight bays, four to a side, that ran the length of the long room. There was a door at the far side wide enough to allow carts through, presumably the entrance to the warp chamber proper. A few inventory drones flitted about, half the size of a Ruby and spherical, an Era-2 contraption that could scan and categorize.

A few boxes of bauxite were stacked nearby, presumably the real shipment that had obscured the false front Novaculite, Moonstone, and Sunstone had hidden behind while being loaded onto the freighter in the first place.

Novaculite wheeled about to face the door they'd just come through and began punching commands into the control panel. The door slide shut and then clicked as the magnetic locks engaged.

Something was very wrong. That Jasper shouldn’t have recognized her, not like that. And that room didn’t make much sense as a hidden rebel cell or even just a gaggle of angry dissidents. But Novaculite didn’t have time to puzzle that out right now because there was a warp pad with their name on it.

"Okay, now we only need to-"

Just then an alert sounded followed by the voice of the Peridot from earlier. “Attention. As the unknown ship approaching the station hasn’t responded to hails, the station is going into external alert status, per protocol Delta-Xi thirteen-one-three-eight-nine-fourteen-dash-one. The specimen containment level, port, and warp chamber will enter lockdown mode until the crisis has passed. Oh, and if anyone knows what in the stars that ship is, please contact the command center. Have a nice cycle!”

With a crackling sound, twelve destabilizer fields manifested, one sealing off each of the bays and one stretching between each of the four opposing bays. That meant there were now four destabilizer fields between them and the warp pad.

“Have I mentioned that I really don’t like Peridots,” snarled Novaculite.

The door behind them beeped as the open request failed. This was followed by a thud, then two, then some pounding.

“The Jasper, several of blue Diamond’s guards, Holly Blue Agate, a two Amethysts are standing outside the door,” said Moonstone. There was a tremor in her voice and she looked at Sunstone.

Sunstone turned from the door to the fields and then back, before swiveling around to face Novaculite. “Alright, the plan went to schist like you said it would, so now we’re supposed to listen to you.” Her body language was broadcasting worry but her expression was skeptical. “What do we do next?”

“Can you shoot the fields?” asked the blue gem hovering nearby.

Novaculite paced with a lopsided gait and shook her head, mane swaying with the motion. “No. Those fields will obliterate anything made out of hard light that touches them, which includes my bow and any arrows it fires. I’d be better off-” and she kicked one of the boxes nearby in frustration, “-throwing this bauxite at it.”

She paused, blinking, then started to laugh. A heavy thud behind them cut the laughter short.

“And she’s cracked,” muttered Sunstone. Then, hurriedly, she faced Moonstone. “They come through there, you tell them it was all my idea. You were making a tour and your Sunstone and the warp tech accompanying you must have secretly been rebels.”

“Sunstone, no!” and Moonstone showed the most overt emotion Novaculite had seen on the Blue Court aristocrat before she buried herself in the bodyguard’s arms.

Sunstone continued speaking, all while one mottled hand ran through the blue gem’s hair. “Then you get somewhere far away as soon as you’re able-”

“Hey. Hey gals,” said Novaculite, unheeded.

“-Before they’re able to confirm that there was never really a tour going on. You’re smart, Moonstone-”

Novaculite hobbled a step closer and waved her arms. “Yoo-hoo! Gals!”

“-And you’re fast, so if you just keep moving-”

“HEY! Do you want to escape or not?!”

The two jolted out of their embrace and turned to look at Novaculite. The gem had gone over to one of the boxes of bauxite and smashed out the front and rear face, dumping the speckled contents out on the floor. Reduced to a small, square tunnel, she slid the box gingerly up to the field, being carefully not to touch the crackling yellow energy with her form.

The field remained intact and impassable but within the small opening inside the box was a gap, yellow-free.

“Moonstone, follow me. Sunstone, smash another box and toss it to me once I’m through!”

The small blue gem hovered over and through, clearing the modest opening without difficulty. Novaculite had to do some extensive shapeshifting --and it was a tense thing wriggling through without scooting the box through the field and getting her form bisected-- but she was able to make it through to the gap between the first and second fields.

Sunstone jogged over, box in hand but faltered when there was another heavy thud at the door, louder than the ones previously. Moonstone didn’t say anything but she looked grim. Sunstone shook her head and tossed the second boxy tunnel through the field to Novaculite.

It wasn’t particularly quick going, but before too long the fourth box was in place and Novaculite and Moonstone were past the fields.

Sunstone crouched at the opening to the first box, looking uncertain. She reached an arm through then gripped the side and tried to squeeze her head and shoulders past. With a scraping sound the box slid across the floor and the gem had to fling herself back so that she wasn’t in the path of the field when the box scooched too far.

Novaculite huffed and turned to open the door to the warp chamber. Finding it locked, she added her own swears and pounding to the sound coming from the sealed door they’d entered through.

Moonstone had zipped back through the boxes and slid the first one back into position. Novaculite couldn’t make out her words over the din, but they sounded pleading.

She tried a few common override commands on the warp chamber door panel to no luck. “Shapeshift!” she shouted over her shoulder before angrily turning back to the task at hand.

“Can’t!” was Sunstone’s reply.

“Agates take you, Era-2 half-gem embarrassment to the species!” Novaculite wasn’t in the best, most diplomatic frame of mind just then, angrily punching buttons on the panel.

A little later and there was a clatter. Novaculite turned around to see Sunstone stacking all the boxes she could find, trying to build a larger obstructing archway out of them so she could squeeze through. Novaculite didn’t particularly care about that --she’d leave the Sunstone in a second if she had to-- but turning around meant she saw one of the inventory drones enter through a small aperture in the wall overhead. A glance confirmed that there wasn’t a destabilizer field sealing it, though the mechanical opening irised shut after the drone passed through.

It was too high up and too narrow for her to squeeze through in time with shapeshifting, however- “Hey! Moonstone!”

The blue gem had been helping stack the boxes, a crude doorway taking form, when she turned to face the Quartz.

“Moonstone, get over here! Sunstone can work on the boxes herself, because none of that is going to matter if we can’t actually warp out of here.”

With visible hesitation and a few gruff assurances from her companion, the seer hovered away.

Once she reached Novaculite, the warp pad technician pointed overhead. “See that opening for the drones? When the next one passes through, I want you to shove it out of the way and go through instead. Then you can see if the door will open from the inside.”

The seer glanced back nervously at where Sunstone was busy stacking, then gave a curt nod and hovered overhead.

Novaculite continued working on the panel, guessing at various likely passwords or shortcut commands that might have been programmed into the door controls.

A yelp caused both gems to turn around and see Sunstone shaking the stump of one arm. She had a decent archway built, the boxes cutting off the field, but apparently if the gap was too large then the energy of the fields went through the boxes rather than around. This resulted in a dozen yellow arcs of energy rippling through the open space at unpredictable times, tantalizingly open and yet impassable all the same.

A drone passed through the opening and Moonstone just stared at her trapped companion.

Novaculite pounded on the wall. “Moonstone! Focus!”

In a clear voice she replied, “I won’t leave without Sunstone.” Her mouth became a thin line and she may have been glaring at Novaculite… it was hard to tell with the hair. “Help her through or none of us make it to Earth.” Her hand went to the spot where the destabilizer was hidden in her outfit.

Novaculite gave a roar of frustration and briefly considered shooting the obnoxious little sprite when the door they’d entered through boomed, bulging inward.

“Shards!” barked the gem, tugging on her thick mane, officially out of ideas.

Meanwhile, Sunstone had been backing away from the boxes and the field, going until she was against the far wall. She tried cupping her hands around her mouth but found she only had the one. With a brief frown, she lifted the one up and shouted, “Moonstone! I’ll see you on Earth!” and with that she ran full tilt toward the field, jumping a half-second before she reached it.

The bodyguard hit the field midair and dissolved with a brilliant flash. Novaculite winced sympathetically and there was a high-pitched shriek overhead. The brown gemstone, however, continued its arc, sailing through the second field unimpeded, hit the ground, bounced through the third, and rolled to a stop inches from the forth. In a blue blur, Moonstone zipped through the box tunnel, snatched up the gemstone, and clutched it tight to her chest, tears visible on her cheeks.

Wow. That gem has some facets on her, Era-2 or not, thought Novaculite.

A moment later, Moonstone pushed the bangs out of her face with one hand and tucked the gemstone into her outfit with the other. It was the first Novaculite had ever seen the seer's eyes. She then made swift progress through the box tunnel, muscled a drone aside, and was through the opening overhead.

A tense second passed. Then another. Then another and it was all Novaculite could do not to scream. When the door behind her was hammered again hard enough to break, she didn’t bother, her shout echoing off the walls while figures, indistinct through the quadruple fields tried to squeeze through the jagged opening.

The door to the warp pad chamber cycled open and Novaculite staggered through so quickly she clipped the side and didn’t care a pebble about the pain.

She swiveled about and jabbed the close button on the interior panel. Then she entered the same magnetic lock command, the door clicking as they engaged. Then she summoned her bow and sunk four arrows into the panel to make sure no one could get through even if they did have Diamond-level overrides.

They could still squeeze through the drone opening but that was another problem that copious application of hard light arrows could solve.

Turning she saw Moonstone’s worried eyes, one hand pushing her bangs out of her face while she looked anxiously at the Quartz... but Novaculite reached forward and pushed the gem roughly aside because behind her were seven glorious, shining warp pads arranged in a hexagonal pattern that was, in that moment, more beautiful than any sight Novaculite had laid eyes on.

Moonstone said something, but it was only noise, a distraction as Novaculite jogged unevenly over to the warp control panel, the sound of a successful warp out of this whole janked empire the only one she was listening for.

Menu; Maintenance and Controls; Authorization? Oh I’ve got authorization, had it since the cycle I emerged. Wow, Blue Diamond really is scheduled to warp over here. Glad she's taking her time. Anyway, is it hidden in the Destination layer? Mislabeled or just plain disabled? Nope. Wait, where does that- Whatever, not important. Is it a pre-programmed reroute built into the Execution layer? If you schedule destinations A-B-C-D then you really go to E? Heh, because Earth starts with an- Oh, no, not that. Stars! Wait, maybe it’s stored in the Debug layer? That’d be sneaky. Hmm, not seeing it but if I toggle the log levels to the highest setting then- THAT’S IT! WOW! That is clever as it gets. Enable. Set automatic disable following my logout. Spoof the logs so it shows us going somewhere else aaand let’s get out of here!

Novaculite stepped away from the controls grinning like she’d just come back unharmed from a date with Jasper. “Come on, Moony, let’s get out of here!”

Moonstone looked taken aback by a beaming Novaculite, but hurried over a moment later, landing on the pad beside the Quartz. There was a buzz as someone tried to order the warp chamber door open and failed.

Novaculite laughed, openly and loudly, as she willed the pad to activate and-

Willed the pad to activate again and-



“Why aren’t we gone?” asked Moonstone. She looked a lot less mysterious when you could see her eyes, doubly so with her using one hand to keep her hair out of her face.

“Because,” roared Novaculite, sprinting unevenly for the control panel once more, “we’re in lockdown mode and the warp pads have been isolated! It’s not a configuration or authorization thing, the entire room has been decoupled from warp space!”

“What does that mean?!” squealed the blue gem, flinching as there was pounding at the door.

“It means that shallow-strata, Zeta-kindergarten Peridot janked us and the only way we could fix this is if we had her personal overri- I- I have an idea!”

“You do?”

“Yeah, it’ll only work if that Peridot is an idiot, so I think we might have a decent chance. But I’ll need your help.”

The door shuddered and some voices were filtering through the drone opening when it irised open briefly. They didn’t sound happy.

Hand going to where she was holding Sunstone’s gem, Moonstone nodded and said, “What do you need me to do?”

Novaculite was already hobbling over to the communications panel as she spoke. “I’m going to call the command center and talk to that pebble of a Peridot. I’m going to ask her for her personal override code. And I’m betting she’s one of those limb enhancer-dependent clods who pulls up the relevant information to her displays without even thinking about it. And you are going to use your power to look at her display while she does it and read it off to me!”

Novaculite waited for a response of ‘Brilliant!’ or ‘You’re cracked!’ but instead Moonstone seemed to shrink in on herself, clutching the gemstone tucked in the fold of her outfit tighter.

“I can’t.”

There was another pound at the door.

“What?! Why not?!”

As the blue gem spoke, the curtain of her hair fell back over her eyes and she left it there, her voice soft. “Space is so large. Unfathomably so. And I can see all of it in my range. The station is small. Even a planet is small compared to space. Finding the command center, finding the Peridot, finding the angle over her shoulder so I can see her screens, it’s finding a specific silicate atom out of an entire desert.”

Novaculite ran a hand through her hair, unable to believe what she was hearing. “But you do that sort of thing all the time. You found all the destabilizers in Rutile’s warehouse. You found the gems hidden near the warp chamber.”

That was still nagging her, that Jasper and that room, because that still didn’t quite make sense. But she’d have all the time she needed after she was on Earth, so she pushed the matter aside.

“I can do that because I have an anchor, a beacon to guide me, a sun shining in the void.” Moonstone pulled the gem from the fold in her outfit, pushed the bangs out of her face with her other hand, and looked at the stone longingly. “It’s why Moonstones always have Sunstones serving them. I am literally lost without her.”

There was as much silence between them as there could be while a handful of gems pounded on the door.

"You can't really see through that blue hair over your eyes, can you?"

Moonstone gave a weak smile, peering out between the parted curtain of her bangs. "Most of those in the Blue Court can, but I never got the hang of it. I've always used my power to compensate."

A considerate gem would have reached forward and tucked Moonstone's hair behind her ears, wiped the tears from her cheeks, looked her in the eyes, and said something comforting and hopeful; a moment of shared solidarity during a crazy situation.

Novaculite wasn't that gem.

"Then we're janked, Sunstone is going to get shattered, and it's all your fault. I bet an Era-1 Moonstone wouldn't be worthless right now."

Moonstone reeled as if struck and Novaculite couldn't find it in her to care. The Quartz turned and hobbled back to the communications panel, not sure what to do but unwilling to stop trying to escape. Without looking back she said, "Do something useful and hover up next to the door. If they punch a hole through or if someone tries to get through the drone opening, use that destabilizer on them. Buy me time to think."

The pounding continued but it hadn't reached the levels they'd heard at the other door. The station gems must have been having a slow time getting through the fields and didn't have full weight of numbers to bear against the door.

With a growl of frustration, Novaculite started to pace the chamber. It was maddening seeing escape right there, gleaming with crystalline tangibility, but not being able to take it.

Okay, think, Nova! This isn't the end for you. It takes smarts to lose this long and still not hit bottom, so use those smarts! Okay, so I somehow get this room recoupled with warp space. Then what? Stars! Homeworld is going to see us vanish completely. There's going to be no way they'd accept that; that Agate would bring a Kindergarten's-worth of warp technicians in here if it meant saving her stone. No, someone's got to take the fall. Okay, good, it's something.

She went to the control panel and queued up a second warp on another pad. It'd generate a random destination from across five different Homeworld planets in range. She spoofed the logs so it wouldn't be immediately obvious, but deliberately did a poor job covering her tracks. After all, this whole thing was pointless if Moonstone actually did manage to escape. No, she just needed to make the chase long enough and convincing enough that they stopped caring about where the warp pad technician had vanished to.

To think she'd nearly screwed everything up when she'd tried to warp them both directly to Earth earlier. That's the kind of sloppiness that makes you hit bottom.

That accomplished, Novaculite paced back to the communications panel, glancing at the door (holding) and the gem guarding it (hovering nearby, tears dripping from her chin, the destablilizer in her grip). Good enough. She searched her mind for any more bright ideas and found none.

Time for the dumb idea, then.

She enabled the communicator, contacting the command center. A second later that obnoxious Peridot's voice came through the speakers. "Commander Center, Peridot speaking. Hi!"

Novaculite's hands involuntarily curled into fists. "Thi-" She stopped because the word was coming out as a growl. Clearing her throat she tried again. "This is the warp chamber. The pads seem to be malfunctioning. Could-"

"Oh! Yes, because of the lockdown! Oh stars! And Blue Diamond has an open warp reservation too. No, that won't do. Fortunately the unidentified ship has docked and the gems aboard taken into custody. They were quite nice if you ignored all the biting. I guess we don't really need to remain on lockdown. I mean, I still haven't really identified the ship because it's so strange and protocol does dictate-"

Novaculite felt a jolt run through her being, the faint spark of hope flaring to a blaze once more. "No! No, you're right. We, uh, we can't keep Blue Diamond waiting. You should definitely recouple our connection with warp space." She couldn't believe this was happening. "Good idea," she added, failing to keep the disbelief out of her voice.

"Yes, it was, wasn't it? Thank you! Recoupling complete. Oh, and how did the assault on the undesirables g-" but the Peridot's sentence was cut off when Novaculite dashed for the warp pads.

"Moonstone!" shouted Novaculite. The blue gem jolted, startled. "Get over here, we're leaving!" The little seer, bangs pushed out of her eyes, zipped over and joined Novaculite on the warp pad.

"Oh! No, small change of plans." Novaculite pushed her toward the adjacent pad. "If we warp together, it'll be easier for Homeworld to figure out how I spoofed their logs. We're going on separate pads; it covers our tracks better."

The gem looked at Novaculite confused. "But all three of us are going to Earth, right?"

Novaculite found a smile and pointed it toward the other gem. "Yeah. You and Sunstone together on that pad, me on this one. I'll see you on the other side."

The blue gem hesitated for a moment but then there was a heavy thud at the door that left a visible dent.

"Hurry or I'm leaving without you!" barked the Quartz.

Moonstone stepped on and Novaculite didn't waste a second using her authorization to trigger their warps. Columns of light surrounded them, there was a chime, and then they were gone.

Novaculite laughed. She couldn't help it. She'd been this way through the entire Rebellion, giddy after she managed to make it out of a fight with all of her facets intact. And this hadn't just been some skirmish with a Ruby squad. No, this was her hoodwinking the Diamonds themselves!

It had been a darn close thing. A hundred things could have happened --or failed to happen, like her setting up that Era-2 patsy-- and she'd be waking up in a cell or embedded in a questioning device.

But none of that mattered. She was headed for Earth. Earth! Another peel of laughter struck the gem and she laughed with manic abandon, riding a euphoria of victory and gem-deep relief.

Earth, she thought again. A sobering idea occurred to her, cutting her laughter short. What if Earth wasn't as dead as Homeworld said it was? Citrine could be there. Or Jasper, because if anyone could survive a Homeworld doomsday attack, it'd be the perfect Quartz. Would they be angry to see her? Would they try and shatter her? She had followed Rose during the Schism, fired her arrows at her former co-rebels, after all.

She shook her head. All worries for later, because -and she still couldn't believe this- there was going to be a later!

As the warp faded out Novaculite was giggling. She took a deep breath of that fresh Earth air, blinked her eyes, and saw-

She was in a room. There were containment cells along one wall and implements nearby used for making stubborn gems talk. A small window showed a view of space overlooking a planet that was a swirling maelstrom of yellow and purple clouds.

Novaculite had no idea where she was, but it sure as schist wasn't Earth.

Using her gem she reached out to the warp pads and found them under absolute lockdown: no access, even for her. She started to move, to run somewhere, but then a pink sword slid over her shoulder into her field of view.

"Hello Novi."

Two words from a voice she hadn't heard in millennia. A voice that chilled Novaculite to the core of her stone.

Thinking, hoping this was a ruse, she risked a look back over her other shoulder and saw her. There could be no mistaking that gem.

Novaculite collapsed to her knees like a stunned human, staring blankly ahead. There was a kind of wisdom to be found in abject pessimism. Always expecting the worst had been how she'd fallen as long as she had without hitting bottom. Where she'd messed up was hoping. Hope made you sloppy, made you stupid, and Novaculite had been stupid.

Her head hung a little lower as the pieces fell into place. There had never been a warp to Earth. She'd known most of the rumors about escape had been cooked up by the authorities to draw out the gullible idiots. What she hadn't realized was that all of the rumors were false.

The 'dissidents' Moonstone had seen were really Homeworld agents hidden there to catch gems who fell into that particular trap. That room Holly Blue had stormed into had been an interrogation chamber. They'd kept the Agate out of the loop because they weren't idiots and they knew she'd screw something up if she knew.

Novaculite's breath hitched a little, her droop deepening as she marveled at the terrible perfection of the trap.

That Jasper had recognized her because she'd known they were coming. Rutile hadn't known. She was a terrible liar, and unlike Novaculite, she wouldn't have sacrificed others to save her own gem. No, her handlers were very good about letting her think she was helping fellow wayward gems escape the Diamonds. And if that bait eventually stopped working, if the false containers of bauxite stopped showing up, then they'd finally grab Rutile as well.

And if by some amazing circumstance the fugitives slipped past the agents ready to capture them, then there was a carefully hidden route to Earth waiting to be discovered. And those talented fugitives were warped directly into an inescapable trap.

Oddly enough, that made Novaculite feel a little better. She'd never had a chance, not really. When she'd met Rutile she'd hoped that if it all cracked down the middle, it'd be because there was someone competent to blame for it.

And there was. Probably the most competent gem in the entire empire, in fact.

Not that it helped much, given how terrible the hopefully-short remainder of her life was going to be.

"...General..." Novaculite stammered out, unable to turn and face the terrible pink gem behind her, a coward to the very end.

Chapter Text

Running through Fire



She ran, ran across the battlefield. Soared through the air. Sparks hit her face. Her thoughts drowned out the screaming around her.

"Obsidian! There you are, please help me! They're coming!" 

But she ran, ran across the battlefield. She knew exactly what would happen if she tried to help her. It was already too late.




A ferociously armed Quartz soldier blocked her away. The warrior raised her battleaxe. 

But the Crystal Gem knew better. She sidestepped and poofed her with a swift swipe of her heels.

And she ran, ran across the battlefield. 




There was no chance of getting away. There wasn't ever a chance of getting away. 

She knew this. She knew everything that was going to happen.

It was all her fault. She knew this attack was coming.




Yet she ran, ran across the battlefield. Soared through the air. Sparks hit her face. She could hear the screaming clearly now. 



Second Thoughts

"Okay Lapis, but why would I ever want to play this?" Peridot stared blankly at the blue gem. 

Lapis Lazuli raised a twenty-sided die and flicked her hair. "Because. It's fun, P-Dot. I mean I got Citrine to play it, why can't you? Also not to mention, you're having last second thoughts. What is with you and your last second thoughts?"

Peridot turned her gaze to the die she was holding, then back to the water witch. "Well, Lazuli. First of all, it's very nerdy. And second of all, we are already living in a world where we have to deal with scenarios where we have to fight giant monsters already. Third, I don't know how to roleplay. I mean, I have analyzed all the possible outcomes on 'roleplaying' and I have determined it has no beneficial use whatsoever to my method of entertainment." 

The opposite gem rolled her eyes. "Well, okay. Fine, Peridot. Here you are, dressed up in a nice costume already and now you are refusing to play the game. Guess I spent the last twenty minutes trying to convince you otherwise for a fun, innocent game that literally everybody else plays other than OJ and here you are, disappointing me. Did I mention I was disappointed?"

The engineer placed her hands on her hips. "Well, Lapis. I..." 

"What excuses now, P-Dot?"

"I..." The green gem raised a finger, as if about to say something sassy. "Ah by the stars. Whatever. Let's just get this over with."

Then Peridot snatched the die from the svelte gem and rolled it across the table. 


Fists slammed again and again on the flight console. A hand reached above and pressed numerous buttons, to which all responded with flickering and sparks. Only the radar display worked and not the actual radar. Worst of all, the entire thing was going down in flames as it was approaching the atmosphere.

A desperate cry for help rang through the tiny space.

"This is Alabaster, Alabaster to Line 3-7-7-5! My spacecraft, the Sterling Wind, is going down on an unknown planet, departed from the warship Flight Feather! The coordinate quadrant in space should be no more than 50 ticks away from the warship! Please! Somebody save me, I need help immediately!" She cried. "The planet's gravity is immensely strong and soon my ship and I will both burn up in the atmosphere in approximately five minutes!"

Silence returned her call, as expected. The ship's signal transmitters must have been damaged while she was still in space. Panic began to settle in her voice.

"Not like this. Not like this. Oh, stars. Please, please, please." She unbuckled her belt and pulled a space jacket from under her chair. The jacket was more for floating around in space with some controlled movement rather than something like burning up in the atmosphere, but it was certainly better than nothing.

She connected the last strap. The jacket was fastened on her. This was it.

Alabaster pushed the emergency eject button.

Historical Accuracy

Connie sat down at the table and began reading from the book aloud in a very dramatic voice.

"The Tales of Beach City! Told from the perspective of Johnathan Dewey, a former councilman of Beach City..." Her grin faltered as she flipped some pages.

Why, this is all wrong! When has Jasper ever done anything like smash up the trees near the town just because she was "feeling like becoming stronger"?  Connie thought with disbelief. She flipped the pages more and more furiously. I think this page is referring to Lapis Lazuli. What? I know sometimes Lapis could be wild but, no way! Why would she do anything like that?

She stood up and raised the book above her head. There was what was presumably an illustration of Lapis Lazuli at the bottom of the right page, with a wicked grin and hands clenched in a fist, like some kind of cartoon villain. The sketch on the next page depicted the blue gem more than about 30 feet tall, pounding her fists into the buildings while laughing maniacally.

Before Connie knew it, she stomped to the door in frustration, hoping to find one of the gems outside. She swung open the door.

Jasper was standing right there.

"Jasper! Look, this book is telling nothing but lies about you and the Crystal Gems! I'm sure it's just monsters causing all the trouble and you guys taking the blame for it!" Connie exclaimed.

Jasper stared downwards at the book. "Ah. I think I remember this one from a long while back."

"You remember this book?" she repeated.

Jasper raised an eyebrow and shrugged. "Yeah. The human that wrote this kept getting things wrong, so we gave him nothing but accurate accounts of what actually happened. Well maybe some pictures were exaggerated, but this book is pretty much the truth."

Connie stared at the giant orange gem blankly.

Two Special Investigators

It was just another normal day in the life of Ronaldo, super special Beach City blogger and investigator. Nothing in life was ever boring for him and everything was interesting to him.

Well, except today, where literally nothing happened thus far. No weird gem events, no weird paranormal happenings, and certainly no interesting situations for him to blog about. He kicked around as he strolled down the street. Maybe today was actually meant to be a break day for Ronaldo.

Yes indeed! I've been working so hard for the past few days, blogging so many weird things in Beach City. I ought to take a break sometime! That's it! I will take a break today!

Ronaldo then picked up the pace and walked slightly faster than before. He began turning towards the direction of the Big Donut when a voice ran out from his right side.

"Greetings! You there, can you help me?" 

Ronaldo turned his head and what greeted him was a bizarre sight indeed. A strange seven to eight feet tall woman with long flowing white hair turned to face him. She donned a shimmering white dress and had a giant white ribbon in her hair. 

"Y-yes? Who might you be, oh mysterious figure? I am Ronaldo, special investigator and information provider of this city!" Ronaldo blurted quickly.

The woman smiled. "Ah, wonderful! If you're the information provider, that's even better. The name is Moonstone. I'm afraid the Diamonds didn't have much information to give when they sent me on this mission. Just a simple question, human. What if I told you a super weapon were to emerge from the ground and shatter this planet?" 

The Fryman slowly digested what she just said before responding quickly. "I... I don't believe you."

"Just as I thought a human would answer. Thank you for your response." Moonstone conjured a digital surface from seemingly nowhere and pressed on it several times. "Alright then, don't move, fellow special investigator."

There was a flash of light and Ronaldo woke up from the sidewalk a hour later, with no recollection of what has just happened. 

Chapter Text

"That's the gem from the inverted pyramid." She looked up from where she'd been staring at the floor. "And it's my fault it's loose."

The room was quiet, the silence stretching out and becoming oppressive.

A scratching noise drew everyone’s attention: Wolf was staring at them through the screen door, the large canine wearing his Dogbo costume.

“Oh, that’s what he was up to,” said Steven, getting up from beside Connie and walking toward the door.

Chapter Text

Obsidian was waiting outside of Bismuth's smithy. Like all the other rebels in line with her, they were needing to get their material weapons sharpened. Or repaired. Or replaced. Unlike all the other rebels in the line, she didn't carry her weapons, she wore them.

Her heels had gotten dull and that just wouldn't do.

A pebble bounced against the side of her head. Expression remaining placid, the large gem turned and saw a comparatively small, grey Quartz hailing her. Novaculite, 'Culi' as she'd taken to call herself, was weaving through the bustle of the rebel encampment and waving at her over the top of a quintet of Carnelians.

The Carnelians were being especially loud and rowdy, which was to say, they were being Carnelians.

That Culi had pegged Obsidian's head from fifty yards off was only impressive if you didn't know Culi. The other rebel Novaculite was apparently the better warp pad technician, but no one could hit a target like Culi.

Obsidian turned to the Amethyst standing behind her in line, a cracked maul slung over one purple shoulder. "Hold this," said the gem who was taller than most even without the heels, and she handed the great slab of steel she called a shield to the startled Quartz. That would let everyone know her spot in line.

"Wha- O-oh, okay," the purple gem stammered out, staggering slightly from the weight of Obsidian's tower shield. With a nod, Obsidian waded through the throng over toward her friend.

They'd found a quietish spot along the camp's periphery under a tree tall enough even Obsidian could stand comfortably beneath it.

"Culi," said Obsidian, her voice smooth and even.

The grey Quartz fidgeted as though nervous, her gaze on the horizon even as she spoke. "About the fight tomorrow. You're in Citrine's division, right?"

"Jasper's on the left flank. Rose has the right," Obsidian answered laconically. Someone had to guard Citrine and everyone knew she was third in line.

Culi scratched the back of her neck under her thick mane of hair. "Do you wanna be there? Citrine doesn't leave a lot for everyone else to do, ya know."

Obsidian looked silently at the top of Culi's head. "If this is about some betting pool Zircon has set up-"

Culi looked up, "No! Nothing like-" She broke eye contact and ran a hand through her hair, facing the horizon once more. "The generals have been- You've heard the rumors that- I know you and Citrine are close but-"

"Culi," said Obsidian, her rich voice silencing the agitated archer. "Pretend the point of this conversation is your target."

The grey gem leaned against the tree and laughed, a manic kind of laugh that wasn't particularly happy. She used her free hand to wipe the corner of one eye. "Okay, you got me there. Look, the generals have been arguing again. You know it, I know it, everyone knows it."

"Everyone knows it doesn't mean anything," Obsidian replied.

In private the generals had been arguing off and on for ages. The only thing the rebels did more than fight was gossip. Everyone knew, everyone knew that everyone knew, but when the generals were around everyone pretended it didn't happen. Rose and Citrine were literally made for each other. It just seemed wrong, them disagreeing like that. But it also meant they'd always get over... whatever it was they fought about.

You learned to ignore it after a couple of decades.

"Yeah but, what if it did?" pressed the Quartz.

Culi summoned an arrow from her gemstone and fiddled with it. Unlike the other Novaculite, Culi's had fletching across three sides. Obsidian couldn't help but stare at the hard light projectile, trying to see the technique at work. Quartzes seemed to pick up the trick for summoning weapons quickly. Obsidian was no Quartz.

And her heels still needed to be sharpened.

Obsidian shook her head, still not seeing the point of all this. "Is there something you need to tell me?"

Culi looked up at her, her expression torn. She opened her mouth, then closed it, then opened it again. "I-" She fell silent. A beat later, she managed to say, "If you're in the central division, be careful, is all I'm saying. I think it's going to be a rough fight."

She allowed the arrow to fall. It landed point-first in the soil before dissolving.

Obsidian kept from looking down at her friend in anything other than the literal sense. Culi was the best shot in the Rebellion and one of the few gems who could give Homeworld's air superiority pause. She'd saved Obsidian from poofing (or worse) four times that Obsidian was aware of, and likely many other times as well. She bragged, but not half as much as she could have. When she had her bow in hand, she was one of the bravest gems to ever fight in the Rebellion.

Without the bow, she was a worrier with pre-combat jitters like you wouldn't believe.

"I'll be careful," said Obsidian in a level tone. She gestured toward camp. "I need to get back in line."

She was several paces away, long strides eating up the distance, when Culi called out, "Don't trip!"

Obsidian had perfect balance. She could trample an enemy squad across a frozen lake with a level balanced on her shoulder. She had once. She'd won big in Zircon's betting pool that fight.

"Don't miss," she called back, the second half of their call-and-response leaping easily to her tongue.

Culi never missed.

Half of the enemy ranks broke, an Agate berating them for their cowardice. The other half of the ranks fled when the Agate poofed with a thunderclap, Citrine's sword flying across the battlefield and skewering her form.

Obsidian stood near the general, tower shield held ready despite the enemy’s rout. Homeworld would regroup and charge again sooner or later.

Light stopped shining through the Rebellion co-founder as Citrine raised a hand to shade her eyes. "Something is wrong on our flank." She picked up her tiny, material shield from where it had dropped to the ground. She summoned a force field onto it and said, "I'll anchor the central division while you reconnoiter."

There were gems faster than Obsidian in the Rebellion, but not many.

Shifting her steel shield to her left hand --it would be between her and the enemy while she ran for the right flank-- Obsidian gave the general an affirmative and began sprinting over the battlefield.


Something pinged off her shield, a material projectile ricocheting away.


She passed a trio of rebel Amethysts in a picket formation. One of them whistled as she sprinted past.


She ran over cracked earth littered with weapon fragments as though it was a performing stage for Pearls.


She saw...

The right flank was falling back. They were withdrawing but not toward the center. Wherever they were going, it wasn't to somewhere they could support the central division. Homeworld forces were surging into the gap.

Obsidian didn't have eyes like Citrine but even she could see the looks of worry on the remaining Rebellion picket forces.

Was this all a feint? If so, it was a really convincing one because-

An arrow struck the earth an inch from Obsidian's heeled feet. The moment it dissolved, a second struck the exact same spot.

They were hard light arrows. They had triple fletching.

Obsidian's normally placid expression shattered as the scene suddenly made sense. Pointing her shield between her and the withdrawing Rebel forces, Obsidian ran as fast as her form would take her toward the- toward her general.


She ran, ran across the battlefield. Soared across the landscape. Sparks hit her face as some distant structure was torched. Her thoughts drowned out the noises behind her.

"Obsidian! There you are. Please help me! They're coming!" shouted one of the picket Amethysts.

But she ran, ran across the battlefield. She knew exactly what would happen if she tried to help her. It was already too late.


Culi never missed.


A ferociously armed Quartz soldier blocked her away. The warrior raised her battleaxe.

But the Crystal Gem knew better. She sidestepped and poofed the Homeworld Quartz with a swift swipe of her heels.

And she ran, ran across the battlefield.


Culi could have poofed her.


There was no chance of getting away. Homeworld would be cutting off their retreat even as she ran.

She knew this. She knew everything that was going to happen.

She should have seen this coming.


Culi had been warning her. When her words missed their mark, she let her arrows speak instead.


Obsidian transferred the shield to the other side where it might do some good.

She could hear the screaming clearly: desperate gems fighting and falling, too few available to form a defensive line against so many.


She reached her general, told her general what was happening.

If Rose was kindness, Citrine was confidence. In this moment, Rose was anything but kind and Citrine looked anything but confident.

Obsidian blinked and her general stood resolute once more.

"Stay beside me. We're falling back on Jasper's flank and fighting our way to the canyon. Homeworld can't overwhelm us from there. Biggs will cover our escape with a rockslide."

Citrine's shield fell from her arm and the enemy advance faltered for a moment. Obsidian protected her until she was able to pick up the material shield once more.

Citrine bellowed the command for withdrawal and they fell back.

The Agates imposed order on their soldiers and the Homeworld horde surging forward once more. If she had been any other gem, Obsidian's knees would have been shaking.

The encampment was neither bustling nor loud. For every ten gems that had marched out under Citrine’s command, only five had marched back. That the ones under Rose’s command were presumably safe at some unknown location was cold comfort.

Obsidian's shield was dented. Holes had been punched through the inch-thick slab of steel in several places. Her heels were dull too. Bismuth was smithing but it would be a while before Obsidian had a chance to visit her.

After everyone that was going to make it back returned, after Citrine had dismissed them to their tasks, their general had walked proudly through the encampment and entered the leadership structure. Months ago a Rutile had painted the door half yellow, half pink.

Jasper --the Jasper everyone meant when they said 'Jasper'-- and Obsidian stood guard outside. Everyone was on edge and both of them had fallen into place outside the building without being asked. They only had one general left, after all.

Inside the leadership structure came the sound of crying. Sometimes the name 'Rose' could be heard between sobs.

Obsidian, like everyone else, pretended not to notice.

Chapter Text

Peridot was nearby, both to supervise as well as to scan for more data regarding the ‘dimensionally transcendental lupus phenomenon.’

Steven had cracked an Under the Knife joke about how it’s always lupus. Connie laughed. Peridot didn’t. Wolf panted happily.

Connie was petting the huge hound. “Alright, Wolf. I’d like to go in one more time to show Steven. Is that okay?”

He gave an affable bark and then rolled his head a little to the side to expose his neck.

“Just be sure to hold your breath in there,” said Steven. “Although I did have to learn first aid techniques for my Beach City class, so I can give you CPR if you need it.” He scratched the side of his head. “I think I count as a certified first responder now.”

“Um, I think I’ll be fine. But thanks, Steven.” Connie took a deep breath and then dove forward, a nimbus of light silhouetting her as she climbed in.

Peridot’s limb enhancer chimed. “I’m picking up heightened levels of argon in the air. It is, I suspect, the gas filling the dimensional pocket.”

“Argon? Isn’t that the name of a superhero?” asked Steven.

Lapis walked in from outside. She gave Steven a cheerful wave and found a stretch of countertop to lean against. Steven waved back.

“Negative.” There was a pause and then she hedged, saying, “Most likely not. Regardless, argon is a colorless inert gas used for purposes like incandescent lighting, blue-green lasers, as well as acting as a shielding agent to prevent chemical reactions. Its utility is manifold.”

“Wow, I didn’t know you were so passionate about argon,” said the teen while errantly petting Wolf’s flank.

Peridot preened slightly. “As a technician and a Crystal Gem, it is only right that I appreciate one of the most abundant elements in the Earth’s atmospheric mixture.”

“Oh geeze,” said Lapis. “You didn’t get P talking about argon did you?”

“It’s-” Peridot faltered, her voice hitching a little. “It’s just such a noble gas.”

Lapis shoved off from the counter and headed straight for the door. “Nope! Not going through this again. I don’t have time for that and I’m ageless!” The screen door slammed shut on its own.

“Bye Lapis!” called Steven. Then the teen cocked his head to the side, thinking something through. “Wait, but if it’s so common, how come we can’t breathe it?”

Peridot pulled up a holographic pie chart. “As you can see, the atmosphere is overwhelmingly nitrogen and oxygen, the latter of which you need for respiration. Argon exists in the admixture but in insufficient quantity to obstruct breathing. Being denser than air but chemically inert, it makes a superb flame retardant. I was sorely tempted to use it in place of the foam I have installed in the Beach House’s system, but the risk of suffocation was too great.” Her expression soured and she grumbled, “Now, if only Doug had allowed me to install rebreathers throughout the dwelling like I’d suggested...”

“Hey, miss Peridot?” interrupted Steven. “Hasn’t Connie been in there for, like, a long time?”

Peridot’s mouth fell open and she brought up a holographic timer. Her eyes bulged at the display. Running at the couch, the gem clawed with seven fingers at the fur around Wolf’s neck. “Wolf! Open your pelt-based portal to me immediately! Connie may be imperiled!”

Wolf, meanwhile, scrambled to his feet and tried to fend off the panicked guardian, the two more-or-less collapsing into an undignified scrum across multiple couch cushions.

Steven was tapping his chin. “Huh, maybe it only works when Connie asks.”

Wolf clambered off the couch, semi-trampling Peridot in the process. The green gem pushed herself up with one arm and thrust out the other towards Wolf in a dramatic display. “Curse you, recalcitrant canine! And curse you, argon! Your many splendid ways have truly cost me this day!”

Connie spilled out from Wolf’s side, the glow from his fur backlighting her exit. She landed on her back, facing the ceiling and gasping as she sucked in great lungfuls of air.

Steven ran over, staring down at his friend. “Connie! Do you need mouth-to-mouth resuscitation?!”

“I’m still-” gasp “-conscious, Steven, I’m-” gasp “-fine.”

Steven frowned. “Oh… Are you sure?”

Connie’s cheeks were flushed, obviously from holding her breath and for no other reason at all. “Yes. I just tried to-” gasp “-look for that missing journal again and-” gasp “-stayed too AAH!”

Peridot rocketed into Connie, ironically clutching the girl tightly enough it was making it hard for her to breathe. “Oh, my precious dear! I’m so relieved you didn’t asphyxiate! Words cannot describe my-”

Connie was slapping the gem’s arm and pointing at her throat. Her face was beginning to shift color.

“Eep!” The guardian released the girl and scooched back. “Sorry, dear. Between the argon and the threat of your untimely demise, I may have gotten a little excitable.”

Steven, still looking a little disappointed his training wasn’t needed, said to Peridot, “If only there were those rebreathers you were talking about inside Wolf.”

Connie, who had finally turned her normal shade of color, sat up. She opened her mouth to object when she stopped. “Wait… Would that work?” She looked at Wolf. Wolf managed a very convincing shrug for a quadruped, then padded over and licked her face.

“And couldn’t you, like, put other stuff in there too? Like a sword? Or a tent? Or your bike?” Wolf was looking a little apprehensive but Steven was growing all the more excited. “Or your favorite book? Or snacks?” Wolf barked, suddenly onboard with this line of reasoning.

Connie considered this. “Uh, wouldn’t the lack of air make the food go bad?”

Peridot chimed in. “Actually, one of the many uses of argon is as a preservative. With all moisture and air displaced, the shelf-life of foodstuff is vastly extended.” A beat later and she was walking with haste across the living room, temple door sliding open. “I’ll fetch the rebreather prototypes your father rashly rejected. Oh, argon, I can’t stay cross with you. With my Connie restored to me, all is forgiven,” she rhapsodized.

The temple closed and for a moment there was silence. The teens both stared into the middle distance and then, slowly, back at one another.

“Steven, do you realize what this means?” said Connie, her expression serious.

Her friend nodded. “Yes. It- It changes everything.”

Connie and Steven were sitting on the edge of the boardwalk facing the bay. Wolf was lying between them, panting contentedly as the sea breeze blew in his face.

Connie and Steven shared a look and nodded in unison.

“Wolf?” asked Connie, and Wolf licked his chops in agreement.

The girl leaned sideways, burying her arm up to the shoulder, bathed in both sunlight and the faint glow from yellow fur. A second later she pulled out a six-ring pack of sodas, tossing one to Steven before cracking one open herself.

Reaching in again, she withdrew a wide bowl, a little water sloshing over the side. Wolf began lapping at it gratefully.

A third attempt and she retrieved three pairs of sunglasses, two normal-sized, one large. With serious expressions, she and Steven wordlessly flipped them open with a sharp snap of the wrist --they’d practiced that move for hours the day before-- and put them on. Then, together, they carefully positioned the large pair for Wolf’s benefit.

A final reach into the pocket dimension resulted in fry bits, perfectly preserved from when they’d been ordered days earlier. Connie held a handful out for Wolf, who licked all of them into his mouth and began chewing contentedly.

A little ways distant, Jenny Pizza and Buck Dewey, two-thirds of the Cool Kids, were watching in awe.

“Now that’s cool,” said the delivery girl.

Shades slipping down his nose, Buck nodded, lost for words.

Chapter Text

It was evening in the Beach House and Connie, Steven, Peridot, Lapis, and Jasper were present in the living room. Even Wolf had padded in from outside and, after a brief visit to his food bowl and water dish, he'd flopped down in head-scratching range and joined the group.

Connie sat on the middle couch cushion and was clutching a heavy book to her chest like it was a piece of flotsam and all that was keeping her from sinking beneath turbulent waters. There were bags under her eyes and her hair had been tidied, but poorly, the result of someone too distracted to focus on their work.

To her left was Jasper, the large gem stoic as ever. Alert and indomitable like always, she sat with the patience of a mountain. One hand had drifted down and was now idly scratching Wolf's yellow head.

Steven was sitting to Connie's right, the boy looking at his friend with faint worry lines encroaching on a face that was used to smiling. Every so often he'd raise a hand as though to pat Connie's shoulder only to stop short and slowly lower it back to his lap.

Lapis was lounging at the window seat, the blue gem looking at the room through half-lidded eyes. The corner of her mouth was turned up into a light smirk, the cause of her amusement unknown. A little powdered sugar clung to her shorts, a reminder of her previous Big Donut-supplied snack.

Peridot was pacing up and down the length of the Beach House, ten pounds of nervous energy contained in a two pound, green sack. Her limb enhancers were clasped behind her back and her eyes were fixed on the middle distance, the gem seeing thoughts rather than scenery.

After a minute of watching Peridot travel back and forth, Lapis broke the silence and said, "What's up, Dot?"

Peridot stopped, blinking to focus her eyes on her surroundings. Turning to address the group, she brought a fist-equivalent up to her mouth, cleared her throat, and said, "Ah, yes. Recently, new, shocking information has come to light that needs to be shared with all of us. I-" She shook her head. "Connie dear, why don't you tell the others what you told me?"

Connie's grip on the book tightened marginally and the girl seemed to shrink around it. Then, drawing a deep breath, the girl found her emotional footing and sat up a little straighter. "I found an old journal of mom's, one she kept super hidden. And, well, it turns out..." A hand went up and touched her brilliant yellow gemstone. Another breath and, like someone ripping off a band aid, she said, "Mom was actually Yellow Diamond."

Peridot flinched at her Diamond's name. Jasper's eyes narrowed but the gem otherwise maintained her poker face. Wolf's gaze was locked on the gemstone at Connie's neckline, his expression oddly serious. Steven clutched at his tummy as though he'd eaten something that didn't quite agree with him. Lapis' unknowable smirk deepened slightly.

Peridot's floating fingers twitched slightly, a sign of their owner's nervousness. "I'm certain you are all shocked by this revelation but-"

A yawn cut the gem off, the response silencing the technician from sheer audacity. All eyes turned to Lapis.

Without sitting up, Lapis said, "That chump just couldn't keep from stealing my ideas."

Peridot stared at her, first in confusion, then in mounting alarm. "B-Blue Diamond?!"

Lapis winked, her smirk finally blossoming into a full grin. "What, you think any gem can levitate all the oceans off this planet? I've been slumming it on Earth for millennia. The food here is waaay better than on Homeworld." She finally sat up, stretching like a cat, and added, "Though the palanquin did make for a heckuva nap."

Everyone stared at Lapis for a long minute. Peridot was the first to snap from the tension. "GAH! But you- And the Rebellion- How could you even-" Her hand-equivalents went to her mouth and her cheeks flushed. "And we've-"

Another blue wink and Peridot threw her arms up in defeat. "Alright, show of hands: who here is secretly a Diamond, either shapeshifted or embedded in a foreign body?"

Hesitantly Steven raised a hand, the other one pulling his shirt up to expose the pink gemstone set where his belly button had been previously. "Things got a little weird with an hourglass a while ago."

Connie's eyebrows tried to escape her forehead and her jaw dropped as low as it could go.

Jasper's large hand went up, leaving Wolf's head momentarily bereft of noggin scratches. There was a flash and the gemstone on Jasper's face pivoted to reveal a more regular, four-sided shape. Another flash and it returned to its familiar orientation. "Plaid Diamond. I don't get a lot of publicity."

Peridot stared at the warrior-cum-Diamond uncomprehendingly. Then she all but shouted, "Of course you are! Of course I'm surrounded by not only Diamonds in disguise, but secret, hitherto unknown Diamonds in disguise!" She paced a bit before slowing to halt, her expression thoughtful. "I guess that leaves Homeworld being managed by White Diamond. After all, she's the only remaining member of the-"

Wolf raised a paw as though to shake. In a swift change, the paw as well as the rest of the hound turned a perfect white.

"Oh, you have got to be janking me!" said a slightly-muffled Peridot, her face buried in her hand-equivalents.

Chapter Text

Connie, Steven, Jeff, and Peedee were playing an exciting game of Lutes and Loot. Jeff, as the Earthly Controller, exclaimed “The Alien Matriarch, with a noise of thunder, swaps Connie and Steven’s bodies!” “What? No fair!” “Yes! I have a gem now!” “ were the person who wanted that homebrew, weren’t you, Steven?” “But it’s way more fun to actually use it!”

Connie, realizing it’s her turn on the IniTracker 9000 (upgraded from a desk calculator by Peridot, after lots of convincing), says “I run up with Steven’s greatsword, slicing my blade through the foul beast!” After the sound of rolling dice, Jeff tells Connie “It weakens the yellow fiend... but, angered, she snaps the blade in half between turns with a Legendary Action!” Peedee, annoyed, tries to convince Connie to replace it with a halberd, which is a third of the price with the same damage (“But you don’t understand, it’s a part of my character!”)

Steven, not realizing the fact previously, says “Aww, no fair. She’s a Legendary Monster?” Peedee, annoyed, tells Steven “She’s used like 10 Legendary attacks already on me…” Peedee then exclaims that “I use Twinned Spell to shoot two Eldritch Blasts to deal… 48 damage, plus 5 for each ray, so 88 damage! That better weaken it a bunch, right?”

Attacking right after Peedee, Steven bashes the enemy with his new Force Field ability, saying “That must kill the monster!” Jeff affirms this, but… “As she falls, she shoots lightning at the support beams. The palace crumbles! Do a skill challenge to escape-” “Why are there so many rules for something as obvious as rolling a handful of dice?”

After the argument ends, they all roll to see if they can escape. Steven, unlucky as always, nearly fails, making Connie need to drag him out. They suddenly switch to their normal bodies, and escape out to their Unishuttle. “It looks like pirates are in the middle of taking it!,” exclaims Jeff as the game ends.

After the game, they all eat some Indomie Noodles. “I keep telling you, Maruchan’s less popular, but way better!,” says an annoyed Jeff. “Yeah, you’d be an expert on that…” laughs Peedee. Jeff gets a text, and excitedly tells them that the space pirates will be led by Sadie’s guest character, an Archombie! “Where’d you get the stats for that? They haven’t been in the game since 2.5th Edition…” says Peedee as they leave.

Chapter Text

The pair of teens giggled and then Steven ended the call. It was all Connie could do to sit still while Lapis finished and her nails dried. The second they were declared dry, Connie grabbed her pack and bolted out the door.

As the sound of footsteps receded the Beach House was briefly silent. Bismuth finished a blocky crenellation. "I wonder what those two get up to while they're out."

Peridot looked up from her tinkering. "They're unsupervised teenagers. What can they be doing? Neither possesses much currency or the necessary license to operate a vehicle, which sharply curtails any mischief they could be engaging in."

"Maybe they're sparring," said Jasper, gemstone still buried in the rulebook. "They were talking about it the other day. Sounded like sparring."

"Perhaps they're cataloguing local flora or fauna," offered Peridot as she worked.

Lapis, lounging with a knowing smile and a fine dusting of Pocky crumbs, sat up and looked at Peridot in disbelief. "You think they're chasing bugs? Really Dot?"

In a defensive voice, Peridot said, "They could be." Then, more casually, she added, "Regardless, I am unconcerned."

Lapis pouted at the now-empty box of Pocky, then nodded at Peridot. "I s'pose you're right. I mean, it's not like they're fusing or anything."

Everyone chuckled at the absurdity of the idea.

"Besides," added Lapis, "Connie's on the pill."

Lapis, Jasper, and Peridot all nodded sagely.

Bismuth paused in her Lego construction. "The what?"

Lapis skipped over and bent down, whispering in Bismuth's ear. The smith's eyebrows rose prodigiously. "No!" she said eventually.

Lapis nodded, smirking, and sashayed back to her window seat.

Bismuth continued to stare into the middle distance. "But who would even..." she trailed off.

Peridot looked up from her work. "Citrine, to name the obvious example."

Bismuth stood up, Legos ignored, her gaze distant. "When you gals said Alloy had protection, I thought you meant that saber on her hip." She turned and walked toward the temple door.

Jasper looked up from her book. "Headed somewhere?"

"Just gonna go scream in some lava," answered Bismuth, dazed. "Back in a few hours."

Jasper gave an acknowledging nod and turned back to her book. "Did the same thing myself," she muttered.

The temple door whooshed shut. Peridot, meanwhile, put some component back in place and nodded as the kitchen appliance thrummed. Pausing to look up at Jasper she asked, "Wait, what? But you lack Bismuth's immunity to extreme heat."

Jasper glanced up just enough to give Peridot a look that said, 'And?' Wordlessly, she went back to her reading.

Chapter Text

Informal Summary

Neimaat comes to Beach City to visit her friend, Steven. There she gets to see just how much her pal has changed, she gets to meet this Connie she’s undoubtedly heard so much about, and she’ll get to see the weirdness that is Beach City.

Dates: June 9th - June 11th (starts a day after Ep18)

Themes/Story Beats

  • Neimaat as the outsider. Beach City is weird and here is Steven and Connie’s chance to play tour guide to someone experiencing it all for the first time.
  • Steven’s past. Steven and Neimaat knew one another in years past and here we get to show a little of the pre-Beach City Steven that Connie (and the audience) has never gotten to know.
  • HoH/Deafness. Connie and Steven are both in some unusual places, hearing-wise, and Neimaat can act as an anchor to both of them, helping Steven realize some parts of his past aren’t gone just because his hearing has changed, as well as offering Connie a perspective/advice outside of Steven’s.
  • Steven’s friend who is a girl. We’ve hinted before (or, in RetConnie’s case, outright shown) that Connie is a little insecure/threatened by Neimaat with relation to Steven. Neimaat is Steven’s age (actually a little older since she's 15 and he'll be 14 until August) and having an older girl present could add to Connie’s unease. This is a chance to play that up for both laughs and sincere character introspection.
  • Teen antics! Banter, shenanigans, teasing, and probably a fair bit of junk food is to be had since we have a trio of teens hanging out.

Tentative Outline

  1. Day 1 - Steven and Connie hanging out with Jeff and Peedee
    1. Connie is experiencing hearing aids for the first time, remark on that for audience’s sake
    2. Steven announces to them and the audience that Neimaat is arriving that day and a little about who she is
    3. Peedee reads the room and maybe says something portentous since Connie is looking a little antsy
    4. Fun ideas on what to do to show a new person around Beach City
    5. Steven gets a text: Neimaat is nearly to his house, Steven and Connie leave to meet her
  2. Neimaat arrives
    1. Our first glimpse of Neimaat
      1. Dark skin, dark hair, dark eyes, hearing aid and cochlear implant, shirt with a french horn on it, and has a pendant with polished charoite
        1. Purple stone to accent her purple implant
    2. She and Steven hug and generally act really excited to see one another
    3. She greets Connie, remarks on her pretty necklace and how it’s changing colors
    4. Steven gives her a tour of his house
      1. Maybe work in the ‘Neimaat is sleeping here?!’ bit
  3. Off to get the bits
    1. See Wolf as Dogbo roaming the boardwalk
      1. Neimaat’s first exposure to actual supernatural weirdness
    2. Meet Peedee getting the bits
      1. Have Ronaldo say something weird in the background?
    3. All three walk down to ‘Steven and Connie’s spot’ on the beach to share the bits and take in the view
      1. Connie can summon force fields for them to sit on
        1. Neimaat is excited and impressed
  4. What to do next?
    1. Can’t go to the amusement park since Connie’s banned
    2. Go to the funland arcade
      1. Neimaat is unbeatable playing as Ice Bear in the Lonely Blade arcade game
      2. Onion is there with his gang (all wearing facial camo) playing games and pilfering stuff from under Mr. Smiley’s exhausted eye
  5. Go to the Big Donut
    1. Just Sadie working there, Lapis and Peridot are there as well
      1. L and P are getting (sour) snacks for a walk/mini-date
        1. A reference to them slowly being a thing again post-Sanctuary
      2. Expose Neimaat to actual gems
        1. Peridot responds to Neimaat’s hearing aid and implant, as well as remarks on the stone in her necklace/pendant
        2. Lapis probably says something nice-but-snarky and gives Connie a non-verbal “Do you want me to ‘accidentally’ splash this girl?” offer
  6. Back to Steven’s for games
    1. Connie has to go have dinner with her dad
    2. Leaves with Neimaat and Steven having fun
  7. DAY 2 - Probably presented as a montage to keep the omake from getting too long.
    1. Jasper is hauling stuff up to the Sky Arena
      1. Background detail for upcoming episode
    2. Steven takes them by the docks and talks about the worm monster
    3. Go by car wash and Greg lets them play with the controls, a hose fight breaks out
      1. Connie has her hearing aids out (water) and Kevin shows up. He acts like Connie’s a moron because she makes him repeat himself when he asks a question. He also calls her ‘jewelry’ [gemstone] tacky.
        1. Steven is angry like Connie’s never seen but he’s not articulate at conveying that anger and Kevin puts him down
        2. Neimaat gives Kevin a thorough tongue lashing
          1. “Connie and I have this hardware to compensate for having poor hearing. So, Kevin, what’s that hardware compensating for?” [points to his expensive car, raises eyebrow]
            1. Neimaat's moment of awesome. Debut characters are generally entitled to one.
    4. Fish Stew take-out picnic at Lighthouse park
    5. Neimaat has Connie help her encourage Steven to perform on his ukulele
      1. Steven does, a little sheepishly. Connie and Neimaat both rise to congratulate Steven but Neimaat gets to him first, big excited hug
    6. “Go to amusement park without me. I have, uh, a training.”
      1. Connie flees, goes to Big Donut, has her talk with Lars
  8. Day 3 - Climax and denouement
    1. All three playing at Steven’s house, Connie has her one-upmanship gaffe moment
    2. Maybe an intervening scene with Steven being confused or Connie feeling like a complete ass
    3. Neimaat finds her later, the two talk and reconcile a few things
      1. Some remark on how changed Steven is
      2. Don’t take crap from jerks like Kevin
    4. Neimaat has to go, had good time, gets picked up
    5. Not sure how to end this, exactly but I’m sure we’ll think of something


Steven, Peedee, Jeff, and Connie Hanging Out - By CoreyWW

[Steven is talking about Neimaat and everything to Connie, Jeff, and Peedee. Connie is looking a little antsy]

“Boy, you must be excited,” Connie said with a laugh. “You sure are ... talking about her a lot.”

“Of course I am!” Steven said, practically bouncing. “All three of us together, it’s gonna be so great, I’m so hype. I’ve got tons of ideas of stuff to do. What do you think we should do first?”

Connie rested her face on her hand.

“I don’t know ...” she mumbled.

Peedee’s eyes went from Steven, to Connie, then back to Connie. Jeff bit his lip and cleared his throat.

“Hey um ... you know what’s a great topic? Something else!” Jeff said.

“Oh um ... Ronaldo was watching wrestling last night ...” Peedee said. “That’s something else.”

“It sure is!” Jeff said smacking the table with a nervous smile. “What happened?”

“Well, for one thing, they wanted you to pay ten dollars a month for an app a lot. After that--”

(at this point Steven gets a text on his phone, eventually Connie and he leave. After that, there’s this little scene between Peedee and Jeff)

“Should um ...” Jeff pointed after Connie and Steven. “Should we kinda ... do something about that? That seems like that’s going to turn into a whole ... you know, thing.”

“You know what? You’re probably right ... but us butting in would probably make it worse. Let’s just stay out of this one for now and hope it works out fine.”

“Y-yeah. You know what, you’re right. Let’s just hope it turns out fine.”

Peedee and Jeff lingered in their seats for another moment.

“... there’s no chance of this turning out fine, is there?” Jeff asked.


Off to the Fry Shop - By br42

The trio were making their way through Dewey park when Steven’s latest exuberant description of yet another Beach City resident that he hoped to introduce Neimaat to, Lars this time, came to a momentary end as the boy had to pause for breath.

Connie hadn’t been paying much attention, the sullen Big Donut employee being a subject of little interest to her, and had been instead stealing glances at Neimaat in profile. At first she’d thought her purple necklace and like-colored hearing aids looked kind of garish against the girl’s dark skin, but with the lavender t-shirt to compliment it, Connie had to admit it made for a confident, eye-catching outfit.

She spared a glance at her cream-colored top, teal shorts, and sneakers, feeling blandly dressed by comparison.

Neimaat, meanwhile, used Steven’s need for oxygen to raise a separate subject. “Hey Steven, remember Mae Cupp?”

Steven blinked. “You mean the girl who used to pick on us back in, like, third grade?”

Neimaat’s natural smile widened. “Yeah, with all the freckles. Last year she ended up moving into the same school district as me in Empire City, which, I mean, what are the odds?”

Steven whistled, a noise which sounded weirdly different through her hearing aids, and said, “Yeah, Empire’s huge.”

I’ve never been to Empire City, a corner of Connie couldn’t help but observe.

Neimaat nodded and made the knocking sign for ‘yeah.’ “She stopped me in the hall one day and apologized for being such an ass back in elementary school. She mentioned you too, by the way. That was pretty cool of her, I thought.”

Steven’s eyes had lit up, hands clutched to his chest. “That’s wonderful! Oh! Tell her I said ‘hi’ and ‘thanks’ and, oh, that it’s really great of her for growing as a person like that and that I hope she’s have a great time in Empire. What’s she like now? Are you two friends?”

Steven’s enthusiasm prompted a laugh from Neimaat, the girl brushing the side of her mouth with her index finger, thumb extended, to sign her amusement as well. “BB, not everyone is friends with everyone like you are. That was a good thing she did but we don’t, like, hang out or anything. I see her around sometimes but that’s it.” They were just about to Boardwalk Street when she added, “Though I’m much less likely to blast a tuba at her to make her fall out of her chair.”

Steven laughed. Connie thought she remembered Steven saying something about that back when they’d only had Jasper to look after them for nearly a week. What she said, though was, “‘BB?’”

Neimaat hooked an arm over Steven’s shoulder, “It means ‘brass buddy.’ Back when Mae Cupp was a major dink, I’d gotten into this,” and she gestured with her free hand at the silver French horn on her shirt, “and Steven was into the trumpet. It’s a nickname we had for each other that stuck, even if he doesn’t play trumpet anymore.”

Connie nodded, unable to think of anything to say in response.

“Oh, hey. There’s Dogbo!” said Steven, sliding Neimaat’s arm off so he could cup his hands to his mouth and shout, “Hey Wolf! Here boy!”

Sure enough, Wolf had been sniffing around the fry shop wearing the salvaged Frybo costume, altered just enough to fit the colossal canine. At Steven’s cry, Wolf perked up then ran at them, tongue lolling out of his mouth and bits of costume flapping in the breeze.

Neimaat’s eyes went wide and she fumbled in her pockets, withdrawing a tiny can of what Connie assumed was pepper spray.

Advancing a few steps, Connie placed her hand over the front of the canister and said, “Please don’t mace my dog. He’s perfectly safe so long as you don’t have pork in your pockets.”

The taller girl only stared at Connie for a second…

“Who’s a good boy?” asked Steven excitedly. Wolf barked and leaned into the battery of chin scratches. “Yes, you are, that’s who.” Steven paused, raising a hand from Wolf’s fur and sniffing it. “Ooh, you even smell like french fries! Best. Destiny animal. Ever!” pronounced the teen.

...before lowering the pepper spray. “Will do. So, um, why is your person-sized yellow pet wolf dressed like a cup of french fries?”

Connie smirked, perhaps because it was Neimaat instead of Connie who felt like the outsider. “He works part-time for the fry shop. We get to use his employee discount, by the way, so everything is half price.”

With that Connie joined Steven in giving Wolf pettings and praise, the hound practically vibrating with excitement.

Thirty seconds of gawking later, Neimaat pocketed her pepper spray and walked over, offering the outstretched back of her hand for Wolf to sniff. “Hi Wolf,” said the tall teen.

Wolf snuffled over the girl’s hand, up her arm, and when he reached her face he gave her a big lick from chin to forehead.

Author's Note: I didn't feel like doing the transition from that encounter to them meeting Peedee, getting the bits, and going to the beach. So I conjured up a bit of weak physical comedy and slapped a horizontal rule down instead. WRITING!

Buying the Bits, Going to the Beach - By br42

As soon as the trio approached the fry shop a thin arm thrust out of the ordering window holding a towel. "Thanks Peedee," said Steven as passed the rectangle of fabric to Neimaat, who used it to mop her face, neck, hands, as well as her necklace.

Wolf had been enthusiastic about the new guest.

"Sure, Steven. That happens often enough I keep a stack of them beside the register," answered Peedee, leaning with one elbow against his side of the ordering window.

Connie fidgeted. "If Wolf's being a problem-"

Peedee was quick to interject. "Naw, its fine. Dogbo is drumming up all kinds of business and, honestly, I think it's the kind of mild weirdness the tourists look forward to." The cashier drummed his fingers on the counter, adding, "I'm pretty sure Onion and his summer friends have been using Wolf licks as, like, a substitute for showering."

Neimaat finished her ablutions and she handed the towel to Peedee. "I think I'll stick with the regular kind of showers, personally. Hi, I'm Neimaat."

Peedee chucked the used towel somewhere into the recesses of the shop then accepted the girl's hand. "Peedee. Steven's been gabbing about you and your visit pretty nonstop lately. Lemme guess, you're here for the bits, right?"

Steven thrust his arms overhead and shouted, "The bits!" before coming over to pound on the customer side of the ordering counter, chanting, "The bits! The bits! The bits!"

Neimaat laughed then joined in. Peedee rolled his eyes and retreated to the fryer to fill the order.

Connie started to head over to join the chant but there wasn't room. She lingered awkwardly at the fringe instead.

Bits in hand, the trio bid farewell to Peedee and headed toward the beach, something Steven and Connie had done many dozens of times since their first meeting.

Connie and Steven watched attentively while they strolled as, with ceremonial pomp, Neimaat was offered her first handful of the bits.

Neimaat held the fry pieces up and waved them under her nose like a wine taster sampling a vintage's aroma. "I've been so hyped to try these." Looking at Connie, she said, "Steven's been waiting to drag me to that fry shop for months."

"Yeah, Steven took me to get the bits the day we met," said Connie with a chuckle that fell off her lips a second later. Seeing Neimaat standing beside Steven, savoring the bits as she had eight months ago left Connie feeling a little hollow.

Neimaat snacked. Steven waited with bated breath for her verdict. "I think..." she said.


"I think..." Neimaat popped another couple bits in her mouth and smiled as Steven practically vibrated with anticipation. Swallowing she said, "I think they're great!" her hands making the sign for excitement.

"Yus! The bits win again!" exclaimed Steven with a fist pump.

As ever, Connie's mood couldn't help but be lifted by Steven's earnest antics. The bag o' bits was passed about and everyone was enjoying the salty, crunchy goodness by the time they reached their spot.

Steven swept an arm out like a maître d' showing them to their table. Neimaat looked at the blank stretch of sand and raised an eyebrow, hands signing her confusion.

Rather than explain, Steven shot Connie a wink and she felt a small flush of satisfaction. Trying and failing to conceal a grin, Connie willed a trio of horizontal force fields into place, the magical equivalent of a folding table with two benches for seats.

"Shit! She can really do magic?!"

Steven's grin became tinged with confusion. "Of course she can." A hand went up to adjust a hearing aid he no longer had. "I told you she could, right?"

Neimaat was prodding the topmost force field. "No, you did, but, I mean, you were convinced Jeremy Nguyen could really stick his finger in his ear and poke the inside of his mouth."

Steven chuckled, sliding down onto the 'bench' opposite Neimaat. "Hehe, yeah, but Connie and the Crystal Gems are real. Really real." Connie sat down next to him.

Neimaat sat down gingerly on the field, staring through the 'table' as she waved her hand underneath. "Yeah, she sure is. Connie, this is awesome."

Connie nudged the bag of bits over to a grateful Neimaat, a grin clear on her face. Okay, maybe this won't be so bad after all.

Author's Note: Wanted to temper the anxiety/jealousy with some genuine good times for Connie. Neimaat's cool.

Connie’s Fantasy Sequence - By CoreyWW

[Connie has to leave for the night while Neimaat and Steven continue to hang out. While she's away, Connie has an unpleasant vision of the future.]

“Wow Steven, you sure have grown up,” Neimaat said, inexplicably now wearing a more flattering outfit. “So have I, as you can see.”

“I sure can!” Steven said excited. “Would you like to go out for pizza and then go on the ferris wheel?”

Neimaat gave an infuriatingly, uncharacteristically bubbly laugh.

“Why I’d love to? What about your friend though?”

“Who?” Steven said. He glanced over to Connie. “Oh yeah, that.” Steven waved his hand dismissively. “Eh, she’s fine. We’ll be back later, Cathy. Don’t wait up.”

“It ... it’s Connie,” Connie said, her chest tearing in two.

“Oh yeah, sure, whatever,” Steven said as he linked arms with Neimaat and they skipped off.

Amusement Park? - By CoreyWW

Neimaat: "Why don't we check out that amusement park? That seems like a lot of fun."

Steven: "Oh um... Well, we can't do that. Connie's been banned"

Neimaat: "Oh..."

Connie: (hopefully) "B-but don't let us stop you. You can still check it out. Steven and I can just wait at Fish Stew Pizza-"

Neimaat: "Oh no, that's fine. It's not a huge deal. Amusement parks tend to be noisy and hard to deal with sometimes for me anyway. I do like pizza"


Neimaat: "Yeah!“

Connie: (feigning enthusiasm) "Yeeeeah."

Advice From Lars - By CoreyWW (smidgen by br42)

Connie: "SADIE... I NEED HELP" (internal: I need advice from a friend who will not make me feel like I'm irredeemable)

(Lars comes out)

Connie: "Oh... Where's Sadie?"

Lars: (bored, on phone) "Day off."

Connie:"Oh... Well, I kinda needed advice and wanted to talk to her... I... Guess I'll come back..."

Lars: "whatevs."

(Connie starts to walk away, then groans and turns around)

Connie:"Okay, so like, if a guy who is your friend starts hanging out with another girl who is his friend instead of you, wouldn't that make you upset?"

Lars: (looks up) "Huh?“

[Lars eventually gives Connie some biting but actually kind of helpful advice so that she'll go away]

Connie: "Thanks, Lars. That was... oddly helpful." [goes to leave, pauses at door] "How about this didn't happen?"

Lars: "All I remember is wishing you'd leave."

Connie and Steven's Argument - By CoreyWW

“Connie, what’s going on? You have to tell me!” Steven asked once he caught up.

“Nothing’s wrong!” Connie grumbled, trying to ignore the stinging in her eyes. “Just leave me alone. I’m sure Neimaat is getting lonely without you there!”

Steven blinked, his face turning to faintest shade of red.

“Okay, what is the deal with this? I thought we were having fun and then it seems like you turn around and act really mean to Neimaat for no reason!”

“Oh I’m sooooo glad you’re concerned about Neimaat, why do you automatically take her side?!” Connie said, seething with anger.

“Cause well ...” Steven stiffened. “Well, she’s not the one acting like a jerk.”

“Oh, I’m ... so I’m the jerk?!” Connie felt her hair fritz up.

“I didn’t ... call you a jerk,” Steven said, fumbling over his words. “Just that you were ... kinda ... acting like one ... a little.”

“Well, that’s just fine. You have someone to replace me so you don’t NEED to hang out with this jerk anymore.”

Steven closed his eyes and took a breath.

“Okay, Connie, remember how you wanted me to make sure you don’t do anything that might be evil? This is edging into one of those times.”

“OH GREAT, so you think I’m evil now?! That’s--” Connie clenched her fists. “You know what? If you think that, maybe you should just hang out with all your old, not-evil friends who you have all these good memories with because you sure don’t seem like you need me anymore.”

“I-- look, all I wanted was for all three of us to have fun and now it’s like you’re making me choose between you and one of my oldest friends? How is that fair?! I ...” Steven’s face turned redder. “Well ... if you really think that, maybe we ... should just take a break for a bit.”

Connie’s eyes went wide, disbelieving what Steven was saying. She felt anger bubble in her chest as she shouted.

“Fine!” Connie said.

“Fine!” Steven shouted back.

They both turned and walked in opposite directions.

“Fine!” Connie repeated.

“Fine!” Steven said.

“FINE!” Connie shouted louder as she walked away.

About a dozen or so steps later, when the anger bubbled down, the gravity of what had just happened sunk in. Connie turned around to look back, to ask Steven not to leave ...

But he was already out of sight.

Chapter Text

Steven ran up the steps leading up to the Beach House. Connie had been telling him about a fan theory for Dogcopter she had been puzzling over, and he had a new fact to add. He couldn't just text her, it had been too hard won, with visits to three different blogs and a chart.

"Connie! Connie! The rotation of Dogcopter's blade is the same rotation pattern we see on the city crest! Connie!" He threw open the door.and was greeted with a faceful of smoke and what smelled like burning strawberries.

Bismuth was standing at the stove next to a slightly despairing and now totally mortified Connie, a baking pan full of milk and a pile of burnt cereal and strawberries on the counter on a cutting board.

"Wow," he could only say.

"Hey, Meatball. I tried making Alloy here breakfast," said Bismuth by way of explanation. "Cereal with strawberries. Now I know you're not s'posed to try to weld the cereal to the strawberries and use the milk to set them."

"How did that even happen?" Steven asked. "I mean, why would you even try to weld strawberries to cereal?"

"Green didn't leave me the recipe, so I just did what was natural."

Connie still looked absolutely mortified as she began to scrape the completely burnt cereal into the trash. Bismuth was so oblivious to how badly she had messed this up, Steven thought. She was treating something no sane human being would do as a simple mistake. In fact, that seemed to be a thing with Gems. Like Jasper, who he remembered had broken the stove trying to make them dinner that one time.

And it was at this moment that Steven knew what he needed to do to be a good Destiny Partner.

“Welcome to the Joy of Cooking for Humans Show, with Steven, Connie, Bismuth, and Jasper!” The ditty that Steven had composed earlier played on a speaker in the corner as a sort of theme song.

The camera, operated by one of Peridot’s robonoids, panned up to reveal the four standing behind the kitchen counter in traditional cooking garb: white chef’s hats with their names written across the front in cursive and needlessly pristine white aprons. Bismuth’s chef hat was made out of freshly soldered aluminum with her name stamped on it in Gem lettering.

“Today,” Connie said authoritatively, “we will be making tacos. Jasper here will tell us about their rich history.”

I love tacos, mouthed a wide-eyed Steven to the camera as Connie began taking the ingredients out of the fridge. Bismuth stood by, looking on solemnly but eagerly.

After Connie had set the ingredients down into the mise en place, Jasper walked out of the frame to fetch some visual aids Connie had put together. She placed Connie’s poster on a small easel, being careful not to knock over the ingredients, draped the string of dried peppers over it for decoration, and stepped next to it.

“Tacos were first made in Aqua Mexico over two thousand years ago. The humans used ingredients from the surrounding area to nourish them, which included corn, peppers, and meat from livestock. Due to human resettlement the knowledge of how to make these tacos was transferred all over lands where humans live. Many humans like them, and that is why we are making them today.” She stepped back into her spot behind the counter, gazing on impassively.

“Thanks, Jasper,” Connie said, mildly impressed. “Now to begin, we will need the filling. Because Bismuth here-” she gestured to Bismuth, who inclined her head, smiling, “likes spicy foods, we have prepared two mixes of spices to treat the meat with.”

Steven scampered to the cupboard to grab the two mixes. One was a fairly regular spice rub in a Tupperware with a piece of tape on it reading Universe’s Epic Taco Mix. This was from his dad. The other was a plastic cylinder covered in taped warnings written in bright red Sharpie that read, among other things, BISMUTH’S TACO MIX. NOT FOR CONNIE!!! NOT FOR HUMANS!!! LAPIS, DO NOT TOUCH!!!!

“This is Steven’s dad’s taco mix,” said Connie, pointing to the regular Tupperware. “It contains a variety of powdered spices and herbs, including smoked paprika, oregano, and garlic. This-” she pointed to the cylinder, “is a special mix that Steven and I made with Peridot out of the spiciest peppers known to humankind.”

“We had to order ‘em off the Internet and dry and powder them ourselves, but hopefully it was worth it. We made something truly insane,” Steven said.

“Awwww, thanks, Alloy, Meatball. And tell Green I say thanks too. I mean, I can’t believe you all would go to all that trouble with peppers from across the planet just for me! Here’s hopin’ I can taste ‘em. What’s in it?”

Connie pulled a list out of her pocket and read it. “Ancho chiles, Trinidad scorpion peppers, ghost peppers, cinnamon, Carolina reaper peppers, nutmeg, habaneros, and a bit of cacao to give it some sweetness. That’s over 3 million Scoville.”

Bismuth frowned. “What’s a Scoville?”

“It’s a unit that measures how spicy something is,” Steven explained.

“Humans have that?” Bismuth said, amazed.

Jasper nodded solemnly.

“Can humans ingest it?” asked Bismuth.

Connie’s face darkened as she recalled Steven after he had tried the barest taste with the corner of his little finger. She had never seen him in so much agony, screaming unintelligibly while his right hand pumped frantically signing MILK.

“Sort of,” she resigned herself to replying.

“Anyway,” said Steven quickly, no doubt remembering the same incident, “in order to make tacos, you have to start with treating the meat with your spice mix, which we’ve already done! So we can get to the vegetables.”

Connie took several bell peppers out of the bag sitting on the table. “This presents an excellent opportunity for the viewers and for our two guests to learn about proper vegetable chopping technique. Now these bell peppers have already been washed and dried by me, so the first thing to do is get out your knife and hold it, like so.” She motioned for the robonoid to turn the camera, which it did. “Hold the flat side of the blade against your knuckles. Now hold the food while you chop with a bent claw, your knuckles tucked underneath, like this.”

Bismuth and Jasper followed her lead. Jasper was copying the hand motion with razor focus, while Bismuth had eschewed a knife altogether in favor of her own hand shapeshifted into a blade pitched at the same angle.

“Now use smooth, even strokes for uniform pieces of pepper.”

They did their best to copy her, although Jasper was going painfully slow trying to imitate the technique without crushing the counter and Bismuth was creating a little bit of a breeze with how fast her knife-hand was moving.

“Onions are next,” said Connie, reading from the list of steps taped behind the camera. “So you’ll want to do the same thing. It’s also important to peel the onions beforehand. Steven and I have done that already.”

“Oh!” Steven added. “Viewers at home may want to take breaks while chopping onions, since the fumes from the onions really irritate tear ducts.”

“Really?” intoned Bismuth. Jasper looked the onion sitting on her cutting board up and down in total dismay.

“Yep,” said Connie. She began chopping quickly to prove her point. “See? My eyes are watering right now.”

Jasper, her own eyes full of chagrin, looked the onion up and down again as if she were searching for sacs of poison or hidden spikes.

“Now I’ll chop the herbs,” said Steven. “You’ll need cilantro and garlic.”

The chopping continued silently for a few minutes, though Jasper did keep stealing disquieted glances at the onion on Connie’s cutting board.

“Now you’ll want to get out a sautée pan and put some vegetable oil in it,” said Connie, doing just that. “We start over medium-low heat. That’s just enough to brown the vegetables enough to make them tasty but not enough to burn them.”

“Burnt food is not very tasty,” Steven said, ostensibly speaking to the camera. “We pride ourselves on making tasty food here at the Joy of Cooking for Humans Show.”

“That’s right,” affirmed Bismuth with a smile.

Connie raised a knowing eyebrow. “So with your non-stick sautée pan, you’re going to want to use a spatula to push the vegetables around to ensure they don’t burn. While I’m doing that, Steven will get out the meat.”

Steven took two tubs of beef out of the refrigerator. There was a brief moment of panic as he forgot which was which, but he took a sniff and immediately recognized Bismuth’s spice mix. His eyes began to water more than Connie’s had when she chopped the onion. He methodically took his skillet, coated the bottom with vegetable oil, lit the burner, and poured the regularly-spicy beef into it. “We’ll want to do the same thing with the meat, except the heat should be medium-high. Again, stirring constantly is absolutely key so that the meat will be cooked through.”

Connie stood, Bismuth watching over her shoulder, sautéeing the vegetables like her dad had shown her. Bismuth seemed absolutely captivated. “Now they’re just all juicy and brown. The water in ‘em’s evaporated, but you don’t wanna burn ‘em, right, so they’re just gonna be… soft but still a little bit crunchy.”

“That’s the idea,” said Connie, her eyes bright. “It’s all about the way the food feels in your mouth as well as how it tastes.”

Meanwhile, Jasper got out her own skillet, which dwarfed Connie’s, and poured Bismuth’s meat into it. She was beginning to light the burner when she poured in some vegetable oil as an afterthought. Steven, eyes wide, showed her how to coat the pan with it, then went back to his own meat, stirring frantically so as not to burn it.

“Bismuth, you’re on garnish duty,” said Steven. “We’ve got avocados, cheese, some limes for flavor, and more cilantro.”

Bismuth took the mentioned ingredients out of the fridge, then asked Steven, “What do I do with these? They’re already cut.”

“You arrange them in bowls so we can decide how much we want.”


After Steven had warmed the corn tortillas, everything fell into place quickly. Connie and Steven, proud if a little run ragged, sat at the table with their beef tacos. Jasper fetched drinks- Aqua Mexican soda was in order- and Bismuth stared quizzically at the piece of cloth that had been placed at her spot at the table.

“It’s a napkin,” said Connie. “For wiping your mouth when the food juices get on it.”

Bismuth shrugged. “Okay.”

Jasper pushed her chair back and sat down. “It’s customary to propose a toast after a meal has been cooked on a special day,” she said. “Frodo toasted his uncle’s birthday every year.”

Connie and Steven simply looked at each other.

“I want to toast to all the Crystal Gems, present and past,” said Jasper, raising her soda can. “To their good health.” The large gem even went so far as to raise the soda to her mouth, though she refused to actually take a drink.

“Hear, hear!” said Steven, drinking deep from the can of fizzy cola.

“Hear, hear,” echoed Connie faintly, a soft smile on her lips.

“Here, here,” said Bismuth. “We’re all four of us here. I don’t know why you feel the need to point it out.”

This prompted a giggle from Steven.

“Let’s eat!” said Connie.

They all took a first bite of their taco.

“Good,” said Steven.

“This is much better than I expected for the first time cooking like this,” said Connie. “Your dad has a good taco recipe, Steven.”


“AIIIIIIIIIIIII!” Bismuth stood up abruptly, knocking her chair over, and started running helter-skelter around the Beach House to douse her mouth with something. “THIS IS TOO MANY SCOBLES! 3 MILLION SCOBLES IS TOO MANY SCOBLES!”

“Milk! You want milk!”


Chapter Text


Connie stared at the positive pregnancy test in her hand. It was surreal, seeing the positive result. For a few years she and Steven had been talking about having children, not seriously in the beginning, but over time that changed. Even more so than most things in her life, it was not simple.

When she was born, her mother had given her gem to Connie. Would Connie have to give hers to the baby? Would she, as her mother did before her, have to trade herself for the child?

It was all completely unknown - there was no precedent. Connie was truly one of a kind, no one had been half-gem before, let alone been a mother as one.

To begin with they had rejected the idea out of hand. Living in fear of that though, not having the lives they wanted, that didn’t sit well with either of them.

Steven weighed heavily on Connie’s mind. While he insisted he could never put her at risk for it (while at the same time, he also insisted that if Connie wanted to take that risk, he did too), being a father was something he could never truly give up on. After the wedding, they had thought about adopting for a long time, but eventually Connie had made a decision.

Her mother had worked so hard to ensure that Connie discovered who she was, what she was capable of, for herself. Citrine had made the gems promise not to tell Connie what powers she was likely to have in the fear that she would internalise those limits and make them fact. Giving birth to Connie was a power her mother had used at great cost, but birth was one power Connie also inherited from her human half. If she assumed the same limits...

Steven had been worried that Connie saw it as an obligation - her magical destiny to follow in her mother’s footsteps, but that wasn’t it. Connie knew she wanted this, and her mother was the source of confidence to commit to it.

Steven’s forehead pressed against her own as he smiled, a hand gently caressing her cheek as they both stared at the positive mark on the test. He had some tears in his eyes, and Connie knew even he wouldn’t be able to say if they were tears of joy or sadness. Connie knew it should be a bittersweet moment, but she surprised herself with her own resolve.

This was a good thing.

Connie and Steven sat on the beach, the wind blowing lazily, just enough to make the warm sun not feel too warm. Connie still threw up a field - feeling cool doesn’t stop you getting sunburnt.

“Who’s going to be the hardest?” Steven asked

“Your parents are going to be the easiest. Honestly, I don’t know for the rest,” Connie replied with a deep sigh. Her brows furrowed. “My Dad... I’m not sure if having been through losing my mom means he’ll understand it more or less.”

Connie took another slow breath. "Priyanka will probably give me a two-hour lecture on proper prenatal care and browbeat me if I don't have a pediatrician lined up. But other than that, she'll probably save her feelings for dad."

“And the gems? I’m really glad Lapis doesn’t do the whole ’mope in the ocean for months’ thing anymore,” Steven said. Connie understood why he would assume the blue gem would be the most upset and emotional, but again, she wasn’t sure.

“Jasper never understood my mother having me. She didn’t understand, but she did accept it. I don’t know how she’ll react when it is me deciding it. Peridot... she has spent my entire life making sure I’m safe...”

Connie heard a snort from Steven, and surprised, she turned to see him clearly attempting to hold in a laugh, a look in his eyes she knew too well.

“You could say, she’s been a... helicopter mom?” Steven said, a twinkle in his eyes as he cracked up at his own dumb joke.

Try as she might, Connie couldn’t stop herself from laughing.

“That’s the worst, you are the worst,” she said, still laughing, and batted his arm, playfully reprimanding him.

“Picked the wrong guy as father of your child then, huh?” Steven said, a sly smile on his face as he moved closer to her, gently guided her down until she was laying in the sand, and stole a long kiss from her.

“Steven!” Connie said, intending a stern rebuke for the very public display of affection, but hearing the word come out mildly instead. However, Steven still relented and rolled away to lie next to her, his smile unrelenting and infectious.


Doug’s hand gripped Priyanka’s so tightly it hurt. He released it with an apologetic glance as he realised what he was doing.

"Dad, I know what this could mean," Connie began, desperate to assuage the pain she saw on her father’s face. "We spent a long time thinking about this, and it is what we want, whatever the outcome."

"I guessed. There is too much of your mother in you to back down from anything," Doug said, sadly but with a smile. "You are just so young still..." he said, trailing off by the end.

"I know I’ll always be your little girl, but I’m not that little anymore, Dad." Connie said. "If we keep putting it off... It will always be unknown. I want to have my own family, Dad. I only get as much of that as I’m willing to risk for it."

Priyanka looked to Doug, uncertain she understood the full implications. Doug had explained that Citrine had ‘given up her form’ to make Connie, and Priyanka had always interpreted that as equivalent to death during childbirth.

"How does a pregnancy and birth work for Connie?" she asked.

"I don’t know. I know what Mom did, but... I’m not Mom," Connie said before Doug could say anything. However, he nodded.

"Citrine had no idea at the time if it would work or what Connie would be,” he explained. “She didn’t know if Connie would even be half-gem, let alone what a half-gem having a child would mean."

"We were hoping you would be there when we break it to the gems," Steven said, with an apologetic smile.

Peridot’s looked through her own tears into Connie’s eyes and, unusually, she seemed to be finding it hard to choose her words.

"Connie. When your mother chose to have you, it was a decision I didn’t understand. She spent a lot of time giving me the relevant information and her thought process, but I could not replicate it."

The green gem paused for a second, again seeming to consider her words before speaking.

"Citrine was gone, and it seemed obvious that was a cost too high, no matter the outcome. I met you, in your juvenile form. You were clearly an inferior version of the gem we had lost. Then, I got to know you. Saw your gradual maturation, and here we are today. I understand now why Citrine would do it, and therefore why you would choose to do the same."

That was not the reaction Connie had been expecting from Peridot, and - by the look on the faces around her - she was not alone in her surprise.

"Years of treating her as if she was the most fragile thing on the planet, and now you don’t care if she does this?" Jasper said, disbelieving.

"If we lose you, I..." Peridot’s voice caught, and she looked almost surprised at her own inability to reproduce the words she intended to. "Your mother gave me a great gift; getting to raise you and know you was something she wanted for us. She would want it for you too, even if there was a severe risk involved in the endeavour." While saying this, Peridot’s hands were uncharacteristically working on each other - even though her limb enhancers were long gone, Peridot’s hands were usually doing something productive. Here, though, it was as though she were trying to physically hold herself back while at the same time pushing herself. “Jasper, we must respect Connie’s wishes as we respected Citrine’s.”

Jasper’s brow furrowed. She took Connie by the shoulders and looked directly into her eyes, as if searching them for an understanding she couldn’t find. “Are you absolutely sure this is what you want to do?” she asked simply.

Connie nodded, holding Jasper’s gaze, and Jasper sighed deeply. She didn’t say anything more.

Lapis just threw her arms around Connie. The blue gem, usually unable to avoid references or humour of some kind, just stated simply: "I don’t want to lose you, Con-Con." Her tears were already flowing freely, and Connie started welling up as well. She returned the hug earnestly, and she felt Peridot’s arm wrap around her as well, the other around Lapis as the technician joined from the side. Jasper’s large arms encircled them all. Connie couldn’t say how long they spent just holding each other, but by the time they moved apart, it was dark.

“Good pregnant or bad pregnant, I’m not really getting a read right now,” Greg said with a smile that was supportive, but with an underlying hopeful humour. Mary batted his arm, playfully reprimanding him for being so cavalier, but she waited for a response.

“Intentionally pregnant,” Connie said definitively, and Greg immediately pulled his son into a hug. Mary did the same to Connie, although it was clear she had not missed the implication of choosing a third answer to the question.

The Universes then swapped and Connie found herself embraced by a positively beaming Greg.

“Well, I think this is a moment for father-to-son fatherly advice,” Greg said smiling at Steven, although Connie was pretty sure that Mary was the one who had prompted it with a subtle look to Greg. Connie had ended up in a few ‘girls-only’ talks with Mary, and it looked like another one was on the cards.

Sure enough, they were soon finding their way to the office in the back of the Universe’s music shop.

Mary launched into the thick of it as Connie was sitting down “So first things first, if you need a human woman to talk to about pregnancy, I’m always here. Don’t hesitate to call or visit if there is anything you want to know about, or just get off your chest.”

“Thanks” Connie said “The human bit I’m actually looking forward to.”

Mary waited patiently for Connie to continue.

“I... well, you know my mother gave up her form when I was born, right?” Connie asked.

Understanding flew to Mrs. Universe’s eyes before turning into concern. “Will you?”

“That’s the question,” Connie answered, giving a little laugh before stifling it as she noticed the small shock from Steven’s mother - the gallows humour was a coping mechanism for Connie at this point, but just hearing this, it might seem overly morbid to Mary.

“We don’t know. My Mom couldn’t live without her gem - it was her. Now it’s a part of me, but not the whole of me. Maybe I’ll just have a normal human child, or they will grow their own gem. Even Peridot has no idea.”

Mrs. Universe looked uncomfortable, but visibly steeled herself and looked straight at Connie. “Connie, you know you always have a choice.”

“I know. I want this, even with the risks. We thought about this for a long time before trying,” Connie said, despite everything, blushing as she realised the implications of saying that she and Steven had been trying.

Stars, she’d spent literally the entire day walking around talking to everyone she cared most for about Steven and her... that thought was getting buried extremely deeply.

As she looked up, face burning, she was surprised to see Mrs. Universe looking at her with a very Steven facial expression.

“Oh my! They’ll look like Stevonnie ! They’ll be gorgeous !”

Connie couldn’t help but be infected with the smile as her conversations with Steven’s mother appeared to go full circle, and she was once again reminded how much of Steven’s personality could be found in his parents. She could practically see stars in Mary’s eyes.

Steven followed upstairs, into his father’s ‘Mellow Room’, taking a seat that sank more than he expected it to.

“So, kiddo, good pregnant or bad pregnant?” he asked again, this time with a straighter face.

“Yes?” said Steven, and they both gave a small laugh that didn’t last. The air sat a little heavily, and Greg reached back and hit play on a digital media player that was sat in a stack alongside much older audio equipment. He slowly dialed up the volume, and some electric guitar chords strummed slowly in the background as the song started up, soft enough to talk over easily.

Greg’s eyes narrowed, as if trying to remember something, then the vocals came in with “Lightning Crashes” and he instantly jumped to press the skip track button, laughing nervously. “Maybe something else.”

Steven’s mind was on other things, however.

“Connie... She really wants to do this,” he began, before quickly clarifying, “I do too! I just don’t want to risk losing her.”

Greg nodded sagely. “It’s not easy, the dad thing. Without your mom... I don’t know Steven, I can’t even imagine how hard that would be.” He looked down, before breathing out as though the idea was going with his breath. “I know I’d still love you - and her - with everything I am. Everyone risks losing the people they love all the time - it’s not the same, but something can always happen. Childbirth isn’t risk-free even for us humans, you know?”

Steven nodded, thankful for his dad’s words, but he didn’t know how to respond.

“Look, Steven, we thought we had it hard when we found out about your ears!” Greg said, and Steven’s hand still reached up to the place his hearing aids used to sit. “Whatever happens as a parent, you just have to keep going, try and do the best you can. Doug has been there, done that, and got the very depressing t-shirt. You know he wouldn’t trade Connie back, even if he could.”

“No one knows what will happen, so you can’t presume the worst, as long as you don’t ignore it either.” He sighed, and added with an apologetic tone, “I wish I could say it’ll all work out for sure, son.”

“No. Thanks Dad, I know that isn’t how it is. I love you,” Steven said.

“I love you too, even if you are going to make me into an old grandpa,” Greg replied, with a mock tone of scorn.

Steven laughed, and pulled himself into a straight stance, clipping to a salute. “Fatherly advice understood! Thank you, Dad!”

Greg returned the mock salute, and then clapped his son on the back as they walked out and headed back downstairs where the voices of his wife and daughter-in-law were audible already.


After the announcement, Connie felt like she needed an appointment system. Her time was suddenly a precious commodity, with too many people eager to spend time with her. It was uncomfortably close to what Connie imagined being terminally ill might be like. It felt like a betrayal to everyone who cared about her to take time for herself. When she found herself sitting in the Temple, alone, it was peaceful. She sighed deeply, running her hands through her hair and relaxing in a moment with just her. Well, as ‘just her’ as she could be given the pregnancy. The baby was, however, very much a silent partner for the time being.

She opened her eyes to see Peridot turning to walk away. "Did you want something?" she asked, and Peridot looked apologetically back.

"It is fine. I can see you are tired and we have bothered you enough today. I was just coming over to see how you are, but I didn’t want to disturb you."

"I’d actually like to speak with you," Connie began, and Peridot looked a little concerned as she quickly moved to sit next to the young woman.

"It’s not something bad, it’s just... Thank you for understanding."

"You were an education for us, dear. I understand because raising you..." she trailed off, smiling a bittersweet smile. "When your mother left us, we all would have traded anything to stop it. I wouldn’t trade you though. I understand."

There was a pause as Peridot chose her next words carefully. "Gems aren’t meant to have daughters, but your mother did, and while you may not have gotten to know her as a mother..." Peridot began.

Connie finished for her. "Mom is... complicated. You might not be Mom, but you are my Mom in so many ways and I never really thanked you for that."

Peridot hugged Connie tightly, tears falling freely. "There is nothing I am more thankful for than the chance to have raised you and gotten to know you."

“Will she live at Steven’s?” Lapis asked

Connie honestly hadn’t really thought about it - she had been raised in the Temple, and it was her home. The reality was obvious though - Steven wouldn’t be comfortable moving into the Temple. There was too little privacy and not enough space for his things - he seemed to have inherited his father’s love of hoarding, to Connie’s slight annoyance. There was no way it would make sense for Steven not to live with the baby, and Connie didn’t want that for herself either.

“I think so, and I think I’ll have to move out, too.” Connie said with an apologetic look to the blue gem, choosing to ignore the potential that she wouldn’t be living anywhere.

“Wait, you still live here?” Lapis snarked, a hand lifted to her mouth in a mockery of shock, joining her wide open eyes in an exaggerated gasp. “I’m pretty sure that you haven’t spent a night here for a week,” she continued, deadpan.

“Well, with the news, Steven and I have just...” Connie tried to think up a new ending to her own sentence as she realised what she was about to imply (however accurately), but she already saw the wide grin forming on the blue face opposite her.

“Oh, with the news huh?” she said, reaching Cheshire-cat levels of smile, “My, my, Pinkie Pie! I clearly haven’t been giving him enough credit!”

Connie’s face filled with a deep blush. “Well at least we have the decency not to just use the Temple as some kind of... love shack!” she said, pointedly.

“Pfft, you have the wrong half of Hiddenite if you want shame,” the svelte gem said as she chuckled at ‘love shack’. “You’ve walked in on me and Dot enough times to know that she’s the one that blushes..”

Connie stood up, not wanting to delve any deeper on this particular subject. “I’m going to Steven’s.”

“Oh, I bet you are,” was the mirthful reply, and a shout of “Enjoy your own ‘love shack’!” followed her as she walked out of the Temple.

Peridot looked at the scans with increasing despair. No matter how she tried to interpret what she saw, it didn’t bode well.

"The gestating fetus does not appear to have a gem," she began, "She does, however, show the same uncharacteristic markers of being a gem-human hybrid as Connie, including what appears to be a deformation in the same location Connie has her gem."

"It is hard to say exactly what this means with regards to the girl's development and the birth process," Peridot continued, a statement that was technically true. The technician failed to mention that she had been hoping to see evidence of a new gem being formed for the child, which would have implied no need for Connie to sacrifice her own.

"Well, duh," Lapis said, with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes and a laugh that rang a little hollow. "She’s a quarter gem, she’s not going to be just a boring normal human."

Peridot gave a small smile directed at the svelte gem as she silently thanked Lapis for the sincere effort to keep a positive spin.

Connie and Steven both looked up with stars in their eyes.

"The girl?" Connie asked, squeezing Steven’s hand tightly.

"Oh." Peridot said, "Yes, the fetus displays the XX chromosome pattern indicating it will be female. It is unclear if this is simply chance or if all half-gems would be female."

"We’re having a daughter !" Steven exclaimed, almost like he was trying on the word, seeing how it felt in his mouth.

"I know what growing up without Mom was like," Connie said seriously. "If there is any chance of that, if I can’t be there... I have to give her the things I wished I had."

“Mom didn’t want me to be limited by knowing what she was capable of, and maybe if I was more like a gem, it would make sense - a gem pops out of the ground knowing its capabilities and purpose. Humans don’t, I don’t. We learn by exploring ourselves and we naturally expect to grow and change. I don’t know many children who get told ’you can’t do that’ and just accept it and stop trying.”

“I want her to know who I am. Not just what people thought of me, or what my powers are, or... I don’t know,” Connie sighed.

Steven looked thoughtful before tentatively offering his suggestion: “Well, knowing people tends to mean doing things with them, talking with them. What about a video? You can talk to her, in a way. Dad has a camera. Well, quite a few, I think...”

Connie thought about it. It would be a start. She had really hoped when she found her mother’s room that she would find something like that. It was better than nothing, but you didn’t know someone by watching a video.

Steven seemed to pick up on her lack of enthusiasm before she had a chance to say anything. “What about things you do? Walking in your shoes would be a bit like doing things with you. Obviously she’ll read the Spirit Morph Saga , and you can make a reading list of other books, and we can pick out music you like, and games, and...” Steven’s tone got more excited as he got into the idea.

“I’d like her to speak Tamil as well as English,” Connie said, joining in as Steven began to run out of steam on different types of media.

“Ooh, and ASL! You can teach kids to sign before they can speak!” Steven said, excitedly. “Simple stuff, but then they can tell you what they want. Plus, it’s adorable - their little hands doing the signs!”

Connie had heard of that, and it did sound adorable. As with most things, a twang of regret shot through her as she considered she might never get to see it, but she pushed it aside.

Connie arrived at her Dad’s house, Steven at her side. They were going to have dinner. Since they had announced the baby, invitations had become almost daily events, and she suspected that Priyanka was the only thing stopping them from being more frequent than that. As Connie had grown up, her dad had clearly tried to treat her less like ‘his little girl.’ Since the announcement, there were a lot of hugs that lasted longer than normal, and a lot of old nicknames sneaking back. Connie didn’t mind, although it served as a constant reminder of the burden she was putting on her father.

It was always nice to spend time with him, though, and Connie relaxed into a comfortable evening chatting and eating.

When they were finished up, Connie couldn’t help but ask Priyanka for a recipe, and soon the latter was jotting down a version.

On the other side of the table, her father was rising. “It’s upstairs somewhere, let’s see if we can dig it out.” Steven followed him upstairs with a quick smile over to Connie and a short sign - “[photo album].” It looked like her baby pictures were coming out.

Priyanka finished up the recipe and handed over the small sheet of paper, densely packed with instructions, in handwriting far more legible than doctor stereotypes had led Connie to expect. Connie expected to follow the men up, but Priyanka gestured for her to wait.

“Connie, I wanted to talk with you a little about the baby. I know you grew up with both too few mothers and too many at the same time. I know I’m not going to be her grandmother, but I want to be in her life, whatever happens," Priyanka said, earnestly.

Connie paused for a second, surprised. “You will be her grandmother,” Connie began. “She’s going to grow up visiting you and Dad together. Even if I wanted her not to think of you like that - which I don’t - that is, I don’t have any problem with it, not that I don’t want her to think of you like that,” she finished, tripping over her words a little as she tried to explain.

Their relationship had never been simple. Particularly early on, Connie had been - as much as she hated to admit it - a stereotypical stepchild. She was pretty sure the words ‘you aren’t my real mom!’ had been uttered at some point. While that was all in the past, Priyanka had always been careful to ensure she didn’t come anywhere close to attempting to ‘replace’ Citrine for Connie.

“I know how happy you make Dad, and I never really disliked you. It was just... easy to think you were somehow taking some of Mom away from Dad and from me. I don’t think that now.”

Priyanka looked genuinely touched and moved to hug Connie, before faltering - clearly worried she was going to overstep the mark with the display of affection, but Connie stepped forward to accept the hug.

“It means a lot to me to have your approval,” Priyanka said with a sincere and serious tone as she broke the hug to move back. “We look forward to getting a chance to babysit the little Miss Universe-Maheswaran-”, Connie noticed the slight cringe as Priyanka said ’Universe’, ”-whenever you need it. Your Dad...” she trailed off and her eyes darted to the door quickly, as if checking Doug hadn’t snuck into the room somehow. “He wishes he had spent more time with you growing up. Spending time with you and her... he would like that a lot. I would too.”

Connie felt guilt twist in the bottom of her stomach. Priyanka hadn’t said it, but it was obvious her dad was regretting not spending more time with her as a potential time limit on doing so had suddenly appeared. She pushed the thought down, to join plenty of others in the pit of her stomach.

Connie felt saved as she heard her dad and Steven laughing, then re-evaluated as she realised the depth of her father's betrayal. Steven was carrying a box of photo albums, while her dad was already flipping through one - lifting and angling it towards Steven as they walked to show him a particular photo.

The box was dropped a short distance to the table, with a soft thud that confirmed Connie's fears about the number of photos about to be displayed. The album her dad was carrying was quickly abandoned to the table, as he started walking his fingers through the albums in the box. Quickly he found his target and lifted it out with a triumphant, "Here we are!"

"Peridot took me rather literally when I said I would like to see how Connie was growing," he explained. He moved around to bring them all on the same edge of the table, and placed the album in the centre where they all had a good view. His fingers gently brushed the edge of the picture, a conflicted smile as he looked down at the baby in the photo. He pulled back his hand and put it around Connie in a side-hug instead.

There were six photos across the two pages, neatly slotted into plastic pockets. Each showed an overhead view of a tiny Connie, in an equally tiny onesie, her gem peeking from the loose neckline. She was lying down on her back on a set of digital scales, with tape measures on both the horizontal and vertical axis, precisely positioned to begin at the same point.

Steven burst out laughing and Connie chuckled; glad that at least the joke was not entirely at her expense. Priyanka, looking a little unsure, took a quick glance at Connie as if asking for permission to laugh. Under the table, Connie took her hand and gave it a small squeeze. The squeeze was returned, and then Priyanka reached up to the box and flipped through a few before pulling an album from a later period, this time a collection of pictures displaying Doug beaming next to a similarly excited toddler-Connie at Funland, holding a stuffed toy almost as large its new owner.

By the time Connie and Steven were leaving, it was very late. The box was empty, its albums all open at different points, practically covering the table. As they crossed the threshold of the door, Connie turned.

"Are you free tomorrow? I was thinking it might be fun to go to Funland again," she asked her dad.

"It would be. Count me in," he replied gratefully, and with another quick hug, he let the young couple leave.


Connie’s pregnancy had not been easy - not just the whole ‘you might die during childbirth’ thing, but also the normal human process. Morning sickness had hit her hard, and her back had discovered new ways to ache seemingly every day. Most of all though, she could no longer go on missions, and she found her life suddenly missing a routine she had lived with since she’d been twelve. While she had plenty to fill the time - both preparing for living with the baby, and the potential the baby would be living without her - it still felt like she was missing something.

Time passed and suddenly it wasn’t long to go. There were four go-bags in different places, and it felt like everyone was just waiting for her to explode like a bomb.

Then, the due date had come and passed. A week later, and Connie found herself sitting in the Temple watching TV as Steven sat next to her, hand on her belly as though he could get early-notice from the baby. Peridot was scanning her yet again, the technician having wheeled out a device from her room.

“It appears the situation remains the same as it was yesterday,” The green gem said with a sigh.

Priyanka, who had been drafted in for a human medical opinion, looked concerned. “Normally, we would consider inducing at this point.”

Peridot wrung her hands and shook her head. “We don’t know the process for a half-gem. It could be that the baby’s gem needs longer to form. We should wait a little longer if we can.”

Steven looked over to Connie and said, “I guess it’s not today either.”

An hour later, Steven was calling his parents in a panic. “It’s today!” he practically shouted down the phone.

Priyanka was muttering to herself as she pulled items out of the go-bag. “All this waiting around, and then the baby decides she is in a hurry! I knew we should have just admitted Connie as soon as we passed the due date.”

Connie was laid on a number of clean towels on her bed. While she knew it would probably be safer to be in a hospital, she couldn’t help but feel comforted by being in the Temple. It was home.

Then, suddenly, Connie’s gem lit up, far brighter than it had ever done before. Connie’s body slowly started to become translucent - a shimmery ethereal state that was normally associated with her powers. Connie saw as an indistinct blob that could only be the baby moved upwards through her enlarged belly. Connie instinctively held out her arms and felt the weight slowly transfer, as the baby softly rose to rest in her mother’s arms. A stream of sparkling light extended from her gem to the dip in the baby’s chest where no gem sat, looking like a mystical replacement for the apparently absent umbilical cord. The light seemed to be flowing outwards from Connie, and as it did, her gem finally began to dim, and her body returned to its normal level of solidity and opaqueness.

Priyanka felt Doug’s hand clamp around hers, and knew why. The only person who was there when Connie was born had been the only source she had on what to expect from this moment - they had been expecting some combination of a human birth and the half-gem birth Citrine had given Connie. Doug had struggled to tell her - it was clearly one of the most intensely bittersweet moments of his life.

What was playing out in front of her matched his description all too closely. The baby’s chest began to glow on its own, as a tiny gem began to form in the dip, mirroring its mother.

Connie looked down into the face of the tiny girl in her arms, feeling Steven’s arms and face as he pressed up against her.

"Hello Nora," she said, leaning down to plant a kiss on the infant’s tiny forehead. As she leant over, her gem got closer to the one still forming and the flow seemed to get faster, until the facets of the new gem were clear and shining, glowing with the brightness that had previously glowed from Connie’s chest.

Connie suddenly felt so tired she could barely keep her eyes open, she tried to drink in even a little more of the beautiful face in front of her, and she felt Steven’s hands sit under her own, supporting them and, by extension, Nora as the strength left her. She couldn’t keep her eyes open any more, but as she felt her consciousness leave her, she heard a loud cry.

Her daughter’s.

It was all worth it.

Steven reached out and placed his hands under Connie’s as her eyes fluttered closed. His tears of joy were suddenly recast as he looked up pleadingly at Peridot.

The green gem scanned Connie, a heartbeat passing before her eyes started darting over results on a screen.

"She’s still with us," Peridot said softly, not trusting her own words and checking her readings.

Doug shifted Steven’s hands, moving Nora away from Connie’s gem, which he found was still there. He felt Priyanka’s hand squeeze his and he turned and pulled her into a deep kiss, jubilated.

"I thought I should get one in before you realise I’m a crusty old grandfather," he said with a smirk.

Priyanka laughed, and then allowed herself to breath out a deep sigh of relief. “Now that we know she’s alright, I’ll admit I’m a little jealous of that birth. Ethereal magic floating out of you sure beats the human version.”

Steven leaned down to kiss Connie’s sleeping face, feeling her light breaths against his own and just soaking in the relief of the moment. “I’m a dad,” he said to the first person in his sightline, Lapis.

“And not a widower, let’s not downplay that one,” the blue gem quipped, but her eyes were locked to the small baby as well. This didn’t stop a very large orange hand swatting her upside the back of the head. “Ow! What? Too soon?”

Jasper gently laid a hand on Connie’s head as she slept, and just said softly, “Good job, squirt.”

“I think that title has been usurped, OJ,” Lapis said, and Jasper nodded solemnly, as if committing the idea to memory. The blue gem burst out laughing again at the sincerity of the gesture, and Peridot - finally done with her scans and checks - allowed herself to relax, laughing as well.

Greg and Mary were crouching over the baby, eyes lit up, overjoyed at the little granddaughter in front of them.

“So Pinkie, is little Nora going to get a sister - or a brother? That would be interesting, can half-gems be male?” Lapis asked, to Steven’s evident embarrassment.

“The only way to know would be to perform experiments to test the theory. Five female children would give over a 97% confidence rating that it isn’t possible, given the average birth ratio for humans of 0.517 males to females,” Peridot weighed in.

“I’m going to veto that suggestion right now,” rose a voice from a very tired, but now awake Connie. The room exploded with congratulations, but Connie’s eyes remained fixed on the tiny form in her arms.


Peridot wheeled her scanning equipment back into her Temple room. A minute later she emerged, a print out in her hand.

“I’m afraid it’s unlikely we will know for some time if Nora has inherited powers, or to what extent. As far as I know, hers is the first gem not made in a Kindergarten. We had a similar lack of information with you.”

Connie sat with Nora against her chest, rocking her very slightly. There was a small hiccup and the quarter-gem squirmed a litte. Connie quickly reached and grabbed a small towel to place over her shoulder.

At that moment Steven pushed open the door to the Temple, and promptly fell straight to the floor with a thud.

“Steven! Are you OK?” Connie asked with concern.

“I will retrieve my scanning equipment again,” Peridot said, standing.

“I’m fine,” Steven reassured, holding up his hands as if to prove he wasn’t hiding an injury from them. “You should put up warning signs if you are going to leave up fields like that, though.”

Connie looked down to discover that she had somehow left a very small field, right down at floor level.

“I don’t know when I would have…” she began, before being interrupted.

There was a small ‘hic’, and the field vanished.

The sliding scale of human to gem in the room all stared at the source of the noise, sitting in Connie’s arms.

“That has to be a coincidence,” Connie said with disbelief, staring at the baby in her arms, who stared back at her with interest, arms reaching up.

There was another ‘hic’ and another tiny field appeared halfway between the two faces. Nora chuckled as she looked at her, now yellow-tinted, mother.

“Our daughter is an early achiever!” Steven proudly exclaimed, leaning down to kiss the little girl on the forehead, eliciting more giggles.

Chapter Text

Connie could shapeshift. While all the gems Connie knew could shapeshift, they had projected bodies made of hard light. Connie, having a body made out of people stuff, had never thought she could until Amethyst got her to try anyway. {Wait, who assisted in your initial shifting?}{STEVEN! Definitely Steven! He had some good ideas and he pointed out that I had kind of already shapeshifted back when I shrunk into a little girl on my birthday.}{Ah, very good. Thank you for your assistance, Steven.}{Hehe, yup, that was definitely me and no one else, Miss Peridot.}

The evening following Steven's birthday party Peridot announced her specialized scanning equipment had been completed and was ready to commence testing of this newest power. Which meant that Connie, Jasper, Lapis, Peridot, Steven, and a hastily-contacted Bismuth had assembled in the shadow of the temple to find out more.

Peridot brought more than a ton of equipment, seeming exceptionally determined to see this power thoroughly explored.

Jasper carried the equipment down to the testing area.

Steven brought the power diary, a case of gel pens with glitter ink, his laser pointer, a half-dozen tuna fish sandwiches, a thick stack of animal flash cards, and the first four books of the Animorphs series. {Also, that's a nice looking hair dealie, Meatball.}{Thanks Bismuth! It's this awesome scrunchie that Connie made me for my birthday and it's the best scrunchie ever and I love it!}{Well it's neat. Kind of reminds me of the stuff Kunzite used to like. She was really into eating, always asking the local humans about recipes and trying new ingredients. You two would probably get along if you met her.}{Oh, uh, yeah. I'm sure she'd enjoy eating me. MEETING me. Yeah, that.}

Lapis brought a big bag of animal crackers. The kind with frosting and sprinkles on them. Also catnip.

Bismuth brought herself, though she did offer to hammer out some of the dents Jasper had put in the equipment carrying them down.

Connie brought her gemstone and the grim resignation that videos of her as a cat would be up on TubeTube before the day was out.

Below are the distilled notes from the two days' exercises, compiled by Peridot and Connie, with additional observations from Steven, Lapis, Jasper, and Bismuth.

Test 1: Shapeshifting Trigger Alpha (What allows Connie to invoke the ability to shapeshift)
Connie was strapped into a panoply of scanning equipment. This included multiple sensors trained on her gemstone as well as a full cranial imaging suite strapped to her head. {Ma'am, a lot of this looks like actual hospital gear.}{It is, dear. Part of the delay in conducting this test was procuring the relevant terrestrial equipment.}{You didn't steal these from a hospital did you?!}{Of course not! Absconding with medical equipment from an active healthcare facility could endanger ailing humans. No, these were borrowed from a medical equipment warehouse, a holding place for devices that have yet to be purchased and shipped.}{MA'AM!}{What? I did say these were only being borrowed.}

Connie was then asked to describe (under watch from three video and audio recorders) her exact strategy for achieving a new form. The gist was of envisioning the animal in as exacting of detail as she could and then 'pushing' her body to move into said form. {I liked the part where Con-con said it was like a full-body barf.}{That makes sense. I mean, when I look at you, Raindrop, it makes me want to hurl.}{Oh, you're one to talk, Skittles. When humans invented the phrase 'rainbow yawn' they were clearly thinking of you.}

She was then asked to shapeshift into her form of choice, in this case a domesticated feline of the Scottish fold breed.

A brief recess had to be called while Peridot went over the data and Lapis, Bismuth, and Steven all fawned over cat-Connie, who was partially buried under all the scanning equipment that no longer fit her. {She's just so amazingly cute!}{She sure is, Pinkie Pie. Makes a cute cat too.}{Yeah... Wait, what?}{[cackles]}

Her gemstone demonstrated a discharge of energy which was in-line with what other gems show when undergoing a form change. The only difference was that it was a longer, slower expenditure of energy compared to that of full gems. {Miss Peridot?}{Steven, you don't need to raise your hand.}{Oh, okay. I just thought, that's probably because Connie has all of that, uh, people stuff to move around. That's got to be heavier than light.}{That is a... reasonable interpretation. Thank you for your insight.}{You're welcome!}

The data indicated a large amount of activity in Connie's ventromedial prefrontal cortex and occipital lobe. The former is associated with decision-making and planning while the latter is tied to both vision and visualization. {The squirt thought about what she wanted to be and tried to be it. Simple enough.}{Jasper, I assure you the subtleties at play here are-}{[leaves to pet cat-Connie]}

The scheduled test, Shapeshifting Trigger Beta, had to be postponed for...

Test 2: Shapeshifting Reversal Alpha (What is needed for Connie to return to her default form)
Connie attempted several times to revert to her baseline form but seemed unable to initiate the change unilaterally. Why this is the case is not presently known.

The Steven explained that during her initial shapeshifting episode, Connie remained 'stuck' in her feline form until he 'annoyed her out of it.' Connie, unable to vocalize words, confirmed this by nodding with her {Cute little} ears flat against her skull.

When asked to elaborate, he said that he had to rub her against the grain of her fur, play with her paws in a manner his own domesticated cat finds irksome, and get her wet.

This line of inquiry was then interrupted by Lapis literally falling over from laughter. {I'm sorry, but- but- [snerk] Stevie literally had to use his hands and get her wet to- Ow! Owowowowow! Dot, you're gonna poof that ear if you keep yanking on it!}{Lapis, this is neither the time nor place and anything further I need to say on that matter will be conveyed via blaster. Is that clear?}{Crystal. [rubs ear] So, Pinkie, you said you had to do some heavy petting with Connie to help her out?}{Yeah, I did. I didn't like being that rough with her, but it's what she needed to finish cha-}

Cat-Connie, who had been meowing frantically, managed to change back to human form and tackle Steven, ending the exchange. {Hey, Con-con. Save it for the wedding n-}{[sound of blaster charging]}

It was also determined that, in addition to physical annoyances, verbal or emotional annoyances were sufficient to facilitate Connie's reversion to her baseline form.

Test 3: Shapeshifting Trigger Beta
Connie was once more placed in the suite of sensor equipment and asked to undergo the transformation a few more times so that a large body of data could be gathered.

Test 16: Shapeshifting Trigger Omicron
Jasper, at Connie's request, was poised to smash such equipment not currently on loan from human manufacturers unless this line of testing was terminated. {Seriously, ma'am, how many times do you need me to change into a cat?!}{As many as it takes for me to understand for myself how to- Erm, that is, the exact mechanics of shapeshifting are of great academic interest.}{To who?! It's just the six of us, unless you think Garnet is itching to find out.}{...We can desist with this line of testing.}

Test 17: Shapeshifting Range and Physiology Alpha (What can Connie shapeshift into and what is that form like)
During Connie's, ahem, numerous periods in feline form, a thorough scan of her physiology was made. With the exception of her brain, which was largely unchanged save that it was scaled down to size, she was very nearly identical to the baseline cat, one 'Lion', who was scanned previously. {Sorry about the scratches, miss Peridot. Lion can get a little cranky when he's woken up.}{It's quite alright Steven. I suffered no meaningful injury.}{Plus, she's used to it from Lapis.}{[Jasper proceeded to receive a high five from Bismuth]}

In contrast, a gem in a... erm, similar form- {Hey! I told you guys, turning into something with four legs was tricky!}{Don't sweat it, Raindrop. My opinion of you isn't any lower.}{I see what you did there, BM.}{[ear-to-ear grin]} -scans like a hard light projection that only matches the form superficially.

In other words, Connie effectively becomes a cat, or an extremely close approximation of one, while a conventional gem only looks the part. {And even then-}{Can it, Skittles!}

This time Connie was asked to become another animal she was familiar with: a domesticated canine.

After two false starts Connie was able to attain the form of a short-haired breed of dog called a beagle. {OH MY GOSH! PUPPY-CONNIE IS CUTE TOO!}

A scan confirmed that her physiology was within two standard deviations of the norm for the animal in question, brain notwithstanding. {She's also a good girl, yes you are, yes you are.}{I will admit, rubbing her stomach is oddly satisfying.}{Careful, Dot. Wolf sees you giving another pup belly rubs and you might be in trouble.}

Helping Connie revert involved a ball being pantomimed as thrown while actually being kept in the palm, as well as the running of a vacuum cleaner.

Test 18: Shapeshifting Range and Physiology Beta
Connie was asked to perform a conventional shapeshifting technique, specifically extending or reshaping a limb.

These attempts were unsuccessful.

When asked to try becoming a cat with a larger body or longer tail than normal, she failed to change shape at all until she became a larger breed of cat, a Turkish van. While possessing a larger body and longer tail than that of her Scottish fold form, the proportions were normal for this second breed of cat.

As such it appears that Connie's shapeshifting must either be used for a form as it is generally understood to be, or not at all.

Test 19: Shapeshifting Range and Physiology Gamma
Connie shapeshifted into a feline and then was instructed to attempt to shapeshift into her canine directly. She was then woken up from the nap she'd fallen into in a sunbeam and the instructions were repeated.

The efforts were unsuccessful. It would appear that Connie is unable to shift directly from one form to another, requiring her human form as an intermediary.

Test 20: Shapeshifting Range and Physiology Delta
Requests that she attempt to shapeshift into a younger or older version of herself, or of another human, like the Steven, were all met with blanket refusals. {Some things are better left to the imagination, Dot.}{Pardon?}{Ah, nevermind.}

Test 21: Shapeshifting Range and Physiology Epsilon
Connie was asked to become another animal of a radically different taxonomic classification: a Suriname toad. She confessed she wasn't familiar with the animal in question and seemed even more reluctant after being shown a picture.

All shapeshifting attempts failed.

Choosing a less... aesthetically-controversial form, Connie was asked to assume the form of an ostrich, something which both Connie and the Steven seemed particularly excited about. {Lord Stefan will ride! To Funland my feathery steed!}

However, all shapeshifting attempts failed as well. Connie claimed she just didn't understand how an ostrich was built, not to the same degree as a cat or dog. {The beak alone is, uh, pretty confusing, ma'am.}

After several more unsuccessful efforts across a range of sizes and animal classifications, Connie was able to assume the form of a hamster. When she was eventually able to revert to normal she said the extensive educational module we had done covering rodent physiology and, erm, epidemiology following her request for a pet hamster was what made the difference. {You really studied plagues when you were six, Connie?}{[crosses arms, looks at Peridot] Yyyup. It clearly stuck with me.}{Erm. Let us proceed with some other tests, shall we?}

Conclusion: Connie requires a clear understanding of the relevant anatomy and physiology to assume a shape. This is perhaps an instinctive safety measure so that her reconfigured internals are of an arrangement guaranteed to function. After all, unlike gems, she is dependent on more of her form than just the exterior.

Test 22: Shapeshifting Duration and Frequency (How long can Connie hold a form)
This test and all subsequent ones were postponed for the following day. After returning from her hamster form, Connie was complaining of discomfort, muscular exhaustion, and mental fatigue. However often she is able to change forms, it is recommended that she keep the number of changes made low.

Upon reconvening, Connie, Jasper, Bismuth, and Lapis were all asked to assume the form of a domesticated feline. {I don't believe any breed of cat has eight-inch, razor-sharp claws, Bismuth.}{Well they should.}{BM's right. After all, it'd certainly liven up cat shows and TubeTube videos.}

After twenty minutes Bismuth found the form difficult to maintain and reverted. {Maybe that's why they don't have the claws.}

After a total of fifty minutes Lapis had to revert as well. {Welp, time to drown out the shame of my defeat with food. Hey Pinkie, pass me one of those tuna fish sandwiches.}{[Cat-Connie became quite... excitable at this point.]}{Nope, you've got to focus on keeping that form going, Cat-con. Ya know, for science. [eats sandwich]}{Hiss!}

After a total of seventy-five minutes Jasper had to revert, the gem looking visibly distressed. {[disapproving grunt]}{It's okay, OJ, now you can have a sandwich of your own. No? Well, more for me.}{Rrow! Hiss!}{[muffled chuckles]}

After one hundred and twenty total minutes with no sign of distress from Connie, the Steven mentioned that she spent roughly two-and-a-half hours in cat form her original time but 'was really sore afterwards.' This prompted a unilateral attempt to terminate the continued shapeshifting effort. {You tractor beamed me into a bucket of water!}{Yes but-}{A bucket of ICE water!}{My sincerest apologies dear, but I was very concerned about your well-being.}{Actually Connie, I was reading some of these Animorphs books that Peedee loaned me, and in there bad stuff happens if you stay in the same form for more than a couple hours.}{Fine but... ice water?}

Conclusion: Connie's forms have a kind of inertia to them that keep her from having to actively maintain them. She also appears to have a superior tolerance for post-shifting backlash, though she is not immune and should exercise caution. {[toweling off] Understood, ma'am.} Holding a form for longer than two hours is strongly discouraged.

Test 23: Shapeshifting Recreation Alpha
Connie, after a suitable break, once more became a Scottish fold cat. {EEE! CUUUTE!} The remainder of the tuna fish sandwiches were yielded to Connie, followed by a round of tummy rubs. Subsequent employment of laser pointers and the very ill-advised use of catnip {Hehe. Cat-con went nuts-nuts.} made for a very, erm, high-spirited end to Day 2 of testing.

{Hey, Dot, you've got some pictures of Stevie rubbing Cat-con's tummy, right?} {I do. I made a point of gathering full-spectrum data from as many sources as possible for the entirety of these batteries of tests. Why?} {Because that's going to be the joke that never gets old in, oh, give 'em a couple years, tops.} {I don't follow.} {Don't worry, I'll tell you about it when you're older.}

Chapter Text

Mary needed to go upstairs to do something that was specifically not checking in on her son and his apparently-not-girlfriend. She trusted her son, and Connie seemed like she was smart and sensible, but even very well behaved teenagers are still teenagers.

Normally the pair were constantly making some kind of noise, but right now they were oddly quiet. She just had to walk by Steven’s room to get something , and would happen to look in as she passed.

The door was open, which was a good sign, but the room was empty. That was when she heard it from her left, the older feminine voice that wasn’t Connie’s. Their fusion. From the bathroom.

Mary cringed as she heard it. She didn't want to snoop on Steven and Connie doing anything intimate. Even if fusion apprently wasn’t sexual, it was clearly a personal experience between the two of them.

A personal experience they were having in the bathroom right now. Mary remembered being a teenager. They were very good at making things that weren’t inherently sexual into things that were.

“Of course I have, just... it’s different,” they said - the voice uncertain, scared?

“Don’t worry - if anything went wrong I can always lick it,” the voice continued, then laughed at themselves. “Well, reaching might be difficult depending on where we are talking about - my tongue isn’t that long.”

“And it won’t hurt,” they said, half statement, half question. “It might if it was dry, but wet it’s fine,” they replied to themselves.

After a pause, they continued, “It's just gentle pressure, short strokes. Slowly,” they spoke rhythmically, tutorialising.

Mary started to feel extremely uncomfortable. Clearly there was some level of exploration going on, and while that may warrant some worry, she wasn’t about to barge in in the middle of… whatever they were up to exactly.

Then, a sharp yelp, and “Ow! Ah, blood!” from inside.

Mary didn’t want to interfere, but if they weren’t being safe, that was a line she had to cross. Taking a deep breath, she knocked on the door.

To Mary’s surprise, the door opened straight away, and standing in front of her was the person she had seen before - the fusion. Their face was covered in shaving cream, holding a double-edge razor in one hand. A short line of red was drawn across one cheek, slowly diffusing into the white lather around it.

It was a very odd experience - last time the fusion had - quite literally - popped out of existence very quickly. Stood there in front of them, Mary saw the aspects of her son, but also the aspects of Connie, all jumbled together in this older form.

“Uh, Hi…” - they paused for a second as they considered the next word - ”Mom?”

Mary internally scolded herself for assuming things. Recovering quickly, she threw out a motherly smile, “Sorry, I just wanted to ask if Connie was planning on eating with us tonight? One way or another...” She trailed off, uncertain.

“Oh, yes, she will.” They said back with a smile, before clarifying: “Independently.”

“Right. Good. Uh, Your father has an alum block in the cupboard,” Mary said, pointing to clarify which one she meant.

“Thanks,” was the response, and they turned and crouched to take a look. Mary took this as her cue to head back downstairs.

Chapter Text

It had been a hot day in Beach City but it was now, out on the Beach House patio, a pleasant night. Between the steady ocean breeze and the planks of the flooring, still warm from soaking up the sunlight, it made for a comfortable time for lazing outside, listening to the gentle susurrus of the surf, and staring up at the stars.

Connie and Steven were the first to head outside, the two taking their dinners out to the patio table for a companionable meal under the falling dusk. Then Bismuth had joined them, leaning on the railing not far from the pair. Lapis had landed beside the smith a few minutes later, home from 'a little hydrokinet-flix and chill,' and was sitting on top of the railing with her feet dangling over the sides. Jasper came up the steps, back from patrol, and stood at a parade rest a few paces to Bismuth's left. Eventually Peridot stepped out, done with the post-dinner washing up, and found a spot near Lapis to loiter... or, perhaps so she could catch Lapis with a tractor beam if/when Bismuth shoved her off the railing as part of the pair's usual antics.

Everyone stared up at the stars, a feeling of contented contemplativeness descending over the group.

Steven was the one to break the silence following a sharp inhalation of breath. "Oh my gosh! So I was just thinking about how Peter Pan was like, 'with pixie dust and happy thoughts you can fly to Neverland: second star on the right and straight on 'til morning' and I realized that some of those stars are probably home for you guys like it was for Peter and the Lost Boys!"

Peridot looked slightly annoyed. "Those are extremely unhelpful directions for interstellar navigation."

"If it's their home, how were they lost?" asked Bismuth.

"Actually, I'm pretty sure they were all originally orphans from London," answered Connie. "Only Tinker Bell was originally from Neverland."

"Do we have any of this pixie dust?" asked Jasper. "I'd like to fly."

Lapis looked unimpressed. "Meh, Neverland's overrated. Never getting old isn't much of a perk, really."

"What I mean," said Steven after the peanut gallery comments settled down, "was, uh, where is everyone from?"

"Oh. That was a rather circuitous way of asking the question, but very well, inquiry accepted," said Peridot. "I emerged from Homeworld's Epsilon Kindergarten. Which, given the number of Kindergartens on Homeworld, is actually fairly prestigious," preened the gem.

"Psh," scoffed Lapis. "I'm from Prime's Prime Kindergarten, real estate so premium, it has the word 'prime' in it twice."

"Prime?" asked Steven.

"The heavenly body responsible for this heavenly body," quipped Lapis, gesturing at herself.

"The first off-world colony formed by gemkind," explained Peridot. "Lapis has been extant for a long time."

"Wow, I didn't realize it all went wrong that long ago," said Bismuth, her smirk audible.

Lapis blew a raspberry in retort.

Jasper walked casually over towards the others, saying as she did, "Earth's Beta Kindergarten." She did not elaborate.

Connie gave a cheeky smile and said, "Well, you know where I'm from, Steven."

"Yeah Citrine's-" Lapis' remark was cut short when Jasper, now conveniently within reach, cuffed the side of the blue gem's head. She was about to snap at Jasper but was interrupted when she nearly slipped off the railing, flailing her arms a little to maintain balance.

Jasper walked casually back to her former spot.

"What about you, Bismuth?" asked Connie.

"Me? Actually, you can see my system from here," answered the smith.

Steven sat up. "Really?"

"Sure. Right there, Meatball," and a thick, grey finger pointed up at a spot in the canvas of stars overhead.

Peridot followed the finger and squawked, "WHAT?!" alarmed for some reason.

Bismuth acted as though she hadn't heard the technician. "Yeah, it's the brightest star in the Earth sky-"

"No! I refuse to believe this is factual!" protested the green gem.

Bismuth, grinning, continued, "-though it's actually a binary star system-"

"That's it! I'll have no part of this!" Peridot threw her limb enhancers in the air and stalked off, the screen door to the Beach House slamming shut a moment later.

Connie squinted at the stars and then gasped. "That means you're-"

From somewhere in her apron, Bismuth pulled out a pair of sunglasses and slipped them on. "I'm Sirius Bismuth."

There was a distant cry of frustration from within the recesses of the Beach House.

Lapis shook her head. "You're such a dork, BM."

Bismuth shoved her off the railing, the blue gem giving a startled "GAH!" before thudding into the sand below, too surprised to summon her wings in time.

Chapter Text

As the haptic alarm buzzed underneath her pillow, Connie drifted back to wakefulness. Even before she opened her eyes, she felt a smile waiting on her lips, half-smothered in the clean linen of her pillowcase. Excitement tingled in her from her scalp all the way to her wriggling toes. Today was the day. Today was the start of her week, and the week was all about her.

Bismuth’s handy formula for Unobtanium had inspired Peridot to dig up one of her old dreams: building new sensor towers in Sub-Arctica, perhaps the biggest blind spot in the Crystal Gems’ detection network. There were precious few surviving warp pads in the area, which made early detection of a threat paramount if they were to have time to do anything about it. And with enough Unobtanium, Peridot’s designs could weather even the harsh tundra and its months-long winters.

But wouldn’t you know it, on the week Peridot had scheduled for the project, Doug had a security conference in San Fransokyo, and the Universes were up in Empire City for a music charity festival, Big Hair Rock Care. Nobody would be around to watch Connie for the six days it would take to construct the network in its entirety. And traveling back and forth by warp pad to keep Connie supervised instead of simply committing to the project all at once would triple the construction time.

Peridot had been nigh-hysterical at the scheduling disaster. Weather patterns favored construction in that brief window, and the risk to exposure for Connie was already bad enough at each site when it wasn’t blizzarding. Getting Connie to San Fransokyo or Empire City presented alternative logistical nightmares. What was a Gem to do?

But if Peridot had been upset by the confluence of inconveniences, she went apoplectic when Connie had innocently, offhandedly, quite reasonably suggested that she could just spend the week at home alone.

Connie stretched beneath her covers, her eyes still closed as she arched back against her mattress and savored the moment. Sure, part of her felt a little lonely at the idea of being on her own. But this wasn’t Abandoned-After-New-Years lonely, or Abandoned-By-Stranded-Gems-On-Her-Birthday lonely. It was a good kind of lonely, a finite kind of lonely that meant she was grown up enough to be trusted. And best of all, it meant that she got to be completely in charge of herself, and that the other Gems could entrust her with the safety of Beach City. Anything she wanted to do, she could do. And any renegade corruptions that came looking for trouble would find Connie ready and able to handle them.

Enraptured with her own independence and maturity, Connie opened her eyes and found a smiling blue face hovering less than a foot above hers, pigtails dangling at either side of the grin.

Connie recoiled in surprise, and her head slammed into the shelf above her pillow. Skull throbbing, she reached to her nightstand and collected her hearing aids and power sink, settling them into their respective places. All the while, the grinning blue features watched her, waiting patiently until Connie could hear herself say, “Lapis?”

Lapis’ grin widened. She hung upside-down above Connie’s bed, suspended with her feet stuck inside a watermelon-sized globe of water, and she seemed in no hurry to correct her orientation. “Good morning, sleepyhead! Rise and shine! You may have thought this was Monday, but it turns out it’s gonna be Funday instead!”

Clutching her head, Connie groaned, “Lapis? Why…?”

“What kind of unimaginative bore would even think to start a Funday right-side up?” Lapis said, aghast. Then she grabbed her pigtails and pulled them to the sides of her head so that only the tips dangled, loosely resembling a set of pointed ears. Affecting a basso, throaty growl, Lapis scowled and said, “Harvey Dent: can we trust him?

“Okay…but why…?” Connie said, squinting in pain and confusion.

Because you’re the funnest person I could think of to join me on my capeless crusading,” Lapis snarled cheerfully. “Come on, let’s go kick a bunch of mental patients through the revolving door of Gotham’s criminal justice system. It’ll be a hoot!

“But why, though?” Connie said, gesturing to the space around them, which admittedly did little to clarify her question.

It’s not who I am, but what I do that defines me. That and my sweet car. And my fighter jet. And the boat. I think I also have a Zamboni, but that might have been ret-conned.

“Lapis,” Connie whined.

I am not Lapis. I am VENGEANCE! I am the NIGHT! I! AM! B—!” Lapis broke off into a fit of coughing, her pigtails swinging freely as she clutched at her throat. “Ow! Man, no wonder they did Affleck’s voice in post-production.”

When she was satisfied that her scalp wasn’t gushing blood, Connie slid out from under her covers, the floor treacherously cold against her bare feet. “Why are you back? I thought you guys would be gone until late on Saturday.”

Lapis’ feet slipped from the globe of water, flipping on the way down and bouncing onto Connie’s bed. “Huh? Oh, right. Um, Pippin Dots was going bonkers thinking about you being all alone here, and couldn’t string two diodes together. So I offered to come back and keep an eye on you, even though those two will definitely be lost without me.”

The words stopped Connie cold. After all of her cajoling, all of her promising and pleading and preparing, Connie inspired so little faith in Peridot that the engineer had sent Lapis back to babysit her?

Bouncing on the corner of the mattress, Lapis paid little attention to Connie’s deadened shuffle down the stairs from her loft. “C’mon, hurry up through all your gross human biz and let’s go grab some doughnuts. Then we can go paint the town red. We can paint any town red!” She gasped in sudden inspiration, and squealed, “If we can find enough watercolors, we can literally paint a town red!”

Still pajama’d, Connie shuffled into the kitchen, stopping briefly to give the snoozing Wolf on the couch a scritch behind the ears. She glared at the list of emergency numbers pinned to the refrigerator door by magnet, a carefully organized and annotated tree of phone numbers addressing everything from fire and medical disasters to pandemic outbreaks or toxic spills in the ocean. Jerking the door open, Connie saw rows of reusable containers, each one a prepped meal with reheating instructions taped to its lid. There were enough meals for two weeks at least, far more than she would need for her supposed independence. But Connie had patiently memorized each meal’s instructions, each emergency number, all to assuage Peridot’s uncertainty.

Picking a breakfast Tupperware at random, Connie slammed the fridge closed and thumped the container onto the counter. Glassy eyes watched her peeling the container open from a perch atop the microwave, where Robinson stood in rapt attention of her every move. The lone robonoid left behind from the flock had been modified with a boxy module atop its chassis, a node with a comically large red button on top. If anything were to happen, anything at all, Connie could press the button atop Robinson, and it would send an emergency signal through the robonoids’ network and alert Peridot, who had promised she would come rushing back. But now she didn’t have to. Because she had sent Lapis back to watch her before Connie could even mess it up on her own.

“I don’t really feel like doughnuts right now,” Connie grumbled.

Lapis swan-dived off the edge of the loft. Her floating globe of water blossomed open and fixed to her gemstone in a pair of globby wings that carried her to the kitchen counter. “Doughnuts aren’t about feelings, Con-Con. They’re a substitute for feelings. Let’s go!”

Connie hunched her shoulders and stirred the cold contents of the Tupperware. “I’ve already got breakfast,” Connie said.

“Oh, sure. You’re right. Okay,” Lapis said, nodding. “Whoops.”

Jerking one shoulder, Lapis swept her wing over and batted the container out of Connie’s grasp. Cold eggs and veggies scattered as the Tupperware struck the floor. There was a rush of padded feet, and then Wolf was there, eagerly cleaning the mess before the container could stop bouncing. Robinson looked mechanically offended at the mess, but kept its optics trained on Connie as its mission dictated.

“Aw, that’s too bad,” Lapis cooed in mock-sympathy, unfazed by Connie’s glower. “I sure hope the rest of those boring, non-circular, non-fried-dough meals aren’t equally clumsy.” Her wings twitched as if to promise exactly that impending clumsiness.

Connie trudged up the beach after Lapis, dressed for the day against her will and determined to not enjoy doughnuts no matter how delicious they might be. Robinson clung to her shoulder, having blared in protest when she and Lapis had tried to leave without it. Wolf, evidently reluctant to visit the boardwalk on his day off, had resumed his twenty-plus hours of daily napping after cleaning up Connie’s first attempt at breakfast.

“Hurry up!” Lapis whined, flying literal circles around Connie. “I’ve got low blood sugar! We’ll get the sugar first, and then we can go work on the blood. Come on!”

The blue Gem seemed even more Lapis-y to Connie than usual. She might have wondered why, but her thoughts kept getting stuck in the reason Lapis had come back at all. Hadn’t she already proven herself capable of being on her own for a few days? Granted, the last time it had happened, the Universes had been around to pick up the slack, but this time she was provisioned and prepared. Didn’t that count for anything?

Lapis’ antics were probably meant to mollify her, playing it up as just wanting to hang out with Connie instead of playing nursemaid at Peridot’s insistence. Well, Connie wasn’t about to play along with the thin pretense.

“Et voila!” Lapis announced, grabbing the handle of the Big Donut’s door. “Breakfast is ser—”

The door rattled in its frame, refusing to open, and Lapis succeeded only in planting herself into the glass face-first. She glared at the offending door and rubbed her nose. Inside, the store’s lights were dark, the morning glare making it hard to see inside.

As Connie peered into the store, she saw the Lion Licker display case rolling itself toward the doors. It bumped into the glass, wedging into place against the door with a decidedly humanish grunt of effort. Then the source of the grunt peered out from around the back of the case to survey his work, sweat staining his shirt and soaking his dyed hair. “Okay, that should hold it shut,” Lars called back into the store. “Now we—AUGH!” As his gaze found Lapis, he shrieked and fell backwards, retreating across the tile on all fours.

“Hey, Doughnut Boy! It’s regular business hours. Lapis wants doooouuughhhh-nuuuuuts!” Lapis called. At the last part, she pressed her mouth to the door, her cheeks flaring and eyes bulging as she fogged the glass with the word.

“She’s back!” Lars sobbed, and curled into a fetal ball on the Big Donut’s floor. “Tell my story! But make this part cooler!” Tears and snot stream across his face to pool at his cheek pressed into the floor.

A trio of heads popped up from behind the store counter and display case. Squinting, Connie recognized the faces of Mayor Dewey, his son Buck, and Sadie, the other Big Donut clerk. The latter one stepped out from behind the counter armed with a broom and went to Lars to comfort him. “Shh, it’s okay, Lars. Maybe she won’t try to drown us in here. She wouldn’t want to get the doughnuts soggy,” Sadie said gently, rubbing Lars’ back.

His eyes widening at the sight of Connie, Mayor Dewey hurdled the counter and ran to the glass, dropping to his knees so hard that his dress slacks slid him across the tile. His son followed him at a more languid pace while Dewey clasped his hands and pleaded, “Maheswaran! Please, call off your big sister! We’ll give her whatever she wants if she just ends her watery reign of terror!”

“Okay, first off: sister?” Lapis clutched a hand to her chest in a coy, flirty gesture. “You charmer. Second?” Her face hardened, and she snapped, “I don’t have any ding-dong idea what you’re blubbering about! I just got here, and I definitely wouldn’t drown anybody for doughnuts! I’d just steal them.”

Mayor Dewey shrank back from her, whimpering and cowering behind his son’s leg.

“And third?” Lapis touched a finger to her chin in thought. “How ‘whatever she wants’ are we talking here? I’ve always wanted to paint my face on the water tower, but if we could get it done professionally…”

Connie resigned herself to the utter dearth of information happening between Lapis and Dewey, and looked to Buck pleadingly. “Buck?”

“Hey, Connie,” Buck said, lifting his hand in greeting. If he was concerned with his father begging on his knees, the teen didn’t show it behind his ever-present sunglasses. “Dad and I were stopping in for breakfast when your blue friend started spraying the boardwalk with water. She was laughing and flying. Seemed like she was having a pretty good time.”

“That sounds like me,” Lapis agreed. “Only I didn’t do it! …this time.”

“Maybe Mister Smiley knows who it was, then,” Buck said, and pointed toward the far end of the boardwalk.

As Connie and Lapis turned to look, they saw the Funland proprietor circle around the far end of the block at a full sprint, panic twisting in his face. Panting, Smiley ran at them, glancing back over his shoulder with a breathless whimper. It wasn’t evident what he was running from until a five-foot-tall wave of water rounded the corner and chased after him, rolling down the street all on its own and without any water anywhere near it to feed the wave, let alone explain it.

Then motion blurred over the rooftops of the boardwalk, and the explanation became clearer. A blue figure rode a set of wide, wet, glistening wings that carried her high above Smiley. The figure’s limbs were too long for her body and tipped in gangly claws, and her blue hair floated about her head in a wild shock. Her face was mostly eyeball, a field of white sclera with two blue pupils floating next to each other. But from a distance, Connie had to admit that the creature was uncomfortably Lapis-like, especially since she was deliberately, delightedly guiding the wave of seawater that chased Mister Smiley.

Surging forward, the lonely tidal wave caught Smiley and gathered around him into a blob that sucked him off his feet. He whorled inside bubbles and brine as, bizarrely, the water began to reshape itself with intricate detail, elongating and splitting along its center until it resembled—at least to Connie’s bewildered eyes—a cartoonishly large flytrap flower. The flower “chewed” Smiley, tossing him around inside its maw, and then spat him onto the boardwalk. He tumbled to a stop at Connie’s feet, a soggy head that gasped for air.

Connie knelt to check Smiley for any injuries. When she spared Lapis a glance, she was surprised to see a look of annoyed resignation on the Gem’s features. Moaning, Lapis sagged backwards, her arms dangling at her sides as she whined, “Seriously? As if today didn’t already suck enough…”

The blue corruption chittered at her flower’s victory over Smiley. “Ki-ki-ki!” Then she landed atop the Big Donut and began to gnaw at its titular decoration. The water she had been animating splashed onto the blacktop, forgotten.

“Is… Is that a corrupted Lapis Lazuli?” Connie asked in a hush. Her thoughts spiraled into nightmare scenarios of the continent sinking out from underneath them.

“Worse,” Lapis groused. “It’s an Aquamarine.”

Smiley sputtered, coughing up a splash of brine. “Aw, great. Now my socks are gonna be wet all day,” he groaned, staring forlornly at his sneakers.

Seeing Connie’s non-comprehension, Lapis groaned again and explained, “Aquamarines are just pieces of upper crust entertainment. If I’m a bulldozer—a bulldozer who looks young enough to be your sister, by the way—then she’s a water feature. Smaller scale, completely useless, and totally up her own facets about it.

Connie squinted at the gargoyle up on the roof. It was hard to discern from a distance, but she thought she could spy a teardrop-shaped gemstone on the creature’s cheek. “So she’s not going to sink Del Marva?” Connie asked.

Lapis scoffed. “She could barely sink Beach City if she tried.”

“That still sounds really bad,” Connie noted, alarmed.

The water soaked into Smiley’s clothes suddenly jerked out of the fibers, snapping his clothes and skin dry in an instant as the water flew up to Lapis’ back and spread into lumpy wings. “Chill your thrill. I’ll go take care of this. And there’d better be some bear claws left when I get back!” she snapped, directing the last at the locked doors of the store.

Connie stepped back to watch Lapis fly up to the rooftop. Before she could wonder at the Gem’s plan to deal with the corruption, she jumped at the sudden shadow that poured across her from behind. An immense collection of water floated above her, its insides littered with sand and fiddler crabs and broken plastic beach toys, its surface tinged with the white froth of high tide. Lapis must have pulled it from the surf and brought the ton of water to bear all in silence.

“Hey there, lightweight,” Lapis cooed, gesturing with one hand behind her back to guide her aqua-bomb while she waved with the other.

The Aquamarine looked up from her enormous doughnut, coughing up flecks of paint and steel. “Ki-kii?” she cawed.

Lapis sneered. “Hungry? How about a Hertz Doughnut?”


Darting to one side, Lapis sent her aqua-bomb hurtling toward Aquamarine. The enormous globule shaped itself into a rough approximation of a fist as it sped toward the corruption. “Hurts,” Lapis crowed, “do—”

The center of Lapis’ aqua-fist parted, rippling with a perfectly circular tunnel of empty space. Aquamarine darted through the empty center of the fist and came through untouched as the attack plowed into the gigantic steel doughnut. Bolts shrieked in protest as the doughnut shuddered in its housing while a deluge of brine engulfed it. Dirty seawater gushed off the roof, soaking everything within ten yards of the store, including Connie and Smiley.

“—on’ it?” Lapis finished, eyes wide with surprise.

As Connie dragged her sopping hair out of her face, she heard Smiley moan, “Wet socks again? I’m switching to sandals.”

Connie had just cleared her eyes when the puddles around her leapt straight upwards. Ribbons of water wove together into tiny links, each one thinner than Connie’s pinkie, strung together by the thousands to form a web of chains that stretched up to the roof of the Big Donut. A dozen chains snared Lapis, cocooning her within an intricate prison of water. Then, before she could react, the chains tightened, using the very ground as a fulcrum to hurl Lapis toward the beach with such force that she was ripped out from between her own blobby wings.

The Aquamarine cackled with its keening noise, and then fluttered away, gliding inland on her own watery wings made of sculpted, translucent water-feathers. Connie bit her lip, torn between chasing after the corruption or trying to find Lapis again. Robinson, knocked from his perch by the deluge, summited Connie and evicted a family of traumatized fiddler crabs from her hair while she stood in indecision.

“Maheswaran!” Mayor Dewey pressed his face to the inside of the glass, still on his knees inside the Big Donut. “You have to stop those two maniacs from driving everyone away! Literally hundreds of dollars in tourism revenue for the city is on the line right now. You’re our only hope!”

“Just do your best,” Buck added, offering a thumbs-up. “No pressure.”

Connie nodded, setting her face with what she hoped looked like determination. “Don’t worry. The Crystal Gems will stop her.” Then she set out at a run for the beach, hoping she could make good on that promise with only one and a half Crystal Gems on hand to do anything about it.

Lapis wasn’t hard to find. Connie followed a hundred-foot-long oblong gouge in the beach until she found a pair of bare blue legs sticking out of a mound of sand. With some fervent digging and scrabbling against the gritty mound, Connie managed to drag Lapis out of the hole. Sand caked the Gem’s stunned expression.

“Lapis! Are you okay?” Connie said.

Lapis blinked the sand out of her eyes, and then fixed them into a scowl. “Turn off your ears,” she said.

“What? I’m not gonna—”

“Turn off. Your ears.”

Reluctantly, Connie switched off her hearing aids. Her world in silence, she watched Lapis throw herself out of the crater and into a furious tantrum. Lapis’ face turned deep blue with the force of her screaming, and though Connie couldn’t read lips well enough to follow each word, the gestures that accompanied them made it clear that Lapis intended to do violence on, into, and possibly through something. The tide behind them frothed in time with the Gem’s rage, swaying back and forth to punctuate Lapis’ gesticulating.

Then Lapis motioned for Connie to switch her hearing aids back on. “Okay,” Lapis said, her color fading to normal, “time to dry up that little sploosh. Let’s go.”

“Okay,” Connie said, following reluctantly. “But, um, do you think we can do this with just the two of us? Maybe we should call Peridot and Jasper.”

Clutching an imaginary string of pearls at her throat, Lapis affected the lilting panic of a Virginian debutante. “Why, Connibelle, I am scandalized! How could you even suggest that a couple of ladies such as ourselves would require the attention of multiple escorts? And unchaperoned, no less! What will they say at the cotillion?”

“…okay,” Connie drawled. “It’s just that, she kind of ignored your best sucker punch. And Peridot told me to press the panic button if anything happened.” She plucked Robinson from her shoulder and held it up by way of demonstration.

“Hmm, good point.” Lapis took Robinson from Connie’s hands. Then, winding up with a surprisingly skillful form, she softball-pitched Robinson at the horizon. The little robonoid arced into the distance, fading from sight an instant later. It could have been Connie’s imagination, but she thought she saw a tiny splash somewhere near where the ocean met sky.

“Whoops,” Lapis deadpanned. “Butterfingers.”

“Lapis!” Connie protested, torn between staring at the horizon in shock and at Lapis in angry confusion.

“Oh, relax. When Cortes reached the Americas, he burned his boats to encourage his men. Same principle,” Lapis scoffed.

“You told me you burned his boats.”

“Well, you could say he did it to himself. Who calls somebody they just met Diablita del Mar? Rude.” Lapis stopped suddenly, whirling on Connie and stopping the girl in her tracks. “Look, we don’t need anybody else. I’m ten times the water-wrangler that upper crust pebble could ever hope to be. Now, are you my Boy Wonder, or aren’t you?”

Connie flinched at the blazing anger in Lapis’ bright blue eyes. “Um…yes?”

“Darn skippy, you are,” Lapis agreed, and resumed their march up the beach.

Biting her lip, Connie hurried after, wondering if the job of Boy Wonder came with health insurance, or even water wings. Given how many of them the Dark Knight had gone through, she doubted if they received either in their utility belts.

Their quarry left a clear trail of mischief for them to track through Beach City. Word of a monster on the loose must have spread quickly, even with the city’s government cowering behind a display case of baked goods and thus unable to call for emergency procedures. So the Aquamarine had the town to herself, and was enjoying her monopoly at the Fry Shack. Head tilted back, she squatted underneath the ketchup dispenser bolted to the shack’s counter and worked its pump furiously, inhaling the condiment in great, wet spurts.

Connie crouched with Lapis behind the wheel of an expensive yellow sports car that had been abandoned on the street. The car was an oddity that didn’t belong to anyone in Beach City, Connie was certain. If the license plate was to be believed, the car’s owner was named K3V1N. Its immaculately clean and waxed body provided a close vantage point for spying on the corruption.

“Look at her, flouncing around,” Lapis murmured in disgust, watching the Aquamarine empty the ketchup dispenser into her jagged mouth. “She thinks she’s so great.”

“Pretty sure she’s just thinking, ‘ketchup, yum,’” Connie pointed out as she peered across the car hood.

Pausing in a moment of inspiration, the Aquamarine jammed one whole nostril over the mouth of the dispenser’s nozzle. When she pumped again, a fountain of ketchup erupted from the opposite nostril. The corruption kept pumping, laughing as she sprayed the condiment through her face.

“Clever. That’s exactly what I’d be doing,” Lapis muttered darkly.