Every nerve ending is on fire, every muscle withers, every breath is agony.
Steven is dying and he is feeling every second of it.
With numb fingers, he claws at his bare stomach. The skin is cold and featureless. There is no scar, no wound, no trace that his gem was ever there. Only a raw aching absence that ripples through him. He would prefer a wound, a great gaping hole exposing his guts and staining White’s perfect, clean floor blood-red. At least then he would look the way he feels.
Connie is calling to him but her words are drowned out by a high ringing. Have his eardrums burst? Or is he too far gone to even understand speech?
She pulls him to his feet and sharp pain flares through him, her grip like iron, and he knows the shape of the bruises blossoming on his ribs and arms will match her fingers.
He feels hot and cold all at once, flashes of sensation rolling over him in waves. His heart beats a bruise against his chest in an arrhythmic stutter. It’s all he can do to force his eyes to stay open as his vision blurs and spots.
He feels fear too. A fear like nothing he’s ever felt before. Panic crushes his throat, robbing him of what little air he manages to choke down. He thought he knew fear before; when his home was threatened, when his father was stolen, not even two minutes ago, when his family was bleached of everything that made them them. This fear is instinctual, animal, a wounded pitiful thing.
He wonders if this is what being shattered feels like.
Above the fear however, above the pain, there is another feeling. A pull, tugging him forward. It’s an unshakable urge to move, an irresistible call that he wouldn’t be able to ignore even if he wanted to.
Light spills across his blurry viewpoint as something across the room flares to life. It shifts and flows and he knows those shapes as intimately as he knows his own, half-dreamt things that make his heart hurt.
Then it solidifies, lands lightly on its feet, bright pink and solid.
And he is looking into his own eyes.
It’s him. It’s him, it’s always been him.
There’s no relief in the revelation. Not when half of his soul is separated from him, so far across the room it might as well be on another planet.
He staggers out of Connie’s arms and collapses to the floor almost immediately. Both ankles have twisted and the shock of falling does nothing to numb the sting.
Ignoring it, he drags himself forward on heavy arms.
“ Please…I need-” He gasps with rattling breath.
Connie’s hand grabs at the back of his shirt trying to haul him upright. He can’t even help her and uses what little strength he has to reach out to the blank-faced boy staring right back at him.
“I need it...”
It’s not a feeling, it’s a fact.
He has been torn from his physical half and even now he knows that his facets are fracturing and his spectrum is dimming.
The body will die first, his heart giving out and his breath failing, then his hard light will dissipate, diffuse into nothingness, leaving only a cold, inert stone behind.
He imagines that that fact is upsetting but he isn’t quite sure. All his feelings are on the opposite side of the room.
He looks from the shell-shocked face of White Diamond into his own eyes, baggy and bloodshot. He is drawn to those eyes like a magnet. He needs them.
Before he can take so much as a step forward however, White is on him screeching questions, demanding to know where Pink is.
He thinks that should be obvious.
“What did you say? Answer me!”
He looks back at her.
From the other side of the room, Steven flinches with the deluge of emotions that come from his gem’s roar, the frustration, the anger, the hatred. The pressure of a lifetime of being compared to someone else, by family, by himself, all comes out in that scream and he bursts into sobs as his heart to torn to shreds.
He tried so hard to not be angry at Mom. He had convinced himself that he was only sad, only disappointed, but the echo of his own rage reverberates off of White’s ceiling and he can’t deny it.
It hurts as much as everything else.
He ignores White. Her words aren’t important. The crater he made isn’t important. The gems around him aren’t important. The only thing that matters is getting back to where he belongs.
His body’s voice is weak.
He starts walking.
When White attacks, he is ready for it. What she can’t control, she will assimilate. It’s predictable. She tries to force him to stop but she will never be able to breach the shield. He’s stronger than she is.
Even when she attacks from every side, channeling her energy through her puppets, he brushes her off. He could just let the shield drop but pushing her away, bringing her to her knees, might make her retreat a little.
“No, stop!” His voice calls, “You’re hurting them!”
He could shatter her.
It’s not a malicious thought, just another fact.
He has enough power to destroy her hard light form and crush her into shards and dust.
Ah, but his soul. His soft, tender soul.
Empathy blooms from it, kindness painting it in warm hues. It calls for the safety of others even as it dies. It is in enough pain without him adding to it. He keeps moving forward.
Connie hauls his fragile form towards him. It’s too heavy for her really, but she soldiers on.
She passes it over with a heave and for the briefest of seconds their hands touch, a furnace glancing against a glacier.
He can see the fear in her eyes but it’s overshadowed by faith. She believes in Steven and even seeing him torn in two can’t shake that.
When he can feel gratitude again, he’ll have to remember to thank her.
Then the weight of himself is in his arms and every other thought flies out of his head.
His body is beaming, delight spread across his face and his teary eyes and before he can do anything he throws his arms around him and laughs.
That’s joy! He remembers joy!
Then he is laughing too, hugging him, holding him. They spin, they dance, revel in the happiness of being together, to being whole.
They fuse, and they don’t.
It’s not two separate souls coming together in harmony. It’s one reuniting even more firmly.
He is solid and complete in a way he has never been before.
Connie rushes over, her face flushed with panic.
“Are you back together? Are you you?”
His smile is made small by awe, tears flow freely down his face.
His voice is strong and this time, the epiphany brings relief.
Fourteen years of wondering, of asking questions and fearing the answers. Now, finally, finally, he knows the truth.
“Yeah, I'm me!”
He is buoyed by power, radiant in his joy.
“I've always been me.”