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1. The Days.

 

“I live in the shade created by the sunrise I am waiting for”
― Isbelle Razors

 

~*~

 

As is often the case with enormously devastating events, it was over remarkably fast.

With a sleep-fueled reluctance, Connie at length opened her eyes to find herself on the beach. Lazy waves rolled in to caress the sandy shore not far from her, the sky awash in brilliant blues and whites above it while the high sun bore its warmth down upon on her like a heavy blanket.

She frowned despite the day’s inherent beauty and lifted her head up from the coarse sand, unable to understand. Why was she lying on her side in the sand on such a day? Falling asleep in the sun was dangerous, even for those of darker complexion like herself. She knew that.

She struggled to remember what she’d been doing prior to this, but her attempt came up blank. Why did she feel like she should be - she couldn’t recall - somewhere else?

Had she really been asleep?

She certainly felt like she had, mouth dry and head disoriented as they were, but she couldn’t imagine why she’d fall ever asleep on the beach in the middle of the day. Much less could she remember doing so.

Nearby her, a groan. Her head snapped around in a vague panic as she realized she wasn’t alone.

She recognized him by his pink skin and hair instantly as he pushed his upper body up into a sitting position.

Lars was only a handful of yards away from her. From there, he stared out over the ocean in confusion. She saw how he shifted the weight of his torso onto one arm and lifted the other to scratch at the back of his neck as he stared out over the ocean, and it struck her that perhaps he had no idea what he was doing there, either.

She drew a breath.

“Lars!” she called over, voice dry and hoarse, causing the guy to jump violently like a startled cat.

“Aah!” He twisted around to regard her. “Jeeze, don’t do that,” he complained. But he looked visibly relieved to see that it was just her.

Then, he did something odd. She watched as his line of vision abruptly cut past her, and upward. She turned to follow his gaze, pushing herself up into more of a sitting position as she did.

She found herself staring up at a sheer cliff face. It was where Steven's house should have been, of that she was certain, but there was no house, no temple, no warp pad or even so much as a hint of the statue of Obsidian. The lighthouse that crowned the top of the cliffside was also completely missing - replaced by trees instead.

The entire cliff was blank of artificial design - swept clean, as if none of it had ever been there before.

“What in the-” Connie began, rising to her feet. Blinking and rubbing her eyes didn’t help - upon opening them again, she found the situation hadn’t changed.

“This is-” Lars made as if to say another syllable, but no sound came out. After an extra moment of squinting up at the bare cliff face he tried again. “Weird day, right?”

 

 

 


 

They soon found that they were where they thought they were - the familiar beach, they were sure of it. But it struck them more and more as they wandered around the hill towards the city together that everything - rocks, landforms, the distance between the water and the sloping hill - was all wrong. Not only was it as though the buildings they were used to were never built, but it also seemed that someone had hit the reset button on natural erosion as well.

Their expressions fell further as they rounded the receding hill. When they got close enough, Lars stumbled forward.

“The Big Donut should be right here,” his voice was raised in alarm as he stood roughly where he guessed it should have been, given the utter lack of other manmade structures around. “Not to mention everything else!” he added after a moment of glancing over at where the boardwalk and the rest of the beachside tourist district should have been.

And beyond, in fact. Instead of the township they were so eager to spy any sign of, they found instead an untamed wilderness. Trees and bush growing wild around ancient weathered rocks and no obvious sign of human habitation. Connie furrowed her brow in confusion as it became apparent that this was no longer a place that they could recognize.

A silence passed between them, punctuated by birdsong from some kind of creature neither of them had ever heard before. It was pretty, though.

“Are we in the past?” Connie asked finally.

The expression on Lars’ face told her that he didn’t quite believe it impossible so she folded her arms in front of her, attempting to think.

“What were we doing before we woke on the beach?”

Lars shut his eyes and massaged the bridge of his nose. A moment later, he opened them again. “I-I don’t remember. Wait-”

He shoved his hands into the pockets of his brown jacket first, then slapped at the pockets of his jeans - front first, then back. “The heck’s my phone!?”

“Yeah, I don’t have mine, either. It feels obvious that this is a gem-related problem though, right?” she was grasping. “Were we... clowning around with gem stuff? Maybe?” Connie asked. “If so, Steven had to have been there with us-”

“Okayokayokay,” he breathed, scratching the shaved sides of his head with both hands before shooting them both in front of him to indicate her. “Connie. Stop panicking!”

She glanced over at him, completely deadpan. “Listen, this is weird, but there’s bound to be an explanation. And a fix!” She attempted a smile. “There always is-”

She cut herself off and glanced up uncertainly as she heard a sudden noise - but it was merely squirrels darting through the foliage, tiny hands laden with berries. They were a cute distraction, sure - but there were far more pressing matters at hand.

Connie glanced back at Lars, who was staring up at those same strange tree boughs, arms folded, sinews tense.

She sucked her tongue briefly, attempting to drum up some saliva. “Ugh. I’m really dry. Wanna help me find fresh water?”

“Hm?” he glanced back down at her, “Oh yeah, of course. But I... I think the nearest river is like, between here and Ocean Town. I don’t see any cars. I dunno how long it’ll take to walk there-”

She raised an eyebrow at him, unable to gauge how serious he was being. “Luckily you, uh, have portal powers. Right?” came her prompting.

“Oh.” He blinked. “Oh yeah. Right.”

 


 

Moments later and miles away, Lars stood by as Connie dropped to her knees at the edge of the river. The water looked clear and sparkling as it rushed past - she dipped her hands into it, cool and fresh. But despite how good it all looked, she was extremely hesitant.

And Lars wasn’t helping.

“You’re going to get dysentery,” he warned gently as he watched from a few yards back, judging her. Then he shifted uncomfortably as he cast a glance up and down the river. “Also, the only part of this river I know is the bit the highway goes over, sooo... uh, there kinda should be a highway here, right?”

But like Beach City to the south of here, there was nothing but forest and wilderness surrounding them. Certainly nothing to suggest there had ever been a road or a bridge cutting through this place.

He glanced down at her to find that she was glaring up at him.

“Anyway, you should boil the water first,” he continued.

“Go on then - mansplain to me how to survive in the wilderness. How do you propose I do that, anyway?” she asked, voice heavy with attitude. “You got a kettle? Just... lying around in your head or something?”

She was onto something! “Uh, actually-!” He stuck out his tongue and lit up his eyes.

She perked up. “You do!?”

After a moment, he blinked and his eyes went back to normal. “Hm, no. Sorry. Thought I did,” he shrugged apologetically.

Connie frowned down at the water once again, struggling within herself. “I mean, this river looks way better than it normally does. And there’s treatment available for dysentery. It’s clear enough to see to the bottom... so, maybe it’s okay?”

But despite all the pros she was listing, she was still deeply conflicted. She knew all too well that viruses and bacteria were invisible to the naked eye, even in otherwise beautifully clear water, and this was a serious con. “I’m so thirsty!” she groaned at the water running below her - so near yet so far.

Lars shrugged, rubbing the back of an arm nervously as he glanced around the strange woods surrounding them. “Dude, just go for it. And, once we’ve figured this out, I’ll totally rush you to a hospital. Promise.”

She glanced back up at him suddenly. “Hey. Even though you don’t need to eat or drink, you still can, right!?”

He narrowed his eyes. “Right...”

She smiled widely. “You’re magic! You can test it for me.”

He gaped down at her and spread his arms wide. “I can still get food poisoning!”

“Yeah, but you’re way more resilient than everyday people. You’ll be fine!”

He looked uncertain, but she persisted. “C’mon, Lars. I could get very sick.”

He groaned and made a show of slouching his shoulders and arching his torso backward as though physically being bent out of shape over it. “Aaah, fine. I guess you can’t be the brains behind us figuring all this out if you’re too busy projectile vomiting the whole time.”

Connie smiled appreciatively as he dropped to his knees beside her. Cupping his hands, he pushed them into the water harder than he would have needed to if he’d still possessed the ability of water displacement.

But it worked. Enough of the moving water trickled into his hands to pass for a mouthful at least, and soon he was tentatively sipping a little of it. “Hm. Not bad,” he said, before sipping down the rest. “I mean, still no idea if it’s diseased or whatever, but it actually tastes really good.”

Connie smiled. “Good enough, I guess!” she said as she plunged her hands into the running water.

He was about to say something but it died on his lips as he noticed a figure some distance upstream. Definitely shaped like a human. And, it was definitely watching them.

“Connie,” he whispered urgently, and she straightened mid-gulp as she followed his gaze.

The remaining water Connie had cupped in her hands splashed back down into the river as she staggered up to her feet, eyes wide.

The person staring back at them was barefoot with wild hair. They wore a kind of tribal-style garb that was strange to them. A loincloth, namely.

And they appeared to be holding a spear.

Connie sucked air in through her teeth, alarmed by the apparition. “Ah, that’s... weird, right?” she asked him in a breathy whisper.

“Y-you wanna go?” he asked right back as he braced himself to make another portal.

“You!”

They jumped violently and spun, Lars falling back onto his butt in the dirt as Connie stepped backward. Another person - a tall, lithe man clothed similarly to the other one stood directly behind where they’d been sitting.

The stranger pointed a spear at them. “Girl - come away from that gem.

Suddenly, they found that they were surrounded on both this and the other side of the river; at least a dozen tribal-looking people with spears and knives, and grim looks. On the ground, eyes wide with fear, Lars found many of those weapons trained solely upon him and instinctively raised his hands above his head.

“Whaaat?” asked Connie as she stood awkwardly, her brain functions flatlining a little as she tried and failed to comprehend this encounter. “No, no - Why are you - don’t do that! Lars is my friend-”

“The gem is not your friend,” one of the men told her in no uncertain terms, through clenched teeth. “She’s just trying to... to steal you away!”

“What? No! He’s not a- Gems would never-” she began, flustered, but was cut off.

“Come with us,” said another, a concerned-looking female who had emerged from behind a nearby tree. Unarmed, she stepped forward and extended a hand to her. She blinked at Connie, presumably confused by her much darker complexion and unfamiliar features that made her stand out among these people as a non-local. But it didn’t seem to matter too much - the stranger still appeared to care for her wellbeing.

“Where are you from?” she asked. “We’ll help you find your people.”

The woman’s tone was pleading, her expression one of urgency. Connie ripped her eyes away from hers and glanced down to see the fear and complete lack of understanding printed on Lars’ features. The guy was sweating, still holding his palms up and outward to show that he was no threat. His eyes met hers briefly before moving again to fixate on the tip of the spear that was pointed closest to him. She abruptly turned back to the newcomers.

“No! Don’t hurt him - he and I both need to find our families,” she said carefully, gulping before she continued. “C-can you help us? We’re both very lost..”

“Help!? I’m already trying to help you get away from this gem,” the woman said, eying Lars suspiciously. She then addressed him. “What sort are you!?”

“Do I sound like a gem!?” Lars blurted out, his fear shrill on his voice.

“Answer me!” she shouted.

“I-I’m a human man! I have bones! And... ears!”

“Poof her,” said the woman, her patience expired.

Lars hunched backward as the spear wielder smiled. He took a deep, shaky breath. Connie could tell he had an inkling to use his concussive scream power on these people - throw them off, perhaps. To allow them time to escape.

Her eyes widened as her brain suddenly caught up with what was going on and what the consequences might be. Displaying such a power would most certainly make the case against Lars being a gem much, much harder to prove.

In this tense moment, Connie made her move.

Years of training paid off in an instant as she stepped to the side and grabbed his spear shaft in both hands, immediately dealing a swift kick to his abdomen. This sent him reeling backward. She yanked the weapon out of his hands as he fell.

A cry of alarm rose from a few of the others - two of them dashed to help the beaten guy as Connie rounded upon the others who also had a weapon trained on her friend. They all recoiled, surprised and unable to understand why someone they were trying to help would do this.

Lars had been watching all this with his jaw hanging open. He was even more surprised to see the entire crowd of people stand down from this ridiculously capable young woman.

“I told you to leave him alone!” Connie hissed through her teeth with an annoyed edge to her voice, holding her new spear at the ready.

The woman who had spoken earlier nodded briefly at her fellows, and they all took a step back.

“We tried to help you,” she said simply as they receded. “Remember that, when you never see your home or your people again.”

Not a one of them turned their back on the two as they departed, disappearing into the dense forest from which they emerged.

At last, the silence of the forest re-established itself but Connie and Lars stayed, unmoving, waiting and watching for a long moment afterward.

When it finally seemed like they were truly gone, Lars groaned loudly, exhaling deeply as he collapsed onto his back out of relief. But Connie gripped the spear handle tightly as she continued scanning the foliage around her. She wanted to ensure they were really alone, but couldn’t convince herself of it.

“Connie - thank you,” he said, his voice approaching a relieved sob.

“Stop it,” came her no-nonsense rebuttal in lowered tones. “I am not going to let some strangers just kill you, Lars.”

She held a finger up to dissuade him from making noise again. She wanted to be absolutely certain...

Finally, Connie pried her eyes away from the bushes and trees and looked down at him. “Listen. If you’re getting up, just stay close to me. They might still try to quote-unquote poof you.”

“Yeah, okay,” he said miserably as he picked himself up to do just that.

Social graces cast aside, feeling the need to act quickly, she plunged her face into the river and downed all she could. Seconds later, they jumped into a portal.

 


 

They portalled to various spots around the Delmarva area and beyond, limited of course only to the places where Lars himself had previously been (unless he could visibly see the location he wanted to go), but what they saw was enough to reinforce their anxiety.

What they should have seen were towns, cities, highways. A motel parking lot, a stadium up in Jersey he’d been to for a Sadie Killer concert - but there was no sign of human habitation anywhere they went. Like the case back in Beach City, it was as if it had all been replaced or taken over by untamed wilderness. At one point they thought they could see smoke rising up above the canopy into the sky, as if from a bonfire or a chimney.

As they began making their way through the undergrowth toward it, they happened upon a bear.

A bear! They staggered backward abruptly, tripping over themselves to keep their distance.

The animal had been minding its own business but noticed them immediately. Although they were now armed with the spear Connie had grabbed from one of the men who had threatened them earlier in the day, there was no reason to fight an innocent bear - or be mauled to death by one - all for the sake of some plume of smoke of mysterious origin.

Lars opened yet another portal and they jumped through without hesitation.

 


 

As twilight consumed the untamed East Coast wilderness they now found themselves in, they decided to portal back to Beach City - more specifically, the spot where the lighthouse should have been overlooking the sea on the top of the cliff, under which the Crystal Gem’s temple should have been.

High over the ocean, the sky gradually became awash in dark blues, purples, reds. The first stars of the evening became visible. They seemed slightly wrong, in some minute but unsettling way neither of them could put into words.

Presently they built up a small pile of sticks in the middle of a circle of stones with the idea of setting it alight with a lighter Lars knew he had in hammerspace, but found himself unable to pull for some reason.

Connie was trying to be helpful. “Are you sure you even have-”

“Yes! I have one on me at all times, for emergencies... Barbecues...” He paused briefly before adding, “Emergency barbecues.”

“Well, try something else-” came Connie’s suggestion, which was cut short by an irate Lars.

“You don’t think I tried to pull anything else? I been trying. It’s a no.”

She reached over to grab the spear and studied the arrowhead tied to it. “This might be some kind of flint.” She glanced back over at the gangly kid sitting opposite the could-be campfire to her. “You have anything made of steel on you?”

He frowned for a moment before raising his hands to an earlobe. “Surgical stainless steel any good?” he asked as he removed a tunnel from one of his stretched lobes. Connie gasped in joy! But when Lars looked down at the tunnel in his hand, he frowned again. “Oh. No, these are bioplast. Sorry.”

“Hnn,” Connie leaned forward, closing her eyes and resting her chin on her hand, forehead wrinkled in thought. “It’s okay. It’s warm enough. A fire might only just alert more weirdos to our whereabouts.”

“I guess I’m on lookout duty,” Lars offered. “Since I don’t need sleep or anything..”

“Right - the plan is, if you see or hear any strangers coming up the hill, you grab me and jump us both off this cliff and into a portal to.. wherever!”

It was a simple plan based on a kind of commonsense found only in bizarre situations like the predicament in which they currently found themselves, but Connie was proud of it and Lars nodded in wholehearted agreement.

“It’s just too bad it’s a little late to make a shelter,” she muttered.

“Eh, we’ll do it tomorrow,” Lars shrugged as he deftly popped the tunnel back in his ear. “Unless of course - perfect world - everything is magically just normal again in the morning.”

She smiled across at him - an uncertain smile.

 


 

Hours later, Connie hadn’t had much luck with sleep. Although not ideal, Lars appreciated the company. He was sitting, cross-legged, fingertips pent against the sides of his head as he attempted to picket the universe for something normal to happen, for once.

“Steven will pop through my head... now!” he prompted.

Nothing.

“Now?”

Connie rolled her eyes from where she was lying on her back, hands behind her head, opposite the failed campfire from him, but Lars wasn’t done and she could tell he was getting more and more frustrated.

“So he’s perfectly happy to somersault out of my frickin’ head with that goofy smile plastered all over his face when I’m in the shower or at work, or doin’... stuff with Sadie, but not at a time like this!?”

“It’s weird that Steven hasn’t shown up yet,” Connie cut in, “But... why do you think you can’t summon anything?”

He exhaled slowly. “I told you,” he said as he tensed his fingers. “I dunno.”

She rolled herself up into a sitting position and passed him a rock she picked up off the ground below her. “Try this?”

He understood, and was able to stuff it into his forehead easily enough. He was even able to summon it again and handed it back to her just moments later.

“Still works, just.. all the stuff I had in there is gone for some reason. Which sucks because my phone was probably in there, after all that!” he sulked.

Connie frowned as something occurred to her. She wasn’t sure it was possible, but was willing to try. “Let me see?”

“Uh?” he asked, eloquently stating his confusion as she smiled slightly.

“Okay - this is going to sound weird, but hear me out.”

This led to a highly awkward moment where Lars was hunched forward as Connie’s head was pushed into his glowing forehead. After a moment or two of this, they yanked themselves violently away from each other.

Lars sat back and rubbed his now non-glowing forehead unhappily. “That was gross, Connie. That can’t happen ever again.”

Connie nodded in agreement as she caught her breath, but the expression on her face was one of a deep discomfort, and Lars couldn’t help himself.

“So? What did you...” he asked as his awkwardness faded.

“Nothing,” said Connie in a hollow tone, her expression underscoring the intense confusion she felt. “It was dark.”

Lars shrugged. “Well, it’s night time-”

“It’s never been night in there before!” she exclaimed, spreading her arms wide. “The grass is still there, but.. even the breeze was gone.” She hesitated. “It was cold, and it just seemed... empty.”

She knew what his next question was going to be, and she pre-empted it. “I couldn’t see the trees. I don’t think they were there.”

Lars sucked air in through his teeth, allowing this to sink in. He soon spoke back up. “So, is it like, what? I’m not even connected to Lion anymore?”

“That seems not only possible but likely,” came Connie’s response as she rubbed her chin in thought.

A brief silence passed between them as they tested out the weight of this development. Like everything else, the Pink Dimension was also wrong, somehow. It wasn’t good.

“Lars. I-” She hesitated. “I hate to say it, but I think we’re on our own.”

 


 

The next day brought more of the same. Disappointed but not completely surprised, they picked themselves up at the rising of the sun and after a bit of a discussion, decided to scout a little further afield - forgoing portals for their own legs this time.

“We could be missing so much,” Connie had explained earlier that morning in between mouthfuls of the most familiar berries she’d been able to find. “We could be skipping over anything by just taking portals everywhere!”

Lars had to agree. So, except for the odd quick visit to the river again for fresh water, that’s what they did.

Days passed without any sign of the strange tribal humans which, they decided, was a good thing. Neither had been a huge fan of how their last run-in with them went, but during their travels they’d found no signs of normal civilization either, which admittedly was very disturbing.

Her white blouse was now less white and slightly more tattered, and Lars had long since let her have his jacket - his general resilience and the immunity to temperature that came with being pink placed her physical needs a little higher than his.

In the dark of every passing night, returning to the cliff where the lighthouse once stood, they invented new theories.

“Maybe.. something ‘rejuvenated’ the Earth?” suggested Connie one night as Lars prodded their simple fire with the spear as they crowded around it. A small fish from the river that they'd managed to spear was sizzling away on top of a rock placed in the center of the fire, along with some mixed vegetables they'd come across.

In truth, they’d been lucky with the weather - there had been no rain in the handful of days they’d been in this strange, wild version of the Beach City they once knew. This night was still, with barely a breeze. They knew their voices could carry quite far in these conditions, so they spoke together in low tones.

“Then where is everyone we know?” Lars asked in response, voice flat, taking up the role of the contrarian. “And, if they’re gone, why are we still here?”

She had no answer for that. How could she. After a silence passed in the air between them, she spoke up again.

“We could be-” She swallowed nervously. “Listen, I'm pretty sure we're in the past.”

Lars sucked on his teeth. “Wait. Steven told me about the Human Zoo out in space, where that Aquamarine wanted to take us all.” He frowned. “How gems stole people to put in there, ages ago. Maybe this is like that, but miles bigger? More immersive?”

When she looked doubtful, he frowned.

“Well, we know pretty well that gems were trying to kidnap humans as late as two years ago,” he said, backing up his thought, indicating the both of them with a flick of his hand.

Connie shook her head after a moment’s consideration. “No. There’s intergalactic peace, now. The Diamonds have their flaws, but I really don’t think they’d want to risk losing Steven by doing something like that again. I just can’t see them capturing a couple of his best friends, anyway - not after everything that’s happened.”

“Hnn.” Lars narrowed his eyes and hunched forward, poking the sizzling fish gently with the tip of the spear. “Fine. But just so you know, being stuck in some zoo sounds a little easier to deal with than being hurled backward to some unknown point in time.”

Connie sighed deeply as she massaged her forehead, scrunching up her face a little. The reminder of the theory they’d keep coming back to over the course of the day wasn’t a pleasant one.

“Yeah, yeah,” she said, shoulders sinking. “I know.”

Chapter Text

2. The Seasons.

 

“Tell me what's the difference
between hope and waiting
because my heart doesn't know
It constantly cuts itself on the glass of waiting
It constantly gets lost in the fog of hope”
– Anna Kamieńska

 

~*~

 

The weeks swiftly piled up.

Every day began by finding food. Only one of them was at risk of starvation of course, which made the job not so taxing. Quick, quiet trips back to the river by way of portal happened multiple times per day as well, but the need for that became less frequent once they’d stumbled across a clay jug, lying abandoned somewhere in the undergrowth down by the beachside while fishing one evening. Once it had been cleaned up, they found that it was watertight and capable of carrying roughly a gallon of water, they guessed. It was a welcome addition to their small collection of belongings and it provided their campsite with a modest supply of fresh water on hand.

But food didn’t appear to be an issue this morning. Something was already frying on the campfire - she could smell it in the air as she emerged, eyes bleary and yawning, from the little bivouac they’d built against the trunk of a tree from sticks and mud.

At some point, Connie had started a calendar of sorts. Actually, it was just a tree adjacent to their campsite upon which she religiously tallied the passing days with the tip of the spear each morning. To her surprise, Lars derided the effort; he seemed to think they wouldn’t be here for very long. Perhaps he thought they’d be rescued, eventually. Or perhaps whatever went wrong in the universe that landed them here, whenever they were, would somehow smooth itself out. Whatever he thought would happen, she just couldn’t see it, but she tended to admire the optimism.

But they’d been here long enough to notice that the days were getting longer, warmer. It must have been spring when they’d first woken up down on the beach. Now, it appeared to be summer..

She bit her lip gently as she carved another notch. One more weird day added to an ever-growing string of them.

She’d begun her timekeeping system right at about the point when she’d begun to notice the days were blurring together in her head, so she was certain there was a margin of error of maybe a day or three. She was obsessive compulsive enough that it bugged her, but she was still able to tell herself something to the effect of:

It’s a waste of energy worrying about it. And, given enough time, it won’t matter.

Presently she stopped herself, blinking hard at this odd thought. Had she somehow started to think they weren’t getting out of this? At all?

Quickly taking a count of the tally, she tried to analyze her thoughts. This was day eighty-four, give or take. They were almost three months into whatever this was and it struck her that maybe some part of her had already given up.

She frowned. She hadn’t meant to seamlessly fall into the groove of ‘getting on with it’. She didn’t want to, but it was hard to know what to do and it had been easy to just adapt to all this. She’d already been in great shape, she knew a lot about the wilderness, and was a survivor after all. But she was also a fighter, and in this moment she reminded herself of her intention of seeing her family again.

And Steven. Her wonderful, wholesome, galaxy-saving Steven.

This morning, wiping unbidden tears from her eyes with the sleeve of her borrowed jacket, she set her jaw in grim determination. She would see him again - and everyone else. She’d make sure of it.

 


 

They never tended to stray far from one another. Thanks to the encounter with the tribespeople on their first day here, they had long since become petrified of losing track of the other. Connie therefore found Lars less than thirty yards away from their makeshift shack, over by the cliff’s edge where he was sitting cross-legged in full view of the dawning sun, attempting to fix the sole of one of his shoes with a small glob of tree sap he’d managed to scrape onto a leaf with a twig.

The endeavor wasn’t going well.

“Morning,” came her greeting as she came to a stop next to him to check out what he was doing.

“Yo. ‘Sup?” he asked without glancing up, using that energy instead to glare furiously at the shoe stuck to his hand.

“Not much. What are you doing?” she asked.

She was surprised to see him sink at the shoulders, slouching away from her, focused intently on his task. This wasn’t the correct response at all.

“Uh, Lars?” she asked, mild alarm in her voice.

“I stood on a squirrel in the night by accident, okay!?” came his irritable reply. “Then the little jerk went manhunter on me or somethin’, and now my shoe is screwed.” He took an annoyed breath. “At least you kinda have something for breakfast already, though. So, win.”

She tsk’d at the story about the rough night he’d had. She’d checked out the small meal cooking on the fire as she passed it - chunks of lean meat alongside a medley of miscellaneous plant matter alongside a frying egg he’d pinched from somewhere. There was not a lot of meat on a squirrel, but it was protein and good fats, and she definitely appreciated his willingness to cook for her.

“It smells great. Thanks, Lars.”

“Whatever,” he muttered bad temperedly as he fixated on his irritating task in the rising light. “Uhh, I mean, you’re welcome,” he added reluctantly.

She found his occasional moods amusing sometimes, of course, but didn’t want to let him know that. “Aren’t you hungry too, though? I haven’t seen you eat in-” She frowned, suddenly unsure if she had at all. “Ever?”

“I told you, I’m never hungry,” he said simply before sticking out his tongue to better concentrate on the shoe repair job.

“But surely you need to eat something," she persisted.

He groaned at her, and she fell silent to watch as he painstakingly applied sap to the sole of his shoe with the stick. After a few minutes, he seemed satisfied that the shoe was fixed and placed it down before turning to her.

“Look, I’m fine. If I wanna eat, I’ll eat. If you keep talking about it, I’ll start overthinking and get all weird about it.”

“Fair enough.” She paused a moment, eyes flicking to the leaf with the leftover sap on it. “What’d you mix the sap with?”

“Huh?”

She raised an eyebrow. “Just... straight-up sap?”

“Yeah? So?” He pursed his lips together at the odd question.

So, all you’ve managed to do there is ruin your shoe even more. Sap doesn’t really set like how you’re thinking.” She gave a small smile. “Your shoe’s still going to have a chunk taken out of it, but now it’ll also be really sticky for a long time.”

He looked at her, pain in his eyes. “What.”

She scratched the back of her arm, feeling really bad for him as she explained. “You need to heat the sap up and mix it with some ground-up charcoal at least before you can-” Oh. Oh, no - the look on his face. She couldn’t help but crack her smile wider as she finished her sentence. “-make wood pitch glue.”

He blinked! “You’re fifteen! How the hell do you even know any of that!”

Connie raised an eyebrow at him. “I told you! Wilderness survival is one of my three favorite genres. You should have waited till I woke up, I could have helped you.”

He inhaled, but instead of it being a calming breath, she thought she could see his face go a deeper shade of pink.

Hurrying to placate him, she began saying, “Hey, look, it’s not a big deal. We can-”

But he yanked himself up his feet, shoe in hand, and pulled his arm back as if to launch it from the cliff.

She lurched forward to try to get him to stop. “No, wait-!”

Before she could plead further, the shoe was airborne. Lars had a pretty good overarm even before he was pink, so it wasn’t a surprise to see it sailing straight over the sandy beach far below them, heading straight for the water.

She tracked its descent with her eyes and glanced up at him. “It can still be fixed!”

He stomped his bare foot down, screamed in frustration and a portal opened up in front of him, expelling the flying shoe directly into his face.

“G’AK,” came his cry as he fell backward - the shoe still had that ‘thrown from a great height’ momentum going for it, after all.

Connie couldn’t help herself. As the portal swirled out of existence, she snorted and quickly covered her mouth to try to hide the really obvious fact that she was laughing as Lars lay there a moment. She soon opened her eyes to find him glaring daggers up at her.

“That was hilarious!” She struggled to catch her breath at the same time clearing her throat. “S-sorry for laughing. Are you okay?”

He covered his face with his hands. “No! Of course I’m not! I’m going nuts.”

She spread her arms wide, frowning suddenly. “I can see that! Why are you getting so worked up about a shoe?

“Whaddaya even mean!? I-it’s not about- Haven’t you noticed how we’re stuck here?!”

His attitude was annoying her now, but she bit it back. “I know, but c’mon. You were lost in space once, remember? You handled that okay.”

“Space was easy! Time just blows!” he complained loudly. “You can always do something about being lost in space - you can go places, do stuff! You can, like, find shortcuts, sneak past guards, steal ships. And I had a bunch of locals on my side who were awesome at all the stuff I was bad at - which was most things.”

Above them, out over the water, came the cries of swooping gulls as they attempted to find their breakfast. It took their attention for a moment and Lars moved himself back up into a sitting position. She reached down to help him, but he shook his head.

“But we don’t even know when we are, the locals here would rather kill me for the color of my skin, and as far as I know, the only way out of a time-hole is to wait.” Geeze, it was all pouring out now. “But - what are we even waiting for!? Is something just going to... magically happen someday, and we’re back home!? Can we even wait however long that takes!?” He took a deep breath. “I don’t know how long it’s been, but your stupid calendar tree thing is just lording it over us at this point.”

She sighed. His feelings were only coming from the same place that hers were. “Yeah, I feel you.”

He hesitated. “You do?”

She nodded. “I guess it’s like... our real lives are on hold and there’s nothing we can do.” She glanced down at the dirt below them. She never guessed she’d ever hear such relatable feelings being so eloquently described by the unhelpful jerk who once made fun of Steven through the bubble they were stuck in, back when they first met. But she also never guessed she’d be in this situation, with him as her only company.

But here he was, rubbing his head hard with both hands, feeling like it was good to talk about this stuff that was troubling him. “Ugh. I just. I feel useless.” He waved a hand at her. “Meanwhile, you seem like you’re having fun, almost?” He hesitated. “All survivor action girl over there...” he trailed off as he realized this train of thought was making him sound like a prick.

Having his own shoe kick him in the head just now had apparently done wonders for his attitude.

“I want to get home too, Lars,” she said, frowning as she dropped into a sitting position beside him. “You think I don’t want that?”

“Of course I don’t,” he sighed. “I guess it’s just, I see you doing normal person stuff - all this nature stuff like hunting, fishing... and knowing how to make glue out of nothing, and part of me just feels like you’re.. getting on okay.” He looked ashamed. “In your element, maybe.”

She shook her head. “Nuh-uh. That is categorically not true, man,” she said grimly. “The past is terrible and I don’t want to be here any more than you. I learned everything I know about the wilderness so that I could survive long enough to get out - not so I could just abandon everyone to go live naked in the mountains.”

“Heh, okay, that makes sense,” he admitted.

She nodded. “But, y’know, I was thinking about all this just now.”

“Yeah?” She’d piqued his interest.

“Yeah. Listen, you’re right. First thing’s first, we need to stop just existing and put more effort into figuring out when we are.”

He was skeptical. “How are we gunna do that? I have literally no ideas.”

“Well..” She narrowed her eyes a moment, sucking air in through her teeth. “We obviously pre-date the Crystal Gems building the temple into this cliffside - which, y’know, sucks, but hey, that’s a start,” she said, smiling in what she hoped was an encouraging manner.

He appeared less enthusiastic, mouth twisted up in distaste at the reminder. “Okaaay.”

“And according to that lady we met, we don’t pre-date gems on Earth.”

“So." He furrowed his brow. “When does that place us?”

“I-" She paused and exhaled sharply. “Don’t know. Before or during the rebellion? Or just after? But if we find out roughly, maybe we can work with-” She suddenly sniffed the air. “Hey? Do you smell burning?”

Lars’ pupils constricted; he did. “Oh, no-”

He immediately staggered up onto to his feet and hurried over to the campfire to try to save her forgotten breakfast.

 


 

In the time they’d been living on the cliff, they hadn’t run into any sign of gems, so they made a plan. After mixing up a batch of wood pitch glue, they mended the shoe as best they could, stored the remainder in Lars’ head as a solid block, and spent the following weeks specifically in search of signs of gem life.

However, what would much later become the state of Delmarva appeared to be an area devoid of gems at this time. Whenever that was. Is.

Their goal was to pierce further into this wild world.

The two inherently knew the main implication of their situation - whenever they were, it must have been many, many years before when they wanted to be.

The woman they’d met on their first day had made reference to the diamond-ordered abduction of humans for the Human Zoo, which could have meant they were back during the heyday of gem colonization, or perhaps they were later than that, the tribesfolk still operating under a kind of passed-down history regarding what gems were like and what they did.

Both situations were bad, but one felt much worse than the other.

“Or maybe this isn’t the past at all, but some far flung distant future we couldn’t have ever imagined.” Connie’s intrusive thought became real on the breeze passing between them.

“Okay. Okay, stop,” said Lars as they walked. “What we already think is horrible enough.”

“Right,” she said, gripping the spear in both hands as they walked. “I’m just letting my imagination get carried away.”

“Yeah, as you get older you’ll learn how to cram that stuff down,” he said despite himself with a toothy smile. “Deep, deep down. As far as it’ll go.”

Their preferred method of operation was to walk, since it seemed that Lars couldn’t throw portals down to places he’d never been before, that weren’t in his line of vision. They were able to portal back to the safety of their campsite on the cliff every evening, however - and in the morning after breakfast, they merely had to hitch a portal back to where they’d left off the day previously. The two were big fans of exploiting what little they had going for them, and they found themselves relying big time on this power of Lars’ in particular.

They were making for the closest gem location Connie knew about from having read the journal of the great explorer Buddy Budwick, several times over now. She didn’t have it on her of course, but she had a very good capacity for retention of facts and knew roughly the direction they were wanting to head in. It was somewhat of a multiple-pronged stab in the dark getting there without a compass, though, and although they occasionally attempted to keep track of their direction and location using the stars, that skill was largely a mystery to them.

Every so often, when the desperate urge to get their bearings came up, Lars would fling a portal high into the sky and for a terrifying handful of seconds, clinging to each other - teeth grit and butts clenched - in freefall together, they did their best to take in the main features of the surrounding region before dropping into another portal to land safely again on the ground. This play was ridiculously risky and could generate unwanted attention, so they used it only sparingly.

But the last time they tried it, they finally saw what they thought they were looking for - a dark shadow stretching across the distant horizon, past forests, hills, and grassy plains.

“Wanna just portal there?” he asked after they landed safely amid the trees they were falling toward a moment earlier.

Connie looked torn. “If it really is the Prime Kindergarten, it could be crawling with gems,” she said, frowning. “Maybe Homeworld gems, who.. wouldn’t know what to think about us if we dropped in via portal.” With that said, she reluctantly shook her head. “I guess that’s a no from me.”

Lars sighed, but couldn’t fault the reasoning. He followed along behind her.

 


  

 

 

Despite the encroaching twilight the two explorers were relatively certain they were alone in the thinning forest, save for the odd scurrying through the undergrowth below and the canopy above them. It was merely the local crepuscular creatures, they knew, but predators were also likely to be around at this time of day. It was for this reason they’d usually be back at their campsite on the coast by now.

But they were armed with the spear, magic, and their own nervous excitement; and this evening, they were curious to see if they’d finally made it.

The closer their approach, the rockier the ground - the less plant life was able to take hold in the soil around them; a sure sign of a successful kindergarten. Eventually, in the light of the crescent moon they found themselves crossing an open plain, again devoid of gems.

Connie walked fast. Lars did an awkward half-jog to keep up, eyes and ears alert to everything around them.

The canyon seemed to open up in front of them. The lack of vegetative life surrounding them was strangely promising but their approach down into it was still slow and careful, ducking into shadows where they could. Connie held the spear aloft and ready while Lars remained in a fit state to throw down an escape portal at any sign of trouble.

Their trepidation wore down with every passing moment and soon they grew bold enough to enter. The air was still, silent in this deep canyon. In the silky moonlight - what little of it made its way down here enough to bounce off the cliffsides, anyway - they saw exit hole after exit hole lining the walls.

Connie had never visited a kindergarten before and found the atmosphere incredibly oppressive. She couldn’t bring herself to tear her eyes away from the person-shaped holes - black, empty, sinister shapes cut out of the cliffside. She imagined that they stared back at her, unblinking.

Dusty injectors that hadn’t been used in a while still lay around - some on the ground, others left sticking into the sides of the cliffs. She swallowed hard. “Yeah. This is creepy,” she muttered quietly.

Lars merely shrugged as he glanced around, arms folded in front of him. “Go hang out in the ones on Homeworld for a bit then call me.”

Connie raked her brain as she swallowed a small uprising of fear. She walked over to one of the lower holes and glanced inside.

She was thankful that she’d often quizzed Steven about everything he knew, thirsty for knowledge as she was. “This places us at least just before the start of the rebellion,” she said, extrapolating what she could from what little clues they had.

“Greeeeat,” said Lars. His voice was quiet, but still dripping with sarcasm. “So we’re what, a bajillion years ago. Nice.”

Connie stood back from the exit hole and gazed up at the moonlit cliff face. “At most, almost six thousand, maybe.”

They fell silent as the weight of this settled over them. It felt like too much.

Lars knew his own general moodiness was coming from a place of fear, but in this moment he saw how Connie was keeping rational and calm about everything. He thought about the time he spent as a space fugitive-come-pirate, how he’d been forced to learn to keep his cool for the sake of his friends despite how everything endlessly piled up on top of them.

He decided then and there to make a conscious effort.

The first step was ditching the sarcasm in favor of a more serious tone. “So. You seem to know stuff about things. How do we figure out more from this place?”

“Well,” she started, before folding her arms to think. Something quickly occurred to her. “Amethyst came out late - after the rebellion.” She ran a hand along the chassis of a nearby injector, coated in dust. “After the corrupting light engulfed the Earth...”

Lars knew about this - it was now a relatively well-known story in Beach City, with the introduction of all the new gems and the recent founding and development of Little Homeworld in the hills outside of his hometown. Since many of his friends these days happened to be gems, he’d spent a lot of time there himself - and he desperately wished to again, soon.

He bit on his bottom lip briefly. “Okay - we find her hole, we know more. But how d’we know for sure this is the right kindergarten? There’s at least one other.”

“It’s the right one,” said Connie. She scratched at the side of her head as she stared warily upward at the sliver of night sky beyond the high walls above them. It was all she could say.

Lars stood with arms akimbo. “So, which...” He trailed off as he looked around. All the exit holes seemed identical. Connie stood confused as well, glancing from shadowy wall to shadowy wall, unable to say which dark hole could have possibly been the one variable here in this insurmountable equation.

“It would have to be half the size of all the others,” she supposed, shrugging, at length. “And at ground level, Steven said once.”

Lars exhaled slowly and together they wandered around the empty canyon a while. In the darker parts, hidden from moonlight, Lars lit up his eyes. A white glow emanating from his eyeballs was a byproduct of his powers, but he was also able switch this ability on at will when he needed to illuminate his surroundings. It was a dead giveaway in the open, but here in the obscurity of the dead and darkened kindergarten, it proved rather useful.

However, as the night wore on, their search turned up nothing.

Connie soon began yawning. Once her hearing returned, she caught the end of what sounded like the howl of a coyote or a wolf. It stirred something primal within her - the instinct to flee, and the color drained from her knuckles as she gripped the spear tighter.

Turning to check on Lars, she saw even in the darkness that it had also broken one of his remaining nerves.

“Listen,” he whispered, drawing close to her. “You’re tired and this sucks, so let’s, uh, pick this up in the morning, okay?”

A bright portal suddenly swirled into being in front of them. Connie bit her lip and gave the ominous place one last brief sweep with her eyes - she wanted so much to continue, but she was honestly very done.

 


 

They returned as soon as they could - after breakfast the following morning. Although still cast over by shadow, the kindergarten was a lot easier on their fragile psyches by the light of day.

After a fruitless morning, the searchers reconvened at the location they’d previously agreed upon - a specific injector, the drill bit still sticking half into the ground.

“Still not seein’ no Amethyst-hole,” Lars reported loudly as he noticed her approach. It was obvious this place was no longer in service and being quiet didn’t seem as important in the daylight.

“Neither,” said Connie as she leaned against the injector. She slammed the tip of the spear into the ground beside her - her hands were becoming sore and calloused from all the time she’d been spending carrying it around.

“What’s that?” he asked, eyeballing something she had tucked under her arm.

She showed him. It was a hand-sized rock, clearly the same as the kind exposed in the cliffs surrounding them but odd in that it was flat and thick and vaguely circular. He glanced at her, dead-eyed.

“I like it,” she said without a hint of shame.

“Geek,” he smirked.

“Hey,” she warned him good naturedly. She offered it to him. “Can you - y’know - put it in your head for me?”

As he obliged her simple request, she began talking. “But yeah, unless we missed something, I suppose Amethyst is still here somewhere, just waiting to pop out.” She blinked. “It’s so weird to think about...”

He looked wistful after a moment. “Imagine how good it’d be if she popped out right now and recognized us and knew exactly how to help us.”

She gazed up at him, thick eyebrow raised. “Now that is magnitudes more optimism than I usually expect to hear out of you. You feeling okay?”

He balked. “You don’t think I can do optimism?!”

“Well-"

“You don’t get from Homeworld to Earth in wartime as part of a group of fugitives without thinking you can do it at least a little,” he couldn’t help but brag sometimes, proud as he still was of his achievement. He hesitated before adding, “But, yeah. That thing just now was unrealistic, huh?”

“Insanely so,” she smiled. Then frowned. “I suppose that’s all we can learn from this place, then. It’s empty but exists, and Amethyst likely doesn’t yet. That’s a timeframe of..." She blinked. “A thousand years? More? Less?

All this. It’s all too much.

She paused briefly. “Which is ultimately meaningless, right?”

Lars blinked at her, surprised and helpless as her brow furrowed and her mood thumped to the ground like a bag full of rats.

“We’ve got little to go on, nothing concrete anyway. We haven’t even come across any gems yet - corrupted or not - and we have no one to turn to - no one to ask for help!” She frowned, balling her fists. “Are we just supposed to live like this forever? Are we just never going to get back home!?”

Lars found himself struggling to reassure her. “Connie, hey. Just chill- remember what you said- at least we found out something-”

But she wasn’t having it. “Why!? Why won’t something just happen, Lars?!”

And above them, in this exact moment, something happened. A noise, like a plane in the air, but closer. Both of them raised their eyes upward just in time to see a ship dart past. It was green and angular - clearly gem in origin, and it bridged the narrow gap exposing the sky above them in an instant.

They tensed. Their eyes became wide orbs.

“Get us up there!” Connie practically screamed as she grabbed the spear shaft back into her hands.

In an instant, they fell stumbling out of a hasty portal at the canyon’s edge to see the ship - now one of five just like it - all moving in formation away from them, over the large rolling plane toward the forested mountains in the distance, toward the west.

Connie and Lars knew without consulting each other first that they had to follow. They were soon leaving the Prime Kindergarten behind them, riding a series of portals across the countryside, following the path of the strange ships.

They watched from a mountaintop as the ships passed along the valley below them with purpose.

They gazed up from a vast plain as the convoy continued along toward its goal.

Atop a roof in the middle of a walled, stone city, above the havoc of thousands of panicking, screaming human inhabitants below them, they were the only two staring upward with invested interest as the ships continued their relentless journey overhead.

 


 

They rode the sequence of portals until they found themselves on a shady mountainside, lush with shrubs. Lars was beginning to falter - there seemed to be a limit to how many portals he could deal over such a short time, and he was hitting that limit. Connie on the other hand was pointing at the ships as they continued on their way.

“Keep going!”

“W-wait up, I-I need-”

His voice was hoarse but he wouldn’t have finished his sentence anyway because, right at that very moment, they caught sight of something insane.

Far in the distance, miles and miles down the sloping landscape, against the backdrop of mountain and open sky, a giant four-armed figure with long legs and muscular thighs leapt into the air and landed on the top of one of the ship. The figure then raised the biggest warhammer they had ever seen - it was easily much bigger than its wielder - and almost effortlessly crashed it down, smashing it into the roof of the ship.

The figure, most obviously a fusion of at least two very powerful gems, leapt up and away from the ship as it exploded and fell from the sky.

“Who on Earth is that,” breathed Lars.

Connie had a simple reply. “No idea.”

Her warcry - a rolling echo of unrestrained laughter across the landscape - finally reached them as she began her assault on another of the ships.

“OH HO-HO-HO-HO.”

Connie looked up at Lars to find him staring unblinking in amazement. She pointed at the distant scene with the tip of the spear. “We gotta get closer,” she told him, the words tumbling from her with an almost unbearable excitement. “But not too close!”

He sucked on his tongue to try to wet his throat - and it worked. A shout later, a portal sprang into being in front of them.

They touched down again further down the mountainside where they scrambled for cover behind a nearby rock, peeking out to better see more of what was happening.

What stretched out before them was not merely a sloping plain anymore. It was a battlefield. The ground was littered with material weapons left behind by the fallen, whose gemstones were also strewn through the grasses alongside them as, around it all, the battle continued to rage.

Gems of all colors fought against gems of all colors and the noise was immense, unlike anything either of them had ever heard before. It was difficult for the newcoming spectators to be sure who was fighting for which side. But it didn’t matter. They stared wide-eyed. Both of them had seen combat in varying degrees due to their proximity to gem-related things, but never to this scale.

Of course, neither one of them entertained any thought of entering the fray.

Above them, the huge fusion was still pulling the ships out of the sky - the second one caught their undivided attention as it came crashing down into the hillside not far behind them. As debris flew up high into the air, Lars grabbed Connie by her jacket sleeve...

 


 

...And a moment later they were spilling out of a portal, tumbling in a pile into the middle of their peaceful campsite.

Despite the calm surrounding them now, Connie felt her heart racing - jittery from the excitement of what they had just witnessed. She expected him to have taken her to a different, safer vantage point and was disappointed to find herself back at camp, untold miles away.

“LARS!” she exclaimed as she jumped off him and to her feet. “Take us back!”

Though his pinkified heart wasn’t beating nearly as fast as hers, it was still elevated enough to put him into a similar state. But it was, however, accompanied with a fair amount of anxiety. “We’ll be killed!”

She wasn’t in the mood. “DO IT.”

He grit his teeth as he picked himself up off the ground. “Okay, okay!”

 


 

An instant later, they were back, but further away this time and on a different part of the sloping hill. They were more exposed here, without any kind of rock outcropping to dart behind, so they dropped down to watch as the battle wore on. From this vantage point, Connie leered anxiously out over the scene, desperately searching for a sign of anyone she recognized.

But from this distance no familiar face was forthcoming.

The big fusion was still at it - she had just brought down ship number four, which up until that moment had been firing lasers into the mass of fighting gems. The gems on the ground with either very alert, or the gems manning the turrets on the ship were terrible shots - either way, there didn’t seem to be any casualties of any sort from this assault.

As the ship’s laser’s arc swung wide, cutting within half a click of their hiding spot, Lars swallowed.

“Hey C-dawg,” he said with a put-on confidence. “We should move!”

“I think so!” said a voice, not Connie’s, from behind them.

They jolted and turned to see towering above them a shock of beautiful pink hair. Before either Connie or Lars could process what was happening, Rose Quartz grabbed both of them up, held them both into her chest, and leapt with them out of the way as the fifth ship crashed down into the spot where they had just been hiding.

   

 

 

When their brains caught up to what was happening, Rose was placing them down on a different grassy rise, well out of harm’s way. A breeze had sprung up. She had a battle to get back to, obviously, but she felt compelled to take a moment to consider these two.

As she stared up at the gem that brought/will someday bring Steven into the world, Connie’s numb hand dropped the spear - the length of its shaft thudding to the soft ground below them. Lars gasped and took a stumbling step backward.

This is the moment, the thought occurred to both of them at once. This is how we ruin the future.

The runaway diamond-come-rebel leader Rose Quartz took in the wide-eyed Connie and smiled before turning to Lars - so ridiculously defective a gem that Rose couldn’t even tell what she was supposed to be. But she was beautiful in her own way, regardless.

“You did well to protect this human person,” she said softly. “All of Earth’s natural life is precious.”

“Uhh," Lars said uselessly, unable to fully comprehend this encounter.

Rose stooped down to pick up the spear and studied it briefly. “This is your weapon?”

Lars nodded dumbly, belatedly.

“You need something better,” she said as she offered it to him. “I’ll take you to see Bismuth when this is done.”

Unable to break eye contact, he absently reached out with a quivering hand to accept it.

Her smile faded as she turned to glance behind her - further down the hill, the battle raged on. She drew her sword from the scabbard slung around her back. Connie’s heart skipped a beat - yet another of many - as she glimpsed it. The sword she knew so well, intact and unbroken.

With that, Rose Quartz was gone.

They stared after her, mouths open, dumbfounded and reeling from the encounter.

Connie clutched at her chest - and it was about this time that Lars regained his senses.

“Nope!” he said loudly, right before pulling an unwilling Connie through the portal generated by his word’s vibrations.

 


 

“Stop DOING that!” shouted Connie, yanking the jacket sleeve out of his hand. Her yell sent birds flying up out of the canopy above them on the Delmarvan cliffside.

He stomped his foot down. “We’re not going back!”

“We ARE.”

He shut his eyes hard and slammed the spear tip into the dead firepit in frustration. Their campsite was once again no longer peaceful. “PLEASE tell me you’ve seen even one single movie! Bonus points if it was about time travel!”

Did he think she was stupid!? She wrinkled her whole face at him as she yelled right back. “Yeah, man, of course I have! I wanna make sure they win!”

“Newsflash, Connie - they win! We know they do because Rose - Pink - rigged the whole thing! But.. we distracted her! We could have messed everything up!”

She spread her arms wide. “We’re still here, aren’t we? Don’t you think that if we screwed something up, we’d know?”

“But we’re products of our past! How would we even know that, huh!?”

“Well, I guess we don’t, really. But we’re still stuck here. Steven still happened. You’re still a stretched-out wad of bubblegum! Our situation here is the direct result of a veeery specific sequence of events - so as far as I can tell, we didn’t change squat.” She frowned. “And if we did, then it wouldn’t matter because we wouldn’t know any differently, right?”

He hesitated. “Huh.”

Connie rubbed her chin thoughtfully and walked over to the edge of the cliff where she often came to think while staring out over the vast ocean. “We’ve been disrupting things in little ways since the moment we arrived here,” she explained. “We’ve hunted, we’ve killed for food. We ran into those tribespeople-”

Lars thought she was missing something pretty important from the comparatively insignificant items she’d been listing. “We just met Rose Quartz.”

“Yeah! We did! And, well, maybe that’s okay! I’m not saying that the squirrel you stomped last week could have grown up to be president, or that one of his descendants would have become the savior of squirrelkind but, look! It’s impossible for us not to have some kind of an impact.” She frowned. “And if... If we’re here now, that must mean we were already there then. This was something that happened, which meant it was always going to happen. And it’s just happening to be happening to us, right now.”

He narrowed his eyes at her, attempting to follow along.

“This is just me riffing, but - from our perspective, we used to live in the future of all these events which had already taken place, even though we hadn’t done them yet. Even the ones we still haven’t done yet. We just didn’t know it.”

He folded his arms and raised an eyebrow at her. “So, what, you saying we could literally go up to Rose and tell her everything that will happen to her? And it’d be fine?”

Connie bit her lip. “I mean, I’m not saying that, because, y’know... I could be wrong and we could still balls everything up.”

She noticed the look he was giving her. She supposed it to be intense confusion and she spread her arms wide in response.

“I’m doing the best that I can, Lars!” she said, voice raised in frustration. “I know just as much as you!”

Lars smacked a hand into his forehead drew his fingers against his scalp. He could see how badly she wanted to return. After an intense internal struggle, he conceded. “Okay. Okay, okay. Maybe we can go back? But we’re keeping well away. We can’t get involved again.”

Connie nodded agreement, and Lars shouted forth his millionth portal for the day. He didn’t need sleep all that often, but he figured he would require a long and deep one tonight.

 


 

They returned to the rolling mountainside on the other side of the country seconds later to find that it was over. The battle was done, and whatever remaining fighters there were had seemingly withdrawn. Smoking piles of spaceship chunks littered the ground alongside various other debris - the landscape was left seared, scarred and mutilated from the conflict.

“Wow.. our argument didn’t take that long, did it?” asked Connie, bewildered, from their vantage point.

Lars shrugged. “I’m sure they feel longer than they are but it’s not like I can time them.”

They chose to wait until they were certain there was nothing down there that would move against them. The only movement was caused by the occasional breeze, however, and soon they grew bold enough to slowly wander down into what was previously the scene of a tense battle.

The ground was ruined, but they knew it would spring back, better than ever, given enough time.

They knew there was plenty of time.

The field was devoid of gemstones. They had likely been collected up by either the remaining members of their own side, or perhaps that of the victor. They still stepped gingerly anyway, carefully, as if they could have broken one by standing on it.

Connie caught sight of something lying in the grass on her left. She changed direction and ducked down, picking it up from the ground. It was a sword. Standing again, she tested it out against an imaginary opponent, getting a feel for it, testing its weight distribution.

“I wonder if we’ll ever see her again,” said Connie.

Lars frowned and glanced away briefly. Moments later, he tried to move the topic of conversation onward.

“So, I’m just gunna say it. She thought I was a gem,” Lars said finally in hollow tones as he scanned the field with wide eyes. “Like, maybe she’s never pink’d anything before? Maybe the first time she does it is with Lion.”

He leaned down to tug something out of the knotted grasses. It turned out to be a spear. Next to it, a double-edged axe, which he also hefted up.

“Heeey. This’ll make firewood way easier to chop,” he thought aloud, his tone brighter this time. He glanced briefly at Connie, who was still doing her own thing nearby, and then turned his eyes back to the axe. It had a pretty geometric design embellished along the haft. Whoever crafted this took great pride in their work.

It was a day for new ideas, and he immediately had another one. “Y’know, what if we stole a ship? We could go find Spinel and help her while we're here. Maybe save Steven a massive headache in five thousand years or so.” He blinked as something else occurred to him. “W-we could go to Homeworld - hook up with my crew!” Then, frowning, he realized the last idea could change things for the worse.

“Well, maybe not,” he sighed, sinking at the shoulders when he realized. “They kinda need to still be there when me and Steven need them. And I guess none of that happened, so we don't do it anyway...”

He trailed off as a pang of homesickness struck him. He missed his life, he missed his friends, his parents. He wiped his eyes and glanced over at Connie to find her within earshot, and it struck him that she hadn't responded to anything he'd said in a while.

Her eyes were wide, her forehead wrinkled as she found herself unhappy with the way the sword felt in her hand. The weight was completely off.

“Connie?” he called.

But she couldn’t. Not yet. She needed to focus on what she was doing in this moment as the wave broke over her. It was all she could do not to give in to a heart-thumping, spinning panic.

She knew swords. She liked swords.

She discarded the first sword in favor of another that she noticed just below her, down at her feet. This next one was much, much better. The weight distribution was perfect, and it sat in her hand like a charm in comparison. It reminded her of how Rose’s sword had felt in her hand, once - before she had come to possess her own sword that Bismuth had also crafted, and it suddenly occurred to her that perhaps this one had been made by none other than Bismuth as well.

The corners of her eyes beaded with tears, but she sloughed them away with the sleeve of her jacket.

A Bismuth who wouldn’t recognize them until they'd all reached the other side of a long and difficult future.

Neither would anyone else.

 


 

Summer pressed onward and soon autumn rolled around. The introduction of the axe to their collection of things was a definite boon - instead of a rundown bivouac made of branches and mud, they were eventually able to erect a structure more resembling of a tiny log cabin that they felt could better keep them out of the elements.

They weren’t too worried about the encroaching cold, however; a cheeky portal could lead them to warmer pastures at a moment’s notice after all, but the Delmarvan cliffside was familiar and peaceful - as close to home as they could possibly get. Neither of them liked the thought of leaving for any kind of extended period. They wanted to stay there as long as they could.

They visited the walled city they’d accidentally come across while chasing the ships, and bartered with the inhabitants. Lars of course had to stay and wait on the outskirts while Connie went inside and mingled with the people, bartering among the townsfolk for whatever useful items they needed in exchange for whatever they could hunt or gather that was worth anything.

Blankets for the winter, basic tools, rope, decent boots made of hide and layers of clothing were now available to them. But the city, she’d learned, was slowly dying - gem influence had not been kind to the civilization that had once thrived here. Its nearby natural resources were running dry, its people leaving in droves to pursue more nomadic lifestyles.

Its people were scared. They knew that gems would eventually come to dismantle the city, like they had done many others over the centuries prior. Anyone remaining, they knew, would be collected and taken away, never to be seen again. Either that, or forced out into the wild to fend for themselves.

They realized this was also likely to have been the origin story of the locals they’d met by the river.

The nights passed by quietly. They often sat around the firepit while something edible sizzled atop the flat stone suspended barbecue-style above the flames. Sometimes they’d talk in low tones about whatever nonsense they could think of, sometimes they’d laugh, or argue, or try not to cry. Othertimes they merely sat together in silence - whether comfortable, angry, or awkward, it depended on the day.

Connie had taken to carving into the little round piece of rock she’d claimed from the kindergarten by the light of the fire, working on it slowly and carefully each night before turning in. Lars didn’t bug her about it, but once he realized what it was, his heart sank for her a little.

As the nights wore on, it began to take the shape of a five-pointed star.

Chapter Text

3. The Years.

 

“Even if I now saw you
only once,
I would long for you
through worlds,
worlds.”
― Izumi Shikibu

 

~*~

 

“Maybe... try sticking it out more.”

“Butt? Aw tung?”

“Hmm,” she hummed as she gave this serious matter due consideration. “Tongue.”

“It’sh a’eady ou’.”

“Yeah, but more!

Lars gave her a look, but extended his tongue until it could go no further. He was only barely managing to balance whilst pulling the most ridiculous pose ever - one leg tucked up and in like that of a resting flamingo, one arm raised high in the air, his pelvis thrust to one side. He felt like a fool.

Connie stood next to him on the bright warp pad, sizing him up. “Yeaaah. Perfect. Hold that.”

Lars glanced around using only his eyes before looking back at her. He noticed as well as she did - the sheer lack of anything interesting happening. She shrugged.

“Maybe, aah. Try thinking of the kindergarten? As though you wanna go there?”

He frowned at her in a meaningful way. As if he hadn’t already been doing just that. Suddenly, she had a bright idea and pressed his nose lightly with the tip of her forefinger.

 

 

 

“Boop!”

He blinked, wrinkled his nose and threw her a questioning look - one of many, this afternoon - but to his credit Lars didn’t break form. He figured she knew what she was doing. They waited an extra moment.

“I really wish I had a camera right now,” Connie said, breaking the silence with a smile.

That was the thing that did it. He pulled his tongue back in, lowered his raised leg and relaxed, standing normally once more.

“You have no idea what you’re doing, do you?” he asked, deadpan, mouth dry, hand on hip like it ain’t no thang.

She shrugged and frowned slightly. Even though she’d up until now been joking around somewhat, she was actually a little frustrated. “Well, it helped Steven make a gem thing work one time when he was a kid.”

“Steven is a gem,” he needlessly reminded her. “I’m something else.”

The warp pad they were standing on appeared to be a relatively isolated one that they’d happened upon by chance one day while scouting. It was the first one they’d found that wasn’t at the kindergarten and wasn’t in constant use by gems. It was out somewhere in a remote desert, far across what would millennia later become the United States - they had no idea why anyone had even bothered to place it here, actually. They saw no gem structures nearby, it was a wasteland.

They weren’t mad about it though - far from it! It was the perfect venue for them to try to hack the warpstream without being interrupted, after all.

But it wasn’t working.

Connie glanced up at him once again after a little more thought. “Are you sure you’re thinking of the Prime Kindergarten? Not the one on Homeworld?”

“Creepy Earth kindergarten with the ditched drill machines and slowly overcooking Amethyst still inside somewhere - yes! We’ve been coming back here mucking around with this thing for ages - if I could interface with this stuff, we’d have been there weeks ago.” He huffed and gestured dramatically with one arm, muttering grimly. “So. That’s it - test failed. We’ll never get your hourglass.”

“Naw,” she said at length with a deep exhale. The sun was high overhead and with her protective gloves and jacket on, it was getting a bit warm for her here.

“This only means we get to try for it the hard way.”

 


 

The guy held out his gloved hand - the look on his face was skeptical at best. Connie glanced up at Lars who winced and turned away, mentally kicking himself for his oversight. Connie smiled awkwardly up at the other guy as she realized what was going on.

Lars, of course, had forgotten earlier to just have it on his person, like a normal human would. He couldn’t let the actual normal human see that he was about to pull the trade goods from his forehead, of course. The good thing was that he was shrouded in a robe, the hood darkening his pink features to the point where no one had been inspired to harangue him about it. In the instances where it did garner a doubletake from a passer-by, however, the moment was fleeting and he’d usually adjusted the way it hung over his face by the time he’d gathered any additional interest.

Thankfully, the occasional unusual shock of bright pink against the background of this otherwise dusty and earthen-toned walled stone city was quickly forgotten. The people of this place had much bigger problems occupying their thoughts.

Connie, dressed now in a heavy coat, scarf and proper gloves, gave him a depreciating look as he soon turned back, passing her the bag made of woven fibers. She offered it over to the man, who opened it up and after a moment nodded appreciatively at the bounty of raspberries - so rare here in winter, but much easier to find in the warmer forests that lay far to the south where the two friends had just been berrypicking earlier that afternoon.

He ate one and seemed impressed.

Muttering his astonishment but choosing not to question it too closely, he quickly stowed the bag off to the side of his little stall and offered her what they’d come here for in the first place - a little ceramic flask, the top of it corked, waterproof and hanging from a strap which made it easy to wear.

“Thank you!” she smiled happily as she accepted it. “Thanks so much!”

As they moved off, she slung it over her shoulder. “This was such a great idea. Now we don’t have to go all the way back to camp whenever I need water. I can just carry some with me at all times!”

Lars snorted briefly. “You’re way too excited about a water bottle.”

“I know it’s silly, but I haven’t had one of these in a while,” she replied with a slight defensive tone to her voice. “So get on board, okay!?”

“Fine. Um, high-tech... a miracle of contemporary engineering,” Lars hyped. But though his voice oozed sarcasm, he was smiling.

“State of the art, ultra-modern,” she agreed, nodding. “How many berries do you think a phone costs?” she wondered aloud. Some passers-by glanced over at her, a little confused about the odd term, but she smiled disarmingly at them and turned back to Lars. “Do we need anything else from here right now?”

“Naw, no-” He shook his head - he had something else on his mind. They were presently moving through a space that didn’t contain so many people though, so he soon felt more free to talk about it.

“Anyway, the thing we were talking about - say we get it, somehow. What if, once again, neither of us can get it to work because we don’t have gems. What then?”

She pondered this one a long moment as they made their way through the city. “Steven told me he used the hourglass back when he didn’t have full control of his powers yet. That’s... gotta mean something, right?”

It wasn’t much, but it was all this plan had going for it right now. He shrugged. “Suppose it beats asking a gem to help us.”

She had to laugh. “Hah! Oh yeah. That would probably mean we’d have to tell them everything for them to even consider helping us. And then they’d also have to somehow forget they even saw us. Or maybe things snowball and suddenly we don’t exist because the colonization was successful. Or.. maybe frogs take over the world instead - gems and humans be damned. Who knows!”

He considered laughing, but grit his teeth instead. “You know, gauging how well you’re doing based on whether you exist or not is.. kind of a massive mindscrew.”

They walked in silence a handful of yards, heading toward the city’s exit.

“I guess the trick is to try not to think too deeply about it,” Connie finally replied.

 


 

They were on a mission, penetrating south into territory they couldn’t reach by portal because of Lars’ complete ignorance of the landscape. But as always, the more ground they covered, the more options opened up between their makeshift home on the cliffside and their faraway destination.

And, as always, they returned every late afternoon to their shelter on top of the beachside cliff in what would someday be Delmarva before picking back up where they left off after a post-breakfast portal jump.

“Tell me something else stupid about you,” she asked as they walked endlessly, endlessly into warmer climes over undulating terrain, through forests and rivers, over mountains, and down into ever-increasing amounts of swamp.

“Hoo boy, I’m scrapin’ the bottom here, buuuut... I owned three pairs of crocs.” He hesitated and tilted his head slightly. “Will own?

This drew a laugh. “What - all at once? Everyone just gave you the same terrible birthday gift?”

“Naw,” he blushed and scratched his head as he elaborated. “There was a period of like five months during puberty, before I became painfully self-aware, where my feet just grew and grew. Like the rest of me.”

“So you didn’t learn after the first pair and just bought more on purpose each time your shoe size-”

“Augh, don’t say it aloud,” he groaned.

Connie chuckled once again. It was okay - they were fairly sure they were well away from anything that could pose a threat to them. It was infectious though, and he soon found himself joining her in laughter.

They’d learned long since that these games were better played without direct reference to the people they knew and loved.

 


 

Eventually, after a long hard slog southward, they hit a coast - a wide sandy beach that looked out over a vast body of water. But it was all wrong - they could tell that the ocean lay in the wrong direction.

“Here’s another fun fact about me,” she started as she glanced off toward the ocean horizon. “I’ve got a good memory and I like maps, but I’m not the kind of person able to remember the exact details of a map verbatim.” She sucked air in through clenched teeth. “I think we got turned around somehow.”

He was understanding about this. “Welp, the last time either of us saw a map was years ago. Y’know. Back when there were maps.”

“When there will be maps.”

“Touché.”

“Aw, buddy,” she said reluctantly, making sure the jacket was still tied around her waist securely. It was far too warm for that noise. “I think we still have a ways to go.”

“Wanna birds eye view this?” he suggested.

She made a face like dropping briefly from a portal placed high up in the sky didn’t appeal to her. “Ugh, not right now. Just ate.”

They opted instead to follow the shoreline for now, heading south. There were clouds overhead but it was still warm - a muggy kind of warm that Connie didn’t really appreciate. She stopped and stooped down after tolerating it a while to roll up her pant legs, and then undid the jacket from around her waist and held it out to Lars.

“It’s so horrible,” she whined. “Can you jam this in your face for me?”

One glowing forehead later, he stowed it away through his head into whatever had become of the Pink Dimension. He imagined it still there, out of sight, but cold and dark. Empty. The thought of it freaked him out a little.

“Are you feeling okay?” he asked her, trying to focus his thoughts on something else. “Gimme the sword.”

“I’m fine, it’s just the heat.” She shot him an envious glance as she unshouldered the scabbard. “You must be cold blooded or something.”

“Another exciting fact about me - my blood is dark pink and has the consistency of syrup now,” he said as she handed him the sheathed sword.

“I know. I’ve seen you get injured heaps of times.”

He stowed that away in his head too. “Are you ready?”

“Not yet. Water me, please.”

He smiled softly. His forehead was seeing so much traffic right now, it was insane. Out from his head he pulled the little ceramic flask. She took it, uncorked it and drank deeply.

“I bet you don’t miss all this annoying stuff, right?” she asked after he put it back away in his head and they were walking unencumbered once again. When he glanced down at her in confusion, she elaborated. “All this, you know, feeling thirsty, hungry. Getting too hot or too cold.”

He was silent for longer than she expected - he typically had some smartass comment ready for things like that. She started to wonder if he’d heard her, but before she could say anything else, he belatedly replied.

“Actually? I, uh.” He lowered his voice. “I miss all of it.”

Connie blinked in surprise and glanced over at him. “Oh! Um, I didn’t-”

He shook his head and interrupted her sharply. “Whatever! That counts as a fact. You owe me two. Tell me more stupid facts about you.” He demanded, shrugging now and refusing to make eye contact.

She walked alongside him a few paces before thinking of something. “Well, I broke a boy’s arm once when I was at school. Did I tell you this one already?”

This gathered his surprise. He shot her a sideways glance. “You’re a bully?!” he asked in a false seriousness.

This was more like the Lars she knew.

“Nooooo! It was an accident, I swear,” she replied in an over-the-top manner while smiling. “I felt super guilty for a long time!”

He smirked. “Sure. What’d this kid do to deserve that?”

“He existed. And touched me. Accidentally. He just kind of jostled me in the hallway. And at the time I was deep into combat training with Pearl, my instincts sort of took over. I flipped him,” she mimed the action, stopping for a moment in the sand to do so. “And... I snapped his ulna in the process.”

Lars whistled, impressed. “The second fact? You’re a hard, cold woman.”

She pushed him playfully. “Stop!”

Lars staggered sideways, crying out, clutching his torso in mock pain. “Ow! Stop, you’re breaking my ulnas! All six of them!”

“Here’s a fact about you - you only have two ulnas, you dink.”

“I’m magic. I could have six. You don’t know.”

“Do you even know what an ulna is?”

“It’s like, near your spleen or something?”

She gave him a look of unending disparagement as they picked up their feet and continued walking along the beach.

“Since it’s my turn to say a fact, I wasn’t what you’d call a good student, dude.”

 


 

After a few weeks of this, they hit a southern coast. They weren’t in the business of being stopped by stupid mundane things like large bodies of water, though, and Lars picked her up and carried her straight over it.

Half a day of this proved a challenge, however. Connie found she hated being carried like this and, although Lars possessed the resilience and strength for it, it got old fast. So they called it a day and when they were back at their Delmarva campsite a few seconds later, they took the rest of the afternoon to brainstorm and began to draw up plans in the dirt for a boat.

They each in their own way assumed that it would be relatively easy. They had tools and the will.

“Question,” said Lars finally.

“Yes, I am taking questions,” she smiled, tucking the stick she was using to create the diagram behind her ear, for all the world like it was a pencil.

“Uh. Do we actually need a boat boat?” Lars finally wrenched his gaze up from her complicated blueprints in the dirt. The whole thing seemed intimidating and hard, but most importantly, a waste of time. “Or can we just, like, get a log?”

She stared up at him, incredulous look on her face. “A log.”

“Well. Yeah?”

She raised an eyebrow. “You want me to just float on the sea, sitting on a log while we look for this thing. What if it sinks-”

He quickly became frustrated. “You’ve got me - I don’t sink! We’ll tie a rope between us or somethin’. Look, I just think you’re overthinking the whole boat thing. We don’t need a massive trawler-”

She smiled again, happy to correct him. “Oh of course not. This is more of a little skipjack.”

“H-how do you even know so much about boats!? Whatever! It’ll take forever - We might as well try building the Sun Incinerator! Dude, can we just hollow out a log? Way easier to build and to sling through a portal. Right?”

Connie furrowed her brow as she considered his points. “Hm. I guess I can see why they made you captain.”

Lars frowned hard as he watched her come around. “Fine,” she said at length. “Let’s do your thing.”

Over the coming days, they found and felled a suitable tree - long and straight - with the axe they’d pinched from the gem battlefield months and months prior. It was a badass weapon of war, to be sure, and using it for lumberjacking purposes only made whatever the mundane task was at hand seem all the more awesome.

They had over time acquired other tools, however, to make the smoothing and hollowing-out process go a lot simpler and more efficiently, and it didn’t take them long to reveal the canoe that had been waiting inside it for so long.

 


 

On the cliffside, yet more seasons rolled past. They experienced the oncoming spring, summer, autumn and around again briefly every morning and night, in between their daily wanderings around the eternally tropical Caribbean Sea.

They had no use for weekends, so the only days they took off their task was when the sea was particularly rough. One time, Lars had had to pick the entire canoe up with Connie inside and forcibly throw it all - including himself - through a portal to avoid everything being smashed by gigantic waves in the middle of a raging, black storm. They didn’t complain about sitting that day out in the relative safety of their campsite. They even went down to the beach below the cliff, deciding to appreciate the mild seaside experience for once - moreso than usual.

They briefly discussed the idea of portaling to the city and trading for something that would give them a buzz and turn this into a real work vacation, but ultimately they decided against it on the grounds that it would be too easy. That maybe they’d willfully and with arms and eyes wide open fall into a spiraling habit.

An escape from all this.

No, they concluded. Alcohol dependency was the exact last thing they needed while they were stuck here.

So they settled for water instead and whiled away the days.

They didn’t exactly know what they were looking for, but they had an inkling. It was a domed, see-through building - Connie had gleaned that much from Steven, years and years prior. It was will be underwater in the distant future, just off the coast of what would eventually become Hispaniola, according to what little she had gathered from Buddy Budwick’s journal. But nowadays?

Nowadays, she couldn’t say. She didn’t know.

 


 

They’d been roaming what would much later become known as the Caribbean Sea for what felt like forever, when finally they found it, by chance, far below them, in the water.

They could even see it, hazy and vague, from above the surface - they could make out the domed ceiling.

“Is that it?” asked Lars, pointing. He had a rope tied around his waist - it connected him both to Connie, and another end of it was connected to the prow of the canoe, all in the name of water safety since they couldn’t barter for life jackets in this day and age. Connie shuffled around and leaned over the edge of the canoe.

“Maybe. Hm. If it is, I guess it was just always underwater?” Connie shrugged before smiling widely up at her friend. “Anyway! Target acquired! Do your thing, guy!”

Barely able to contain his excitement, he attempted to yell up a happy portal - but to his surprise, nothing happened.

Confused but still smiling, he tried again and for the second time, no portal swirled into being.

“Huh?” He lost the smile.

Connie frowned. “Lars? What’s wrong?”

“I... I don’t know.” A third time didn’t help - once more, his shout died impotent in the air in front of them, without generating a portal.

“Well. This is embarrassing,” he said as he tested the water below him with a foot. As always, it repelled him - keeping him supported rather than letting him submerge, and for the first time it occurred to him that this magical perversion of the laws of physics seemed to extend to his portal power as well. “I guess water really hates me.”

The expression on Connie’s face fell “But. We spent years on this! We.. made a canoe and came all this way only to be stopped by your complicated relationship with water!?

He sighed as he stared miserably down at his own reflection. “Thanks, Padparadscha.”

They stared down into it - the moving water below them, the domed structure they’d come all this way for was tantalizingly close, and yet so far.. Connie grit her teeth.

“I’ll swim down and check it out.”

Lars laughed. He appreciated the joke, but Connie raised an eyebrow at him.

“What’s funny?” she asked, and suddenly he realized she was being serious.

“Uh, no you won’t.” Lars said matter-of-factly. “That sounds dangerous and dumb.”

“What’s dangerous and dumb about it!?”

“I can’t believe you’re making me explain this! For one, if you get into trouble, there’s no possible way for me to get down there to help you. Also.. sharks, much!?”

Connie laughed. “Oh, c’mon. There are way worse things than sharks out there.”

He spluttered. “Th-that plays into my main point even more-!”

Lars watched with mounting concern as she stood up in the rocky canoe and undid the rope from her waist connecting her to the canoe and Lars.

Desperate, he tried to appeal to her once more. “Connie, no. I’m calling a sidebar for real. We’ll call it for today and talk about this back at camp-”

But she was determined. “No sidebar. I’ll be right back.” They’d come all this way, after all.

He looked on helpless as she took a breath and dove from the side of the canoe into the water and swam deep down into a place he couldn’t follow.

 


 

Saltwater stinging her wide-open eyes, Connie struck out with her arms and legs and with each stroke she pulled herself further and further down.

It must have been the right place. It was the structure Steven had described once, long ago. Will describe, forevers from now.

The fuzzy building became more and more solid as she approached. The neatly-arranged hourglasses she could see inside it only served to eliminate any remaining doubt that it was the right place.

She made the mistake of laughing out of pure joy, though, and hurriedly changed direction in order to pull herself back up to the surface for some much-needed oxygen.

 


 

Lars sat cross-legged on the surface of the sea, keeping a close eye on the depths below him. He saw her approach and moved out of the way as she broke the surface of the water.

She opened her mouth and inhaled deeply, grabbing for Lars’ hand as he offered it. He towed her over to the canoe and helped her climb back inside to crouch as she spent a few moments more catching her breath. Lars watched from where he was standing, bobbing up and down gently on the ripples she’d created.

He squashed down his mixed feelings of annoyance and relief in order to ask; “So.. How’d it go?”

“I could see inside. There’s so many hourglasses. And, I think I know which part the entrance is. Let me catch my breath and I’ll-”

“No! I hate this idea!” he spouted loudly in desperation. “We should try warping in again!”

She glared at him as she wrung out her ponytail. “It’s right THERE, man! And guess what - I can reach it!”

“But the warps-”

“Neither of us can use them! Have you already forgotten how much time we wasted on that?”

“I mean, I’m sure I can do it, I’m magic aren’t I? I just- I’ll try harder!”

She gave him a very realistic look. They had spent weeks on that, years ago, and it had resulted in nothing. He knew it too, so he continued desperately trying to spitball ideas. Anything to change his friend’s mind.

“W-well, we could ask one of the gems to take us! We just have to get one alone. Maybe Garnet?” He frowned as he lapsed into thought. “Yeah. She’s chill. She’s sure to listen. She knows how fickle the future can be-”

She eyed him suspiciously. “You don’t really want to ask a gem. You’re just saying that to get me to stop. Also, we don’t even know where they’re based right now! Good luck finding them.”

He waved his arms around emphatically, trying his best to level with her. “Connie, this idea is going to get you killed.”

“I know what I’m doing. Besides - I’ve been a Crystal Gem for years - I outrank you.”

He tensed his fingers. Why was she being so stubborn! “I was a spaceship captain!

Was!

With that, she took a deep breath and dove back down while Lars loudly and explicitly vented his mounting frustrations into an uncaring sunny day.

 


 

She quickly realized she was still a bit tired from the first visit to the sea floor - luckily this part of the floor wasn’t that far down, but it was still enough to put a strain on her body and lungs by the time she broke surface again.

She nonetheless felt the pressure increase the further down she got. Not for the first time, she wished she had some kind of power besides her own physical strength and determination, but at last after a mountain of effort she made it to the entrance.

The hand-shaped panel was there, waiting. She imagined that it had been waiting centuries for her. For this moment.

There was nothing else for it - she placed her hand upon it and waited for as long as she could, until she could start to feel her lungs burning.

Nothing.

 


 

He’d been holding his breath for as long as she’d been submerged, trying to count the seconds as they passed. He had an inkling that people could hold their breath underwater for two minutes. Or was it three?

It definitely wasn’t four, was it?

He jumped violently as she emerged again, not far from him. She gasped deeply for air, and in this moment he realized that even though he hadn’t taken a breath since she had, he was just fine.

Pushing that down, he spun around and held his hands out - she grabbed them and drew deep breaths as she floated there.

“Hey,” she said at last between gulping breaths.

“Hey,” he replied, trying not to lose it.

“There’s a hand panel at the entrance,” she was eventually able to say with relative ease. “It doesn’t wanna work for me.”

He exhaled as patiently as he could. The look on her face told him that this wasn’t over, and he was right.

“Maybe I can smash my way in,” she continued. “Give me my sword.”

He gave her A Look™.

And she sighed deeply, more than able to conclude for herself that her vague plan was terrible.

She was soon re-hydrating from her little ceramic flask in the canoe as they deliberated on the matter, Lars pacing back and forth on the surface of the open sea.

“Maybe,” he exhaled. “Maybe we really do talk to a gem. It doesn’t have to be anyone we already know, right? In fact, maybe it’s safer that way. See if we can get one to help us. Surely-”

“Listen, I know the warp pad was a farce, but maybe you can get me in.”

When he looked absolutely blindsided by this ridiculous statement, she explained. “You’ve got diamond essence, right? Well, diamonds are pretty important. Maybe whatever system is running the place is capable of sensing the, uh, diamond-ness, or something."

He spun on her, frustrated. “What are you gunna do - cut off my hand!? I can’t go down there! It’s physically impossible!”

"Maybe I don’t need your hand. If I went down there with, say, a lock of hair...”

It took some convincing, but she was determined and eventually Lars agreed.

 


 

Connie swam back down, making a beeline to the entrance of the facility, her friend’s lock of hair clenched tight in her hand. She somehow managed to weave the hair around her fingers before pressing down upon the hand-shaped panel.

She would have held her breath... if it wasn’t imperative to her survival that she already did so.

To her surprise and disbelief, the panel lit up beneath her hand and she nearly lost the air she was holding in her lungs as the door before her opened up. She figured whatever diamond essence or whatnot lingering in her friends hair was indeed enough to make certain pieces of gem tech to lose their mind - but not others?

But whatever! After striking out with the warp pad and having that aspect of gem civilization closed off to them, she was happy to finally, finally get a win! She didn’t want to question it too closely.

Suddenly, a bout of indecision struck her. This was the ideal result - of course it was - but a fear had sprung forth from the dark recesses of doubt that always lingered in the back of her mind. She thought of Lars, waiting anxiously above her, unable to see her in the murky depths of this place - the state of helpless madness he was sure to drive himself into the longer she stayed down here. She also thought of him, long-lived if not immortal, like Lion.

Him, enduring the endless centuries before him.

Without her.

Of him burying her, cold and still, someday.

Time was pressing - as it always was. She fought the urge to seek air instead, set her jaw and swam inside. The transparent door slid shut behind her - in front of her, another glass wall.

Eyes wide open, trying to keep the panic at bay, she made the decision to believe in the universe for a few solid moments even though her lungs were screaming at her. All her instincts begged for her to swim upward, but she knew that wouldn’t save her. She instead fought against herself to trust in this gem tech, despite the fact that it wasn’t built with her best interests in mind.

She almost collapsed anyway as she realized some unseen system or other had started draining the water from the small enclosure she found herself in. She found her head breaking the surface as the water level dropped and soon she fell to the floor soaking wet, a sobbing mess, choking and gasping to catch her breath as she did.

She noticed the wall in front of her rising and suddenly she had access to the interior of the Sea Shrine.

Making sure she still had Lars’ hair in her possession, she at length picked herself up and took a couple of careful steps forward, into the Sea Shrine proper.

It was dark and there was an atmospheric green haze about the place, due to the algae and such growing on the outside of the window walls. Lining these walls were shelves, upon which sat a myriad of hourglassess - big and small.

The biggest one, much taller and wider than herself, standing alone on the tiled floor, was obviously out. Steven had told her how little it was, that he could hold it easily in his hand. Her heart panged for him - if only she could just talk to him. See him, even once..

She did her best.

“Hey stranger,” a voice, behind her, caused her to turn.

Her brain placed Steven there. He was smiling widely, and she smiled back. Her eyes shone. His smile always made her happy. “Steven...”

“You never call anymore so I came over.” He blushed suddenly. “I-I hope that’s okay!”

“I’m sorry I haven’t called in a while,” she said, smiling slightly less. “It’s just that, well, you’re not even born yet. And phones don’t exist.”

He lowered his eyes and, pursing his lips, exhaled gently through his nose.

“Y’know how it is,” she added as nonchalant as possible, shrugging.

He cast a glance around and seemed surprised to find where they were. “The Sea Shrine? What are you doing here? Also-” here, he smirked, “What are you wearing?”

“Hide shorts are all the rage these days. Hard to swim in, though.” She smirked back. “The singlet is some kind of plant fibre, like cloth but worse. And the glove-things are just cool. Listen,” she said, “Help me, Steven - which one is it?”

He shoved his hands into the pockets of his pink jacket. “So the thing is, uh, I’m not really here...”

Her smile faded slightly, her forehead furrowed. The light in her eyes dimmed. “I. I know that.”

She knew she was only talking to herself.

“But maybe you can still help.”

He smiled. “I’ll try my best,” he promised as he glanced around. “It was small. And cute.”

Connie’s smile faded the rest of the way. “That really describes a lot of these things.”

He frowned and scratched at the back of his head. “Sorry my drawing of it was so bad. I was looking forward to showing you the real thing, but I.. had to destroy it instead.”

“Wait, you told me an alternate version of yourself destro-”

“Oh, oh yeah!” he nodded grimly. “Either way, it had to be done. Apparently.

She snorted. “It’s okay, Steven. All I have to do is pick correctly. I just have to pick the one that you would pick. And I’ll see you again soon.”

Small and cute. Small and cute. She sailed about the room, looking with her eyes, careful not to touch any of them lest it be the wrong one. Her steps echoed through the chamber, every breath she took stood out like lightning against the silence.

Steven stood there, off to the side of the chamber, watching her as she performed her search.

“How are you doing?” he asked, suddenly. “How are you getting through this?”

“Me? I’m okay, I suppose.” She shrugged non-committedly. “Oh hey - I met your mom briefly. That was a while ago, now. She looked good. Seemed busy.”

She turned back to see him staring straight at her. Through her.

“But, you didn’t ask about your mom...” she sighed, deciding to level with this apparition. “Steven, I’m not doing so well.”

Steven’s lips tightened, his gaze softened. “Connie-”

“I mean, I’m here now, so things are looking up. But it’s taken so long. It’s been years, Steven. And it’s been so hard. I’m older now. I just hope when I get back, that...” she shuddered as the thought of two very important people pierced her mind like a freshly sharpened blade.

“Will - will my family will still know it’s me?”

She hesitated. Their faces were emblazoned on her brain, now. Every wrinkle, every grey hair they had, their smiles alternating against expressions of worry, for her. She frowned.

“Will they recognize me like this?” she asked the empty room, her voice strained, croaking slightly. “I. I have scars. And I might be a little uh, malnourished. And, oh boy do I cry. A lot. Sometimes, all I do, is cry. And, and will you still...”

Her words caught in her throat. She took this pause to briefly try to arrange her messy, messy thoughts.

“I used to have all these things I wanted to do - graduation, college. I wanted to travel! I wanted to do it all, with you. I wasn’t afraid of anything, but now I’m so scared, Steven!”

A couple of tears spilled out.

“It was finally, finally peacetime. But here I am, in the past! And I-I’m skulking on my belly around the fringes of the biggest war the Earth has ever seen! Why? I dunno! I’m so confused. We’re so lost, and no one’s looking out for us. Heck, I don’t think anyone would take us seriously much less recognize us even if we could approach them, which we can’t! Because - hellooo! We could ruin all of history!

She shuddered, and sobbed.

Steven frowned and took a step towards her, his hands left his pockets and he reached for her. “It might not seem like it right now, but you’re still the same old Connie. I know you are. And you can do this! You have to.”

He smiled, so confident. And she melted.

“Steven, I...” she ran her fingers though her hair. “I should have just asked you out. I was going to see if you wanted to but, w-when I kissed you, I got all bashful-”

She trailed off, cheeks burning as tears welled up in the corners of her eyes, once again. She crammed the bases of her thumbs into her eyes and rubbed them hard, as if that could ever help.

“I’m going insane. I just need to focus. Lars is up there. He’s probably thinking I’m dead already.”

“Oh, Lars!” said Steven, perking back up. “How is he?”

“Most likely freaking out.” She sighed. “He’s so annoying, with that. Doesn’t he know I’m trying to save him!? Ugh.”

Inhaling deeply, she took a long moment to center herself. When she opened her eyes again, she knew she had to make a decision eventually. She cast around once more as Steven stood to the side. There were so many options, scattered everywhere, and the burden of this decision was hers and hers alone.

 

 

 

Suddenly, decisively, she chose. She plucked it up quickly, as if hoping the room wouldn’t notice. It was still, as silent as ever. She locked eyes with the visage of Steven and they exchanged wide smiles.

“I-I don’t believe it,” she said as she stared at the small, triangular hourglass in her hand. “I chose correctly!?”

As soon as she finished talking, the room began to rumble. Her pupils constricted as she realized she’d spoken too soon. A second later, high above her, the topmost glass panel in the center of the dome just straight up disappeared.

“Oh no,” she spluttered as she stumbled back out of shock.

Steven’s face was also a mask of surprise. She imagined him doing his best to stay strong for her, though, and he turned back to look at her. “Connie, listen to me - you are going to be okay!”

How!? Tears and sweat poured down her face, but not nearly as hard as the ocean crashing in through the ceiling.

“No! I failed- I-!”

“CONNIE!” Steven was screaming. “Grab everything you can!”

It was a solid plan. Connie dropped the hourglass she’d been holding - it was obviously the wrong one - and made a mad dash to the nearest small, ‘cute’ hourglass she could find, grabbed it, and cast about for the next one, and the next - anything she could imagine Steven going for. Her progress gradually became more and more slowed down by the raising water level, which was starting to lap at her hips now.

Despite that, she started thinking that maybe she had enough time to grab them all, but then suddenly more panels disappeared.

A roaring cacophony of water spilled through - and there was Steven, in the middle of it all.

“STEVEN,” she screamed, shuffling her load around and tucking it under her other arm as she tried her best to make a dash for him - nearly impossible in the rising water. “GRAB MY HAND!”

He smiled at her. A sad, yet hopeful smile. “Connie. You know I’m not here, right?”

Her eyes budded anew with tears as the waves crashed around him, wiping him out.

He was gone. And for the first time since he’d appeared, it truly hit her that he’d never actually been there. She took a breath as the wave crashed over her head, too.

“Y-yeah, I know,” she said once it settled and she was able to break the surface again for air, her words tumbling out of her as a choked whisper as she found her feet could no longer connect the floor and she found herself instead bullied by the turbulence of the water, tears streaming from her face. The waters continued to rise rapidly around her as she clutched her precious load into her torso - she did the best that she could with one arm. She needed it free to be able to tread the water.

She tried to keep her breathing calm and tempered as the water level rose further and further toward the domed ceiling. She kept an eye on where the hole was, in the top center of the dome. As soon as the chamber filled up, she’d be able to swim through it, she figured. She just needed to squash the rising terror and encroaching feelings of claustrophobia until that point.

“I’ll see you soon, Steven,” she told herself, barely audible around the raging waters, before at last taking her final breath.

 


 

Every inch of his clothing was soaked through as he pressed himself against the surface of the sea, as close as he could get. He could tell something was happening down there - something important. Something terrible.

Lars’ morbid curiosity quickly turned to helpless fear as he noticed the water seeming to quietly implode around him - like a kind of mild earthquake, but with water. Escaping bubbles from below blubbed and globbed upwards to plop on the surface around him.

In the midst of a panic, he tried his best to dig. He found that if he tried, he could stick as much as most of a hand in, but whatever he scraped away instantly filled back in and he kicked himself mentally. How stupid was he? That was never going to work.

All he could do was watch out for her, and wait. And mentally attempt to prepare himself for whatever the aftermath could be.

He tried not to let his imagination run too wild.

Tens of yards away, after a long and breathless moment of interminable waiting, the surface of the water broke violently like a window in a thunderstorm. He snapped his head around - she was there, obviously exhausted and struggling with one arm, as though clinging at something precious with the other. She struggled to yell out for him but nothing came out - a second later, he dropped from a portal onto his knees beside her.

It was like she was bouncing, in the water - kicking aimlessly with her legs she tried to keep her head above the surface. But she was weighed down, compromised. He missed her the first time, and she bobbed back under - forever out of his reach, but only for a moment. One more fatigued kick with her legs later, she resurfaced and he lurched to grab her by the top of her head and, chest heaving with emotions, he pulled her up, grabbing desperately for more and more of her as he hauled her upper body further and further out of the water, onto his folded knees.

He was real. Relieved, she clung to him as best as she could as he held her there, unwilling to let her go. The armload of hourglasses she’d managed to escape with jabbed them both viciously as she began crying, loud and ugly, in between big sobbing gasps of ragged breath.

He joined her.

Around them, the sunny oceanscape continued not to care.

 


 

Later on, Connie walked over to her usual place, opposite Lars at the firepit. He was poking at the fire glumly with what had long ago been a gem-crafted spear which they had found, discarded on some ancient battlefield or other. He was sitting cross-legged on the dirt, his chin resting on his fist.

They’d spent the afternoon messing around with what Connie had managed to escape the drowning Sea Shrine with.

Needless to say, not a one of them appeared to be the correct one.

She dropped down to her bottom and tucked her legs in front of her. On her lap, she placed the little stone star she’d been working on. Lately she’d been attempting to smooth its surface - it was a slow process without sandpaper on hand. She instead had another rock, a smooth one that she’d been slowly grinding it down with.

There was silence for a long while, save for the crackling of cooking meat, the low roar of the fire, the smoothing of stone.

Eventually, Connie piped up, her voice small on the air between them. “Do you forgive me yet?”

He moved the hand out from under his chin to wave it briefly as if trying to actively dispel her weird idea. “Ya don’t need forgiven. Don’t be weird.”

She blushed. “But I. I ignored you. And I messed it all up. And the shrine won’t reform again for a hundred years, so we’re actually screwed for real, now!”

He eyed her evenly. He couldn’t have her breaking down on him over this. “Fact about you? You tried. And you were badass brave about it." He hesitated. "I.. admire that. And it’s not like you gave up when you first picked wrong, either - you grabbed like a ton of them! We wouldn’t have had a chance if you didn’t. Besides, I woulda messed it up, too - I can’t even pick matching socks out of my drawer.”

“But-”

“We didn’t even have a clear description of the thing! Small? Cute!? That describes literally everything, especially coming from Steven.” He sunk at the shoulders. “You don’t deserve to feel guilty about it. It doesn’t matter.”

She lowered her eyes back down to the stone shape in her hands, flicking in the firelight. She couldn’t bring herself to smile at his words. “Thanks, Lars,” she said at last, without really feeling it.

After a moment, he spoke again. “Listen. Connie, I’ve been thinking.”

She glanced back up. “Hmm?”

“You should go find a family.”

She locked her eyes on him - still bleary and red from the saltwater they'd been exposed to, but functioning well enough. “What are these words from your face, now?”

He finally raised his up from the fire to regard her. “I mean, you’re getting older-”

Instead of getting mad, she pointed out something that wasn't too obvious. “So are you!”

“I’m. Huh?”

“Actually, If I’m keeping track of the days right, I guess you’re twenty-five, now.” she smiled. “And I’m twenty.

Lars wore a face of shock. “No! What!? We’re that old?”

“Yeah!” She smiled. “Deal with it!”

Lars looked shook, but comically so. Connie laughed, and he shortly joined in.

The levity of the moment soon collapsed swiftly under the crushing weight of the very thing it was designed to distract them from and their laughter died uncomfortably in the space between them. Lars poked at the fire once more, sending sparks and ash specks aloft by the rising warm air.

“I guess I just don’t wanna think about how you’re getting older,” he said as he blinked, his face looking the opposite of laughter. “Or how I’m... not.”

He'd had plenty of time to stare down at his reflection in the water as he'd waited for her.

“Not really,” he added quietly.

Connie shifted uneasily where she sat and dropped her stinging eyes back down to the stone star in her lap.

The aging woman and the unaging man sat in awkward silence for the remainder of the evening.

Chapter Text

4. The Reasons.

 

“The past beats inside me like a second heart.”
― John Banville

 

~*~

 

It was a voice - female and vaguely familiar. Like one she hadn’t heard in years.

“Connie! ...Lars!?”

But as she began to stir, the dream - whatever it was - easily got away from her. She blinked open unwilling, still-stinging eyes to find that the sky was beginning to color again. A scattering of stars were still visible but so were some gathering clouds here in the pre-dawn - and the reason she knew any of this was because she’d fallen asleep outside. It wasn’t a huge deal and it certainly wasn’t the first time; the evening prior had been fine, warm and breezeless, after all.

The peace of this moment couldn’t last. It all came back to her - the events of the day before. Her failure at the Sea Shrine. Their quiet discussion in the firelight that evening - Lars’ halfhearted attempt to get her to move on.

Their painful, halting acknowledgment that time was passing them by - a ceaseless, mocking parade.

All this - she remembered, heart sinking - after years of wasted effort.

The fire had burned itself out overnight, now little more than smoldering embers, scant plumes of smoke rising up briefly before scattering and dispersing in the gentle breeze. Leftovers from the night before sat untouched in a clay bowl nearby.

And there was Lars, also beginning to stir from one of his rare slumbers, across the firepit from her. Well, that wasn’t true anymore. She’d noticed he had taken more and more to the habit of sleeping lately. She still had to ask him why, but at a guess the answer was most likely boredom. That made sense to her - by being awake all the time, he was actually subjecting himself to an extra half again the amount of waking hell she herself was experiencing.

That, and there seemed to be no point in him staying awake to keep watch; there never seemed to be any danger here on this little peninsula. No one had ever come here in the time they’d been lost here. They didn’t want to get too comfortable, but it seemed more and more like there wasn’t really any need for a lookout-

“Heeeey!? I know you’re around here - I hope you are, anyway!”

Her eyes widened and she bolted upright, shunted rudely from her sleepy train of thought. It wasn’t a dream. Someone had finally come to their quiet little peninsula, and they were calling out...

Specifically, for them.

She placed her hand on the hilt of the sword she was never too far away from.

Lars also instantly gathered his wits, grabbed the fire-poker-spear from the firepit and jumped to his feet, casting about with anxious eyes.

There was no one around that they could see - just trees, their little cabin, a squirrel darting away into the undergrowth.

“LAAAAAARS!?”

His eyes darted around at the sound of his name being called. Connie rose to her feet, hefting the sword with her as she did, and slowly approached the edge of the cliff. She was certain that the voice was further away than merely somewhere in amongst the nearby trees.

“Connie- no-” Lars whispered cautiously, but she dropped down as she got closer to the cliff’s edge. This seemed to appease him. He followed her.

“CON-NIE!”

In trepidation, they grew bold enough to peer over the edge of the cliff and down on the beach, in the rising light, they could make out the shape of a person, lithe and slender and tall. She wore a flowing dress that came down to around her ankles.

In the low but breaking light of dawn, they could also see that she was green.

A green gem.

She spotted them immediately and her eyes widened in surprise. They watched in terror as... she smiled widely and waved an arm at them.

This strange gem even continued to yell up at them; “Oh, OH! HEY! I was hoping you’d stuck around!”

She took a full body-contorting, physics-defying leap into the air and smoked the height of the cliff as if it were nothing. The two humans wrenched themselves around in fright and clumsily scrambled to their feet as she sailed overhead.

The gem landed behind them and glanced around to assess the space these two had created for themselves. Ah yes. The humble firepit; a source of warmth, meals and a social gathering spot for early humans. The modest hovel - she didn’t know a single gem nor human who didn’t appreciate a healthy dose of the indoors from time to time. Some kind smoothed-down log-thing leaning against the wall of the hut? Well, that was a new one. She wasn’t familiar with whatever those were.

She stood arms akimbo and smiled at their little slice of heaven.

“Wow, you two did all this!? It looks like you’re really thriving here, with your little housing unit and...” she flicked her hand to indicate their mess. “The other things. That’s great! Rose was so right about you humans, you’re all so adaptable.” She frowned, softly. “I... I envy that.”

Intensely confused by all this, Lars finally piped up. “Uhhhh, excuse me...”

The strange gem turned to regard them, finally. She took a step toward them - the two humans immediately took a step back. Connie raised the sword, ready to strike if the need occurred - as did Lars with the spear.

But she was smiling widely, and this prompted them both to smile back, however nervously. She really seemed like someone they might want on their side. This gem seemed to know things about them - most importantly that they were here. In this time. At this place.

Perhaps she also knew why.

 

 

The stranger didn’t seem to notice their trepidation.

“And you didn’t even stray far, did you?” The gem smiled widely once again. It was a smile that, oddly enough, didn’t quite touch her eyes. “Well, haha, lucky for me!”

Connie frowned at her as she gripped the sword handle tightly. “How do you know us?”

She chuckled - at what, they couldn’t imagine. It was not a time for laughter.

“Oh, Connie. What are you saying? We will practically be neighbors.”

Lars gasped in recognition, but Connie was still trying to piece it together. “But, we’ve never seen-”

Lars lowered his voice and laid a gentle hand upon his cohort’s shoulder. “Connie - she’s from Little Homeworld.”

Connie squinted, and snapped her fingers. “Of… course!”

The gem frowned as Connie racked her brain.

“Yeah! Moldavite... right? One of the original Crystal Gems!”

Lars jumped in. “How- why are we here?! Can you tell us-”

“You don’t remember?” Moldavite blinked, her expression quickly falling. “But, I-I will...” she frowned abruptly, as if confused. “We will speak down on the beach. You will both agree you’ll help me. You’ll say it’s okay!”

Lars and Connie stood with blank expressions. None of this was registering. And the odd way in which she was speaking wasn’t helping.

Connie shrugged, looking lost. “What do you mean? Will?”

“Is this some kinda weird game?” Lars asked, scratching at the back of his neck.

Moldavite frowned further, her forehead wrinkling up. “You’ll want to help me go home.”

“...What.”

She grew less patient. “You will say it’s okay and that you’ll help me get home!”

“Okay, okaaay. Let’s wind this back,” said Lars, taking a small step forward, holding his palms out in what he hoped would be taken in a calming way. “Moldavite - Hey. Now, ahhh... where do you think your home is?” he asked with an upward inflection.

Moldavite’s whole demeanor changed as she slowly put both her arms around her torso. She hugged herself gently. Her eyes were troubled and, one could imagine, so was her mind.

“Nowhere,” she said at last in a quiet, empty tone.

“Somewhen,” said Connie, eyes wide, stricken hard by the light of a sudden realization.

Moldavite collected herself after a moment and waved a dismissive hand in the rising light. “Yes, yes. And after I explain all this to you, you will be only too happy to say yes! Remember?”

Lars and Connie exchanged confused glances.

“No,” came Connie’s response, speaking for them both. “Moldavite, we don’t remember any of that. How we got here is all a blank.” She immediately found herself welling with emotion. “But you did this to us!? How!? Wh-”

She exhaled sharply through her nose as she felt an anger rise within her. It must have been obvious, because she felt Lars place a gentle hand upon her tensed shoulder.

“Okay,” Lars swallowed a mounting terror as he took over the line of questioning. “You need to tell us what you said- will say to us, and maybe we can figure this whole thing out.”

“Why don’t you remember?!” asked the gem, emotional again, her irises shrunk small, her forehead furrowed anxiously. “It will be what humans will someday start calling A Saturday. I will ask you, on the beach - You’ll understand! I’ll ask if you would help me go home. You both will say yes!”

He waited for more, but he soon realized it wasn’t forthcoming. “...That’s all? That’s what you said to us?”

“Yeah.”

Connie tightened her grip on the sword handle and grit her teeth, but Lars was still surprisingly in mediator mode.

“Okay! This... is progress,” he was saying. “So it seems like you didn’t really tell us what ‘going home’ meant for you.” Lars shrugged, smiling widely, eyes bulging as he tried hard to keep it together. “I can see myself thinking, ‘sure, a quick portal to Little Homeworld to help someone get home because screw walking, right?’” His smile faded. “There’s no way I’d have thought-”

But Connie was less patient. “We would’ve never said yes to being shunted thousands of years backwards through time!” she shouted.

Moldavite was taken aback. “B-but... you said-”

“No!” Connie furiously elaborated. “We couldn’t have thought you’d ever mean to send us back to the middle of the rebellion! Next time you ask someone for a favor, maybe try a bit more context!”

But she was insistent. “You SAID-”

Connie stomped a foot. “That’s not FAIR. You told us jack, and then you ripped us from our lives!”

Lars was trying to retain a modicum of calm - he wasn’t sure about provoking a gem, but he couldn’t help but ask, “Why’d you even take us?”

Moldavite’s reply came in the most casual tone ever, but it made their racing thoughts grind to a screeching halt.

“You will be the sacrifice.”

Connie breathed in sharply.

“The recipe will call for organic energy,” Moldavite continued without breaking. She shot a glance at Lars, who was looking like a deer caught in headlights at this point. “Well, I will be on the fence about you, but it will seem to have worked.” Here, she chuckled lightly. “Good thing, too! By my calculations, I will need the potential energy of hundreds of humans who might not even survive the process if the one magic one I’ll have on hand isn’t going to work.”

“Moldavite,” breathed Connie, but other than that, she had no words.

Lars, meanwhile, was reeling. “WHAT?!” he shrieked.

“What are you complaining about!?” Moldavite seemed a little caught off guard. “At least I’ll make sure you won’t be lonely! I will think carefully about who would be best as your companion - a fighter who knows about wilderness survival - it’s the perfect combination! I will even make certain you are both of opposing genders - that’s what humans like, right? Body parts that, y’know? Fit together? For the proliferation of the species?”

Lars’ wide eyes flicked over to Connie briefly to find her countenance had dropped. For a moment her face showed pure hopelessness instead of anger. She shook, sword rattling in her hand.

“Why are you acting like this?” asked Moldavite, confused. “Aren’t you happy?”

“No!” shouted Lars.

“Huh?”

He pointed at her as he spoke. “It’s not that hard to understand! You can’t just decide to pair two people up out of nowhere-”

“And don’t strand people thousands of years in the past,” Connie growled through clenched teeth

Moldavite sighed. This isn’t what she was wanting to talk about at all. She decided to just move on with it and interrupted them by pulling something out of her gem in a flash of light, and she held it up so they could see it. It was small. And cute.

A small, cute hourglass.

And Lars and Connie instantly fixated on it.

“Listen,” she said, with a serious tone to her voice. “I will build this in order to have it bring me back here.”

Lars was stunned. “What!? You can just MAKE these things!?”

“Oh! No, no! It’s very difficult - the required components will be almost impossible to source, even in the age of abundance that was Era One, which will be long over of course by Era Three. But I am very smart and will manage to find a workaround; this thing only works with.. additional ingredients.”

Connie swallowed. “The sacrifice.”

Moldavite became emotional once more. The two humans were beginning to find it scary how quickly she could swing back and forth, especially as the stakes climbed higher.

“And I need you again because it wasn’t enough! Time is just slipping away again! I need to go back there! I just want to stay then!” She choked back a sob. “I’m several hundred years away from corruption again. I can’t do it! Not AGAIN.”

Connie took a step toward the gem, lowering her sword finally. She tried to speak gently, tried to remove the quaver from her voice - but it was still there.

“But you were uncorrupted,” she tried to reason with her. “Everyone was. And you were with all your friends. Things were better. Will be better!”

With sudden tears in her eyes, Moldavite replied, “They won’t be.”

“Okay,” Connie conceded, tense. “Maybe, yeah, it can be hard. I guess things must change a lot after being corrupted for thousands of years. But you can’t do this! You can’t just keep using Lars for his weird gemganic energy. You can’t hold us both hostage like this.”

“I-”

Connie raised an eyebrow, struck by an errant thought. “Also… wait. Doesn’t all this mean that there are two of you here? How does that work?”

Moldavite shrugged. “I shapeshift and generally stay out of her way.”

Connie grappled for words. “Th-that… How is that the same!? That’s not even sustainable-” She found herself floored by yet another implication. “If you go back again to avoid yet another corruption, there’ll be three of you! Then four, five... One hundred, one thousand!? What then?!”

“I don’t care! I want to be THEN.”

Connie abruptly found herself washed over once again by an intense anger at everything they’d just learned. Her thoughts spun out of control, picturing the havoc that untold legions of insane Moldavites could wreak upon the timeline - not to mention an equal number of floundering, helpless Larses and Connies. She gripped the sword handle so tightly that her knuckles paled.

Five years. She’d lost five years of her life to this unhinged, maniacal plan.

Lars was much the same. He forced his words through grit teeth. “Time moves forward, dude, and so do all of us.”

Moldavite frowned at them. “But you’re not ‘moving forward’ at all. You’re longing for a different time, too.”

Lars paused to consider how correct she was for a moment before shaking his head. “That’s not the same!”

“How!?”

He frowned. “How are you not getting this? You yanked us bleeding from our lives, man. That’s not cool.”

“Take us back to our time!” came Connie’s impatient demand, causing Lars to jump. “Right this instant!”

“It doesn’t work like that. It can only go back.”

As she held the hourglass aloft and raised her eyes to it. Her gem began to glow.

She smiled - a long toothy thing snaking crookedly across her troubled face. “And we are going back... right now.”

Shonk!

Moldavite gasped suddenly as the light emanating from her gem died. Glancing down, she saw it-

Connie’s sword, sticking out of her chest. The young woman’s own chest was heaving from the effort, having thrown it from where she stood while the gem had been distracted.

Moldavite tightened her grip on the hourglass and it broke in her grasp as the humans looked on, helpless.

The broken pieces fell to the ground as the sand fell away into the wind.

Moldavite sobbed. “I was happy, then,” she cried, tears spilling from her sad eyes. “The rebellion was the best time of my- We were whole. Complete! Humans call it family. A-and... but it didn’t last. A song from the diamonds.” She rose her eyes up to the grey clouds, blotting out the rising sun.

“A light, from the sky-”

Her eyes leaked out big globs of tears and she lowered them to regard the humans in front of her. They were watching - wide-eyed, stunned. Ragged beyond words.

“-I will wrong you both. I’ll know it, but it will be worth it, to go back there. To then.”

Connie felt tears prick her eyes. This gem was helpless now, so she took a small step forward. “Moldavite. You didn’t really think you were going to keep using Lars forever, did you?”

“I did.” She exhaled, long and shaky. “I will have every intention. And you will be right to not believe me when we speak, because I-”

Here, she hesitated briefly before the rest of what she was saying hissed out of her, raw like fire.

“I still do.”

Moldavite gave one last shuddering sob which hung on the air amid the haze as she released her form. Her gemstone, the sword, and the ruined pieces of hourglass swatted harmlessly to the ground.

Connie inhaled. “WHAT DID THAT EVEN MEAN!?” she screeched, despite feeling more drained than ever. “We tell her yes, but also... we don’t believe her!? What the actual f-”

Lars hurried to calm her. “Connie! Chill, alright! She’s obviously cra-”

His words were cut off as a sudden bright light took up their attention.

The gemstone had started glowing and began to float - before they could do anything, Moldavite’s glowing white marionette spilled out and began cycling through her forms.

Lars looked on, alarmed. “That’s... fast?”

Connie’s tired eyes narrowed as the noticed how erratically the newest regeneration was coming along. “Oh no-”

The final form touched back down onto the ground and before them once again stood Moldavite, but different.

This version of her was very obviously in pain. She was wide-eyed, disfigured from a rushed reformation, her style of dress now was haphazard, ragged - her fingers long and thin. She was already crying, straight out of the box. She advanced upon them, screaming at them, a mess of despair.

“YOU-YOU POOFED ME?! YOU DESTROYED THE- H-HOW COU-”

Slice!

With grit teeth, Lars pulled his spear from her torso and again, quickly this time, Moldavite poofed into a thick haze. He darted forward to snatch the falling gemstone out of the air.

“Gotchya!”

Worried, Connie had an idea. “Bubble it, Lars! We gotta keep her safe.”

He shook his head, eyes wide, blindsided by this weird demand. “I can’t bubble! Not a gem!”

She wore a look of deep concern at the glaring problem here. “...Oh.”

In his hand, once again, the gemstone began to glow. He cried out, let go of it and staggered backward in alarm. It began to float up and away from them, once more.

Connie ducked down to grab her sword from where it had clattered earlier in the dirt.

The second reformation was even worse than the first. They imagined it was close to her old, corrupted form perhaps. But what she was going through in this moment was obviously the result of a different kind of affliction.

This time, she advanced on them menacingly, wordlessly, in an uncontrolled rage. She smacked Lars’ spear out of his hand and rounded on Connie, who was already exhausted and shaking. She threw herself to the side, managing to avoid a swipe from the out of control gem.

Connie landed hard in the dirt and by chance caught sight of Lars, his eyes pure light, gulping down a deep breath. She knew what was about to go down and quickly pressed herself into the ground, plugging up her ears with her fingers.

The ensuing concussive blast skidded her back in the dusty ground a few yards, but Moldavite - the true target of the blast - flew backward with the force and crashed into a nearby tree.

Ears ringing and a little disoriented, Connie staggered upright, hands still on the sword.

Moldavite was easier to poof like this and once again her gemstone thudded into the dirt floor.

Casting about frantically in the dull light of this overcast dawn, she was hard-pressed for any obvious practical solution. They couldn’t keep poofing her forever.

“W-we gotta embed her somewhere so she’s safe,” she said quickly. “What’ve we got?”

Lars racked his brain. “We got that pot, the water jug, those mugs…”

All useless.

“Make something out of that glue stuff?” he suggested.

“No time! A mirror?” Connie’s weird bout of hope was borne of obvious exhaustion.

He spread his arms wide before indicating how garbage he looked. “Do I look like I have a mirror!?

Suddenly, he lurched forward, swooping to grab the gem from where it lay on the ground. Then, to Connie’s surprise and utter dismay, he shoved it in his mouth. He swallowed it, but it didn’t go down easy. A long struggle later, however, and the deed was done.

Then, as if experiencing quick-onset remorse for his action, his eyes went wide. He clutched at his throat and held his breath.

She watched, tense, hand on sword hilt.

A few awful moments passed until at last, Lars burped.

“…I, uh. I think it worked.”

Connie blinked in disbelief. It was the oddest thing she’d ever seen anyone do. “What the-”

“It was all I could think of! Either that, or have her reform in low budget Pink Dimension,” he said, shrugging, his brow a knot of furrows.

Connie shuddered at the thought of her, like that, roaming aimlessly forever in the dark stillness of the cold world on the other side of Lars’ head.

“But, I mean, I’m magic right? I might be okay.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “You will tell me if she starts taking over your brain or something.”

His mouth dropped open and for a long moment the only sound he could make was a ragged gasp. Then, panicked, “THAT’S A THING!?”

“I don’t know! I’ve never seen some idiot straight-up SWALLOW A GEM before!”

Lars looked very disturbed and brought his hands up to clutch at his head and face for a moment. Connie continued to keep a weary eye on him.

“I’m fiiiine,” he groaned when he noticed her concern. He lowered his hands from his face and shrugged. “I’m just… freaking out.”

This put her a little more at ease. She even gave a difficult smile as a thought occurred to her. “How did it taste?”

This time his face was deadpan. “Shut up.”

At least he seemed a little more relaxed now. This was a source of comfort, however fleeting.

“Oh no,” she gasped as a sudden realization hit her. It didn’t feel good. She fell to her knees, dropping the sword to her side.

“Uh, Connie?”

“We should have let her do it,” she said grimly. “W-we might have been able to grab it off her. What’s the bet she was lying?! What’s the bet it could’ve taken us home!” She blinked as another thought hit her over the head as if with a sledgehammer. “And even if she wasn’t lying, we’d still have had another shot at the Sea Shrine…”

Lars soon found that he couldn’t handle living in a reality where all this had been possible until only a few short minutes ago. His brain began working to disprove everything she was pitching. It was surprisingly easy.

“If we’re out cold when we land, she has time to go who knows where before we wake - like last time.” His forehead remained a mess of wrinkles, from earlier. “The Sea Shrine just happened - we finally found it and ruined it in less than a couple hours!” He was pacing, his eyes darting around, the cogs ticking over hard. “If we forget every time it happens, we would’ve forgotten all this. We’d end up wasting more of our lives doing the same thing all over again.”

Connie closed her eyes and grit her teeth. The memory of that... so painful. So recent. Her eyes still felt red from it, her tired heart still raw.

Lars continued talking. “And that’s not even considering Moldavite! Even if the thing wasn’t broken, we... we can’t let that crazy binch back out to activate it. We can’t trust her at all!”

The remainder of his words died on his lips. Out of nowhere, Lars arched his back and tensed his fingers, yelling into the sky as he slammed the tip of the spear directly into the ground.

“AAAAAAAAAH!”

Birds left the trees nearby in a frightened flurry as the air vibrated around them - a result of his concussive power, often tied to his emotions.

Connie snapped her head up to look at him, wide-eyed. He continued to vent as the rumble died down.

“Things were finally good! I had everything I ever wanted, and it all went away because of her!”

Connie’s voice came out low. “At least we know what happened now. At least it wasn’t us... being idiots. Clowning around with gem artifacts.”

“What does that matter - how it happened?! We’re still screwed!”

Despite her own profound weariness, she attempted to try to allay her friend’s sudden temper. “We... we just gotta keep looking. We’re in Era One, right now - the golden age of gem history! There’s bound to be more magic time-dealies lying around, maybe. What if they come in threes? If we just-”

He listened, teeth clenching tighter with frustration until he spun on her, blinking back hot tears.

“And YOU. Listen to you! You are going to waste your life away looking for it, aren’t you?! You are going to wind up just like her, weird and insane - willing to do anything for a crapshot at something you’ll never have again!”

She felt her breath catch in her throat. She dropped all the patience she was struggling to keep together in favor of narrowing her eyes at this jerk she was with. “Hey - shut up, Lars!”

But he wasn’t finished talking. As he continued, each word he said rent chunks from his own slow-beating heart.

“You should go,” he was saying. He was calmer now, and his voice was lower, but his eyes were intense. “You gotta find somewhere... someone. Start a family, or something.” He hesitated, his breath catching briefly in his throat. “You can’t keep risking yourself. Not for me. Not for this. Don’t you want a life? A-a full and complete life?”

She looked insulted as well as angry. “I am not living out my days in the dirty past. We’re still getting out of here. I know we are!”

“But-”

“Besides, don’t act like I’m the only one who can do that! You can, too.”

He rolled his eyes. “See, I kinda remember we agreed to not screw the future up. I’m sure pink dude living among people is going to screw with the future at least a little - even if anyone was gunna accept me as a human. We’ve been back here for years, now! FIVE years, according to your tree-thing! We have no chance of getting home. Unless we wait it out, which I can probably do since I might be able to live that long, maybe, but you-” he shrugged and quickly found himself losing steam with this rant, a sadness welling up within his chest. “You... kinda, uh.”

They stared at each other a long moment on that breezy clifftop. The only thing that passed between them was a lone drop of rain which splattered into the dust. It was shortly followed by another, then more. They both looked around - they knew it was supposed to be light and getting lighter, but it seemed almost like night - grey rainclouds billowing out over the choppy ocean as they were.

But rain was only water, and though their little log cabin was somehow waterproof, it was too small to argue inside of.

“I might make it back,” Lars said finally. “But you definitely won’t.”

A tear threatened to bead in the corner of Connie’s eye, but she blinked it back and clenched her jaw.

“And. I’m... sorry.” He sniffed and wiped his face with a bare forearm. He then glanced sheepishly at her in time to see her stand up and stumble forward. All of a sudden, her arms were around him, her body pressing into his own through damp clothing.

He returned the gesture and they hugged tightly in the thudding rain.

“Lars,” she murmured after a while.

“Yeah?” came his soft reply.

“I want you to take my body to Rose when I die.”

He bit his lip and pulled back from her. He’d sort of suspected he’d someday hear this very sequence of sounds tumble from her mouth, but here she was saying it like it was nothing.

“Connie...”

She stood back from him too and brushed an errant hair from her face before rubbing her hands together in a vaguely anxious way. “I know. I hoped I’d never have to say it, but that’s-” she swallowed as she met his eyes again. “That’s what I want.”

He spread his arms wide. “We have no idea where or how to find her-”

Her hands became fists now.

“I want you to try. You have to!”

“You-you come back different, y’know,” he stammered, realizing his resistance might be coming off wrong. “You never go hungry, need sleep, feel hot.. cold. Then? There’s the water thing. The idea that you might’ve just stopped aging altogether. The powers - sure, those are cool, and you’re tougher - like, way tougher, but.”

Pausing briefly to collect his thoughts, he narrowed his eyes at her. “Do you - can you comprehend what it’s like? To... to still be living, while your body no longer has basic physiological needs?

He noticed her look of sudden surprise and immediately rolled his eyes. He was defensive now, all attitude. “Yeah Connie, I know a six-syllable word - surprise fact for ya!”

She was quick to correct him. “No, no. It’s not just that. I mean, what is it like?” She scratched at her arm. “You’ve never actually told me.”

He settled down and chewed on his lip for a moment as he considered what to say.

“It’s weird,” he said, finally.

Connie felt a little disappointed. “Is that all?”

“I mean - no, but you’re asking me to sum up my entire existence and compare it to some old status quo th-that I,” he hesitated, frowning, “-I no longer-” he trailed off, his search for words coming up empty now. Then again, they had never come easy in regards to his condition. He lowered his eyes. He needed a… something.

A prop, to fiddle around with as he thought.

He ducked down to pick up the spear that had been smacked out of his hands earlier and, standing again, jabbed idly at the ground with the butt of it as he spoke.

“Look. It’s not bad. But it’s not... good. And it’s definitely not the same.”

She narrowed her eyes to study his face. “But you’d rather this than real death, right?”

He blinked. She got him with that one. The look that swept his features told her what she needed to know, and he knew it.

“..It’s just weird,” he added, anyway.

Connie exhaled slowly. “No. Being in the past is what’s weird, Lars. I need you to remember that.”

“You’ve been wronged really bad. She brought you here for me, and that’s so messed up. If there’s no other way, I just think you could at least be happy if you-”

“Stop! She wronged you too. Her plan was to just use you, over and over, as her own living power bank while she gleefully ruined time - all because she couldn’t move forward when things were finally good.”

He glanced to one side, looking unhappy. “Well, yay for us - we saved the world, I guess. But that’s over. So, now what?”

She knew he was only going to keep pitching it, but she wouldn’t have it. Shaking her head, she reiterated, “We’re in this together.”

He lowered his tone somewhat. “Just consider it, I mean, a normal life-”

Listen to me,” she said, glaring at him.

His magenta eyes were pools of sadness at the sight of hers - deep warm and brown - suddenly piercing into his as she explained herself to him.

“I am not cutting my losses. I am not giving up, or leaving you. You can’t make me. I’m getting out of this, and so are you. One way or another. Will you do it?”

A silence passed between them. Lars swallowed and nodded.

Connie slowly released the breath she was holding. “Then that’s all there is to say.”

Suddenly, as if on cue, Connie’s stomach rumbled.

“Except for that.” She groaned as she folded her arms over her stomach. “Ugh. I’m starving.”

“Oh yeah,” Lars said quietly. “There’s-”

They caught sight of raccoons making off with the pitiful, soaked leftovers from over by the firepit.

“-Still food,” he finished, cringing, voice hollow. It was one more Thing to top off a messy pile of Things.

 

 

As the last raccoon disappeared into the woods, both Lars and Connie finally became acutely aware of how emotionally drained the events over the last day had rendered them. Connie in particular - eyes still red from the day before, baggy from the ongoing stress of her whole existence. Half of her ponytail had fallen out during the events of the morning; her clothes were hanging from her thin frame, still almost glimmering with salt crystals from the day before.

Yes, she’d managed to fit a rough exhausted sleep in, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

They’d expected to be home by now. Neither of them banked on still having to endure all this after having found the Sea Shrine, but here they were - less confused, but still lost in what was quickly feeling more and more like a cruel and meaningless world.

Connie at last glanced up at Lars with expressionless eyes. The rain continued to pelt them.

“Wanna help me hunt a raccoon?” she croaked.

He frowned down at her. “You look horrible.”

She could have easily had him up about this random burn. She could have pointed out that he didn’t look much better himself. But as it happened, she couldn’t bring herself to do either.

Lars tested the spear tip with a finger. Good - still sharp. He didn’t feel tired either - he rarely did anymore, at least not in the physical sense, but he forced himself to ignore the void that had opened up within him. He rubbed away what little dark magenta blood had seeped out of the little cut with his thumb.

He turned back to face her, his voice low.

“I’ll get breakfast. Just... have some water, go inside, get out of the wet. Try to catch up on sleep, okay? I’ll wake you when-”

Wiping rainwater from her tired face with a bare forearm, Connie called out, “But-”

He shook his head. “I won’t go far.”

Connie, hesitant, was still full of concern for her friend. “What about Moldavite?”

Oh yeah. That unpleasantness. “I need her out of my body, but that can wait. We’ll make something out of wood pitch glue later, I dunno.”

He shrugged and turned away from her to face the dreary, wet woods.

“I’m fine,” he muttered. “Please. Get some rest.”

Chapter Text

5. The Miles.

 

“We never live; we are always in the expectation of living.”
― Voltaire

 

~*~

 

The weeks that followed were a drab affair. The sky tried to be blue, the birdsong had undertones of melancholy. The stars in the night looked down without care - even the sun was cold and distant as the ocean whispered ancient secrets in an evil tongue.

The little stone star in her hands had changed as well. It had become less a symbol of hope and more of a reminder, like catching a glimpse of a photo of the recently passed. Connie carried it one final time as she slunk downhill through the woods, away from camp.

Arbitrarily she picked a spot amid the trees and set about her task without enthusiasm, listlessly pushing the shovel down into the undergrowth, throwing all of her tired weight into every thrust.

Even the dirt she dragged out was duller than it should have been - and it was dirt.

When the hole was deep enough, she let the shovel fall to the side and dropped down to her knees. It was the perfect diameter. She placed the star inside it and gazed at it one last time.

She wondered briefly about saying a few words, but told herself that was silly.

Connie felt a tightness in her chest. Felt the whole Earth falling away from her. But she set her jaw and finished her task.

She unceremoniously began pushing the pile of dirt back in with her bare hands, burying the star and her old life with it.

 


 

“Hey.”

His voice scraped the top off her glum thoughts as he dropped down to take a seat next to her on the upturned canoe.

“I checked Moldavite earlier. The resin’s holding up,” he was saying. “No cracks in it or anything.”

“Great,” she said, listlessly. “We finally got the consistency right.”

“H’yeah, hope so,” he said. It had taken a while to do. “Also, uh. This is for you.”

She’d up until now been gazing down at the firepit, but now she was staring at a stick of jerky he was holding out for her. There was concern in his eyes as he followed up with an explanation. “You should eat more. You’re getting thin.”

“You’re one to talk,” she said, deadpan as she looked her perpetually skinny cohort up and down.

He gave her an exaggerated look of intense boredom. “Just eat the food,” came his strong suggestion.

She finally accepted the sustenance and slowly bit off a portion. She lowered her eyes to stare back down at the dirt floor as she chewed, every movement of her jaw squelching the meat between her teeth.

Lars watched her briefly before glancing away. They could see birds pecking about in the grasses nearby while others squawked at each other in the air, and they sat in silence for a time. The sun was high overhead and despite a few scattered clouds, it was a clear fine day - one of a sequence of them, which Lars considered lucky. He could tell Connie was feeling down enough. He couldn’t imagine what it would be like for her if she’d been forced to spend all this time inside the cramped cabin due to bad weather, on top of everything else.

He understood, of course. His life had been ruined in exactly the same way hers had been, simultaneously five years prior and yet thousands of years in the future. The funny thing was that finally knowing the reason made it all seem worse, somehow. More hopeless. They had recently received answers, but they had been neither helpful nor satisfying.

Actually, it wasn’t that funny…

However. He’d been working on an elaborate concept and now seemed as good a time as any to pitch it.

“So I had this idea-“

“Hrrrgh,” she groaned in a less than encouraging fashion.

He was undeterred. “Wanna cross what will someday be called the Atlantic?”

“Hrnnnn.”

He slapped the underside of the canoe they were seated upon. “You’ll get to chill in this bad boy while I do the work.”

“Hnnnn.”

“Then, imagine.” He waved an arm about. “The two of us, kickin’ it Old World style. I-in the stone age.”

 

 

“Nnnn.”

“It’ll be…” he hesitated a long moment, searching for the correct word. When it was not forthcoming he instead said, “Fun?”

She shook her head slowly, unwillingly. “No. I don’t want to travel. It’s too hard.”

Lars pushed the issue in lowered tones. “It’s been weeks. I can’t sit around anymore. We’ve moved beyond the plan we had for ourselves, beyond what Moldavite had planned for us. It’s like, yeah. Everything still sucks. But aren’t we also kind of free?”

Connie waited until she had finished chewing and swallowed before replying, “We’re not free.”

“We’re-” His lips tightened and he lowered his eyes. He knew she was right. “Well, yeah we’re not free.” He shrugged, conceding the issue. “But I’m saying let’s look around.”

A long silence took place.

“We should, uhh, at least try to find wherever Rose Quartz lives, you know. For when-” he mumbled a little, awkwardly. “Well, you know.”

She didn’t appear to have heard him, but he knew that she had. He exhaled through his nose.

“Connie. What else are we gunna do?” he said finally, turning to her after the painful silence had gone on too long.

She side-eyed him. “Can we portal there?”

He twisted the side of his mouth. “I’ve never been before so, no, not yet. You already know how all this works.”

“Can I just stay here and you go? I’ll call you if I need you.”

“How?” asked Lars, at a loss.

She thought a moment. “I’ll just use my phone that is real and totally connected to a global network that definitely exists right now.”

Lars smiled a vaguely pained smile. “You’re an actual lunatic.” He placed his hands on his thighs and pushed himself back up onto his feet. “C’mon. Get your boots on.”

 


 

By now they’d become professionals at sailing. They had spent years crawling the Caribbean Sea, after all. Sure, their recycled rig didn’t come close to meeting the barest of the minimum safety standards. But they had cheats enabled and considered themselves quite clever about it all the same.

Lars towed the canoe against the wind as Connie lay back upon some barely-comfortable blankets, staring listlessly at the cloud-ridden sky as they went. The wind whipped what loose strands of hair it could find across her face in an annoying manner. The rope fastened securely to her waist was, as always, connected to Lars. He was also connected to the prow of the boat by a different rope, which he at this time had pulled taut over his shoulder as he hauled it across the vast plains of a sprawling ocean.

The idea being that Lars, who was unable to submerge, would be able to haul her up from the murky depths and save her if things were ever to go awry.

She, the damsel, the mortal, the burden, she thought miserably to herself.

At some point during the day she noticed the tension on the canoe slacken. The canoe drifted to a stop as she felt a shadow fall over her. She opened her eyes to see Lars.

“What’s wrong?” she said with a start, lurching herself up into a half-sitting position. She couldn’t see anything wrong, however. The day was still calm. The salty ocean still sprawled out in all directions away from them.

“Lars?”

He looked excited. “I had an idea.”

“Another one?” she asked, eyebrow raised.

He ignored her attitude and smiled. “Yeah! All this stupid walking stuff? It worked when we were looking for something we could easily miss. But now it’s just hassle. So-”

She couldn’t deal with how self-satisfied he was looking as he spoke, and she rolled her eyes. “Oh, whatever you’re thinking, just do it,” she said with a flick of her wrist.

He dropped the smile. “Are… you sure? I mean, it’s a cool idea but I wanted to give you the heads up in case-”

She leaned back down. “Go on. The quicker we get there, the better.”

Lars frowned. He was confused by her flippant nature. She actually seemed pretty annoyed, but despite it all he was in an okay mood and didn’t want to risk losing it.

He therefore shrugged. “Uh, okay,” he said uncertainly. “But you better hold on.”

She reluctantly snaked her hands up to grip onto the sides of the canoe. “Happy?”

“Tighter.”

She tensed her grip so that the color drained somewhat from her knuckles. She guessed this great idea of his was going to turn out to be ‘run really fast to what would later become Africa or Europe’ or something. So inspired, she thought with sarcasm as she closed her eyes.

She soon thought herself proved right. She felt the movement of the canoe pick up, his waterlogged boots slapping clumsily against the surface of the water. The canoe skimmed swiftly along the water behind him as he ran. So tame.

Then, out of nowhere-

“YAARGH!”

Her eyes flew open to find herself in an all-too familiar tunnel of moving, shimmering light and wind brought about by the voice of a pink one ripping a hole through the fabric of space itself. She felt something land in the canoe and lurched upward to find that Lars had jumped in with her. He squatted low in the prow, gripping the edges of it hard, bracing himself, staring ahead with squinting eyes.

Before she could ask what was happening, they exited the portal.

Before she could think, they were falling down toward the ocean which sprawled out as always - but now far, far below them.

Gravity enacted its pull on the vessel. They plummeted.

Lars had his teeth bared and eyes narrowed. His hair whipped aggressively around as he leaned into the resistance of the air which was trying and failing to work against them. He glared at the ocean below but there was no point of reference - he couldn’t really guess how far up they were. It didn’t matter, though - he’d put plenty of distance between them and the water.

He soon yelled once more to create another portal that the canoe fell into half a second later.

 

 

This time when they exited, all that falling momentum was now translated parallel to the Earth. They were flying across the ocean, high up in the sky in a wide arc - albeit one that would drop back down into the ocean if given the chance.

All the while, Connie was screaming as Lars laughed like a madman.

Despite the fear and excitement, she noticed a strange feeling in her gut as she realized the canoe was descending more and more, the front of it lowering, the ocean once again easily visible. She was losing her hold on the sides of the canoe and she scrambled, struggling to maintain that security.

Lars felt the same awkward sensations as well and moments later, the canoe rolled horribly to one side.

Lars immediately aborted the operation with a loud expletive and a moment later the canoe and its contents were flying out of yet a portal just above the ocean’s surface, and upward.

The two hapless portal-goers felt weightless for a moment before succumbing to gravity once again. Connie, realizing what was about to happen, let go of the sides of the canoe which plunged gracefully beneath as they hit. She splashed under too, leaving Lars to crash onto the upset surface like a magical fool.

He groaned and lifted himself up, wincing hard and a little confused at first as to where Connie and the canoe had disappeared to. Then a terrible fear gripped his mind. Recalling the Sea Shrine in a stark moment of clarity, he scrambled onto his knees and grabbed at the ropes around his waist. One of them was his friend’s sole lifeline-

Connie, who immediately broke the surface with a gasp to tread water beside him.

A relief washed over him but only for a moment. The pull of the other rope on his waist, that of the canoe, yanked him without warning to face-plant back into the water.

The rope slackened again. Although the water was disgusting and salty, he was content to stay there for a moment. Connie swam over to use him as a floaty.

She watched as the canoe shortly resurfaced.

“Uh. A-are you… okay?” he croaked at her after a moment.

“Are you okay?” she asked right back, eyeballing him.

He nodded. He’d been winded, but he was abnormally resilient. “Nothin’ a bunch of coffee won’t fix.”

Once Lars had regained his composure, it was a simple task for him to tip the water out and set it back down while Connie waited, treading water once again.

After she climbed back in, her eyes fixated on his and she finally took a deep gasp. “Lars! You’re a crazy person! Weren’t you scared?!”

He nodded, sending his half damp, half windblown hair into even more of a mess, eyes still bleary from the wind. “I’m always scared! My brain is drenched in fear all the time,” he said, eyes burning back into hers. “But, I thought it would go faster-”

Her mind was racing. “That was awesome! Lars! We’ll find land in no time!”

“Huh?” Lars was surprised by her reaction.

She wanted to jump out and walk around a little to revel in the adrenaline of it all a while longer, but surrounding her was nothing but open ocean.

“We need to do that again,” Connie said with newfound enthusiasm. “We… we need to secure these ropes. And when we’re in the air, we have to stay as low as possible so we don’t spin out again. And I dunno about you, but I need some kind of facial protection - that wind was something else!”

Lars continued to seem surprised by all this, and it took her a second to remember why.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were going to do that!?” she demanded suddenly.

“You didn’t want to know.”

Pushing an errant hair from her face, Connie frowned right back. “I was completely caught off guard-”

“That’s why I tried to warn you!” He spread his arms wide. “What did you think I was going to do? Hoof it across a whole ocean?”

She wasn’t completely sure of the limits of what he could do, and she doubted he knew either. But from what she had gathered so far from spending all this time with Lars and having known Lion once upon a distant future, these pink creatures appeared to be very powerful. It certainly seemed like it could lie within the realms of possibility. But was it really?

“Well.. yeah!” she said anyway.

“Connie.” He shook his head, tsking. “Connie, Connie, Connie. Gimme some credit. I like to think I’m a little less boring and way lazier than that.”

She snorted, her smile still shaky and body tingling from the rush of adrenaline. “Okay! From now on, explain all your ideas first. Even if I’m not in the mood, and especially if it involves using magic to hack the laws of physics. Alright?”

Lars nodded in pure sincerity. “Agreed.”

It didn’t take long to prepare for the next flight. After securing the ropes and adapting an emergency towel that Lars had in his head into some makeshift facial covering, they were ready to try again.

A series of trial-and-error magic portal canoe catapults later, they cleared the Atlantic Ocean in less than a day.

 


 

They couldn’t continue their lifehack over land. It was far too risky. There were gems to worry about and humans to whip into a frenzy, not to mention a relentless river of time - the nature of which they were never too certain.

They dropped the canoe back at their campsite a whole ocean away and quickly returned to the new location they’d unlocked.

Palm trees, sandy shores, warmth. The lively droning of unseen cicadas. Strange birds and trees that neither one of them had ever seen before, except perhaps in scraps of half-remembered documentaries and wikiwiki. They couldn’t be sure, but they guessed themselves to be on some lonely West African coast.

“Hey look,” said Connie, pointing as they walked. “A monitor lizard!”

Lars stared at it as they walked by. The creature, basking on a nearby rock, merely blinked at them, only moving to turn its head to track them.

“Where should we go?” she asked, glancing around at this small portion of a continent entirely new to them.

His answer was also a question. “Why are you asking me? You’re the one with an entire travel guide in your brain.”

Yeah, he immediately realized his words were pointless. She had that familiar thoughtful look on her face, the one that meant she was already considering their options. He stood with arms akimbo, watching, waiting for it.

“North,” she said shortly after tapping at her chin. “There’s a lot of important gem sites north of the Mediterranean. But we should keep an eye out in case there are things that just don’t exist long enough to make it into Buddy’s journal.”

He smiled. “Sounds vaguely plan-like.”

 


 

Less than a week later, they were back into the groove of it. Walking was once again second-nature, and Lars’ portals were there whenever they were needed. They had an important gem to find, after all.

But that didn’t stop there from being dull moments.

“Connie. I’m bored. Drop a fact on me,” Lars piped up after an indeterminate period of silence as they hiked.

She took a moment to appear thoughtful. To be honest, she was starting to run out of material for this pastime. “Hm. Well, I guess I’ve always wanted to play a Stradivarius.”

“…Who or what is that?”

She carefully stepped over what she supposed was a rabbit hole. “Oh, it’s a kind of violin. There aren’t many seventeenth or eighteenth century originals left.. Weren’t.” She mentally kicked herself. “I mean, in 2019, there won’t be.” Her smile held undertones of sadness. “Kind of a pipe dream, really. Those that do exist are crazy expensive. I think most are in private collections or museums.”

“So why are Strudenheimers so important?”

“Stradivarius. They’re antiques with a unique sound. Now, you owe me a fact.”

Lars appeared thoughtful for a moment. “There’s a typo on my birth certificate.”

She glanced up at him. “Really?”

“The United States government knows me as ‘Lard’.”

“That’s... a lie. I’ve been told your real name.”

He stumbled over his words, desperate to amend his joke. “Oh wait, no, that’s the typo.”

Eying him flatly, Connie replied, “You can’t expect me to believe someone typed the letters A M I and E instead of an S.”

“I can. And I do.

“You already changed your story once. It’s too late for me to believe you now.” She appeared comically stern. “You’ve ruined Fun Facts. I’m in mourning.”

“What!? No way. You’ve lied to me before!”

When she looked up at him with a vaguely outraged look on her face, he quickly backed up his statement.

“No way did you ever see Fetid Carapace live in concert,” he blurted. “You’re a huge nerd!”

She shook her head. “I was being sarcastic, because no way did YOU ever see them, either.”

Lars scrunched up his face in reply.

Connie snorted and turned her head back to watch where she was walking. “Yeah suck on those eggs, Laramie.”

“Can I just propose a new rule? We can lie? It’ll make it more interesting if we have to guess if the fact is real or not.”

After a moment’s thought, she delivered her verdict. “Only if we can insist on truth as well.”

He seemed reluctant. “I... I guess that’s fair-”

“Shh-” she said in a quiet whisper. She slowed her pace before stopping cold in the forest, glancing around. Lars followed her lead, instantly pulling the spear from his glowing forehead.

Connie had her sword and scabbard slung over her back at all times. She didn’t go for her weapon, however. She was merely moving her head around, listening, alert.

She heard it again, and this time Lars did too. The direction it was coming from was clear, so they quietly approached.

They saw the source of the noise - a boy, around the age of nine, perhaps, crying to himself on the ground. He was nursing what they soon realized was a broken leg. It couldn’t have been a trap. Despite themselves, they approached.

The kid glanced up at them and recoiled at the sight of Lars. The pink guy was as good as a gem to the kid, so he lowered the spear and hung back as Connie moved forward. The child was far more receptive to her, of course.

“Hey, don’t cry,” she said softly, a niggling feeling beginning to gnaw at her heart. “Is it sore?”

The child sobbed and nodded, looking up at her with sad eyes.

“Of course it is,” said Connie. “Did you fall?”

“Y-yes,” came the kid’s response.

“Lars,” said Connie. “We gotta help him.”

He swallowed. He knew she’d say that.

But he nodded because it was true. They couldn’t not.

 


 

Connie trudged back to the forest, leaving the village and the boy behind. The shadows from the breezy boughs above danced across her, her thoughts plagued by growing troubles. She folded her arms across her torso.

She soon realized she had no idea where she was headed and stopped stock still. She glanced around, looking for any shock of pink that she could spot.

Instead, a bright portal materialized in the air beside her. Lars stepped out, the portal disappeared, and she saw that he looked every bit as troubled as she felt.

“We messed up, didn’t we?” was the only thing he said.

“This is why I can’t just, y’know, run off and start a family,” she said in low tones, rubbing her hands along her arms, seeking a comfort that was not forthcoming. “Live a normal life? Hah. It’ll just… create ripples. One more person in the gene pool, especially this far back?”

Lars watched with sad eyes as she vented at the unfairness of it all.

“And say we find Moldavite here in the past,” she continued. “We remove her from the timeline - what then? We don’t know the full extent of the role she played during the rebellion. The future could be incomprehensible to us.”

Lars scratched his head. “But, maybe this was all supposed to happen, like you said once. Maybe that kid was supposed to make it home because of us. Maybe that’s why we’re okay, sort of.”

Her brow furrowed. “This could be an alternate timeline. Like, we’re here because our past was in some other universe that we’re not part of anymore. We could have engineered a vastly different future, Lars!” She glanced up at him, worry in her eyes. “What if we can’t get out of this? And… what if we never see Rose again?”

Lars bit his lip. The only sound for a long moment was cheerful birdsong.

“Lars,” she piped back up in soft tones, her eyes beginning to water. “What if I actually die here?”

“Th-then-” He blinked back tears of his own and balled his fists. “I’ll wait it out. Connie, I’ll make it back. I’ll undo all this. I’ll stop her, I promise you.” He looked determined. And breathless. “I-I, I mean, if I can-” He stammered, filling with uncertainty now. “Huh. Wait. Can I stop Moldavite?”

Connie scrunched up her face, attempting to clear her head as Lars unclenched his fists.

“I feel like the fact that we’re still here means it doesn’t happen,” he said, staring down at his empty hands, tense from the stress of all this.

She looked glum. “Not if we’ve ruined the future just now with the kid. Not if we’re now part of some alternate universe different from the one we knew. And,” she added unhappily, “Not if it turns out we can’t change the future, either.”

“Even if that stuff turns out fine, what happens when she sees me? Do I stop existing? Then what?”

“She could just… do it again later,” Connie said unhappily.

“Holy crap, this is hard to think about,” he said quietly, teeth grit. “Being lost in space? Straight-up, five stars. This? Minus a billion.”

Connie frowned. “Wait.”

“What?”

“Steven..” the word brought pain with it, but also a memory. “When we were kids, when he was explaining what happened at the Sea Shrine, Steven said-” She pursed her lips together. “Look. Talking to her, just stopping Moldavite might not be enough. The way Steven described it sounds like we have to destroy the hourglass.”

Lars was unimpressed. “In related news, it’s already destroyed. Remember? About a month ago- wait,” he interrupted himself as his brain developed a brand new wrinkle. “You mean we have to somehow destroy it before it gets used on us in the distant future.”

Connie brushed hair out of her face thoughtfully. “He said, a bunch of alternate Stevens showed up just as he picked the correct one.” She frowned. “One of them grabbed it and destroyed it.”

A world with so many Stevens in it - terrifying. Lars grimaced. “So, what happened to the other Stevens?”

“They turned to sand.” She scuffed at the dirt below. “Which probably means they died.”

“What!? That doesn’t make sense at all,” observed Lars. “Shouldn’t a bunch of Stevens showing up make one hell of an impact on everyone there? Like, his aunts were with him. They wouldn’t have let him keep it after that, for a start. That alone should have fixed everything.” He scratched his head. “Why would the side-orders of Steven still exist at all after that?”

She shook her head. “They definitely still existed up until that point, because Steven and the gems remembered them.”

“But that-”

“Argh! I don’t know! Alternate timeline… magical reasons!?” She pent her fingers against the side of her head. “The main fact, here? Destroying the hourglass was important. It was only then that it seemed to fix things, and then the Steven we knew could move forward.”

Lars exhaled heavily. “Well. That’s... an option.”

“Yeah,” she muttered as she scuffed her foot in the dirt. “It is.”

The world wasn’t overflowing with alternatives. They knew the task immediately in front of them, looking for Rose, was the most literal form of death-proofing. But this other task - simultaneously saving and yet negating their own selves - was difficult to grapple with.

It seemed downright impossible already, considering the gulf of time separating them in this moment from another that may not even come about anymore.

All dependent on the true nature of time.

It was all insane.

At length, they continued walking. The woods were deep, dark and lonely, the only sunlight hitting them was what little snaked its way through the canopy shyness, so they spoke quietly as they went.

“I never thought I’d become some doomed alternate version of myself, Lars.” Connie mumbled. “It just wasn’t part of the plan.”

His eyes were hollow. “At least we have a little time to get used to the idea, right? And if I.. if we get there, and if it works, at least-” He paused to organize his thoughts. “Maybe some other versions of us will get to be happy.”

When Connie thought of how possible all this was, she didn’t feel secure. “Maybe.”

Lars shrugged as they walked. “I hope so.”

She tightened her lips, but it wasn’t really a smile she was going for.

Aside from looking for Rose, hope was all they could do.

 


 

The search for Rose Quartz resumed with something resembling gusto. Every day was important again.

Together they explored the world. Having access to the Afro-Eurasian super continent as well as the Americas now meant there were fewer and fewer places for the Crystal Gem rebellion to truly hide, but it was still a massive task. They could easily lose each other if they split up to cover more ground - a risk neither could afford. And although they stressed constantly about the implications their actions placed on the future, Connie still had to eat. They still needed to ask directions from time to time. They often required supplies, sewing materials for ripped clothing, replacements for worn.

Lars and Connie could only hope their impact on the world was small enough not to matter. That their actions would only translate into mere droplets, absorbed and negated by the constant forces of an endless, churning ocean.

During their travels, they listened carefully to any and all reports of gem activity they heard. Often such news reached them days or weeks too late to be useful, but they followed every lead religiously. Thanks to this they caught the tail end of two skirmishes, but evidently nothing important enough to warrant the presence of either the rebel leader Rose Quartz or the lustrous Pink Diamond.

Carefully stalking troops of gems as they retreated was pointless. More often than not, the two were left stranded at some remote warp pad with no way to follow any further.

They found they couldn’t rely on gems to lead them straight to their bases, so they darted around, searching the world for themselves.

They were careful not to give out their names.

When the heat bore down too heavily in what they guessed to be northern Africa, they were moments later exploring a much more reasonable what-they thought-might-someday-be Denmark. When what they figured could someday be Oregon became much too frosty for Connie, they were suddenly in a central American rainforest, their abrupt portal upsetting the local birdlife.

Connie had a general idea of some must-visit gem locations from her memories of carefully pouring over every single page of Buddy Budwick’s journal multiple times. These locations, though prioritized slightly below their main goal, they also sought.

They found Rose’s healing fountain in what would later be called Spain on a rainy, humid day. It was unoccupied at the time, so they were able to approach. Connie gingerly dipped a toe in the sparkling waters. Her most recent scrapes healed instantly. A promising result.

“Maybe this thing has pink resurrection juice,” pitched Lars as he bounced idly on the fountain’s surface. Connie seemed uncertain, catching sight of a beetle floating dead in it. She didn’t want to rely on it.

They made it as far north as someday-Scandinavia, home of the not-so-ancient Sky Arena, which they found floating in the cold. It was thronging with gems, so they observed carefully and from afar.

“I used to - will someday train up there,” Connie told him, pride fighting against sadness for ownership of those words.

This new status quo held a period of adjustment, especially for Connie. The whiplash of traveling instantaneously to such different parts of the globe gave her a feeling similar to jetlag on multiple occasions. Lars, who still didn’t seem to require sleep as a necessity, was largely untroubled by such feelings. Each envied the other, but neither could say it.

While the search for Rose Quartz continued, they returned to the Delmarvan cliffside in disappointment whenever it was time for Connie to rest.

Both of the diamond’s identities appeared to be equally elusive and important figures.

The winged beast of time flew on.

 


 

“There is no way I’m in my thirties,” said Lars, who continued to look not a day older than when he died at eighteen.

“Early thirties,” replied Connie, for whom the passage of time was still important, while she chomped down on some trail mix.

They were performing a rare moment of rest, observing a human city from the heights of a nearby mountain.

“Give or take a few months,” she added, shrugging.

“Listen, the more vague the better,” he said with a snort. “I never thought I’d be spending my early thirties watching China happen, with you.”

There was no time for hobbies. No time at all. Every passing day made it all the more important to find Rose. All they ever did was search, broken only by brief periods of rest. Some of those periods they preferred to spend here, watching civilization take place in these idyllic hills.

“This must be pretty cool for you, huh?” she asked.

“Why?”

She eyed him with curiosity, chin resting on hand. “Aren’t you half Chinese?”

He looked comically appalled. “You forgot my fun fact?” he chided her. “That’s not like you. Aren’t I supposed to be the dumb one?”

She thought a moment before shaking her head. “Actually, all I remember is you saying you’re half asian. You never said which part.” She shrugged. “I guess I just assumed.”

“Oh. My dad, uh-” he cut himself off. “The Philippines,” he finished, shrugging off the pain. “Close, though, I guess. What about you? I know you’re Indian, but-”

“My mother’s family will someday be from Punjab,” came her reply with a soft smile. “My father’s will have been in the States a few generations already.” She then leaned in to jostle him briefly with her shoulder. “Also? You’re not dumb.”

He matched her smile briefly. Then, shrugging, turned back to consider the settlement below. “It’s still cool, though. These guys invent fireworks, right?” he asked.

“Hm, not until the seventh century I think,” she replied. “That’s still around four thousand years from now.” She attempted a shrug of nonchalance, glancing away. “Give or take.”

An uneasy silence passed.

“So, uh, keep that in mind, I guess,” she added after clearing her throat. “Maybe let a couple off for me.”

You will have to remind me to light up a bunch for fun,” he corrected her, elbowing her gently. Terrified of losing her.

She laughed. Brief and pained.

They sat in silence for a long moment, gradually losing sight of the settlement to the encroaching darkness as the sun dipped below the distant mountains.

They shortly portaled away to explore a much brighter part of the world. Then, when Connie was ready to sleep, back to the Delmarvan cliffside to rinse and repeat.

 


 

Lars and Connie returned to the far eastern mountainside only once more after long months of searching. They remembered it fondly - a picturesque place to stop and unwind for a moment. But this time, in the sunrise, they only found the region below in chaos.

Gem ships idled overhead as a colorful army set about the process of invading the hitherto peaceful settlement. Perhaps this wasn’t the far-flung beginnings of ancient China after all. Perhaps this would instead be some forgotten ruins that the enduring civilization would some other day be built over the top of.

It was a terrible sight to behold nonetheless. Tiny figures of humans spilled out in droves, fleeing into the surrounding countryside while the much stronger gems were already tearing it down.

They hadn’t seen this happen before. It was far too weighty a situation to interfere with. They knew they had to let this disaster run its course. They couldn’t bring themselves to sit, though - they stood, tense, watching in a state of alarm.

Resigned alarm.

Lars stammered, “Why would Rose - Pink - still be doing this? She’s been rebelling, probably for centuries now, I can’t-”

“She has to keep up appearances,” came Connie’s grasping reply as her wide eyes scanned the goings-on. “Or, wait - the other diamonds. They could have stepped in whenever they felt Pink wasn’t performing to standard. They had the authority.”

They watched the goings-on for a few moments, until Connie pointed. “There, look.”

Lars followed her gaze to see orange-toned gems rounding up humans, corralling a group of them away from the others, herding them toward a ship on the ground. Its doors, flanked by guards, were open for them.

Connie at length managed to croak out, “We should go home.”

“Oh,” said Lars, flat. “Yeah.”

He took a breath, expelled it loudly, and a portal sprung into being beside them. They couldn’t bring themselves to jump through it and it soon disappeared.

Instead, they continued watching uneasily as a human tragedy unfolded far below them. While they couldn’t help, they still couldn’t look away.

They didn’t notice they weren’t alone until it was too late. A pair of gems, sneaking up on them while they were distracted.

The first they knew of any of it was Connie being yanked back, yelping. She found herself struggling frantically within the grip of a large gem. Lars spun around and was immediately intimidated by a pair of citrines, smiling toothily.

Lars, wide-eyed, glanced between them and Connie.

“Let me go!” She yelled, but her captor’s grip could have been comprised of the same stone her gem was made out of. Lars pulled the spear from his forehead and pointed it at the one holding Connie, making a show of gritting his teeth.

Only two out of the four of them knew he couldn’t use it out of fear for the timeline.

And the other two didn’t find the situation dangerous at all, either way.

“You were right,” chuckled the one holding Connie. “She’s too runty and odd-looking to be The Rose Quartz.”

He quailed as the other one approached him. She kicked him and he fell back into the dirt. She had her weapon out - a blunt mace. Lars was more than able to produce a very specific mental image of that thing being used on him and he froze up, recoiling in fear.

“What are you doing!? Run!” Connie shrieked, helpless to do much else. The citrine holding her clamped a hand over her mouth.

“Stop,” she said. “Don’t poof her yet. She’ll have information. We’ll take her to Hessonite”

“What!? But! She’s a rose quartz... I think,” said the other, lowering the weapon somewhat, distracted now by the conversation. “We’re obligated to destroy every remaining one of them on sight. It’s treason, otherwise!”

The first citrine looked bored. “She’s captured and she’s a Crystal Gem,” she reasoned, ignoring Connie who was still trying to get out muffled yells, trying to free herself from the gem’s solid grip. “We’ll let Hessonite decide.”

While they were arguing, Lars and Connie made eye contact.

Is this how we part? they each asked the other.

It was broken an instant later as the other citrine grabbed him roughly by the arm.

“H-hey - Let me go!” he yelped.

“Huh. Squishy,” came her astute observation as Lars swore and tried to pull free, letting the spear clatter to the dirt. She barely noticed his struggles.

“Nevermind,” growled the first citrine. “Let’s head back. This one can go to the Zoo.”

Seconds later, they found themselves hurtling through the air as prisoners of two warrior gems neither of them stood a chance against. Connie had stopped struggling now that they were in the air and simply clung to her captor with tears and hair whipping her eyes in the wind, afraid now of shuffling loose as the landscape zoomed by far below them.

She could tell their tangent would soon place them in the middle of the activity going on down there.

One terrified shriek later, they entered a tunnel of moving light.

It was the citrines’ turn to be afraid. Their grips on their captives relaxed as they began to freak out, struggling to understand what was happening - they’d never experienced anything like this before.

Lars’ desperation took over. He wrenched his arm free and managed to climb over the top of the citrine that had held him, and tried not to think as he launched himself from the back of her head at Connie. He ripped her easily from the arms of the other terrified citrine.

Her eyes widened as she found herself tumbling through apparent weightlessness with him, away from the two gems.

The citrines disappeared as they exited the wormhole, which would put them not far from where they started.

Before the two humans could follow suit, Lars barked up another portal to somewhere else.

 


 

Their dusky campsite was peaceful and empty no longer.

“I’m just a burden to you!” Connie freaked out as startled birds took flight.

Lars tried his best to placate her, but he was still reeling from the close call. “Hey! What!? No!”

It didn’t feel real. The situation had gone from zero to a car crash and yet it was over so quickly. It ended seconds ago, and now... they were safe? On the other side of the world? Their minds remained drenched in adrenaline. Their fight or flight instincts still in overdrive.

The peace of the woods on the sloping hillside made it all seem invalid. Surreal.

She glared uselessly up at him. “Yes I am. You save me constantly-”

“Not constantly-” he stammered, temper rising. “Stop it!”

“And you cook for me! And you even spend all your time hauling me around, trying to help me find Rose! For my benefit! After all these years, you can say it. It’s easy. It’s spelled B U R D E N.”

Why was she being so difficult?! He raised his eyes to the sky in exasperation. “H-hey! I do things for you because I want to!”

She glared as she corrected him. “Because you have to.”

He grit his teeth and pointed straight at her. “We’re friends, alright?! Quit bein’ weird!”

She balled her fists. “You only saved me because you don’t have anyone else!”

Lars was loud and angry. “As if you wouldn’t do the same for me if you were the pink dude! If the only reason I was here was because some terrible gem thought I’d be useful to you!

She was just as outraged, but as she looked at him, his chest rising and falling, she began to lose her grasp on why, exactly. “Of-of course I would!”

“And you have! Our first day here, remember? You saved me from those people at the river.”

“You would’ve been fine without me!”

“Not a theory I wanna test!” Lars folded his arms. “I owe you big for that!”

Wait. What was actually happening here? The feelings were one way, but the words were all wrong. Her temper faded quickly. “No, you… don’t.”

"You know things. You knew about the Sea Shrine, how to use a sword, wood pitch glue - all these things I'm bad at!" He glared. “You’re not useless, Connie!”

She frowned and brought her hand up to rub at her forehead. Any remaining air left her sails. “I… I know I’m not.”

Lars suddenly felt awkward in this unexpected silence.

“Then, like,” he asked haltingly, bringing a hand up to rub his shoulder. “What are we arguing about?”

“I don’t-” she started, frowning. “I just… I mean, all I wanted was to thank you for saving me. But then it came out wrong because I have these feelings, and I’m not used to them. But that’s stupid, right? Maybe I should be! I just don’t want to get used to feeling helpless.”

Lars’ expression softened. “Yeah, but isn’t it okay to feel helpless? That’s just what our lives are. Listen. If you don’t think I’m not freaking out at all times, I got a surprising true fact for ya.”

She shook her head. She knew they were on the same page, for the most part.

All they could do - all they ever did - was try their damnedest to cling with tired fingers to whatever slivers of hope they could grasp.

And continue the search for Rose Quartz.

Tomorrow.

For now, there was a schedule to keep for the sake of Connie’s physiological needs, and maintaining any semblance of normality. They had another fire to start and yet another meal to cook as the same unsympathetic sun dropped below the horizon.

Chapter Text

6. The Moments.

 

To cease to exist
and to die

are two different things entirely.

But you knew this,
didn’t you?
- Erika L. Sanchez

 

~*~

 

It snuck up on her like a thief. Or that’s what it felt like, the day she finally caught sight of it.

She sat outside their shelter on the top of the cliff overlooking the wide expanse of the sea, sharpening her sword blade on a weathered rock.

A quick glance at her reflection lead to a double take - and suddenly there it was, vivid as an arc of lightning against the blackest of nights. Blinking to ensure her eyes were clear in the morning brightness, she lifted the sword - angling the blade so that she could get a closer look at her hair.

She shot up onto her feet in alarm.

“Hey, Lars?” she called over, not looking away from the blade. She tried hard to keep her tone even. “Were you ever planning to let me know I’ve become a silver vixen?”

“I look at you every day,” Lars replied, shrugging, from where he was cooking over their campfire. “I guess I didn’t notice. It looks cool, though. Very distinguished.”

She stared longer at her reflection in the blade, attempting in the sunlight to accept this new development.

“I can’t believe my mother was right,” she muttered, finally. “It happened so young.”

He laughed, swinging tongs around. “Too bad you got no one to appreciate it but me.”

 

 

He perhaps had an inkling that it was dangerous to ask this question of an adult woman, but he blithely asked it anyway. “How old are you?”

His grave transgression caused Connie to cast an unwilling glance at the nearby tree they referred to as the Calendar Tree. Tally markings by now covered almost every square inch of its trunk. She continued to edit it religiously with every passing day, but hardly ever thought to add them up very often.

She knew Lars had given up trying to understand the system, but she understood it through and through. Once she was done, she took a moment to acknowledge the vague dread that washed over her. It was a very familiar feeling by now.

“Twenty nine? Give or take,” she said.

Lars dropped the tongs into the fire, but fished them out with no trouble. Only a minor burn, which he knew would heal fast. “You’re like an old lady.”

She gave him a look. “I am so mad right now I can’t even.”

“So,” he started, shifting awkwardly where he sat. He flicked his hair back and struck a pose. It took her a second to figure out that he wanted a critical assessment of his age based on his looks.

She wrinkled her face and then came closer, leaning right down to look at him.

Eventually she was forced to admit, “You haven’t aged a day. You’re still a pink teenager.”

He raised a hand to his face and rubbed it across his cheek. He supposed in the back of his mind that he just wasn’t a facial hair guy, or that perhaps he was just a very late bloomer. Obviously, it had something to do with this instead.

“But it’s okay!” She said reassuringly. “It’s better than aging, right?” Lars frowned, but she continued. “And I’m sure you wouldn’t be the only dude in his mid-thirties ever to get asked for ID. You’re still young and hot.”

She tried a smile but it collapsed quickly. Lars chewed on his bottom lip. The look on his face made her heart hurt.

“Anyway, look at me,” she continued in a last ditch effort to cheer him up. “I’m old enough to have grey hair, apparently! Oh, and my ganglion - remember that guy?” she exposed her wrist to show him, and he cringed. The harmless little lump that had formed on her wrist shortly after she’d taken a fall a few years earlier was still as weird and gross as the last time she’d made him look at it.

Okay, now she was smiling.

“Go on, touch it,” she urged him as she held it out toward him. “Touch it.

He had no interest in ever touching it again and declared so using much stronger language.

 


 

In the dark of every night, each sat alone with their thoughts.

Inside the little cabin, Connie wrapped herself in blankets. They’d managed years ago to make the hovel about the size of a garden shed with enough height to not have to slouch too much. Inside it, the furnishings were almost nonexistent - just blankets for the most part, for sleeping on and in. The storage space service provided by Lars’ head meant they could otherwise live clutter-free.

The cabin had scant insulation from the fall night outside, but the fur blankets were enough. She also had her winter gear available in case she needed it, but it was too early in the season for that. They had noticed over the last fourteen-odd years of being here that the summers were getting cooler, the winters, ever harder. It didn’t matter much, though - as always, they spent the majority of their days elsewhere in the world, returning here every night out of a persistent sense of homesickness.

She stared up at the ceiling in the darkness. With only the vaguest concept of the hour, she regardless knew it was fast approaching the middle of the night. Sleep was not an easy thing to catch.

In these moments, she often thought of her parents. She missed them, but she had no photos of them with her and her memory had whittled them both down to their basic features.

But sometimes, if she concentrated, she could almost make them out with clarity.

She missed the gems, especially her mentor Pearl. She hadn’t seen her or Garnet once in the entire time she’d been here, and she wondered what they were doing, where they were. Her thoughts of Steven were much the same. She would wonder what he would think of all this, how he would be tripping all over himself to help her and Lars, if only he possibly could. She remembered him fondly, but in her mind his face was indistinct. Blurry, like those of her parents.

His voice? It was hard to admit, but she wasn’t sure exactly what he’d sounded like, anymore.

The fading of her memories brought her unspeakable grief, so she thought of him often to try to retain all of him that she could.

She often drifted off thinking of his smile.

 


 

Outside, Lars leaned back against the wall of the cabin, arms draped over his knees. He was dimly aware of the cold as the waves endlessly rolled in on the beach below. Neither fall nor winter had bothered him before, and he doubted that it would begin being a problem this evening.

A slight breeze rustled the nearby canopy. He gently rested his head back against the wall to watch the twinkling stars above through half-closed eyes. He listened to the lone owl somewhere off in the woods.

When he allowed himself to let his mind wander in moments like these, he found his thoughts often bucked up against the terrifying amount of time that stood in the way of the people he left. He instead tried to think of other things. His parents - their faces were sort of there in his memory. Sadie, who meant the world to him, was much the same. So were the faces of his friends - the crew he’d bonded trial-of-fire style with on the other side of the galaxy. His little buddy Steven - who he still somehow pictured as a tiny kid despite having watched him grow.

None of them would ever know what had become of him.

He groaned silently to himself. This wasn’t helping. He wasn’t sure yet if he wanted to sleep tonight but he knew making himself sad wouldn’t help.

He instead thought of Connie, and his thoughts quickly turned to his worry for her. Then to the elusive Rose, then of course to Moldavite - not the one safely contained in his head, nor the one kicking around in the present, oblivious to everything, but the one in the distant future who would someday be waiting on the beach below, ready to destroy the lives of two promising young adults.

And he thought of the task that lay before him, on the other side of an impossibly distant future.

 


 

They’d long since begun searching areas more difficult for a normal human to withstand. The desert that would someday be a much larger wasteland known as the Saharan was one of those places.

“Yeah,” said Lars after they’d spent a long moment at the top of a dune, scanning the flat sandy nothingness that sprawled off into the distance. “This is worse than the ocean.”

This place wasn’t alive at all. Even the sky seemed sand-colored.

“At least I can stretch my legs,” Connie stated with a shrug of her shoulders. She adjusted the headwrap she wore to deal with extreme weather and began to trudge her way down the side of the dune.

Lars followed along without needing to be so encumbered. “Okay, but are you properly hydrated?”

“Are you?”

She could feel his eyes burning into the back of her head. Or maybe that was the blazing sun. Either way, she’d had plenty of water and knew there was plenty more sitting in the dark world on the other side of Lars’ head. When that ran out, water was only a portal away anyway.

“I’m fine,” she eventually reassured him. “I’ll hit you up when I need something.”

“I only ask all the time because I have no point of reference anymore. Like, I drink water and I’m fine for weeks. Maybe even months. Maybe I don’t need it at all. Not to live, anyway.”

Connie scowled slightly, unseen by Lars. Must be nice, she thought to herself.

“I have no frickin’ clue what powers me now,” he added in low tones, a little disturbed.

Her expression softened as she quickly regretted her fleeting thought.

As they walked, a slight breeze kicked up enough hot sand and dust to make them shield their eyes.

“Anyway,” he said through gritted teeth after the breeze settled. He glanced around. “Where exactly are we heading, little buddy?”

She sighed. “Not a damn clue. I don’t even know if it’s around here right now. This could be a waste of time.”

He stopped short in the sand. “Then why are we even here?”

“I was thinking about the origins of the Sand Fortress. It could be that maybe its original function was just to be the base of the Crystal Gems. So why not check where it was last seen before the gems captured it?”

“But... Wait.” He scratched his head. “Is this the thing that can easily, like, be moved around? Because it has a gem at its core?”

She stopped walking and turned to look at him. “Yeah. I know it was corrupted and puking up towers and stairs to nowhere in the future, and I know that doesn’t necessarily mean it was is here now, but-”

Lars wiped a hand down his face. “Connie. We need to be following real leads, not bullsh-“

“We don’t have any real leads.”

“It’s dangerous here! I can tell it’s super hot. We’ll never find-“

She thrust a finger up, pointing vaguely at the sky above. “Well, maybe fly us up for a bird’s-eye!”

“Listen here, you,” he muttered darkly. “I am not a fairy. I can’t fly.

She rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean, just-”

“You don’t think that was one of the first things I tried to do when I found out I had cool powers!?”

She snorted, and suddenly their latest argument was over.

Seconds later they dropped from a portal a short way. Clinging to each other, they used this one weird trick to take in as much of the surrounding region as they could from way up in the eternal sky.

 


 

Connie ran at him, teeth grit, sword out, ready to slice.

But he was ready for it. He gripped the handle of the awesome battleaxe with both hands and, teeth grit and eyes focused... stepped aside, swinging the axe out of her way as he did.

Without anything to strike, Connie skidded to a halt in the dirt, sending up a cloud of dust as she did. She spun on him.

“Fight me! Don’t just dodge!” She shouted, unable to keep a temper out of her voice.

Lars grunted. These training sessions did his head in. He wanted to be helpful, to hone his skills and help keep hers sharp, but he was stronger than he thought he should be.

“You did fine the other day! What’s going on?”

“Just that same old hangup. Afraid of killing you with my superhuman strength, blah,” he admitted. But now that it was out there, he felt a little better. He grit his teeth, swung the axe so that it was out in front of him again and changed his footing to brace himself. “Also? I miss my spear.”

“Yeah, well, you’re the one who dropped it, and it was gone by the time we went back to look for it. And you refuse to use the human spear for some reason, so maybe you should deal,” she told him in a no-nonsense way.

“The human spear sucks.” He sulked in a teenagerly way. “It doesn’t even look cool. It’s not the same.”

She rolled her eyes and widened her stance. “Look, we’ll get you a shiny new gem spear someday, alright? Just fight me.”

He looked at the wicked axeblade, and then at her. And then the vivid recurring image of the thing slicing clean through her came back to him. He shut his eyes and shook his head briefly.

“Can we put a pin in this?” he asked. “I can’t - look, I hate this thing. I still don’t know what I’m doing with it. I’d rather just use it to get firewood so I can cook you dinner, not friggin’ pretend to try to murder you with it.”

She groaned loudly. She’d been looking forward all through yet another day of searching for this session and now her only viable sparring partner was opting out like some loser.

“Fine.” She lowered her sword and stood, considering other sparring options. “If only there was a way we could train together. Like, on the same side. Like a-”

Fusion.

It hit her like a revelation from the skies above. Her eyes widened as she stared at him. The boy was riddled with gem magic, but there was no gem at the center of his being. Surely it wasn’t possible. Or was it?

“Hear me out,” she said suddenly. “I’ve been trying to think of ways that maybe I can like, last longer.”

Lars’ gaze met hers.

“My body, I mean, since I’m getting older and all.”

He narrowed his eyes. Whatever she was getting at, he couldn’t tell. “You mean without dying, right?”

“Yeah. I had the thought just now that, maybe… Well, what if we could fuse?” She shrugged, almost casually.

Lars meanwhile almost choked on his own saliva. He threw the axe down to the side, suddenly. The sparring session was definitely over if it wasn’t already. “What! I don’t love you!”

“Wow. Thanks, Lars. Real hurtful.”

“Come on, you don’t love me either!” Lars interrupted her, waving his hands around. “Not in that way. Like, if you were to ask, do I love you? I’d say, Sure. But, more as a friend? Maybe a little sister?” He paused. “One who’s... biologically much older than me?”

Connie’s eyes widened. “Lars. That’s adorable!”

Lars frowned at her, but blushed dark pink nonetheless. “An arch nemesis I happen to be going through an endless hell with.” He walked a few steps away from her to sit down on top of the upturned canoe in front of the firepit. “Not in a sexual way.”

She followed him over, pulling a face. “You know fusion has nothing to do with that - you saw Steg Multiverse, didn’t you?” she asked with a touch of pained jealousy - she really wished she’d gone to the rock concert instead of Space Camp that day. But that was neither here nor there. It had been so long ago.

“Okay, okay, point taken.”

“A fusion can embody any kind of relationship. Maybe Laronnie would just be fun and easy, you know?”

“Why would they ever be ‘fun and easy’?” Lars muttered. “When are we ‘fun and easy’?”

She ignored him. “They’d be magic and know swords and maybe not age and only occasionally give into bouts of overwhelming existential dread-“

Laronnie,” Lars interrupted again with a snort.

“What?”

“I mean, is that a hard and fast rule, or...? What if they wanna be called Jeremy or something.”

Connie blinked. “Huh. That never occurred to me. What if they’d rather be called The Cursed?

Lars snorted. “Or maybe like Sam or Toni, if we’re being gender neutral.” He kept riffing, his furrowed brow revealing his engagement with this idea. “But that doesn’t matter, I guess. It’s not like they’d be here to make friends.”

Connie made eye contact with him. She sat down next to him and smiled. “You’re actually considering it.”

He spread his arms wide. “I don’t have a gem! It doesn’t matter if I consider it or not. I, I’m not- I literally- I-I likely can’t.”

“Can we try, though? It’ll be better.”

He hesitated. How would it be better? But admittedly, this topic was too interesting to ignore.

“Pretty sure if I could, I woulda done it with Sadie... back in the day. Larsadie,” He said, frowning. “Sadars?” He shook his head. “Whatever. Their name coulda been Strawberry-Shortcake-Limbo-Potato for all it really mattered - it didn’t happen.”

“I love the weird rants you go off on to try to distract me.” She smiled.

He sighed, but he was unable to help grinning back at her. “Fine. We’ll try it.”

She pressed her fingers together in glee and jumped back up. It had been a rather calm late afternoon, not too cool but not exactly warm either. She had just been in bare feet for training. What better way to dance than barefoot as well. “Lars!”

“I’m not a great dancer,” he admitted, mildly intimidated by her enthusiasm but still far more into this idea than he ever was about fighting her.

But she smiled down at him reassuringly and held out her hand. “I don’t think you have to be. You just need to be you.”

“The Total Douchebag it is,” he smiled as he placed his hand in hers and rose to his own feet as well. “What’s your dance style?”

She smiles up at him. “Hm. Well, I guess tonight I’ll be performing the Polite Nerd.”

“What? You’re never polite to me.”

“Do I have to be?”

“Never. So how do we-”

She bowed to him. He snorted, and bowed back. And then, after a false start where they almost tripped and fell into each other, Lars had an idea.

“Mind if I beatbox?”

“No,” she said, giggling.

It didn’t work but the effort at least gave them something a little different to do for a while.

 


 

“So say we finally find her. What are we going to do?” He swallowed nervously on some other day in some far off place. “Are you, like, planning to get pinked straight away, or…”

Connie stopped in her tracks and hesitated a long while, looking thoughtfully at the surrounding trees. They’d found an abandoned gem structure and were checking it out. It was in ruins - to the point that they couldn’t tell what it was once supposed to be. It had been left alone for at least a number of decades. Plant life was beginning to reclaim it. The Earth was taking back what belonged to it.

It was evident there was nothing here worth seeking but, lucky for them, they didn’t have anywhere else they needed to be.

Except for wherever Rose was, of course. But they were working on it.

“I. I don’t know,” she responded, finally.

Lars frowned. “I mean, there’s no way I’d be able to-”

Her eyes were wide. “I’m not asking you to!”

“Well then… Does that mean you will, uh...” he had no idea how to finish his thought.

“Maybe I’ll just have to,” she replied finally. “Or else we risk losing her again.”

“What if it doesn’t work?” He asked in a small voice.

“It has to,” she insisted.

“Okay, well, what if we find the Crystal Gem’s base or whatever.“ This topic was difficult to discuss, but it had to happen. “Are we just going to, uh, wait for you to die of old age? Would you even want to come back after that?”

“Well, listen.” She shrugged. “People in this period aren’t supposed to live very long. Old age is supposed to be more like thirty, thirty five.”

“Oof,” came Lars’ helpful contribution.

“I mean, that’s what the public school system would have me believe anyway.” She furrowed her brow. “On the other hand, I’ve seen lots of old people around. Clearly people in the future don’t give people back in gem times enough credit.”

“So…”

“Listen. Whenever, however it happens, you need to take me and stake out their base until you see her. Is that okay?”

“If we find their base,” he grumbled, trying to keep the despair from his voice.

She eyed him. “Lars.”

“Connie. I love having you around, but-“

The way he was talking, the tone in his voice and the way she could tell the words hurt him as he spoke them - she knew what he was ramping up to. She became cross quickly.

“I thought you were done with that! Telling me to run off - as if that’s even an option!”

Lars folded his arms and sighed. “Look, I know. I’m just... not happy. About anything we’re doing.”

She tried a smile. “It’ll be better when we can for sure do this together.”

This made Lars frown. There was that word again. Better.

 


 

The search continued, and yet another season passed them by.

 


 

Somewhere else, some other time, a gem battle exploded down on top of them.

They had known there was something going on nearby and were heading toward it, but part of the main battle must have branched off wildly, and here they were, suddenly caught up in the center of it all.

The peace of the forest around them turned insane in an instant. Projectiles flew everywhere as gems hit the ground running, many of them too close for comfort. Eyes darting around in the twilight, Connie pulled her sword from its scabbard and attempted to start making sense of the situation, but Lars grabbed her and yanked her through a portal before she had a chance to do anything.

It was a close one. A topaz with a sword sliced the air where they would have been not a second later.

They rematerialized on a nearby hillside and immediately crouched to observe the battle going on below. This looked to be a big one - bigger than the handful of others they’d come across during their time searching. It was sort of hard to see through the trees but that was a problem that was solving itself - swathes of them had already been mowed down in the onslaught. Some of it was even on fire. Although Earth was reclaiming some of its lost areas, the planet was still paying dearly in others.

As she watched, Connie became aware of a familiar figure flying through the air.

“Pearl,” she whispered to herself.

“Huh?” asked Lars, who was staring at the action going on in some other direction.

She continued to watch as the Renegade Pearl, famous in this time for being exactly what she was, swooped confidently like a majestic bird, spear held in front of her in an aerodynamically efficient way, her gem glinting in the sunset as if to dispel any lingering doubt that it was her. She took Connie’s breath away.

Pure love for her old mentor rushed into her heart like light flooding a darkened room.

She was just about to grab the distracted Lars’ arm and draw his attention to what she was seeing but before she could, she noticed movement below them, further down the mountainside. It was a gem, glinting yellow in the dull light. From Connie’s perspective, she could see that this archer was tracking Pearl’s descent through the air with a loaded bow.

Connie set her jaw and grabbed her sword. Before she could think she was half-running, half-sliding down the mountainside - a difficult situation in twilight. She faintly heard Lars hissing loudly out for her to come back, but she didn’t care.

The archer had thought herself alone, and jumped in surprise to hear someone barrelling towards her location. Her shot flew wide. Rattled, the gem - a yellow quartz - spun around. Her face was contorted in fury as she looked down upon the being that caused her to miss.

The gem held out her hand and another bolt materialised in a flash of light. She came at Connie with it, but the woman grit her teeth and swung. Her sword connected hard with the bolt, sending it flying. It disappeared midair.

Connie smiled, bringing her sword back to her center. She smiled grimly at the adversary towering over her and braced herself. This was too easy - it had been so long since she had fought against a real opponent. Lars had been okay to spar with, but she always felt like he was holding back. In the heat of the moment, she didn’t even care about breaking time. She was ready for more.

The gem presently pulled a rather ornate dagger from a little strap she wore at her waist and came at her once again. Connie stepped aside and swung once more, aiming this time for the gem’s physical form, but the well-trained warrior gem dodged as well and Connie felt a weird jab somewhere in her torso. But it didn’t bother her too much - she took a few more steps back to give her time to spot the weaknesses in the gem’s next advance. To give her time to assess the best way to strike.

To give her time to realize that something was very wrong.

She felt lightheaded, suddenly. Sick. She fought against herself to take action, but her sword was now too heavy to throw around. Her grip faltered. Then it failed, and the sword clattered to the ground.

And the gem was advancing. She wore a look of glee as a swift kick sent Connie flying back into a boulder. All at once, her body was racked with pain as well. She crumpled to the ground.

She watched helpless as the gem turned and jumped from this vantage point, presumably to seek another vantage point.

She could also do nothing more than watch as Lars stumbled into her narrowing field of vision.

“Hey! Hey, Connie!” he was saying, but his words were faint and growing fainter. He looked troubled, his brow a knotted mess. She tried to shake her head to clear her mind and sit up, but he was kneeling beside her.

“Hey!?” he said again.

Hey, she tried to return her friend’s frantic greeting. She wanted to be reassuring, but everything was wrong, and she couldn’t. There was no pain anymore - only a dull ache getting duller and the sensation of her vision slowly fading out. Of all her strength leaving her.

The worried face of her pink friend soon blurred into grey, then stark darkness. Moments later, absolute silence.

She couldn’t help but think of her old life one final time. Her parents, she could almost hear way they laughed when they hugged her.

Her Steven, and how much she loved the way he smiled when he looked at her. How full her heart felt when she smiled back.

His face was perfect in her memory now.

 


 

She shuddered, looking up at him weakly with eyes that were drifting quickly out of focus. She opened her mouth, but no sound spilled forth.

It was only a moment later when her body released all tension that he began to wizen to the seriousness of it all.

How gravely injured she’d been.

“Connie! Yo!” He shook her by the shoulder. “Wake up!”

Gingerly placing his hand on her chest, Lars immediately noticed she was covered in a warm liquid. Her shirt had been ripped by something sharp.

It was only when he raised his hand up briefly to see what it was, he noticed it. The ripped cloth of her shirt, the wound itself, the blood on his hand. The blood everywhere else.

A coldness gripped his heart. “Uh-”

Whatever else he was going to say died on his lips, much like Connie had just now.

The part of his mind that was relatively okay at not panicking took over. He knew what he was supposed to do - he’d thought about this moment for years. Agonized about it. He’d had no idea it was going to happen so soon, but here he was in a world that had proven time and time again that it did not care about either of them.

He slid his vest off and wrapped it around her torso, making sure to cover the wound which appeared to be just below her ribcage. He didn’t really know for sure how this all worked, but he figured she’d be better off with the rest of her blood kept inside her.

As a last minute thought, he picked up her sword and stowed it away in his head. Then he hefted her up and stepped through a portal with her in his arms.

 


 

Her skin became ashen quickly as he flung them both through portal after portal. There was no time to explore new places anymore. That luxury (and it had indeed been one) was abruptly and forevermore unavailable.

He knew unequivocally that if Connie had even a slight chance of returning, it would be because he got incredibly lucky.

He had to hope they’d missed something, somewhere, and that he’d come across it soon and stealthily while trying not to panic. He was reduced once more to hoping - that futile pastime he’d shared with her for so long.

It was during perhaps the twenty eighth fruitless jump that he finally let out his first sob.

By the fiftieth, his throat was dry and yet his face was slick with tears.

Still he persevered, searching for Rose through portal after portal, jump after jump...

 


 

...Until he couldn’t any longer.

 

 

He saw the conical shape of the active volcano in the distance. His tearstained face tightened.

He easily hefted her slipping body back up and took a listless step toward it.

The hours had piled up quickly. He’d in his panic tried everywhere he could think of. But this time, throwing down a portal didn’t even occur to him.

Automatically, mechanically, he dragged himself and the body of his best and only friend up the side of the volcano.

Toxic plumes of smoke and fiery ash rose past him, buoyed aloft by jets of hot air. Below him, the bubbling of lava.

He lowered himself to sit somewhere above it, at a relatively safe distance, but one from which he was still able to see the toxic pool. He still held Connie’s lifeless body to him. She was still and cold, unlike the atmosphere around him.

He was sorry. He’d failed her, like he’d done many times before.

“Ugh, this tastes like sludge,” said a voice nearby in a casual matter that didn’t really fit this situation.

“Caffeinated sludge,” he replied in a flat voice without looking up.

He pictured Sadie smiling softly at him. “It’s been a while, huh?” she said.

“I.” He sunk. “Yeah.”

“Wanna talk about it?”

He shot her a wounded glance which quickly softened before turning his eyes back down to his friend. Connie’s face was peaceful, the familiar lines of tension on her face all but gone.

She seemed like she was sleeping. Which, he figured, she was.

He hoped to join her soon.

“Lars?” asked the part of himself that was trying to save him.

He closed his eyes.

“Please don’t remind me,” he said at length. “Not now.”

Sadie took a couple of slow steps toward him, careful to avoid the rocks. “Of what?” she asked gently as she took a seat beside him in the warmth.

“About how I’ll disappear from your life someday. How I just... won’t come back.”

She smiled that beautiful smile. “But you’re the Human Boomerang; always comin’ back to me.”

He exhaled. “Listen. There’s something I’ve been wondering. When I disappeared, what will everyone think? Did they know? Will they know why?”

She shrugged. “I won’t exist for five, five and a half millennia or so. None of us think anything yet.”

But he continued. “What did my parents think? My crew? You? Did.. Will you guys ever find out the truth? Will you know how happy I finally was, before it all went away? How I didn’t want to just leave you all?” He lowered his voice, “Will there ever be closure for you?”

Sadie went quiet. Her smile faded. She turned her gaze down to the bubbling lava below.

“I know you can’t answer that,” he said in hollow tones. “I’m only talking to myself.”

A long silence passed, punctuated only by hot bubbling of lava going on below.

“What are you doing here?” She asked in a way that implied she already knew.

“Without Connie, I got nothin’,” he shuddered, voice low, at last. “Not even the thought of you. I can’t do this. Not without her.”

“She wanted-”

He sobbed openly. “She wanted!? What she wanted got her-” his voice caught in his throat. “I didn’t want this for her! I wanted her to be happy! I bet if she tried, she could’ve had a life. But she... she wanted to stay with me.”

“Of course she did, Lars. Even if time didn’t depend on it, you’re still worth sticking by.”

“She was perfect for Steven - they’re both so stubborn.

“You’re one to talk,” Sadie’s face grew solemn. “You can’t control people. You can’t decide how others get to be happy.”

He exhaled, long and loud. “Yeah, well. Neither of us were ever happy.”

“You deserve to be. You both do.”

He glanced across at her, with eyes too afraid to believe.

“Sure, it won’t happen for a while. Maybe not even for a long while. And, maybe, no matter what you do, it’ll seem like you can never be happy again. Not even if you try really hard, not even for a moment. A-and... oh, man,” she said with a sorrowful laugh as tears pricked at her eyes as well. “Will there be an endless procession of moments.”

Lars’ face ran thick with tears.

It had always been there, lurking in the back of his mind - the passage of time separating them? him from their? his goal. Avoiding it, thinking of other things was no use. He always went back to it. He was there right now.

Her voice - if this was even what she sounded like, he couldn’t really remember after so long - sliced into his miserable thoughts.

“But you said yourself, you were happy once. Five thousand-odd years is a long time. You could be happy again.”

He had no idea where all this fluid was coming from - he’d been crying for hours and couldn’t remember the last time he’d had water. He should have run dry by now.

“You just have to keep going.”

He stared down into the bubbling pool some feet below them.

“Lars,” she urged him. “You have to do right by her.”

“What if I can’t find Rose?” he asked in a small voice.

“What if you can?”

He sniffed. “What if it doesn’t work?”

“What if it does?”

He exhaled as he considered the half-remembered face of his on-again-off-again paramore, and his thoughts drifted to Rose. He made the difficult decision of trusting the universe; that this next portal would be the one to find her.

“You’re so smart, Sadie,” he said, closing his eyes. “I think about you a lot, you know.”

“I know,” she said with a sad smile.

He drew a breath. When he opened his eyes again, they were glowing. He belted it out, and there it hung - a mysterious portal to parts unknown, swirling a couple of yards away from him in the air away from the lava.

It waited patiently while he gathered back the emotional wherewithal to rise to his feet.

Connie was heavy, but he could lift her. She was limp, which took a short moment to adjust for. Even though he knew on some level that she couldn’t feel anything, he wanted to remain vigilant of her comfort. Caring for her was a habit that was hard to put down.

“Goodbye Sadie,” he said quietly.

“Goodbye, Lars.”

When he felt they were both ready, he flung the both of them into the portal.

 


 

The haze slowly dissipated into the hot air around her.

Rose, sword still in hand and distraught by the deed she had been forced to perform, caught the colorful gemstone of one of her closest friends before it hit the stone floor.

Tears streamed down her face. This encounter hadn’t gone anything like she’d planned.

Not that she’d ever planned this at all…

What to do, what to do. She’d let her emotions get the best of her, once again, but Bismuth had been so-

She grit her teeth. She didn’t want to think about the look in her friend’s eyes, about all the things that she’d been saying. A magenta bubble sprang into existence around the dormant gemstone. It seemed like the next logical step. She went back to trying to think instead of what to do next.

Her concentration broke at the sudden realization that there was something behind her. She spun around, sword raised and shield up, to find a white and pink swirling circle hanging in the air across the room from her. Her eyes widened at the sight of it. Her grip on the sword grew tighter as she took an uncertain step backward.

She tensed as something spilled out of it.

And, to Lars’ complete and utter surprise, Rose was there.

His breath caught in his throat at the sight of the giant woman armed to the teeth before him. At the sight of the bubbled gemstone she subtly tucked into her hair.

He glanced around to get his bearings, but there were none to really get. He was alone in a windowless, lava-filled room with her. He suddenly felt very unsafe.

But Rose seemed too overwhelmed in this moment to be too threatening. He narrowed his eyes at her. Had she been crying?

Rose recognized the incredibly defective gem immediately. She’d never seen another quite like this one, after all.

“It’s you,” she said with surprise evident in her voice. She lowered her sword arm and her shield disappeared. “H-how did you-” she paused briefly as her mind seemed to catch up with her mouth. “How did you make that?

“What?” he asked, miserably.

“That!” she repeated herself as she waved vaguely at the portal behind him. “That big swirly... thing!”

He swallowed. “Oh. Uh-“

He presently made his escape route disappear.

But this diamond was a being of boundless curiosity, it seemed. “After the battle on the Facet Nine hillside - I-I wanted you to meet with me. But you didn’t.” Her eyes widened. “Where have you been? I was looking for-“

It suddenly appeared that she noticed the sad bundle in his arms.

“-You?”

Lars honestly couldn’t think of what to say. He was exhausted, clinging Connie’s limp body close to him, shaking as he stared up at Rose. The woman in his arms was cold, but less so the longer he had her here in this warm room.

Rose’s eyes flicked from Connie’s face, and back to his.

“Oh,” she said as her shoulders sank, her voice dropping. “Oh. Your human friend.”

All he could do was nod, causing the tears to fall faster. He had no spare arms to wipe them up.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ve known a lot of humans. All of them do this, after a time.” She hesitated. “It’s sad, but...” She shrugged. She couldn’t offer much else in the way of consolation. “It’s their way,” she finished, matter-of-factly.

Lars felt like he was playing with fire, and inexplicable new tears burned his eyes all the same.

She eyed him oddly, suddenly. “You’re not really a gem, are you?”

Lars stared up at her. “No.”

“Then wh- Do, do you have a name?”

“Yeah.”

A silence hung in the air where she expected his name to go.

Eventually, he instead continued, “I know what you are-”

He saw the manner in which her eyes widened. He couldn’t not. She was an extremely expressive person and in this moment, she looked like a deer caught in the light of an oncoming train.

“-Rose Quartz, the healer,” he exhaled. “And… and I know you can help this woman.”

Rose had seen many humans pass into this state before. “I’m sorry, I-”

Lars never, ever thought Rose could have ever looked so uncertain.

“Please, help her. You have healing tears.”

The sight of this miserable creature struggling to keep it together before her was enough to get her going again, and Rose’s eyes budded over with tears. To his surprise, she placed the sword down on the floor and stepped closer.

He was fearful for a moment. Fearful it wouldn’t work. He squeezed Connie’s body tightly and shuffled her around in his arms in order to brush errant strands of hair from her face.

Rose, standing directly in front of him now, spoke quietly. “How do I-”

“Uhh-”

Before he could bumble his way through his half-formed concept of what she should do, she’d already brought a finger up to wipe moisture from her eye and was reaching out for Connie’s face. She touched her forehead, so gently, in exactly the same manner Lars remembered seeing Steven heal others so often.

She moved her fingers back slowly, leaving a tiny teardrop in the middle of her forehead.

He held his breath.

In the dubious moment that followed, neither of the pink beings could take their eyes off her still form.

Suddenly, Connie became awash in a bright light that radiated in a ripple effect from where Rose had touched her, leaving pink skin and hair in its wake. A long second later, Lars felt her body tense, her muscles vital once more. It was an alarming sensation, to have the dead weight in his arms spring back to life after so, so terribly long.

He gasped as she brought a hand up to clasp her face.

She breathed in. Her mouth formed sounds. “Ughhh. What-”

Wiping errant strands of hair from her face, the first thing she saw was Lars looking down at her in complete disbelief - his eyes, red and raw and wide as they stared down at her.

“Huh?” she asked, immediately alarmed. “Wh-what happened?!”

Lars had no words. He hugged her tighter and cried. She felt a little awkward but let it happen as she struggled to understand what was happening. She began taking in their surroundings and belatedly noticed the huge gem in front of them. She tensed.

Rose Quartz.

This could only mean one thing.

She raised her hand again and really looked at it, this time. It was pink.

Her mind boggled. It had happened, so suddenly. She shifted in Lars’ grasp, who took the hint and began to let her down carefully.

Her balance was wobbly, but she managed to stand on her own. She used this moment to roll up her sleeves, to check out her hair.

 

 

Awash with conflicting feelings, Connie at last raised her eyes to regard the runaway, rebellious diamond. Yet more of the same life-giving tears that had brought her back ran down her face in a constant stream born of intense emotional confusion.

“Rose. Thank you,” she said quietly.

This whole experience has been staggering for Rose. She wanted so badly for this to make any sense, so she asked, “Who are you? Where are you from?”

Connie was caught up in the emotion of the moment. To Lars’ dismay, she began to respond. “I-”

“Sidebar,” he urged her quietly as he took her hand. She went willingly, still reeling.

Rose, confused, reached out toward them. “Please, don’t go-”

Lars hurriedly barked a portal into the air. Rose’s eyes flicked from it, back to them.

“Wait, no-” she said, eyes wide. “Where are you going? Please, talk to me.”

“No,” said Lars. “We, we can’t-”

She gazed at him in earnest. “You were a human too, weren’t you? I never brought you back,” she reasoned. “So, how did- Who are-”

“I can’t explain, but I wish I could. Maybe someday we’ll be able to, but…” He trailed off. He was already concerned that he’d ruined everything.

Rose stared as they made their way toward the portal. “I just want to understand,” she said.

Connie glanced back at her while being pulled toward the portal, and Lars did too. Rose’s eyes narrowed as they disappeared into it. She was overcome with the idea to follow and took a couple of steps toward it, but it blinked out of existence behind them almost immediately.

It would be a long while before Rose could return her thoughts to the mess that had been made before the interruption. But she knew for certain she couldn’t tell anyone about anything had happened here.

 


 

“Was that the Forge?” she asked as if in a daze, once they were standing back on their familiar and silent cliffside.

“I guess so,” he said as the portal blinked out behind him. Now that the light from it was gone, it appeared to be sometime in the middle of the night, but the full moon provided enough light to see by.

“Did you see Bismuth?” came another question while she was checking out her arms. She noticed only then the vest wrapped around her waist and dropped her hands down to untie it. It was tight and covered in old and darkened blood.

“I’ll, uh, tell you later,” Lars muttered as he watched.

The ruined vest fell from her and she glanced down at her ripped shirt. She pulled it up to reveal a dark pink scar a few inches across her bloodied abdomen, just under the bottom of her ribcage. She leaned forward to take it in before quickly yanking her shirt back down over it.

“I’m pink,” she said suddenly. She looked up at Lars. “Will you help me figure out my powers?”

He was taken aback by the odd question. “Uh, o-of course?”

“I died,” she said after a time, attempting to get a handle on the situation.

“Yeah, you did,” he said quietly.

“I died,” she repeated.

“And I carried out your will. So no more risking yourself.”

She looked at him to see an odd mixture of relief and fear written all over his features.

“You have to promise me,” he told her.

She was still reeling, to be truthful, but she squashed it down. “It’s not like it went to plan.”

He glared at her and grit his teeth. For a moment it seemed like he was going to get angry, but he exhaled. There was no point in anger.

What had happened, had happened.

“You know as well as I do that it did,” he told her in low tones.

“Lars-”

“You’ve kind of had this deathwish for a while now. You resigned yourself to this the day you told me what you wanted.”

She spread her arms wide, unable to see his point. “What else did you want?! For me to die naturally, old and decrepit? You’d rather I be a burden to you until the day that finally happened!?”

“No. I wanted you to be free. To not have to worry about me. To go have a real life somewhere, with normal people who could have given you what you needed.” Before she could start, he continued, “But yeah, I knew it would ruin everything. Yeah, I knew it wasn’t possible.”

She was confused. “But even if I could, what about you?”

“Connie, I’m trapped,” he said, voice cracking. “I always was. And now? You’re trapped too.”

“But-” she started, before frowning. “Huh.”

“Yeah. Stings a little, right?”

Connie tightened her lips. It wasn’t a smile. Lars folded his arms and exhaled, regretting his last words a little.

“How do you feel?” he asked softly, this time. “Are you okay?”

She took a moment to consider. “Yeah? I mean, I think so.” She flexed her fingers idly, as if trying to get used to them. “I guess I don’t really know.”

He nodded. “Sounds right.”

“Are you okay?”

“I don’t know either.”

“How long-”

He shrugged miserably. “Hours.

“How did you even find her?“

“I don’t know, I guess I can just find Rose? By wanting to? Because... magic!?” His voice was hollow. “Isn’t that funny? We searched everywhere we could, all those years, for nothing.”

She wanted to laugh but she couldn’t. “What else is new.”

“Well,” he said as he indicted her. “This is.”

Connie glanced down to look at her pink-colored hands once more. “At least you don’t have to worry about feeding me now,” she said, looking back up at him with a small smile.

He didn’t share her sentiment. “I always liked cooking for you,” he said. “When I died, I was tired and hungry. I didn’t want that for you. And,” he continued after a breath, “it at least felt normal. You realize nothing is ever going to feel normal again, don’t you?”

Her lips tightened. Her magenta eyes narrowed. Her general mood was starting to go into a nosedive.

“But… no, wait.” She shook her head. “Why doesn’t this feel any better, Lars?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I-“

“What on Earth made you think this was better?” He quickly checked the incredulity that had seeped into his tone before he continued, gently this time.

“Don’t you know? This is going to suck, Connie.”

He saw the way her expression fell and, to his credit, attempted to reassure her. “Hey, but, look. It’s okay. You’re like me, now.” He tried to smile but couldn’t. “You get to while away the oncoming centuries too.”

“Lars-“ The corners of her eyes pricked with tears.

He shrugged. “Maybe I need to try to feel flattered that you’d want to do that with me. Y’know, instead of feeling sad for you as well.”

During the brief silence that passed between them, her mind raced. She tried on a little bit of hope for size, but as she began talking, she could already tell it was too small. She wasn’t sure exactly what it was - the general fit? Or just the shoulders?

“But now,” she was saying, “We’ll see everyone again, right? We can get home now, can’t we? Y’know, together.“

He breathed deeply. His words were even and calm. “No. This isn’t about going home. It never was. Remember? You said it yourself, once. We’re just doomed alternate versions of ourselves. We’re just-“

He trailed off as realization began to dawn on Connie. A stark, bitter light. One of railing resentments against a cruel universe.

Not hope.

Somehow, during the decade or so since they had first determined their goal, she’d managed to trick herself.

Unbidden tears rolled down her face. She didn’t bother wiping them away. Her recent death aside, Lars could tell that he’d just witnessed something inside her break. He wondered when that very same thing had broken inside him, too.

But he’d already been reborn by the tears of a diamond well before the moment they’d first woken up on the primal beach below. She’d spent most of her time since then being worried about her eventual death, about whether they were going to find Rose in time.

Lars had been worried about that too, of course, but not in quite the same way.

With or without her, he’d always known that he faced this bleak gulf regardless. This intimidating abyss of time, some five thousand years wide and deep, stood there in his vision. It separated them from the lives they couldn’t possibly go back to. The lives they wanted to save.

It loomed, dark and silent, behind the many tasks he would preoccupy himself with. But often he would lift his eyes from the present moment, from all the other things he’d ever been worried about, to regard it.

And it was staggering.

At this stage it remained impossible to grapple with, difficult to truly comprehend. But it had always been there and the knowledge of it ate away at him like rats in the garbage, more so as his inability to age had gradually become more obvious.

Connie was pink now, and that meant there were no more meaningful mundane tasks with which to occupy the days. They didn’t need to hunt, cook or search anymore. Decades, centuries, millennia of hiding in wait before they could engineer the conditions of their true death were all they had to look forward to. He’d known it.

Meanwhile, the true reality of this was brand new to Connie.

But she was smart. From the look on her face, he could tell that she was already figuring it out.

“We’re just fixing what Moldavite broke,” she said through bitter tears. “We’ll serve this purpose, then we’ll die.”

Chapter Text

7. The Centuries.

 

“What we are waiting for is not as important as what happens to us while we are waiting.”
― Mandy Hale

 

~*~

 

Their entire lives changed.

The winters stopped nipping at her. Hunger no longer sniffed at the door. Their need to take from the land around them ended. That part of their lives was finished forever.

Despite this, perhaps out of habit, they maintained their campsite religiously. They continually patched up their little cabin although it could go unused for years or decades at a time. The firepit, hardly used anymore, was dutifully kept clean of leaves. The water jug was tipped out and refilled when the blackened and stagnant water became a breeding ground for insects.

At first they attempted to merely wait out the centuries, stationary, from the safety and isolation of their little peninsula. But they quickly found that while they were both now pink, they still possessed minds. Minds that could still very easily become bored, especially now that there was not a single physiological need between them.

Hunting, cooking, searching and sleeping had kept them occupied, given them something to do with their time. Sure, they could have still gone about those same tasks, but there was no point in unnecessarily taking from the land. There was no point in risking everything looking for Rose - they no longer needed her, and already appeared to have her on speed dial anyway. There was no point in cooking, or sleeping, or any of it.

Now, all they had left to look forward to was interminable waiting for a distant future - one they weren’t entirely sure would come about anymore. But they worked very hard on keeping their hopes up. On not giving into despair.

It was still all they could do in this, their new normal.

 


 

Lars and Connie were driven to wander the Earth once again, but not for any sort of reason this time. This was a more errant, purposeless kind of wandering. One born of boredom and simple curiosity.

They’d had their fill of gemkind. Completely uninterested in seeking them out any longer, they instead explored the Earth for Earth’s sake and avoided those regions they knew to be hotbeds of gem activity.

So the duo sought out the open empty spaces like those they already knew from their prior lives of constant searching. They sought out new forests and lonely mountaintops. Vast tracts of desolate ocean. They looked for peace and solitude. With nothing else to do from these isolated areas, they began to watch the world.

They carefully watched massive herds migrate across vast swathes of land. Bison were easy ones. They were close to home and, since each massive beast was built like a truck, they were hard to miss. Also, there were millions of them.

This gave them an easy in to watching the wolves that preyed upon the weaker, slower members of the herds and so they quickly found it necessary to work on stealth. One wrong move, they figured, and they could inadvertently alter the course of an entire herd. Perhaps even the course of history.

They got better at hiding and over time they figured out more discrete ways of creating portals. It was easier by far to create by being loud, sure, but what it appeared to depend on most of all was a certain way of creating ripples. A kind of magic-soaked vibration that propagated out into the surrounding space, warping and rending it as it went.

These new techniques were tough to get the hang of, so they practiced often.

Training continued more intensely than ever in moments of boredom (and there were many). Connie, pink now, was more evenly matched against Lars in terms of strength, which made him feel better about not holding back. These days, their training sessions were intense fights, awesome sword versus awesome battle axe, during which neither one of them held back.

They hoped to never have to rely on their fighting abilities to get by, of course, but the fear lingered. To fix what was broken, they had to survive.

And gems were everywhere. The alien invaders were hard at work dismantling the efforts of humans, so there were plenty of roaming groups of nomads traversing the continents from afar, which occasionally gave them something besides animals to watch. But eventually they came to feel envious of the purpose these people had.

Of the simple necessity by which they were compelled to keep going.

These people had mouths to feed, shelter to seek. Connie and Lars hadn’t known the feel of hunger in decades, nor any pressing need to get indoors. As time went on, they struggled harder and harder to recall the sensation of needing anything in order to live.

“Are we ghosts?” Lars asked one day when they had been pink several times longer than they hadn’t.

“How do you figure?” Connie asked right back, somewhat concerned by the question.

He shrugged. “We died. Yet we wander the Earth, watching the living. We’re envious of them but we can’t take part. We can’t even blend in.”

His thought gave Connie pause.

They soon stopped going out of their way to watch humans and returned to the beauty of nature, for which they harbored no such awkward feelings.

 

 


 

One hundred years finally ticked by according to Connie’s tireless timekeeping system, and they returned at last to the site of one of their early failures. The Sea Shrine, down there below their soaked boots somewhere, must have reformed by now. They couldn’t make the structure out too well, but they were fairly sure it had.

Lars folded his arms. He eyed Connie, who was smiling at him, and waited patiently.

She shortly dropped the smile. Focusing her concentration, a bright glow emanated from her eyes. She raised her hand up and snapped her fingers.

Nothing happened. The sound merely drifted away on the choppy sea breeze.

Clapping her hands together didn’t seem to work either. She tried a number of times in a number of different ways but eventually she just began to feel as though she was applauding Lars.

It didn’t help that the guy had decided to start bowing, for all the world like a stage actor. “Thank you, thank you,” he snarked.

But she wasn’t in the mood. “Screw you, Lars.”

“Have you tried belching?” he asked, standing upright again. This also earned him the briefest of glares.

Finally she screamed. The sound rolled out over the waves without bringing forth a portal. It was the least civilized yet the simplest way to create a portal and it failed spectacularly - exactly as it had roughly one hundred years prior.

“Damn it!”

“You’ve had your turn to mess around with warp pads. This, too, was a bust - again. Do you believe me yet?” Lars asked. “It’s impossible!”

“I suppose,” she admitted as she tapped a foot onto the surface of the sea, peering down into the murky depths. She belatedly lifted her eyes back up to his. “Listen, it’s not that I didn’t believe you did your best, but... I needed to try it for myself. It’s nothing against you-“

Lars sliced a hand through the air, cutting her off. “I get it, it’s fine.” He closed his eyes and scratched his forehead. "I was surprised you wanted to try for it again in the first place. Being able to get there sooner means we die for real sooner, remember?”

“My main thought was that being in control of time might be sort of fun.” She waved an arm around. “At least, until we decide to go off and do something silly like save younger versions of ourselves from having to do all this, for instance.”

He opened his mouth to reply, but the idea behind the concept was too cool to argue with. Instead, he was deeply impressed. “Damn, Connie.”

“Yeah,” she said wistfully. “Wouldn’t it have been nice to have a win? Just once?”

 


 

The stone city on the plain had fallen. Another of many little eras was over.

It wasn’t a recent thing - the place was layered in dirt, dust and leaves. Whatever was left of the half-destroyed buildings were slowly crumbling. But for the first time in more than two hundred years, they were able to walk through what remained of its streets without fear of being called out for being some kind of gem and dealt with as such.

They stood where they guessed the old market to have once been and looked around the empty square.

“Well, this makes me sad,” said Connie in a very casual manner.

Lars wandered over to some nearby stone steps, covered in leaves and dirt. He noticed something down amongst it and dropped down to pluck an object from the sediment. Dusting it off, he found it was a tiny stone carving in the simple shape resembling a feather. Perhaps it had been a pendant, once. If so, the string was long gone.

“I told you we shouldn’t have come back here,” he called over, somewhat belatedly. “We knew it was going to fall to the gems at some point.”

Connie stood with her arms folded, trying to picture what the market used to look like. “Do you remember the raspberry guy?”

The question took Lars way back. “Yeah, he was alright. What do you think he’s up to now-” Without missing a beat he continued, “He’s dead, isn’t he?”

Connie nodded briefly as she gazed up at the sky. “He would be very dead by now.”

A moment of silence passed between them until Lars spoke again. “He... Uh. He really liked out-of-season raspberries.”

Connie exhaled, nodding somberly. “And he made great water bottles. Hm. I don’t seem to recall his name-”

She blinked in surprise as he held the carving out for her. “What’s this?” she asked as she automatically took it.

He shrugged. “Some kind of thing I found. Do you like it? You usually like nice rocks.”

“It’s amazing, thanks,” she said, smiling. She caressed its grooves with her thumb absently. A second later, she snapped her head up in alarm. “Oh! I forgot. I have something for you, too.”

Lars raised his eyebrows in interest as, from her head, Connie produced a couple of little white spikes.

“Are those-“

“Yeah.” She smiled. “I cleaned up some fangs I found for you.”

“What? Thanks!” He was chuffed as he accepted the gift. “Where did you even find these?”

“A skull,” she said, smiling as she watched him replace his centuries-old bone spirals in these century-old ruins.

 


 

“Mine was quick,” he said out of nowhere.

They were sitting together at the summit of what they figured would someday become known as Mount Everest. They often went there when they wanted to train, or just to feel the chilly gusts of wind blowing their hair.

 

 

Either way, it was a place where they could be assured of complete isolation - nothing up here interested gems of either faction and it was a dangerous place for humans. But the cold could never penetrate pink skin, nor did the lack of oxygen affect them.

“It was this light,” he continued. “I guess it was the robonoid exploding. Anyway, it filled my head. I could hear it, I could taste it, smell it - it was everywhere and everything. It was so bright.”

She turned her head to look at him, resting her chin on her fist as she did. “Did it hurt?”

“I think it should have. Something sliced my head open anyway,” Lars traced the feel of his facial scar with a finger before shrugging. “Something ripped into my chest. Maybe it was more like, pressure. A lot of it. And... this feeling of falling.”

Connie watched him as he spoke, the somber expression on his face. He was ostensibly staring off at the cloudy mountain range receding off into the distance below them, but she could tell he was actually studying the empty space between.

“And then... Hm. I don’t remember what I expected death to be,” he continued. “But I guess I didn’t expect there to be nothing.

“Why are you telling me this?” She asked quietly.

There passed a long moment of silence punctuated by the whistling wind.

“It’s my final Fun Fact, I think,” he replied at last. “And it’s been, what, three hundred years? More than?” He shrugged. “Gotta talk about it sometime.”

“You were there for mine,” she said simply.

“That doesn’t mean you can’t talk about it. If you want to,” he added.

“It’s okay, I don’t feel pressured,” she smiled slightly before frowning again, her brow betraying her curiosity. “Did you see anything from your life? Like, anything flash before your eyes?”

He narrowed his eyes, almost imperceptibly. “No. It was, like-“ he waved a hand around briefly. “It was just... the light. Then it was over.”

“I’m sorry.”

He shrugged with a snort. “It’s not like I didn’t get better.”

“Still.”

They lowered their eyes back down to continue taking in the grand, snowy mountainscape before them.

“Mine was different,” Connie began after a while. “I didn’t feel the blade go in, not really. I thought I was okay. Then? I wasn’t.”

He watched her as he asked, “Did it hurt?”

“I don’t remember. Maybe not.” She blinked. “I tried to get back up - I tried to get back up. Then I saw you. You looked really scared, and I tried... to just tell you that I was okay.”

She went silent a moment.

“But I wasn’t.”

“It’s fine if-“ he started, but she interrupted.

“Dying was the easiest thing I’ve ever done. The way everything that was me seeped out of my body was...” She trailed off, frowning at the rises and ridges in the landscape before her. “Frightening,” she said at last.

Lars nodded as she leaned back into the snow, causing her non-waterproof clothing to compromise immediately, but it didn’t matter to her.

All the clouds were far below them. Above, she could see their sky was blue.

“Sight went first,” she continued. “I could still hear the battle going on, you freaking out. Then, when that all drowned out, my brain was still on. And it was like I could see things.”

Lars had been listening, spellbound, this whole time. Her description of dying was so vastly different from his, after all.

“Like what?” He asked with interest.

“Memories. My parents. And-” She hesitated. “Him. And I remembered how happy they made me. I saw their faces. They… seemed so clear. Like they were right there. Almost like I was never taken from them.”

Lars wiped an eye to find himself comforted by Connie raising a hand and placing it on his arm.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “About everything.”

She was on him like a ton of bricks for that one. “This is not your fault, Lars.”

“Yeah, but see, it is. Everything that happened to you? It’s all on me.”

“It’s on Moldavite.” Her voice was flat. “I’m going through the same thing you are because of her, not you. And… if I have to, I’ll remind you of that every single day until the end.”

“That’s a lot of days,” he warned her in a quiet voice.

“The better part of two million days,” came her casual reply.

The only sound was that of the wind wooshing past them for awhile. She eventually moved her eyes from the distant mountains to see him hunched forward, hugging his knees into his chest. She was well aware that the fact that Moldavite had brought her along just for his benefit often weighed on his mind and here he was, mulling uselessly over it once more.

She nudged his thigh with her foot.

“But hey, you know what?” she asked when she had his attention.

“What?” His voice was flat, but she was grinning.

“I’m glad you’re my little brother.”

This made him smile despite himself. “Excuse you? Big brother.”

“Baby,” came her retort as she lobbed a handful of snow directly into his face. “Baby boy.”

“I’m taller!” He scoffed as he scraped it from his face with a bare hand.

“I’m older!” Connie kicked herself away from him and came up into a crouching position, hoarding up more snow as she went.

Lars was outraged. “I’m older!” he insisted. “I just- I can’t prove it!” he added as he dug some snow up and began shaping it into a ball himself.

A magical mountaintop snow fight ensued, which soon turned into an intense sparring session, sword against battle axe. It lasted a few days short of a month.

 


 

On rare occasions during their wanderings, they would happen upon something that gave them cause to split up. They’d lose track of each other for a time, but never before like this.

An explosive battle sliced in between the two of them suddenly and without warning like a violent wedge. They were immediately lost to each other - the conditions happened to be so dry that it kicked up what could have been mistaken for a dust storm. It lay across the land like a dense blanket, but it was anything but comforting.

Lars swiftly pulled the awesome battle axe from his head and cast about. He swung it suddenly to catch an amethyst’s blade mid-swing. Teeth grit, his hardened eyes locked with hers and he put every inch of himself into pushing back. The air was thick with particles, he could barely see beyond her, but there were dark figures obscured by dust racing around, fighting each other.

Screams, grunts and the clashing of wrought iron and steel against the other filled his ears. Occasionally a bolt would zip past them and thwack into the ground nearby-

This was not a safe place. He was wasting time that could be better spent finding her.

He had to stop messing about. The amethyst’s eyes widened in surprise as his lit up. He took a breath, only to find it immediately kicked out of him as he fell back hard onto his butt. He’d managed to hold onto the axe, however, and held it ready to swing at her as she advanced on him.

There was nothing else for it - he took a breath and, eyes aglow, screamed. The least elegant method of using his powers violently blew the gem warrior backwards into dusty obscurity.

But he suspected she was merely downed and not out, so he lurched back up onto his feet. There was no way to tell in the dusty din where anything was but he was determined to find his friend.

Instead, all he found was that running around alone with a sweet battle axe in a dust storm surrounded by fighting aliens was a bad idea, cut off at every turn by darkened figures as he was. Gritting his teeth, he lit up his eyes and stomped a foot into the dirt - seconds later, he exited his portal and glared furiously down at the vast dust blanket as he plummeted from the sky.

 

 

He couldn’t imagine any way he could possibly find her in all this, but before he could decide his next move, a disturbance took place almost directly below him.

It was as though a gigantic unseen hand had punched a hole up through the dust. The effects of it hit him shortly afterward, slowing his fall slightly for a moment. Ruffling his clothes even more-

And he saw her.

A green being, distinctly familiar in shape, stood at the epicenter of the blast. The way she held herself, the way she held her staff aloft as some unseen force blew the airborne dust outward and away from her like a propagating wave, revealing the fighting going on around her as it went-

Moldavite.

For the first time in hundreds of years, he felt it. Anger. Unrestrained and in a freezing, bitter wave that washed out everything else.

He gripped the axe handle tighter as all thought of his only friend fled his mind. Tensing, he allowed himself to continue to fall towards her.

Raising the axe above his head, his eyes pure light, he could see an immediate future of shattered gem shards, glimmering green, sullied by dust and dirt as they fell to the Earth.

And in the present he watched as the valiant Moldavite, one of the original Crystal Gems, blasted a troop of oncoming gems with her staff. Most fell back, some destabilized, but they were all citrine soldiers made by Yellow Diamond. Soldiers that, in some other timeline, could have otherwise gone on to play a deciding factor in this battle.

Which could have turned the tide of the war.

In a clarity flashing anew, he saw the path before him was that of ruin. Of a future that would swing wildly and irreparably out of control if only it could.

He gritted his teeth, biting back the bile. Then, swearing to himself, he fell instead through a portal.

On the ground below, Moldavite continued her heroic efforts against the forces of the invasion, oblivious.

 


 

Connie found herself knee-deep in gems and the tide was coming in. Every move she made to get out of it only drew her back.

Twice now she’d made portals to the safety of the distant hills. Twice now she’d been too distracted, deflecting the blades of enemy gems to make her escape. Twice, the portals blinked out, unused.

This was the main reason they’d continued their training, besides that of boredom - in preparation of life or death emergencies exactly like this. To be able to fix what had been broken, they had to survive long enough to do it.

She couldn’t see much beyond what was directly in front of her, but she could see she was swimming in quartz soldiers, primarily bearing insignias of either yellow or pink, both of which were on the same side.

Finally, she had her opening. Her eyes lit up and she swung her blade out, expertly slicing a portal into the air. She took a running leap through it.

Suddenly, she was in the sky. But falling was easy these days.

 

 

Connie took this long breather to scope out the situation. Dust covered the landscape for what looked like miles, but it seemed thinner toward what she quickly gathered was the west. Whatever had happened back there, the dust was quickly filling back in.

She twisted in the air as she fell, using the sword in her hand to help her steer. There was nothing up here with her - no flying gems, nor ships, much less any falling pink friends...

Oh wait. There was something pink down there, in another clear area that had just been punched out of the dust cloud. Her eyes widened as she recognized the magenta ringlets. It was Rose Quartz.

She was fighting. And despite herself, Connie's curiosity took over.

Connie decided to change her trajectory. Muscles tensing with effort, she swung her sword against the air rushing past her and fell through the resulting rip in space. Exiting closer to the situation and on a better path, she had a few moments to take it in.

She watched one of Rose’s Pink’s own soldiers make for the disguised diamond. A jasper, much bigger and bulkier than any other jasper she’d come across, was at the front, her nose gem glinting in the light.

Recognition dawned. Her eyes widened as she took in Rose who, not one to stand on the sidelines of her own war, stood braced with her sword drawn and shield up. She was unaware the oncoming attack, fighting against a topaz fusion instead, and even from the distance involved Connie saw the look of contention on Pearl’s face as she rushed past the disguised diamond, her own sword drawn in offense against the jasper.

Connie gasped as old impulses flooded over her. Once again her love for her mentor compelled her to act.

She gripped the sword handle tighter as she drew a lungful…

And let it out again, her breath impotent on the rushing air.

It hurt to watch, but watch she did. The sword and the will of a lowly pearl meant nothing to a battle-crazed jasper, and Pearl’s inevitable poofing sent a large billow of haze up into the dusty air. But Pearl’s sacrifice had snapped Rose’s attention to the jasper at hand, and Rose promptly poofed the topaz in order to provide Jasper with her undivided attention instead.

Even after all these centuries, it hurt, but Connie forced herself to leave this moment to the hallowed annals of time since passed. Turning her regretful gaze away from the scene, she promptly passed through a portal to another part of the sky.

Rose saw.

 


 

The morning at the cliffside turned into afternoon. Lars had returned to the site of the battlefield a couple of times. Now that the brutal skirmish was over, the place looked like an ugly, dusty scar that had been seared into the Earth.

He didn’t see any sign of her in this barren place so he returned to the Delmarvan cliffside. With nothing else to do, he resigned himself to waiting.

Connie made excellent company and, with her, the days had just kind of skimmed along. They did things together, and when they got bored, they went and did something else.

Without her, every passing moment dragged on. Each one became its own dark and lonely eternity.

At last, a portal opened up. He snapped his head around to see. Before she had even properly stepped out of it, he was on her, hugging her. In the same breath, both laughing and berating her.

“You evil witch!" he exclaimed. "Where did you go? I looked for you, I-“

She hugged him back tightly, laughing in relief. “Lars! I looked for you too-“

“You did?”

“Yeah but-“

“But what?” He let go of her, serious all of a sudden. “What happened? Are you hurt?”

“No, no,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m fine! Listen, the battle was crazy.”

He spread his arms wide. “I know, right!? The fighting these days - there was no way I could find you-”

Waving a hand around, she cut him off. “Listen. I saw Jasper take out Pearl.”

It took a long moment, but eventually he understood who she was talking about. He side-eyed her. “The Jasper? Feral cave-in-the-woods Jasper?”

“The very same.” She nodded.

“The beta quartzes emerged already?”

Connie’s eyes were wide as she nodded once more. “The war is becoming more and more desperate. The rebellion is swelling in number. Homeworld has been pushed into sending and creating more soldiers to help the colonization.” She frowned. “All the while, Pink- Rose is just... trying to keep her head above water. Things are coming to a head-“

Connie paused briefly under Lars’ concerned gaze and frowned harder. “She’ll start thinking more closely about Bismuth’s advice soon. If she hasn’t already.”

Lars sucked air in through his teeth. “Which means we need to avoid all this more than ever.”

She couldn’t agree more. She balled her fists. “I was so close to running in and saving Pearl again - Again! Like I never learned anything the first time!”

He placed a hand on her shoulder. “Connie, you did fine.”

She breathed deeply. At the end of the breath, she relaxed her fist. “I guess so. But for a moment, I felt like I’d lost my mind.”

His eyes narrowed. “I had a chance to do something stupid, too, you know. I... saw Moldavite.”

He said it in such a low voice that she almost missed it. When she realized what he’d said, she spun on him. “Lars! What did you do!?“

“Nothing, nothing!” He quickly reassured her. “But I wanted to. I started making the motions to. Then she did something that might have mattered and I-” He shrugged. “We’ve already risked the timeline enough.”

They recognized in each other the frustration they felt. Even now, after centuries of staying on the sidelines, they found themselves struggling with this path of inaction they needed to take.

“Anyway,” said Connie. “I couldn’t find you. That dust cloud was miles long, wasn’t it?”

He nodded, eyes bulging. He knew.

“Well, one thing led to another. I was looking for you but I came across- argh, no!” She grabbed his arm excitedly. “I’d much rather show you!”

She snapped her fingers. And so it was that Lars found himself being pulled through one of her portals before he realized what was happening.

 


 

The portal disappeared and they stood at the edge of a clearing in a woods in the late afternoon. The weather here was sunny, vaguely dusty. He realized they must not have been far from where the battle had taken place. Connie smiled.

“Recognize this place?” she asked a confused Lars.

He looked around. He really didn’t. “Uhhh-”

“It’s Stonehenge!” She interrupted, swinging an arm out to indicate it. “See the circular earthen mound?”

Lars was unimpressed as he looked out over the bare grassy plateau that, at this point in history, was flanked by woods. “This is not Stonehenge. Stonehenge has... huge stones! That’s why it’s not just called Henge.

“Yeah, but the stones will be here in the future. The near future, Lars!”

“What?”

“I birds-eyed this whole area from as high as I could. There’s a settlement to the east... We’re in the right place. No one knows when it was built exactly, but we’re roughly in the right time. Construction should be starting soon - construction on Stonehenge, Lars!

Connie was someone who was rarely wrong and he knew it. Every single word she’d ever said to him had been backed by either common sense or some kind of more specific sense. There was no point in doing anything else other than accepting what she was saying in a situation like this.

“Alright, alright, I believe you. And I’m assuming you want to… watch?"

There was a burning fire in her magenta eyes as she nodded, smiling, and Lars couldn’t help but smile back. He hadn’t seen that fire in so long.

A few weeks of hiding in wait later and the only visitors the mound had were locals passing by to get to other places.

Eventually they got bored of waiting and resumed their pointless travels and nature hikes, but they often returned to check for progress. Even Lars could admit that, doomed or not, the chance to watch an enduring monument go up was worth going out of one’s way for.

 


 

“There it is again,” said Connie.

He glanced across at her. “What?”

She nodded toward the horizon and he followed her gaze to the red full moonrise against the darkening blue sky. “Oh. That old thing.”

They watched a long moment as it slowly pulled itself up from the horizon and once again it hung free in the sky, still climbing.

“What if,” Lars began at last, “she hasn’t faked her shattering yet and she’s just... over there. Looking right at us.”

“What, right now?”

“Yeah.”

“Looking at us? Specifically?”

“Hmm, no. I change my mind.” He leaned back in the breezy grasses. “She’d be much too busy with everything else going on.”

“Well, you made enough of an impact on her.” She rested her head on her hand as she continued watching the moonrise. “You said she recognized you instantly after fourteen years.”

“Fourteen years is nothing compared to five hundred,” he said quietly.

A long moment unrolled between them, during which the moon climbed imperceptibly higher and higher into the darkening sky made darker by the sun dropping lower into the mountains far behind them.

Perhaps the rising moon looked out over some battle or other going on somewhere else, alongside this quiet moment. Perhaps it contained a rebel diamond, planning her next move. Or perhaps it stood empty as some game-changing event played out this very moment in what would later be known as Korea.

They weren’t interested in finding out.

 


 

One thing they were interested in, though, was the earthen mound in the south of what would later be called the British Isles. They visited at least once a decade or so, each time expecting construction to be under way. Each time, they wound up disappointed.

The wooden ruins they found there were new and interesting, but not what they expected.

“I don’t understand,” said Connie with an edge to her voice. “They’re supposed to have started laying the megaliths down by now. Why haven’t they started?”

“Could it be us?”

“Maybe. But I don’t understand how anyone would see us.”

“We’re pink?”

She shot him a glance. “We’ve been hiding.”

Lars rolled his eyes. “We’re not hiding now. We’re standing in the open.”

It was true. They were. Connie narrowed her eyes. “Hmm. The village looked pretty abandoned to me. We couldn’t have scared off a whole settlement.”

The answer seemed obvious, but Lars wanted to say it anyway. “Gems likely ran them off.” He shrugged. “Or worse.”

“But-“ For the umpteenth time, she performed the same dubious maths. “Unless I’m forgetting something, we should be seeing something by now.”

He caught her eye. “What if we do it?”

Connie narrowed her eyes.

 


 

She stepped back to gaze at their handiwork.

What would later become known as Stonehenge gazed back at her.

It had been quite the undertaking, even in possession of pink powers. The hardest part was cutting the stones from the bluestone quarry almost 200 miles away on the Welsh coast, but between the two of them, once the gigantic blocks were freed from the Earth, they could lift and jump them through portals with relative ease.

However, she was troubled. It still didn’t look right, not even after nigh-on a decade of arranging and rearranging the stones. Her memory of the monument from hundreds of years earlier far in the future was nebulous, much like everything else from that part of her long life.

She pondered the problem for a long moment, as she had done countless times before. Suddenly, she squinted as she caught sight of some movement. He was somewhat obscured by one of the stones, but she could tell her lanky cohort was up to something. She snapped her fingers, stepped through a portal, and stood behind him a moment later.

“Lars, what are you- LARS.”

He stood there, chisel in hand, surprised to see her. “Just carvin’ our names in!“

The letters L A R and S graced the stone, big and bold. Connie screamed silently.

“What?” He asked, for all the world genuinely surprised by this reaction.

“You’re insane!” She finally screeched. “You can’t do this!”

“What? Why not?” He smiled, all teeth. “It’ll be funny.”

“To who!?”

He had no answer for her, but he moved the chisel out of her way as she made a grab for it. She tried for it again but he held it out of her reach. Suddenly she tackled him around the waist, instantly knocking him off balance.

“Gak!” Falling backward, he hit the ground with her on top. “Stop! No!”

She fought him until she managed to wrench it from his grip. He pleaded with her as she rose from him and began rendering the word unreadable.

“Connie, c’mon. We already messed up! We built freakin’ Stonehenge! I don’t see-“

“Yeah, we messed up!” She spread her arm, indicating the nearest stone block to reinforce her point. “We messed up huge with this! And autographing it? That’s how we make it worse!” She huffed before chiding him some more, exasperated by all this. “Are you actually insane?!”

“Of course I am! We both are!” he exclaimed. “That’s why we friggin’ built Stonehenge even after we agreed not to screw with things anymore.”

She sighed and wiped at her face with a regretful hand. His cavalier approach to what they’d done was starting to rub off on her. “We did build Stonehenge, didn’t we?”

“Who cares?” Lars, standing again, thumbed unhappily at his ruined graffiti. “We waited forever. No one else was going to.”

She frowned up at the towering megaliths, the way they’d managed to haphazardly stack them on one another.

“It doesn’t look right, though,” she said, to which Lars shrugged.

“We didn’t do a great job. It’s gunna fall down, so don’t even worry.”

A powerful anxiety took hold anew. She snapped her head up to study the pillars once more. “What!?”

“Look, it’s okay!” He tried to calm her down. “The way I see it, the real builders will stumble along someday, find our mess and redo it. Properly.”

She drew a deep breath and ran fingers through her hair. He was making sense, as he often did. “Hnnn. We may need to find less messed-up ways to pass time.”

He couldn’t help but agree, but this monument to boredom and ennui they’d built looked so pretty against the sunset. It cast such beautiful complex shadows on the ground that they couldn’t help but harbor an unfamiliar sense of pride within their weird and lonely little hearts for having built it.

 


 

Although Stonehenge had been a far cry from an amazing feat of engineering, their next project was much less complex.

They decided to dig. After a series of heated debates, the middle of a searing desert seemed the least likely place to be disturbed. The only rule was that they weren’t to use tools. Hands only.

The only goal was to dig as deep as possible for as long as possible.

They fixated single-mindedly on their task, evacuating the place on occasion to avoid detection from passing gem ships. The burning sun above them only seemed to energize them. In the darkness of every night, as the weeks turned to months and the years once again into decades, the two ageless toiled by the light provided by their own glowing eyes.

They were often forced to cut to a nearby river to clean off the grime they accumulated.

Connie stared at her reflection a long minute as she cleaned sand and grit from her fingernails. She’d had a good long stretch of time to become used to her new reflection, but every time she caught sight of it now she began to wonder more and more.

“I should be crazy,” she said unto it.

“Hm?”

She jumped a little. Somehow, she hadn’t expected Lars to be within earshot. But she opened up to him, because who else could she do that with?

“It doesn’t make sense that we’re still sane, right?” she said quietly. “After all this time?”

“I-“

“You realize that if we were never taken, everyone we used to know would have been long dead by now.”

Although he felt a pang of anxiety about his question, he asked it anyway. “Do you still think about them?”

Connie glanced away. “Sometimes. Do you?”

He knelt down beside her and summoned a jug from his head. He dunked it into the river as he spoke. “Not often. I’m not sure I should.” He upended the jug of water over his head. “It’s not like it’s something we’re going to be able to go back to. Or,” he added as he side-eyed her, “have you forgotten again?”

She shook her head as she accepted the jug from him. “I haven’t forgotten.”

“Good,” he said as he used his sleeve to wipe the damp grime from his face. Connie held the waterjug idly in her hands as she let her mind linger in the past.

“But I do wonder what he’d be like. Steven, I mean-” She shrugged as she lowered the receptacle into the water. “If I’d never lost him. Like, would he be grey? Would he have a beard? What would he be doing?” She paused. “What would he think of me?”

“Little Stevie,” Lars snorted.

“No. He was tall.”

“Maybe,” he shrugged. “I just remember an annoying kid, I guess. But I also remember he was alright.”

Connie pulled a breath and let it out slowly. “Well, I wish I could have spent more time with him-“ She trailed off, voice flat. “Look. I don’t mean to go on about all this. I know you and your Sadie weren’t going to make it.”

He flinched a little at the name. He hadn’t heard it in a long time. “It’s… okay. Er, it would have been okay. Younger me, he had plans.” He paused. “At least, I think he did.”

Together they stared a long moment into the waters rushing by. They generally felt like phantoms, cursed merely to observe the vibrant world around them, but in this moment they felt the ghosts of their old lives staring back at them through their own worn expressions.

Will have plans, I mean.”

 


 

Some other place, some other time, although they were expecting it, it happened so suddenly.

Off in the distance, through a half-closed eye, Lars noticed a single point of light rising up from beyond the darkened horizon before disappearing in a brief flash. It was the familiar sight of a Homeworld ship leaving the atmosphere - little reverse meteors disappearing off into space, bound for the stars. Nothing to worry about.

Before he could close his eyes again and return to his simple enjoyment of this moment’s rest on the gently rocking surface of the Atlantic Ocean, he noticed two more tiny pricks of light follow suit.

Then a fourth and a fifth, and from there on, each new point of light caused him more alarm.

And the night sky quickly filled with them.

Wide-eyed, he scrambled up into a sitting position, his wet clothes slapping around as he did. Unable to wrench his worried gaze from the evacuation going on in the distance, he called out.

“Connie, it’s going down.“

“I see it,” she said. She was already standing not very far away from him. Her stance was wide, her eyes fixated on the distant sky. Her sword was in her hand out of pure instinct, but she knew there was no one to fight. No way could she fight this.

He whipped his head around and they exchanged troubled glances. “How long-”

“I.” She narrowed her eyes. “I don’t know. But, we should make sure.“

He understood and exhaled, taking a second to think of Rose. Rising to his feet, eyes aglow, he clapped his hands together like tinder striking flint. A portal sparked to life in front of them.

 


 

This was the second time Lars had conjured up a portal directly to Rose. The reason why was obvious, but it was partially also because they could never have been sure what situation they would have been stepping into. This was a risk, but one they considered worthwhile taking.

There was no other way to convince themselves that history was playing out as required after everything they'd done.

Gems were sprinting all around them. It was havoc, but at least the havoc hid them in the low light. They hadn’t been this close to gemkind in centuries and the sheer terror of it all sent their hearts into the pink equivalent of racing.

Lars stumbled as a gem pushed past them in her haste. He was stunned to catch a glimpse of an unscarred blue agate - a face that drummed up a distant memory of a much simpler time in what would someday be termed a pastry shop. With that, she was gone, leaving them in her dust.

It hit him. All these fleeing gems would be corrupted soon.

All, except for-

Connie pulled air in sharply when she saw the familiar shock of flowing pink curls. The white dress. She grabbed Lars and pointed. He saw it too and they moved with the quickly dispersing body of gems, leaping into a portal as they did.

A second later, materializing on a rise several miles away, they immediately ducked behind a bush. Peeking out, branches poking them uncomfortably, they watched the scene unfold.

Their eyes darted to the sky - they couldn’t not. Three bright lights of white, yellow and blue without warning lit up the sky, dwarfing the stars.

Far below them, Rose raised her shield. Grabbing Pearl and Garnet, she pulled both of them in and held them close. Together, the three of them closed their eyes and hunkered down with only the shield to protect them from the ensuing blast.

From the sky - a sound. A song? Regardless, it pierced Lars and Connie’s minds. They wondered if they’d made a terrible mistake in allowing themselves to be caught up in it, but there was no time to do anything more than cling to the other.

The initial forces involved shook the ground and jolted the very air around them. The atmosphere lit up bright - a raging, burning white light that filled their vision. It was everything.

They could smell it, taste it, feel it. It simultaneously filled them and consumed them. It was everywhere and it was like fire, burning on forever.

And when it finally faded off again, it was like it never happened.

When their eyes re-adjusted, the sky was dark again and the air still once more. They let each other go to wipe away tears, to stifle their own sobs with ragged sleeves.

In the distance through bleary eyes, they could see the way the shield lowered - disappearing belatedly in the air. Rose stood, staring at the night sky. Her two remaining friends, still in her arms.

Around them were strewn the inactive gems of dozens of their friends who had been fleeing mere moments beforehand.

Rose carefully lowered Pearl and Garnet back onto their own feet.

The three last gems on Earth, blissfully unaware of what was in store for them, cast about in confusion.

Connie stiffened as Lars made a move as if to stand. She successfully snapped her fingers on the third try. A portal opened up below them, and they both fell through.

 


 

Connie exhaled slowly and brushed back her hair as she took in their age-old campsite. After several decades of absence, everything was overgrown with brambles. The cabin had suffered a fallen tree at some point and was in ruins. But it didn’t matter. They’d left nothing of value inside.

The firepit was still probably somewhere under all these leaves, presumably near where they’d left the canoe, which was - huh. Oh, there it was. The last of it rotting under some leaves.

She belatedly realized her portal was still open and closed it. She needed to focus on what made sense for now.

It made sense to come back here. It was safe here. Sure, they could have abandoned their humble campsite. They could have let the wild forces of nature reclaim it, but they were far too attached to it. It was home, and they always returned to their safe home.

Her line of vision soon drifted to Lars. The guy paced anxiously, upsetting the leaves as he went.

Lars made sense, too. His agitation made the most sense of all.

“We should have warned them,” he said, still in a daze from what they’d just borne witness to. “We could have helped them save more of their friends - our friends-”

He caught Connie’s eye and realized how ridiculous he sounded. He stopped in his tracks. Then, turning away from her, he hunched forward and clutched at his face with pent fingers.

The only sound was her footsteps crunching in the leaves, and he felt her hand on his back. Exhaling, he lowered hands from his face.

She rubbed his back a moment. He dropped down to sit amongst the leaves, and she did too, folding her knees below her.

Although the region didn’t seem to be too deep into autumn just yet, the forest sloping down and away from them was stripped of leaves. One could presume it was due to the effects of the blast that had not long since swept the Earth.

It was beautiful and skeletal all at once. They leaned against the other as they gazed at it a long while through empty eyes.

“We can’t help them,” she said with a heart as heavy and as guilty as his. “Not ever.”

Chapter Text

8. Millennia.

 

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
-Robert Frost

 

~*~

 

“Lars!”

She hurled herself through a portal, grabbed him by the sleeve of his shirt and, with inordinate physical strength as a pink post-human, ripped him out of the path of something big hurtling toward him.

The gem on its shoulder glinted viciously in the stark sunlight as the monster skidded to a halt. It snorted in frustration, struggling to regain its footing with its big hooves in the muddy ground before yelping in fright and running away from where a bright portal had blinked out of existence a split second earlier.

In the sky above, Connie saw with surprise that he had his axe out and let him go.

“Aah!” she exclaimed as they drifted slightly apart.

“I had it under control!” Lars said obnoxiously over the sound of the air whooshing past them as they plummeted. “What? You think it was going to be the mammoth incident all over again!?”

She spread her arms wide as her hair whipped upward. “I didn’t think you saw it!”

“I didn’t want it to think I saw it!”

“You definitely didn’t see the mammoth, is all I’m saying.”

He glared as he shoved the axe into his head angrily, blade-first. Luckily, being magic, this only meant it was stored in the Pink Darkened Dimension for easy storage.

They’d discovered long ago that they both hand it - the silent and still world beyond Lars’ head. It was the same as what lay beyond Connie’s. What this meant, they still had no clue.

She glared right back at him incredulously as they hurtled toward the ground.

“We said we wouldn’t fight them,” she said over the wind rushing past them. “They’re part of history, remember? They might do something that actually matters, someday.”

He huffed. “You’re one to talk! You poofed a whole nest of-“

She rolled her eyes. “Yeah yeah, the corrupted rubies, I know.” That had been the climax of an extremely eventful afternoon about six decades prior. “But don’t forget, it was you who raked me over the coals about it.”

He glared back at her. She was right like she always was, but that didn’t change his feelings in this moment. Nor would it stop the ground rushing up to flatten them anytime soon.

He snapped his fingers. It was like a distant thunderclap. They slammed through a portal instead.

Plummeting once again from much higher up this time, they continued their heated discussion.

“That thing digging around in the mud forever isn’t going to matter,” he argued without skipping a beat. “We proved that ourselves when we dug that big hole.”

She eyed him suspiciously. Her arms were folded. “Just hurry up and admit that you’re bored again!”

“What - me? Bored of stacking stones in the wilderness?” His eyes were bulging. “No way! I’m all about that! What I’m bored of are the monsters who come along and knock it all down.” He clenched his fists. “They’re worse now than when they weren’t corrupted.”

“Well, yeah, Lars-“

“You know what I mean. I wanted to kick that corrupted agate’s ass, Connie,” he continued, despite her obvious and exaggerated eyeroll. “Hey! Don’t pretend like you didn’t. It’s not even like it would have mattered! She would have just reformed again later.”

“We got the stack really tall, you were proud - I get it. I do. But do you ever listen to yourself?” Connie was exasperated. “You yourself said-“

“That was a lifetime ago-” he interrupted before she interrupted his interruption.

“You knew it was always going to fall down! It’s called entropy and it happens to everything!”

“H’yeah.” He huffed and glanced away. “Everything except us.”

And with that, the conversion turned awkward. But the ground was fast becoming imminent again.

Connie clapped her hands together - the sound sent bright ripples through the air like a lightning strike.

This time, their fall was slowed by a sudden upward shift in direction as they exited a portal much closer to the ground. They took it their stride and landed, crouching, in a patch of quiet woods somewhere else in the world.

The trees around them were damp and quiet. It appeared to be spring, or perhaps early summer. There was a familiar smell in the air from the recent rainfall, the only sound that of lingering droplets dripping down from the canopy and echoing birdsong.

Lars straightened himself and noticed immediately that she was staring. And on her face, concern.

“Sometimes I want to burn the world down.” He raised an eyebrow at her. “Don’t you?”

As she whipped her wild hair out of her face, he could see it in her eyes. She didn’t need to say it, but she did anyway.

“I do!” she told him. “Of course I do. There’s no other possible way to feel.”

“I... know you do,” he admitted.

Connie groaned in exasperation. “C’mon. Let’s just find something else to do. Okay?”

“Sure,” he muttered, glum.

They picked an arbitrary direction on pure whim and began to walk off into it.

It had been a rough few decades for the two ageless revenants since the light engulfed the world and the rebellion ended.

The planet they were forced to wander now was emptier and yet somehow just as fraught with danger.

Aimless, these new creatures lashed out blindly at whatever they bumped up against. They had been like this since reforming.

Lars and Connie watched them occasionally, trying to figure them out. Looking for patterns in their behaviour.

All they could tell was that they were strange, far removed from the beings they once were. They were everywhere - wandering, drifting about the world, bereft of the purpose that had once given their lives structure. They were little more than a mess of fight or flight instincts, belonging nowhere, obedient to no one.

Their ultimate judgement was that these former gems were best avoided. The former humans saw too much of themselves in them.

 


 

They watched as the Earth took back its blemishes, the scars of a war since passed. What were once blistering gouges became scrublands and forests as life slowly returned to the places from which it had once been evicted.

Gem structures abandoned in the exodus quickly became overgrown. Vines wound themselves lovingly around the length of the Communication Hub that stood before them. It almost seemed to Lars that they’d shot up overnight.

“Now, I agree with the spirit of what you’re saying,” Connie responded with a small shrug as she squinted up at the plantbound pillars. “But it’s actually been tens of thousands of nights.”

“Oh yeah,” said Lars, despite it being no real surprise.

Later, they came across the Pyramid Temple snaked by trailing brambles and moss. This was a new structure they hadn’t seen before, probably placed down sometime near the end of the war. They entered... and then quickly left again. It was clearly designed as an elaborate trap.

Even Stonehenge was taken over by brambles and trees. The first time they found it like that, barely recognizable amidst the greenery, they were astounded by the speed in which it seemed to have happened. They thought about clearing it and allowing the stones to stand free in the sunlight once more - they mulled it over for a good two years before deciding to leave it for future humans to uncover and wonder about.

They revisited their hole in the desert, once the size of an impact crater and as deep as an oceanic trench after a century or more of effort. It was much shallower now, more filled in by wind-driven sand with each passing decade.

All around them, time was slowly fixing all the little damages that had been rendered upon the Earth.

They wondered why it wouldn’t fix them as well, but they knew the answer. They were anomalies. They were no longer of the Earth. They no longer even needed to take from it. They were instead merely observers, waiting, with only one vague and distant purpose they had no idea how they were going to fulfil.

 


 

They stood on the precipice of the Prime Kindergarten, the one thing they knew the planet would never be able to reclaim - not during the ensuing several thousands of years, anyway.

But it was inhabited, for once. They quickly dropped down to avoid being seen.

Amethyst. Freshly emerged, she sat leaning back idly against a desolate wall. Her solitary figure was dim in the low light, but they definitely could make her out. They were overjoyed to see her! They’d visited often since the light of the corruption swept the Earth. They’d waited so long.

Careful not to alert her to their presence, they watched on and off from the top of the canyon for years as she milled around in the darkness of the bleak and lifeless pit. Often she just sat and watched the walls. Sometimes, she threw stones. Other times she broke rocks, kicking them apart like she had nothing else going on.

Although they knew they could never speak with her, they wanted to. They wanted to greet her and help her out of there.

They could tell she was listless. Bored, confused, and empty. In fact, they were pretty sure she’d never even uttered a single word - not to herself, and certainly not to another. The little purple gem appeared blank, as lost and devoid of purpose as they themselves felt.

 

 

 

They wanted to go down there. They yearned to help her, they longed for her company. But all they could do was visit and watch from afar as often as they could if only to convince themselves of her continued safety.

So they did.

And one day upon returning, they found she simply wasn’t there anymore. Connie carefully descended into the kindergarten’s depths to investigate, jumping deftly from exit hole to exit hole, hiding in the shadows between each jump just in case. Lars followed suit.

When they reached the bottom, they found in the dust three distinct sets of footprints alongside those of Amethyst’s - newer, fresher tracks that lead the way out, with Amethyst’s in tow.

“She’s found the others already,” Lars said in surprise, turning just in time to see Connie wiping her face.

She was only just able to hold back a sob as her tears thwacked one by one into the dirt.

Lars pulled her into a hug that she gladly reciprocated.

“I know she’s going to be okay now,” she said, sniffing. “That she’s going to learn and grow and become herself-”

Lars shut his own teary eyes as he listened.

“So why am I crying?”

They stared a long while at the newest exit hole that graced the base of the darkened canyon wall. They’d looked for it once, almost a thousand years earlier, but it had been right here waiting all along.

 


 

It took almost an entire year to circumnavigate the planet at roughly the equator. They walked without rest over mountains and across oceans, without using magic to move faster.

 

 

 

They used the stars to keep them on course, a skill they had honed over the centuries, and relied on the sun’s passage during the day. Adjusting for the seasonal tilt of the Earth on its axis was second nature to them by the end of the trek.

“Disappointing,” was all Lars had to say about the endeavor.

He stared up at the jacaranda tree that they’d started from, somewhere on a South American coast. It was in bloom when they’d started back then, and it was in bloom again now.

“I wanted it to take longer,” he whined.

“Told you, didn’t I? I said a year or so,” gloated Connie, arms akimbo in triumph as she enjoyed her little victory for this brief moment. She then stuck her hand out, palm up. “Now pay up,” she demanded as she wiggled her fingers.

Lars looked up from her hand to her face. “You can’t be serious.”

His incredulity was met by her searing look. “I’m always serious.”

Lars scoffed and walked over to pluck from one of its lower boughs one of the delicate purple flowers. He offered it to her. “Is this enough?”

She smiled and shook her head once, folding her arms. He held it up and let it go. It swung upon the warm breeze a little, to land gently atop her head.

She snorted.

“Isn’t that good luck or something?” she asked.

“Huh?” he asked right back.

“If one of these flowers lands on your head, you get luck.”

His eyes widened. “Damn, really? Is that all we ever needed? Purple flowers in our hair? Dude, I’ll shake this whole tree down while we both stand under it if you like.”

“Better not,” she said with a slight laugh, adjusting the flower slightly so that it sat nicer in her hair. “It’s not really in the spirit of, you know,” she started muttering a little. “Impact minimization...

The sin of being the ones to build Stonehenge loomed always in the backs of their minds.

Presently, Lars shook his head. “So, I was thinking what if we tried pole to pole then back again.”

“That’s not going to take very long either, and you know that.” She smirked. “You must really like this tree.“

“Connie, I love this tree. And yeah, I know a year is barely a thing anymore. There’s just nothing else to do.”

“There’s plenty to do. We have this whole planet-”

“Such as?” He looked at her expectantly. She glanced away.

“Well, what if we went back for a bit? It’s been-“

They had long since given up counting the days. There was no point in it anymore. It was roughly as useful as a human counting down and lovingly recording each and every passing minute of their life, after all.

“Decades?” she wondered as she frowned up at the bright sky. “Maybe?”

 


 

They returned to their old clifftop to find it as it always was whenever they came back - in an advanced state of disrepair. The cabin was crumbling once more, the hearth they’d tended to an age ago again covered in wet leaves and dirt. The earth was trying to claim it all back, to bring it into its loving embrace. To break it down and spit it back out at the atomic level for new and different grand works.

Like it did everything besides Connie and Lars.

They tried to refrain, but they couldn’t. They rebuilt the cabin. Lars still had tools stowed away in his head from back when one of them still needed a place to sleep and sustenance on the regular, so that was a fairly easy task to carry out.

For old time’s sake they cleared the pit, rearranged the stones, gathered some kindling and struck up a fire, only to sit around it in the night, suddenly unsure of what else to do.

Lars pulled the dark glassy lump of resin from his head. Moldavite’s gemstone sealed inside was dimly visible in the flickering firelight. They each studied it, turning it over in their hands, checking the container material for cracks or chips as they had done many times before. They’d repaired it many times when they needed to, but this night it remained intact.

The sounds of the waves lapping at the sand rose up from the base of the cliffside far below them.

“Do you think she ever would have been sorry?” he wondered aloud as he put the faux-bubble back into his forehead. “For what she did to us, I mean?”

“I don’t think there’s even a slim chance I could care if she did.” Connie shrugged, her voice flat. Checking that Moldavite’s gemstone was safely contained always lowered her mood, not to mention the fact that it was right here in this very spot long ago that they’d last encountered her.

Three nights passed before either of the two spoke again.

“Want some food?” Lars joked. Connie looked up and smiled, the embers of their latest fire only able to dimly light up her face.

“I don’t remember what eating felt like,” he said finally.

She shook her head. “It’s, uh, been a while.”

He sunk at the shoulders. “Oh. Sure.”

“Do you think that’s the real reason why we haven’t come back in so long? That it just reminds us of something we’ll never have again?”

“What? Food?” he asked, mystified. “We can eat anytime.”

She was silent, sunken at the shoulders, looking down at the softly dying embers reflecting at him in her magenta eyes.

“You mean, like home?” he tried again in a small voice.

She flinched slightly. “Yeah.”

“Maybe?” He cleared his throat. “You know, I’m glad we came back here this last time. I guess this place used to make me feel safe. And useful? Like there was something important I had to do whenever I was here.”

“Like wait for someone to save us?”

“Well, to an extent, but-“

“Like look after some vulnerable human?” she suggested, smiling self-deprecatingly.

He raised his eyebrows at her. “You say it like it was an annoyance. But actually, it was nice. This is like, home, after all.”

She lost her smile. “But, no. We shouldn’t think like that. Home isn’t this hill, or the beach, or this forest. Or that cabin. Home isn’t, like, a place. My family moved around a lot, so even before, I guess I had this idea-”

There was a time long ago when talk like this would rip raw chunks from her bleeding heart and leave what remained stinging like nothing else. Say what one will about the difficult passage of time, it does however make certain things easier.

“Home is a feeling,” she said quietly. “Home is people. It’s you and me, wherever we are, until we fix all of this.”

He took a breath in what would have otherwise been a ponderous silence. “I’m selfish, Connie.”

Only when she looked up at him in confusion did he elaborate.

“I know I made a big deal about it, but I would have taken you to Rose whether you asked me to or not,” he said quietly, his eyes fixed on the embers. “I didn’t want to admit it. But, you know that, don’t you?”

She smiled softly and nodded. She knew that unequivocally.

They watched the sun as it rose over the vast ocean. They watched it do that over and over again, ever so slightly further to the south every morning and then gradually working its way north again in an endless procession.

They spent an extended period on that cliff, watching the seasons turn. Watching the life fall from the trees and shrubs around them only to return with a vengeance in due time.

They watched as comets and meteors blazed through the trails of stars in the dark.

A supernova flared up once, so bright that it was visible even against the blue of the day. They watched constantly as it slowly diminished over the following months.

The cabin, never once used, fell back into disrepair. They discussed fixing it again, but ultimately decided there was no point. They watched it fall and rot away.

They knew their time here was running out but neither was sure how it was going to play.

But at last, after almost two centuries of waiting, they found out. Far over the ocean a figure appeared, distant but towering over the horizon. Each vast and lumbering step through the water’s murky depths caused tremors through the earth.

They watched from the cliff’s edge as it approached. It could have easily been mistaken for a gem monster if it wasn’t so massive. If it wasn’t driven by clear purpose.

In one of its eight hands it held what they eventually recognized as an unearthed warp pad. Specks of deep red, purple, white and magenta hovered behind the dark visage - bubbles, laden with gems of the captured corrupted, following like an obedient cloud.

Lars was alarmed at first, but the approaching fusion was familiar to Connie.

Obsidian,” she whispered and he understood.

Driven out from wherever they had been, by whatever force they couldn’t imagine - perhaps something as mundane as scared humans, or perhaps they were merely in need of a quiet haven far away from the bulk of the creatures that had been their erstwhile friends, the Crystal Gems had come at last to the cliff on the little peninsula.

Lars and Connie watched Obsidian’s approach until they could risk it no more and disappeared from their ancient camp one final time through a portal.

Despite the misery they felt about having to leave, there was consolation in the fact that everything that had happened was happening once more.

 


 

But hope was fickle and fleeting.

Every distant sudden thunderclap reminded them of war. Every lightning strike against the black of night brought them screaming back to that singularly terrifying moment of The Corruption.

Once, in a high panic, Connie fled through a portal at the sight of a particularly big one that seared into their vision.

She found herself in a dank river valley, dense with twisting trees. The air, although muggy and thick with echoing birdsong, was easy here. The sky, light and peaceful.

She immediately felt a pang of guilt for having left Lars alone, but she couldn’t quite bring herself to return just yet. Now that the Delmarvan cliff belonged henceforth to the Crystal Gems, they had a loose agreement to meet up again wherever they last saw each other if they were ever to become separated.

Besides - perhaps he’d fled, too.

If she could only give the storm enough time to pass, she would return soon enough.

But there was a civilization taking place right here. After a brief exploratory walk, she was able to see from a vantage point that overlooked farmland sprawling around the river snaking its way through the valley.

A city, occupied and thriving, stood tall beyond it in the distance. The sight of it against the lush mountains in the afternoon sun took her breath away. It had been a long time since she’d seen one of these, and it was gorgeous. Had these people even discovered metalworking? Because the architecture was unlike anything she’d ever seen before. Not since her young life had been suddenly and irreversibly ruined.

“Wonderful, isn’t it?”

Connie’s eyes widened. She spun suddenly to see Rose Quartz standing there amid the shadow cast by the trees and stumbled in an attempt to back away from the gem. She instinctively pulled her sword from her forehead.

“Aah-“

But she found herself unable to raise the weapon against the unarmed diamond. Rose even showed her empty palms, as if to prove she meant no harm.

“Please,” Rose asked of the strange being in front of her. “Don’t disappear. I just want to talk.”

With hard uncertainty stamped upon her features, Connie found her voice. “How did you-“

“I saw the light you made from higher ground,” Rose openly admitted. “I left the others to see if it was really you. And here you are!”

Rose paused but found Connie’s face unreadable.

“I’m glad to see you again,” the gem added.

“So they’re just... out there?” Connie glanced around, paranoia clearly printed on her face. All she could see were the trees of the forest, the odd bird or two flitting around the lower branches. Then her eyes flicked to Rose, who wore a placating expression.

“Don’t worry,” Rose said. Then quietly, almost as an afterthought, she added, “I’m good at keeping secrets.”

This put Connie slightly at ease. This was undeniably true, after all.

Rose glanced around, her ringlets flowing with her movements as she did. “Where’s the other one?”

Connie held her tongue. Rose was used to this behaviour by now, but remained silent anyway, hoping the other would say something.

When Connie finally did, she instead changed the subject by indicating the civilization before them. “What is this place?” she asked.

Rose sunk a little. Of course these pink people would continue to dart around her questions. “Isn’t it impressive?” she asked. “They’re building cities again. I forget what they call this one, but it’s been around for more than five hundred cycles of your star. Isn’t that something? They themselves are impermanent, but what they build - although it changes - endures.”

Connie blinked. Rose thought she seemed slightly off-balance for a moment.

“What are you doing here?” Connie asked suddenly, looking her up and down, still weary.

A fair question, though Rose could have asked the same of her. Despite this, she continued to be very forthcoming with her answers.

“The humans living down there are being bothered by something,” she explained, tilting her head in the direction of the farmland they looked out over.

“You’ve noticed them in your travels, yes? Those who are corrupted?” asked Rose with perhaps a touch of guilt to her tone.

Connie nodded once. They had noticed. They were numerous and everywhere.

Rose set her jaw in grim determination. “We’re here to find it.”

“How is Amethyst-“ Connie said before she could stop herself. Rose merely laughed.

“It was your tracks at the kindergarten, then. I was wondering.”

She dropped her smile at the sick look Connie wore and spread her hands wide. “Amethyst is an amazing little gem,” Rose was quick to continue. “I’d even let her know you asked about her if she had any idea who I’d be talking about, but she won’t, so I’ll keep that a secret, too.”

Connie felt lightheaded for the first time in more than a thousand years. “Thank you,” she croaked.

The two secret keepers were silent for a long moment, before Connie at least decided to speak.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “About your friends.”

Rose, an extremely expressive person, suddenly looked pained. Her falling face was awash in it. Then, as if trying to spin the subject, she turned back to the valley civilization.

“But isn’t it beautiful?” she asked quietly of a silent and staring Connie. “Finally, humans have their world back, despite everything.” She was speaking louder now. “They have a real chance at being what they were always supposed to be, don’t you think?”

This piqued Connie’s curiosity. “What were they always supposed to be?”

Rose smiled widely. “Well, humans, of course. Which means... anything!” Her dark eyes fixated on Connie’s as she gushed, “I’ll admit, that’s a big part of why I want to know more about you,” she frowned suddenly as she waved a hand about. “Before you go running off through your rip in space again, I mean. You have to tell me what it’s like.”

“What what’s like?” Connie asked cluelessly.

Rose’s smile became small and soft, bringing to Connie’s mind a subtle smile in a portrait not yet painted that would someday hang in a beach house not yet built.

“To be at the same time both a human and yet not,” said Rose. “It’s fascinating.”

Connie wanted to explode. To tumble her words out, all at once without restraint. She wanted to explain everything and cry and rail, to clutch at Roses skirts and feel everything ripping and tearing at her as it all came out.

She didn’t, of course. Though she couldn’t help the way her hands tensed up on the handle of her sword.

The way her breath stopped at her lips.

She realized that Rose had noticed.

“I’m sorry,” Rose breathed, her smile gone, her eyes wide. “I didn’t mean to upset you. Please-“

“I. I can’t-” Connie said, breathless.

“Are you okay?” Rose asked, raising an eyebrow as if in sudden realization. “You and your friend, do you need help?

Connie, blindsided and reeling by the personal question, was taken by the urge to answer any and all of what the diamond had to ask...

And she took a shaking step backward.

Rose inhaled sharply. She knew what was about to happen.

“No. No, wait-” the gem uttered, but it was too late. A bright rip in space opened below Connie the moment her foot came down into the dirt, and she fell through.

Once again, Rose watched a portal blink out without getting any answers.

Next time, Rose told herself as Connie rematerialized on the top of a dusky Mount Everest, tears driven by the wind freezing in streaks across her face.

Sometimes, the passage of time made these things worse as well. She hugged herself uneasily and waited for the storm to pass.

 


 

She returned - perhaps almost a year later? She had no clue, no way to be sure. But Lars was there, waiting on a tree bough in the canopy of the forest where she’d left him, as she expected him to be.

“You good?” he asked casually, jumping down from the branch. He landed next to her easily on both feet, a hand at his hip.

She nodded, smiling slightly.

He smiled back. “I was starting to get worried.”

“I went up Mount Everest.”

He lost the smile. “What? Without me!? Dude.

She snorted. “We can go there together right now.“

“No.” He shook his head. “It won’t be the same if you’ve just been there. We’ll have to wait a while.”

“What arbitrary and vague amount of time do you have in mind, then?” she asked, prompting him to consider the matter closely, tapping his chin with a forefinger.

They started to walk together through the forest as they deliberated. They had no destination in particular in mind - they hardly ever did.

She would tell him about the encounter with Rose, but later. There was always, always time.

 


 

A festival was taking place around them.

Having come across this bronze age settlement at just the right moment, they’d been captivated by the sounds and, as the evening grew ever darker, the lights emanating from within the walls. It would have just been another new thing to avoid if it had been any other moment, but the sounds of joyful merriment and music were alien to them after so long.

They lurked at first. And then curiosity swiftly overcame them as it grew darker and they realized they could hide in the low flickering light of the affair.

They quickly gathered that these people were celebrating their recent harvest. It had apparently been bountiful on account of a patch of warmer weather in recent years. There was food - a slab of something roasting on a spit, and nearby there was a table loaded with various other foodstuffs being grazed upon.

There was even a band playing. These people used the most curious stringed and piped instruments, perhaps some kind of proto-harp and flute which sent such joyful melodies into the night.

And the people were everywhere. They were laughing, eating, drinking, dancing...

To say it was a trip would have been an understatement. The last time they’d set foot in a human city, it had been empty ruins. Now, they were literally bumping shoulders with members of the very species they’d been jolted out of by a mixture of death and magic.

Lars was handed a ceramic cup of something by a passing reveler. Taking it with both hands he sniffed its contents and found the sour smell worthy of a nose-wrinkling. He tapped Connie’s shoulder and offered it to her, but her reaction was much the same.

He shyly offered the cup to another passer-by, who accepted it gladly and immediately started drinking.

It was weird. All of this brought back fuzzy memories of concerts and parties and gatherings with friends. But here, they were strangers and to do this made no sense.

It was cold, but the bonfire kept the partygoers from cooling down too much.

“Maybe we can be humans again,” Connie mused, shrugging as she fought through the feelings. “It’s just one night.” She looked up at him. “Do... you want to dance?”

“I mean, we could.” Lars swallowed, but his anxiety didn’t go down. “But I just realized there’s nothing stopping me from like, sleeping for a hundred years.”

He had Connie’s full attention. “That’s interesting,” she said.

They left the harvest festival. When they felt they were alone, they hopped a portal to somewhere lonely they knew would be safe.

 


 

The Galaxy Warp in the middle of the Tunguska Sea was broken already - smashed on purpose, they assumed the first time they visited, by the Crystal Gem’s few remaining members. The mirror containing Lapis Lazuli was also long gone. They’d made sure to check long ago, before it became a regular place to which to sojourn.

Not only was this place isolated from Homeworld, but the mass of water surrounding the plateau promised them isolation from humans. And, the fact that there was nothing here, isolation also from earthbound gems as well - corrupted or not.

“We can’t sleep here,” said Connie, her mind already grappling with this new problem. There hadn’t been a problem to solve for a while, aside from what to do with themselves.

“If the gems come here for some reason, we’re screwed. We’ll be on Garnet’s radar - however that all works.” She frowned and glared at Lars in a thinkerly way. “It’s got to be somewhere too annoying for anyone to bother with.”

“Blueland?” ventured Lars. “I remember most gems seemed to find snow and ice annoying, right?”

Connie narrowed her eyes at the pillars surrounding them on the little rocky plateau.

“No,” she said after a time, narrowing her eyes in thought. “Bears would eat us. I’m pretty sure we can still be eaten by bears.”

“Wouldn’t that be a shame,” sighed Lars. “Hnn, Siberia?”

She shrugged the idea away. “Mammoths could stomp us.”

“We’ll just avoid Mammoth Island,” he suggested.

“Wolves. Humans... bears, again.”

He exhaled. “Antarctica?”

Connie still looked uncertain. “Sure, no bears or humans, but... penguins?”

Lars shrugged. “I like to think penguins are generally polite.”

 


 

“I think I hate penguins,” Lars said with a sniff.

Penguins, they found, were horrible. The noise they made was deafening.

Lars and Connie watched a colony of them from afar. They appeared to be nesting. The snow and ice all around them was covered in a thick layer of excrement and the smell that wafted over from them was repulsive.

“They’re awful,” she agreed. Then she shook her head. “No, no. This is all wrong. What if we can actually freeze? If we’re still for long enough, who knows!”

Lars’ face fell. “Oof. We could miss our appointment.”

“We might never wake up.”

“And if those feathery assholes find us and peck our faces off, plastic surgery times are still a ways off.”

She snorted and hit him. “Lars!”

The ensuing smile left him quickly. “But like, how would we even tell how long we’d been asleep for?” He shrugged. “Y’know, what with time being meaningless-”

“Tree,” she said, cutting him off. “We pick a sapling. When we wake up, if it’s grown a lot, we cut it down, count the rings.”

He gaped at her a long moment. The solution was elegant, yet simple.

“You’re brilliant, you know that?”

 


 

They were able to portal directly to the island which, as it turned out, was almost timeless. Lars’ memory of the place wasn’t the best but judging from the exposed geodes and the seemingly arbitrarily-placed warp pad, it was definitely the island he’d once been trapped on in a much different life.

“Mask Island,” Connie corrected him.

“Indeed.” With a glance around at the lush greenery surrounding them he continued, “I distinctly remember the invisible corrupted gem that tried to kill us, though.”

They spent the next few months scouring the island to find it clean of gem monsters. They kept an eagle eye out for strange, oversized prints in the mud and muck after every rainstorm, all the while (against their instincts) announcing their presence loudly and often. But all their efforts turned up nothing.

Which was reassuring. They wanted to sleep here, after all.

 


 

He woke with a jolt, the image of penguins nipping his face strong on his mind. But he opened his eyes to find himself staring up at Rose Quartz instead.

“Wuh-wha?

The gem was bent over, filling the cave they’d chosen for the purpose of sleeping. She’d been poking his face with an index finger, but stopped and drew back when she saw that he was awake.

He scrambled back from her. He wasn’t used to being freshly awake anymore, and it was disorienting. He blinked his eyes, but she was still there in the hard-light flesh.

“Wh-what are you-?”

His eyes darted past her to the cave’s entrance. Before they’d settled down, they made careful note of the location and size of a small sapling just outside.

It was gone. And in its place he saw the base of a fully mature tree.

That’s alarming, yes, he told himself as calmly as he could. But first he had to deal with Rose.

He moved his eyes back to her.

Hi, Rose-”

“I didn’t know you sleep. But it makes sense, since you used to be-” She cut herself off. She’d learned from her last encounter that these two might have some issues around the fact that they were no longer human.

“We, uh... Wait.” He brushed sleep from his face. Connie was still sleeping softly somewhere in the dark behind him - he could hear her steady breathing.

Lars wasn’t interested in answering questions but was compelled to ask, “How long have you-“

“Oh, at least a couple of decades, on and off,” Rose replied. “I wanted to talk to you again but you seemed so peaceful. But then...” She became sheepish. “I grew impatient.”

He narrowed his eyes. “So you poked at my face until I woke.”

When she nodded, he frowned. So much like her son.

Moments later he’d followed her outside as Connie continued to sleep.

“What are you doing here?” he asked, trying and failing to keep the grumpiness from his voice as he blinked in the bright sunlight. “We did the work. We know there aren’t any of the corrupted. There’s no reason for you to be here.”

Rose merely smiled. “I love coming here. This island - it’s so beautiful, don’t you think?”

Lars spluttered. Of course this was one of Rose’s favorite private getaways. Why wouldn’t it be? But although he wanted to, he couldn’t argue with her.

“Yeah,” he agreed, defeated. “It is beautiful.”

“Did your friend tell you about when I last spoke with her?”

When he didn’t answer her question in any way, she shrugged. “Well, you don’t seem surprised, so I’m going to assume she did.”

“Why don’t you just tell the others about us?” he snapped, finally. “You know Garnet might be able to help you figure out who and what we are. Why are you keeping our secret-“

Before he even finished speaking, he clutched his head. He knew exactly why she was keeping her knowledge of him and Connie from Pearl and Garnet. It could conceivably be as little as only a couple of steps away from figuring out her true identity as Pink Diamond, a disastrous blow for the last extant Crystal Gems, and absolute ruin for Rose herself.

Not to mention a short skip from there to a crazy, uncontrollable future.

She confirmed his suspicion as her own by staying quiet, her eyes in shadow.

He breathed out. It didn’t help him relax.

“Look,” he said at last. “I’m going to get my friend and go. Sorry we came to your island.”

“She mentioned I offered to help you, didn’t she?” she asked quietly.

Again, no answer. But she saw the way his shoulders slumped as he hesitated.

“You can’t help us, Rose.”

She watched him slink back into the cave. Soon a flash of light lit up in the inside of the cave for a moment, indicating their leaving.

 


 

“And… that’s what happened.”

Lars’ portal had left them on this rooftop in what appeared to be yet another new city, somewhere warm and dry this time. They were surprised, but tried not to be. Things kept changing so quickly - there always seemed to be more and more people around, encroaching upon what they’d previously known as wilderness.

They decided to chill there for the moment, fairly sure they wouldn’t be noticed by the passers-by in the streets below.

“Sorry I didn’t wake you sooner,” he added as he shrugged, staring up at the sky. “I thought you would have rather not seen her.”

She was sitting hunched, hugging her knees into her torso as she’d listened to the story. “Next time, wake me,” was all she said.

“Understood.”

The thought of sleeping again was low on their list of priorities, however. After this, nowhere in this ever-changing world felt safe enough.

“Y’know,” Connie said eventually. “The air smells different now.”

“I noticed. And is the sky bluer?”

Connie exhaled. “I wonder how long it’s been.”

Lars shrugged and returned to watching the sky. They had to wait until Rose left the island before they could return - the tree was the only way they would be able to tell how long they’d been asleep, after all.

She glanced over at him, finally. “Wanna place bets?”

“I’ll bet you...” Lars looked around as he trailed off, but all he could spot was a cloud. He pointed, “that guy, that it’s been a thousand years, easy.”

She eyed him suspiciously. “You can’t just bet a cloud. It doesn’t even belong to you.”

“Nothing belongs to either of us. What do you bet?”

“Hmm. I’ll shave off my hair if it’s been less than four hundred.”

“Acceptable.”

Her hair grew back quickly, relatively speaking, but at least she owned a cloud for a brief moment.

 


 

They saw meteors, eclipses, eruptions, auroras, sundogs. They soaked themselves in the beauty of the world.

But they were sick of walking, exhausted from watching. Bored of being forced from place to place by the monsters and humans and the gems of the world. Constantly evicted from whatever remote hovel they thought to claim for themselves, they grew more and more frazzled. More steeped in ennui.

Sometimes they’d portal somewhere, only to find themselves in the middle of some unexpected city or town once again. In a crowded village square their sudden arrival sent people running. On an elevated platform in a grand hall, in front of gasping masses, their shocking appearance was met with cries of, “Demons, demons!

They could reasonably be assured of isolation in the middle of the sea, but humans were growing bolder, striking further and further out from land. After an incident involving a catamaran, they wondered to themselves the kind of seafaring myths they could accidentally inspire if they remained so careless.

They were tired beyond measure of watching the sun and the stars zip by, day after day, night after night, a kaleidoscope of motion and purpose that mocked them to their very core.

And life - full and beautiful - abounded all around them, adding to the hurt. Often it was small and easy to ignore, but sometimes all consuming, overwhelming...

So the fancy took them to leave it all behind.

There were ships lying around, a lot of them. Most were infested by the corrupted who, perhaps out of some kind of lingering feeling of belonging, perhaps simply out of stagnation, felt the need to remain in these leftovers of gem civilization where they had once been whole.

Since Lars and Connie tended to avoid contact with living things in general and corrupted gems especially, they looked for one that lay abandoned.

It was an Era One dropship, long forgotten and half-buried in the dunes of a windy beach. The entrance was deep in the sand. They were still over digging, even roughly fifteen hundred years after the hole in the desert, so they portalled inside instead.

It was dark, so they lit up their eyes.

Lars smiled for the first time in a long time as he cast around. Good old gemkind aesthetics. The bridge was almost exactly as he remembered his old ship being like, but an earlier model perhaps.

And then he lost his smile. This thing was far more ancient than the style of thing he was used to, and then even that was so long ago.

“So!” Connie wasn’t privy to the thoughts going through his head and was still optimistic. “What do we do first, Captain Lars?”

Lars sucked on his teeth. “The core,” he said at last.

Moments later they were downstairs, the core of the ship bathed in the glow from their eyes. The central orb - the engine - lay dormant, the panels decidedly off. Connie watched as Lars walked over to fiddle around with something.

She eyed him in confusion as he suddenly stepped back from it.

“It was the crew,” he groaned. “They were the brains of the operation.”

Connie put her confusion into words. “But you were the captain-“

He became very real with her. “My ignorance meant I was the only one whose plans were dumb enough to work, so they made me ‘captain’,” he explained with the use of air quotes. “They were the pilots, the engineers, the strategic and technical guys - I was a fraud.”

“Oof,” said Connie, dejected.

That night they sat on the beach a few yards away from the ship watching the waves roll in and out.

“We could try another,” Connie pitched, unwilling to give up hope just yet. “There could be ships out there more like the one you had.”

He shot her down from where he lay nearby, on his back in the sand. “Doubtful.”

She stared up at the starry night, unwilling to let it go.

“That gem Rose abandoned - Spinel. I think you mentioned saving her, once. We could do that.“

He groaned.

“I mean, sure, it won’t matter when we fix everything,” Connie conceded. “But-“

“We can try, but all these ships are from Era One, and they’re riddled with monsters,” he reiterated.

“We could clear the corrupted gems from-“

“No. They’re not our enemies,” he said.

“I know. That’s not my point. But we could. I-“ she seethed, but mostly at herself. “Look. I’m a fighter. I always have been.“

“You think I don’t know that?” He became impatient suddenly. “We don’t get to be fighters or captains or bakers or college kids, hunters, foragers or even humans anymore. We’re just…” He sighed. “We’re watchers. We don’t get to do anything else.”

His morose mood was matched only by her own. “Says half of the Stonehenge construction crew,” she muttered.

“Hey, now-”

You even wanted to sign the damn thing.”

He merely shrugged. “So? Even the best of us make mistakes.”

“To err is-” she mused into the night a moment before regretting it.

He closed his eyes for a long moment. When he opened them again, he saw that she was smiling at him, a soft expression that had a sadness about it. He smiled back at her briefly and they turned their eyes back to the sky above.

“I did like when we were modelmakers though,” he admitted. “We got good at that fast.”

“We made such cute tiny decor,” she agreed. They laughed together a little before settling back down to watch the sky some more.

They’d been lucky, this evening; the wind didn’t matter, but the sky was clear and the waves reflected the field of stars that stretched out before them, dominated by the full moon in the otherwise ink black night.

The moon which, far above them, most assuredly now lay empty.

 

 

 

Realization washed over them and they felt foolish suddenly. How had they forgotten?

 


 

Portal physics was always interesting to puzzle out and so far there hadn’t been a challenge quite like getting to the moon. Luckily, Lars and Connie revelled in this stuff; practical problem-solving opportunities of any sort were rare for them in this day and age, bereft of needs as they were.

Portals within portals were the answer to this one.

This latest puzzle found them on the ground floor of the Diamond Base on Earth’s Moon, having spilled out onto the floor in a small inelegant heap. For the first time in a long time, they both felt exhausted from the effort. Their portal blinked out immediately as if also feeling worse for wear from the endeavor.

“What’s this feeling?” Lars groaned as he rubbed his head weakly. Connie rolled off him and just lay there on the floor for a long moment. “Is it... hunger?”

“It’s definitely hunger,” she said, frowning. “Or... tired. Probably tired, actually. Either way, I hate it.”

They pulled themselves to their feet in the dark, but their eyes lit up and so did the room around them. The soft glow illuminated the visages of all four diamonds.

They stared up at each of the elaborate murals for a time. The absent diamonds, proudly displaying their conquests, all stared back in silence.

Connie nudged Lars and pointed up.

They materialized again on the middle floor. The Observation Orb hovered, waiting in the center of the room. Connie gasped and gingerly stepped toward it. The entire Earth, at their fingertips...

Lars grabbed her hand and nodded up at the ceiling, concern in his eyes. She understood. They had to check.

Standing on the top floor a moment later, they quickly took stock of their surroundings. The decor was still minimal following typical gem aesthetics, but here they were surrounded by a geodesic dome.

“Well, it’s empty,” said Lars. “Are we sure Rose will never come here again?”

Connie frowned up at the large geometric chair and control console at the top of a stepped platform. They hadn’t seen a warp pad, or anything that looked similar.

“Not entirely, but fairly. Is that good enough for you?”

“Only if it’s good enough for you.

They decided it was and stared up through the dome at the Earth they had wandered for so long, and down at the barren rocky moonscape spread out below them.

 


 

The coming years were spent solely in the Observation Room. Being magic, they were able to use the orb, so they did. The isolation the moon afforded them was invaluable. As long as they made sure everything remained in full working order and that they evacuated when required, they could exist here without causing trouble.

Able to now wander the Earth remotely, they went back to watching. And for a while they felt like gods.

In truth, it was a limited kind of godhood that they held. They could see anything they wanted from whatever angle they wished without detection, but they had no power. They could choose to go down to Earth at any moment, but knew they’d forfeit their unique perspective if they did.

They watched animals and people, monsters, and the gems. Civilizations were erected stone by stone before them. Others crumbled, bit by bit. Roads were laid, battles fought, technologies developed, grand works built. Stonehenge had at some point been cleared and fixed up, used now as a place of worship. Mammoth Island was devoid of the great beasts, and probably had been for centuries. The bison had decreased significantly in number.

Penguins were still terrible; they didn’t linger there long.

They watched as the Crystal Gems at last put the finishing touches on the Crystal Temple - the facade, a beautiful statue of their cross-gem fusion they’d spent so much time on in between bouts of protecting the Earth’s people and animals from the thousands and thousands of monsters roaming the lands.

It was weird. It was starting to remind them too much of what had once been like home, so they adjusted the orb and sat in a projection of a clear starry sky high above some lonely part of the Earth instead.

 

 

 


 

They were physically equipped to survive on the top of Mount Everest. So although this had been calculated, it was still a huge risk to take.

Standing on the surface of the moon, unprotected from the void of space, they were equal parts surprised and unsurprised by the fact they were still alive and doing fine.

Their pink bodies were resilient, moreso than expected. Though they still had to avert their eyes, the sun’s unfiltered rays didn’t scorch their skin.

The lack of air didn’t seem to matter. It was strange to not feel it against their skin after soaking in atmosphere for every moment of their long lives until this point, but they could exist out here amid the craters, the rocks and the nothingness.

They glanced back at the tall and imposing Diamond Base from which they’d come and then at each other. Lars opened his mouth to say something but of course found that he couldn’t. His lungs, although riddled with magic and otherwise fine, had nothing to push through his larynx. Without vibrating vocal chords, speech was impossible.

And even if it were, the noise wouldn’t have carried in the vacuum of space anyway.

Connie fired him a questioning look and mouthed the word ‘what?’. He shrugged back, shook his head briefly and took a step forward.

The bright and swirling portal Connie had left open in case of failure blinked out of existence.

She gazed across the gulf at the Earth high above them, or far below them, or to the left or the right or directly in front of them - it didn’t matter out here.

She wasn’t sure how long she’d been standing there before she felt something tap her shoulder. She jumped - an odd sensation in 1/6th gravity - and spun, but it was just Lars. The lack of noise out here was going to be hard to get used to.

He soundlessly chuckled as she finally landed, sending up a lazy dust cloud which hung in the space around them. At her questioning look, he motioned with his eyes down at his hands. She saw he was holding something out for her and accepted it with a smile.

It was a moon rock, glittering beautifully in the sunlight.