Connie dreams Stevonnie's dreams sometimes.
It's not that she dreams that she's Stevonnie, although sometimes she does that too. One time she even dreamed she fused with Garnet, and was - Garnnie? Connet? Whichever it was, it was weird to be that tall, even in a dream.
But when Connie dreams about being Stevonnie, she dreams about concrete things, the way she always does: the texture of sand slipping between her oversized feet, the wisps of summer breeze across her bared back, the curl of her hair against the back of her neck, so different from the way it usually falls straight. Steven is there, of course, but he's there the way what day of the week it is or when her next violin lesson starts is there: there, but more leaning against the wall of her awareness than jumping around in front of her for attention. His thoughts cross Stevonnie's mind unobtrusively, but Connie is still Connie.
When Stevonnie dreams, though, it makes sense in ways that make no sense once Connie's awake, because Stevonnie just plain makes sense of things differently. Stevonnie sees globes of light in the distance and knows them to be Beach City at night. Stevonnie sees smears of color and dances with them. Stevonnie moves without thinking about why moving is necessary, whirls Rose's sword and shield with all of Connie and Steven's practice. And Connie - Connie's there but she's not all that's there, and Steven's there but he's not all that's there either, and the bits that aren't either of them but are both of them - that's Stevonnie.
It makes for really intense dreams, basically.
And that's why Connie's slouched and yawning when she gets to the temple the next afternoon for her training session with Steven and Pearl, and why it takes her a second to realize that it's odd that Steven isn't waiting for her when she walks in the door. And neither is Pearl, actually: the house is quiet. It's a kind of quiet that she's familiar with, lonely and empty, a quiet that exists not because people are choosing to be quiet but because there's nobody there. Connie spent a lot of time in that kind of quiet, before meeting Steven and getting pulled into his loud, bright universe, and hearing it in Steven's house of all places is a little weird.
"Hello?" Connie calls, stepping further into the house. She reaches behind her to Rose's sword, just in case, but the house stays quiet. "Steven? Pearl? Garnet - Amethyst?"
But when she looks up and to the left, at Steven's loft, she realizes that something's pushed the comforter on his bed into a lump - something with unruly black curls poking out.
"Steven?" Connie says again, easing her way up the stairs. "Steven, are you okay? It's one in the afternoon…"
"Ah, Connie, there you are!"
Connie jumps a little, but manages to catch herself on the wall instead of tumbling down the stairs. Pearl strides out from beyond the warp pad. From her room, presumably, and the fact that it took Connie so long to realize that makes her wonder just how tired she is.
Pearl frowns, one hand curling uncertainly towards her sternum as she looks up beyond Connie. "Is Steven still asleep?" she asks. "It's been a tiring week, but he knew the two of you had training and surely he wouldn't miss it…"
"What happened this week?" Connie asks, letting go of Rose's sword. Then she adds quickly, "ma'am," just in case it can get her on another mission.
"I'll…let him tell you about it," Pearl says, crossing the living room and coming up to join Connie on the stairs. "Look at that - he certainly is sleeping."
"Was he up late last night?"
"No. Is this an unusual amount of sleep?" Pearl passes Connie, going to the end of Steven's bed. "I remember when he always used to sleep like this."
"Was…that when he was a baby?" Connie asks.
"I suppose he was a bit smaller, yes." Pearl looks down at Steven with a perplexed tilt to her mouth. "Is this one of those unusual human things? Or maybe he's having one of his dreams."
"Oh! One of the ones where he goes into someone else's dreams?" Connie asks, hurrying up the last of the stairs to also examine Steven. He just looks like he's sleeping - there's no unconscious frown of concentration, no mystical blankness to his features or transcendent, radiant peace. Instead, his mouth isn't all the way closed, so his breath whistles out unevenly and he's drooling a little bit onto his pillow, and one of his feet sticks out from under the comforter and off the edge of his mattress at enough of an angle that when he wakes up it'll probably be pins and needles for a minute or two.
He kind of looks like a doofus, if Connie's being honest. She hadn't realized that anyone could sleep so…so Stevenly.
"He doesn't look like he's dreaming at all," Pearl says, putting her chin in one hand. "Oh well. He could probably use the rest." She turns to Connie. "In the meantime, shall we practice your footwork?"
Unlike Steven, Connie spent all night tossing and turning, slicing with glow-stick swords and dancing in oncoming waves and waking up every few hours confused at being herself, and being alone. Connie wants nothing more than to sit at the foot of Steven's bed, steal his extra blanket and pillow, and nod off with her head tilted against his mattress while she pretends to be rereading the paperback of Overneath the Underworld she has tucked into her backpack along with Rose's sword.
But Pearl wants to do footwork, so Connie straightens her back and says, "Yes ma'am!"
Pearl's heart isn't quite in the footwork either. Nothing seems to be as it should be today, from Steven's sleep schedule to Pearl's training schedule to actually a whole lot of chunks of the Sky Arena that are strewn around haphazardly.
"Steven and Amethyst said they were going to clean this up," Pearl mutters under her breath before starting Connie on some straightforward drills.
The drills aren't a problem, although they're usually a precursor to a more intense regimen. Today, though, the drills are endless, and Pearl does them too, summoning a second Holo-Pearl and stepping forward and back with Connie. Their feet make soft shushing noises against the flagstones of the Arena, and the Holo-Pearls yell, but it still feels like there should be more sound. Maybe it's just because Steven isn't there, and Steven usually hoots and hollers and sometimes even hums under his breath while they practice, but something tells Connie this is even more than that.
"Is everything okay, ma'am?" Connie asks after a while.
"Parry! Parry! Thrust!" say the Holo-Pearls in unison.
"It's…fine, Connie," Pearl says. Connie wonders if she realizes how unconvincing she sounds. Probably, since she continues, "It was just a very long week for all of us."
"Steven told me some of it on the phone…" Connie says.
Pearl sighs. "Yes," she says.
"Parry! Parry! Thrust!" the Holo-Pearls say.
"It's nice to have some quiet, after all the excitement," Pearl says.
But there are different kinds of quiet, Connie thinks as she parries, parries, thrusts. She's seen plenty of different silences around Steven, and even more different ways to be loud: snowfall-quiets illuminated by the woodstove and broken into bite-sized pieces by the crackling of the fire, anticipation-quiets as she puts resin on her violin bow and Steven presses the strings on his ukulele to test them before playing, happy-quiets enforced by mouthfuls of donut and exhausted-quiets flung out over the couch after a long training session. This, though, feels like a sad-quiet, a soft and wistful kind of quiet that wonders if all of the other quiets are out of reach now.
Pearl doesn't seem any happier about it than Connie is, so Connie focuses on the problem in front of her. Or rather, the problem standing next to her; she can multitask and address both problems at once, by continuing the drill and also distracting Pearl. If it happens to address a third problem - her ever-present curiosity about all things Gem-related - that's just icing on the cake.
"If Steven and I fused into Stevonnie and went to sleep, would we be able to use Steven's dream powers?"
"Pause." Connie blinks for a moment, confused, but the Holo-Pearls stop their attacks and Pearl lets the tip of her blade dip towards the ground. "Do you know," Pearl continues, frowning at the Holo-Pearls, "I have no idea. When two Gems fuse, their fusion retains both of their abilities. And if Stevonnie can call Rose's shield, then I suppose it would make sense…Of course, Stevonnie would have to be asleep, and who knows what that could do to the fusion."
"Can't Garnet sleep? She's a fusion, right?"
"Well, yes, but Garnet is…Garnet. And Steven is Steven. There are some things about him that we're just…still figuring out."
"He's unprecedented," Connie says quietly.
"Yes, exactly." Pearl glances at Connie, and her voice goes quieter, more thoughtful. "Of course, you are, too."
Connie straightens her spine reflexively at the sudden attention. "What?"
"Oh, it wasn't strange for Rose to take an interest in humans over the years, but none of them ever fought with us. None of them came on missions, and certainly none of them helped fight off another Gem like Jasper." Pearl smiles at Connie, and if it's slightly wan, well, like Pearl said - it's been a long week. "If you'd asked any of us twenty years ago, we would've said it wasn't possible. I suppose that's Earth for you - constantly proving us wrong."
Then Pearl sighs again, and the Holo-Pearls pixelate into nothingness. "I think that's enough for today. Besides, Steven might be awake by now."
Steven's not awake when they get back to the Temple, so Connie helps herself to water and an orange off the counter.
"Oh, hey, Connie," Amethyst yells from the couch, where she's lying upside-down with her legs leaning up the back of the couch and the wall. "Did you beat Pearl?"
"We were just running drills," Connie says, and her gaze drifts up beyond Amethyst as she begins to peel the orange. From this angle, she can't see if Steven's there, but she doesn't have to - she can hear the soft, ragged snores from here, like the sound of a stone skipping across a pond.
"Yeah, Steven's being super lazy today," Amethyst says.
"Pearl thinks he might be in someone else's dreams," Connie says, then looks around. "Um…where did Pearl go?"
"Back into her room to reorganize her everything, probably," Amethyst says, and tumbles off the couch literally head-over-feet, tipping her legs back over her body until she pops off it. "Why? You need her for something?"
"No…" Connie says, and glances up at Steven again. The snores continue. "Do you think we should try to wake him up? At some point he's going to need food. And water. And the bathroom…"
Amethyst rights herself and shrugs. "Eh, he'll wake up eventually. I mean, he always has before. Also, I already tried jumping on his bed and playing the drums really loud at him and he stayed asleep, but he might just be used to that by now."
Connie, whose parents implement a strict decibel limit not only for their own house but for outside sounds after ten in accordance with local noise ordinances and have a portable decibel-meter to enforce it, says, "…maybe?"
The warp pad glows and fills with its column of light. Connie loves the noise that it makes, a crystalline clink-chime, like the top of the world's most perfect soda bottle popping open. Garnet steps out and immediately looks up towards Steven's loft, adjusting her glasses.
"Still asleep?" she asks.
"Yeah," Connie says, and puts her orange down. "Do…do you know when he's going to wake up? Because of your future vision?"
"In another half-hour," Garnet says, "but that's not the future vision. Steven always sleeps in two-hour chunks. Has since he was a baby."
"It's probably his REM cycle," Connie says. The white orange-pith stuck to her cuticles starts to itch. "My mom says mine is an hour and a half, so when I sleep a full eight hours, I get irrational because of the adenosine buildup in my basal forebrain."
Amethyst and Garnet both stare at her. Eventually Amethyst says, "Humans are so weird."
"Pearl thought he might be having one of his shared dreams," Connie tells Garnet, if only to change the subject.
Garnet just shrugs. "Maybe."
"Oh." Connie looks back down at the half-peeled orange on the counter. Connie may have known Steven and the other Gems for almost a year now, but it still feels really, really weird being here when Steven's not around. And when Pearl's not around. Sometimes Connie forgets how monosyllabic Garnet can be, and Amethyst may be cool, but she's also very…Amethyst. Which is fine, but very Amethyst is also very not Connie. "Um, Garnet, do you think - I mean, I figured if anyone would know, it would be you, but, um…"
Garnet takes two steps to the side, and Connie doesn't understand what she's doing until she leans against the frame of the stubby wall between the living room and the rest of the temple. "Go on."
"Do you think Stevonnie can dream like Steven can?" Connie blurts out. "Can Stevonnie fly? Does Stevonnie have healing spit? Why do you have three eyes and you're a fusion but Stevonnie only has two?"
Garnet turns her head a bit more towards Connie, and her mouth has an angle that almost looks like a smile. "Anything else?"
Garnet readjusts her sunglasses. "I don't know."
It takes Connie a moment to process, since she usually hears those words said sadly, or confusedly, or really any other way than contentedly - but that's how Garnet said them. "For which question?" Connie says.
"All of them," Garnet says, and pushes off the wall. "Stevonnie isn't about me. Stevonnie isn't even about fusion. Stevonnie is about you and Steven, and more importantly about what the two of you become together. So those are all questions you'll have to answer for yourself." Garnet's definitely smiling now, a knowing almost-smirk. "And hopefully you'll have fun answering them."
"Oh," Connie says.
Amethyst flings herself back on the couch with a sigh. "She answers every question like that," she tells Connie.
"And now you're going to lend me the book you have in your bag," Garnet says.
"Yes." Garnet's voice is firm. "There was a chance you were going to offer, and the most likely outcome is that Sapphire will enjoy the prose, Ruby will enjoy the romance, and I'll enjoy the fighting."
"Really?" Connie says. On one hand, she loves any opportunity to get more people reading her favorite series, but on the other hand, she finds it hard to imagine Garnet reading. "Oh, but - I only have the third book with me, and you should really read them in order…"
Garnet crosses her arms and shrugs. "I already know how it ends."
"Hey, Garnet, would I like 'em?" Amethyst asks, craning her head to look at Garnet.
After a moment's thought, Garnet says, "No. Too much politics and talking about cake, not enough actual cake."
Amethyst sighs. "Yeah, that's fair. Man, now I want cake."
Which is how, by the time Steven wakes up, they've gotten into the following arrangement: Connie sitting at the foot of his bed, drowsing with a forgotten copy of The No Home Boys: Crater Canyon tipping off her lap; Garnet sitting cross-legged next to her, already seventy-five pages into Overneath the Underworld; and Amethyst in the kitchen, making something that will hopefully by the end resemble cake.
"Good morning, sleepyhead," Garnet says, closing her book. Connie starts at the sudden noise interrupting the quiet - this time a comfortable-quiet - and scrambles to turn around on her knees.
Sure enough, Steven is sitting up and rubbing his eyes. "What time is it?" he says, and looks around. "Oh no - we had training!"
"You didn't miss much - we just did footwork drills," Connie says, and leans her elbows onto the end of Steven's bed. "Are you okay? You were asleep for so long and Amethyst said she couldn't wake you up - "
"Oh, I don't even hear Amethyst anymore when I'm sleeping," Steven says with a shrug. "The sound of her destroying stuff is actually kind of soothing."
Something clatters loudly from the kitchen, and Amethyst shouts joyfully, "Ye-ah!"
"I was dreaming about the Cluster," Steven says, and wrinkles his face up in confusion. "Or, I guess, dreaming with the Cluster? It was just saying hi, since it had been a while. We caught up. It can say a lot more now other than 'want form' and 'need form,' so that's exciting."
"Really?" Connie says. "What'd it say?"
Steven opens his mouth to answer, but his voice is drowned out by the growling of his stomach.
Garnet puts her book down entirely. "You'd better tell us over some lunch."
As she's clambering to her feet, Connie realizes that she's a little disappointed, and it takes her another minute to figure out why: part of her had thought that maybe Steven was in her dreams, that maybe she'd dreamed Stevonnie's dreams because of him, somehow. But if Steven was in the Cluster's dreams, then obviously that wasn't why. The need to know nags at her, an antsy buzz in the back of her mind, but she lets it tune out and become white noise, a kind of quiet in and of itself: a curious quiet.
"Ow!" Steven yanks his feet back up from where they'd touched the floor, wincing. "Foot's asleep! Foot's asleep!"
Connie laughs, and Garnet tromps down the stairs ahead of them, and something else crashes downstairs in a way that sounds nothing like cakemaking, and Steven lets out a drawn-out "uuuuuuuuuuuugh" of irritation at his foot, and the noise sweeps Connie forward into whatever comes next.