A fight with the Crystal Gems has left Peridot cracked within an inch of her life. Trapped on Earth, with no one and no way to get home, Peridot's all but given up hope. But she doesn't know the lengths Steven is willing to go to in order to keep her alive.


13. 13

Steven lay flat on the couch, singular arm slung over the edge. He stared at the slatted ceiling, which had bled to a dark projection of desaturated stripes now that the sun had gone down. He glanced to the screen door; darkness swallowed up anything past the radius of the porch light. It led to only a vast nothingness, formlessness which he couldn’t make out. There was only the lapping and crashing of the distant ocean, like falling rain. The air was damp with lingering rain water, and cold.

He blinked. He stared up again. He held his breath. He shut his eyes.

This body didn’t sleep.

Steven pressed his eyes closed, harder now, until stars sparked in his vision. It did nothing. He couldn’t feel the scattered, thoughtless pull of drowsiness in his mind. He was tired though. Mentally, physically exhausted. Just now, he was permanently conscious too. Steven groaned, rolled, and set his feet to the floor.

He wanted desperately to get the Gems. He wanted to sit side-by-side with Amethyst and lose himself to fits of laughter over her goofy jokes about his body. He wanted to listen, silently, to Pearl’s stories about how his mom handled the Homeworld invasions, to feel that strange cocktail of pride and admiration and fear whenever Pearl let details of the war slip. He wanted to press himself into Garnet’s sturdy arms and forget anything else existed.

Now more than ever, though, he knew they needed their space. There’d been a steady, dense, stickiness in the air when the Gems were around. Like oatmeal on a hot day, soggy and topped with too much cinnamon: it was a discomfort, a queasy fullness, when they had to look at him as he…was, in this body, trapped in this form. It taxed them; it exhausted them to deal with what he’d created.

So he sat in the growing darkness now, “asleep”, trying to sort out which of his memories had been the Gems’ spoken words and which had been their private thoughts. The “We love you”s and the “We’re sorry”s had been out loud. He knew that. And he knew they were sincere. But that didn’t help; Steven took no comfort in their regret, especially not now. He’d hated feeling it, and he hadn’t been able to say anything to lighten it. The Gems had laughed at the jokes he’d cracked: about his arm, about his dance, about his all-around stupid behavior. But each modest chuckle had come with a stinging new twang of guilt in the air. It was like a physical weight on his chest, feeling that responsibility for their pain.

Steven walked to the kitchen. He skimmed his only hand along the counter, sinking into the strange silence of his mind. Tourmaline was in there somewhere, maybe too exhausted or ashamed to say anything. Peridot had stopped struggling against him hours ago. She was hardly a blip now in their shared conscience.

He shook his head, opening and closing three cabinets. It was too dark to see what was there. He wasn’t hungry anyway. His attention turned to the explosion of flour and syrup and pancakes that still coated half the kitchen. Pearl had given up on scrubbing the grease off his pans. She’d torn through the metal bottom of one of them, now badly dented out of shape. The other still soaked in the sink. Detergent threatened to eat it through. The room stunk thickly of cleaning agents and pungent milk. He didn’t even remember taking the milk out that morning, it must have been—

Steven straightened, and fumbled to round the corner of the counter in the dark. He grabbed the house phone off its base. His other arm swung forward to dial, stopping. It was severed at the elbow. Steven only stared down at the buttons and remembered his own brokenness.

Gently, he placed the phone down on the counter. It wobbled, and he gave it a moment to fall still. One button at a time, he dialed the number, then lifted the phone to his left ear. His heart pulsed, deafening, in his ears as the other end rang.

“…even!? Steven?! Steven oh my god please is that you?!” Her voice cracked. Steven swallowed.

“Y-yeah, Connie. It’s me. I—we got cut off earlier. I’m sorry.” He lowered himself onto the ground. He blinked, finding his eyes couldn’t adjust to the gray darkness. The porch light vanished; he sat in a shadow. “A lot’s happened.”

Yeah. The Gems told Beach City to evacuate?! What’d she do?! What’d Peridot do!?” There was a choking sound on her end, a hum of static. When her voice returned, it wobbled. “Oh my god Steven I-I thought you were dead. I couldn’t call your phone. I-I couldn’t get my parents to bring me over. The Kindergarten was my idea, Steven. Going was my idea. I thought I—I thought it was my fault—W-what happened?!”

Steven curled harder over the phone. “No! No, Connie. Nothing’s your fault! Nothing bad happened because of you! I promise! I promise! The Gems are back. I-I’m not hurt. They’re not even mad at me anymore. You didn’t—You didn’t…” Steven lost his voice. The thick waves of guilt and worry hit him through the phone, pulsed in his mind. They hurt, they clawed.

But…something happened. Garnet was yelling. And now Beach City is evacuated. What did Peridot do?!”

“She!...N-not much, really. She’s too weak, now. It’s not Peridot.” Steven breathed in. He mentally drifted back to the one-armed hug he’d given his dad right before Greg left to evacuate too. Thick and choking and…wrong. The possibility that that was his last interaction with his dad, wrought with suffocating worry, pulsed in his mind. He swallowed, and steeled himself. “Please, Connie, can you do me a favor?” he whispered. Steven drew his bulky knees up to his chest. He glanced to the porch in hopes of seeing Lion there. Emptiness looked back. “Please stop being worried right now. Please. I know why you are! But…it’s important.” He waited a moment. “Please try.”

“…Okay,” was her uncertain response. A thick pause followed, but it came like a weight off Steven’s chest. That leeching worry around his heart lessened. It pulled back its claws, and he could breathe again.

“Thank you,” Steven said, breathless.

…Yeah. Yeah my mom’s been teaching me meditation techniques. She’s worried about me maintaining my heart health—No, no never mind. Tell me, please. Tell me what happened.” Her sheets rustled, her voice dropped. “You sound…different.”

Steven let out a small laugh. “Yeah I—a lot’s happened. A lot of…bad things. I didn’t have time to think about anything. I did things that—I still don’t really know, Connie, if I should have…” He shut his mouth, looking through the closest window. The moonless sky reigned overhead, a black void. Hazy shapes buzzed with static in his vision. “I sound different, Connie. That’s—it’s because I’m not really all…me, right now.”

…What do you mean you’re not you?”

“I…” He felt his body, felt out the clanking heavy legs, the missing arm, the thrumming ache from the gem in his forehead. He felt wrong, down to the pit of his stomach. “I’m Tourmaline, Connie. Not—not right now—right now I’m me. But I’m part of—I’m half of—I’m in…Tourmaline.”

I don’t…Who’s…Is that a-a Gem? Like a fusion?” Connie paused. Steven felt the hot whip of anxiety that shot through her stomach. “…Which one, Steven? Please. I-is it with Amethyst? Why? What happened?”

“It’s not Amethyst,” Steven answered. The words felt like mud in his throat. “…And it’s not Pearl.”

“…Garnet?” Her voice was a whisper.

He swallowed, and crouched inward on his monster body. “No, not Garnet…”

A shuffle. A rustle. A spike of fear. “…Steven. Steven, you didn’t…”

“They were gonna kill her!” he insisted quickly. Steven thrust his head out. “You heard Garnet, didn’t you? Before she smashed my phone. They were all angry. I couldn’t talk to them! I couldn’t…” His breath died. He breathed. “I couldn’t—Connie, I couldn’t let her die…”

Another pause followed. Something tight around Steven’s chest loosened. “…Of course you couldn’t. You wouldn’t—you couldn’t sit and watch anyone die, Steven. You uh…” She gave a small chuckle “You covered your eyes during the series finale of Under the Knife when Angela died on the operating table… You had all these ideas about how they could save her.”

Steven breathed. He basked in it, the heady wave of nostalgia and affection that came through the phone. It brought tears to his eyes. “Y-yeah. Angela was amazing, a-and she didn’t deserve to die because Bradford was distracted over his break up! I think it was a plot! Rachel told him that out of revenge. And Angela’s fine, and just hiding, because she owes Rachel a favor for the diagnosis Rachel gave her in season 2 when no other doctor could figure out what was wrong! I’m…” he trailed off, adjusting his position on the floor, “…I really like Angela, Connie.”

I know you do.” There was the sharp clack of computer keys on the other end. “I’ll write you a fanfiction where that happens, Steven.”

“Really?” He straightened up. His mind buzzed, catching small grainy snippets of the scenes that Connie already intended to write. It came through like radio static. “I thought you only wrote fanfiction for Unfamiliar Familiar!”

Yeah, usually. I mostly stay out of the Under the Knife fandom because they are really petty about their ships. I don’t want to get involved with the Brangela vs Radford wars. I’ve seen nasty things happen to honest fanfiction writers in the fandom…” There came another solid clacking of keys, and Steven felt the burst of another scene in his head. Rachel and Angela sitting down to coffee to plan their elaborate revenge. “But it’s for you, Steven.”

For a solid few seconds, Steven felt himself melt in pure excitement. Angela would be alive again. Connie would make it happen for him. And he loved her writing; he loved the way she threw in small plot twists, stuff he never saw them coming, but they always made sense. If only he couldn’t…

…sense what she was planning.

Cinnabar, planning to touch down on Earth tomorrow. Peridot, faded to nothing but a shadow in his mind. Greg, driving through sleepless exhaustion to get away from Beach City. Pearl, closed in her room, bouncing a one-sided conversation off a hologram projection of Rose. Amethyst, stowed deep in the recesses of a junk pile in her room. Garnet, hardly herself, fighting to come back from the schism of her two halves.

“I guess uh…you want a story from me too, yeah?” Steven asked. He cupped the phone close to his mouth. “I haven’t told you anything. Not really.”

…Do it at your own pace, Steven. My parents don’t know I snuck my cellphone into my room. I can talk for as long as you need, just so long as my parents don’t hear I’m awake.”

Steven nodded. He breathed through the knot in his stomach. The air was suddenly colder, the darkness denser, enclosing. And…when I’m done,” he pulled his feet close to his body, “you wanna start writing that story? Use me for ideas!”

Yeah totally!” There came a drop in her volume. “But uh…you first.”

He nodded again, opening and closing his mouth a few times in a timid search of where to begin.

“…And uh, you actually left your headband here on Saturday. I was gonna give it back, but then I forgot. It kinda matches Tourmaline’s clothes. It’s the gray one, with the tie-thingies in the back? Yeah uh, if we wrap it over Peridot’s gem, then maybe Cinnabar won’t realize it’s there. It’ll look like part of Tourmaline’s normal outfit, and Cinnabar will just see the one gem on my stomach. And if she thinks I’m just one gem, and not a fusion, then she won’t think I have my mom’s gem, because it doesn’t look like the Rose Quartz gem anymore. Not totally. Fusion gems change color.” His eyes shot around, blind. “…A-and uh, we might be able to scare her, because we already took down Jasper’s ship, so she probably thinks we might have some secret weapon or something. So maybe she’ll just leave, because there’s no reason to take us, o-or hurt us.”

Steven’s mouth had gone dry from talking. His palm was sweaty, clamped around the phone. He could feel the caking saltiness of tears drying down his cheeks. How long it took to recount the whole story, he wasn’t sure. The clock in the distance was completely cloaked in darkness. He wasn’t near enough to make out the time, but from the exhaustive weight in his chest, he guessed it had been hours.

Can you feel her now? Peridot?”

Steven shook his head, unseen. “No. She’s there, somewhere. But she’s not trying anything: not talking to me, not feeling what I’m doing…not trying to do anything on her own. I stopped her from trying to take control back from Tourmaline, and she just kinda cried there for a while, then stopped. And she wouldn’t answer me when I tried asking her stuff. I-I think she could still hear me back then, when Tourmaline was in control, but she…she didn’t wanna talk.”

So she knows about the plan?”

Steven didn’t answer immediately. He thought about it, prodding around in his mind. “…She’s gotta…I mean I know about it. If Tourmaline knows about it, then I know about it, and that means Peridot knows too.” Steven stretched his legs out. They pressed into the cold floor. “…And yeah, she knows that the Gems still want her to die. And they don’t want to heal her. …And that Cinnabar doesn’t even want her. I’m still… I think I’m still the only one who’d want her to stay alive. I think she knows that too.”

Well…you know, after Cinnabar’s gone, you still have hope! You can talk to the Gems about it for real. They want to listen now. I’ll come over too! And Greg. I’ll help you explain it to the Gems, all that stuff Peridot told you inside your head. We’ll…We’ll work it all out.”

“Yeah, good idea,” Steven answered. “I might even ask Sadie to come over. She’s really good at talking to angry customers. And to Lars, and he’s always angry.” A sudden sharpness hit his stomach. “…I-I haven’t seen her at all today… I always buy a donut from her. I wonder if she realized I was gone.”

She probably got out with everyone else evacuating Beach City. I bet she understands you’ve been…busy.” There was a rustle from the other end, a fresh bang of anxiety. “So uh…what happens if Cinnabar doesn’t decide on her own to leave you guys alone? What if she decides to attack anyway? …What happens then?”

Steven stood. His legs had gone numb during the conversation. He walked on pins and needles to the wall clock, and squinted to make out the time: 1:12 in the morning. They’d been on the phone for four hours. Connie needed sleep, he realized with an edge of guilt.

“So uh,” Steven hugged the phone closer to his face, “if Angela faked her own death during the open heart surgery, how’d she manage to fool all the machines? I can’t figure that out, Connie. Because we see the monitor flatline at the end of the episode. I’ve been thinking about that a lot.”

He held his breath through the silence on Connie’s end.

Well, it was a heart transplant, right? That means they must have stopped Angela’s heart during the exchange, so the anesthesiologist must have had all the necessary chemicals to fake a flatline. She must have had an extra dose hidden from Bradford, and she used it again after the transplant was complete, so Bradford would think he failed the surgery.”

“Oh!” Steven felt his heart jump. “Oh my gosh, Connie, that’s so smart!”

She let out a flustered laugh. “I-it’s nothing special really. Anyone could have thought of that... What’s even more important is that Caitlyn is the anesthesiologist’s cousin. They told us that back in season one!”

Steven let out an excited gasp. He spun in the cold, empty, silent kitchen. “And Angela saved Caitlyn’s cat in season three! Even though she wasn’t a licensed vet and could have gotten sued, but she did it anyway! It was the cat that woke Caitlyn up when the smoke alarm in her apartment didn’t go off, so it was really special to her.”

Exactly! So Caitlyn’s been indebted to Angela this whole time! It would only make sense that Angela could use Caitlyn as a connection to Bradford’s anesthesiologist and plan her faked death ahead of time.”

“Are you gonna write that into the story?!”

Um, of course! I need to incorporate all the canon evidence I can for this. It has to be legit.”

Steven plopped down on the ground. The clock ticked away above his head. He shimmied his feet on the floor in excitement. “What’s the first scene you’re gonna write?!”

He held his breath, and for the time, he managed to ignore the pre-emptive answer scratching at his mind.

It’s gonna be a flashback to the break-up scene between Bradford and Rachel. It always bothered me that they didn’t include it in the mid-season finale, because it had such important implications for the dynamic of Rachel and Angela’s friendship! We don’t know if Bradford tried to blame Angela, or if he just told Rachel he wasn’t in love with her anymore. I headcanon that Bradford did it quickly, in a fit of passion, totally unplanned, because we see him browsing a wedding ring catalogue in the episode right before!”

Steven listened intently, silently, bulky mismatched legs wiggling. The ache in his forehead faded to nothing as he lost himself in Connie’s logic. Bradford, Angela, Rachel the story was real in his mind. It coalesced into everything he’d dreamed about since the finale. Everyone, alive again, long past the end.

He didn’t notice when the first pink shades of sunlight bloomed over the ocean’s surface.

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