It wasn't as exciting in his dreams as it used to be. For Steven Universe, sleep more often then not seemed to mean nightmares lately They used to be nonsensical illusions conjured up by any typical child's mind: Eating too many bagels and dreaming you were being chased by a bagel monster or drowning in a sea of slime. Now nightmares were filled with death, screaming, crying, and the corruption and torment of innocents.
The child wasn't particularly surprised to see a large insignia underneath his feet when he opened his eyes. He was standing right on the Pink Diamond as the surrounding yellow, blue and white began to glow. He struggled to lift his feet but with the cruelty that came with most nightmares came your motor skills unable to work when you needed them to.
"Wake up." Steven squinted his eyes shut tight. "Wake up, wake up, wake up."
The pink glass beneath his feet gave way to shards and the child screamed as he fell. It was only at the last second that he managed to decelerate and floated gently down to the ground below. Everything was dark and cold. His bare feet pattered along a strange tile floor that he had never seen before. In the distance he saw the silhouette of a figure. The closer he got, the larger and more imposing the figure became.
Something swept along the darkness by an invisible wind that drifted in pink clouds. The clouds turned into a figure, and Steven couldn't quite make out the shape at first. "Mom?" It looked like the being had a mane. "Lion?" And then he saw...a glowing diamond where her navel would be. "...Pink Diamond..."
There was no way... He had to be seeing things...
Her brows furrowed in distress and confusion, Yellow Diamond watched as the pink cloud began to drift away. The pastel fingers reaching towards her disappeared into dust. "Wait!" she shouted at the apparition. She reached forward, fingers just barely able to graze whatever this thing was that resembled her sister. She really must be going insane if she was talking to a cloud. Sanity was the last thing grief usually took away.
When she heard a sharp gasp she whirled sharply around, golden eyes scanning the darkness until they fell on a small form. He was barely the size of a Peridot, so small he didn't even come up to her ankles. Judging by the look on the creature's face, whatever it was seemed just as surprised.
"Wake up," Steven mumbled to himself. He grabbed his face and squeezed it. "Wake up!" He bonked himself in the face. "Wake. Up!" He didn't wake up in his bed. He stayed standing there in front of her beating up his own face.
"Who in the name of Homeworld are you?!" Yellow Diamond finally snarled.
There was nowhere to go. He could try running but she'd catch him. He was so panicked he forgot this was a dream. "St-Steven."
She studied him and made a face. It wasn't hard to tell the little thing was human. A fleshy and soft thing that leaked red when you opened them. She remembered that well from the war. "You're a human. ...How did a human parasite get to Homeworld?!"
"I...I'm not on Homeworld." Unless he had acquired some sort of teleporting powers from his mother that he didn't know about. "I'm on earth. I'm sleeping. A...and I'm...dreaming?" he stammered out. He had seen many giant women in his life...but this one was the scariest looking yet.
"What is a dream?" The menace was gone as she blinked quizzically around her and suddenly seemed far less threatening. She looked more like a kid exploring their new surroundings. She looked back at the pink clouds in the distance still fading into the sky. "Where are we?"
She was a gem. Of course she didn't know what a dream was. Was this the first time she had ever been asleep? "Y...you're in a dream." He inched a little closer. "I have them when I go to sleep sometimes and I guess...you wound up in my head somehow?"
Immediately Yellow Diamond scowled. "Why am I in the head of a puny, insignificant human?!" She towered threateningly over him. "Why did you bring me here?!"
"I don't know!" Steven squealed as he backed up to try and put some distance between them. "I don't plan my dreams! I can't help—sometimes my head connects to other people's heads, and I guess it must have a really really long distance signal?"
She was quiet for a long moment before those cat-like eyes narrowed as her lip curled down threateningly. "What...are you...?" He cried out as she reached towards him and without his consent, his bubble activated.
"Don't hurt me!" Yellow Diamond's hand bounced off of the orb, and she simply stared at him with wide unblinking eyes.
"Oh no..." Steven whispered to himself. A bead of sweat ran down his face as he felt himself start to tremble. Icy eyes leered into his very soul. He swore he could almost feel his mother curl in on herself inside his gem.
Yellow Diamond snapped back as if he was some sort of poisonous snake. To her, he probably was. A toxic little parasite that didn't deserve to live after all of the sins on his own back. "Rose..."
"N-no!" He held up his hands in surrender, hoping the pink bubble would hold. Suddenly dreams felt so unsafe. "No-I'm not! I swear!" At this point he could walk around with a big sign that said 'I'm not Rose Quartz' and it still wouldn't matter. "Yellow Diamond..."
The towering monarch suddenly reached into her gem and extracted the longest, sharpest looking trident the terrified child had ever seen. The tip of it glinted in the darkness. "It's you..."
"No!" Steven fumbled out. He screamed as her trident came spearing towards him, but bounced off his bubble with an almost comical 'boing!' She stabbed at him repetitively but nothing happened. His bubble was as resilient as ever, and he almost wished that it wasn't. He wished she'd spear him through like the criminal he was...
"You sick bitch! What, it's not enough you take everything away from me?!" the gem roared as she reached towards the bubble with her sharp claws. "You won't even let me have my own peace of mind?!"
"No!" The strike of her spear sent the boy tumbling into the plain of non-existance, and he scrambled on all fours like a frantic hamster just to try and escape her wrath. "No—it's not her! I'm not Rose! Please—just listen to me!" It was no use. There was no reasoning with a gem that was driven by grief. He was beginning to doubt his ability to be safe in these dreams. "Yellow Diamond, please just listen!"
"You took her! You took everything away from me!" the monarch snarled. She continued to stab at his bubble, but her hits became more and more disoriented as she stabbed down. She raised her head to the sky. "Why?" she yelled out. "Why did you go and leave? Why did you abandon me with your stupid colony?! I'm not you! I'm not a kind creator!" She slammed her hand down until Steven heard a crack. "I'm a dictator!"
Steven stared, stunned by the monarch's words. Yellow Diamond wasn't talking to him, but...Pink Diamond.
"I'll break you!" the monarch snarled furiously as she grabbed the child's bubble and hurled it furiously as far as she could. Steven soared through the air and slammed into an invisible wall. He rolled towards the woman.
"I'll shatter you! I'll break you down shard by shard, so you can feel the pain that I did! I'll consume your shards! I'll drill into your stone slowly, piece by piece and keep you conscious the entire time! I'll-I'll-!" Suddenly her voice cracked as she heaved a shuddering breath. "I..." She took a final disoriented lunge towards the boy before falling forward.
The ground shook as the giant fell to her knees in front of the small boy and hung her head. Her claws dug into the blackness around them and she shuddered. Something wet the size of his hand fell before him. It took the boy a moment to realize...that Yellow Diamond was crying.
Not just crying, but sobbing. Sobbing loud ugly sobs that he'd still be hearing years to come. Gut wrenching sobs shook the boy to his core as he trembled there, not knowing what to do. It was so easy to just see this demon that melted the remains of dead innocents to form a weapon of mass destruction and forget she was a person too. A person that was hurting.
"Why did you do it..." The monarch was so drained from her earlier fit that her voice just dipped to a pained whisper. "Why did you have to shatter her? She was your creator... She was...my sister."
"I..." Steven held a hand over his mouth as he trembled. "I..."
"If you really wanted to be free of us so badly Rose then why didn't you just LEAVE!" Yellow Diamond pounded her fist into the ground. "Why didn't you just go and never come back! Why did you have to try and take everything I hold dear?!"
"Because she was bad," Steven finally whispered. Their thick tears mingled together in a puddle."'M tired of defending my mom, because I just can't! I can't—I can't justify the things she did anymore! And I'm so...so tired of bearing the blame of it all. You're the third person that tried to kill me because you think I'm her this week! I'm so tired of all this..."
He knew he was supposed to love his mother but he didn't. He couldn't. He didn't know her and all that he was taught about her seemed to be shattering at his feet. The gems painted a picture of a beautiful goddess of love and forgiveness; the truth said much different. She was gone and he was left with the burden of her mistakes. It didn't even feel like his mother thought of him at all when she decided to have him.
"I'm not supposed to feel anything for you," Steven mumbled as he more bravely approached the Diamond. "I'm just...supposed to see Homeworld as the enemy. The bad planet, the bad gems... but things aren't that simple. I keep forgetting that we're not the only ones that lost a lot of lives. You did too." He shook his head. "What happened to you...wasn't fair. None of it was fair. And it shouldn't have happened." He wasn't going to defend Yellow Diamond though. The bottom line was she tried to hurt earth. But it didn't mean he wanted her to hurt.
"I'm supposed to hate you. But I'm also supposed to love my mother and I can't do that either. I don't want to fight...but I know it's not that simple. I'm not anything I'm supposed to be and I can't—do anything right!" the boy croaked.
Slowly, Yellow Diamond raised her messy, tear and mucus covered face at the boy. If anyone from Homeworld saw the disgrace she was right now, she'd likely be banished forever. "You're...Rose," she sniffled. "Aren't you?" She looked at him like she was just seeing him.
"No." He shook his head at her. "I'm not, I'm Steven." He popped his bubble and rose up into the air. "I'm her son."
"What...is a son?"
"For humans it means the offspring of a parent," Steven explained. He inched a little closer to test the Diamond's reaction but she just kept watching him. "Rose is my Mom. She had me...but I'm not her. I'm...I'm just her son."
He wasn't sure what kind of risk he was taking. At worst if she attacked him he'd probably just wake up in a cold sweat. No real harm could come to him but he knew if he could make an impact he'd try. ...And so he floated up to the crying Diamond, levitating in front of her face. He stared at the tears of the monster that had hurt his planet, and at the cruel dictator that wanted him ground into dust. ...And he hugged her cheek.
The monarch's head jerked up slightly as her sorrowful eyes blinked in a tired confusion and looked down at the tiny little speck attached to her face. "What are you doing?"
"I'm sorry," Steven whispered softly. Her tears were so large that rivers of them practically drenched him and nearly suffocated him, but he still embraced her. "I'm so sorry for the pain you went through. I'm sorry for the pain that we went through."
She heaved a deep shudder and for a moment just strained her eyes to look at the boy. No one ever touched her. No one dared to touch her. The last time anyone had tried to hold her, it was her sister. Her sister that died before she could raise her own colony. Her sister she tried to follow after, 'adopting' her colony into her own. Her sister that she just...miserably failed. And now that this hybrid of Rose was offering her comfort, she found she was too weak to even refuse it. The powerful queen was gone, and replaced by a grieving older sister at her limit.
A small gasp of a breath and Yellow Diamond slowly raised her hand. It hovered above the child on her cheek and for a moment Steven waited for it to crush him. Then it barely brushed against his back.
This wouldn't change anything and they both knew it. They were still enemies and she was still out to destroy everything that he cared about. One session of grief wasn't going to change the monarch's mind, but just for a moment they saw each other in a different light. Just for a moment they could bond over a mutual pain of being left in the shadow of Rose Quartz's sins. This woman gave him comfort that his own family couldn't. None of the gems would understand how he was feeling. Rose was their martyr, their goddess...but right now Steven needed someone who didn't see her in that way.
They remained holding each other for what felt like hours. Yellow Diamond's grip tightened and she bowed her head forward...almost apologetically.
"...I'm still going to destroy your pitiful rock of a planet."
The chilling affirmation only proved to Steven that they were still enemies and lowered whatever pitiful hopes his heart had conjured. The earth was still breathing, but her sister was not. He couldn't blame her, but he still couldn't let it happen."...I know," was all he mumbled out, too tired to start a fight.
Her large hand gently pulled him back, and Steven was face to face with her. Two very different enemies that shared the same pain.
"...But I won't forget this..."
Steven blinked and he found his eyes adjusting to the darkness of his room. He looked out to the stars and pressed a hand on the window. "...And neither will I."