"I struck and struck again, And growing still in stature the grim Shape towered up between me and the stars, and still, For so it seemed, with purpose of its own And measured motion like a living Thing, Strode after me."

William Wordsworth, The Prelude

Reading C&C to enjoy this story is not required but highly recommended.

1. New Normal

It took a month of captivity for Steven to realize the magnitude of difference between safety and security. It may seem like semantics, but that was not the case - not for him, anyways.

Safety is a state of being, a bare minimum qualification, to be free of danger. If you are safe, then you won't get hurt. Simple, measurable; a threshold that drags you from the war zone to the armistice. But security? That was a feeling, an ideal, the belief that you are free of danger. Formless and abstract, security was a place beyond the open door, a place that Steven tried to go but failed to reach, confined by the forces of time that bound him to his current station.

The cool of the night air played through the screen door, left open carelessly by Amethyst, and there was someone seated next to him as he rested in bed – his eyes were closed, so he wasn't sure who it was, but he heard them shift occasionally. It wasn't Pearl, Garnet, or Amethyst, he knew that much – they had just gone outside, their voices carrying in like a delicate breeze, a billow that make him shiver if not for the blankets, but that still left a long list of possibilities. Dani or Blue Pearl, possibly, given that they were both naturally quiet and likely had nowhere else to be. Connie, perhaps… but he wouldn't dare let himself believe she was alive until he saw her, no matter what the others said. Part of him desperately wanted to open his eyes, hoping to dispel that ambiguity, but if it wasn't her… if it was his Dad, or Peridot, or Lapis… well, he wasn't quite ready to face them yet.

In many ways, Steven was reminded of how it felt to disable the light calibration in the Ruby Ship when they all went to space to rescue his Dad, but, unlike then, this feeling was permanent. Everyone was moving at a different pace, dragging behind while he was thrown forward, with no say in the matter no matter how desperately he tried to slow down. A puppet, his strings were taut, neck held still by a dangerous wire so he could not crane his head to see the hand above – but he need not search. The hand was white, dangerous, and ubiquitous. Her presence was everywhere and everything. He couldn't shut his eyes without seeing her, couldn't open them for fear she might be there. White Diamond.

I own them all, Steven.

Involuntarily, his breath caught in his throat, and he began to cough. His pretend-sleeping had been interrupted, and no longer could he try to bid his time. He had no idea how long he had been asleep, but it was dark outside, so he rolled over and sat up slowly.

"Oh…" Steven blinked several times, feigning drowsiness. He had probably been laying there for fifteen minutes, so he wasn't really tired anymore, but it seemed like the right thing to do.

It was Lion, head turned to one side and looking at him – Steven wanted to say he was being cute, but there was something about the pink creature's expression that made him uncomfortable.

The voices of the others still floated in softly on curtails of the moonlight. He guessed they hadn't heard him wake up, else they would likely be on their way in to see him already. Leaning back into his pillow again, Steven closed his eyes, heart thumping in a familiar rhythm:

Bum-bum. The first impulse was strong, the other was almost an echo.

Bum-bum. Blood coming in, blood going out.

Bum-bum. It was befitting his warring emotions. Shame, relief, shame, relief, shame, relief.

To him, it felt like everything looked as if being viewed through a film into his old life; his entire existence had become an out-of-body experience. Being here in his earthly bed, basking in the protection and love of his family, the smell of the salty ocean air… it wasn't his to enjoy, not anymore. He wanted it so much, to join them in their sense of celebration, but the longer he was here, the more it felt like his place was on Homeworld.

Accepting that was not hard for him – he had come here under protest, anyways. It was the implications associated with that acceptance that hurt him – that would hurt the others. When he would get out of this bed, they would want him to stay. Everyone would want him to stay – Pearl would want to cook him something to eat; Garnet would want to talk with him; Amethyst might want to joke around. Even worse, his Dad probably wouldn't let him out of his sight. In fact, even White Diamond wanted him here, but he didn't know why. If it was to drive him insane, she would surely succeed; it was only a matter of time.

Grumbling silently, Steven turned over in his bed, trying to ignore Lion staring at him. He would have to tell them about the dream, he wagered, it had to be important…

Yes, because that worked out so well the last time you told them about a dream.

I didn't ask for your input.

It was Opalite, and he had known they would be back. Truly, they had not really left, but he had managed to push the fusion's voice away in the panic and rush of returning to Earth until now. Steven couldn't even manage surprise; all of his demons were inside him now, so even privacy was no longer private.

Gazing out his window, the sand glittered prettily under the bleached rays of the moon; it must be a cloudless night, for the side of the cliff that faced his bedroom was unusually bright. It was so frustrating, the colors and shine bringing him back to White Diamond's bubble room. He had only just been there, with Danburite, the conversation they had before he passed out still fresh in his mind. The slap.

Steven recognized he had been acting a fool – even White Diamond called him out on it – to come so close to dying again, and again, and again. But what else was he supposed to do?

They just… didn't understand, couldn't understand. Steven realized that he truly did not want to die, did not want to serve Homeworld, did not want this responsibility thrust into his lap, but it didn't matter what he wanted. It was about what she wanted, and he had no doubt she would get whatever that was, whether or not he complied.

Sighing heavily, Steven adjusted so he was facing the ceiling. The air was chilly, but refreshing, and he realized no one was speaking outside anymore – they would likely come in to check on him, he could only guess, so he just stared at the roof above and waited.

Lapis was trying her best to bite her tongue, to just listen and not argue, but this conversation was just beyond mind-numbing. Her blue hands shook in anger, so she clenched them tighter and grit her teeth together.

"It is not my place to give you such information." Danburite said flatly, directed to Pearl and Garnet, who seemed frustrated as well.

Pearl pinched her nose and closed her eyes, trying to calm her worn nerves. "I know you don't think you should tell us, but I assure you, this would be is for the best. He doesn't need to relive what happened, and we will find out eventually. Please."

Moving a hand to Pearl's shoulder, Garnet stepped forward. Neither Danburite nor the fusion could see the eyes of the others, both sporting opaque visors, but the stare was not lacking in intensity.

"Danburite. I know you are trying to protect him, but, we need to know what happened up there. Time may be of the essence," she gestured towards the starry sky. "How did you escape?"

Lapis was listening to the back and forth, but she was looking out at the sea, sitting in the sand. A little bit down the beach, Peridot, Amethyst, and Connie were walking in the sand, whispering amongst themselves. The blue gem recognized it wasn't exactly right to eavesdrop, but she thought they were going to make decisions as a team. Right now, Pearl and Garnet were acting totally independent, not asking anyone's opinion of this sort of inquiry.

Blue Pearl, she was pretty sure, was standing somewhere near the house. So wispy, her fellow blue gem was nearly invisible in the moonlight, washed a pretty powdery color, so Lapis did not bother to seek her out. It's not like Blue Pearl was much of a conversationalist.

Then there were the humans – Steven not included, of course. Lapis peaked behind her shoulder, looking where the pavement met the sand – the boardwalk, she's pretty sure Steven called it – and there was the boy's father. He was in his van, the backdoor wide-open, but he was with other humans she did not recognize. Given that they arrived with Connie, however, she guessed they were the Ma-hays-war-ins.

Turning around, Danburite's face betrayed no emotion. "I ask you try to understand my position. I can tell you some things, but I cannot tell you what information is not mine to share."

Good. I think I like Dani after all.

Pearl nodded, glad to have some sort of progress, but she wasn't exactly hopeful. The fusion said nothing.

Dani crossed her arms, obviously uncomfortable. "I carried Steven, because he was unconscious. Pearl, as you know," she nodded her head in the general direction of the house.

"Arrived here with another Pearl, bubbled. We went through the Military District, found the other Pearl, and then we warped to where I had left my vessel on Homeworld. We encountered one Binnite and another Pearl, but they did not seem concerned with where we were going. Then, we left, and Steven woke up about an hour before we arrived."

Garnet was getting a bit heated, but tried to keep her voice level. Danburite had more or less already told them this twice now, and repeating it was not helpful.

It's okay, Ruby. We just have to be patient – they all must have gone through a lot.

"Danburite – Dani. You understand humans, and I respect you for that. But, frankly, you do not understand Steven. We are trying to make this easier for him."

"Nope, that's it. I can't." Lapis bolted into the air, water wings expanding automatically. She had reached her boiling point.

Pearl blinked several times, confused and surprised, but Garnet had considered the possibility of Lapis getting upset – she had just hoped the blue gem would restrain herself.

"You are both being so… so arrogant! Do you hear yourselves? You're trying to force her to talk about something she obviously doesn't want to. I don't think you're being fair to her, or to Steven. Sure, maybe he doesn't won't to talk about it, but maybe he needs to talk about it. Why don't we just ask him?"

Peridot, Amethyst and Connie stopped their walk along the beach, tuning in at the sudden outburst. They had tried to stay out of it, hoping Steven would just wake up before things reached this point.

Pearl huffed in annoyance and straightened her posture, stepping towards Lapis. "You are out of line, Lapis. I know you care for Steven, and I know you've been through a lot, but he is much, much younger than us. He isn't just a child – I realize that – but do you think making him relive all of that… that… trauma is the right thing to do?"

Lapis grunted in frustration, ready to retort, but Danburite spoke up then.

"Please, stop. I understand the psychology of human children, and he indeed should not be tasked with re-experiencing this trauma, but, it is not my place to tell you, either. I can tell you one thing – there may have been errs in his approach, but from the start, Steven had been trying to protect you. It is… beyond obvious that he cares about you all. So, please, do not fight. I am sure that would only upset him more."

She was flexing her fingers strangely, but only because she had the instinct to make notes, file a report, to do something she understood. Fruitless arguing, wasted sentimentality, cross-fusions… these were not things she could make heads-or-tails of. Perhaps, she wondered, there is something about Earth that enhances irrationality.

Annoyed, Lapis said nothing, but flew to the top of the stone-carved woman to be alone. Dani walked past her conversation partners to the water, crouching down as the waves crept up to meet her feet. How odd this planet – so much water, yet, it is unsafe for human consumption. Too much sodium chloride, she knew from logs of colonization, likely as old as the gems that inhabit this planet now.

Curiously, she dipped a finger into the wet sand, interested in the odd sensation, and she realized the green gem – Peri, they called her – and the small Amethyst had approached her. Dani's shoulders slackened by a few degrees when she saw they were both smiling nonthreateningly. She could hear the voice of the pink human child that had been with the pair moving away.

Amethyst spoke first. "Tough break, Dansbury. A four-way feud with Pearl, Garnet, and Lapis on your first day? Man, that's bad."

Scoffing, Peridot responded before she had the chance. "Hardly. I for one, Danburite, think you're off to a great start on Earth. I spend the first several weeks of my inhabitance here fearing for my life. Then, these clods took my limb enhancers," she shot a glance at Amethyst, who rolled her eyes. "And trapped me in a bathroom."

She raised an eyebrow at the new information, but did not respond. They were quite presumptuous to think she would be staying – it had only been a few hours since they arrived. More than anything, Dani felt she needed to talk with Steven and check on his health, and then she could plan for whatever came next.

Amethyst tilted her head to one side, looking at Dani curiously. "Uh, what'cha doing there?"

She looked down, unsure of the purple gems meaning; she had moved her fingers through the dense sand and made a little hole.

"Hmm. Actually, I am not sure why I did this. Likely satiating an unconscious desire for activity in my absent automated digits. Touch stumps are the best I have, but their inadequacy irks me."

Peridot nodded solemnly, and Amethyst just looked at her blankly. The green gem opened her mouth to speak, but before she could, the purple one shapeshifted suddenly and adopted some strange human garb – a tall hat, a glass protector for only one of her vision spheres, some sort of cape or coat that was too long in the back but cropped appropriately in the front. To be honest, Danburite thought it was one of the strangest things she's ever seen.

"I do say, we need not use such nerd language in these parts, hmm, yes, most right." Her voice went strange and inflected at unnatural points, and the green gem started to laugh. Humor on Earth, Dani guessed, so she gave them a small smile. She did appreciate the effort, even if the comedy was lost on her.

Priyanka was giving Greg a skeptical look, so he tried to reassure her.

"Really, it's okay. They argue a lot, but, it's only because they care. I promise." He tried to add an extra punch of confidence in his voice. The Maheswarans seemed to buy it, at least on the surface, so they all returned to the conversation at hand.

Doug was nodding thoughtfully, considering what Greg had been telling them about some of the… easier to explain powers. So far, he had managed to talk about Steven's healing powers, which seemed to satisfice the narrative on what happened to his daughter (at least partially), why there were so few of them by touching on the subject of the war, and he had just gone a little more in-depth with, well, Garnet.

Fusion wasn't a foreign concept in sci-fi, so Doug seemed to pick up on that fairly easily.

"Well… they certainly do look like a curious bunch when you look at them all like this. I guess it explains the whole dinner fiasco when we first met."

Sighing, Greg chuckled weakly. "Yeah… sorry, again, about that. Steven just wanted to make a good first impression."

Priyanka frowned. "Meaning?"

He looked at Doug, who gave him a very tiny shake of the head – sorry, you're on your own.

"Well… I figured you both knew that Steven and Connie, um, care about each other. But that's not really my business."

Greg was eyeing the woman fearfully, her face as hard as stone, but she eventually broke out into a sudden laugh. "I-I'm sorry, Greg. I couldn't resist. I'm not dull; although, I would be lying if I said I wasn't a bit rueful over it. They're both too young." She was watching her daughter move along the beach to Pearl and the leader – Garnet, the fusion, as she came to understand.

Heart beating a little too fast, Greg chortled nervously. "Y-Yeah… Good one…"

"But anyways, you were saying?"" Priyanka's voice was all business once again.

Clearing his throat, Greg returned to their earlier topic. "R-right. So, these are the Gems in action. Well, not in-action, not really, but you know what I mean. Feel free to stop me at any time with questions, but, I guess the only other really important thing is the deal with Lapis and Peridot – the blue one who just yelled, and the little green one."

They nodded, prompting him to continue.

"They aren't like Pearl, Garnet, and Amethyst – they haven't been around forever. I mean, they have, but not on Earth. They only came to call Earth home within the past year. Steven convinced them both to stay, for the same reason his mother wanted to protect this place. It has something their world doesn't – freedom."

Doug shifted to face the fellow father, although he was still watching the magical beings at the end of the beach. Connie was smiling, speaking to the one he knew to be her sword instructor.

"I'll be honest, Greg... When you called us, there was no way we would have declined bringing Connie out here, even if it's now," he glanced at his cell phone.

"Almost midnight. I know this means a lot to her. And I really do appreciate all of the information you've given us, it's… helpful, to have some context. Connie only tells us so much, and I get it – this is all pretty crazy." He scoffed at himself – it was a lot crazy, but now was not the time for pointless semantics.

"But, I don't know if she's going to be allowed to keep coming back after tonight. Don't you… get worried?"

Pursuing his lips, Greg said nothing at first, thinking. He couldn't say he blamed them, watching Connie wave at the others and walk towards the house – she was likely checking on Steven, all of them poking their head in occasionally to make sure he was still asleep in the safety of his bed.

Sighing, he ran a hand through his hair as he chose his words with care. "Parenting in this sort of messed up world is… not easy. I realize you have a lot to work on with her, figuring out what's going to be the new normal, but… yeah. I do worry. A lot."

"I'm not even sure what I will do about Steven now that he's back. I don't want him to be in harm's way again, but, I don't even know if I could stop him," he added truthfully.

After a pause, the woman standing in front of the van turned and took a seat next to Greg. She looked so exhausted, which was probably befitting a doctor.

Whatever mask of resolve she had been managing to keep up cracked the moment she sat, surprising Greg. "I-I don't know what to tell her, what we could possibly tell her to make her want to stay at home with us. I don't want her to resent us, but, who knows if this… pink thing will last? We…" she took a steadying breath, so he waited patiently.

"I can't help but draw comparisons to my work… it feels like I'm telling a patient's family that their loved one's condition is terminal, but now I'm on the other side of things. Pearl said she was fading – she could be gone in an hour, or tomorrow, or never. I, we, don't know, and I just want to spend every second with her." She covered her eyes with the palms of her hands, leaning forward.

Honestly, Greg did not know what to say, and Doug was still silent, watching the others.

After a few minutes, Priyanka let out a light chuckle, although she didn't sound very amused. "How do we do this, Greg? How do you do it? Even if she continues to live through this… pinkness, if we keep her away from this, she'll be miserable; if we let her go into it, she might really die this time." Her voice was hard, and he couldn't fault her for struggling. These were the same questions he asked himself every day, wondering if Steven was going to live to see the next sunrise.

Doug chimed in, his voice low. "On the one hand, it feels like we might ruin whatever time she has left. But on the other, it feels like we're enabling her to just get herself…" The man didn't finish the sentence, but he didn't have to – the word was heavy within their silence: killed.

Frowning, Greg thought about their concerns, honestly unsure of what to tell them. How do you comfort someone when you don't even know how to deal with those same worries?

He started to formulate an answer slowly. "Well… if I may speak freely, I think… you should let her do what she wants. I know that's… hard." He felt his own chest tighten, thinking about his son.

"It's what got Steven into all of this in the first place, so I probably sound like a hypocrite, but.. he's tied to it, all of this magic and madness, whether I like it or not. And, now, your daughter is too. If we try to keep them from it, we'll not only hurt their feelings, but we might even put them in danger. There's a lot about Steven I don't understand, still, and now you've got this thing going on with Connie. The Gems are the best teachers and protectors on this planet when it comes to this sort of thing, and who knows what sort other monsters and mysteries will to start to surface after all of this mess. They're – heh, they're so darn strong," he snickered lightly. Both Maheswarans were looking at him, not expecting the laughter, looking miffed. Greg quickly explained himself.

"They're really something else, these kids. They've seen more and done more than most adults, and lived to tell about it. It's incredible – they're incredible. You don't need to take my advice; I would take Steven and head straight for the hills if I wouldn't have Pearl chasing me to the ends of the Earth over him." He smiled at the image.

"But if I can at least suggest one thing, be proud of her. She's done some amazing things. They both have."

They were silent for a while after that, but Doug was smiling. Priyanka looked thoughtful, mulling over his words, but she could not resist the smile that spread across her own face when her husband placed a hand on her shoulder. They were proud of her; she really was incredible.

Steven stiffened when the door opened, hearing the lightness of footsteps enter the house. It only sounded like a single pair, but he couldn't tell who it was just by the sound. For some reason, Steven had instinctively shut his eyes and pretended to be asleep once again – it was silly, of course, he would have to get up eventually.

There was a long silence after they ascended the stairs. Vaguely, he guessed it was Pearl from how lightly they stepped, and he knew she would sometimes watch him sleep. Could she tell when he was faking? He had to keep himself from grimacing at the thought – that would be embarrassing.

After about another minute, they spoke quietly, and his heart started to hammer in his chest. Lion was making that cooing noise when he would nuzzle into someone, so they were petting him, he knew.

"Oh, Lion…" Her voice was fully of affection, looking at the way her skin mingled with the beast's fur so perfectly. Honestly, Connie couldn't decide if that was reassuring or disconcerting. After a thoughtful pause, she looked up from petting the gentle pink giant and back at Steven, only to gasp. His eyes were open, looking at her.

"S-Steven?" Connie blinked, making sure he really was awake.

Sitting up carefully, Steven was glad for the blankets – his legs were still sore from the lashes, and he didn't want her to see them.

"Connie, I…" his voice cracked – his mouth was very dry. What could he say to her? Lapis had mentioned this, but he hadn't known what to expect – she really was pink. Really pink. Standing next to Lion only exacerbated how absolutely pink she was.

Too excited for her own good, the girl flew forward and grasped him in a hug. He was warm, and safe, and she was so happy; she hadn't been here to see him when he first returned, and now that he was awake, his safety felt that much more real.

He did not hug back, still overwhelmed by her… well, everything. She was alive, she was smiling, she was breathing and her voice sounded like his favorite song. She was pink, but holding him, not hurting him, not fearing for their lives.

She pulled back, beaming, but her face fell when she noticed the caution in his eyes.

Lowering her voice, Connie made her smile gentler. "It's okay, Steven. I'm okay. You're okay." She sat slowly on the edge of his bed, measuring his reaction, and her fingers had crept to hold his hand. He flinched away.

She tried to hide it, but Steven could tell his reaction hurt her. "I-I'm sorry, just… jumpy." He moved his hand back, putting on his best reassuring smile. She did not return the expression, but did not withdraw her hand. The others outside had grown quiet, and it seemed the outside world wanted them to be still for that moment.

But that was the outside world – inside, Steven found his lungs were on fire. His palms had grown sweaty, which only made him more nervous since their fingers were touching. Deliberately, Steven took a deep breath and fixed his gaze on her eyes. She was like a rose, so bright and full of life, but he couldn't help but worry that she might wilt.

"Connie, I am… so, so sorry. No – please," Steven stopped her when she opened her mouth to interrupt him. He knew she wouldn't want to hear his apology.

He squeezed her thin pink hand lightly, and pulled his own away. "I know… you won't want to hear this. But please. Let me… just…" His voice was shaking, so he took another deep breath.

"I thought I lost you. I really thought that was it – she, she," he tried to say White Diamond, but the sound make him choke up. He tried again.

"I never thought I would see you again." Tears lined his tired cheeks, still exhausted despite the hours of sleep. Connie was looking at him, brows pulled together in a thoughtful, sad expression, but he was looking at his hands in his lap.

"I… I thought it was over. I know you're going to say it's okay, but, it's not. It won't ever be, not fully. Connie, it's my fault you died." Steven grit his teeth together, making his mouth form the words that haunted him.

"I felt you go cold… and I know we're here, now. But that doesn't undo what happened, and that does nothing for what might happen next." He shuddered as another breeze crept through the house. His gaze moved out into the white sand below. The way it shined under the moonlight made him feel like White Diamond was piercing him with her gaze – was she? She was in his mind, could she see everything? Hear everything? Was she the one speaking right now – or was it him?

I own everything.

Connie let him finish, watching the tears form in his eyes as he looked at the beach.

Weakly, he continued. "I don't know what to do, Connie. I feel like I'm sick, or stuck, or both. I want to hold your hand, and hug you, and tell you everything that happened… I mean it, I want to. But, I don't even feel like I'm here right now. I feel like I'm still on Homeworld. I can't explain it, Connie. I'm sorry. I'm sorry…"

His face fell into his hands, ashamed and afraid and terribly empty. How do you tell someone who was taken away from you, then mercifully returned, that you love them, that you were sorry, that you would never have let this happen if you had known? They were supposed to do this together, face things together, but Steven had never felt so alone in his entire life. The only things he felt like he had left were his scars and the voices that bounced in the back of his mind.

Very gently, Connie placed a hand on his leg from above the blanket. Steven resisted the urge to move away; he didn't want to hurt her feelings again.

"Steven… you're right, it's not just 'okay' now. I'm sorry. But, it's not your fault what happened out there, and right now, we can't change any of it. You're not on Homeworld, because I'm not on Homeworld. Right now, you're with me, and I'm not going anywhere. You're here with me. Forget about the Gems, and my parents, and Homeworld, and all of it. Just for one second, please?"

Her voice was so sweet, like the soft sigh of summer, and Steven could do nothing but let his hands drop, looking up at her.

He was surprised, not having realized how close she was until he raised his head. They were only inches away, and for just a second, he managed to do what she asked. It was just her, and him, and nobody else, and it was perfect. Softly, he leaned his forehead forward so they touched, like the first time they fused, and closed his eyes.

"Thank you, Connie."

She smirked, and drew back so she could face him.

God, he still looks terrible. And it was true – he needed sleep first and foremost, but he really looked sick. Steven was terribly pale and he had grown thin, underfed and dehydrated from his treatment on Homeworld.

As she turned slightly, Steven's eyes moved to her shoulder. "Why'd you cut your hair? It looks good," he added defensively.

He really was just curious – he noticed it before everything happened, and right now, it felt nice to not talk about himself.

"Ahh…" she looked up at the ceiling, thinking. She did not want to lie to him, but talking about Holly Blue Agate right now probably wasn't a good idea.

"I did this, well, sort of epic move, if I can say so myself, while we were out there. Long story short, I faked a gem out by cutting my own hair." That was more-or-less what happened.

He didn't smile like she hoped, but he didn't look so grim, either. In fact, Steven simply folded his hands in his lap and turned to look out the window. There was something on his mind, she knew, but she didn't want to push him.

And she was right – there was something on his mind, or, more accurately, there was something in his mind. Opalite's voice, a memory that wasn't his – once Connie recounted it, it was like a light switch went off in his brain and he was there. He saw it and felt it like it was his own hands grabbing the back of her plait. Holly Blue had tried to kill her.

She let him brood for a few minutes, unsure what to do. Connie more than anything just wanted to be helpful, but she recognized that, if the Gems felt like they had gone through the ringer on Homeworld, he must be a hundred times worse.

"Connie?"

"Yes, Steven?"

He bit his lip and fell silent again – she waited patiently for several minutes before eventually encouraging him again.

"Steven?"

He blinked a few times, resurfacing from whatever thoughts had gripped him, and his eyes found her own.

"S-sorry. I wanted to ask, is everyone out there?"

She nodded, but added, "Yes, although last I saw, Lapis is up by the lighthouse, but otherwise, yeah. Everyone is out there."

Steven tugged gently on the blanket corner, silently asking her to get up so he could get out of bed. He really needed to tell them what had happened, and it would easier to do it all-at-once rather than one-at-a-time, right?

Why do they deserve your honesty? They were never honest with you. Not even the girl, now.

Shaking his head, Steven pushed one of his hands into his temple. Connie was looking at him a bit anxiously, but she made no move to stop him.

"I want to talk to them, the Gems. I'm sorry to ask you to, but could you get them for me? I need to figure this gem-stuff out before I talk to my Dad."

Connie was glad he wasn't shutting himself in, but she still bit her lip nervously. He still looked tired, sounded hollow, and was shaking so much she thought he would fall over.

"Are you sure?"

Inhaling sharply, Steven placed a hand against the wall at the top of the stairs, closing his eyes. He had not realized how faint he was until he stood up – how long has it been since he's eaten? He may have access to food now, but he knew nothing would taste very good. Once again, all of this was an extension of White Diamond, she was letting him be here, letting him eat, letting enjoy this moment with Connie. He couldn't do anything without feeling an invisible collar around his throat, the voice of White Diamond in his mind, her icy voice chilling the blood beneath his veins.

The longer he was here, he was certain the worse this would be. She said he would be back soon – how soon was soon? Too soon? Too late? Would she hurt them?

"Steven, are you okay?" Connie was next to him again, and he blinked several times.

Right – the Gems. Gotta talk to them.

"Um, yeah, sorry. Just dizzy. I am sure. I want to talk to them."

She frowned at him but did not protest, heading down the stairs in front of him. One foot out the door, she turned to him one more time.

"Just… can you promise me you'll eat something, and drink some water? I just got you back, I don't want you dying of dehydration." Her voice was full of mirth, but she frowned at him.

Steven couldn't help but chuckle at that, and it felt a little good to laugh. "I promise."