The Champions Ball – Part Two: Reunions

For what felt like ages, the three lads could only stare in shock at the spirits before them. However, at the same time; everyone could sense they were all feeling a whirlwind of emotions raging within them (as evidenced by the tears flowing down their cheeks.)

Finally, one of the female spirits floated towards Beast Boy and lightly brushed a tear off his cheek with her hand. "Don't cry, Gar-Gar...Mama's here" she said warmly, "show me your sweet smile, honey; you know how much I love it." After hearing these words, Beast Boy's tears briefly ceased and he stared intently at the spirit before him.

When he had finally found the courage to speak up again, the first thing he said was a soft yet hopeful "M-M-Mommy?" "Yeah, honey; that's right...it's Mommy" the spirit said with a bright smile, "I'm here and so is your father." In the next few moments, Beast Boy did everything from rubbing his eyes in shock to clearing out his ears to ensure he had heard everything correctly. When he finally stopped all this, he looked towards the two spirits and asked if they truly were his parents. "Of course we are, pal" chuckled the male ghost, "now...are ya too big of a hero to give your ol' man a hug?

Not needing to be asked twice; the young changeling swiftly dropped his armaments, raced across the room and threw himself into the arms of his parents' spirits. Surprisingly; upon doing so, he did not phase through either of them. Before long, the lad was so overcome with emotion that he wasted no time in crying into his mother's shoulder.

"MOMMY...DAD, I-I CAN'T BELIEVE IT" he sobbed loudly, "you're here...you're both really here!" The two spirits chuckled heartily at their son and professed their own joy at being there with him, after years of separation. Not long after that, Luffy threw himself at Ace's spirit and hugged him for dear life.

"ACE...I-I CAN'T BELIEVE IT, YOU'RE BA-A-ACK" wailed the rubber man, "I'VE MISSED YOU SO MUCH!" In the past; there had been many instances where Ace often scolded his brother for, as he would call it, "blubbering like a baby." This time however, he openly welcomed the tears and returned Luffy's embrace; all while shedding his own tears of joy.

"Yeah...that's right, Lil' Brother" Ace chuckled with a light sniffle, "I'm back...and I plan on stayin' for a long time." Luffy let out a hearty laugh at these words and inhaled deeply through his nostrils, which caused his crewmates to grimace softly. All that remained was Steven, who stared at the "spiritual" form of his mother with a blank look of indifference.

For a brief moment, many mistook that the lad's silence as a sign of offense. But Garnet quickly dispelled this notion with only a simple look, which seemed to say "give him a moment to think." Meanwhile, the ethereal form of Pink Diamond/Rose Quartz approached her son with the greatest of caution; feeling unsure of what to say or do next.

But before she could even say the simplest of words to him, the former Diamond/rebel leader suddenly felt someone lunge at her with great force. After regaining her balance seconds later, she looked down and saw Spinel hugging her for dear life. At the same time, the wee clownish Gem let loose what felt like eons worth of tears from her eyes.

"P-P-Pink, it's you; it's really you" Spinel cried softly, "I mean...technically, it is you; even though you're just some sort of magical hologram or whatever. I just...oh, jeez; I'm talking too much, aren't I?" For a moment or so, Pink/Rose didn't know what to say or do next; fearing that either option might cause some form of negative response. But then, she decided that the best thing to do at this moment was to silently comfort her former companion.

Thus, with a soft laugh in her throat; Pink/Rose raised her hand up slightly and patted the top of Spinel's head. "It's okay, Spinel; I'm happy to see you too" she murmured, "I just...I don't understand why you're hugging me." To say the least, this statement left the gem feeling quite confused; she did not expect this sort of "greeting" from her old friend.

What happened next sounded so surprising, it caused the other ball guests to go silent. "How can you feel so happy to see me, Spinel...after everything I've done" Pink/Rose grumbled bitterly, her arms quivering; "I...I've hurt you all...so much; you, Yellow, Blue, White, all of Homeworld...I've even hurt the Crystal Gems!" The group in question gasped loudly with surprise, feeling shocked to hear their former leader speak so poorly about herself.

Unfortunately, Pink/Rose's tirade did not end there; before long, she swiftly denounced all the good she had done over the past millennia. "Rose...Pink, whatever; please...stop talking nonsense" begged Pearl, "you've done so much good for the Earth and all of the Gems who lived there...you gave us all true purpose!" Despite however sweet and kind her comrade's words might've been, Pink/Rose refused to listen; proclaiming that she had done no good for the earth.

"All I did was lead you into a war, Pearl" she grumbled, "a war that I caused due to my bad decisions...a war that still went on even after I disappeared!" These words pierced both the Gems of Homeworld and those of Earth deeply, for they referred to two of the greatest tragedies of their eternal lives; the day of Pink's (supposed) shattering and the moment Rose surrendered herself so that her son could be born.

"On top of all that; I left you behind, Spinel" Pink/Rose murmured shamefully, "I left you waiting in my garden for eons...all because of my selfishness." These words caused poor Spinel to shed even more tears, mostly due to how heartbroken she felt during the aforementioned departure. But at the same time, she felt guilty in the fact that she took her anger for this out on Steven

Speaking of whom; while this whole scene was playing out, young Steven gazed upon the ethereal form of his mother in silence. He did not move, he did not speak and with each soft breath he took, he could feel his hands clenching tight. Greg was the first to notice this and when he did, a nervous sweat trickled down his brow.

"Oh, jeez...I've always wondered what Stew-Ball's first meeting with his mom would be like" he thought to himself, "but something about that look on his face says he's not interested in making nice." While these thoughts and more ran through Greg's mind, Connie felt as though the tension was so thick that even her sword would not be able to cut through it. When she turned her gaze over to Spinel, Connie thought she would be enraged by Pink's confession.

But to her surprise, she simply swiped her tears away and held Pink/Rose even tighter in her arms. "I don't care about that anymore, Pinkie" Spinel said jokingly with a light sniffle, "I...I'm just so happy that you're back." Not long after this, the other three Diamonds expressed their own joy at seeing Pink's return...but it did little to ease her troubled mind.

"It still doesn't excuse what I've done" Pink/Rose grumbled, "not just to all of you...but to my son as well." Without the slightest hesitation, she expressed utter regret for the fact that her son chose to fix every one of her mistakes; claiming she never wanted such a life for him. "Is that so...Mom" Steven asked in a bitter tone of voice, "then, what did you want from me; why did you want to have a kid at all?"

Once more, people felt shocked by Steven's behavior; some felt it seemed rather cold. But those among the Crystal Gems' ranks knew the true reasoning behind it all and wondered what might happen next. Finally, Pink/Rose let out a weary sigh and further professed her regret towards Steven choosing to take her place in protecting the earth.

"You want to know why I wanted to have you, dear" she asked, "because I wanted you to have something that I knew I never could...a life of your own choosing." From here, Pink/Rose reminded everyone of the oppressive culture Gems once lived in; how everyone was forced to take up a given position the moment they came into being. "From the minute Gems come out of the Kindergarten, they are immediately told what they're to do for all eternity; no questions asked" she murmured sadly, "but on Earth...everything was lively, unpredictable and above all, free!"

While no one disputed the Gem maiden's ideals, many among the crowd couldn't help but grumble the words "that depends on where you're at" under their breath; going as far as to address but a few places where humans were as equally oppressed as Gemfolk once were. "I never wanted you to become involved with the Gem War, sweetheart" Pink/Rose stated, "I wanted you to grow up, be happy and live your own life like all other humans do." Despite however wholesome these words sounded, all they seemed to do was make Steven appear even angrier.

Sensing this, Pink/Rose drew closer to her son and held her arms up high; intent on giving him a hug. But instead of accepting the gesture, Steven only backed away fearfully; his stern gaze never fading from his face. "What about all the lies you told, Mom" he demanded, "what about poofing Bismuth and hiding her away, leaving Spinel behind, going along with your pregnancy despite how sad it made the Crystal Gems feel...or forcing Pearl to hide the truth about your death; WHAT'S YOUR EXCUSE FOR ALL OF THAT?!"

Surprisingly, Pink/Rose didn't appear the least bit shocked or offended by her son's words. Instead, she remained fixed on the floor and took in a series of calming breaths to help hold back the tears that threatened to flow from her eyes. Meanwhile, Steven continued to vent his frustrations at Pink/Rose; much to the shock of everyone around him.

"I've dealt with so much mental and emotional stress, over the years" he growled, "I've watched my friend die right in front of me, almost got myself killed, been locked up, knocked unconscious, was almost abandoned by my best friend and to top it all of...White pulled out my Gem from my body, thinking it would help bring YOU back!" To say that Pink/Rose felt mortified by everything her son had just said would not do the situation proper justice. In truth, she was utterly ashamed; towards Homeworld, her fellow Diamonds and most of all, towards herself.

Despite all her best attempts to appear strong before her family and comrades, seeing her son appear so angry with her and hearing everything he had endured completely broke down her resolve. With a light sniffle, Pink/Rose fell onto her knees and cried; much to the surprise of all the Gemfolk around her. "You're right...You're right to be upset with me about all of that, Steven" she murmured, "and I'm...I'm sorry."

While still trying to appear indifferent towards his mother, something in her tone of voice just now managed to help lower his guard...but only a little. As if sensing this from him, Elf King Thaylog approached Steven and offered to help give him a gentle push in the right direction. "I cannot tell you that I completely understand your situation, Sir Steven" he murmured, "but your mother seems to genuinely regret what she has done; therefore is it truly proper to cling on to your hatred?"

At first, the lad offered no reply, choosing instead to continue glaring at his mother's form with bitter contempt. Then, after letting out a weary sigh; Steven turned towards Thaylog and asked for any advice he knew of that would help him with his situation. "Part of me wants to forgive her, to love her again like my Dad and the Gems do" Steven whispered stoically, "but...how can I do that, after learning about everything she's done?"

King Thaylog nodded slightly in understanding, recalling all of the deeds that were written about Pink Diamond/Rose Quartz in Steven's tome within the archives. But as he gazed over towards the crying form of the Gem maiden in question, he did not see nefarious criminal or a traitor; only a broken soul who showed true regret for her actions (good and ill.) "Perhaps you are right to still doubt your mother, lad" King Thaylog sighed, "but know this...holding onto a grudge towards another is like clutching a piece of hot coal with the intent to throw it; in the end, it is you and only you who will be burned."

For a moment or so, Steven didn't seem to understand the king's pearl of wisdom; thinking it sounded just as confusing as some of the advice Garnet had told him over the years. "What I mean to say is...the more you cling onto your hatred for your mother's past actions, the more harm it will bring to you" Thaylog explained, "and you have already dealt with such pain not too long ago, have you not?" With that, the elf king gave a bow and returned to his throne; leaving Steven behind to contemplate on his words.

For what felt like ages, the lad remained frozen in place where he stood; his eyes never leaving the sight of his mother. During that time, his friends and comrades became rather worried; wondering what he must be thinking about. Since his victory on Homeworld, Steven had suffered great emotional pain; choosing to direct it toward every mistake his mother had made rather than find ways to move past it.

But after seeing Pink/Rose finally appear before him, after all the trials he faced and after taking King Thaylog's advice to heart; Steven finally understood his folly. All he wanted was to be different from his mother, to strive towards being a better protector and leader than her. But in doing so, he had pushed himself too hard towards the unreachable idea of being the "perfect hero" of his universe.

As a result, despite all of his victories and achievements in life; Steven refused to let go of his hatred towards his mother. He had forgotten how much he desired to simply know her, to meet her and tell her how much he loved her...if he still did. Then, much to Steven's surprise; he suddenly felt someone push him forward from behind.

He looked over his shoulder slightly and saw Connie, whose eyes were now brimming with tears. "Go on, Steven...talk to her" she urged softly, "I'll come and join you, if it'll help." While these words gave Steven some comfort, he didn't want to burden someone else with his own struggles anymore.

But when he tried to tell Connie this; his dad, the Crystal Gems (both past and new,) Jasper and the Diamonds soon joined Connie's side. "Go on, Steven...go talk to her" Bismuth gently insisted, "and we'll all be right behind you." Thankfully, these words gave the lad just the push he needed to keep going forward.

Slowly but surely, Steven walked his way over towards his mother; who was still overwhelmed with tears of regret. Then, without a second thought; he reached his arms up and held her tightly in the biggest hug he could muster. To say the least, this gesture took Pink/Rose completely by surprise...but she still welcomed it.

"I feel like I should still hate you, Mom...after everything you did, I don't know if I can forgive you" he murmured, "but...Thaylog's right, holding on to a grudge just hurts me inside and I can't live like that anymore." No sooner had he said all of this, Steven looked his mother in the eye and said that while he couldn't forgive Pink/Rose for her past mistakes; he now had some understanding on why she made them. "You were trapped in a society where you couldn't think for yourself, despite your Diamond status" Steven murmured, "so, when you left that life behind and actually tried to do just that...you ended up making mistakes."

In spite of herself, Pink/Rose sniffled softly and gave her son a nod; indicating that what he said was the absolute truth. "I never meant to hurt anyone...not on purpose" she cried, "I just...I wanted to be different, I wanted to be free to live my own life." After hearing his mother say all of this, Steven felt a grim sense of déjà vu wash over him like a waterfall.

It wasn't that long ago when he heard his father profess similar words of disdain towards the same restrictive lifestyle he once lived, when he lived within the DeMayo Household. After looking back to that moment and hearing his mother's words just now, Steven realized that they truly were alike. Of course, during his moment of stress; the lad immediately presumed the sole thing his parents shared in common was selfishness.

But now, Steven understood that he was wrong...that is, by a small margin. All he wanted was what many considered to be a "normal life;" proper boundaries, a "normal" public school education, a chance to associate himself with human peers his own age and most of all, a stable family that would love him. Steven thought he had been denied all these things his whole life and that his parents selfishly squandered that gift during theirs.

But now, he truly realized that what they had in the past...it wasn't what he thought. There was no love found in his parents' relationships with their families, no reasonable set of rules to live by and neither his mother nor his father had the freedom to be true to themselves. As these thoughts and more flooded Steven's mind, he suddenly remembered his experience within the mindscape; specifically that of the Tea Test.

"The spirits were right...life, any kind of life, requires balance" Steven thought to himself, "I thought I was giving myself just that by trying to avoid following in my parents' footsteps...but I was wrong, I'm no better than they once were." Within seconds, everyone suddenly noticed tears threatening to flow down Steven's cheeks. But as Connie and Greg prepared to try and console him, Pink/Rose's spirit gestured for them to stay back.

Afterwards, she took in a deep breath and did something she had longed to do since deciding to live on Earth; hug her child. At first, this gesture almost frightened Steven but anytime he tried to pull away; she only held onto him tighter. Many presumed that because she was a "hologram" of sorts, Pink/Rose should not have been able to do this.

But Thaylog soon revealed that he and his family used their combined powers to grant the spirits the ability to touch. For the likes of Rose, the Logans and especially Ace (despite every attempt he made to feel otherwise;) this was the most wonderful news they'd ever heard. "Steven...my wonderful, sweet, precious baby boy" Pink/Rose whispered, "please...don't cry, not for me."

For a moment or two, Steven's tears remained the same; mildly bitter and filled with sorrow. But after taking a moment to look his mother in the eye once more and seeing her smile at him, the lad's tears swiftly turned into those of unbridled joy. "Mom...it's so great to finally meet you" he chuckled while holding his mother tight, "I have so much to tell you."

As Steven prepared himself to tell his mother of all his experiences, Pink/Rose proclaimed she already knew about them; all thanks in part to being bonded with him since infancy. "Well...let me at least introduce you to the others" he said giddily, "hey, guys; come on over and meet my mom!" Straightaway, the main members of the Crystal Gems were the first to approach Pink/Rose; many of whom feeling eager to greet their former friend and leader.

At the same time, however; the people of Beach City did not appear so eager to join them. The main reason behind their hesitancy, of course was due to their lack of understanding on the current situation. "Hold on...I'm a little confused here" Sadie murmured, "is that woman...or whatever she is really Steven's mom?"

At first, she hoped to hear a reply from the crowd beside her but alas; the folk of Beach City seemed equally confused. That was when all eyes soon fell upon Greg, the man who claimed to have personally known the one called Rose Quartz. But alas, much like Steven; he too was beside himself with emotions.

For what felt like ages, he simply stood frozen in place; watching his son pour his heart out to the ethereal form of his mother. When Pink/Rose finally noticed Greg, seconds later; she politely moved past her fellow Gems and approached him. Of course, this made the poor fellow feel quite nervous and he swiftly started to behave like a teenager being approached by their secret love.

"Uh...Uh, hi there" Greg murmured shyly while waving, "nice to see you again, Rose...I MEAN, Pink Diamond...I MEAN..." As he tried desperately to think of the proper greeting, he cursed himself with every failed attempt. But Pink/Rose didn't seem to care; in truth, she found his mannerisms to be quite adorable.

"You haven't changed a bit, dear" she giggled sweetly, "well, you've changed a little bit; your hair isn't quite as long anymore." Upon hearing his wife comment, Greg found himself rubbing his hand slightly through what remained of his hair. But rather than appear upset about it, he gave a chuckle and proclaimed that "a lot had changed since they last seen each other."

This statement caused Pink/Rose to chuckle sweetly, which sounded like music to the ears of Greg and the Crystal Gems. Then, the former Diamond approached her husband and kissed him lightly upon his forehead; proclaiming that he was still the sweet human man she knew and loved for years. When she had finally stopped laughing, Pink/Rose's eyes soon fell upon Connie; who was trying her best to hide herself from view.

"Don't be shy, young lady...come closer" she beckoned, "I want to meet the young lady who stole Steven's heart." While these words did seem pleasant, Connie's shyness still got the better of her and she tried to move further back into the crowd...until her parents stopped her. It was here that her father, Doug, offered to go with Connie to speak with Pink/Rose; claiming that he'd wanted to know about Steven's "true mother" for a long time.

"Thanks, guys" Connie murmured gratefully, "I know it's natural for somebody to feel anxious about meeting their friend's parents. But after all the stories I've heard, I..." Before she could continue, Priyanka placed a hand on her daughter's shoulder and proclaimed that while Steven's "Gem business" still puzzled her, his mother looked relatively harmless. "Rest assured, if anything goes wrong; we'll be with you" Doug assured, "I may not have powers...but I do have a taser gun."

In spite of herself, Connie let out a soft chuckle at her father's words; mentally praising his desire to appear strong despite being a mall security guard. Finally, she and her family made their approach towards Pink/Rose; who seemed to be watching them with a wide-eyed look of anticipation. When she had finally got close enough to her, Connie did the respectable thing and knelt before the former Diamond; all while bowing her head in greeting.

"So polite...and I hear you're quite the capable fighter" praised Pink/Rose, "I can see why my son thinks so highly of you, Connie." Upon hearing the ethereal being address her by name, the young lady in question almost fell over in shock. With a light gasp, Steven took Connie lightly by her shoulders and helped her back onto her feet.

When she had finally regained her composure, she stared up at Pink/Rose and asked how she knew her name. "I don't know how to put it into words, I'm afraid" the former Diamond chuckled sheepishly, "but...you already know that I became half of Steven, after I gave birth to him; correct?" After a brief pause, Connie gave a slight nod of understanding; recalling that Rose had said something similar in her video message to Steven.

From here, Pink/Rose proclaimed that she had been able to witness much of what her son experienced; despite not being physically present in his life. "I've 'seen' him laugh, cry, I 'heard' him sing, inspire hope into others" she said with pride, "at the same time, I've also 'witnessed' many of his...horrible struggles." No sooner had she mentioned this, Pink/Rose's gaze soon fell upon the rest of her son's party; namely Bismuth, Spinel, Peridot and the Diamonds.

"I have seen Steven do everything in his power to fix my mistakes...only to suffer great trauma afterwards" she murmured with shame, "worse still, I've felt him call upon the most destructive aspects of my powers...just so he wouldn't feel weak in the eyes of others." Upon saying these words, not only did they cause Spinel to quiver with regret...but Jasper as well; despite her best efforts to deny such feelings. Before long, nearly everyone in Steven's life had their heads hanging low with shame; which made the lad in question feel slightly bothered.

But alas, after making a futile attempt to stop his mother's self-inflicted scoldings; Pink/Rose's shame only grew higher. "You were right to hate me for so long, Steven" she whimpered with a sniffle, "all I ever wanted was to have a better life, to be free and share that same freedom with my fellow Gems...but I only made things worse for our universe." To say that the Crystal Gems felt bothered by these words would not do the situation proper justice.

But instead of Garnet, Amethyst or even Pearl deciding to speak their minds; it was Lapis who chose to do so on their behalf. "Look, Pink Diamond or Rose Quartz or...whatever your name is; you've made some mistakes but guess what, so have the rest of us here" she shouted, "Bismuth made a device meant to shatter Diamonds like you...without realizing who you really were, Peridot did all sorts of things out of blind loyalty to Yellow Diamond and I was so desperate to leave the Earth behind that I tried to steal all the water on the planet to try and reach Homeworld!" While he knew that she was ultimately speaking the truth, hearing his friend speak so viciously about herself and others caused Steven's heart to ache immensely.

In addition to everything she said, Lapis proclaimed that she never "believed" in the Earth's value like the Crystal Gems did. Thus, at the time; it mattered not to her what harm she and the Gems of Homeworld might've caused. "But then, we all met your son and everything changed" Lapis murmured with a smile, "he helped reunite Bismuth with her team two times over, he ended the war between Earth and Homeworld for good...and most of all, he showed Gems like me and Peridot just how precious the planet truly is."

As she listened to all of this, Pink/Rose found herself smiling slightly at her son; feeling proud of all that he had accomplished. However, she soon looked Lapis squarely in the eye and questioned how any of this was different from all of the horrid mistakes she had made. "I think what my friend here is saying, Rose...is that no one's perfect, be they Human or Gem or...whatever else" Bismuth interjected, "but what's important is that we learn from our mistakes and try to better ourselves afterwards."

No sooner had this been said, Steven found himself stomping at the ground lightly in shame; surprising everyone. When Connie and her parents asked what was troubling him, the lad proclaimed that while he won the Contest of Champions; it didn't remedy his greatest failure...moving past his anger and becoming better. "All I've ever wanted since I was young was to know you, Mom; to experience the joy any child would have with their mother" he stated, "but after learning you were Pink Diamond, how you faked your own shattering, left Spinel behind and so many other things...I tried so hard to push you away!"

No sooner had these thoughts came to mind, the poor lad felt tears seeming out from his clenched eyelids. "I wanted to have a chance to really meet you, to learn from the 'great hero' everyone else said you were" Steven whimpered, "and now...I don't know what I should be feeling." To say the least, these words left many of the ball's attendants feeling quite shocked; the other champions among them.

But the Crystal Gems and their allies were left feeling the most stunned, out of all of them. On the one hand, those like Garnet felt that Steven was being much too hard both on his mother and himself. But on the other hand, she along with Pearl and Greg felt that Steven's behavior seemed rather justified.

After so many years of being kept in the dark about Gemfolk and his mother's past, it was natural for him to feel unsure of what to do. But his demeanor coupled with the tears he was shedding were both clear signs that he needed help letting go. These same feelings were shared between others among the Crystal Gems' ranks as well.

"Poor Steven...I can't believe he's kept all this pain hidden away from everybody" Lars murmured in shock, "hard to believe this is the same guy who used to sing about Cookie Cats...or spend his days trying to help people like me feel better." The Off-Colors crew soon found themselves softly chattering in agreement with their captain, despite feeling slightly confused by the current situation. Soon after that, the rest of Beach City's citizens soon felt just as alarmed as Lars did about Steven's behavior.

Mr. Smiley, Mr. Kofi Pizza, the "Cool" Kids and especially Sadie were amazed to see the otherwise joyful Steven appear so downtrodden. As for Connie and her parents, they found themselves wondering if they should simply back away from the lad or try and offer him some reassurance. Meanwhile, Pink/Rose had remained silent as the grave during her son's entire speech; unsure of what to say or do next.

She also felt an overwhelming sense of regret raging about in her mind over what Steven had been forced to endure...all for the sake of remedying her past actions. But before Pink/Rose had the chance to speak up, to tell Steven of all the good he had done; she heard something that made her spiritual form shiver in horror. "All these people...they were wrong about me" Steven whimpered, "I'm no savior...I'm no champion or a hero, I'm a total fraud."

Not only did these words leave Pink/Rose stunned but the Crystal Gems and their allies as well. This was the second time they had heard Steven speak so poorly about himself, the first happening back home in Beach City. Thankfully, the Shadowmanes' magic was still in affect; thus keeping the lad from transforming into his corrupt beastly form.

Regardless, these thoughts left Steven feeling so disheartened that he finally fell down to his knees and cried. "I'm a fraud...a nuisance, a freak" he sobbed, "I've hurt so many people, I've forced myself to forget who I once was and I made bad decisions that only made things worse...just like you did, Mom." Once more, the crowd was left shocked by the lad's words; wondering why he chose to behave this way now. It was here that King Thaylog offered to share a possible explanation behind it all.

"As many of you have seen or perhaps heard, the lad has achieved much in his life" he stated, "but in his mind, he believes he has only left behind a legacy that's as terrible as hers; if not more so." When asked what Steven had ever done that was wrong; the Shadowmanes listed moments like turning himself in to Homeworld soldiers, forcing the likes of Sadie and Lars to stay together on several occasions, freeing Lapis without his family's consent, helping Connie set up a fake family scenario to earn the Maheswarans' approval and others. With each of these examples, the Crystal Gems and those with them soon felt themselves shrinking with guilt; amazed that Steven had kept these feelings hidden away for so long.

But before anyone had the chance to speak to him, Pink/Rose was already attempting to do the same thing. She approached Steven as silently yet casually as she could, lifted his chin up with her finger and looked him straight in the eye. At first, the poor lad believed she was staring at him with nothing short of pure contempt in her heart.

But after looking at her for only a few seconds; Steven saw no such emotions from her, only pure wholesome love. "Steven, you have nothing to apologize for" Pink/Rose said firmly, "and you are most certainly a hero...the best kind of hero I've seen in centuries!" Once more, Steven attempted to denounce his mother's words by reiterating his many mistakes...but he was stopped when he felt Pink/Rose's hand rest upon his lips.

"Steven...look around you" she ordered softly, "you have succeeded in the one thing I had struggled to do since I first came to Earth, unite Gem and Humankind in peace." Not long after this, Pink/Rose praised her son for successfully winning over her fellow Diamonds; which was something she herself could not do. "The truth is, Steven; I...I never wanted you to be like me nor did I want the Gems to turn you into me" she stated, "you have been able to achieve your victories in the best way possible...with you simply being you, Steven!"

No sooner had this been said, the other Crystal Gems (both old and new) approached the lad and enveloped him in a wonderful group hug. Then, Spinel came bounding towards them; wrapping her rubbery arms around the group and holding them with equal affection. "It's like I told ya long ago, Steven; if it wasn't for you...none of us here would be who we are now" Bismuth sniffled, "don't you ever doubt that!"

Lapis and Peridot joined in their comrade's affirmation by expressing their deepest thanks and love to Steven for inspiring them to change for the better. Then, Garnet spoke up and proclaimed that Steven truly had achieved more than his mother...in his own "Steven-y" way, as she once said so long ago. "We all make mistakes, Stew-Ball; especially heroes" Greg added, "but the best thing you can do is be responsible and to do that, you've gotta own up to them and make things right."

Despite the encouraging tone in his father's words, hearing him mention owning up to mistakes sent another icy chill through Steven's body. "But...I have tried to own up to past mistakes, namely Mom's and look what happened" he exclaimed, "Lars got killed, I had two of four Diamonds out for my head and Connie...she and Lion left me for weeks after I sacrificed myself to save everyone!" Now, the time had come for Connie to feel the chills of regret run through her; despite however much she tried to appear strong.

While in her mind, the actions she took on that day seemed justified; her heart told her that it felt wrong to leave Steven behind that way. Then, mere seconds after thinking this; Connie suddenly realized that she herself committed the same sin Steven had supposedly done. "Sure, it hurt me to see him go off to Homeworld back then" she thought bitterly, "but...looking back, what I did doesn't feel all that different."

Soon, Connie felt her own eyes swelling with tears; which caused her parents to gasp in alarm. But before they had to comfort her, she had already lunged herself at Steven and delivered a powerful kiss upon his lips. Needless to say, this gesture left many feeling quite surprised; the Gemfolk especially.

When she finally pulled herself away from him, almost twenty seconds later; Connie and Steven rested their foreheads against each other and they giggled softly. "Steven...I'm sorry for everything" she murmured, "I'm sorry for leaving you behind that night, I'm sorry I wasn't there for you during the times you needed help...and for never telling you how much I...how much I've loved you, both as my best friend...and so much more." To say the least, this confession left the lad so shocked that his entire face suddenly shined a bright shade of reddish-pink.

Meanwhile, the Gems were simply squealing with joy; apparently pleased by Connie's desire to profess her feelings at last for her dearest friend. After taking a moment to swipe her tears away, the young lady giggled softly and apologized for her "rash" actions." "I just...I hated seeing you crying like this, Steven" Connie murmured bashfully, "so, I...uh...I wanted to try and make you feel better."

In response to this; Steven simply chuckled, hoisted his friend/lover up slightly and spun her about. While this gesture did leave Connie feeling quite surprised, she still welcomed it happily. After letting out a hearty laugh, she gave Steven the greatest hug she could muster; which made the Gems feel even more awestruck.

At the same time, folk were worried about how the Maheswarans would feel about all of this. But much to their initial surprise, both Doug and Priyanka were smiling happily; all while swiping their own tears away from their eyes. "That boy certainly is something else" murmured the young doctor, "just...promise me that you'll help him take good care of my daughter; okay, everyone?"

Unsurprisingly, both the Gems and Greg responded by giving her a salute with the former performing the once famous "Diamond Salute." Then, after he had finally set her back down to the floor; Steven brought Connie over to meet his mother for the first time ever. Of course, the young lady soon found herself feeling quite shy and self-conscious; as anyone would upon meeting their lover's kin.

But in spite of these fears, Connie still approached Pink/Rose in the most respectful way she could. "H-H...H-Hello, my name is...C-C-Connie" she murmured with a light blush, "it's a pleasure to meet you Miss Quartz...I MEAN, Miss Diamond, I mean..." Again and again Connie tried to speak coherently to Pink/Rose, hoping to make a good impression...but she struggled to get even the first few words out.

However, much to hers and especially Steven's surprise; the former Diamond simply smiled at her and gave a most hearty laugh. To Connie's ears, it sounded just as sweet and precious as Steven's was when they were both children...but she still wondered why Pink/Rose was laughing at all. "Oh, I'm...I'm s-s-so sorry, young lady" the Gem maiden chuckled, "it's just...you're even more precious than I'd hoped you'd be."

Despite however sweet Pink/Rose's words sounded, it still left both Connie and Steven feeling rather confused. When she finally realized this, she reminded them of her earlier words. "Through Steven, I've seen you share many happy memories together with him" Pink/Rose stated, "it reminds me so much of the life Greg and I had together."

These words caused the chap in question to suddenly blush bashfully, which made her laugh even more happily. As for Connie, she was also blushing from Pink/Rose's compliments but couldn't quite rid herself of the fear swirling about inside of her. That was when the ethereal maiden rested her hand upon her cheek; causing Connie to look up at her.

Soon, the two of them were staring deeply into each other's eyes for what felt like ages; which left Steven feeling quite worried. Finally, Pink/Rose smiled kindly at Connie and gave her a loving pat atop her head. "You truly are a good girl" she stated, "I look forward to getting to know you more, now that I've returned."

This statement, though simple in nature, sounded like music to the ears of the Crystal Gems. Then, they finally cast aside all manner of decorum and swarmed their former leader in a loving embrace. "Don't hog her all for yourselves, Crystal Gems" Yellow Diamond said sternly, "she may be your leader...but she was a Diamond first." No sooner had this been said; she, Blue and White Diamond all laughed happily and joined in on the celebration.

To say the least, Pink/Rose felt so happy to be among her family again; both old and new. Meanwhile, not too far away; the other champions found themselves dealing with their own emotional struggles (specifically Sir Garfield and Sir Luffy.) For Beast Boy in particular, he found it difficult to look his parents in the eye; despite the many voices in his head screaming for him to do so.

As if sensing these feelings from him, Marie carefully cupped her hand upon his cheek and moved his gaze her way. After observing her son from head to toe, her emotions soon got the better of the ghostly maid and she started to weep. "My beautiful baby boy...just look at you" she whispered breathlessly, "you're all grown up, I can't believe it."

Upon hearing his wife say this, Mark Logan murmured in agreement with his wife; praising how handsome Beast Boy had grown. "Just look at ya, Son; it seems like only yesterday you were up to my knee" he chuckled, "now...you're a hero and a rather sharp lookin' one at that." While hearing his parents' praises filled Beast Boy with unparalleled amounts of joy, something in his heart still nagged at him immensely.

For a moment or so, he tried everything in his power to try and ignore this feeling...but to no avail. When the Logan spirits caught sight of this, they pleaded for their son to speak his mind. "Mom...Dad, I...I'm sorry I failed you both" the young changeling murmured sadly, "I should've stayed with you, tried to think of a way to save all three of us...and look what happened."

The instant he found himself thinking back to the moment of his parents' death, poor Garfield fell to his knees and cried; all while pounding his fist into the floor in anger. Naturally, the spirits of the Elder Logans were distressed by this behavior and took immediate action. Without the slightest pause, Marie floated to the floor and held her son in the most loving embrace.

"Gar-Gar...sweetie, you have nothing to apologize for or be ashamed of" she said firmly, "what happened to us was beyond anyone's control and you didn't have a full understanding of your powers yet." Not long after this, Mark Logan nodded in agreement and proclaimed that there was nothing Garfield could've done to help them...as unfortunate as this seemed. "But...But I could've done something" Beast Boy sniffled, "Robin's always telling me you've gotta do whatever it takes, when it comes to saving lives and being a hero."

After taking a moment to consider their son's words, both Logans looked over and saw the Boy Wonder in question standing beside his fellow Titans. Soon after that, they both glared slightly at them and their eyes suddenly flashed an eerie green. Now, over the course of their careers as heroes of their world; these lads and lasses have faced their fair share of danger and did not falter.

But the instant they saw the fierce glares Garfield's parents were giving them, a bitter chill suddenly ran through their bodies. Then, Marie Logan came floating towards the Titans; which filled them with an even greater sense of foreboding. When she finally stopped, she was only three feet apart from the team but they could still feel the chill of her ghostly aura on their skin.

"So...you lot are my son's friends, yeah" Marie asked bluntly, "which one of you is called Robin?" Without a second thought or the slightest pause, the other three Titans immediately "ratted out" the Boy Wonder (with Starfire casually gesturing towards him, Raven nudging her head in his direction and Cyborg pointing at him with a look of terror upon his face.) "Nice support there, team" Robin grumbled under his breath, "whatever happened to protecting your..."

The young lad's train of thought suddenly halted, the instant he felt the ghostly chill from moments ago run through him. After mustering up as much courage he had within him, Robin turned around and stared up at Mrs. Logan's slightly scowling face. "Uh...I-I'm Robin, Ma'am; that is to say...that's my hero name" he stammered fearfully, "it...i-it's so nice to finally meet the family of one our teammates."

While she knew full well that the lad was doing his best to act polite in her presence, his words did little to quell Mrs. Logan's disdain for him. Then, after she took a moment to clear her throat; the spirit decided to get straight to the point of why she wanted to speak with him. "First of all, I wish to thank you and your friends for giving my Garfield a home and family" Marie said with a smile, "but...my husband and I want to make something clear to you, to all of you Titans."

The instant these words were said, everyone watched as the Logans' spirits suddenly started to change form. First, Mark's body shifted into a ghostly shadow and his head changed into what looked like an animal skull. Upon inspection, many realized that it bore the likeness of a wildebeest's skull; which seemed to symbolize Mr. Logan's connections with Africa.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Logan's hair turned a pale white color and her eyes became black as pitch; causing even Raven to recoil in alarm. Then, her safari clothing turned into a ghostly cloak; which gave her the likeness of the famous Banshee. The whole time this was transpiring, the Titans (sans Beast Boy) remained frozen where they stood with fear.

"Okay, y'all...is this normal behavior for ghosts" Cyborg murmured worriedly, "should we be runnin'...or should we call an Exorcist?!" The rest of his team offered no reply, due to the overwhelming sense of fear that gripped at them. Finally, when their transformations had finally been complete, the Logans glared down sternly at the Titans with burning fire in their eyes.

"Let us make one thing perfectly clear to you, children" Mark said grimly, "the two of us may be ghosts...but we will remain present in our son's life for a very long time." While these words didn't sound too stern or aggressive, the haunting tone in Mr. Logan's voice was just enough to reduce the Titans to quivering. Unfortunately for them, however; the Logans were not quite finished with delivering their "warning."

"Therefore, if we find out that any of you has harmed our boy in any way, things are going to get CRAZY" hissed Mrs. Logan, "do we understand each other, children?" Whether it was the tone in the spirits' voices, the intense glow in his eyes or the warning as a whole; without the slightest hesitation, the Titans quickly saluted the two spirits and vowed never to cross them...on purpose. "See that you do, children" hissed Mrs. Logan, "Gar has been through enough in life, the last thing he needs are further insults about his appearance, his food preferences or his abilities from those around him...least of all, his supposed friends."

With each example that was listed, Raven suddenly found herself cringing with disgust. After venturing into the Mindscape with everyone else, she had finally realized just how much her behavior has affected those like Beast Boy. Thus, Raven made a mental pledge to clear the air between the two of them before the day was through.

(Line Break)

While Garfield and Steven were busy reconnecting with each of their fallen loved ones, Luffy was currently trying to make sense of things. Despite however much his own sense of hope was screaming for him to move forward, his more "logical side" still refused to believe the sight before him. Through some unknown means beyond the lad's understanding, his new friends had managed to bring his older brother back to him.

Yet in spite of all this knowledge, a part of Luffy felt that this seemed too good to be true. "If this is some kinda dream...nobody better wake me up" he thought to himself, "I can't believe it, my big bro...he's come back." After what felt like an eternity of silence, Ace gave a hearty chuckle and snapped his fingers; thus lightly shocking his brother out of his daze.

"Sorry about that, I just...I can't believe it" Luffy murmured happily, "you're really here...boy, have I got some stuff to tell ya, Ace." With a gruff yet playful "humph" in his throat, the ghostly pirate floated over and took a seat in an open chair; all while telling his brother "I'm all ears." "Okay, so...to start with; my crew and I found the One Piece and I'm the new King of the Pirates" Luffy said proudly, "and, uh...oh yeah; we've been to Wano, the Mink Tribe's home of Zou, I fought in the gladiator arena in Dressrosa, my friends and I just got knight and...let's see, what else...OH, YEAH; Sabo's alive!"

This news came as such a shock to Ace, he slipped out of his chair and almost phased through the floor. When his head finally resurfaced, he glared up at Luffy and warned him to not toy with his emotions. It was here that Nami soon approached the two brothers and reiterated Luffy's earlier news; adding that she and the crew had all met Sabo for themselves.

"That...That's impossible; we both saw his boat get shot down by that Celestial Dragon asshole, when we were all kids" Ace roared defiantly, "how could he have survived that?!" In response to this, Prince Gabriel appeared and presented a tome from the castle archives; one that contained a portion of the Straw Hats exploits.

He then handed over to Ace and asked him to read the passage chronicling the day Sabo departed Foosha Village. "Okay, pointy-ears; there's two things I've gotta say about this" grumbled the ghostly pirate, "one, how can I hold objects while I'm a ghost and two...how do I know you're not just giving me false hope?" Gabriel offered no reply; instead, he simply located the page he needed and presented it.

While still feeling rather skeptical, Ace decided to "humor" the elf prince and took the book from him; surprised by the fact it hadn't phased through his hands. "Okay, let's see here" he mumbled softly, "what's so special in here that this guy wants me to see?" For a minute or so, Ace read the book's page in silence; still under the belief he would not find anything of value.

But as he turned the next page, Ace spotted a paragraph that caused his eyes to suddenly widen with shock. "What the...this has to be a mistake or a typo" he thought in disbelief, "there's no way that this is real!" Soon, Luffy took notice of his brother's odd expression and asked if he was feeling well; thus prompting Chopper to ready his medical bag.

When Ace showed his brother the passage that he was reading, the lad suddenly felt small tears of joy trickle down his cheeks. "Yup, Bro...it's real, all of it" Luffy said with a light chuckle, "but Gabriel...was it really necessary of your illustrators to make me shed so many tears?" The elf prince chuckled heartily and proclaimed that the archivists "merely wanted to record every important detail;" much to the disdain of the young Pirate King.

Then, he turned towards Ace and asked for him to approach the crowd; if he desired proof that Sabo still lived. "Okay...I'll humor you again" the spirit grumbled, "but if I find out this is a trick, I'll start busting some heads!" With that, Ace floated his way over to the dance floor; causing a few ball attendees to back away slightly in alarm...all but one.

Standing in the center of the floor was a rather dapper yet familiar looking fellow wearing a top hat on his head with a set of goggles strapped around the cone. This along with his short yet shaggy blond hair, white cravat, blue shirt and smile were all very familiar traits to Ace's eyes...yet he still believed he was seeing things. When the fellow happened to notice him staring in confusion, he approached the spirit with a casual stride and gazed upwards; flashing a grin as bright as Luffy's.

"Hey, Bro...it's me, Sabo" he chuckled, "heard about what happened...sorry to see ya like this but at least we're together again, all three of us." For a moment or two, Ace offered no reply to anything his brother said; he simply floated in place in silence. But upon looking at him more closely, they noticed that Ace's hands were clenched tightly into fists and that he was gnawing at his lower lip; as if fighting the urge to weep.

"This...This can't be real, it just can't" he thought to himself, "I saw his ship get destroyed, there's no possible way he could be here!" Finally, after taking a moment to swipe a few stray tears from his eyes; the first thing Ace chose to say to Sabo was..."if you're really my brother, prove it." "I had a feeling you'd say that" Sabo chuckled, "how would you like me to prove who I am?"

In response to this, Ace decided to ask this stranger a few questions; questions that he believed only the true Sabo would be able to answer. "First off, answer me this" the spirit said firmly, "before meeting Luffy and I...where did you used to live?" After taking a moment to grimace bitterly, Sabo answered with three simple words; the Goa Kingdom.

"I hated living there; all the rules I was forced to follow, having insane expectations being thrown my way" he grumbled, "it certainly didn't help that my adopted brother, Sterry couldn't stand the sight of me." Upon hearing this answer, Luffy cheered happily for his brother's apparent success; while his crew felt pity for Sabo and the life he once had to live. As for Ace, he appeared unimpressed by the answer; thinking that anyone would've given the same response.

"Second question...who helped raise the three of us" he asked, "was it Ol' Man Garp or Curly Dadan?" For a few seconds, Sabo simply stood in place; scratching at his chin slightly in thought. Meanwhile, Luffy searched about the ballroom; hoping to see signs of the one called Dadan and her crew somewhere.

Finally, Sabo gave a light chuckle and answered the earlier question with one word; "both." "Good job...but here's where things get really hard" Ace warned, "on the day the three of us swore to become pirate brothers, what did we drink and where did we get the drink from?" After hearing this particular question, Sabo's confident demeanor softened slightly and he soon bore a rather distressed look on his face.

At first, folk presumed that the lad might have found himself stumped; as folk in the Human World would often say. But it was soon revealed, thanks to Sir Luffy, that the date in question was one of...great significance to him and his brothers. "Before that day; we were just a trio of random, trouble-making brats" he murmured, "but...well, Sabo will tell ya the rest."

Feeling both eager yet nervous at the same time, the Straw Hats all glanced back over to Sabo; who was gazing lovingly up at Ace while clasping onto his ghostly hand. "First of all, it was you who took the bottle from Dadan's place while she was out" Sabo answered with a hearty chuckle, "second of all...you told us that when men share a drink of sake together, it would make them brothers." Ace let out a soft gasp of surprise upon hearing this answer, while Luffy simply danced about merrily with joy.

But all too quickly, his merriment came to an abrupt halt; not by any of his crewmates but by the Elf Prince's own hand. "Calm yourself, child" Gabriel said while tapping his father's scepter upon the ground, "your brother hadn't finished speaking yet." No sooner had he heard this, Luffy's demeanor quickly became stoic and he gazed firmly over in his brothers' direction.

There, he could see tears trickling softly down both Ace and Sabo's cheeks while the latter of the two was giving some form of a speech. "Back in at the palace in Goa, my so-called 'family' only used me to further their own gain; to have another son to help 'carry on their legacy'" Sabo choked out softly, "but you...y-you, Luffy, Dadan and even ol' Garp...you guys have all been the only real family I've ever known before joining the Revolutionaries and I continue to thank God for meeting you all!"

Mere seconds after he said all of this, the poor fellow soon fell to his knees and cried; expressing his deepest regret to Ace for not being there to help save him before his death. This all seemed to be just what was needed to finally break down the spirit's resolve. After letting out a muffled sob, he floated down to his kneeling brother and wrapped his arms around him; not caring if they might simply faze through.

"It is you...my God...Sabo, you're alive" he sobbed joyfully, "where have you been, how did you survive having your boat being destroyed and...a-and...OH, GODDAMMIT; I MISSED YOU SO MUCH!" Before long, both gentlemen soon erupted into a fit of wild sobs; much to the surprise of the other ball attendees. Meanwhile, Luffy was holding back some of his own tears; despite feeling equally joyous of the reunion before him.

"Do not worry, Sir Luffy; you will be able to join your brothers soon" Prince Gabriel assured, "but first, we must introduce you and your fellow champions properly to the people." After hearing all of this, the lad realized that they were on a schedule and felt it best to adhere to the prince's request. He took a moment to excuse himself from his brothers and returned to thrones, as did the other five champions.

Once they were all accounted for, Thaylog raised his arms high and gestured towards the group with a bright smile. "Good people of the realm and visitors from throughout the Multiverse, I present to you...the Champions of Overon" he decreed, "give them your voices!" Not needing to be told twice; every soul present in the room erupted with uproarious cheers, praises, laughter and cries of joy.

Meanwhile, the six newly knighted heroes still struggled to believe this was all really happening; despite appearing stoic on the surface. As the cheering slowly died down, seconds later; Queen Elbenor rose from her throne and addressed the crowd. "Now that the ceremony is complete; we can, at last start our first ever Champions Ball" she decreed, "let the celebration begin!"

(First AN: And that feels like a good spot to end things, for now. But do not worry, everyone; the celebration is just beginning and that's when things to get really interesting for our champions. What sort of surprises await them during the ball and what will their lives be like; now that they have the spirits of their departed loved ones beside them?

Tune in next time, to find out)

(Second AN: Speaking of whom; for the likes of Mr. and Mrs. Logan's "spirit forms," I took a little inspiration from the 2017 version of Disney's Ducktales. To elaborate; just like how Duckworth has his own demonic form when he gets angry, I wanted to give the Logans something similar. Only difference is I gave Mark Logan a wildebeest skull for a head for his form, while I decided to have Marie look like a variation of the Irish Banshee.

As for Pink Diamond/Rose Quartz, she's not technically a ghost; rather...she is a hologram of sorts; kind of like the images Pearl creates with the powers in her gem. But instead of Steven being in control of the hologram, this is actually Pink Diamond/Rose speaking to him through their connection. Now, thanks in part to the magic users of Overon; Steven and his mother can both exist at the same time.

I hope this all makes sense to you, everyone)

(Third AN: Thaylog's advice to Steven about holding on to a grudge is an actual quote used by Buddhists all over the world. When I first heard it and saw how much Steven had been resenting his mother for years, I felt it represented him perfectly)

(Fourth AN: I know there will be a chance that some people will look at Pink/Rose's breakdown and think "I still refuse to forgive her for what she did" and I respect that. However, when someone shows genuine regret for doing something wrong; the best/least one can do is offer up some sliver of forgiveness...think on that)

(Final AN: Some might think that the lads' proclaiming they aren't heroes may be "out of character" for them. But the truth is they're simply exhibiting traits of what is known as Imposter Syndrome. It's a sort of psychological state where highly intelligent people openly doubt their achievements and abilities, despite the fact that they've earned them all fair and square.

For Steven, it makes sense for him to feel this way; considering how often people have compared him to his mother. As for the others...well, you'd doubt your abilities as well; if for most of your life, people overly mocked and insulted you. It's one of the reasons why I think the comedy in One Piece is often trash, same with that from Danny Phantom or Teen Titans)