"Hm-h-hmm, in the future… dadot-dah dah the future, and it's briii-huuhh…"
Humming all the time, Steven Quartz Universe stifled a yawn as he strode through town. It was a beautiful day in Beach City: the sun was blazing, a light breeze was drifting by, and (thanks to Steven) all organic life on Earth had survived another day. While things had been a bit touch-and-go a mere twelve hours ago, he and the Crystal Gems had - once again - vanquished yet another plot to destroy his mother's colony. Literally kissing the planet back to life, Steven spent the entire night restoring Earth's surface: with Pearl, Amethyst and Garnet watching with pride the whole time. 'True statesmanship at its finest', Pearl had told Steven. Shrugging at the response, the sixteen-year-old claimed it was simply another day.
Yes, with this last brundt with danger, Steven understood that his role in diplomacy between gems, Earth, and Homeworld would never truly be done. His 'happily ever after' was going to take a lot of time and work! And so, with dark circles beneath his eyes, he strolled on as he scrolled through today's checklist.
'Right, so Little Homeworld's scaffolding needs to be patched up… Gotta talk with Bismuth about that. Should be done by lunch, so I'll be right on time for my meeting with the mayor. Not to mention the jam session with Dad later... Then we can - oh, wait, Connie! I completely forgot! She-'
The human-gem hybrid looked up from the list with a gasp at the sound of his name being called. Squinting at the sky, Steven could see a blob of green descending from an orb-like floatation device. He smiled weakly as the shape took a more detailed form.
"Oh, hey Peridot!" the boy exclaimed, "How's it-"
"-No time to explain," the small gem insisted, grabbing him by the arm, "Your assistance is required at the site. We're beginning to reconstruct some of the building structures, and we need you to - are you LISTENING to me?!"
"Wha?" clearly distracted, Peridot's shrill cry brought Steven back into the conversation, "Right, sorry. Look, of course I'll help, but... can it wait 'til later? Connie's home from space camp, and I promised I'd hear all about it as soon as-"
"-But Little Homeworld!" Peridot responded, "It's only about ninety-one-point-four percent complete! Ninety-one-point-four percent!" We need every falange to join the starboard if we're going to finish this thing!"
Steven cocked an eyebrow, "You mean… 'all hands on deck'?"
"That's precisely what I'm saying!" Peridot spat, palming her face.
Giggling, Steven replied, "Right. Do you think we can - aagh!"
With a grunt, Steven doubled over. A wave of worry swept over him as a sharp pain surged through his abdomen. Visibly confused, Peridot's expression shifted.
"Arrrre you alright?"
With an abrupt lie, Steven faked a laugh, "U-uh, yup! J-just, um… Peridot, I-I gotta run. See you at the site later?"
"Ofcourseyouwill, definitely, okaybyyye!"
Steven hastened his pace to the nearest Warp Pad as sweat began to lace his brow.
'Wh-wha?! N-no way, it can't be… Sh-she's gone now, w-we solved everything… Didn't we?'
The young man's thoughts were sent whirring now as he lifted his shirt. His gem looked fine: nice and shiny, no visible cracks. Steven huffed out a relieved sigh.
'Y-you're okay. You're okay. Just chill out."
In seconds, Steven was finally home. Though he expelled another yawn, the boy was genuinely excited to know that Connie would be arriving soon to regale him with her tales. He checked his Cookie Cat watch, revealing the time.
'Hmm, Connie won't be here for another fifteen minutes. Might be able to sneak a quick nap in...'
Before Steven could take one step off the Warp Pad, another pang surged through his stomach.
His grunt was becoming more of a moan. The pain was not fleeting as quickly as before. His round face scrunched into a grimace, teeth gritted as he seethed.
'Th-this can't be happening. I-'
-"Shh! I heard him…"
-"I said, 'Shhhh', Amethyst! What part of 'Shhhh' don't you understand?!"
-"Well, thanks to you both, I predict that the surprise has been compromised."
His thoughts were broken by familiar voices. Distracting him from his discomfort, the boy leapt from the Warp Pad and into the kitchen. Only to find…
Steven's starry eyes grew wide as he gazed at the scene. The first thing that came into view was along the kitchen's wall, where large bubbly letters read 'Way to Go!' with a small paper cut-out out of Earth strung beside it. He shifted his sights to the table, supporting a massive pile of donuts resembling that of a makeshift cake. Around this, Steven found his family gathered by the 'cake': with Pearl's hands grasped supportively, Garnet by her side wiping a tear from beneath her glasses, and Amethyst jumping up and down with a party noise-blower in hand. His own eyes streaming, Steven ran toward them.
"You guys!" Steven chuckled, claiming the center of the group hug, "Wh-what's all this?! It… is it for me?"
"Uh, duuuuh!" Amethyst cried, "We wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for you, dude!"
"She's correct, Steven," Pearl added, "And we haven't gotten the chance to thank you properly for all you've done."
"And you did, indeed, do quite a lot," Garnet sighed, scruffing Steven's curly black hair, "The entire universe should be very grateful for you, Steven."
"Did somebody say, Universe?! Caravina… Caravina!"
The team of gems perked up at the call, accompanied by the sound of an electric guitar thrumming from the living room. To nobody's surprise, the voice belonged to none other than Greg Universe.
"Dad!" Steven cheered, embracing the unevenly tanned man.
"Hey there, Steve-o," the former rockstar cried, giving his son an exaggerated kiss on the head with a, "Muuuuah!"
"Da-had," Steven playfully groaned, his cheeks growing flush.
"Hey, ya may be a cool, planet-saving superhero, but you're still my little Shtoo-ball!"
"N'aw, Dad, I-"
Steven's reply was interrupted by a soft giggle. Tracking where it came from, the boy curiously scanned the living room to find the front door open: revealing his dear friend, Connie Maheswaran, decked in her navy-and-white space camp uniform. With a warm smile, the tan teen casually made way toward her cosmic companion. To Steven, it was almost like she was walking in slow motion. Could she go faster? Could he meet her halfway? Either way, Steven felt amazingly trapped as he gazed at the young woman: her circular glasses revealing happy eyes when she finally stood toe-to-toe with the boy.
It took a moment for them to say anything.
"So… what did I miss?"
There was a pause. Not for long, however. Soon, a burst of laughter encapsulated the room - tears forming in both teenagers' eyes. A tight embrace immediately followed, both still chuckling as they held each other closely. After a good minute, Steven was the first to lift his head from Connie's shoulder.
"Ya gotta tell me everything, Connie! What was space camp like? D-did they know about gems at all? Is that even a thing to them?! How about-"
"Woah, woah! Slow your roll, hotshot!" Connie laughed, "I was only there for, like, a day, y'know."
The boy could feel his face growing hotter, "Right, right. It's just… Boy, am I glad to see you!"
"I'm glad to see - oh, wow," Connie's smile dropped slightly. Her brow furrowed as she caught a steady glimpse at her friend. His eyes, though bright and starry, were slightly puffy and bloodshot. Dark circles and bags, too, encompassed them. Even as they held each other, she could feel how his knees were subtly shaking. It looked like the poor thing hadn't slept all night… mainly because he didn't. She began to gently pull him toward the couch, urging him to sit down for just a second.
"Y'know, uh, I could tell you more about it tomorrow. It's been a long day, and y'look like you could use some rest."
"'R-rest'?" Steven scoffed, "What for? I've got time! Besides, tomorrow I'm getting together with Lars and Sadie. They're getting the band back together for another set, and -"
Steven stopped abruptly to stifle another yawn. With this, he could feel Connie's demeanor shift. She was so caring, so concerned… so connected to him. The human-gem hybrid pressed his hand on top of hers, revealing the battle scar atop his arm from his most recent endeavor. The girl stared at it unapologetically. It was still so fresh…
Steven cocked his head, encouraging her to look up at him.
"Anyway, the point is… This is where I wanna be. Right here… right now…"
A deep blush burned through both of their cheeks. Not even realizing that they were enraptured in another gaze, the two jerked their heads at the sound of someone's throat clearing.
"W-well," Pearl noted, entering the living room, "This certainly is a nice opportunity for you both to catch up."
"-So we might as well make it a catch-up partaaaaay!" Amethyst hopped on the coffee table, noise-maker clenched in her teeth as she hooped and hollered.
"Amethyst!" Garnet scolded, extending a clasped spray bottle filled with water, "What did we talk about?"
"Ugh," the purple gem groaned, rolling her eyes beneath her bangs, "No... jumping on the furniture?"
"'No jumping on the furniture'," Garnet echoed, "Believe me… it doesn't end well."
Disgruntledly, Amethyst gently lowered herself from the table to the floor. With everybody settled in, the living room instantly bubbled with lively conversation. As the celebration was well underway, the guest of honor felt his energy (or, at least, what was left of it) begin to drain. Naturally, he was thrilled to be spending quality time with everybody, but things were really starting to catch up with him.
It was the couch's fault, really: it felt far more comfortable than usual. So soft, so engaging… His swollen eyelids were growing heavier with each second. Of course, he fought through it, though. He didn't want Connie to get offended! After all, he was so glad to have her here with him. Battling his urge to drift off, Steven continued to listen as Connie went on.
"-And then, we went over the Cosmos! And then the constellations! They got a few things right, but they totally neglected to mention the…"
Steven nodded diligently, throwing in a brief comment every now and then as she continued. Though he could hardly look away from her, Steven's attention slightly wavered. In the periphery of his blurring vision, he could just barely make out the sunset - with the sky's shade changing from blue to pink through the open windows. Pink…
How she hurt her…How she hurt so many… Such a mess she left, such a huge mess. And here he was, constantly bending over backwards to find ways to clean it up. But what else could he do? He couldn't just let these poor people suffer from her carelessness. He couldn't… and he wouldn't. Even still, the thought of it, at times, made his stomach turn. This was one of those times. The thought of it wrenched through him… made him feel physically ill, made him -
The teen perked up to the sound of his father's voice, his vision refocusing. When had his eyes closed?
Connie giggled as his father shrugged, "Whoops! Didn't mean t'wake ya, kiddo. Just figured you might wanna hear a new tune I've been workin' on."
Normally, this would send Steven through the roof with excitement. But suddenly, the young gem felt a wave of nausea crash over him. All of the overly happy faces crowding around him didn't help much, either. Breath going slightly shallow, Steven fought to flash a manufactured smile.
"Y-y'know I'd love to, Dad," Steven lied, rising unsteadily from the couch, "B-but I gotta run."
A roar of disappointed groans echoed in response.
"You're leaving?" Greg questioned.
"Aw, boooo!" Amethyst chanted.
"But Steven, this... party's for you," Pearl stated, discouragement basted in her voice.
"I-I know, 'm sorry," Steven hummed, his own words slurring a bit, "But I-I promised Peridot that I'd drop by to help with Little Homeworld. 'M just gonna change real quick..."
"Y'sure you're up to it, kiddo?" Greg added, his brow furrowing.
'No,' Steven thought.
"Positive," Steven replied.
Each step he took toward the stairs felt an eternity. Were they farther away? It had been a while since he'd been home. Swaying a bit, Steven used all of his strength to maintain his balance. He was startled from his concentration by the call of Amethyst.
"You wanna take a donut for the road, little man?"
The very thought of food made Steven's stomach churn. Battling the urge to vomit, the boy turned towards the steps as he replied, "N-no, th-that's… that's…"
He managed to make it up two steps. His face flashed a pale green before emptying the contents of his stomach onto the floor. Almost immediately after, he felt the weight of his body drop down on him.
"Woah, there!" Greg exclaimed, just barely catching his son with Pearl not far behind.
"Steven!" Connie screeched, tears stinging her eyes.
"Get him to the couch," Garnet ordered.
Greg and Pearl supported either side of the young man, sharing a worried glance at each other. Steven's efforts were useless, trying miserably to recover from the faint.
"I-I'm okay," he insisted breathlessly, "I-I'm-"
"Shhh," Pearl cooed, lowering him onto the couch, "It's alright, just lay right there."
"-No buts, Steven," Garnet insisted, with two of her three eyes meeting his.
She could practically feel the discomfort permeating from him. Sweat began to flow profusely from his opaque skin, his body shivering as he felt yet another shock of pain permeating his abdomen. His shallow breath hitched as his body rebelled against him. It reminded him of the time White Diamond removed his gem… only, this was worse. Way worse.
"N'aaargh!" the boy cried, tears emerging from the corners of his eyes. He clutched his stomach, contorting into a small, quaking ball. The gems shared a look, assuming the worst.
"Check his gem," Pearl insisted, Garnet already starting to lift Steven's shirt. She was visibly frustrated.
"It looks -"
Everybody's glance shifted to Steven as he completed the fusion's sentence.
"I-I checked… i-it's f-fine…"
"Uh, yeah," Amethyst added, "But you're not."
Steven hated every second of this. Speaking of seconds, he didn't have time for this! There was a lot of work to be done, and he wasn't going to let a little stomach ache stop him from taking care of things.
'J-just get up,' he thought to himself, 'Th-they won't freak out anymore if you just get up.'
Trying with all of his might, Steven grunted as he struggled to lift himself into an upright position. He was shaking right down to the core, futile in his efforts to maintain composure. A large, sunburnt hand gently pressed his shoulder back down.
"Easy there, champ." His face stained with worry, Greg knelt down beside his shivering son.
"You don't look so hot," he commented, his tone hushed. He then placed his hand on Steven's forehead, only to find that it was sweltering with heat. Greg's eyebrows jolted upward.
"Oh boy. I stand corrected… You're burning up."
"What?!" the gems shrieked, rushing to Greg as he stood up.
"Yeah," Greg shrugged discerningly, rubbing the back of his neck anxiously, "H-he's got a spiked fever."
"But that's impossible," Pearl replied, her fists clenched, "Gems don't get fevers!"
"No," Connie chimed in, "But… humans do."
It took a moment of quiet for everybody to realize just what Connie meant. The gems looked at each other, then at Greg.
Pearl crossed her arms. "Could it… be possible?"
Greg scratched his head. "I… I dunno."
As the two stared at each other, Connie knelt down beside her ailing friend. With bleary eyes, Steven peered at her, smiling weakly. She did the same, before her grin faded.
"Steven," Connie instructed, lifting his shirt, "You need to tell me if this hurts. Okay?"
The teen nodded, grabbing the girl's hand as he braced himself.
"Alright…" Using her two forefingers, Connie lightly pressed down on the right side of Steven's stomach. "Does this-"
"Ggryaah! A-ah, y-yeh, yes!" the boy wailed, his eyes welling up with tears once again.
Connie nodded, turning to the others who were visibly mortified. Without a word, she whipped out her phone.
"Wh-who are you calling?!" Pearl asked, panic in her tone.
Without a reply to the gem, Connie dialed as quickly as her fingers could manage. The call was picked up almost instantaneously.
"Mom? Yeah… With Steven… He needs help... Looks like a Code Nine to me… Yes, I checked the right side… The right - Look, I know he's a gem, but… Mom, please, he… Okay. Thanks."
The girl hung up the phone and lowered her head. Pearl and Amethyst rushed over to her.
"What is it?!" Pearl yelled frantically.
"What's wrong with him?!" Amethyst added, her voice hoarse with aggravation.
Connie's eyes lifted to reveal streams of tears. Again, saying nothing in response, she turned to Greg.
"Mr. Universe," she said, her voice shaking, "C-can you start your van? Steven needs to go to the hospital."
Eyes glassy, Greg didn't reply. He was clearly waiting for more of an explanation than that.
Connie huffed heavily as she continued.
"He… he might have Appendicitis."
Unaware of this disease and its nature, the gems looked to Greg for the appropriate response. Greg remained still as Connie continued.
"M-my mom and her staff will be there to help him when we gets there, just… Just ple-please…"
Soft sobs began to shake Connie's frame. Without a word, Greg patted the girl's head and proceeded to cradle Steven as he held him in his arms. Meanwhile, Amethyst rushed to hold open the door as the team steadily made way toward the van.
Greg quickly, yet gingerly, handed the boy off to Garnet as he rushed to start the vehicle. A grimace of worry stained their faces in the exchange.
"We've got him," the fusion stated calmly, leading a teary-eyed Greg to sigh lightly.
Laying Steven down gently, Garnet nodded in appreciation as Connie balled up her jacket to form a makeshift pillow. Pearl managed to swipe a blanket on the way out of the house, cocooning it around the shivering teen. The trunk's door had barely closed before Greg punched the gas.
"Mmph," Steven groaned, feeling his body jerk with the car's erratic motions.
Garnet lowered her glasses, peering at Steven to meet his weak gaze through his slitted eyelids.
"You're going to be alright, Steven… You just have to…"
There was silence.
'What?' Steven thought. No response.
''Just have to' what, Garnet?'
That was when everything went dark.