Wow, did his head hurt.
A dull throbbing pounded against Steven's cranium as he stirred. It wasn't just his head, really. Everything hurt. He went to rub it. However, his aching arm protested, the urge to move seemed to weigh him down. It was like a magnetic field was trapping him to the floor.
Even his eyelids were determined to stay at rest. Still, he peeled them back unsteadily. As his vision adjusted, the first things he could see was the gaping hole in the ceiling: a pink tint filtering through it to reveal the evening sky. His blinks were heavy, yet rapid. His quivering neck cocked to the right. That's when he saw Garnet.
The gem smiled at him softly. "Hey, Cutie-Pie."
"G-Garnet…" Steven rasped, his expression contorting into a relieved grin, "H-hey, Garnet!"
His quaking shoulders shook, lifting himself into a seated position. The purple blanket flew into his lap as he hugged her. Tears streamed down to his chin.
"Y-you're alright!" he cheered quickly, before gasping, "Wait… Are you alright? How's Ruby? How's Sapph-"
"Easy," Garnet cautioned maternally, "Both are fine, thanks to Stevonnie."
She gently caressed his bruised cheek.
"You've done it again," she added, wiping his tears, "And how is Steven feeling?"
"Well, I'm…" He paused. His brow furrowed.
"...Connie. Garnet, h-have you seen-"
Garnet smirked, adjusting her shades. "You do know who you're talking to, right?"
"Right," Steven let out a congested giggle.
"You'll find her out front," the gem replied, motioning to the door.
"Thanks," Steven replied, giving her another quick squeeze. It took his muscles a moment to adjust, but the boy eventually stood up. He flung the purple blanket over his shoulders, almost like a cape. The young man hobbled so quickly, he almost didn't see his father standing idly by.
A look of concern laced Greg's brow. "Woah! Where you off to, Shtu-ball?"
Steven pointed tiredly at the door, his arms shaking.
"Connie... Dad, I need to see her. I-"
The young gem was cut short by his own thick coughing. The former rockstar placed his palm on Steven's warm forehead. Greg hummed with concern. Still, his son's eager gaze tugged at his heartstrings. He scratched his chin briefly.
"Mmmalright… But not too long, champ. Y'both need rest."
"So, liiike... ten minutes?"
"Five," Greg insisted.
Steven grinned, hugging his father.
"...I'll take it."
Greg's eyes glistened, sighing with relief. He almost didn't want to let go.
"Alright, quickly," the father stated, "You're on the clock."
The young man trudged off, his legs finding more strength with each step. He zoomed past the check-in table, swiftly grabbing a blanket from the nearby basket. He did so without missing a beat in his stride. Weak arms flung the door open as he stood outside. Though the rain was being blocked by the bubble's barrier, the damp mud still nested itself between his numb toes. He looked out, finding that Connie was not alone.
Dr. Maheswaran was facing the front of the shelter. Her arms were clenched around her daughter, making it difficult for Connie to breathe. It didn't help that she was sobbing, either.
"A-and those... awful things I said-"
"Honey, I know you didn't mean it."
"A-and the college stuff-"
"Connie, slow down a minute..." Dr. Maheswaran knelt down on one knee, slightly sinking into the marshy surface. She swept a warm tear from her daughter's eye.
"These choices are yours. Nobody else's. And… I trust you to make the right ones."
The young woman hesitated. "You do?"
Dr. Maheswaran smiled. "...We raised you, didn't we?"
Connie heaved a deep breath. Her eyes shifted downward.
"I miss him."
"Me too," her mother replied, "But I know he's proud… Just like I am."
She looked up, noticing Steven standing by the doorway and clutching an extra blanket in his arms.
"Looks like you've got company."
She rose to her feet, wiping her pants quickly as she kissed her daughter's head. Dr. Maheswaran made her way to Steven. Her expression became very severe. The boy gulped.
That was all he managed to say before she embraced him tightly. He felt her frame shaking as she spoke unsteadily.
He nodded affirmatively. Once she pulled away, Steven's cheeks began to redden.
"Uh… Dr. Maheswaran… About Stevonnie-"
"Maybe," the doctor intruded, "When we're all in a clearer headspace, you could… introduce them to me?"
Steven's eyes brightened. "A-anytime!"
She patted his head, opening the door to reenter the shelter.
Connie turned, watching her mother disappear from sight. A chill went up her back, forcing her to shiver. She felt something warm being draped over her shoulders.
"Here," the gravelly voice said, "Figured we could match."
She turned her head, finding a very familiar round face smiling at her. She scoffed amusedly.
"Jam buds? Or blanket buds?"
He subtly chuckled. They both looked up. The weather lightening up, gentle raindrops made speckles along the bubble's surface. Through the pink, translucent barrier, they could just make out the evening sky.
"Hey look!" Connie exclaimed, pointing upward, "I think I can see Vulpecula."
Steven quirked an eyebrow. "Who?"
"It's a star constellation," Connie giggled, "See? There it is…"
She guided her fingers across a faint constellation in the northern sky. Stars reflected in his own eyes as Steven watched Connie describe it. Her enthusiasm was contagious.
"It can only be seen during the month of September, and its name is Latin for 'little fox'."
"Wow..." Steven admired.
He wasn't talking about the constellation. His cheeks blushed as she unexpectedly glanced at him. He cleared his throat.
"Y-yeah," Steven stammered, nervously pointing up, "A-and, uh, that one looks like a puppy!"
She smiled at him coyly. "Don't you mean… Dog-Copter?"
Steven's eyebrows jolted upward at the reference. He was about to respond, when a boom of thunder rumbled through the air. The two marveled as lightning slashed across the sky.
"Woah, spooky," Connie hummed, "Kinda reminds me of chapter sixteen of the first Unfamiliar Familiar book where-"
"Archimicarus soars over the Stormy Isle of Black Fog to look for Lisa?"
Steven smirked. Connie beamed.
"Yeah! A-and finds her trapped in the clutches of the mysterious one-eyed man."
Steven continued, finishing the tale.
"But just as Archimicarus swoops in-"
"He evaporates into the shadows!" they both cried simultaneously.
Steven giggled lightly. He looked down with a grin.
"Wow, that takes me back."
Connie crossed her arms.
" 'Back'? We're not that old, Steven."
Steven continued, "Yeah, but… You're right."
The two were pensive for a time. They both glanced down at their bare feet, which were halfway sunken into the murky grass.
Connie forced a smile. "Growing up sucks."
Steven didn't move. "Sure does."
"Good thing is," the young woman placed a hand on her companion's shoulder, "Some stuff never changes."
She gazed up at the sky again.
"This is gonna sound bad, but… I almost don't want this storm to end."
"You know what they say," Steven shrugged, "After every storm, there's a rainbow."
She pushed his arm lightly with a scoff.
"Steven Universe," Connie shook her head, "You will always love schmaltz, won't you?"
The boy inched closer to her.
"How do... you feel about schmaltz?"
The girl inched closer to him.
"I... like that you like it."
Their faces were burning fiercely. Mere inches from each other's noses, the two shared a gaze. Her hand still rested on his shoulder. His hand reached out to cup her cheek. She smiled at him. He smiled at her.
His eyes squinted.
He quickly jerked his head away from hers.
Following his harsh sneeze, Steven sniffed gruffly. The boy rubbed the underside of his nose, his cheeks glowing crimson.
" 'Scuse me!"
"Gesundheit!" Connie laughed so hard, her chest began to contract. Her congested coughs wracked her body. Steven patted her back lightly as her fit ended.
"Listen to us... Guess we won't be sharing jams anytime soon, huh?"
Connie caught her breath. "N-No, but... maybe… maybe just jam? And… crackers?"
Steven shrugged, his cheeks still steaming. "Or just... dinner? Life gets pretty busy, but… if once a month works for you-"
"I'd like that," Connie replied with a smile.
The two barely even noticed Pearl standing in the doorway as she called them.
"Alright, kids! Time to come inside."
"No 'buts', Steven. Now c'mon, before you both catch Pneumonia!"
The young man huffed. He took Connie's hand - the two teens sloshing back inside the shelter. They entered to the sound of light guitar strums. Of course, Steven wasn't surprised to find his father gently playing. Everyone in the shelter was enjoying the show: sitting to watch, curled in their blankets, swaying gently to the rhythm. Little Larimar was enjoying the laughter of the children - fantasizing their screams as she sighed. Next to her sat Bismuth, Peridot and Lapis (both 'mean' and 'nice') - nested atop the metal sheathing. They followed Ruby with their eyes, as she blitzed over to Priyanka: handing her a cup as the gem distributed more coffee. Ruby planted a quick kiss on Sapphire's head as she zipped through the crowd, the blue gem blushing in response. Connie and Steven were so delighted with the sight, they were slightly startled when Amethyst and Pearl guided them over to Greg's side - sitting them down next to the musician.
Peeking up at the pair through squinted eyelids, Greg leaned over to the two teens.
"Playin' an oldie, but a goodie," he whispered to them with a wink.
Steven and Connie nodded, their own eyes struggling to remain open. With their heads bobbing up and down in protest to remain awake, the two wrapped the blankets tighter around themselves. They were asleep in seconds, drifting off into the same dream - or, rather, a not-so-distant memory…
~The pouring rain splashed down on their heads. Raincoats and galoshes had been long forgotten. No puddle along the beach was left un-stepped in. Connie and Steven's laughter rang above the thunder rumbling over their heads.
The two barely even noticed Pearl standing in the doorway as she called them.
"Alright, kids. Time to come inside."
Steven threw his arms down as he whined. "But Peeeeaarl-"
"No buts. Now c'mon, before you catch-!"
Greg walked through the front door of the house, guitar in hand. He frowned at the two children - their skin clammy, their noses running, and shivering beneath the fluffy comforter they shared.
"Don't worry, kiddos," the former rockstar hummed, feeling both of their foreheads for a fever, "I've got the perfect cure."
The two of them enjoyed the sound of light guitar strums. Curled in their blanket, Connie and Steven swayed gently to the rhythm. Before they knew it, they were both fast asleep.~