Cold. Bright. Fast.
That was the world which sometimes presented itself, whenever Steven chose to open his eyes. This was the world he should be seeing the whole time he travelled through the warp stream, right? Just the endless expanse of cyan blue all around him, with the vast expanses of space just outside the stream. It would make sense- he was traveling through the warp on his way to Homeworld.
So why was the journey taking forever?
Every time he blinked, time froze. Some new horror would play behind his eyes, lasting for so long, and yet, when his eyes opened again, it had been less than a quarter of a second. These small breaks in reality haunted him, and because of it, he tried to keep his eyes wide open, to resist blinking. But, then his daydream nightmares- daymares?- followed him, blotting out his sight and causing his vision to gloss over as the horrors demanded his attention.
On the surface, the horrors were just slices of his every day life. Hanging out with friends, teaming up with the gems to fight monsters, pulling out his shield or healing someone- the usual. But, in each and every scene, there was something ominous. His friends all leaving, the monster getting a serious hit in on someone he cares about, shielding his family from danger and healing them after he failed-
His eyes snapped open again. The pink glow that had ridden with him the whole time was back, and he had to force it to go away. He was fine, he was safe in the warp stream. Everyone was fine.
Then he remembered Jasper. Sure, she was fine now, but she might not have been. She may have really, actually have been gone. What would he have done then? He wasn’t sure, and honestly didn’t want to think about it.
He didn’t want to think about anything.
At long last, solid material appeared beneath Steven’s feet. The glow (which was back again) vanished quickly with the relief he felt.
He stepped off the warp, and entered seemingly a different timeline. Homeworld was just that different. For one, the sky was blue. Second, the place was now home to plants and bouquets, flowers streaming from little gardens set up here and there. The whole area seemed cleaner somehow, and the Home Square had been renovated almost entirely to make for a more breathable space for someone just coming to Homeworld off the warp.
Wow. Even Homeworld didn’t need his help to grow anymore.
He supposed he should be happy about that. That meant that gems were really, finally understanding what it meant to be free and doing whatever they wanted with that freedom, like making home feel more like home than a cramped prison. He should be proud of them for that, but, that just meant he now was devoid of yet another potential purpose he could have had.
There really was nothing here for him, was there?
He had come here to speak with the Diamonds. He needed to ask their advise on controlling his powers, but the thought of facing them still left him with butterflies in his stomach. Well, no- nausea in his stomach, butterflies haunting the edges of his vision. In any case, butterflies or no butterflies, he didn’t want to see the Diamonds since he knew they would make him upset no matter what.
And that was the problem, wasn’t it? That he kept getting upset? Stressed? Dr. Maheswaran has said something about his pink powers being a manifestation of stress. Would that mean he’d hurt the Diamonds, too?
Even though he wanted to control his powers as fast as possible, he hesitated to step off the warp. What would even happen if he hurt the Diamonds? Would Homeworld forgive him? Would they? Surely, he’d just give them a reason to finally, finally attack him and kill him for good, right? Well, maybe, but something told him that wasn’t the case- they had practically fallen on their hands and knees begging him to stay on Homeworld that one time, right? Literally in White’s case? They loved him- or at least they liked that they had a version of Pink back- so killing him wasn’t really in the question.
But if he attacked them…?
A week ago, Steven would have been pretty sure he wouldn’t just attack anyone, but that had been before he wrecked the van, nearly killing his own dad, and everything that came afterward. That had been before he’d shatte-
NOPE, Steven thought, not letting his mind complete that thought. That is DEFINITELY how one goes pink right now.
He couldn’t face the Diamonds. He couldn’t trust himself enough to stay in control.
But, he couldn’t exactly go home, either. And if he had to pick someone to potentially get hurt, he guessed he’d feel worse if he’d hurt Pearl or Amethyst rather than Yellow or Blue.
To the Diamonds it is, then.
Taking in a breath, Steven steeled himself and stepped off the warp, forcing himself to keep walking forward until he entered the palace.
The inside of the palace- or White’s head, same difference- was also pretty different. Gems milled freely about the ballroom, laughing and chatting. Wall gems waltzed by, having a conversation with each other and a curious Peridot that decided to listen in. There was a nearby group of gems listening to a Pearl talk, and they appeared to be enraptured in a tour.
“As you can see,” the pearl was saying, “this truly was the center of power in the Gem empire throughout the second Era.” She gestured upwards towards the four thrones with her right arm, looking up at them herself in admiration. The surrounding gems turned to follow her gaze. “When you walk through these storied halls, it’s easy to feel as though you, too, have the power of a Diamond.”
The audience found themselves smiling at that thought; Steven just looked at the floor, feeling the nausea in his stomach intensify for a moment.
Funny, that people and gems both liked the idea of having power. People typically did everything in their powers to get it, or at least, everyone who had power had followed that path. With gems, it was a bit more complicated than that, since most of them were always destined to be a piece in the puzzle- a brick in the hierarchy. Worst part was, gems didn’t even get the honor of being their own brick- their gem type was the brick, the gems themselves were the tiny particles making up the brick.
The bricks on top were the Diamonds, with White sitting at the very tip-top; untouchable. Not even her fellow Diamonds felt that she be challenged in any way. The four of them together held ultimate, supreme power over the other gems below them, and never thought to question it once.
Well, that’s how it used to be, anyway. But then, Era 3 happened and gems could decide their own place in the empire! The Diamonds stepped down, everyone became free, and gems were able to be themselves for the first times ever. It was great! And, unsurprisingly, many gems decided it was then that they were going to get the authority and respect they deserved and move up the ranks, even though technically speaking, most of those ranks don’t exist anymore.
It was a wonder that Homeworld was only sort of competitive because of it.
But, as Steven had sneaked a glance up at the thrones, the bottom-most one he had sat in once himself, he just felt worse. Power was bad. Having control over other people was bad. Steven didn’t want power- he’d only ever taken it to try and empower the people around him, to free Gemkind and negotiate with the Diamonds. Then, once that was done, he’d tried so hard to get rid of almost all of it.
But then, the outbursts began. His skin glowed a harsh neon pink, one that lit up the night sky and slowed down time. His yell could shatter glass and crack walls, and everything felt like he was in Sudden Death Mode in a video game. But it was reality. His power, the one that came from his diamond, was horrible. Toxic. It nearly got Pearl hurt, had retraumatized Volleyball, he could have seriously hurt Bluebird, he nearly killed all his friends in a dome, he crashed his dad’s van- which could have killed him- and finally, his recent outing with Jasper out in the woods. So many people hurt, so many people he would continue to hurt.
The Diamonds were bad. He learned this from a young age, and he continued to realize that even now. And he, Steven, was a Diamond, too. It would only make sense that he’d start to hurt people. It was bound to happen at some point.
He hadn’t realized he’d zoned out until the movement of the tour group caught his attention. The pearl was leading them further into the palace, and as they walked away, a familiar pink gem was left behind, still looking up and admiring the oversized décor. Her pigtails stuck up in unnatural ways, staying perpendicular to Steven’s line of sight no matter how her head turned. Her dark pink irises met his, and her grin practically split her face.
“Steven!” Spinel greeted excitedly. In one, single stride of her stretchy legs, she was by his side in a second. Before Steven could even begin to process what was happening, she gave him a large, cartoonish kiss on the cheek, followed up by an exaggerated “Mwah!” She then held her arms to the side, either being extremely performative or looking for a hug.
To add embarrassment and humiliation on top of his steadily-increasing stress was a bad idea. Steven’s skin bloomed into color in response, his anger spiking. “Spinel, what is WRONG with you?!” He spat at her.
Spinel, unfazed, dropped her gaze to half-lidded. “Oh, y’know,” she mused, giving him a small, mischievous smile. “The usual.”
The glow faded as regret took anger’s place. Oops, Steven thought. It was a wonder she didn’t send him sprawling for that. That comment was a bit uncalled for. “So,” he began awkwardly, hoping to maybe clear the air a bit after their initial greeting. He cracked a small smile, the movement not making it anywhere near his eyes. “How’ve you been since- uhh…” he trailed off, realizing he actually hadn’t seen her since their showdown on Earth. Great. So it’s been, what, a year then? Some friend he was.
“Since I tried to kill you?” Spinel offered, also picking up on where he was going. Her eyebrows were creased, regret and humiliation written all over her stiff poster and strained facial expression. She looked away, flicking her hands down in front of her. “That was so embarrassing. I was just a wreck back then, but I am so much better now!” She straightened up, her smile genuine once again.
Steven took a mental moment to dissect that for a second. She did seem to be a lot bouncier than she had been last time they’d talked, both metaphorically and physically. Her smile was a bit wider, her posture looser, and her eyes had that gleam of fun and play in them again from before she remembered Pink abandoning her.
The poor gem had been built to be a friend, or at least, what the Diamonds had imagined in a friend. To them, a friend was an overly-friendly servant, along the same lines as pearls but less focused on orders and more about goofing off. Every gem was made for a purpose, and gems didn’t have “friend” anywhere in their system, so a new slot had to be created. Spinel was the gem who fit that slot, doing whatever her owner commanded of her and doing it with a bigger smile than even some pearls did. Spinel genuinely enjoyed playing and having fun to the point that when her owner told her to stay in place for however long she’d be gone, Spinel never even thought to question her or her motives. She stood perfectly still for 6,000 years, almost on the dot, and never moved.
More terrible things his mom did to add to the pile.
Once Spinel learned the truth, she physically could not handle it and poofed from heartbreak. When she reformed, she felt such betrayal that she decided to attack Earth and Steven for no reason other than she wanted others to feel the pain she had felt. She had found a giant injector filled with biopoison, meant to kill all organic life on Earth, and then render the Crystal Gems unable to stop her with the rejuvenator.
The rejuvenator was a hand-held devise no larger than a TV remote. It had only one button, which opened and closed the weapon. When opened, a large pole would extend from it, and the white light energy sparking from the tip would form into a scythe-like shape. Just one click of the reset button and a good swing, and it would reset a gem’s memories, bringing them back to how they had been when they had first emerged: servants and loyal soldiers. Though, in order to do so, gems had to poof, and Steven wasn’t capable of doing so. Instead, his powers went all out of whack and he couldn’t use any of them for long periods of time, and if he tried, it left him tired and exhausted.
Steven’s eyes widened.
“So, what are ya doin’ here?” Spinel threw her arms out animatedly, flashing him another large grin. She seemed overly happy to see him- gosh, had it really been that long?- and practically bursting at the seams at the thought of spending more time with him.
“I, I’ve been having some troubles recently,” he began slowly, cautiously. Steven wasn’t overly familiar with Spinel’s stance on Homeworld knowledge, but he did know she liked him and wanted to spend more time with him. If he was going to do this, he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to warp back home, so having a buddy might be a good idea. Plus, he couldn’t bring anyone who was close to him, since they’d probably try to stop him. Spinel was his best bet as a chauffeur.
“I wanted to try and get some haywire powers under control, and to do that, I need to go someplace special.” The lie wove together the longer he talked about it out loud. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to warp for a while afterwards, and I was hoping you’d want to come with me?”
(Sorry that ended abruptly. The full chapter was too large to fit all at once, even at a good break. The rest of Chapter 1 is already uploaded!)