Warrior 13

The sun was rising high within the sky when Steven Universe opened his eyes. It was still relatively early, at least for Steven, who never truly woke up earlier than about nine o’clock, but today was an exception. It was Friday April 29th and it was Connie Maheswaran’s birthday.

Rolling over in bed, Steven quickly snatched his phone from his bedside table and scrolled through until he found the number he was looking for. Hitting the option for a text message, he wasn’t sure if she’d be up, but Connie was a morning person, more so than he was.

Happy birthday!

He added a bunch of emoticons behind the sentiment, including a birthday cake, smiley faces, and a bunch of gifts. Within less than a minute, she had texted him back.

Thanks!

Was her reply, followed by two smiley faces, a kissy face, and a heart. Steven didn’t know why his own heart raced at that, but he knew it made his smile grow bigger than it already was. Typing quickly, he sent a response back.

What’re your plans today? Are you still coming over? You have to come over later!

LOL. I will, I promise! My parents are taking me to breakfast, that I know for sure. They haven’t told me what the plan is for lunch though.

As long as you come here for dinner. You gotta.

I will.

Another smiley face.

What exactly are you planning?

I can’t tell you. It’s a surprise, silly.

Fine. Keep your secrets. :p What time should we be there?

Around 5pm. That should work.

OK. Have to go! See ya later!

See ya.

Putting the phone back on his bedside table, Steven laid back in bed. It was going to be a busy morning and afternoon for sure, but it would all pay off when Connie saw what he had planned. Ever since she told him she never had a birthday party, Steven was determined to give her the best party ever. He had to rethink some his birthday ideas – the last time he had thrown a party for someone, he had unknowingly increased his own age and when he had tried to course correct at his own birthday, he had turned himself into a baby. He was 0 for 2 when it came to birthdays and he didn’t want to let Connie down.

Sitting up in bed, Steven glanced towards the window. It was going to be a great day, he could tell just by the clear blue skies, the sun overhead, and the sounds of the seagulls flying around. And if he wanted this thing to go off without a hitch, he needed to get up. Running a hand down his face, he stopped when he reached his chin, before moving it around to both cheeks.

It wasn’t a full beard by any means, just a little bit of peach fuzz that graced the undersides of his jaw and portions of his cheeks. Ever since finding his first facial hair on his birthday, Steven had noticed his second just a few weeks ago; it was a strong indicator that he was indeed growing up, though maybe at a slower pace than others around him.

He hadn’t really noticed until Connie had been shocked to learn he was older than she was. Looking at his baby book and seeing he still looked the way he did when he was ten was a bit of a shock; Connie was going to grow up and Steven…might not. While his best friend had stated they would be friends regardless of how he looked, Steven was still bothered by it. It wasn’t just Connie, it was all of his friends – they would all grow up and go through life, while Steven was still stuck in the body of an eight-year-old.

It seemed, sometimes, that he wasn’t worried about his place among the gems, he was worried about his place among humans. He was too human to be a gem, too gem to be human and it bothered him that he wasn’t sure where he fit in either.

Shaking his head to remove his dark thoughts, Steven ran his hands over his cheeks once more. He was gonna have to shave, definitely before Connie by. Unless of course, she would prefer the slight stubble…he’d shave for sure; it was a special day after all and if at some other point, he didn’t shave, he could see how she felt about it. Not willing to just sit around thinking all day, Steven quickly got out of bed and began pulling out clothes for the day.

He grabbed his usual red starred shirt and jeans, while also grabbing a second set of clothing for later that night. Clothes in hand, Steven stood at the ledge of his loft, stretching his arms wide. “What a beautiful day!” he exclaimed. Looking down at the couch below, Steven considered jumping down and landing on it, something he hadn’t been able to do successfully. But the day was going to be great, so…

“Don’t even think about it.”

Looking up, the teenager was surprised to see both Garnet and Pearl in the kitchen on the ground floor. Pearl had volunteered to bake Connie’s cake and, like Steven, wanted it to be the best cake the girl had ever seen or tasted. Huffing at the reprimand, Steven moved away from the ledge and came down the stairs. “It would’ve been an awesome swan dive,” he said, walking past them as he headed towards the bathroom.

“It wouldn’t have,” Garnet stated. “In fact, there was a 99.5% you would’ve missed the couch and landed on the table, breaking it.”

“Is that what you saw?” Pearl asked, horrified at the damage could’ve done to himself, nevermind the table.

Garnet shrugged. “No,” she said. “That was just an educated guess.”

By the time Steven finished his shower and was dressed, Amethyst had managed to stumble her way from the Temple to the kitchen, lazily kicking her feet against the back of the counter. “Yo, Stev-o!” she called, waving at him as he came towards them. “Ready to get this party start…ed?”

The purple gem trailed off when she got a look at the boy, causing him to look at her in concern. Jumping from the counter stool, Amethyst strolled right up to Steven and looked him up and down. “Something wrong?” the teen asked, giving the shorter gem a look.

“There’s something different about you,” she muttered, walking around him before coming to stand in front of him again. One more look and her eyes widened. “You’re taller than me!”

“Am I?”

“No way!” she cried again, stepping up and measuring their heights with her hand. While they were normally both short, Amethyst tended to have a slight bit of height on the younger gem, but today, Steven was about an inch taller. “You are! You’re taller than me!”

“Huh,” Steven said, rubbing the back of his head. “I thought my pajama pants were a little short.”

“Steven, are you stretching yourself again?” Pearl asked, peering at the boy from the counter. She was putting the finishing touches on Connie’s cake and was in the process of making cookies; she didn’t want to run behind schedule to deal with a baby.

“What?” Steven sputtered. “No! I swear! I just…I must’ve gotten a growth spurt…” Stars appeared in the boy’s eyes when he realized the implications. “I got a growth spurt!”

“Your voice is changing, too,” Garnet added, giving the boy a smile.

“You got a growth spurt?” Amethyst asked, not as convinced as the larger gem was.

“Amethyst, I swear,” Steven chuckled. “I’m not shapeshifting, I promise.”

“Okay, okay,” Amethyst said, poking him in the stomach. “But if you do turn into a baby, I’m not gonna be your booster seat again. And Garnet can change you this time.”

“I’m not shapeshifting,” Steven insisted.

“Alright you two,” Garnet smirked, waving Steven over. The teen happily bounced over to the larger gem and allowing her to give him a side hug. “Big day today.”

“It’s gonna be great,” he said, the excitement tangible for the entire room and its occupants. “Pearl’s making the snacks and Dad’s gonna be here with all the stuff for dinner. I told Connie to come around five, which means they’ll probably be here at 4:30pm, which is perfect because I told everyone to get here around 4pm.

“We can start blowing up the balloons any time; Amethyst, I need your help to put up the banner. Dad said he could get an extra table so we can showcase Connie’s presents.”

“You’ve certainly put a lot of thought into this party,” Pearl replied, sending him a smile.

“Connie’s the best,” he said, a dopey grin on his face. “And she deserves the best.”

“No better person to do that than her best friend,” said Garnet.

“Exactly,” Steven nodded, his face suddenly serious. “This is gonna be the greatest birthday Connie’s ever had.”

 


 

Pearl hadn’t been exaggerating when she noted Steven had put some thought into planning for Connie’s birthday.

Steven had begun planning this at least a month in advance, back when Connie had told him she had never had a birthday party before. It wasn’t that she had never celebrated her birthday – she did – she just hadn’t done so with friends before. Most of the time, her parents took her out for a meal, while she spent most of the day by herself; in those rare cases when her extended family came to town – grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins – she’d spent it with them, but she tended to keep to herself, even amongst her own family.

That’s why Steven wanted this day to be special – he couldn’t imagine not celebrating your birthday; it had been such a shock to discover that the Gems didn’t celebrate, that he had gone a bit overboard in making sure they experienced the fun and joy that came from it. To be fair, he understood Connie’s predicament. He and his dad always celebrated his birthday together and it was really only now that the Gems were starting to be a part of that.

He knew kazoo racers was a bit too babyish for the crowd he invited, but he still had grand plans – he gotten Sour Cream to provide music, while his Dad was splitting cooking duties with Garnet (she was by far the easiest person to keep Amethyst as bay). He had balloons and a banner and everything would take place right on the beach – he’d even set up volleyball and badminton courts so people could play and told everyone to bring a suit in case they wanted to go swimming.

The best gift, however, he hoped was his own. He had seen it when he and Dad had gone up to Empire City for a part his dad needed at the car wash. They had taken some time to just roam the city, something they hadn’t done when they had been there the last time, and gone into a number of the shops that lined the streets.

It had been sitting in his dresser until today and he just hoped she’d like it.

Morning had quickly turned into early afternoon, with Greg Universe coming by with makings for dinner and a quick pizza for lunch. Like Amethyst, Greg had noticed Steven’s apparent growth in height and came to the same conclusion she had.

“Did you stretch yourself again!?”

“What?” Steven asked, startled. “No! Dad, I got a growth spurt!”

“Hmmm,” the elder Universe murmured, standing back to look at his son. He could see Steven had grown, though he still ran a concerned eye over the boy.

“Dad,” he whined. “I’m not stretching myself!”

“Garnet’s on diaper duty this time!” Amethyst called.

“I seem to remember always being on diaper duty,” said gem replied, glaring at the shorter gem behind her shades.

“That’s because you’re just really good at it!” Pearl perked up.

No one is going to be on diaper duty because I’m not going to turn into a baby!” exclaimed Steven. “Please stop discussing putting diapers on me.”

Thankfully, discussions on diapering the teen were dropped as the preparations continued.

Amethyst and Garnet had hung up the banner, while Steven was still blowing up balloons, which had quickly filled the floor of the beach house by the time the purple gem and fusion reentered the house.

“You know,” Amethyst replied, looking around at the balloons. “I don’t feel as though you have enough balloons, Steven.”

“Amethyst, don’t encourage him,” Pearl chastised, as she pulled out three plates for lunch. “Steven, don’t you think you’ve made enough balloons?”

“Pearl,” the boy said, turning from his spot on the floor and the purple balloon he held in his hand. “One can never have too many balloons, especially for a birthday. Besides, some of these have confetti in them.”

“Why’s that?” Greg asked.

“Cause we only got the medium sized balloons and not the big ones.”

“What Greg means,” Garnet elaborated. “Is why did you put confetti in the balloons.”

“Oh!” Steven replied. “Cause Connie says that’s how they celebrate her birthday when her grandparents and aunts and uncles come into town. It’s part of her culture and it’s tradition, so…”

“Hence the confetti,” Pearl finished. “That was very thoughtful of you, Steven. I’m sure Connie will appreciate you doing that.”

“Not only that,” the teen continued. “I’m also making the traditional rice pudding. Wait, what time is it?”

“Little after one o’clock, buddy,” Greg said.

“Shoot!” Steven cried, jumping to his feet and carefully moving his way through floor balloons. “I gotta start the pudding! Amethyst, could you finish blowing up those balloons?”

“Can do!”

“Pearl, you gotta help me with this pudding!”

“Steven, calm down,” the lithe gem chuckled. “The pudding only takes thirty minutes, so it might be better if we made it closer to the start of the party.”

“Right, right,” Steven said, unable to contain his excitement. “What else, what else, what else?”

“You could give me a hand setting up the table outside.”

Steven gave Garnet a knowing look. “Do you really need my help?” he asked.

“Of course,” she said. “I think I sprained something helping Amethyst put up that banner.”

“Ha!” called the purple gem. “Told you couldn’t handle it. Sounds like you’re getting old, Big G.”

Amethyst was able to get off a short round of laughter before she felt the slap against her head, turning back and seeing the familiar arm retract back to the taller gem. “Hey!”

“I thought you said you sprained your arm.”

“I did,” replied Garnet. Holding up her left hand, she responded with, “It was this one. Right one’s fine.”

“I brought some tables and chairs,” Greg said, thumbing over his shoulder to his van outside. “I ran into Barb at Fish Pizza; she and Sadie will bring over the rest.”

Steven beamed at his father. “Thanks, Dad,” he said. “This is gonna be great.”

 


 

T-minus an hour before the major parties would show up, Steven had rushed off to take another shower. Amethyst questioned him about it, especially seeing as he would probably just put on the same exact clothes afterwards, but the teen was too worried to be bothered about that, rushing downstairs from his room and making a beeline for the bathroom.

Citing the number of people and that this was his first time doing so, Steven had begged Pearl to help him make the rice pudding early, even going so far as to ask Connie what her preference was. Personally she enjoyed it cold during the spring and summer months, so that’s what Steven went with, hoping that he had made correctly.

While the teen went about ‘getting ready’, that left three gems and a Greg in the kitchen grabbing different dishes to take outside. Or rather, Pearl and Greg were grabbing dishes, while Garnet was playing security guard against Amethyst’s repeated attempts at swiping food. The quartz had always been observant and she had been observing her younger counterpart all day.

“Soooo,” she began, leaning against the kitchen island and swinging her against her stool. “I’m gonna just state what we’re all thinking.”

“And that being?” asked Greg.

“That Steven has had a totally, not at all coincidental growth spurt on the very day of Connie’s birthday,” she boasted. “You know Connie – best friend, knight to the king, hardly ever seen apart, shares a fusion that’s so stable, it’s on par with our fusion queen here – that Connie?”

Two gems and one human stared at the gem, as she cockily stared back at them, her grin big enough to fit Greg’s platter of steaks and vegetables.

“Amethyst,” Pearl warned. “Don’t gloat.”

The purple gem laughed. “Why not?” she chuckled. “I’ve got this in the bag!”

“Steven’s behavior is no cause to assume you’ve won anything,” the thin gem huffed.

“Greg, back me up here.”

“Sorry Amethyst,” the former musician replied. “I’ve got my dates set and I’m not about to lose.”

“Garnet? A little insight, if you get my drift.”

“I seem to remember you stating my precognition was null and void in this competition,” Garnet drawled. “Besides, I think we all know the spoils go to the victor, which will be me.”

“Jealousy is not a good look on any of you,” Amethyst grumbled.

 


 

Connie wasn’t sure what she was expecting when she and her parents walked onto the beach where Steven and the gems lived, but she certainly wasn’t expecting this.

The beach front of Steven’s property had been utterly changed – there were several small tables set up on the sand, with a longer table that seemed to have several dishes and a few gifts on top of it. Balloons of all colors were tied to the chairs and the staircase that led up to the house, where on the top railing was a huge banner that read HAPPY BIRTHDAY CONNIE! in big blue block lettering.

Below the staircase and to the right was Sour Cream, standing in between two large speakers at a cloth covered table. His DJ materials were set before him, ready and waiting for him to direct them. Further over was Greg Universe, his back turned as he stood before a grill. Turning, he spotted the trio, loudly yelling, “Hey y’all! Birthday girl’s here!”

The shout immediately caused the door to the beach house to open, revealing Steven, smiling widely as his eyes laid on said birthday girl. “Connie!”

Doug and Priyanka Maheswaran could only look on in surprise as Steven rushed down stairs and sped his way to their daughter, grabbing her in a tight hug and spinning her around. “Happy birthday!” he exclaimed, putting her down, but not letting her go.

“What is all this?” the girl asked, breathless not only from the scenery, but the greeting.

“Surprise!” he said, joining in her laughter. “It’s your birthday party. I wanted you to have one.”

“You did all of this for me?”

“Of course I did.”

The teenager immediately began to show his friend around – pointing out the dishes that had been brought by some of the guests, to the presents that flanked them, explaining the large grouping of balloons that would be popped later, and more. Connie was elated to see how much work Steven put into everything, while her parents were more than surprised.

It seemed as though the entire town was there – the so-called ‘Cool Kids’ as Doug and Priyanka learned, Sadie, the girl who worked behind the counter at the Big Donut, a few members of the Pizza family, a young boy named PeeDee who worked at the boardwalk fry place, the strange Onion boy, and even two of Connie’s classmates.

It was an eye opening experience for the elder Maheswarans – they hadn’t realized just how many friends Connie had nor that this was an experience she needed or even wanted.

It felt like a thousand years since Connie had told them the whole truth of what she did when hanging out with Steven. Honestly, the two had been worried over a completely different purpose that had nothing to do with sword training or fighting terrifying gem mutants and experiments. Although, after hearing what Connie had already been through – fighting an undersea gem monster, helping Steven fight off a floating, gem icon shooty thing, visions of the future, gems from space – it almost felt like they weren’t really sure who their daughter was anymore.

But they had promised to be more open minded and if that meant being perfectly comfortable with a strange mix of humans and gems – or being…somewhat tolerant on the fact that their daughter and her best friend seemed to gravitate to each other – then they would…try their best.

“I can’t believe you did all this!” Connie gushed, as Steven led her to the main table. She still couldn’t believe her best friend had gone through all of this trouble just for her; it would’ve been one thing to throw her a party that only featured himself, the gems, and maybe her parents, but this…

He had arranged for everything – the food, the decorations, the guests – she had never had anything like it before and knowing Steven, this would become a tradition for as long as they would know each other. He’d even gone so far as to make the traditional rice pudding for her. It was amazing.

Throwing her arms around his neck for the second time in less than twenty minutes, Connie enveloped Steven in another hug, pressing her cheek next to his in affection. Wait…

Pulling back suddenly, the girl regarded her friend with a crucial eye. “Are you stretching yourself again?”

“Uh…what?”

“I’m normally three inches taller than you,” she stated matter of factly. “And now there’s only about an inch difference between us. Are you stretching yourself again?”

“No!” he said, looking at her in confusion. “Why do people keep asking me that?”

“You aren’t stretching yourself?”

Steven sighed, though there wasn’t any anger in it. “Connie, I promise I haven’t shapeshifted at all today,” he said. “I had an actual, honest to goodness growth spurt.”

“Really?”

Steven nodded. “Pretty cool, huh?”

“Definitely cool,” she responded, nodding back at him. Fingering the collar of the pink shirt he wore, she said, “Good thing I got the right size. This is the shirt I got you for your birthday, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Steven replied. “It’s my most favorite special occasions shirt.”

Connie giggled. “Well, you are a man about town, after all.” She gestured to the many people who were around. “Clearly.”

“What, this?” he questioned. “This is not for me, but the lady of the hour. Which is you.” Bowing before her, he asked, “So my liege, shall this party geteth starteth?”

“Certainly,” she responded, raising her head slightly. “I proclaim this most awesome of parties to begin post haste.”

“Alright!” Amethyst yelled, throwing her hands in the air. “SC! Drop me some beats!”

And the party got started.

 


 

Doug Maheswaran had been to a few parties in his day, but he didn’t ever think he’d be at a party like this. That wasn’t to say it wasn’t a good party – he was still in awe at just how much thought the young boy had put into doing all of this for his daughter. On one hand, it showed just how much Steven truly cared for her – he could have simply just thrown a party, but he had decorated and even cooked for her, implementing some of their birthday traditions.

On the other hand…

Doug stood next to the grill, waiting as Greg turned over some of the meats and veggies he had cooking. The security guard liked the former musician, truly; they hadn’t known what to make of him – or the gems for that matter – but the man seemed like any other father, one who loved and was concerned about his son, a protector, just like Doug was.

“Hey Doug,” the very same man was now turned to him, nodding to the empty plate he held in his hand. “Back for seconds?”

“Oh!” Doug said, startled out of his musings. “Yeah, sure, if you don’t mind.”

“Not at all,” came the friendly reply. “What’s tempting you this time? I got a little bit of everything – grilled veggies, chicken, burgers, hot dogs…what’s your poison?”

“Well, I certainly hope nothing’s poisoned,” Doug joked. “I’d hate to arrest you at my daughter’s birthday party.”

Greg chuckled, flipping over a number things. “Well,” he said. “It wouldn’t be my first crazy weekend. But I assure you, nothing’s poisoned.”

“Heh, well with that, I guess I’ll have some chicken and veggies, please.”

“Coming right up!”

Doug waited for his food, going back to view the party happening around him. As their tradition, they had cut the cake after Connie had blown out the candles. Again, they hadn’t imagined that Pearl would have gone through the trouble of baking a cake, but she had and it was an elaborate two layered white cake, with strawberries layered both inside and on top.

Both he and his wife had been a little worried about not only the sugar intake, but the calories, however Pearl had assured them she had been very conscious of the lack of nutrition that often came with sweets, only using the freshest and healthiest ingredients. She had then whispered she fed this to Steven daily and he was none the wiser.

The birthday girl was allowed to eat one piece of cake, though it would immediately be proceeded with real food. It was tradition in India to wait until party guests had left before opening presents, but that was a pastime Doug nor Priyanka really pursued with Connie, seeing as she would normally celebrate her birthday with them anyway, so they allowed her to grab some food first and then open presents.

The DJ, Sour Cream, had presented Connie with a special mix tape of songs she had enjoyed from him, while his younger brother – the strange Onion child – had given her a bust of herself. Clearly the two brothers held creative talent, with Onion making a near perfect likeness of Connie using only reinforced Fun Paste. Their mother, who was unable to attend, had also given Connie a free portrait sitting whenever she wanted.

Buck Dewey, the son of the mayor of Beach City, had given Connie ‘The Tale of the Essex’, a popular book about a vengeful whale’s pursuit of a clipper ship in the early 1800s. Soon the two had begun a discussion on man versus nature, the philosophy of loyalty and the pursuit of goods, which had to be stopped least they go on all night.

Peridot and Lapis had also made a surprising show, something that shocked Connie and the other gems.

“Of course we would come!” Peridot exclaimed. “Why wouldn’t your two best friends and comrades in arms be here to celebrate your entry into prepubescence?”

“We got you a gift,” Lapis replied, stopping the shorter gem from a growing rant about human growth and age.

“Oh guys,” Connie said, smiling at them. “You didn’t have to do that.”

“What?” Peridot asked, confused. “But…but Steven told us it was customary to bring gifts to the celebration and the person who was celebrating!”

“It is!” Connie and Steven shouted. “I just meant…”

Connie shook her head, before sighing. “What I should’ve said was, that was extremely thoughtful of both of you, thank you so much.”

“Yes, well…” the gem technician stuttered. “Unfortunately, Lapis and I were unable to actually bring the gift with us…”

“But no worries!” Steven shouted, pulling out his phone and showing Connie an image. “I took a picture of it!”

The picture had clearly been taken within the Universe barn, where Peridot and Lapis currently called their ‘home away from home’. The image showed another replica of Connie, though this time in metal – she stood in a battle-ready stance, wide and body lowered, her sword held before her and a fierce look on her face. It was clear she was dressed in her ‘Crystal Temps’ attire, if the large star on the front of her shirt was any indication.

“You guys made me a meep-morp?” the girl asked, surprised. She had known the two liked to develop art while in the barn, but she hadn’t seen the actual process or result until the three had worked on replacing the sign for It’s a Wash.

Lapis shrugged, but Steven didn’t miss the small blush that registered on her face. “It’s what we do.”

“This is incredible!”

“Really?” Peridot asked, her smile widening. Clearing her throat, she said, “Of course it is. After all, Lapis and I are experts at this. I don’t think there’s any subject we haven’t done.”

“Cool,” Connie breathed, looking at the image. “You’ll have to show me the finished product.”

Both gems looked at her. “Uh…” Peridot began. “What do you mean? It is finished.”

“Oh!” the teen said, her eyes widening. “I just…well…it’s kinda lonely. I mean, I’d like to think I’d have my team members join me at some point.”

Connie may as well have just stated she wanted to have Lapis and Peridot (and Pumpkin!) standing next to her for the time it took the two Homeworld gems to realize that was exactly what she was saying. The three got along much better since their fiasco with the car wash and watching over Beach City – in hindsight, they probably should’ve been introduced well before they were forced to work together and maybe have a set schedule during that time so they could work out any kinks, but…

What better way to show their strengths and obvious weakness than by working together at the car wash, where they could do less damage than if they were facing a corrupted gem?

And thankfully, they didn’t have to fight off a corrupted gem because if their performance at the car wash was any indication, the three were not all ready for prime time; at least, not in the way that would put them on par with the actual Crystal Gems. The trio (quartet, counting Pumpkin) had been praised for their work, which they took with humbled thanks – however inside, the three were hardly happy on their performance.

Connie knew Steven hated it when she referred to the group as the Crystal Temps, stating they were Crystal Gems just like he was, just like Garnet, Pearl, and Amethyst were, but Connie – and thus Lapis and Peridot – weren’t as quick to believe that. Watching over Beach City while the others were in space was a test and one that all three had barely passed and they had only done that by working together to create a new sign for the one they themselves had destroyed.

“You’re right,” Peridot began, striking her fist against her palm. “It only makes logical sense that the rest of us be immortalized in meep morps as well. Excellent idea, Connie! You will of course assist us with their creation – don’t worry, Steven’s told me all about your Earth studies, so I know you can’t help us every day, but I know you’ll make time in your scheduling. After all, I think we can both agree you’ll learn a lot more with me around than at those inadequate educational structures of yours.”

Connie’s mouth dropped – a combination of disbelief and laughter – as she exchanged a look with Lapis. While she hadn’t spent a ton of time with the smaller gem, it only took one meeting with Peridot to know you had to just humor her on occasion. “You’re right, Peri,” Connie finally said. “As always.”

“Don’t encourage her,” Lapis admonished, a small smile on her face.

“C’mon, Lapis,” Peridot said, moving away from the group and headed towards the long table. “I want to try some of this sugary treat Pearl created. For someone who detests the human digestive process, she is quite capable at creating human dietary supplements. Though I guess in her defense…”

The trio watched as the green gem made her way towards the food and gift table, heedless of the fact that her blue counterpart wasn’t following in her wake. Said blue gem gave her barn mate a fond look before sighing and giving a little wave to her two human friends. “See ya later, Boss,” she told Connie, before following Peridot.

That had led to the Maheswarans to meeting Peridot and Lapis, with the former gem being overly excited to meet the progenitors of Connie. If the two thought the other three gems were strange, it did nothing to prepare them for meeting Peridot.

Doug shook his head, a small chuckle leaving his lips. He and Priyanka still weren’t sure what they had gotten themselves into. Once again, Doug looked around at the party goers – at one point, the Pizza twins and Sadie had been in a hushed conversation with Connie, with the girls giggling every so often. He didn’t see his daughter with either party – one of the twins was dancing with their grandmother, while the other seemed to be speaking with the mayor’s son.

“Alright there, Doug?” Greg asked, scooping a few veggies onto the guard’s plate.

Nodding, Doug replied, “Yeah. I just…I don’t think Priya and I realized how many friends Connie actually had. And how many of them were male.”

Just like he had multiple times that night, Doug did a count of party goers who were not female – and there were lot. A lot of teenage boys. Six in total – six teenage boys versus the three teenaged girls that were there (though he guessed he could actually count Sadie as a young adult, as she was nineteen).

Greg chuckled, as he turned a burger over. “Well,” he said. “If it makes you feel any better, my son spends a lot of time with young women.” Sending a look towards Doug, he mumbled, “One in particular.”

Doug heard him however, which caused his eyes to scan towards the same area of the beach he’d been watching for several minutes already. Connie was currently laughing at something that had been said by one of the four boys that currently surrounded her – the Fryman boy, her two classmates, and Steven.

“Yes…”

The former musician turned to try and follow Doug’s gaze, immediately seeing the same circle he did. What Doug might not have seen was just how Steven and Connie stood next to each other, most likely due to the fact that Steven’s arm was casually draped around Connie’s waist. Greg stifled a chuckle, turning back to his duties.

There were times he was grateful he and Rose had a son and not a daughter.

 


 

After a few hours of grilling, Greg officially hung up his apron. He placed extra plates of food on their food/gift table before making his way to the small table that held the Gems. Most of the younger party goers were on the beach, including Sour Cream who was taking a break as DJ by putting on a custom playlist, while the adults sat at the arranged tables, finishing off their dinner or finally getting a piece of cake.

“Hey y’all,” he greeted, pulling out the chair next to Pearl and sitting in it. He received similar greetings as he did, leaning back against the chair and looking at the setting sun as he did. “So…” he began, rubbing a hand over his jaw. “Where exactly did we land on the sharing of our list?”

Pearl was the first to respond, rolling her eyes and sighing. “Blame Amethyst,” she muttered.

“Hey!” the purple gem retorted. “I wasn’t aware that we was exclusive. Besides, more people, means more money for me.”

The lithe gem huffed. “Yeah, you continue thinking that.”

“Hey now,” Greg interrupted. “You’re talking about the money I’m using to supplement my grandchildren’s college funds.”

“There was a reason you asked,” replied Garnet, bringing the car wash owner back to his original question.

“Oh!” he said. “Cause Nana Pizza wants to put twenty on tonight. Like now or in her words, ‘eleven minutes’. I’m also getting the sense that Doug and Priyanka have their own bet.”

“Do you think we should include them in ours?” Pearl asked, looking at Greg. As one, they – along with Amethyst – turned to look at the fusion.

Garnet thought about it, looking into the different paths that decision could take. There seemed to be more negative paths than positive, though it was more about their current ages than anything against Steven. “Nah,” she said after a time. “Most futures I see don’t end well.”

“Well,” Amethyst replied, leaning back further in her chair and propping her feet up on the table. “Nana joins Jenny, Kiki, Buck, Sour Cream, that Micah kid, and Lapis. That’s more than enough to keep me in delicious donuts and burritos for a long time.”

Garnet and Pearl looked at each other in annoyance, before Garnet gestured to the thin gem, who smiled before kicking the bottom of Amethyst’s chair. The action caused the chair to tip further back, hitting the sand before even with the purple gem pinwheeling her arms to try to stop her decent.

“There will be payback for this,” she grumbled, laying in the sand.

 


 

It was a little after seven pm when the party began to run down. The Pizza women had recently left, with Nana stating she was much too old to stay up so late, causing the others to laugh. Sour Cream had packed up his DJ equipment about an hour ago, but Greg had replaced him by turning up the radio on the van. Though his little brother protested, Sour Cream was getting ready to head out, with Buck giving the two a ride home with his own departure.

PeeDee, who was used to closing his family’s stand around this time, was still around with Sadie. The two had been showing Lapis and Peridot how to skip rocks, with the activity soon turning into a competition that looked like the smaller gem had won.

There had been some excitement earlier, when the Gems and Steven had pulled Connie off to the side. The newly minted teen hadn’t been sure what the situation was, but it had to be a happy one if Steven’s excitement was anything to go by. The fourteen-year-old could barely tolerate the anticipation before Pearl finally told the girl they wanted to officially induct her as a Crystal Gem.

To do that, she would need to put all of her training together to complete a series of tests that they had put together.

Steven had recognized it immediately as similar to the type of test they had created for him, which was why he didn’t want them to do the same thing to Connie that they did to him. This was the first time he had revealed he knew their test had been a fake, but he had reaffirmed his affection for the thought behind it.

They all needed it to boost their confidence. And it worked. And Steven liked to think it brought them even closer than they been before.

But Connie was different. She had already proven herself as Gem material, so she didn’t need to have the smoke and mirrors Steven did – surprisingly, the others had agreed. Not only that, but Pearl and Garnet already had in mind the course design.

To say Connie had been excited would be an understatement. She had instantly wrapped her arms around Pearl’s waist in a hug, causing her to stumble into Garnet, who stood behind her. That of course caused Steven to hug Connie, then for Amethyst to hug him, until they were just a line of huggers. That would’ve been cute enough if Lion hadn’t seen the group and decided to get in on the fun.

He had bundled towards them, heedless of Pearl and Garnet telling him no and to stop, and jumped onto Amethyst which caused the entire group to fall to the ground.

Connie was still reeling with happiness from that announcement when Steven suddenly proclaimed that he had completely forgotten to give her his gift, before grabbing her by the hand and pulling her towards the beach house. Doug, already perturbed with the amount of boys at this party, decided that he needed to accompany the two, which only served to embarrass Connie to no end.

Luckily, either taking pity on the two or seeing an opportunity to tease the heck out of them, Amethyst volunteered to go with them.

The three made their way towards the beach house, up the stairs, and inside before the purple gem waved the two off, her steps taking her to the Temple doors. “I just remembered I left something highly important in my room inside the Temple,” she loudly announced. “I’m sure it will only take me around ten minutes to retrieve it, so I’ll just leave you two kids out here, alone, by yourselves, while I go find it.”

With that, Amethyst opened the door to the Temple and walked through it.

“That’s why I love Amethyst,” Steven said, shaking his head in amusement.

“Because she’s as subtle as a brick?” Connie joked.

“Among other things,” he chuckled. “Come on.”

Pulling on her hand, Steven led her up to his loft, stopping at the dresser before he told her to close her eyes. After making sure she had and that she wasn’t peeking, Steven opened the drawer to remove his present. Standing before her, he held the present in his hands. “Okay,” he whispered. “Open your eyes.”

Connie did as she was told, her eyes immediately going to long velvet box that Steven held in her hands. “Steven…” she whispered, her hand reaching out to open it. Inside were two golden pendants in the shape of a strawberry and what looked like a small cookie, both hanging from an accompanying gold chain.

“I found it in Empire City,” the teen continued. “Remember that trip I took with my dad to get those replacement conveyors? It…it made me think of you. Of us.”

“Cause we’re jam buds,” Connie replied, looking at Steven. “Steven, it’s perfect.”

“Yeah?” he asked. “You really like it?”

“I love it.”

Steven smiled softly at her. “Here,” he said, removing the necklace. Connie must’ve understood the intention, because she immediately turned to give the teen her back, sweeping her hair to one side with her hand. The teen wasted no time in draping the necklace around her neck and securing it with the clasp.

Turning, Connie sent a smile to her friend, receiving one in return, before she threw her arms around his neck in a hug. “Thank you so much,” she whispered.

“You’re very welcome,” he replied. “I’m glad you like it.”

“Not just this,” she said, pulling back to look at him. “Everything. This, the party…today was amazing. I can’t thank you enough.”

“You don’t have to thank me,” he said, grinning at her. “You deserved it. I’m…I’m just glad you liked everything.”

“I did. I always like spending time with you.”

“I like spending time with you, too, Connie,” he whispered. “You know I do.”

The girl ducked her head, hiding a familiar blush that usually accompanied her cheeks whenever she was around the half-gem. Steven felt his own cheeks heat up, but there was boldness building up inside of him that he had only touched upon in the most dire of circumstances.

He had always thought she was pretty, starting from the moment he had seen her during the annual parade nearly three years ago, but tonight he thought her gorgeous – she had worn a new dress that night, a pretty dark blue that oddly reminded him of the color of her training gi. Every time she hugged him, he caught a whiff of the perfume she was wearing – something new, as he knew she normally smelled like strawberries – and it served to make his head spin.

At some point their eyes met and shy smiles emerged on both of their faces, which had been steadily moving closer to another…

“Children! Children, I have returned from my quest! Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find the thing I was looking for, which is deeply disappointing, but I’m sure the two of you have behaved yourselves to the best of your ability.”

“Amethyst…”

The sudden reappearance of the Earth grown gem had startled the two, causing them to jump apart in surprise. However, once they realized who it was – along with Steven’s annoyed growl of her name – the two couldn’t help but laugh. Soon after, Amethyst stood at the front of the staircase, looking up at them with a knowing grin.

“You ready or what?” she asked.

“We’ll be down in a second,” Steven said, clearing his throat slightly when his voice managed to crack on the last part of the word ‘second’. It didn’t help that the short gem chuckled soon after.

“Alright,” she said, heading for the door. “But if you aren’t outside in a minute, I’m calling for backup.”

The two again started to laugh, now out of embarrassment instead of shock. “We should probably…” Steven giggled, gesturing towards the stairs. “Because we both know she is not kidding.”

Connie nodded.

However, before the boy took his first step, Connie grabbed his shoulder to pull him back. Thinking she was planning on telling him something, Steven opened his mouth to ask what when he felt her lips against his cheek. “Coming?” she asked, already halfway down the stairs.

Steven could only nod, a dreamy look on his face. It still took him a few seconds before he followed the girl down and out the door.