Flower Child (Chapter 3)
Garnet, Pearl, Amethyst, Greg, Yellow, and Blue—they've all lost someone. Lovers and daughters and friends and family, and that's not a wound you easily come back from.
If at all.
But this isn't an 'if at all' kind of story.
It's a story about a sickly, little kid named Steven and his ever-growing surrogate family.
It's a story about the kind of boy who'd extend a flower and a smile to a sad stranger he meets at a cemetery. Human AU.
Sunday, 9:43 PM
Pearl: You’re really going to let him go see the Diamonds?
Pearl: After all they’ve done?
Pearl: After all WE’VE done to stand against them?
Greg: Its what he wants Pearl. who are we to deny him that?
Pearl: He didn’t want her to know about his condition.
Greg: That was different!
Pearl: Sure, Greg.
The three dots of impending doom jumped onto her screen within an instant, but Pearl didn’t wait for what was surely another half-assed justification from a man who seemed to half-ass anything that could be half-assed. (Which was neither fair nor right, but God, she was livid.) She shut her phone down, placed it on the nightstand, and rolled back onto her pillow with an aggressive thump.
Which, of course, did nothing to alleviate the headache that had been beating against the back of her skull all day.
Rose… Rose wouldn’t have wanted this, would she?
Her son fraternizing with the enemy.
With Yellow Diamond.
Even the mere thought of the woman was enough to conjure a clear image of the imposing CEO in Pearl’s mind-eye. She had golden eyes and a hard heart, and her practices—from her exploitation of workers to the conditions of her factories—were far from ethical. She was a tyrant, a monster, a despot.
And Steven was set to enter her lair.
(An extravagant penthouse suite that had reportedly cost over 200 million dollars.)
Her little boy, swallowed up by the yellow beast.
Rose… Rose wouldn’t have permitted this…
It was a single instant of hesitation, but it was enough, and her mistrust and anger and irritation at Yellow, at Greg, at the world, soon gave away to another emotion, one that had been swelling up in Pearl’s chest all day. She rolled over to her side and plucked her phone up once more, clearing Greg’s response away with a furious swipe so she could type in her password.
It was 7673.
It was Rose.
She clicked the little photo icon and scrolled.
Scrolled past pictures of Steven as he slept during one of his dialysis treatments.
Past twenty Amethyst selfies that had been taken while Pearl wasn’t looking.
Past the family’s vacation to a cabin in the vast, snowy mountains.
And then she abruptly stopped, tapping once to expand the only image she wanted to see.
It was a picture of a picture, of a polaroid Garnet had taken approximately a year before Rose had met Greg, and everything had gone to—
Rose’s arm was wrapped around Pearl’s shoulders, and her pink lips were pressed against her cheek, and they were laughing.
And Pearl was in love.
Even in the blurry polaroid, she could see the faint blush that had traced itself across the bridge of her pointed nose like a messy pink scribble, could see the admiration that had made her eyes shine so bright once upon a time.
And she could feel the phantoms of warmth.
The warmth of Rose’s big, encompassing arms.
The warmth that had spread across Pearl’s entire body, that had electrified her veins.
A hot, itchy sensation climbed and climbed her throat until it welled up in her eyes. The phone went slack in her hand, tumbling to the bed.
Who was she kidding?
She didn’t know what Rose would have wanted.
After all, once upon a time, Pearl had thought that she wanted her.
She would have turned forty today had she not chosen… She bit her lip. She didn’t want to admit it, not even to herself.
It did not compute.
She would have turned forty, she tried again. The tears dripped down her beaky nose. And she would have been radiant.
Monday, 7:02 AM
Garnet: safe drive steven. <3
Steven: Thanks, boo. <3
Steven: And just so you know… I did think about what you told me last night.
Steven: And, like, I really thank you for being upfront with me about how you felt. Pearl just straight up told me that I shouldn’t go, and you took the time to tell me why I shouldn’t go, but this is just something I have to do Garnet.
Garnet: have to?
Steven: I guess I don’t have to, but I want to.
Steven: She’s really nice, and she’s really sad, and I want to be her friend.
Around her, the gym’s locker room was coming to life. Fellow trainers changing into exercise gear for appointments with clients. Early gym comers heading off to the showers for a rinse off. People talking and sipping coffee and slamming locker doors with aplomb. But Garnet was immobile on the bench, her entire world contained in the little screen sitting in the palm of her hand.
She was conflicted, and conflicted wasn’t exactly a feeling she experienced very often.
It was unpleasant to say the least.
Like a fist nurtured into her stomach over and over and over again.
On one hand—one of the fists churning her stomach in nauseating ways—the memories and the rage and the rage those memories roared into existence tore through her overwhelmed head like fire in a forest. She saw Rose Quartz standing on a box in front of the D.E. building, the force and passion in her words inspiring disgruntled workers to join her in protest. Saw her own hands wrapped around a sign that screamed for FAIR WAGES as her hoarse voice did the same. Garnet’s own mothers, Ruby and Sapphire, had worked in one of D.E.’s factories overseas before they’d come to America.
They were the reasons she had taken up Rose’s banner in the first place.
Ruby’s calloused hands testified to cruel work—the kind of stuff that may have broken a lesser person—and Sapphire’s strained silence about those years spoke volumes where she could not.
Whenever they saw Yellow Diamond on TV, they would immediately blanch and grasp hands, as though they were afraid that she would reach through the screen and wrench them apart.
On the other hand—Garnet gritted her teeth to make this concession—Yellow Diamond was her demon. Hers and her parents’ and Rose’s and Amethyst’s and Pearl’s.
She wanted him to inherit so many things from her—some wondrous and some wise.
Love and light and patience and perseverance.
But not hate.
Garnet threw her towel around her neck and stood up with a sigh that reached into her bones and shook them for good measure.
Garnet: okay… i love you steven. <3
Steven: I love you too Garnet. <3
Monday, 9:12 AM
Pearl: You’re not driving, correct?! If so, please put your phone down immediately!
Pearl: If not, very cute.
Amethyst: chillllllllax P
Amethyst: ste-man is getting a snack from the gas station. we’re about an hr out from empire city
Pearl: Excellent timing, Amethyst!
Pearl: Remember, his appointment starts at 12, so that should give you plenty enough time to check into the hotel and get situated there.
Pearl: I’ve put the reservations under your name.
Pearl: You have the debit card, right?
Pearl: Oh, goodness. I think I forgot to pack M.C. Bear Bear.
Garnet: i handled it.
Amethyst: haha - nice save G
Garnet: i’m psychic
One of the double doors leading out from the gas station was pushed open with a lethargic kind of energy, and Amethyst, who had been leaning against the hood of her car, looked up from her phone to see that the wimpy gesture belonged to none other than her little buddy, her Steven. He closed the door carefully with his weak hand, nurturing a bag of Chaps in the other, and then, without so much as glancing her way, trudged right past her to the passenger side of the car, pulled the door open, and barreled in.
The door didn’t slam to a close so much as it did feebly stutter to one.
Well, that was a huge yikes.
Not waiting to give him time to stew in his feelings, Amethyst pocketed her phone and proceeded to the driver’s side, pulling her seatbelt across her chest and cranking the ignition to her little Honda Civic in one, fluid motion.
Out of the corner of her eye, she could see that Steven was looking at the bag of chips clenched in his hand, but there was something in his expression—something unfocused, something glazed—that told her that he wasn’t quite seeing what he was seeing.
She pulled out of the parking lot and tried to keep her voice as casual as possible. “You okay, little dude?”
He wasn’t. Obviously. But it didn’t hurt to ask.
She knew Steven well enough to know that he’d rather drown in the ocean ten times over rather than share his feelings.
But she also knew that once he started talking through them, like the ocean, they’d flow.
“Yeah… just got a little dizzy when I was standing in line for the register.” He laughed humorlessly, the bag in his hand crinkling in a way that told her that he’d squeezed it tightly. “But I guess that’s just a occupational hazard of this whole dying business.”
They were on the highway now, Jersey speeding past them in a blur of green and gray and black. Amethyst’s fingers choked the wheel.
“You’re not dying, Steven,” she gritted out, trying to see straight. The edges of her vision bursted with red, and all she wanted to do was pull over and slam the kid into a freaking hug. “Get that outta your head.”
“I know, I know.” He rested his elbow on the door’s control panel and leaned his head against the window. She couldn’t see his eyes, but their reflections were dark with trees. Perhaps they were just dark all over. “Just joking.”
Amethyst took one hand off the wheel and squeezed his free one. His skin was clammy and cold to touch.
“You’re not, but that was a good try, Ste-man.”
“What can I say?” He laughed again, and at least this one had a little more body to it. “I’m a virtuoso at using dark humor to cope with my crippling depression.”
And he meant it to be funny.
Meant it to be ironic.
But she wasn’t having it.
“You don’t have to be, though,” she told him, as serious as she could be. “Not with me anyway”
And he turned to look at her, his dark eyes widening in something that may have have just been awe.
She blushed furiously but blustered on anyway because dammit, this kid needed this talk, like, yesterday.
“I mean, I know you front with everyone else, but, like, you don’t have to do that when you’re around me, okay?” Amethyst’s grip tightened on his hand. “I get not wanting to talk about it. I get desperately needing to talk about it. I get you, Steven.”
Because they were alike, him and her.
They had issues, and they tried not to think about those issues and only ended up thinking about them all the more.
It was a cycle she knew well.
She wished Steven didn’t have to.
He didn’t answer immediately. Amethyst withdrew her hand and replaced it on the wheel, driving in silence for as long as the silence stretched thin between them.
She felt his gaze upon her.
Felt the intensity of it, the sadness.
“I just… I just feel so bad, Amethyst,” he whispered. “All the time.”
Amethyst wanted to melt into her seat. A lump rose to her throat.
“I know, buddy.”
“I’ve forgotten what it feels like to feel good.” His voice was fragile—not in the way glass was fragile, but in the way a dandelion was. One puff, and then it was gone.
She heard a sniffing sound.
A surreptitious swipe of the nose.
Amethyst knew better than to look his way.
Monday, 11:31 AM
Amethyst: heyyyy greg. steven and i made it to e city. bout to drive to the hospital.
Greg: Thanks for the update!
Amethyst: yah. np.
Greg: uh, what does that mean ??
Amethyst: no problem
Greg: i didn’t thank you for anything?? ?
Monday, 4:38 PM
Amethyst: sorry for not answering ur calls. just got back to the hotel. steven’s asleep. gonna have to text.
Greg: He’s asleep? already?
Pearl: What did Dr. Maheswaran say?
Amethyst: yeah poor kid’s worn out
Amethyst: she’s not happy w/ his blood count. she says his hemoglobin is low. if it doesn’t get better by the end of the week she might do a blood transfusion
Amethyst: 4 days of dialysis this week instead of 3
Amethyst: steven’s not happy :/
Pearl: That’s it. We’re coming up there immediately.
Amethyst: i mean, not that i don’t want you guys to be here, but u guys can’t afford to take any more time off work
Amethyst: and we’ve got bills ’n stuff to pay
Amethyst: not 2 mention the new iron pill dr. m prescribed
Amethyst: like - i’ve got this
Pearl: Garnet? Greg? What do you think?
Garnet: amethyst is right.
Greg: i mean yeah… I’m not happy about it, but she’s got a point.
Pearl: Okay… but if things get worse, we’re coming up there. Alright?
She’d drawn the curtains to make it darker in the room, but even still, a crack of blue light slipped in through the gap, illuminating Steven’s sleeping form. He was curled up under the blankets, which obscured most of his face.
His little button nose poked out.
His closed eyes fluttered restlessly.
Amethyst wondered if he was dreaming.
And if he was, she hoped that it was a good one.
Because frankly, reality sucked.
While Steven had been changing from the hospital gown to his regular clothes, Dr. Maheswaran had pulled her aside and given her a haughty once over that let Amethyst know at once that the doctor wished she were Pearl, who, out of Steven’s four parental figures had the best grasp of all the medical jargon.
“He’s needs a new kidney, and he needs it soon,” Dr. Maheswaran said. No sugarcoating. No bull. She didn’t have the best bedside manners per say, but the nephrologist would tell it to you straight, and that was what mattered most to Amethyst.
“Then find him one, Doc.”
“I’m trying,” she frowned, and the lines under her brown eyes became all the more pronounced. “But kidneys are a tall, damn order.”
Monday, 4:48 PM:
Greg: love ya champ
Greg: i’m so proud of you
Monday, 5:01 PM:
Pearl: Call me when you get up! Love you, Steven. <3
Monday, 5:09 PM:
Tuesday, 10:32 AM:
Amethyst: picked up steven’s prescription
Amethyst: we’re @ breakfast
Pearl: How much was the copay?
Amethyst: only like $10
Pearl: :) I’ll add that to my ledger.
Amethyst: neeeeeeerdddd alert
Pearl: This ‘nerd’ does your taxes for you every year.
Amethyst: and i appreciate tht but that doesn’t make u any less of a nerd
“Gosh, I was hungry,” Steven said around a mouthful of waffles. He already had his next bite queued up on his fork, and a trace of syrup dripped down the corner of his mouth.
Amethyst was hella relieved to see that his appetite had returned; last night, he’d stayed passed out until 3AM, and when he woke up, she could only get him to nibble on a couple of crackers.
“Bet,” she replied, chomping down hard on a piece of syrup covered bacon, savoring more than just its taste. The sweetness was good, but seeing Steven in a good mood made it even sweeter.
“Who were ya texting?”
“Pearl. She was being lame and trying to talk to me about math.”
Steven chuckled. “You should try being homeschooled by her.”
He squared his blocky shoulders and clasped his hands behind his back, two actions which resulted in an uncanny physical impression of their dear Pearl.
“Now Steven,” he mimicked in a high, lofty voice, “you can’t just move the x around like that. There’s a certain finesse to it. A technique. Here, let me do it.” He lowered his voice back to its normal pitch. “And then she starts talking about how my mom was great at solving division problems or something like that.”
Amethyst’s eyes were streaming. She banged her fists on the table, drawing a nasty look from a passing waitress.
“You’re a riot, Steven.”
“Thank ya!” He grinned.
When their meal came to a close—and it only did after they’d each slammed a couple of more waffles—Steven swirled the quarter of orange juice he had left in his glass, and Amethyst pulled out his ever-expanding pillbox from her bag.
And by God, they were all big enough to be choking hazards.
“Ugh, Steven,” she muttered, her nose wrinkling in disgust. “I dunno how you do this everyday.”
“Oh, that’s an easy one,” he replied cheerfully, accepting her offering of his Tuesday pills. “I totally dissociate.”
Steven downed the pills one by one, chasing them with vigorous swills of juice.
“Tell me about it,” he gasped when he was done, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
They had another hour or so to kill before Steven had to return to the hospital for his treatment, so they took to walking down one of Empire City’s lesser known shopping districts. From time to time, they’d rest on a bench until Steven could catch his shortened breath.
It was during one of these breaks when the little bugger finally breached the topic of conversation she’d been crossing her fingers to avoid.
“If I don’t end up having to get a transfusion,” he began thoughtfully, head angled backwards so he could stare up at all the high rises poking into the sky, “I think I wanna text Blue Diamond soon. Visit her while I’m here, maybe.”
“Maybe…” She hesitated, and Steven was quick to snap up on it.
“Amethyst, I love you, but if you give me the same, old spiel on why I shouldn’t visit Blue, I’m gonna walk away.” She couldn’t tell if he was kidding or not. His voice was playful, but his eyes were grim, and his mouth was pressed into a thin, determined line.
“You’re sure bent on doing this, huh?”
“Very bent,” he agreed succinctly, nodding with dramatic precision before adding, “Super bent.”
Because there was obviously a discernible difference between super bent and very bent.
Amethyst scratched her neck and sighed.
“If the doc gives you the go ahead, then text her,” she told him grudgingly. “I wasn’t a part of the team when all the big protests against Yellow D were going on, so I can’t tell you why you shouldn’t go.”
Pearl and Garnet seemed to have plenty of reasons, though.
“No big deal, dude.”
Their little bench was an island in the stream—solitary, stable, even with so many people flooding around it. Amethyst did as Steven was doing and tilted her head back to drink in the panorama from above, appreciative of the cool breeze that slid across her face and stirred her long hair. Her eyes closed against the bright, golden sun.
“I was doing some research,” Steven said, and he was very quiet. Melancholy.
Amethyst opened one eye to look at him, but he wasn’t looking at her. His hands were clasped neatly on his lap, his solemn gaze still offered to the heavens.
“A couple of years back, there was an awful murder that took place outside of a bar somewhere in this city.” He paused. “The details were too… gruesome, I guess, for the article to talk about. She was only twenty-one.”
She raised a questioning eyebrow at him. “Dark stuff you’re reading there, kid.”
His shoulder rose and fell in a half-shrug.
“It was a dark thing that happened.”
Tuesday, 4:29 PM
Steven: Hey guys! Just got out of treatment.
Greg: how was it kiddo?
Steven: Better than yesterday. We’re heading to the hotel.
Pearl: I’m so glad, Steven!
Steven: Thanks! Love you all.
Amethyst read the texts in the group chat while Steven was hung over the toilet, puking his little guts out.
Insistent that Amethyst stay out of the bathroom until he was done.
She rapped on the door anyway, unsure if he heard her over the sound of his own violent retching.
Dialysis naturally had the effect of making him nauseous, but nausea was also a side effect of the new iron pills he was taking, so really, the odds were just not in Steven’s favor today.
“You okay in there?”
“I feel like the answer to that question”—he paused to gag—“is very obvious.”
Asshole, she thought fondly and barged into the bathroom. Kid needed a Sprite, a cold rag to the forehead, and a nice, little trip to bed.
“Amethyst—“ He whined, lifting his head feebly from the commode. The traces of throw up were edged along the corner of his mouth.
“Shut up, Steven, and let me love you.”
She grabbed a washcloth from the counter and turned on the faucet, the loud hissing noise just not loud enough to mask what was surely another round of vomit.
Wednesday, 3:22 PM
Amethyst: STEEEEVEEENNNN’S GOT A GIRLFRIEND
Greg: way 2 go champ!
Amethyst: so dr. m’s daughter came in today to read to patients and like she and steven rlly hit it off
Amethyst: her name is Connie
Amethyst: and i’m calling it now. their ship name is stevonnie
Pearl: I think I’m experiencing premature empty nest syndrome.
Amethyst: ya’ve got the nose for it
Amethyst: but anyway his treatment’s almost done and dr. m says his blood count’s looking better
Amethyst: no transfusion!
Pearl: Thank goodness.
Greg: ugh I agree
Amethyst: and he’s happy today
Amethyst glanced up from her phone to confirm what she was telling the others.
“Buuuuuuut Connnnnnnie, you can’t just leave it on a cliffhanger!” Steven was pleading, fingers mussed through his dark, curly hair in exasperation. “Like, Lisa is literally hanging from a cliff. I need to know what happens!”
“Okay, okay!” The dark-skinned girl pushed her wire-rimmed glasses up on the bridge of her nose. “One more paragraph… Mom’s about to unhook you from the machine, though.”
Dr. Maheswaran waved her off with a dismissive flick of the hand. “One more paragraph would be fine.”
“Yes ma’am!” She re-buried her nose into the thick book. “Lisa’s hand was slick with sweat as Archimedes…”
Steven leaned forward expectantly, hand tucked under his chin, M.C. Bear Bear clutched tightly to his chest right next to his dialysis catheter and all of the tubing involved.
And he was smiling like a fool.
Like a kid.
Amethyst: he’s rlly happy
Wednesday, 7:41 PM
Steven: Hi Blue… this is Steven.
Steven: That cute kid from the cemetery. :)
Blue: Hello, Steven. It’s so very nice to hear from you. How are you?
Steven: Could be better. Could be worse. You?
Blue: Ah, likewise.
Steven: I was texting to say that I’ll be in Empire City for the better part of the week, and I was wondering if I could take you up on that offer of coming to visit, maybe?
Blue: Of course—I would love that.
Blue: When would be the best day for you?
Steven: Friday would be great if that’s ok with you.
Blue: Friday would be perfect. 1:00? We could do tea and cakes.
Steven: Now that’s what I’m talking about!
Blue: Friday it is then. I can’t wait to see you again, Steven.
Steven: I can’t wait to see you too.
Blue set her phone down on the bathroom counter, and twenty sleeping pills slipped between her tall fingers and back into the bottle.
It’d been a bad day.
She wouldn’t have done it…
She hadn’t been going to…
She had just been thinking.
It had been a bad day, and then Steven had texted.
“Well, I’m home for the night.” Startled, Blue looked up in the mirror to see her wife leaning in the doorframe—arms crossed, a permanent frown carved into her striking face. “Stocks are down, and my investors are running for the hills. It’s a hellhole. I’m in literal hell.”
Yellow detached herself from the door and drew closer. The tips of their fingers brushed ever so slightly, ever so softly.
And that was about as physically affectionate as they got nowadays.
“How was your day?” Her voice sharpened at the end. “I see you’re still in your nightgown.”
“It was fine, Yellow.” It absolutely was not.
Blue gripped the edge of the sink to keep her hands from shaking, determined not to glance at the pill bottle she’d been holding just moments before.
“Are you sure? I could call the doctor right now. Check the dosage on your antidepressant, perhaps?”
“Oh, yes,” she muttered venomously, more to herself than Yellow, but she supposed she didn’t care enough if Yellow heard it, too, “because that’s exactly what I need. An upped dosage.”
That seemed to be Yellow’s only reliable solution when it came to fixing her.
“Nothing,” Blue bit out. “Nothing at all.”
And she pushed off from the sink, impelled by dull anger, her shoulder roughly knocking against Yellow’s as she went.
Her hand slammed against the light switch before she exited the doorway, and it did her a great deal of good to submerge Yellow Diamond into total darkness.
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