Steven realized, even though Stevonnie's eyes were closed and hands folded the way Garnet had taught them to do, that there was a thought in his mind with him. From the way it approached, Steven realized it was a familiar thought, and not one that he felt ready to deal with at that moment. [Thoughts], he realized as the thought drew closer, flapping its wings in a spiraling descent toward him, [don't politely wait until someone feels ready for them.]
Ruby, and Sapphire, and Connie had each shown him ways that they had dealt with thoughts, each of them aware of the shortcomings they had with them. Ruby chased a single thought wherever it might wander, focusing on it to the point where it became painful, a large echo in her head, yelling at it to go away, instead of letting it pass by. Sapphire could see so many possibilities, and if it had been anything like what Steven had felt with future vision, Sapphire experienced them, each and every one, including all the terrible consequences that came from the bad futures. How many times would Sapphire have seen her friends shattered over all those thousands of years? How did she keep going every time it looked like they weren't going to succeed? Did she eat lots of ice cream when she was sad?
Steven blinked, took a deep breath, and visualized letting the little butterfly of worrying about Sapphire go and flap away. She had Ruby to help her through the things that came up in their lives.
The other thought was still there. Steven closed his eyes again and tried not to notice it and bring his focus back to the nothing that came from his.
I'm still here, too, you know, sang Connie's voice as she materialized into their shared mental space. You don't have to do this alone, Steven. You have me.
"I know," Steven said, sighing. "There's just...a lot of stuff about Pink Diamond that I don't understand."
"That we don't understand," Connie said evenly. "Pearl was the only one who knew the truth, and...Pink Diamond told her not to tell anyone."
"But why?" Steven replied. "So much of the pain that Earth, and the Crystal Gems, and Homeworld, all suffered could have been stopped if they knew what had happened!"
"That's right," Connie said. "But Steven, what would have happened if they had known? Would there have been less pain? Or would it have just been different pain?"
"I don't know," Steven said.
"I see the thoughts circling your head," Connie said gently. " 'What if we could have done it differently? Why didn't I save everyone? Why can't I fix it?' "
Connie gently put her hand on Steven's shoulder.
"It's still my fault," Steven said quietly.
"It wasn't you," Connie assured him.
"It was me," Steven insisted, "even if it wasn't me-me. Whatever Mom did, whether she was Pink Diamond or Rose Quartz, I'm responsible. Because I've got her gem. And I'm part of her somehow. So that means I have to make it right."
"But you're not responsible for all of this!" Connie protested. "The Diamonds were the ones who caused the corruption. They caused the problems. And, well, if Pink Diamond hadn't done what she was going to do, then Earth would be just another hollow shell of a Gem world. There wouldn't be your dad, the car wash, or my parents, or Lars, or Sadie, or the arcade, or the fry shop, or the pizza place."
Steven looked up at Connie, and despite his mood, a smile was poking around the edge of his face.
"No Cookie Cat? No bits? No Big Donut? I'm not sure I would want to live in that world."
Connie smiled. "No Lonely Blade. No humans. No adventures." She thought for a moment. "No Kevin. That's one thing I wouldn't miss."
"Kevin's still a jerk," Steven said, the smile tugging more at him. "Maybe if we ever time travel a long way, we can make him not come to Beach City."
"Maybe," Connie said, letting a small smile play out on her face, too.
"Hey, Steven," she said. "I was looking on Ronaldo's blog, and he mentioned a story that I found at the library. It's about a town that's bright and cheery and everything goes wonderfully for them all the time, from their childhood through adulthood. They're lucky, they're friendly, they're happy. It's a perfect town."
"Sounds nice," Steven said.
"Well, it would be, except the town itself has a...secret," Connie said.
"What's the secret?" Steven asked.
"We don't find out what it is until we're almost all the way through the story, but the reason that the town is perfect and cheery and bright and everything goes really well for them is because there's a--there's a Gem locked in the basement of one of the houses of the town, and everybody is mean to her and she has to take on all the negative feelings the town has and hold on to them all the time."
"Why doesn't she just go somewhere else?" Steven asked, shrugging.
Connie furrowed her brow as she continued to try and remember the story. "Her gem's cracked. So much so that if she tried to leave, she'd probably shatter before she got too far away. And after a while, she starts to believe that she deserves all of the feelings she gets. They stay with her for so long she thinks of them as her own feelings, instead of everybody else's."
"That's terrible," Steven said. "Does she get away?"
"I think so. I think she runs away on a snowy night, maybe with a small human, on a sled, and they find a village somewhere to live out their lives." Connie frowned, as if she were trying to remember something. "Which... is what I want for you," she said, the words coming out in rush.
"What?" Steven said.
"You can't just keep taking on everyone else's pain like this!" Connie snapped at him. "It's not healthy. And you keep shutting your friends out!"
Steven stared at Connie, confused.
"You don't talk to us about how you feel, or what you're thinking about. You keep telling us that you have to do things, and that you're the one who has to fix this, and you're making it all about yourself, when there are all these other people and Gems around who want to help. Don't you get it?"
"It's my problem, Connie," Steven said weakly. The butterfly loomed extremely large near him, and he could see some of the more terrible things he'd had to witness reflected in it.
"No, it's not!" Connie said, the tears starting to flow from her eyes. "It's not. You don't have to pretend you're happy all the time for us. Not everything that goes wrong is your fault. You're not Pink Diamond and all the things that she did. You're not Rose Quartz either. You're Steven. And...you're my friend."
Connie wrapped Steven up in a hug, her hands wrapping around his head and holding her palms to the side of his face.
"I need Steven here with me," she said.
Steven reached out to hug Connie, and realized the thought that he'd been dreading was gone. He let out the breath that he'd been holding in.